Bad Credit Makes Everything Harder: How to Fix it and Start 2015 Off Right

07232014_Woman_Dollars_Lasso_Women_originalHaving poor credit definitely makes your life more expensive. Mortgages, car loans, insurance policies and a host of other items all carry higher rates if your credit score is low – which is why achieving and maintaining a solid credit score is a must for anyone who wants to improve their financial situation.

But higher expenses aren’t the only way a bad credit score can cost you. Renting can be more difficult, as landlords commonly pull a potential tenant’s credit score as part of the rental application process; many will dismiss renters with low credit scores without a second look. Finding the right credit card could also be a struggle, as there are fewer options for those with poor credit.

Here are three other lesser known ways that poor credit makes life more difficult – plus five tips to dig your way out of that:

1. Setting up utilities is more complicated.
For those with good credit, setting up utilities usually requires a simple phone call or two – but people with poor credit have to take extra steps. If your score is really awful, you may need to put down a deposit with each utility company to get your services started.

2. Getting a new job or promotion is more difficult.

Potential employers can’t view your actual credit score, but they can request an employment credit report, which omits your account numbers and personal information yet includes your payment history and loan information. In today’s employment market, a poor report could be the reason you’re rejected for a job or a promotion.

3. Starting a new relationship can be – complicated.
Not even your romantic life is safe from a bad credit score. Savvy consumers who are financially responsible know the potential impact of a partner’s bad credit on their own finances. According to a 2014 NerdWallet analysis, 53 percent of single adults over age 25 say they are “somewhat less likely” or “much less likely” to go out with someone with bad credit.

Though bad credit can be a heartbreaker in more ways than one – you can fix it. Here are five ways to raise your credit score:

  1. Pay your bills on time – no exceptions, no excuses. This is far and away the most important thing to build and maintain good credit.
  2. Avoid using more than 30 percent of the available credit on your cards during the month, say many experts. Monitor your balance carefully throughout your billing cycle and make a payment if you start to get too close to that threshold.
  3. Start using credit as soon as you can. The easiest way to do this is to get a credit card and use it responsibly and consistently.
  4. Only apply for credit you actually need – too many hard inquiries in the span of just a few months will ding your score.
  5. Use AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain a copy of your three credit reports once per year. Review them, carefully, for accuracy; if you spot an error, start the process of having it corrected as soon as you can.

Don’t forget about our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live. Feel free to check out our interactive financial calculators – we even have ones for Credit Cards and Debt Management!

Original article source by Lindsay Konsko of The Fiscal Times.

Holiday Credit Card Traps – Beware!


Credit Card Trap, Predatory LendingBeware: Zero interest-rate financing. Store cards with discounts. Cash advances.

As consumers gear up for the holiday spend-a-thon, there are also plenty of opportunities to get into trouble with credit cards. And if you’re not careful, you can find yourself with a lower credit score, high interest payments, and more.

Holiday spending is expected to increase nearly 5% this year, with the average consumer planning to spend $804, according to the National Retail Federation. That can make credit card deals look enticing, and too good to be true.

Deferred interest credit card offers, for example, often surface this time of year, according to Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. These offers, often announced as “zero percent interest” or “special financing” promotions, typically give consumers a grace period on interest, sometimes for a year or more.

For a consumer making a big purchase and planning to pay it off within that time, deferred interest plans can be helpful, Detweiler said. But she warned that consumers who leave even a single dollar of charges on the card by the time the deferred interest period is over can be hit with retroactive interest charges on the entire balance they charged.

She had just received a letter from Home Depot, for example, explaining that if she took its deferred interest offer and did not pay it off in full within the specified period, she would be charged interest on all her charges retroactively at a rate of 22.9%. (The store’s website describes a six-month deferred interest offer with interest rates on unpaid balances ranging from 17.99 to 26.99%).

According to CardHub, a credit card comparison website, paying off your credit card debt one month behind schedule or missing a single payment could increase your financing costs by more than 27 times if you rack up charges under a deferred interest plan. The site has compiled a list of retailers offering deferred interest plans with varying degrees of transparency.

Regulators are keeping an eye on deferred interest offers as well. In September the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a bulletin warning credit card issuers against “engaging in deceptive and/or abusive acts and practices in connection with solicitations that offer a promotional annual percentage rate (APR) on a particular transaction over a defined period of time.”

Opening new credit card accounts is another potential pitfall for consumers. Many retailers encourage consumers to take out store cards, often by offering enticements like a discount on that day’s purchases, or by offering a discount if the consumer spends above a certain threshold.

“Some of these offers will be designed to encourage you to spend more,” said Jeanine Skowronski, a credit card analyst with Bankrate.com.

High interest rates

Store credit cards often carry high interest rates. And even an application for a new credit card will appear on your credit report, Detweiler said.

“Every time there is an inquiry into your credit file, that’s a risk factor and that drops your score,” she warned. “If you open three or four new retail cards over the holidays, you can wind up not only with a lot of debt but also a lower credit score. If you know you are going to refinance a house or buy a car, be careful.”

Credit card cash advances are another potential pitfall for consumers. The interest on these is often well above the interest on credit card purchases.

“Stay away from them at all costs,” Skowronski said.

For people who really want to shop with cash, Detweiler recommends an alternative to credit card cash advances: a balance transfer. Consumers can ask a card issuer to deposit cash in their account to be used to pay off another card. Often, the interest rate on that balance transfer cash will be lower, Detweiler said — but usually only for a limited time. After that, she said, “any balances left will be charged a much higher interest rate.”

Of course, there are ways credit cards can be helpful with holiday spending too. For example, consumer protections on credit cards tend to be stronger than for debit cards: consumers are typically only liable for a maximum of $50 if they fall victim to credit card fraud, and as soon as the card is replaced they can use it again. Losses on a debit card are capped at a higher level, and it can take longer for a bank to straighten out an account where there has been fraud.

Credit card price protection promises can also be helpful. These guarantees typically allow a consumer to get a refund if the price on something they purchased drops within a specified period of time. Taking advantage of those guarantees takes discipline, though, as does sticking to a holiday spending plan.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where our credit card rates are as low as 10.9% APR and we have no balance transfer fees!* And for a limited time – if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

4 Ways to Keep the Grinch from Stealing Your Good Credit

GrinchDuring the holiday season, we’re more at risk for fraud and identity theft as we head out or online to shop. Theft of your credit cards or identity can be devastating to your credit, not to mention your finances and emotional well-being. Not exactly something we want to happen during this joyous time of year, right? Here are some tips to remember as we are holiday shopping.

1. Shop Safe Online

Be aware that just because you can shop in the comfort and safety of your home doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for identity or credit card theft. Stay safe online by entering your credit card number in as few places as possible – use a payment service such as PayPal; shop at reputable websites with names you know and trust; and avoid clicking on links sent to you in email or banner ads that could take to you websites other than where you intended to go.

2. Keep an Eye on Your Cards

When you’re out shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, keep an eye on your credit cards and make sure store clerks are not allowed to leave your sight with your cards in hand. Also, pick-pocketers are common this time of year, so make sure to keep your valuables safe when you are in public.

3. Check Your Statements

Checking your bank and credit card statements regularly – even as often as every day – is a great habit to start now, if you don’t already do it. This time of year, when you’re more likely to have increased activity on your accounts, it’s especially important to review them carefully and thoroughly. Get signed up for online access so you don’t have to wait for paper statements to arrive. If you see anything questionable, you can act on it right away and resolve any problems. You can also sign up for alerts to notify you whenever a purchase goes through.

4. Check Your Credit Reports & Credit Scores

The end of the year is also a great time to pull your credit report and/or get your credit score and compare it to your last one. Check your credit reports for any incorrect or unfamiliar information, inquiries, or credit accounts. Report any suspicious or wrong information to the creditor and the credit bureau. You can pull your credit reports for free every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies on AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can see two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

With these four simple steps and by being smart and aware of your surroundings, you can help keep yourself, your identity, and your credit safer from the Grinch. Cheers to a happy holiday season!

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored and you can try it FREE for 90 days!*

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!**

*Available for new enrollments only. After the free trial of 90 days, the member must contact the Credit Union to opt-out of ID Theft Protection or the monthly fee of $4.95 will automatically be deducted out of the base savings account or $8.95 will be deducted out of the First Protection Checking account (depending upon the coverage option selected), on a monthly basis or until the member opts out of the program. 

**Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Article Source: Jeanne Kelly of Credit.com, http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2014/12/09/4-ways-to-keep-grinch-from-stealing-your-good-credit/

 

3 Sneaky Things Hurting Your Credit That You Can Easily Fix

Credit-ReportWhen it comes to understanding your credit, it can feel as complicated as trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. Frustrated by this confusion, many consumers neglect their credit, which can have a devastating impact on their financial futures.

A Consumer Action study recently revealed that 27% of Americans have never checked their credit report. That’s alarming, because it’s estimated that a large number of consumers have errors on their credit reports that could damage their credit.

Here are three things that could be hurting your credit:

1. Wrong Information

The wrong personal information on your credit report could hurt your credit. This could be things like your name misspelled, your incorrect home address, where you’ve worked in the past or even your Social Security Number listed incorrectly. How does a wrong address hurt your credit? Your information may be mixed up with someone else’s, especially if you have a common name, or are a “Jr.” or “Sr.” Or it could indicate identity theft — and that could really wreak havoc with your credit. By reviewing your credit report, you’ll be able to quickly see if there’s any information that needs to be updated or changed.

2. High Balances Compared to Limits

Another sneaky thing that could hurt you is your credit card balances — even those you pay in full. How can a credit card that you pay off hurt your credit? Issuers typically report your balances as of the statement closing date. But then those cards aren’t due until about a month later. So in the meantime, the balance on your reports may look high in comparison to your credit limits.

Generally you want the balance on each card to stay below 20 to 25% of your available credit. If you have a retail card with a small limit or a rewards card that you use to pay for everything to earn points, then this factor could come back to haunt you.

So you need to either pay your charges off before the statement closing date or ask for a higher credit limit. Of course, a higher credit limit should not be an invitation to overspend. You won’t improve your credit scores if you get in over your head with debt!

3. Outstanding or Delinquent Bills

The third sneaky thing that could hurt your credit score could be outstanding or delinquent bills. You’ll want to make sure you check your credit report to make sure that you have no outstanding bills or any delinquent bills that you need to get addressed.
Review your credit report and make sure you’re not being marked for anything delinquent that could be damaging your credit. This could be things like former gym memberships, old credit cards, or even medical bills.

*Article Source Courtesy of Jeff Rose of Daily Finance Online

How to Build Credit if You Have a Small Income

Building and maintaining a good credit score is one of the best moves you can make for piggy bankyour financial health. It might seem intimidating at first – the credit scoring system is definitely complex – but when it comes time to apply for a mortgage or other loan, you’ll be happy you made building a solid score a priority.

How does the picture change if you make a small income? As it turns out, not much. You don’t need to be a Rockefeller to achieve good credit. Take a look at the details below to learn how to build a great score, no matter how large or small your paycheck is!

First, know what makes a good score.

Before digging into specific recommendations, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your credit score. The FICO scoring model – which is the most widely used credit scoring system in the United States today, takes a lot of variables into account to create your score. These include:

• Payment history
• Amounts owed
• Length of credit history
• Mix of credit accounts
• Recent credit inquiries

You’ll notice that income is not one of the factors used to determine your credit score. This means that earning a big salary doesn’t equate to earning a high credit score. Even if you have a small income, you can succeed at scoring high, as long as you’re using the right strategies.

Obtaining credit is an important first step.

It’s empowering to know that the steps to good credit are about financial behaviors, not the size of your bank account balance. But what exactly should you be doing to get there?

Above all, it’s important to start using a credit account responsibly as soon as you can. Proving to potential lenders that you can be trusted with borrowed money is the best way to start building your credit momentum.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with a credit card. If you’re not earning much money, you might be shying away from plastic to avoid the temptation to overspend. But this may in fact stall your efforts to build good credit.

If you’re not interested in getting a credit card, obtaining another type of loan to establish a credit history is a good idea. You might have trouble getting approved if your income falls below the lender’s requirements. In this case, offering a big down payment or securing a co-signer might help you qualify as well.

Did you know First Financial has a lower rate VISA Platinum Credit Card, great rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees? Apply today!*

Keep up with good habits.

Once you’ve gained access to credit, keeping up with good habits is essential to building your score further. Specifically, you should focus on a few important behaviors.

The two most important factors the FICO score looks at are:

  • Payment history – Are you making the minimum payment required on time every time? This accounts for 35% of the FICO Score.
  • Credit Utilization – Are you keeping the balances on revolving credit (typically credit cards) below 30 percent of your available credit? This accounts for 30% of the FICO Score.

In short, paying your bills on time and in full are the two most powerful things you can do to create and hold onto a good credit score.

And just to be clear: Neither requires a big income. Spend and borrow within your means, and it will be easy to manage your payments properly.

The takeaway: Those with small incomes have the same opportunity as their high-earning counterparts to build good credit.

Use the tips above to get started today!

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: Lindsay Konsko of NerdWallet

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/09/01/credit-score-financial-health/13628811/

Shoppers Beware: Retail Credit Card APRs Average 23%

Open WalletBefore you take the bait from the cashier and sign up for a new store credit card, be sure to read the fine print first.

Retail credit cards boast average annual percentage rates of 23.23%, according to a CreditCards.com analysis of cards from 36 of the nation’s biggest retailers.

That’s more than eight percentage points higher than the average credit card APR of 15.03%.

“Retailers dangle incentives like 15% off a purchase to encourage consumers to sign up for their credit cards,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “But the much higher interest rates far outweigh the one-time discount for anyone who carries a balance.”

If you’re confident you will never miss a payment and you think the retailer’s rewards program would provide you with savings, then it could be a fine deal. But if there’s even a small chance you’ll carry a balance, you could end up paying big money in interest as a result.

Customers with a 23.23% APR credit card, for example, would be hit with $840 in interest if they carry a $1,000 balance and only make minimum monthly payments — and it would take them 73 months to repay that balance. That compares to $396 in interest for the average credit card.

Jeweler Zales’ store card topped the list, with a rate of up to 28.99%, Office Depot and Staples both offer cards with rates as high as 27.99%, and Best Buy credit cards come with rates ranging between 25.24% and 27.99% depending on your credit.

Need to transfer a high rate credit card balance without any balance transfer fees, to a lower rate card? This is possible at First Financial, where our credit card rates are as low as 10.9% APR and we have no balance transfer fees!* And for a limited time – if you are approved for a balance transfer of $5,000 or more to our VISA Platinum Credit Card, you will receive 10,000 bonus CURewards Points! You can apply for the balance transfer by stopping into any branch or calling 866.750.0100 to be sent a balance transfer request form.**

If you have a great deal of debt, we also have a free, anonymous online debt management tool called Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**Additional bonus points will be reflected within 30 days from the balance transfer approval and can be viewed when signed into your VISA Platinum Card Account online through Online Banking. In order to redeem bonus points, an offer reference must be made to a First Financial representative. Bonus points can only be redeemed one time per member, on an approved balance transfer of $5,000 or greater during the promotional period of 4/28/14 – 12/31/14.

Article Source: Blake Ellis for CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/07/pf/retail-credit-cards/index.html?iid=SF_PF_River