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Wednesday is the deadline to file your claim for Equifax data breach settlement

Equifax data breach
Victims still reeling from Equifax data breach 02:24

Anyone looking for compensation from the massive Equifax data breach that affected nearly 150 million people has until Wednesday to prove you're among those impacted and deserve either a cash payment or free credit monitoring for a decade. 

However, consumers should be aware it is unlikely they'll receive a $125 payment that was first dangled when the settlement was announced, said Ted Frank, director of litigation for Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, a public interest law firm. He estimated that consumers who have claimed the payment will receive no more than $7 each after all the settlement's legal costs are covered.

The 2017 data breach exposed Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and home addresses of up to 147 million people. Equifax officials agreed last July to pay up to $700 million to settle a class action lawsuit, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with up to $425 million of the sum to be set aside for compensating the millions of people who were affected.

Anyone seeking compensation must submit a claim by the end of January 22, 2020. Here's what you need to know:

About that $125

Equifax is offering three types of compensation — and one of them is cold, hard cash.

Those affected could receive up to $125, but the exact amount isn't finalized because it depends on how many people actually file a claim for cash. The more people who claim, the lower the amount may fall for each individual. 

The problem sits with the relatively small pool of money set aside for victims, Frank said. 

About $31 million "was made available for $125 claims (the rest was set aside for financial losses and credit monitoring), and even a tiny claims rate would exhaust the fund," he noted. "The people who claimed $125 will receive less than $7, and that will likely drop further as people make more claims by the January 22 deadline."

Another issue that's taking a bite out of the settlement: A federal judge in December awarded almost $80 million to the attorneys representing consumers against Equifax.

Another caveat: Consumers must prove they already have a credit monitoring service to get the cash. 

It's unclear how many people have filed a claim so far, but the FTC last July said there has been overwhelming interest in the cash settlement, suggesting a lower per person payout than $125 might be expected. 

A smarter option for consumers, the FTC argues, is signing up for the free credit monitoring. 

Why free credit monitoring may be better deal

The settlement is also offering a decade of free credit monitoring from Equifax (for six years) and Experian (the other four years). Credit monitoring includes, among other things, notices of changes in your credit report from the three major credit bureaus and up to $1 million in insurance covering costs related to identity theft or fraud. 

The credit monitoring "is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year," Robert Schoshinski, assistant director of the FTC's division of privacy and identity protection wrote in a July blog post. "If you haven't submitted your claim yet, think about opting for the free credit monitoring instead."

Up to $20,000 for fraud victims 

Finally, consumers can claim up to $20,000 to be reimbursed for money they already spent trying to restore their identity from misuse of their personal information that can be tied to the Equifax data breach. 

Consumers can claim any money spent on or before September 7, 2017, that went toward freezing their credit reports. They can also claim any money spent on or before May 13, 2017, that was used to resolve theft or fraud activities. Even smaller miscellaneous costs incurred from completing those tasks — like postage, long-distance phone calls or notary services — can be claimed as long as you have proof of those expenses. More information is available here.

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