Smart Money Steps to Take Before You Go To Prison

Adam Rust

Ten Steps to Take Before You Go to Prison That Will Help You When You Leave Prison

1. Freeze your credit. Many prisoners are victims of identity theft during their time in prison. A credit freeze will prevent a person from using your identity to borrow money or take action using your reputation.

2. Request and then set aside a copy of your criminal record, a.k.a, your "Record of Arrest and Prosecution" (rap sheet).  An employer may ask for a copy of your RAP sheet when you submit a job application. A landlord may have a similar interest in the document. By securing it before you enter incarceration, you will do something that can help you to get back on your feet earlier. Moreover, if there are errors on your rap sheet, you will want to request a correction.  

3. Find a place to store essential identification documents. You should save a copy of your birth certificate and your social security card. You will need a picture id, too. It could be a driver's license, or if you are not licensed, then a non-driver's state-issued I.D. could suffice.  Contact the Social Security Administration to get a replacement card now if you do not have one.

4. Develop a plan for any debts. You will want to let your creditors know before you enter. Also, some types of loans come with protections for debtors during incarceration. If, for example, you are not in default on your federal student loan (s), you may qualify for a reduced or a $0 monthly payment. If you are not current, but you can catch up before you go to prison, then you should do so, as you will then be able to qualify for either of the income-based-repayment plans.

5. Develop a plan for obligations, such as child support. You cannot avoid paying child support, and in some jurisdictions, courts will order you to go back to prison if you do not pay your child support.

If you are about to go to prison, get a bank account before you report
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Picture of card
person leaving a prison cell who is prepared to re-enter successfully

6. Gather evidence that helps to establish your history as a good tenant. If you can demonstrate that you were a reliable tenant who paid rent before incarceration, it may help to overcome a landlord's apprehension about renting to you after you have returned. Likewise, it might be helpful to have records of on-time utility payments. Having "proof of residency" could be very valuable. For example, you will need such documents to renew an expired driver's license.

7. Medical and immunization records: You will need these documents if you want to apply for Medicaid.

8. Manage your bank account. Some banks will charge an inactivity fee if you keep your account open but do not use it. Some banks (or credit unions) may be flexible, especially if you can plead your case to a real person. If you can keep your account open without fees, make sure you turn the account off. Most banks now give account holders the ability to suspend the ability of an account to make new transactions. Many larger banks have apps that can fulfill your request immediately. Turning it back on is simple, and in fact, you can do it within seconds.

9. If you do not have a bank account, get one now. Right? You know that it will be harder to qualify for an account after you come back. Get one now, place enough in it to give you some breathing room when you get back, and then turn it off. You might want to get an account with a savings account attached to it so that your funds will earn interest while you are away. The accounts above both have optional high-interest savings accounts.

10. Keep your Selective Service Record. You may need to be able to show that you have registered for the draft. As you know, all male citizens are required to register when they turn 18. Many government programs have a policy of denying benefits to all "resistors." If you have not registered and you are already of age, then do so before you enter prison. You can register here. If you are between 18 and 25 when you return and you have not previously registered, you will only have 30 days to do so. This rule applies to all U.S. born and naturalized citizens, undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents, asylum seekers, refugees, and all males with a visa that expired more than 30 days ago.

You Will Appreciate Being Prepared When You Return from Incarceration

Experts say that the most successful returnees have one thing in common: they do an excellent job of establishing goals and then taking concrete steps to realize them. Here are five fundamental principles:

1- Take tiny steps. Don't say: "get an apartment." Instead, break the process out into individual steps: Research listings. Contact former landlords for references. Request (for free) your credit report. Research listings again. Call three potential listings. Find a roommate.

- Make it timebound: Establish a deadline for each step in a goal. You might make it a goal to do certain things each day, such as research listings or look for roommates. Other tasks, such as getting a credit report, should be completed within a set time frame.

- Identify resources needed for each goal: Will you need a data plan to call employers? Will you need a bank account to purchase a credit report online?

- Measure your success: If you have identified five steps necessary to complete a long-term goal, you are halfway there. Add the process of identifying steps with other measurements: how many hours did you spend on each element? How many resources have you identified that you will need? How many steps have you completed?

- Credit yourself when you complete a goal: Even if you do not have concrete progress to report, you will feel better knowing you put in the time to get closer to your desired result.

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