16 Cities Where it’s Cheaper to Buy than it is to Rent

chicago

January is a natural time to take stock of your financial life, and to dream big dreams about 2018. Could this be the year you make the leap to homeownership? Or will you make a big change and trade in your mortgage payment for a landlord? While the housing market has slowly recovered from its dip in the 2000s, blind faith in housing gains has not. Home ownership rates hit a 50-year low in 2015, and first-time home buyers are now waiting a record six years to move from renting to buying. In fact, young adults looking to upgrade out of their one-bedroom apartments are increasingly renting single-family homes rather than buying. Single-family rentals — either detached homes or townhomes — make up the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, according to the Urban Institute.

In the complex calculus that’s required for the renting vs. buying decision, one variable stands out: Which is cheaper? If that seems like a tough question to answer, there’s a good reason: crunch the data from America’s largest cities, and you’ll learn it’s a perfectly split decision. Home buying is a better option for those who plan to stay in one place for 3-5 years or more. It’s also a good investment in many housing markets. According to an Urban Institute analysis, among 33 top metropolitan areas in the U.S., there are 16 where buying is cheaper.

  1. Miami

    While it’s cheaper to buy than rent there, it would be a stretch to call the Miami housing market a bargain. A median-priced home still consumes 32 percent of a median earner income, above the recommended 30 percent.

  2. Detroit

    Not long ago, it was possible to buy a home in Detroit for well below the median home price in the U.S. The Detroit area has seen some revitalization in recent years, however, and while housing prices have gone up, it’s still a better value to buy a home there than it is to rent one.

  3. Chicago

    Rent in Chicago is on the rise faster than home prices. While they may level out in the near future, it’s a good time to buy while you still can.

  4. Philadelphia

    Renting is significantly more expensive than buying in the City of Brotherly Love. In fact, the average wage-earner would need a 36 percent raise to afford the average rent there. Buying, however, is more affordable.

  5. Tampa, Florida

    For roughly 90 percent of Tampa communities, renting is more expensive than buying.

  6. Pittsburgh

    The average rent in Pittsburgh is $1250 per month, whereas the average home price is just over $145,000. Broken down, it’s cheaper to buy in Pittsburgh, as your monthly mortgage will be much less expensive than the average rent.

  7. Cleveland

    In this popular college town, a homebuyer will save an average of $200 a month if they pay a mortgage instead of rent.

  8. Cincinnati

    Historically speaking, it’s been cheaper to rent than buy in Cincinnati based on the percentage of a person’s income that went to housing costs. That number is now lower for buyers and higher for renters.

  9. Orlando

    In the home of Disneyworld, the average monthly rent will will cost you roughly double what the average comparable monthly mortgage payment will.

  10. Houston

    Even though median rents are falling in Houston, it’s still cheaper to buy, especially if you plan on staying in your home for three years or more.

  11. San Antonio

    Average monthly rent for an apartment in San Antonio will run you $1,226 (estimated as recently as December 2017). The price of a home in the area is $232,000. While the housing market is trending upward, it’s still more advantageous to buy a home, especially if you plan to stay in the area for a long period of time.

  12. New York

    It’s no secret that home prices in the New York City area (including Newark and Jersey City) are well above the national average. However, rental prices are even higher, so if you can afford to buy property here, you’d be better off doing so rather than renting.

  13. Minneapolis/St. Paul

    The Twin Cities are becoming an increasingly popular to destination for young families to move, so it’s a good time to invest in property here instead of renting it.

  14. Kansas City, MO/KS

    Both rents and housing prices are low in the Kansas City area (average rent will cost just under a thousand dollars, while the average home price is $126,100), but buying is better long-term, as it offers more benefits, including potential tax write-offs.

  15. Columbus, Ohio

    Many market experts consider Columbus a “no-brainer” metro area as far as buying over renting. With affordable housing on both sides, the advantage goes to buying.

  16. Boston

    While a buyer may need a large income (or two above-average incomes) to buy here, they’ll need a slightly larger one to rent long-term.

If you’re looking to rent or by and are concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

 

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10 Places Where Home Ownership is On the Rise

Dallas, Texas cityscape with blue sky at sunset, Texas

For a significant number of Americans, home ownership remains an all too distant dream.

Between record levels of student loan debt, the challenges of squirreling away a down payment and skyrocketing housing prices in many parts of the country, it can be daunting at best to shift from renter to owner.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in October that as of the third quarter of 2017 about 63.9 percent of Americans own a home. For those 35 and under, the figure is far bleaker, just 35.6 percent.

Home ownership has been on the decline in this country for several years, having peaked in 2004 at 69.2 percent.

A new report from Realtor.com, however, found that there are at least 10 cities around the country witnessing huge increases in ownership – places where the American dream appears to be alive and well.

Realtor.com’s data team discovered that ownership is on the rise in the Rust Belt (think Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana); small cities just outside of major metropolitan areas and also in some bustling southern hubs.

“What’s interesting about this is most of these places are relatively affordable,” said Realtor.com’s Clare Trapasso.

More than half of the cities on the list offer median prices under the national median of $274,492. Here are the cities to keep in mind if homeownership is on your 2018 agenda.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

A city most famous for its breweries, Milwaukee has experienced decades of economic challenges. However, it is now witnessing a resurgence, Realtor.com reports and that includes the housing market. The current homeownership rate in the city is 68.7 percent, an 11 percent increase over the past three years. The median home price is $224,950.

Charlotte, North Carolina

A bustling southern financial hub, Charlotte’s homeownership rate has increased 10.5 percent over the past three years to its current 62.8 percent. At $327,050, the median home price here however is substantially more than the national median.

Memphis, Tennessee

A city made famous by Elvis Presley, Memphis is affordable by nearly any standard. The median home price $195,050. Over the past three years, homeownership has increased about 9.3 percent to the current 61 percent.

Baltimore, Maryland

Buyers getting priced out of nearby Washington D.C are finding a more affordable alternative in Baltimore, says Trapasso. The homeownership rate is a significant 68.4 percent. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over the past three years. The median home price meanwhile hovers around $300,000 (30.2% less than in the D.C. metro area.)

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Singer Billy Joel made Allentown forever famous with his song about the city’s economic hardships. Fast forward to 2017 and it seems the city, which is not all that far from New York City or Philadelphia, is experiencing something of rebirth, says Trapasso. The upswing is due in large part to companies like Amazon, Walmart and Nestle moving in. Homeownership has increased 7.3 percent in recent years to an impressive 74.8 percent, far above national rates. The median home price is about $225,000.

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh is becoming the right coast’s version of Silicon Valley, according to Realtor.com (minus the sky high home prices). Local university grads are being snatched up by tech companies ranging from Google to Uber and Intel, all of which have local outposts. The homeownership rate, now at 74 percent, represents a 7.2 percent increase since 2014. And shockingly, the median home price is well below the national average at just $174,950.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Think mild climate, affordable homes and an Old Town filled with historic adobe buildings. Those are just some of the attractions in Albuquerque, which has seen a 5.7 percent rise in home ownership in recent years to 66 percent. The median home price here is about $239,950.

Nashville, Tennessee

This legendary music city has also become one of the culinary hotspots in the south. That the city has so much to offer has not gone unnoticed. Home prices have increased a whopping 89 percent since 2012. Still, it remains a place that’s both comparatively affordable and where homeownership continues on its upward path. The average home price is $359,050 and there’s a 68.8 percent home ownership rate, an increase of 4.9 percent over the past three years.

Dallas, Texas

Texas has long been one of the more affordable places to live in the country (There is no state income tax for starters). That affordability has attracted a lot of big businesses. In Dallas, companies have been both moving to the area and expanding. The city’s desirability is leading to increased prices but for the time being the median is $339,950. The current homeownership rate is 60.7 percent, a 4.8 percent increase over the past three years.

Syracuse, New York

One last city to consider for those determined to become home owners, Syracuse’s median home price is the lowest on the list at $149,950. Buyers can even find single-family homes for between $80,000 to $100,000, says Realtor.com. All of which is translating into a homeownership rate of 66.5 percent, a 4.6 percent increase since 2014.

If you’re wanting to buy a home and are concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

 

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Cities to Consider When Renting and Buying

low-housing-inventory

January is a natural time to take stock of your financial life, and to dream big dreams about 2018. Could this be the year you make the leap to homeownership? Or, will you make a big change and trade in your mortgage payment for a landlord?

In the complex calculus that’s required for the renting vs. buying decision, one variable stands out: Which is cheaper? If that seems like a hard question to answer, there’s a good reason: crunch the data from America’s largest cities, and you’ll learn it’s a perfectly split decision. According to an Urban Institute analysis, among 33 top metropolitan areas in the U.S., there are 17 places where buying is cheaper, and 16 where renting is cheaper. We’ll get to that list in a moment, but here’s a hint: renters in high-flying West coast cities might want to sit tight for a bit longer.

Renting vs Buying

Fewer life decisions carry more weight than the renting vs. buying dilemma. And that choice is getting harder. A generation ago, buying a home was seen as a rite of passage, a natural (and necessary) step towards adulthood. It was also a solid path to wealth. A $25,000 home purchased in 1970 was worth almost $100,000 by 1990, and about $200,000 today, using national average appreciation. Plenty of baby boomers who bought average-priced homes as young adults find themselves living in a nice nest egg now.

All that changed when the housing bubble burst. Millions lost their homes to foreclosure. Millions more found themselves “under water,” meaning their homes worth less than their mortgage balance. At the height of the housing recession, 23 percent of mortgage holders — nearly 1 in 4 — were under water. They’d lost money on their investment. The myth that housing prices can only go up has been busted. Many of those bubble-era buyers wished they were renting.

While the housing market has slowly recovered, blind faith in housing gains has not. Homeownership rates hit a 50-year low in 2015, and first-time home buyers are now waiting a record 6 years to move from renting to buying. In fact, young adults looking to upgrade out of their 1-bedroom apartments are increasingly renting single-family homes rather than buying. Single-family rentals – either detached homes or townhomes – make up the fastest-growing segment of the housing market, according to the Urban Institute.

But renting is no picnic either. With all these new renters, markets are reacting accordingly, and costs are now skyrocketing at about four times the rate of inflation. In some places, rents are up much higher. Seattle saw an average of 6.3 percent rent increases last year.

Such volatility in housing and rental prices isn’t the only reason the renting vs. buying equation bas become more complicated. Thanks to structural changes in employment — led by the various form of the gig economy and the contingent workforce — flexibility is key for workers. Gone are the days where a worker could buy a house with a 30-year mortgage and count on a consistent commute for the next three decades. People change jobs much more frequently now. Millennials experience four job changes by age 32, according to a LinkedIn study; they’ll move 6 times by age 30, according to 538.com

While it’s possible to sell a condo or house and move, it’s much easier for a renter to relocate for that great opportunity on the other coast.

Income Driven Decisions 

For most people, however, it comes down to money. You might think renting is always cheaper than buying, but that’s incorrect. A long list of variables must be considered when running the numbers, like these: How long will you stay in the place? How much are property taxes? How much investment opportunity cost will you pay when putting a large down payment into a home? How much will you spend on house repairs or condo fees? How much might your landlord raise the rent?

The Urban Institute provides an interesting answer to these questions by comparing the percent of monthly income a buyer or renter would have to spend to own or rent an average home in cities around the country. To ease the comparison, the constants are pretty simple. The report assumes median income, then calculates how of that monthly paycheck would be eaten up by owning – including mortgage payments, interest, taxes, and insurance payments on a median-priced home – or by renting a median-priced 3-bedroom home.

Ordinarily, these costs have to move relatively in sync. When rents get too high, consumers are pushed into buying. The opposite is true, too — when homes/monthly mortgage payments are too high, people are nudged to rent. So these costs tend to move together, or at least like two balloons tied together by a string, floating up into the sky: One pulls ahead for a short while, then the other, and so on. After all, people have to live somewhere.

Cities Good for Renting

But in some cities, these rules don’t seem to apply at the moment, and either renting or buying has sprinted ahead. In those places, you might say the market is broken. The Urban Institute calls this the “rent gap.” In eight large cities in the US — all on the West Coast — the rent gap is higher than 4 percent, meaning it’s considerably cheaper to rent than buy. But on the other hand, there are six major cities spread throughout the East and the Midwest where buying is cheaper, using this monthly costs test. In between are 19 cities where rental and buying costs are basically running neck-and-neck.

The rent gap is most pronounced in places where housing prices have soared. San Francisco is the clear “winner” in the places where renting is cheaper than buying; there, the gap is more than 42 percent. San Jose comes in second at 19%. Seattle, San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Portland round out the list of places where the gap is higher than 5 percent.

Cities Good for Home Buying

On the other side of the list — places where buying is cheaper than renting — begins with the winner, Miami.

It would be a stretch to call Miami a bargain, however. A median-priced home still consumes 32 percent of a median earner’s income, above the recommended 30 percent. Still, renting devours even more.

“Because Miami is the second-most-expensive city for rental housing, however, the median rent consumes 42 percent of the median income. So even at this high cost, homeownership is still the better bet,” the report says.

Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Pittsburgh round out the list of places where the rent gap is 5% or more towards buying.

There are buying “bargains” in other cities, too. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Orlando, Houston, and San Antonio all enjoy rent gaps that are more than two percent.

What to Consider

This list comes loaded with caveats, however. The biggest one: Purchasing a home brings the potential of appreciation, and renting does not. That means buyers can “profit” over time and see the value of their investment rise. The longer the time living in the purchased home, the higher the odds that significant appreciation will occur. But don’t forget, transaction costs are significant. Not all those gains are “profit.” Closing costs when buying, and then later when selling, can easily eat up 10% of those gains. Then, there’s always the chance the value of the home will go down, re-creating the situation from the early part of this decade, when buyers lose money. And of course, there’s the variable every homeowner loves to hate, surprise repair costs. Renters generally don’t face that risk.

In the end, the renting vs. buying choice is intensely personal, and always depends on your family’s very specific situation. It’s unwise to ignore macro trends, however. Even if you live in a city where housing costs seem high, it’s worth considering a purchase if rental costs are soaring, too. On the other hand, don’t simply assuming that buying is better. That’s 20th Century logic which no longer applies to the U.S. housing market.

 

If you’re wondering if your credit it good enough to buy or rent, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

 

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10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Your Credit Score

So many Google Chrome extensions swear they’ll save me money, but will they really?

Many people know that having a good credit score is integral to making some of life’s biggest purchases. Without one, it’s challenging to qualify for a loan to buy a house or a car someday.

However, even though credit scores are really important, they’re also a bit of a mystery. Not a lot of people know what makes up a credit score, how to improve them, or even how to check them!

So, below I’ve compiled 10 surprising things you probably didn’t know about the elusive credit score, including the fact that credit scores really haven’t been around that long at all.

1. Credit Scores Didn’t Exist Until the 1950’s

Before credit scores existed, you’d have to go and sit down and talk with a banker before getting a loan. So, the process was a little subjective. If the banker didn’t like you or think you were trustworthy, you weren’t going to be approved. In the 1950’s two statisticians named Bill Fair and Earl Isaac founded FICO, but it took until the 1970’s for the FICO score to be seen as integral to lending as it is now.

2. Your Credit Score May Predict How Long You’ll Be Married

The Federal Reserve conducted an interesting study where it followed couples for 15 years to see how credit scores affected those in committed relationships. The study found that “the initial match quality of credit scores is strongly predictive of relationship outcomes in that couples with larger score gaps at the beginning of their relationship are more likely to subsequently separate.” To put it another way, the closer your credit score is to your other half’s credit score, the more likely you are to stay together.

3. TransUnion Started as a Railroad Leasing Company

The credit bureau, TransUnion, started as the Union Tank Car Company in 1968. In 1969, it acquired a business called the Credit Bureau of Cook County, which had millions of consumer card files located in 400 different cabinets. Eventually, it became the TransUnion we know today after spending 40 years collecting consumer data and developing technology that helps people and companies around the world.

4. Employers Cannot Get Your Credit Score

There is a pervasive myth that employers can screen you by finding out your credit score. This myth likely arose because people get the phrases “credit score” and “credit report” mixed up. Some employers do request permission to see your credit report, but it’s typically a different version than the one you see and is used specifically for employment screenings.

5. Your Degrees Do Not Impact Your Credit Score

You could have lots of different letters after your name, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a higher credit score than someone who only graduated from high school. Your education level does not factor into your credit score. There are 5 factors that determine your credit score and all of them have to do with debt and payments, not education.

A few other surprising aspects of your life that don’t impact your credit score: the balance in your savings account, your stock portfolio, your employment status, and your salary.

6. The FICO Score Has a Competitor

The three major credit bureaus joined together to create a new type of credit score called the Vantage Score, a score that competes directly with FICO. According to a recent USA Today article, the Vantage score calculates your credit score in a different way than the FICO score. More and more companies are using Vantage Scores to help determine a consumer’s credit worthiness.

7. You Can Still Get a Mortgage with a “0” Credit Score

If you don’t have any open credit accounts or you never opened any to begin with, your credit score eventually becomes a 0. However, even if your credit score is 0, you can still get a mortgage through a process called manual underwriting, where the mortgage company takes all of your assets and monthly bills (like cable) into consideration before potentially approving you for the loan.

8. Closing Your Credit Cards Can Hurt Your Score

The age of your accounts is an important factor in determining your credit score. If you close your oldest account, it could cause your score to drop. Also, all of the available “space” on your credit cards helps to show credit-worthiness. Closing cards shrinks your credit “space” and an easy way to potentially boost your score is to request a credit limit increase.

9. Car Insurance Companies Use Your Credit Score (Sort Of)

When you apply for car insurance, having good credit matters. While car insurance companies won’t use your FICO score to help determine your insurance rates, 92% of insurers use something called a credit based auto insurance score. The data in this score helps to show insurers whether or not you’re likely to file a claim along with other data.

10. Credit Scores Aren’t the Only Predictor of Bad Financial Behavior

Many people worry about their credit scores, especially if they’ve had a late payment in the past. However, many people don’t realize that there are also other financial reporting agencies that keep track of other financial transactions, like how you treat your bank account. Banks use reporting from companies like TeleCheck, ChexSystems, and EWS to determine whether or not you should be allowed to open a checking account.

So, as evidenced, your credit score is actually pretty interesting!

Not only does it help show lenders whether or not you’re a good borrower, but it can also predict your relationship success. Also, your credit score is private, but sometimes employers and insurance companies can see versions of your score and credit report to learn more about you as a consumer.

Ultimately, having a good credit score really is important, and the best way to have a good score is to keep making your payments on time, have a variety of accounts, check your credit score regularly, and keep your credit card balances nonexistent. This can help you to qualify for larger purchases down the road and can prove that you’re trustworthy when it comes to your finances.

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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 Big Credit Score Killers & How You Can Avoid Them

It's not just bankruptcy, foreclosure or short sale you and your credit score have to worry about.

Bankruptcy. Foreclosure. Short sale. These are the items that probably jump to mind when you hear the words “credit score killers,” but there are plenty of other line items that can really tank your credit — particularly if your score was stellar at the time they hit your credit report. But knowledge is power — and many credit score crushers can be easily circumvented or ultimately addressed. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Here are five big credit score killers — and how to avoid them.

1. A First Missed Payment

Blame it on the fact that payment history is the most important factor of credit scores, but, yeah, the first time you go past due, expect your numbers to take a dive. Per a FICO study, a single 30-day late payment can cause a good credit score of 780 to fall 90 to 110 points. An average score of 680, meanwhile, can fall by 60 to 80 points. And that blemish will stay with you for awhile —seven years from when the delinquency occurred, in fact. (Here’s the full list of how long stuff stays on your credit report.)

The good news? If you course-correct, your score should steadily rebound the further you get away from that date. Plus, no guarantees, but there are things you can do to avoid winding up with a missed payment on your credit file in the first place.

How to Avoid a Missed Payment: Set up auto-pay from a linked checking account each month. If that move makes you wary, sign up for alerts that’ll let you know when your bill is about to come due — or whether you’ve just missed one. And, if you do mistakenly skip a due date, call your issuer to make it right. They may be willing to waive the late fee and not report the missed payment to the credit bureaus “just this one time,” especially if you’ve never missed one before.

2. An Error

Because they happen. And more often than you think. Per a 2012 report from the Federal Trade Commission, one in five Americans had an error on their credit reports. Some of these mistakes are innocuous enough — a misspelled name, for instance, won’t drop your score. But a bunch of missed payments that don’t belong to you certainly will, as would new credit accounts used (and abused) by an identity thief.

How to Avoid an Error: You can’t, unfortunately. But you can certainly stay on the lookout for them by regularly checking your credit. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it right away with the credit bureau(s). And, if you’ve got more than one mistake weighing you down, check out our guide to DIY credit repair.

3. A Collection Account

It seems like such a small thing — a $132 utility bill forgotten just after you graduated college. Or a $200 medical bill you thought your insurance had paid. Unfortunately, when it comes to credit scores, a single collection account can be no joke. You could see your score drop 50 to 100 points once one winds up on your credit report — and that account can legally stay there for seven years, plus 180 days from the date of your first missed bill, whether you go on to pay the collector or not. (We say legally because some collections agencies have recently announced changes that could help you get collection accounts off of your credit reports sooner than you think.)  

How to Avoid a Collection Account: This can be a bit tricky, we admit (medical bills, in particular), but you’ll want to keep an eye on your mail and resist the urge to ignore any calls from a debt collector. While there are plenty of scammers out there and mix-ups do occur, the debt could prove to be legit. Quick tip: Request written verification to confirm before agreeing or handing out any payments.

Beyond that, keep an eye on your credit reports so you can readily catch any collection accounts that may pop up. And, if you do owe the debt, consider squaring it away. Yes, they can both hang around your credit reports, but scoring models generally weigh paid collections as less than unpaid ones — and some newer models even ignore paid collections entirely.

4. A Maxed-Out Credit Card

Credit utilization is the second most important factor of credit scores, so bumping right up against your credit card’s limit can be problematic, particularly if that’s the only card you’ve got or, worse, you’re maxing out multiple credit cards. Remember, for best credit scoring results, it’s recommended you keep the amount of debt you owe collectively and on individual cards below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your credit limit(s).

How to Avoid a Maxed Out Credit Card: Monitor your credit card statements regularly, so you know exactly how much you’re charging. Consider paying your credit card bill more than once a month in an effort to preclude a big balance winding up on your credit report. Or aim to pay as much off as you can by your statement billing date, not due date, since that’s generally the balance issuers report to the credit bureaus each month.

And, depending on your situation, you could also consider asking for a higher credit limit (say you’re paying off all your bills in full and on time on a starter or secured credit card with a seriously low credit limit). Just note: The request could result in a credit pull, which could lead to a hard inquiry on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. But that small dip could ultimately be offset by the increased credit limit — so long as you don’t use it, of course.

5. A Tax Lien

No, Uncle Sam isn’t in the habit of reporting your full payment history to the credit bureaus. But leave that government debt unpaid long enough and you could wind up with a tax lien on your credit report, which will do big damage to your credit score. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service will file a tax lien automatically if you owe them $10,000 or more.

How to Avoid a Tax Lien: Be sure to pay Uncle Sam. But, more pointedly, if you’re saddled with a tax bill you can’t afford, contact the IRS to see if you can work out a payment plan. If a tax lien is filed against you and you later pay the balance due, take steps to have the lien withdrawn from your credit reports. You can do this by filing IRS Form 12277.

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The post 5 Big Credit Score Killers & How You Can Avoid Them appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Signs You’re Working With a Shady Credit Repair Firm

It’s natural to want a quick fix for your credit problems, but be wary of any practice that seems deceptive — even if it could work in your favor.

In September 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against Prime Marketing Holdings, a credit repair firm based in Van Nuys, Calif. In its complaint, the CFPB alleged the company charged customers advance fees “totaling hundreds of dollars” and misled customers about their ability to remove negative items from their credit reports.

The case is still active, but it’s just one example of the proliferation of credit repair abuse in the U.S. And it gives rise to the question: How do I know if a credit repair company is legitimate or just another scam?

We’ve put together a litmus test of seven signs you could be working with a shady credit repair company.

  1. They ask you to pay before they start working.

One of the biggest red flags in the credit repair business is requiring an upfront fee before any services are rendered. Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), credit repair companies can’t charge advance fees before rendering services.

In some cases, advance fees can be only a couple of hundred dollars. But some companies have been found to ask for thousands of dollars upfront. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission sued Doug and Julie Parker, owners of a Texas-based credit repair firm called RMCN Credit Services, Inc. The FTC claimed the couple charged customers a staggering $2,000 retainer fee before they completed any work. In the end, the Parkers were fined $400,000 by the federal watchdog.

  1. They try to give you a new “credit identity.”

Another dodgy credit repair practice is when a company tries to convince clients to create a “new credit identity.” To establish this identity, the firm may offer to issue the client a nine-digit “credit profile number” or even prompt them to apply for an employer identification number with the IRS. With the new number in place, the firm could them encourage the client to apply for new credit and stop using their real Social Security number.

Don’t be fooled — this practice is completely illegal. An EIN is only used to identify businesses, and it is not a substitute for a Social Security number. Additionally, that credit profile number could easily be someone else’s stolen Social Security number. “These companies may be selling stolen Social Security numbers, often those taken from children,” the FTC warns. If you fall for this trap, you are essentially committing identity theft.

  1. They ask you to lie on credit applications.

Some credit repair organizations may also ask you to lie on credit applications in order to qualify for more credit. For example, they may ask you to report more income than you earn. It’s illegal to make false statements on credit applications.

  1. They dispute correct information on your credit report.

Yet another way credit repair companies try to manipulate the system is by misinforming consumers about the rules surrounding credit reports. They may tell consumers that they can fight every single item on their credit report — even if the item is accurate.

This is not true. If there is a negative item on your credit report that you feel is an error, you absolutely can fight to have it removed. But if it’s negative because you were, indeed, late on your bill, or did, in fact, file for bankruptcy, you cannot file to have it removed by claiming it is inaccurate.

  1. They promise to get you a perfect credit score.

When a company promises they can improve your credit score or even get your score up to a specific number, don’t believe their hype.

In 2015, the FTC filed suit against a company called FTC Credit Solutions for making exactly these types of claims. The company’s representatives told customers they would get their credit score into the 700s and promised any negative credit report information could be removed. On top of that, they also charged advance fees before rendering any services. The case was settled very quickly to the tune of a $2.4 million penalty against the defendants.

  1. They claim they are affiliated with a government agency.

Some repair firms fraudulently claim they are affiliated with the FTC or another government agency. If you are filing bankruptcy, it is true that you’ll be required to get some kind of credit counseling. But that counseling must be from a government-approved organization. There’s a full list of approved credit counseling firms on the U.S. Trustee Program website. If you’re thinking of working with a firm that isn’t on that list, you might want to reconsider.

  1. They don’t want you to contact the credit bureaus on your own.

Don’t believe a company that tells you they are the only way to contact the credit bureaus. By law, any consumer can contact credit bureaus directly without a third party. You also have the right to access your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year for free. If you’ve been rejected for anything for credit-related reasons, you have 60 days to request a free copy of your report. This enables you to keep potential creditors honest.

If a company ever tells you that you are not allowed to contact the credit bureaus on your own, walk away — fast.

How to Repair Your Credit All by Yourself

The MagnifyMoney team highly recommends taking simple steps to improve your credit on your own, without the risk of working with a shady credit repair firm.

Read MagnifyMoney’s full, in-depth guide to repairing your own credit.

Start by getting a copy of your free credit report from each of the credit bureaus. The simplest way to do this is by requesting copies at AnnualCreditReport.com, which is a government-sponsored website.

From there, look over your information to make sure everything is accurate. If there are late payments listed, did you actually pay late? Does it show closed accounts accurately? Do you recognize all of the accounts?

Sometimes reports do have errors. If you find one, consider the fact that you may be a victim of identity theft and take appropriate steps as necessary.

If you’re instead the victim of an honest mistake, contact the credit bureaus directly. You will have to do so online and via written letter. You will also have to contact the entity that incorrectly reported the line item. You can get a sample letter here.

Be sure to keep copies of all of your paperwork and follow up on your dispute. The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate. If all turns out well, they will remove the item, which could result in a higher credit score.

If they do not find in your favor, you can request that a copy of the dispute be attached to your credit report moving forward, but you will have to pay a fee to do so. While this will not improve your credit score, it could potentially alert future creditors to the fact that you do not agree with the negative item.

There are also rare cases where you can attempt to get an accurate item removed from your credit report. If you were not aware of a debt, but you quickly paid it off once you were properly notified, the creditor may be willing to remove the item from your report. This kindness may also be extended if you were experiencing a temporary illness or life emergency. These removals are rare, but are most often rewarded when you are an otherwise responsible steward of your debts.

To make your case to your creditor, you will need to write them a letter of goodwill. In it, explain that you understand why the item is on your report, but also explain why you temporarily were unable to fulfill your obligation. Stress the fact that you are an otherwise responsible borrower, and point out specific instances in your business relationship where this has proven to be true.

It’s also a good idea to appeal to their human side. Explain what the removal of the debt would mean for you. Is there a major milestone coming up, such as a job interview or a mortgage application? Thank them sincerely for the time they’re taking to review your case and cross your fingers. Goodwill letters do not have a high success rate, but you will have a zero percent success rate if you don’t try.

Read MagnifyMoney’s full guide on letters of goodwill.

Finding Legitimate Solutions

Even though there are a lot of scammers out there, it’s good to remember that there are legitimate credit repair organizations, too. However, before you pay a company to help you repair your credit, read our guide on repairing your credit on your own and our guide on credit counseling. At the very least, properly vet a credit repair firm before you sign up for their services — and watch out for the warning signs we covered before.

Another potentially safer way to go about credit repair is by working with a not-for-profit credit counselor. These organizations have a lower rate of deceptive practices and can work with you in a more holistic manner to resolve not just your credit report woes but also your current debt situation.

The post 7 Signs You’re Working With a Shady Credit Repair Firm appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Can I Fix My Credit in a Week?

fix-my-credit-in-a-week

If you’re getting ready to apply for a car loan, mortgage or credit card, you may have heard it’s a good idea to check your credit before doing so. But, waiting until the last minute to check your credit before applying may have you surprised — if you find you have low credit scores for any number of reasons, you may be wondering just how quickly you can fix your credit.

“Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for credit because it took time for this problem to arise and it generally takes much more than a week to resolve it,” John Heath, a credit expert and consumer attorney for Lexington Law, a Credit.com affiliate, said in an email.

Timing Is Everything

Credit scores are based on information in your credit files, which includes new data about how you handle your accounts reported by your creditors every month, according to Jeff Richardson, a spokesperson for VantageScore Solutions.

This monthly reporting date differs from lender to lender and the monthly date your credit scores update also differs depending on the reporting bureau, which is one of many reasons the cycle for fixing your credit may take more than 30 days, Richardson said.

Another example of timing limitations arises when you attempt to fix your credit by disputing errors on your credit reports, according to Heath. These disputes may include a current account, collection, bankruptcy, public record, tax lien or late payment that can’t be substantiated, isn’t yours, is inaccurately reported or is outdated.

“One of the major rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act grants the credit reporting agencies 30 days to review your challenges to items on the credit report,” Heath said.

According to a 2012 VantageScore report, showing the impact of different positive and negative credit behaviors, you can typically improve your credit scores by 10 to 15 points within a few months with simple credit management techniques such as paying bills on time and paying down debt. For larger score improvements, it can take even longer depending on your specific credit report and account history.

Credit Fixes Accomplished in 30 Days

In general, the negative score impact of running up the balances on your credit cards can usually be corrected by a payoff the next month, according to Richardson.

“Pay down the balance all the way to zero, or at least under 30% of your total available credit, and you may see a credit score bump back up the next month, so long as there are no other negative credit events on your report,” he said.

Again, depending on timing, there might be one way you might improve your credit score in one week, according to Richardson.

“A score increase or decrease will depend upon when the lenders update your file,” Richardson said. “If you can find out when, say, a credit card issuer is reporting to the credit bureaus and reduce your balance significantly beforehand it is possible to see a score increase in a short time period.”

He favors taking a longer view of your credit health and improving your credit before you need to apply for any new credit, if possible.

Heath said you could spend one week reviewing your credit reports thoroughly making sure you recognize all the listings on the report and creating a budget that assures timely payments. Both of these actions, easily completed in one week, go a long way toward improving your credit in the long run.

No matter what steps you take to improve your credit scores — whether it’s to repair errors you discover or simply improve your habits — it’s important to note that these are things you can do on your own. There are also professional credit repair experts who are available to help you, but opting to turn to one for help is not essential.

If you are unsure where your credit currently stands, you can view two of your credit scores for free, updated ever 14 days, on Credit.com.

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How $2,500 in Payday Loans Turned Into $50K of Debt

paydayloansign

Less than a week after Google said it was banning ads for payday loans, one man’s story is making national headlines. He’s an example of how a bit of financial bad luck can turn into a mountain of debt.

Back in 2003, Elliott Clark’s wife broke her ankle. She couldn’t work, so to keep up with the bills, Elliott took out a $500 payday loan. Then he took out four more totaling $2,500.

“I had nowhere else to go,” Clark recently told the Kansas City Star. “I had a family, a daughter in college, bills to pay … I’m an honest man.

“Those places shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” Clark added. “It’s just glorified loansharking.”

After his wife Aquila’s injury, the medical bills rose to $22,000, the Star reported, and Clark couldn’t get a bank loan with a 610 credit score. Paying back those payday loans quickly became a juggling act. Over the next five years, it would end up costing him more than $50,000 in interest, the Star reported. And the couple lost their home during that period, too.

With payments due every two weeks, he would repay one $500 note along with $95 in interest, the Star reported. At the same time, he often would then take out another $500 loan and go to the next place and do the same until all five were paid.

He would be out the $475 in interest. And he’d also face the new loans coming due. That pattern went on for five years until he received disability payments from Veterans Affairs and Social Security, the Star reported. Those amounts allowed him to finally repay the whole debt.

“And I sure haven’t been back to those places,” he said.

What to Consider Before Getting a Payday Loan

Before you apply for a payday loan, step back and consider your options. Is this really an emergency? Is it possible to wait to repair your car or pay your bills until your next paycheck?

Here are some other ways to borrow money that are often lower-interest options:

  • Negotiate a payment plan with the creditor.
  • Receive an advance from your employer.
  • Use your bank’s overdraft protections.
  • Obtain a line of credit from an FDIC-approved lender.
  • Borrow money from your savings account.
  • Ask a relative to lend you the money.
  • Apply for a traditional small loan.
  • Ask your creditor for more time to pay a bill.

If you have evaluated all of your options and decide an emergency payday loan is right for you, be sure to understand all the costs and terms before you apply.

  • Shop around for a trusted payday lender that offers lower rates and fees.
  • Borrow only as much as you know you can pay back with your next paycheck.
  • When you get paid, your first priority should be to pay back the loan immediately.

If your bad credit is keeping you from getting a credit card or qualified loan, you can start repairing your credit. Getting negative, inaccurate information off of your credit reports is one of the fastest ways to see an improvement in your scores. You can view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

[Offer: Your credit score may be low due to credit errors. If that’s the case, you can tackle your credit reports to improve your credit score with help from Lexington Law. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Managing Debt:

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Help! My Kid Messed Up My Credit

worried-parent

Whether you handed over your credit card too many times, co-signed a loan or made your child an authorized user on that travel rewards card, there is a chance that your credit took a hit. Your hope was that they’d be responsible, but giving them access to your line of credit can all too often become a free-for-all with serious consequences. If that describes your situation, here’s what you can do.

Co-Signers Must Pay — & Rebuild Their Credit

“If your child fails to repay according to terms, the co-signer will suffer the same consequences as the primary borrower when it comes to their credit rating,” Bruce McClary, vice president of Communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, explained via email. Worse still, “if their child skips town, the lender can pursue the parents for repayment.”

A proactive step may involve refinancing the loan exclusively in the name of your child before the account falls into delinquency. If it’s a student loan in question, you can also refer your child for student loan counseling with a nonprofit agency, McClary said.

If the worst has already happened, however, there’s really not much you can do. (You could take your child to court, McClary said, but you would still be on the hook until the matter is resolved in your favor.) Take a long, hard look at your finances to determine the best way to repay the loan. Then in the meantime, focus on rebuilding your credit, one step at a time. To start, you’ll need to obtain a copy of your credit report — you can view your scores, updated monthly, for free on Credit.com — and check them for accuracy. (You go here to learn how to dispute any errors you might find.) You can also fix your credit in the long-term by keeping debt levels low, making all future loan payments on time and limiting new credit applications while your score rebounds.)

Credit Card Holders May File Charges

As with any balance charged to a credit card, the lender will identify the person responsible for repayment as the one named on the account, McClary said. The same rule applies for authorized users — the cardholder is responsible for charges on the card.

If your child went on a shopping spree without your permission, you may consider seeking legal advice regarding options for filing charges. You can also file a dispute of charges with the issuer and submit a police report to establish the claim of fraudulent activity. Finally, a parent can add a statement explaining the situation to their own credit report.

Remember, when giving your child access to your credit, you’re not just giving them permission to make purchases in your name, you’re putting your own credit on the line. Make sure you’ve gone over the value of having good credit — and how bad credit can hurt you both.

[CREDIT REPAIR HELP: If you need help fixing your credit but don’t want to go it alone, our partner, Lexington Law, can manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844)346-3295 for a free consultation.]

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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