How Debt — Yes, Debt — Can Help You Jump-Start Your Business

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

Many business owners run in the other direction when they hear the word debt. But debt can help a business thrive. If you take away the stigma, you can see how it can be used to your advantage — if you know how to manage it. Here are four tips for using debt to help grow your business.

1. You’ll Grow Faster

Taking out a loan can help you grow your business, creating more opportunity for profit. A loan can be used to purchase new equipment to develop your product quicker, increase your overall inventory or help open a new location. By taking out a loan, you give yourself room to grow without making additional investments with company profits.

Before taking on a new loan for your business, make sure you have a plan. If you take out a loan without one, or if your business is struggling financially, it may set you back. However, if you leverage your debt effectively, you could be on the right track to using your debt wisely. Before making any big financial decision for your business, consider speaking with a debt attorney or financial planner to help you weigh out your options. (Disclosure: I am a debt attorney.)

2. You May Keep Ownership of Your Business

Sometimes businesses need extra cash flow to expand and continue running smoothly. By choosing to take out a loan, you will owe the lending institution interest but retain full ownership of your business. Any profits you make after paying principal and interest will be yours to keep.

If you decide to take on a partner to increase capital, you may not only lose full control of your business but be asked to share profits, so be sure to think through the options before you sign up.

3. You May Get Tax Deductions

In most cases, the IRS will allow your business to deduct the interest paid on your loan if you used it for business purposes. This tax relief means more money for you and your business — a good thing since every dollar counts for a business owner. Consider speaking with a tax expert to see if you meet the requirements for tax relief.

4. You May Build Credit & Increase Your Spending Limit

When you decide to take out a loan for your business, a lending institution is trusting you to repay the debt. If you make responsible, on-time payments, you can increase your business’ creditworthiness, or business credit score. Smart credit habits can increase your overall spending limit, lower your future interest rates and help you obtain better terms. You’ll need decent credit to take out a business credit card, so be sure to check your credit score before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. Checking your credit is free and won’t harm your scores. It’s also a way to stay on top of your personal finances.

Using a business loan to help generate cash flow can be a way to grow your business, but it isn’t for everyone. Taking on unnecessary or bad debt can put your business at risk if you aren’t careful. Though a loan can be helpful, it’s important to be aware of the consequences in case things get out of hand. Before you shop for a loan, evaluate the possible risks, costs and benefits, and develop a proper business plan.

Image: mapodile

The post How Debt — Yes, Debt — Can Help You Jump-Start Your Business appeared first on Credit.com.

Average Credit Score in America Reaches New Peak at 699

In late 2016, American consumers hit an important milestone. For the first time in a decade, over half of American consumers (51%) recorded prime credit scores. On the other side of the scale, less than a third of consumers (32%) suffered from subprime scores.1 As a nation, our average FICO® credit score rose to its highest point ever, 699.2

Despite the rosy national picture, we see regional and age-based disparities. A minority of Southerners still rank below prime credit. In contrast, credit scores in the upper Midwest rank well above the national average. Younger consumers struggle with their credit, but boomers and the Silent Generation secured scores well above the national average.

In a new report on credit scores in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in credit scores. The trends offer insight into how Americans fare with their credit health.

Key Insights:

  1. National average FICO® credit scores are up 13 points since October 2009.3
  2. 51% of consumers have prime credit scores, up from 48.1% in 2007.4
  3. One-third of customers have at least one severely delinquent (90+ days past due) account on their credit report.5
  4. Average Vantage® credit scores in the Deep South are 21 points lower than the national average (652 vs. 673).6
  5. Millennials’ average Vantage® credit score (634) underperformed the national average by 39 points. Only Gen Z has a lower average score (631).7

Credit Scores in America

Average FICO® Score: 6998

Average Vantage® Score: 6739

Percent with prime credit score: 51%10

Percent with subprime credit score: 32%11

Credit Score Factors

Percent with at least one delinquency: 32%12

Average number of late payments per month: .3513

Average credit utilization ratio: 30%14

Percent severely delinquent debt: 3.37%15

Percent severely delinquent debt excluding mortgages: 6.9%16

The Big 3 Credit Scores

Credit scoring companies analyze consumer credit reports. They glean data from the reports and create algorithms that determine consumer borrowing risk. A credit score is a number that represents the risk profile of a borrower. Credit scores influence a bank’s decisions to lend money to consumers. People with high credit scores will find the most attractive borrowing rates because that signals to lenders that they are less risky. Those with low credit scores will struggle to find credit at all.

Banks have hundreds of proprietary credit scoring algorithms. In this article, we analyzed trends on three of the most famous credit scoring algorithms:

  1. FICO® 8 Credit Score (used for underwriting mortgages)
  2. Vantage® 3.0 Credit Score (widely available to consumers)
  3. Equifax Consumer Risk Credit Score (used by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Each of these credit scores ranks risk on a scale of 300-850.

In all three models, prime credit is any score above 720.

Subprime credit is any score below 660. All three models consider similar data when they create credit risk profiles. The most common factors include:

  1. Payment history
  2. Revolving debt levels (or revolving debt utilization ratios)
  3. Length of credit history
  4. Number of recent credit inquires
  5. Variety of credit (installment and revolving)

However, each model weights the information differently. This means that a FICO® Score cannot be compared directly to a Vantage® Score or an Equifax Risk Score.

American Credit Scores over Time

Average FICO® Credit Scores in America are on the rise for the eighth straight year. The average credit score in America is now 699.

We’re also seeing healthy increases in prime credit scores. In the three major credit scoring models, a prime credit score is any score above 720.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 51% of all Americans have prime credit scores as measured by the Equifax Risk Score. Following the housing market crash in 2010, just 48.4% of Americans had prime credit scores.20

Credit Scores and Loan Originations

Following the 2007-2008 implosion of the housing market, banks saw mortgage borrowers defaulting at a higher rates than ever before. In addition to higher mortgage default rates, the market downturn led to higher default rates across all types of consumer loans.

To maintain profitability banks began tightening lending practices. More stringent lending standards made it tough for anyone with poor credit to get a loan at a reasonable rate.

Although banks have loosened lending somewhat in the last two years, people with subprime credit will continue to struggle to get loans. In February 2017, banks rejected 85% of all credit applications from people with Equifax Risk Scores below 680. By contrast, banks rejected 8.74% of credit applications from those with credit scores above 760.22

Credit Scores and Mortgage Origination

Before 2008, the median homebuyer had an Equifax Risk Score of 720. In 2017, the median score was 764, a full 44 points higher than the pre-bubble scores. The bottom tenth of buyers had a score of 657, a massive 65 point growth over the pre-recession average.23

Some below prime borrowers still get mortgages. But banks no longer underwrite mortgages for deep subprime borrowers. More stringent lending standards have resulted in near all-time lows in mortgage foreclosures.

Credit Scores and Auto Loan Origination

The subprime lending bubble didn’t directly influence the auto loan market, but banks increased their lending standards for auto loans, too. Before 2008, the median credit score for people originating auto loans was 682. By the first quarter of 2017, the median score for auto borrowers was 706.26

In the case of auto loans, the lower median risk profile hasn’t paid off for banks. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion dollars of auto loans fell into severely delinquent status. That means the owners of vehicles did not pay on their loans for at least 90 days. Auto delinquencies are now as bad as they were in 2008.28

Consumers looking for new auto loans should expect more stringent lending standards in coming months. This means it’s more important than ever for Americans to grow their credit score.

Credit Scores for Credit Cards

Unlike other types of credit, even people with deep subprime credit scores usually qualify to open a secured credit card. However, credit card use among people with poor credit scores is still near an all-time low. In the last decade, credit card use among deep subprime borrowers fell 16.7%. Today, just over 50% of deep subprime borrowers have credit card accounts.30

The dramatic decline came between 2009 and 2011. During this period, half or more of all credit card account closures came from borrowers with below prime credit scores. More than one-third of all closures came from deep subprime consumers.

However, banks are showing an increased willingness to allow customers with poor credit to open credit card accounts. In 2015, more than 60% of all new credit card accounts went to borrowers with subprime credit. 25% of all the accounts went to borrowers with deep subprime credit.

State Level Credit Scores

Consumers across the nation are seeing higher credit scores, but regional variations persist. People living in the Deep South and Southwest have lower credit scores than the rest of the nation. States in the Deep South have an average Vantage® credit score of 652 compared to a nationwide average of 673. Southwestern states have an average score of 658.

States in the Upper Midwest outperform the nation as a whole. These states had average Vantage® Scores of 689.

Unsurprisingly, consumers across the southern United States are far more likely to have subprime credit scores than consumers across the north. Minnesota had the fewest subprime consumers. In December 2016, just 21.9% of residents fell below an Equifax Risk Score of 660. Mississippi had the worst subprime rate in the nation. 48.3% of Mississippi residents had credit scores below 660 in December 2016.35

These are the distributions of Equifax Risk Scores by state:37

Credit Score by Age

In general, older consumers have higher credit scores than younger generations. Credit scoring models consider consumers with longer credit histories less risky than those with short credit histories. The Silent Generation and boomers enjoy higher credit scores due to long credit histories. However, these generations show better credit behavior, too. Their revolving credit utilization rates are lower than younger generations. They are less likely to have a severely delinquent credit item on their credit report.

Gen X and millennials have almost identical revolving utilization ratios and delinquency rates. Compared to millennials, Gen X has higher credit card balances and more debt. Still, Gen X’s longer credit history gives them a 21 point advantage over millennials on average.

To improve their credit scores, millennials and Gen X need to focus on timely payments. On-time payments and lower credit card utilization will drive their scores up.

A report by FICO® showed that younger consumers can earn high credit scores with excellent credit behavior. 93% of consumers with credit scores between 750 and 799 who were under age 29 never had a late payment on the credit report. In contrast, 57% of the total population had at least one delinquency. This good credit group also used less of their available credit. They had an average revolving credit utilization ratio of 6%. The nation as a whole had a utilization ratio of 15%.39

Sources

  1. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  2. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  3. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  4. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  5. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017
  6. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  7. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  8. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  10. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  11. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  12. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  13. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Late Payments, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  14. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Revolving Credit Utilization Ratio, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type, All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  16. Calculated metric using data from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type and Total Debt Balance and Its Composition. All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.Multiply all debt balances by percent of balance 90 days delinquent for Q1 2017, and summarize all delinquent balances. Total delinquent balance for non-mortgage debt = $284 billion. Total non-mortgage debt balance = $4.1 trillion $284 billion /$4.1 trillion = 6.9%.
  17. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  18. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  19. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  20. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  21. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  22. Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). The SCE data are available without charge at http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.
  23. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  24. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  25. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Number of Consumers with New Foreclosures and Bankruptcies, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  26. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  27. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  28. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  29. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  30. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  31. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  32. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  33. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  36. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  37. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  38. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  39. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.

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The Best Things to Charge on Your Credit Card When You’re Rebuilding Credit

Charging a few small, easy-to-pay-off items to your card each month can help you rebuild credit.

If your credit needs rehabilitation due to late payments, accounts in collections or other negative items, it might be time to rebuild. Rebuilding your credit requires an understanding of your current situation, identifying past mistakes and implementing the right strategies going forward.

Wise use of a credit card is one way to start. Surprising, right? But if you use that plastic correctly, it really can help you. Good credit card strategies include keeping a low balance, making payments on time and paying your balance in full each month. To do that, it’s best to start small and only charge things that won’t kill your credit building project before it takes off. (You can check on your progress with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

Here are a few things you can charge on your credit card to help you boost that score.

Gas

The cost of gas can add up, but if you already have room for gas in your monthly budget, you can charge your gas expenses and pay them off in full using the funds in your bank account. Some credit cards offer special cash back rates on gas purchases so you can earn a little money back in your wallet (although getting a new unsecured credit card might not be the best move for you at this stage as the inquiry will cause your score to take even more of a hit).

Groceries

Groceries are another staple you likely already have built into your budget. Instead of handing over cash or a check when you pick up the necessities for the week, charge your groceries to your credit card and pay those purchases off in full each month. There are several credit cards on the market that offer special cash-back rates on groceries, as well.

Streaming Services

Monthly streaming services usually cost less than $20 a month. You could conceivably set up your credit card to pay for a streaming service, pay it off in full each month and never use it for anything else.

Balance Transfers

If you have a large balance on a high-interest credit card, it could be damaging your credit score and affecting your ability to make your payment. If you have a lower interest credit card, you can transfer the balance and reduce the interest. If you can qualify, a card with a long 0% intro APR period can help you pay your balance off interest-free.

(Cheap) Dining & Recreation

It’s probably not a good idea to use your credit cards at the club or restaurants, as it’s easy for costs to spiral out of control. But if you’re on a date at the movies or taking the kids out for mini golf and milkshakes, low-cost dining and recreation purchases might be a safe bet.

Small Everyday Expenses

Sometimes you have to run into a local store for a roll of duct tape or some socks. Small everyday purchases can be fairly easy to pay off in full.

Using Your Credit Card Wisely to Build Credit

For the most part, small purchases you can afford to pay off each time the statement arrives are the best things to put on your credit card, as payment history is the biggest influencer of your credit scores. Plus, carrying a balance means you’ll be hit with interest and it will take you longer to pay down your balance.

But even relatively small purchases can threaten your credit if they pile up too quickly. (Credit experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio — that is, your amount of debt in relation to your credit limit — at 30%, ideally 10%.) So, a good practice is to treat your credit card like cash and only purchase things you can cover with available funds.

Have any questions about improving your credit? Ask us in the comments below and one of our credit experts will do their best to help.

Image: bowdenimages

The post The Best Things to Charge on Your Credit Card When You’re Rebuilding Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

How Transferring a Balance Affects Your Credit Score

Are you thinking about taking advantage of a balance transfer offer? They’re awfully tempting and can be an excellent way to efficiently pay off your debt.

Thinking of taking advantage of a balance transfer offer? It can be an excellent way to pay off your debt. But how will transferring a balance affect your credit score? And of what potential pitfalls should you be aware?

It’s impossible to predict exactly how any one financial decision will affect your credit score. We can guess based on what we know about credit-scoring algorithms, and credit score simulators are can show you how a particular choice might affect your score. But so many factors influence your score that an exact effect is difficult to predict.

With that said, we can look at two areas of your credit score a balance transfer will most likely impact: your credit utilization and new credit inquiries.

Balance Transfers & Your Debt-to-Credit Ratio

Your credit utilization, or debt-to-credit ratio, is the second most important piece of your credit score, behind your payment history. It’s essentially a measure of how much you owe versus how much credit you have available.

Say, for instance, you owe $1,000 on a card with a $2,000 limit. In this case, your debt-to-credit ratio is 50%. (You can see how your debt is impacting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

If you’re approved for a new credit card with a balance transfer offer, you’ll wind up with a higher overall credit limit. This could be a good thing, since it will push your debt-to-credit ratio lower.

In the above example, if you’re approved for a new card with a $1,000 limit, your total credit limit will be $3,000. As long as you don’t accrue more debt, your total debt-to-credit ratio will be about 33%. Since that’s better than 50%, your credit score should be fine. Plus, with a lower interest rate, you can presumably pay off the debt quicker. As your debt decreases, so will your debt-to-credit ratio, which means your credit score will climb.

What About New Credit Inquiries?

A balance transfer’s effect on your credit score isn’t all good. To open a new credit card, the card issuer will pull your credit score, which will most likely add an inquiry to your credit file and cause a small but temporary decrease in your score. The impact won’t likely be large unless you apply for several balance transfer cards at once.

The Possible Pitfalls of Balance Transfers

A balance transfer card can be good in some circumstances, but it has potential drawbacks. Here’s what to avoid if you opt for a balance transfer:

Taking on More Debt 

If you’re already dealing with credit card debt because of your spending habits, a balance transfer may be the wrong choice. Opening a new credit card gives you access to more credit, and with that access can come the temptation to spend. If you’re likely to reach your credit limits, a balance transfer card may not be for you.

Paying Too Much in Balance Transfer Fees

Most balance transfer cards come with a one-time fee. This fee may be worth it if it gets you out of paying loads of interest every month. But it might also cost more than you’re willing to pay. Be sure you know what the fee is upfront.

Maxing Out a Credit Card

Scoring algorithms like FICO’s look at both your overall credit utilization and your per-card credit utilization. So maxing out a balance transfer card to take full advantage of a low- or no-interest offer may negatively affect your credit score, even if opening the new card decreases your overall debt-to-credit ratio.

Should You Transfer a Balance?

Is a balance transfer right for you? If transferring a balance helps you save money and pay off debt faster, it’s most likely the right choice. Just be careful if you’re preparing to apply for a larger loan, like a mortgage. Even a small ding at the wrong time can hurt you. Still, transferring a balance and efficiently paying off debt will have great consequences for your credit score over the long term.

Image: Geber86

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How the Superhero Approach Can Help You Avoid Identity Theft

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

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

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

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

What Makes a Good Target?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abandon Your Past

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

Be Evasive

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

Lie

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

Be Consistent & Vigilant

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

Use a Nickname

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: PeskyMonkey

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

7 Monthly Bills Affected by Your Credit

A high credit score helps you in many ways, including by potentially lowering your monthly bills.

You probably know your monthly bills can impact your credit, as late payments or accounts in collections can land on your credit report and bring down your credit score. But are you aware your credit score can affect the payment amount on a number of your monthly bills?

Here are seven monthly bills with payments your credit score can determine.

1. Rent Payments

When you apply for a lease, your landlord might request a background check that includes your credit report. They can’t run a background check without your permission, although refusing may prevent you from moving forward with the lease.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the landlord can take adverse action if they find red flags in your credit report. This action could include denying your rental application or raising your rent higher than they would charge another applicant. The good news is they are legally required to give you written notice if they take adverse action, provide you the report they used (if you request it within 60 days) and give you the chance to dispute the information.

2. Credit Cards

Consumers with good credit tend to qualify for much lower credit card interest rates than those with poor credit. Interest is applied to your credit card balance each month unless you pay it off in full within the monthly grace period. (You can go here to learn more about how credit card interest is calculated.) If you tend to carry a balance month to month, your poor credit could be costing you extra in interest.

3. Mortgages

Your mortgage payment is also directly affected by your credit. Mortgage lenders consider you a riskier borrower if you have a lower credit score. To hedge against that risk, they will charge you a higher interest rate.

4. Auto Loans

Credit scores impact the interest rate lenders offer when you apply for an auto loan. While interest rates vary between lenders, having excellent credit generally results in lower interest and a lower monthly payment. Those 0% financing offers you see on car commercials usually require excellent credit.

5. Student Loans

Your credit score doesn’t generally affect federal loan payments, but if you plan on financing your education through private loans, lenders can use your credit score to determine your interest rate and fees. The worse your credit, the more interest you’ll pay on the loan.

6. Auto Insurance

According to The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance Report, there’s a correlation between credit and car insurance rates. On a national level, drivers with poor credit can pay more than twice as much as those with excellent credit for insurance. Some states have banned insurance providers from using credit scores to determine rates, but it’s a common practice in the states that allow it.

7. Homeowners Insurance

Insurance companies use credit-based insurance scores to determine what you’ll pay for homeowners insurance. These scores are industry-specific and aren’t exactly the same as your credit score, but they use the information in your credit report to determine your score. The same negative marks that bring down your credit score can impact your insurance score, and affect your payment.

Given your credit’s affect on nearly every bill in your mailbox (among other things, of course), it’s important to regularly monitor your credit for errors (you can go here to learn how to dispute those), identity theft or legitimate negative items that are affecting your score. You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your free credit report snapshot every month on Credit.com. You can generally improve your bad credit by paying down high credit card balances, shoring up accounts in delinquency and limiting new credit inquiries while your credit score rebounds.

Trying to lower your monthly bills. We can help you get started with 9 ways to lower your monthly mortgage payment. 

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The post 7 Monthly Bills Affected by Your Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

I Have an 800 Credit Score. Why Was I Rejected for This Travel Rewards Card?

You can imagine my shock and frustration when I received a rejection letter from Barclaycard a few days after submitting my application online.

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

It started simply enough. For months, I’d had my eye out for a premium travel rewards card, one that had a great rate of return, a sweet signup bonus and a rare miles redemption.

After a week of research, I settled on the Barclayard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, a popular option that packs perks, carries a low annual fee of $89 and offers miles that never expire. It also features a 5% redemption, awarded every time you cash out your miles.

To ensure I’d be able to qualify, I did my due diligence and pulled my credit reports on AnnualCreditReport.com (you can also view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Nothing looked suspicious: After years of keeping a budget and dutifully paying my credit card bills on time, my hard work had paid off and my credit score was in the solid 800 range.

So you can imagine my shock and frustration when I received a rejection letter from Barclaycard a few days after submitting my application online. What had I done?

“Too few accounts with sufficient satisfactory performance,” read one of the bullets. “Insufficient number of credit cards on your credit report,” read another.

Armed with this information, I gave Barclaycard’s customer service line a call. Yes, I was a reliable customer, I explained. Yes, I paid all my bills on time. See? It said so right there on my credit report. After responding to a few more questions, which mainly involved why I’d closed the other cards in the first place, I was approved.

“Consumers should always try to call and speak with a human if they want a different outcome,” said Eric Lindeen, vice president of marketing for ID Analytics in San Diego. “Sometimes they are able to take care of you.”

The Curse of Closing Two Credit Cards 

I could’ve avoided all of this. The two cards I’d canceled were the only ones I had — a big no-no in the world of credit, said Lindeen, whose company offers credit-risk management scores to issuers to help them onboard new customers.

“If the two cards you canceled were your only two cards, that would have a big impact on your score,” he said. Having “one to two cards is good, three to five is great; zero is not good. That probably was a 30- to 50-point hit to your score.” (You can learn how credit utilization — your total amount of debt versus how much credit has been extended to you — affects your credit score here.)

The issuer may also have perceived my lack of cards as a sign that I was “experiencing a high turnover of cards,” Lindeen said, referring to the practice of card, or mile, churning. For the unfamiliar, card churning refers to the act of signing up for rewards credit cards, spending just enough to earn the signup bonus and ditching the plastic before the annual fee kicks in.

As evidenced by the wildly popular Chase Sapphire Reserve — which touted an unprecedented 100,000-point bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months — and the backlash Chase received on dozens of blogs and Reddit after reportedly establishing a 5/24 Rule (you won’t be approved if you’ve opened five or more accounts in the past 24 months) to prevent this kind of behavior, it’s no wonder issuers have grown wary. Who wants to give away money and not make a profit?

Certainly not American Express, whose Platinum Card touts some of the best travel rewards out there. Prospective applicants are warned: “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.” Likewise, Citi notes that its bonus ThankYou Points “are not available if you have had a ThankYou Preferred, ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the past 24 months.” [Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.]

“Your application was initially declined because the system found that there had been at least two recent account closures — which flagged the application,” said Barclaycard representative Nicole DyeAnderson over email.

Now I knew why I was in this predicament.

How to Avoid Rejection (by a Credit Card) 

Keeping an eye on your spending and credit behavior is a big deal. Even one purchase can cause your score to plummet, said Lindeen, and the last thing you want is to permanently damage your standing. Keeping debt levels low, applying for cards as your score can handle them and paying bills off on time are the right ways to build up your credit. But all too often, people get carried away or lured by a large signup bonus.

Lindeen also stressed the importance of keeping your oldest credit card open as long as possible. “Mortgages and car loans reach an end point and later drop off your report,” he said, whereas a “credit card is something you can keep on file for your entire life.” A key metric in most scores is the age of your oldest tradeline, or item on your credit report, so holding onto your credit cards is important for building and maintaining credit.

For yours truly, it might be worth it to call my old issuers and see if they’ll reopen the cards with the original open date. Until then, I’ve learned my lesson — and probably won’t cancel another credit card again.

At publishing time, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard and Platinum Card from American Express are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

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

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The post I Have an 800 Credit Score. Why Was I Rejected for This Travel Rewards Card? appeared first on Credit.com.

Here’s How to Prepare Your Credit for a Job Search

Don't let your credit hold you back from your dream job.

Conducting a job search after graduating from college can seem like a monumental task, one filled with challenges and uncertainties. But here’s one thing recent grads shouldn’t be uncertain about when embarking on the journey to secure a job — what’s on their credit report.

Just as hours and days are devoted to creating a professional resume and poring over every last word on a LinkedIn profile, your credit report also needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, improved. The importance of one’s credit history during a job search will of course vary by profession, but there are employers who will look at your credit report as part of their application process. And if you’re applying for a job that requires you to handle cash or balance books, a blemish could hurt your chances of securing the position.

Why Does an Employer Want to See my Credit? 

“Employers will look at credit history as a measure of responsibility,” said Deidre Davis, vice president of marketing and communications for the university-based MSU Federal Credit Union. “They’re looking to see if that potential employee has successfully managed their financial obligations, because that will tell them how someone might manage overall workload and deadlines.”

According to credit-industry experts, it’s most often within the banking and financial services industry that a credit report review is part of the application process, as well as for some government jobs that require security clearance, law enforcement officers and those seeking executive-level positions. It’s important to note, however, there are about a dozen states where local laws either prohibit or severely limit the use of consumer credit reports as part of an application, according to the site Employment Screening Resources.

Plus, employers are not allowed to check your credit report without your consent, which you must provide in writing. And they won’t have access to your actual credit score, explained Davis. They’ll be looking at the credit report, which is slightly different. It shows such things as whether you’ve missed payments and are delinquent on accounts, and whether you carry large balances.

Having a clean credit report isn’t just important to a job search, post-college. Prospective landlords, insurers, cell phone companies, utility providers and more will check your credit when deciding whether to do business with you and/or what to charge. Of course, you’ll also need good credit to get an affordable loan.

With that in mind, here’s some advice from credit experts on getting your credit profile ready for the interview process.

1. Know What’s on Your Credit Report

The first step is to pull your credit report and conduct a thorough review of everything on it. Under federal law, you’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each consumer credit reporting agency. You can pull your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. (And, if you’re looking for your digits, you can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

“Know your starting point,” said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. “Many young adults already have credit profiles and don’t realize it. Start by finding out if you do.”

Once you’ve reviewed your report(s), correct any inaccuracies and dispute any erroneous items. (You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here.) Under the terms of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate disputed items and remove them from the report if they cannot be verified, Gallegos explained.

2. Seek Guidance From a Finance Professional

If the credit report turns up negative factors, or you simply don’t have a firm understanding of the key aspects of a credit profile, consider obtaining the advice of a professional.

“Get some tips to improve things going forward,” said Davis of MSU Federal Credit Union. “Talk to someone who can tell you, ‘For the next six months these are the behaviors that will improve your credit score.’ Sometimes people need some basic advice and guidance. That’s where going into a local financial institution can help. You can say to them, ‘Here is my credit report, how can I make it better?’ ”

According to the site LendEDU, many college students know very little about building, maintaining or repairing consumer credit. In 2016, the site surveyed 668 current college students at both two-year and four-year public and private institutions, and found that 59.3% of students could not define a credit score. In addition, 45.5% were unable to identify any of the factors used to determine a credit score, and 42.4% were unable to identify at least one way to improve a credit score.

Building good credit is important, so don’t be afraid to seek assistance.

3. Improve Your Credit

One of the most critical things you can do to improve your credit report moving forward is pay bills on time, said Gallegos.

“On-time payments are the most important factor in developing good credit, accounting for 35% of one’s credit score,” he said.

In addition, maintaining a low balance, or using only about at least 30% and ideally 10% of your available credit, will improve your score. You should also aim to pay your bills in full each month, if possible. Likewise, paying student loans on time, which are considered installment loans, can help improve your credit score. (You can find more ways to improve your credit here.)

What If You Haven’t Established Credit?

Some college graduates may not have an extensive credit history to show a prospective employer. If this is the case, there are a few ways to help establish a solid record fairly quickly.

One approach is to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, ideally a card the parent has had for a long time and kept in good standing. By being added to such a card, the payment history on the account will become part of your credit report as well.

Be aware not all credit card companies report authorized users’ names to credit bureaus because there’s a fee involved in doing so, says Davis. That means being added to the card won’t accomplish your goal of establishing a solid credit history. Always find out first if the card reports authorized users to credit bureaus.

Another approach is to open a secured credit card in your name. Secured credit cards require a cash deposit as collateral, which then becomes the line of credit. The key when opening the card, or any card for that matter, is being responsible, said Davis.

“Only use the card for small dollar purchases that can be paid when the bill comes in so that you’re not getting into debt but are showing responsible use,” she said. “Buy a pizza with the card, and pay it off. Buy a pair of tennis shoes, and pay it off. Don’t go open 15 cards. Open one and use it responsibly.”

Trying to get a full-time gig now that college has ended? We’ve got your covered. Here’s a full 50 things recent graduates can do to score their first job

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The post Here’s How to Prepare Your Credit for a Job Search appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Ways to Lower Your Monthly Credit Card Payment

The average American between 18 and 65 has credit card debt. Here's how to get rid of yours.

If you have a monthly credit card payment you could do without, you aren’t alone. The average American between 18 and 65 has more than $4,000 in credit card debt, and if you carry a balance from month to month, you’re automatically making a larger credit card payment than necessary.

Here are nine common-sense ways to shrink your credit card payment.

1. Make Larger Payments Now

While it may sound counterproductive, making larger credit card payments now will reduce future payments — provided you aren’t racking up too many charges and undoing your progress. By making more than the minimum payment, you can reduce your overall balance — and the amount of interest you’re accruing.

If you have disposable income, this should be an easy step. If you don’t, some budget tightening can help free up cash for a larger payment.

2. Reduce Credit Card Spending

If your purchases are affecting your ability to manage your credit card payments, it could be time to curb your spending. You can analyze your monthly credit card statement to determine what types of purchases are costing the most. For instance, if restaurants and bars make up a large portion of your credit card bill, you may want to start cooking more meals at home.

3. Stop Using Your Card Entirely

If your balance is out of control or way over the recommended credit-utilization rate, you may want to eliminate credit card spending altogether. Instead, you can use only your available funds for expenses as you work to pay down your debt. This way, you won’t add to your balance and over time your minimum payment will drop.

“For many people, the problem isn’t that they aren’t paying money toward their balance but that they keep charging more to it,” said Brian Davis, cofounder of SparkRental.com. “In that case, they should leave their credit card at home, in a drawer, and only spend cash until they’ve paid off their credit card debt. Spending cash feels quite different than swiping plastic — people intuitively track their spending and how much cash is left in their wallet, because it’s real and tangible.”

4. Negotiate Lower Interest Rates

One of the simplest ways to reduce your monthly credit card payment a bit is to lower your interest rate. You can call your credit card company and ask them to adjust your annual percentage APR (more about lowering your interest rate here). If you have a long history of timely payments, they may comply without much fuss. Even if you don’t have success at first, you can keep calling to reach other representatives or ask to speak with a manager.

5. Transfer Your Balance

Balance transfers are another common way to lower interest rates. Many credit cards offer introductory periods of a 0% APR for balance transfers, which gives you an interest-free timeframe to pay down your balance. The APR will kick in when that timeframe is up, so you’ll want to choose a card with a lower APR than you currently have and/or do your very best to pay off the balance before that window is up. Keep in mind you’ll likely have to pay a one-time fee per balance transfer, which usually amounts to $5 or 3 to 5% of the transfer amount, though there are one or two cards out there that will let you avoid that fee.

“One way to lower your monthly credit card bill is to open a new card with a 0% APR for an introductory period, and transfer your existing credit card balances to it,” said Davis. “That will buy you some breathing room to pay down the balance without huge portions of the payment going toward interest.”

6. Prioritize Payments

If you’ve got multiple balances, some strategic resource allocation can help you pay them down more quickly — and ultimately lower your monthly obligations. Make sure you’re making all your minimum payments on-time, but put the most money you can toward the balance with the highest interest rate. That’ll keep that balance from burgeoning and save you more dough in the long run.

7. Ask Your Card Issuer for a Payment Plan

If you’re in serious financial trouble, you could talk to your credit card issuer about a long-term repayment plan. That’s not going to go a long-way to lowering your credit card bill in the short-term, but it can help you avoid late fees, default and bigger money woes while you work to improve your financial health.

Credit card companies sometimes offer alternative payment plans to customers experiencing financial hardship. Keep in mind these plans will differ from company to company and may require you to close your account.

8. Improve Your Credit Score

Better credit usually leads to better interest rates, which can lead to lower payments. Once you’ve significantly improved your credit, you may be able to negotiate a better rate with your current credit card issuer or qualify for other cards that have better rates. If you’re not sure where your credit stands, you can view two of your credit scores on Credit.com for free.

9. Pay Off Your Balance Each Month

Paying off your balance each month is the ideal way to use a credit card. It eliminates interest and keeps you from accruing debt. No matter your financial standing, paying off your balance in full each month should be the ultimate goal.

Trying to lower all your monthly bills? You can find a full 13 ways to lower your car insurance premium here. And if there’s a bill you just can’t seem to get down, let us know in the comments section below and we’ll get an expert to provide some suggestions!

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The post 9 Ways to Lower Your Monthly Credit Card Payment appeared first on Credit.com.

Earnest: Personal & Student Loans for Responsible Individuals with Limited Credit History

Earnest - Personal & Student Loans for Responsible Individuals with Limited Credit History

Updated January 24, 2016

Earnest is anything but a traditional lender for unsecured personal loans and student loans. They offer merit-based loans instead of credit-based loans, which is good news for anyone just starting to establish credit. Their goal is to lend to borrowers who show signs of being financially responsible. Earnest is working to redefine credit-worthiness by taking into account much more than just your score.

They have a thorough application process, but it’s for good reason – they consider different variables and data points (such as employment history, education, and overall financial situation) that traditional lenders don’t.

Earnest*, unlike traditional lenders, says their underwriting team looks to the future to predict what your finances will look like, based upon the previously mentioned variables. They don’t place as much emphasis on your past, which is why a minimal credit history is okay.

Additionally, as their underwriting process is so thorough, Earnest doesn’t take on as much risk as traditional lenders do. With their focus on the financial responsibility level of the borrower, they have less defaults and fraud, which allows them to offer some of the lowest APRs on unsecured personal loans.

Personal Loan (Scroll Down for Student Loan Refinance)

Earnest offers up to $50,000 for as long as three years, and their APR starts at a fixed-rate of 5.25% and goes up to 12.00%. They claim that’s lower than any other lender of their type out there, and if you receive a better quote elsewhere; they encourage you to contact them.

Typical loan structure

How does this look on paper? If you needed to borrow $20,000, your estimated monthly payment would be $599-$638 on a three- year loan, $873-$911 on a two- year loan, and $1,705-$1,744 on a one-year loan. According to their website, the best available APR is on a one-year loan.

Not available everywhere

Earnest is available in the following 36 states (they are increasing the number of states regularly, and we keep this updated): Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Get on LinkedIn

Earnest no longer requires that you have a LinkedIn profile. However, if you do have a LinkedIn profile, the application process becomes a lot faster. When you fill out the application, your education and employment history will automatically be filled in from your LinkedIn profile.

What Earnest Looks for in a Borrower

Earnest AppEarnest wants to lend to those who know how to manage and control their finances. They want borrowers to know the importance of saving, living below their means, using credit wisely, making timely payments, and avoiding fees.

They look at salary, savings, debt to income ratio, and cash flow. They want borrowers with low credit utilization – not those maxing out their credit cards and experiencing difficulty in paying.

Borrowers must be over 18 years old and have a solid education background. Ideally, they attended college or graduate school, have a degree, and have a history of consistent employment, or at least a job offer that gives them the opportunity to grow.

Overall, Earnest wants to make sure borrowers are taking their future as seriously as they are. After all, they’re investing in it! The team at Earnest knows that money often holds people back when it comes to being able to achieve their dreams and goals, and they’re all about helping borrowers get there.

For that reason, Earnest seeks to learn more about those that apply for loans with them. They review every line of your application, and they want to develop a lifelong relationship with their borrowers. They genuinely want to help and see their borrowers succeed.

The Fine Print – Are There Any Fees?

Earnest actually doesn’t charge any fees. There are no late fees, no origination fees, and no hidden fees.

There’s also no penalty for prepaying loans with Earnest – they encourage borrowers to prepay to reduce the amount of interest they’ll pay over the life of the loan.

Earnest states that one of its values is transparency (and of course, here at MagnifyMoney, that’s one of ours as well!), and they are willing to work with borrowers who are struggling to make payments.

Hala Baig, a member of Earnest’s Client Happiness team, says, “We would work with the client to make accommodations that are appropriate to help them through their situation.”

She also notes that if borrowers are late on payments, they do report the status of loans on a monthly basis.

What You Can Do With the Money

The $30,000 loan limit is enough to pay off debt such as an undergraduate student loan, medical debt, or consumer debt, relocate for a job, improve your home or rental property, help you fund a down payment, or further invest in your education.

Earnest’s APR is much, much better than you’ll receive on many credit cards, and it could be a viable way to decrease the burden of debt you’re currently experiencing.

Earnest logo 1

Apply Now

The Personal Loan Application Process

Earnest does a hard inquiry upon completion of the application. They’re very open about this on their website, stating that hard inquiries remain on credit reports for two years, and may slightly lower your credit score for a short period of time.

Compared to Upstart, their application process is more involved, but that’s to the benefit of the borrower. They aim to underwrite files and make a decision within 7 business days – it’s not instantaneous.

However, once you accept a loan from Earnest and input your bank information, they’ll transfer the money the next day via ACH, so the money will be in your account within 3 days.

Student Loan Refinance

When refinancing with Earnest, you can refinance both private and federal student loans.

The minimum amount to refinance is $5,000 – there’s no specific cap on the maximum you can refinance.

We encourage you to shop around. Earnest is one of the best options, but there are others. You can see the best options to refinance your student loans here.

Earnest offers loans up to 20 years. Unlike other lenders, Earnest allows borrowers to create their own term based on the minimum monthly payment you’re comfortable making. Yes, you can actually choose your monthly payment, which means the loan can be customized to your needs. Loan terms start at 5 months, and you can change that term later if needed.

You can also switch between variable and fixed rates freely – there’s no charge. (Note that variable rates are not offered in IL, MI, MN, OR, and TN. Earnest isn’t in all 50 states yet, either.)

Fixed APRs range from 3.75% to 6.64%, and variable APRs range from 2.76% to 6.24% (this is with a .25% autopay discount).

If you refinance $25,000 on a 10 year term with an APR of 5.75%, your monthly payment will be $274.42.

The Pros and Cons of Earnest’s Student Loan Refinance Program

Similar to SoFi, Earnest offers unemployment protection should you lose your job. That means you can defer payments for three months at a time, up to a total of twelve months over the life of your loan. Interest still accrues, though.

The flexibility offered from being able to switch between fixed and variable rates is a great benefit to have should you experience a change in your financial situation.

As you can see from above, variable rates are much lower than fixed rates. Of course, the only problem is those rates change over time, and they can grow to become unmanageable if you take a while to pay off your loan.

Having the option to switch makes your student loan payments easier to manage. If you can afford to pay off your loans quickly, you’ll benefit from the low variable rate. If you have to take it slow and need stability because you lost a source of income, you can switch to a fixed rate. Note that switching can only take place once every 6 months.

Earnest also lets borrowers skip one payment every 12 months (after making on-time payments for 6 months). Just note this does raise your monthly payment to adjust for the skipped payment.

Beyond that, Earnest encourages borrowers to contact a representative if they’re experiencing financial hardship. Earnest is committed to working with borrowers to make their loans as manageable as possible, even if that means temporary forbearance or restructuring the loan.

Lastly, if you need to lower your monthly payment, you can apply to refinance again. This entails Earnest taking another look at your terms and seeing if it can give you a better quote.

Who Qualifies to Refinance Student Loans With Earnest?

Earnest doesn’t have a laundry list of eligibility requirements. Simply put, it’s looking to lend to financially responsible people that have a reasonable ability to pay their loans back.

Earnest describes its ideal candidate as someone who:

  • Is employed, or at least has a job offer
  • Is at least 18 years old
  • Has a positive bank balance consistently
  • Has enough in savings to cover a month or more of regular expenses
  • Lives in AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, MA, MD, MI, MN, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, Washington D.C., and WI
  • Has a history of making timely payments on loans
  • Has an income that can support their debt and routine living expenses
  • Has graduated from a Title IV accredited school

If you think you need a little help to qualify, Earnest does accept co-signers – you just have to contact a representative via email first.

Application Process and Documents Needed to Refinance

Earnest has a straightforward application process. You can start by receiving the rates you’re eligible for in just 2 minutes. This won’t affect your credit, either. However, this initial soft pull is used to estimate your rates – if you choose to move forward with the terms offered to you, you’ll be subject to a hard credit inquiry, and your rates may change.

Filling out the entire application takes about 15 minutes. You’ll be asked to provide personal information, education history, employment history, and financial history. Earnest takes all of this into account when making the decision to lend to you.

The Fine Print for Student Loan Refinance

There aren’t any hidden fees – no origination, prepayment, or hidden fees exist. Earnest makes it clear its profits come from interest.

There are also no late fees, but if you get behind in payments, the status of your loan will be reported to the credit bureaus.

Earnest logo

Apply Now

Who Benefits the Most from Earnest

Those in their 20s and 30s who have a good grip on their finances and are just getting started with their careers will make great borrowers. If you’re dedicated to experiencing financial success once you earn enough money to actually achieve it, you should look into a loan with Earnest.

If you have a history of late payments, being disorganized with your money, or letting things slip through the cracks, then you’re going to have a more difficult time getting a loan.

Amazing credit score not required

You don’t necessarily need to have the most amazing credit score, but your track record with money thus far will speak volumes about how you’re going to handle the money loaned from Earnest. That’s what they will be the most concerned about.

What makes you looks responsible?

Baig gives a better picture, stating, “We are focused on offering better loan alternatives to financially responsible people. We believe the vast majority of people are financially responsible and that reviewing applications based strictly on credit history never shows the full picture. One example would be saving money in a 401k or IRA. That would not appear on your credit history, but is a great signal to us that someone is financially responsible.”

Conclusion

Overall, it’s very clear that Earnest wants to help their borrowers as much as possible. Throughout their website, they take time to explain everything involved with the loan process. Their priority is educating their borrowers.

While Earnest does have a nice starting APR at 4.25%, remember to take advantage of the other lenders out there and shop around. You are never obligated to take a loan once you receive a quote, and it’s important to do your due diligence and make sure you’re getting the best rates out there. If you do find better rates, be sure to notify Earnest. Otherwise, compare rates with as many lenders as possible.

Shopping around within the span of 45 days isn’t going to make a huge dent in your credit; the bureaus understand you’re doing what you need to do to secure the best loan possible. Just make sure you’re not applying to different lenders once a month, and your credit will be okay.

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