Category: Credit

Should You Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement?

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While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.

Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.

If You Have High-Interest Debt, Pay it Down

When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).

In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.

High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.

To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.

If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.

Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.

If You’re Nearing Retirement, Start to Save

The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).

Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.

Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.

Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.

Aim for Both Goals by Improving Income

As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.

The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.

If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.

For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.

While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).

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What Happens To Your Credit When You Withdraw Cash From Your Credit Card

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Credit is an important part of financial health. It can help you buy a car or home, pay for college, and even qualify for a new job. While credit can be used as a tool of success, it can also lead to unwise and damaging choices.

Money trouble can be stressful, especially when you need it fast, and you might be considering a cash advance to cover your needs. Is it the right choice? Read on for all the details.

Can I Withdraw Cash from a Credit Card?

Probably. While it depends on your issuer’s policies, most credit cards provide a cash advance option, allowing you to withdraw liquid funds from your account.

Is a Cash Advance a Regular Charge?

No. Cash advances usually come with their own terms and conditions, and you can expect to pay more in:

  • Fees: Most credit card issuers impose a cash advance fee: either a flat rate or a percentage of the cash amount. For example, the Chase Freedom card charges $10 or 5% of the transaction amount.
  • APR Interest Rates: The same Chase Freedom card charges 23.99% on cash advances (the standard rate for all other charges varies between 15.49%-24.24%). Cash advances also have no grace period, which means that interest immediately begins accruing on the balance.

Will It Hurt My Credit?

A cash advance won’t damage your credit on its own, but the aftermath is another story. For example, suppose you use your Chase Freedom card to withdraw a $1,000 cash advance. Your account is immediately charged a 5% transaction fee of $50. You need the money to cover emergency car repairs, and you cannot repay the balance at the end of the month. In fact, six months pass before you have the funds to tackle your debt. By this point, your balance has ballooned from $1,050 to $1,184, increasing your credit utilization ratio. Unfortunately, you must use emergency savings to repay it, once again putting you at risk for surprise expenses and credit damage. If improving your credit score is a top priority, think carefully before pursuing a cash advance.

Are There Other Ways to Secure Cash?

Relying on credit for cash isn’t a wise choice, and should only be used as a last resort. If you need money fast, there are a few ways to get it without going into debt.

  • Quick Delivery Jobs: Delivery services like Amazon Prime Now and DoorDash are always looking for new employees nationwide, and you can earn as much as $25 per hour making simple deliveries.
  • Clean Out Your Closet: Take advantage of unused electronics, clothing, jewelry, etc. by selling it online for a quick profit.
  • Lessen Your 401(k) Contribution: Saving for retirement is a wise choice, but you might consider temporarily changing your 401(k) contributions if you need liquid funds. Talk to your employer’s HR department about how to make changes to your direct deposit accounts.
  • Use Home Equity: If you’re a long-time homeowner, you may qualify for a home equity loan or line of credit. This strategy allows you to borrow against the value of your home and pay it back over time with a variable rate (i.e., home equity line) or fixed interest rate based on your FICO score (i.e., home equity loan). Talk to a financial planner about which choice is right for your situation and credit score.

If you want your credit situation to improve, learn how you can start repairing your credit here. You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing With a Collection Agency

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No one is immune from credit-related woes—I speak from experience. This week I received a call from a collection agency in Chicago. They claimed I owed $863 in unpaid medical bills, and the representative was eager to get his hands on payment. The call itself was a mistake—I paid the bill months ago—and yet, I was being asked to provide my credit card number over the phone to avoid a vague threat of “further action.”

It’s difficult to know how to move forward in a stressful situation that involves credit. Whether you receive a collection call in response to overwhelming debt, a forgotten bill, or by clerical error, it’s important to take it seriously. An account in collection status can severely damage your credit score and remain on your credit reports for up to seven years. Thankfully, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides federal guidelines for debt collectors to follow—a law that protects consumers from unfair, deceptive, and abusive actions. Exercise your rights by practicing these do’s and don’ts. They will help you navigate the debt collection process.

Do Ask for a Validation Notice

Debt collectors are required to provide a validation notice within five days of making contact with you. The notice must include several important pieces of information:

  • The name of the creditor you owe
  • The remaining balance owed
  • How to respond to pay the debt
  • How to respond if you plan to contest the debt

Debt collectors that cannot provide this information don’t have the power to collect unpaid funds from you. Learn more about debt validation here.

Don’t Provide Payment Over the Phone

Identity theft is a common occurrence in today’s world, and it’s easy to fall victim to a scammer posing as a debt collector. While you may feel pressured to pay the mysterious balance immediately, don’t provide your credit card number or other sensitive information over the phone. Instead, tell the representative that you’d rather communicate by mail. A legitimate collection agency is required to provide written correspondence when asked, and verifying their legitimacy is your first priority.

Do Assert Your Contact Preferences

The FDCPA provides provisions for consumers dealing with collection agencies, including your preference for how they should contact you. While most people believe harassing phone calls are unavoidable, you actually have the right to communicate by mail only, and a debt collector cannot contact you by phone again if you notify them in writing to stop. They also cannot contact you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. local time or harass you at your place of work. If you receive an unwanted call, make it clear that you would rather communicate via mail or email only.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Threats 

Collection agencies aren’t allowed to threaten you in order to recoup debt, but that doesn’t mean some won’t skirt the law with intimidation. Don’t be fooled. Regardless of your financial situation, debt collectors cannot have you arrested, publish your name in the newspaper as an unpaid debtor, use profane language, threaten violence, seize your property without a court judgment, etc. Restate your contact preference and write down any threats you receive before ending the call.

Do Consider Working with a Lawyer 

Every consumer has the right to represent themselves in credit-related matters, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be beneficial to seek legal advice. In addition to working with the collection agency on your behalf, a trained credit repair lawyer can assess the merits of the debt collector’s claims, draft responses, and help you minimize credit damage in the process. You have rights and you have options. When it comes to financial health, choosing the best course could make a huge difference.

If you have questions about collections, or are worried about your credit, learn how you can start repairing your credit here.  You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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Are You Part of the Credit Community?

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There are many communities to which the average person belongs. One of these could be the credit community, defined as individuals who have a credit file and a credit score. However, there are many who don’t belong to this community due to lack of a credit score either by choice or because they just haven’t been able to get credit.

Who Doesn’t Belong to the Credit Community

While it’s true that the majority of Americans do belong to the credit community, there are two distinct groups that do not: 

  • Once Bitten, Twice Shy – This group has had a bad experience with credit in the past and has mismanaged their credit cards or bank accounts, and may try the strategy of going all cash. It’s still possible in today’s society to get by without credit, and unless there’s unpaid tax liens, an persons credit file will be cleared after 10 years.
  • Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg? Generally, in order to get credit, you need good credit. People without credit face a Catch-22 dilemma, as no credit is as bad as bad credit. Lenders like to know whom they are dealing with when making lending decisions. Without a track record to look at, lenders may be unwilling to take a chance on a new customer without a credit file. So with no credit file, you may not be able to get new credit, and are unable to build credit in order to apply for new loans – it’s a circular problem. Secured cards (which require a deposit) and credit builder loans are the ways for people with no credit to get a credit history.

Credit Communities Across America

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York discovered that on average, 89.2% of the U.S. population had a credit file and credit score in 2014 (and thus belonged to a credit community).   New Hampshire led the country with 96.4% of the population having a file and score, while Arizona, at 84.7%, had the least amount of the population having scorable credit histories. This represents an upward trend in membership – the lowest participation was in 2012, where only a little over 87% nationally had credit files and credit scores.

Credit Community Access to Revolving Credit

Just because you have a credit file doesn’t mean you are able to get credit. The New York Fed study measured one metric indicating a consumer’s ability to obtain credit: the revolving credit indicator. The revolving credit indicator is the percent of individuals in the credit economy who are able to obtain credit, up to a limit, without having to reapply or re-qualify for a new loan using revolving credit products such as credit cards and home equity lines of credit. The U.S. population access to revolving credit average was 70% in 2015, with the highest levels of revolving credit accessibility being in Alaska, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington, and the Northeastern U.S. The lowest levels were in the southern parts of the country. Comparing the data annually since 2006, the highest level of accessibility to revolving credit was in 2007, reflecting the easy credit that existed and what some say caused the financial crisis in the late 2000’s.

Credit Community Available Credit

Your credit utilization is defined as the ratio achieved by dividing your available credit by your credit limit, and this ratio is 30% of your credit score, according to FICO. The lower your credit utilization, the better your credit, with optimal credit utilization reached when you stay at or around 10%. The average credit utilization in 2015, according to the New York Fed study, was 38% across the country. This would have the net effect of lowering the average U.S. consumer credit score.

Credit Community On-Time Payers

Your payment history is 35% of your credit score, and having a history of on-time payments will benefit your score tremendously. The NY Fed study looked at the percentage of the credit community that was current on all obligations in 2015. The national average was 78%, and this is an upward trend. In 2006, the average was just over 74%, with an increase in on-time payers each year from 2010 on. The highest percentage of on-time payers was in the New England states, the northwest, and the northern Midwest states, with North Dakota having the highest percentage of on-time payers, greater than 85%. Mississippi had the lowest average of on-time payers with less than 70%.

Credit Community Percentage With Good Credit Scores

Your credit score is calculated based on the information in your credit report, and there are 3 main areas of consideration besides your payment history and your credit utilization: your mix of credit, your average age of accounts, and any new credit you have. The study did not look at the other 3 factors but analyzed the credit score data of the U.S by county. The percentage of U.S. consumers that had a prime credit score, defined as 720 or above, in the Equifax Risk Score 3.0 which has a range of 280 – 850, was 50%. Higher credit scores in general, were in the northern part of the country. In the southern U.S., an average of 50% of the population had subprime credit. Interestingly, the percentage of the population with prime credit is the highest it’s been since 2006.   Conversely, the percentage of the national credit community with subprime credit, defined as having a credit score lower than 660, was 33%.

If you want to be in good standing in the credit community and start repairing your credit, click here. You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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What’s the Difference Between an Educational Score and a FICO Score?

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Building credit strength is a delicate balance of time, strategy, and information. When it comes to the latter, accuracy is crucial, especially concerning your credit scores. For instance, suppose you plan to buy a new house by the end of the year. Your mortgage broker friend suggests raising your credit score to at least 720 before applying for a loan. She explains that a higher credit score qualifies you for a lower interest rate, which will reduce your monthly payments and the long-term cost of your mortgage. So, which score counts? You’ll find the answers here.

What is an Educational Credit Score?

An educational credit score is based on a private lender or credit bureau’s ranking of your financial information. For example, the PLUS score was designed by Experian and uses your bureau-specific credit report to tally a score from 330 to 830. The purpose of educational credit scores is to provide you with a basic idea of your risk level and creditworthiness.

Are Educational Scores Used By Lenders?

No. Although they are designed to measure credit risk, educational credit scores are not used by lenders. Models like the PLUS score are meant for consumer use only, which means that they are not considered when lenders review your loan application.

What is a FICO Score?

The FICO scoring model is used by more than 90 percent of lenders. Developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), your traditional FICO score is graded on a scale of 350 to 850, while industry-specific FICO scores are measured on a scale of 250 to 900. Your score is based on five factors: payment history, debt utilization, credit length, new credit, and types of credit used.

You have several FICO scores, but in general, the average lender will review the three scores based on your TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax credit reports.

Where Can I Check My FICO Scores?

Many websites advertise FICO score purchase options, but when you’re planning a financial move, it’s best to go straight to the source. “MyFICO.com is the only place where consumers can access all three FICO Scores based on Equifax, Experian and TransUnion data,” the FICO team said in a statement. Your scores can be purchased directly from the website.

You may find educational scores that model the FICO scoring method from the following sources:

  • The Credit Bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax all sell credit scores to consumers, and some provide regular updates when you sign up for their ongoing credit monitoring services.
  • Your Credit Card: Many credit card members receive access to their educational credit score as a monthly perk.

Which Score Should I Check Before Applying for a Loan or Credit?

When it comes to learning the facts yourself, you should always rely on the credit score used by your intended lender. “Before getting a loan for a major purchase, such as a home, you should check all three of your FICO scores,” the FICO team said. “Most lenders will look at all three FICO scores—one from each major credit bureau—when evaluating your loan application.”

Reviewing your credit scores can be confusing, and it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the FICO model and understand how your lender analyzes loan applications. The result could save you a lifetime of excessive debt.
Learn how you can start repairing your credit here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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