Will Equifax really pay $125 to every American affected by its data security breach?

No. Equifax will issue payouts to those affected by the company’s 2017 data breach who file a claim, but the amount of those payouts will be much, much less than $125.

Here’s the deal: In July 2019, Equifax reached a $700 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government entities. As part of that settlement, the company agreed to pay up to $125 to each American affected by the breach.

The FTC set up a website to receive applications for those payouts. On the site, consumers can choose to receive a cash payout or up to 10 years of free credit report monitoring and up to $1 million of identity theft insurance.

Unfortunately, the fund that cash will come from is capped at $31 million, which would only cover full $125 payouts for 248,000 consumers. The amount of individual payouts will shrink proportionally as more people sign up for the cash option.

While it’s theoretically possible that only 248,000 people have signed up for the settlement, that seems extremely unlikely. The FTC hasn’t disclosed how many claims have been filed, but we do know at least 4 million people visited the Equifax settlement site just in the first few weeks of its operation.

If 4 million consumers sign up for the cash settlement, they’ll receive about $7.75 each. If all 147 million Americans affected by the breach apply for a settlement and choose the cash option, the payouts will be about 21 cents.

The FTC addressed the issue on their website.

“Because the total amount available for these alternative payments is $31 million, each person who takes the money option is going to get a very small amount,” the commission wrote. “Nowhere near the $125 they could have gotten if there hadn’t been such an enormous number of claims filed.”

If you haven’t applied for a cash settlement yet, you have options.

While the idea of a cash payout is appealing for obvious reasons, the FTC recommends choosing free credit monitoring instead.

“The free credit monitoring provides a much better value, and everyone whose information was exposed can take advantage of it,” the commission wrote. “If your information was exposed in the data breach, and you file a valid claim before the deadline, you are guaranteed at least four years of free monitoring at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance, among other benefits. The market value of this product is hundreds of dollars per year. You can still choose the cash option on the claim form, but you will be disappointed with the amount you receive and you won’t get the free credit monitoring.”

If you’ve already signed up for the cash payout and you want to change your claim to get free credit monitoring, you will have that option. The FTC settlement administrator will send an email in the near future offering the opportunity to switch, although the commission hasn’t said when this email is coming.

“Wait for the email from the settlement administrator if you want to amend your claim form,” the FTC wrote. “The settlement administrator has said that the claims website will soon be updated with this information, too.”

We’d recommend visiting ftc.gov occasionally over the next few months to make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to change your claim. The claims process ends on Jan. 22, 2020, so make sure you’ve selected one of the options and filled out the appropriate paperwork by that date.

You can also apply for additional reimbursement if you paid money to recover from the breach.

If you took steps to protect yourself after the breach (for instance, by signing up for paid credit monitoring or freezing your credit report), you can apply for additional reimbursement. These expenses are paid from a different fund, not the one set aside for general claims, and they require a more in-depth application.

Regardless of the steps you choose to take when filing your Equifax claim, make sure that you’re using the official settlement site. The safest way to get there is to go straight to ftc.gov and follow the links on the homepage for “File Your Equifax Claim.” On the FTC site, you can also sign up for a newsletter with more information about the Equifax settlement and any additional developments that occur between now and the end of the settlement period.