3 Credit Score Tips During COVID-19

COVID-19 will undeniably have an impact on consumers’ lives and finances in the coming months. Now is a critical time for people to take the appropriate actions to protect and monitor their credit. How can you keep your credit score in check during this time? Keep reading.

Review your credit score and report regularly.

Monitoring your credit score and report is just as important as monitoring your account balances. Noticing a sudden drop in your bank account balance without any action on your part, is a major indicator that there could be fraudulent activity on your account. The same goes for your credit. Do a monthly review to ensure that all the information on your credit report is accurate, and immediately dispute anything that is incorrect with the credit bureaus – before it has a negative impact on your credit score. It’s best to be proactive!

Sign up for a credit monitoring service.

It’s important to have a credit monitoring service working behind the scenes for you, and in between any periodic reviews. A credit monitoring service will immediately notify you of any unexpected changes or activity that could negatively impact your credit. In today’s world, these alerts are typically in real-time – giving you the ability to stop any fraudsters as soon as possible. Growing unemployment and financial strain during this time will increase fraudulent activity around the globe, and could also up your chances of being hacked or scammed – so please stay on top of your credit report.

Monitor your rates to find more savings.

It’s always recommended to have a rainy day fund for times like the present. Could savings be hidden in your auto loan with a refinance or using the equity in your vehicle (cash out auto loan)? Rates are at historic lows, which means it’s the perfect time to revisit the interest rates you are paying. If you live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties in NJ – contact us to inquire about refinancing your credit card debt into a fixed low-rate personal loan. An auto or mortgage refinance can also often shave dollars, sometimes hundreds – off your monthly payment.*

Staying on top of your credit is important to do for both yourself and your loved ones. Your current credit decisions will have an impact on your finances for years to come. A late payment can stay on your credit report for up to seven years and costs the average person hundreds, if not thousands more in interest. Check out our credit management guidebook, be sure to review your credit report – and if you have questions, reach out to us! We are here for you.

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Not all applicants will qualify, subject to credit approval. Additional terms & conditions may apply. Actual rate may vary based on credit worthiness and term. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. See credit union for details. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan. First Financial FCU maintains the right to not extend credit, after you respond, if we determine you do not meet our guidelines for creditworthiness. Current loans financed with First Financial FCU are not eligible for review or refinance.

Article Source: Chris Fraenza for Savvymoney.com

Ways to Protect Your Credit Cards

If you’ve ever been a victim of identity theft, you know it’s awful. Between the time it takes to get everything corrected and the stress it causes – it’s definitely a spot you’d like to avoid if you can. Though nothing is fool proof, there are several ways in which you can protect your finances. Here are a few that pertain to keeping your credit card information safe from fraud.

Secure all your cards: If your wallet is ever stolen and you lost every card, think about what a nightmare it would be to have to cancel and replace them all. Really consider this the next time you leave home. Try to only take the cards you absolutely need and keep the rest in a secure location like a safe or locked drawer. Try to also minimize the amount of cash you have on you as well and only bring what you need. This way if your wallet gets lost or stolen, you aren’t literally losing everything.

Pay attention: It might be difficult to keep track of a criminal’s activities in real-time, but you can check on your accounts regularly. Today’s smartphone banking and credit card apps really make it easy and fast to check on all your accounts and look for fraudulent transactions. If you’re keeping track of your spending and looking at your accounts daily, you’ll know the minute something happens that looks out of the ordinary. Checking on your accounts every day also helps you monitor your monthly budget and spending habits too.

Opt for being more high-tech: Have you ever used your smartphone’s digital wallet? Many retailers are set up to take payments via Apple Pay and Google Pay, and it’s very easy to use. EMV chips in your credit and debit cards also make transactions more secure and prevent card skimming as well. When shopping online, if PayPal or your phone’s digital wallet are options for payment over entering your card number – always go that route.

Using the above tips can help protect your financial information and really save you from an identity theft headache. Also be weary when using an ATM or paying for gas at the pump – be sure to check for any skimming devices before inserting your card. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Read about how to spot a skimming device in our guidebook here.

T.H.I.N.K First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Is a Rewards Credit Card Right for You?

Believe it or not, there isn’t a “one size fits all” credit card rewards program. For every card on the market, it seems like there are hundreds of different ways to earn rewards.

With all the options, the research can be overwhelming and you might not know where to start. Have no fear, because we’ve come up with a few ways you can choose the right credit card rewards program for you!

Is a rewards card right for you?

That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. A rewards card isn’t right for everyone. Here’s a handy checklist to help you decide whether or not a rewards credit card is a good fit for you:

  • You have a good credit score. Most card issuers are looking for consumers who have a FICO score of at least 670. Of course, a higher credit score will help you get a lower interest rate, but a that mid-600 range will get your foot in the door. FYI, the higher your credit score, the more lucrative rewards programs you’ll most likely have access to.
  • You can pay off your balance every month. Rewards cards sometimes have a higher-than-average interest rate. When you carry your balance over each month, you could end up paying more in interest charges than you earn in rewards.
  • You can maximize the value of your rewards. A rewards card can cost you money if you don’t maximize your reward-earning potential. If you don’t earn enough points, you can actually lose money if your card has an annual fee.

Now that you’ve determined if you could benefit from a rewards card, let’s talk about choosing the card with the program that best suits your lifestyle and spending habits.

Choosing the right card.

There are three main things to consider when choosing a card: your spending habits, personal preferences, and your credit score. If you don’t look at your spending habits and personal preferences, you could end up spending a lot of money and racking up rewards that aren’t right for you.

Let’s say you have a large family and your primary expenses are groceries and gas. It would make sense for you to have a credit card that offers bonus rewards on those types of purchases. But, if you’re single, have a small grocery budget or don’t have a car, those rewards wouldn’t make sense for you.

Use your cards for everything.

The more you use your card, the more rewards points you’ll earn. But, don’t let that be an invitation to start spending money on things you don’t need. Instead, use your credit card in place of cash or your debit card whenever possible.

Start looking for everyday situations where you can use your credit card instead of another payment method – gas, groceries, food, etc. But, always make sure you only spend what you can pay off every month.

What if a rewards card isn’t for you?

Rewards cards aren’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe your credit score isn’t in the right range for a rewards card at the present time, or maybe you’re not interested in using your card to gain rewards. Maybe you’re just looking for a credit card for emergencies only.

Whichever the case, we can help! First Financial has three great credit card options, lower APRs, no balance transfer fees, and no annual fee.* 

 Let us help you find the right card for you! Check out our website, stop by and talk to us or give us a call so we can answer any questions you may have. Or if you like what you see, you can apply online 24/7!

 *APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. 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 Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

5 Ways You Should Never Use Your Credit Card

We all know that credit cards can be a valuable tool. They can help you build credit when you’re just starting out, and can really benefit you in the case of a spending emergency. However – if you’re not careful, they can do more harm than good. When it comes to spending, here are five ways you should really never use your credit card.

To help you feel better: Yes, a new purchase can cheer you up, but if you’re looking to feel better – a mountain of debt probably will only make things worse in the long run. If you feel the need to splurge, use whatever cash you have in your wallet or make sure you’re spending from your checking account using a debit card instead.

Hospital bills: Credit cards are best to use on a purchase that you can pay off quickly. Medical bills typically aren’t small, so be sure to think about how long it could take you to pay off that amount of debt. This type of debt can quickly build up, being that you are probably paying a pretty high interest rate each month.

A cash advance: If you’re in a pinch, you might think taking a cash advance from your credit card is a good idea. However, you should first consider other options before going down this road. A cash advance may seem like a good option, but it may carry a higher interest rate than your normal credit card. You may want to do some digging into the fine print in your account disclosures before considering this.

Paying for college: This is probably one of the worst things you could ever put on a credit card. You may not be thrilled about student loans, but those usually come with much lower interest rates than a credit card ever could. If you’re having trouble paying for school and you don’t have a full time job yet, you may be sitting on this debt for years – if it’s on a credit card. It would not be a wise decision to begin your financial future with thousands in credit card debt.

To help start a small business: It’s great to follow your dreams, and if starting a small business is one of them – wonderful. However, charging your business equipment to a credit card is not the best idea. Try looking into a small business loan instead, rather than purchasing items on a higher interest credit card. No one wants to think about it, but what happens if your small business doesn’t make it and you’re still paying off thousands on equipment you can no longer use?

If you are looking for higher credit lines, lower APRs, no annual fees, no balance transfer fees, a 10-day grace period, rewards (cash back or on travel & retailer gift cards), an EMV security chip, and more, check out First Financial’s Visa Credit Card options. Click here to learn more and apply online today.

 *APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. 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 Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

 

4 Hacks to Raise Your Credit Score

Your credit score. Chances are you either love it or hate it. It’s either the greatest thing in the world or a total hindrance. Or, maybe you don’t really know enough about your credit score for it to make an impact on your life.

As a whole, Americans’ credit scores are beginning to increase but our knowledge of credit and how it works is declining. A recent survey from credit scoring company Vantage Score and the Consumer Federation of America, found that 32% of the people surveyed didn’t know they had more than one credit score.

Let’s forget about how many credit scores we have for a second and answer a very basic question: What is your credit score? 

Your credit score is a three digit number ranging from 300 (the lowest possible score) to 850 (the highest score). Lenders use your credit score to make decisions about whether or not to offer you credit – such as a credit card, car loan or mortgage. Your credit score is also used to determine the terms of the offer – such as what your interest rate will be.

Your credit score is calculated by looking at these categories:

  • Payment history
  • Your debt-to-income ratio
  • Total debt
  • Length of credit history
  • Types of open credit
  • Public records (such as bankruptcy)
  • Number of inquiries on your credit report
  • New credit

So, what is considered a good credit score? 

The average credit score in the United States ranges between 670 and 710. According to Experian, a “good” credit score is anything that falls between 661 and 780, which is about 38% of the population. Usually, if an applicant falls in that “good” credit range, they’re likely to be approved for credit at competitive rates.

Now that we know what a credit score is and what classifies as a good one, the next question to look at is: Why does your credit score matter? 

Think of your credit score like a report card you used to get while you were in school. Your report card measured your progress during the school year, and your credit activity puts you into a scoring range. But, unlike grades – credit scores aren’t stored as part of your credit history. Instead, your score is generated each time you apply for credit. Fact: It actually negatively impacts your credit score if you have multiple inquiries in a short period of time.

What are your major financial goals? Buying a home? Buying a car? Chances are, your credit is likely going to be a factor in framing that financing picture. Your score will actually tell a lender whether or not you qualify for a loan and how good the terms of the loan will be. For instance, the lower your credit score is, the higher your interest rate on a loan will be.

If you’ve looked at your credit report and you’re surprised to see it’s lower than you thought, there are simple ways to fix that:

  • Pay your bills on time. That goes for ALL your bills – not just credit cards and loans. Fact: Payment history is the most heavily weighted factor of your credit score. It makes up 35% of your total score.
  • Keep your credit card balances low. Credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score, so keep those old accounts open even if you don’t use them.
  • Space out your credit applications. Each time you apply for a line of credit, the inquiry is noted on your credit report. One or two inquiries aren’t a huge deal, but when you have a bunch within a two year period, it can cause your score to fall.
  • Mix up your credit. Your credit mix, or the types of credit accounts you have, makes up 10% of your credit score. Basically, lenders want to see that you can use different types of credit responsibly.

Credit doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. There are many responsible ways to start out slowly and build worthwhile credit for the future. First Financial can help! Are you looking to build or establish credit? We have a number of ways to start you on the right path. Stop by one of our branches today or give us a call. You can also check out our credit management guidebook on our website, for some additional tips.

Do You Know Your Credit Card’s APR?

This year wasn’t kind to credit cardholders’ wallets. In 2019, cardholders paid an average of 17% APR – the highest level ever recorded by the Federal Reserve since 1994. To put it into perspective: In 2009, the average APR registered just under 13% and in 2016 it hovered around 12.5%.

Even the maximum APR has climbed significantly. Financial institutions typically offer a wide range of APRs. As a result of the increase, maximum APRs are around 25% with the median standing at 21%. Wow, that is high!

So, what does this mean for you?

It means you’re likely paying more in interest than you’ve ever paid. However, there are several ways around paying high interest rates that will help you in the long run.

Avoid balance carry over. Ultimately, the best and most responsible way to use a credit card is to pay off the balance monthly. By paying your balance in full each month, you avoid paying interest while reaping the benefits a credit card has to offer. Plus, it helps improve your credit score.

Avoid spending more than you have. We’ve all done it. We have a credit card for emergencies only, but something comes up we really want, and it finds its way onto the credit card. Next thing you know, there are multiple unnecessary purchases on there that you’re trying to pay off. The best habit to get into is not spending more than you can pay off monthly. The more you put on a card, the more interest you’re going to be charged.

Do your research. If you’re thinking about signing up for a credit card, do your research. First of all, know your credit score. That’s going to be a huge factor in determining your APR. Also, consider why you want a credit card. Are you looking for cash back options? Do you want to earn rewards points or airline miles? Don’t apply aimlessly. Look at the specific types of cards that are designed for the purpose you want and see which card best suits your needs.

Obtaining and maintaining credit by using credit cards doesn’t have to be a scary experience. First Financial’s Visa Credit Cards offer benefits that include higher credit lines, lower APRs, no annual fees, no balance transfer fees, a 10-day grace period, rewards (cash back or on travel & retailer gift cards), an EMV security chip, and more!* And they can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. Click here to learn about our credit card options and apply online today.

 *APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. 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 Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.