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.

3 Money Mistakes that Can Land You in Debt

ccdebtWe’ve all heard the following personal finance advice:

  • “Don’t spend more than you make.”
  • “Pay your credit card off at the end of every month.”
  • “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

While it’s all good advice, following these basic budget rules is easier said than done. Incurring debt can happen quickly (unexpected medical bills) or gradually over time (spending more than you make each week), and hurt your credit score and your financial future.

Here are three major money mistakes to be avoided at all costs.

Money Mistake #1: Making Money Decisions Not Based on Facts

It can be alluring to transfer outstanding credit card debt to a card offering a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) to help lower the payments and make it easier to pay off the balance. However, experts warn 0% cards often come with added and fees and charges that make the process even more costly.

“There’s also an excellent chance the APR going forward, after a particular grace period, is going to be at least as high as it was before,” says Mike Sullivan, chief education officer at Take Charge America.

“People need to be honest with themselves,” he adds. Before transferring any debt, take the time to read all the fees, rate hikes and charges and then do the math to determine if transferring balances will actually save money.

Money Mistake #2: Not Having the Right Credit Card

Making rash decisions without taking into account the long-term monetary implications is also a source of trouble.

We’ve all been on an airplane when the flight attendants come down the aisle with a stack of credit card applications that promise enough miles for a free flight just for signing up today, right this minute. The same thing happens when you’re at the checkout counter at any retailer and you’re offered a discount and “loyalty rewards” if you sign up for the company card. Sounds good enough—both offers will save you money, right? That is the wrong assumption, says Sullivan.

“There’s a psychological factor that explains this behavior,” he says. “The less people know about a given topic, the more they assume they understand it fully. It’s human nature, and it could end up costing you a fortune if you’re not careful.”

Having the right credit card for your situation is critical to your financial success. For instance, if you are an avid traveler, you might want a card that doesn’t add foreign exchange fees, or if you drive a lot, look for one that offers bonus points for fill ups.

Experts say the best way to get the right card is to compare rates, benefits and services that best fit your needs. There are a variety of websites that help compare credit cards and don’t be scared to call a company and ask about certain cards if you have questions.

Here at First Financial, our VISA Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with rates as low as 10.9% APR, no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, CURewards redeemable for travel, merchandise items, and merchant gift cards, and so much more! Apply online or stop into any one of our branches to get started today.*

Money Mistake #3: You Don’t Take Out Responsible Loans

Certain purchases tend to require taking out a loan: college, a home and a car. And not all debt is considered bad debt, unless of course, you take out an irresponsible loan.   

According to Sullivan, a major mistake many people make is financing their auto loan through a car dealer.

“In all likelihood, you’re not getting the best deal through the dealer,” he says. “People tend to skip the research and just go with whatever the car dealer says is the best deal. You’ll likely end up spending a lot of extra money paying for even more money.”

The same goes when taking out a mortgage. This lending process can be long and complex, and oftentimes people don’t understand the terminology or the lending terms.  Many people aren’t entirely aware of what a “point” is, says Sullivan, and this can hurt them. When it comes to mortgages, “discount points” are a type of pre-paid interest in which one point is equivalent to one percent of the total loan amount. The idea is to reduce the interest rate on a loan and get a lower monthly payment in exchange for an up-front payment. But in reality, you could end up paying more than you would for a loan with a higher interest rate.”

The goal is to be completely aware of your financial situation, and to make decisions based on facts about what you can and can’t spend. Do your homework and know all of the available options before selecting one option over another. And don’t forget to agree to a loan that you understand and can afford.

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 soure by Ann Hynek, published on September 06, 2013 for FOXBusiness.

*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.

new%20ncua%20disclaimer-resized-600equal%20housing%20lender%20logo-resized-600

How to Manage Multiple Sources of Debt

CreditCard_With_MoneyAs young adults struggle to get out from student loan debt, which averages a whopping $26,000 per student, according to The Project on Student Debt, they’re shying away from taking on other forms of debt.

A recent study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that college graduates are now less likely to take on a mortgage or even an auto loan by the age of 30 — reversing a historic trend of home ownership.

But what do you do if you are already shelling out monthly student loan payments but also want to buy a house or car? Taking on multiple types of debt is a balancing act and it can be easy to get financially overwhelmed.

The first thing you should do when thinking about taking out another loan is to determine your total monthly payments for current outstanding debt and the amount you’re looking to borrow. Then, figure what percentage of your monthly income would go towards paying off that debt.

“We recommend that no more than 30% of your take-home pay go toward housing costs [like a mortgage, taxes, and insurance] and no more than 20% of your pay go toward servicing other debt [such as a car loan or credit cards],” says Gail Cunningham, vice president of membership and public relations for the non-profit National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Exceed these percentages, and you could find yourself burdened with a crippling amount of debt. “Make sure that the additional debt is absolutely necessary,” Cunningham stresses.

Before taking out a loan, experts suggest having a repayment plan in place.

Everyone’s pay-back strategy is different, so find one that best fits your financial needs and lifestyle to make the plan sustainable.

Some borrowers find that it’s motivating to pay extra toward the smallest loan in order to quickly eliminate it. For example, if you have a car loan that has an outstanding balance of $5,000, and you also owe $27,500 for a student loan, pay extra each month on the auto loan to rid yourself of it as soon as possible.

But if paying the least amount of interest over time is the most important thing, focus on paying off the loan or credit card with the highest interest rate first while meeting the minimum obligations on the others.

If you already have an auto loan or credit cards, before taking on additional debt, you may want to consider refinancing the loan or getting a lower rate credit card by doing a balance transfer. For example, if you took out an auto loan when rates were higher, refinancing it at a lower rate may make sense depending on the balance and time remaining.

Likewise, you can pay down the principle of a higher rate credit card faster if you transfer the balance to a lower interest rate credit card, provided you continue to make the same monthly payment (and it’s more than the minimum due). As an example, a $200 payment on a card with a $50 monthly minimum will reduce principle for a card with 3% interest faster than one with 15% interest. Just be sure to read the fine print regarding the cost to transfer the balance and when the introductory rate will end.

Did you know First Financial has no balance transfer fees? Transfer your high rate credit card balances over to a First Financial Visa Platinum Credit Card – fee free!* And, if you are looking to refinance your current auto loan – give First Financial a call at 866.750.0100, Option 4 or stop into any branch location to see what you may be able to save on your monthly payments.**

Finally, if you discover yourself getting overwhelmed by the repayment process or find that you can no longer meet your monthly repayment obligations, consider talking with the company or meet with a credit counselor to consolidate debt, reduce interest rates or create a new repayment schedule, or even possibly getting some of your debt forgiven.

For a FREE and anonymous online debt management tool, try 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.

*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.

**First Financial membership is required for an Auto Loan and it’s available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean County. $5 savings account required for membership. Verification of your identity is required. Income verification is required. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. Certain restrictions apply. Contact the credit union for details of the offer.

equal%20housing%20lender%20logo-resized-600 new%20ncua%20disclaimer-resized-600