Tag: Fees

Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift

If you have a special child in your life, you may be wondering what to put under the tree this year. One long-lasting and truly meaningful way to show the child in your life that you care is by taking a few minutes to set up a UGMA/UTMA account and give them a leg up in life.

The earlier you open a UGMA or UTMA account for a child, the longer your initial gift has to grow, thanks to the magic of compound interest. For example, investing just $5 a day from birth at an 8% return could make that child a millionaire by the age of 50. By setting up a UGMA/UTMA account, you’re really giving your beneficiary a present that grows all year round. Now, that’s a gift they’re sure to remember!

What is a UGMA/UTMA account?

UGMA is an abbreviation for the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act. And UTMA stands for Uniform Transfers to Minors Act. Both UGMA and UTMA accounts are custodial accounts created for the benefit of a minor (or beneficiary).

The money in a UGMA/UTMA account can be used for educational expenses (like college tuition), along with anything that benefits the child – including housing, transportation, technology, and more. On the other hand, 529 plans can only be used for qualified educational expenses, like summer camps, school uniforms, or private school tuition and fees.

 

It’s important to keep in mind that you cannot use UGMA/UTMA funds to provide the child with items that parents or guardians would be reasonably expected to provide, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Another important point is that when you set up a UGMA/UTMA account, the money is irrevocably transferred to the child, meaning it cannot be returned to the donor.

 

Tax advantages of a UGMA/UTMA account

The contributions you make to a UGMA/UTMA account are not tax-deductible in the year that you make the contribution, and they are subject to gift tax limits. The income that you receive each year from the UGMA/UTMA account does have special tax advantages when compared to income that you would get in a traditional investment account, making it a great tax-advantaged option for you to invest in the child you love.

 

Here’s how that works. In 2020, the first $1,100 of investment income earned in a UGMA/UTMA account may be claimed on the custodian’s’ tax return, tax free. The next $1,100 is then taxed at the child’s (usually much lower) tax rate. Any income in excess of those amounts must be claimed at the custodian’s regular tax rate.

A few things to be aware of with UGMA/UTMA accounts

While there’s no doubt that UGMA/UTMA accounts have several advantages and a place in your overall financial portfolio, there are a few things to consider before you open up a UGMA/UTMA account:

 

  • When the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21, depending on the specifics of the plan), the money is theirs, without restriction.
  • When the UGMA/UTMA funds are released, they are factored into the minor’s assets.
  • The value of these assets will factor into the minor’s financial aid calculations, and may play a big role in determining if they qualify for certain programs, such as SSDI and Medicaid.

Where you can open a UGMA/UTMA account

Many financial services companies and brokerages offer UGMA or UTMA accounts. One option is the Acorns Early program from Acorns. Acorns Early is a UGMA/UTMA account that is included with the Acorns Family plan, which costs $5 / month. Acorns Early takes 5 minutes to set up, and you can add multiple kids at no extra charge. The Acorns Family plan also includes  Acorns Invest, Later, and Spend so you can manage all of the family’s finances, from one easy app.

 

During a time where many of us are laying low this holiday season due to COVID-19, remember that presents don’t just need to be a material possession your loved one unwraps, and then often forgets about. Give the gift of lasting impact through a UGMA/UTMA account.

The post Why UGMA/UTMA Accounts Are the Perfect Holiday Gift appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Save for Retirement Without Your Employer’s Help

How to Save for Retirement Without Your Employer's Help

Saving for retirement is easy to put off, but delaying ultimately can make your life harder. Even if your work does not provide any retirement savings plan, you can still make it happen. It may seem frustrating to watch your friends add up their matching 401(k) contributions, but you do not have to be any further from post-work bliss than they are. Check out these tips on saving for retirement without your employer’s help.

Identify Your Goal

Carefully consider how you plan to live after you leave work so you can calculate how much savings you need for retirement. Once you have an amount in mind, you can figure out a realistic payment plan to reach it. A good rule of thumb is stashing 10% to 15% of your income for retirement. If that isn’t affordable, you can start with a smaller amount and grow your savings from there. One tactic is to just get started with a number you can afford and increasing your savings by 1% every year.

Know Your Options

Even without employer help, there are plenty of ways to save for retirement. An IRA, or individual retirement account, is the most common non-employer plan and opening one should be your first step in most cases. Contributions to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, while nondeductible Roth IRAs are tax-free on withdrawal so investigate carefully which is best for you. Before investing, consider the risks, timing, fees and your liquidity needs — a financial professional can help you construct a portfolio.

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Put Your Savings on Autopilot

No matter what type of account you use, it’s a good idea to have the amount automatically transferred from your checking account once you get paid. This way you cannot make a decision that something else is more important than retirement saving and you can more easily stick to your commitment. It is also a good idea to increase your monthly deposit with every raise or bonus so you will likely have what you need to retire how and when you want.

The most important part about retirement planning is saving early and often — whether you have help from your employer or not, it’s important to get educated about retirement saving and take control of your finances. You can establish and maximize your retirement fund no matter how difficult or far away it may seem.

More Money-Saving Reads:

  • What’s a Good Credit Score?
  • What’s a Bad Credit Score?
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: iStock

The post How to Save for Retirement Without Your Employer’s Help appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Debt Settlement vs Bankruptcy: Which is Best?

You’ve tried debt payoff strategies, balance transfers, consolidation, and even debt management; you’ve begged your creditors, liquidated your assets, and pestered your friends and families for any money they can afford, but after all of that, you still have more debt than you can handle.

Now what?

Once you reach the end of your rope, the options that remain are not as forgiving as debt management and they’ll do much more damage to your credit score than debt payoff strategies. However, if you’ve tried other forms of debt relief and nothing seems to work, all that remains is to consider debt settlement and bankruptcy.

Debt settlement is a very good way to clear your debt. It’s one of the cheapest and most complete ways to eradicate credit card debt and can help with most other forms of unsecured debt as well. Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is a last resort option for debtors who can’t meet those monthly payments and have exhausted all other possibilities.

But which option is right for you, should you be looking for a debt settlement company or a bankruptcy attorney?

Similarities Between Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement

Firstly, let’s look at the similarities between bankruptcy and debt settlement, which are actually few and far between. In fact, beyond the fact that they are both debt relief options that can clear your debt, there are very few similarities, with the main one being that they both impact your credit score quite heavily.

A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years and do a lot of damage when it is applied. It may take several years before you can successfully apply for loans and high credit lines again, and it will continue to impact your score for years to come.

Debt settlement is not quite as destructive, but it can reduce your credit score in a similar way and last for up to 7 years. Accounts do not disappear in the same way as when you pay them in full, so future creditors will know that the accounts were settled for less than the balance and this may scare them away.

In both cases, you could lose a couple hundred points off your credit score, but it all depends on how high your score is to begin with, as well as how many accounts you have on your credit report and how extensive the settlement/bankruptcy process is.

Differences Between Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement

The main two types of bankruptcy are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The former liquidates assets and uses the funds generated from this liquidation to pay creditors. The latter creates a repayment plan with a goal of repaying all debts within a fixed period of time using an installment plan that suits the filer.

Debt settlement, on the other hand, is more of a personal process, the goal of which is to offer a reduced settlement sum to creditors and debt collectors, clearing the debts with a lump sum payment that is significantly less than the balance.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

When people think of bankruptcy, it’s often a Chapter 7 that they have in mind. With a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all non-exempt assets will be sold, and the money then used to pay lenders. There are filing costs and it’s advised that you hire a bankruptcy attorney to ensure the process runs smoothly.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is quick and complete, typically finishing in 6 months and clearing most unsecured debts in this time. There is no repayment plan to follow and no lawsuits or wage garnishment to worry about.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, focuses on a repayment plan that typically spans up to 5 years. The debts are not wiped clear but are instead restructured in a way that the debtor can handle. This method of bankruptcy is typically more expensive, but only worthwhile for debtors who can afford to repay their debts.

Filing for bankruptcy is not easy and there is no guarantee you will be successful. There are strict bankruptcy laws to follow and the bankruptcy court must determine that you have exhausted all other options and have no choice but to file.

Bankruptcy will require you to see a credit counselor, which helps to ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes in the future. This can feel like a pointless and demeaning requirement, as many debtors understand the rights and wrongs and got into a mess because of uncontrollable circumstances and not reckless spending, but sessions are short, cheap, and shouldn’t cause much stress.

How Debt Settlement Works

The goal of debt settlement is to get creditors to agree to a settlement offer. This can be performed by the debtor directly, but it’s often done with help from a debt settlement company.

The debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your debts every month. This has two big benefits:

1. More Money

You will have more money in your account every month, which means you’ll have more funds to go towards debt settlement offers. 

The idea of making large lump sum payments can seem alien to someone who has a lot of debt. After all, if you’re struggling to make $400 debt payments every month on over $20,000 worth of debt, how can you ever hope to get the $5,000 to $15,000 you need to clear those debts in full?

But if you stop making all payments and instead move that money to a secured account, you’ll have $4,800 extra at the end of the year, which should be enough to start making those offers and getting those debts cleared.

2. Creditor Panic

Another aspect of the debt settlement process that confuses debtors is the idea that creditors would be willing to accept reduced offers. If you have a debt worth $20,000 and are paying large amounts of interest every month, why would they accept a lump sum and potentially take a loss overall?

The truth is, if you keep making monthly payments, creditors will be reluctant to accept a settled debt offer. But as soon as you start missing those payments, the risk increases, and the creditor faces the very real possibility that they will need to sell that debt to a collection agency. If you have a debt of $20,000, it may be sold for as little as $20 to $200, so if you come in with an offer of $10,000 before it reaches that point, they’ll snap your hand off!

Types of Debt

A debt settlement program works best when dealing with credit card debt, but it can also help to clear loan debt, medical bills, and more. Providing it’s not government debt or secured debt, it will work. 

With government debt, you need specific tax relief services, and, in most cases, there is no way to avoid it. With secured debt, the lender will simply take your asset as soon as you default.

Debt settlement companies may place some demanding restrictions on you, and in the short term, this will increase your total debt and worsen your financial situation. In addition to requesting that you stop making monthly payments, they may ask that you place yourself on a budget, stop spending money on luxuries, stop acquiring new debt, and start putting every penny you have towards the settlement.

It can have a negative impact on your life, but the end goal is usually worth it, as you’ll be debt-free within 5 years.

Pros and Cons of Debt Settlement and Bankruptcy

Neither of these processes are free or easy. With bankruptcy, you may pay up to $2,000 for Chapter 7 and $4,000 for Chapter 13 (including filing fees and legal fees) while debt settlement is charged as a fixed percentage of the debt or the money saved. 

As mentioned already, both methods can also damage your credit score. But ultimately, they will clear your debts and the responsibilities that go with them. If you’ve been losing sleep because of your debt, this can feel like a godsend—a massive weight lifted off your shoulders.

It’s also worth noting that scams exist for both options, so whether you’re filing bankruptcy or choosing a debt settlement plan, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company/lawyer and are not being asked to pay unreasonable upfront fees. Reputable debt settlement companies will provide you with a free consultation in the first instance, and you can use the NACBA directory to find a suitable lawyer.

Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement: The End Goal

For all the ways that these two options differ, there is one important similarity: They give you a chance to make a fresh start. You can never underestimate the benefits of this, even if it comes with a reduced credit score and a derogatory mark that will remain on your credit report for years to come.

If you’re heavily in debt, it can feel like your money isn’t your own, your life isn’t secure, and your future is not certain. With bankruptcy and debt settlement, your credit score and finances may suffer temporarily, but it gives you a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.

What’s more, this process may take several years to complete and in the case of bankruptcy, it comes with credit counseling. Once you make it through all of this, you’ll be more knowledgeable about debt, you’ll have a better grip on your finances, and your impulse control. 

And even if you don’t, you’ll be forced to adopt a little restraint after the process ends as your credit score will be too low for you to apply for new personal loans and high limit cards.

Other Options for Last Ditch Debt Relief

Many debtors preparing for debt settlement or bankruptcy may actually have more options than they think. For instance, bankruptcy is often seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card, an easy escape that you can use to your advantage whenever you have debts you don’t want to pay.

But that’s simply not the case and unless you have tried all other options and can prove that none of them have worked, your case may be thrown out. If that happens, you’ll waste money on legal and filing fees and will be sent back to the drawing board.

So, regardless of the amount of debt you have, make sure you’ve looked into the following debt relief options before you focus on debt settlement or bankruptcy. 

Debt Consolidation

A debt consolidation loan is provided by a specialized lender. They pay off all your existing debts and give you a single large loan in return, one that has a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment. 

Your debt-to-income ratio will improve, and you’ll have more money in your pocket at the end of the month. However, in exchange, you’ll be given a much longer-term, which means you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan.

A Debt Management Plan

Debt management combines counseling services with debt consolidation. A debt management plan requires you to continue making your monthly payment, only this will go to the debt management company and not directly to the creditors. They will then distribute the money to your creditors.

You’ll be given a monthly payment that you can manage, along with the budgeting advice you need to keep meeting those payments. In exchange, however, you’ll be asked to close all but one credit card (which can hurt your credit score) and if you miss a payment then your creditors may back out of the agreement.

Balance Transfer Card

If all your debts are tied into credit cards, you can use a balance transfer credit card to make everything more manageable. With a balance transfer credit card, you move one or more debts onto a new card, one that offers a 0% APR for a fixed period. 

The idea is that you continue making your monthly payment, only because there is no interest, all the money goes towards the principal.

Home Equity Loans

If you have built substantial equity in your home then you can look into home equity loans and lines of credit. These are secured loans, which means there is a risk of repossession if you fail to keep up your payments, but for this, you’ll get a greatly reduced interest rate and a sum large enough to clear your debts.

Bottom Line: The Best Option

Debt settlement and bankruptcy are both considered to be last resort debt-relief options, but they couldn’t be more different from one another. Generally speaking, we would always recommend debt settlement first, especially if you have a lot of money tied up in credit card debt.

If not, and you can’t bear the idea of spending several months ignoring your creditors, missing payments, and accumulating late fees, it might be time to consider bankruptcy. In any case, make sure you exhaust all other possibilities first.

Debt Settlement vs Bankruptcy: Which is Best? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

By: L Maea

I did a payday loan for almost $4,000 and with the interest and fees it totaled almost $6,000. I could not repay after so long due to my spouse loosing his job. Tried to work with them and do some kind of payment plan. Efforts of that failed because she was a difficult person. The owner would call and text me at random times and threaten me and call me names. Finally I received a letter stating I owe $5000. 30 days later I received a letter stating I now owe $10,000. 30 days after that I received a judgement that my wages are going to be garnished for total amount of $10,600. What can I do to go after this loan company.

Source: credit.com

4 Credit Cards with No Spending Limit

Life can be unpredictable, and you never know exactly what you may need to spend money on tomorrow. In these situations, you may suddenly need more spending power on your credit cards than you previously anticipated. Fortunately, there are credit and charge cards that allow you to make the charges you need.

If your credit score is good enough, you might be able to score an “unlimited credit card”—one without a preset spending limit. That’s not a free pass to go on a months-long shopping spree, of course, as these credit cards technically do have some limitations. But they can be a flexible way to manage your finances, especially if you manage large monthly expenses or travel a lot. Find out more about credit cards with no limits below and whether one might be right for you.

What a No Limit Credit Card Really Means

The phrase “no limit credit card” is a bit misleading. Technically, all credit cards have limits. It’s not in the interest of lenders to allow card holders to drive up balances with no end in sight.

When people talk about unlimited credit cards, then, they usually mean one of two things. First, they could mean a credit card with a very high limit—one you’d be unlikely to hit in the normal course of spending if you’re regularly paying off the card. These types of cards include exclusive invitation-only “black cards.”

Second, and more commonly, they mean cards with no preset or published limits. Cardholders on these accounts are given a limit that’s unique to them, and it’s based on factors such as creditworthiness, income, and how long you have had an account. The credit limit might even fluctuate as you demonstrate continued or increased creditworthiness.

How to Determine if No Limit Credit Cards Are Right for You

Typically, these cards require good or excellent credit, so they aren’t something everyone can qualify for. The most exclusive cards with no preset spending limits are available only to individuals who receive an invite.

Cards with especially high credit limits or extremely flexible limits may also not be the right choice for someone who is in financial distress or already struggling to manage debt. It’s an unfortunate paradox that if you really need the larger credit line, you might be at greater risk of running up the credit card balance and digging yourself deeper in debt—and therefore unlikely to be approved for the larger credit line.

Need a card for fair or poor credit? We’ve got you covered.

Find a Card

Alternatives to No Limit Credit Cards

If you don’t have great credit, you might want to consider a different option, such as a balance transfer card. If your credit is good enough, you can get a balance transfer card with a preset limit that lets you transfer high-interest debt and pay it off faster at 0% interest for a specific period of time.

If you’re doing well financially and would like the flexibility of a credit card with a high limit without the temptation of ongoing debt, you might consider a charge card. Charge cards are a type of credit card—often with high limits—that you have to pay off each billing cycle.

4 High Limit or No Limit Credit Cards to Consider

If a high limit card does sound like a good idea, you’ll want to research available options and choose the best one for your needs and preferences. Here are four to consider.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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on Chase’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
15.99% – 22.99% Variable


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards credit card
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable
  • Signup bonus: 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months—that’s $1,000 in travel credits because points are worth even more if you use them on travel.
  • Rewards: Earn 2 points for every dollar spent on qualified travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar for all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95

Once you’re approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Chase will designate a credit access line for your account. However, you are permitted to exceed the account on a case-by-case basis. And when you do exceed this amount, you will not be charged an over-limit fee. The decision to allow you to charge beyond your credit access line is based on your payment history, your income, and other factors.

2. American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
See Pay Over Time APR


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$250


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points on Restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Earn up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: See Pay Over Time APR
  • Signup bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards® points if you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new card within the first 6 months.
  • Rewards: Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets or at restaurants, including takeout and delivery, and 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Annual fee: $250

The American Express® Gold card is a card with a high-limit. With its Pay Over Time feature, this Amex card allows eligible charges of $100 or more to be carried across statements with interest. Other charges are due each month. You also get up to $120 in dining credits a year by earning up to a total of $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Boxed, and participating Shake Shack locations. This can be an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.

3. Mastercard Black Card

Mastercard® Black Card™

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on Luxury Card’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
N/A


Ongoing Apr:
14.99%


Balance Transfer:
0% introductory APR for the first fifteen billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening. After that, your APR will be 14.99%.


Annual Fee:
$495 ($195 for each Authorized User added to the account)


Credit Needed:
Excellent

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Patented black-PVD-coated metal card—weighing 22 grams.
  • 2% value for airfare redemptions with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. 1.5% value for cash back redemptions. Earn one point for every one dollar spent.
  • 24/7 Luxury Card Concierge®—available by phone, email and live mobile chat. Around-the-clock service to help you save time and manage tasks big and small.
  • Exclusive Luxury Card Travel® benefits—average value of $500 per stay (e.g., resort credits, room upgrades, free wifi, breakfast for two and more) at over 3,000 properties.
  • Annual Airline Credit—up to $100 in statement credits toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more. Up to a $100 application fee credit for the cost of TSA Pre✓® or Global Entry.
  • Enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select with access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide with no guest limit. Includes credits at select airport restaurants for cardholder and one guest.
  • Cell phone protection for eligible claims of up to $1,000 each year. Plus additional World Elite Mastercard® benefits.
  • Annual Fee: $495 ($195 for each Authorized User). Terms and conditions apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Rewards/Cash Back
  • Credit Needed: Excellent
  • Ongoing APR: 14.99%
  • Sign up bonus: n/a
  • Rewards: Earn redemption cash back in the value of 2% if you redeem on airfare or 1.5% if you redeem for cash back.
  • Annual fee: $495 ($195 for each Authorized User added to the account)

One of three products offered by Luxury Card, the Mastercard Black Card is truly luxurious. There is no official minimum starting limit for this card—but that flexibility comes with a cost. The annual fee is steeper than many can afford, but the card comes with $100 in airline credit and $100 in TSA Pre-check application credit every year, Exclusive luxury travel perks, and around-the-clock access to a concierge. It also includes a full range of traveler perks. Coupled with the rewards, this card can pay for itself when used by frequent travelers.

4. American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% for 12 months on purchases


Ongoing Apr:
13.99%-23.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

  • Type: Cash Back
  • Credit Needed: Excellent,Good
  • Ongoing APR: 13.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Sign up bonus: Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • Rewards: 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and some streaming services, up to $6,000 per year, then 1%; 3% cash back when spending at gas stations or on public transit; and 1% cash back on other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred® card comes with a lot of standard Amex benefits. There’s no overlimit fee, and its “Plan It” features allow you to create monthly payment plans with a fixed finance charge each month, rather than the ongoing APR.

No Limit Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

Paying on time and keeping your balance low is as important with these types of cards as with any other card. But you also need to consider your revolving credit utilization. Since these cards may not have a set or published limit, it’s important that you understand what the actual limit is and how it’s being reported. Check your credit report to see what limit is being reported so you know whether your credit utilization is high. Charge cards may not affect your utilization rate at all.

If you really want to dig in to your credit reports and the factors affecting your credit scores, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit lets you access this information from all three credit bureaus whenever you want. That helps you best manage all of your debt, whether you have an unlimited credit card or not.

Sign Up Now

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, American Express Gold, Mastercard Black, and American Express Blue Cash Preferred cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for either of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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Source: credit.com

Airline, hotel loyalty programs extending perks for members through coronavirus

While COVID-19 has affected all parts of daily life, the travel industry has certainly been put on hold as people have had to cancel plans and stay at home. Since most travelers plan many months in advance, this also leaves many holding tickets they can no longer use. Frequent flyers and hotel loyalty members are left wondering what recourse they have, if any, when it comes to their member status and points or miles.

We researched the major players in the hotel and airline industry to find out how these companies plan to accommodate their valued members – by extending points, status levels and more – in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus relief measures by loyalty or travel program

  • Hilton Honors
  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • World of Hyatt
  • Wyndham Rewards
  • Choice Privileges
  • United MileagePlus
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • British Airways
  • CLEAR
  • TSA Precheck
  • Global Entry

Hilton Honors

In addition to donating up to one million rooms to medical professionals, Hilton has promised to compensate its Hilton Honors loyalty program members in a number of ways.

Lower status requirements

Hilton has cut status qualification requirements by half.

Elite status Previous status requirements New status requirements
Silver status 4 stays, 10 nights or 25,000 base points 2 stays, 5 nights or 12,500 base points
Gold status 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 base points 10 stays, 30 nights or 37,500 base points
Diamond status 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points 15 stays, 30 nights or 60,000 base points

Status extension

For any Silver, Gold or Diamond members that were due to downgrade in 2020 or 2021, statuses will be extended through March 31, 2022.

Cardholder benefits

Weekend night rewards on eligible Hilton credit cards that were not expired by May 1, 2020, will now be valid through August 31, 2021, and certificates issued from May 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, are valid for 24 months from the date of issuance. All free weekend night certificates issued in 2021 can be used any night of the week and expiration is extended until Dec. 31, 2022.

Additionally, bonus points will continue to count as base points on eligible purchases through Dec. 31, 2021, and toward elite status tier qualification, including Lifetime Diamond Status.

Other rewards

All 2020 elite qualifying nights will be rolled over to the 2021 status year. This applies to all nights members have already completed or will complete this calendar year.

On top of that, Hilton has lowered the requirements to earn Milestone Bonuses for 2021. Previously, you could earn 10,000 bonus points every 10 nights after completing 40 nights in a calendar year. Starting in January, that requirement has been changed to 20 nights stayed to align with the new Gold qualification level. However, 60 nights will still earn you 30,000 points.

Diamond members will be able to gift Gold status for staying 30 nights in 2021 instead of 60 nights which was the previous requirement. The requirement to gift Diamond status is lowered to 60 nights instead of 100.

To ensure member safety, Hilton is providing flexible cancellations and full points refunds for all Hilton Honors experiences booked through May 31, 2021.

You can follow further updates for Hilton Honors members on the loyalty program website.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott plans to compensate its Marriott Bonvoy members, although benefits may vary depending on members’ location.

See related: Marriott data breach involves 5.2 million hotel guests

Status extension

Bonvoy members who earned elite status for 2020 can now enjoy their benefits through February 2022.

Points extension

Points set to expire by February 2021 will be paused, and no points will expire until after that time period. 

Other rewards

Active free night awards (as part of Marriott credit cards or packages) set to expire beginning March 1, 2020, will be extended through Aug. 1, 2021. Additionally, more recent certificates set to expire before July 31, 2021, will be extended through that date as well. Suite night awards set to expire by Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended another year through Dec. 31, 2021.

Additionally, Marriott will deposit Elite Night Credits into Bonvoy elite members’ accounts in the amount of 50% of the nights required for the status they earned in 2019. This can make it easier for the members to reach the next tier.

Elite Night Credits deposit breakdown

Elite status Annual tier requirements Extra elite night credits
Ambassador Elite 100 Qualifying Nights and $20,000 stay spend 50 Elite Night Credits
Titanium Elite 75 Qualifying Nights 38 Elite Night Credits
Platinum Elite 50 Qualifying Nights 25 Elite Night Credits
Gold Elite 25 Qualifying Nights 13 Elite Night Credits
Silver Elite 10 Qualifying Nights 5 Elite Night Credits

Stay up to date on relief measures for Bonvoy members on the company’s COVID-19 page.

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IHG Rewards Club

Due to travel constraints and shortened travel periods, IHG has lowered its requirements for elite status membership by 25% or more, as well as extended statuses and points for all members (since elite members’ points never expire). 

Lower status requirements

Status Previous qualification requirements New qualification requirements
Gold
  • 10,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 10 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 7,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 7 qualifying nights in a calendar year
Platinum
  • 40,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 40 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 30,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 30 qualifying nights in a calendar year
Spire
  • 75,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 75 qualifying nights in a calendar year
  • 55,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or
  • 55 qualifying nights in a calendar year

See related: The benefits of IHG Rewards Club elite status

Status extension

Program statuses will be extended through January 2022 for all members. Spire elite members will also retain their Choice benefit of 25,000 bonus points or gifting of Platinum Elite status to someone each year.

Award certificates 

Anniversary night certificates (U.S. and U.K. only) set to expire before March 1, 2020, will be extended through the end of the year. All 2020 certificates will be redeemable for 18 months, instead of the usual 12. Some members have also reported that free night certificates expiring before Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended until August 2021.

Follow updates to IHG Rewards Club benefits on the program’s travel advisory page.

World of Hyatt

The World of Hyatt loyalty program will extend all statuses and rewards to compensate valued members.

Status extension

All active elite statuses, as of March 31, 2020, will be extended through Feb. 28, 2022. 

Points extension

Forfeiting points due to inactivity will be suspended through June 30, 2021. No points will expire until that date.

Other rewards

Any earned rewards, such as free nights or upgrades, set to expire between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Check the updates to Hyatt relief measures on the program’s COVID-19 page.

online.

Keep an eye on Wyndham’s COVID-19 statement page for updates.

Choice Privileges

It took Choice some time to follow suit and join other hotel chains in extending elite statuses and offering other promotions amid the outbreak. On May 21, 2020, the company announced a series of offers to expand the benefits of its Choice Privileges loyalty program.

“Even during this crisis, our members found a number of ways to engage with us and make a difference,” said Jamie Russo, vice president, loyalty programs and customer engagement, Choice Hotels. “Some of them are essential and frontline workers who chose to stay in our small-business hotels, and others showed their generosity by donating their Choice Privileges points to aid recovery efforts. Our latest loyalty program changes tell our members that we appreciate their continued support and our hotels are here to welcome them whenever they feel safe traveling again.”

Status extension

All members’ current elite statuses will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Lower status requirements

Choice is also easing requirements to qualify for elite status in 2021.

Elite status Previous status requirements 2021 status requirements
Gold status 10 nights 7 nights
Platinum status 20 nights 15 nights
Diamond status 40 nights 25 nights

Additionally, Choice is giving current elite members a limited-time upgrade to the next tier. Gold members will be upgraded to Platinum status and Platinum members will be upgraded to Diamond. Additionally, members who stayed at least five nights by Dec. 31, 2020, will be able to keep their upgraded tier through 2021.

United MileagePlus

United has said it would compensate their MileagePlus members by extending all annual memberships, subscriptions and checked bag benefits for six months. United also plans to make status membership requirements easier and will release information later in 2020.

Status extension

All MileagePlus Premier members will get to retain their 2020 status through Jan. 31, 2022.

Lower status requirements

MileagePlus Premier membership now has easier requirements, reduced 50% for each status level.

2021 status Premier qualifying flights and PQP … or PQP
Silver 6 2,000 2,500
Gold 12 4,000 5,000
Platinum 18 6,000 7,500
1K 26 9,000 12,000

Other rewards

All valid travel certificates issued on or after April 1, 2020, will be extended to be valid for two years for booking, as well as up to an additional 11 months to travel. All redeposit fees for flights booked through May 31, 2020, will be waived, as well as all fees for members who cancel within at least 30 days of departure.

Follow more updates to United MileagePlus on the program’s travel notice page.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta has stepped up to say they will compensate their Medallion members by extending their Member status.

Status extension

2020 Medallion Member status will be extended through Jan. 31, 2022, and this change should be reflected on the member’s SkyMiles account by Feb. 1, 2021. Additionally, all 2020 Medallion Qualification Miles will roll over into 2021.

Follow updates to the Delta SkyMiles program on the coronavirus travel update page.

American Airlines AAdvantage

As AAdvantage members experience reduced travel opportunities due to the coronavirus, American Airlines is offering elite status extension, lowering elite status requirements and allowing eligible cardholders to earn miles toward Million Miler status with credit card spend.

Status extension

Members whose elite status expires on Jan. 31, 2021, will automatically get an extension until Jan. 31, 2022.

Lower status requirements

Members will be able to qualify for a higher elite status in 2021 with lower requirements, including Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD), Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Segment (EQS).

Gold oneworld Ruby Platinum oneworld Sapphire Platinum Pro oneworld Sapphire Executive Platinum oneworld Emerald
  • $2,000 EQDs and 20,000 EQMs or
  • $2,000 EQDs and 20 EQSs
  • $4,500 EQDs and 40,000 EQMs or
  • $4,500 EQDs and 45 EQSs
  • $7,000 EQDs and 60,000 EQMs or
  • $7,000 EQDs and 70 EQSs
  • $12,000 EQDs and 80,000 EQMs or
  • $12,000 EQDs and 95 EQSs

Cardholder benefits

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® cardholders who hold a companion certificate expiring Dec. 31, 2020, will receive a six-month extension as well, bringing the expiration date to June 30, 2021.

Learn more about AAdvantage program updates on aa.com.

JetBlue TrueBlue

JetBlue took a bit longer to join other airlines in taking measures to support loyal customers. On May 14, 2020, JetBlue announced it’s extending Mosaic elite statuses, as well as making it easier to earn one.

Status extension

All currently valid Mosaic elite statuses will be extended through Dec. 31, 2021.

Lower status requirements

JetBlue is reducing the qualifying thresholds for Mosaic status by 50% for 2021. To earn the status this year, you’ll need to earn 7,500 qualifying TrueBlue base points or 6,000 qualifying TrueBlue base points and 15 flight segments.

Alternatively, you can get the elite status by spending $50,000 in annual net purchases on the JetBlue Plus card – this spending requirement hasn’t changed for 2020.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has also made it easier for customers to earn and maintain elite status amid the pandemic.

Status extension

In March 2020, Virgin Atlantic extended status for Gold and Silver members, allowing them an additional six months to meet the requirements.

On Aug. 20, 2020, the airline added another six months to the extension, making it one year in total.

Other rewards

Starting Sept. 1, 2020, the Flying Club program members will be able to earn tier points on award flights, meaning they’ll be able to earn elite-qualifying points on flights where they used Flying Club miles to redeem for travel.

On top of that, Virgin Atlantic makes it easier for members to earn and redeem Companion Vouchers, Upgrade Vouchers and Clubhouse Vouchers.

Members can now use Companion Vouchers with any ticket in any booking class, regardless of status. Gold and Silver members can book their companion into any cabin for zero miles, and Red members can book their companion into Economy and Premium for zero miles or upper class at a 50% discount.

Upgrade Vouchers can also be used with any ticket in any booking class, excluding Economy Light, for a one-cabin upgrade on a return flight.

Clubhouse Vouchers can be used for one entry to any clubhouse when booked on a Virgin flight or with Air France, Delta or KLM when flying internationally. Gold members will continue to receive two vouchers.

Southwest Rapid Rewards

On April 16, Southwest announced a status extension for A-List and A-List Preferred members and companion passes. The company is also giving a points “boost” to all Rapid Rewards members.

“As we continue to navigate our way through this unprecedented time and deal with extraordinary challenges, we are committed to keeping you informed and updated on the steps we are taking to manage through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Southwest said in a message to Rapid Rewards members.

Status extension

Companion Pass Members who received an extension of their earned Companion Pass benefits through June 30, 2021, will have their benefits extended for another six months. Members will be able to keep their status through Dec. 31, 2021.

Other rewards

Southwest is giving all Rapid Rewards members with an account opened by Dec. 31, 2020, a “boost” of 25,000 Companion Pass qualifying points and 25 flight credits toward Companion Pass status, as well as 15,000 tier qualifying points and 10 qualifying flight credits toward A-List and A-List Preferred.

Southwest cardholders can also spend their way all the way to A-List status, with no cap on tier qualifying points (TQPs) earned through card spend. Previously, cardholders could only earn up to 15,000 TQPs per year via card spend.

Additionally, travel funds created or expiring between March 1, 2020, and Sep. 7, 2020, will now expire on Sep. 7, 2022. Alternatively, Rapid Rewards members can convert those funds into Rapid Rewards points. According to Southwest, the conversion ratio is “the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today.”

British Airways

On June 11, British Airways finally joined other airlines in extending the elite status for its members. Additionally, the carrier is reducing the number of tier points needed to reach a higher membership tier.

Status extension

British Airways is extending tier status by 12 months for members who have a tier point collection end date of July 2020, through to June 2021.

Lower status requirements

The carrier has also reduced the number of points needed to retain and upgrade a membership status by 25%.

Here are the new tier qualification thresholds:

  • Bronze: 225 Tier Points or 18 eligible flights
  • Silver: 450 Tier Points or 37 eligible flights
  • Gold: 1125 Tier Points

Cardholder benefits

Members who have earned heir Gold Upgrade Vouchers, Companion Vouchers and Travel Together Tickets with a British Airways credit card will get a 6-month expiration extension to any current vouchers.

CLEAR

CLEAR is a program that makes it quicker for travelers to get through airport security lanes by using biometrics for ID verification. Since many people are currently avoiding traveling due to the coronavirus outbreak, a CLEAR membership might not be useful at the moment.

Originally, CLEAR offered customers to pause their membership for three months. Now CLEAR is allowing members to request a three-month extension to their membership, which can be done by contacting the company directly. With customer service channels such as phone lines overloaded by requests, the fastest way to do so is via CLEAR’s online chat. However, some users have reported experiencing difficulties finding the chat box on the website. Alternatively, you can reach CLEAR by text, email or phone.

TSA Precheck

TSA Precheck is a five-year membership that provides expedited security checks at select domestic airports in the U.S. At this time, TSA is planning to keep enrollment centers open while working to determine if any temporary closures are required. Some centers have been closed or changed hours.

If you’re planning to visit an enrollment center, it’s recommended that you schedule an appointment – as walk-ins may be deferred.

Visit TSA’s enrollment questions page for more information.

Global Entry

Global Entry, a program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that allows travelers to get expedited clearance through automatic kiosks when arriving in the U.S, has reopened its enrollment centers on Sept. 8, 2020. After a six-month hiatus, the program will finally allow conditionally approved Global Entry applicants to complete in-person interviews at most Trusted Traveler Programs enrollment centers in the U.S. The interviews must be scheduled in advance online, and their availability will vary by location.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak has also affected processing times for Global Entry renewals, CPB has increased the renewal grace period to 18 months. This means that if you apply for your Global Entry renewal before its expiration date, you’ll be able to use Global Entry for another 18 months.

As the coronavirus situation is unprecedented and changing rapidly every day, hotels and airlines continue to make updates to their travel policies, including their loyalty programs. Travelers should continue to check airline and hotel websites as the situation evolves. If they cannot find the information they need online, they should contact their hotel, airline or travel agency’s customer service number.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

talk to a credit bureau

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax Reason for Calling Phone Number General inquiries 800-525-6285 Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273 Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191 Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285 Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191 Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045 Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian Reason for Calling Phone Number Buying a credit report,

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file 888-397-3742 or

888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN) Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000 Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239 Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Milkos, Â©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/fstop123

The post How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19

A young Black woman sits outside on her laptop, drinking a coffee and looking up how to protect her credit score from COVID.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone all around the world. Extended isolation and sudden job losses have everyone thinking about their futures. Lots of people are concerned about losing a reliable income source during this time of crisis. Some have even been forced to shut their businesses. The global pandemic has turned many people’s financial lives upside down.

As you work on keeping your bills in good standing and your finances going strong, you should also pay attention to your credit score. Even if you’re delaying some major purchases like buying a car or a home or going on a trip, you still need to maintain good credit. You’ll eventually start spending again, and you’ll need a good credit score.

But how can you protect your credit score during COVID-19? Keep in mind that your credit scores and reports play a crucial role in your future financial opportunities. The following steps will be your handy guide in managing and protecting your credit score during this global pandemic.

Stay on Top of Your Credit
Reports

Even on good days, make sure you regularly review your credit reports from the three credit bureaus. You can get free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Through April 2021, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are allowing consumers to access their credit reports for free weekly. Take advantage of this offer to make sure that any accommodations you request from lenders are appropriately reported and that your identity is safe and secure.

You can also sign up for the free Credit Report Card from Credit.com. With our report card, you’ll see your VantageScore 3.0 from Experian, as well as personalized information on what is affecting your credit score and how you can improve. If you want to dive deeper, sign up for ExtraCredit to see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus.

Get ExtraCredit

Keep Up with Your Payments

Late payments can affect your credit history and credit reports for up to seven years. Prioritize paying your bills on time when you can, even during financially difficult times. You can do this by setting up reminders to alert you of payment deadlines. Also, you should make it a habit to make at least the minimum payment each month. Doing so will help you in keeping a good payment history record and prevents you from paying late fees.

Contact your lender whenever you can’t
make payments on time. Lots of lenders have announced proactive measures to aid
their borrowers affected by the global pandemic. Some are willing to provide
loan extensions, interest rates reduction, forbearance, or repayment
flexibilities. The best thing to do is to get in touch with your lender and
explain your current situation. Don’t forget to ask for written confirmation if
any agreements were made. 

Be Aware of Your Protections

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) has protections to help your credit score remain unaffected during the pandemic. This Act puts special requirements on some agencies and companies reporting your payment information to the credit reporting companies. The requirements are applicable if you’re affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically covered by the Act.

If you request an accommodation under the CARES Act, your creditors will report your account to the credit reporting agencies based on the current standing of your credit when the agreement is made. The requirements set by the CARES Act are only applicable to agreements made between 31st of January 2020 and 120 days after the COVID-19 national emergency officially ends.

Get to Know What Impacts Your
Score

If you’re currently unemployed and wondering if it will affect your credit score, the answer is no. Unemployment itself will not impact your score. Making late payments and missing payments are the things that most significantly affect your credit score. This is why we recommend getting in touch with your lender as soon as you suspect you may not be able to make a payment in full on time. Inform them of your current situation. This can also help you cope with your anxiety.

Hard inquiries, account mix, and credit age also impact your credit score, but to a lesser degree. Your major concern should be keeping your credit utilization low and paying bills on time.

Keep Yourself and Your
identity Protected

Securing your personal information and identity is also crucial in protecting your credit score. Identity theft and scams are rampant during this coronavirus pandemic. Your personal information can unlock different financial resources. Hackers and cybercriminals can utilize all your personal information to impersonate you and open credit card accounts, make purchases, transfer funds, and borrow money. If left undetected, this activity can significantly damage your credit score.

Though the damage is reversible, the entire process will be costly. That’s precisely why prevention is always the best option. ExtraCredit from Credit.com, for example, offers $1 million in identity theft protection and dark web monitoring, among other features.

Make Budgeting and Planning a Habit

During this crisis, budgeting is essential for keeping your credit card debt low and your credit score high. Pay attention to how much money you make and the amount of money you spend. Identify expenses where you can cut the usual costs, at least temporarily.

Reworking your budget is necessary, especially if you’re currently unemployed or earning less money. You can consider the following money-saving ideas to maximize your savings:

  • Put nonessential purchases such as online shopping and clothes on hold
  • Temporarily suspend nonessential services such as cleaning and lawn care
  • Cancel subscriptions on cable, music streaming, video streaming, etc.
  • Search for affordable meal planning solutions
  • Cancel fitness and gym memberships
  • Cut back child-related extracurriculars such as tutoring, lessons, and sports
  • Spend less on takeout

Although reducing costs is not fun, the
result will reduce your financial stress and will allow you to better protect
your credit.

You Can Protect Your Credit Score from COVID-19

All the things mentioned above have one thing in common: All require taking a proactive approach to your finances and credit. Follow the six credit-protection strategies mentioned above to maintain and protect your good credit even if you are facing a financial crisis.

About the Author

Lidia S. Hovhan is a part of Content and Marketing team at OmnicoreAgency. She contributes articles about how to integrate digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing to help business owners to meet their online goals. You can find really professional insights in her writings.


The post How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19 appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Understanding Debt Settlement Letters

If you’re unable to pay back a large amount of debt, you might be interested in learning more about debt settlement. Debt settlement works to negotiate with your creditors to forgive all or part of your debt. Throughout this process, communication is usually done with written letters. Written letters work best to convey the clear and detailed terms you have for your creditor.

A debt settlement letter is a written proposal for you to offer a specific amount of money in exchange for forgiveness of your debt. These letters address why you’re unable to pay the debt, how much you’re willing to pay now, and what you would like from the creditors in return. Working through the proposal is how both parties determine the terms and agreements of the debt settlement exchange.

What Is Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement is the meticulous process of negotiating terms with your creditors, in hopes of them forgiving a portion of your debt. Those who look for debt settlement usually are doing so because they can’t pay off all the debt they’ve accumulated. Instead, they offer a decent portion of the debt owed upfront in exchange for the account to close in full.

The following are the key steps in reaching a debt settlement:

  1. Decide if you want to work on your own or hire debt settlement professionals. Professionals can be of great help, but sometimes their fees can get quite expensive.
  2. Save up the amount of money you are proposing before even getting started. If the creditor accepts your proposal, you’ll need to pay the agreed amount within a specified time frame.
  3. Write a debt settlement letter to your creditor. Explain your current situation and how much you can pay. Also, provide them with a clear description of what you expect in return, such as removal of missed payments or the account shown as paid in full on your report.
  4. Ask for a written confirmation after settling on an agreement. Request this before you send the payment, as it acts as an extra layer of liability coverage in the future.
  5. Send your payment. Keep in touch with your creditors until all terms and agreements are fulfilled.

What Is Debt Settlement?

What To Consider Before Sending a Debt Settlement Letter

Sending a debt settlement letter has the potential to do both harm and good. The extent to which you are affected depends on your current situation. Some people may not think that the benefits outweigh the negatives when settling debt. Others may be limited when it comes to other options and are more willing to take the risk.

Pros of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

Sending out a debt settlement letter can be beneficial if you’re in financial hardship. Many people who can’t afford to pay off their debt end up filing for bankruptcy. While settling is never a guarantee, it may put you in a better financial position. If the request is accepted, debt settlement amounts usually settle for around 50 to 80 percent of the total balance. Reaching out to your creditors and addressing the issue can also relieve some of the stress you feel to pay off your debt.

Cons of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

As mentioned, debt settlement is never a guarantee. If there’s no agreement made, you may end up owing more than you did originally due to missed payments and late fees. If you hire professionals, you may owe them various fees and payments.

Settling debt can often appear as a bad financial move and can negatively impact your credit health. Missed payments on the account may still appear in your report, even if you were negotiating your settlement during that time. There’s also a chance that your account shows up as a debt settlement on your credit report. This may cause other creditors to see you as an unreliable candidate in the future.

Pros and Cons of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

How To Write a Debt Settlement Proposal Letter

When writing a debt settlement letter, it’s important to be explicit and detailed. Treat the letter as a contract between you and your creditor. Include your personal information and account number for easy identification. You’ll need to outline the amount you can pay and what you expect in return. If you want to propose a good settlement offer, consider offering around 30 percent of what you owe. This can set the baseline for the negotiations your creditor will put forth.

In order to have your proposal approved, creditors must believe that you’re truly unable to pay off what you owe. This is why elaborating on the reason you can’t pay off your debt can benefit you. Financial hardships can include serious injury, unexpected loss of work, and environmental disasters. Depending on your hardship, creditors may ask for documented proof. For instance, a serious injury may need proof from a doctor.

Below is a template to guide you when writing your letter:

[First & last name]
[Home or mailing address]
[Telephone number]

[Current date]

[Account number of which you’re looking to settle]

[Creditor or organization name]
[Creditor’s address]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’m writing this letter in regards to the amount of debt on the account number stated above. As a result of financial hardship, I am unable to pay back the amount in full. [Here, take the time to explain your hardship so the creditor has a better picture of what’s going on].

I would like to propose an offer to settle this debt for [$ how much you will pay] as a final settlement. In return, I request [what you expect in return; ex: removing late payments on your credit report]. I would also like freedom from any liability associated with the debt of this account. I expect this to appear in my report by stating that the account is now paid in full.

If you are willing to accept this offer, please send me a signed and written agreement. Once I receive this, I will pay the agreed amount within [number of days they can expect your payment]. Please let me know by [a specified deadline].

Sincerely,

[Your Signature]

[Printed Name]

What To Outline in Your Debt Settlement Letter

What To Expect After Sending Your Letter

After sending your letter, you may be eager to see if your creditor approves or declines the request. For this reason, including a response date in your letter will help your chances of a prompt reply. As you wait, ensure you have the agreed amount of money saved up and ready to go if they accept your offer. It can also be a good idea to request confirmation that they have received your payment.

You may want to check and make sure the appropriate changes appear on your credit report and account. Debt settlement may relieve your debt, but it can also negatively impact your financial health. Debt settlement is usually reflected in your report for some time. Seeing this may make you appear as risky to future lenders.

Debt settlement may be worth your while if you find yourself struggling due to a hardship. When writing a letter, remember it’s very important to be careful with your words. A well thought out debt settlement letter can make all the difference when it comes to liability. This helps in ensuring that both parties uphold their part of the agreement.

Since it may negatively impact your credit score, you may feel nervous about settling your debt. You may fear creditors thinking you’re a poor candidate for future financial requests. Keep in mind that there are still many credit card and loan options out there for people who are working towards rebuilding their credit.

The post Understanding Debt Settlement Letters appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

6 Types of Home Loans: Which One Is Right for You?

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If you’re a first-time home buyer shopping for a home, odds are you should be shopping for mortgage loans as well—and these days, it’s by no means a one-mortgage-fits-all model.

Where you live, how long you plan to stay put, and other variables can make certain mortgage loans better suited to a home buyer’s circumstances and loan amount. Choosing wisely between them could save you a bundle on your down payment, fees, and interest.

Many types of mortgage loans exist: conventional loans, FHA loans, VA loans, fixed-rate loans, adjustable-rate mortgages, jumbo loans, and more. Each mortgage loan may require certain down payments or specify standards for loan amount, mortgage insurance, and interest. To learn about all your home-buying options, check out these common types of home mortgage loans and whom they’re suited for, so you can make the right choice. The type of mortgage loan that you choose could affect your monthly payment.

Fixed-rate loan

The most common type of conventional loan, a fixed-rate loan prescribes a single interest rate—and monthly payment—for the life of the loan, which is typically 15 or 30 years. One type of fixed-rate mortgage is a jumbo loan.

Right for: Homeowners who crave predictability and aren’t going anywhere soon may be best suited for this conventional loan. For your mortgage payment, you pay X amount for Y years—and that’s the end for a conventional loan. A fixed-rate loan will require a down payment. The rise and fall of interest rates won’t change the terms of your home loan, so you’ll always know what to expect with your monthly payment. That said, a fixed-rate mortgage is best for people who plan to stay in their home for at least a good chunk of the life of the loan; if you think you’ll move fairly soon, you may want to consider the next option.

Adjustable-rate mortgage

Unlike fixed-rate mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) offer mortgage interest rates typically lower than you’d get with a fixed-rate mortgage for a period of time—such as five or 10 years, rather than the life of a loan. But after that, your interest rates (and monthly payments) will adjust, typically once a year, roughly corresponding to current interest rates. So if interest rates shoot up, so do your monthly payments; if they plummet, you’ll pay less on mortgage payments.

Right for: Home buyers with lower credit scores are best suited for an adjustable-rate mortgage. Since people with poor credit typically can’t get good rates on fixed-rate loans, an adjustable-rate mortgage can nudge those interest rates down enough to put homeownership within easier reach. These home loans are also great for people who plan to move and sell their home before their fixed-rate period is up and their rates start vacillating. However, the monthly payment can fluctuate.

FHA loan

While typical home loans require a down payment of 20% of the purchase price of your home, with a Federal Housing Administration, or FHA loan, you can put down as little as 3.5%. That’s because Federal Housing Administration loans are government-backed.

Right for: Home buyers with meager savings for a down payment are a good fit for an FHA loan. The FHA has several requirements for mortgage loans. First, most loan amounts are limited to $417,000 and don’t provide much flexibility. FHA loans are fixed-rate mortgages, with either 15- or 30-year terms. Buyers of FHA-approved loans are also required to pay mortgage insurance—either upfront or over the life of the loan—which hovers at around 1% of the cost of your loan amount.

VA loan

If you’ve served in the United States military, a Veterans Affairs or VA loan can be an excellent alternative to a conventional loan. If you qualify for a VA loan, you can score a sweet home with no down payment and no mortgage insurance requirements.

Right for: VA loans are for veterans who’ve served 90 days consecutively during wartime, 180 during peacetime, or six years in the reserves. Because the home loans are government-backed, the VA has strict requirements on the type of home buyers can purchase with a VA loan: It must be your primary residence, and it must meet “minimum property requirements” (that is, no fixer-uppers allowed).

USDA loan

Another government-sponsored home loan is the USDA Rural Development loan, which is designed for families in rural areas. The government finances 100% of the home price for USDA-eligible homes—in other words, no down payment necessary—and offers discounted mortgage interest rates to boot.

Right for: Borrowers in rural areas who are struggling financially can access USDA-eligible home loans. These home loans are designed to put homeownership within their grasp, with affordable mortgage payments. The catch? Your debt load cannot exceed your income by more than 41%, and, as with the FHA, you will be required to purchase mortgage insurance.

Bridge loan

Also known as a gap loan or “repeat financing,” a bridge loan is an excellent option if you’re purchasing a home before selling your previous residence. Lenders will wrap your current and new mortgage payments into one; once your home is sold, you pay off that mortgage and refinance.

Right for: Homeowners with excellent credit and a low debt-to-income ratio, and who don’t need to finance more than 80% of the two homes’ combined value. Meet those requirements, and this can be a simple way of transitioning between two houses without having a meltdown—financially or emotionally—in the process.

The post 6 Types of Home Loans: Which One Is Right for You? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com