8 Signs You Have a Credit Card Problem

Credit troubles often begin inconspicuously, yet there are signs all along the way before they become unmanageable. Being alert to these warnings allows you to make the necessary changes to prevent a future of financial worries. Having a credit card isn’t bad when you use it for the right reasons. It serves as a bridge to better things and establishes a credit history, which helps you make big purchases such as a home or a car.

Unfortunately, the “spend first, pay later” option is a slippery slope that leads to serious credit problems. They can happen to people of every age, income level and social status. Many signs are obvious to conscientious consumers, but life can sometimes become so hectic that you push them aside for later. Only later never comes. The sooner you admit that you have credit problems, the sooner you are able to fix them. Neglect the issue and you may end up with accounts in collections, purchases repossessed, eviction and bankruptcy.

Watch out for these eight signs that indicate you are headed for trouble:

1. You never follow a budget. If you don’t budget, your spending can easily get out of control.

2. A bank denies your loan. It may mean that the creditor thinks you have too much existing debt already, even though your official credit score isn’t bad – yet.

3. You make late payments regularly. You face expensive penalties, increasing the size of your bills and your risk of falling into debt.

4. You use payday loans. If you resort to these short-term cash loans with high interest rates, you can soon land yourself into serious debt.

5. You buy essentials like food on credit. You’re living beyond your means if you charge essential expenses on credit cards and you can’t repay in full each month.

6. Your annual percentage rate (APR), the amount of interest you pay per year, rises. A higher APR means the lender considers you at greater risk of debt problems.

7. You can’t afford more than the minimum required payments. It’s a clear warning that you spend more on your credit card than your income can support.

8. You don’t have sufficient savings to cover emergency expenses. You risk racking up massive debt when you need to use your credit cards in emergency situations.

If you recognize these signs, you need to be serious about making changes, even to the point of altering your lifestyle. Examine every purchase and question its actual need. Limit your credit cards to emergencies and use cash for the majority of your expenses. Make a commitment to save a percentage of your income for an emergency fund.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s 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.

Article source courtesy of Kimberly J. Howard, AdviceIQ of you USA Today.

Is Your Rewards Credit Card Really Rewarding You?

cards_mastheadConventional financial wisdom for the last 10 years has been that you need a rewards credit card. Obviously, carrying a high revolving balance is bad, but if you pay your debt in full every month, it’s a no-brainer. You put all your expenses on your credit card, pay it off before you’re charged interest, and rack up those airline or other rewards. You cash those in for free flights, first class upgrades, restaurant gift cards, merchandise, and other perks.

There’s another bit of conventional financial wisdom, though: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Free rewards sound great, but are you really getting everything you’re promised?

It might be time to take another look at your rewards card. Is it still the best bet for your money? If you’re thinking about cutting the card, check out these factors:

  • Is there an annual fee? If you’re paying money every year to use the card but you’re not getting more than that amount in rewards, your credit card is a losing proposition. Check your billing statement for this information – and don’t forget to check the fine print.
  • Is the interest rate extremely high? If you pay the balance in full every month, you might not ever think to check your interest rate. Suppose though, that something unfortunate happened – you or your spouse lost your job, you lost track of the date, or otherwise forgot to pay the bill. You could rack up significant finance charges on even one month’s expenses.
  • Is there a real grace period on interest? You might assume that if you pay your credit card bill before the end of the billing cycle that you wouldn’t get hit with any interest charges. This might have been the case when you first signed up, but the deal may have changed over time. Credit card disclosures are often difficult to read, so check them carefully.

If any of the above are making your rewards card less of a reward and more of a chore or added expense, it might be time to look closer to home for your credit card needs. Here at First Financial we offer a Visa Platinum Credit Card* with no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, and a CURewards program where you can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise items, travel, and so much more! PLUS, we’re currently offering an introductory rate of 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on all purchases and balance transfers.**

Instead of counting on programs for rewards you may never see, put the money you save with our low-cost Visa Platinum Credit Card into a Holiday Club or Summer Savings account. Now that’s a real reward! Don’t forget to read all the important documents carefully, then pick up the phone. Our friendly staff will gladly help you make the switch. Speak to a First Financial representative today by calling 866.750.0100 or stop into any branch location.

*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.

**The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to purchases or cash advances.


5 Bad Credit Card Habits to Break Now

8044873-largeWe’ve all heard the advice: Use credit cards wisely. Still, knowing what’s smart and doing what’s smart can be two different things. And with an increasing number of U.S. young adults putting purchases on plastic – 57 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds say they use credit cards today, versus 48 percent in 2013, according to Mercator Advisory Group’s recent Customer Monitor Survey – that advice is worth repeating.

Are you guilty of any of the following five bad credit card habits? If you’re guilty of having any of these habits, it’s time to change your ways. Otherwise, stay far, far away from these behaviors:

1. Mindless charging. Some people use credit cards with the mindset that “it doesn’t count” if it’s paid for with plastic instead of cash. You need to think before you spend. You don’t want to have more than $100,000 in credit card debt and not qualify for a mortgage for your new home. Even if you’re able to clean up your credit enough to close on a home, you could face the possibility of foreclosure when trying to balance your credit card debt and your living expenses.

2. Paying only the minimum amount due. It’s understandable that if money’s tight, you may not feel like parting with hard-earned cents to pay down your credit card debt.

But you’re just hurting yourself in the long run. If you pay the minimum on credit cards, you’re extending the time period on everything that you buy. This is the main reason that people can build extraordinarily large credit card balances that they can’t hope to pay off. If you’re going to use your cards and carry revolving debt, you at least need to know that it’s going to be paid off within a time frame that works for you.

3. Adding to your revolving debt by making nonessential purchases. All revolving credit card debt should be avoided, of course. But if you’re carrying revolving debt on a credit card, and then your car breaks down, and you don’t have the money to pay a mechanic, you can make a good argument for whipping out your credit card.

You need that car to get to work, or to shuttle your kids around, and if you live in the suburbs or countryside, you probably don’t have a bus service to utilize. So, yes, getting the car fixed is essential. But buying a pair of shoes when you already have a closet full of them or going out to eat with a credit card that has revolving debt is a) problematic and b) not essential, says Albert Williams, a personal finance professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“This pay-later [plan] is really creating a loan that is interest-bearing,” Williams says. “This is a bad practice but people do it often.”

In other words, if you’re still paying off that mechanic six months from now, you probably won’t hate yourself. You needed that car fixed. If six months later, you’re still carrying debt on cheeseburgers, fries and shakes, every time you look at your credit card statement, you probably are going to experience indigestion.

4. Using your credit card for a cash advance. If you’re short on cash and you really want some actual bills in your wallet, it may be tempting to take out a little cash. But you might as well just rip it up. In fact, if you take out a cash advance from a credit card, not only will you pay interest, you may get a transaction fee, which could be as much as 5 percent of the cash advance.

You can pay back your credit card immediately, of course, if you get a cash advance that you immediately come to regret. But no matter what, you’ll end up paying the interest accrued on that cash – as well as the transaction fee.

5. Having too many credit cards. There are good reasons to have some credit cards, but it’s difficult to justify having lots of them.

Researchers say that the average number for most people with credit cards is four. However, once you get a credit card, you really have to live with it, since canceling the card can hurt your FICO score. That’s because a great deal of it is based on the equation of credit used over credit available. Try to have cards that equal the amount of credit that you can use and more importantly, can manage.

Leslie Tayne, a New York City-based attorney, debt specialist and author of the new book, “Life & Debt: A fresh approach to achieving financial wellness,” agrees that having too many credit cards is a bad habit consumers develop, thanks to all the store cards out there.

“I often see people with over 20 credit cards, all of which have balances,” she says. “This makes it hard to keep track of that many cards, for issuing payments on time.”

And balances, she adds, can quickly add up. That’s not to say that if you can replace your bad habits with good habits, you can’t benefit from these cards. “Store card discount incentives can be great if someone has a plan to pay off the balance,” Tayne says. And having a plan to pay off the plastic is generally the key to creating and maintaining good habits with credit cards. If all else fails, remember the universal rule of credit card usage: If you don’t pay it now, you’ll really pay for it later.

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!

Article source written by Geoff Williams of US News.

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.

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


What’s New? EMV Chip Card Technology FAQs

emv_chip_2The days of the credit card’s magnetic stripe appear numbered, with special-chip, or EMV, credit cards poised to immigrate onto America’s payments landscape. EMV-enabled cards, named for developers Europay, MasterCard and Visa, have an embedded microprocessor chip that encrypts transaction data differently for each purchase. Some chip cards require a personal identification number to complete a transaction, while others only require a signature. EMV is widely used in Europe and Asia and is steadily being adopted as the standard type of credit card worldwide. Everywhere, that is, except the U.S. – but maybe not for long.

What is EMV?
EMV chip technology is becoming the global standard for credit card and debit card payments. Named after its original developers (Europay, MasterCard® and Visa®), this smart chip technology features payment instruments (cards, mobile phones, etc.) with embedded microprocessor chips that store and protect cardholder data. This standard has many names worldwide and may also be referred to as: “chip and PIN” or “chip and signature.”

What is chip technology?
Chip technology is an evolution in our payment system that will help increase security, reduce identity theft and fraud and enable the use of future value-added applications. Chip cards are standard bank cards that are embedded with a micro computer chip. Some may require a PIN instead of a signature to complete the transaction process.

How does EMV chip technology work?
The EMV-enabled device will communicate with the chip inside the smart card to determine whether or not the card is authentic. Generally, the terminal will prompt the cardholder to sign or enter a PIN to validate their identity. This process enhances the authentication of both the card and cardholder, effectively reducing the possibility that a business will accept a counterfeit card or be held liable for a fraud-related chargeback.

What makes EMV different than the traditional magnetic stripe card payment?Simply put, EMV (also referred to as chip-and-PIN, chip-and-signature, chip-and-choice, or generally as chip technology) is the most recent advancement in a global initiative to combat fraud and protect sensitive payment data in the card-present environment. A cardholder’s confidential data is more secure on a chip-enabled payment card than on a magnetic stripe (magstripe) card, as the former supports dynamic authentication, while the latter does not (the data is static). Consequently, data from a traditional magstripe card can be copied (skimmed) with a simple and inexpensive card reading device – enabling criminals to reproduce counterfeit cards for use in both the retail and the CNP environment. Chip (EMV) technology is effective in combating counterfeit fraud with its dynamic authentication capabilities (dynamic values existing within the chip itself that, when verified by the point-of-sale device, ensure the authenticity of the card).

What other incentives are there to accept chip cards?
In addition to the reduction of fraud and related chargebacks, there are other cost savings associated with EMV acceptance. The payment brands are doing their part to ensure that chip-bearing customers can pay at chip-enabled businesses. For example, Visa and MasterCard have issued upcoming rules and guidelines for processors and merchants to support EMV chip technology. Another Visa and MasterCard ruling is the liability shift. Once this goes into effect, merchants who have not made the investment in chip-enabled technology may be held financially liable for card-present fraud that could have been prevented with the use of a chip-enabled POS system.

Is this technology unique to the United States?
No. The chip technology standard for payment was first used in France in 1992. Today, there are more than 1 billion chip cards used around the world. The U.S. is one of the few industrialized nations that have not fully transitioned to this technology standard.

Why invest in chip card acceptance now?
Preventing the growth of fraudulent activity is one of the main reasons the industry is moving toward EMV technology. Chip cards make it difficult for fraud organizations to target cardholders and businesses alike. As a result, more and more chip cards are being introduced by U.S. financial institutions in order to support and switch over to this technology.

To cover all your financial bases, enroll in one of our First Financial’s ID Theft Protection product plans – 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.

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 find out how you can enroll today – as well as get started with your first 90 days free!**

*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.

**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.

*Click here view the original article sources by Chase Paymentech and Bankrate.