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.

Credit Cards Can Be Stolen Right Under Your Nose

635576298599917158-468266197-4-There are several things people freak out about when their wallets or purses have been stolen: knowing a thief has your ID (and your home address), losing irreplaceable gift cards or cash, and having to cancel your credit cards. That’s usually the first thing people do — call their banks — but it’s easy to act quickly when you realize you’ve been robbed. Sometimes, it’s not that simple.

Thieves steal credit and debit cards all the time without taking the physical card. The most common kind of card theft results from data breaches. Last year, millions of U.S. consumers had their cards replaced after their information was compromised in one of the massive cyberattacks on retailers, even if their cards didn’t show unauthorized activity. People have gotten used to the idea that data breaches are inevitable, but there are lots of daily activities that put your cards at risk for theft, without you noticing.

1. Drive-thrus

A Pennsylvania woman was recently arrested for allegedly swiping customer cards on a personal card reader while she worked the drive-thru at a Dunkin’ Donuts, WFMZ reports, reportedly using the information to create duplicate cards and charge more than $800 to the accounts.

That’s not the first time a story like this has popped up, and it’s likely to happen again, because the situation presents an easy theft opportunity to drive-thru workers: Customers hand over their cards and usually can’t see what the cashier is doing with it on the other side of the window. It’s not like you should avoid the drive-thru for fear of card theft, but it’s one of many reasons to regularly check your card activity for signs of unauthorized use.

2. Restaurants

How often do you see your server process your dinner payment? Usually, he or she takes your card away from your table and completes the transaction out of your sight. Many restaurant workers have taken advantage of this situation to copy customers’ cards and fraudulently use the information. Once again, regularly check your card activity for signs of unauthorized use.

3. On the Phone

People are pretty trusting when making orders over the phone, assuming that whoever takes the order is entering the credit or debit card number, expiration date and security code into a payment system, not just copying it down for their own use. On the flip side, it might not be the person on the other end of the call you should worry about — plenty of people read their card information aloud within earshot of strangers, making it easy for someone nearby to write down the numbers.

4. RFID Scanners

Most radio-frequency identification (RFID)-enabled credit and debit cards have a symbol (four curved lines representing a signal emission) indicating the card has the technology for contactless payment. If you have one of these cards, you have the ability to use tap-and-pay terminals found at some retailers, because your card sends payment information via radio frequencies, received by the terminal.

That same technology also allows thieves to use RFID scanners to copy your card data if they get close enough to it and your card isn’t protected. If you’re not sure your card has RFID technology, call your issuer, and if it does, use signal-blocking materials and products to protect it.

5. Card skimmers

Thieves have been installing copying devices at gas pumps and ATMs for years: They tamper with card readers to install skimmers that copy your card data when you swipe it, so a thief takes your credit or debit card information while you complete an otherwise routine transaction. Experts advise you look closely at card readers for signs of tampering, use ATMs serviced by your bank and check your card activity regularly for signs of fraud.

That’s really the best way to combat credit card theft: Watch closely for it. With online banking and mobile applications, it’s easy to check your accounts every day, making it more likely you’ll spot something out of the ordinary than if you only looked at card activity once a week or so. You can also check your credit score for sudden changes, which can be a sign of fraud or identity theft.

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 courtesy of Christine DiGangi, Credit.com.

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.

Debit vs Credit Cards: Which is safer to swipe?

holiday-credit-or-debitWhile the tens of millions of Target shoppers who had their credit and debit card information stolen likely won’t be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions that may occur, debit card users could face much bigger headaches than credit card users.

That’s because debit and credit cards are treated differently by consumer protection laws. Under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can’t exceed $50. But if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.

“I know people love their debit cards. But man oh man, they are loaded with holes when it comes to fraud,” said John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com, a credit management website.

Plus, if someone uses your credit card, the charge is often credited back to your account immediately after it’s reported, Ulzheimer said. Yet, if a crook uses your debit card, not only can they drain your bank account, but it can take up to two weeks for the financial institution to investigate the fraud and reimburse your account.

“In the meantime, you might have to pay your rent, your utilities and other bills,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The organization recommends that consumers stick to credit cards as much as possible.

Whichever card you decide to swipe, here are ways to protect yourself from scammers.

Be vigilant with your accounts: The Target hack is just the latest in a long history of data breaches, and it likely won’t be the last.

As a result, you should check your debit and credit account activity at least every few days and keep an eye out for any unfamiliar transactions. If you notice anything fishy, notify your financial instituion or credit card company immediately.

“Waiting until the end of the month to check out your credit card statement for fraudulent use is a relic of the past,” Ulzheimer said. “Fraud is a real-time crime, and we as consumers have to be constantly engaged.”

Set your own fraud controls: Financial institutions have their own internal fraud controls, but some transactions can slip through the cracks, said Al Pascual, senior analyst of security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Many financial institutions will let you set alerts for account transactions. Even better, some allow you to block transactions that are out of the ordinary for you, such as for online purchases at a certain kind of retailer or for any purchases over $500.

“We believe that consumers are going to know best as to how to protect their account,” he said. “They know their own behaviors.

Did you know that First Financial has ID Theft Protection services? When you enroll in one of these services, one of the benefits you’ll receive is an automatic alert sent to you via email and text message, allowing you to confirm whether or not any recent activity is fraudulent. With Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, 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. Click here to learn more and get started today!

Watch out for fraud hotspots: You should be especially wary of using a debit card online and at retailers more vulnerable to fraud.

Gas stations and ATMs are hotspots for so-called “skimmers,” or machines that scammers install to capture your card information. Watch out for ATM parts that look unusual and always cover your hand when typing your PIN in case a camera is watching, said Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst with the Aite Group.

Don’t let your guard down: If you think your information has been compromised, don’t assume everything’s fine after a few months. Stolen card information is often sold to a variety of groups on the black market who may hold onto it for months or even years.

“Many times these fraud rings will wait until the news dies down and people have forgotten about it before they use that data,” Inscoe said. “It may not be used until next winter, so it really is a good idea for people to monitor their activity.”

If you fall victim to ID Theft, don’t panic – First Financial is here to help! Report the incident regarding any of your First Financial accounts immediately, by calling us at 866.750.0100 or emailing info@firstffcu.com

*Article by Melanie Hicken of Yahoo Finance – click here to view the article source.

This Incredibly Common Practice Could Tank Your Credit

ccsRevolve a balance on your credit cards? It’s something many of us do, especially as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear. But consider yourself warned: It could also be viewed as a red flag by lenders, especially if you’re paying down a smaller share of your debt each month.

Credit Bureau TransUnion came out with a new product it calls CreditVision, which gives lenders a two-and-a-half year look back window at how much of your available credit you use and whether you revolve a balance from month to month.

The conventional wisdom is that as long as you keep your credit utilization — the ratio of your balance to your credit limit — under 30% and make your payments on time, it’s OK to roll over a balance from month to month. But TransUnion says people who don’t pay their balance in full every month, which it calls “revolvers,” are up to three times more likely to fall behind on a new loan within two years than people with otherwise similar risk profiles who pay off their credit cards entirely every month, which it calls “transactors.” Therefore, it might be a good idea to pay your balances in full more often than not if you’re looking to get some kind of loan in the future.

“Without the data available in CreditVision —historical balances and actual payment amount — it is very difficult, and inaccurate, to determine whether consumers are transactors or revolvers,” says Charlie Wise, vice president in the financial services business unit of TransUnion.  ”Our research has shown that consumers who are transactors are significantly lower risk on new loans than consumers who are revolvers and have lower subsequent delinquency rates on new loans.”

Although Wise says this doesn’t mean lenders avoid people who revolve balances, but serial balance-carriers should take note. “A consumer’s payment behavior on their credit cards and loan accounts may in fact impact their credit score,” Wise says, once TransUnion starts offering scoring models that incorporate this historical data later in the quarter.

With the introduction of CreditVision, all of the big three credit bureaus now give lenders the ability to take a deep dive into your past charging and payment history.

Equifax came out with a product called Dimensions that gives lenders a two-year look back. Among other uses, the company says lenders can pinpoint customers most receptive to balance-transfer pitches and determine how much more debt they can take on before they can’t keep up with their payments anymore.

Experian has offered something similar for a couple of years now as part of its TrendView product. It lets lenders see if people are paying off their cards in full every month, carrying balances or “rate surfing,” transferring balances from one teaser rate to another.

“It can be good or bad, depending on what they’ve been doing,” says Trevor Carone, Experian’s senior vice president of sciences and analytics. If they’ve been paying down their debt, lenders now have proof of that, which is particularly good for people who are wiping out a substantial debt quickly.

On the other hand, if your balances are growing from month to month or if your payments have dropped to just the minimum, “That’s a sign of risk, and lenders will take that into consideration,” Carone says.

It’s a double-edged sword if you’re trying to get a handle on your debt. While it’s great if you’re making strides towards knocking out a big balance, it also means you’re more likely to be targeted for new offers which could lead to temptation and we don’t need an invitation to rack up more debt.

Just over 38% of Americans revolve holiday credit card debt, according to Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of industry site CardHub.com, and we’re on track to end this year a collective $41.2 billion deeper in credit card debt this year. For the 13% of Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports in November who were still paying off their holiday shopping bills from the year before, this new visibility into their debt could be bad news.

“Short-term changes, if they’re seasonal — lenders expect that,” Carone says. ”If your behavior is persistent for six months or more, it becomes more predictive.”

If you run up a balance around the holidays and then pay it off over the course of a few months, a lender can predict that you’ll continue to behave that way in the future. But if the amount you’re paying on those bills drops as the months go by, or if you pile this year’s Black Friday splurges onto last year’s still-existing debt, it  might not be appealing to see that — even if you never miss a payment.

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. 

Click here to view the article source by Martha C. White of Time.com.

9 Things Consumers Don’t Understand About Credit Scores

creditscoreThree numbers can affect everything from securing a mortgage or loan, to how much interest you’ll pay when you’re approved for a house. And while they’re just three numbers – that typically range from 300 (very bad) to 850 (excellent) – there’s a lot of information and regulations behind them. But don’t worry, if a thing or two about your credit score has left you scratching your head, you’re not alone.

“Consumers look at their credit report and think, ‘I don’t understand it. I don’t know what it means,'” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for credit.com and host of Talk Credit Radio.

To clear up the confusion, several credit experts spoke at FinCon, a financial conference in St. Louis recently, and debunked misconceptions about credit scores. Here are 10 common things consumers tend to get wrong about their scores.

1. The credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax evaluate my credit score. The three bureaus generate credit reports, but they have nothing to do with judging your credit score or advising lenders whether to approve or deny an application. “The credit report does not rate your credit,” says Maxine Sweet, Experian’s vice president of public education. “It simply lays out the facts of your history.” So who determines what your credit score means? Companies such as FICO and VantageScore Solutions evaluate your credit risk level – what lenders use to decide how risky it is to give you a loan – based on your credit report. Separate scoring models have been developed to help businesses predict if a consumer will make payments as agreed, and the credit score is just one factor used in the model.

2. There’s only one type of credit score. There are actually many different scores. For example, FICO has several models with varying score ranges. “If you get your FICO score from one lender, that very likely won’t be the same score that you would get from another lender, even though they’re using the FICO model,” Sweet says. Consumers shouldn’t focus on the number, she adds. Instead, look at where your score falls on the risk model and what influences that risk. If a lender declines your application or charges you a higher fee because of your risk, it will disclose factors that are negatively impacting your risk, Sweet explains. “Those factors will tell you what behavior you will need to change to change your credit history,” she says.

3. When I close a credit card, the age of the card is no longer factored into my credit score. The only way you lose the benefit of a card’s age is if a bureau removes the account from a credit report, says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. “As long as it’s still on a credit report, the credit scoring system still sees it, still sees how old it is and still considers the age in the scoring metric,” he says. Take Ulzheimer’s father as an example: He uses a Sears credit card he opened in 1976, which is the oldest account on his credit report. “The assumption is if he were to close that card, he would lose that decades-long history of that card and potentially lower his score. That’s not true,” Ulzheimer says. However, there is one caveat: The score would be lost after 10 years (see # 4 below).

4. A credit card stops aging the day I close it. Even when you close an account, the credit card still ages. For instance, if you close an American Express card today, the card will be one year older a year from now. And as explained above, you won’t lose the value of the card’s age. “Not only does it still count in your score, but it continues to age,” Ulzheimer says. However, a closed account will not remain on your credit report forever. The credit bureaus delete them from credit reports after 10 years, according to Sweet. There’s just one exception: “If the account is in a negative status, it will be deleted at seven years because we can only report negative account history for seven years,” she says.

5. I need to carry debt to build credit. To debunk this, Detweiler points to her friend who went through a divorce and lost his home in the process. He wanted to rebuild his credit so he got a secured credit card with a $500 limit. According to Detweiler, he only made the minimum payments because he thought it was good for his credit score to have debt. In reality, he hurt his credit by maxing out the card and carrying debt. As Detweiler says, her friend made a big mistake. “You can pay your balances in full and still build good credit,” she says.

6. Medical debt is treated differently on credit reports. Credit bureaus do not discriminate when it comes to medical payments. Typically, medical bills are not reported to a bureau unless the bills are sent to a collections agency. When that happens, “medical collections are the same as any other collections,” Detweiler says. “They are a serious negative. The more recent they are, the more it affects your score.”

7. A credit repair company can only remove inaccuracies to improve my score. While it’s true credit repair companies help you get inaccurate information corrected on your credit report, they can sometimes go one step further. “The real core competency of a credit repair company is to get stuff that’s negative removed from your credit report,” Ulzheimer says.

8. My utilization rate doesn’t matter. Utilization is an important measurement in the credit scoring system. “It can wildly change your score in a short period of time in either direction,” Ulzheimer says. He explains it as the percentage of the credit cards you’re using at any given time. To calculate your utilization percentage, divide your credit card balances by your total credit card limits and multiply by 100. “The higher that percentage, the fewer points you’re going to earn in that particular category, depending on the scoring system,” Ulzheimer says. “The lower the percentage, the better it will be for your score.” The credit score tracking website CreditKarma.com recommends that consumers shouldn’t exceed 30 percent.

9. I should avoid new store credit cards because they’ll hurt my score. You’ve likely been asked at checkout: “Would you like to open a store credit card and receive 20 percent off your purchase today?” For some consumers, it’s a good idea to say yes. “That’s a great way for many people who might not qualify for other kinds of cards to get a credit card,” Sweet says. A store credit card can help raise your credit limit, improve your utilization rate and boost your overall score. Of course, you shouldn’t sign up if you’ll be tempted to use the card every day, Sweet says, “but don’t just automatically assume it’s a bad thing before you open that account.”

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!

*Written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News, click here to view the article source.