How Unemployment Can Affect Your Plans To Buy a Home—Now and Later

The coronavirus pandemic has led to record-high unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. And this is particularly worrisome for would-be home buyers.

If you were among the 23.1 million Americans who were laid off or furloughed, you might be worried about your financial future. And if you were hoping to buy a house—either now or in the next few years—you might also wonder how your current jobless status might affect those plans.

While the situation might seem dire, unemployment does not mean that home-buying plans have to be put on hold for long. Here’s how to navigate a period of unemployment so that it doesn’t derail your hopes to buy a home.

Can you buy a home if you’re unemployed?

For starters: If you lose your job while in the midst of home shopping or after you’ve even made an offer, you might have to put the purchase on hold.

The reason: Given your reduced income, the odds of lenders loaning you money for a property purchase are slim, unless your spouse or partner has a sizable income that can carry the mortgage alone.

And even if you’re getting unemployment checks every week, that money is considered temporary income, so it can’t be used to qualify for a mortgage, says Jackie Boies, senior director of housing and bankruptcy services at Money Management International, a nonprofit providing financial education and counseling.

In short, “unemployment could have an effect on your ability to purchase a home in the short term,” Boies says.

But the good news is that once you find a new job, you can likely resume home shopping without trouble, Boies adds. “Unemployment shouldn’t have a long-term effect on being able to buy a home.”

How long after unemployment can you buy a home?

But even once you do find a new job, that doesn’t mean you can easily buy a house just yet. That’s because lenders like to see a steady history of employment before loaning someone money.

“Regular employment must be reestablished as stable, reliable, and dependable,” says Karma Herzfeld, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Alliance in Little Rock, AR.

So how long is enough? Lenders typically require borrowers to have six months of employment at their current job, and two years of continuous employment. Breaks in employment older than two years shouldn’t affect getting a mortgage.

How unemployment affects your credit score

While unemployment doesn’t jeopardize future home-buying hopes per se, financial experts warn that what can put those plans at risk is how you handle your finances while jobless. Unemployment, after all, can stress your budget in ways that can damage your credit history and credit score.

Lenders check your credit score to assess how well you’ve managed past debts. Scores between 650 and 700 range from fair to good; scores below 650 are considered subpar, which could limit which lenders are willing to loan you money for a house. (You can check your score for free on sites like Credit Karma.)

Credit scores can be damaged in a variety of ways during unemployment. For one, if you get behind on paying bills, this will put some blemishes on your credit history and drag your score down.

Unemployment can also lower your credit score by negatively affecting your debt-to-income ratio, a calculation used by mortgage lenders to compare how much you make against how much you owe.

If you’re unemployed, you may face a double whammy as your income is lower and you’re charging more to your credit cards, thus increasing your debt. Both moves can negatively affect your debt-to-income ratio, which may make lenders leery of loaning you money.

“Any factor that affects income or debt may affect the debt-to-income ratio,” Herzfeld explains.

In sum, hopeful home buyers should be careful not to take on too much debt, even while unemployed. You need to preserve cash as best you can.

“I recommend, if on unemployment, [you] cut back on all discretionary spending and make every effort to keep bills current so that the credit score may not get negatively impacted,” Herzfeld says.

Debt-to-income ratio will likely rebalance once you return to work, as long as you haven’t racked up too much debt during the period of unemployment, Boies says.

How to handle your finances while unemployed

“My recommendation is to always try as best as you can to pay at least the minimum required payment on all monthly debt obligations, otherwise credit may be negatively affected,” Herzfeld says.

Boies suggests reaching out to landlords, credit card companies, utilities, auto lenders, and others to find out what options you have, such as payment plans, deferments, or forbearance. You might also be able to reduce some bills, such as insurance, by reviewing your policy.

“Don’t think that if you can’t pay that bill, you just can’t do anything about it,” Boies says. “You need to reach out to see what options they have available to you.”

How to bounce back from unemployment

If your credit score is negatively affected while you’re unemployed, it’s not the end of the world—but it will take time to repair.

Six months to a year or more of positive credit rebuilding could get you on track to buy a home, Herzfeld says.

“The sooner past-due debts can be remedied, the sooner the score may begin to improve,” she says.

For more smart financial news and advice, head over to MarketWatch.

Source: realtor.com

Experian Credit Score vs. FICO Score

January 14, 2021 &• 7 min read by Barry Paperno Comments 17 Comments

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When you think “credit score,” you probably think “FICO.” The Fair Isaac Corporation introduced its FICO scoring system in 1989, and it has since become one of the best-known and most-used credit scoring models in the United States. But it isn’t the only model on the market.

Another popular option is called VantageScore, the product of a collaboration between the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It uses similar scoring methods to FICO but yields slightly different results.

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Each scoring model has multiple versions and multiple applications—you don’t have just one FICO score or one VantageScore. Depending on which bureau creates the score and what type of agency is asking for the score, your credit score will vary, sometimes siginifcantly. One credit score isn’t more “accurate” than another, they just have different applications. Learn more about the different types of credit scores below.

When you sign up for ExtraCredit, you can see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus. Your free Credit Report Card, on the other hand, will show you your Experian VantageScore 3.0.

What Is a VantageScore?

VantageScore was created by the three major credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. It uses similar scoring methods to FICO but yields slightly different results.

One of the primary goals of VantageScore is to provide a model that is used the same way by all three credit bureaus. That would limit some of the disparity between your three major credit scores. In contrast, FICO models provide a slightly different calculation for each credit bureau, which can create more differences in your scores.

FICO vs. VantageScore

So, what are the differences between an Experian credit score calculated using VantageScore and one calculated via the FICO model? More importantly, does the score used matter to you, the consumer? The answer is usually no. But you might want to look at different scores for different needs or goals.

Is Experian Accurate?

Credit scores from the credit bureaus are only as accurate as the information provided to the bureau. Check your credit report to ensure all the information is correct. If it is, your Experian credit scores are accurate. If your credit report is not accurate, you’ll want to look into your credit repair options.

Our free Credit Report Card offers the Experian VantageScore 3.0 so you can check it regularly. If you want to dig in deeper, you can sign up for ExtraCredit. For $24.99 per month, you can see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus. ExtraCredit also offers rent and utility reporting, identity monitoring and theft insurance, and more.

Understanding the Scoring Models

FICO and VantageScore aren’t the only scoring models on the market. Lenders use a multitude of scoring methods to determine your creditworthiness and make decisions about whether or not to give you credit. Despite the numerous options, FICO scores and VantageScores are likely the only scores you’ll ever see yourself.

Here’s what FICO uses to determine your credit score:

  • Payment history. Whether or not you pay your bills in a timely manner is critical, as this factor makes up around 35% of your score.
  • Credit usage. How much of your open credit you have used—which is called credit utilization—accounts for 30% of your score. Keeping your utilization below 30% can help you keep your credits core healthy.
  • Length of credit. The average age of your credit—and how long you’ve had your oldest account—is a factor. Credit age accounts for around 15% of your score.
  • Types of credit. Your credit mix, which refers to having multiple types of accounts, makes up around 10% of your score.
  • Recent inquiries. How many entities have hit your credit history with a hard inquiry for the purpose of evaluating you for credit is a factor for your score. It accounts for about 10% of your credit score.

VantageScore uses the same factors, but weighs them a little differently. Your VantageScore 4.0 will be most influenced by your credit usage, followed by your credit mix. Payment history is only “moderately influential,” while credit age and recent inquiries are less influential.

Each company also gathers its data differently. FICO bases its scoring model on credit data from millions of consumers analyzed at the same time. It gathers credit reports from the three major credit bureaus and analyzes anonymous consumer data to generate a scoring model specific to each bureau. VantageScore, on the other hand, uses a combined set of consumer credit files, also obtained from the three major credit bureaus, to come up with a single formula.

Both FICO and VantageScore issue scores ranging from 300 to 850. In the past, VantageScore used a score range of 501 to 990, but the score range was adjusted with VantageScore 3.0. Having numerical ranges that are somewhat consistent helps make the credit score process less confusing for consumers and lenders.

Your score may also differ across the credit bureaus because your creditors aren’t required to report to all three. They may report to only one or two of them, meaning each bureau likely has slightly different information about you.

Variations in Scoring Requirements

If you don’t have a long credit history, VantageScore is the score you want to monitor. To establish your credit score, FICO requires at least six months of credit history and at least one account reported to a credit bureau within the last six months. VantageScore only requires one month of history and one account reported within the past two years.

Because VantageScore uses a shorter credit history and a longer period for reported accounts, it’s able to issue credit ratings to millions of consumers who wouldn’t yet have a FICO Score. So, if you’re new to credit or haven’t been using it recently, VantageScore can help prove your trustworthiness before FICO has enough data to issue you a score.

The Significance of Late Payments

A history of late payments impacts both your FICO score and your VantageScore. Both models consider the following.

  • How recently the last late payment occurred
  • How many of your accounts have had late payments
  • How many payments you’ve missed on an account

FICO treats all late payments the same. VantageScore judges them differently. VantageScore applies a larger penalty for late mortgage payments than for other types of credit payments.

Because FICO has indicated that it factors late payments more heavily than VantageScore, late payments on any of your accounts might cause you to have lower FICO scores than your VantageScores.

Impact of Credit Inquiries

VantageScore and FICO both penalize consumers who have multiple hard inquiries in a short period of time. They both also conduct a process called deduplication.

Deduplication is the practice of allowing multiple pulls on your credit for the same loan type in a given time frame without penalizing your credit. Deduplication is important for situations such as seeking auto loans, where you may submit applications to multiple lenders as you seek the best deal. FICO and VantageScore don’t count each of these inquiries separately—they deduplicate them or consider them as one inquiry.

FICO uses a 45-day deduplication time period. That means credit inquiries of a certain type—such as auto loans or mortgages—that hit within that period are counted as one hard inquiry for the purpose of impact to your credit.

In contrast, VantageScore only has a 14-day range for deduplication. However, it deduplicates multiple hard inquiries for all types of credit, including credit cards. FICO only deduplicates inquiries related to mortgages, auto loans, and student loans.

Influence of Low-Balance Collections

VantageScore and FICO both penalize credit scores for accounts sent to collection agencies. However, FICO sometimes offers more leniency for collection accounts with low balances or limits.

FICO 8.0 also ignores all collections where the original balance was less than $100 and FICO 9.0 weighs medical collections less. It also doesn’t count collection accounts that have been paid off. VantageScore 4.0, on the other hand, ignores collection accounts that are paid off, regardless of the original balance.

What Are FAKO Scores?

FAKO is a derogatory term for scores that aren’t FICO Scores or VantageScores. Companies that provide FAKO scores don’t call them this. Instead, they refer to their scores as “educational scores” or just “credit scores.” FAKO scores can vary significantly from FICO scores and VantageScores.

These scores aren’t completely valueless, though. They can help you understand where your credit score stands or whether it’s going up or down. You probably don’t want to shell out money for such scores, though, and you do want to ensure the credit score provider is drawing on accurate information from the credit bureaus.

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Can You Pay IRS Taxes with a Credit Card?

January 24, 2019 &• 5 min read by Mia Taylor Comments 0 Comments

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If you’re not getting a tax refund and you have to pay, you can pay IRS taxes with a credit card. Depending on who you talk to, paying your income taxes with a credit card is either brilliant way to earn credit card rewards or a financial move that is only a last resort. The IRS (the Internal Revenue Service) doesn’t actually accept credit card payments directly. But you can pay the IRS through a third-party payment processor—for a processing fee—for the convenience of paying your federal taxes with a credit card, debit card, or digital wallet. These processors charge roughly 2% of your total payment if you pay with a credit card.

Why pay with a credit card? If you have a rewards card, it’s one more expense that you can earn rewards on. However, if you use payment processing service, make sure your rewards outweigh the cost of the processing fee.

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“If you have the money, you want to pay taxes with cash,” said Barbara Taibi, a partner at the global accounting firm EisnerAmper. “You should probably only use a credit card if the rewards you get from the credit card are going to outweigh the convenience fees you pay to charge it.”

Alternatively, you can use a credit card to pay for a software or online tax preparation with efile and epay capabilities and that files your tax return for you. Similarly, you can pay a professional tax preparer to prepare and file your taxes and use your credit card to pay the preparer. With these approaches, you avoid the processing fee and fully maximize your rewards.

Here are a few of the pros and cons to keep in mind if you’re considering paying your IRS taxes with a credit card.

Pro—It’s Convenient and Safe to Pay IRS Taxes with a Credit Card

Dani Owens, a 33-year-old Florida resident, and owner of SEO firm Pigzilla, has paid her taxes at least twice using a credit card. She says she would do it again.

“I didn’t have to worry about my check getting lost in the mail or making sure to keep a high balance in my checking account so that the check would clear,” said Owens. “Plus I use a rewards credit card so I get cash back on purchases. This includes paying my taxes.”

The convenience of paying income taxes with a credit card is why it’s appealing to so many taxpayers. Paying this way also offers the added peace of mind of being safe, says Josh Zimmelman, president of New York-based Westwood Tax and Consulting.

“The IRS only uses certain payment processors that they’ve deemed safe and secure,” he explained. “Your information will only be used to process your payment and not saved or used for other purposes.”

Potential Pro—Credit Card Rewards

If you happen to have a credit card that offers frequent-flyer miles or pays cash back, you might benefit from charging a transaction like an income tax bill, potentially earning yourself a free vacation or your next cash back bonus. The secret here is the size of your tax bill and your bonus.

In 2019, the payment processing fees for the three IRS-approved payment processors are 1.99%, 1.96% and 1.87% with minimum fees of $2.50, $2.69 and $2.59 respectively. So, if your tax bill is $500, you’ll pay a $9.95 fee if the processing fee is 1.99%. If your tax bill is $5,000 though, you’ll pay $99.50. If your rewards credit card offers a 1% cash back, you essentially lose money as your cash back reward will only be $5 or $50 with our two examples. But, if your reward is 2%, you’ll come out a bit ahead with a $10 or $100 reward.

“You’ll have to compare the rate of the reward to the rate of the fees and see if you’re actually getting a deal or not,” advises Zimmelman.

Some cards offer added rewards as a sign-up bonus—see some rewards card options. You could get a new card and pay your taxes to take advantage of a bonus like this.

A note of caution—check the terms of your credit card. Some don’t allow receiving rewards for payments to the IRS.

Possible Con—Processing Fees

One of the drawbacks to consider when paying taxes with a credit card directly to the IRS are the fees charged by the payment processors. For the convenience, you’ll pay a minimum of $2.50 as noted above. So, if your tax bill is less than about $150, you’ll pay more than a 1.99% fee to use your card. It may not be worth the convenience.

Another option is to pay with a debit card. Payment processors charge a flat fee of $2 to $3.95 depending on which processor you use and how large your payment is. Still, there is a cost. And a stamp may be cheaper.

Digital wallet payments to the IRS carry the same fees as debit or credit card payments, depending on the digital payment method you use.

Con—You Increase Your Credit Card Debt

If you can’t pay off the credit card debt you get when you pay IRS taxes with a credit card right away, paying with your credit card isn’t likely the way to paying taxes. That’s true even if you pay thru a payment processor or thru software or online tool or thru a tax professional.

“You could end up putting yourself into considerable debt,” says Zimmelman. “If you’re sure you’ll be able to pay off your credit card balance, in full, relatively quickly, then using a card to pay your tax bill might actually help improve your credit score. However, more likely, this move could damage your credit score.”

Putting a large tax bill on your credit card increases your debt utilization ratio, which has a negative impact on a credit score.

Potential Pro—Avoiding Penalties and Interest

Depending on how much you owe in taxes and how long it takes you to pay the IRS, you may save money—in the form of avoiding IRS late penalties and interest fees—by paying the bill immediately with a credit card. That’s assuming those fees and penalties don’t outstrip the APR on your credit card, of course.

But it’s critical that you calculate how much you’ll save or lose before you make this decision, says Zimmelman.

The IRS penalty for late payment of taxes is 0.5% of your unpaid taxes for each month that the payment is late up to 25%, according to the IRS website.

The interest rate for unpaid taxes is determined quarterly and is the federal short-term rate plus 3%. Interest starts to accumulate on unpaid taxes one day after the due date and is compounded daily.

The IRS does offer installment agreement plans. The rate for short-term plans of 120 or less will likely be lower than the interest on a credit card for a similar timeframe. Long-term plans come with some steep fees. So, if you can do a payment plan and pay less than you might pay on your credit card, especially if using your card will put you into a high debt utilization ratio, consider an IRS installment plan, which won’t impact your credit score.

“You have to remember that your interest rate applies to the purchase and will continue to do so until the purchase is paid off,” said J.R. Duren, personal finance expert with HighYa.com “So, if it takes you six months to pay off that $3,000 and your interest rate is 16.24%, you’ll end up paying $143 in interest.”

If you don’t have the money to pay a tax bill immediately and want to use a credit card, a zero-interest credit card may be the most cost-effective approach. It lets you avoid IRS finance charges and credit card interest charges. Remember though, be prepared to pay that credit card bill in a timely manner—in other words, before the promotion ends.

If you’re concerned about your credit, check your three credit reports for free annually. To track your credit more frequently, Credit.com’s free score and credit report card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit information. It uses letter grades to let you quickly and easily see where you stand in five different areas that affect your credit—plus, your credit score and grades are updated every 14 days.

This article was originally published March 15, 2018, and has since been updated by another author.

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What to Do Before You Lease a Car

October 20, 2020 &• 6 min read by Gerri Detweiler Comments 18 Comments

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Disclaimer

Getting a new car is a big decision, and you should choose your next vehicle carefully. But if you think finding the right car is difficult, deciding whether to lease or buy can be even more overwhelming. Start the process right by understanding the minimum credit score to lease a car and determining whether this is the best decision for you.

1. Check Your Credit

According to Experian, companies that lease automobiles typically like to see a credit score of 700 or higher, though you might be able to get approved for some leases with a score that falls below that. In some cases, it’s easier to qualify for a lease for certain vehicles, such as those that come with a lower price tag.

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  • Did you ever figure out what was going on with your credit?
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Before you apply for a lease, you should check your credit report, giving yourself plenty of time to dispute and fix any negative mistakes to enhance your chance of getting approved for a lease. You can get a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Usually you get one copy per year from each of the three major bureaus, but due to COVID-19, you can get one copy every week through April 2021.

You should also check your credit score to check if you have the right credit score to lease a car. This lets you know if you fall below the potential requirements for most lease companies. Sign up for ExtraCredit and get 28 of your FICO Scores plus your credit reports from all three credit bureaus so you’re armed with the right information.

2. Make Sure a Lease Is Right for You

Leases offer some advantages over buying. The down payment and fixed monthly payments for a lease are typically lower than the cost of financing. You get to drive a newer car, and many repair costs may be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty or the lease agreement.

However, leases also come with many limitations and the potential for additional costs. If you exceed a lease’s mileage limit, you’ll pay a fee for every additional mile. You’ll also be charged for extra wear and tear, and you aren’t allowed to modify the vehicle. If you decide the car isn’t right for you, you could pay a steep penalty for terminating your lease early.

Despite the lower monthly payment, the lifetime cost of leasing is generally much higher than buying, especially considering you don’t own your car at the end of the lease. Before you decide if a lease is right for you, make sure to understand the pros and cons of leasing.

3. Know What You Can Afford

One of the biggest advantages of leasing is that you might get a lower monthly payment compared to a car loan on the same vehicle. Leases are cheaper because you’re only paying for the depreciation of the car’s value plus interest, taxes, and fees. With a loan, you’re also paying off the entire purchase price of the vehicle.

However, these monthly costs don’t take down payments or trade-in values into account. While leases typically have lower down payments, you’ll have to turn in or buy your car when the lease is up. And you’ll have no ownership in the car to show for the few years of payments you already made. It’s important to consider whether you can afford the monthly payment now and the cost of buying or leasing a new vehicle in a few years.

4. Shop Around for a Car and a Lease

Auto loans can be found at banks, credit unions, car dealers, and online. Leases, on the other hand, are largely controlled by the manufacturer. You may be able to get a better deal if you consider vehicles from different manufacturers instead of sticking to one make and model.

The manufacturer will consider your credit score to lease a car, your debt-to-income ratio, and the “lease-to-value” ratio. That’s how much you are financing compared to the vehicle’s value. If you are having trouble qualifying, you may need to put down additional money or get a cosigner for your lease.

Just as with auto loans, you can negotiate the cost of a leased car. So if you aren’t getting the deal you want, make a counter-offer or keep looking.

Not Ready to Lease?

If you aren’t ready to commit to a lease term of two to three years, you can potentially take over the remaining term on someone else’s lease. As long as your credit is in the same tier or better than the person whose lease you are assuming, you’ll likely qualify to take over their lease. Sites like SwapALease.com and LeaseTrader.com help connect consumers who want to get out of leases and consumers who want to assume one.

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If you’d rather buy a car than lease one, we’ve got some tips on how to finance a car. We can also help you find a lender to apply for a car loan.


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Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) – SmartAsset

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your financial details.

If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/becon, ©iStock.com/Xesai, ©iStock.com/Kerkez

Danielle Klimashousky Danielle Klimashousky is a freelance writer who covers a variety of personal finance topics for SmartAsset. She is an expert on topics including credit cards and home buying. Danielle has a BA in English from Wesleyan University.
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5 Savvy Money Moves to Make This Year

January 5, 2021 &• 6 min read by Credit.com Comments 0 Comments

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The following is a guest post from The Savvy Couple.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, money is a very important tool that can be used to better our lives.

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So why don’t we take better care of managing it?

Luckily, there are some savvy money moves that you can make this year to improve your finances and feel more financial peace. This year can be a great one, and you can use your money to help make it happen.

We have narrowed down our top five money moves that you can make this year that will have a huge impact on your overall finance. The best part is they are not complicated and they won’t take a lot of time to implement. In fact, you can start to put them in place right after reading to the end of this article.

1. Create a Money Plan and Stick to it

It’s really important to create a plan, or budget, for your money. If you don’t, then you could find your money just escaping and not having a clue where it’s gone.

A lot of people think that a budget is strict, and something that you use for just your bills. But a good budget will be a plan for your money for the month and how it is going to be spent. Your budget should reflect the direction that you want your life to take.

It should enable you to spend more money on the things you love and cut wasteful spending on the things you don’t.

It doesn’t have to be super strict either—we advise “paying yourself first.” Meaning put your money where it’s most important first (investing, savings, fun money), and then using the rest of the money to pay your bills.

Think about what your goals are for your life and base your budget around that. You have a set amount of income, and you can decide where you want that money to go.

2. Cut Your Monthly Expenses

One step toward creating the money plan that you want can be cutting your monthly expenses. This doesn’t mean that you need to be drastic with the expenses that you are cutting out.

When it comes to creating your money plan, it’s important to look at what you are currently spending money on.

If you have never tracked your expenses before, you will likely be surprised to see where your money is going. We like to think that we have a good idea of what we are spending, but if you are not tracking your spending then you are most likely vastly underestimating your spending.

Go back through your spending and highlight any problem areas. The important thing here is to not beat yourself up for anything that you’ve spent.

When you have created the plan for your money, you may find that you have been spending on things that don’t fit in with that plan. These could be the ones that you choose to cut down on.

Cut down on your expenses slowly. Otherwise, you could find that it’s too much of a change and you want to go back to how you were spending before. Try picking one thing to cut down on, and do a bit of trial and error.

3. Stay Away from Debt

We’ve been talking about creating a money plan for your life, but there are some things that can throw your plan off track—debt being one of them.

Sometimes, debt is unavoidable. There are situations that we find ourselves in such as medical emergencies, car repairs, or any kind of emergency really!

The best thing to do is to prepare for these kinds of situations. We can’t fully plan, of course, but we can set aside some money to prepare. These are usually referred to as emergency funds. We recommend saving a $1,000 emergency fund as soon as possible, then slowing building that up to 3–6 months of living expenses after your debt is paid off.

Debt is so normalized in society, but debt doesn’t have to be! Making savvy money moves and trying to prepare for future emergencies will help tremendously in the long run.

4. Understand How Your Credit Score Works

Let’s be honest—a lot of us don’t pay much attention to our credit score. It’s one of those boring things that we don’t think about until we need it.

The last thing that you want to happen is to find that you need to take out credit but you can’t because of your credit score. Therefore, it’s a savvy money move to understand how your credit score works.

Credit scores are generally used by lenders when you want to take out a line of credit with them—for example, when you are getting a mortgage or car loan. If you have a high credit score then you will have access to better rates and terms for your loans.

Your credit score is largely determined by whether you pay your bills on time, as any missed payments will go against you. Your score is also determined by how much credit you have used compared to the amount that you have been lent.

It’s essential that you check your credit report as there can be errors on there which you can rectify—the sooner the better. The longer you wait to repair your credit, the harder it can become.

You can get your Experian VantageScore 3.0 for free from Credit.com when you sign up for the free Credit Report Card. And if you want more details on your credit score, sign up for ExtraCredit. You’ll get 28 FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

5. Start an Online Side Hustle

We are huge fans of starting side hustles because at the end of the day you can only cut your expenses so much. But your income has unlimited potential.

Side hustles are great because you can create an income stream for your goals, or even use it to leave your day job.

The benefit of starting an online side hustle is that there are so many possibilities, you pretty much only need to have access to the internet.

It’s worth brainstorming some side hustle ideas that you have an interest in doing. It’s also worth thinking about ideas that will be free or have a very low cost to start up. The last thing that you want to do is spend a lot of money on something that’s not going to take off.

You can determine how much time and effort you want to put into your side hustle—it doesn’t have to be a brand-new business, but can be getting an extra job or something small.

Some of our favorite side hustle ideas include:

  • Starting a blog
  • Proofreading
  • Facebook advertising for businesses
  • Teaching English online
  • Freelance writing

Savvy Money Moves throughout the Year

If you want to make some good money moves this year, this is a good place to start. These are some simple things that anyone can do to improve their finances greatly.

What are your best savvy money moves? Let us know in the comments!


Kelan and Brittany Kline are the creators and co-founders of The Savvy Couple. They write about personal finance, budgeting, making money online, entrepreneurship, and more.

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Source: credit.com

How and When to Talk to a Credit Bureau

February 14, 2020 &• 15 min read by Mia Taylor Comments 47 Comments

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Your credit score can have a huge impact on your life—for better or worse. In many ways, the three major credit bureaus are the keepers of your credit score. They’re responsible for maintaining credit reports, which means you may need to contact them about the information included on yours. While this may seem daunting, it’s really not complicated.

Read on to learn about when to contact a credit bureau and how to do it. Contact information and tips have been provided for each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—to make it as simple as possible.

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When to Contact a Credit Bureau

Anytime you notice inaccuracies on your credit report, you should immediately contact the credit bureau. This can include misspelled names, incorrect address information, unreported salary changes or erroneous employment information.

Here are some other reasons why you might need to contact a credit bureau:

  • There are credit cards, collections missed payments or anything else on your report that you don’t recognize.
  • You’re in credit disputes with your credit card issuer or financial institution. You can address this with the credit bureaus, which are required to investigate.

For help talking to the credit bureaus and starting a credit repair plan, you can work with a professional credit repair agency. They offer credit monitoring, credit repair services and text alerts so you don’t miss a thing.

Information to Gather before You Call

You want to have the right information on hand when you call a credit bureau. Prepare yourself by collecting the following information in advance, just in case:

  • Your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth
  • A copy of your annual credit report
  • Evidence of the inaccuracies or errors, if relevant
  • Personal financial information, such as your mortgage information, depending on the reported issue
  • Any other supporting documentation

Credit Bureau Contact Information

Because there are so many potential reasons to contact a credit bureau—general inquiries, disputes and credit freezes, for example—there are many different phone numbers and online contact forms to wade through. If you call the wrong number, you may simply be told they cannot help you and directed to call a different number, wasting precious time and energy.

To help you avoid that frustration, we’ve gathered several ways you can contact the credit bureaus for common inquiries here.

Equifax Phone Numbers

If you don’t like talking on the phone, Equifax also offers live chat support. You can chat with a member of their customer support team between 8 a.m. and midnight (ET), Monday through Friday.


TransUnion Phone Numbers


Experian Phone Numbers


Alternatives to Calling Credit Bureaus

Not all experts think calling a credit bureau is the best approach. Don Petersen, an attorney at Howard Lewis & Peterson, PC, in Utah, recommends calling a bureau for only basic administrative questions—such as updating an address or asking if a recent data breach has affected you.

For most other issues, Petersen advises his clients to write to credit bureaus or submit disputes online. This provides you with an official record of your request.

If you do prefer to call a credit bureau, take notes during the call and follow up in writing after the telephone conversation. In your follow-up letter, you should include the name of the representative you spoke with as well as details of what transpired in your conversation.

Send important requests—especially disputes—through certified mail. This allows you to track the letter and ensure that the credit bureau responds in a timely manner. Never send original copies of documents, as the bureaus may not return anything you send.

Equifax Mailing Addresses

Reason for Contact

Address

Credit dispute

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256

Request a copy of your credit report

Equifax Disclosure Department
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Fraud alert

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069

Credit freeze

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788


TransUnion Mailing Addresses

Reason to Contact

Address

Credit freeze

TransUnion
P.O. Box 160
Woodlyn, PA 19094

Credit dispute

TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000

Fraud alert

TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Request credit report

TransUnion LLC
Consumer Disclosure Center
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19016


Experian Mailing Addresses

Reason to Contact

Address

Credit dispute

Experian Dispute Department
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013

Credit freeze

Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

Privacy

Chief Privacy Officer
Compliance Department
Experian
475 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Report a relative’s death

Experian
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013


Track Your Credit

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to obtain a free copy of all three reports once each year. These free reports can be accessed on the government-mandated site operated by the big three credit bureaus, AnnualCreditReport.com.

You can also sign up for the free credit report card offered by Credit.com, which provides a snapshot of your credit as well as the ability to dig deeper into the elements that affect your credit score. When you sign up, you’ll also get regular emails with tips and tricks for keeping your credit healthy.


Sign up now.

Source: credit.com

What’s the Fastest Way to Boost My Credit?

October 29, 2018 &• min read by Jeanine Skowronski Comments 0 Comments

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Article originally published September 1st, 2016. Updated October 29th, 2018. 

It’s a common question around these parts: how do I fix my credit? And, while credit scores do have a lot of nuances, the answer is actually pretty straightforward: pay all your bills by their due dates, keep your debt levels low, add a mix of accounts as you can afford it and voila! — your credit score should rise steadily over time.

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Still, for people plagued with bad credit or someone looking to get the absolute best rates on a new loan, waiting it out can seem like an unattractive option — and so the question gets a little more pointed: how do I fix my credit fast?

Truth be told, there are no guarantees when it comes to getting a quick credit boost. Exact point increases will vary depending on your full credit profile and, even if you’re teetering toward top-tier credit, your score’s beholden to a lender’s schedule when it comes to reporting new information to the major credit bureaus.

Most creditors provide updates to the big three bureaus every month — meaning, yes, you can boost your credit in 30 days, but any shorter timeframe is admittedly a long shot.

Still, there are few steps you can take to try to raise your credit score in the short-term. Here’s a breakdown of ten of your best options.

Credit utilization ratio— how much debt you’re carrying vs. your total available credit — is a huge part of credit scores, second only to payment history. But while you can’t just erase a missed payment from your credit file (most negative information takes seven years to age off of your credit reports), you can pretty readily boost your utilization rate by wiping out big credit card debts.

Experts generally recommend keeping the amount of debt you owe collectively and on individual cards below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your credit limit(s).

So, if you’re close to maxing out one card and/or you’re carrying big balances on all of them, paying those debts down can result in a fast boost. Just be sure to pay charges off by your statement’s billing date as opposed to their actual due date because that’s when most creditors will update account information with the credit bureaus.

And, of course, refrain from making any new purchases once the debt’s been eradicated.

Essentially, a different solution to the same problem — you may be able to improve your utilization rate by getting an issuer to give you a higher limit on one of your existing cards. Just be sure not to use up that extra credit. Otherwise, this move can have the opposite effect.

And be prepared to see an initial ding to your score — creditors sometimes pull your credit when you ask for a limit increase, and that could generate a hard inquiry on your credit reports and cost you a few points.

You might easily make up those points and then some, however, if the credit limit increase is large enough.

Errors on credit reports are more common than you may think, so it’s important not to simply take a bad score at face value — particularly because getting an error removed can be one of the faster ways to fix your credit.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the bureaus investigate and remove items deemed to be errors within 30 days of a dispute being filed.

That’s why it’s a good idea to pull your credit reports — you can do so for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com — and routinely review them for any inaccuracies that may be unduly weighing your credit down.

Once you receive a copy of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus- Experian, Equifax, and Transunion, you can take a closer look at each item that is on there.

You have already read about getting an error removed, and this is a good step to take, but don’t stop there. Look for accounts you have on your credit profile that show late or missing payments and verify the accuracy of each item. If you see something that is wrong, send your dispute so that the problem can be investigated.

Yes, you may be paying your balances each month, and you are paying them on time, but you need to keep in mind that your creditors are reporting your balances to the credit bureaus only once per month.

If you have a credit card, for example, that you are constantly maxing out and reaching your limit on throughout the month, the statement you receive will show the balance. You make the payment, but since it was reported only once that month, it is basically showing that you are using 100% of the available balance on that credit card.

If you send in payments twice a month, however, you are essentially breaking up your payments, and you are effectively keeping your overall credit card balances much lower than if you continue to only pay once per month.

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If you want a nice boost to your credit and you want to help improve your credit utilization ratio, you can consider opening a new credit account. This is especially helpful if you find that your current credit utilization ratio is much too high.

Opening the new account adds to the available credit you have and will show that with the new balance, you are using less. However, this is not a good option if you are already juggling multiple accounts. You may end up hurting your credit instead of helping it if you try to stretch your credit too thin.

Have you taken a closer look at the current debt you owe? Have you considered negotiating the debt you have in collections to rebuild your credit? Many collection agencies will be willing to negotiate because they really won’t be losing any money on the debt if you are able to settle for less because they most likely bought the debt account for a minimal price.

It never hurts to open a negotiation to try and settle the debt you have for a smaller and more manageable amount on your credit accounts. If you find that you are unsure about this process, or if you don’t know if it is something you should do, you can always seek the help of a credit counselor to help educate you on the process and offer suggestions as to what you can do otherwise.

Another fast way to boost your credit could be to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit account. For this to be a viable and recommended option, you will need to find someone you trust, such as a close friend or relative, that is financially responsible and is willing to do this for you to help improve your credit rating.

As an authorized user on someone else’s account, their account will still show up on your credit report, and their payment history, credit utilization ratio, and credit card balances will become part of your credit history and may award you with a good credit score.  Not all credit card companies report authorized users however, so you will want to make sure that if you do become an authorized user, that the account information will show up on your credit reports.

In addition to paying on your accounts twice a month, you should also make sure to make your payments on time every month. Your payment history makes up approximately 35% of your FICO score.

If you find it hard to remember your due dates, consider placing your accounts on auto pay with reminders so it reminds you that the payment is coming due and it will then automatically make the payment for you.

Finally, make sure you are mixing up your credit choices instead of focusing on using just your credit cards, for example. Using different types of credit can boost your score fast – even though it wouldn’t be a significant boost.

If you need an appliance, instead of using your credit card, you should consider a small personal loan instead. It shows that you can effectively and responsibly utilize different types of credit.

One of the biggest hits to your credit is a bankruptcy and people are often anxious and ready to begin boosting their credit following their bankruptcy. In theory, someone looking for credit after a bankruptcy may actually appear to be less of a risk because they are not able to qualify for Chapter 7 for another eight years.

Following your bankruptcy, it is recommended that you make all your payments on time, learn how to manage your money efficiently, and find ways to reestablish your credit without trying to borrow money too soon and this could prove to be the fastest way to build credit.

You should also keep a very close eye on your credit reports and credit scores from the major credit bureaus and look for any errors or inaccuracies including any mistakes with your address, employment, or personal contact information.

The best way to start improving credit following a bankruptcy is to open a secured credit card account and make your first deposit into the account.

Although these ten strategies are a good start to finding the fastest way to boost your credit, you need to remember that it still may take several months for the credit reporting agencies to report the improvements on your credit report.

While they may be “fast” methods, they are certainly not miracle credit cures, so you need to have a fair amount of patience when it comes to seeing the positive effects on your credit report.

Be sure to dispute any errors you find with the credit bureau in question (you go here to learn how). You can also view two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com as you monitor your progress toward building better credit.

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Source: credit.com