How the Superhero Approach Can Help You Avoid Identity Theft

You are more vulnerable to attack than you may realize, but there’s plenty you can do to make yourself harder to hit.

A recent Experian study found that most people still have a lot to learn about the risk of identity theft. The majority of those surveyed felt like they were safe from identity theft, but not for the right reasons. The most popular misconception was that scammers, phishers and identity thieves only target the rich and possibly famous.

In reality, identity thieves target low-hanging fruit. To an identity thief, we’re all Kim Kardashian.

More than half of the respondents didn’t think they’d make a good target for scammers because of bad credit. This is also a misconception, since a crook will generally have zero scruples about taking over your credit accounts (even with their crippling interest rates), and making them even more impossible to manage by further damaging your credit.

What Makes a Good Target?

The number one criterion is whether or not personally identifiable information (PII) has been compromised in a data breach, but there are other ways that we expose (and overexpose) ourselves. One of the most common ways is through oversharing on social media.

Our information is out there, but there are things we can do to make it harder to exploit.

Enter Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne. All have a mix of gadgets and superpowers that make them formidable opponents in a fight. They’re also known for being good in a crisis, which is not always the case for regular people when they find out, for instance, their identity has been stolen.

Another difference between us and the superhero elite: Instead of Lex Luthor, Absorbing Man, Doctor Octopus and the Joker, we’re often targeted by a slipper-wearing enemy who simply likes to shop beyond their means or grab our tax refunds, or a small-time crook who’s good at guessing games.

To avoid their arch enemies, superheroes lead double lives. Having an alter ego allows them to avoid detection in a world where their nemesis is always going for a kill. You need to do the same thing.

In the real world, we’re all superheroes, at least when it comes to the stalking arch enemy waiting to Ka-Pow us with credit-based smash-and-grabs. Here are some superhero tactics that can help protect you.

Abandon Your Past

If you feel compelled to post pictures and memories to social media, you are playing a dangerous game that an identity thief can use to scam you. Details about you can help a good scammer figure out the answers to your security questions.

Be Evasive

Even if you think it can’t be avoided, your first answer when asked for your SSN should be no. If they insist, ask how they will store the information. If you don’t like the response (they don’t know how it’s stored, etc.), say no again.

Lie

There is no task force out there rounding up people who provide a fake birthday on a gym membership application. Sometimes you can’t fudge date of birth, because it is a pivotal identifier, but you can certainly lie to your heart’s content on social media, where many thieves look for victims. The same goes for security questions. Make up an alternate story: You grew up on a farm in Kansas, you’re nearsighted, etc.

Be Consistent & Vigilant

If you’re going to take the liar’s route, remember your backstory. There’s nothing worse than providing a telling clue when faced with one of your arch enemy’s henchmen because your guard is down.

Use a Nickname

Since many thieves mine useable data about you on social media, that’s the place to use your childhood nickname only your besties know. The benefit there is that your name is a primary piece of PII, and whatever your embarrassing moniker was or is, it’s not associated with your Social Security number.

Take a page from the superhero annals to protect your identity. You are more vulnerable to attack than you may realize, but there’s plenty you can do to make yourself harder to hit.

One very easy thing you can do is adopt the Three Ms, which I describe in detail in my book, Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. The short version of them:

• Minimize your exposure. Don’t authenticate yourself to anyone unless you are in control of the interaction, don’t overshare on social media, be a good steward of your passwords, safeguard any documents that can be used to hijack your identity and consider freezing your credit. (We explain here what a credit freeze is.)

• Monitor your accounts. Check your credit report religiously, keep track of your credit score (you can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com) and review major accounts daily, if possible. If you prefer a more laid-back approach, sign up for free transaction alerts from financial services institutions and credit card companies, or purchase a sophisticated credit-and-identity monitoring program.

• Manage the damage. Make sure you get on top of any incursion into your identity quickly and/or enroll in a program where professionals help you navigate and resolve identity compromises. These are often available for free, or at minimal cost, through insurance companies, financial services institutions and HR departments.

Finally, if you have not yet claimed your superhero identity, you can do so online, but bear in mind Encryptoman (aka me) is already taken.

Image: PeskyMonkey

The post How the Superhero Approach Can Help You Avoid Identity Theft appeared first on Credit.com.

This Woman Fell Into a Used Car Loan Trap — Now She’s Fighting Back

Mary McDuffie, 31, was sued by an auto financing company after she stopped making payments on a used car that had mechanical issues. Now the mother of four, who said she was misled by the company, is fighting their claims in court.

This story is the first in a two-part series on the risky business of buying a car from a used dealer.

In the summer of 2013, Mary McDuffie Morton, 31, needed money to buy a car. At the time, the recently divorced mother of four had a poor credit history. So she was excited to hear she could get a subprime loan at a used auto dealership in Bronx, N.Y.

“It [seemed] too good to be true,” Mary recalls. “As long you have a job, you’re approved. It’s like wow, OK, I’m guaranteed approval.”

Nationwide, customers like Mary owe more than a quarter-billion dollars in high-interest, high-risk subprime auto loans. A recent report by Moody’s Investor’s Service found that Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., a major originator of subprime auto loans, has been slacking when it comes to verifying the income reported by loan applicants, according to Bloomberg. This can make it easier for car buyers to take on more debt than they can afford to repay.

But big banks aren’t the biggest problem in auto lending. About three-fourths of subprime auto loans do not originate in banks or credit unions. Instead, they are often signed at car lots like the one in Bronx, N.Y., where Mary was lured by the promise of easy credit.

In many cases, those customers are taken for a ride by predatory dealerships and finance companies alike.

“Their main job is not to care for you. It’s to care for their pocketbook, and that’s all they’re there for,” says Remar Sutton, a former car dealer turned consumer advocate.

“How many of you have seen the ads that say, ‘No credit, bad credit, no worries, we’re the credit fixer’? That is not why those ads are running. Those ads are running because they know if you think you have bad credit, you will pay anything for a car, and they’ll knock a homerun on you,” warns Sutton.

That’s what happened to Mary. To buy a used 2003 GMC Envoy XL, the dealer told her she needed to first borrow roughly $7,000.

“The dealership told me they were going to shop around for lenders for me – and they were going to call one and get back to me,” Mary says.

The dealer selected Dependable Credit Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y.. The interest rate on Mary’s loan was a whopping 24.9% – just one-tenth of a point below the threshold of criminal usury in New York State.

Mary signed the contract, despite an interest rate so high that it was nearly illegal.

“I was scared that if I didn’t go along with that deal, I wouldn’t get a car, ” she says.

The Secret Bonus

Like many lenders that work with auto dealers, to get business from dealers, Dependable offers them a secret bonus. It’s called a “Dealer Reserve Advance,” and it can add an extra two points of interest to the consumer’s loan. The dealer keeps 70% of it as a reward for making the referral to the finance company.

“When you go into that dealership, do you think they’re going to point you in the direction of a cheap loan? Of course not. They’re going to send you to the finance source that will pay them cash up front on the loan,” says Sutton.

Dependable executives did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment.

On its website, the finance company claims it does business with 250 used car dealers in seven states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York – and has financed more than $200 million in loans.

“They’re in hundreds of dealerships because they’re making millions of dollars because people who are poor, people who are worried about their credit, are being taken advantage of by that business,” says Sutton, a co-founder of FoolProof, a nonprofit website devoted to consumer education.

Mary said the vehicle she purchased had mechanical problems that the dealer refused to fix. Sensing that she was being cheated, the former Bronx resident refused to make loan payments until she received a title proving she owned the car.

“They sold me a lemon,” complains Mary. “I knew that the deal was just a big scam.”

A Long Fight in Court

Dependable repossessed the Envoy when Mary’s payments were five weeks delinquent. By the time she received the title, the car was gone – and she was thousands of dollars in debt.

According to records obtained by MagnifyMoney, the finance company sold the vehicle to an undisclosed owner for $4,200 – a price that was $5,000 less than what Mary paid just four months earlier.

Then Dependable sued her in Bronx County Civil Court for a bill packed with extra charges. The tally includes nearly $1,200 in repairs by Westchester Auto Center and more than $1,700 in storage fees charged by Saw Mill River Realty.

The three businesses are located at the same address. State records show that all three share the same chief executive.

Dependable continues to charge Mary 24.9% interest on a loan for a car it repossessed and sold to someone else three years ago. Last year, the company told the court Mary owes nearly $11,000.

“Unfortunately, most places that want to make you a subprime loan simply want to make more money on you,” says Sutton.

With the help of a legal aid group, Mary is countersuing. She alleges she was cheated through deception and illegal business practices by the finance company and the dealer.

In a counterclaim filed by Mary’s attorney, Shanna Tallarico with the New York Legal Assistance Group, in October 2016, Mary claims that the dealer also required her to trade in her 2004 Cadillac CTS in order to purchase the used Envoy.  The dealership agreed to give her just $1,900 for the vehicle, citing “a significant problem with the Cadillac’s engine,” according to Mary’s counterclaim. Days later, she claims the dealership listed that same Cadillac for sale for $9,999. Efforts to reach the dealer for comment were unsuccessful.

Efforts to reach the dealer for comment were unsuccessful. Mary’s case is still pending, Tallarico says.

“I felt like I had just thrown money in the garbage,” says Mary. “The whole experience was a waste of money.”

How to Buy a Used Car Without Being Cheated

Shop for financing before you look for a vehicle: The subprime interest rate a credit union can offer may be half of what a car dealer charges you. Don’t assume that your poor credit history means you won’t have a shot at getting a loan from a reputable lender. It’s perfectly fine to get your own financing outside of a dealer — and, as our story shows, it’s often much more affordable. To make matters better, if you come in with a verified offer from another lender, the dealer has an incentive to try to beat their offer.

Check your credit score yourself. Don’t take a dealer’s word on it when it comes to your credit. Your score may be good enough to qualify for a better rate on a loan elsewhere, but the dealer may not want you to know that. You can check your credit score on a number of sites for free, including the Discover Scorecard. And again, if you shop around for rates before you go to the dealer you will know exactly what rates you deserve — and when they are offering you a bad deal.

Buy a car that works: Bring a mechanic or a knowledgeable friend to check it out before you decide. You can also check the vehicle’s background by getting a vehicle history report through resources such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, CARFAX, and AutoCheck.

Buy a car you can afford: If a dealer makes promises, be sure to get it in writing. Go in with a firm idea of what kind of car you want and how much you can afford to pay.

And slow down: Never sign a contract in a hurry. Dealers may be friendly, but they’re not really your friend. To double check a dealer’s reputability, check out their reviews and rating on the Better Business Bureau.

Additional reporting by Mandi Woodruff

The post This Woman Fell Into a Used Car Loan Trap — Now She’s Fighting Back appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Smart Money Moves to Make After Graduation

There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to that first day. Here's what you need to know.

Starting your first job can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to your first day. Then there are all the decisions you need to make during the first week, so much so that you need to know the right questions to ask to avoid making any glaring mistakes.

I remember the weeks leading up to my first day. I was moving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to work for a huge defense contractor, and I was a mess. It was my first real job, with a real paycheck. I was putting a huge deposit down on my first apartment. I bought a new car. I was overwhelmed by the huge employee manual, and my human resources rep asked if I wanted to contribute to a 401K. A 401—what?

I had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately, I had a friend who had done this all before and he gave me some great advice. When I look back, I’m thankful for his guidance because he helped me avoid many headaches and build up an above-average net worth. Here’s what he told me.

1. Build Up Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is a crucial defense against financial disaster. Whether it’s an accident or something needing repair, an emergency fund helps you manage the problem without you having to go into debt. (Here are a few ways to turbocharge your emergency savings.)

When you don’t have a fund and your car breaks down, how will you fix it? You still need to get to work or you might get fired, which is worse than a broken-down car. If you don’t have the cash, your only choice is to put the costly repair on your credit card with its double-digit interest rate. Now you have a problem made much bigger by debt. (Debt can have a significant impact on your credit as well. You can see how by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Make the choice to start an emergency fund. At a minimum, have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. Disaster will strike, so start saving today so you are ready.

2. Save for Retirement

When you start making real money, it’s time to start thinking about retirement. Retirement is a long way off, but your decisions today can have a huge impact on when and if you’ll be able to retire when you want.

If your employer offers a retirement plan, learn the details on how you can benefit. Many employers that offer a defined contribution plan, like a 401K, usually offer incentives for you to contribute. My first employer matched 50% of my contributions up to 4% of my salary. When I contributed 4% of my salary, they added an extra 2%.

With investments, time is your best friend and saving early is key.

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401K plan, you can still invest in a taxable brokerage account or turn to an IRA. In those accounts, you can take advantage of index funds, which are some of the cheapest and best ways to invest money.

3. Keep Housing Costs Low

Remember this important money ratio: Keep your housing costs less than 30% of your income. It’s easy to fall in love with an awesome apartment or house in a new area. And it’s easy to commit to a high monthly payment because you tell yourself it’s worth it. But don’t fall into that trap!

By keeping your monthly fixed costs low, the largest of which will likely be your housing, you can save more money or use it to pay down debt like student loans.

4. Get Enough Insurance

Insurance is something you pay for and hope you’ll never need to use. If you end up needing it, however, you’ll be glad you have enough.

How much is enough insurance? That depends on your financial and family situation. If you’ve had time to build up a sizable emergency fund, you can increase your deductibles. If you don’t have a big emergency fund, you can keep your deductibles lower for now. Once you build up those reserves, increase the deductible to something with which you’re comfortable.

5. Build Your Social Network

This may not seem like a financial decision, but it is. Work toward building a network of friends and professional contacts in your field. The vast majority of jobs are not filled by being listed on a job site but through referrals. I got my second job, and a 15% raise, because of someone I knew.

Building up a network doesn’t have to feel slimy. It’s as simple as maintaining existing relationships and finding places to meet new people. It will also help make life a little more interesting.

Image: SolStock

The post 5 Smart Money Moves to Make After Graduation appeared first on Credit.com.

50 Free Classes That Can Pay Off

Gaining skills doesn't have to cost money. Check out these 50 classes you can take free.

Skills pay the bills, at least according to a lot of early ’90s hip hop.

But that doesn’t mean you have to spend money to acquire those skills. Yes, college is getting more expensive, but there are plenty of free classes online that can beef up your resume or let you start a side hustle without racking up student loan debt.

Here are 50 free classes that can pay off.

1. GED Classes

Passing the GED high school equivalence test opens doors to college and many jobs. Test preparation classes are available online and at many local libraries. And, if you’re thinking of getting a higher education, you can find some ways to pay for college without building a mountain of debt here.

2. Introduction to Computer Science

This course from MIT teaches students the Python programming language, a few simple algorithms and how to test and debug code. It’s available through EdX free, though you can receive a certificate of completion for a fee. This could be a good start to getting a computer science degree, one of a few college degrees that really pays off.

3. HTML5 & CSS Fundamentals

Learn the basics of web design and style from a course designed by Intel and W3C and get an introduction to the HTML5 and CSS languages. Available on EdX.org.

4. Introduction to C++

C++ is another foundational programming language. Microsoft offers this course, which provides an entry into C++ basics, including how to create functions. Available on EdX.

5. Introduction to Java Programming

Continuing on the computer programming path, Java is another language used just about everywhere. This course, from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, not only teaches the basics of Java but also aims to improve students’ problem solving skills. Available on EdX.

6. Academic & Business Writing

Make your writing more persuasive with this six-week class offered through the University of California at Berkeley, which also teaches proofreading and vocabulary. Those skills can come in handy when writing everything from a job cover letter to a credit dispute letter. Available on EdX.

7. Writing for Strategic Communication

Even if you’re not a professional writer, this course could help you improve all your writing endeavors, even your tweets. From La Trobe University in Australia on iTunes.

8. Data Science Orientation

This is the first course in a full curriculum on data science from Microsoft. Big data is big business, and the skills to decipher it are in demand. This course will give you basics on exploring data using Microsoft Excel and give you an idea on whether data science is something you’ll want to pursue as a career. Available on EdX.

9. Understanding Data

If Microsoft’s orientation piqued your interest, Marginal Revolution University will teach you the basics of statistical analysis and econometrics with a series videos and interactive lessons.

10. Against All Odds: Inside Statistics

This course shows how statistics are used in the real world and teaches the basic tools and methodology used in statistics. Course materials and video lectures available at learner.org.

11. Introduction to Marketing

Marketing is key for many businesses and organizations. This course teaches students how to reach potential customers and to understand how they decide what to buy. It’s taught by professors from the University of British Columbia and available on EdX.

12. Branding, Content & Social Media

This course from Ohio State University will help you develop a communications strategy for getting the word out about whatever cool thing you’re doing. (Just be sure not to overshare — you’ll put your identity at risk.) Available on iTunes.

13. Essentials of Advertising & Marketing

In this course, students will learn how to create and present an advertising campaign. From Arizona State University, available on iTunes.

14. The Architectural Imagination

Interested in architecture? Harvard University offers this course on its basic principles, including an introduction into making your own architectural drawings and models. A good way to see if architecture is the career for you, on EdX or the Harvard University website.

15. Contract Law

Everyone has to deal with contracts at some point in their lives. Every time you download an app, start a new job or buy a home you have to sign some sort of legal agreement. Harvard professor Charles Fried teaches a course covering contract law and how to read contracts to understand their possible consequences. Available on EdX or the Harvard University website.

16. Exposing Digital Photography

If you got a fancy camera for Christmas but still don’t know how to use it, this class from Harvard Extension School instructor should clear things up. Students can learn how to use their camera and work with light to make great shots. The course materials are all available at digitalphotography.exposed.

17. Lighting Essentials

The glamour is in being behind or in front of the camera, but photography and videos both require good lighting. This course, available on iTunes, YouTube and as an iBook, teach the basics of lighting. From the University of New South Wales in Australia.

18. Game Theory

Game theory is the study of decisions. Improve your decision-making with this course from Yale University professor Ben Polak. Lectures are available on YouTube and iTunes.

19. Money Skills

We like to think Credit.com gives you an excellent education on money skills, especially when it comes to building good credit, but if you want more, economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok will take you through investing, real estate, career choices and saving in this course from Marginal Revolution University.

20. Financial Planning & Money Management

Even more on personal financial planning, including taxes, banking and debt management, from Southwestern College, available on iTunes. (By the way, keeping up a good credit score is a big part of debt management. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

21. Personal Finance

This Missouri State University video series takes a different tack, showing you how to set and reach financial goals. Available on iTunes and YouTube.

22. Investment Philosophies

Think you can beat the market? New York University teaches you how to create a sound investment strategy. Available on iTunes.

23. Poker Theory & Analytics

We would never condone gambling, but if you must, at least learn how from an MIT graduate student. This series of lectures also includes guest speaking turns from professional poker players.

24. Child Nutrition & Cooking

Students of this course learn what makes up a healthy diet and how to make nutritious home-cooked meals. Participants will need to sign up for a Coursera account. You can take the course free or pay $39 to receive a certificate upon completion.

25. Adolescent Health & Development

Wondering what the heck is going on with your teen? This course from Johns Hopkins covers puberty, emotional development and more serious ailments that affect young people. Available on iTunes.

26. Introduction to Human Nutrition

This audio course from the University of California at Berkeley covers what your body actually needs. It’s probably not more cake. Available at the Internet Archive.

27. Broadcast Journalism

If Anchorman is your inspiration, learn the ropes with this course from La Trobe University in Australia, which teaches everything from pitching stories to interviewing to reporting spot news. Free on iTunes.

28. Magazine Writing

If you have a true story to tell, this course from Ohio State University will help you turn it into a full-fledged article and get it published. Available on iTunes.

29. The Interview

No, this isn’t that James Franco movie. This course from La Trobe University in Australia will teach you how to interview people in a journalism context, but the skills of asking good questions and putting people at ease can apply anywhere. Available on iTunes.

30. Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full

MIT professor Paola Rebusco, who normally teaches physics, pulls double duty here, teaching the language of Italy via the delicious cuisine of Italy. Course materials available on MIT Open Courseware.

31. Elementary Arabic

You don’t have to pay to learn a foreign language. This Arabic course from Lund University is available as an iTunes podcast.

32. Beginning Chinese

Seton Hall University offers a series of courses on Chinese, from this beginner class to more advanced courses, all on iTunes.

33. Dialogue for German Learners

This course covers everything from German telephone (or in German, “Telefon”) skills to office (“Büro”) conversations. On iTunes from the University of South Wales.

34. Elementary French

Carnegie Mellon offers this course through its Open Learning Initiative. Students should be able to commit at least six hours a week.

35. Spanish Fundamentals

From estar through gustar, this course provides an introduction to Spanish, particularly Spanish grammar. Available on iTunes.

36. Pixar in a Box

Who better to teach the basics of animation than Pixar? This course, offered through Khan Academy, teaches students how to animate things like bouncing balls, robots and fireworks.

37. Becoming the Next Bill Nye

Ever wanted to host your own educational show? MIT offers a class that will teach you the video production techniques to do it. Science rules! Available through MIT Open Courseware.

38. Video Production

This course covers everything from setting up and operation video equipment to writing and shooting. Taught by Iona College and available on iTunes.

39. Introduction to Game Design

Learn how to make your own digital or board game. Units on game design concepts will help make sure it’s actually fun to play. This MIT course isn’t running, but all the materials are still available on EdX.

40. Crisis Management

For any aspiring public relations pros, this course from Missouri State University will show you the ropes on developing a crisis communications plan, just in case the politician you represent says something truly dumb. Available on iTunes.

41. Fundamentals in Public Speaking

It’s many people’s greatest fear. If you share this fear, this course from Missouri State University may help you conquer it, whether you’re giving a wedding toast or a graduation speech. Available on iTunes.

42. A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners

What’s the right thing to do? What makes someone a good person? If you find yourself asking the bigger questions, let Oxford University professor Marianne Talbot be your guide. Available on iTunes and YouTube.

43. Argument Diagramming

People say a lot of crazy stuff. Argument diagramming can help you point out why they are wrong. Available through the Carnegie Mellon Open Course Initiative.

44. Critical Reasoning for Beginners

Another course from Professor Talbot, this course teaches students how to evaluate arguments and make your own reasoning clear. Could be handy negotiating for a higher salary. Available on iTunes.

45. Statistics for Social Scientists

This Duke University course teaches students how social scientists evaluate data. This should make you better able to understand academic research, polls and any other claims based on statistics. Available on iTunes.

46. Building a Business

This series of lectures on YouTube by the University of Oxford tells you how to start your own business.

47. Entrepreneurship & Business

Serial entrepreneur and Carnegie Mellon professor Mark Juliano covers topics like how to write a business plan and how to get funding. Available on iTunes.

48. New Enterprises

This course from MIT is also about starting a business, but focuses more on technology startups, if you’ve got the next Facebook on your hands. Materials available at MIT Open Courseware.

49. Principles of Management

Learn which leadership approaches work best for organizations. This course is from Iona College and is available on iTunes.

50. Real Estate Finance

Want to become a real estate investor? Learn the basics from Professor Joshua Kahr. This course is available on iTunes.

Looking to take some classes to beef up your resume post-graduation? We’ve got a full 50 things recent grads can do to score their first job

Image: SbytovaMN

The post 50 Free Classes That Can Pay Off appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Credit Cards to Help Fund Your Summer Renovations

Big home projects come with a lot of upfront expense, but the right credit card can help you finance the work.

[Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Home renovations and updates come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing they have in common is a lot of upfront expense. Whether you’re landscaping your yard, replacing your hot water heater or remodeling your kitchen this summer, you may need help financing your project.

The right credit card can help you do that. With that in mind, here are five card options worth considering.

1. Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

The Draw: Discounts and special interest-free financing offers

Signup Bonus: None

Annual Fee: None

Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 0% intro APR for qualifying purchase types, then variable 17.99% to 26.99%

Why We Picked It: Home Depot’s credit card can help you fund your project and give you time to pay it off interest-free.

Benefits: For Home Depot purchases of $299 and up, you’ll get six months with no interest. Home Depot also regularly offers promotions of up to 24 months with no interest for various project types, such as garages or water treatment purchases. There are special discounts available for certain products as well. Finally, cardholders get a year of hassle free returns, nine months longer than Home Depot’s standard return policy.

Drawbacks: The card is tied to Home Depot, so if you want to purchase your project materials elsewhere, keep looking.

2. Lowe’s Consumer Credit Card

The Draw: 5% off Lowe’s purchases, 0% intro APR for qualifying purchase types

Signup Bonus: None

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro APR for qualifying purchase types, then 26.99%

Why We Picked It: Lowe’s customers get a 5% discount and long intro periods to pay off their purchases without interest.

Benefits: Purchases of $299 and up qualify for six months interest-free if they’re paid off in that time period. Lowe’s also offers 10% discounts and 24 months interest-free on specific purchase types like patio furniture and grills. Cardholders get 5% off all eligible purchases, but that discount can’t be combined with most other offers.

Drawbacks: Once the interest kicks in, it’s quite high. Those who don’t shop at Lowe’s will see no benefit from this card.

3. Discover it

The Draw: 5% cash back on quarterly rotating purchase categories, 1% cash back on all other purchases

Signup Bonus: Discover will match all cash back earned in the first year.

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro APR for 14 months, then variable 11.74% to 23.74%

Why We Picked It: If you move fast, you can earn 5% cash back on your home improvement purchases.

Benefits: The card earns 5% cash back on rotating purchase categories on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter. Right now, the bonus category includes home improvement stores, but you’ll have to act quickly because the category will roll over in July. The card also offers 0% intro APR for 14 months, a long time to pay off your project. Plus, as we mentioned, Discover will match your earned cash back for the first year.

Drawbacks: If you don’t want to track rotating purchase categories, this card will be a headache. You also need to move quick to take advantage of 5% cash back on home improvement store purchases.

4. Citi Double Cash

The Draw: 1% unlimited cash back on purchases and an additional 1% as you pay off those purchases

Signup Bonus: None

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then variable 14.24% to 24.24%.

Why We Picked It: The card earns 1% cash back on your renovation expenses, then gives you an extra 1% incentive to pay your balance down quickly. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Benefits: By the time you’ve paid off a purchase, it’s earned you a total of 2% cash back, significant for an expensive home renovation project. Plus, Citi Price Rewind automatically searches for a lower price on items you register, and will issue a reimbursement if a lower price is found within 60 days of the date of purchase.

Drawbacks: Because you don’t get a full 2% cash back rate until you pay, this card isn’t a good fit for those that tend to carry a balance.

5. Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Draw: Unlimited 1.5% cash back

Signup Bonus: $150 when you spend $500 in the first three months

Annual Fee: None

APR: 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, then variable 15.74% to 24.49%

Why We Picked It: The card earns an automatic 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and has a lengthy 0% intro APR period.

Benefits: All purchases earn 1.5% cash back, with no purchase categories to track or hoops to jump through. Cardholders also won’t incur interest for 15 months, a substantial time frame to pay off your project.

Drawbacks: This isn’t the highest cash-back rate available.

How to Choose a Credit Card for Your Home Project

The type of renovations you’re doing could determine the right card for your project. For instance, if you’re installing a shed in your backyard, and Home Depot is offering a deep discount on sheds, that might be enough of a draw to choose that card.

However, if your project requires many different purchase types spread across multiple stores, or if you also want a card that you can use for everyday spending, you’re likely better off with a general spending card with cash back rewards.

If you’re looking to take advantage of a 0% intro APR offer, you’ll want to estimate the cost of your project and find a card with a payback period long enough for you to pay off the project in full. Otherwise, you’ll wind up getting hit with interest once the intro period expires.

What Is Required to Get a Card for My Home Project?

Cash-back rewards cards generally require good to excellent credit to qualify, while store branded credit cards may have looser requirements. No matter what card you wind up choosing, you’ll want to be confident you can qualify before you apply. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com to get an idea of where your credit stands and which cards you may be eligible for. Need to improve your scores? You can read more about how to do so here.

Image: shironosov

At publishing time, the Discover it, Citi Double Cash and Chase Freedom Unlimited credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

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

The post 5 Credit Cards to Help Fund Your Summer Renovations appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Ways to Save More Money Every Month

Saving money isn't easy, but it also doesn't have to be hard. Here are some simple ways you can get started.

If saving money was easy, everyone would be doing it. Unfortunately, the excuses for not are easy to stack — what with mortgage or rent, utilities, kids, student loans, pets, food and just the slightest social life, it can seem like there isn’t a penny to spare.

The trick to saving more is to make it simple, make it automatic and make it something you never have to think about. Still not convinced you can hack it? Check out some of these easy ways to save more every month and you might be surprised how much your bank account grows.

1. Sign Up For an Account That Automatically Saves For You

Many banks make it easy for customers to save these days by doing it for them automatically. For example, enroll in Bank of America’s Keep the Change program and for every purchase you make using a Bank of America debit card, the bank will automatically round your purchase to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference from your checking account to your savings. How easy is that? Check with your own bank to see if they offer a similar program.

2. Automate Your Savings Yourself

If you’re more of a “do-it-yourself” kind of person, automate your savings yourself by signing up for a monthly transfer directly from your checking into your savings account. You’ll know the transfer is coming every month, which will make you feel good, but you won’t have to go in and physically make the transfer yourself, which will feel even better. If you can, try setting up multiple savings accounts for your different goals (ie. house, travel, emergency, etc.). By purposefully diverting your hard-earned money into specific buckets, you’ll feel more like you’re working toward an actual goal, rather than just generally saving for a rainy day.

3. Use a Financial App to Track Your Progress

If you find that it’s hard for you to save because you aren’t seeing your progress at any given time unless you log into multiple accounts, there’s an app for that. Download a budgeting app and you can connect all of your banking in one area for ease of use. Don’t feel comfortable with an app? Your bank may offer something similar on their website. Now every time you make a purchase, put money into savings or take cash out of the ATM, you’ll be able to see exactly how your money moves have affected your current savings, goals and budget.

4. Make the Most of Your Credit Cards

If your current credit card isn’t garnering you some type of rewards, it may be time to make a switch. These days, credit cards offer such great incentives through rewards programs, so unless you’re prone to carry a balance on your card from month to month (rewards cards can come with higher annual percentage rates, which can cut into any rewards you earn), you could be missing out on some serious savings. If it’s pure cash that you’re interested in, check out our guide to finding the right cash-back rewards credit card.

5. Learn to Haggle

Remember, cars aren’t the only things you can haggle over. Check with your internet and cable provider and call your cell phone company to see if the price you currently pay is the best they can do. Ask for discounts on items in the grocery or retail stores, too. Take the difference between what you would have been paying and the final price you end up with and stock it away in savings.

6. Avoid Paying ATM Fees

You might think ATM fees aren’t worth worrying about, but those quick trips to the ATM can really add up. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to avoid paying ATM fees.

Remember, you’ll save money on everything from your mortgage and auto loan to credit card interest if your credit scores are good. If you don’t know where yours stand, you can find out by taking a look at your free credit report summary.

Looking for more ideas on how to save each month? Check out these 12 ways to lower your cellphone bill. 

Image: kieferpix

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

The post 6 Ways to Save More Money Every Month appeared first on Credit.com.

Why the “Do Not Call Registry” Can’t Protect You from Spam Phone Calls Anymore

If you’re afraid to answer your phone, you’re hardly alone. Spam calls have become so common that they’ve basically rendered the “phone” part of “smartphone” useless. Or at least, very dumb. But help might, finally, be on the way.

The Do Not Call list, which debuted in 2004, was perhaps the most popular program operated by the U.S. government in decades — 50 million numbers were entered before the list even took effect. Since then, another 170 million numbers were entered into the registry. U.S. telemarketers quickly learned to abide by the list or face multi-million dollar fines the Federal Trade Commission could impose — and there have been more than 100 enforcement actions.

It worked…for a while. But the combination of internet-based telephones and cheap long-distance calls have made it easy for telephone scofflaws to operate overseas, far beyond the reach of U.S. authorities. Unwanted calls have returned with a vengeance, making some wonder if the Do Not Call list works at all.

How bad is the problem? A firm called YouMail Inc. tries to count the number of robocalls that pester Americans, and the statistics are staggering. YouMail claims that 2.5 billion unwanted calls were placed just in April 2017, equaling 7.7 calls per person.

For fun, YouMail breaks down its data by ZIP code, and found that Atlanta wins for most robocalls received, with about 50 million placed just to the 404 area code in April. Another 35 million arrived at Atlanta’s 678 area code. Houston and Dallas area codes came in second and third. New York City’s 917 area code was fifth, with 29 million.

The robocall problem has been intractable for a series of reasons — mainly, because it makes the criminals who run scams like fake IRS debt collection like these a lot of money. But two other technology reasons stick out.

1. Criminals can “spoof” caller ID numbers.

First, it’s become easier for criminals to “spoof” caller ID numbers. That not only keeps consumers from blocking numbers, it can also make them more likely to answer. Calls that appear to come from the recipient’s own area code — or even share the same first six digits of their phone number — suggest a local call, so consumers are tempted to answer.

2. The telecom industry has a hard time stopping suspicious calls.

Second, the telecom industry has avoided implementing technology that would stop many suspicious calls because the firms claim they are legally required to connect calls, and they don’t have the authority to decide what is spam and what isn’t.

Years of frustration and consumer complaints finally nudged the Federal Communications Commission toward action last year, and it created the Robocall Strike Force. In August, tech heavy hitters like AT&T, Google, and Microsoft gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss ideas.

Then in March, with the FCC under new leadership, Chairman Ajit Pai indicated he would go ahead with proposals from the task force. Specifically, he would call for a change in rules that explicitly gave telecom firms the right to cut off spammers.

“Under my proposal, the FCC would give providers greater leeway to block spoofed robocalls. Specifically, they could block calls that purport to be from unassigned or invalid phone numbers — there’s a database that keeps track of all phone numbers, and many of them aren’t assigned to a voice service provider or aren’t otherwise in use,” he wrote in a Medium post explaining the change. “There is no reason why any legitimate caller should be spoofing an unassigned or invalid phone number. It’s just a way for scammers to evade the law.”

Later in March, the FCC approved the proposal. The work isn’t done, however. There’s now a public comment period; a vote to enact the new rules won’t happen until later this year. Then there will be a transition period as carriers implement their spoofed-call-blocking technologies.

How to stop unwanted spam phone calls

Relief is in sight, but it’s not time to turn your ringtone back on just yet. For now, consumers can investigate third-party services like Nomorobo ($2/month, iPhone only, see a review here) or Hiya (free, see iTunes reviews here) that claim to help by using blacklists and other methods to identify spam callers. Some providers and smartphones offer their own free call-blocking options, but they are cumbersome to use. Consumers can Google phone numbers that call, just to see if others have complained online about them. Or simply keep screening those calls for a bit longer.

The post Why the “Do Not Call Registry” Can’t Protect You from Spam Phone Calls Anymore appeared first on MagnifyMoney.