11 Things College Students Should Know Before Opening a Credit Card

Getting your first credit card is a big step and with the right knowledge you'll be on your way to having great credit and plentiful rewards in no time.

College is a great time for financially responsible students to start learning to use credit cards. Credit cards can enable students to make purchases, build credit and even earn rewards. But credit cards can be a confusing concept for a first-timer.

Here are eleven things all college students should know about their first credit card.

1. It Can Help Build Your Credit …

Credit cards are important credit building tools, as card activity is typically reported to credit bureaus and included on your credit report. Over time, credit cards can help you establish an excellent credit score. Excellent credit can help you secure loans, land better interest rates and even reduce common monthly payments.

2. … If You Use It Correctly

Credit cards only help your credit when they’re used wisely — irresponsible use can severely damage your credit. To successfully build your credit, you’ll need to start and stick to smart credit card practices. These include making payments on time, maintaining a low balance and keeping accounts open over time.

3. It Isn’t Free

The credit limit on your credit card isn’t a budget for your next spending spree. Any purchase you make on your credit card will accrue interest if isn’t paid off in time. Plus, credit cards charge additional fees, which may include annual fees, foreign transaction fees and late payment penalties. Pay close attention to the annual percentage rate (APR) and fees for any credit card you’re considering.

4. Missed Payments Have Consequences

If you miss a payment or make a late payment, your credit card issuer may charge you a late payment fee. You might get slapped with a penalty APR that’s much higher than the interest rate you signed up for. That missed payment could even land on your credit report and bring down your credit score for up to seven years.

5. There Are Options if You Have No Credit

If you have no credit history, you can still qualify for certain types of credit cards. One of the best options is a secured credit card, which requires a security deposit upfront but then works just like a traditional credit card. You could also have a trusted family member add you as an authorized user to their credit card account.

6. You Should Pay More Than the Minimum

While it’s tempting to only pay the bare minimum each month, it’s wise to pay a little more. Minimum payments won’t significantly reduce your balance, and you may wind up paying a lot in interest over time. To completely avoid interest, you should pay off your balance in full each month. This means you shouldn’t charge more than you can afford to pay.

7. Applications Can Harm Your Score

When you apply for a credit card, the ensuing credit check (known as a hard inquiry) may land on your credit report. Hard inquiries can ding your credit score a few points but aren’t damaging in the long term. There is a risk in submitting too many applications over a long period of time, so you should try to limit your credit card shopping to a two-week period.

8. Use Rewards Wisely

Many credit cards earn rewards, such as cash back or travel points, as you spend. These rewards can be extremely valuable, but only if you use your card correctly. For instance, cash back cards are less valuable if you carry a balance month-to-month, as interest will eat into the profitability of your card. The way you redeem rewards also varies from card to card, so you’ll want to pick a card that actually provides rewards you’ll use.

9. Not All Cards Are Created Equal

Some credit cards are specifically designed for college students and offer security features, rewards and programs that benefit the fledgling credit card user. Take a look at student-focused credit cards, as they may be more accessible to you and have student-friendly policies. Some of these cards have certain requirements when it comes to credit scores. Before applying for any new cards, it’s wise to check if you will qualify by reviewing your credit scores. You can check two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

10. It Doesn’t Have to Be Exclusive

Your credit card will help build credit whether or not you use it religiously, so don’t feel obligated to use it for everything. You can keep it in case of emergencies or for the occasional purchase.

11. There Are Security Benefits

Credit cards offer a number of security benefits over cash and debit cards. They aren’t tied to your bank account, and you’ll never be responsible for more than $50 if your credit card is stolen. Plus, credit card companies often offer additional security features and monitor your account for suspicious activity.

Image: GeorgeRudy

The post 11 Things College Students Should Know Before Opening a Credit Card appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Credit Cards for the Avid Nature-Lover

Even better than the great outdoors? A credit card that rewards you for loving them.

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

If the great outdoors is your ideal destination, the world is full of opportunities for your next vacation or weekend activity. But while your hobbies may be cheap compared to luxury hotels and shopping trips, you still have to pay for outdoor gear, gas and more.

Certain credit cards can help you fund your outdoor adventures and make them more affordable. Here are six credit cards for the nature-lover.

1. Cabela’s Club Visa Classic

Rewards: 2% points back on Cabela’s purchases and at participating Cenex convenience store locations, 1% points back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $25 in points upon approval and $10 in points when you make five purchases in 30 days
Annual Fee: $0
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 9.99% on Cabela’s purchases, variable 16.22% to 25.22% on other purchases
Why We Picked It: Cabela’s shoppers earn points good for purchases at the outdoor supplier.
For Your Outdoor Needs: The card earns 2% points on all Cabela’s purchases and 1% points on everything else. Points can be redeemed for free gear and outdoor experiences at Cabela’s.
Drawbacks: If you don’t spend thousands of dollars a year at Cabela’s, keep looking.

2. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Rewards MasterCard

Rewards: 5% points on Bass Pro Shops purchases, 1% rewards points on everything else
Signup Bonus: $20 statement credit when you spend $100 in the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $0
APR: Intro 1.99% for seven months on purchases, then variable 13.99% to 23.99%
Why We Picked It: Shoppers earn points for future Bass Pro Shops purchases and get access to special discounts all year round.
For Your Outdoor Needs: Cardholders earn 5% points on Bass Pro Shops purchases and 1% points on everything else. Points can be redeemed for goods and merchandise at Bass Pro Shops’ retail locations, website and catalog.
Drawbacks: If you aren’t a die-hard Bass Pro Shops customer, this card won’t provide much value.

3. Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi

Rewards: 4% cash back on up to $7,000 in eligible gas purchases per year, 3% cash back on restaurant and eligible travel purchases, 2% cash back on Costco and Costco.com purchases, 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0 (you will need a paid Costco membership)
APR: 0% for seven months on purchases, then variable 16.24%; variable 16.24% on balance transfers
Why We Picked It: Costco offers a wide variety of outdoor and sporting products and cardholders can earn big cash back rewards. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
For Your Outdoor Needs: With this card, Costco members can get 2% cash back at Costco, which stocks supplies including camping gear, groceries and outdoor apparel. The additional cash back rates provide many ways to earn cash back on your excursions.
Drawbacks: The card is only available to those with an active Costco membership.

4. REI Co-op Credit Card

Rewards: 5% back on REI purchases, 1% back on all other purchases
Signup Bonus: $100 REI gift card upon your first purchase
Annual Fee: $0
APR: Variable 11.99% to 23.99%
Why We Picked It: REI shoppers can earn annually distributed rebates on all purchases on top of REI’s member dividend, a profit-sharing program.
For Your Outdoor Needs: The card earns 5% back on REI purchases and 1% back on all other purchases, with rewards distributed annually in the form of a rebate. That’s on top of your REI member dividend, a profit-sharing feature that typically earns you 10% back on your annual REI spending. Plus, every time you use your card, REI will make a donation to the National Forest Foundation.
Drawbacks: This card is only valuable if you spend a lot at REI.

5. Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Rewards: 6% cash back on up to $6,000 in annual spending at supermarkets, 3% cash back at gas stations and select department stores and 1% cash back on everything else
Signup Bonus: $100 bonus cash back when you spend $1,000 in the first three months (offer may vary)
Annual Fee: $95
APR: 0% for 12 months, then variable 13.99% to 24.99%
Why We Picked It: If you travel by car and do your own cooking, this card can earn a lot of cash back.
For Your Outdoor Needs: With 6% cash back at supermarkets and 3% cash back at gas stations, you’ll put money back in your pocket every time you gas up or stock up on s’mores supplies. There’s also a nice $150 signup bonus.
Drawbacks: There’s a $95 annual fee.

6. Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Rewards: Two miles per dollar on all purchases
Signup Bonus: 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $89
APR: Variable 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99% on purchases; 0% for 12 months on balance transfers, then variable 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%
Why We Picked It: Every purchase earns double miles that can be redeemed for travel.
For Your Outdoor Needs: With double miles on all purchases and a signup bonus, you can quickly rack up points for your trips. For those that love to rough it, miles can be redeemed for campground rentals.
Drawbacks: After the first year, there’s an $89 annual fee.

How to Choose a Card for Your Next Adventure

When you’re choosing a card for your outdoor adventures, try to identify the cards that best reward your spending habits.

If you spend thousands of dollars annually at one outdoor supplier, a store-branded credit card may provide a good return. But if you tend to spread your purchases around, you should look for a card that isn’t tied to one store.

Try to choose a card that will reward the way you like to travel. For example, if you like taking road trips to camping destinations, a card with strong cash back rates on gas and groceries might be the right fit. Also be sure to check the redemption options for all rewards, as they vary between cards.

What Credit Is Required for an Outdoor Credit Card?

Store-branded credit cards tend to have looser credit requirements, though this isn’t always the case – for instance, the Costco credit card requires excellent credit. General credit cards with cash back or travel rewards tend to require good to excellent credit. Before you apply, you should check your credit score to make sure you have a good chance of approval. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: pixdeluxe

At publishing time, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi,Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express credit cards are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. 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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How Tragedy & Identity Thieves Kept One Woman From a Near-Perfect Credit Score

Tragedy and identity theft is never a good thing, but in this case, it positively impacted a woman's credit.

Identity theft can deal serious damage to your finances. And repairing its effects can be stressful and time-consuming, especially when it comes to repairing the damage to your credit.

Just ask New Jersey resident, Erin (who asked us not to use her last name, as she was a victim of identity theft). This, plus credit problems arising from her recently deceased parents’ financially accounts, dragged her score down by nearly 50 points, keeping her from the near-perfect credit she had worked hard to earn.

There was no special trick to Erin saving her credit scores. It took hours of calls, but she ended up with a giant credit boost over one weekend this past March.

When the Last Thing on Your Mind Is Your Credit Report

Erin’s credit troubles arose during a time of grief. Her mother died in September 2010. Months later, in March 2011, her father also died.

At 27-years-old, Erin was working to become the administrator of her parents’ estate. They left no will, and Bank of America was looking for a late credit card payment belonging to her father.

Erin told the bank she couldn’t send the payment because she hadn’t been appointed the administrator yet. Once she was appointed in June, she made the payment. She wouldn’t learn until years later that the late payment had ended up on her credit report. In the meantime, she ran into another problem: identity theft.

Just before Christmas 2015, Erin got an alert on her phone from Sprint telling her the new lines she ordered were ready. Problem was, she hadn’t ordered any new lines. She checked her account and saw that someone had added three brand-new iPhones to it.

Whoever had done so was using Erin’s address and Social Security number to get these new devices. And because Erin had good credit, they were able to put the phones on her bill and walk out of three different Sprint stores with three new phones. Erin said her identity was also used to make purchases at AT&T, Verizon, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target and Bloomingdales.

Hours of Phone Calls

To this day, Erin doesn’t know who stole her identity, which is often the case for identity theft victims. She changed all her passwords and started working the phones.

“It was just basically a ton of phone calls,” she said. “Each phone call probably lasted between 35 minutes and an hour.”

Lisa Belot, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said retail workers use scanners to authenticate customers’ driver’s licenses and other technology to prevent fraud. The company urges customers to regularly update passwords and to never share account info with a third party unless the request comes from a trusted source, she added.

With each company, Erin had to start with customer service, which transferred her to the fraud department before they agreed to send letters saying she wouldn’t be responsible for the charges. She filed a report with her local police department and called the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to put security freezes on her credit reports.

In doing this, she kept anyone from pulling her credit reports to keep anyone from opening lines of credit using her stolen Social Security number. She had never checked her credit reports or scores regularly until her identity was stolen, but she started soon after.

That’s when Erin finally saw the late payment to Bank of America was on her report.

Normally, said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, once the bank is notified that a customer has died, it removes any fees and interest assessed eight days before and after the notification. Any delinquencies should have no effect on the credit report of the estate administrator.

Therefore, Erin should have been off the hook for the late payment. But after Credit.com looked into Erin’s case, Riess revealed that Erin had been listed as an account holder on the account along with her father when it opened in 2010.

Erin had been unaware of this and expressed surprise when she found out this year. She had helped her dad with paperwork and bills after her mother died, but she had her own credit cards.

“There would have been no reason for my name to be on the account,” she said.

She also couldn’t find any mention of her name on any of the Bank of America documents she has and says she still keeps a thick file folder of paperwork from her credit fiasco. Erin does acknowledge she may have been on the account without remembering — noting it was a long time ago and during a difficult time.

One Giant Leap for a Credit Score

Despite the credit report and the leftover late payment, Erin still had a decent credit score around 680 at the start of 2017. She had built it up after separating from her ex-husband in 2009, when her score was in the 500s.

After clearing the identity theft off her credit reports, her score shot up to an excellent 767. But around that time, another check of her reports showed the Bank of America payment had remained on her Experian report.

She checked with Experian in February to see what was up, and the agency said the removal of the payment was still pending. When she checked at the beginning of March, it was finally removed. The effect was to rocket up her score 46 points to a near-perfect 804.

Erin gained more than an excellent score from the experience. She also learned good credit habits.

“I’ve been good about always paying on time and making as big of a payment, if not the entire thing, since 2011,” she said.

What You Can Do

To others in the same situation, Erin advised checking the federal IdentityTheft.gov website, which breaks down the steps required to recover from identity theft.

Rod Griffin, director of Public Education for Experian, said if you share a joint account with your parent and they die, it’s important to check your credit report to make sure they’re accurately reported. The account may be updated with a statement saying the parent is deceased to keep anyone from using their identity fraudulently. All three national credit bureaus have similar policies.

Meanwhile, your credit report should still say the account is open and active, Griffin said. (For starters, you can check your credit report summary for free on Credit.com)

“As a cosigner or joint account holder, you share full responsibility for the debt, so you may be held liable for any remaining balance on the account,” he said.

While Erin said the experience was a valuable lesson, it didn’t sound like she’d risk going through it again.

“It was really difficult,” she said. “It was probably more difficult because I was stressed and worried about what the implications might be.”

Image: martin-dm

The post How Tragedy & Identity Thieves Kept One Woman From a Near-Perfect Credit Score appeared first on Credit.com.

What to Do Before You Start Your Home Search

The process of buying a home can be nerve-wracking for some who have not been through it before, but with a little bit of preparation, you can help minimize some surprises along the way.

One important thing you can do as soon as you start thinking about buying a home is checking your credit report. Ideally, this should be done at least six months before purchasing a home in order to give yourself time to dispute information, if needed. It is important to know how your payment history is being reported by your creditors. And if you see any unfamiliar information, it’s important to know how to take action.

Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report, from each of the nationwide consumer reporting agencies, once a year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

What should you look for? Any information that might be inaccurate or incomplete. In the personal information section of your credit report, is your name (and any former names, such as a maiden name) listed accurately? Is your address up to date? Are there any addresses you don’t recognize? In the account information portion of your credit report, are all of the accounts listed complete and accurate? Are there any accounts that you don’t recognize? Do the balances appear accurate?

If you find information that appears inaccurate or incomplete, contact the lender or creditor associated with the account. You can also contact the nationwide consumer reporting agency that issued the credit report. If necessary, take steps to change some of your credit-based behaviors.

Here are some other items to include on your checklist as you prepare to buy a home:

— Gather any required documents you may need to apply for a mortgage. Tax returns, pay stubs and bank statements are among the ones you’ll need.

— Figure out how much home you can afford. There are a number of online mortgage calculators that can help. Remember a home’s purchase price is only part of the picture; you may also be responsible for a down payment, closing costs, taxes, insurance and other expenses. Learn your debt-to-income ratio and familiarize yourself with the requirements for loan qualification.

Buying a home is one of the most important – and largest – financial decisions you may make, and you owe it to yourself to prepare for it thoroughly and thoughtfully and hopefully smooth out any bumps in the road to home ownership.

Average Credit Score in America Reaches New Peak at 700

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® Score rose to its highest point ever, 700.2

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® Scores are up 14 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 VantageScores® in the Deep South are 21 points lower than the national average (652 vs. 673).6
  5. Millennials’ average VantageScore® (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: 70088

Average VantageScore®: 6739

Percent with prime credit score (Equifax Risk Score >720): 51%10

Percent with subprime credit score (Equifax Risk Score <660): 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

Debt delinquency

Percent severely delinquent debt: 3.37%15

Percent severely delinquent debt excluding mortgages: 6.9%16

States with the best and worst credit scores

What is a credit score?

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.

The Big 3 credit scores

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

  • FICO® Score 8 (used for underwriting mortgages)
  • VantageScore® 3.0 (widely available to consumers)
  • 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:

  • Payment history
  • Revolving debt levels (or revolving debt utilization ratios)
  • Length of credit history
  • Number of recent credit inquires
  • 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 VantageScore® or an Equifax Risk Score. For example, a VantageScore® does not count paid items in collections against you. However, a FICO® Score counts all collections items against you, even if you’ve paid them. Additionally, the VantageScore® counts outstanding debt against you, but the FICO® Score only considers how much credit card debt you have relative to your available credit.

American credit scores over time

Average FICO® Scores in America are on the rise for the eighth straight year. The average credit score in America is now 700.

On top of that, consumers with “super prime” credit (FICO® Scores above 800) outnumber consumers with deep subprime credit (FICO® Scores below 600).

We’re also seeing healthy increases in prime credit scores, defined as Equifax Risk Scores 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

A major driver of increased scores is the decreased proportion of consumers with collection items on their credit report. A credit item that falls into collections will stay on a person’s credit report for seven years. People caught in the latter end of the real estate foreclosure crisis of 2006-2011 may still have a collections item on their report today.

In the first quarter of 2013, 14.64% of all consumers had at least one item in collections. Today, just 12.61% of consumers have collections items on their credit report. Overall collections rates are approaching 2005-2006 average rates.40

Credit scores and loan originations

Following the 2007-2008 implosion of the housing market, banks saw mortgage borrowers defaulting at 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 June 2017, banks rejected 81.4% of all credit applications from people with Equifax Risk Scores below 680. By contrast, banks rejected 9.11% 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 10th 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. New 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, and 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 VantageScore® 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 VantageScores® 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 their 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 July 23, 2017.
  2. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  3. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 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 VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  7. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  8. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 2017.
  12. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  13. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Late Payments, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  14. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Revolving Credit Utilization Ratio, Experian. Accessed July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  18. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  19. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 2017.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 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 July 23, 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 July 23, 2017.
  38. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  39. Andrew Jennings, “FICO® Score High Achievers: Is Age the Only Factor?” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  40. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  41. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.

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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

Image: vgajic

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

Are You Hack-Proof? Here’s How to Make Sure

If you see a story about a data breach or a security compromise on a device you use, consider that an action item for your day.

While the writing has been on the wall for a long time, last Friday it was in the news wires when a new strain of ransomware called WannaCrypt raged like an out-of-control wildfire across Europe and Asia, ultimately impacting computers in 150 countries.

For many affected by this hack, a few hundred dollars in ransom money is a pittance when compared to the cost of hiring someone to attempt the recovery of your files after they’ve been encrypted. These ransomware attacks would cease to be profitable were there easy workarounds. But at this time, it is highly likely that if you happen to get got by one of these attacks, you should assume your files could be gone for good.

That’s why it’s critical you learn how to protect yourself.

Cyber Hygiene

If you’re like most people, you spend about 40 minutes a day on personal hygiene. While that’s a considerable amount of time, you probably don’t consider it to be an issue. It is not the same thing when it comes to cybersecurity. Were it as simple as downloading and installing software updates, the time spent on cyber grooming would be minimal (though the patches do seem to come fast and furious these days).

The issue really is that cyber hygiene is something one should practice 24/7/365. Come to think of it, it requires about the same amount of commitment and mindfulness as it takes to make sure your hair is OK and there’s no spinach in your teeth.

Here are some things to consider including in your daily cybersecurity routine.

1. Install Updates

When you are trying to find something online or use an app, an update notice can be like a mosquito that’s overly interested in you, but the last thing you should ever do is swat that notice away. It is often the only thing standing between you and the bad guys out there who are looking for a way to exploit weaknesses in the security features of the devices you use on a daily basis.

2. Use Standard Encryption

Both Apple and PC now offer a way to protect the content stored on your hard drive, and it’s so easy there’s no reason not to use it. It’s called FileVault on Apple and BitLocker on PCs. It is easy to set up, and renders everything on your machine unreadable by a hacker who gains access to it.

3. Back Up Your Digital Life on an External Drive

For less than $60, you can purchase an external hard drive large enough to store an immense amount of data. That’s where you want to keep your most sensitive personal information. The reason is simple: It is air-gapped (not connected to the internet) most, if not all, of the time. There is no need to be online to backup your hard drive to an external drive. Extra points if you encrypt your data.

4. Use a Password Manager

If you’re not using long and strong passwords, or still using the same password across multiple platforms and websites, you need to read this. For those who get over that rather low bar, it’s time to improve your game. It used to be that people made cheat sheets with their passwords and stored them in their desks (bad) or on an encrypted thumb drive (way better). That’s no longer necessary. Password managers take away the risk associated with having your passwords written down where they can be found and used. You need only remember one. As far as services go, there are many, and all are better than older methods of managing passwords. Research them online and make sure to read their reviews.

5. Read the URL Address

There are more spoof sites out there than you may realize, and they are there to do harm, not good. Always look at the URL to be sure you are on the site you intended to visit and not a clone — the clone will often have a very similar address, so look closely. For an additional layer of security, you might want to consider downloading HTTPS Everywhere, a plug-in that works on Chrome and Firefox and enables HTTPS encryption automatically on sites that support it.

6. Think Before You Click

The number one way people get got is thoughtless clicking. Whether it is a fake or corrupted website designed to plant malware on your device or a phishing email that looks like it came from a trusted institution or a friend but is in reality from a cyber fiend, you must have a pause in place — and it has to be automatic — when it comes to clicking on anything that comes your way from “out there,” even — or especially if — it looks like a friend or family member sent it.

7. Make Your Security a Seamless Part of Your Day

If you see a story about a data breach or a security compromise on a device you use, consider that an action item for your day. Just take a second to find out if you are affected, and then take whatever precaution you can. The 40 minutes that average person spends on personal grooming is a good rule of thumb. Think of your cyber hygiene like a glance in the mirror.

8. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Increasingly, two-factor authentication is available on the accounts we use daily, and it is essential that you set it up. It means that if a person hijacks one of your accounts, there isn’t much damage they can do without also having possession of your mobile phone or access to your email account. It’s an easy measure anyone can take to improve their personal cybersecurity.

In my book Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, I go into greater detail about the various ways your information can be got and what you can do to protect it. The main lesson: Practice what I call “The Three Ms,” which are as follows:

  • 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. (Here’s how to decide if you need a credit freeze.)
  • Monitor Your Accounts. Check your credit report religiously, keep track of your credit score, read Explanation of Benefits statements from your health insurer and review major accounts daily, if possible. (You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) If you prefer a more laid-back approach, sign up for free transaction alerts from your bank, credit union 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 compromises. These are oftentimes available for free or at a minimal cost through insurance companies, financial institutions and HR departments.

Worried about getting hacked? You can find a full 50 ways to avoid (and deal with) a cyberattack on Credit.com. 

Image: LightFieldStudios

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5 Tricks to Make Your Identity Portfolio More Secure

Here are five things you can do to improve your identity portfolio.

I’ve written extensively about the importance of building a credit portfolio. Credit equals buying power, which, when used wisely, can lead to increased net worth. Put simply, bad credit means fewer consumer choices and a staggering number of lost opportunities in the way of deals, car-factory incentives and other credit-based transactions. No matter the purchase type, the lowest interest rates and the biggest loans go to those with the strongest credit portfolios. You can read about building your credit portfolio here.

Another portfolio is the one most people neglect, if they even know it exists: the identity portfolio. Your identity portfolio is not something you can buy, trade or sell. It’s not as easy to assign a value to it. You can manage it badly and (most likely) not go bankrupt. In most situations, you won’t even lose any money — though you may not be able to get your hands on whatever was stolen by identity thieves for a while. That said, a poorly managed identity portfolio can cost you big time.

First of all, the longer your money is tied up (it can take between six months to almost one year to get a stolen tax refund), the longer it will lie dormant. You can’t invest accounts that are still receivable. Second, you lose something that’s hard to quantify — your peace of mind and your ability to get through your day undistracted.

In more concrete terms, while the crime committed against you is getting sorted out, your credit will take a hit. You will lose the chance to take advantage of credit-based purchases while you are resolving the fallout from identity theft. (Not sure if you’ve been the target of identity theft? You can check for signs by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Here are five things you can do to improve your identity portfolio to make sure that doesn’t happen.

1. Adopt Two-Factor Authentication

Increasingly, the websites you visit most — the ones that require authentication — will offer two-factor authentication. Whether the process triggers a code being sent to your phone via SMS or it fires off an email with that information, this simple security precaution makes it more difficult for a hacker to take over your accounts. The reason: They need more than the answers to your security questions or your login credentials. Two-factor authentication works because the scammer needs control of your email or access to your SMS messaging, which in most cases requires actual possession of your phone (and the security code to unlock it).

2. Make Your Login/User ID Complex

Hackers and scam artists are very good at cracking the virtual safes where you keep your money, and they know how to slip past the gates protecting your social media activity. Many sites still insist on making people use their email addresses as a user ID. While it’s not as quite as risky as a Social Security number or a name/date of birth combination, your email is personally identifiable information (PII). If you are given the choice to make up a user ID, there is no reason it has to be your name. Get creative or treat it like a password (but don’t get so creative that you are tempted to share your clever inventions with friends and strangers via social media). Always assume the bad guys are watching — they are.

3. Answer Security Questions Creatively

Security questions are a real problem. After decades of oversharing on social media, your mother’s maiden name, what high school you attended, the make of your first car and your favorite action movie are all up for grabs. Think you’ve been careful? What about your friends? Are you tagged? Mentioned? Even if you don’t have an account, chances are good that the people closest to you — those sharing biographical information with you — are active on social media. To avoid the possibility of a crook guessing his or her way into your life, your answers to security questions should always be lies. As above, let your spirit fly. But don’t be so creative that you can’t remember your lies. If you’re afraid of losing track, create a cheat sheet and store it on an encrypted thumb drive.

4. Store Your PII on an Encrypted Thumb Drive

Losing your most essential personally identifiable information is a real drag. I recommend scanning the most crucial documents, as well as your login information if you don’t use a password manager, encrypting that information, and storing it on an air-gapped device, a category that includes the humble thumb drive. Keep one at home and store the other in a safe deposit box or a safe. This is particularly useful when you’re traveling.

5. Choose Built-in Biometric Authentication

Speaking of thumb drives, for a reasonable price you can buy one that requires your fingerprint to access the information stored on it. Whether it’s a new smartphone or a gun safe, there are an increasing number of products that offer biometric security features.

Remember, as I discuss at length in my book SWIPED, don’t share too much information with folks you don’t know, whether in person, on the phone or online via social media, and never authenticate yourself to anyone unless you are in control of the interaction.

Bear in mind, micro-trends on social media (10 concerts I’ve been to, one is a lie; top 10 favorite movies, important books you’ve never read, etc.) are not only a fun way to get to know your friends better. They offer hackers information that can be used to answer security questions. In fact, you never know the origin of these digital stadium waves. It’s wise to assume they were started by identity thieves looking to harvest useable information. So resist the urge to answer them.

It’s also critical to set long and strong passwords and properly secure all computers, smartphones and tablets used by you and your family. As mentioned, use two-factor authentication when possible and shred sensitive documents.

Too much to remember? The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has created a simple set of protocols called SHRED:

  • Strengthen passwords
  • Handle PII with care
  • Read credit reports annually
  • Empty your purse/wallet
  • Discuss these tips with friends

I encourage you to do all of the above and make good privacy and security hygiene a part of your daily life. Change the way you think about identity theft and your personally identifiable information. Over time, you will naturally become more vigilant. You will bear in mind what happens when people overshare on social media. You will be careful about who you tell what and why. You will not let down your guard, and before you know it, your identity portfolio will have a triple-A rating.

Image: andresr

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Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You — Now What?

overdraft fees

It’s a scary prospect: a creditor securing a judgment against you — which is probably why we get so many reader questions about the issue. A judgment represents a legal obligation to pay a debt, meaning a creditor or collector sued you over an outstanding debt and won. But that court win isn’t necessarily written in stone. Judgments can be appealed, reversed, amended or, at the very least, settled for less, depending on the circumstances and what you do next. (First step: Consider visiting a consumer attorney. Some offer free consults —and many will represent you for free if they think a collector has broken the law.)

If you’re dealing with debt collectors and facing a judgment — or are already (perhaps unexpectedly) saddled with one — we’ve pulled together answers to all the major questions that may be on your mind and where you can go from there.

How Does a Creditor or Collector Get a Judgment Against You?

In order to get a judgment against you, the creditor or collector must take you to court. If you don’t respond to a summons, or if you lose, the court will issue a judgment in favor of the creditor or collector. The judgment will be filed with the court, and once that happens, it is public record. That means it will likely end up on your credit reports as a negative item. (You can check your credit for judgments by viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

How Are Judgments Collected?

One of the main reasons you want to try avoid getting a judgment against you is that creditors may have additional ways to collect once a judgment has been issued. As we mentioned earlier, depending on your state’s laws, they may include going after your bank accounts or other property, or trying to garnish your wages. But as the saying goes, “you can’t get blood from a stone.” As the National Consumer Law Center points out in its book, “Surviving Debt:”

Even if you lose a lawsuit, this does not mean you must repay the debt. If your family is in financial distress and cannot afford to repay its debts, a court judgment that you owe the money may not really change anything. If you do not have the money to pay, the court’s judgment that you owe the debt will not make payment anymore possible.

If you aren’t sure what a judgment creditor can do to collect from you, it’s a good idea to consult a bankruptcy attorney who can help you understand what may be at risk if you don’t pay. The attorney can explain what property you own is “exempt,” or safe from creditors. You can also check out this article on how to get out of debt.

Can a Judgment Be Reversed?

Yes. In certain circumstances, you can ask the court to re-open a judgment or you can formally file an appeal. t’s also possible to have the terms of a judgment altered. And, with a few exceptions, a judgment can be discharged in bankruptcy. However, laws (and the timelines for their implementation) vary by state, so, again, if a creditor secures a judgment against you, it can be in your best interest to consult a local consumer attorney. You can find more about your legal rights post-judgment here.

Can I Settle a Judgment?

The answer to this question is often “yes.” Most judgment creditors know it is often difficult to collect judgments, especially if the debtor doesn’t have wages that can be garnished or assets they can go after. If you are able to get a lump sum of money from, say a relative, you may be able to offer that to the creditor to pay off the judgment. Just make sure you get any agreement in writing before you pay. Make sure the agreement spells out all the terms of the settlement, including the fact that you will not owe any more money after you make the agreed upon payment.

Can I Avoid a Judgment?

Another option is to settle the debt before it goes to court. The creditor may be willing to settle for part or all of the money you owe. Of course that only works if you can manage to pull together money to pay them. If you can, make sure you have a written agreement from them that states they will not pursue the debt in court if you make the payment as agreed. Then check with the court to make sure the matter has been dropped.

How Long Can Judgments Appear on Credit Reports?

Unpaid, they can remain on your credit reports for seven years or the governing statute of limitations, whichever is longer. Once judgments are paid, they must be removed seven years after the date they were entered by the court. But soon those parameters are changing: Beginning in July, the credit bureaus will exclude judgments that don’t contain complete consumer details or have not been updated in the last 90 days. (Wondering how long other stuff stays on your credit report? We’ve got you covered here.)

How Long Can Judgments Be Collected?

There is a specific time period for collecting judgments, and it also varies by state. This “statute of limitations” is often 10-20 years long. In addition, in most states it can be renewed. For that reason alone, it’s best to try to avoid getting a judgment against you in the first place. And if it does happen, it’s best to try to resolve the debt.

Can Interest Accumulate on a Judgment?

Yes. In most states, interest may be charged on a judgment, either at any rate spelled out in state law, or at the rate described in the contract you signed with the creditor. In addition, the judgment may include court costs and attorney’s fees.

Anything Else I Should Know About Judgments?

A debt collector that threatens to get a judgment against you or to garnish your wages or seize your property may be making an illegal threat. Talk with a consumer law attorney to find out if that’s the case.

And just because you haven’t heard anything about a judgment in a while, that doesn’t mean you should assume it has gone away. It’s possible that the creditor could decide at a later time to try again to collect from you. Plus, an unpaid judgment may prevent you from buying a home or getting credit at a decent interest rate. So it’s a good idea to try to resolve the judgment, either by filing for bankruptcy or by paying off or settling the judgment when you are able to.

Remember, when dealing with debt collectors, it pays to know your rights. You learn more about them in our Managing Debt Learning Center.

Reminder: This post is meant as educational information, not legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice.

This article was updated. It originally ran on January 25, 2012. 

Image: walknboston, via Flickr.com

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