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How to Escape Debt in 2016

How to Escape Debt in 2016

The new year is right around the corner and if you’re like most people, you’ve probably got a running list of resolutions to achieve and milestones to reach. If getting out of debt ranks near the top, now’s the time to starting thinking about how you’re going to hit your goal. Developing a clear-cut action plan can get you that much closer to debt-free status in 2016.

1. Add up Your Debt

You can’t start attacking your debt until you know exactly how much you owe. The first step to paying down your debt is sitting down with all of your statements and adding up every penny that’s still outstanding. Once you know how deep in debt you are, you can move on to the next step.

2. Review Your Budget

A budget is a plan that sets limits on how you spend your money. If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to put a budget together as soon as possible. If you do have a budget, you can go over it line by line to find costs you can cut out. By eliminating fees and unnecessary expenses like cable subscriptions, you’ll be able to use the money you save to pay off your debt.

3. Set Your Goals

How to Escape Debt in 2016

At this point in the process, you should have two numbers: the total amount of money you owe and the amount you can put toward your debt payments each month. Using those two figures, you should be able determine how long it’s going to take you to pay off your mortgage, student loans, personal loans and credit card debt.

Let’s say you owe your credit card issuer $25,000. If you have $500 in your budget that you can use to pay off that debt each month, you’ll be able to knock $6,000 off your card balance in a year. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll still need to factor in interest to get an accurate idea of how the balance will shrink from one year to the next.

4. Lower Your Interest Rates

Interest is a major obstacle when you’re trying to get out of debt. If you want to speed up the payment process, you can look for ways to shave down your rates. If you have high-interest credit card debt, for instance, transferring the balances to a card with a 0% promotional period can save you some money and reduce the amount of time it’ll take to get rid of your debt.

Refinancing might be worth considering if you have student loans, car loans or a mortgage. Just remember that completing a balance transfer or refinancing your debt isn’t necessarily free. Credit card companies typically charge a 3% fee for balance transfers and if you’re taking out a refinance loan, you might be on the hook for origination fees and other closing costs.

5. Increase Your Income

How to Escape Debt in 2016

Keeping a tight rein on your budget can go a long way. But that’s not the only way to escape debt. Pumping up your paycheck in the new year can also help you pay off your loans and increase your disposable income.

Asking your boss for a raise will directly increase your earnings, but there’s no guarantee that your supervisor will agree to your request. If you’re paid by the hour, you can always take on more hours at your current job. And if all else fails, you can start a side gig to bring in more money.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Having a plan to get out of debt in the new year won’t get you very far if you’re not 100% committed. Checking your progress regularly is a must, as is reviewing your budget and goals to make sure you’re staying on track.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/BsWei, ©iStock.com/marekuliasz, ©iStock.com/DragonImages

The post How to Escape Debt in 2016 appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Repossession Credit Scores: What You Need to Know

One of the harsh truths of secured loans is that your asset can be repossessed if you fail to make the payments. In the words of the FTC, “your consumer rights may be limited” if you miss your monthly payments, and when that happens, both your financial situation and your bank balance will take a hit.

On this guide, we’ll look at what can happen when you fall behind on your car payments, and how much damage it can do to your credit score.

What is a Car Repossession?

An auto loan is a loan acquired for the sole purpose of purchasing a car. The lender covers the cost of the car, you get the vehicle you want, and in return you pay a fixed monthly sum until the loan balance is repaid.

If you fail to make to make a payment or you’re late, the lender may assume possession of your car and sell it to offset the losses. At the same time, they will report your missed and late payments to the main credit bureaus, and your credit score will take a hit. What’s more, if the sale is not enough to cover the remainder of the debt, you may be asked to pay the residual balance.

The same process applies to a title loan, whereby your car is used as collateral for a loan but isn’t actually the purpose of the loan.

To avoid repossession, you need to make your car payments on time every month. If you are late or make a partial payment, you may incur penalties and it’s possible that your credit score will suffer as well. If you continue to delay payment, the lender will seek to cover their costs as quickly and painlessly as possible.

How a Repossession Can Impact Your Credit Score

Car repossession can impact your credit history and credit score in several ways. Firstly, all missed and late car payments will be reported to the credit bureaus and will remain on your account for up to 7 years. They can also reduce your credit score. 

Secondly, if your car is repossessed on top of late payments, you could lose up to 100 points from your credit score, significantly reducing your chances of being accepted for a credit card, loan or mortgage in the future. 

And that’s not the end of it. If you have had your car for less than a couple of years, there’s a good chance the sale price will be much less than the loan balance. Car repossession doesn’t wipe the slate clean and could still leave you with a sizable issue. If you have a $10,000 balance and the car is sold for $5,000, you will owe $5,000 on the loan and the lender may also hit you with towing charges.

Don’t assume that the car is worth more than the value of the loan and that everything will be okay. The lender isn’t selling it direct; they won’t get the best price. Repossessed vehicles are sold cheaply, often for much less than their value, and in most cases, a balance remains. 

Lenders may be lenient with this balance as it’s not secured, so their options are limited. However, they can also file a judgment or sell it to a collection agency, at which point your problems increase and your credit score drops even further.

How Does a Repo Take Place?

If you have a substantial credit card debt and miss a payment, your creditor will typically take it easy on you. They can’t legally report the missed payment until at least 30-days have passed and most creditors won’t sell the account to a collection agency until it is at least 180-days overdue.

This leads many borrowers into a false sense of security, believing that an auto loan lender will be just as forgiving. But this is simply not true. Some lenders will repo your car just 90-days after your last payment, others will do it after 60 days. They don’t make as many allowances because they don’t need to—they can simply seize your asset, get most of the money back, and then chase the rest as needed.

Most repossessions happen quickly and with little warning. The lender will contact you beforehand and request that you pay what you owe, but the actual repo process doesn’t work quite like what you may have seen on TV. 

They’re not allowed to break down your door or threaten you; they’re not allowed to use force. And, most of the time, they don’t need to. If they see your car, they will load it onto their truck and disappear. They’re so used to this process that they can typically do it in less than 60-seconds.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re at home or at work—you just lost your ride.

What Can You Do Before a Repo Hits Your Credit Score?

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the repo process and escape the damage. You just need to act quickly and don’t bury your head in the sand, as many borrowers do.

Request a Deferment

An auto loan lender won’t waste as much time as a creditor, simply because they don’t need to. However, they still understand that they won’t get top dollar for the car and are generally happy to make a few allowances if it means you have more chance of meeting your payments.

If you sense that your financial situation is on the decline, contact your lender and request a deferment. This should be done as soon as possible, preferably before you miss a payment.

A deferment buys you a little extra time, allowing you to take the next month or two off and adding these payments onto the end of the term. The FTC recommends that you get any agreement in writing, just in case they renege on their promise.

Refinance

One of the best ways to avoid car repossession, is to refinance your loan and secure more favorable terms. The balance may increase, and you’ll likely find yourself paying more interest over the long-term, but in the short-term, you’ll have smaller monthly payments to contend with and this makes the loan more manageable.

You will need a good credit score for this to work (although there are some bad credit lenders) but it will allow you to tweak the terms in your favor and potentially improve your credit situation.

Sell the Car Yourself

Desperate times call for desperate measures; if you’re on the brink of facing repossession, you should consider selling the car yourself. You’ll likely get more than your lender would and you can use this to clear the balance. 

Before you sell, calculate how much is left and make sure the sale will cover it. If not, you will need to find the additional funds yourself, preferably without acquiring additional debt. Ask friends or family members if they can help you out.

How Long a Repo Can Affect Your Credit Score

The damage caused by a repossession can remain on your credit score for 7 years, causing some financial difficulty. However, the damage will lessen over time and within three or four years it will be negligible at best.

Derogatory marks cease to have an impact on your credit score a long time before it disappears off your credit report, and it’s the same for late payments and repossessions.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should take things lightly. The lender can make life very difficult for you if you don’t meet your payments every month and don’t work with them to find a solution.

What About Voluntary Repossession?

If you’re missing payments because you’ve lost your job or suffered a major change in your financial circumstances, it may be time to consider voluntary repossession, in which case there are no missed payments and you don’t need to worry about repo men knocking on your door or coming to your workplace.

With voluntary repossession, the borrower contacts the lender, informs them they can no longer afford the payments, and arranges a time and a place to return the car. However, while this is a better option, it can do similar damage to the borrower’s credit score as a voluntary repossession, like a traditional repossession, is still a defaulted loan.

Missed payments aside, the only difference concerns how the repossession shows on the borrower’s credit report. Voluntary repossession will look better to a creditor who manually scans the report, but the majority of lenders run automatic checks and won’t notice a difference.

Summary: Act Quickly

If you have student loan, credit card, and other unsecured debt, a repo could reduce your chances of a successful debt payoff and potentially prevent you from getting a mortgage. But it’s not the end of the world. You can get a deferment, refinance or reinstate the loan, and even if the worst does happen, it may only take a year or so to get back on track after you fix your financial woes.

Repossession Credit Scores: What You Need to Know is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

Your minimum monthly payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay on your credit card balance. Any less could result in a derogatory mark, any more will clear more of the principal. 

Your monthly payment is one of the most important aspects of your credit card debt and failure to understand this could seriously impact your credit score and leave marks on your credit report that remain for up to 7 years.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how these payments operate and how you can quickly clear your credit card debt.

How Minimum Payments on a Credit Card are Calculated

The minimum payment is calculated as a percentage of the total balance at the end of the month. This percentage ranges from 2% to 5%, but it has been known to go lower. 

As an example, if you have a $5,000 credit card balance and are required to pay 5% a month, then your monthly payment will be $250. However, this only covers the principal, which is the money that you borrowed. It does not cover the interest, which is where things get a little complicated and expensive.

What Influences Your Minimum Monthly Payment?

The reason credit card interest is so high is because it compounds. This means that if you have an annual percentage rate of 20% and a debt of $20,000, that debt will climb to $24,000, at which point the next billing cycle will commence and this time you’ll be charged 20% on $24,000 and not $20,000.

However, credit card interest is calculated daily, not yearly. To arrive at your daily percentage rate, simply divide your interest rate by 365 (the number of days in a year) and then multiply this by your daily balance.

For example, if we stick with that 20% interest rate, then the daily rate will be 0.00054%. If we multiply this with the daily balance, we get an interest rate of $2.7 for the first day. Multiply this by 30, for the total days in a billing cycle, and it’s $81. That’s your total interest for the first month.

So, when we calculate the 2% minimum monthly payment, we’re calculating it against $5,081, not $5,000, which means we get a total of $101.62, reducing the balance to just $479.38.

In other words, you pay over $100, but reduce the balance by a little over $20 when you make that monthly payment. If penalty fees and interest rates are added to that, it will reduce in even smaller increments.

Pros and Cons of Only Paying the Minimum Payment on your Credit Card

As discussed above, it’s imperative that you make the minimum payment, avoiding any late payment charges or credit score reductions. However, if you only make those minimum payments every month then it will take a long time to clear your balance and you may struggle to keep your head above water.

The Benefits of Paying More Than the Minimum

Many borrowers struggle to pay more than the minimum not because they don’t have the money, but because they fail to see the benefits. They focus on the short-term and not the long-term, seeing an extra $100 payment as a lost $100 in the present, as opposed to a saved $500 in the future.

However, if you can get over this mindset and start paying more than the minimum, you will do your future self a huge favor, helping with all of the following:

Shorten the Term and Lessen the Interest

Every extra dollar that you add to your minimum payment can help you get out of debt quicker than if you simply stick with the minimum. This is true for all debts—a higher monthly payment means that more money goes towards the principal, which means there is less interest to compound.

Credit card debt is like a snowball gathering momentum as it rolls, and this is exacerbated every time you miss a payment and are hit with penalty fees. By paying more than the minimum, you’re taking a giant chunk out of that snowball and slowing its progression.

You’ll Improve Your Credit Utilization

Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most important parts of your credit report, counting for 30% of your total. This ratio takes your total available credit (such as a credit limit on a credit card) and then compares it to total debt (such as the balance on that credit card). The higher the number, the more of your credit has been used and the more your credit score will suffer.

Every time you pay more of your credit card balance, you’re reducing this score and significantly boosting your credit score.

Avoid Maxing Out Your Balance

Not only will a maxed-out credit card do some serious damage to your credit utilization score, but it can also have a direct impact on your credit score on the whole. Lenders don’t want to see it and credit bureaus will punish you for it. If you’re still using the card and only paying the minimum, you may be stuck in a cycle of persistent debt, but by paying more and using it less, you can prevent that.

You May Get a Better Credit Limit

Credit card issuers monitor their customer’s activities very closely. If they clear their balances every month without issue, they are more inclined to increase their credit limit, offer them rewards, and generally provide them with good opportunities. If they are accumulating large amounts of credit card debt and only meeting their minimum payments, they’ll be less inclined to do any of those things.

It always helps to get on a creditor’s good side, because you never know when you will need that improve credit limit or access to that generous rewards scheme.

What Happens if you Only Make the Minimum Payment?

If you only pay the minimum, the debt will take a long time to clear and you’ll repay huge sums of interest in that time. If we go back to the previous example and assume an APR of 20%, a balance of $5,000 and a minimum payment of 2%, you will repay over 400% in interest alone and it will take you decades to repay the debt.

Thankfully, very few credit card providers will actually let you pay such a small amount on such a substantial debt. But even if we increase the minimum payment to 5%, it still looks abysmal for the borrower. It would take them about 9 years to pay the balance, requiring $250 a month and paying close to $2,500 in interest.

Although it’s more realistic, this is still a poor option, especially when you consider the card will still be active and you may still be using it, which means that every time you make a repayment, you’re adding more debt and offsetting all your hard work.

Your credit score will not suffer if you only make the minimum payment. Providing you make it on time then you will build a respectable payment history, a stable credit report, and a credit score that is sure to impress lenders. However, it won’t look great for your finances as you’re giving yourself an expensive liability that will cripple your debt-to-income ratio and your credit utilization ratio for years to come.

Are There Any Advantages to Just Paying the Minimum?

The only advantage to paying just the minimum is that you will have more money in your pocket at the end of the month, which will allow you to make additional investments and purchases that would otherwise not be available to you. However, this is a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at it, because while you will have more cash in the long-term, it comes at the expense of many additional risks and obligations, not to mention thousands of dollars’ worth of additional interest paid over the term.

What Happens if you Can’t Pay the Minimum Payment?

If there is a late payment or a missed payment, your creditor may charge you a penalty fee or a penalty rate. If your payment is due for more than 30-days they may also report you to the credit bureaus, at which point a derogatory mark will appear on your credit report and your credit score will drop.

This can happen even with a single missed payment, which is why you should never simply skip a payment on the basis that you’ll just double-up next time around.

Instead, contact your creditor, explain your situation, and see if there is anything they can do to help you. They may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and, in most cases, they will offer you some kind of reprieve. After all, they want their money, and if they can increase their chances of getting paid by providing you with some leeway, they’ll often be more than happy to do it.

Some people believe that you can simply pay a few dollars and it will count as a minimum payment and not show on your credit report. This is a myth. Technically, any payment that doesn’t meet the full minimum requirement can be classed as a late payment and can lead to fees and derogatory marks.

Resources to Lower Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

It’s important to keep a close eye on your credit card statement and activity at all times. Monitor your spending, making sure it doesn’t go overboard, and if you find yourself struggling to make payments at any time, checkout the following resources and options to get the help you need:

  • Credit Counselors: Speak with a trained expert who has helped many individuals in a similar position. They will discuss your finances and your debts and will help you to find a solution.
  • Debt Management: A debt management plan can help when you’re struggling to meet your debt obligations and have a huge debt-to-income ratio. They will provide assistance and help you swap multiple debts for a single consolidation loan.
  • Debt Settlement: An option that works best for individuals with multiple debts and missed payments. It’s one of the cheapest ways to clear personal loan and credit card debt, as well as other forms of unsecured debt.
  • Debt Consolidation: Another consolidation loan option, this time with a long term, ensuring that you pay less per month but more over the term. This is a good option if you’re stuck in a tricky spot right now and need to reduce your outgoings.

In all the above cases, you can use the NMLS Consumer Access site to find a legitimate and reputable company or professional working within the financial sector. You can also use resources like the Better Business Bureau as well as the many guides, reviews, and help files right here on the Pocket Your Dollars website.

How to Reduce the Balance on a Credit Card Debt

One of the best ways to reduce your balance is to initiate a balance transfer. As the name suggests, this entails moving your balance from one card to another. Balance transfer cards entice you by offering a 0% APR on all transfers and this lasts for up to 18% with the best providers. 

In that time, you won’t pay any interest on your balance, which means all your monthly payment will go towards the principal and you can reduce your debt in huge leaps as opposed to small steps.

These cards are not without their issues, however. You will need a good credit score to get a card that has a good APR and balance transfer offer. If you don’t, and you fail to clear the balance during that introductory period, you may be paying more interest than you were before.

In most cases, though, these cards will be just what you need to ease the burden of mounting credit card debts and get back into the black. Take a look at our guide to the best balance transfer cards to learn more and discover how you can move your current balance to a card that has more preferable terms, in the short-term at least.

The Bottom Line: Clear that Balance

A minimum payment is the least amount you need to commit to a credit card balance. If credit card debt was a house party, the minimum payment would be the equivalent of showing up, saying your introductions, and then hiding in the corner for the rest of the night. If you really want to make an impact, you need to be proactive.

It doesn’t have to be twice or thrice the size of your minimum payment. It doesn’t have to be a consistent sum that you pay every month, but it does have to be something. Don’t worry if it’s only 1% or 2% of the balance, because every additional payment helps. Just pay whatever you can afford, whenever you can afford it. A small amount of money today can save you a huge sum of money in the future.

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

The post What’s a Good Credit Score? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Painless Steps

If you want to whip your finances into shape, here’s a good New Year’s resolution: improving your credit score.

A lot of New Year’s resolutions fail because they’re so extreme. Think of all the bonkers weight-loss and money-saving goals that surface at the start of every year.

This resolution is different. No extreme measures are required. But there aren’t any shortcuts. Building good credit is a goal you need to commit to 12 months a year.

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Steps

Ready to make 2021 the year you finally prove your creditworthiness? Or are you looking to recover from a 2020 setback? Here’s how to build good credit in 10 steps.

1. Stay on Top of Your Credit Reports

It’s essential to monitor your credit reports, especially if you received a hardship agreement from a lender due to COVID-19. Under the CARES Act rules, lenders are supposed to report your account as paid in full while the agreement is in effect, as long as you weren’t already delinquent. But mistakes happen. Even in normal times, about 1 in 5 credit reports contained inaccurate information.

Through April 2021, you can get one free credit report per week from each bureau. (Typically, you’re only entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau.) Make sure you access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than one of the many websites that offer “free” credit scores but will make you put down your credit card number to sign up for a trial. File a dispute with the bureaus if you find anything you think is inaccurate or any accounts you don’t recognize.

Your credit reports won’t show you your credit score, but you can use a free credit-monitoring service to check your score. (No, checking your own credit doesn’t hurt your score.) Many banks and credit card companies also give you your credit scores for free.

Pro Tip

If the bureaus agree to remove information from your credit reports, expect to wait about 30 days until your reports are updated.

2. Pay Your Bills. On Time. Every Single Month

Yeah, you knew we were going to say this: Paying your bills on time is the No. 1 thing you can do to build good credit. Your payment history determines 35% of your score, more than any other credit factor.

Set whatever bills you can to autopay for at least the minimums to avoid missing payments. You can always pay extra if you can afford it.

A strong payment history takes time to build. If you’ve made late payments, they’ll stay on your credit reports for seven years. The good news is, they do the most damage to your score in the first two years. After that, the impact starts to fade.

3. Establish Credit, Even if You’ve Made Mistakes

You typically need a credit card or loan to build a credit history. (Sorry, but all those on-time rent and utility payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus, so they won’t help your score.)

But if you have bad credit or you’re a credit newbie, getting approved for a credit card or loan is tough. Look for cards that are specifically marketed to help people start or rebuild credit. Store credit cards, which only let you make purchases at a specific retailer, can also be a good option.

4. Open a Secured Card if You Don’t Qualify for a Regular Card

Opening a secured credit card is one of our favorite ways to build a positive history when you can’t get approved for a regular credit card or loan. You put down a refundable deposit, and that becomes your line of credit.

After about a year of making your payments on time, you’ll typically qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Just make sure the card issuer you choose reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Look for a card with an annual fee of no more than $35. Some secured card options we like (and no, we’re not getting paid to say this):

  • Discover it Secured
  • OpenSky Secured Visa Card
  • Secured Mastercard from Capital One
A woman checks her credit card balance while on the phone.

5. Ask for a Limit Increase. Pretend You Never Got It

Increasing your credit limits helps your score because it decreases your credit utilization ratio. That’s credit score speak for the percentage of credit you’re using. The standard recommendation is to keep this number below 30%, but really, the closer to zero the better.

If you have open credit, ask your current creditors for an increase, rather than applying for new credit. That way, you’ll avoid lowering your length of credit, which could ding your score.

The downside of a higher credit limit: You’ll have more money to spend that isn’t really yours. To get the biggest credit score boost from a limit increase and avoid paying more in interest, make sure you don’t add to your balance.

Pro Tip

Don’t believe the myth that carrying a small credit card balance helps your credit score. Paying off your balance in full each month is best for your score, plus it saves you money on interest.

6. Prioritize Credit Card Debt Over Loans

Tackling credit card debt helps your credit score a lot more than paying down other debts, like a student loan or mortgage. The reason? Your credit utilization ratio is determined exclusively by your lines of credit.

Bonus: Paying off credit card debt first will typically save you money, because credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other types of debt.

7. Keep Your Old Accounts Active

Provided you aren’t paying ridiculous fees, keep your credit card accounts open once you’ve paid off the balance. Credit scoring methods reward you for having a long credit history.

Make a purchase at least once every three months on the account, as credit card companies often close inactive accounts. Then pay it off in full.

8. Apply for New Credit Selectively

When you apply for credit, it results in a hard inquiry, which usually drops your score by a few points. So avoid applying frequently for new credit cards, as this can signal financial distress.

But if you’re in the market for a mortgage or loan, don’t worry about multiple inquiries. As long as you limit your shopping to a 45-day window, credit bureaus will treat it as a single inquiry, so the impact on your score will be minimal.

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9. Still Overwhelmed? A Debt Consolidation Loan Could Help

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, consolidating your credit card debt with a loan could be a good option. In a nutshell, you take out a loan to wipe out your credit card balances.

You’ll get the simplicity of a single payment, plus you’ll typically pay less interest since loan interest rates tend to be lower. (If you can’t get a loan that lowers your interest rate, this probably isn’t a good option.)

By using a loan to pay off your credit cards, you’ll also free up credit and lower your credit utilization ratio.

Many debt consolidation loans require a credit score of about 620. If your score falls below this threshold, work on improving your score for a few months before you apply for one.

10. Keep Your Credit Score in Perspective

All the credit-monitoring tools out there make it easy to obsess about your credit score. While it’s important to build good credit, look at the bigger picture. A few final thoughts:

  • Your credit score isn’t a report card on the state of your finances. It simply measures how risky of a borrower you are. Having an emergency fund, saving for retirement and earning a decent living are all important to your finances — but these are all things that don’t affect your credit score.
  • Lenders look at more than your credit score. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, decent down payment and steady paycheck all increase your odds of approval when you’re making a big purchase, even if your credit score is lackluster.
  • Don’t focus on your score if you can’t pay for necessities. If you’re struggling and you have to choose between paying your credit card vs. paying your rent, keeping food on the table or getting medical care, paying your credit card is always the lower priority. Of course, talk to your creditors if you can’t afford to pay them, as they may have options.

Focus on your overall financial picture, and you’ll probably see your credit score improve, too. Remember, though, that while credit scores matter, you matter more.

Now go crush those goals in 2021 and beyond.

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

What is Credit Card Churning? Dangers and Benefits

Credit card issuers have consumers right where they want them, lending money at high-interest rates and earning money from many different fees. Even reward cards benefit the issuers, because all the additional perks and rewards they provide are covered by the increased merchant fees, which essentially means the credit card company offers you extra money to incentivize you to spend, and then demands this money from the retailers.

It’s a good gig, but some consumers believe they can beat the credit card companies and one of the ways they do this is via something known as credit card churning.

What is Credit Card Churning?

Many reward cards offer sign-up bonuses to entice consumers to apply. Not only can you get regular cash back, statement credit, and air miles, but you’ll often get a reward just for signing up. For instance, many rewards credit cards offer a lump sum payment to all consumers who spend a specific sum of money during the first three months.

Credit card churning is about taking advantage of these bonuses, and getting maximum benefits with as little cost as possible.

“Churners” will sign up for multiple different reward cards in a short space of time, collect as many of these bonuses as they can, clear the card balance, and then reap the rewards.

Does Credit Card Churning Work?

Credit card churning does work, to an extent. Reward credit cards typically don’t require you to spend that much money to receive the sign up bonus, with most bonuses activated for a spend of just $500 to $1,000 over those first three months. This is easily achievable for most credit card users, as the average spend for reward cards is over $800 a month.

If you have good credit, it’s possible to sign up to multiple credit cards, collect bonus offers without increasing your usual spend, and get everything from hotel stays to free flights, cash back, gift cards, statement credit, and more.

However, it’s something that many credit card companies are trying to stop, as they don’t benefit from users who collect sign-up bonuses, don’t accumulate debt, and then pay off their balance in full. As a result, you may face restrictions with regards to how many bonuses you can collect within a specified timeframe. 

What’s more, there are several things that can go wrong when you’re playing with multiple new accounts like this, as all information is sent to the credit bureaus and could leave a significant mark on your credit report.

Dangers of Churning

Even if the credit card companies don’t prevent you from acquiring multiple new credit cards, there are several issues you could face, ones that will offset any benefits achieved from those generous sign-up bonuses, including:

1. You Could be Hit with Hefty Fees

Many reward credit cards have annual fees, and these average around $95 each, with some premium rewards cards going as high as $250 and even $500. At best, these fees will reduce the amount of money you receive, at worst they will completely offset all the benefits and leave you with a negative balance.

Annual fees aren’t the only fees that will reduce your profits. You may also be charged fees every time you withdraw cash, gamble, make a foreign transaction or miss a payment,

2. Your Credit Score Will Drop

Every time you apply for a new credit card, you will receive a hard inquiry, which will show on your credit report and reduce your FICO score by anywhere from 2 to 5 points. Rate shopping, which bundles multiple inquiries into one, doesn’t apply to credit card applications, so credit card churners tend to receive many hard inquiries.

A new account can also reduce your credit score. 15% of your score is based on the length of your accounts while 10% is based on how many new accounts you have. As soon as that credit card account opens, your average age will drop, you’ll have another new account, and your credit score will suffer as a result.

The damage done by a new credit card isn’t as severe as you might think, but if you keep applying and adding those new accounts, the score reduction will be noticeable. You could go from Excellent Credit to Good Credit, or from Good to Fair, and that makes a massive difference if you have a home loan or auto loan application on the horizon.

Your credit utilization ratio also plays a role here. This ratio is calculated by comparing your total debt to your available credit. If you have a debt of $3,000 spread across three credit cards with a total credit limit of $6,000, your credit utilization ratio is 50%. The higher this score is, the more of an impact it will have on your credit score, and this is key, as credit utilization accounts for a whopping 30% of your score.

Your credit utilization ratio is actually one of the reasons your credit score doesn’t take that big of a hit when you open new cards, because you’re adding a new credit limit that has yet to accumulate debt, which means this ratio grows. However, if you max that card out, this ratio will take a hit, and if you then clear the debt and close it, all those initial benefits will disappear.

You can keep the card active, of course, but this is not recommended if you’re churning.

3. You’re at Risk of Accumulating Credit Card Debt

Every new card you open and every time your credit limit grows, you run the risk of falling into a cycle of persistent debt. This is especially true where credit card rewards are concerned, as consumers spend much more on these cards than they do on non-reward credit cards.

Very few consumers accumulate credit card debt out of choice. It’s not like a loan—it’s not something they acquire because they want to make a big purchase they can’t afford. In most cases, the debt creeps up steadily. They pay it off in full every month, only to hit a rough patch. Once that happens, they miss a month and promise themselves they’ll cover everything the next month, only for it to grow bigger and bigger.

Before they realize it, they have a mass of credit card debt and are stuck paying little more than the minimum every month. 

If you start using a credit card just to accumulate rewards and you have several on the go, it’s very easy to get stuck in this cycle, at which point you’ll start paying interest and it will likely cost you more than the rewards earn you.

4. It’s Hard to Keep Track

Opening one credit card after another isn’t too difficult, providing you clear the balances in full and then close the card. However, if you’re opening several cards at once then you may lose track, in which case you could forget about balances, fees, and interest charges, and miss your chance to collect airline miles cash back, and other rewards.

How to Credit Churn Effectively

To credit churn effectively, look for the best rewards and most generous credit card offers, making sure they:

  • Suit Your Needs: A travel rewards card is useless if you don’t travel; a store card is no good if you don’t shop at that store. Look for rewards programs that benefit you personally, as opposed to simply focusing on the ones with the highest rates of return.
  • Avoid Annual Fees: An annual fee can undo all your hard work and should, therefore, be avoided. Many cards have a $0 annual fee, others charge $95 but waive the fee for the first year. Both of these are good options for credit card churning.
  • Don’t Accumulate Fees: Understand how and why you might be charged cash advance fees and foreign transaction fees and avoid them at all costs. The fees are not as straightforward as you might think and are charged for multiple purchases.
  • Plan Ahead: Make a note of the bonus offer and terms, plan ahead, and make sure you meet these terms by the due dates and that you cover the balance in full before interest has a chance to accumulate.
  • Don’t Spend for the Sake of It: Finally, and most importantly, don’t spend money just to accumulate more rewards. As soon as you start increasing your spending just to earn a few extra bucks, you’ve lost. If you spend an average of $500 a month, don’t sign up for a card that requires you to spend $3,000 in the first three months, as it will encourage bad habits. 

What Should You do if it Goes Wrong?

There are many ways that credit card churning could go wrong, some more serious than others. Fortunately, there are solutions to all these problems, even for cardholders who are completely new to this technique:

Spending Requirements Aren’t Met 

If you fail to meet the requirements of the bonus, all is not lost. Your score has taken a minor hit, but providing you followed the guidelines above, you shouldn’t have lost any money.

You now have two options: You can either clear the balance as normal and move onto your next card, taking what you have learned and trying again, or you can keep the card as a back-up or a long-term option. 

Credit card churning requires you to cycle through multiple issuers and rewards programs, never sticking with a single card for more than a few months. But you need some stability as well, so if you don’t already have a credit card to use as a backup, and if that card doesn’t charge high fees or rates, keep it and use it for emergency purchases or general use.

Creditor Refuses the Application

Creditors can refuse an application for a number of reasons. If this isn’t your first experience of churning, there’s a chance they know what you’re doing and are concerned about how the card will be used. However, this is rare, and in most cases, you’ll be refused because your credit score is too low.

Many reward credit cards have a minimum FICO score requirement of 670, others, including premium American Express cards, require scores above 700. You can find more details about credit score requirements in the fine print of all credit card offers.

Your Credit Score Takes a Hit

As discussed already, credit card churning can reduce your credit score by a handful of points and the higher your score is, the more points you are likely to lose. Fortunately, all of this is reversible.

Firstly, try not to panic and focus on the bigger picture. While new accounts and credit length account for 25% of your total score, payment history and credit utilization account for 65%, so if you keep making payments on your accounts and don’t accumulate too much credit card debt, your score will stabilize.

You Accumulate Too Much Debt

Credit card debt is really the only lasting and serious issue that can result from credit card churning. You’ll still earn benefits on a rolling balance, but your interest charges and fees will typically cost you much more than the benefits provide, and this is true even for the best credit cards and the most generous reward programs.

If this happens, it’s time to put credit card churning on the back-burner and focus on clearing your debts instead. Sign up for a balance transfer credit card and move your debt to a card that has a 0% APR for at least 15 months. This will give you time to assess your situation, take control of your credit history, and start chipping away at that debt.

What is Credit Card Churning? Dangers and Benefits is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com