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Freezing Your Credit

In the age of paperless transactions, identify theft is something that virtually all of us are susceptible to. If your identity is stolen, the consequences can be severe, and in some cases, can take years to recover from. One way to be proactive against fraud and defend yourself from identity theft, is to freeze your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. 

Placing a credit freeze on your credit report will stop identity thieves from being able to open new accounts, lines of credit, or make any large purchases in your name, regardless of whether or not they have your Social Security number or any other sensitive information. 

What a credit freeze means

A credit freeze is a process that shuts off access to your credit reports at your request. Without your verified consent, your delicate information cannot be acquired. This means that if someone were to attempt to apply for credit in your name, your report would come up as “frozen,” and therefore the creditor would not be able to see the information needed for the application to be approved.

You can unfreeze your credit at any time by using a PIN or a password. 

Reasons to freeze your credit

It might be a good idea to freeze your credit if you’re experiencing any of the following situations:

  • Your data has been compromised in a data breach: It happens. If you’ve been a victim of a data breach and personal information related to your identity has been leaked or made vulnerable to cyber criminals, a credit freeze can offer you some extra protection. 
  • You have reason to think you’ve been a victim of identity theft: Perhaps you’ve checked your credit recently and noticed open accounts that you don’t recognize. Maybe you’ve been getting phone calls from collections agencies requesting payments from accounts you know you didn’t open. While a credit freeze won’t be able to stop them from using accounts a thief has already opened, it can stop them from opening any more. 
  • You want to protect your child from identity theft: According to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, parents and legally guardians of children 16 years old and younger have the right to open a credit account for their child with the sole purpose of putting a freeze on it to protect them from identity theft. 

How to freeze your credit 

The process of freezing your credit is simple but does require a few steps. You will need to get in touch with each of the three major credit bureaus one by one and request a credit freeze:

  • Experian: Contact by phone at 800-349-9960 or go to their website.
  • Equifax: Contact by phone at 888-397-3742 or go to their website.
  • TransUnion: Contact by phone at 888-909-8872 or go to their website.  

The credit bureaus will ask you for your Social Security number, your date of birth and other information to verify your identity.

Once you freeze your credit, your file will be unattainable even if a thief has sensitive information such as your social security number or date of birth. If you need to use your credit file, you can unfreeze your credit report at any time. 

How to unfreeze your credit

Once you’ve frozen your credit file, it will be remain blocked until you decide that you would like to unfreeze it. You will need to unfreeze your credit report in order to open a new line of credit or make a major purchase. 

Unfreezing your credit file is simple. All you will need to do is go online to each credit bureau website and use the personal identification number (PIN) that you used to place the freeze on the account. If you don’t want to complete this task online, you can also unfreeze your credit file over the phone or through postal mail. 

When the unfreezing process is done online or by phone, it is completed within minutes of submitting the request. However, if you send your request via mail, it will take much longer. 

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to unfreeze your credit through all three of the major credit bureaus if you don’t want to. For instance, let’s say you plan to apply for credit somewhere. You can ask the creditor which credit bureau it will go through to pull up your report, and only unfreeze that one credit bureau. 

You may also have the option to unfreeze for a specific amount of time. Once the time is up, your credit file will automatically freeze again. 

Credit freeze pros and cons

There are a few reasons why you might want to freeze your credit in this day and age, but just like with anything else, there are pros and cons to credit freezing. Here is a general breakdown of the benefits and downfalls of putting a freeze on your credit report:

Pros:

  • It prevents thieves from opening new lines of credit: With a credit freeze placed on your account, no one will be able to open a new line of credit or any other type of account requiring a credit check using your personal data. Anyone trying to commit fraud will be stopped in their tracks as soon as lenders notice that the report is frozen. 
  • It won’t affect your credit score: Freezing your credit report will not damage your credit score. Additionally, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, freezing your credit report could actually protect your credit score from being damaged due to fraud. 
  • It’s free: It used to be the case that some credit freezes would cost a fee, but that is no longer the way it works. 

Cons

  • It requires some effort: Putting a credit freeze on your credit report takes some effort. You will need to get in touch with all three credit bureaus. 
  • You will need to remember your PINs: A PIN is required to lift or freeze your credit report. If you lose it, you will need to jump through extra hoops to create a new one.

It can’t stop thieves from accessing your existing accounts: Credit freezes can only stop fraudsters from opening new accounts using your information. If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze can’t block thieves from committing fraud with your current accounts. This means that thieves can still make a purchase using a credit card they stole from you.

Freezing Your Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

8 Safe Investments for People Who Hate Risking Their Money

Think back to what the stock market looked like to you in March 2020, aka, the apocalypse. Did it look like:

A.) The biggest bargain sale you’ve ever seen in your lifetime? 

or

B.) A burning pit of money that was about to incinerate your life’s savings?

If you answered “B,” you probably have a low risk tolerance. You worry more about losing money than missing out on the opportunity to make more of it.

Being cautious about how you invest your money is a good thing. But if you’re so risk-averse that you avoid investing altogether, you’re putting your money at greater risk than you think.

Do Safe Investments Actually Exist?

When you think about the risks of investing, you probably think about losing principal, i.e., the original amount you invested. If you keep your money in a bank account, there’s virtually no chance of that happening because deposits of up to $250,000 are FDIC insured. 

But consider that the average savings account pays just 0.05% APY, while in 2019, inflation was about 2.3%.

So while you’re not at risk of losing principal, you still face purchasing power risk, which is the risk that your money loses value. Your money needs to earn enough to keep up with inflation to avoid losing purchasing power. If inflation continues at 2.3%, buying $100 worth of groceries will cost you $102.30 a year from now. If you’re saving over decades toward retirement, you’ll be able to buy a whole lot less groceries in your golden years.

There’s also the risk of missed opportunity. By playing it too safe, you’re unlikely to earn the returns you need to grow into a sufficient nest egg.

Though there’s no such thing as a risk-free investment, there are plenty of safe ways to invest your money.

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8 Low-Risk Investments for People Who Hate Losing Money

Here are eight options that are good for conservative investors. (Spoiler: Gold, bitcoin and penny stocks did not make our list.

1. CDs

If you have cash you won’t need for a while, investing in a CD, or certificate of deposit, is a good way to earn more interest than you’d get with a regular bank account.

You get a fixed interest rate as long as you don’t withdraw your money before the maturity date. Typically, the longer the duration, the higher the interest rate. 

Since they’re FDIC insured, CDs are among the safest investments in existence. But low risk translates to low rewards. Those low interest rates for borrowers translate to lower APYs for money we save at a bank. Even for five-year CDs, the best APYs are just over 1%.

You also risk losing your interest and even some principal if you need to withdraw money early.

2. Money Market Funds

Not to be confused with money market accounts, money market funds are actually mutual funds that invest in low-risk, short-term debts, such as CDs and U.S. Treasurys. (More on those shortly.)

The returns are often on par with CD interest rates. One advantage: It’s a liquid investment, which means you can cash out at any time. But because they aren’t FDIC insured, they can technically lose principal, though they’re considered extraordinarily safe.

3. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)

The U.S. government finances its debt by issuing Treasurys. When you buy Treasurys, you’re investing in bonds backed by the “full faith and credit of the U.S. government.” Unless the federal government defaults on its debt for the first time in history, investors get paid.

The price of that safety: pathetically low yields that often don’t keep up with inflation.

TIPS offer built-in inflation protection — as the name “Treasury Inflation Protected Securities” implies. Available in five-, 10- and 30-year increments, their principal is adjusted based on changes to the Consumer Price Index. The twice-a-year interest payments are adjusted accordingly, as well.

If your principal is $1,000 and the CPI showed inflation of 3%, your new principal is $1,030, and your interest payment is based on the adjusted amount. 

On the flip side, if there’s deflation, your principal is adjusted downward.

4. Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds, or “munis,” are bonds issued by a state or local government. They’re popular with retirees because the income they generate is tax-free at the federal level. Sometimes when you buy muni bonds in your state, the state doesn’t tax them either.

There are two basic types of munis: General obligation bonds, which are issued for general public works projects, and revenue bonds, which are backed by specific projects, like a hospital or toll road.

General obligation bonds have the lowest risk because the issuing government pledges to raise taxes if necessary to make sure bondholders get paid. With revenue bonds, bondholders get paid from the income generated by the project, so there’s a higher risk of default.

5. Investment-Grade Bonds

Bonds issued by corporations are inherently riskier than bonds issued by governments, because even a stable corporation is at higher risk of defaulting on its debt. But you can mitigate the risks by choosing investment-grade bonds, which are issued by corporations with good to excellent credit ratings.

Because investment-grade bonds are low risk, the yields are low compared to higher-risk “junk bonds.” That’s because corporations with low credit ratings have to pay investors more to compensate them for the extra risk.

6. Target-Date Funds

When you compare bonds vs. stocks, bonds are generally safer, while stocks offer more growth. That’s why as a general rule, your retirement portfolio starts out mostly invested in stocks and then gradually allocates more to bonds.

Target-date funds make that reallocation automatic. They’re commonly found in 401(k)s, IRAs and 529 plans. You choose the date that’s closest to the year you plan to retire or send your child to college. Then the fund gradually shifts more toward safer investments, like bonds and money market funds as that date gets nearer.

7. Total Market ETFs

While having a small percentage of your money in super low-risk investments like CDs,

money market funds and Treasurys is OK, there really is no avoiding the stock market if

you want your money to grow.

If you’re playing day trader, the stock market is a risky place. But when you’re committed to investing in stocks for the long haul, you’re way less exposed to risk. While downturns can cause you to lose money in the short term, the stock market historically ticks upward over time.

A total stock market exchange-traded fund will invest you in hundreds or thousands of companies. Usually, they reflect the makeup of a major stock index, like the Wilshire 5000. If the stock market is up 5%, you’d expect your investment to be up by roughly the same amount. Same goes for if the market drops 5%.

By investing in a huge range of companies, you get an instantly diversified portfolio, which is far less risky than picking your own stocks.

8. Dividend Stocks

If you opt to invest in individual companies, sticking with dividend-paying stock is a smart move. When a company’s board of directors votes to approve a dividend, they’re redistributing part of the profit back to investors.

Dividends are commonly offered by companies that are stable and have a track record of earning a profit. Younger companies are less likely to offer a dividend because they need to reinvest their profits. They have more growth potential, but they’re also a higher risk because they’re less-established.

The best part: Many companies allow shareholders to automatically reinvest their dividends, which means even more compound returns.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

By: Jossy Wilson

I live in Florida, I had a car accident on 7/14/2010 and i ended up with a chiropractor unpaid bill; as soon I’ve received it I contacted them and told them to deal with my insurance and my Attorney; a portion was not paid and since then they have been sending a bill every month with accrued interest. I believe it is already outside the statute of limitation. I have just notice in the bill says I have made a payment of $9.14 on 1/6/2014 which is not true. What should I do to dispute it before they decide to take other actions?

Source: credit.com

Self Review For 2021 (formerly Self Lender)

When you have bad credit, or even no credit at all, it can be difficult to build credit. This is true especially if you have no accounts that are reporting to the credit bureaus. That’s…

The post Self Review for 2021 (formerly Self Lender) appeared first on Crediful.

A Guide For Victims Of Tax Related Identity Theft

Being a victim of tax related identity theft can leave you scrambling to take the proper steps to set things right. Here’s are the things you need to do.

The post A Guide For Victims Of Tax Related Identity Theft appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Peter Anderson. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

Source: biblemoneymatters.com

How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn

In a recession it’s common for many people to rely on credit cards and loans to balance their finances. It’s the ultimate catch-22 since, during a recession, these financial products can be even harder to qualify for.

This holds true, according to historical data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It found that during the 2007 recession, loan growth at traditional banks decreased and remained deflated over the next four years. 

Credit can be a powerful tool to help you make ends meet and keep moving forward financially. Here’s what you can do if you’re struggling to access credit during a weak economy.

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

How Does a Financial Downturn Affect Lending?

Giving someone a loan or approving them for a credit card carries a certain amount of risk for a lender. After all, there’s a chance you could stop making payments and the lender could lose all the funds you borrowed, especially with unsecured loans. 

For lenders, this concept is called, “delinquency”. They’re constantly trying to get their delinquency rate lower; in a booming economy, the delinquency rate at commercial banks is usually under 2%. 

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. There are all sorts of reasons a person might stop paying their loan or credit card bills. You might lose your job, or unexpected medical bills might demand more of your budget. Because lenders know the chances of anyone becoming delinquent are much higher in a weak economy, they tend to restrict their lending criteria so they’re only serving the lowest-risk borrowers. That can leave people with poor credit in a tough financial position.

Before approving you for a loan, lenders typically look at criteria such as:

  • Income stability 
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Credit score
  • Co-signers, if applicable
  • Down payment size (for loans, like a mortgage)

Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

5 Ways to Help Get Your Credit Application Approved 

Although every lender has different approval criteria, these strategies speak to typical commonalities across most lenders.

1. Pay Off Debt 

Paying off some of your debt might feel bold, but it can be helpful when it comes to an application for credit. Repaying your debt reduces your debt-to-income ratio, typically an important metric lenders look at for loans such as a mortgage. Also, paying off debt could help improve your credit utilization ratio, which is a measure of how much available credit you’re currently using right now. If you’re using most of the credit that’s available to you, that could indicate you don’t have enough cash on hand. 

Not sure what debt-to-income ratio to aim for? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests keeping yours no higher than 43%. 

2. Find a Cosigner

For those with poor credit, a trusted cosigner can make the difference between getting approved for credit or starting back at square one. 

When someone cosigns for your loan they’ll need to provide information on their income, employment and credit score — as if they were applying for the loan on their own. Ideally, their credit score and income should be higher than yours. This gives your lender enough confidence to write the loan knowing that, if you can’t make your payments, your cosigner is liable for the bill. 

Since your cosigner is legally responsible for your debt, their credit is negatively impacted if you stop making payments. For this reason, many people are wary of cosigning.

In a recession, it might be difficult to find someone with enough financial stability to cosign for you. If you go this route, have a candid conversation with your prospective cosigner in advance about expectations in the worst-case scenario. 

3. Raise Your Credit Score 

If your credit score just isn’t high enough to qualify for conventional credit you could take some time to focus on improving it. Raising your credit score might sound daunting, but it’s definitely possible. 

Here are some strategies you can pursue:

  • Report your rent payments. Rent payments aren’t typically included as part of the equation when calculating your credit score, but they can be. Some companies, like Rental Kharma, will report your timely rent payments to credit reporting agencies. Showing a history of positive payment can help improve your credit score. 
  • Make sure your credit report is updated. It’s not uncommon for your credit report to have mistakes in it that can artificially deflate your credit score. Request a free copy of your credit report every year, which you can do online through Experian Free Credit Report. If you find inaccuracies, disputing them could help improve your credit score. 
  • Bring all of your payments current. If you’ve fallen behind on any payments, bringing everything current is an important part of improving your credit score. If your lender or credit card company is reporting late payments a long history of this can damage your credit score. When possible speak to your creditor to work out a solution, before you anticipate being late on a payment.
  • Use a credit repair agency. If tackling your credit score is overwhelming you could opt to work with a reputable credit repair agency to help you get back on track. Be sure to compare credit repair agencies before moving forward with one. Companies that offer a free consultation and have a strong track record are ideal to work with.

Raising your credit isn’t an immediate solution — it’s not going to help you get a loan or qualify for a credit card tomorrow. However, making these changes now can start to add up over time. 

4. Find an Online Lender or Credit Union

Although traditional banks can be strict with their lending policies, some smaller lenders or credit unions offer some flexibility. For example, credit unions are authorized to provide Payday Loan Alternatives (PALs). These are small-dollar, short-term loans available to borrowers who’ve been a member of qualifying credit unions for at least a month.

Some online lenders might also have more relaxed criteria for writing loans in a weak economy. However, you should remember that if you have bad credit you’re likely considered a riskier applicant, which means a higher interest rate. Before signing for a line of credit, compare several lenders on the basis of your quoted APR — which includes any fees like an origination fee, your loan’s term, and any additional fees, such as late fees. 

5. Increase Your Down Payment

If you’re trying to apply for a mortgage or auto loan, increasing your down payment could help if you’re having a tough time getting approved. 

When you increase your down payment, you essentially decrease the size of your loan, and lower the lender’s risk. If you don’t have enough cash on hand to increase your down payment, this might mean opting for a less expensive car or home so that the lump sum down payment that you have covers a greater proportion of the purchase cost. 

Loans vs. Credit Cards: Differences in Credit Approval

Not all types of credit are created equal. Personal loans are considered installment credit and are repaid in fixed payments over a set period of time. Credit cards are considered revolving credit, you can keep borrowing to your approved limit as long as you make your minimum payments. 

When it comes to credit approvals, one benefit loans have over credit cards is that you might be able to get a secured loan. A secured loan means the lender has some piece of collateral they can recover from you should you stop making payments. 

The collateral could be your home, car or other valuable asset, like jewelry or equipment. Having that security might give the lender more flexibility in some situations because they know that, in the worst case scenario, they could sell the collateral item to recover their loss. 

The Bottom Line

Borrowing during a financial downturn can be difficult and it might not always be the answer to your situation. Adding to your debt load in a weak economy is a risk. For example, you could unexpectedly lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. Having an added monthly debt payment in your budget can add another challenge to your financial situation.

However, if you can afford to borrow funds during an economic recession, reduced interest rates in these situations can lessen the overall cost of borrowing.

These tips can help tidy your finances so you’re a more attractive borrower to lenders. There’s no guarantee your application will be accepted, but improving your finances now gives you a greater borrowing advantage in the future.

The post How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

3 Reasons to Use Cash and 3 Reasons to Choose Credit

Cash vs credit

3 Reasons To Use Cash (and 3 Reasons To Choose Credit)

Credit and debit cards have become so ubiquitous, you’d be forgiven for thinking physical cash is just a couple years away from being declared obsolete and worthless by the government.

Well, as it turns out, the death of dead presidents is greatly exaggerated, as over $1.25 trillion still circulates around the United States alone.

Way too many people use cash for it to ever go away completely, regardless of how much plastic gets wiped every day.

So why in the world would anydiv still pay with Georges and Bens? Here are a few good reasons why:

Less Chance of Identity Theft

Few things are scarier than hearing that the store you regularly swipe your card at just had a security breach, and that some anonymous criminal may have your identity at their disposal.

Paying cash eliminates that issue — chunks of metal and pieces of paper stacked in a register tells fraudsters absolutely nothing, while the information sent to vulnerable computers via your bank card can reveal everything.

Easier to Watch and Control Your Spending

Actually seeing the cash you owe, as opposed to simply staring at a generic card with no monetary value of its own, can remind you to spend less overall, since all of a sudden the money is real, and real valuable at that.

Financial guru Ramit Sethi, for example, lost his credit card, and spent nothing but cash until a replacement came. He reported spending 18% less when forced to watch his green wad dwindle in real-time.

Some Places Still Don’t Take Plastic (or Require a Minimum Purchase Amount)

Amazingly, over half of all small businesses won’t take cards, likely because they can’t afford the fees.

It’s always good to keep at least some cash on you in case you need to make a purchase from one of these places.

Even if they accept cards, some of these businesses might only do so if you spend X amount, in order to override the fee.

If you entered the store to spend more than the minimum amount, then swipe away. But if you only want a loaf of bread, and they want you to spend $10 before they’ll accept your card, just pay for your bread with bread.

That all being said though, there are several cases where plastic owns cash. Here are a few of those:

Cash vs credit online purchases

Online Purchases

Increasing amounts of items can now only be purchased online and with a credit card, or at the very least are extremely difficult to cover with cash.

Plane tickets, while still technically available at a travel agent’s physical office, are usually much, much cheaper online, where you can’t obviously use cash. The same thing goes for e-books, MP3s, subscriptions to streaming sites, and the like.

The more you shop online, the more reliant you will become on cards in your everyday life.

ATM Fees Can Pile Up

Unless your bank’s ATM is everywhere, then you may often find yourself forced to withdraw your cash from the competition’s ATMs, which will cost you anywhere from $2-4 per pop.

This adds up to a ridiculously high amount, as it’s estimated that the use of cash costs Americans over $200 billion per year.

While not all of that amount is ATM-related, a large chunk of it is, and could easily be saved with the use of cards.

Smart Card Use Can Help You Build Your Credit Score

Finally, while cash is great, it does absolutely nothing to improve how companies and lenders look at you. Responsible credit card use, on the other hand, not only helps you purchase what you want and need, but helps build up your credit score.

There’s a good chance that not having using a card could negatively affect your credit score or nullify it altogether, since you’re not giving the credit agencies any information about your financial habits.

So get a card or two, use it when necessary, use cash every other time, and you should achieve a pleasant balance between the two that can only bode well for your fortune going forward.

Whether you use cash or plastic, Mint.com can help you budget every penny of your finances. Click here to find out how!

The post 3 Reasons to Use Cash and 3 Reasons to Choose Credit appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com