Is There Such a Thing as a Debtor’s Prison?

prison

In this modern world that we live in, consumers are protected and have certain rights when it comes to debt collection. The practices of debt collection agencies have to abide by rules through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) as enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the FTC, consumers are to be safeguarded from abusive, harassing or unfair debt collection practices. But, the question is, “Does this act protect consumers from being arrested for the failure to pay back their debts and sent to a debtor’s prison?” The short answer is yes, but there are some instances related to debt in which people have been sent to jail.

Debtor’s Prisons were abolished in the US in 1833, and thankfully so. Before the abolishment, being arrested for outstanding debt was a catch-22 situation. Since there were no work-release programs in place at that time, there was no opportunity for the debtors to make good on their outstanding debt. To make matters worse and put more debt strain on the debtor, they would be responsible for paying prison fees as well. So, without the financial help of friends or family, there would literally be no way to escape their sentence.

Consumers’ debt rights have come a long way, but why are people still being arrested if the debtor’s prison was abolished so long ago? Here are some answers that can shed some light.

What Could Put You at Risk for Arrest

While arrests can be made in a debt situation, it’s not the debt itself that will get you arrested; it’s the violation of the court order that can land you in jail. Depending on the court and jurisdiction, it may be required of the debtor to appear in court. If you are summoned to appear and ignore that summons, a warrant may be issued for your arrest for failure to appear in court. It’s very important to ensure that you don’t ignore any correspondence from the courts and are compliant in regards to being sued for debt and the appearances you are expected to make.

If you don’t know what to do, don’t procrastinate and push it aside. Ignoring a summons to appear in court will not go away. You have the option to represent yourself. However, you may want to consult an attorney that understands the laws on what debt collectors can and cannot do by law as well as your legal rights as a debtor. Depending on your state, there are some other specific restrictions on what creditors and debt collectors can and cannot do when trying to collect a debt.

Many types of debt collection practices are prohibited.

Should you have any debt that is in the process of collection, it’s important to educate yourself on the types of debt collection practices that are prohibited. In addition to being prohibited from harassment, debt collectors may not:

  • Use any threats of violence or harm
  • Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit bureau such as Experian, Equifax, and Transunion)
  • Use obscene or profane language when trying to collect on the debt; or
  • Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy and harass a debtor.
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally(meaning the debt is secured and tied to an item that can be repossessed);
  • Threaten to sue, garnish your wages and freeze your bank account if they have no intention of doing so.

Knowing what debt collectors are legally allowed to can be overwhelming. Consider consulting an attorney in your county to help you find out what you need to know to keep yourself protected.

If you’re 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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Virtual Credit Card – What You Need to Know

credit card rewards

Virtual credit cards have been around in one form or another for years now, but their use has yet to truly take off among consumers.

A crop of new start-ups however, such as Pay With Privacy and Token Payments, are poised to change that.

These two companies may not be household names but perhaps they should be. Both are joining the effort to help consumers beat credit card fraudsters at their game at a time when the list of blockbuster data breaches seems to be growing longer by the day.

For those not familiar with virtual credit cards, they come in various forms but are typically temporary, randomly generated, credit or debit card numbers. Often the numbers link to a real payment account, such as a credit card, debit card or checking account.

In many cases, the cards are designed for a single use. They’re known as “burners” meaning they expire immediately after use (though some can be scheduled to last for up to one year). There are also virtual cards that can be created and locked for use with only a single merchant and virtual cards that allow for setting a maximum charge amount.

The beauty of such cards is that if a hacker gets hold of the information, it doesn’t matter, because the damage that can be done is minimal.

Originally developed to make online credit card purchases more secure, the cards are now also being used with increasing frequency in brick and mortar stores thanks to the rise of mobile wallets such Apple Pay, Google’s Android Pay and more.

Here are the pros and cons that experts say you should keep in mind with this payment technology.

Refunds and Disputes Can Be a Hassle

Most refunds for purchases made with a credit card are made directly to the account that was used for the original purchase, notes Chargebacks911 co-founder and COO Monica Eaton-Cardone.

However, with disposable credit cards that “account” will no longer exist if the purchase was made with a virtual card and the number has already expired.

“That can create headaches for users,” says Eaton-Cardone.

The solution to this issue can range from the merchant in question providing a cash refund to you being required to accept a store credit.

Another issue to keep in mind, said John Buzzard, an industry fraud specialist at CO-OP Financial Services, is that virtual cards offer little consumer protection in the case of a dispute for services not rendered or received. 

Associated Fees

Read the fine print when using virtual credit cards, and understand how they operate including the various fees charged.

For instance, some companies allow you to load money onto the card, explains Eaton-Cardone. But you may be charged a monthly fee if the balance dips below $25.

“There’s a bunch of things they do because they want to make sure you are incentivized to keep money on the card,” explained Eaton-Cardone

Some of the cards have expiration dates, (also noted in the fine print), which can lead to inadvertently allowing the card to expire while there’s still money on it.

Other disposable cards include foreign transaction fees or fees for paper copies of documents that have already been provided.

Verification May Be a Problem – Particularly for Travel Related Transactions

Virtual credit card numbers can certainly be used to book such things as car rentals and hotel rooms online through sites such as Expedia, Orbitz and more. But when you show up to pick up that rental vehicle, you’ll be required to have an actual credit card to swipe.

“With disposable credit cards, the account numbers won’t match,” says Eaton-Cardone.

When booking hotel rooms online with a disposable card, you may be able to request that the property in question charge the cost of the room to the card you used to make the reservation. However, you will still need to present an actual credit card to be swiped upon check-in to cover incidentals. 

Virtual Credit Cards and Mobile Wallet Technology

One of the growth spaces for virtual credit cards is in conjunction with mobile wallet technology such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and more.

A virtual card can be issued instantly, even while standing in line at a brick and mortar store, and some can be delivered to your Apple Pay account, explained Jason Gardner, CEO of Marqeta, a fintech firm that enables companies to issue and manage virtual cards.

The card can be preconfigured with a spending limit instantly, funded, unloaded, suspended or cancelled, all in real time, granting the cardholder complete control.

“These cards create a lot of choice for consumers, different products that fit different constituencies,” said Gardner. “You are seeing a significant decline in private label cards. The growth of these virtual credit card companies is undeniable.”

For the digital obsessed Millennial demographic in particular, it’s an option that is very appealing. If you look at Millennials and the top 50 brands they focus on, there’s not a single bank, or credit card company among the list. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter are all taking over, making digital and virtual products more mainstream.

In such a world, virtual credit cards are a natural fit.

“Most millennials are not carrying credit cards now,” said Gardner. “But they all have mobile phones. And the ability to instantly make a credit decision and pay with the mobile phone is beautiful consumer experience and it also generates choice.”

One last downside however, is that mobile wallet payments are still not widely accepted by merchants. But that too may be changing in 2018 and beyond.

If you’re 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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3 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score in 2018

PostHolidayCreditImprovement

All the holiday excitement is over and it’s time to face your post-holiday credit card bills. If you stayed within your budget, you shouldn’t have difficulty paying off your bills. However, if you went a little crazy with December cheer, now is the time to take corrective action, prioritize your finances, and boost your credit score.

As you get your finances back in shape, you’re ultimately helping out your credit—and for a multitude of reasons, it’s important to have a good credit score. Good credit grants you better loan approval, lower interest rates, higher spending limits, negotiating power, and more rewards. Your credit score also impacts the ability to obtain necessities like a home, a car, and other lifestyle needs.

So here’s how to start boosting your credit score in 2018.

  1. Pay All Your Bills on Time

If you’re expecting hefty post-holiday bills, the best way to improve your credit score is to simply make timely payments. Making all of your payments on time is crucial to a great credit score and positive credit history. Your payment history has a huge effect on your credit score.

Set calendar reminders or alerts on your phone to make sure you pay your bills and pay them on time. Unpaid bills are a red flag and may indicate to the lender that you’re an unreliable borrower. It’s also important to tackle balances with the highest utilization and interest rates.

  1. Consider a Lifestyle Change

If you find yourself strapped for cash, there are a few things you can do.

  • Pay at least double the minimum on each payment. If you can, and if there’s no prepayment penalty, doubling down on payments each month will help you tackle the balance quicker.
  • Rework your budget. Evaluate your budget and cut out unnecessary expenses that are eating up your income. Then you can start allocating that money toward getting out of debt. For example, forgo your daily specialty drink at your local coffee shop and bring a lunch from home instead of buying lunch at work. Setting a strict budget will allow you to free up cash and focus on paying down your debt.
  • Pick up a side hustle. If you can, apply for a part-time job or do some extra freelance work to build up your funds.
  • Don’t apply for new cards or loans. For now, stay away from new credit card and loan applications, even if you’re planning to use the extra credit to pay off your debts. Also, avoid using any credit cards you’re currently paying off. 
  1. Check Your Credit Report

About once or twice a year, you should check your credit report for mistakes. Maybe you forgot to pay a bill, or maybe you’re a victim of identity theft. If you don’t check your report for these and other problems, chances are you may miss them and they can harm your score tremendously—which in turn would bring you great financial hardship.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 5% of consumers have credit errors large enough to increase costs of insurance or some financial products. When you have bad credit with a low credit score, it may take some time to build it back up. Check your history so you can address these problems right away.

When you do check your credit report, make sure you get reports from all three bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) to get the clearest picture of your credit, since some creditors only report to one or two. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com

 

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January Best Buys

Best Buys

Now that the Holidays are over, you might need a break from shopping. But, just in case you still have a touch of the shopping bug or you have to visit a store or two to return things any way, this month happens to be a strong month to save while you shop. Retailers bring in a lot of merchandise in anticipation of the holiday rush, and they will be anxious to clear space for spring merchandise if they have excess stock. While there will be sales on and off all month, the experts at deal site Slickdeals.net, found the majority of the deals peaking around mid-January during Martin Luther King weekend. Here’s what we know right now.

Men’s apparel

We expect the most robust sale category to be men’s apparel. Last year, more than 30% of the top deals at Slickdeals were in this category, from retailers like Nike, J. Crew Factory, Macy’s and Walmart.

Deals:

Macy’s: 20% off holiday sale with code TWODAY. Valid 1/14-1/15

REI – holiday clearance up to 50% off  

Target – Extra 20% off Clearance Apparel

Jos A Bank: Clearance sale – suits $79, dress shirts for $15 – valid through 1/11

Men’s WearhouseSave $30 off orders over $100. Through 1/11

Bonobos Men’sSave up to 50% off final sale items. Through 1/14

Land’s End – Save up to 50% off during the Great Winter Sale. Through 1/31

Tax Software

If you’re ready to start thinking about tax time this early in the year, it could be to your advantage. There are typically an abundance of tax prep and tax software deals from retailers like Staples, Amazon and Costco.

Deals:

TurboTax: Get TurboTax Deluxe for $39.99 (coupon is for $20 off TurboTax Deluxe – expires 1/31

Liberty Tax: Take an Extra 20% Off Every Liberty Tax Online Tax Filing Solution. Use Code: LTOCJ20

eSmartTax.com: 20% off Tax Solutions with code ESTCJ20.

H&R Block and United Way: United Way and H&R Block offer 2017 Federal and State Tax Return Filing for those with Adjusted Gross Income of $66,000 or less for Free

White Sales

Since the late 1800s, January has been the month of “white sales”, when all manner of linens go on sale. Many retailers participate, which means you can find bed and bath items slashed up to 60% off from stores like Kohl’s, Target, and Macy’s.

Deals

Macy’s: 25% off winter weekend sale with code STYLE 1/18-1/21

Bloomingdales: Save up to 50% off select home items in the January home sale. Ends 1/15

The Company Store: End of Season sale – save 20% with code X17SAVE through 1/9

Bed, Bath & Beyond: Get up to a $50 gift card with select Aerobed purchases. Through 1/12

Burlington: Save 50% off any order with code AJER587W. Through 1/10

West Elm: Save up to 20% off bedding collections. Through 1/11

Pottery Barn: Annual White Sale – 20% off bedding and towels

New Year, New You

It sounds cliché, but this is the time of year that we think about taking better care of ourselves. Last years’ resolutions may have fallen by the wayside throughout the year, and the snacks, drinks and sweets at all those holiday parties compounded the issue. It’s the perfect time to get back up on that horse!

Deals

My Protein: New Customers, 30% off. No expiration

Vitamin Shoppe: $8 off 5lb Optimum Gold Standard Whey

Sweaty Betty: Save 20% off your purchase. Expires 1/17

Yoga Download: Save 40% off your order. Expires 1/23

Gold’s Gym: Save 50% off select apparel. Through 2/24

Athleta: Save 20% off your next order with code L1B9B9BHBXTW. Through 1/11

What not to buy

Toys

Toys were hot during the holidays, but you probably won’t see many worthwhile toy deals this month. The good news is your little ones are probably set for a while with all of their holiday gifts.

Mattresses

Great deals on mattresses occur in February, when Presidents Day sales bring discounts. For instance, in 2017, Mattress Firm offered up to $500 off storewide. This year, Presidents Day is Feb. 19, so wait another month if you’re in the market for a new mattress.

If February is too soon for your budget, mattress deals will return in May, over Memorial Day weekend, and in September, over Labor Day weekend.

If you’re 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 Ways to Approach the Credit Talk When You’re Getting Married

Credit Discussion

Financial matters can be an uncomfortable or touchy subject to discuss with friends and loved ones. However, if you’re about to walk down the aisle with someone, it’s important to have an honest discussion about credit. After all, “till death do us part,” means you’re essentially inheriting each other’s credit for that long, too.

Since you have chosen to marry this person, however, chances are that you have a good idea of their preferred communication style. Use this to your advantage when you decide to bring up this all-important discussion. If you’re still uneasy about approaching the subject, here are some tips and guidelines to help.

Just ask

While this scenario isn’t ideal for everyone, it works for some couples. If you’re curious about your future spouse’s credit history and outlook on credit, just ask them. You may be surprised to realize that they’re relieved to have the conversation as well. At the end of the day, you need to know where each of you stand.

Take a marriage course

Many people who practice specific religions and wish to get married in their preferred place of worship may be required to undergo a “marriage course.” If this is the case for you and your soon-to-be spouse, ask your church leader if he or she plans to work finances into the discussion at some point. If not, request to do so. The purpose of a marriage course is to set boundaries and identify potential obstacles ahead of time, eliminating the possibility of more serious issues down the road.

Enlist a neutral third party

If you’re uncomfortable with this topic of discussion, try enlisting the services of a mediator. They often offer more services beyond civil disputes and divorce. They’re trained in conflict resolution, so if this has been a topic you’ve broached unsuccessfully at some point, they can help you resolve it in a calm manner.

Schedule a “credit discussion”

If you haven’t yet talked to your future spouse about this all-important subject, he or she will likely suspect the discussion is coming. Try asking them over dinner one night if the two of you can schedule a meeting to discuss your individual finances, and decide if joining accounts is right for you both.

Try premarital counseling

Many couples like the idea of being well-prepared for the challenges of marriage beyond just the financial aspect. Many counselors specialize in couples therapy and can serve a similar role as that of a church leader mentioned above in helping you to navigate a constructive discussion. Visiting a couples therapist doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble. We often see doctors for preventative care; why should your relationship be any different? Plus, as a neutral third party who will be dedicated to the health of your relationship, they can help you outline a plan that works for everyone.

Determine your financial compatibility quiz

If you want to approach the subject of credit, but are unsure of how to do so, try asking your partner to take a financial compatibility quiz. There are many quizzes online that can help you judge your compatibility when it comes to matters of credit and how you manage your finances. This is a great way help you get on the same page with your soon-to-be spouse.

Email them an informative article to open the discussion

There are many credit repair resources online that offer tips on giving your credit a boost before a major life event. Consider using one of these to your advantage by sending an article to your future husband or wife as a catalyst for starting the conversation.

Bring it up casually

The ads and events we’re subjected to every day actually offer a perfect opportunity to introduce the topic of your current financial standing and hopes for your future together. There are certainly plenty of credit-related issues in the news and in mainstream media these days. The next time you hear a story about a credit breach or see a commercial related to obtaining a home or car loan, use this as an opportunity to start a conversation. Or next time you’re driving and see a billboard for a credit repair company, point it out and get the ball rolling.

Talk about your personal financial goals

Talk to your betrothed openly about your lifetime goals and how your finances and credit will impact them. Maybe you’d like to buy a home, make different types of investments, or set yourself up to travel the world in your retirement years. Sharing these goals and dreams may prompt your partner to open up about their own financial vision for the future.

End on a positive note

Whatever comes of your discussion, make sure to end it on a good note. You’re getting married! So pop a bottle of champagne and share a toast. There’s always a reason to celebrate such a happy event and look forward to the endless possibilities the future may hold.

 

If you’re 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 Ways Divorce can Affect your Credit

how-does-divorce-impact-credit-score

As nearly half of the American population already knows, divorce is a difficult, emotional process to go through. This difficulty can be compounded depending on the number of years a couple has been together, the dollar amount of their acquired assets, and whether or not they have any children.

Divorce can also have an impact on your credit, though the proceedings themselves are not the reason for this. In other words, couples shouldn’t expect their credit scores to plummet the second they file for divorce. However, there are things that occur during divorce that can have a negative impact on credit. Here are 10 ways in which a divorce could affect your credit score:

  1. Having to refinance your home

    In order to move a property into one person’s name, it may be necessary to refinance your mortgage. As with any refinance situation, this will require a hard credit inquiry, and may also potentially add a great deal of new debt for one person.

  2. The splitting of the debt was uneven

    When assets are divided, one person may get to take more of the income, property, or assets, but also more of the debt. It all just depends on how the debt is divided.

  3. Going from two incomes to one

    If possible, it’s helpful to examine finances before a divorce and determine new budgets for both parties, so as to avoid falling behind on any bills or payments. Many divorced individuals report that losing another person’s income made the single greatest impact on them financially. Setting up a new budget early on can help avoid this issue.

  4. Not disclosing all debt during the proceedings

    At some point during the divorce process, both parties are required to disclose their financial accounts. However, as former spouses sometimes learn, not everyone is truthful about these assets. Running a credit report is the best way to ensure you’re aware of every account bearing your name.

  5. One party doesn’t pay his or her agreed-upon share

    Most courts are willing to work with couples to help them discuss and agree on a payment plan for shared assets, such as a home or any jointly-owned property.

  6. One party still has access to the other party’s accounts

    In the event that divorcing spouses do not split their joint accounts, both parties will still be responsible for any additional charges. It’s best to split any joint accounts as soon as possible.

  7. Credit limits are decreased

    Many creditors regularly check up on their clients to see if there has been a salary change, and most credit card agreements state that limits can be decreased at the creditor’s discretion. If one spouse was making more money than the other, and the accounts are separated, a credit card company can choose to lower the limits for one or both spouses. This can, in turn, affect credit scores, as well as catapult credit card holders to their maximum limits very quickly.

  8. The divorce turns ugly

    While no one enjoys going through divorce, the best solution is to try and remain civil to one another, lowering the risk of spouses doing financial harm to one another out of spite.

  9. There is confusion over the divorce decree

    People can often be confused about their financial responsibility as stated in the divorce decree. If you are unsure of where you stand or what you must pay, consult your attorney, family court facilitator, or mediator.

  10. Spouses don’t work together

    Sometimes, electric bills can be overlooked or go unpaid. Keeping the divorce process as amicable as possible helps parties communicate with one another over their shared financial responsibility after the households have been completely separated. Working together ensures everyone’s credit remains in good standing.

 

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The 12 Scams of Christmas for 2017

steal Christmas

Scammers make a killing during the holiday season. While you spend your time thinking of ways to bring holiday joy to others, they spend their time thinking up ways to steal from you. The saddest part about this is that the ghosts of Christmases past keep visiting Christmas present.

With that, I give you this year’s 12 scams of Christmas.

  1. The Gift Card Scam

While definitely a ghost of Christmas past, this still works so scammers still do it. It’s pretty simple. The thief records the numbers displayed on a gift card, and then calls the company that issued it to find out if it has been activated, which occurs when the card is purchased. The problem here is one of timing. If you buy a gift card early in the shopping season, it’s more exposed to fraud. That said, recipients of gift cards often take a while to use them.

Tip: If you are going to purchase a gift card, do it as close to Christmas Day as possible, and encourage the recipient to use it as soon as possible.

  1. Sneak Attacks on Your Credit

With the non-stop news of data breaches involving credit card numbers, many of us are walking around with compromised payment cards that can be used by a scammer, and there is no more perfect time of the year for them to try than Christmas. The usual warning signs of an account takeover, or a fraudulent charge, may be harder for financial institutions to spot, since Christmas gifts often don’t conform to a cardholder’s buying patterns.

Tip: Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank or credit card issuer that notify you any time there is activity on your accounts.

  1. Fake Charities

While it’s not exactly the way it plays out in our nation’s malls and shopping districts, Christmas is traditionally a time for contemplation and charitable giving—something captured very well in Charles Dickens’s classic, “A Christmas Carol.” So if you want to give during the holiday season, it’s crucial to make sure the appeal is real.

Tip: Before responding to an online appeal, visit the website by typing in the organization’s URL manually, or by using search to find the link. If you are still unsure, call. If you are still uncomfortable, use Charity Navigator or contact the Office of the Attorney General in your state to confirm the organization’s authenticity.

  1. Temporary Holiday Jobs

Holiday jobs are a good way to make some extra money, and there are a lot of them, but bear in mind there are myriad scammers out there who may offer fake jobs to harvest your very real personally identifiable information—the most valuable of which being your Social Security number.

Tip: Don’t give your Social Security number to anyone unless you absolutely have to, and don’t provide it before you confirm you’re dealing with a representative of a real organization that has offered a job to you. Never send your information digitally unless you know the recipient uses proper security protocols. (You may not be using secure tech either, so try to be conservative about what you send digitally.)

  1. Phishing, Vishing and Smishing

You might receive a phone call, a text or an email. It doesn’t matter what the delivery system is, it’s a fraud but it won’t necessarily look like one. It could look like a sales promotion from a brand you like, or an offer on a deal that seems too good to be true, or even just “pretty good.” Scam artists can be very nuanced. Be on the alert before you act on any offer.

Tips: Check to see the URL matches exactly, and that you never provide any personal information on any web page unless the URL is secure and starts with “https.” Email links should always be considered suspect.

  1. True Love

The holidays can be lonely, and catphishers know that. Love scams are the worst, as they prey on the emotions in the most exploitative ways disarming the heartstrings with an eye to loosening purse strings. The money lost can be considerable, and the upset unfathomable.

Tip: As corny as it seems, be careful with your heart and don’t give it away to just anyone. If you feel like you’re falling for someone and they somehow can never make an in-person appearance, don’t send them money to do so. You can do better.

  1. Hotel Scams

You might fall victim to the restaurant flyer scam, the menu for a non-existent eatery shoved under the door resulting in an order that gets you robbed, or it could be the front desk scam where you get a call after check-in asking for another credit card number because “the one you provided was rejected.”

Tip: Assume the worst when in unfamiliar territory, and be on guard when traveling. Always distrust. Always verify.

  1. Fake online shops

This is a tough one, but here’s the deal… Bargain? Amazing prices on things that should cost a lot more than they are asking on a fake online shop is alluring, which is why people fall for them all the time. Pop up shops are cool, but they may not always be legit.

Tip: Look at the About Us page and call the designated contact number. If there is no number, think twice before making a purchase. Also pay attention to detail. Are there spelling errors in the copy? Bad-looking stock photos? Look for trouble.

  1. E-Cards

We all appreciate the sentiment behind an e-card, but that should not outweigh the risk of malware that can take a computer hostage or record every keystroke so that your most sensitive credentials for financial accounts can be stolen. E-cards are a popular form of fraud among scam artists, and you should be very cautious when you receive one.

Tip: Email, call or text the sender and ask if they sent an e-card. In this environment of constant attack, they will understand (and if they don’t, your Christmas present to them can be forwarding this column).

  1. E-voucher scams

This scam is built for people old enough to remember a physical, printed voucher, which, presented in person at a brick and mortar store, would get you a discount. They were basically a coupon. E-vouchers are fine if they come in the form of a number sequence, discount code or keyword, but anything else should be considered suspect.

Tip: Be on the lookout for grammar or spelling errors. Always type in the URL of the site for which you have an e-voucher, and enter the code or number there. If it comes by way of text or email and it involves a link, don’t click through. 

  1. Fake Shipping Notifications

What could be worse than a message from your favorite e-tailer letting you know that the must-have item you ordered is out of stock or was sent to the wrong address. Another oldie but goodie among thieves is a notice informing you that the “Item has been delivered” when it hasn’t been.

Tip: Never click any link associated with this type of communication. Always log onto the e-tailer site for more information, or pick up your phone and call.

  1. Wish list scams

Online wish lists are a bad practice that should be discouraged. In theory, the online wish list creates a place where friends and relatives can find out what you want for Christmas, which many find preferable to guesswork. Beyond being horribly transactional, the practice opens the list-maker to phishing attacks, since scam artists will automatically know what interests you.

Tip: If you must post a wish list online, custom set the privacy on the post so that only particular people can see it, and don’t include any personally identifiable information.

At Christmas it’s always better to give the gift, than be the gift that keeps on giving to identity thieves.

If your personal information does fall into the hands of a scammer, be sure to monitor your credit for signs of identity theft. You can do so by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

 

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Will Debt Consolidation Help or Hurt Your Credit?

Debt isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it can help your small business thrive.

From student loans to a house mortgage, debt accumulation is stressful and overwhelming. As you make moves to get out of debt, you might want to consider consolidating credit cards or other loans to save you time and money. But that begs the question—does debt consolidation help or hurt your credit?

The answer depends on how you consolidat­e and what you do with your debt afterward.

1. Debt Consolidation Loans

Getting a new loan to pay off other debts is the most popular way to consolidate. It’s certainly what most people think of when they consider consolidation. But finding a loan that has decent terms and is designed specifically for the purpose of consolidation can be challenging—especially if your credit scores are a bit lower due to the balances you’re carrying.

It’s certainly not impossible, though. Look for reputable debt consolidation companies that will work for your specific situation.

Tip: Triple check lenders’ certifications to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate site if you’re shopping for a loan online. Scams abound.

Effect on Your Credit: Consolidating credit cards with high balances using an installment loan (i.e. a loan with fixed monthly payments) may actually benefit your credit rating, especially if you use the loan to pay off credit cards that are near their limits. At the same time, any new loan can cause a short-term dip in your credit scores—so don’t be too surprised if you see your credit score change slightly when taking out a new loan.

2. Debt Management Plans

Debt management plans are often confused with debt consolidation—however, they’re very different programs. Debt management plans (DMPs) are offered through credit counseling agencies and, much to many people’s surprise, they don’t actually consolidate your debt.

Instead, you make a “consolidated” payment to the counseling agency, which then pays each of your creditors—usually at a reduced interest rate. Even though you’re making only one or two monthly payments, the counseling agency doesn’t actually pay off your creditors for you—it simply acts as a middle man to help you repay your debts and ensure that the creditors get the money they’re owed. These programs are available regardless of credit scores, so if you are having trouble consolidating, a DMP might be worth considering.

Tip: If you choose to move forward with a DMP, you should close or suspend your credit card accounts. Unfortunately, you’re not permitted to use credit cards while enrolled in a DMP.

Effect on Your Credit: If you have a good credit score and adhered to a creditor’s repayment terms in the past, a DMP could have a negative impact on your credit as it indicates that you are experiencing or have experienced difficulty with payments. Also, since a DMP directly impacts payment terms, credit reporting agencies might ping your DMP commitment because it designates a change in payment policies.

3. The Credit Card Shuffle

Transferring a high-rate credit card balance to a card with a lower rate is another way to consolidate. Carrie Rocha, author of Pocket Your Dollars: 5 Attitude Changes That Will Help You Pay Down Debt, and her husband paid off some $60,000 in debt, and taking advantage of low-rate balance transfers was one of the strategies they used to dig out. However, if you decide to go this route, you must be very disciplined in your approach. Otherwise, you may fall into traps such as getting stuck with a balance at a high interest rate after the introductory period ends.

Tip: Read the fine print. Keep your eyes peeled for any “but” or “until.”

Effect on Your Credit: It depends on how you use a transfer. You’ll often see a temporary dip in your credit score when opening any new card. If you use a substantial portion of the available credit (on the card) to consolidate balances from other cards with lower balance-to-available-credit ratios, your credit scores may drop from that as well. Finally, you may also lose points if you open a new card and use a majority of the credit line to consolidate.

However, if a 0% card allows you to save money and pay off your debt faster, you can come out ahead in the long run, both financially and credit score–wise.

The End Goal: Less Debt Equals Stronger Credit

Paying down debt can have a tremendous impact on your credit scores. According to FICO, the company behind most of the credit scores used by lenders, consumers with high credit scores (e.g. 785 and above), tend to keep their balances low. Specifically, two-thirds of consumers with good credit carry less than $8,500 in non-mortgage debt, and they use an average of 7% of their available credit on their credit cards.

That means that paying off debt—whether you use a consolidation loan or just put every penny you can toward your debt—will often improve your credit ratings in the long run. The biggest risk, though, is that it’s easy to run up new balances on the cards you paid off in the consolidation—and that’s definitely not a good move for your credit or your bottom line. As you make progress on paying off your loans, periodically check your free credit report to see where you stand.

Remember, moving debt is a means to your end. The goal is to pay off those balances and free up cash flow as well as to help build strong credit. So whether it’s a consolidation loan, credit card shuffle, or DMP, know your options so you get there just a little faster.

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10 Steps to Monitor Your Credit

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Why should you monitor your credit? Well, because bad credit can cost you thousands.  

Think about it—the higher your credit score, the lower interest rate you’ll have on loans (home, auto, etc.), and you’ll end up saving thousands of dollars. However, the time to monitor your credit score is now, not a month before applying for a loan to buy your dream home.

So where does one start monitoring their credit? Great question. Here are 10 steps to monitor your credit.

1. Start with a Free Credit Report

Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request a free credit report. And don’t worry, it really is free (at least from this website). Some people don’t know it, but everyone’s entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, EquiFax, and Experian) once every twelve months.

2. Review Your Credit Report

Once you receive your free credit report (see previous point), check for any inaccuracies or errors. You might find incorrect information about yourself (addresses, phone numbers, etc.) or an account you don’t recognize. If you do find an inaccuracy or error, you can check for instructions in the report on how to inform the credit bureau.

3. Protect Your Personal Information Online

If you haven’t started already, now is the time to take measures against would-be identity thieves who can sabotage your credit score and finances. For example, if you use the same password for everything you do online—”Password123” is not acceptable—you’ll want to up your password game by creating unique logins for every site you frequent, using anti-virus software, and being cautious about what you share online.

4. Protect Your Personal Information Offline

Be careful about what you throw away. Identity thieves can get to your credit by using sensitive information found in your trash, such as bank statements, medical bills, etc.

Also, watch out for scammy phone calls or texts asking for personal information. Protecting your identity offline is just as important as protecting it online.

5. Get Your Financial House in Order

If you currently don’t have an easy way to see your money all in one place, you might want to check out a service like Mint.com, which can provide you with a high-level overview of all your accounts and even help track your credit score. If you know what’s happening in your accounts, it’s easier to spot anything suspicious and stay on top of your credit.

6. Review Your Accounts on a Regular Basis

If you’re not the type to review your credit card accounts on a regular basis, you’ll want to change your ways in order to properly monitor your credit. You can set yourself a weekly reminder to review your charges and balances, and if you do find anything suspicious, report it immediately.

7. See If You Have Credit Monitoring Perks

Some people don’t realize they may already have some form of free, basic credit monitoring. For example, AAA includes free credit monitoring service for members, and many credit card companies, such as Chase, offer free FICO credit scores for cardholders. So why not make credit monitoring easier on yourself by checking if you have some perks you’re not using?

8. Check If Your Info Was Stolen

The Equifax hack is old news at this point, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.

The personal information of more than 145 million US consumers was compromised, which is almost one out of every two Americans. You can go to equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if you’re one of the many impacted. If you’re indeed one of the hundred of millions of victims, all the more reason to stay on top of monitoring your credit to thwart identity thieves.

9. Stay Motivated and Continue to Monitor Your Credit

Monitoring credit is definitely not fun, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be rewarding. If you’re having difficulty keeping up with all of your responsibilities and watching your credit, find a way to reward yourself for doing well (treat yo self!).

10. Stay Informed

The last step in monitoring your credit is as simple as staying informed and watching your credit score. If you’re monitoring your credit, you might also want to check out what it takes to build good credit. You can be the one friend who’s always informed and in the know when it comes to credit.

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What Happens When You Submit a Credit Report Dispute

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Finding a mistake on your credit report can be frustrating. Unfortunately, according to a Credit.com survey of credit report awareness, one in five consumers (21%) who have seen their credit reports say they found inaccurate information on their reports.

Not only is that a lot of frustration, but the error may also have a negative impact on your credit score. Submitting a credit dispute is the first step in the process of correcting inaccurate information and improving your score.

But what comes next? How do credit bureaus fix the error? What effect does a dispute have on your credit score? Here’s the whole story on what happens when you submit a credit report dispute.

How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report

There are two ways to dispute an inaccuracy on your credit report.

  1. Go directly to the furnisher to dispute the error: You can contact the furnisher (the creditor furnishing the data to the credit bureau) directly to dispute the incorrect data on your credit report. If the furnisher finds the information to be inaccurate, it will correct the error and notify all three Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) of the discrepancy. If there is no resolution and you still feel there is a mistake on your report, the furnisher will inform the CRAs that the account is in dispute.
  2. Dispute the error with the credit reporting agency: You can also file a dispute through the CRA that has the inaccuracy on its report. Each one—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—has its own submission process for disputes. Once a dispute is submitted to a CRA, an investigation process starts.

Filing Disputes with the Credit Bureaus

If you include enough documentation when you submit a dispute through a CRA, the agency will resolve the error on your report. If additional information is needed, the agency you submitted the dispute to is required to initiate an investigation (unless your dispute is considered “frivolous”).

When the CRA investigates, the agency forwards relevant information about your dispute to the creditor. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the creditor must then investigate the claim and report its results back to the credit reporting agency. If the information is found to be inaccurate, the furnisher must submit corrections to all three credit reporting agencies.

Confirm with the CRA to find out if you need to continue making payments while in the dispute process. Each CRA has its own policies and procedures for investigations.

While disputed information is being reviewed by a credit bureau, it is not typically labeled as “disputed” on your credit report.

  1. Experian Disputes
    When you file a credit dispute with Experian, the agency reaches out to the furnisher and gives it 30 days from the date you submitted your request to respond back. For Maine residents, the time frame is 21 days. When the agency receives a response, Experian will notify you of the results of the investigation. If it does not get a response in the allotted time, Experian will correct the disputed information as you requested or delete the disputed information. During the investigation process, Experian does not add a comment, note, or any other indication of a dispute on your credit report. 
  2. TransUnion Disputes
    TransUnion usually finishes an investigation and provides you the results about 30 days from the receipt of your dispute—but the company recommends preparing for up to 45 days. When a customer contacts the agency directly, it does not add an “in dispute” comment to their credit report.
  3. Equifax Disputes
    Once your dispute request is submitted, Equifax notifies you of the results within 30 days. On average, disputes are resolved within 10 days. Unlike the other two CRAs, Equifax makes an indication of a consumer dispute on your credit report during the investigation. On Equifax reports, the item will be “noted as ‘Consumer Disputes—Reinvestigation in Process” says Meredith Griffanti, senior director of public relations for Equifax, noting in her email, “If the consumer applies for credit during this time, the potential creditor will see this comment.”

Credit Disputes with Creditors

It is your right to dispute information that you believe to be inaccurate on your credit report. The overall process for disputing inaccurate information with creditors is similar to that of disputing information with the CRAs, but with one important difference: if you dispute an item directly with the furnisher, it will very likely be noted as “disputed” on your credit report for potential lenders to see.

Once you submit a dispute, the creditor has a duty to investigate your claim, according to the FCRA. In most cases, the creditor is expected to respond to your claim within 30 to 45 days and to inform you of the results of its investigation within five business days.

The creditor must notify the credit reporting agencies that you have disputed information, and, if it finds that the information is indeed incorrect, it must promptly provide accurate information to the reporting agencies. If you have received notice that the creditor agrees with your dispute, send a copy of that documentation to the CRAs that reported the information to ensure it gets updated. 

Why Credit Disputes Matter

Negative information on your credit report brings down your credit score. But whether an account is listed as “disputed” or not could also have an effect on your credit score.

When an account is documented as disputed, “it is temporarily excluded from consideration by the VantageScore model,” explains Jeff Richardson, spokesperson with VantageScore. Similarly, “the FICO Score algorithm excludes account activity that is in dispute,” says FICO spokesperson Jeffrey Scott.

VantageScore excludes entire accounts in dispute from the model that calculates your score. FICO, on the other hand, excludes only the disputed information such as an account balance and late payments—not the entire account—from its calculations of your score. “The dispute doesn’t include the age, type, or other non-controversial aspects,” Scott says. “It includes things directly impacted by the dispute—e.g., account balance or late payment.”

There are times when the VantageScore model could be a plus. For example, Richardson says, “If there was a missed payment on the disputed account, the consumer’s credit score can increase because the missed payment will be ignored.”

Unfortunately, the dispute process has been abused. Consumers will sometimes dispute an item that is negative but accurate, then quickly apply for credit, hoping the application will be approved while that information is under dispute and not recognized by the credit scoring model. If you’re thinking of trying that approach, be careful: It could backfire.

The Downsides of Disputing an Error on Your Report

Disputing inaccurate credit report items sounds like it would always be a positive thing, but it is important to recognize that there can be downsides to disputing an item—especially while you are trying to get a loan.

  • Positive information can also be affected: “A consumer could possibly see a decline in his or her score because they would also not receive the positive impact of the account’s age, history, credit availability, or on-time payments,” Richardson points out.
  • You may not be able to get a mortgage: Challenging a mistake while you are trying to get a home loan can hold up your loan. Lenders often will not close a mortgage until the dispute notation is removed. It may be best to wait to dispute incorrect data until after you close a mortgage.

The good news is that most disputes are processed quickly—in less than two weeks, says Griffin—and once the investigation is complete, the item should no longer be listed as disputed. If it’s not, the consumer can request the “under dispute” notation be removed. “If the credit report indicates the dispute has been resolved and/or closed, the account activity will be treated just like all other account activity,” Scott says.

If you have disputed information that is found to be accurate, time is the only thing that can remove that negative information from your credit report. In most cases, negative information stays on your report for 7 to 10 years.

Review Your Credit Report for Inaccuracies

Either way, to dispute a mistake on your credit report, you have to know there is one. You can get your credit reports for free at Credit.com and find out how the information they contain affects your credit by checking your credit scores. You can get your credit scores, which are updated monthly, for free on Credit.com.

If you discover your credit report contains erroneous information, dispute it—but give yourself plenty of time to get the item(s) corrected and the dispute resolved before you apply for a mortgage, car loan, or credit card.

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