Topics:Personal Finance Credit Score Credit Cards 101 Home and Credit Relationships and Finance Credit and Debt Credit Repair 101 Children and Finance Expert Advice Credit Repair Companies
August 21st, 2020
March 22nd, 2021
No one wants to admit that they're struggling financially, especially if they're facing a poor credit situation. After all, bad credit can close off several financial doors and can leave you feeling helpless. At first, it may seem impossible to recover from bad credit. Fortunately, there are a few noteworthy credit repair companies that may be able to help you identify your credit problems and help you get your credit back on the right track with little required personal effort. One credit repair service that is worth considering is provided by Lexington Law. Unlike most of the companies in the credit repair industry, Lexington Law is, in fact, an active law firm that has several licensed attorneys and paralegals on staff, all of which contribute to helping clients defend their rights. With the company's focus on consumer advocacy and inclusive credit repair service options, among other features, it's safe to say that the firm has distinguished itself within the credit repair industry. Since Lexington Law has held a high rank on our credit repair industry list for quite some time, we decided to take a closer look at what makes the company stand out among its competitors. When scoring companies for our credit repair industry list, one of the biggest factors that play into a company's score is reviews. In terms of weight, reviews make up 75 percent of the overall score. Naturally, since reviews weigh heavily on a company's overall score, we figured that the Lexington Law reviews we've collected over time would tell a unique story of why the firm has maintained its status of being a credit repair industry leader. We looked at over 3,000 Lexington Law Firm client reviews and discovered that an impressive 75 percent of them were 4 or 5 stars. Next, we decided to analyze a random sample of 308 4-star and 5-star reviews that we have received for Lexington Law and found some common positive feedback. As you can see above, an overwhelming amount of the reviews we analyzed, 50 percent, praised the firm's quality of customer service. Along with customer service, 16 percent of reviewers said the firm helped them increase their credit score, 11 percent mentioned that they were pleased with how fast the firm's services were, 9 percent said they would recommend Lexington Law's services to others, and 4 percent praised the firm's reasonable price ranges. Additionally, 19 percent of the reviewers were satisfied with multiple aspects of the firm's credit repair service. Keep reading to get a breakdown of each section and to see a few Lexington Law review highlights. Quality customer service As mentioned above, 50 percent of the reviews we analyzed for Lexington Law complimented the company on the quality of its customer service. Many reviewers stated that the company's staff was knowledgeable and were able to answer questions they had throughout the duration of the credit repair service. Several reviews also mentioned that Lexington Law's staff was professional and courteous. Customer Review: Jessica Galindo Marquez from Glendale, Arizona “I had all my questions answered in a patient manner. When I didn't understand something, they put it into a way I could understand. Thank you, guys.” The average, first-time credit repair consumer will likely have a few questions before, during, and after the credit repair process. Being able to easily contact a company representative and get questions answered could make all the difference when it comes to whether or not someone will have a positive experience. Along with easy communication and contact, Lexington Law provides a good amount of information on its website. By looking at the company's website, consumers can easily find information about the staff, credit repair process, pricing, and more. This plays a major part in the consumer experience since many companies in the credit repair industry fail to disclose as much information online. Credit score increase Although consumers cannot completely expect positive credit score results from the credit repair process, 16 percent of the reviews we analyzed did mention that consumers were able to get a credit score increase of some sort after using Lexington Law's credit repair services. Customer Review: Mehret Gebremeskel from Lancaster, California “Lexington Law is awesome. My credit score went from 667 to 724. I will definitely refer Lexington Law to anyone looking for Credit help!” Many people turn to credit repair to obtain certain opportunities from having an improved credit score - like getting approved for a specific loan. As mentioned above, with credit repair services, even professional services like Lexington Law, there isn't a 100 percent guarantee that a consumer's credit score will increase after going through the credit repair process. It really all depends on the consumer's specific credit situation, history, the company they are working with, etc. Several companies including Lexington Law offer a free consultation which can give consumers an idea of potential results before they sign up for professional credit repair services. Speed of service After looking at the review sample for Lexington Law, we noticed that 11 percent of reviewers were pleased with the firm's speed of service. Credit repair does take time, and that time can vary depending on a number of factors; however, there are some instances where consumers have seen faster results than expected. Customer Review: Cynthia Easter “...Less than 60 days 9 items were removed from my credit! The paralegal team gave me strategies on how to resolve issues when I got calls from collectors and how to get ahead of my student loans. I feel like I'm now headed in the right direction towards having better credit. Thanks Lexington Law.” According to Lexington Law's website, an average client uses the credit repair firm's services for about six months. Again, this timeline may vary depending on each consumer's situation and credit repair needs. Would recommend Approximately 9 percent of the reviewers from the sample mentioned that they would recommend Lexington Law's credit repair services to family members, friends, and more. With the company's above-average customer service and many positive reviews, it's not surprising that consumers would be motivated to recommend Lexington Law's services to others. Customer Review: Michael Poloskey “Lexington law was extremely helpful for me in raising my credit score and I would definitely recommend them to anyone who needs help.” Credit repair isn't a one-and-done experience. It takes continuous effort to build and maintain a good credit score. Because credit and circumstances can change, there might be a few instances where people seek professional credit repair services more than once. We found that many of the consumers who mentioned in their reviews that they would recommend Lexington Law's service to others also mentioned that they would return to use the credit repair firm's service if they needed to in the future. Not only does Lexington Law have clients who would be willing to recommend their services, but they also have clients who would happily return. This level of customer satisfaction reflects well on the firm's operation and overall values. Reasonable pricing Although Lexington Law does not offer the cheapest credit repair services in the industry, many consumers say its services are worth the price. According to the review sample, 4 percent of the reviewers mentioned that they thought the price range for Lexington Law's credit repair services was quite affordable. Customer Review: Gary Biron from Gwinn, Michigan “Lexington Law is professional, and thorough. Anytime I had a question I was able to communicate and receive answers, instructions, and clarification. For me, the cost is very competitive, fair, worth the service. I will use them in the future if needed. Thanks LL.” Lexington Law offers three different credit repair service levels that consumers can choose from - the Concord Standard plan (basic level), the Concord Premier plan (moderate level), and the PremierPlus (advanced level). The monthly fee for the three plans ranges from $89.85 to $129.95. Each plan includes a variety of services such as bureau challenges, creditor interventions, score analysis, and more. In terms of pricing, Lexington Law has a few discounts that certain consumers can take advantage of. For instance, active military members and veterans can obtain 50 percent off of the first-work/initial fee. Additionally, those who sign up for the firm's credit repair services with a spouse will be given a one-time 50 percent off spouse discount. The bottom line Lexington Law firm has remained high on our credit repair list for several years, and it's fairly easy to see why especially after looking at the firm's customer reviews. Although not every review was positive, more than half of the sampled reviews we have received for Lexington Law's credit repair service were 4 or 5 stars. If you are searching for a credit repair service, you'll likely see Lexington Law show up again and again as they are considered a leading credit repair company. From Lexington Law's focus on consumer rights to their website transparency and customer service, it doesn't seem like there is much to complain about on the consumer's end. That said, it's still important to conduct your own research and reach out to the firm directly to make sure Lexington Law is the right credit repair service for you. Lexington Law Firm Credit Repair Click here to more about Lexington Law’s credit repair services. Learn More
Let's be honest. Credit can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you were never taught how to properly build and manage your credit. We recently talked to three people who now have good credit, but who really struggled with credit in the past. And they're not alone. Credit is surprisingly difficult for hundreds, even thousands of people, specifically those who fall into the younger generation categories. According to a recent Experian data report, the average FICO credit score for Americans between the ages of 20 and 29 as of the second quarter of 2019 was 662. Additionally, the report shows that ages 30 to 39 had an average FICO score of 673 and those ages 40 to 49 presented an average FICO score of 684. As you can see, the scores for ages 20 to 49 all appear to fall between the “fair” and “good” credit score ranges. The report shows the only group that was able to reach the “very good” credit score range were those in the 60+ category. Age Range Average Credit Score Credit Standing 20-29 662 Fair 30-39 673 Good 40-49 684 Good 50-59 706 Good 60+ 749 Very Good *Data from Experian second quarter 2019 report While older Americans have had more time to build their credit, younger Americans can still have good or even great credit if they prepare early. Unfortunately, many have missed the credit lessons they should have learned when they were younger. Additionally, this lack of credit education and experience has forced many Americans to put a large amount of time, effort, and, sometimes, money towards fixing their credit in order to access certain financial opportunities like getting approved for loans or being able to rent an apartment. We asked the three people we talked to, one who was only 18 when first encountering major credit hurdles, to share their credit-fixing stories along with the advice they would give those who are currently struggling with credit. Becky Beach, Owner of MomBeach.com Her story — “My credit used to be very poor in my twenties because I didn't know how to manage money. At 18, I was mailed a credit card, even though I had no job. Immediately, I began maxing it out and going hog wild. The credit statement came in, and I could not afford to make any payments. I had to take action when my credit score became extremely low, and I couldn't even get a car. When I was able to find a job, I started paying the minimum monthly payments. It ate up most of my paycheck. After eight years, the blemish on my credit score was gone. I was then able to buy a house with my partner. Sometimes, you have to be patient while your credit score heals.” Her advice — “One piece of advice is to dispute negative history on your credit report. If the credit company has not responded in 30 days, then the negative history will be removed. Also, contact a credit counselor to see if you can consolidate into smaller monthly payments.” Vicky Eves, Writer for I Beat Debt Her story — “After my debt journey, my credit hit rock bottom. I knew I needed to do something when I was unable to get a normal bank account. I was embarrassed and ashamed, especially as I was raised in a family where you didn't spend money you didn't have. In order to rebuild my credit, I took out a credit card for people with poor credit — ensuring it was paid off in full every month. I read a lot of information online, and I applied all the lessons I learned in debt counseling.” Her advice — “Unfortunately, it did take a while to rebuild my credit, so one of my top tips is patience. Another top tip is to not fear talking about money. There is too much stigma and people don't like to talk about it, but talking about money and getting advice is not a bad thing.” Vickie Pierre, Writer for loans.org Her story — “I knew things needed to change when it was time for me to purchase a car, and I needed my brother to cosign my loan. I felt embarrassed that, as a smart, college-educated professional, I couldn’t hold my finances together enough to shoulder my own car loan. What was worse, is that it was one missed payment that really caused my credit score to tank. That day, as I left the car dealership, I made the decision that I never wanted to be in a position that required me to depend on someone else’s credit to stay afloat. In the past few years, I’ve seen my credit score go from the very low 600s to just over 800 by following three main strategies. First, I made a point to pay off all of my credit card debts. I followed what is known as "The Snowball Method" — starting off with the smallest debt, then working my way up to the biggest one. When I was done with my credit cards, I paid off my car. As I was paying down my debts, I also made drastic changes to my budget. This included switching car insurance companies, canceling cable and other subscriptions, changing grocery stores, making my lunch every day, and more. Making these cuts freed up more money for me to be able to pay down my debts faster. Finally, I worked to build my credit by staying on top of my balances. To this day, I never make a purchase that I can’t pay off within the month. And if I’m not able to pay it off quickly, I simply save up and wait to make the purchase.” Her advice — “Don’t be afraid to trim the fat from your budget. Bad credit can often be the result of bad spending habits, and it’s easy to think that you just can’t live without that daily Starbucks or cable television. That is until you actually live without it. Instead of going into your budget thinking that you’re sacrificing things that you love, go in with the mindset that you’re gaining financial freedom. You’ll quickly realize that you’re perfectly capable of brewing a killer cup of coffee at home, or that you can catch up on all of the reading you’ve been putting off — all while saving money and improving your credit.” Additional tips A great way to learn what to avoid in terms of credit and what to do with your current credit situation is to review other people’s mistakes and stories. In reality, that’s how we learn how to do most things in our lives right the first time — by learning from what others have already done. Unfortunately, not every credit situation will be the same. If you are still unsure of what you can do with your credit after reading the stories above, here are a few additional tips and strategies you can use to get your credit in good shape this year. 1. Research your credit repair options If your credit is far from where you want it to be, you may want to start thinking about your credit repair options. You can choose to try DIY credit repair solutions or hire a professional credit repair service like Lexington Law. Customer Review: Jeff Leathers from Rochester, Minnesota "Lexington Law continues to be diligent in handling my case. I enjoy seeing discrepancies on my credit be removed. I do not have the patience or knowledge to go about doing the work Lexington Law does on my behalf. I can continue to do the things I know how to do. I highly recommend the service Lexington Law provides." What’s the difference between DIY and professional credit repair? In short, professional credit repair companies will do everything you can do yourself, but on a bigger scale. According to Investopedia, credit repair can “involve paying a company to contact the credit bureau and point out anything on your report that is incorrect or untrue, then asking for it to be removed.” Although you can dispute negative items on your credit reports and communicate with credit bureaus on your own, DIY credit repair is known to take up a lot more of your personal time and energy. Professional credit repair services are designed to free you from that burden by doing the work for you. Credit repair companies can provide quicker results than DIY solutions, but the process still takes time. It’s also important to note that there are some untrustworthy credit repair companies that promise you results. While credit repair companies may be able to help you identify disputable items and file the disputes, they shouldn’t promise to remove negative items or improve your score by a specific amount. Accurately reported negatives items can stay on your credit report for seven to 10 years. If you do choose to use a professional credit repair service, make sure to do your research and find a reputable company to work with. Read this article to see which red flags you should keep an eye out for when you’re doing your credit repair company research. 2. Find ways to continually add to your credit knowledge base GoBankingRates recently conducted a survey of 1,000 Americans in order to get an idea of their credit knowledge. As a result of the survey, GoBankingRates found that “at least a third of respondents said they didn’t know what level of credit score they would need to get a mortgage, an auto loan, a rewards credit card, and a personal loan.” When it comes to credit, the more you know, the better. You may learn some important credit concepts from your family, friends, and even education systems, but you likely won’t be able to keep up with credit if you don’t take time to really build up your own credit knowledge base. You can stay up-to-date on the latest credit trends by actively looking them up online or through finance-related subscriptions. Additionally, you may want to consider doing a one-on-one meeting with a credit professional or taking an online credit-focused course. You could also try reading credit-focused books or articles. In general, there are plenty of ways you can learn more about what affects your credit score and what you can do to build and maintain a good credit standing. 3. Keep an eye on your credit reports and credit scores According to the same GoBankingRates survey mentioned above, over 35 percent of the survey respondents claimed to not know their credit score. It’s significantly more difficult to maintain a good credit score if you aren’t aware of your credit score or what your credit reports look like. In a way, it’s like driving your car down a curvy road while blindfolded — next to impossible to accomplish without looking ahead. It’s easier than ever to know what’s going on with your credit reports and credit scores. You can request a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — at annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You could also sign up for a free or subscription-based credit monitoring service that will let you review your credit reports and send you notifications when there’s a suspicious change in your credit report. Many services also come with credit score tracking. 4. Consider your auto-pay options Your payment history makes up the largest portion of your credit scores, so it’s incredibly important to pay your bills on time and in full. If this is something you struggle with, you may want to consider setting up auto-pay functions for recurring expenses like subscriptions, credit card bills, and loans. Although auto-pay won’t solve all of your credit problems, it can help if you often struggle to remember payment due dates. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that auto-pay features will only benefit you if you have the money to fully pay your bills. The takeaway Clearly, planning is important. If you can take the time to create an actionable credit strategy, you’ll be more likely to reach your credit goals by the end of the year. Building good credit and fixing bad credit takes time, so having a credit plan on your agenda can help you stay on track. Nathan Grant, a Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider, added that payments should be a major focus when you build your credit plan. “At the end of the day, one of the best ways to improve your credit is to simply pay down your debts responsibly over time. Make all of your payments on time and, if possible, in full,” he said. “Your payment history and the ratio of debt used relative to your overall credit limits are two of the most prominent factors in many credit scoring models.” Before you build your plan for the rest of the year, take a good look at your current credit situation. As mentioned previously, not all credit situations are the same, so one credit plan that works for your friend might not work for you. Make sure to take the time to do your research, map out your credit goals, and build your plan to fit your specific credit needs. And, when in doubt, remember to learn from others. You might be surprised by what you find.
Guest Post by Steven Millstein If you're going to care about one number in life, it should be your credit score. Is this number not as high as you would like it to be? It's not too late. You can take steps to improve your credit.One of the most common ways to do this is by hiring a credit repair company. Some people have concerns about using these kinds of services. When looking for the right company, they don’t know where to start. And many are rightfully worried about getting ripped off.When hiring credit repair services, you must do everything you can to ensure the company is legit. This will prevent you from wasting money and making your score even lower. Here are our best tips for finding a reputable repair company and avoiding credit repair scams. Why is my credit score so important? Your credit score is a crucial part of your financial well-being. It plays a big role in whether you qualify for a loan, how much interest you have to pay, etc. It can even determine whether you are eligible to buy a house. Why hire a credit repair company? If your score is low, you should take action to fix it.Your score can be low for a variety of reasons. Some of them may be your fault. If you make late payments or get too close to your credit limit, for instance, your score could drop. In this case, you will have to improve your financial habits. Your score may also drop because of factors beyond your control. Credit bureaus make mistakes when creating reports. They may mix you up with someone else with a similar name, list duplicated accounts, etc. Credit repair companies will catch these errors and report them to the bureaus. Once the bureaus correct these errors, your score should improve. Can I repair my credit on my own? Some people choose to repair their credit on their own. They request free reports from the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). Then, the individual goes through these reports. They notice any errors and report them to the bureaus on their own. Under federal law, you can dispute information that’s on your credit reports for free, and the credit bureaus have online systems you can use. However, it can still take a lot of effort. You have to put in the time to research credit laws and go through your reports. You also have to properly communicate with the bureaus to ensure they address the errors. Credit repair companies don’t get any special access or privileges when it comes to disputing. However, credit repair professionals may have more experience identifying questionable information in credit reports and understand the details of the laws that govern credit reporting. This is why many people decide to hire a credit repair company. In the long run, it can save you time and money. What should I look for? So, what should you look for when hiring a credit repair company? Consider the following factors: Free consultations — Free consultations are a great way to get a feel for the company. Professionals will go over your report, informing you of what they can and can’t do. They will explain your options and help you determine the best course of action. Reputation — It’s good to know the reputation of the credit repair company you’re considering. If others have had success with its services, it may be a good option for you. Check the reputation of the company by doing the following: Scour online reviews. When people have a bad experience, they’re bound to complain about it online. Ensure the company has plenty of good, legit ratings before hiring it. Consult guides. Check out this guide that provides reviews of genuine services. Cross-referencing guides will help you feel confident in your decision. Look at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This organization has a Consumer Complaint Database that you can use to see if consumers have consistent problems with a company. Certifications and licenses — In 1996, the federal government passed the Credit Repair Organizations Act. This law regulates how credit repair companies interact with clients, but doesn't require a federal certification or license to start a business. However, many states require credit repair organizations (CRO) to register with the state and hold a CRO bond.You could see if a company is registered in your state, although not all states require registration. You could also check if the company is part of a professional association, such as the National Association of Credit Services Organizations (NACSO). Open communication — Do the professionals on your case practice open communication? Do they inform you of what they’re doing, provide constant updates, etc.? What should I watch out for? Perhaps even more helpful than knowing what to look for? Knowing what to watch out for. Stay far, far away if you spot any of these major red flags: Asking for payment upfront — Credit repair companies, by law, cannot demand payment upfront. They must complete their services before collecting your money. Neglecting to make a contract —The law says that companies must have a contract with you. In the contract, they should lay out the exact services they will complete, a transparent cancellation policy, etc. Guaranteeing results — Quick fixes are tempting. But, the reality is that no one can guarantee that they will fix your credit. If the company promises certain results in a certain time frame, be wary. Promising to fix mistakes you made — Agencies can’t get credit bureaus to remove completely accurate negative information from your report. One that says otherwise could be running a scam. Asking you to be dishonest — Professionals should never ask you to lie and claim something is inaccurate, assume a parallel identity, or sign up for a new tax identification number. These are underhanded tactics that won’t work and could leave you tangled up in a scam. Ignoring your questions —As a consumer worried about your credit, you should feel free to ask questions. Avoid companies that brush aside your concerns or don’t inform you of your legal rights. Think you’ve come across a scam? Have you come across a credit repair scam? Start by reporting it to an organization like the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or your state’s attorney general. If you were affected by illegitimate services, you can take legal action. Victims can sue for losses, fees, and even punitive damages. If the company swindled other people, you may be able to pursue a class-action lawsuit. The bottom line With all of the scams and ineffective services out there, finding the right credit repair company can be challenging. Do your research before choosing. You’ll be glad you did while others are throwing their money away at conniving, ineffective companies. Steven Millstein is a recognized credit expert and is the editor of CreditRepairExpert which is an online resource dedicated to all things credit. Steven has been featured in leading publications including Newsday, Yahoo Finance, MSN, NBC, and many others.
We all love the holiday season. The parties, the food, and the festive decorations are enough to make anyone smile. Although the holidays can bring plenty of cheer and joy, they can also distract you from preparing for the approaching new year. Odds are, you probably won’t be thinking of your financial resolutions or goals while you’re chugging eggnog or unwrapping gifts. And that’s okay if you prepare for the new year before the holidays come around. If you don’t prepare in advance, however, you might find that you’re up to your neck in holiday debt or that your credit score has dropped, and then you'll have to spend the first part of the next year making up for your lack of preparation. That’s definitely not a fun way to kick off the new year.The beginning of the new year is a chance to start fresh and set the tone for the rest of the year. So, if you start the new year stressing over your financial situation, you might feel the consequences of that for the rest of the year. To make this upcoming new year a great one for you, we gathered several expert tips that can help you prepare your credit and finances for the new year. Tip #1: Keep an eye on holiday expenses Tanya Peterson, Consumer Finance Expert and Vice President of Brand for Freedom Debt Relief “If you are holiday shopping, be cautious with the credit card(s). Make sure you are working from a holiday budget, and no matter what, charge no more than what you can pay in full and on time when the bills arrive. It is not worth going into debt for holiday shopping.” Jory McEachern, Operations Manager at ScoreShuttle “Before you start wheeling and dealing out gifts, first make sure you’ve accounted for all of your holiday travel expenses and traditional grocery needs. To make it easy, start online before you head into a store. Online shops typically allow you to search for items in your specific price range to prevent overspending. Compare prices from a few different vendors and always search for coupons codes and discounts before you make a purchase.” Jake Lizarraga, Writer at Finance Fox “Avoid the holiday debt. This means being smart about how you’ll be spending the holidays. Expensive gifts or crazy decorations are unnecessary to bring in the holiday cheer, so don’t get caught up in the spending craze.” Tip #2: Review your finances and budget monthly or annually Jonathan Hess, Creator of Centsibly Frugal “Prepare a year-end review of your finances. I use Mint to export all of my transactions throughout the year and spend an hour or two sifting through every category by month with Excel pivot tables to see how much I spent last year and if I can cut certain things. I also take a look at which of my yearly subscriptions or promotions I’ve signed up for, that will be coming up for renewal in the coming year, and prepare to renew them, replace them with a lower-cost option, or cancel altogether.” Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider “Reevaluate your budget and incorporate any financial changes that may have taken place throughout the year. A year is a long time, and you may very well have received a raise or introduced another stream of income over the past several months. If you’re aiming to boost your credit scores and haven’t paid off all your debts, consider directing some of this cash flow toward credit card balances and other debts that allow you to pay on your own terms. With all else equal, lower credit card balances can lead to a healthy boost to your credit scores.” Jared Weitz CEO and Founder United Capital Source Inc. “Establish a monthly check-in on your spending and finances. During this time take note of any charitable donations, gifts, or purchases that could be tax-deductible. When you break up this activity into a monthly action, it will be much easier to manage filing taxes at the end of the year and will ensure that you’re never late on any bills/credit cards etc. This is also a great time to make sure there are no transactions to dispute or any suspicious activity. An hour or two a month will save you a great deal of time and frustration down the road.” Tip #3: Set credit goals and know your numbers Todd Christensen, Education Manager at Money Fit “Set a credit goal to work on in (the new year). Any score about 750 or 760 will generally get you all the best repayment terms (low-interest rates, no fees, etc.) that lenders have to offer. Here are the steps you can take now to start the journey: Figure out where your credit score sits generally. Use a free app or service like Credit Karma, Mint, Credit Sesame, Bankrate, Nerd Wallet, etc. to see where your score is. Add the balances of your accounts from your credit report to figure out your total debt. Add your minimum monthly payments to understand your minimum payment obligation. For accounts with overdue payments, call the creditor to arrange a plan to get caught up so the account will report as on time. Not all creditors are willing to work out a repayment plan over a couple of months, but some would rather do that than take a loss by selling the account to collections. For any collection notice you have received in the past month or so, call the original creditor, office, business and ask if you can set up a monthly repayment plan and have them get the account back from the collection agency (to keep it off your credit report). Commit to sending a specific amount of money to your creditors each month in (the new year) above and beyond the required minimum payment.” Tip #4: Lower your credit utilization rate Logan Allec, CPA, personal finance expert, and owner of personal finance blog Money Done Right “A sneaky trick to improve your credit is to lower your utilization ratio. The utilization ratio measures what percent of your credit limit you use, with a lower score actually raising your credit score. For example, if you have a $1,000 balance and a credit limit of $5,000, then your utilization ratio is 20 percent. If you plan to lower your utilization ratio, you can take steps now like calling your bank this year and asking for a higher limit. This will improve your ratio immediately if you keep your spending at the same level through (the new year).” Chase Lawson, Personal Finance Expert and Author of Financial Freedom: Breaking the Chains to Independence and Creating Massive Wealth “The second largest factor in your credit score is credit utilization. This represents 30 percent of your FICO score. If you consistently keep a relatively low balance on each of your credit accounts, this will help improve this metric. A good target is to stay below 30 percent of your credit limit on each account. Therefore, if your credit limit on one of your credit cards is $1,000, try to keep the outstanding balance below $300, or 30 percent. In addition, you can ask to have your credit limit increased. In this case, you can keep a larger balance if needed and have it not impact your credit score as much.” Tanya Peterson “Be aware of how much of your available credit you are using. You want to minimize percentage utilization and maximize credit available on each credit card. As an example, if you have a credit card with a limit of $10,000, and you owe $3,000 on it, that's 30 percent utilization. Because credit card utilization can be very influential in calculation of credit scores, keep it very low.” Tip #5: Plan your investments ahead of time Jonathan Hess “Plan on which big investments you will most likely have during the year. If you’re planning on buying a house, car, or other large item that requires financing, avoid applying for other forms of credit so your score will be as high as possible when you apply. On top of that, during the months leading up to that big purchase, keep your credit utilization very low by paying off some of your current balances before your credit card statement balances come out. This could give you a temporary boost to your score.” Chase Lawson “It's better to invest earlier, so you can benefit from compound returns. As such, if you aren't already investing and if you're able to work it into your monthly budget, now is the perfect time to begin. Historically, investing in a diversified portfolio mirroring the market has resulted in 7–10 percent yearly returns, regardless of timing. Consider contributing to your employer's 401(k) plan, especially if there's a match. Find good mutual funds to invest in. Slowly increase your contributions as you start making more money.” Tip #6: Make a debt plan (consider the snowball method) Tanya Peterson “Take time now to plan how you will pay off any debt you carry, especially credit card debt. Do it yourself if possible, with the avalanche or snowball method. If not, now is the time to check out a personal loan (to consolidate and pay off the debt), credit counseling (slightly lower interest rate), or, if you are struggling to make minimum payments and have incurred a financial hardship, debt settlement.” Morgan Taylor, Finance Expert and CMO at LetMeBank “Pick the smallest credit (or loan) that you have to pay off. Start putting as much towards that as your budget allows while maintaining minimum payments on your other bills. Once that's paid off, move on to the next smallest bill, putting what you would have put towards that first bill plus your minimum payment towards it. This snowballs until you've paid off all consumer debt.” Brandon Neth, Credit Card and Travel Rewards Expert at FinanceBuzz "The debt snowball and/or avalanche methods are easy to follow, actionable and can make a real difference. Simply pay extra towards your highest interest debt first (avalanche method), or pay extra to the debt with the lowest balance first (snowball method). Continue paying the minimum on all of your other interest-earning debts simultaneously. Get started today by paying any extra amount to your debt — whether it be $25 or $100. As you enter (the new year), you can most likely automate these extra payments so you don't have to think about it each month. By spending the next few weeks educating yourself, putting an extra payment toward your debt and making a plan that you can stick to in the new year, your credit should see a boost in (the new year)." Tip #7: Check your credit reports Tanya Peterson “Check credit reports. If you have not done so within a year, this is an excellent time. Everyone can obtain a copy of his or her report from each of the three major credit report bureaus (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). They are available through www.annualcreditreport.com once a year for free. Reviewing your reports can help you detect identity theft or errors that damage your credit. Once you have viewed your reports, correct any errors by following the directions on each agency’s website.” Todd Christensen “Get over the fear and pull your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. Most people I have helped to pull their credit thought things would be a lot worse than they actually were.” Nathan Wade, Managing Editor for WealthFit Money “Not often enough do individuals check their credit reports as much as their credit score. One mistake could be holding you back from reaching your credit score goal or even worse — damaging your credit. Checking for accuracy before the new year will give you sanity that there isn't any oversight. Check your credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies, everyone one is entitled to a free copy from each of these agencies each year. In the event that you find a mistake, dispute it immediately.” Andrew Chen, Founder of Hack Your Wealth “You want to start (the new year) with confidence that your credit file is accurate and clean. You can pull your credit report for free once per year from each of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) using a site like annualcreditreport.com (there are others, too). Do this before the year-end to verify there are no reporting mistakes and that you indeed recognize every account/balance listed (i.e., no fraud red flags). If you see anything you don't recognize, contact the bureaus immediately to start the correction process; also call your card companies to notify them so they can put an alert on your file.” Tip #8: Budget for both regular and irregular expenses Jonathan Hess “Look at irregular expenses and start putting money aside for them. I have a few bills that are quarterly or semi-annual. I will divide these bills by the number of months between when they’re due and set up an automatic withdrawal from my checking account so I can limit the ‘hit’ I take on the quarter when the bill is due. This also allows me to easily budget things on a monthly basis even if they’re due quarterly.” Simon Nowak, CEO of 3CreditScores.net “If you don't already prepare a monthly budget you should start. Calculate the approximate cost of each monthly necessity. Take that total and deduct it from your monthly income. From there you can determine what you have left to put towards reducing credit card debt or making an extra mortgage payment. Take advantage of opportunities to eliminate debt whenever applicable and feasible.” Tip #9: Be strategic about credit card payments Andrew Chen “Pay off your highest interest rate credit cards asap, even if that means opening a new no or low-interest card and transferring your balance to it. Credit card interest charges are insanely expensive, especially for travel rewards cards, so you want to pay any cards off where you're carrying a monthly balance as quickly as possible. This will help you free up cash flow. In no event do you want to make a late payment — it'll be costly and it'll ding your credit badly.” Tip #10: Consider autopay for bills and avoid late payments Evan Sutherland, Cofounder, Budgeting Couple “Bills are the crux of a great credit score. If you pay a bill late, then your credit score is negatively affected (not to mention your finances suffer from hefty late fees and interest charges). Pay your credit cards, personal loans, mortgage, utilities, and cell phone bill on time, and your credit score could skyrocket. The easiest way to never miss a payment — as well as grow your credit score every month — is to use Autopay. Put every bill you can on Autopay. When a bill is due, the billing company will automatically withdraw that month’s payment from your bank account. Your payments will always be on time, you’ll never lose money to late fees and interest, you’re (sic) credit score will grow every month, and you’ll have one less financial responsibility to worry about. Start consistently and effortlessly growing your credit score (by putting) your bills on autopay.” Nathan Wade “Paying your bills on time is crucial to improving your credit score. If you have trouble remembering your payment due dates, set up an automatic charge. If you don't want payments to be made automatically, set up payment due date alerts. Being organized will help you avoid making late payments. If you mistakenly made a late payment, speak with your credit card issuer and ask for late payment forgiveness. If you have a good track record, they will be more likely to forgive.” Tip #11: Check and monitor your credit score Heidi Mertlich, Owner of No Physical Term Life “Monitor your credit score. Credit scores are considered by most financial experts as a gauge of your monetary health. Your score is a factor for lending institutions to determine whether or not you qualify for a loan, and just how much interest to charge you. Monitor your credit score to check for discrepancies and to protect yourself from identity theft." Richard Best, Personal Finance Expert at DontPayFull “You need to know your score. Get a baseline for score and track it as you take steps to improve your credit. Sign up for a credit monitoring service so you can track your credit report and score. They are offered free through most online banking services or you can sign up free with CreditKarma.com.” Tip #12: Avoid closing old credit cards Andrew Chen “Do not close your oldest credit cards, especially if they have no annual fee. A big input into your credit score is the age of your credit lines. Some people open no-annual-fee credit cards when they are young, even if they don't intend to use them, simply to start establishing a track record of having credit responsibly." Morgan Taylor “Don't close accounts. When you pay something off, don't close the account. Instead, figure out a regular monthly bill that has to be paid, and is already in the budget. Put that bill on one of the paid-off credit cards and pay it off every month in full. This will show that you're responsible with credit, actively using credit, and are paying off that credit in full every month.” Tip #13: Create a credit card balance-payoff plan Sean Messier “If you haven’t already, enforce a strict credit card plan that involves paying off the balance of every card in your wallet by its statement closing date... There’s a common misconception that using no more than 30 percent of your credit card balances is the best move for your credit, but the reality is that having no debt at all is considerably better. That doesn’t mean never using your cards — it just means paying them off in a timely manner.” Richard Best “Develop a plan to reduce your balances. One of the quickest ways to improve your credit score is to reduce your credit card balances to below 30 percent of their available credit. Start with your highest balances first...and start in on your cards with lower balances. Your ultimate goal should be to reduce your balances to zero.” Tip #14: Cut off unnecessary expenses Nathan Wade “If you want to save more money in the upcoming year, cut out any unnecessary expenses and leave them in (the past year). Nonessentials range from entertainment services to buying coffee each morning. Although it may not seem like a big change, buying coffee is roughly five/six dollars a day, (which) amounts to about $2,000 a year. This is a great amount that you can accumulate in (the new year). Once you've cut nonessentials out, try your best to negotiate any current bills and see if there is any way you can bring down the cost from services such as your cell phone carrier.” Tip #15: Get your taxes done early David DiNardo, President and CEO of Envolta “Getting your taxes done early is an excellent first step that I highly recommend. The earlier you can arrange and organize all of your tax receipts, the easier your taxes will get done, and the clearer your financial picture will be for the new year. By leaving your taxes to the last minute, you'll also increase the chances of having to file for an extension, which could result in actually having to owe money instead of receiving some.” Bonus tips from BestCompany's experts Alayna Okerlund, credit repair expert Invest in credit repair. If you are struggling with poor credit and have plans to use your credit sometime in the upcoming new year, you may want to consider credit repair. You can either spend time to repair your credit on your own or you can take some of that effort off your shoulders and hire a professional credit repair company. Although credit repair can take time, it can help you improve your credit score, which can result in better opportunities for you in the new year. If you’re planning on investing in professional credit repair services, check out this list of top credit repair companies to get started. Get organized. Creating an organized system for your finances can make all the difference. If you are struggling with staying on top of your finances, you might find that part of the reason is because you’re simply not organized enough. If you’re following tip #2 (reviewing your budget and finances), you may want to review your current financial organization structure at the same time. Do what you can to find what works for you. You may find that you’re more into digital organization or you may like a physical filing cabinet system more. Regardless of whatever organization system you put in place, making an effort to be more organized can improve your chances of staying on top of your finances in the new year. Settle person-to-person debts. It can be hard to lend and borrow money from another person, especially if there isn’t a set plan to settle up in the near future. Maybe you found yourself in a tight spot this year and asked your best friend for a little cash or maybe a family member came up to you and asked you for money. Regardless of who borrowed money from whom, you should make it part of your financial preparation plan to settle those person-to-person debts before the end of this year. Settling these types of debts can be awkward and uncomfortable. If you lent someone money and they can’t pay you back right now or vice versa, take the time to communicate with them and create a strict, written plan for reimbursement. This plan should include the debts owed, the exact date the debt will be paid back in the near future, and what is being done to make sure the person who owes money will be ready to pay up when the due date approaches. Alice Stevens, tax and insurance expert Check your tax withholdings. If your tax situation or income has changed, talk to the human resources department to review your withholdings. Withholdings are automatically taken from W-2 earners before you get your paycheck. If you're self-employed, check your quarterly tax payments to make sure that you'll be on-track for paying next year's taxes. You don’t want to overpay your taxes because you'll have less money for your monthly expenses throughout the year. You also want to avoid underpaying them, too. Writing a big check to the government in April isn't pleasant and may be more than you can pay all at once. Look at your health expenses. Part of your annual financial review should include your health expenses. Review what you spent this year and project next year’s costs as best as you can. Maybe one of your kids needs to get their wisdom teeth removed next year or your doctor has recommended a procedure within the next year for you. If you do this review during the open enrollment period (November 1–December 15), you can use this information to help you pick the right health plan to save you more money based on what you need. If you do your review after open enrollment, you can still use this information as you prepare your budget for the year. Meet with a finance professional. Meeting with a finance professional can give you financial advice tailored to your situation and goals. Whether you meet with a credit counselor to help you budget or create a plan to get out of debt or you meet with a financial planner to review plans for the future and retirement, it’s always beneficial to meet with a professional. Key Takeaways: Be more financially prepared with these extra tips • Invest in credit repair • Get organized • Settle person-to-person debts • Check your tax withholdings • Look at your health expenses • Meet with a finance professional The bottom line In order to enjoy the holidays and the beginning of the new year, it’s important to prepare your credit and other finances in advance. As you head into the holiday season, consider trying out a few of the tips listed above, enhancing your financial education, and seeking professional financial advice if necessary to get you and your finances truly ready for the new year.
This is part two of our two-part credit retirement series. Read part one here. When you retire, the world becomes your oyster. You can finally take that exciting European adventure you and your spouse have always dreamed of or you can just take the time to relax in the sunshine on an empty beach. In general, retirement allows you to focus on yourself and discover the joys of life you never had time for because you were sitting in a gray-colored cubicle for 40 or more hours each week. Now that you’ve traded your briefcase in for a piña colada, you might think your life is all about vacation and bliss. Granted, relaxation and vacation can be the majority of your focus now, but there is something you might still need to think about every once in a while: your credit. If you’ve read part one of this article series, then you know that credit is still important after you retire. After all, you never know when you might need to cosign a loan for someone, when you will have to pay for emergency expenses, or when you will choose to downsize and move closer to your grandkids. In fact, you might not even know if or when within the next few years you will want to take out a loan to pay for that convertible you’ve always had your eye on. Overall, the reasons for maintaining a good credit score may seem like a lot of “what if’s,” but life is full of “what if’s” and you never know what will really happen. So, it’s best to be prepared when the “what if’s” become your reality. Now that you’ve learned about why credit is still important, you might be wondering how you can maintain your credit as you explore the joys of retirement. If that’s the case, today is your lucky day because we asked the experts to discuss ways retirees can effectively manage their credit. Let’s get started. How to manage credit in retirement Richard Best, Personal Finance Expert and Writer at dontpayfull.com “To maintain a high credit score in retirement, you need to be proactive in using and monitoring your credit. It is important to continue to use your credit cards. A big portion of your credit score is based on your payment history. Use your credit cards to pay for budgeted expenses and then pay the balance in full every month. You will (also) want to closely monitor your credit. Retirees are a main target for identity thieves who can potentially destroy your credit history. It’s important to track your credit score, so if it should change, you can look at your credit report to learn the reason for the change. You are eligible to receive three free credit reports per year — one from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.” Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider “Maintaining your credit scores after retirement should be relatively easy if you’ve developed good financial habits over the years. Be sure to make all payments on time, and pay down your credit card balances on a monthly basis whenever possible to keep your debt-to-limit ratio low.” David Bakke, Credit Expert at Money Crashers “To keep your credit up in retirement, never close older or unneeded credit cards. Keep them open and put a few minor purchases on them each month, so the provider doesn't close the account for you. This maintains your available level of credit and keeps your score intact. Also, start or continue to analyze your credit reports, which you can do three times per year using the website AnnualCreditReport. At that site, you can access your report for free from each of the three main credit reporting agencies. Make sure that there are no accounts that don't belong to you or any other inaccurate information. Then, pay all bills on time and keep credit card balances low, if not at $0. And by all means, be wary of scams or other criminal activity that could affect your credit in a negative way. The strategies are basically endless at this point, but just understand that anything that sounds too good to be true in any credit matter should be avoided. If you're unsure, consult with a friend or family member or a trusted associate well-versed in personal finance if you have one.” Randall Yates, Founder and CEO of The Lenders Network “Payment history is the biggest factor in determining your credit score so you want to make sure you stay on top of your payments. Set up auto-pay on your accounts so you can avoid any missed payments. Your credit utilization ratio also has a big impact on your credit score, try to keep your card balances below 20 percent of the credit limit to maximize your scores.” Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Founder of Debt.com “There’s one simple, powerful way to keep your credit score robust. Just pay off your credit card balances in full and on time each month. Every other hack pales in comparison. Why? Because the math says so. Thirty-five percent of your credit score is determined by payment history, which is just shorthand for, ‘You pay your bills on time.’ Another 30 percent is credit utilization, which is a fancy way of saying, ‘You don’t max out your credit limits.’ Together, those two factors represent nearly two-thirds of your credit score. So don’t fret about any other credit score hacks till you take care of these two. Otherwise, you’re wasting a lot of time for very little in return.” Freddie Huynh, Vice President of Credit Risk Analytics with Freedom Financial Network Review credit reports and make sure they are accurate — All three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are required to provide a credit report. Retirees should access credit reports once each year for free at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228. If a report shows any inaccuracy, from your address to an incorrect outstanding balance on a credit card, correct it by following the directions on each agency’s website.Understand that credit reports are different from credit scores — Information on the credit reports is used to calculate the scores. Many banks, credit unions, and credit card issuers now provide credit scores to customers. Consumers also can purchase them from credit score services, or purchase their FICO score at myfico.com. Pay every bill on time, every time — On-time payments make up 35 percent of credit scores, the largest component. Pay down any credit card debt — Getting rid of it is one of the best investments you’ll make. It’s also a key factor in improving credit profiles and scores. Minimize percentage utilization and maximize credit available — If the sum of your credit card limits is $10,000, and the total credit card balances you have are $3,500, that's 35 percent utilization. Credit card utilization can be very influential to your credit score, so you want to keep your credit card balances and utilization low. Do use credit — Credit bureaus look to payment history to help assess how someone will do in the future when it comes to repaying any debt. So, borrowing provides the information they need. Most adults find it helpful to use one credit card, but it’s not necessary to use more than one to improve or maintain a positive credit profile. Don’t stress if you don’t have a credit card — While many 50+ adults have the problem of too many cards, some don’t have any. Payments on any loan help build a credit history, as does paying every bill on time (and in full). Beware of retail store cards — They can carry very high-interest rates and most people are better off using a regular credit card. Do not carry credit card balances month-to-month — Charge no more than the amount you can and will pay off in full every month. If you can’t do that, don’t buy it and don’t charge it. Carefully consider canceling any credit card account that has a long (positive) history — The longer you keep such an account, the more valuable it is to credit score calculations. If you don’t want to use it, store it safely away, but don’t close the account. The bottom line Credit may be something you want to hang up in the back of your closet after you retire, but, as you’ve read above, it’s something that takes some active focus. Not enough focus, however, to ruin your retirement life. Just enough to maintain a good credit score. Now, what happens if you are going into retirement with a less-than-ideal credit score? You can try to build up your credit with good habits before you retire, you can attempt to repair your credit on your own time, or you can get help from a professional credit repair service. Overall, making sure your credit and finances are in a good place before you retire can help you more easily maintain good credit during retirement. If you do already have good credit and are about to retire, try to keep your credit in mind, follow the expert advice provided in this article, and you shouldn’t have a problem with making future credit-based decisions.
This is part one of our two-part credit retirement series. Read part two here. Odds are, you won't have too much to worry about after you retire. Retirement allows you to trade in your work deadlines and heavy-traffic commutes for sun-soaked vacations and new hobbies. It’s something you’ve likely been dreaming about since you started your professional career. And, in general, retirement is the ultimate goal that allows you to truly enjoy your golden years. Although retirement can be full of sunshine and daisies, it doesn’t mean you can leave behind all of your responsibilities, especially your credit. And we get it. No one really wants to worry about finances or credit when they retire, but it’s important to keep in mind that your credit doesn’t retire when you do. In fact, as long as you are living, your credit could affect your choices. So, if you make bad financial decisions during retirement, your credit will likely suffer. In this article series, we will discuss a few reasons why you should continue to actively manage your credit and what you need to do to make sure you have a good credit score throughout retirement. Now, let’s dive into part one. Why your credit still matters You may age like fine wine, but your credit might not, especially if you decide to throw it on the back burner when you retire. We asked a few experts why they think credit still matters after an individual reaches retirement. Here’s what they had to say: Randall Yates, Founder and CEO of The Lenders Network “Maintaining good credit in retirement is important because your credit affects more than just the interest rate you get on loans and credit cards. For instance, insurance companies often check credit to help determine your insurance rates. Cell phone companies also check credit before offering phone service. Even if you don't plan on using your credit in the future, it's always a good idea to maintain credit in the event of an emergency, or if you want to cosign on a loan for a grandchild.” Jacob Dayan, CEO and Co-founder of Finance Pal and Community Tax “It is important to maintain a good credit score following retirement as it influences your ability to refinance mortgages if your rates drop, get credit card approvals, obtain lower insurance premiums, and get auto loan approvals. This can affect hobbies and activities you might wish to pursue during retirement, so it’s always a good idea to keep them in good shape even to be safe.” Freddie Huynh, Vice President of Credit Risk Analytics with Freedom Financial Network “Once they reach their fifties and sixties, some people think that they won’t be borrowing money again, so there’s little need to worry about credit profiles and scores. This can be particularly so if they own their homes. But credit scores have a major impact on the ability to borrow any money — and the interest rate on the loan. Maybe the need for a personal or business loan will arise, or the need (or desire) to buy a different — perhaps smaller home. Credit profiles and credit scores can affect the ability to rent an apartment or lease a car. Many auto insurance companies also take credit into play when setting rates.(Additionally,) many people who have retired find that they want to, or have to, return to work, whether it’s full-time or part-time. Employers today can and do check credit reports.” Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider “There are plenty of benefits to maintaining great credit scores after retirement. Though retirement may be the end of your full-time working career, you still have years upon years left to enjoy. That can often involve buying things, like vehicles or homes, that you would rather not purchase in full. Taking meticulous care of your credit scores during retirement can help ensure you’re still able to secure the best possible interest rates and offers when it comes to loans and credit cards, which you may very well use on a regular basis. Credit cards are great for earning cashback or rewards on staple purchases, like gas and groceries, that you likely buy on a regular basis whether you’re working or not. If you’re ever looking to get a different credit card that earns rewards and provides benefits that complement your post-retirement lifestyle, you’re going to want great credit scores, as this helps keep your approval odds high. Adiel Gorel, CEO of International Capital Group (ICG) “Just because someone retired, doesn’t mean they don’t need good credit. They may still wish to buy a car, an appliance, or any other purchase that will be better financed with good credit. In fact, I would argue that it is even MORE important for a retiree to maintain good credit since traditionally, retirees try to spend as little as possible. Good credit will enable them to pay less when purchasing anything on credit.” Dan Gallagher, Personal Finance Expert at ScoreSense “While a well-thought-out cash reserve and a disciplined budget is a better practice for seniors (everyone) than using credit, there are reasons why retirees should maintain good credit. Among these are possible needs for credit and credit-score affected services. A retiree may need emergency credit to help an adult child or to maintain a business in retirement. One might need to rent a home or even a car, or live where there are ongoing obligations such as Homeowners Association dues and assessments; even cable/internet and club/golf agreements can be affected by poor credit scores. One might benefit from incentives given with store cards as well. So, credit scores and availability are important.” Richard Best, Personal Finance Expert and Writer at dontpayfull.com “With your mortgage paid off and your retirement account flush, you may think you can leave your credit score behind. You should think again. While you may not have any foreseeable borrowing needs to speak of, there are good reasons why it would be important to maintain a good credit score in retirement. Refinancing your mortgage — an increasing number of retirees are carrying a mortgage into retirement. If you happen to be one of them, you may want to keep your options open for refinancing your mortgage. A good credit score would allow you to more easily refinance if mortgage rates should drop. Or, in the unlikely event your financial circumstances should worsen, you could access your equity through a cash-out refinance. Moving or downsizing your home — It may dawn on you after you are in retirement that you may want to move to a different location (closer to the kids), or you decide you want to downsize for simpler and more affordable living. If your move entails leasing a place temporarily or permanently, you will need a good credit score to get the approval of the property owner. If the move requires any financing or refinancing, your credit score will dictate the terms of the loan. Paying for emergency expenses — if you have planned well for retirement, you should have at least six months’ worth of living expenses set aside as a cash reserve for emergencies. But, if you don’t, or if you should run through your cash reserve, you would need to borrow money to pay for unexpected events such as a major car or home repair, or a major medical expense. You need to keep your credit score up to ensure your credit card issuers will approve a sufficient credit limit.” The bottom line As you’ve read above, credit is clearly an important part of life, even after retirement. Maybe you want to downsize and buy a new home that’s closer to your grandkids or maybe you want to get that snazzy car you’ve always wanted and take your spouse on a road trip adventure.Regardless of what you want to do after you hang up your office clothes for good, there are a few things you need to keep tabs on in order to maintain a good credit score in retirement. Make sure to check out part two of this article series to find out what the experts say you should be doing to keep your credit score up while you enjoy your work-free years.
Congratulations! You just completed one of life’s greatest milestones: marriage. Whether you had an elegant reception or a lovely, intimate ceremony, you and your spouse are likely making plans for the life you two will build together. And that’s how it should be. Unfortunately, some newlyweds lose this level of excitement and bliss early on because they fail to be on the same page when it comes to finances. According to the 2017 Divorce and Debt Survey conducted by MagnifyMoney, 21 percent of U.S. adults who were polled said money was the main reason for their divorce. Finances can be tricky to manage, and having another person in the mix can make it even more of a challenge. To help you and your new spouse, we asked a few experts for their top finance tips for newlyweds. Focus on communication “In general, be open about finances with your spouse. Money is one of the biggest causes of divorce in the United States. Specifically, lack of communication or total one-sidedness (i.e., one spouse being controlling) when it comes to finances can lead to marital stress. Each spouse is going to come to the table with different feelings and experiences with money, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The important thing is to have frank, honest discussions about money and to make sure you are maintaining open airwaves of communication during the inevitable periods of disagreement.” — Taylor Jessee, Director of Financial Planning at Taylor Hoffman Wealth Management “As newlyweds, it's more important than ever to get on the same page with your finances. Preferably you do this in your pre-marriage counseling through your church. Things to talk about include long-term goals, spending habits, monthly budget, retirement, investments, and more. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to have open communication and that is especially important when it comes to money. Talk about your finances early and often for a successful marriage.” — Kelan and Brittany Kline, The Savvy Couple “You need to be talking about everything related to your finances: your goals, your debt, your dreams for retirement. You need to talk about the good stuff and the rough stuff. You need to talk — and a monthly financial date night with your partner can provide you with that opportunity. If you need ideas on what to talk about, you can go through my financial compatibility quiz, which covers topics from spending, saving, childcare, mortgages, charitable giving, aging parents, and expectations for retirements. You’ll find topics to agree on, but you’ll undoubtedly find things you don’t agree on. When you discover these topics you don’t see eye-to-eye on, then you have to see how much both of you are willing to compromise on. Perhaps your idea of retirement is traveling the country in an RV, but your partner wants to see the world in top-rated resorts. Or perhaps your parent is in failing health and you want them to move in with you, but your partner is willing to take a second job to afford for them to stay somewhere else. I’ve seen these situations, and because they were brought up early enough, the couples were able to discuss their views, their options and find a compromise that worked for everyone.” — Jeff Motske, CFP, President, and CEO of Trilogy Financial “One major financial tip for newlyweds is to get comfortable talking about your financial health with your new spouse. In fact, not talking about money can hurt your relationship. A Policygenius survey found 17.5 percent of couples who don't know each other’s credit score plan to leave their partner due to money issues, compared to 2.5 percent of couples who do. Just over half — 53 percent — of survey respondents said they had shared their credit score with their partner. This friction comes in part from a lack of communication or transparency about financial wellness. For example, if one spouse has bad credit, it could impact the couple’s ability to get joint financing for major purchases, like a home. It’s important to be open and honest about your money with your partner. Set aside a regular time to have a conversation with your significant other about your financial health. Go over short-term and long-term spending goals to ensure you’re both on the same page.” — Hanna Horvath, Personal Finance Reporter at Policygenius “Finances can be a touchy subject. It may be that the love of your life has a completely different view about how to handle finances. This can be a big strain on a new relationship, and it is said to be the number one reason for divorce. So, do your relationship a favor and address this topic early. Many people think that marriage means joint everything. However, this is a personal choice and needs to be discussed. You may decide on separate accounts but what cannot be separate is your financial plan and the discussion you have about it. You are partners, which means you need to share and the other person has a right to know. Business partners cannot hide things from one another and neither should marriage partners.” — Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified Set goals together “After you’ve tied the knot, take some time to discuss your current financial situation with your spouse. You’ll likely have done this well before the ceremony, but there’s a good chance that the celebration and its accompanying events took a serious financial toll, too, so it’s best to factor that into the mix once things have actually settled down. Explore your mutual financial goals, and see if they’ve changed since before your marriage. If they have, consider adjusting your budget accordingly. This may require you to reconfigure the way you approach a number of major financial factors, such as savings, debt, or investments. If either of you is struggling with debt, try to come up with a joint approach to eliminate it and build both of your credit scores. The higher your scores, the more likely you are to be able to rent desirable properties and secure large loans with appealing rates, and these may be fundamental for your future if you’re aiming to buy a house or a new vehicle.” — Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider “Life goals translate directly to financial priorities. If one spouse wants to create a work environment that allows her to train for a marathon every year, and her husband feels strongly they be fully focused on working to build up savings before starting a family, there can be issues. Whether the goals are to take a vacation or fund a future child’s college education,discuss them and write them down.” — Sean Fox, Consumer Finance Expert and Co-President of Freedom Debt Relief “When the officiant said ‘and now you are one’, you didn't stop having your own ideas, dreams and goals. You have to intentionally decide what to do with your money and when you'll do it, and discuss the specifics. Just like in Kindergarten, when you share, you don't always get your way, so be prepared to compromise.” — Christian Barnes, Ramsey Preferred Financial Coach for Do Better Financial Consider getting joint health insurance plans “If both employed, take a close look at your company health insurance benefits. It may make sense for one spouse to switch over to the other’s health plan, or to continue keeping separate plans. The employer of one spouse might offer better/cheaper benefits than the other’s. If you are both covered by High Deductible health plans, and you have access to a Health Savings Account, then the amount you can save into the Health Savings Account doubles.” — Taylor Jessee, Director of Financial Planning at Taylor Hoffman Wealth Management Read also: 4 Things to Look For in a Health Plan 5 Questions to Ask About Special Enrollment Periods Consider creating a joint budget and joint financial accounts “Working with newlyweds and engaged couples, I have noticed that budgeting and spending plans are few and far between. Many couples are unaware of how much they are spending. I sympathize with them because society makes it very easy to spend using credit cards, shopping online, and very little use of checkbooks or cash. The most important step that I think all newlyweds, engaged couples, or people in long-term partnerships should do is to figure out how much they are spending each month. Then, figure out how much is coming in each month. If you have funds leftover — great. Now you can figure out where to put those additional funds to help accomplish your goals. If you find that you have more month than money, a serious look at your expenditures will allow you to see where you can cut back.” — Tiffany Welka, Financial Advisor and Accredited Wealth Management Advisor at VFG Associates “If you don’t want money to become a worn-out subject in your marriage, try sharing it. Create a shared budget with your spouse, give it full control of the money, and you’re done. So if you want a new pair of jeans, don’t get into heated conversations with your spouse. You have a budget — you and your spouse have already agreed on the ideal way to spend your money. Instead, ask your budget if it’s ok to buy jeans. You’ll get an unbiased answer based on your finances. If it says you can afford jeans, buy them without hesitation. If your budget says you can't, listen to it. Let a budget be in charge of your spending, and you will eliminate the source of money arguments between you and your spouse.” — Evan Sutherland, Co-founder of Budgeting Couple Budgets get a bad rap for being straight-jackets, but in reality they are a plan for telling your money where to go and ensuring it doesn’t wander off without you even realizing it. Create a plan for each month before the money comes in so you’re both striving towards the same goals and not pulling in different directions. — Ben Watson, CPA and Personal Finance Expert for DollarSprout.com “One of the best finance tips for newlyweds is to get on a budget as soon as possible. But it needs to be a joint budget, where both parties have input. You should get the budget set up with the basics, like fixed expenses, for cable TV, smartphone, and Internet, and then look at the subjective categories, especially entertainment and discretionary spending. For the latter category, consider setting a rule whereby any purchases that surpass a certain dollar amount, approval is needed from the other spouse.” — David Bakke, Personal Finance Expert at Money Crashers “Switch all of your savings to a joint high-yield savings account. It's a good excuse when you get married to do some spring cleaning and make sure your money is in the best spot.” — Kevin, Manager of Just Start Investing “The purpose of a joint bank account is for you both to have access to the same assets. Take on a ‘what’s mine is yours’ mentality. Just as it’s important to discuss your debts, make sure your partner knows what assets you have and be open to sharing. Communicate and check in with each other often to ensure you’re sticking to your budget and not overspending the assets you share.” — Erin Ellis, Accredited Financial Counselor at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU) Be smart about your marital income “The best financial advice that we've ever gotten was from my father-in-law, and it's helped us maintain a debt free lifestyle for the last 18 years. The advice was this: If you ever plan on living on one income during your married life, always life just off of that income and save the other. Is one of you going to stay home and raise kids? If you are, then don't live a lifestyle that's based on needing both incomes to keep it up. If someone's going to take eight years off of work to raise kids until school age, it's difficult to keep up with house payments and expensive car payments when one whole income goes away. We've lived by this rule our entire marriage, and we've had savings when we needed it and could pay cash for things like cars and vacations without incurring more debt.” — David Gafford, Co-founder and Director of Marketing of Shift Processing “It's time to invest (if you don't already), and take advantage of as many tax-deferrals as possible, while also saving up for the next big life event. This order is all about what types of accounts to invest money in, in the best order, to take advantage of as many tax-deferrals as possible. The best order to save for retirement is Contribute to your 401k up to the company match Max out your IRA to the annual contribution limit Go back and max out your 401k to the annual contribution limit If you qualify for a Health Savings Account (HSA), contribute to the max and treat it like an IRA If you earn a side income, take advantage of a SEP IRA or Solo 401k Save any excess in a standard brokerage account After you have your investments set up, you should also be saving for the next big life event.” — Robert Farrington, America’s Millennial Money Expert and the Creator of The College Finance Investor “Start saving now, not tomorrow. Time is something you cannot get back, and the longer you save, the better. Research compound interest and see how much you could have. I understand that for most people, retirement seems like a million years away. I am now 56 and have no idea where the time went. If you start saving when you are young, your retirement can be full of choices.” — Jay Ferrans, President of JM Financial & Accounting Services Create an emergency fund “Whether it’s three or six months’ worth of daily living expenses is up to you, but start to put away some cash in an easily accessible account, in case of unemployment, major illness, or another unforeseen event. Those with less stable income, like freelance and contract workers, are urged to save more.” — Sara Skirboll, Shopping and Trends Expert for RetailMeNot Consider getting life insurance “Now that you have someone else depending on you, you need to arm yourself in the event something bad happens. Life insurance is often overlooked, despite how important it is. There are many different kinds from many different companies, but the main thing is to make sure you leave enough behind for your loved ones to pay for final expenses, replace your income for a certain number of years, put your kids (or future kids) through college, etc. Your loved ones will already be overwhelmed and saddened as is when you do pass away, so this will help relieve a huge burden and create more peace of mind. Further, life insurance is cheaper and easier to acquire the younger and healthier you are.” — Chase Lawson, Author of Financial Freedom: Breaking the Chains to Independence and Creating Massive Wealth “Even if one or both of you have life insurance through your employer, it's crucial to get a term life insurance policy on both spouses separate from an employer. When you change jobs or get laid off, your life insurance terminates immediately. Since rates for term life insurance are set according to your age and health status, you could end up paying more than a few years from now for the same policy. — Lingke Wang, Co-founder of Ethos Meet with a finance professional “I recommend talking to a financial planner around life events. The reason? The same financial plan should work during the same period of the life event. For example, if you create a financial plan as a newlywed, the same plan should work for you until you have children (if you don't have them already).” — Robert Farrington, America’s Millennial Money Expert and the Creator of The College Finance Investor “Meet with a financial planner and possibly a mortgage broker if a home purchase is in the near future. Getting an outside perspective really helps to understand how to lay out your goals together. Meet with the financial planner even if you don’t meet with the mortgage broker.” — D. Shane Whitteker, Owner and Chief Mortgage Broker at Principle Home Mortgage Keep your taxes in mind “Make sure to adjust your W-4 elections to 0 and single to prevent taxes being owed from the ‘marriage penalty’ since you will be filing jointly for the first time. Many couples are shocked to see their taxes go up, so to avoid owing money, make this adjustment to your withholdings. — Jacqueline Devereux, Finance and Credit Expert with SproutCents Be dedicated to credit “A newly married couple may have recently exchanged wedding vows but have they exchanged their credit reports? Financial transparency is important to establish with your spouse and one of the ways of accomplishing this is for each person to request their credit report and review it together. Consider it as an opportunity for the couple to address any concerns and identify what they may need to work on in order to create financial stability and wellness in their marriage.” — Kassandra Dasent, Gen X Financial Expert, Consultant, and Owner of Minding Your Money “Commit to building your credit ratings. Be supportive and non-judgmental as you review each others’ reports and ratings. Pull your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.” — Todd Christensen, Education Manager at Money Fit by DRS “Frequently, couples think they will share credit reports and scores once they get married. The reality is that each spouse has his or her own credit reports and scores. These are based on accounts each person maintains in his or her name (even if they share the same last name). Each person needs to obtain his/her own credit reports, review for accuracy regularly, and correct errors on his/her own credit report.” — Sean Fox, Consumer Finance Expert and Co-president of Freedom Debt Relief “Do not jump the gun to start fresh and cancel your credit cards. This may impact your credit score since it is established based on things such as length of time a card has been held by a user. Instead, look to add each other to your desired accounts. This also removes the need to explore alternative credit options, which can additionally impact your credit score.” — Jared Weitz CEO and Founder of United Capital Source Inc. “Build your spouse's credit. If you haven't already had the money talk, do it now. If one or both of you has credit card debt, it's time to formulate a plan for paying that off together. You may also learn that you have better credit than your partner. If your spouse has a lower credit score than you, consider opening a credit card and making your partner an authorized user. As you and your partner use the card responsibly — by paying your bill on time, every time and by using 30 percent or less of the credit available to you — you both will enjoy the benefits. Your strong score will only get stronger, and your spouse's score will improve over time as well. A higher credit score will matter when it comes time to buy that first house, as you'll be eligible for lower interest rates and more favorable terms.” — Michael Cetera, Finance Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com The bottom line In the end, it’s up to you and your spouse to determine how to handle finances in your marriage. Ideally, you should aim to have financial conversations with your significant other even before you get married. Knowing where they stand and what they believe in when it comes to finances early on can save you and your spouse a significant amount of stress, heartache, and time. To sum it up, you and your new spouse should take the following steps: Focus on communication Set both financial and non-financial goals together Consider getting joint health insurance plans Consider creating a joint budget and joint financial accounts Be smart about your marital income Create an emergency fund Consider getting life insurance Meet with a finance professional Keep your taxes in mind Be dedicated to credit Extra tip: You and your spouse may not be combining credit scores, but you both should make sure to get your credit back on track before you get married. After all, if you and your new spouse have good credit, that’s one less thing to worry about. Credit repair can be a pricey investment, but luckily, some top credit repair companies like Lexington Law do offer couples discounts. Check our list of top credit repair companies here.
Guest Post by Lexington Law It can be tricky to get the timing right when you want to take out a loan. For instance, you want to wait for relatively low interest rates to keep your payments as low as possible. Rates may seem low now, but what if they sink even lower in the months ahead? You might feel like you missed a great opportunity. Conversely, what if rates rise in the next few months, and you end up paying more money? Interest rates have been climbing, but the Federal Reserve seems poised to keep them level for the remainder of the year. However, an economic downturn may occur soon, and that could have implications that go beyond interest rates. Namely, a downturn could affect your job, income, and ability to pay back a loan.Here is the bottom line: Take out a loan only if you can comfortably afford the payments and still have a significant amount of money in savings. Aim to have at least six months to a year’s worth of living expenses. If a downturn occurs, you may need to draw upon that money in savings. If you put down a large amount as a loan down payment, you risk losing that money plus your new car or house if you can no longer make loan payments. Interest rates and loans One thing to know is that the Federal Reserve does not set interest rates on your loans. That said, Fed policy has an indirect effect on many loans. Take car loans, which tend to be for a medium length of time such as 60 months (five years). If the Fed nudges interest rates up, the rates for auto loans are likely to increase as well and by about the same percentage. The story is similar for home equity line of credit rates, credit card rates, and rates for any line of credit. Their rates tend to go up along with an increase in the Fed's target rate.The takeaway? Based on interest rates alone, now could seem like a good time to take out a car loan or HELOC before the Fed potentially increases rates next year. As for mortgage rates, there doesn’t seem to be as much of a relationship, if any, between Fed interest rate increases and decreases. That said, there are a number of intriguing ripple effects relating to whether you should take out a mortgage loan. Say that you’re a potential homebuyer who is paying off relatively high-interest car and credit card loans after a Fed rate increase. Because of that, you have less money to purchase a home. The supply of buyers may dry up somewhat, which means that many sellers may be inclined to drop their asking price. A home may be affordable after all. If you can afford a mortgage payment, it may be a good time to take out a mortgage loan. Do proceed with caution, though. Find out about the real estate market in your area, and have enough savings to be able to weather a potential economic downturn. How a potential downturn could affect you Economists have been predicting an economic downturn for a while now. It’s quite possible that one will occur in the next 18 months, so it’s instructive to look at how the recent Great Recession affected people who had taken out loans. Recovery began in June 2009, but many people lost their jobs or had to take pay cuts. Many lost their homes and cars when they could no longer afford to pay on them. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8.7 million jobs disappeared between December 2007 and early 2010. The next economic downturn may not be as bad as the Great Recession, but there’s always the chance it will have some sort of impact on you. If (or more likely, when) an economic downturn hits in the next few years, to what degree will you be affected? Such things can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict now. It’s hard to know if you might lose your job or have to take a pay cut. However, you can take approximate stock of these factors: Your savings Your current income How much money you have in retirement accounts How close you are to retirement Your medical costs and how much they might rise in the next few years Your current level of debt Future debts you plan to take on, their amounts and loan term lengths Your current ability to pay debts Your spending habits Whether you live below, at, or beyond your means When you take these factors into consideration, it can help illustrate how well you are positioned to weather a recession and to keep paying any loans you take out now. For instance, suppose you have a costly medical issue. Your employer offers health insurance, and you’re able to keep these medical costs under control. If you lost your health insurance, these costs could potentially increase to a level beyond what you can comfortably afford. So, is now a good time to take out a loan? All things considered, it does seem better to take out a loan now rather than later if you have a firm plan to get a loan no matter what. After all, interest rates may be rising at some point in 2020, and the economy is poised to go through tough times. It would be good to take out the smallest loan amount possible so you have less to pay back later. However, you should also keep a healthy cushion of savings in case you need it down the road. There’s a balance between spending most of your savings on a down payment and putting down very little and paying a higher amount each month. To help you predict your future costs better, opt for fixed-rate loans. That way, if interest rates go up later, your payments won’t increase. The bottom line bears repeating: Take out a loan only if you can comfortably afford the payments and still have a significant amount of money in savings. The economy seems headed for choppy seas, and now is a good time to be whittling away at your debt instead of not taking more on if you can help it. Of course, everyone’s situation is unique. Maybe you’re paying too much in rent right now, and you find a great, reasonably priced house that means significantly lower monthly payments. Likewise, if your car is in bad shape and you constantly have to pay for repairs, it may be a smart financial move to get a different car, even if that means taking out an auto loan. Everyone’s situation is different and you know your finances better than anyone else. The decision to take out a loan also depends on what you uncover about potential lenders and on factors such as interest rates. To find out about lenders, interest rates and more, check out BestCompany reviews on business loans, car loans, and personal loans. If you need help with debt relief, these companies may be able to offer the assistance you want.
Guest Post by CreditRepair.com It is very easy to make financial mistakes that damage your credit. Once your credit score drops, it can be challenging to obtain financing for a large purchase such as a home. If your past financial history has sunk your credit score, you may think that buying a home is out of your reach, but that is not necessarily true. It is possible to obtain a mortgage even when you have bad credit, but it will require persistence, planning, and patience on your part. Understanding what is required to obtain a mortgage with bad credit, as well as the advantages and disadvantages, may help you make a decision that's right for you. Advantages of homeownership Homeownership can benefit your financial situation in many ways. For example, some of the expenses related to owning a home, such as property taxes and mortgage interest, may be deductible when you file your annual tax return. Additionally, if you are a low- to moderate-income first-time homebuyer, you may be able to receive a mortgage tax credit certificate that will reduce the amount you have to pay in taxes every year. Though it can be a challenge to obtain a mortgage with bad credit, having a mortgage may help improve your credit score. Payment history including paying all your bills on time, is a factor that helps to determine your credit score, and making mortgage payments on time may reflect favorably on you in this regard. Furthermore, as you make mortgage payments, you build equity in your home. When you first make a home purchase with the help of financing, your mortgage lender has a significant interest in your home. But as you pay off the mortgage, your interest in the property increases as your lender's decreases, and you own a larger portion of the home until the loan is paid off. The portion of the home that you have paid off is referred to as your home equity. Equity is an asset that you can borrow against. If you owe a significant amount in credit card debt, you may be able to consolidate it with a home equity loan, decreasing your credit utilization ratio and potentially improving your credit score as a result. Disadvantages of obtaining a mortgage with bad credit When your credit is bad, lenders regard you as an investment risk. Understandably, this makes them reluctant to finance your mortgage. You may have to do a lot of searching to find a lender that is willing to extend a loan to you. Even then, the lender will likely make exacting demands of you that it wouldn't require from someone with a higher credit score: Homebuyer education — You may have to attend a homebuyer education course approved by your lender before it will let you take out certain types of mortgages. Greater down payment — It is often recommended that homebuyers be prepared to pay 20 percent of the purchase cost as a down payment to avoid paying for mortgage insurance. You can also find mortgages that don’t require any down payment or only require 3.5 percent or 5 percent down. However, if you have poor credit, you may need to put more money down. Higher interest rates — Another way that lenders protect themselves when financing someone with bad credit is by charging higher interest rates than they would otherwise. Accepting a higher interest rate may allow you to obtain a mortgage that would be out of your reach otherwise, but it will increase the amount you will have to pay each month. You will have to weigh the disadvantages of obtaining a mortgage with bad credit against the advantages of homeownership as they apply to your current situation to determine whether it is worthwhile for you to attempt to purchase a house now or wait until you improve your credit score. Tips for obtaining a mortgage The best way to avoid the disadvantages of bad credit when applying for a mortgage is to improve your credit. This is accomplished via two steps: Decrease your credit card debt and pay your bills on time.These are relatively simple steps, but rebuilding your credit this way takes time. If you can't wait or don't want to wait until your credit improves, here are some other steps you can take that may help:1. Know your credit scoresKnowing your credit score can help you evaluate your options. You can get your credit scores from different sources, including the credit bureaus, FICO, and third-party providers. However, most mortgage lenders use specific types of FICO Scores, and only some companies sell these scores.2. Check for errors Everyone makes mistakes, including credit-reporting agencies. It could be that there are errors on your credit report that are lowering your score. Check your report for any errors and take steps to correct them before applying for a mortgage.3. Understand what makes a good credit scoreIt's not enough to know what your credit score is; you need to understand how lenders will perceive it. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. Anything above 700 is considered good, and you may have difficulty obtaining credit if your score is 600 or lower. 4. Shop aroundCredit scores between 600 and 700 are something of a gray area. Some lenders may consider you a credit risk and refuse to lend to you if your credit score is within this range, while others may be more willing. Be persistent in your search for a lender; just because one says no, it doesn't mean they will all reject you.5. Consider an FHA loanThe Federal Housing Administration seeks to help people buy houses who ordinarily wouldn't be able to afford to. Therefore, they guarantee mortgages, allowing lenders to offer loans with less stringent requirements when it comes to credit score, down payments, etc. However, you should know that there isn't a special, separate government lender providing FHA loans. You obtain them the same way you would get any mortgage — through a financial institution. Be aware that a mortgage lender can still refuse to extend you an FHA loan, even if you meet the FHA's minimum requirements. 6. Enlist the help of a cosignerYou may be able to obtain a mortgage that you wouldn't otherwise be qualified for if you have a friend or family member who's willing to cosign for you. A cosigner's good credit can minimize the lender's perception of you as a potential liability. However, it can be difficult to convince someone to act as a cosigner because if you fall behind on payments, he or she will be financially liable for your default. It would be best if you had a plan in place regarding what you will do if you fall behind on payments and discuss the terms with your cosigner. Though limited, there are options available for the home buyer with bad credit. However, it may be more advantageous to repair your credit before trying to purchase a home. A reputable credit repair company may be able to help.
With the end of the semester approaching, many students are preparing for graduation. Those on track to graduate this spring are most likely focusing on finishing end-of-semester projects, studying for finals, and purchasing their graduation cap and gown. And many of these soon-to-be graduates are looking forward to graduation gifts. What does this mean for you? If you are planning on celebrating with someone who is graduating this year, you are likely planning on giving them a gift of some sort to congratulate them. There are many different types of gifts you can choose to give your favorite college graduate, but how many of those gifts will truly help them face post-graduation adulthood? If you want to select a gift that will benefit a new graduate for years to come, choose to give them a finance-related gift. We asked a few reliable sources to see what types of financial gifts are best suited for college graduates. Here’s what they suggested: Books Patti Black, Certified Financial Planner at Bridgeworth LLC “Timeless financial books like The Millionaire Next Door (the sooner you learn 'big hat, no cattle,' the better), Your Money or Your Life, or The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. If you learn these financial principles in your 20s, you will have a much higher likelihood of achieving financial independence.”Book title: The Millionaire Next DoorBook title: Your Money or Your LifeBook title: The Little Book of Common Sense InvestingChase Lawson, Author of Financial Freedom: Breaking the Chains to Independence and Creating Massive WealthBook title: Financial Freedom: Breaking the Chains to Independence and Creating Massive WealthBook description provided by author: It is a personal finance book geared towards those in that age group and is written by a 26-year-old who personally overcame over $23,000 in credit card debt to now being a homeowner in Austin, Texas. Unlike many other books on personal finance, the author really relates to his readers and provides helpful tips and strategies that are easy to understand and cover a wide range of topics that are important for those entering the real world. It includes topics such as when/how/why to invest, buying vs. renting a home, life insurance, taxes, budgeting and so much more! It would definitely help a college graduate starting their career journey.Jackie Ducci, Ducci & Associates “This book is perfect for college grads who are entering the workforce and are looking for the unfiltered truth on how hiring decisions are made.” Book title: Almost Hired: What’s Really Standing between You and the Job You Want Book description provided by author: When you apply for a job but fail to get an interview, call back, or offer, no one tells you why. The fact is, most job seekers are unwittingly making critical mistakes at every stage of the hiring process — because the job-seeking advice they've always been told is just plain wrong. The unfiltered truth about how hiring decisions are really made is about to be exposed.In Almost Hired, Jackie Ducci shares over a decade of real-world insight into recruiting and hiring. She shares insider knowledge of how to stand out at every stage of the process, from submitting your application through accepting an offer.Whether you're a first-time applicant, considering a career change, re-entering the workforce, or just plain struggling to gain traction in your job search, this book will help you zoom past the competition to hear those magic words: You're hired!Alice Stevens, Debt and Tax Content Manager at BestCompany.com“I would recommend a book on negotiating like Never Split the Difference. Salary negotiation is especially important for women because they tend to negotiate less often than their male peers, which turns into losses over time. Negotiating a starting salary is especially important because it's the starting point that future raises will be based on.”Book title: Never Split the Difference Credit building assistance Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider“There are plenty of financial gifts that can help ease a college grad’s transition into the real world. One option? Help the grad lay the building blocks for great credit.If you’re looking to help a college grad ease into true adult life, make sure they’re aware of all the ways credit affects everyday life. Then, if they’ve already developed credit and solid debt repayment habits, consider offering to pay the annual fee for a higher-tier credit card.A credit card with a higher annual fee generally comes with greater rewards and benefits than their low-fee or fee-free counterparts. For example, if the grad is an avid explorer, consider a travel credit card that offers miles per dollar spent and provides perks like rental car insurance or complimentary hotel upgrades. This can help grads bolster their credit scores while reaping rewards on purchases they’d already be making anyway.There’s one catch here — you have to make sure you’re confident in the grad’s ability to knock out bills in full, so you’re not simply making it easier to get lost under a mountain of debt.” Brokerage account Matthew Ross, Co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard“I think opening and gifting a brokerage account to recent graduates is extremely useful for a variety of reasons. Not only does it give the graduate a head start in terms of savings, but it also provides a multitude of valuable financial lessons. I know this from personal experience since this is exactly what my father did for me when I graduated from college. In short, he opened up an investment account with $5,000 and turned over the keys to me. Managing an investment account at such a young age was very positive development for me. It got me in the mindset to start saving and adding to the account early. Even at my first job out of college, I'd split each of my paychecks so I could consistently deposit more money into the account. It also got me interested in the financial markets. I started following the Dow and S&P and would buy stocks I felt were undervalued. I still to this day use the same account my father opened for me, except it's a lot bigger now.” Additional classes Kelsey Formost, Copywriting and Marketing Expert“The best monetary gift I ever received was the gift of a specialized class for my chosen career niche that wasn't offered by my university.I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and create my own path after graduating with honors from Davidson College. While my education was outstanding, there were a lot of things I still didn't know with regards to setting up my own business online. I came across a few platforms that offered highly-specific classes in exactly the career I wanted to build for myself, namely Marie Forleo's B-School, Amy Porterfield's Marketing class, and a few other female-forward classes for entrepreneurs who wanted to start their own online businesses.But those classes were expensive — the lowest cost being a hundred dollars and the more expensive programs coming in at $2,000-$3,000. I certainly couldn't afford it as a recent grad and entrepreneur just starting out.As a gift, my parents gave me a check that covered the expense of one of those classes. It was a huge relief to be able to afford that education I needed to jump start my career dreams. Taking those classes allowed me to start my online copywriting and marketing business that now supports me full time. I now spend my time helping other entrepreneurs grow their businesses through copywriting and online marketing.Some other organizations that offer a wide variety of classes: Skillshare, Udemy, Brit & Co., and more.” Financial planner/advisor session Christine Centeno, Certified Financial Planner and Founder of Simplicity Wealth Management“One hour with a financial planner allows student to ask any questions they have about finances and investing. The agenda is open — basically, what are your biggest financial questions?The basic topics I usually cover include the following: building credit the importance of cash reserve what to look for in employee benefits/how to enroll importance of starting to save what to invest your first 401k contributions in Roth IRAs and what they are all about what I wish I knew about finances when I was 22 Jacqueline Devereux, Financial Expert at SproutCents“A great gift to give to a college graduate would be a session with a financial adviser. Make sure you are finding an adviser that is fee-based and not commission based as the financial goals and needs of a college grad are different from an established professional looking to invest. A financial adviser will help determine a plan for repaying student loans, which many new graduates find unaffordable. They will advise of refinancing opportunities or any special forgiveness plans due to the chosen career path. Your 20's are a crucial time in your financial life where you are making many decisions that will affect you for the rest of your life such as buying a home, getting married and investing in your retirement. Getting ahead of the curve and starting with excellent financial habits will set you up for success over the course of the next 30 to 40 years. A financial adviser will also help you create a budget. Now that you are a young professional and earning a salary you need to know how to budget it. You are most likely paying rent now and with student loan repayments kicking in you need to create a manageable budget. A two-hour session with a financial planner costs between $150-$400. There are firms that specialize in working with Millennials and Gen Z-ers and you can meet with them in person or virtually.” Investments Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, CEO and Founder at EnrichHER"The best gift you can give to a college graduate, especially an entrepreneur, is an investment. Investments can come in many shapes and sizes, but in particular, an investment that will help the grad launch their career is the most worthwhile. This may mean opening stocks in their name, starting a retirement fund, or investing in their business. Getting capital funding for businesses is the main aspect that blocks many entrepreneurs from bringing their ideas to life. Without capital, it's impossible to manufacture a product, invest in technology, or hire employees — all pieces of the puzzle that must be in place in order to own and operate a business. By giving a recent college grad any financial investment, you are investing in their future, setting them off on the right foot that is necessary for success down the line."Amy Eury, Marketing Strategist at MyBankTracker.com“Gifting individual stock shares or cash for mutual funds or bonds will help them start to invest and build wealth. There are sites where you can choose individual shares (FrameAStock or GiveAShare) or Betterment lets you buy stocks and bonds and transfer them to your grad’s online account. For mutual funds, you’ll buy them up front and then transfer them.” Life insurance Sa El, Co-founder of Simply Insurance“I think a great gift would be life insurance paid up for an entire year. It will help get them started on a strong financial journey. I recommend life insurance paid up because it gives them a year to get things in order to be ready to pay for coverage themselves and it also helps them get something that far too many people procrastinate about. The price is based on the individual; however, a term life insurance policy is usually super cheap.” Mark Charnet, Founder and CEO of American Prosperity Group“I have been a financial advisor for 37 years; the best answer I can suggest is to remind the graduate of their two greatest financial assets: youth and health — both of which will be fleeting over time. Everyone gets older and probably not as healthy as when they graduated from college. There will be pressing financial needs along their financial life, such as a mortgage, children to raise, education to pay for, and ultimately, a retirement to fund. While planning for these events, there may be hurdles to overcome like sickness, disability, and even death.Fortunately, there is a program that can tackle most of these scenarios at the same time. One that can provide for emergency funds during life’s journey, benefits in the case of a prolonged disability or a long-term care event, a terminal illness diagnosis, or even an untimely death. Better still, if none of these occur, the program will allow for a tax-free income stream during the graduate’s retirement years to supplement their IRA, 401k and Social Security.This contract will benefit when the stock market rises and will not suffer a loss when it falls. The account value will grow tax-deferred and is accessible tax-free when called upon, whether for an emergency or to produce a retirement income in the future. Under current tax law, the value is exempt from the financial aid calculation when applying for college financial aid for children or one’s self, thereby maximizing grant and loan eligibility and non-creation of debt. It’s an overfunded life insurance policy (OFLI) but a very specific variety called Fixed Indexed Universal Life. It is a versatile platform that can do so much and when designed properly, under safer interest assumptions, will over-deliver with a multitude of benefits to the policy owner.I wish my dad had started an OFLI policy for me when I was younger for many of the reasons outlined here, but one more as well. When I was age 30, I became a diabetic and was no longer offered a standard rating and totally uninsurable sometime after that, denying me 100 percent of the benefits discussed. Suffice it to say, as a father now myself, my four children will not suffer the same fate as they all have an OFLI plan that was started for them before they graduated college, a legacy and gift I am most proud to discuss.” Money coaching sessions Michelle Clark, Founder of Shake Your Money Tree“I’ve had quite a few parents purchase money coaching sessions as a graduation gift to help get their new grads off on a good financial footing. The "Master Your Money" coaching session ($277 for 90 minutes) I offer teaches them the basics of financial wellness such as reconciling their bank account/checkbook, paying bills on time with a bill payment calendar or automation, managing credit and debt (especially if student loans are in play), creating a spending plan based on their new or increased income, knowing the differences between types of loans and interest rates, and protecting themselves and their belongings through the right types of insurance.” Emergency fund Amy Eury, Marketing Strategist at MyBankTracker.com“Every grad needs savings in case disaster strikes, but a recent study showed 45.9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have no emergency savings set aside. When on the hunt for their first job, having that cushion can keep them from ending up in debt if unexpected expenses arise. Steer your grad toward an online savings account; they tend to charge fewer fees and pay higher interest rates. If you're giving money to your child, think about setting up a joint account if you want to add money in the future.” Student loan payments Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher and VP of Research at Savingforcollege.com“The best financial gift for college graduates is to help them pay down or pay off their student loans. College graduates worry more about their student loans than anything else. This gift can be in any amount the giver can afford and will be greatly appreciated by the college graduate. It saves them from having to sell a tangible gift on eBay to recover the money to pay down their debt.” Scott Butler, Financial Planner at Klauenberg Retirement Solutions“Paying off student loans before they become debt may be one of the most effective gifts for a graduate. We often suggest that our clients pay for a student’s last year of college. This strategy will lessen the graduate’s student loan burden, while not having a negative impact on their qualification for financial aid, assuming they will not be moving on to further schooling next year. Plus, tuition paid directly to the school does not count against your gift tax exclusion.” CD ladder Amy Eury, Marketing Strategist at MyBankTracker.com“Grads want to save for things like their first new car. Setting them up with a CD ladder makes it easy for them to keep earning interest until they need to use the money since you agree to leave the money alone until it matures. The longer the terms, the more interest earned. After the maturity date, they cash it out with the earned interest. Since the grad isn’t a minor, you’ll need to name him or her as the co-owner.” Roth IRA Amy Eury, Marketing Strategist at MyBankTracker.com“Help start a Roth IRA for his or her future nest egg. Since they’re funded with after-tax dollars, withdrawals are tax-free. Even if grads don’t max it out each year, you’re helping them get started which helps if their employer doesn’t offer a 401k. Single graduates who earn less than $31,500 for 2018 may be able to get a saver's credit on their taxes for some or all of their IRA contributions.” The bottom line In the end, it’s up to you to choose what type of gift you will give. If you do decide to give a finance-based gift, make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with and something that won’t compromise your own financial standing. Financial gifts can be a great way to show your favorite college graduate that you care about them long-term and that you want to help them start their financial journey on the right foot. ---- Do you have a product or idea that would be a good fit for this gift guide? If so, feel free to reach out to [email protected]