3 Apps That Can Help You Craft an Ironclad Business Plan

Developing a solid business plan is your first step toward launching a successful startup.

The first step on the road to creating a successful startup is developing a solid business plan. This document should map out your plan for growth over the next three to five years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Your business plan is important for getting investors on board so you don’t need to fund your dream entirely on credit cards or loans from family and friends. (Your credit score helps determine how much you’ll be able to borrow. Check two of your scores with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

Documenting every aspect of your company is a daunting prospect, but there are business plan apps and software programs out there that can make the process a bit easier. Here are few to consider.

1. The Small Business Administration’s Business Plan Tool

Cost: Free

Creating a clear business plan that identifies what makes your company special is one of the most important steps for a startup company, according to the SBA. There’s a lot of ground to cover and knowing where to start is often a challenge.

Using a generic plan template helps focus your thinking by making it easier to define the important aspects of your business, including management structure, product lines, sales strategies and financial projections. SCORE, a nonprofit association established to help small businesses get started, offers free templates.

The SBA goes further, offering its free online Business Plan Tool. You start by creating an account, then the tool provides step-by-step guidance for the creation of your plan. All content is secure, and you have the option to update your plan whenever necessary, which is important as your company grows and adapts. You can save your plan as a PDF file for easy distribution.

2. Business Plan Premier

Cost: $9.99

Business Plan Premier is an app for iPad by AppIt Ventures LLC. It provides features for organizing your ideas into a logically formatted business plan. The interface breaks the plan into sections you can access from a list of tabs on the side of the screen. Selecting a tab brings up a series of questions, edit boxes and instructions for creating a detailed, coherent plan. Every edit box also has an “example” button, which displays a comprehensive example of what the content for that section should include.

When you’re finished, you have the option to export your plan as a formatted PDF or Word document to email to investors and partners. You can also upload your plan to Dropbox.

3. LivePlan

Cost: $19.95 per month; $11.66 per month if you elect to pay annually

One of the main hurdles when writing a business plan is providing all the necessary information in a structured format that investors and potential business partners can access immediately. Various apps and software applications make it easier to organize your thoughts, but don’t necessarily focus on the most important aspects of your business, making it more difficult to define what makes you stand out.

LivePlan by Palo Alto Software Inc. is a web-based subscription service with a rolling monthly charge. The service maintains the “fill-in-the-blanks” simplicity of many other programs but also provides access to more than 500 business plan templates and examples for creating a plan that accurately defines your business structure and goals.

After setting up a new business, you have the option of using LivePlan Pitch to create a one-page summary of your strategy before making your plan by working through a series of steps with the option to customize sections. LivePlan handles financial projections, generating charts based on your data without the need for spreadsheets and formulas. The tool’s Benchmarks system lets you use real data from competitors to see how your plan stacks up. Once your business is up and running, the LifePlan Scoreboard tracks your accounting information.

It’s important to read the terms and conditions of any app or software platform you’re considering to be sure you understand the costs and if it’s right for you. You can also vet services by reading online reviews or checking out a particular company on the Better Business Bureau website.

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4 Credit Cards That’ll Cut You Some Slack

Some credit cards won't penalize you for every mistake you make (though it's still best to use your plastic wisely).

[Full Disclosure: Cards for our partners are mentioned below.]

Mismanaging your credit cards can really cost you. Go over your credit limit and you’ll get hit with a fee. Need to transfer a high-interest balance? You’ll pay a fee. Miss a payment? Incur a fee — and a penalty annual percentage rate (APR).

Some credit cards, however, will give you a pass from time to time — at least as far as fees and those pesky penalty APRs are concerned. Credit scoring consequences will still apply, which is why you’ll want to do your very best not to get into trouble. (You can see how your card use is affecting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.) Still, it’s nice to know that not every mistake will cost you. Credit card late fees, after all, can run you $25 to $37 and penalty APRs are no joke — industry standard is around a variable 29.99%.

Expert Intel: Some issuers will forgo reporting a first missed payment to the credit bureaus, too, if you call them up and plead your case. (Accidents happen, you know?) Habitual offenders, however, shouldn’t expect their issuer to acquiesce.

With that in mind, here are four credit cards that’ll cut you some slack.

1. PenFed Promise Visa Card

Why We’re Mentioning it: Because when it comes to fee-free credit cards, the PenFed Promise Visa is king. There’s no annual fee, no late fees, no balance transfer fees, no over-the-limit fees, no cash advance fees and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, there’s no penalty APR. All that and you can earn a $100 statement credit if you spend $1,500 in your first 90 days. One note: PenFed is a credit union open primarily to military members and their families, though there are other ways to qualify for membership. See its website for full details.

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 9.24% to 17.99%, depending on your credit

2. Discover it — Cashback Match

Why We’re Mentioning it: On top of being a solid rewards credit card, the Discover it completely forgoes over-the-limit fees, and a late payment won’t incur a penalty APR. You’ll also get a free pass the first time you miss a payment. (Remember, though, you’ll want to avoid skipping a due date at all costs, as doing so can seriously muck up your credit.) You won’t have to pay an annual fee either. As for the rewards, Discover it cardholders can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in revolving quarterly bonus categories, plus 1% cash back everywhere else. They’ll also get a dollar-for-dollar match on all the cash back they earn in their first year at the end of it (hence the name.)

Annual: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 13.74% to 23.74% depending on your credit, after 14-month 0% introductory APR expires

3. Citi Simplicity

Why We’re Mentioning it: The Citi Simplicity’s big selling point is its balance transfer offer: Cardholders get a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for a whopping 21 months (after that, it’s a variable14.24% to 24.24%, depending on creditworthiness). On top of that, the card’s also relatively cheap to carry. It skips late fees and forgoes a penalty APR. Plus, there’s no annual fee to start with. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 14.24% to 24.24%, depending on your credit, after a 21-month introductory APR expires.

4. Chase Slate

Why We’re Mentioning it: The Chase Slate also forgoes a penalty APR, and it also sweetens its 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers (variable 15.74% to 24.49%, after that) by waiving the balance transfer fee during the first 60 days after account opening. (After those 60 days, the balance transfer fee will run you 5% of the amount transferred, with a minimum fee of $5.) And, like all of the other cards on our list, there’s no annual fee.

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 15.74% to 24.49%

At publishing time, the the PenFed Promise Visa, Discover it — Cashback Match, Citi Simplicity and Chase Slate credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. 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.

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Shopping Last-Minute for Mom? Here Are 10 Ways to Still Stay on Budget

We've got your budget — and your status as Mom's favorite — covered.

Forgetting to pick up something for Mother’s Day can really cost you — and we’re not talking about the hot water it could land you in with Mom. Express shipping or rush flower delivery isn’t exactly cheap and hitting up the closest retailer before you hightail it to that fancy restaurant is a surefire way to overpay. That’s not so say spending beaucoup bucks on Mom is a bad thing, but we’re pretty sure she wouldn’t want you busting your budget for the big day — especially because some upcharges can be avoided.

Here are 10 ways progeny tardy to the party (and on a tight budget) can avoid overspending this Mother’s Day.

1. Skip Delivery …

Because it’s going to significantly up the amount of money you’re throwing down for Mom. Overnight shipping can easily cost $20 or more, so consider in-store pickup.

That goes for flowers, too. Most florists up the delivery charge on (and the closer you get to) prime petal days, so to avoid an upcharge, pick up an arrangement at your local grocer and deliver it to Mom yourself. (Pro tip to bank for next year: If you want to avoid paying uber-dollars for flower delivery, arrange for Mom’s bouquet to arrive early. It’ll be a nice surprise and save you a chunk of change.)

2. … Unless You’ve Got Amazon Prime

The online retail giant is currently offering free same-day and one-day shipping to prime members in over 5,000 cities and towns with qualifying orders over $35. You can check the website for full details (and to see if your city’s on the list.)

3. Shop Your Credit Card Issuer …

Issuer reward portals are known for offering bonus points, miles or cash back on seasonal purchases from their partners. We’re talking 5% back at popular brands and, better yet. 15% back on flower delivery. If you’re lucky, you’ll even find a coupon code or discount to pair with the bonus rewards you’ll ultimately receive.

Just don’t let the lure of all those rewards lead you to overspend. That’ll defeat the purpose. Plus, high credit card balances can skew your credit score. You can see where you currently stand by looking up two free scores on Credit.com.

4. … Or Use Your Rewards

If you can’t avoid going over budget, consider using credit card rewards to fund Mom’s gift. You can redeem points or cash back for a statement credit, so long as your program permits. Or trade those rewards in for a gift card Mom’ll love. Some issuers will even let you use rewards to pay for purchases directly on partner sites, like Amazon (more on the most flexible rewards credit cards here).

5. Look for Discount Gift Card Deals

Sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool resell gift cards at discounted rates and their offerings are pretty expansive. So whether you’re looking to give Mom a gift card or save on the night out, these marketplaces could be worth checking out.

6. Cook

Because you’re probably going to have a hard time getting a reservation at this point anyway. Make mom’s favorite food — or, if she has expensive tastes, keep it simple. We’ve got some suggestions here that’ll help you keep a holiday meal to $5 per person.

If you are committed to taking mom out, you can still find ways to save. There are some brunch alternatives that will spare you from breaking the bank — and you can also use a restaurant rewards credit card to at least get some kickbacks on a fancy meal.

7. Find Some Freebies

They’re certainly out there. From a complimentary mimosa during brunch at a DoubleTree to a gratis red velvet cake donut and small coffee at LaMar’s to a free entree with drink purchase from Hooters (yes, you read that right), plenty of places are willing to give mom a treat. Search online for deals near you. (Remember, terms apply.)

8. Hit Up the Dollar Store

You can usually find a large selection of greeting cards, wrapping paper, tags and ribbons for 99-cents or less.

9. Get Crafty

It’s the thought that counts so skip the luxury retailer and put in a little elbow grease. There are plenty of DIY Mother’s Day projects floating around Pinterest and, if you’ve got two left thumbs, check out some video tutorials on YouTube.

10. Work Your Lateness

Certain things, like flower or food delivery, are going to cost extra when you’re up against the wire, but there’s still a chance your last-minute shopping spree could pay off. Retailers with excess inventory might be inclined to offer discounts, especially on holiday-branded items. Scope out clearance sections and search online for last-minute Mother’s Day deals.

Pro tip: If you find an online-only deal, skirt high shipping fees and/or a mom-tastrophe by sending the item directly to mom’s house. Next, print out a picture of your gift and tucking that image into the greeting card you picked up at the dollar store. That way, Mom will know it’s on the way.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

Image: PeopleImages

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100K Credit Card Points When You Get a Mortgage? Here’s a Look at Chase’s Latest Offer

Chase_mortgage_offer

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

Credit card signup bonuses usually come with, well, credit cards. But a new offer from Chase touts beacoup points for (wait for it) … getting a mortgage.

Yup, you’re reading that right: Now through Aug. 6, the bank will award 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points to existing Sapphire, Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve credit cardholders who finance a new home with Chase.

What’s behind the offer? Chase’s being pretty upfront about the fact that it’s courting millennials, who, despite a reported reluctance to sign up for credit cards, displayed a significant interest in the premium Sapphire Reserve Card the bank launched last summer.

“Half of Chase Sapphire customers are millennials, many of whom are looking to buy their first home now or in the near future,” Pam Codispoti, president of Chase Branded Cards, said in a press release.

A Mortgage for Credit Card Points?

Chase’s offer is eye-popping, but right off the bat, it’s important to note that you don’t want to rush into a mortgage just to score credit card rewards points, no matter how lucrative that part of the deal might seem. Home loans are an expensive proposition on the front-end — where you’ll have to cover a down payment, closing costs, possible points and other expenses — and the backend — where you’ll locked into a monthly mortgage payment and paying plenty of interest most likely for the next 15 to 30 years. (Plus, you know, you’ll have a house to take care of and maintenance isn’t exactly cheap.)

Even if you were already looking into home loans, remember, the rate’s really the thing. The allure of credit card rewards points shouldn’t dissuade you for shopping around for the best mortgage deal you can net. (You can get an idea of where your credit might land you by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Per Chase’s website, the annual percentage rate on its 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is 4.094%. That’s competitive. Chase’s big bank counterparts Wells Fargo and Citi quote APRs on comparable 30-year fixed-rate mortgage products as 4.275% and 4.086%, respectively, on their websites. (Note: Rates are subject to change and the points you may be required to pay will vary.) But that’s not to say someone with good credit couldn’t score a lower rate or better overall deal at another financial institution, smaller bank or local credit union. It’s still wise to do your research and crunch the numbers to be sure you’re getting the best mortgage. The prospect of credit card rewards should be, at best, an afterthought.

The Nitty Gritty

That being said, if you do have good credit, are looking for a mortgage on a new home and have a Sapphire credit card in your wallet, Chase’s offer could be worth looking into. The exact value of the points will vary, depending on what card is in your wallet and how you ultimately choose to redeem them, but 100,000 points can translate to some significant dollars.

You may recall that when the Chase Sapphire Reserve (full review here) launched last summer, it touted a 100,000 bonus point offer equivalent to $1,500 when redeemed for travel through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards. The card, which also comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, currently carries a 50,000-point signup bonus (equivalent to $750 in travel) if cardholders spend $4,000 in the first three months.

As far as the new mortgage offer details go, it applies only to residential first mortgage purchase loans submitted directly to Chase. You’ll have to have had a Sapphire card prior to May, 7, 2017 launch date to be eligible, so no need to rush out and apply for any new plastic.

Cardholders only get the bonus points if their loan is fully approved and they close on the home. (Points will get automatically posted to the primary cardholder’s account within 10 weeks of closing.) The offer is not transferable, limited to one per property at a time, and could be discontinued without notice, the bank says on its website, where you can find more offer details.

Meanwhile, if you are currently looking for a new home, we’ve got 50 things house hunters should do ahead of their search right here

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.

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The post 100K Credit Card Points When You Get a Mortgage? Here’s a Look at Chase’s Latest Offer appeared first on Credit.com.

The One Thing Job Seekers Forget Employers Look At

Brush up your resume. Update your references. Clean up social media accounts and ...

There are some steps even first-time job seekers know to take ahead of formally seeking out new employment opportunities: Brush up your resume. Update your references. Flesh out your LinkedIn profile. Clean up your other social media accounts. Network.

It’s all fairly straightforward, but there’s something else very important new graduates and beyond will want to add to do their pre-employment search to-do list: Check your credit reports.

Why Should I Check My Credit Before a Job Search?

Some employers will pull a version of your credit report as part of their application process. And patterns of money mismanagement — like a bunch of missed payments or multiple collection accounts — could wind up hurting your odds of scoring a position, particularly if that gig involves handling cash, access to sensitive financial information, company accounting or government work. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your credit reports ahead of your job search.

You can pull a copy of your credit reports from each major credit bureau — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — for free every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also view your free credit report summary, along with two free credit scores, updated every month, on Credit.com.

Financial Fact: Some states, including California, Hawaii and Washington, have banned employers from screening an applicant’s credit in certain circumstances. And, in all states, employers can only look at your credit report, not your actual credit score. Plus, they can’t pull your credit reports without your permission, so if a credit check is part of their application process, you’ll at least have a heads up. (There will be a form you’ll be asked to sign.)

What Am I Checking For?

First, you’ll want to make sure there aren’t any errors on your file that could needlessly cost you a prime position. These errors are more common than you think: a Federal Trade Commission study from 2012 found that one in five Americans had an error on their credit reports. If you find one, be sure to dispute it with the creditor and the credit bureau in question. You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit reports here. Keep in mind, credit bureaus have 30 to 45 days to investigate a credit report dispute, so won’t necessarily see that error disappear right away. Hence the reason you’ll want to do check your reports before your job hunt kicks into full gear.

Second, if you discover legitimate blemishes, you’ll want to determine if anything can be done to fix them. For instance, you might want to shore up unpaid collection accounts or pay off high credit card balances. Keep in mind, many missteps will stick around for awhile as most negative information stays on your credit file for up to 7 years. (Certain bankruptcies can even take up to 13 years to age off your reports.) Still, even if you can’t undo a troublesome line item, you’ll at least know that one is there — and will be able to address any issues upfront with prospective employers.

Finally, work on improving your credit overall so you won’t have to worry so much about a dreaded credit pull the next time you’re looking for new employment opportunities. You can rebuild bad credit by using a starter credit card to establish a new and improved payment history, keeping credit card balances below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit limit(s) and adding a mix of credit accounts organically as your score and/or finances rebound.

Not sure how to fully prepare for a job hunt? No worries. Recent or soon-to-be college graduates in need of some help can find a full 50 things to do to score their first job right here

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5 Stellar Credit Cards for Your College-Bound Teen

Pencils? Check. Shower shoes? Check. A credit card for your teen? Here are some options.

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

There’s a laundry list of items your high school grad will need before they head off to get a higher education. Pens, pencils, sheets, shower shoes — and, yes, maybe even a new credit card. That little piece of plastic can provide parents with some peace of mind because it’ll give their freshmen some extra funds in case of an emergency. Plus, college is a great time for a kid, now 18 (or close) and legally an adult, to start building credit. (You can see where your own credit stands by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Of course, some cards are better than others when it comes to getting started. And, truth be told, you may want to simply add your teen as an authorized user on your personal credit card account (more on how that works here). That way, you can keep an eye on their spending. Lots of issuers even let primary cardholders set spending controls. Plus, they’ll be virtually guaranteed entry, whereas, to get their own credit card, anyone under 21 will need to demonstrate an ability to repay or have a willing co-signer.

Still, if you think your teen is ready for — or can score their own — plastic, they might be best-served by a student credit card. These cards don’t require a security deposit, like the also-easier-to-get secured credit cards do, and tend to carry more favorable terms, like no annual fees, with some even offering rewards on spending.

Here are five solid credit cards to consider for your college-bound teen.

1. Journey Student Rewards From Capital One

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 20.74%

Why We’re Mentioning it: The card’s pretty low cost — there’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and even that straight 20.74% APR is competitive as far as student credit cards go. Still, what we like most about the Journey is that it rewards your teen for developing smart spending habits. Cardholders can get access to a higher credit line after they make their first five monthly payments on time. Plus, they can earn extra rewards for making their due dates: With the Journey, you earn 1% cash back on all your purchases or a total of 1.25% back for each month you pay on-time.

2. Discover it Chrome for Students

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: 0% for the first six months, then variable 13.74% to 22.74%, depending on your credit

Why We’re Mentioning it: Discover’s got two solid credit card for students, but the Chrome requires less precious brain power. It offers cardholders 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter and 1% on all purchases after that. (The Discover it for Students touts revolving 5% cash-back categories your teen will need to sign up for every quarter.) Plus, there’s an incentive to earn good grades: Cardholders will earn $20 cash back each school year their GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next five years.

3. Wells Fargo Cash Back College Card

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: 0% for the first six months, then variable 11.90% to 21.90%, depending on your credit

Why We’re Mentioning it: Another no-annual-fee student credit card, Well Fargo’s cash back college cardholders can earn 3% cash back on gas, grocery or drugstore purchases for the first six months and 1% cash rewards on almost all other purchases. Plus, your teen will have a 0% introductory APR for six months (variable 11.90% to 21.90%, after that), which could be helpful when it comes to funding their big move.

4. Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: 0% for first 7 months, then variable 14.74% to 24.74%, depending on your credit

Why We’re Mentioning it: The card’s got no annual fee, but a nice base rewards program: Your teen can earn 2 points per dollar on dining out and entertainment and one point per dollar everywhere else. Plus, the ThankYou Preferred is one of the few student credit cards that offers a signup bonus. Cardholders can earn 2,500 bonus points if they spending $500 within the first 3 months — though you may not want to play up that offer, lest it lead college kid to overspend. [Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.]

5. Bank Americard Credit Card for Students

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 11.74% to 21.74%, depending on your credit

Why We’re Mentioning it: Bank of America’s student credit card doesn’t tout points, miles or cash back, but that makes it a great option for parents worried the lure of rewards will lead to burgeoning balances their child won’t be able to afford. The card carries no annual fee and a competitive APR range, again as far as student credit cards go. (Per the bank’s website, the card offers the lowest APR available among all its BankAmericard products.)

At publishing time, the Journey Student Rewards, Discover it Chrome, Discover it for Students and Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. 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.

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7 Credit Card Tips for Soon-to-Be College Grads

A credit card is one of the best ways to start building credit. Here's a plastic primer for soon-to-be college grads.

We get it, soon-to-be-grad, you’re busy. Finals need to be taken; dorm rooms need to be cleared out. Jobs need to be procured — as does your very first apartment. But amid all these big changes, you’ll also want to make time for some good old fashioned financial literacy. After all, money management is critical to your success in the so-called real world. And, believe it or not, having a credit card can help your overall financial health. Of course, that’s only if you use that little piece of plastic responsibly, so, to help you come out ahead, here are 7 credit card tips for soon-to-be college grads.

1. Get One

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of plastic. But a credit card is one of the best ways to start building credit — and you’ll need a solid credit score when it comes time to get an affordable auto loan, mortgage, insurance policy or more. If you don’t have a credit card already, you’ll probably need to look into secured credit cards, which require an upfront deposit that serves as your credit limit and are designed specifically for people with thin or bad credit. If you were using plastic while in school, you may be eligible for an unsecured card with better terms and conditions. Of course, that’ll come down to what your credit looks like already. (You can see where you stand by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

2. Pay Your Bills on Time …

The number one rule of credit cards? Pay your bills on-time each and every month. If you don’t, you’ll likely be hit with a late fee, face a penalty annual percentage rate (APR) and damage your credit — seriously. A first missed payment can cause a score to drop 100 points or more.

3. … & in Full Each Month

Or, at the very least, keep the total amount of debt you’re carrying on the card below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit limit. Any balance over that could hurt your credit utilization rate, which is the second most important factor among credit scores.

4. Monitor Your Statements

Do it even if you’ve signed up for auto-pay, because fraud, unfortunately, can occur at any time. Plus, you’ll want to be sure your balances aren’t burgeoning out of control. Check statements every day or at least once a week. Make small payments if those balances are starting to climb too high and be sure to report any suspicious activity your spot right away to your issuer.

5. Upgrade When You Can …

The better secured credit cards on the market (go here to check those out) usually provide cardholders with automatic reviews after 6 to 12 months of use that’ll determine whether they can get their deposit back and possibly receive a credit limit increase. Make a note of when you’ll be eligible for that type of upgrade and keep an eye on your credit as you use your card. You may be able to build a score solid enough to qualify for not just an unsecured credit card but a rewards or low-interest piece of plastic.

6.  … But Resist the Urge to Churn

Be prepared to encounter big signup bonuses as you shop around for new plastic. (Example: Earn $150 when you spend $3,000 or more in your first three months as an accountholder.) But refrain from applying for every offer you see. Yes, an extra $150 or a boatload of bonus miles are nice, but too many new credit inquiries (which are generated each time you fill out a credit card application) can damage your credit score and make it harder to qualify for important financing down the line.

7. Know When to Stop Charging

If your spending starts to get out of control, put your card on ice. Literally, if you have to. (That’s actually a better bet than formally closing the card, which can hurt your credit score, though you can do that, too, if absolutely necessary.) Next, come up with a plan to pay down those debts. Rework your budget to come up with some extra dollars you can put toward your balance and, if you’re carrying debt on multiple cards, prioritize payments. Make the minimum payment on all your cards but put the most money toward the balance with the highest APR (which can lower the total cost of your debt.) Alternately, you can pay off the smallest balance first, which could keep you motivated as you work to get back into the black. You can find more strategies for paying down credit card debt right here.

Looking to do some more financial planning pre-diploma? We’ve got 50 money moves you should make before graduation

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Outgrown a Student Credit Card? Here Are 5 Worthy Upgrades for New Grads

If you're graduating with some good credit, you might want to consider a plastic upgrade.

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

Thanks to student credit cards, secured credit cards and a little something called “the authorized user,” plenty of college seniors will be graduating with some credit. And, if you’re one of them (you can check via your free credit report summary on Credit.com) you might want to consider a plastic upgrade.

Starter credit cards are great for building credit, but they don’t usually tout the best terms and even if there’s a $0 annual fee or base rewards program, that plastic likely carries a low credit limit — which might not help in case of an emergency or if you want to further boost your credit. (Remember, a low limit makes it harder to maintain a solid credit utilization rate — how much debt you’re carrying versus how much credit is available to you. For best scoring results, you’ll want to keep your charges below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total credit limit.)

If you’ve outgrown your starter credit card, or think you’re about to, here are five credit cards worthy of your consideration.

1. Discover it — 18-Month Balance Transfer

Purchase APR: Variable 11.74% to 23.74%, depending on your credit

Annual Fee:  $0

Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Because the Discover it is a solid rewards credit card with some built-in training wheels. Cardholders get 6-months of 0% financing on purchases and a full 18-months 0% financing on balance transfers (the annual percentage rate after that will be a variable 11.74% to 23.74%, depending on your credit). There’s also no late fee for a first missed payment (which you should still avoid at all costs) and no penalty APR.

Plus, if you use your card right, you’ll earn some serious rewards. The Discover it offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases in revolving bonus categories each quarter and 1% cash back everywhere else — plus, Discover will match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. And there’s an added bonus for new grads getting ready to move out of their parents’ house: Now through June, you can get 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases at home improvement stores.

2. The Citi Double Cash Card

Purchase APR: Variable 14.24% to 24.24%, depending on your credit

Annual Fee: $0

Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Rewards credit cards can be tricky. Points, miles and cash back are nice, but they can easily entice someone to overspend. Charge more than you can pay off each month and any interest you pay on the balance will wind up eating those rewards — and then some. But here’s the thing about the Citi Double Cash Card: It rewards you for paying the bills. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on purchases, then another 1% back when they pay that purchase off. That means you can earn a full 2% cash back on every dollar you spend, which is pretty tops for a cash back credit card, especially since there’s no annual fee. There’s also a 0% introductory APR for balance transfers for your first 18 months. (You’ll pay a variable 14.24% to 24.24% after that.) (Full Disclosure: Citibank, as well as Discover, Capital One and Barclaycard advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

3. Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Purchase APR: Variable 24.99%

Annual Fee: $39

Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Available to people with average credit, the QuicksilverOne is a solid alternative for any new grad who had a credit misstep (or two) while they were in school. Yes, you’ll pay an annual fee ($39) and its 24.99% APR will sting if you wind up carrying a balance (expert intel: avoid carrying a balance), but you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. You’ll also have access to a higher credit limit after making your first monthly payments on time and receive a few ancillary benefits that’ll come in handy if you need to purchase some stuff for your first apartment. Those bennies include an extended warranty that doubles the original manufacturer warranty up to a maximum of 12 months on most purchases and price protection that reimburses you the difference in price on eligible items charged to the card if you find a lower price for the same item within 60 days of purchase (see card agreement for full details.)

Plus, if you use the card responsibly, you may be able to upgrade to the QuicksilverOne’s no-annual-fee big brother: the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card — which we’ve got a full review of right here.

4. Barclaycard Ring Card

Purchase APR: Variable 13.74%

Annual Fee: $0

Why You’ll Want to Consider it: If you’re worried about overspending for rewards, are looking for an in-case-of-emergency card or you need to make a big purchase soon that you might not be able to pay off right away, the no-frills, low-cost Barclaycard Ring Card will probably fit right into your wallet. There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees and no balance transfer fee. Plus, the card comes with a 15-month 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening — after which, you’ll pay a reasonable variable 13.74%. So, if you need to pick up a few necessities for your first apartment, this is the kind of card you’ll want to put those on. Not to mention the Barclaycard Ring lets cardholders drive: You’ll be invited to share your opinions and vote on product changes in Barclaycard Ring’s online community.

5. Citi Costco Anywhere Visa

Purchase APR: Variable 15.99%

Annual Fee: Technically $0, but you’ll need a Costco membership to apply — and that’ll cost you at least $55

Why You’ll Want to Consider it: Because the card offers big-time rewards on all the stuff you’ll be purchasing once you leave the nest. That includes 4% cash back on eligible gas for the first $7,000 per year (then 1%); 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases; 2% cash back on Costco and Costco.com purchases and 1% cash back everywhere else. Plus, there’s a 7-month 0% introductory purchase APR (after that, your APR will be a variable 15.99%). Of course, only Costco fans should apply: While the rewards are plentiful, they’re issued as an annual credit card reward certificate on February billing statements and are redeemable for cash or merchandise at U.S. Costco stores.

Remember, no matter what credit card you choose, smart spending habits should apply. Sign up for alerts or set your bill to auto-pay so you never miss a payment, keep your balances low (or, ideally, pay them off in full) and avoid signing up for every credit card on the market that catches your eye — too many inquiries can damage your credit standing.

In the meantime, if you’re also looking for some new digs, we’ve got a rundown on the 19 mistakes college grads tend to make when looking for their first apartment that you’ll want to read. 

At publishing time, the Discover it, Citi Double Cash, Capital One Quicksilver One, Barclaycard Ring and Citi Costco Anywhere Visa cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

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Got the Worst Credit? These Cards Can Help You Rebuild It

Sounds counterintuitive, we know, but a new credit card can help you re-establish your payment history. Just use it wisely.

Chances are, your credit isn’t actually the worst. According to data furnished to Credit.com by TransUnion, only a very tiny portion of the U.S.’s scoreable population has the lowest VantageScore possible. Of course, escaping the dreaded 300 won’t get your credit out of the woods. Any score below 600 is considered, well, bad, and even a score in the 650 to 699 range will cost you in interest.

Still, there’s no need to despair: Nothing lasts forever, including a terrible credit score. You’ve just got to take steps to rebuild it. Paying down high balances, shoring up delinquencies, paying collection accounts and disputing errors on your credit report are great places to start. (The further you get from 300, the better. You can track your progress using Credit.com’s free credit report summary.)

After that, consider getting a new credit card. It sounds counterintuitive, we know, but that plastic can be instrumental when it comes to reestablishing a solid payment history. Just be sure to pay all your bills on time and keep balances as low as possible.

Here are five cards designed to help people with bad credit rebuild their scores. (See card agreements for full terms and conditions.)

1. OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

Annual Fee: $35

Purchase Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 18.14%

Why It’s a Good Option: Yes, secured credit cards are designed for people with bad credit, but most still require a credit check, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved. The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card foregoes pulling your credit and doesn’t require a checking account either, so if your finances are really damaged, you may want to take up their offer. OpenSky reports to all three credit bureaus, so you’re covered there. And there’s a wide range for a security deposit: You can put down as little as $200 and up to $3,000.

Beyond that, the terms of the card are decent, especially given that there’s no credit check. (There are certainly secured credit cards out there touting higher APRs and annual fees.) One drawback worth mentioning: There’s no built-in way to upgrade to an unsecured credit card, so you’ll have to improve your scores and apply elsewhere.

2. Discover it Secured

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 23.74%

Why It’s a Good Option: Back in Dec. 2016, Discover announced that Chapter 7 bankruptcy would no longer automatically disqualify Discover it Secured applicants, so someone with that big blemish on their credit report could conceivably get approved. That’s great news for people with bad credit, because this card is pretty tops, as far as secured credit cards go.

There’s no annual fee, account reviews begin at seven months to determine whether to refund your deposit (a minimum of $200 is required to open an account), and there’s even a rewards program. Cardholders earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% cash back on everything else. Plus, Discover is currently matching all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.

Other Big Perks: Discover reports to all three credit bureaus, waives the late fee on your first missed payment and won’t impose a penalty APR if you miss a bill. Just be sure to pay your balances off in full: That APR is on the high side and will quickly negate any rewards you do earn.

3. First Progress Platinum Select MasterCard Secured Credit Card

Annual Fee: $39

Purchase APR: Variable 14.99%

Why it’s a Good Option: There’s no credit history or minimum credit score required for approval — so long as you don’t have a pending bankruptcy. First Progress reports to all three major credit bureaus, offers a flexible deposit range ($200 to $3,000) and features a reasonable annual fee and low APR. Again, the potential drawbacks are that you don’t have a built-in option to upgrade and the card isn’t currently available in Arkansas, Iowa, New York or Wisconsin.

4. primor Secured Visa Gold Card

Annual Fee: $49

Purchase APR: Fixed 9.99%

Why It’s a Good Option: This card touts guaranteed approval so long as your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses by $100 or more. Plus, while that $49 annual fee can be bested, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a secured credit card with an APR lower than primor’s. There’s no penalty APR either, though you’ll still want to pay your bills on time and ideally in full. Your card use will be reported to all three credit bureaus, and you can put down a deposit of $200 to $5,000. There are no built-in upgrades with an unsecured credit card, however.

5. CreditOne Bank Visa

Annual Fee: $0 to $75, the first year; $0 to $99 thereafter, based on your credit

Purchase APR: Variable 15.90% to 24.40%

Why It’s a Good Option: OK, if you’ve got really bad credit, you’re probably going to pay a high annual fee and receive a high APR with the CreditOne Bank Visa. But it’s an unsecured credit card, meaning you won’t have to put down a deposit that serves as your credit limit. Plus, it’ll let you pre-qualify without incurring an inquiry (which would damage your already-hurt credit score), so it’s worth considering if you don’t want to go the secured-credit-card route. There are also rewards — 1% cash back on eligible purchases, including gas, groceries, mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV services. Just be extra careful about paying your balances off in full, and prepare for a fee when looking to get a higher credit limit, as one may apply.

At publishing time, the OpenSky Visa Secured, Discover it Secured, First Progress MasterCard Select Secured, primor Secured Visa Gold and CreditOne Bank Visa credit card are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do 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).

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Notice Something Different About Your Free Credit Report Card? Allow Us to Explain

Credit.com’s free credit report card has changed — Here's what that means for you.

Hey, credit-builder: The team here wanted to let you know that Credit.com’s free credit report card has changed. Don’t worry, you’ll still be getting two free credit scores, along with a letter grade for how you’re doing in the five key credit scoring categories: payment history, debt usage, credit age, account mix and inquiries.

But, starting April 11, the three-digit-number located in the upper left corner of your credit report card, along with your customized action plan, will reflect your VantageScore 3.0 Advantage Score. Previously, the credit report card was based off of your Experian National Equivalency Score (NES), which is your secondary score, visible once your click the “Other Scores” hyperlink.

Why are we making the switch? Well, as you may have heard, there are lots of different credit scores out there, but the most widely known models, including the VantageScore 3.0, follow a range of 300 to 850. The NES score, on the other hand, follows a less common range of 360 to 840. Plus, as you may have gathered, it’s used solely by Experian, whereas VantageScore 3.0 is used by all three of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

The swap will help us provide you better credit card recommendations as you monitor and improve your credit score. It should also clear up some confusion, as the 300 to 850 range is the one most people are familiar with.

You can find more on VantageScore here. And, to give you an idea of where your credit stands generally, here’s how the ranges on both scores break down.

Vantage 3.0 Score: 300 to 850

Excellent Credit: 750+
Good Credit: 700-749
Fair Credit: 650-699
Poor Credit: 600-649
Bad Credit: below 600

NES Score: 360 to 840

Excellent Credit: 750+
Good Credit: 700-749
Fair Credit: 650-699
Poor Credit: 600-649
Bad Credit: below 600

In either case, if your scores have been fluctuating, your credit report card should provide some valuable insights as to why. Remember, while scores and their associated algorithms vary, they are all based on information in your credit reports, so focusing on your risk factors or negative line items should help you boost your standing across the board.

We get it: All this credit stuff can be confusing and it’s easy to stress about whether you’re acing every score. However, instead of trying to track down all your digits (which is pretty much impossible anyway, given lenders buy proprietary algorithms), it’s a good idea to compare apples to apples by choosing a common score, like VantageScore 3.0, and monitoring your standing over-time.

Our credit report card will provide some helpful hints for how you can improve along the way.

And, so long as you pull your full credit reports from each credit bureau regularly and/or right before you apply for a loan, you shouldn’t be in for any major surprises. (Remember: Viewing your own credit doesn’t damage your scores.) You can get your credit reports for free every 12 months by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Checking them will help you spot any errors or line items that might be on only one of your credit files. (Some lenders just report to one credit bureau.) If you find an error, be sure to dispute it. And don’t hesitate to reach out with any credit-related questions in the comments sections below. Our Credit Experts will do their best to help!

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The post Notice Something Different About Your Free Credit Report Card? Allow Us to Explain appeared first on Credit.com.