Can You Be Denied a Rental Home Because of Bad Credit?

denied an apartment

The most well-known consequence of having bad credit is trouble getting loans or credit cards, but a low credit score can also make it difficult to find a place to live. Landlords, especially large property-management companies, will likely check your credit report before approving your lease, and there are plenty of negative items that landlords see as deal breakers with potential tenants.

But don’t fret—you may still have options.

Is Bad Credit an Automatic Rejection?

By most landlords’ standards, the minimum credit score to rent an apartment is 620. But many landlords look past the credit score and search for specific activity on a potential tenant’s credit report.

Ben Papale, a real estate broker in Chicago, Illinois, says judgments, tax liens, and collections accounts on utilities are almost always nonstarters, but medical collections and late credit card payments aren’t as problematic in the eyes of a landlord.

Barry Maher, a property manager in Corona, California, says the 2007 recession changed his mind on bad credit. Before, he never looked at applicants with bad credit because plenty of other applicants had good credit. Then suddenly almost all the applicants had a credit problem.

“I started looking at it more closely,” Maher says. “Particularly after the recession hit, I had people who had declared bankruptcy, people who had lost their houses. But I was still able to find some incredibly good people to rent to.”

It can be difficult to get into an apartment with bad credit, but there are a handful of things you can do to improve your approval chances. Use the seven tips below to help you get into that apartment or house you’ve been eyeing.

1. Find an Apartment with No Credit Check or an Independent Owner

Large management companies are less likely to consider applicants with bad credit, so you’ll want to look for a landlord who has a small operation—who maybe owns just a few units or properties.

“They’re a lot more open to considering special considerations,” Papale says. Large management companies are unlikely to make exceptions because that opens them up to the possibility of getting sued if someone in a similar situation applies for an apartment and is denied, Papale says.

If you’re dealing with an individual, rather than a company, you may have an opportunity to tell your story and explain why you’d be a good tenant.

2. Explain in Person

Maher puts a lot of stock in personal interactions. He says he always makes reference calls himself—the one time he didn’t led to a terrible tenant, and he won’t make that mistake again. Now he knows there’s a lot of value in meeting potential renters before deciding.

“If they’re forthcoming and they meet with the person making the final decision to explain their case, they’re way ahead of the game,” Maher says.

Papale recommends renters with bad credit write personal statements to send in with their applications—to put the credit problems in context and make an argument for themselves.

3. Be Open about Your Income and Savings

When explaining your personal situation, proof of a stable income can go a long way. Come prepared with pay stubs, and show you make enough to comfortably pay rent—rent should be less than 30% of your monthly income. Knowing you’re not strapped for cash will be a comfort to your potential landlord.

If you don’t have a steady income but you do have a sizeable bank account, bring bank statements that show you have enough savings to pay at least six months’ worth of rent. A financial cushion is better than nothing, and it may bring an independent owner over to your side.

4. Make Advanced or Larger Payments

Money talks. Just like how showing your income can help your chances of getting into an apartment, making a large advanced payment can be a helpful gesture of good will. Paying a larger deposit than requested or even three months of rent in advance will elevate your renting potential in a landlord’s eyes.

5. Find a Roommate

If you don’t have your heart set on having an apartment to yourself, a roommate can be a good solution while you improve your credit. Find someone who is already secure in their lease you can move in with without needing a credit check. Or find a landlord who will let you move into a new place with only your roommate’s name on the lease.

You can save money by splitting rent with a roommate, and your landlord will feel more comfortable having at least one person with good credit living in the apartment. Just don’t hang your roommate out to dry when rent is due.

6. Consider a Guarantor or Cosigner as a Last Resort

Having a friend or family member cosign on your rental application will make getting into an apartment a lot easier, but it can strain your relationship. If you choose this route, you’ll have to find a cosigner who has a secure income and good credit that they’re willing to put on the line for you.

You also need to be certain you will be able to pay rent every month. Missing a payment means your cosigner will be forced to pay it on your behalf, which can lead to a lack of trust. Nobody wants that, so again: make sure you can pay the rent!

7. Repair Credit for Future Apartment Hunting

Once you’ve gone through all the work to get into an apartment with less-than-ideal credit, take steps to avoid this situation in the future. You can repair your credit in about one to two years if you put your mind to it.

It’s important to check your credit scores before applying for a rental. By doing so, you can not only proactively address any credit issues you have but also make sure you’re accurately representing yourself. Credit scores fluctuate constantly, so keep an eye on your score. You wouldn’t want to fill out an application thinking everything’s fine only to have a landlord think you lied because he found issues with your credit report. Get your credit score for free on Credit.com, with updates every 30 days.

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How Long Does It Take to Get Approved for a Mortgage?

preapproved mortgage

Unless you have a few hundred thousand dollars in cash handy, getting approved for a mortgage is a critical part of purchasing your new home. The mortgage approval process can take anywhere from 30 days to several months, depending on the status of the market and your personal circumstances.

Read on to learn what to expect from the process and what you can do to speed it up.

1. Mortgage Prequalification Letter: 1 to 3 Days

Before you start house hunting, apply for a prequalification letter from a mortgage lender. This will give you a rough estimate of how much a lender could offer you in a mortgage.

Don’t wait on a prequalification letter just because you’re not sure which lender to go with yet. It’s not a contract between you and a lender, so you can get your prequalification letter from one lender and your mortgage from another.

Getting a prequalification letter takes one to three days, and it’s surprisingly simple. All you need to do is provide a lender your best guess on your income, credit history, assets, debt, and down payment. The more accurate your response, the more accurate your prequalification will be, but most lenders won’t require any documentation at this phase.

However, when you’re shopping for a home, it’s important to know where you stand financially. Look at your credit reports, bank statements, outstanding debts, and credit scores. If you don’t know what your credit profile looks like, check Credit.com’s free credit report.

2. Mortgage Preapproval: 3 Days to Several Months

While a prequalification letter is handy, you’ll need preapproval for a mortgage when you’re serious about buying a home. Most home sellers will require you to have preapproval before considering your offer. Preapproval can also speed up your final mortgage approval, so if you want to get into a home quickly, don’t wait on this step.

A wide range of complicating factors means that preapproval for a mortgage could take as short as three days to as long as several months. Personal issues like a low credit scoreprevious short sales, previous foreclosures, and outstanding debt with the Internal Revenue Service can elongate the process, so be up-front with your lender about these potential problems.

To speed up the process, prepare your important financial documentation to submit to your lender. Your lender can tell you exactly what they require, but the following documents are common:

  • Driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • Most recent 2 months of bank statements
  • Most recent 30 days of pay stubs
  • Most recent 2 years of W-2s
  • Most recent 2 years of federal tax returns

Along with these documents, your lender will also pull a credit report. All of this allows them to give you a very clear picture of exactly the type of mortgage they can provide. This will be documented in a preapproval letter, which is valid for about 60 to 90 days.

3. Mortgage Final Approval: Up to Two and a Half Weeks

Once you make an offer on a home and it’s accepted, it’s finally time to start on the final approval for your mortgage. Because you already provided your lender with your financial information, this part of the process is much less involved.

Before giving final approval, the lender will conduct an appraisal on the house, which verifies the home’s market value. House appraisals protect lenders from offering mortgages that are too exorbitant for the house’s worth.

The tricky part of an appraisal is scheduling a licensed appraiser to look at the house. It’s reasonable to assume the appraiser will already be booked out for the next two weeks, but once the house is appraised, the final mortgage approval can be processed within two days. So in total, it can take about two and a half weeks for final approval on a mortgage.

A Loan Officer’s Take

Three days is the fastest loan officer Scott Sheldon has ever seen someone get approved for a mortgage.

“He had every single iota of possible documentation you could imagine up front,” says Sheldon, who’s a senior loan officer in Santa Rosa, California. That three-day turnaround was unusual, but so was the time it took roughly two months to get mortgage approval.

“If the borrower was just a little bit more transparent up front, we probably wouldn’t have had that,” Sheldon says. “Many times, the documentation and supply opens up more questions.”

Sheldon says consumers often expect preapproval in a day, but that’s not enough time to thoroughly complete the process, especially if important documentation hasn’t been provided.

“My best advice to buyers is let your lender preapprove you—give them at least 72 hours to really preapprove you with all your financial documents, including a credit report,” Sheldon says. “It’s only as good as the information we put in there.”

You don’t want to miss out on your dream home because you were waiting on mortgage preapproval. If you’re about to start house hunting, prepare now by getting your finances organized and your documentation ready to send to your lender when the time comes.

Image: istock

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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5 Ways an Identity Thief Can Use Your Social Security Number

Man's hand holding Social Security card. Computer theft on laptop.

Having your Social Security number or card stolen isn’t quite like getting your bank account information taken—though granted, both are stressful experiences. The major difference is that you can get a new bank account number, while the Social Security Administration very rarely issues new Social Security numbers.

Why You Need a Social Security Number

If you’re unsure what an SSN is, the Social Security Administration loosely defines it as a nine-digit number for identity-tracking purposes. Whenever you start a new job or apply for government benefits, you need your Social Security number: it will be used to verify your identity and record earnings. You can locate your Social Security number on your Social Security card—if you can’t find your card, make sure you reach out to the Social Security Administration directly.

How Social Security Number Theft Occurs

How someone finds out and steals your identity (or Social Security number) can happen in a variety of ways. They could gain your Social Security number by exploiting data breaches, sifting through the trash for personal documents, or using any number of other approaches. The thieves can then sell your identity to the highest bidder on the dark web.

What Happens When Someone’s Identity Is Stolen

Once an identity thief has your Social Security number, they can commit all sorts of financial fraud with it, potentially leaving you on the hook for their misconduct.

Look at it this way: Social Security numbers are wrapped up in most aspects of Americans’ lives—employment, medical history, taxes, education, bank accounts, and so on. Below is a list of just a few things someone can do with your SSN if they get their hands on it.

1. Open Financial Accounts

Your Social Security number is the most important piece of personal information a bank needs when extending you credit or opening an account. With that number, a thief can get credit cards or loans, and when it comes time to repay them, they won’t, damaging your credit in the process. Those missed payments are tied to your Social Security number, so they’ll end up on your credit report and could impact your ability to apply for any type of loan or new account in the future.

Once you spot suspicious transactions, you can use your credit scores and credit reports to detect fraud and put an end to it. Unfortunately, it could take years for the fraudulent information to be removed from your credit report and, as a result, for your credit scores to recover.

2. Get Medical Care

Someone using your Social Security number could also undergo medical treatment, effectively tainting your medical records. Inaccurate medical records can have deadly consequences—for example, imagine what could happen if you received treatment based on a false history listing the wrong blood type. Additionally, it’s possible for thieves to poach your health insurance coverage, which could leave you in a bind when you need it.

3. File a Fraudulent Tax Refund

Taxpayer identity theft is a growing problem. Identity thieves use stolen Social Security numbers to get a fraudulent refund, which then delays any refund the victim is rightfully owed. In 2016, the IRS identified $227 million lost in fraudulent tax returns, and this issue is bound to become even more problematic in the wake of massive data breaches like the 2017 Equifax hack.

So the sooner you file your taxes, the more likely you’ll get your refund before an identity thief has an opportunity to take advantage of your stolen identity. You’ll know someone stole your identity if your return is rejected as a duplicate—then you get to start the process of resolving the fraud and, if necessary, getting the refund you deserve.

4. Commit Crimes

Getting your Social Security number might just be a fraction of the thief’s crimes. If the identity thief gets arrested for another crime and gives your Social Security number to law enforcement, you’ve become tangled in their criminal history. Their criminal record could prevent you from getting jobs or interfere with anything else that requires a criminal background check.

5. Steal Your Benefits

A thief could also use your Social Security number to file for unemployment or Social Security benefits, depleting those resources and preventing you from accessing that assistance when you need it later on.

How to Find Out If Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen

Thieves can operate under your identity for years without discovery, and some of these crimes are very difficult to detect. One of the best things you can do is regularly check a free credit report. Review your credit report thoroughly for unauthorized accounts or public records not related to you. These red flags could indicate clerical errors or identity theft. Either way, you want to watch out for it and act as soon as you see something suspicious. You can also check out these other ways you can find out if you’re a victim of identity theft. 

Image: istock 

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Why October’s the Best Time to Start Looking for Your First Home

Fall may be the best time to look for a house
iStock

As the leaves start to fall and the air gets autumn-crisp, the housing market cools down. But if you’re ready to buy your first home, there may be no hotter time to start the search.

Trulia, an online real estate resource for homebuyers and renters, recently released a report concluding that October is the best month for starter-level home-hunting. The organization found that starter-home supply peaks in October and rises 7 percent in the fall months, compared with the spring. That results in home prices that are 4.8 percent and 3.1 percent lower

in the winter and spring, respectively, than in the summer, the busiest home-buying season.

The Trulia report aligns with an analysis released recently by ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate database. ATTOM reported that home buyers get the best deals in February, when the median home price is 6.1 percent less than the rest of the year, on average. These findings were based on public home-selling data from 2000 to 2016.

Buying a home could be a long process. If you are going to seal the deal in February, you need to be making offers in December or January, which means you should start looking as early as October or November, said Daren Blomquist, ATTOM’s senior vice president.

How the fall housing market aids first-time buyers

The fall house-hunting guidance holds particularly true for first-time buyers, many of whom tend to be young professionals without children, experts say.

“They are not as tied to the school calendar,” said George Ratiu, managing director of quantitative and commercial research of the National Association of Realtors. Conventional wisdom says the fall season is the best time for first-time buyers to look for houses because home prices are likely to drop as more houses come on the market and families with children have either moved or stopped looking.

People searching for starter homes also enjoy more flexibility than existing homeowners looking to move.

“The catch-22 is that if it’s a good time to buy in the fall, it’s a bad time to sell,” Blomquist said. “So it’s kind of a wash for move-up buyers. Whereas first-time home buyers don’t have to worry about the selling of the equation.”

New buyers still face many obstacles

However, it can still be a challenging market for first-time home buyers, and it’s getting tougher, experts say.

Supply and demand

Nationally, housing supply has been shrinking over the past few years. It has tightened even more in 2017 than in previous years. Existing homes available for sale at the end of August fell 2.1 percent to 1.88 million and were down 6.5 percent from last August, according to the NAR.

It would take 4.2 months for the houses on the market to be sold at the current pace, down from 4.5 months a year ago. (Six months is considered a balanced buyer-seller market.)

But the demand for housing has been growing as a result of an improving economy and increasing job opportunities.

“Prices had nowhere to go but up,” Ratiu said. Homebuyers “have more money, but there are not enough homes on the market, and the price of homes has outpaced their income, which makes it hard for them buy.”

Nationally, the August median sales price of existing homes, which starter buyers tend to purchase, was $253,500, 5.6 higher percent than last August, according to the Realtors’ association. Meanwhile, wage growth remained fairly stagnant, at around 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

The NAR on Tuesday reported that Pending Home Sales, a future-looking indicator, fell 2.6 percent in August compared with last year — its lowest reading since January 2016.

“When I see pending sales declining, it’s likely sales for the next month will be down,” Ratiu said.

Ratiu said that much of the declining sales was the result of the housing shortage, which indicates that people looking to buy may not be able to find a house. But if they can buy, fall months are still a good time to snag a suitable home, Ritiu said, because the slow sales season gives starter home buyers that edge in a tough seller’s market.

“If first-time homebuyers are competing with buyers who have bigger down payments, which typically you would have with a move-up buyer, they are going to lose out more often than not in that situation,” Blomquist said. “So if they are willing to buy when other buyers are dormant or in hibernation, then they could get an edge and face less competition.”

Tougher lending standards

Tougher lending standards since the financial crisis have have hit hard among first-time buyers, who made up 31 percent of all homebuyers in August, the NAR reported. The median down payment percentage in the second quarter of 2017 rose to its highest in nearly three years, at 7.3 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from last year’s 5.9 percent, according to ATTOM.

This means if you buy a home for $200,000, you would have to put down $14,600 today versus last year’s $11,800.

To put that in perspective, at the peak of the last housing boom in 2006, before the financial crisis, the median down payment percentage for houses sold nationwide was 2.1 percent, Blomquist said.

There are good reasons why the down payment percentage rose, but it puts a huge financial burden on college graduates and young professionals coming into a pricey real estate market while carrying an average student loan debt of more than $35,000, experts say. (On that topic, here are some important things to know if you have student loan debt and are buying a house.)

Trulia reported that first-time homebuyers need to allocate nearly 40 percent of their monthly paycheck to buy a starter home, up from 31 percent in 2013.

Factors to consider when buying your first home

Seasonality is just a piece of the puzzle in homebuying — the biggest factor people should consider is affordability, Blomquist said.

“You’ve got to look at your finances and determine if it’s a good financial decision for you to buy a home,” he said.

Also recommended: Weigh the pros and cons of buying versus renting, as it sometimes makes sense to rent, depending on your long-term plans. If you are looking to buy your first home in the coming months, you can check out this guide for first-time homebuyers to help you through the long and complicated process.

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No, Equifax Is Not Calling You. Watch Out for Scam Phone Calls After the Data Breach

Source: iStock

Less than a week after the Equifax data breach was made public, it seems scammers are already looking for opportunities to prey on concerned consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission posted a scam alert Thursday warning consumers to not give their personal information to anyone who calls and claims to be an Equifax representative. Over the summer, hackers breached the Atlanta-based credit bureau’s database and accessed the personal information of about 143 million consumers, including sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

But Equifax is not calling those affected by the breach, so if you get a phone call from someone saying they represent Equifax and want to verify your account information, the FTC advises you hang up. It’s ironic, in a way, to target victims by posing as a concerned Equifax representative. The company has been criticized widely for its sluggish response to the breach, which occurred sometime between mid-May and July but wasn’t discovered until July 29 and wasn’t announced until more than a month later.

In response to the security failure, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has demanded Equifax answer several questions about the breach, including why the company put off announcing the breach for so long. Equifax has until Sept. 22 to respond to the committee’s questions, and the committee plans to hold hearings on the breach in September or October.

In a company statement, Equifax CEO Richard Smith said the breach was a “disappointing event.”

“Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight,” he added. “While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more. And we will.”

In the breach, people’s Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and other personally identifiable information (PII) were compromised, so it’s understandable you’d be worried and are looking for help.

Here’s what you can do to take control of protecting your identity.

Assume you’re affected

While you can go to Equifax’s website and go through a multistep process to see if your information has been compromised, you can also just assume someone has their hands on your personal information. (It’s also worth noting the Equifax site reportedly isn’t reliable for telling you if you’re affected, and many consumers have reported the site is slow to load or doesn’t load at all.) Even if you weren’t among the 143 million whose personal information was compromised in this breach (and the odds aren’t in your favor), chances are it has been or will be in a breach at a different company or organization. With that in mind, you’ll want to focus on how to detect signs of identity theft and how to respond to them.

Monitor your credit

Equifax responded to the breach by offering free credit and identity monitoring to everyone — not just those affected — for a year through TrustedID Premier. You must go to equifaxsecurity2017.com to enroll, which requires entering your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. You’ll then be given an enrollment date, which may be several days after you start the enrollment process, at which point you can return to the site to continue enrollment. You’ll need to set a reminder to continue the process, as Equifax won’t send you a notification when it’s time.

You have many other ways to find out if someone has misused your personal information. Several companies offer free credit scores — Credit Karma, Discover, Capital One, Mint, LendingTree (our parent company), etc. — either to everyone or to their customers. To help you choose, we put together this guide to getting your free credit score. Credit Karma also offers a free credit monitoring service, and Discover cardmembers can sign up for alerts when their Social Security numbers are detected on suspicious websites. You can also pay for credit monitoring services from a number of providers, including the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, as well as credit scoring giant FICO.

Consider a credit freeze

You can also freeze your credit so no one, not even you, can apply for new credit using your information. If you do this, you have to initiate a freeze with each of three major credit bureaus, as well as “thaw” each report when you want to apply for a new credit account. Every time you freeze and thaw your credit you may be charged a fee, which varies by state. This only protects you from credit fraud and does not prevent things like taxpayer identity theft, criminal identity theft, medical identity theft, and insurance identity theft.

On Sept. 15, Equifax announced it is waiving the fee for removing and placing credit freezes on Equifax credit reports through Nov. 21, 2017. Anyone who paid for an Equifax freeze at or after 5 p.m. EDT on Sept. 7 will receive a refund, the company said.

Have a plan for responding to identity theft

One of the best ways you can prepare for identity theft is to detect it early. After that, you need to know how to resolve it. You can do this yourself by filing a police report, disputing fraudulent accounts on your credit reports, and making the phone calls necessary to correct any problems stemming from the fraud. Or you could pay someone to help you with this time-consuming task. Check with your employer to see if they offer identity theft insurance or identity theft resolution services as an employee benefit, and if not, consider paying for it.

We’ve rounded up the best identity theft resolution services here.

More than anything, remain calm as you sort through the fallout of this breach. Focus on making a plan for protecting yourself from and responding to identity theft and making sure you only deal with trustworthy service providers.

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Higher Student Loan Rates Take Effect in July. Here’s What That Means for Borrowers

For the first time since 2014, the interest rates on federal student loans are going up.

For the first time since 2014, the interest rates on federal student loans are going up. Loans disbursed between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 will carry the new rates, which are 0.69 percentage points higher than those of federal loans that have gone out since July 1, 2016. Here are the new rates:

  • Direct subsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 4.45%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for undergraduate borrowers: 4.45%
  • Direct unsubsidized loans for graduate or professional student borrowers: 6%
  • Direct PLUS loans for graduate and professional student borrowers: 7%

Why Did the Interest Rates Change?

Legislation that went into effect in 2013 tied federal student loan interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note. Every year, the undergraduate loan rates are calculated by adding 2.05 percentage points to the high yield of the 10-year note at the last auction prior to June 1. Add 3.6 percentage points to the high yield to determine unsubsidized graduate loan rates, and for PLUS loans, add 4.6 percentage points.

How the Rate Change Affects You

If you’re getting a federal student loan in the next year, these are the rates you’ll pay for the life of the loan. Borrowers with existing federal student loans won’t experience a rate change, unless they have a variable interest rate, which is rare.

While the rates have gone up, they could be much worse: The 2013 legislation caps federal student loan interest rates at 8.25% for undergraduates, 9.5% for unsubsidized graduate loans and 10.5% for PLUS loans. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the benchmark rate has remained historically low, but if it rises, future student loan borrowers will pay. So if you’re going to college in the next few years, or will borrow on behalf of someone who is, keep tabs on the 10-year Treasury yield.

How to Change Your Student Loan Interest Rates

Whether you’re a new borrower or have been repaying student loans for a few years, you should know there are a few options for changing the interest rates on your student loans.

You could apply for a federal Direct consolidation loan, which combines multiple eligible loans into a single loan. The interest rate on that loan is the average weighted interest rate of the loans you consolidated, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of 1%. Whether this strategy will save you money on interest depends on the balances and interest rates of the loans you’re consolidating.

Let’s say you have three loans with the following balances and interest rates: $3,500 at 4.66%, $6,500 at 4.29% and $7,500 at 3.76%. The weighted average interest rate of those loans is 4.14%. But if you switch the interest rates on the largest and smallest loan balances, the weighted average would be 4.36%. The math matters when considering consolidation.

You could also refinance your student loans at a lower rate with a private lender (there’s no federal refinancing option beyond consolidation), but you will lose many of the benefits federal student loans offer, like income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.

There’s also a simpler way to cut your student loan rates: Set up automatic payments. The savings may not be as significant as they can be with consolidation or refinancing, but most student loan servicers offer a rate discount to borrowers who enroll in auto-debit. If you’re looking for other ways to make your loan payments more affordable, here’s a list of your options.

It’s crucial you stay on top of your student loans, as missing payments can trash your credit and result in significant financial obstacles. You can see how your student loans and other accounts affect your credit by reviewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Image: diego_cervo

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13 Confusing Student Loan Terms You Need to Know

It's important you understand your student loans, and that starts with learning the meaning of the terms you're likely to encounter in the student-loan worl

There’s no need to sugarcoat it: Student loans are complicated, and everyone from new borrowers to those who’ve been paying them for more than a decade find them confusing. As much as you might want to not think about them, it’s important you understand your student loans, and that starts with knowing the meaning of the terms you’re likely to encounter in the student-loan world. Here are 13 confusing loan terms you need to know.

1. Servicer

Your student loan servicer is the company to whom you send your student loan payments. It may or may not be the place you got your student loans in the first place, and your servicer could change as you repay your loans. Federal loan borrowers can find out their student loan servicer by logging into the National Student Loan Data System. If you have private student loans, your student loan servicer is the institution from which you borrowed the money.

2. Repayment Options

Federal student loan borrowers can pay back their student loans in several ways, and they can change their plan at any time for free (though it can take some time). The options include plans that allow you to lower your payments based on your income and plans that allow you to spread out your payments over a longer term. You can read more about your student loan repayment options here.

3. Forbearance

Forbearance is a temporary suspension or reduction of your student loan payments when you are unable to make payments as a result of financial problems, medical expenses, unemployment or “other reasons acceptable to your loan servicer,” according to the Education Department. Your loan will continue to accrue interest during this time and will be added to the principal balance when you exit forbearance. You must apply for forbearance. There are several circumstances under which your servicer is required to grant forbearance (mandatory forbearance), including a medical or dental internship or residency, National Guard duty and many others. You can only receive forbearance for 12 months at a time. If you have a private student loan, check with your lender to see if they offer forbearance.

4. Deferment

Deferment is a temporary suspension or reduction of your student loan payments during certain situations like unemployment, economic hardship, enrollment in school or active military duty, among others. You are not responsible for paying the interest that accrues on some student loans during deferment, but you are for most. You must request deferment, and you can stay in deferment as long as you meet the requirements. If you have a private student loan, check with your lender to see if they offer deferment.

5. Student Loan Forgiveness

There are several programs that allow you to get rid of some or all of your federal student loans, and you can read about them here. Keep in mind you may have to pay taxes on the forgiven balance, as the IRS may see it as income.

6. Delinquency

You are delinquent on a student loan when you haven’t made a payment on your student loans for 30 or more days since your last payment’s due date. Your student loan servicer will most likely report the late payment to the major credit reporting agencies, which will hurt your credit. (You can see how your student loans affect your credit standing by viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.) Delinquency also tends to come with late fees.

7. Auto Debit

Many student loan servicers call automatic payments “auto debit,” meaning your payment is automatically taken from your bank account on the due date every month. You can often get an interest rate reduction by enrolling in auto debit. It’s usually at least 0.25 percentage points.

8. Default

Default means you have not made student loan payments in a long time, and as a result, your entire student loan balance is now due. Your loan will have likely been sent to a debt collector at this point. For federal student loans, you enter default after you’ve failed to make a payment for more than 270 days. That time period is generally shorter for private student loans. You can learn more about the (very) negative consequences of student loan default here, as well as how to recover from it.

9. Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans means taking out a new loan to pay off your existing loans, ideally to make your loans more affordable. For example, you can take out a student loan that has a lower interest rate than the average interest rate of all your existing student loans, which can save you money over the life of the loan. Student loan refinancing requires taking out a private student loan, as the federal government offers no refinancing option. You could also refinance a student loan by paying it off with a home equity line of credit.

10. Consolidation

A federal consolidation loan combines all your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with one payment. The interest rate on that loan is the weighted average of all the included loans’ interest rates, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.

11. Subsidized

With a subsidized loan, the government pays the interest on your student loan while you are in school or in deferment.

12. Unsubsidized

With an unsubsidized loan, you are responsible for all the interest that accrues on your loan during school, deferment and forbearance. If you do not pay the interest during that time, it is added to your principal loan balance.

13. Capitalized Interest

Any interest you accrue while not in repayment can be added to your principal balance, meaning you will pay interest on top of that interest. That’s capitalized interest.

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7 Money Tips Every College Graduate Needs

Yes, you need to find a job and a place to live, but don't let that throw a wrench in your budget.

While senior year of college is hectic, it’s crucial for new grads to stay on top of their finances. Sure, you need to find a job and a place to live, but you can’t wait until those things fall in line to start paying attention to your bills and your budget. Of course, that’s exactly what some people do, which can lead to debt, a lack of savings and credit problems.

To help you (or the new grad in your life) stay focused, we put together a list of money tips to keep in mind during the transition from college student to full-time adult. We asked Alex Sadler, managing editor of personal finance site Clark.com and the money-basics series “Common Cents,” to share her top tips for managing money after college.

1. Spend Less Than You Make

This one sounds obvious, but it’s easy to lose control when you have an apartment to furnish, want to live a vibrant social life or haven’t quite gotten the hang of grocery shopping. And to know whether or not you’re spending less than you make, you have to track your spending.

“It’s easier said than done, but it’s something you can live by for the rest of your life,” Sadler said. “If more is going out than coming in, find ways to pick up extra cash.”

Keep in mind a large component of spending less than you make is saving properly. Sadler suggested automating your savings by participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, especially if your employer offers a savings match. You may also be able to set up automatic transfers to a savings account, so you’re less able to money on things you don’t need.

2. Don’t Ignore Your Student Loans

A huge part of spending less than you make is knowing your exact expenses. If you’re like most college students, you have student loans to repay soon. Even if your first payment isn’t due for a few months, you need to know what you’re dealing with now.

“Most college graduates don’t know how much they owe until their first bill comes in the mail,” Sadler said. And because of accrued interest, you may owe more than you recall borrowing. “Figure out exactly how much you owe and what your options are: Do you qualify for loan forgiveness? Income-based repayment?” Your student loan repayment options vary depending on the kind of loans you have. Get a handle on them now, so you don’t miss a payment and damage your credit. Here’s a helpful guide to understanding student loan repayment.

3. Know You’re on Your Own

Being responsible with money doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun, but it is on you to understand how to balance your needs and wants.

“Nobody wants to say, ‘I’m on a budget, I can’t go out,’ or ‘I can’t do that, I’m on a budget,’ when you’re 22 and you’re super excited about being in the real world,” Sadler said. At the same time, you have to own your decisions. “At some point, there won’t be anyone there to help you. Once you figure that out, it gives you a sense of motivation to really have control of your money, and it motivates you to understand the fact that money is what gives you freedom in life.”

4. Pay Attention Now — Or Regret It Later

“How you handle your money in your early 20s is so much more important than you realize at the time,” Sadler said. “Those choices will impact your finances for the next 10 to 15 years.”

Sadler speaks from experience. In her early 20s, Sadler had a couple hundred dollars on a store credit card that she ignored. She let the late payments stack up, which is one of the worst things you can do to your credit. “When I realized it at like 26 or 27, I paid it off in full, but there’s nothing you can do about those late payments,” she said. “I’ve fixed it, but it took a lot.”

A lot of young people adopt the mindset that they’ll pay off debt or save more later when they have more money. “But later never comes,” Sadler said.

5. Plan for Everything

You’ll never have more time in front of you than now, so start planning. Incorporate long-term goals like buying a house or saving for retirement into your regular budget, as well as short-term goals like vacation or large purchases. Planning ahead is the only way you can make those goals happen.

“I was knocked upside the head in my 20s when I asked my dad for $1,000 to go to a bachelorette party in Mexico,” said Sadler. “He looked at me and said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ And I said, ‘I can’t pay for it.’ And he said, ‘Then you can’t go.’ ”

Doing the things you want to do requires discipline and may involve more planning than you realize. “It’s not never going out or eating ramen noodles, but it’s paying attention,” Sadler said.

6. Manage Your Basic Expenses

Maybe you feel like there’s hardly any money left over for fun things after you’ve budgeted for bills and loan payments. Remember, you’re not necessarily stuck with those fixed expenses. Sadler recommended re-evaluating your cellphone plan, shopping around for competitive insurance rates and finding cheaper entertainment options, whether that means cutting a subscription or switching service providers. The research is worth the time if the savings can give you more flexibility.

7. Get a Credit Card & Use It Responsibly

Your credit standing plays more of a role in your day-to-day life than you may realize. It factors into your insurance premiums in most states, affects your ability to get an apartment and can even come into play when you’re getting a new job. If you haven’t started building credit, now’s the time to start. You can see where your credit stands and track your progress toward a better credit score with a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com

Sadler emphasized the importance of using a credit card wisely and cautiously: “You need to pay the balance in full every month to avoid interest, so just use it to charge things you know you can pay off,” she said. “Understand the implications of using a credit card irresponsibly — one missed payment can seriously damage your credit.”

Want more guidance on how to be financially responsible after college? Here are 50 smart money moves to make before (or right after) you graduate.

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The post 7 Money Tips Every College Graduate Needs appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Questions to Ask About Student Loans Before You Graduate

Graduation's around the corner, so don't put off asking the hard questions about how to handle your student loan debt.

It may not be your first priority, but preparing to repay your student loans should be on your pre-graduation to-do list. How you manage your student loan payments will shape your finances for decades to come, so know what you’re dealing with before you get swept up in the day-to-day demands of post-graduate life.

Before you leave school, also make sure you know the answers to the following questions. Good news: We’re giving you them (or at least telling how to find them on your own).

1. What Kind of Loans Do I Have?

You either have private student loans or federal loans. You can look up your federal loans using the National Student Loan Data System (NLDS). You should have the paperwork from your lender or student loan servicer (private and federal) from when you took out the loan. Private loans generally come from traditional banking institutions, while federal loans are issued by the government. Common federal loans include Direct subsidized loans, Direct unsubsidized loans and Perkins loans.

2. Whom Do I Owe?

You can find this information in the resources referenced above. Your financial aid office should have information on file as well, since they receive the money. If you haven’t gone through student loan exit counseling at school, you need to before you graduate. They’ll explain whom to pay, and it’s the perfect time to ask any questions. Once you know who’s managing your loans, set up an online account to access all your information.

3. What Are My Repayment Options?

This depends on the type of loans you have. Private student loan repayment tends to follow a typical installment loan repayment structure, in which you make monthly payments for a fixed loan term. Federal student loans offer more options. The default play is called standard repayment: fixed monthly payments for 10 years. If you want a lower monthly payment when you start out, you can change your repayment plan at any time for free, though the change may not take effect immediately. If you want to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, graduated repayment or extended repayment, be sure to request a new plan through your student loan servicer as soon as you can. You can learn more about student loan repayment options here.

4. How Much Are My Monthly Payments?

For loans with a set repayment term, the payment will be the same every month if you have a fixed-interest rate (as all federal loans do), or your monthly payment amount will change if you have a variable-interest rate (as some private loans do). Monthly payments through income-driven plans will depend on how much money you make. You should be able to get this information from your lender or servicer.

5. When’s My First Payment Due?

Federal student loans generally have a grace period of six months, meaning your first payment comes due six months after you graduate, leave school or drop below half-time enrollment. Some grace periods are nine months. If you have a private lender, you may not have a grace period — find out as soon as possible.

6. How Do I Pay?

You’ll start hearing from your lender or servicer soon if you haven’t already. Like most bills, you can go the old-school route of sending a check, or you can pay online. Keep in mind you don’t have to wait till your grace period ends to make a payment, and you can also enroll in automatic payments to make sure you don’t miss any. On that note: You don’t want to miss any student loan payments, because it will damage your credit, and your credit score plays a role in how much you pay for other credit products, as well as renting a home or buying a cellphone. You can keep tabs on how your student loans are affecting your credit by getting two free credit scores every month on Credit.com. If you’re thinking about getting a credit card after college, here are a few good options for new grads.

7. What’s My Interest Rate?

This should be in your loan paperwork and in your online account. Make sure you know if it’s a fixed- or variable-interest rate.

8. How Can I Make Repaying My Loans Easier?

If you have multiple federal student loans, which most borrowers do, you can consider consolidating them. With a federal Direct consolidation loan, you can qualify for certain loan forgiveness and loan repayment options (though you may not have to consolidate to qualify), and you’ll only have to make one monthly payment, rather than several to multiple servicers.

You could also consider refinancing multiple loans with a private lender, but know that you’ll be giving up many of the benefits that come with federal loans if you do this. There is no federal refinancing option. You can also enroll in automatic payments to make your life a little easier — just be sure to check that it goes through every month and that your bank account has enough money to cover the bill.

9. How Can I Make My Loans More Affordable?

Among the benefits previously noted, enrolling in automatic payments usually gets you a 0.25% discount on your interest rate. Private loan refinancing could also help you save money if you have good credit and can qualify for a lower interest rate. Additionally, changing your repayment plan to a longer term or an income-driven plan can lower your monthly payments.

There’s another way to look at loan affordability: long-term savings. For example, all the interest your loan accrued while you were in school will be added to the principal once your grace period expires, meaning you’ll have to pay interest on interest. You can avoid this by paying off the interest before your first loan payment comes due. You can also pay more than your minimum payment each month, which can help you pay off your loans early.

Student loans can be complicated, so reach out to your student loan servicer if you have questions. Conversely, if you’re having issues with your student loan servicer, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Credit.com can offer help with your student loans, too. If you have questions about them or other money stuff, leave your questions in the comments. 

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The Average Student Loan Debt in Every State

Borrowers in the class of 2015 had an average of $30,100 in student loan debt. We break down the average debt in each state.

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