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

The post Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You — Now What? appeared first on Credit.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

Annual Fee: $35

Purchase Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 18.14%

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

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

2. Discover it Secured

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 23.74%

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

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

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

3. First Progress Platinum Select MasterCard Secured Credit Card

Annual Fee: $39

Purchase APR: Variable 14.99%

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

4. primor Secured Visa Gold Card

Annual Fee: $49

Purchase APR: Fixed 9.99%

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

5. CreditOne Bank Visa

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

Purchase APR: Variable 15.90% to 24.40%

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

At publishing time, the OpenSky Visa Secured, Discover it Secured, First Progress MasterCard Select Secured, primor Secured Visa Gold and CreditOne Bank Visa credit card are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Image: mapodile

The post Got the Worst Credit? These Cards Can Help You Rebuild It appeared first on Credit.com.

Why Tax Collection Scams Are Getting Harder to Stop

Sad but true: The IRS is selling debt to collection agencies, so you've got be extra-careful now that tax season is over.

I’ve written about tax-related crime for years, and have always offered this fail-safe rule to avoid tax scams: If you ever receive a call from the IRS about back taxes or any other money you supposedly owe the government, hang up because it’s a scam.

There was something comforting about that advice — maybe even a little satisfying. I mean, who secretly doesn’t want to hang up on the taxman? But it seemed no amount of repetition was enough to stem the tide of tax-related scams, and no matter how many times I wrote about that simple, satisfying tactic, the message never reached the people most vulnerable to such shenanigans.

Taxpayers still got taken in by scam artists dialing for dollars every day. It didn’t matter if the crook posed as an IRS employee, or if he ventured into the truly absurd with a claim that he worked for a collection agency that bought back tax debt from the agency. It was wacky stuff, the IRS selling debt. But it was wackier than that …

All you had to know was this: The IRS did all its own collecting, and it conducted all its business via snail mail. It never called. The advice was solid: Let your spirit fly! Do or say whatever you want when the IRS called about back taxes or an audit because it wasn’t them!

You know where I’m going with this, right? Yep, leave it to our friends in Washington to take a bad situation and make it worse.

Earlier this month, IRS chief John Koskinen announced that the IRS would be immediately outsourcing certain debt collection activities to one of four debt collection companies: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, New York; Performant of Livermore, California; and Pioneer of Horseheads, New York.

You read that right. The IRS is outsourcing debt to collection agencies.

When this was initially announced last September, I was convinced that it was a joke—and a pretty good one. Extra points for coming up with something more or less unthinkable— since truly, debt collection agencies could not be a more problematic solution to the IRS’s back tax problem — but it turns out it wasn’t their joke.

You can thank Congress for this epic face palm. Although it didn’t get much attention when it passed in 2015, one of the provisions of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act required the IRS to hire private-sector debt collectors to pay for it.

Since consumers are going to have to handle this year’s post-tax season a little different as a result, here are some telltale giveaways that you’re getting scammed and should hang up:

  1. You get a call from a collection agency not listed above. Only those four agencies are approved for these collections.
  2. You do not owe back taxes.
  3. The person calling you has asked you to send money somewhere other than the IRS. Even though the four collection agencies are making the call, the check goes to the Fed.
  4. The caller asks you to pay in the form of gift cards, prepaid cards or asks you to wire funds.
  5. The caller is aggressive or rude — a violation of your debt-collection rights.
  6. You are asked for any information that can be used to conduct a financial transaction: Social Security number, bank account, credit or debit card number. (If you do turn over personal information, keep an eye on your credit for signs of identity theft. You can view your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)
  7. If you are low-income, there may be other options for you. Contact the IRS to find out what they may be before discussing your debt with a collection agency.

By now we’ve gotten pretty good at surviving the ridiculous decisions made on Capitol Hill, but this latest one is a doozy. Happily, my old advice still stands. If you get a call from a debt collector, don’t engage until you verify the debt. If it was a legit collector, they’ll furnish written verification within five days of calling you, and here’s what to do when that happens.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: MartinPrescott

The post Why Tax Collection Scams Are Getting Harder to Stop appeared first on Credit.com.

19 Mistakes College Grads Make When Finding Their First Apartments

You aren't being graded on your apartment hunt, but you still want to get it right.

Finding your first apartment after college is a big undertaking — it can be hard to know where to start when you’re staring at a stack of listings and the money from your new job is burning a hole in your pocket. And you’re new to all this, so you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.

But we can help. Take a look at some of these common slip-ups so you can do your best to avoid them as you search for a new place to hang your cap (and gown … see what we did there?).

1. Starting Your Search Too Early

“Generally, the best time to start looking for an apartment is no more than three weeks before your move-in date,” said Margaret Fanney, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint in New York City. But once it’s time to start your search, you want to make you aren’t …

2. … Underestimating How Much Everything Costs

Whether you lived in student housing and paid on a semester basis, or you are moving to a different state (or even different city) post-graduation, getting your first apartment can be a big financial adjustment. (Still deciding if you want to move somewhere new? Check out these 15 best cities for college graduates.)

You can use the time before graduation to research how much apartments are in the areas you’re considering and what costs you might pay for additional amenities.

3. Not Planning for Expenses Beyond Rent

Most people think about the monthly rent check (or charge, if your landlord lets you pay rent by credit card), but that’s not the only expense you’ll face living on your own. Think about other necessities like laundry detergent, toilet paper and groceries. And remember, there are ways to save on your daily expenses — like making this delicious 16-cent breakfast.

4. Leaving Student Loan Payments Out of Your Budget

“Monthly payments for student loans are often overlooked … because student loans come with a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of Student Loans Guy.

5. Forgetting About Credit

Most landlords look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process. Things like credit cards or loans (ahem … student loans) are impacting your credit. (You can read more about what factors influence your credit scores here.) Depending on how far into the world of credit you’ve ventured, your credit file may be pretty thin. Not sure? Now’s the time to find out — take a look at a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.

6. Not Gathering What You’ll Need

“Graduates usually rush to find an apartment without contemplating on the requirements for renting an apartment,” Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential in New York City, said. “They don’t have any offer letters ready, pay stubs or bank statements.”

7. Not Talking With Your Guarantors About Their Essential Paperwork

Once you’ve gathered all your paperwork, it’s important to also remind any guarantors of what they’ll need, as “springing it all on [them] at the last minute is guaranteed to cause delays and frustrations,” Fanney said.

8. Not Brushing Up on Terminology

“[Recent graduates] don’t typically know the difference in rental versus condo versus co-op building,” Greg Moers, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint, said. “They tend to just shop for what looks awesome and do not take into consideration the process involved with putting together a board package and the cost.”

To get you started, check out this guide that deciphers 16 confusing mortgage terms.

9. Choosing the Wrong Roommates

Fanney suggests comparing schedules and lifestyles to see if living with a particular person is really a good idea.

“You should already be thinking about things like each person’s tolerance for mess and budget, but now that you have your first full-time jobs, you’ll have to make sure the lifestyles can coexist peacefully.”

10. Not Getting Roommate Agreements in Writing

Even if you’re living with your best friend, it’s important to write out responsibilities and agreements you’ve made about the living situation. You’ll also want to outline how bills will be paid and who is responsible for what. Hopefully you’ll never need to reference this for any reason, but you’ll be glad to have it all in writing if things go bad.

11. Not Considering Apartments With Fees

We know, all those fees are the worst. But some of these upfront costs, while painful at the time you see the money coming out of your account, may mean paying less over time.

According to Chelsea Werner, a Bold New York real estate expert, many of the no-fee apartments just add fees to your monthly rent. And, if that’s the case, “although you will pay less upfront, over time it will even out, as you will be paying more per month.”

12. Forgetting to Meet Potential Neighbors

“In college, your neighbors were probably other college students, but that probably won’t be the case now,” Fanney said. “Don’t let that stop you from getting to know your neighbors and finding ones you can trust.”

13. Not Factoring in the Landlord

“It’s sometimes better to pay a premium to be with a better landlord than to pay less and be with a bad landlord that doesn’t fix anything and is hard to reach,” Lahav said.

14. Skimming Over the Lease

In a time when we all just click “next” anytime we install an update on one of our devices, it’s easy to flip to the end of the agreement and sign on the dotted line. But it’s essential you know what you’re agreeing to and negotiate things that you’re not quite on board with.

15. Not Knowing Your Tenant Rights

Tenants (and even applicants) have federal laws protecting them. And, in many cases, there are state laws that help protect you too, so you’ll want to do your research and find out what legal rights you have ahead of time.

16. Passing on Renters Insurance

Renters insurance may seem like one more expense, but just like car insurance, having it may ultimately save you money in the event of a problem. You can read about the little-known ways renters insurance could save you money here.

17. Only Looking at the Bottom Line

“Graduates are very price-sensitive, so they will usually go with the cheaper apartment as their rule of thumb,” Lahav said. “However … they don’t realize that sometimes a cheap deal is not the best deal for them.”

18. Holding Out for Perfection

Apartment hunting can be a lot like a relationship — you start out with a list of ideal qualities, but the odds of finding someone (or some place) that meets all these may not be realistic.

“Regardless of your budget, there is no perfect apartment,” Werner said. “Renting is all about tradeoffs.”

19. Forgetting About What Comes Next

“When looking for an apartment, people have a tendency to not think about a rental as more than a one-year commitment,” Werner said. But, unless you have reason to move, you probably won’t want to go through the hassle. So, that’s why Werner said it’s a good idea to “think about how that unit will fit your life in the next few years.”

Image: svetikd

The post 19 Mistakes College Grads Make When Finding Their First Apartments appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Things You Need to Know About the Statutes of Limitation for Debt

statutes of limitation for debt

You may not know this, but, yes, debt does technically have an expiration date. It’s subject to a statutes of limitations, which limits how long a creditor or collector has to sue to recoup an unpaid balance. Statutes of limitations (SOL) vary by state and debt type. They’re usually between 3 to 6 years, but some longer windows do apply. Of course, you shouldn’t treat the SOL as a solution to your money woes. For starters, those expiration dates have nothing to do with how long a unpaid debt can appear on your credit report (that’s generally around 7 years — more here) and it’s possible for a court to award a judgment to a creditor on time-barred debt if you don’t show up to raise the issue. Plus, there are ways to unwittingly restart the SOL clock. Having said all that, if you have old unpaid debts, it can be helpful to know the statutes of limitation that applies to them. (You can check your credit for outstanding accounts by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

Here are the seven most common questions we’ve received from readers about the statutes of limitation for debt.

1. How Long Is the Statute of Limitation for my Debt?

The time period typically either starts when you fall behind on a debt, or from the date of your last payment, and the length of time depends on state law for that type of debt. This chart is a guide to state statutes of limitation. Unfortunately, it is not always clear-cut. So it’s a good idea to check with your state attorney general’s office, a consumer law attorney or legal aid, especially if you are being threatened with legal action.  

2. Can a Debt Collector Try to Collect After the SOL Has Expired? 

In many cases, yes. However if you tell the debt collector not to contact you again, they must stop. It’s a good idea to put your request in writing. Once they’ve received it, they can contact you only to confirm that they have received your request or to notify you of legal action they are taking to collect. In some states, however, trying to collect a time-barred debt is illegal and a creditor who attempts to do so is breaking the law. 

3. If the SOL Has Expired Can I Still Be Sued? 

It is not uncommon at all for consumers to be sued for time-barred debts. If you are sued for an old debt and the statute of limitation has expired, you can raise the expired statute of limitation as a defense against the lawsuit (here are some other debt collection defenses you can use, too). However, many consumers do not appear in court and therefore the creditor or collector gets a judgment against them. That is why you should not ignore a legal notice about a debt, even if you think the debt is too old. A consumer law attorney or bankruptcy attorney can help you figure out how to respond. 

4. Should I Pay an Old Debt? 

That’s something only you can decide. However, keep in mind that if you pay anything — even a small amount — on an old debt, you may restart the statute of limitation. That’s why it can be risky to pay an old debt if you can’t afford to pay it in full. You could open yourself up to collection efforts, or even a lawsuit, for the entire amount the collector says you owe. 

5. Can a Debt Still Appear on my Credit Reports After the SOL Has Expired? 

In many cases, the answer is yes. The length of time that negative information may be reported is governed by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Most negative information can be reported for seven years. The statutes of limitation for most consumer debts, on the other hand, is four to six years. So you could have a situation, for example, where the statute of limitation expired on a debt in four years but the related collection account still appears on your credit reports for another three years after that. And, yes, collection accounts can do serious damage to your credit scores.

6. I Took Out a Debt in One State but Moved. Which State’s SOL Applies? 

That can be a difficult question to answer. Consumers can generally be sued in the state where they took out the loan or the state where they currently live. Sometimes the statute of limitation will be based on the laws of the state described in the contract (in the case of credit cards, that will be spelled out in the credit card agreement). 

When it’s not clear which state’s SOL applies, it is often up to the court to decide. In a number of court cases, the statute of limitation that was shortest was applied. But that’s not true in all cases. That’s why it is helpful, if you are being sued for a debt, to consult with a consumer law attorney who can help you understand whether the statute of limitation has likely expired.

7. What Is the SOL for Court Judgments? 

If a creditor or collector has obtained a court judgment there is often a separate statute of limitation that applies to judgments. (Tip: If you have unresolved debts, be sure to at least get your free annual credit reports, as we mentioned, to see if any judgments are listed.) In many states, that time period is 10 years or longer, and judgments may be renewed. Learn more about how about judgments work here.

Dealing with debt? if you’ve got questions about how to best manage those burgeoning balances, ask away in the comments section below and one of our experts will try to get back to you. In the mean time, feel free to check out of Managing Debt Learning Center

This article has been updated. It originally ran on April 20, 2015.

Image: iStock

The post 7 Things You Need to Know About the Statutes of Limitation for Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Your Financial Ignorance Could End Up Costing You Thousands

Everyone makes mistakes, but you can avoid these common financial blunders and end up saving yourself a lot of money.

None of us like to make mistakes, even though they’re frequently part of the learning process. Still, if you could avoid making mistakes, especially with your money, you’d probably prefer to do so rather than wasting your hard-earned dollars on bad decision making.

If that’s you, take heed. Here’s your chance to learn from others and avoid their mistakes.

A recent study by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) found that 28.8% of Americans aged 65 or older said their personal lack of knowledge about personal finances caused them to lose $30,000 or more in their lifetimes.

NFEC asked participants across age groups, “Across your entire lifetime, about how much money do you think you have lost because you lacked knowledge about personal finances?” Across all age groups, respondents said their lack of financial knowledge had cost an average of $9,724.83, with nearly a quarter of respondents reporting a loss of $30,000 or more.

The survey didn’t ask participants how they lost their money, or what bad decisions they made that led them to part with their cash, but the problem frequently boils down to one thing — people thinking they know more than they actually do. Case in point: Another recent study by Sallie Mae, “Majoring in Money: How American College Students Are Managing Their Finances,” looked at the financial habits of college students between the ages of 18 and 24, including the methods they use to pay for purchases, their knowledge and use of credit, and their money management skills.

Of those surveyed, 65% thought their money management skills were good or excellent. In reality, only 31% of these respondents answered three basic financial questions correctly. The questions were on how interest accumulates, how repayment behavior affects the cost of credit over time and how credit terms affect the cost of credit over time. (You can take a financial capability survey on the NFEC site to see how you compare nationally.)

Whatever your age, making financial decisions on assumptions or only part of the facts can lead to frustration and economic loss. But if you’re in your teens or 20s, chances are you haven’t made any major financial missteps, and can potentially avoid them altogether.

Let’s take a look at some of the key areas of the study and address how you can avoid making mistakes that could end up costing you thousands over your lifetime.

Paying Bills On Time

A large majority of respondents to the Sallie Mae survey said they pay their bills on time — a whopping 77%. Not paying bills on time can result in late payment fees. If they go unpaid long enough, there can be a snowball effect when they end up in collections. Suddenly, that unpaid phone bill is hurting your credit scores, which means it will cost you more in interest when you apply for things like credit cards, auto loans or a mortgage.

If you struggle to pay your bills on time, you’ll want to look at exactly why. Is it because you don’t have enough money to make the payments when they come due? You’ll be well served by reviewing your spending habits, creating a monthly budget and sticking to it. Are you just forgetful? Automating your bill payments can help tremendously.

Setting Aside Savings

A surprising 55% of college students reported setting aside savings every month. Having a financial safety net is important in the event of an emergency — your car breaks down, you break your leg and can’t work, you lose your job. Having an emergency fund or savings account is an important first step when it comes to financial security, so take a look at your budget and figure out how you can start saving small, eventually setting aside enough income to live on for three to six months if needed.

Tracking Your Spending

We’ve already mentioned it twice, but we’ll say it again: Having a budget is important if you want to stay in control of your finances, and tracking your spending is an important part of the budgeting process. More than half of college students surveyed (56%) said they track their spending, and you should too. There are lots of helpful apps available to help make it easier.

Having a Paying Job

If you’re in college and aren’t working, you may want to reconsider that choice. 65% of students surveyed said they had a paying job, and there are numerous studies that show students who work tend to manage their time better. Working also gives you the opportunity to manage your money better. Think of the nest egg you could put away if you don’t need the extra spending money.

Getting a Credit Card …

The majority of students surveyed (59%) said their No. 1 reason for getting a credit card was to begin building credit, and that makes a lot of sense. A credit card, wisely used, is one of the best ways to establish credit. There are lots of good credit cards for students that offer added incentives for making good grades and paying bills on time. There are also secured credit cards if you can’t qualify for a standard card, or you can ask a parent or guardian to become an authorized user on one of their cards to help you establish credit.

… & Managing It Well

According to the survey, 36% of respondents said they never charge a purchase without having the money to pay the bill when it arrives, while 23% said they have rarely done so. On the flip side, 25% said they sometimes do this, and another 15% said they do it frequently.

If you’re charging too much on your credit cards because you just need that latest gadget, keep in mind you’re only making life harder for your future self by racking up debt. If you’re charging too much because you’re using your credit card as an emergency fund for unexpected bills, you may want to consider the additional costs you’re incurring to pay off that debt. Putting a little money aside and earning interest on it is a much better alternative financially.

… By Paying Off Balances Every Month

The absolute best way to ensure you don’t get into credit card debt (and to boost your credit scores as much as possible) is to pay off your credit card balances every month. The survey found that 63% of the students surveyed pay off their balances in full each month. These students also tend to have lower average monthly balances — $825 compared to $1,635 among those who pay only the minimum amount due.

Carrying $1,500 in debt every month on a credit card with an APR of 15.99% can cost you more than $200 a year in interest. You can use this handy credit card payoff calculator tool to see how long it will take you to pay down your debt.

Paying Your Student Loans on Time

Just like making credit card payments on time (and in full, if you can) making student loan payments on time can have a significant positive impact on your credit scores, meaning you’ll qualify for better interest rates on better products with better perks. If you’re already behind on your student loan payments, it’s a good idea to contact your servicer right away and sort out how you can get back in good standing. Don’t let your student loans go into default because you’re afraid to admit you need help.

Being Aware of Your Credit Standing

Of the college students surveyed, 67% said they were aware of credit reports, and about half had viewed theirs (you can get two of your credit scores, absolutely free, on Credit.com).

The survey also found that those who had experience with credit were far more likely to have viewed their credit report than those without credit experience. For example, 66% of students with credit cards reported having viewed their credit report, compared with 27% of those who did not have a credit card.

Seeking Professional Help

Making financial decisions isn’t always easy, particularly when you’ve run into trouble. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consider professional help, whether for tax preparation, investing decisions or getting debt under control. Paying a reputable person for expertise and assistance can end up saving money in the long run.

Reading the Fine Print

Life is full of agreements, and many of those include legally binding contracts. Most are on the up-and-up, but it’s still a good idea to fully read any agreement you sign and understand the terms completely. If you don’t, this is another case in which you may want to seek professional help to save yourself frustration and possibly money further down the road.

These are the basics to setting yourself up to succeed financially. Of course, there will be hiccups along the way, but by staying on top of your finances and asking lots of questions, you’ll be able to avoid some of the common mistakes many people make.

Image: SIphotography

The post Your Financial Ignorance Could End Up Costing You Thousands appeared first on Credit.com.

3 Ways to Get a Credit Limit Increase

In many cases, a credit limit increase can sound like a good idea. If you start out with a credit limit of $2,000, for example, it’s good to know that your limit can increase in the future so you can have more buying power and find it easier to maintain a low utilization rate.

Sometimes, increasing your credit limit will not always be in your best interest because it can tempt you to overspend. In that case, it’s also easy to drive up your utilization rate, which is how much you are spending versus how much available credit you have. If your utilization rate gets higher than 20%-30%, it can begin to hurt your credit score.

What’s worse, by overspending and not paying your credit card balance off in full each month, you can get into debt.

If you’d like to secure a credit limit increase for a credit card and you know that you’ll have a good sense of self-control over your spending, there are quite a few ways to obtain a credit limit increase.

In this article, we’ll go over your different options when it comes to obtaining a credit limit increase and what you might want as an alternative.

How to Ask for a Credit Limit Increase on Your Current Card

One of the most common ways to obtain a credit limit increase is to simply ask for one. Most credit card companies and banks allow you to request a credit limit increase online or you can do it by phone.

We’ve gone through the process of requesting a credit limit increase with various banks in detail, including Wells Fargo, Capital One, Discover, Barclaycard, American Express, and more, if you need specific instructions regarding the process.

When requesting a credit limit increase, it’s important to make sure you meet the criteria to be considered. Some banks have certain requirements and like to see your account paid off and in good standing, a good credit score, and recent spending activity on your end.

If you haven’t been consistent about paying your credit card bill on time, that may work against you when you decide to request a higher credit limit.

On the other hand, if you’ve been managing your card well and paying your bill on time and would like more buying power, you may want to consider requesting a credit limit increase just to see what the end result will be.

Sit and Wait (Automatic)

Some credit card companies will offer you a credit limit increase automatically so you won’t need to do anything on your end.

If you’ve been spending on your card regularly, paying your bill on time, and keeping your utilization rate low, you may receive an offer to increase your credit limit automatically.

In this case, you can either accept or deny the offer. In most cases, accepting the offer will be your best bet if you like the credit card and use it from time to time. Even if you don’t use the card often, having a higher limit will only help lower your utilization rate as long as your spending doesn’t increase significantly.

Consider a New Card

If you’re on the fence about getting a credit limit increase, you can always consider signing up for a new credit card instead. Adding a new credit card to your wallet can increase the number of accounts you have, which can be a positive move for your credit if you only have a low number of accounts total.

Some new credit cards also have great sign-up bonuses so you can take advantage of more cash back offers, an extended 0% APR rate, balance transfers, etc., and these are benefits you might not be able to receive if you only increase the limit on your existing credit card.

To find out if you’ll be approved for a new credit card without hurting your score, you can get pre-qualified, which typically allows banks to peek at your creditworthiness via a soft inquiry. Getting pre-qualified for a credit card can reduce your risk of getting denied, and it’s pretty simple. Find out how to do it here.

Also, another reason why you might opt to just get a new credit card instead of considering a credit limit increase is if you don’t like or use your current card often. If you have an annual fee, a high-interest rate, and little reward opportunities with your existing card, it won’t make much sense to increase your limit and buying power.

Instead, signing up for a new and better credit card can be more beneficial and help you save money, especially if it has no annual fee.

Get a Personal Loan

If you are thinking about a credit limit increase because you need the extra money but don’t want to obtain a hard credit inquiry, a personal loan is an alternative option.

There are quite a few internet-only personal loan companies that allow you to see if you are pre-approved for a loan without involving a hard credit inquiry. Personal loans also tend to have lower interest rates than credit cards, so if your main intention is to borrow money to cover an expense, this may be a better option.

To see if you qualify for a loan, use our online tool here. You just need to fill out one application, and MagnifyMoney will check your rate with multiple lenders (without harming your credit score) to help you find the best offer.

What to Do If You Get Denied

If you request a credit limit increase and get denied, you’ll usually receive a response explaining why you didn’t get approved. Once you know why you didn’t get approved, you can take the necessary steps to fix the issues outlined and request an increase again if you wish.

Be mindful that some banks will let you request a credit limit increase at any time, while others may require that you wait a few weeks or months before putting in a request again.

While waiting it out and correcting the issues that contributed to you getting denied should fix the issue, you can also try either of the alternative options mentioned above as well if you didn’t get approved for a credit limit increase the first time around.

Benefits of Requesting a Credit Limit Increase

Obtaining a credit limit increase can be a smart move and provide you with benefits like increasing your credit limit and having more buying power in the event that you need to use your card for a large expense or emergency. With a higher limit, you are less likely to max out your card.

A credit limit increase will also make it easier for you to keep your utilization rate low and preferably below 20%. The process may also be easier than applying for a brand new credit card, especially if you receive credit limit increase offers automatically.

Drawbacks of Requesting a Credit Limit Increase

Increasing your credit limit isn’t always the best option for everyone, so it’s only fair to go over some of the possible drawbacks of making this decision.

In some cases, you’ll receive an extra credit inquiry, which could be a hard credit inquiry when you request a credit limit increase. Increasing your limit can also increase the risk of overspending and getting into debt.

There’s also no guarantee that you’ll get approved for a credit limit increase, so your request can get rejected. Also, if you have a card with a high-interest rate and an annual fee, you might be better off signing up for a better credit card.

Final Word

Requesting a credit limit increase can seem like a good idea on the surface, but it’s not the best solution for everyone. You must determine your needs, current situation, and intentions before going through with your decision.

If you decide to move forward with obtaining a credit card limit increase, be sure to pay your credit card balance off in full each month and keep your overall utilization rate at 20% or lower.

The post 3 Ways to Get a Credit Limit Increase appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Disputing Credit Card Charges: What You Need to Know and Instructions for Each Card Issuer

If you use credit cards, chances are at some point you’ll need to dispute a charge that appears on your statement for one reason or another. The good news is that this common practice has some pretty awesome guidelines and provisions protected under both state and federal laws.

Whether your dispute is straightforward or complicated, you’ll want to know the ins and outs of how the dispute process works so that it can ultimately work for you should you need it. The dispute process will help you get the best outcome in the case of billing errors, fraud, misrepresented products, or any other charge on your statement you believe you shouldn’t be responsible for.

When to Dispute a Charge on Your Account

The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects consumers from unfair credit billing practices. This federal law also provides guidelines to both consumers and credit card issuers for dispute management and resolution. According to the FCBA, consumers can file disputes, according to the FCBA settlement procedures, for the following billing errors (list provided by the FTC website):

  • Unauthorized charges. Federal law limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50.
  • Charges that list the wrong date or amount.
  • Charges for goods and services you didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered as agreed.
  • Math errors.
  • Failure to post payments and other credits, like returns.
  • Failure to send bills to your current address — assuming the creditor has your change of address, in writing, at least 20 days before the billing period ends.
  • Charges for which you ask for an explanation or written proof of purchase, along with a claimed error or request for clarification.

There are additional FCBA provisions covering problems with the actual goods or services, aside from billing errors. This is known as the right to assert “claims and defenses.” In other words, the charge is correct, but the goods or services are not delivered as promised or described. This right can be exercised up to one year after purchase.

Under claims and defenses, the purchase has to be made within 100 miles of your current billing address and be more than $50, and you’ve got to make a “good faith” effort to resolve the dispute with the merchant first. The dollar and distance rules don’t apply if there is a special relationship between the buyer and seller or the purchase was made via internet, mail, or phone.

When you are initiating a dispute on this basis, make that clear with the credit card company so they’ll process the dispute accordingly. In this case, state laws may also play a part in determining what actions you can take against the merchant and the credit card issuer if the dispute is not resolved in your favor.

How to Dispute a Charge on Your Credit Card

The first thing you’ll want to do is determine if the charge is really an error. A little research will help you figure out if a charge is an error, fraudulent, or a purchase gone wrong. Some things to consider:

  • Did you let someone use your card? Do you have an authorized user on your account? They may have made a purchase with it.
  • Is it possible that someone obtained your information illegally and made a fraudulent charge on your card?
  • Does the merchant use another company name that appears on your credit card statement? (For example, Binky Toys can appear as “TOY CORP” on your billing statement.)
  • Did you read the fine print? You may have signed a contract with a merchant authorizing charges you were not aware of.

Once you determine there is an actual problem with your statement, you’ll want to figure out if the problem is with your credit card issuer or a merchant. The process can be slightly different if a merchant is involved or not.

If the charge is an error that doesn’t involve a merchant, like fraud or identity theft, then you can contact your credit card issuer directly. Though it’s best to document your dispute in writing, many card issuers will discuss the issue with you (and sometimes even resolve it) over the phone.

Nowadays, most major card issuers will allow you to log in to your account and file the dispute or initiate an inquiry about a charge online. If you don’t feel comfortable with any of these methods, you can use this sample dispute letter provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and begin the dispute process via mail.

If the charge involves a merchant whose goods or services were either defective, misrepresented, or not delivered as agreed, then you’ll want to contact them first. You can place a call to start the process, but it’s best to have things in writing. So an email or snail mail letter can either kick things off or confirm and reiterate what was discussed over the phone regarding the issue.

Many times, merchants will work with you because they want to keep their chargeback rates (credit card refunds due to errors and disputes) low. Merchants who have higher chargeback rates are deemed high risk by credit card processors and face higher penalties and processing rates which cut deeply into their bottom line. For this reason, try to settle with them before going to your credit card company with the problem.

If you can’t get an acceptable resolution from the merchant who charged your card, then it’s time to contact your credit card issuer. Just like the process outlined above for billing errors, you can choose to initiate the dispute via phone, internet portal, or mail.

In all your disputing, remember the timelines set forth by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If your problem is with a merchant, you’ve got up to a year to make a claim under “claims and defenses.”

For errors, your dispute correspondence has to be received by the credit card issuer no later than 60 days after the first statement containing the charge you are disputing. In either case, if you decide to send your correspondence via mail, it’s a good idea to send it certified with proof of delivery.

What Happens After You Initiate a Dispute

Under the FCBA, your card issuer has to acknowledge your complaint 30 days after receiving it (unless they resolve it before then). Sometimes, the dispute process is fairly straightforward and within a matter of minutes the dispute could be resolved in your favor. You’ll receive a credit on your statement and the issue is resolved.

You should also be aware that under the FCBA, you don’t actually have to pay the amount in dispute or any interest or any related late fees while the dispute is ongoing. Sometimes, the card issuer will even remove the charge under investigation right away. The bank has 90 days to investigate the issue and resolve it either in your favor or the merchant’s favor.

Keep in mind that you could be asked for supporting documentation to back up your dispute. This could include police reports, photos of a defective product, manufacturer claims and descriptions, tracking numbers, screenshots, and email correspondence.

This evidence will be gathered and checked against any evidence supplied from the merchant. Once the bank has concluded the investigation, you’ll receive a final ruling where the charge is either removed permanently or placed back onto your statement and becomes your responsibility to pay. You should also know that you may be responsible for interest and fees that accrue for a dispute you ultimately do not win.

What If Your Dispute Isn’t Approved

If finally, despite your best efforts, you’re deemed responsible for the disputed charge, you still have a few options. You could appeal the final decision with the credit card issuer within 10 days of the decision. Sometimes, the investigation could be reopened. Inform the bank that you’ve got new information they should consider.

If they still decline to reconsider or resolve in your favor, they can report your failure to pay to credit bureaus. If they do report this information, it must also state that you do not believe you owe the amount in question.

Another option is to take the merchant, your bank, or both parties to court. This can be costly, but for an amount that’s high enough, a court case could be justified. Be sure to check terms and conditions for both the merchant and the issuer, because you may have waived your right to this course of action in doing business with them. Also, state laws will have a say in what legal recourse is available to you against both the merchant and credit card company. Check with the consumer protection division of your state’s attorney general office for guidance in this area.

Also, don’t be afraid to engage help and organizations that might have oversight of the institutions involved in your dispute. You can file a complaint against credit issuers with the FTC. The FTC complaint process, however, won’t apply to banks. Banks are regulated by the FDIC. You can find the regulator that has oversight of the bank you are dealing with here, or you can file a complaint with the Federal Reserve Consumer Help website.

If you’ve got the time, energy, and ambition, you can always take to social media to vent and tell the world about your experience. Many companies are diligent about protecting their online reputation and prefer to route these conversations offline for resolution. If possible, be just as polite and diplomatic on social media channels as you would be with a phone call or written complaint. You’ll likely get further with this approach.

Where It Can Get Sticky

As mentioned, disputes can be settled quickly and easy. Some people say that their card issuer didn’t even ask for documentation but charges were immediately reversed. Other times, it can be a longer process, especially if a merchant objects to your dispute.

When this happens, there can be a lot of back-and-forth between everyone involved in a credit dispute. The purchaser, the merchant, the acquirer (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover), and the issuing bank all have to coordinate communication to make sure disputes are investigated thoroughly and resolved appropriately.

Be aware that there are circumstances that can complicate, delay, and even hinder the dispute procedures.

Bankruptcy

When a merchant doesn’t deliver goods or services due to insolvency, there may not actually be any money in their bank’s account to cover a chargeback. You might be better off filing a case in small claims court. Sadly, in many bankruptcy proceedings, outstanding payables due to customers are one of the last payment priorities.

Collections

Though the dispute can be resolved in your favor from the credit issuer, the merchant could come back and bill you anyway. They can even send your account into collections. In this case, keep your documentation and be ready for a potential battle with collection agencies that have been engaged to recoup the funds from you. You credit report could also suffer.

Prepaid services

Let’s say you make an advance payment on a fitness camp 12 months in advance, but the company goes out of business and won’t be hosting the camp after all. You’ll want to make sure that you fully understand the dispute resolution process regarding future purchases. It will vary for each card issuer, so find out how you are protected in a situation like this. Consult your bank’s card member agreement and speak with someone who can give you clarity on dispute terms before making advanced payments with your credit card.

Product returns

If the dispute is resolved in your favor, part of the resolution may be connected to returning goods in order to receive the refund amount. There are very clear rules around what merchants must do when they receive your goods — a credit must be transmitted to the card issuer within seven days. From there, the issuer must ensure it shows up on your account within three days. It’s not unheard of for a seller to “send” for an item and never retrieve it in order to delay or avoid issuing a refund. Make sure that you take responsibility for returning goods. It’s a good idea to pay for tracking and insurance to make sure your items arrive safely, with proof of delivery, to the seller.

Pre-existing contracts

Terms and conditions are no fun to read, but it’s a good practice to look at the fine print (especially for large purchases). Hidden in these terms could be strict refund policies and even waivers to the dispute process should a problem occur with a sale.

Instructions for Filing Disputes with Major Credit Card Issuers:

 

Card Issuer: Instructions for Disputes:
Chase Chase dispute instructions
Bank of America Bank of America dispute instructions
Capital One Capital One dispute instructions
Barclays Barclays dispute instructions
Discover Discover dispute instructions
Citi Citi dispute instructions
American Express American Express dispute instructions

Final Thoughts on Credit Card Instructions

There are so many variables that can influence the outcome in all of these cases that it can seem like the final decisions are arbitrary. What worked in one scenario may not work in another with a different company or cardholder.

Many times, you’ll be working with a customer service representative who is unfamiliar with your rights as a consumer and the laws that should govern the outcomes of credit card charge disputes. When all else fails, research, education, and persistence may be your most powerful weapons in the fight for your consumer rights.

The post Disputing Credit Card Charges: What You Need to Know and Instructions for Each Card Issuer appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Best Money Market Rates – April 2017

Traditional banks are paying very low interest rates on money market accounts. For example, Bank of America pays between 0.03% and 0.06% APY. Fortunately, you do not need to settle for such ridiculously low rates. You can easily find the best money market rates at internet banks paying 1.05% or more. If you put $50,000 into Bank of America’s account at 0.03%, you will only earn $15 of interest over one year. That same money in an account paying 1.05% would earn you $525 of interest. And you can typically open and fund an online money market account in less than 10 minutes.

MagnifyMoney has searched for money market accounts paying the highest interest rates – and this list gets updated monthly. Here are the best rates for April 2017:

1. Top Choice: Sallie Mae – 1.05% APY, no minimum balance and checks available

If you have student loan debt, you probably are not very excited to see Sallie Mae at the top of this list. However, many people are unaware that Sallie Mae also operates an internet-only FDIC-insured bank with some of the best interest rates in the country. You can earn 1.05% APY, compounded daily and paid monthly. There is no minimum balance and no monthly maintenance fees. You will have check-writing capabilities (although the standard money market limit of six per month applies to this account). The easiest (and best) way to fund and access your funds is via electronic transfer from your existing checking account.

2. Highest Rate: United Bank – 1.25% APY, $2,500 minimum to avoid a fee, restricted to 25 states

 Unless you are from New England, you have probably never heard of United Bank. Formerly RockVille Bank (which originally opened in 1858), United has more than $5 billion of assets and started growing very rapidly over the last few years. Its lending portfolio has been growing faster than its deposits – which is why United started looking for deposits online. You do not need to live in New England to open this money market account. However there are some important restrictions. You need to deposit at least $500 to open the account. If your balance ever falls below $2,500 you will be charged a monthly fee of $15. You can fund and access your deposits electronically. An ATM card is also provided, but you would be charged $2 for every withdrawal outside of the ATM network (which is the AllPoint ATM network). If you live in one of the 25 states and have at least $2,500 – this deal is hard to beat.

Available States: CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MO, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OK, PA, RI, SC, TX, UT, VA, WA.

3. Excellent Rate: EverBank – 1.11% APY, $5,000 minimum deposit (1-year intro APY)

EverBank, recently acquired by TIAA-Cref, is a rapidly growing bank that conducts most of its business online (even though it is based in Florida). In 2017, EverBank has become very aggressive on interest rates. Its products have regularly made our list of best CD rates, and – not surprisingly – it also appears on the best money market list. This is a great product, but you should be aware of a few pieces of fine print. The APY is only valid for one year. EverBank does promise that the rate, after the first year, will “never stray from the top 5% of competitive accounts.” Just be prepared for a lower rate after 12 months. You need at least $5,000 to open the account. There is no monthly account fee.

4. Good Rate for Big Deposits: Capital One 360 – 1.00% APY on balances above $10,000 (0.60% on balances below)

Capital One has become more aggressive in recent months on the rate that it pays for online CDs and money market accounts. Capital One is focused on big balances: if you don’t have a lot of money, you can get much better deals elsewhere. But if you have a lot of cash and want another FDIC-insured account, Capital One is a strong option. You earn 0.60% APY on the first $9,999.99 that you deposit. You will then earn 1.00% APY on deposits from $10,000 up to $250,000. There is no monthly fee associated with the account.

5. Favorite Online Package: Ally – 0.85% APY, no minimum deposit, and link to free checking

Ally Bank is a very popular internet-only bank. Although the interest rate on the money market account is not the highest, Ally does offer a very competitive overall package – particularly if you link the account to an Ally checking account. The checking account has no minimum balance and no monthly fee. You can link your money market account to your checking account to provide overdraft protection. Money would be transferred to your checking account with no transaction fee if you ever made a mistake. You would be able to access your money market account with your Ally ATM card, which has free AllPoint access and up to $10 of non-Ally ATM fees reimbursed every month. This money market account is a nice way to provide yourself with overdraft protection while earning interest. If you don’t need check-writing capabilities on your savings, you would still be better off with Ally’s savings account.

3 Questions To Ask Before Opening A Money Market Account

1. Should I open a savings account or a money market account?

Many years ago, money market accounts were higher risk and paid higher returns. The financial crisis of 2008 changed all of that. Money market accounts are now FDIC-insured up to the legal maximum ($250,000 per institution per individual). Interest rates are now very similar – and there is no material difference. In other words – choose whichever account you want.

In general, you tend to get slightly lower interest rates on money market accounts because you have check-writing capabilities. The best savings accounts have rates between 1.00% and up to 1.25% APY – very similar to the rates on this page. But at Ally, for example, you can get 1.00 APY on a savings account (no check-writing) and 0.85% on the money market account (with check writing).   

We have written a full explanation of the difference between money market and savings accounts here.

2. Am I willing to make a longer term commitment? 

Savings accounts and money market accounts pay much lower interest rates than CDs. Right now you can easily get a 1-year CD paying 1.35% APY (with only a $2,000 minimum). You can find the best CD rates here. If you build a CD ladder, you can take advantage of 5-year rates that are now as high as 2.30%.

Money market accounts are great places to keep money that you might need immediately. But the interest rate on a money market account can change right away, at the bank’s discretion. To lock in a higher interest rate, you should consider a CD. If you need to get access to your CD early, would forfeit interest (typically from 3-6 months). In most circumstances, putting more of your money into CDs can really help boost your returns.

3. Is a money market account the same as a money market fund? 

No, money market accounts (offered by FDIC-insured banks) are not the same as money market funds (most likely sold by your broker). In fact, we really don’t know why people even buy money market funds in the current environment.

For example, Vanguard offers the Prime Money Market Fund. Like other money market funds, this one “invests in short-term, high-quality securities.” Its objective is to keep the fund trading at $1 and generate a decent return. Right now that return is 0.89% – a bit lower than the returns you see from the money market accounts listed in this article. However, money market funds do not have FDIC insurance.

Most people compare the return of a money market fund (sold by their broker) to the interest rate paid by a traditional bank (0.03%, sold by their local bank teller). As a result, they are willing to take the risk of a money market fund. However, as you can see from the best money market accounts in this article, you can get FDIC insurance and beat the return of most funds. Why earn 0.89% with no FDIC-insurance when you can easily earn 1.05% and have FDIC insurance.

The post Best Money Market Rates – April 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Whole Foods Plans to Cut Its ‘Whole Paycheck’ Prices

The days of 16-cent breakfasts may be ending — that is, if Whole Foods makes good on its promise to lower prices.

The days of settling for 16-cent breakfasts may be ending — that is, if Whole Foods makes good on its promise to lower prices.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the Texas-based company is taking steps to put its expensive, “whole paycheck” reputation behind it due to pressure from investors who want the organic grocer to behave more like Walmart. However, experts warn shifting to a similar centralized distribution structure could tarnish the brand, which sells locally grown produce.

The company’s in deep water with stakeholder Jana Partners, which wants to see swift operational changes and a reversal of what the Journal described as Whole Foods’ “longest stretch of same-store sales declines since going public in 1992.”

For consumers, that means Whole Foods will be pressed to compete with the likes of Kroger and Albertsons, which have steadily been dipping their toes in the health-conscious market, and that prices will drop.

“Our culture is still very unique,” co-founder John Mackey assured the paper, but the company now has a tall order to mesh its style with big-box performance.

What that will look like in practice remains unclear, though Mackey said the new strategy will make it easier for national brands to pitch at Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas, headquarters, which in turn will enable the company to pass on “tremendous savings” to shoppers. For now, the future of Whole Foods — and its prices — are hazy at best.

How to Save at Whole Foods 

Most Whole Foods shoppers are used to paying a premium for their health-conscious food. But there are ways to save on your groceries when shopping at Whole Foods, as Credit.com contributor Kristy Welsh notes. Here are a few of her tips.

BYOB. Bring your own sack to shop, and Whole Foods will give you up to a 10-cent discount on your purchase. Shop weekly and use five bags each time, and you could save $26 over the course of the year, Welsh said.

Buy What You Need. Don’t hesitate to ask the butcher to take out one of those steaks in the pre-wrapped packet. Or to ask the baker for a half loaf of rye. They’ll do it for you, and the price will be cheaper as a result.

Download the App. With coupons and weekly sales in one place, the Whole Foods app is a handy resource for on-the-go savers. You can also check for upcoming sales.

If all else fails and you still find the price of your groceries too high, a rewards credit card can help you earn points for spending — and there are even some that offer higher rewards when you purchase groceries. Just don’t forget to check your credit before you apply to make sure you’re able to qualify, as these types of cards tend to require you have higher credit scores. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: anouchka

The post Whole Foods Plans to Cut Its ‘Whole Paycheck’ Prices appeared first on Credit.com.