Should You Pay for Credit Repair Services?

Should You Pay for Credit Repair Services? Probably not.

Call it a coincidence. Call it savvy marketing. Whatever you call it, there always seems to be a spike in credit repair advertisements around the time the first holiday shopping bills arrive. Maybe you’re staring wide-eyed at a balance that’s higher than you expected, wondering how you’re even going to keep up with the minimum payments. This kind of uncertainty can the stage for bad decisions. So, before you scramble and sign up for credit repair services, take a deep breath and realize you have more control than you think.

Risk vs. Reward: Is credit repair worth the cost?

It’s important to remember that some credit repair services are legitimate businesses, able to follow through on their claims. Unfortunately, the reputable companies reside in a corporate landscape littered with scam artists and opportunists. If you’re willing to devote enough time and research, it’s possible to separate the upstanding services from the scams, but as NerdWallet columnist Liz Weston points out, “If you’re able to do that kind of research, then you can certainly figure out credit repair and do it yourself.”

While the trustworthy credit repair companies aren’t necessarily too good to be true, there’s a good chance they’re too costly to be worth it. When you consider that many of these services charge monthly fees ranging from $30-$100, the boost in your credit rating may not justify the ongoing expense.

Facing credit challenges? Your credit union can help.

Good credit isn’t the result of tricks and trade secrets. It’s established by applying solid financial habits over time. The same holds true for credit repair. While there may be some additional steps required to clean up your credit report, rebuilding good credit requires a consistent commitment to responsible money management.

Credit unions exist to ensure the financial success of their members. Educating people on proper credit management is part of that mission. If you’re drowning in debt and struggling to regain your financial footing, your credit union could be the lifeline you’re looking for. Discussing your current challenges with one of the credit union’s representatives can be the first step toward putting those struggles behind you.

Repairing damaged credit is no walk in the park. But with a little hard work and dedication and the guidance of your credit union’s financial professionals, you can be on the way to reclaiming the good credit you deserve.

Need a little help understanding your credit score or want to sit down with a First Financial representative to help with debt management strategies? Stop into your nearest branch location, email, or call 732-312-1500 to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you get back on track!

Check out out guide for understanding your credit score.


A Simple Financial Checklist You Really Need

bigstock-Young-Businessman-Checking-Mar-72052462When it comes to your fiscal health, things may seem overwhelming. There are so many different responsibilities and goals you have to keep straight to be truly on the right track. If you are struggling with this, just like with other overwhelming aspects and times in life, it is sometimes best to pause and make a list. You can often check in on your progress more effectively when you have everything in a visual format. Check out some items that should be on your list.

1. Evaluate your budget.

Almost as important as creating a budget, evaluating your budget can help you assess whether your money is still going where you want and in the amounts you intended. It also gives you the chance to make any changes based on your dynamic needs and goals. It’s a good idea to continue tracking your spending and adjusting any categories on your budget that are consistently lower or higher than you had estimated. This can help make sure you are on track for monthly and annual goals.

2. Contribute to retirement funds.

One of the ways to make sure you are preparing for your long-term future is calculating how much money you will need in retirement. Then you can focus on a collaboration of employer-sponsored and individual retirement accounts to save toward that goal while still meeting other goals. If possible, it can be a good idea to talk with your company’s human resources department and adjust your retirement account contributions so you can qualify for the maximum match available.

Set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings and retirement goals – contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!*

3. Double down on debt.

Everything from your credit card debt to student loan payments can hang over your head and cause stress. It’s a good idea to create a plan to automate your debt repayments so you avoid late payments and don’t have the choice of paying them or not. It may be stressful, but it’s important to come to peace with your debt and feel comfortable with your debt-repayment plan. This can even include taking on freelance, part-time or odd jobs to make additional payments if necessary.

Check out our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. Once completed, 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.

4. Work on your credit score.

Your credit score affects many financial decisions in your life from what interest rate you pay on a mortgage to whether you can rent an apartment. It’s important to regularly check your credit report, look for any mistakes, and work on some ways to improve your score. These include paying your bills on time, opening credit card accounts only as needed, paying off debts and keeping revolving credit low. You can check your credit scores every month on to track your progress.

5. Update your insurance details.

From home, auto, and health all the way to life insurance, it’s a good idea to make sure your personal information is up to date and that you are getting the best deals possible. Some strategies you can employ include simply paying your premiums as due, asking your provider about reducing your rates, and making sure you have the coverage you need even as your life circumstances change.

6. Boost your emergency fund.

You may have heard this one before but it is a good idea to stash of three to nine months’ worth of expenses in an easily accessible place in case of a sudden rough patch. The exact amount you decide to tuck away to cover the emergencies will vary depending on things like job security, living expenses and streams of income.

It is important not only to be financially responsible, but also to make financial goals and work toward reaching them. Writing your goals and responsibilities down can help you be more accountable and make things easier to grasp.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of AJ Smith of USA Today.

A Simple Guide to Paying Off Lingering Debt

www.usnewsIf you find yourself collecting more and more debt while struggling to figure out how you will ever pay it all off, it might be time to develop a step-by-step strategy. Paying off debt starts with making a budget and continues with changing your habits and rewarding yourself for progress. A few contributors to the U.S. News My Money blog offer a guide to get rid of the debt that’s been following you around for too long:

1. Create a budget.

“The first step to solving your debt problem is to establish a budget,” says Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. You can use personal finance tools like, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs. “If you don’t scale back your spending, you’ll dig yourself into a deeper hole,” Bakke warns.

2. Pay off the most expensive debt first.

Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. “By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards,” says retail analyst Hitha Prabhakar.

3. Pay more than the minimum balance.

To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. “Paying the minimum – usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance – only prolongs a debt payoff strategy,” Prabhakar says. “Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments.” Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more.

4. Take advantage of balance transfers.

If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Trent Hamm, founder of, recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. “You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate,” he warns. “If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way.”

5. Halt your credit card spending.

Want to stop accumulating debt? Remove all credit cards from your wallet, and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she says.

6. Put work bonuses toward debt.

If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. “Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase,” Karimi says. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.

7. Delete credit card information from online stores.

If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don’t need. So clear that information. “If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account,” Hamm suggests.

8. Sell unwanted gifts and household items.

Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Search through your home, and look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. “Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price,” Karimi says. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible.” Any profits from sales should go toward your debt.

9. Change your habits.

“Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess,” Hamm says. “Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month.” Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Or perhaps you can start cooking more at home. Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much?

10. Reward yourself when you reach milestones.

You won’t pay down your debt any faster if you view it as a form of punishment. So reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. “The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated,” Bakke says. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. “If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months,” Bakke says, “give yourself more than a pat on the back when you do it.”

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 written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News.

Frequently In Debt? Discover Your Personal Pitfalls

DebtManagement1.jpgYou don’t have to be a reckless spender to find yourself in debt. CNN touts that “one in three American adults have debt in collections.”

An Urban Institute study reported that 77 million people are so severely in debt that their account has gone to collections, while a Detroit Free Press article warns, “Young adults have more credit card debt than savings.”

Regardless of the angle, debt, severe debt – it’s an American epidemic.

So, how do you climb out of debt once and for all? Especially if you notice a recurring theme of continual debt-to-safety-to-debt wheel of fate, it is important to stop and analyze the causes for initial debt and the reasons for apparent insurmountable financial disease.

As with your medical health, financial heath is propelled by lots of hard work, dedication and realistic awareness. Denial will only perpetuate decaying health, physically or financially.

Step One: Take an honest assessment of your financial situation.

Before you can make a plan for diminishing debt once and for all, you have to understand the severity and expanse of the situation. Take into account all loans: student debt, mortgages and car payments. Know exactly how many credit cards you and your family have – make sure to count retail cards and reward cards in addition to traditional credit cards. Any plastic that can hold a debt/requires payment needs to be acknowledged forthright. Finally, collect all bills: anything that requires a payment plan or regular payment must be added into the mix. When you’re in debt, every $100 medical bill, $25 late fee for utilities or billed car repair must be accounted for.

Step Two: Take responsibility.

Playing the blame game or lying to yourself will not change the circumstances. Nobody cares if you don’t think it’s your fault. You owe the money. You have to pay the money. You can’t talk your way out of substantial debt. Take credit for your own shortcomings and accept the situation.

Step Three: Educate yourself and your family.

Money management is not an innate human skill. We are not born knowing how to allot, predict, and plan with 100 percent accuracy. And, sometimes, it is due to sheer ignorance that adults find themselves in debt. Whether or not a lack of financial education or money illiteracy is the root cause, understanding how credit works and how to budget are both beneficial life skills.

Step Four: Set realistic goals, with the end result being permanently digging yourself out of debt.

Each step should be attainable and based on practicality. However, do not fall into the mindset that “it’s going to take too long, so it’s not worth it.” Keep your eyes on the goal, but use baby steps to get there if necessary.

A good thing to do is to create a visual aid for you to help you along, like a financial plan. The important thing to remember is that your plan is a guide, not a crutch. It is a tool to keep you on track. Like any good guide, though, it can be tweaked to meet your needs and adjusted based on what obstacles you encounter on your journey to financial security.

Step Five: Perseverance.

It’s not an easy path. It’s not fun. The journey is oftentimes downright painful. But, avoidance and half-hearted efforts will not grant you the ability to squeak by. Debt can affect marriage, stress levels, relationships, and your future, but people often aren’t motivated enough to make a change. Many times, just climbing out of debt is not the largest challenge, it’s maintaining the healthy financial security that is attained through a debt-free life.

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.

*Original article source written by Joe Young of Nasdaq.

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.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Debt

Debt Management Plan. Magnifying Glass on Old Paper with Red Vertical Line.

1. Commit to getting out of debt.

Getting out of debt is hard. It takes maintaining discipline over a long period of time. It demands lifestyle changes.

While you shouldn’t build a plan so strict that it would be impossible to stick to, you will have to make some tough choices. If you’re used to treating yourself to spa days or shopping sprees, you’re going to have to give up some of these tangible and expensive pleasures in order to obtain being debt-free. If you and your partner are collectively in debt, they’ll need to be on board as well. It’s not possible to do this on your own if your other half is still spending up a storm.

For motivation, create a visual reminder of what you’re working toward, such as a photo of the kind of house you’d like to buy, or the destination you plan on hitting when you can afford it. Put the image in your wallet, on your computer or wherever you spend money — to remind yourself of what you’d really like to do when you get out of debt.

2. On a spreadsheet, list all your debt, balances, interest rates and minimum payments — and find out the total of what you owe.

Knowing the total will give you a rough sense of how long this might take. If you’re shocked by the number you see, just remind yourself that this is the highest the number will be. Within the next month, it will start to get smaller. Knowing your minimum payments will help you budget, and having your interest rates will help you decide on your debt repayment strategy. List your debts in order of highest-interest rate to lowest. Tally up your minimum payments so you know the minimum amount you need to put toward your credit cards every month. Keep the list easily accessible and editable so you can refer back to it in the coming months.

3. Try to make 0% balance transfers, get your APR lowered, or refinance.

Now that you’re committed to paying down your debt, it would really help if it weren’t simultaneously increasing bit by bit. If you’re eligible for 0% balance transfers, see if it makes sense to transfer your credit card debt.

But beware the fine print. If the 0% offer only lasts six months, be sure you can pay that debt off within that timeframe. If not, you could end up paying higher interest than you were before — and it could even apply to the initial six-month period (look for the term “accrued interest” to see if this might happen). Also, calculate what the balance transfer fee is and make sure that even with the fee, you’ll still save money on the transfer.

If you’re not eligible for a 0% balance transfer or decide it doesn’t make sense for you, call your credit card company to see if you can negotiate the APR down. If your main debt is a mortgage, look into refinancing.

First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, a Cash Advance Fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), and a Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount.* Rates are also as low as 10.9% APR and first time card approvals are eligible for 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on purchases and balance transfers!**

4. Start tracking your spending.

In order to pay down your debt, you’ll need to find ways to free up the money you already have. Knowing where your money goes will help you spot where you can cut expenses. Look for big expenses that don’t align with your priorities. If you’re surprised to see you spend $200 a month for work lunches, start packing lunch from home. Also keep an eye out for expenses that you’re not utilizing (do you actually use that monthly gym membership or Netflix subscription?). And note anything that was more expensive than it should have been, and get used to searching for coupon codes for online purchases and only shopping at in store sales.

5. Do a first pass at your budget.

Figure out your annual take home pay — what hits your bank account after taxes and 401(k) retirement contributions. If you receive a paycheck every other week, multiply the amount by 26, then divide by 12 to get the exact monthly figure. Tally up your necessary expenses: housing, transportation, utilities and groceries. Try to come up with a reasonable amount for your monthly groceries that you can stick to.

If the sum of your necessary expenses is greater than 50% of your take home pay, it might be hard for you to pay off your debt in an expedient fashion. (If you have other necessary expenses like childcare, which allows you to work, then it’s fine to go over the 50% threshold). Otherwise, if you’re exceeding the 50% mark, see if you can cut back on any of these necessary expenses in any way.

6. Work your debt and discretionary expenses into your budget.

Now, calculate what percentage of your take home pay your minimum debt payments are. If your necessary expenses are 50% or less, aim to put 20% of your take home income toward your debt.  If your minimum payments are less than 20%, you’ll be able to put more than the minimum toward your debt each month.

Finally, see how much you have left to live on each month. From your monthly take home, subtract your necessary expenses and your projected 20% debt payment. Divide the leftover by 4.33 to see how much you can spend each week. Is this enough to live on each week for your dining out, shopping, gym, entertainment, travel, gifts, cable, health and other costs?

If not, get the numbers to a ballpark range that feels doable, even if it means not hitting that 20% debt repayment goal. Expect that you’ll have to go through a period of trial and error before you find the exact plan for you. But make a decision, and head into the next step knowing what you’ll be paying toward your debt every month.

7. Start your debt repayment plan.

Now that you have a monthly debt repayment target, go back to your debt spreadsheet. Pay the minimums on every debt except the highest interest rate debt. Put the rest of your debt repayment money toward that debt every month until it’s gone. Afterward, cross it off the list and do the same for what is currently the second highest interest rate debt. Continue like this down the list. This method of repayment will ensure you pay the least interest.

8. Stick to your weekly allowance.

The only way you’ll be able to pay off your debt is if you don’t keep adding to it. This means being vigilant about living within your means. Depending on your income and the cost of living in your area, this can be difficult unless you keep an eye on it. If you know you need to make a shift in your spending habits, try using cash. Take out your weekly allowance in cash each week and only let yourself spend that amount until it runs out.

9. Adapt to your new lifestyle.

Now that you’ve started on your plan, you need to learn what behaviors will support it. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell friends and family about your debt repayment goal so they understand why you’re suggesting more potlucks. If a friend suggests an activity that will be difficult on your budget, look for good free or inexpensive alternatives.

Even for non-social activities like personal hobbies, look for ways to cut costs: If you dropped the gym, can you run outside or play tennis with a friend?  Maybe you realize that with advanced planning, you can more cheaply stock up on household items by buying in bulk. To freshen up your wardrobe, browse good local thrift shops or hold clothing swaps with friends.

10. Earn more money, and put gifts and windfalls toward your debt.

Finally, one of the best ways to get out of debt — is to earn more money. While cutting costs might free up a few hundred every month, a solid side gig could give you an extra $1,000 or more to put toward your debt. Do you have a hidden talent that you could put to work for you? If so, let everyone in your network know that you’re looking for freelance gigs. Put your gifts and windfalls to work as well. If you receive a large sum, put the vast majority toward your debt. With a little discipline, you really can become debt free!

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.

*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. 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 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 cash advances.

Article Source: Laura Shin,