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Best of, Credit Cards, Reviews

Best Credit Cards for Small Businesses December 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note from the Editor: The information related to Chase Ink Business Preferred Card credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

 

As a small business owner you know you need to manage your cash flow and plan for financing. Credit cards can be an ideal way to meet those needs. But business owners need to be savvy cardholders. Small business credit cards come with unique risks that personally affect entrepreneurs.

 

In this roundup we cover the risks and advantages of small business credit cards. And we’ll show you what card fits your business needs.

 

Best Cards for Financing

If credit cards are an important source of financing and capital for your business, then you need to be a savvy borrower. Look for cards with compelling terms, and take the time to understand the fine print. Remember, the card may be in the business’s name, but you’re personally liable for the debt. Don’t take on more debt than you can handle.

Best 0% Financing

The Blue for Business® Credit Card from American Express

The Blue for Business® Credit Card

The American Express Blue for Business card offers an introductory 15 months of 0% APR for financing. If you fail to pay back your purchases within 15 months, your interest rate will move to a variable rate 12.24%, 16.24% or 20.24%, depending on creditworthiness. You lose access to the introductory rate if you make a late payment.

The 15-month 0% intro APR window is one of the most generous offers available. On top of generous financing, you earn rewards for spending.

You can also earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after making your first purchase on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Every year, you’ll also receive a bonus of 30% of the previous year’s points earned.

The card offers perks including secondary car rental insurance, purchase protection, extended warranties, baggage insurance, trip accident insurance, and travel hotline help.

The Fine Print
  • Introductory rate: 0% APR financing for 15 months. You must pay on time, or you lose this rate.
  • APR: After 15 months, a variable rate 12.24%, 16.24% or 20.24%, depending on your creditworthiness
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases.
  • Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees

The information related to The Blue for Business® Credit Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Low Interest Rates

If you and your business have excellent credit, the Platinum Plus for Business MasterCard from Bank of America offers low ongoing financing. This is a great card for businesses with periodic short-term borrowing needs. Besides interest rates as low as 10.24% variable, it offers a seven-billing-cycle 0% APR promo rate and $200 statement credit if you spend $500 in the first 60 days.

Plus, the card offers travel accident insurance, secondary rental insurance, and automatic downloads to QuickBooks.

Remember, it’s not wise to use a small business credit card for long-term financing. Many credit unions will offer low rates on installment business loans.

The Fine Print
  • Introductory rate: 0% APR financing for seven billing cycles.
  • APR: 10.24%-21.24% variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness (after seven billing cycles)
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: $19-$49 (depending on your balance)
  • Returned payment fee: $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 4%
  • Cash advance APR: 25.24% variable
  • Sign-up bonus: $200 statement credit if you spend $500 in your first 60 days
  • Rewards: None
APPLY NOW Secured

on Bank Of America’s secure website

Cash Flow Management

The Plum Card® from American Express OPEN

The Plum Card® from American Express

Managing cash flow can be one of the most difficult problems facing small business owners. The Plum Card® from American Express makes cash flow easier. You can pay no interest if you take up to 60 days to pay the balance in full. You effectively get a 0% working capital line of credit if you can make your payments within 60 days. And if you are able to pay back your balance sooner – within 10 days – you get a 1.5% early pay discount.

This card is one of our favorites because (a) it has one of the most generous grace periods in the market (60 days), which can really help businesses that have customers who pay on a Net-60 basis. But it is also our favorite because (b) if you pay the balance in full and on time, you are still able to earn really good rewards (a 1.5% discount).

The Fine Print
  • On-time payment bonus: 1.5% discount if you pay balance within 10 days of statement closing
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, $250 thereafter
  • Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees.

The information related to The Plum Card® from American Express has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

 

Imperfect Credit

If you’re struggling to get approved for a small business credit card, the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business offers an excellent option. The card has a high variable APR (23.99%) and mediocre rewards (1% cash back). But Capital One will approve business owners with just average credit.

This isn’t a great card for borrowing, even in the short term. However, the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business will give you some working capital, and it will help your business build its credit. Just remember to pay your bill on time each month and to keep your credit use low.

The Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business also offers perks like purchase protection, free extended warranties, and travel and emergency assistance. These protections offer tremendous value to business owners.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 23.99% variable APR
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3%
  • Cash advance APR: 23.99% variable
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all purchases
APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

Cards for Service Members

Former and current members of any branch of the military can join Navy Federal Credit Union and apply for these high-quality credit cards. The Visa and MasterCard have the same fees and conditions, but they offer different perks.

 

Navy Federal Credit Union’s Visa for Business credit card gives former service members access to low interest rates and rewards spending. This can be an excellent choice for service members with excellent credit who may have to borrow for short-term needs.

The card gives access to the Visa SavingsEdge program, which gives up to 15% off business purchases at qualifying retailers. However, the card doesn’t offer extended warranties or other protections, so it isn’t always the best choice.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 9.99%-18.0% variable
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $20
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $20
  • Cash advance fee: $0 at Navy Federal Credit Union branch ATM, 50 cents domestic, $1 foreign
  • Cash advance APR: APR + 2%
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent
APPLY NOW Secured

on Navy Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Navy Federal Credit Union’s MasterCard for Business credit card gives former service members access to low interest rates and rewards. The low interest rates make it a compelling choice for service members with short-term borrowing needs.

The card gives access to the MasterCard Easy Savings program, which gives automatic 10% rebates at a network of gas stations, auto repair shops, and shipping companies. This can lead to significant savings. The card also connects to the MasterCard Business Network, which makes expense reports easy. However, the card doesn’t offer extended warranties or other protections.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 9.99%-18.0% variable
  • Annual fee: No annual fee
  • Late fee: Up to $20
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $20
  • Cash advance fee: $0 at Navy Federal Credit Union branch ATM, 50 cents domestic, $1 foreign
  • Cash advance APR: APR + 2%
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent
APPLY NOW Secured

on Navy Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Best Cards for Rewards

Many small business credit cards offer compelling rewards to cardholders. These rewards can allow you to reinvest in your business, or you can take them for personal use. If you choose to use a rewards credit card, try to avoid paying interest. Most of these cards are not good choices for short-term borrowing.

Travel Perks

If you’re a frequent traveler, these small business credit cards give you access to incredible perks. But be sure to read the fine print. These cards have a few gotchas attached.

 

Business Platinum Card from American Express

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express is a charge card with a premium price tag ($450 per year) and premium benefits. Please note, it is not a credit card; you should not plan to borrow money with this card. These are the most significant perks:

  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com.
  • Get 50% more Membership Rewards® points.1.5 Points per dollar on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more. Up to 1 million additional points per calendar year. 1 point for every dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Global Lounge Collection access, which includes access to Delta Sky Club lounges and American Express Centurion lounges
  • $200 airline fee credit (for checked bags, inflight refreshment, etc.)
  • One free Global Entry or TSA Pre-check application fee (allows you to expedite security at select airports and U.S. Customs)
  • 10 free passes per year to inflight Gogo Wi-Fi and unlimited Boingo (land-based Wi-Fi) access
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Elite Status, which also gets you Marriott Rewards Gold status for room upgrades and free breakfast. It also gets you access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts Program (perks like in-room WiFi, complimentary breakfast, and other hotel perks at participating luxury hotels).
THE FINE PRINT
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Rewards: Earn Membership Rewards® points
  • Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees.

The information related to The Business Platinum® Card from American Express has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

As a business owner, little incidentals can add up in a big way. The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card mitigates these costs by providing high-value insurance protection to you and your employees. Not only will you earn rewards (outlined in the fine print), you’ll enjoy these perks, too.

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance: If your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather, or other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $5,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement: If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket.
  • Travel Accident Insurance: When you pay for your air, bus, train, or cruise transportation with your card, you are eligible to receive accidental death or dismemberment coverage of up to $500,000.
  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver: Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. Coverage is primary when renting for business purposes and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most cars in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Baggage Delay Insurance: You are reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over six hours by passenger carrier up to $100 a day for five days.
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement: If you or an immediate family member check or carry on luggage that is damaged or lost by the carrier, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
  • Extended Warranty Protection: This warranty extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on eligible warranties of three years or less.
  • Cellphone Protection: Get up to $600 per claim in cellphone protection against covered theft or damage for you and your employees listed on your monthly cellphone bill when you pay it with your Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. There is a maximum of three claims in a 12-month period with a $100 deductible per claim.
The Fine Print
  • APR: 16.99%-21.99% variable
  • Annual fee: $95 per year
  • Late fee: $15-$39, depending on balance
  • Returned payment fee: $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $15 or 5% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 25.99% variable
  • Sign-up bonus: 80,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent, 3 points per dollar spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable or phone services, or online advertising (social media or search engines)
  • Bonus: Points worth 25% more when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards (Chase’s travel website)

Big Introductory Bonuses

Business owners who know they’ll spend a lot in a short period of time should take note of these cards. These bonuses provide excellent value if you can meet the spending requirements. But be wary: these cards have high interest rates. You won’t come out ahead if you end up financing a big purchase with these cards.

The Business Platinum Card offers excellent travel perks, but it offers an unparalleled Welcome Offer, too. Right now, you can earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 within three months of card membership. You’ll also earn 25,000 more points after spending an additional $10,000 within your first three months (See Rates & Fees).

If you plan to spend $20,000 or more in the next three months, this bonus is worth the highest value when redeemed for travel rewards. Depending on which option you choose, this bonus may offset annual fees. You need to churn through a lot of money to meet the spending minimums, but this is a lucrative bonus.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

The Chase Ink Business Preferred Card offers ideal perks for frequent travelers, but right now you can get a great sign-up bonus, too. By spending $5,000 in three months, you’ll earn 80,000 points. This bonus is worth $1,000 if you spend your points through Chase Ultimate Rewards for travel or $800 if you redeem for cash back. You can also transfer the points to airline partners like United and Virgin Atlantic and hotel partners like Marriott and Hyatt.

In addition to the lucrative bonus, you can earn everyday spending rewards (including 3 points per dollar spent in certain categories) and valuable trip insurance.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Cash Back Rewards

Every business owner can benefit from more cash in their pocket. These cards give you the best cash back offers for everyday spending. You can find better rewards if you use multiple cards, but these have excellent rewards for those who don’t want to mess around with multiple cards. Plus, these cards have excellent protections, too. But be careful when you finance with these cards; they don’t offer great terms for borrowing.

 

The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business offers unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, and it is free for the first year. Plus, if you spend more than $4,500 in the first three months of holding the card, you get a $500 cash bonus. After the first year, you’ll pay $59 to hold the card. After the first year, if you spent more than $3,000 per year, it’s worth it.

The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business also offers valuable protective features like purchase protection, free extended warranties, primary auto rental collision coverage, and more. Overall, the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business gives straightforward rewards to business owners with excellent credit.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 17.99% variable APR
  • Penalty APR: 30.4% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: Free for the first year, $59 per year afterward
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 23.99% variable
  • Sign-up bonus: $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 2% cash back on all spending
APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

The Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business offers a rare combination of friendly financing terms and rewards. You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back rewards on all purchases, and you’ll receive a $200 sign-up bonus if you spend $3,000 or more in your first three months.

On top of that, you’ll have a 0% APR financing rate for nine months, and an APR as low as 13.99% variable afterward.

This isn’t the most lucrative rewards card, but you won’t pay an annual fee. This makes it a great card for businesses that don’t spend as much on a credit card.

The Fine Print
  • Promo APR: 0% for nine months
  • APR: 13.99%-21.99% variable, depending on your creditworthiness
  • Penalty APR: 30.4% variable (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Late fee: Up to $39
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $10 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 23.99% variable
  • Sign-up bonus: $200 cash bonus when you spend $3,000 in the first three months
  • Rewards: 1.5% cash back on all spending
APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

Best Category Bonuses

If you and your employees spend a lot of money in a limited number of categories, you might want to consider a rewards card with heavy bonuses in those categories. These cards offer at least 3 points for every dollar you spend in a given category. That’s the equivalent of a 3% reward.

Remember, rewards cards aren’t usually a good choice for financing purchases. Look to pay off these cards every month.

Online Advertising

Businesses that regularly advertise on social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or via search engines (Google, Bing) can earn impressive rewards on their marketing spending. These are the best cards for heavy online advertisers.

 

You’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on online advertising. In addition, you’ll be eligible for travel perks, sign-up bonuses, and more.Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN

The American Express Business Gold Rewards Card allows you to choose to earn 3 points per dollar spent on any one of the following categories: airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. advertising in select media, U.S. gas stations, U.S. shipping, or U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar on the four remaining categories.

All other spending earns 1 point per dollar you spend.

As a Welcome Offer, you’ll earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 in qualifying purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card membership. In addition to the rewards, you get trip accident insurance, extended warranties, and purchase protection.

Since the Business Gold Rewards Card is a charge card, you shouldn’t plan to borrow with the card. But the rewards for online advertisers are excellent. Just watch out for the $175 annual fee that kicks in after the first year.

The Fine Print
  • Annual fee: $0 introductory annual fee for the first year,
    then $175
  • Rewards: 1 point per dollar spent
  • Bonus rewards: 3 points in one category (pick between airfare purchased directly from airlines, U.S. advertising in select media, U.S. gas stations, U.S. shipping, or U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers).
  • 2 points rewards on remaining four categories.
  • Terms Apply. See Rates & Fees.

The information related to The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express credit card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Dining and Travel

Dining and travel cost a lot, but these cards offer enticing rewards. The cards we recommend offer more than 3% cash back on restaurant spending, travel, or both. Plus, they have other compelling perks. But most of these cards aren’t great for borrowing, so check the fine print.

 

Looking to thin down your wallet? A Sam’s Club Business MasterCard, doubles as your membership card. But it’s not just for wholesale shopping. Spending on the Sam’s Club Business MasterCard gives you the opportunity to earn 3% cash back rewards on all restaurant spending worldwide. It also gives 5% cash back rewards on gas (except when purchased at other wholesalers) and 1% on all other spending.

Road warriors and frequent business entertainers will love this card. Plus, the $45 statement credit (if you spend $100 the day you open it) pays for your annual Sam’s Club membership.

The Fine Print
  • APR: 15.90%-23.90% (assigned upon aproval)
  • Penalty APR: 29.99% (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0 (requires $45 Sam’s Club membership)
  • Late fee: Up to $39.99
  • Cash advance fee: Greater of $5 or 3% of transaction
  • Cash advance APR: 20.90%-26.90%
  • Sign-up bonus: $45 statement credit when you spend $45 on a single-receipt purchase the same day you open your account.
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all spending. Maximum of $5,000 back in a given year.
  • Bonus rewards: 3% on dining and travel expenses. 5% on gas (up to $6,000 in gas purchases). Gas cannot be purchased from other wholesale clubs.
APPLY NOW Secured

on Sam's Club’s secure website

If you prefer Costco to Sam’s Club, the Costco Anywhere Visa Card offers similar terms. Their 4-3-2-1 program includes 4% on gas purchases (up to $7,000 per year), 3% cash rewards for all dining and travel expenses, 2% on Costco purchases, and 1% on all other spending.

While the rewards are sweet, the terms can be expensive. This is not a good card for borrowing, so be sure to pay it off each month.

The Fine Print
  • APR: Introductory 0% for seven months, then 16.24% variable
  • Penalty APR: up to 29.99% variable (applied if you make a late payment)
  • Annual fee: $0 with your paid Costco membership
  • Late fee: Up to $37
  • Returned payment fee: Up to $37
  • Cash advance fee: Either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater
  • Cash advance APR: 26.24% variable
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on all spending.
  • Bonus rewards: 4% on gas (up to $7,000 in gas purchases). Gas cannot be purchased from other wholesale clubs. 3% on dining and travel expenses. 2% rewards on all purchases from Costco and Costco.com.
APPLY NOW Secured

on Citibank’s secure website

If you’re a frequent business traveller, Chase Ink offers the best rewards. You earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel, but you get a travel bonus. Every point is worth 1.25 points when you book through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Travel perks also include trip insurance, auto rental collision damage waivers (this is primary coverage), and more.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Gas

 

As a small business owner, you know that driving can be an economical choice, but you can also earn rewards for all those miles on the road. Sam’s Club Business MasterCard gives 5% cash back rewards on gas (except when purchased at other wholesalers), and 1% on all other spending.

Even if you don’t frequent Sam’s Club, this is the best category for rewards for gas purchases.

Click here to see details including perks and the fine print.

Learn More

Risks of Using Small Business Credit Cards

Many business owners see credit cards as an easy solution to their capital needs. But small business credit cards have unique risks. Savvy entrepreneurs will consider the risks before opening a new line of credit. These are the most important considerations.

 

1. Personal Liability

As a small business owner, you’re personally liable for credit card debt. Business bankruptcy won’t protect you. Whether your business succeeds or fails, you have to pay back the debt.

 

The only way to get rid of small business credit card debt is to declare personal bankruptcy. Bankruptcy destroys your credit history for a few years, and it stays on your report for 7-10 years.

 

Don’t treat a credit card like venture capital. It’s not. You need to repay it.

 

2. Credit Bureau Reporting

Small business cards don’t report to the credit bureaus the same way personal cards do. Depending on which card you choose, if you pay your credit card on time, you may not see any information on your personal report. For most business owners, that is a good thing. It will keep your personal credit utilization low.

 

However, an unpaid bill will show up on your personal credit report. A bill that goes unpaid for 60 days will generally appear on your personal credit report. Some banks offer more generous reporting and some less. You can speak with a banker to determine your bank’s reporting standards. Still, your personal credit score can take a hit at the same time that your business credit runs afoul.

 

When you take out a business credit card, put precautions in place to protect yourself. You can limit employee spending, and remove authorized users. You can also set up automatic payments each month.

 

3. Not Protected by the Credit CARD Act

In 2009, Congress passed the Credit CARD Act. The act curtailed predatory lending behaviors, including raising interest rates on existing balances. It also required credit cards to be more transparent about rates and fees.

 

This act does not apply to business credit cards. With a small business card, banks can raise the interest rate on your existing balance at any time. A higher interest rate means a bigger minimum payment and a longer time to pay off your debt. If you’re using your small business credit card to finance something, you could be at risk.

 

Still, many banks will not raise your rate if you have an excellent history of on-time payments. It is simply a risk to understand.

 

Another risk related to the Credit CARD Act is the possibility of double-cycle billing. Business credit cards do not require an interest accrual grace period. This means you may begin accruing interest on purchases right away. We only recommend cards that have a grace period of at least 23 days built in. If you choose a different card, be sure to check for this in the rates and fees schedule.

 

4. Employee Risk

Small business credit cards make it easy to watch employee spending. Still, they pose serious risks. You’re personally liable for any employee spending on a credit card. If you wouldn’t trust an employee with your wallet, don’t trust them with a company card. Employees can rack up debt and leave the company. That leaves you with a bill and no recourse to get the money back.

 

The Best Ways Use Small Business Credit Cards

Once you understand the risks of small business credit cards, you can also understand their best uses. Over 65% of small businesses use credit cards on a regular basis. Some use them for rewards, and some for financing. In fact, close to 10% of all small business financing comes from credit cards.

Here are some of the best ways to use a small business credit card.

 

1. Earning Rewards and Protection

If you pay your small business credit card in full each month, you can earn substantial rewards. Many business credit cards offer perks, including cash back, travel rewards, extended warranties, trip insurance, and more. As a business owner, you can reinvest the rewards into your business or take them for personal use.

 

2. Managing Cash Flow

Cash flow problems destroy small businesses, but credit cards provide short-term working capital. If you have a sales cycle that lasts 30 days or less, a credit card can fund inventory purchases. By the time your bill comes due, you’ll have money to pay it off. If you follow this practice, you’ll pay no interest, and you’ll manage your cash flow.

 

Credit cards can simplify employee monitoring, too. Most business credit cards allow you to place individual restrictions on employee use. That means you can limit how much and where employees can use company cards. But your employees may manage to misuse the cards. If they do, you will be stuck with the bill.

 

3. Building Business Credit

Businesses have credit reports just like people. Business credit cards can help you build your score. To build your business credit, hold the card under your employer identification number (EIN).

 

When your EIN establishes a record of paying its bills on time, it makes your business creditworthy. That means you’ll have an easier time finding long-term loans at great rates.

 

63% of all small businesses carry debt. Having a lower interest rate on that debt could make the difference between success and failure. This means every small business should take their credit history seriously from the outset. Small business credit cards may allow you to build that history without paying interest or fees.

 

4. Short-Term Borrowing

Small business credit cards have high interest rates, but they can work for short-term borrowing. If you know that you’ll only carry debt for a few months, you may want to finance something with a credit card.

 

Credit cards do not have origination fees or prepayment penalties. Sometimes this means that they offer the best terms for short-term borrowing. Just be careful when you borrow, and pay it back quickly. High interest debt compounds over time.

 

If possible, borrow on a card with a 0% introductory offer. Remember, failing to pay off 0% interest purchases may result in back interest. Be sure you understand the risks before you borrow.

 

The Worst Ways to Use Small Business Credit Cards

Small business credit cards aren’t always the best tool to get the job done. These are a few times when you should avoid using credit cards.

1. Personal Expenses

Bad accounting sinks many entrepreneurs. Always keep your personal spending off of your business credit cards. This will simplify bookkeeping, and it will keep your business credit utilization low. If you need to borrow for personal expenses, look for a low-interest credit card instead.

 

2. Long-Term Financing

Due to the high interest rates, most businesses should not finance long-term commitments using credit cards. Instead, consider an installment loan from a local credit union or a bank.

 

Applying for an installment loan can be a pain, but the lower interest rate will be worth it in the long run. Keep money in your pocket and avoid small business credit cards for long-term financing.

 

3. Cash Advances

Cash advances are the most expensive way to use a credit card. Banks begin charging interest right away, and the advance has a higher interest rate. Cash advances also have high fees of up to 10% of the amount you withdraw.

 

If you need cash, withdraw it from your business checking account instead, or take out a traditional loan.

 

4. Financing a Failing Business

Do not use credit cards to help a failing business limp along. Too many people will not give up on their idea even when the execution doesn’t work out. Credit card debt will bury a failing company and erode your personal wealth.

 

Remember, negative credit behavior will show up on your personal credit report. Plus, courts hold you liable for all credit card debt your business incurs. Use an objective lens to decide whether you need to shut down your business.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Personal Loans

Is it Possible to Refinance a Personal Loan?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

refinance a personal loan
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Trapped in a personal loan with a high interest rate or a massive monthly payment? It is possible to refinance to a loan that better suits your financial needs. We’ll explain how to refinance a personal loan and pitfalls to avoid when refinancing unsecured debt.

Is it possible to refinance a personal loan?

Refinancing a personal loan involves taking out a new loan to pay off an existing personal loan. Some people will refinance by negotiating new loan terms with their existing lender. However, many people refinance by taking out a new loan from a different lender. They use the proceeds of the loan to payoff their current loan.

It’s important to note that many lenders don’t advertise personal loan refinancing. However, you shouldn’t necessarily exclude them from your loan refinance search.

For example, a company spokesperson from SoFi (one of our top-rated personal loan issuers) explains that it treats all personal loans like incremental debt. If the company believes you can handle the payments on both your existing loan and your new loan, you may qualify for the new personal loan. On the other hand, Lightstream, a division of SunTrust Bank, specifically offers personal loan refinancing. Lightstream prices loans differently based on their intended use. Either company could be a great option to refinance your personal loan.

Depending on your income, your credit score, and your credit usage you may find a great rate at any number of personal loan companies.

When does it make sense to refinance a personal loan?

Refinancing your personal loan generally makes sense when the new loan comes with better terms or you need to refinance in order to remove a cosigner.

For example, your credit may have improved or your income increased significantly enough that you may qualify for a loan with a better APR. On the other hand, you may be struggling to meet your monthly payments and want to take out a new personal loan with lower monthly payments and a longer loan term.

“It could make sense to refinance almost any time if you can get better terms,” says Todd Nelson, business development officer for Lightstream, a division of SunTrust Bank. “Less interest is always a good thing.”

How to refinance a personal loan

No matter your goal, you’ll want to take a few steps to make sure that you get the best possible deal on your new loan.

Understand your existing loan

Before you pay off an old loan, check whether your loan has prepayment penalties, so you can factor any penalties into your loan analysis. Most banks do not charge prepayment penalties for personal loans, but those that do will typically charge a set fee for paying off a loan early. The terms and conditions of your loan will outline whether or not you have to pay a prepayment penalty. If you don’t understand the terms, you can talk to your lender to clarify the rules.

In addition to understanding your prepayment penalties, you’ll want to know your interest rate, the time remaining on your loan, and the required monthly payment. Refinancing your loan may affect all three of these numbers.

Get your credit in order

Once you understand your existing loan, you’ll want to check your credit score. You may need to make some efforts to clean up your credit before applying for a loan refinance. In particular, removing errors from your credit report and paying down credit card debt may help to improve your odds of approval. If possible, avoid applying for additional loans for three to six months before you refinance your personal loan. Applying for multiple lines of credit in a short time period makes you look like a worse credit risk according to the Fair Isaac Corporation, which creates the FICO® scores that are widely used in lending decisions.

Although your credit score matters, it’s not the only factor lenders will consider when setting your loan rate. “A great credit score doesn’t mean you’ll get the best rate,” Nelson cautions. Lenders will also consider your existing debt load, your income and how you’ve used debt in the past.

Prepare a budget

Refinancing a debt means your monthly payment will change. You’ll want to be sure that you can handle the change by preparing a budget. You need to know how much you can realistically pay each month, so you can continue to make timely payments every month.

Start shopping around for a new loan

Once you have your finances in order, you’ll want to start shopping for new loans. A great place to start is with LendingTree, where you can fill out a short online form and potentially get quotes from several lenders at once. LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.

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If you don’t see banks offering better terms, you may want to stick with your current loan until you pay it off.

Apply for multiple loans

When you see the potential for savings, start applying for new personal loans. When you apply for a new personal loan, you will see a hard credit inquiry on your credit report. The more places you apply, the more credit inquiries you’ll see.

However, multiple credit inquiries won’t destroy your credit if you apply within a few weeks.
According to the credit reporting bureau Experian, “Generally, credit scoring models will count multiple hard inquiries for the same type of credit product as a single event as long as they occur in a short window of a few weeks.”

When you apply for a personal loan refinance, you’ll need all your personal identification documents, and you may need proof of income (such as a pay stub, W-2 form or a tax return).

Check out our list of the best personal loans for 2017.

Choose the best offer

Once you have a few offers in hand, you’ll want to compare them to see which is the best deal for you.

You can use this calculator to compare the interest you expect to pay on your existing loan (use your current balance, current interest rate, and current monthly payment at the top) with the interest and fees you’ll pay on a new personal loan.

When you find the best offer, you can accept the loan terms with your new lender.

Pay off your old loan

The process for paying off your old loan will vary by lender. According to Nelson from Lightstream, lenders who work with high-credit-score applicants will generally deposit the funds into your checking or savings account. Then it’s up to you to pay off your existing debt.

In general, you can close your old debt by making a payment through the Bill Pay portal on your lender’s website. After you make the payment, you should see a balance of $0. You can call your lender to be sure that the final payment is processed and the loan is closed.

Lenders that work with subprime borrowers may pay off the old debt directly. In those cases, you should still call the lender to confirm that your old debt is closed.

Shopping for lower interest rates

If you’re looking for a lower interest rate, you’ll probably find a better personal loan in one of two circumstances. First, you may find a better interest rate if your credit score improved since taking out the loan. The more your credit score improved, the more likely you are to see great refinancing options.

You may also find a better interest rate if you didn’t originally shop around. In this situation, it may pay off to compare personal offers from a few different lenders. You may be surprised by how low your rate can go.

Of course, a lower interest rate doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily save money when you refinance your personal loan. You will want to do the math the following to see if you will actually save money with a refinance. If the origination fees and the total cost of interest are lower than the remaining interest on your loan, it makes sense to refinance the loan.

Finding lower monthly payments

Anyone looking to lower their monthly payments will usually want to refinance to a longer loan. While credit score improvements may lower your monthly payment a little, spreading the payments over a longer period lowers the payments even more.

If you’re facing a pinched cash flow, refinancing to a longer loan may make sense (especially if you can combine it with a better interest rate). The problem with refinancing to a longer loan is that you’ll generally pay more interest in the long run. Use this personal loan calculator to see how much more you’ll pay over time.

Taking out a larger loan

Some people consider refinancing a personal loan when they want to take on a bigger loan for an upcoming expense, or to consolidate additional debt. Refinancing makes sense if the new loan has a lower interest rate. In general, you want to keep your loan at the lowest interest rate possible, even if that means having two payments. If you want to take on more debt, be sure your budget can handle the added expense. Create a debt payoff plan before you take on any new debts.

When to avoid refinancing a personal loan

Even with lenders offering tantalizingly low interest rates, refinancing a personal loan doesn’t always make sense.

Refinancing isn’t cost-effective

For example, you don’t want to choose a new loan if it won’t save you money. This calculator can help you compare your current costs to the interest and fees you’ll pay if you choose to refinance. High origination fees may keep an otherwise attractive offer from being cost-effective.

Aggressive debt payoff

Refinancing a personal loan may backfire if you’re on an aggressive debt payoff plan. A loan with an origination fee may require several months of standard payments to reach a break-even point. This refinance calculator can help you determine how long it takes to reach the break-even point. (Use a tax rate of 0 percent.)

When you don’t have a debt payoff plan

Some people feel tempted to refinance a personal loan when their budget gets tight, and the monthly payments feel high. A personal loan refinance could be a smart financial move, but the refinance needs to be part of your comprehensive money management strategy. Before refinancing, create a realistic debt payoff plan.

Things to watch out for

In general, personal loans are straightforward, but you should beware of these personal loan traps (especially if you’re trying to refinance a subprime personal loan).

Prepayment penalties: Most major banks don’t charge prepayment penalties, but before you refinance, you’ll want to check your existing loan, too, to make sure one isn’t lurking in the fine print. A prepayment penalty may negate some of the savings you get from lowering your interest rate.

Credit insurance: Some lenders will try to get you to buy life insurance to cover the cost of the loan if you die. In general, this is not a good value. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has adopted measures that restrict the sale of credit insurance. However, you may still hear a pitch for the product.

It makes a lot of sense to have some level of insurance in place to cover your debts if you’re married, lose a job, etc. However, an inexpensive term life policy is a far better value than a loan specific policy. Job loss credit insurance may be a more compelling product, but it can be very expensive. Be sure to weigh the cost of the insurance before purchasing it.

Origination fees: Many personal loans come with origination fees, which can be as high as 8 percent of the loan’s value. That makes taking out a new loan an expensive proposition. Compare the remaining interest on your loan to the cost of the origination fee plus the interest cost of the new loan before deciding to refinance.

Late payment fees: Some lenders will charge you a late fee if you miss your payment date. Late fees can drive up your loan costs in a hurry. Anyone who has struggled with payments in the past will want to check this fee before refinancing.

Alternatives to refinancing a personal loan

Refinancing a personal loan to another personal loan isn’t always the cheapest option. If you’ve got great credit, or you own a home you might find cheap options to eliminate your debt.

Balance transfer credit cards

Some credit card companies will allow you to transfer a personal loan balance to a promotional 0 percent intro APR balance transfer credit card. This can be a quick way to drop your interest rate in a hurry.

Before you apply for a balance transfer credit card, you’ll want to check on a few things. First, you won’t want to apply for a credit card from a bank that holds your debt. For example, you won’t want to opt for the Citi Simplicity® credit card if a Citi Affiliate owns your debt.

It’s also important to clarify that the credit card company will allow you to transfer a personal loan balance to your credit card. For example, the Chase Slate® card does not allow you to transfer personal loan balances to your credit card.

You can generally learn more about a lender’s balance transfer policy by reading their terms and conditions page in a section entitled Balance Transfers. However, if the terms aren’t clear, you should take the time to call a bank representative before applying.

A balance transfer credit card is an appropriate solution for people who can pay down their personal loan debt before the introductory rate expires.

HELOCs

Homeowners who have equity in their house may also find that a HELOC, or home equity line of credit, offers better terms than their existing personal loan. A HELOC has tax-deductible interest, and it operates like a line of credit. You can use a HELOC to pay off higher interest debts, or to pay for other important expenses. However, you need to be careful not to treat a HELOC as free money. You still need to pay off your HELOC in time.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Health

The Ultimate Guide to Obamacare (Updated for 2018)

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Since Obamacare (or, as it’s officially known, ACA, the Affordable Care Act) created the first federal health insurance marketplace in 2013, some 20 million Americans have become newly insured.

Consumers who don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare or who don’t have private insurance through their employer can shop for health coverage either through the federal marketplace — HealthCare.gov — or by way of their state’s exchange.

This year, ACA applicants will have to wade through an average of 30 plans from two or three different insurers to make their insurance choice. The open enrollment period for Obamacare coverage begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15, with coverage due to begin Jan. 1, 2018.

That’s where this guide will come in handy. We will explain exactly what it’s like to enroll, what documents you should have on hand, and, of course, how to sort through all the health insurance options you may find.

Have any burning Obamacare questions? Send us a note at info@magnifymoney.com.

Part I: What is Obamacare?

Most people use the blanket term “Obamacare” when they talk about President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, 2010’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA touched almost every aspect of the health insurance industry. It had implications for employer-run health insurance plans. For government health plans, too.

One of the most visible features of the ACA was the creation of federal and state health care exchanges that sell health insurance to people who don’t have affordable coverage through other means. Many people who buy health insurance through the exchanges say they purchased Obamacare plans.

Some of the important features of these plans include:

  • Accessibility: All Americans may purchase health insurance through a federal or state-run health exchange even if they have a pre-existing condition.
  • Standardization: All health insurance plans must cover preventive care at 100 percent, and they must cover the costs associated with most medical procedures.
  • Affordability: The ACA offers tax credits and cost-reduction subsidies to limit the monthly premium costs for people earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line. Insurers may use age and smoking status to set monthly premium costs, but no other factors may be considered.

It’s also important to note that the ACA has a requirement called the individual mandate. You must get health insurance coverage, or you will most likely pay a penalty at tax time. You can get qualified health insurance through your employer or a government program. However, if you don’t get it there or through some other source, you will need to purchase an Obamacare plan or pay that penalty.

Who can buy insurance through a health care exchange?

Most Americans can purchase health insurance through a health care exchange. If you do not receive insurance through your employer and you don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, then you are likely eligible.

Most long-term, legal immigrants to the United States may purchase insurance. HealthCare.gov maintains a comprehensive list of qualified immigration statuses for purchasing insurance through the marketplace.

Most large employers and some midsize or small companies offer health insurance benefits to their employees. If your employer offers affordable health insurance to you (costing less than 9.56 percent of your total income), you will not qualify for health insurance subsidies through the exchanges.

Incarcerated people and those living outside the United States cannot purchase insurance through the marketplace.

Part II: Obamacare costs and tax subsidies

One major factor to consider when weighing the options is your expected tax subsidy. Most people buying insurance through the health care exchanges will qualify for a health insurance subsidy. This subsidy is applied in the form a credit that immediately reduces the cost of your Obamacare plan coverage.

According to a study from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, 84 percent of people who purchased insurance through a health care exchange qualified for a health insurance subsidy in 2017. The average subsidy was about $371 in 2017.

With the subsidy applied, nearly eight out of 10 (77 percent) health insurance purchasers paid less than $100 a month for their health insurance premiums in 2016.

To qualify for a subsidy, you must meet three standards:

  1. You must not have access to affordable insurance through an employer (including a spouse’s boss).
    1. Affordable insurance for 2018 is defined as individual coverage through an employer that costs less than 9.56 percent of your household’s income.
    2. You can check that your insurance offers minimum-value coverage by having your human resources representative fill out this form.
  2. You must have a household modified adjusted gross income between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
    1. You can calculate modified adjusted gross income using this formula:
      1. Adjusted gross income (Form 1040 Line 37) +
        Nontaxable Social Security benefits (Form 1040 Line 20a minus 20b) +
        Tax-exempt interest (Form 1040 Line 8b) +
        Foreign earned income and housing expenses for Americans living abroad (Form 2555)
  3. You’re not eligible for coverage through Medicaid, Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or other types of public assistance. Some states have expanded Medicaid to anyone who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

How can I calculate my subsidy?

The easiest way to calculate the subsidy you will receive is to use a subsidy estimator from HealthCare.gov or the Kaiser Family Foundation. Both calculators estimate your subsidy based on the information you provide. They also help you understand what factors affect your subsidy estimations.

Your income, household size and the cost of premiums in your state factor into your subsidy. Premium tax credits can help reduce the amount that you will spend on monthly premiums to a set percentage of your income. You will receive the same subsidy, no matter which plan you ultimately choose.

Below you can see the maximum amount you will spend on insurance premiums (for a silver plan) based on your income.

Income (based on 2017 federal poverty line)

Max monthly Silver Plan premium cost after subsidies

Special notes


Lower 48 states:
$12,060-$16,702



Alaska:
$15,060-$20,857



Hawaii:
$13,860-$19,195


Lower 48 states:
$20.20-$46.21



Alaska:
$25.23-$57.70



Hawaii:
$23.22-$53.11

Check if you qualify for expanded Medicaid.


Lower 48 states:
$16,703-$30,209



Alaska:
$20,858-$37,724



Hawaii:
$19,196-$34,718


Lower 48 states:
$47.05-$203.91



Alaska:
$58.75-$254.64



Hawaii:
$54.07-$234.35

You will qualify for cost-reduction subsidies if you purchase a silver plan.


Lower 48 states:
$30,210-$48240



Alaska:
$37,725-$60,240



Hawaii:
$34,719-$55,440


Lower 48 states:
$203.92-$384.31



Alaska
$254.65-$479.91



Hawaii:
$234.36-$441.67

If you earn more than 400% of the poverty line, you will not qualify for subsidies.

Income (Based on 2017 federal poverty line)

Max monthly Silver Plan premium cost after subsidies

Special notes


Lower 48 states:
$24,600-$34,069



Alaska:
$30,750-$42,587



Hawaii:
$28,290-$39,179


Lower 48 states:
$41.21-$94.26



Alaska:
$51.51-$117.82



Hawaii:
$47.39-$108.39

Children will qualify for CHIP. Check if you qualify for expanded Medicaid.


Lower 48 states:
$34,070-$49,200



Alaska:
$42,588-$61,500



Hawaii:
$39,180-$56,580


Lower 48 states:
$95.97-$259.94



Alaska:
$119.96-$324.93



Hawaii:
$110.36-$298.93

Children in 46 states will qualify for CHIP. You may qualify for extra savings if you purchase a silver plan.


Lower 48 states:
$49,201-$61,621



Alaska:
$61,501-$77,027



Hawaii:
$56,581-$70,864


Lower 48 states:
$259.95-$415.94



Alaska:
$324.93-$519.92



Hawaii:
$298.94-$478.33

In some states, children will qualify for CHIP. You may qualify for extra savings if you purchase a silver plan.


Lower 48 states:
$61,622-$98,400



Alaska:
$77,028-$123,000



Hawaii:
$70,865-$113,160


Lower 48 states:
$415.96-$783.92



Alaska:
$519.94-$979.90



Hawaii:
$478.35-$901.51

In a limited number of states, children qualify for CHIP up to 375% of the poverty line. If you earn more than 400% of the poverty line, you will not qualify for subsidies.

What circumstances might affect my eligibility for a subsidy?

Your subsidy can change if your circumstances change. It’s important to plan for such circumstances.

(Read ahead: “What happens if I don’t qualify for a subsidy?”)

Families with children:

Instead, they will receive free or low-cost insurance through CHIP. You can enroll your children in CHIP through the health insurance marketplace, or by calling 1-800-318-2596. You may need to speak with a Medicaid agent in your state to see if you qualify. You can also learn more about CHIP through InsureKidsNow.gov.

Your children may qualify for CHIP even if you and your spouse qualify for an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, though this rule varies by state. In some states, families that have children and employer-based coverage may receive financial assistance to purchase the coverage.

CHIP does not have enrollment deadlines, so you can apply at any time.

Families where one spouse has work coverage:

Some employers only offer health insurance to their employees. Spouses and children cannot get covered. In that case, you can buy insurance with a subsidy through the marketplace.

Families with expensive employer coverage:

If you can purchase family coverage through your or your spouse’s employer, then you will not qualify for subsidies. If an employee can gain individual coverage for himself or herself for less than 9.56 percent of total household income, the insurance is considered affordable. Coverage for the family isn’t factored into the affordability calculation.

This so-called “family glitch” affects two million to four million people and requires them to pay high prices for premiums. If you are caught in this situation, your children may qualify for CHIP. However, uncovered spouses and children must purchase insurance or pay the individual mandate penalty unless coverage for the family costs more than 8.05 percent of your household income. Even in those cases, you will still not qualify for premium assistance.

Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., has proposed a Family Coverage Act that may rectify the tax code, but it has not been passed.

Individuals getting married in 2018:

If you’re getting married next year, your subsidy depends on your combined income. In the months preceding your marriage, your income is one-half of your and your spouse’s combined income. Once you get married, your subsidy is based on your joint income and your qualifying family.

You need to report a marriage to be eligible for a special enrollment period on HealthCare.gov or through your state’s insurance exchange.

Individuals getting divorced in 2018:

If you get divorced or legally separated in 2018, you must sign up for a new health insurance plan after you separate. Your subsidy will be based on your income and household size at the end of the year. However, you will need to count subsidies received during your marriage differently than subsidies received when you’re legally separated.

For the months you are married, each spouse divides advanced subsidies received to each new household. If spouses cannot agree on a percentage, the default is 50 percent. If the plan only covered one taxpayer and his or her dependents, then the advanced tax credits apply 100 percent to that spouse.

Divorce reduces your income, but it also reduces your household size. These factors change your estimated subsidy. How much will depend on the magnitude of each change.

Reporting a divorce makes you eligible for a special enrollment period. When you enroll in a new plan, the exchange website will help you estimate your new subsidy for the remainder of the year.

Giving birth or adopting a child:

You have 60 days from the birth or adoption of your child to enroll him/her in a health care plan. If you miss this window, your child will not have health coverage, and you will pay a penalty. However, if you enroll your child in a timely manner, you can expect your subsidy to increase.

Report the birth or adoption of a child to be eligible for a special enrollment period on HealthCare.gov or via your state’s insurance exchange.

A newborn or adopted child may be eligible for CHIP rather than subsidized health insurance.

Turning 26:

If you’re on your parents’ insurance, generally you can stay until you have turned 26, but you should check your plan to be sure. You will have a 60-day special enrollment period to get your own plan from the health care exchange when you turn 26.

You may also be eligible for a special enrollment period from an employer-sponsored health plan. If you fail to have health insurance for more than three months, you will pay a penalty.

Losing employer coverage:

If you lose employer-based health coverage, you can either enroll in COBRA or purchase a plan through the health care exchange. Once you enroll in COBRA, you become ineligible to purchase subsidized coverage through the exchange.

You need to report job status changes to be eligible for a special enrollment period on HealthCare.gov or your state’s insurance exchange.

Changes in income:

Premium tax credits are based on your annual income. If you increase your income, you will be expected to pay back some or all of the advance premium you received. If you earn more than 401 percent of the federal poverty line, all premiums need to be repaid. If you earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty line, you may have to pay back $2,500 of advanced premiums per family or $1,250 for individuals.

You need to report income changes to avoid under- or overpaying on your premiums throughout the year.

Moving states or counties:

Most insurance plans that you purchase through the marketplace are state- and county-specific. If you move, you need to report the relocation through the insurance exchange. You may have to change insurance plans after moving. Moving to Alaska or Hawaii will allow you to claim a greater subsidy amount than you can claim in the lower 48 states. If you move from Alaska or Hawaii, you can continue to claim the higher subsidy amount for the whole year.

Part III: Bronze, silver, gold, platinum: Choosing the right Obamacare plan for your needs

The health care exchanges — both federal- and state-run — classify health insurance plans into four categories: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Metal categories are based on how you and your plan split the costs of your health care.

According to a 2016 study by the Department of Health and Human Services, 76 percent of consumers who bought a silver plan in 2016 stood to save an average of $58 a month by switching to the lowest-premium plan in 2017.

But that doesn’t meant the cheapest plans are necessarily best for you. They often come with higher out-of-pocket expenses, like deductibles, which can make them very expensive if you end up needing lots of medical care through the year.

Think of this way — the higher the premium, the more comprehensive the coverage will be and the lower your out-of-pocket costs. If you expect that you’ll need fairly frequent medical care or treatment, you might be better off choosing a more comprehensive plan despite the higher monthly premium.

Obamacare ‘Metal’ Plans: Explained

Bronze Plan

Cheapest premium, 60% coverage

Bronze health plans offer the least amount of estimated coverage. Insurers expect to cover 60 percent of the health care costs of the typical population. These plans feature the lowest monthly premiums, the highest deductibles and high out-of-pocket maximum expenses. Just under one-quarter (23 percent) of health insurance enrollees opted for a Bronze plan in 2017.

Silver Plan

Moderate premium, 70% coverage

Silver health plans offer moderate estimated coverage. Insurers expect to cover 70 percent of health care costs, and plan members cover the remaining 30 percent. If you qualify for cost-reduction subsidies (also called “extra savings”), you must purchase a silver plan. In 2017, 71 percent of all participants in the health care exchanges opted for a silver plan.

Gold Plan

High premium, 80% coverage

Gold health plans offer high levels of estimated coverage. Insurers expect to cover 80 percent of health care costs, while plan members cover the remaining 20 percent. These plans feature high monthly premiums, but lower deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Only 4 percent of all health insurance consumers on the health care exchanged opted for a gold plan in 2017.

Platinum Plan

Highest premium, 90% coverage

Platinum health plans offer the highest level of protection against unexpected medical costs. Insurers expect to cover 90 percent of medical costs, and plan members cover the remaining 10 percent. These plans have the highest monthly premiums and the lowest deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. Just 1 percent of all health insurance exchange participants purchased a platinum plan in 2017.

Catastrophic Plans

Cheapest premium, lowest coverage

Catastrophic health plans: People under age 30 or with hardship exemptions may purchase individual catastrophic health insurance plans. These plans are not available for families. Catastrophic plans do not have a cost-sharing component. Your out-of-pocket maximum will be $7,350. Once you reach $7,350 in medical expenses, your insurance company will pay the remaining costs.

Catastrophic plans cover most preventive services. Catastrophic plans generally offer the lowest monthly premiums, but you can’t use a premium tax credit to reduce your monthly cost.

Now that you know all the types of plans offered, it’s time to choose the one that fits your needs.

What to consider before choosing a plan

Choosing a health plan can seem like a daunting task, but you can get all the help and information you need to make an informed decision. Your health and your pocketbook matter, and we want to help you protect both.

Your tax subsidy: Before you choose a plan, you’ll decide whether to receive advanced or deferred subsidies.

If you take your subsidy upfront, it will reduce your premiums right away. If you defer it, then it will be given to you as a tax credit when you file your taxes. If you over- or underpay your premiums throughout the year, the will have to reconcile the amount owed at tax time.

Most people with predictable income and household size should take most or all of the subsidy upfront. However, if you expect to undergo a major life change (such as an increase in income, a marriage or a divorce), consider taking less of your subsidy in advance.

Time to shop. For people shopping for 2018 coverage, the average number of plans available is 30. Rather than comparing every plan, we recommend creating criteria around the following variables:

  1. Monthly cost: Consider how the monthly premium will affect your budget. This does not mean you should choose the plan with the lowest premiums, but you should consider the price. People without chronic conditions who have adequate emergency savings may want to at least consider opting for an option with low monthly premiums.
  2. Deductible and co-insurance: Do you have the emergency fund or income you need to cover a small medical emergency? A broken arm, stitches or an unexpected infection can result in hundreds of dollars in medical costs. If you have a high-deductible plan, you’ll need to cover these costs without help from the insurance company. If possible, choose a plan with a deductible that you could comfortably cover out of your savings or income.
  3. Maximum yearly cost: Add the annual cost of your premiums and your out-of-pocket maximum to determine your maximum yearly cost. In a worst-case scenario, this is the amount you will pay out of pocket. People with chronic conditions that require heavy out-of-pocket fees should try to limit their maximum yearly cost. A plan with a higher maximum yearly cost may represent a higher risk.
  4. Services and amenities: All insurance plans from the marketplace cover the same essential health benefits, but some offer more unique services such as medical management programs, vision and dental coverage.
  5. Health savings accounts: If you choose a high-deductible plan, you may want to opt for one lets you contribute to a tax-advantaged health savings account. Any money you contribute to this account (up to annual established limits) reduces your taxable income, and will not be taxed upon withdrawal when it used for medical expenses.
  6. Network of providers. It’s important to be sure that your preferred medical providers contract with the plan you choose. Not every doctor is “in network” with every insurance plan. You can check each plan’s provider directory before making a selection.

Once you have a firm grasp of your particular criteria, look for plans that fit your needs and ignore the rest.

Using the exchange website, you can filter and sort plans based on these factors. Most people need to balance cost and coverage to find a plan that works for them.

If you are part of the minority that need to buy their own health insurance plans, you should know that not every state uses HealthCare.gov to host their state’s health insurance exchange. Residents in the following states should use their specific state exchange to look for health insurance:

California; Colorado; Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; Idaho; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New York; Rhode Island; Vermont; Washington.

Part IV: How to enroll in Obamacare

Applying for insurance takes 30-60 minutes if you have all the necessary information in hand.

Your Obamacare enrollment checklist:

  • Names, birthdates and Social Security numbers for all members of the household
  • Document numbers for anyone with legal immigration status
  • Income information for all coverage-holders
  • Information about employer-sponsored health plans
  • Tax return from previous year (to help predict income)
  • Student loan documents
  • Alimony documents
  • Retirement plan documents
  • Health Savings Account documents

State or federal marketplace?

If your state does not offer its own health care exchange, you should use HealthCare.gov. As mentioned in the previous section, each state has the right to choose whether to run its own or use the federally run exchange and some do use their own.

The state-run exchanges perform the same functions as the federally run exchange. They allow you to estimate your tax credit and purchase insurance. As a consumer, you must provide the same information to your state as you would on the federal exchange.

While the online user experience will vary when states adopt their own online marketplace, the Affordable Care Act is a federal law and program. This means that the requirements and benefits do not change from state to state, even if the exchange platform changes.

The website interface for the federal exchange is simple, but answering the questions may be confusing. It’s important to fill out the application as accurately as possible so you can enroll in the best health insurance plan for you.

We’ve done our best to clarify the confusing portions in our step-by-step process below.

Filling out your Obamacare application

Family and household info

Start the application by filling out contact information and basic information about members of your household. Even if a member of your family will not need coverage, include that relative in your application.

The website will help you determine if a member of your household has insurance options outside the health care exchange. It will also help you determine if a person is a dependent. For the purpose of the health care exchange, your family includes all the people included on your income tax filing.

You need to know Social Security numbers, birthdates, immigration and disability status, and whether each household member can purchase health insurance through an employer plan.

Income and deductions

Next you’ll estimate your income for the coming year. Include all the following forms of income:

  • Jobs
  • Self-employment income (net)
  • Social Security benefits
  • Unemployment income
  • Retirement income
  • Pensions
  • Capital gains
  • Investment income
  • Rental/royalty income
  • Farming and fishing income
  • Alimony received

Afterward you’ll enter deductions. The application calls out student loan interest and alimony paid, but you should estimate all “above-the-line deductions” that should be included. These include:

  • Retirement plan contributions: 401(k), 403(b), 457, TSP, SEP-IRA, simple IRA, traditional IRA
  • Contributions to a Health Savings Account
  • Self-employed health insurance premiums
  • Tuition and fees paid
  • Educator expenses (up to $250 per teacher)
  • Half self-employment tax
  • Moving expenses
  • Early-withdrawal penalties from a 1099-INT

Do not double-count income or deductions since you’ll fill out these forms for each person. If you make a mistake, you can edit it when you review your household summary.

Additional information

Finally, you’ll fill out a few other miscellaneous details that will allow the application to confirm that you are eligible for subsidies or marketplace insurance.

It’s especially important that you have accurate information about job-related coverage for you and your family. This information will determine your eligibility for subsidies and other government programs.

Completing Obamacare enrollment

After you complete the application, you can review and submit it. At this point, the system will suggest which members of your household should complete CHIP or Medicaid applications. The remaining family members can enroll in a health insurance plan.

Part V: Where to get help enrolling In Obamacare coverage

Because of the complex nature of the marketplace exchange, there are marketplace navigators. These professionals provide free, unbiased help to consumers who want a hand filling out eligibility forms and choosing plans.

Marketplace navigators. You can find local marketplace navigators through the health care exchange website.

Be advised: The Trump administration has slashed budgets for health care navigators, leading some states to close down the programs altogether. As a result, it may make it difficult to find help locally from a navigator in some states.

Nonprofit organizations. Outside the exchange, nonprofit organizations are working to help people gain coverage by teaching them about their insurance options. Enroll America offers free expert assistance to anyone who makes an appointment. You can use the connector below to make an appointment with one of their experts.

Insurance brokers. Brokers can offer another form of help. Brokers aim to make it easier for consumers to compare insurance plans and apply for coverage. Insurance brokers have relationships with some or all of the insurance companies on the marketplace. Using a broker will not increase the price you pay for a plan, and it will not affect your subsidies. However, here’s another important note: Online brokers may not have 100 percent accuracy regarding a plan’s details. It’s important to visit a plan’s website before you enroll in a plan.

If you want to work with a broker, consider some of these top online brokers. PolicyGenius compares all the plans that meet criteria that you establish, and they serve up the top two plans that meet those criteria. HealthInsurance.com makes applications quick and easy, and the site specializes in special enrollment help.

Medicare plan finder. If you’re over age 65, use Medicare Plan Finder to find a Medicare plan that works for you.

CHIP: Likewise, if you think your children qualify for CHIP, use Insure Kids Now to enroll them in your state’s plan.

PART VI: Frequently asked questions

What happens if I don’t apply for insurance?

In most cases, you must enroll in health insurance or you’ll have to pay a penalty.

The penalty for 2018 hasn’t yet been released, but the 2017 penalty was calculated as the greater of 2.5 percent of your income (up to the national average cost of a bronze plan) or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (up to $2,085).

This steep penalty means that most people are better off purchasing some health insurance.

However, under certain circumstances you can avoid buying insurance and avoid paying the penalty. These are a few of the most common exemptions:

  • Health care cost-sharing ministry members: Must show evidence of membership
  • Low income, no filing requirement: If you do not earn enough income to file taxes, then you are automatically exempt from paying a noncoverage penalty.
  • Coverage is unaffordable: For 2017, if you, your spouse, or your dependents cannot obtain employer coverage or a bronze plan for less than 8.05 percent of your income (after applicable subsidies), you may opt out of coverage. (However, if your individual coverage from an employer costs less than 9.56 percent of your income, and your employer offers family coverage, nobody in the family will qualify for subsidies).
  • Short coverage gap: You went without insurance for less than three months.
  • Living abroad: No coverage is required if you live abroad for at least 330 days.
  • General hardships:These include homelessness, eviction, foreclosure, unpaid medical bills, domestic violence and more.  (You must get a marketplace exemption.)
  • Unable to obtain Medicaid: If you earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line, and your state didn’t expand Medicaid, you don’t have to purchase health insurance.
  • AmeriCorps coverage
  • Members of qualified religious sects: Must be granted exemption through HealthCare.gov.

Although you will not pay a penalty, you may still want to seek out catastrophe insurance or some other coverage to help with high potential health costs.

What happens if my plan was canceled?

For 2018, some insurers dropped their insurance plans from the health care exchange. In some states, major insurers Aetna and Humana are exiting the exchange. As a consumer, you cannot assume that the plan you chose in the past will be around next year.

If you used HealthCare.gov in the past, and your insurance plan remains in place, you’ll automatically be enrolled in the same plan again this year. This is true even if important variables like the deductible and premiums changed from last year.

If your plan was canceled, HealthCare.gov will automatically enroll you into a new health insurance plan with a price and coverage quality comparable to your previous plan’s.

Although the federal exchange will help you opt into a new plan (ensuring that you have some health insurance coverage), it’s far better to select a new plan on your own. You can enroll in a new plan Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. If you do not enroll in a new plan during this time, you will be stuck with the automatic enrollment option.

Whether you’re shopping for a new plan or reviewing an old plan, take these steps before open enrollment ends.

  • Update personal information on your application. Your income, household size, where you live and more will affect plan and subsidy eligibility. It’s important to keep your application up to date. The plan that fit you last year may no longer be appropriate, but you won’t know unless you keep the information current.
  • Review your plan before you re-enroll. You should receive a notification in the mail if your plan has been changed or canceled. Take the time to understand if the changes affect you.
  • Compare plans that fit your needs. Consider enlisting free help from a health care navigator, a nonprofit or a broker to help you decide.
  • Choose the plan that best fits your needs and your budget.

What options do students (and their dependents) have for health insurance?

University students who are enrolled full time have multiple options for health insurance.

Under age 26: All student under age 26 may continue to receive coverage from their parents’ insurance plan even if living in another state. Of course, it may make more sense to gain coverage in the state where you’re living, so review the coverage network with your parents. Many coverage networks only include doctors in a few ZIP codes.

If you visit an out-of-network doctor, you will face higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. As an alternative to staying on your parents’ plan, you can purchase your own health insurance plan through the health care exchanges even if you are a dependent.

Students who are dependents and over age 26 may be required to purchase their own health insurance plans.

University coverage: Many students will opt for a student health plan from their university. In general, student health plans meet minimum qualifying coverage criteria, and are affordable options. However, student health plans are not treated as employer coverage. Because of that, students may still qualify for Medicaid or insurance premiums. Students (especially independent students) should look into these alternatives when reviewing their insurance options.

The spouses and dependents of students must take time to understand their options. These are a few common scenarios:

If a student or spouse has an affordable employer-sponsored plan that covers family members: Student and spouse do not qualify for insurance subsidies or Medicaid. Children may qualify for CHIP. Student and spouse should seek coverage through either the student health plan or the employer-sponsored plan in most cases. All members of the family must have qualified health coverage, or they will pay the individual mandate penalty.

Student health plan doesn’t offer coverage for spouse or dependents, and neither spouse has an employer-sponsored health plan: Spouse and dependents can apply for Medicaid, CHIP or subsidized insurance through the health care exchanges (provided they meet income criteria). Student may choose any coverage option (including Medicaid or subsidized insurance) without paying a penalty.

Student health plan offers coverage of spouse or dependents, and neither spouse has an employer-sponsored health plan: Student, spouse and dependents may purchase the student health plan. They can also apply for Medicaid, CHIP or subsidized insurance through the exchanges (provided they meet income criteria). All family members may choose any coverage option without paying a penalty.

Where if I don’t qualify for a subsidy?

If you don’t qualify for a health insurance subsidy, you can still apply for health insurance through HealthCare.gov or your state’s health insurance exchange. However, some insurers offer more or different options outside the exchange. Anyone who doesn’t qualify for a health insurance subsidy should consider using an online broker instead to look for plans.

People who don’t qualify for a health insurance subsidy should reconsider their health insurance options in 2018. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation said that a number of insurers have requested double-digit premium increases for 2018. Based on initial filings, the change in benchmark silver premiums will likely range from -5 to 49 percent across 21 major cities. (These rates are still being reviewed by regulators and may change, the analysis said.)

With rapidly rising costs, enrollees without subsidies may want to consider the lower-cost bronze plans to see if they meet their health insurance needs.

Part VII: The ultimate Obamacare glossary

Understanding basic health insurance terminology can help you make a more informed decision about your options. Here are common terms you should know.

This credit can be taken in advance to offset your monthly premium costs. The subsidy is based on your estimated income and can be taken directly from your insurer when you apply for coverage. You must repay credits if you qualify for a smaller subsidy once taxes have been filed. You can learn more about repayment limitations here.

This program was designed to provide coverage to uninsured children who are low-income but above the cutoff for Medicaid eligibility. The federal government has established basic guidelines, but eligibility and the scope of care and services are determined at the state level. Your children may qualify for CHIP even if you purchase an insurance policy through the health care exchange. You can learn about CHIP eligibility through the marketplace or by viewing this table at Medicaid.gov.

Your share of the costs of a covered health care service. This is the percentage you must pay out of pocket after you have met your annual deductible. You pay a specific coinsurance amount until you meet your out-of-pocket maximum.

If you earn between 100-250 percent of the federal poverty level, you may qualify for additional savings. This extra savings reduces your out-of-pocket maximum, and it offers assistance with copays and coinsurance.

Disclaimer: There is ambiguity surrounding whether or not Congress and the White House will appropriate funds for the cost sharing subsidies. In October, President Trump used an executive order to cut off funding for the subsidies. However, the Affordable Care Act still requires that health insurers must issue them to all people earning 100-250 percent of the federal poverty line. As a result of this Trump executive order, many insurers raised premiums for silver plans. The premium increases will not affect the prices that people with subsidies will pay, but they will affect the prices you pay if you do not qualify for a subsidy.

Until the Affordable Care Act or the cost sharing subsidies are repealed, insurers will continue to pay cost reduction subsidies in 2018.

A fixed amount you pay for a covered medical service, typically when you receive the service or prescription. Also commonly referred to as a “copay.”

The amount you pay for covered health services before your insurer begins to cover part of your costs. According to the IRS, a high-deductible health insurance plan is any plan with a deductible over $1,300 for an individual or $2,700 for a family.

Medical services are only covered if you go to doctors, specialists or hospitals in the plan’s network (except in an emergency).

These plans focus on integrated care and focus on prevention. Usually, coverage is limited to care from doctors who work for or contract with the HMO. Generally, out-of-network care isn’t covered unless there is an emergency.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) allow you to save and invest money for current or future medical expenses. You do not have to pay any taxes on money you contribute to an HSA, and you can withdraw the money tax- and penalty-free if you use the funds for a qualified medical expense.

You can only contribute to an HSA if your insurance meets the standards for a high-deductible insurance plan. Individuals can contribute up to $3,450 to a health savings account, and families can contribute up to $6,900 in 2018.

If you shop for insurance through Healthcare.gov, plans will indicate whether they are HSA approved. To be an HSA compatible plan, your deductible must be at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family. The out of pocket maximums on these plans must be less than $6,650 for an individual or $13,300 for a family.

The out-of-pocket maximums required by the IRS do not line up with Affordable Care Act maximums, so many plans with high deductibles will not allow you to contribute to an HSA. If contributing to an HSA is an important part of your financial plan, be sure to filter for HSA compatibility on HealthCare.gov. And be advised: Not everybody will have an opportunity to purchase a subsidized HSA-compatible health insurance plan.

If you can afford to purchase health insurance and choose not to, you will be charged an individual shared responsibility payment, in the form of a tax penalty. There are a few qualified exemptions, outlined in the guide above, that allow you to avoid the fine. For example, if your employer-sponsored health plan costs more than 8.05 percent for individual coverage, you will not have to pay the fine (though you will not qualify for tax credits).

The fine for 2018 has not yet been released, and Congress has considered removing the individual mandate requirement for 2018. If it is removed, we will update this piece with the required information.

For the 2017 tax year, the individual mandate was calculated two ways:

  1. 2.5 percent of household income (up to the total annual premium for the national average price of the marketplace bronze plan)
    OR
  2. $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (up to $2,085)

You had to pay the greater of the two penalties.

Medicaid: A joint federal and state program that provides health coverage to low-income households, some pregnant women, some elderly Americans and people with disabilities. Medicaid provides a broad level of coverage including preventive care and hospital visits. Some states provide additional benefits as well.

If you were a foster child who “aged out” of foster care, you can continue to receive Medicaid coverage until age 26 with no income limitations.

Medicaid Expansion: Obamacare gives each state the choice to expand Medicaid coverage to people earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The primary goal of the ACA is reducing the number of uninsured people through both Medicaid and the health insurance marketplace. The Kaiser Family Foundation keeps track of expanded Medicaid coverage by state.

Medicare: Most people who are over age 65 and disabled people who have received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payment for 25 months in the United States will qualify for a Medicare Health Insurance Plan. Open enrollment for Medicare, which started Oct. 15, runs through Dec. 7. You can learn more about Medicare plans from the Medicare Plan Finder.

The amount you pay each month for your health insurance.

The highest amount you will pay for covered services in a year. In 2018, all health insurance plans sold through the Federal Health Exchange will have a out-of-pocket limits of $7,350 for an individual or $14,700 for a family plan.

You pay less for medical services if you use providers in the health plan’s network. You need a referral from your primary care doctor to see a specialist.

You pay less for medical services if you use the providers in your plan’s network. You may use out-of-network doctors, specialists or hospitals without a referral. However, there is an additional cost.

All health insurance plans purchased through the health care exchange cover some preventive care benefits without additional costs to you. These benefits include wellness visits, vaccines, contraception and more.

Most insurance plans have preferred pricing with a group of health care providers with whom they have contracted to provide services to members.

The federal subsidy for health insurance that helps eligible individuals or families with low or moderate income afford health insurance purchased through a health insurance marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Mortgage

A Guide to Home Loans for Bad Credit

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Getting a mortgage with bad credit isn’t easy. Banks and credit unions became ultraconservative with mortgage lending following the 2008 housing market crash. However, these days, tighter lending standards don’t have to force you out of the mortgage market. If you have a stable income, you may qualify for a mortgage, even with bad credit. We’ll explain the best home loans for people with bad credit, offer tips for cleaning up your credit histories and point out scams to avoid.

Quick guide to checking your credit score

If you’re just starting to shop for home mortgages, it pays to know if banks think you have bad credit or not. Here’s how FICO, the main credit score provider in the U.S., breaks down credit scores:

  • 800-plus: Exceptional
  • 740-799: Very good
  • 670-739: Good
  • 580-699: Fair
  • 579 and lower: Poor

A credit score above 740 is optimal for finding the best mortgages, but you can often secure a mortgage with a much lower score. You might find an FHA mortgage with a credit score as low as 500 (albeit with a 10 percent down payment rather than 3.5 percent rate for scores above 580), but a credit score of around 650 gives you a decent chance of qualifying for a home mortgage. Getting a mortgage with a truly bad credit score will be difficult, and improving your credit to “fair” status could make it much easier.

Where can you check your credit score? Banks and credit unions use the FICO Scores 2, 4 and 5. These are not the same scores you will find through a free credit scoring site. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a free option for checking your FICO Scores 2, 4 and 5. The best option for checking these is checking them on MyFICO, which costs $59.85.

If you don’t want to pay for a credit score, consider using a free scoring site. But don’t put too much stock in the number it offers. It may overestimate your credit score (for mortgage shopping), especially if you’ve paid off debt in collections recently, and some free scores don’t use the 300-850 scale FICO often uses. Instead, focus on the information about what’s helping and hurting your credit score, if the tool offers those insights, and use that knowledge to make improvements where you can.

You can get a free credit score through our parent company LendingTree.

Home loan programs for people with bad credit

FHA loans

FHA Loan Details

Credit score required

500, but banks have minimum underwriting
standards

Down payment required

Credit score between 500-579: 10 percent
Credit score above 580: 3.5 percent

Upfront financing fee

1.75 percent, which can be financed

Mortgage insurance

0.45 to 1.05 percent

Mortgage limits

Generally, $275,665 for single-family units, but it
varies by location and you should check the limits in your area

Fine print

Mortgage insurance premiums are paid for the life of the loan,
except when putting 10 percent or more down. If your down payment is
less than 20 percent but 10 percent or more, you must have
mortgage insurance for 11 years.

Quick take

If you have bad credit, an FHA loan offers a more accessible mortgage. While credit standards vary by lender, you may qualify for the FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500. With a credit score above the 580 threshold, you may qualify for the 3.5 percent down payment.

Unfortunately, an FHA loan can be expensive because of mortgage insurance fees. In addition to paying ongoing mortgage premiums for the life of the loan, you’ll have to pay a 1.75 percent upfront financing fee.

Pros:

  • 3.5 percent down payments (for those above the 580 credit-score mark)
  • Credit scores as low a 500
  • Can buy up to four units

Cons:

  • 1.75 percent upfront mortgage premium
  • Ongoing mortgage insurance
  • Smaller loan limits

Where to get an FHA loan

You can use the comparison tool on LendingTree or Zillow to find offers from FHA-approved lenders in your area willing to work with people with bad credit. If an online search doesn’t yield the results you want, you may need to work directly with a mortgage broker who specializes in finding mortgages for people with bad credit. You can use a site like Find A Mortgage Broker or Angie’s List to find brokers in your community.

Be sure to check the National Multistate Lending System (NMLS) to see if your broker has had any regulatory action filed against them. Regulatory actions against the broker are red flags that indicate you may want to take your business elsewhere.

Fannie Mae HomeReady Mortgage

HomeReady Mortgage Details

Credit score required

A minimum requirement of 620 generally applies
to Fannie Mae products.

Down payment required

3 percent for credit scores above 680
(for single family homes). 25 percent for credit scores
between 620-680 (for single family homes).

Upfront financing fee

None

Mortgage insurance

0.125 to 3 percent

Mortgage limits

Generally, $424,100, though it varies by location

Fine print

You must earn less than the median income in
your ZIP code to qualify,
or buy a home in a low-income zip code.
You must take a homeowner’s education class to qualify for the mortgage,
mortgage insurance can be canceled when you reach a
loan-to-value ratio of 80 percent.

Quick take

If you’ve got a fair credit score but a big down payment, the Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgage is the best conventional mortgage for you. With a 620 credit score and a 25 percent down payment, you meet HomeReady eligibility requirements, and you’ll pay no mortgage insurance. Fannie Mae offers a 3 percent down payment option, but you need a credit score of at least 680.

HomeReady mortgages also allow for cosigners who won’t live at the address with you. That means a parent or grandparent with a high credit score could help you purchase the property by co-signing. If you can find a cosigner, you may qualify for the 3 percent down payment even if your credit score falls below 680.

Pros:

  • Can qualify with credit score as low as 620
  • A low 3 percent down payment if you have a 680 credit score
  • Down payment doesn’t have to come from personal funds
  • Mortgage insurance premiums are cancellable
  • Non-occupant cosigners are permitted

Cons:

  • Up to 25 percent down payment required in some instances
  • Not all lenders offer Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgages, so you might struggle to find a bank with this offering.

Where to get a Fannie Mae HomeReady mortgage

Fannie Mae doesn’t publish a list of lenders who offer the HomeReady mortgage, so you will need to work with your lender specifically to see if they offer it. Most major banks and credit unions will be approved to underwrite Fannie Mae mortgages, but the specific product offering will vary by bank.

Consider using an online mortgage comparison engine including LendingTree or Zillow to compare offers in your area. However, once you find lenders that will work with you, you’ll have to ask them about the HomeReady mortgage, especially if you want to use the 3 percent down or co-signing feature.

The Housing and Urban Development office of housing counseling may also help you connect with lenders who offer the HomeReady Mortgage.

VA loans

VA Loan Details

Credit score required

Credit standards set by lender

Down payment required

None

Upfront financing fee

1.25 to 3.3 percent, which can be financed

Mortgage insurance

None

Mortgage limits

Generally, $424,100, though it varies by location

Fine print

Must obtain a certificate of eligibility
(for military members and spouses)
before applying for a VA loan

Quick take

For people with a military background, the VA loan is a top mortgage option. The upfront financing fee can be hefty, but it’s a good deal if you plan to live in the house for several years. That said, not all VA lenders work with buyers with bad credit, so you may struggle to find a reputable lender in your area.

Pros:

  • No down payment required
  • No mortgage insurance
  • No firm credit minimums
  • Can buy up to four unit multi-family property.

Cons:

  • Upfront funding fee
  • Not all lenders issue VA loans to borrowers with bad credit
  • Must buy home with the intent to occupy for at least 12 months

Where to get a VA loan

To take out a VA loan, you must get a certificate of eligibility (COE) through the Veterans Administration eBenefits platform. Once you get the COE, you can use the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s interest rate data to learn about interest rates for VA loans.

To find a VA lender who works with bad-credit clients, you’ll probably want to work with a mortgage broker. You can find mortgage brokers online or through your state’s housing finance agency. Be sure that your broker has no regulatory action filed against them before you commit to working with them.

USDA loans

USDA Loan Details

Credit score required

As low as 580, but generally 640

Down payment required

None

Upfront financing fee

1 percent (can be financed)

Mortgage insurance

0.35 percent annually

Mortgage limits

No limits, but must meet standards of affordability based on moderate incomes

Fine print

You must meet income eligibility requirements,
and the property must be in a qualified rural area

Quick take

If you’re planning to buy in a rural area (and you may be surprised what qualifies, so check), a USDA loan offers a low cost, low money down loan. Technically, the absolute minimum credit score for this loan is 580, but most lenders won’t issue USDA loans to borrowers with scores below 640. USDA loans tend to be a better deal than FHA loans, but they may have higher costs compared to VA or conventional loans. If you’ve got fair credit, but you don’t have a big down payment, the USDA loan makes sense for you.

Pros:

  • No down payment
  • Only 1 percent upfront mortgage fee

Cons:

  • Ongoing financing fee cannot be canceled
  • Finding lenders who work with bad credit borrowers can be difficult
  • Must meet location and income criteria

Where to find USDA loans

If you meet the USDA eligibility requirements, you can start shopping for USDA loans through LendingTree, but you may not find many offers if you have a credit score below 640. If you can’t easily find a lender, you’ll want to work with an independent mortgage broker who will have insider access to multiple lenders in your city. You can find reputable brokers online through Find A Broker, Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau (search for mortgage brokers, your city). Before committing to a broker, check that your broker has no regulatory action filed against them.

Manufactured home loans for bad credit

Manufactured homes are houses constructed off-site, transported and anchored to a permanent foundation at a new home site. On average, manufactured homes cost 80 percent less than site-built single family homes, but taking out a mortgage for a manufactured home can be expensive, even if you have good credit. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, almost 68 percent of all loans for manufactured home purchases were considered higher priced mortgages. On top of already high rates, bad credit will drive your interest rate even higher. However, thanks to the lower upfront price, people with bad credit may have an easier time finding home financing for manufactured homes than for site-built homes.

FHA Title I loans (Chattel loans)

FHA Title I Loan Details

Credit score required

No credit score minimums, but
must meet ability to pay criteria

Down payment required

5 percent down for credit scores above 500,
otherwise 10 percent down

Upfront financing fee

Up to 2.25 percent

Mortgage insurance

Up to 1 percent

Mortgage limits

  • Home only: $69,678

  • Lot only: $23,226

  • Home and lot: $92,904

Mortgage term limits

  • 20 years for home only

  • 20 years for single-section home and lot

  • 15 years for lot only

  • 25 years for a multi-section home and lot

Titling requirements

Manufactured homes can be titled as personal property.

Fine print

Manufactured homes must be situated on a lot that meets
FHA property standards (such as hookups for water and electricity,
and foundation anchors) that is owned or leased by the primary
mortgage holder. Manufactured home must be at least 400 square feet.

Quick take

The FHA Title I loan is an obvious choice for people with bad credit looking to buy a manufactured home, but you need to do your research before you commit to this loan. According to the CFPB, Chattel loans had 1.5 percent higher APRs than standard mortgages. These loans also come with expensive mortgage insurance fees that can be passed on to you.

However the Chattel loan makes sense if you’re buying a used manufactured home or if you plan to rent the lot where your home sits.

Pros:

  • No credit standards
  • Flexible terms for land ownership
  • Can title home as personal property

Cons:

  • Maximum loan is $92,904
  • Some lender restrictions
  • 5-10 percent down payment requirement
  • Must be a fixed term mortgage

Where to find Chattel loans

Chattel loans are a niche product that few banks and credit unions offer. Half of all Chattel loans are issued by five banks: 21st Mortgage, Vanderbilt Mortgage, Triad Financial Services, U.S. Bank, and Credit Human (formerly San Antonio Federal Credit Union), according to a 2014 report from the CFPB. You can also find local lenders through the Manufactured Housing Association’s lender search.

FHA loan

FHA Loans Details for Manufactured Homes

Credit score required

500 (varies by bank)

Down payment required

Credit score between 500-579: 10 percent
Credit score above 580: 3.5 percent

Upfront financing fee

1.75 percent, which can be financed

Mortgage insurance

0.45-1.05 percent

Mortgage limits

Generally $275,665

Titling requirements

Manufactured homes must be titled as real
property and you must own the lot.

Fine print

All manufactured homes must meet standards set by the
FHA including foundation anchors, water and electrical hookups and more.

Quick take

A standard FHA loan makes sense if you’re planning to buy a manufactured home and land. While credit standards vary by lender, you may be able to qualify for the FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500. If you can raise your credit score to 580, you may even qualify for the 3.5 percent down payment.

This loan isn’t as easy to get as the Chattel loan, but some people with bad credit may qualify. If you want to use an FHA loan for a manufactured home, work with your loan officer closely, so your financing is in place before your home is completed.

Pros:

  • 3.5 percent down payments
  • Credit scores as low a 500
  • Up to $275,665 in financing

Cons:

  • 1.75 percent upfront mortgage premium
  • Must pay ongoing mortgage insurance
  • Must buy owner-occupied home

Where to get an FHA loan

The Manufactured Housing Association’s lender search will also provide a list of lenders who may offer FHA loans for manufactured homes in your state. If that list doesn’t provide the results you need, work with a HUD office of housing counseling center to learn about lenders who offer FHA loans for manufactured homes.

USDA

USDA Loan Details for Manufactured Homes

Credit score required

580 and below is considered a no-go;
generally 640 and up

Down payment required

None

Upfront financing fee

1 percent, which can be financed

Mortgage insurance

0.35 percent annually

Mortgage limits

No limits, but must meet standards of
affordability based on moderate incomes

Titling requirements

Home must be titled and taxed as real estate

Fine print

You must own the lot where your home is located and meet
income eligibility requirements and the property must be
in a qualified rural area

Quick take

If you’re purchasing a new manufactured home in a rural area, the USDA loan may make sense for you. The manufactured home must be new, and you have to own the site where the home is located. However, with the lowest acceptable credit score being at the 580 threshold, USDA loans aren’t suited for bad-credit borrowers. Improving your credit to “fair” could be the difference between rejection and approval..

Pros:

  • As low as no money down
  • Low financing fees
  • Competitive interest rates

Cons:

  • Higher credit underwriting standards
  • Must own lot
  • Must buy new manufactured home

Where to get a USDA loan

If you meet the USDA eligibility requirements, connect with the HUD office of housing counseling in your state. If the USDA loan is a good fit for you, staffers there will help you find lenders who work with USDA borrowers that want in on manufactured homes.

VA loans

VA Loan Details for Manufactured Homes

Credit score required

Credit score standards set by lender

Down payment required

None

Upfront financing fee

1.25-3.3 percent depending on your military status,
home buying experience and down payment.
This fee can be financed.

Mortgage insurance

None

Mortgage limits

$424,100

Titling requirements

The house must be titled as real property,
and you must own the lot where the house is located.

Fine print

Must obtain a certificate of eligibility
(for military members and spouses) before applying for a VA loan.

Quick take

The VA loan offers a down payment of 0 percent (even for manufactured homes) as long as you own (or will buy) the lot where the home is located. The drawback to the VA loan is that most lenders set their credit score standards in the 600-range, which means that people with bad credit might not qualify. On top of that, not every VA lender offers loans for manufactured homes. Those two factors mean the you may struggle to find a lender in your area who will work with you.

If you find the lender, the VA loan is a great choice, but if you can’t, consider an FHA loan instead.

Pros:

  • No down payment required
  • No mortgage insurance
  • No firm credit minimums

Cons:

  • Upfront funding fee
  • Not all lenders offer VA loans for manufactured housing
  • Must buy home with the intent to occupy for at least 12 months
  • Must own lot

Where to get a VA loan

To take out a VA loan, you must get a certificate of eligibility (COE) through the Veterans Administration eBenefits platform. Once you get this, find an independent mortgage broker who specializes in VA loans for manufactured homes or VA loans for people with bad credit. These brokers work with multiple banks and can help you find better deals than you might find on your own. Before committing to a particular broker, check for regulatory action filed against them. You don’t want to work with a broker who fails to meet the standards set by your state.

Conventional mortgages

Conventional Mortgage Details for Manufactured Homes

Credit score required

620

Down payment required

5 percent (10 percent for people with insufficient
credit for traditional scoring)

Upfront financing fee

None

Mortgage insurance

0.5 percent annually

Mortgage limits

Generally, $424,100

Titling requirements

Must own land, and home must
be titled as real property.

Fine print

You’ll have to pay mortgage insurance until your
home reaches at least an 80 percent loan-to-value ratio.

Quick take

If you’ve got a 20 percent down payment and at least a 620 credit score, and your home meets underwriting standards, the conventional mortgage is the best choice for you. This loan has competitive interest rates and no mortgage insurance for people with a loan-to-value ratio of at least 80 percent. Your home must be at least 600 square feet and meet HUD standards for manufactured homes, and you must own your lot. However, you can use this loan to purchase an existing manufactured home (built after 1976) if it is permanently affixed to an approved foundation.

Another advantage to this loan is that they do accept borrowers with thin credit files, provided they don’t have derogatory marks on their credit file.

Where to find conventional mortgages

Before you start shopping, you can use the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s interest rate data to learn about interest rates in your state. Compare real offers from local lenders using LendingTree, or work with your state’s housing finance agency to find reputable lenders in your area.

Other common financing deals

Aside from those mortgages, manufactured home buyers with bad credit might consider two other options. First, you might consider a retail installment contract. A retail installment contract is issued by the manufacturer (or installer) or your home. If you’re working directly with the manufacturer to take out a loan, you should take the time to understand upfront and ongoing fees, APR and what happens if you miss a payment. The Manufactured Housing Institute provides detailed information on buying and living in manufactured houses and on how to find manufacturers and lenders who can help you finance a manufactured home.

Borrowers with bad credit might also consider owner-held financing option. Owner-held financing is a readily available form of credit, but it is risky. Before signing a lease to own agreement, find a real estate lawyer who can help you uncover title issues and explain the loan. To learn more, you can either find a lawyer through your employer (who may offer legal benefits), the American Bar Association or by contacting HUD office of housing counseling in your state.

Clean up your credit before mortgage shopping

In 2016, the average new home cost $372,500, but that’s before paying interest. According to Informa Market Research, the average interest rate for a person with a credit score between 620 and 639 is 5.115 percent, but a person with a score of at least 760 gets a 3.527 percent rate. Does just a point and a half translate to much cost difference? Absolutely. If both people finance $298,000 on a new home, then the person with great credit will pay $1,343 per month. The person with lesser credit will pay $278 more, $1,621 per month. That translates to more than $100,000 more over the life of the loan.

Tips to improve your credit score

To repair your credit before taking out a mortgage, and qualify for better terms and more options, start with these three simple steps:

  1. Pay all your current debt accounts on time, each month.
  2. Reduce your credit card utilization by paying down your credit card debt.
  3. Stop applying for credit six months before mortgage shopping.

These three factors alone account for 75 percent of your credit score.

As you take care of those items, you’ll want to check your credit report from the three major credit bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com.

You want to be sure that you recognize all the information on your credit report, and that there are no duplicate entries. Dispute any errors or duplicates. For further guidance, use the Federal Trade Commission’s free guide to disputing errors on your credit report. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, follow the Federal Trade Commission’s advice on identity theft recovery.

Disputing errors on your credit report may prevent a bank from issuing you a mortgage, so start disputes at least 90 days in advance of applying for a mortgage. While the credit bureaus should clean up the errors within 30 days, the process sometimes takes longer

Getting a mortgage after bankruptcy or foreclosure

Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to seven or 10 years, depending on the type, and foreclosures stay on your credit report for up to seven years, but you don’t have to wait that long to take out a mortgage. If you take steps to improve your credit, you can qualify for some mortgages one to four years after your bankruptcy is dismissed, or two to four years following foreclosure.

 

Conventional

FHA

VA

USDA

Chapter 7

Four years from discharge or dismissal (except in extenuating circumstances)

Two years (or one year in extenuating circumstances)

Generally, two years (though it is not a disqualifying standard)

Generally, three years

Chapter 11

Four years from discharge or dismissal (except in extenuating circumstances)

Must meet credit standards

Generally, two years

Must meet credit standards

Chapter 13

Two years after discharge or four years after dismissal

Two years (or one year in extenuating circumstances)

One year of payments

Generally, one year

Foreclosure

Seven years, except if foreclosure was discharged in bankruptcy (then use bankruptcy limits)

Three years except in extenuating circumstances

Generally two years

Generally, three years

Even if you can get a new mortgage just a year or two after bankruptcy or foreclosure, it makes sense to wait longer in most cases. By waiting around three or four years, the damage of the bankruptcy and foreclosure fades, and you’ll have that extra time to revive your credit score.

To get your credit in shape after bankruptcy or foreclosure, you’ll want to continue to make bankruptcy payments as agreed and consider opening a secured credit card to rehabilitate your damaged credit. Use the credit card for daily expenses, and pay it off in full each month.

Improve your shot at approval even if you have bad credit

If you’ve got bad or fair credit, and you don’t have a lot of time to improve it, you can still take out a mortgage in some cases. These are a few things that can help you get approved with a low credit score.

  • Choose a house well within your budget. If you’ve got a strong income and a low monthly payment, the bank may be more likely to approve your loan.
  • Come up with a larger down payment. While the median down payment is just 5 percent, a person with bad credit may need quite a bit more (up to 25 percent) to get a loan.
  • Work with your loan officer: Give them paperwork in a timely manner, and follow their instructions regarding credit repair, collection repayments and debt repayments. If you’re close to gaining approval, the loan officer can help you take the last few steps to meet the bank or government’s underwriting criteria. Loan officers may take advantage of manual underwriting provisions for FHA, VA, USDA and conventional loans, but that requires more information and participation from you.
  • Ask for rapid rescoring if you’re disputing errors on your credit report, or paying down credit card debt.

Rapid rescoring

A rapid rescore is a method for “re-checking” your credit score on an accelerated time scale. Banks usually only check your credit score once when they’re considering your for a loan, but they may pay a fee to see a new score if you’ve paid down debt or removed negative information from your report, according to Experian. The bank will use the new information to recalculate your credit score to see if you qualify for a loan.

Should I keep renting?

A bad credit score by itself shouldn’t stop you from buying a home. You’ll pay more in interest costs over the life of the loan, but you’ll also start building equity sooner. Plus, a few years of paying on a mortgage will help you raise your credit score, so you can refinance later on.

However, a bad credit score can be a symptom of a bad financial situation. If you’re struggling to pay your bills on time, buying a house isn’t usually a good idea. During financial stress, a new mortgage bill is more likely to be a curse than a blessing.

Watch out for these scams targeting people with poor credit

Financial scammers are always on the prowl for desperate people who might become their next victims. These are a few pitfalls that all homebuyers need to avoid as they shop for homes and mortgages.

Mortgage closing scams

Mortgage closing scams are pernicious schemes that involve falsifying wiring instructions, the FTC warns. In a mortgage closing scam, a hacker poses as a title closing agent. He or she may email you fraudulent information about where to wire the money, or claim that there’s been a last-minute change to the details.

Closing for a home is an incredibly busy time, especially if you’ve struggled to qualify for the mortgage in the first place. To prevent mortgage closing scams, ask your title agent to send the wire information in an encrypted email. You can also request a call with the details.

Anyone who has been a victim of a mortgage closing scam should report it to the FBI immediately, and log a complaint in the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Complex lease-to-own deals

Owner financing isn’t necessarily a scam, but it can be complex. Many owner financing deals don’t put the title into your name until you’ve paid off the entire loan, and some deals require balloon payments after a few years, the FTC warns. If you can’t cover the balloon payment, you lose every cent of equity you’ve paid.

Even worse than difficult loan terms are situations when the owner can’t legally issue a first-lien loan. If the owner has used the house to secure any other loan, then the bank has a first-lien position on the loan.

Don’t sign an owner financing agreement until a lawyer explain the details of the loan to you. You must take steps to protect yourself from owner fraud if you want to own the house in the end.

Hard money loan scams

Hard money loans are real estate loans for investors interested in flipping a property. Hard money loans come with high interest rates, hefty down payments and short payback periods. Most of the time, hard money lenders evaluate project quality rather than investor credit when issuing loans.

If you’re considering a hard money loan at all, you should have plans to flip a property for a profit. If you can’t earn a profit on the house, then a hard money loan doesn’t make sense.

If you are considering a hard money loan because you can’t find traditional financing, be careful. There’s little oversight of hard money loans, so it’s important you know what you’re getting into with these products. You can check out this guide to hard money loans if you want to learn more.

FAQs

If a bank turns you down for a mortgage, you can ask for an explanation. When you ask, the lender has 30 days to prepare an answer in writing, as required by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. A few common responses include:

  • We don’t think you can afford the payment (for instance, you’ll have to high of a debt-to-income ratio).
  • Your credit score’s too low.
  • You have an insufficient down payment.

Anyone struggling to find a mortgage should consider working with a licensed mortgage broker in his/her county. Mortgage brokers work with multiple local banks and credit unions, and they can often help if a banker cannot.

The best credit score to get a mortgage is any score above a 740, but most people with credit scores above 620 will qualify for some mortgages. And yes, it’s possible to qualify for a mortgage if you have a score of 500-620.

Yes. If you took out a loan when you had bad credit, you may qualify for a much better rate by improving your credit after just one to two years of on-time payments on all your lines of credit, according to research from VantageScore Solutions. However, if your bad credit score is the result of foreclosure or bankruptcy, your credit score may not fully recover for seven to ten years, so don’t count on a massive rate drop right away if those are the reasons for your bad credit score.

Given how much easier it is to qualify for a mortgage and how much you can save when you have good credit, waiting to buy often makes sense.

VA loans don’t require a down payment, and they have no firm credit minimums, but you’ll still need to meet a bank’s underwriting standards (which could be as high as a 640 credit score). If you have a credit score of 580-640 and you meet other qualifying standards, you may qualify for a no-money-down USDA home loan..

Outside these options, the only no-money-down mortgages for people with bad credit include owner-held mortgages or rent-to-own deals. Do your homework.

Not all mortgages allow cosigners, but a cosigner could help you qualify. Asking someone to cosign essentially means asking that person to pay your mortgage if you’re ever unwilling or unable to pay the bill. We generally don’t recommend becoming a cosigner unless you plan to live in the house.

An adjustable-rate mortgage makes a lot of sense if you have bad credit and you are confident you can improve your credit score within seven years before your interest rate adjusts (in the case of a 7/1 ARM). If your credit improves, you may be able refinance at a lower, fixed rate before the interest rate adjustment takes place. However, this option is risky. You may be stuck with higher interest rates if your credit doesn’t improve or if interest rates rise by the time you need to refinance.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Auto Loan Interest Rates and Delinquencies: 2017 Facts and Figures

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Led by a prolonged period of low interest rates, consumers now have a record $1.2 trillion1 in outstanding auto loan debt. Despite record high levels of issuance, the auto lending market shows signs of tightening. With auto delinquencies on the rise, consumers are facing higher interest rates on both new and used vehicles. In particular, over the last three years, subprime borrowers saw rates rise faster than the market as a whole. MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in auto lending and interest rates to determine what’s really going on under the hood of automotive financing.

Key insights

  1. Overall auto delinquency is on the rise, and the first quarter of 2017 saw near record volume ($8.27 billion) in new severely delinquent auto loans.54
  2. Interest rates are on the rise, with average new car loan rates up to 5.2%, 93 basis points from their lows in late 2013.2
  3. The average duration of auto loans (new vehicles) is up to 66.53 months. The longer loans make monthly payments more manageable even as interest rates rise.31
  4. The median credit score for an auto loan borrower dropped to 698.6 This broke a five-quarter trend for rising credit scores among auto loan borrowers.

Facts and figures

  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 5.2%2
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 9.02%3
  • Average Loan Size New: $28,5694
  • Average Loan Size Used: $17,0785
  • Median Credit Score for Car Loan: 6986
  • % of Auto Loans to Subprime Consumers: 34.3%7

Subprime auto loans

  • Total Subprime Market Value: $234 billion8
  • Average Subprime LTV: 113.4%9
  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 11.35%10
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 16.49%11
  • Average Loan Size (New Car): $27,85312
  • Average Loan Size (Used Car): $16,24013
  • % Leasing: 24.5%14

Prime auto loans

  • Total Prime Market Value: $733 billion15
  • Average Prime LTV: 97.91%16
  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 3.96%17
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 5.42%18
  • Average Loan Size (New Car): $31,96419
  • Average Loan Size (Used Car): $20,84720
  • % Leasing: 36.5%21

Auto loan interest rates

Interest rates for auto loans continue to remain near historic lows. Interest rates for used cars is now 9.02% on average. The average interest rate on new cars (including leases) is 5.2%. However, the historically low rates belie a tightening of auto lending, especially for subprime borrowers.

New loan interest rates

Consumer credit information company Experian reports that the average interest rate on all new auto loans was 5.2%, up 93 basis points from the trough in the third quarter of 2013.24 Compared to the previous year, interest rates are up 38 basis points for new cars. The interest rate increase reflected underlying tightening in the auto loan market for new vehicles.

During the last few years, lenders tilted away from subprime borrowers. In the second quarter of 2017, just 10.02% of new loans went to subprime borrowers compared with peak subprime lending of 11.48% in the fourth quarter of 2015. The movement away from subprime borrowers led to a smaller increase in new car interest rates.25

Across all credit scoring segments, borrowers faced higher average borrowing rates. Subprime and deep subprime borrowers saw the largest absolute increases in rate hikes, but super prime borrowers also saw an 18-basis-point increase in their borrowing rates over the last year. The average interest rate for super-prime borrowers is now 3.05% on average, the highest it’s been since the end of 2011.27

When comparing credit scores to lending rates, we see a slow tightening in the auto lending market since the end of 2013. The trend is especially pronounced among subprime and deep subprime borrowers. These borrowers face auto loan interest rates growing at rates faster than the market average. Consumers should expect to see the trend toward slightly higher interest rates continue until the economic climate changes.

Even with the tightening, interest rates remain near historic lows for borrowers with fair credit and above. However, the low rates aren’t translating to consumers are paying less interest on their vehicle purchases. The estimated cost of interest on new vehicle purchases is now $4,378,29 up 52% from its low in the third quarter of 2013.

Growth in interest paid over the life of the loan stems from longer loans and higher average loan amounts. The average maturity for a new loan grew from 62.4 months in the third quarter of 2008 to 66.5 months in early 2017.31 During the same time, average loan amounts for new vehicles grew 15.3% to $29,134.32

Used loan interest rates

Over the past year, interest rates for used vehicles swung to their lowest rates ever, but recent movements show that interest rates for used cars may be stabilizing or climbing. Year over year, used car interest rates increased by 5 basis points to 9.02%. The drop in average interest rates came from a dramatic increase of prime borrowers entering the used car financing market. In the second quarter of 2017, 46.91% of used-car borrowers had prime or better credit. The year before, 45% of used borrowers were prime.34

On the whole, borrowers in the used car market face modest increases in interest rates compared to this time last year. Super prime and prime borrowers saw upticks of 27 basis points and 19 basis points, respectively. This brought the average super prime borrowing rate up to 3.68% for used vehicles, and the prime rate to 5.42%.36 Despite the recent increases, interest rates for prime borrowers are still near historic lows.

On the other end of the spectrum, subprime and deep subprime borrowers saw larger than average interest rate increases last quarter. Deep subprime interest rates grew to 19.73%, a 44 basis point increase from the previous year. Subprime borrowers face rates of 16.49% for used cars, up 39 basis points from the previous year. Interest rate hikes for subprime borrowers are part of a broader trend that started in 2009. Since 2009, interest rates for subprime borrowers are up nearly two full percentage points, and interest rates for deep subprime borrowers are up 3.5 percentage points.

Along with interest rate increases, the estimated interest paid on a used car loan sits at $4,279, up $227 from this time four years ago. Rising interest rates factor into the increased interest costs, but they are not the primary driver of interest costs. A more important factor in the total interest cost is the longer average loan terms for used cars (61 months vs. 59 months),38 leading to more interest paid over the life of a car loan.

Auto loan interest rates and credit score

As of June 2017, the median credit score for all auto loan borrowers was 698.40 Following a five quarter increase in median credit scores of auto borrowers, median credit scores fell below 700 for the first time since 2016.

In the second quarter of 2017, just 34.3% of all auto loans were issued to subprime borrowers compared with an average of 35% over the past three years. Ally Financial, the nation’s largest auto lender, limited subprime lending to just 11.6 percent of their auto loan portfolio, and Wells Fargo, the nation’s third largest auto lender, announced intentions to limit subprime auto lending to less than 10 percent of their auto portfolio. Despite the actions of these big banks, trends towards lending to the highest quality auto borrowers may show signs of normalizing near the 35% number again.

Total auto loan volume decreased dramatically between 2008 and 2010. During that time, subprime and deep subprime lending contracted faster than the rest of the market. Since early 2010, auto lending rebounded to near pre-recession levels, but subprime lending lagged in recovery. However, in the last year and a half, subprime lending volume has shown signs of total recovery. In the second quarter of 2017, banks issued $50.9 billion to subprime borrowers, surpassing the average $48.2 billion of subprime auto loans issued each quarter between 2005 and 2007.

Loan-to-value ratios and auto loan interest rates

One factor that influences auto loan interest rates is the initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. A ratio over 100% indicates that the driver owes more on the loan than the value of the vehicle. This happens when a car owner rolls “negative equity” into a new car loan.

Among prime borrowers, the average LTV was 97.91%. Among subprime borrowers, the average LTV was 113.40%.44 Both subprime and prime borrowers show improved LTV ratios from the 2007-2008 time frame. However, LTV ratios increased from 2012 to the present.

Research from the Experian Market Insights group46 showed that loan-to-value ratios well over 100% correlated to higher charge-off rates. As a result, car owners with higher LTV ratios can expect higher interest rates. An Automotive Finance Market report from Experian47 showed that loans for used vehicles with 140% LTV had a 3.03% higher interest rate than loans with a 95%-99% LTV. Loans for new cars charged just a 1.28% premium for high LTV loans.

Auto loan term length and interest rates

On average, auto loans with longer terms result in higher charge-off rates. As a result, financiers charge higher interest rates for longer loans. Despite the higher interest rates, longer loans are becoming increasingly popular in both the new and used auto loan market.

The average length to maturity for new car loans in the second quarter of 2017 is 66.5 months.48For used cars, the average is 61.1 months.49 Loans for both new and used cars are now more than six months longer on average than they were in 2009. Based on data from Experian, the increase in average length to maturity is driven primarily by an increasing concentration of borrowers taking out loans requiring 73-84 months of maturity.50

In the second quarter of 2017, just 7.3% of all new vehicle loans had payoff terms of 48 months or less, and 33.8% of all loans had payoff periods of more than 6 years.51 Among used car loans, 17.7% of loans had payoff periods less than 48 months, and an equal number, 17.7% of loans, had payoff periods more than six years.52

Auto loan delinquency rates

Despite a trend toward more prime lending, we’ve seen deterioration in the rates and volume of severe delinquency. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion in auto loans fell into severe delinquency.54 This is near an all-time high.

Overall, 3.92% of all auto loans are severely delinquent. Delinquent loans have been on the rise since 2014, and the overall rate of delinquent loans is well above the prerecession average of 2.3%.

Between 2007 and 2010, auto delinquency rates rose sharply, which led to a dramatic decline in overall auto lending. So far, the slow increase in auto delinquency between 2014 and the present has not been associated with a collapse in auto lending. In fact, the total outstanding balance is up 36% to $1.19 billion since 2014.57

However, the increase in auto delinquency means lenders may continue to tighten lending to subprime borrowers. Borrowers with subprime credit should make an effort to clean up their credit as much as possible before attempting to take out an auto loan. This is the best way to guarantee lower interest rates on auto loans.

Sources

  1. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  2. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Car Average Rates – Page 25, from Experian.TM
  3. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Average Rates – Page 25, from Experian.TM
  4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, October 2, 2017.
  5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for Used Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVEUANQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUANQ, October 2, 2017.
  6. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  7. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  8. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market” Loan Balance Risk Distribution Q2 2017 – Page 5, from Experian,TM and “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.(3.71% of All Loans Are Deep Subprime + 15.97% of All Loans Are Subprime)X ($1.190 trillion in Auto Loans)
  9. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  10. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Car Subprime Average Rates, Page 25, from Experian.TTM
  11. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Subprime Average Rates, Page 25, from Experian.TM
  12. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  13. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  14. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” % Leasing By Tier, Page 16, from Experian.TM
  15. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market” Loan Balance Risk Distribution Q2 2017 – Page 5, from Experian,TM and “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.(41.7% of All Loans Are Prime + 19.74% of All Loans Are Super Prime)X ($1.190 trillion in Auto Loans)
  16. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  17. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (New Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  18. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (Used Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  19. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  20. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  21. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” % Leasing By Tier, Page 16, from Experian.TM
  22. Graph 1 – Auto Loan Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  23. Graph 2 – Average New Vehicle Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  24. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (New Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  25. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  26. Graph 3 – % of New Car Loans Issued to Subprime Borrowers, data compiled from historic Experian State of the Automotive Finance Market Reports.
  27. Average Interest Rate by Credit Score, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  28. Graph 4 – Average Interest Rate by Credit Score (New Car Loans), data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  29. Calculated metric: Total Interest over the Life an Auto Loan (New Car).
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, October 2, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, October 2, 2017.
    3. Average New Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  30. Graph 5 – Estimated Interest on New Car Loan.
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, October 2, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, October, 2017.
    3. Average New Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  31. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, October 2, 2017.
  32. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, October 2, 2017.
  33. Graph 6 – Average Used Vehicle Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  34. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  35. Graph 7 – Lending By Credit Score Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017 “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  36. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Rates By Credit Tier (Used Cars), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  37. Graph 8 – Average Interest Rate by Credit Score (Used Car Loans), data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  38. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, October 2, 2017.
  39. Graph 9 – Calculated metric: Estimated Interest on Used Car Loans.
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for Used Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVEUANQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUANQ, October 2, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, October 2, 2017.
    3. Average Used Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  40. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  41. Graph 10 – Credit Score at Auto Loan Origination “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  42. Graph 11 – % of New Loans Issued to Subprime Borrowers. Calculated metric from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score ((<620+620-659)/Total Lending), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  43. Graph 12 – Auto Loan Origination by Credit Tier “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  44. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  45. Graph 13 – Average LTV at Auto Loan Origination “U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  46. Understanding automotive loan charge-off patterns can help mitigate lender risk,” from Experian.TM Accessed July 17, 2017.
  47. State of the Automotive Finance Market Q4 2010,” Pages 25-26, from Experian.TM
  48. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, October 2, 2017.
  49. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, October 2, 2017.
  50. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  51. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  52. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  53. Graph 14 – Average Auto Loan Length to Maturity (Months).
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, October 2, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, October 2, 2017.
  54. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Transition into serious delinquency (90+ days): Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  55. Graph 15 – New Severely Delinquent Auto Loans (90+ Days) “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Transition into serious delinquency (90+ days): Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  56. Graph 16 – % of All Loans Severely Delinquent “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” % of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017.
  57. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 7, 2017. (Q1 2014 compared to Q2 2017.)
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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U.S. Mortgage Market Statistics: 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Homeownership rates in America are at all-time lows. The housing crisis of 2006-2009 made banks skittish to issue new mortgages. Despite programs designed to lower down payment requirements, mortgage originations haven’t recovered to pre-crisis levels, and many Americans cannot afford to buy homes.

Will a new generation of Americans have access to home financing that drove the wealth of previous generations? We’ve gathered the latest data on mortgage debt statistics to explain who gets home financing, how mortgages are structured, and how Americans are managing our debt.

Summary:

  • Total Mortgage Debt: $9.9 trillion1
  • Average Mortgage Balance: $137,0002
  • Average New Mortgage Balance: $244,0003
  • % Homeowners (Owner-Occupied Homes): 63.4%4
  • % Homeowners with a Mortgage: 65%5
  • Median Credit Score for a New Mortgage: 7546
  • Average Down Payment Required: $12,8297
  • Mortgages Originated in 2016: $2.065 trillion8
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Banks: 43.9%9
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Credit Unions: 9%9
  • % of Mortgages Originated by Non-Depository Lenders: 47.1%9

Key Insights:

  • The median borrower in America puts 5% down on their home purchase. This leads to a median loan-to-value ratio of 95%. A decade ago, the median borrower put down 20%.10
  • Credit score requirements are starting to ease somewhat The median mortgage borrower had a credit score of 754 from a high of 781 in the first quarter of 20126
  • 1.24% of all mortgages are in delinquency. In 2009, mortgage delinquency reached as high as 8.35%.11

Home Ownership and Equity Levels

In the second quarter of 2017, real estate values in the United States surpassed their pre- housing crisis levels. The total value of real estate owned by individuals in the United States is $24 trillion, and total mortgages clock in at $9.9 trillion. This means that Americans have $13.9 trillion in homeowners equity.12 This is the highest value of home equity Americans have ever seen.

However, real estate wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated as overall homeownership rates fall. In 2004, 69% of all Americans owned homes. Today, that number is down to 63.4%.4 While home affordability remains a question for many Americans, the downward trend in homeownership corresponds to banks’ tighter credit standards following the Great Recession.

New Mortgage Originations

Mortgage origination levels show signs of recovery from their housing crisis lows. In 2008, financial institutions issued just $1.4 trillion of new mortgages. In 2016, new first lien mortgages topped $2 trillion for the first time since the end of the housing crisis, but mortgage originations were still 25 percent lower than their pre-recession average.8 So far, 2017 has proved to be a lackluster year for mortgage originations. Through the second quarter of 2017, banks originated just $840 billion in new mortgages.

 

As recently as 2010, three banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase) originated 56 percent of all mortgages.13 In 2016, all banks put together originated just 44 percent of all loans.9

In a growing trend toward “non-bank” lending, both credit unions and nondepository lenders cut into banks’ share of the mortgage market. In 2016, credit unions issued 9 percent of all mortgages. Additionally, 47% of all mortgages in 2016 came from non-depository lending institutions like Quicken Loans and PennyMac. Behind Wells Fargo ($249 billion) and Chase ($117 billion), Quicken ($96 billion) was the third largest issuer of mortgages in 2016. In the fourth quarter of 2016, PennyMac issued $22 billion in loans and was the fourth largest lender overall.9

Government vs. Private Securitization

Banks tend to be more willing to issue new mortgages if a third party will buy the mortgage in the secondary market. This is a process called loan securitization. Consumers can’t directly influence who buys their mortgage, but mortgage securitization influences who gets mortgages and their rates. Over the last five years government securitization enterprises, FHA and VA loans, and portfolio loan securitization have risen. However, private loan securitization which constituted over 40% of securitization in 2005 and 2006 is almost extinct today.

Government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) have traditionally played an important role in ensuring that banks will issue new mortgages. Through the second quarter of 2017, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac purchased 46% of all newly issued mortgages. However, in absolute terms, Fannie and Freddie are purchasing less than in past years. In 2016, GSEs purchased 20% fewer loans than they did in the years leading up to 2006.8

Through the second quarter of 2017, a tiny fraction (0.7%) of all loans were purchased by private securitization companies.8 Prior to 2007, private securitization companies held $1.6 trillion in subprime and Alt-A (near prime) mortgages. In 2005 alone, private securitization companies purchased $1.1 trillion worth of mortgages. Today private securitization companies hold just $490 billion in total assets, including $420 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans.14

As private securitization firms exited the mortgage landscape, programs from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have filled in some of the gap. The FHA and VA are designed to help borrowers get loans despite having smaller down payments or lower incomes. FHA and VA loans accounted for 23 percent of all loans issued in 2016, and 25 percent in the first half of 2017. These loan programs are the only mortgages that grew in absolute terms from the pre-mortgage crisis. Prior to 2006, FHA and VA loans only accounted for $155 billion in loans per year. In 2016, FHA and VA loans accounted for $470 billion in loans issued.8

Portfolio loans, mortgages held by banks, accounted for $639 billion in new mortgages in 2016. Despite tripling in volume from their 2009 low, portfolio loans remain down 24% from their pre-crisis average.8

Mortgage Credit Characteristics

Since banks are issuing 21% fewer mortgages compared to pre-crisis averages, borrowers need higher incomes and better credit to get a mortgage.

The median FICO score for an originated mortgage rose from 707 in late 2006 to 754 today. The scores on the bottom decile of mortgage borrowers rose even more dramatically from 578 to 648.6

Despite the dramatic credit requirement increases from 2006 to today, banks are starting to relax lending standards somewhat. In the first quarter of 2012, the median borrower had a credit score of 781, a full 27 points higher than the median borrower today.

In 2016, 23% of all first lien mortgages were financed through FHA or VA programs. First-time FHA borrowers had an average credit score of 677. This puts the average first-time FHA borrower in the bottom quartile of all mortgage borrowers.8

Prior to 2009, an average of 20% of all volumes originated went to people with subprime credit scores (<660). In the second quarter of 2017, just 9% of all mortgages were issued to borrowers with subprime credit scores. Who replaced subprime borrowers? The share of mortgages issued to borrowers people with excellent credit (scores above 760) doubled. Between 2003 and 2008 just 27% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit. In the second quarter of 2017, 54% of all mortgages went to people with excellent credit.6

Banks have also tightened lending standards related to maximum debt-to-income ratios for their mortgages. In 2007, conventional mortgages had an average debt-to-income ratio of 38.6%; today the average ratio is 34.3%.15 The lower debt-to-income ratio is in line with pre-crisis levels.

LTV and Delinquency Trends

Banks continue to screen customers on the basis of credit score and income, but customers who take on mortgages are taking on bigger mortgages than ever before. Today a new mortgage has an average unpaid balance of $244,000, according to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.3

The primary drivers behind larger loans are higher home prices, but lower down payments also play a role. Prior to the housing crisis, more than half of all borrowers put down at least 20%. The average loan-to-value ratio at loan origination was 82%.10

Today, half of all borrowers put down 5% or less. More than 10% of borrowers put 0% down. As a result, the average loan-to-value ratio at origination has climbed to 87%.10

Despite a growing trend toward smaller down payments, growing home prices mean that overall loan-to-value ratios in the broader market show healthy trends. Today, the average loan-to-value ratio across all homes in the United States is an estimated 42%. The average LTV on mortgaged homes is 68%.16

This is substantially higher than the pre-recession LTV ratio of approximately 60%. However, homeowners saw very healthy improvements in loan-to-value ratios of 94% in early 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 more than a quarter of all mortgaged homes had negative equity. Today, just 5.4% of homes have negative equity.17

Although the current LTV on mortgaged homes remains above historical averages, Americans continue to manage mortgage debt well. Current homeowners have mortgage payments that make up an average of just 16.5% of their annual household income.18

Mortgage delinquency rates stayed constant at their all-time low (1.24%). This low delinquency rate came following 30 straight quarters of falling delinquency, and are well below the 2009 high of 8.35% delinquency.11

Today, delinquency rates have fully returned to their pre-crisis lows, and can be expected to stay low until the next economic recession.

Sources:

  1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS September 28, 2017.
  2. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2017,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  3. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2015.” Accessed June 22, 2017.
  4. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Homeownership Rate for the United States [USHOWN], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USHOWN, September 28, 2017. (Calculated as percent of all housing units occupied by an owner occupant.)
  5. “U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates,” Mortgage Status, Owner-Occupied Housing Units. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  6. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  7. Calculated metric:
    1. Down Payment Value = Home Price* Average Down Payment Amount (Average Unpaid Balance on a New Mortgageb / Median LTV on a New Loanc) * (1 – Median LTV on a New Loanc)
    2. Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “Average Loan Amount, 1-4 family dwelling, 2015.” Accessed September 28, 2017. Gives an average unpaid principal balance on a new loan = $244K.
    3. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Page 17, Median Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  8. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” First Lien Origination Volume from the Urban Institute. Source: Inside Mortgage Finance and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff.
  9. Mortgage Daily. 2017. “Mortgage Daily 2016 Biggest Lender Ranking” [Press Release] Retrieved from https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/04/03/953457/0/en/Mortgage-Daily-2016-Biggest-Lender-Ranking.html.
  10. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Combined LTV at Origination from the Urban Institute, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic, eMBS, HMDA, SIFMA, and Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  11. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit August 2017.” Mortgage Delinquency Rates, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  12. Calculated metric: Value of U.S. Real Estatea – Mortgage Debt Held by Individualsb
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
  13. Mortgage Daily, 2017. “3 Biggest Lenders Close over Half of U.S. Mortgages” [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.mortgagedaily.com/PressRelease021511.asp?spcode=chronicle.
  14. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017” Size of the US Residential Mortgage Market, Page 6 and Private Label Securities by Product Type, Page 7, from the Urban Institute Private Label Securities by Product Type, Urban Institute, calculated from: Corelogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  15. Fannie Mae Statistical Summary Tables: April 2017” from Fannie Mae. Accessed June 22, 2017; and “Single Family Loan-Level Dataset Summary Statistics” from Freddie Mac. Accessed June 22, 2017. Combined debt-to-income ratios weighted using original unpaid balance from both datasets.
  16. Calculated metrics:
    1. All Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / Value of All U.S. Homesd
    2. Mortgages Houses LTV = Value of All Mortgagesc / (Value of All Homesd – Value of Homes with No Mortgagee)
    3. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households; Owner-Occupied Real Estate including Vacant Land and Mobile Homes at Market Value [HOOREVLMHMV], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HOOREVLMHMV, September 28, 2017.
    4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), Households and Nonprofit Organizations; Home Mortgages; Liability, Level [HHMSDODNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/HHMSDODNS, September 28, 2017.
    5. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Aggregate Value (Dollars) by Mortgage Status, September 28, 2017.
  17. Housing Finance at a Glance: A Monthly Chartbook, September 2017.” Negative Equity Share, Page 22. Source: CoreLogic and the Urban Institute. Data provided by Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Staff. Accessed September 28, 2017
  18. Survey of Consumer Expectations Housing Survey – 2017,” Credit Quality and Inclusion, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessed September 28, 2017.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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America’s Super Saving Cities: The Regional Forces Shaping America’s Saving Landscape

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Where do America’s biggest savers live? Using IRS and U.S. Census data, MagnifyMoney created a City Saving Score for over 2,000 U.S. cities to explore which cities have the most savers and which cities have the biggest savings accounts.

On average, 29 percent of Americans who filed tax returns in 2016 earned interest income on their savings. Average interest income was $530 per return, representing 0.8 percent of total reported income. But regional, demographic and economic forces drive some cities to become super savers while others languish behind. Residents of Greenwich, Conn., earned an average of more than $25,000 in interest income per resident, while in Camden, N.J., just 4 percent of the residents had enough savings to require reporting to the IRS.

Why is there so much variation?

In this report, MagnifyMoney reveals America’s super saving cities, and the forces driving their success as savers.

Key Findings

  • Scarsdale and Garden City, N.Y., are tied for #1 as the cities with the biggest savers overall, with a City Saving Score of 99.6 out of 100.
  • Los Altos, Calif., has the highest concentration of savers — 71 percent of residents reported interest income on their tax returns.
  • Greenwich, Conn., residents earned the most from interest on savings — over $25,000 per filer.
  • Among cities with incomes under $150,000 a year, The Villages, Fla., had the biggest savers with a City Saving Score of 98.5.
  • Camden, N.J., had the lowest activity among savers — only 4 percent of residents reported interest income and an average $8 a year in interest.
  • Communities in the New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago metros represented over 75 percent of the top 5 percent of city saving rankings.

Behind the rankings: The ‘City Saving Score’

There is no comprehensive data that shows the average amount Americans are saving at a metro or city level, so we had to get a bit creative to determine where the biggest savers live.

To rank cities, MagnifyMoney created a “City Saving Score.” Using data for over 2,000 cities, MagnifyMoney ranked cities based on three factors:

  • Breadth of community savings (measured by the percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income, ranked by percentile).
  • Dedication to savings relative to income levels (measured by the percentage of total income that came from interest, ranked by percentile).
  • Magnitude of savings in the community (measured by the average interest income per tax return, ranked by percentile).

Top cities for big savers: Scarsdale and Garden City, New York

Scarsdale, N.Y., and Garden City, N.Y., scored the highest marks on our City Saving Score, with scores of 99.6 out of a possible 100.

They have an obvious advantage on the savings front — Scarsdale residents report an average income of more than $450,000 per tax return, putting them in the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S. today.

On average, savers in Scarsdale declared $9,258 in interest income — 17.5 times as much as the average American saver, who declared $530 in 2016.

Scarsdale savers are also enjoying a higher savings rate than many others. According to the IRS data, 2 percent of their income came from interest earned from savings accounts, which is 2.5 times the national rate of 0.8 percent.

It’s not just the savings volume driving Scarsdale’s place at the top. Two-thirds of Scarsdale residents reported interest income on their tax returns in 2016. That’s more than twice the national rate of 29 percent.

In Garden City, N.Y., residents earned just over $247,000 on average, putting the average household in the top 5 percent of American earners. Just under two-thirds (64 percent) of Garden City residents report income from interest.

However, with the average Garden City resident declaring $5,520 in interest, that represents 2.2 percent of overall income (10 percent more than their peers in Scarsdale, and almost three times the national rate).

The city where (almost) everyone saves: Los Altos, California

In addition to focusing on the amount people earn from their savings, we wanted to look at the share of savers in each city, which gives us an idea of a community’s total commitment to saving. The IRS requires anyone who earns more than $10 in interest income to declare interest income on their tax return. Even in the current low-interest environment, many middle-income savers could have qualified to declare interest income in 2016.

Among the top 10 cities with the most savers, two (The Villages, Fla., and Sun City West, Ariz.) had average incomes below $100,000 in 2016. Both cities feature large retirement communities, and these residents may have a higher propensity to keep their investments liquid compared with younger residents.

However the city with the most savers was Los Altos, Calif., where the average reported income is $476,000 annually. In Los Altos, nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of residents were savers. This is more than double the national average of 29 percent. The average interest income in Los Altos, Calif., was $5,299 — 10 times the national average.

Sky-high interest income in Greenwich, Connecticut

Greenwich, Conn., may not have the highest share of savers in the country (just over half (52 percent) of the city’s residents declared interest income on their tax returns in 2016). But their savers are making a bundle on earned interest.

Average interest income per return for the 2016 tax year was $25,451 — more than 48 times the national average of $530. If savers in Greenwich earned an average of 2% interest on their savings, the average saver would have held nearly $1.3 million in savings. The more than $25,000 in interest income constitutes 3.8 percent of the average reported Greenwich income, which is $664,000 annually thanks to a large number of hedge fund managers and other finance executives living in the area.

In terms of absolute interest income, Greenwich savers lead the pack by a wide margin. Second place Beverly Hills earns $16,638 in interest, just two-thirds of the Greenwich rate. In third place, Scarsdale earns $9,258.

Where do the biggest savers live?

Over three-quarters (77 percent) of the cities with scores of 95 or above came from just five major metro areas. These include the New York Tri-State area, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and Chicago. Retirement communities in Arizona and Florida also feature prominently in the top saving communities, while just 15 percent of all major savings hubs are outside one of the areas mentioned above.

High saving doesn’t require high income

All cities with average incomes in excess of $250,000 earned a savings score of 90. However, some cities with lower incomes made surprise appearances near the top of the savings ranking.

In fact, 14 cities with incomes under $150,000 a year had scores of 95 or above in our study. Many of these “thrifty cities” have large retiree populations like The Villages, Fla., and Sun City West, Ariz. However, other thrifty cities included family-oriented suburbs where average households earned an upper-middle-class income.

  • Agoura Hills, Calif. (96.6 score), a Los Angeles suburb where a quarter of all residents are under the age of 19. Average income among tax filers in the city is $137,000, 60 percent of the average income of other top saving cities. Despite having more children and lower incomes than most other big saving cities, half of Agoura Hills households reported interest income. The average saver in Agoura Hills earned $1,913 per year in interest, 3.6 times the national average of $530.
  • Arcadia, Calif. (95.7 score) is another Los Angeles suburb with an average reported income of $101,000. In addition to modest average incomes (by Southern California standards), nearly 1 in 4 residents in Arcadia is under the age of 19. This means that plenty of households have to pay the high costs of raising kids. In spite of this, 48 percent of taxpayers report interest income, with the average return boasting $1,420 in interest income.
  • Towson, Md. (95.1 score), home of Towson University. In the Baltimore suburb, half (49 percent) of filers report interest income from savings. Despite an average reported income of $125,558, savers earned an average of $1,464 in interest income in 2014.

Where saving isn’t happening

Although rising interest rates are a boon for savers, plenty of communities will struggle as consumer debt rates rise, and income prospects remain middling. The cities with the lowest savings scores are spread throughout the country, but they have a few things in common. The average reported income in the bottom 5 percent was $35,000. That’s 41 percent less than the median income household in the United States today.

Most of the worst saving cities lost job-heavy industries over the course of the last 20 to 50 years. Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Mich., and East St. Louis, Ill., over-represent the bottom 5 percent in savings ranks. Likewise, former industrial towns in the Northeast like Camden, N.J., and Chester, Pa., also fell into the bottom 5 percent of saving cities. Many of the worst saving cities suffer from declining populations as younger generations seek economic opportunities elsewhere.

METHODOLOGY: How we ranked cities with the biggest savers

To rank cities, MagnifyMoney created a “City Saving Score” on a scale of 0 to 100 that included three equally weighted components:

  • How broadly members of the community saved (measured by the percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income, ranked by percentile).
  • The community’s dedication to saving regardless of their income (measured by the percentage of total income that came from interest, ranked by percentile).
  • The absolute magnitude of savings in the community (measured by the average interest income per tax return, ranked by percentile).

MagnifyMoney measured these factors using anonymized data from tax returns filed with the IRS from January 1 to December 31, 2016. ZIP code level data was translated to a city level using the primary city assigned to each ZIP code. The study was limited to cities with a combined primary ZIP code population of 25,000 or more.

To be counted as a saving household, the taxpayer must declare interest income using a form 1099 on their 2016 tax returns. Any filers who earned over $10 on investments, including a high-yield checking or savings account, a CD, a money market account or certain types of taxable bonds, would have reported this income to the IRS.

Interest income is an imperfect way to measure a particular community’s dedication to saving. Many people keep their cash in low-yield checking accounts, and some savers will not use financial instruments declared on Form 1099. In many parts of the country, savers and investors may prefer to build wealth using stocks, real estate or other forms of investments while keeping lower cash reserves.

Despite these drawbacks, interest income from the 1099 form represents a useful proxy for overall savings. The financial instruments that require 1099 reporting include many types of liquid savings that are easily accessible with negligible risk. Most people use interest-bearing accounts to hold funds for use in the case of job loss or a related emergency, or to mitigate consumer debt by paying for larger purchases in cash.

 

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Average Household Credit Card Debt in America: 2017 Statistics

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Even as household income and employment rates are ticking up in the U.S., credit card balances are approaching all-time highs. What’s behind the growth of credit card spending among consumers? In a new report on credit card debt in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed credit debt trends in the U.S. to find out exactly how much credit debt consumers are really taking on and, crucially, how they are managing their growing reliance on plastic.

Key Insights:

  • While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. As of December 2016, households with credit card debt owed an average of $8,158, down 22.9 percent compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.
  • Credit card balances and credit card debt are not the same thing. The 73 million Americans who pay their bill in full each month have credit card balances reported to the major credit reporting bureaus.
  • Assessing financial health means focusing on credit card debt trends rather than credit card use trends.

Credit Card Debt in the U.S. by the Numbers

Credit Card Use

Number of Americans who use credit cards: 201 million1

Average number of credit cards per consumer: 2.32

Number of Americans who carry credit card debt: 125 million3

Credit Card Debt

The following figures only include the credit card balances of those who carry credit card debt from month to month.

Total credit card debt in the U.S.: $527 billion4

Average credit card debt per person: $4,2055

Average credit card debt per household: $8,1586

Credit Card Balances

The following figures include the credit card statement balances of all credit card users, including those who pay their bill in full each month.

Total credit card balances: $784 billion as of January 2017, an increase of 7.4 percent from the previous year.7

Average balance per person: $3,9058

Who Pays Off Their Credit Card Bills?

42 percent of households pay off their credit card bills in full each month

31 percent of households carry a balance all year

27 percent of households sometimes carry a balance10

Understanding Household Credit Card Balances vs. Household Debt

At first glance, it may seem that Americans are taking on near record levels of credit debt. Forty-two percent of American households11 carry credit card debt from month to month, and, if you look at the total credit card balances among U.S. households, the figure appears astronomical — $784 billion. But that figure includes households that are paying their credit debt in full each month as well as those that are carrying a balance from month to month.

While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The total of credit card balances for households that actually carry debt from month to month is $527 billion.

As of the second quarter of 2017, households with credit card debt owed an average of $8,158.3 That is a decrease of 22.9 percent compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.12b

And as household incomes have risen in recent years, this has helped to lower the ratio of credit card debt to income. Today, indebted households with average debt and median household incomes have a credit card debt to income ratio of 14.4 percent.13 Back in 2008, the ratio was 19.1 percent.

Per Person Credit Card Debt

Once we adjust for these effects, we see that an estimated 125 million Americans carry $527 billion of credit card debt from month to month. Back in 2008, 5 million fewer Americans carried debt, but total credit card debt in late 2008 hovered around $631 billion.16 That means people with credit card debt in 2008 had more debt than people with credit card debt today.

Average credit card debt among those who carry a balance today is $4,205 per person2 or $8,158 per household.3 Back in 2008, credit card debtors owed an average of 23.7 percent more than they do today. In late 2008, the 115 million17 Americans with credit card debt owed an average of $5,567 per person12a or $10,689 per household.12b

Delinquency Rates

Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying. When a consumer doesn’t pay for at least 90 days, the credit card balance becomes seriously delinquent. Banks are very likely to take a total loss on seriously delinquent balances.

In the second quarter of 2010, serious delinquency rates on credit cards were 13.74 percent of all balances owed, nearly twice as what they are today. Today, credit card delinquency rates are down to 7.38 percent.14

Our Method of Calculating Household Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt doesn’t appear on the precipice of disaster, but the recent growth in balances is cause for some concern. Still, our estimates for household credit card debt remain modest.

In fact, MagnifyMoney’s estimates of household credit card debt is two-thirds that of other leading financial journals. Why are our estimates comparatively low?

A common estimate of household credit card debt is:

This method overstates credit card debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel (CCP) does not release a figure called credit card indebtedness. Instead, they release a figure on national credit card balances. Representatives of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank both confirmed that the CCP includes the statement balances of people who go on to pay their bill in full each month.

To find a better estimate of credit card debt, we found methods to exclude the statement balances of full paying households from our credit card debt estimates. Statement balances are the balances owed to a credit card company at the end of a billing cycle. Even though full payers pay off their statement balance each month, their balances are included in the CCP’s figures on credit card balances.

To exclude full payer balances, we turned to academic research outside of the Federal Reserve Banks. The paper, Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards, by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, found full payers had mean statement balances of $3,412. We used this figure, multiplied by the estimated number of full payers to find the statement balances of full payers.

Our credit card debt estimate is:3

Credit Card Debt: Do We Know What We Owe?

Academic papers, consumer finance surveys, and the CCP each use different methods to measure average credit card debt among credit card revolvers. Since methodologies vary, credit card debt statistics vary based on the source consulted.

MagnifyMoney surveyed these sources to present a range of credit card debt statistics.

Are We Paying Down Credit Card Debt?

A Pew Research Center study25 showed that Americans have an uneasy relationship with credit card debt. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans believe that loans and credit card debt expanded their opportunities. And 85 percent believe that Americans use debt to live beyond their means.

Academic research shows the conflicting attitude is justified. Some credit card users aggressively pay off debt. Others pay off their bill in full each month.

However, a substantial minority (44 percent)26 of revolvers pay within $50 of their minimum payment. Minimum payers are at a high risk of carrying unsustainable credit card balances with high interest.

In fact, 14 percent of consumers have credit card balances above $10,000.27 At current rates, consumers with balances of $10,000 will spend more than $1,400 per year on interest charges alone.28

Even an average revolver will spend between $58130 and $59731 on credit card interest each year.

Credit Debt Burden by Income

Those with the highest credit card debts aren’t necessarily the most financially insecure. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances, the top 10 percent of income earners who carried credit card debt had nearly twice as much debt as average.

However, people with lower incomes have more burdensome credit card debt loads. Consumers in the lowest earning quintile had an average credit card debt of $3,000. However, their debt-to-income ratio was 21.7 percent. On the high end, earners in the top decile had an average of $11,200 in credit card debt. But debt-to-income ratio was just 4.9 percent.

Although high-income earners have more manageable credit card debt loads on average, they aren’t taking steps to pay off the debt faster than lower income debt carriers. In fact, high-income earners are as likely to pay the minimum as those with below average incomes.32 If an economic recession leads to job losses at all wage levels, we could see high levels of credit card debt in default.

Generational Differences in Credit Card Use

  • Boomer consumers carry an average credit card balance of $6,889.
  • That is 24.1 percent higher than the national average consumer credit card balance.34
  • Millennial consumers carry an average credit card balance of $3,542.
  • That is 36.1 percent lower than the median consumer credit card balance.35

With average credit card balances of $6,889, baby boomers have the highest average credit card balance of any generation. Generation X follows close behind with average balances of $6,866.

At the other end of the spectrum, millennials, who are often characterized as frivolous spenders who are too quick to take on debt, have the lowest credit card balances. Their median balance clocks in at $3,542, 36.1 percent less than the national median.

Better Consumer Behavior Driving Bank Profitability

You may think that lower balances spell bad news for banks, but that isn’t the case. Credit card lending is more profitable than ever thanks to steadily declining credit card delinquency. Credit card delinquency is near an all-time low 2.34 percent.14

Despite better borrowing behavior, banks have held interest on credit cards steady between 13% and 14%37 since 2010. Today, interest rates on credit accounts (assessed interest) is 14%. This means bank profits on credit cards are at all-time highs. In 2015, banks earned over $102 billion dollars from credit card interest and fees.38 This is 15 percent more than banks earned in 2010.

How Does Your State Compare?

Using data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, you can compare median credit card balances and credit card delinquency. You can even see how each generation in your state compares to the national median.

Median Credit Card Balance by Age (All Consumers) by State

Footnotes:

  1. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows 75.02 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 268 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users.
  2. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit , Page 4, Q1 2017, 453 million credit card accounts. 459 million credit card accounts / 201 million credit card users1 = 2.3 credit cards per person.
  3. The 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households reports 58 percent of credit card users carried a balance in 2015. 201 million1 * 58% = 116 million people with credit card debt.Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67 percent of credit card users were not “full payers.” This results in a high estimate of 135 million people with credit card debt.

    Average estimate is 125 million with credit card debt.

  4. Using data from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, 201 million credit card users * (58 percent not full payers) * $4,262 per individual5 = $496 billion in credit card debt.Using data from Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate 201 million credit card users * (67 percent not full payers) * $4,148 per individual5 = $558 billion in credit card debt.

    Average estimated total credit card debt is $527 billion.

  5. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $784 billion in outstanding credit card debt. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:[$784 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 201 million credit card users1)] / (201 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $4,148

    Using their estimate of 42 percent full payers, from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households and the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    [$784 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 42% full payer * 201 million credit card users1)] / (201 million credit card users * (100% – 42% not full payers)) = $4,262

    Average estimated credit card debt per person is $4,205.

  6. Average per person credit card is $4,2055 and the average household contains 1.94 adults over the age of 18. $4,205 * 1.94 = $8,158.
  7. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Compare Q2 2016 to Q2 2017, outstanding credit card debt (Page 3).
  8. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q2 2017, credit card debt $784 billion / 201 million1 = $3,905.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. National Balance on Bankcards — average of $5,551.
  10. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.
  11. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1 percent of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1 percent of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.

    Between 48 million14 and 58 million15 households carry credit card debt. Using the average of the two estimates, we believe 53 million households out of 125.82 million households carry credit card debt.

  12. a. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:

    [$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users)] / (183 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $5,365

    U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5 percent of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    [$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports)] / (240 million people with credit reports * (44.5% not full payers)) = $5,769

    Average estimated credit card debt per person is $5,567.

    b. Average per person credit card is $5,56712a and in 2008, the average household contained 1.92 adults over the age of 18. $5,567 * 1.92 = $10,689.

  13. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Real Median Household Income in the United States [MEHOINUSA672N], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N, September 6, 2017.
  14. August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit , Page 12, % of Total Balance 90+ Days Delinquent, Credit Cards
  15. Statement balances are the balances owed to a credit card company at the end of a billing cycle. Full payers will pay off the entirety of their statement balance each month. Finding an estimate of full payers” statement balances was not an easy task. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York does not provide estimates of full payers compared to people who carry a balance.In order to get our estimates, we turned to academic research outside of the Federal Reserve Banks. In the paper, Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we found robust estimates of the statement balances of “full payers.” According to their analysis (see Table 1-A), full payers had mean statement balances of $3,412 (when summarized across all credit cards) before they went on to pay off the debt.

    We multiplied $3,412 by the estimated number of full payers to get the estimated balances of full payers.

  16. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33 percent full payers, we calculate:

    $866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users) = $659 billion

    U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5 percent of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:

    $866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports) = $587 billion

    Estimated credit card debt is $623 billion.

  17. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 75.02 percent of the adult population uses credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households shows that 58 percent of households with credit cards sometimes or always carry a balance.

    201 million * 58% = 116 million people with credit card debt

  18. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The October 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 75.02 percent of the adult population uses credit cards. The August 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 201 million credit card users. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67 percent of credit card users were not “full payers.”

    201 million * 67% = 135 million people with credit card debt

  19. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1 percent of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.
  20. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1 percent of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.
  21. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $2,300 per household with credit card debt.
  22. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic median credit card debt of $3,500 per household. Two-person households systematically underreported their debt.
  23. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $5,700 per household with credit card debt.
  24. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic average credit card debt of $9,600 per household.
  25. The Complex Story of American Debt, Page 9.
  26. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  27. Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing.
  28. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, September 7, 2017.May 2017 interest rate on accounts assessed interest 14%: $10,000 * 14% = $1,400.
  29. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  30. $4,1482 * 14%28 = $581
  31. $4,2622 * 14%28 = $597
  32. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  33. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for baby boomers is $6,889 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for millennials is $3,542 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  36. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, September 7, 2017.
  37. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sources of Revenue: Credit Card Income from Consumers for Credit Intermediation and Related Activities, All Establishments, Employer Firms [REVCICEF522ALLEST], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/REVCICEF522ALLEST, September 7, 2017.
  38. CCP data shows 76.6 percent of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q3 2008, credit card debt $886 billion / 183 million = $4,720
  39. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017. All average credit card debt balances are calculated using the following formula:(Total Credit Card Balancea – Balance of Population Not Carrying Debtb) / Population Carrying Credit Card Debtc
    1. Total Credit Card Balance = (Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population)
    2. Balance of Population Not Carrying Debt = Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card
    3. Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card * (1 – .375)
  40. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017.
  41. Data from Consumer Credit Explorer.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Identity Theft Protection

Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection Guide

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Theft Protection Guide

NEW! Updated after the Equifax data breach

Equifax recently announced that the Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and (in some instances) driver’s license numbers of 143 million people had been hacked. Here is a quick summary of the best steps to take to protect yourself – whether you were impacted by the hack or not. People should have a plan to:

  1. Prevent identity theft from happening with a credit freeze.
  2. Detect identity theft as soon as possible, with credit monitoring and account alerts. There are both free and subscription services available.
  3. Resolve identity theft if it does happen. You can either get help or do it yourself.

Our full identity theft guide is still below this summary. But, in light of the Equifax data breach, we wanted to provide you with some quick recommendations.

1. Prevention

If someone has stolen your personal information, you will want to prevent people from being able to open new credit accounts in your name. You can do that by freezing your credit. A credit freeze prevents any third party from obtaining a copy of your credit report. That means that new credit accounts cannot be opened. (You can read our full credit freeze guide here). Depending upon the state, there is typically a one-time fee to freeze your credit. And if you want to apply for credit, you would use a pin code (generated at the time of the freeze) to un-freeze your account. Here is where to go to freeze your credit:

In addition, you will want to set up 2-factor authentication on all open accounts (especially your bank accounts or email). That means any time you want to access your account or send money, you would need to receive a text message, email, phone call or confirm via an app.

2. Detection

Even if you freeze your credit, you should have credit monitoring in place. And if your credit isn’t frozen, you definitely need credit monitoring. With credit monitoring, you will be notified as soon as someone tries to open a new account. In addition, you will be notified if new negative information hits your credit report. (Even if you have a credit freeze, someone could use your Social Security number at a hospital. That medical debt could end up with a collection agency – and on your credit report. Only with monitoring would you know.)

You can get 1-bureau monitoring for free. You have to pay for 3-bureau monitoring. Here are our recommendations:

  • Best Free (1-bureau) monitoring: CreditKarma

With CreditKarma, you can monitor your TransUnion credit report daily. You will be notified of any change to your credit report – including newly opened accounts, inquiries or collection items.

  • Cheapest 3-bureau monitoring: CreditSesame ($15.95 per month)

With CreditSesame you can monitor all 3 credit bureaus daily. This will cost you $15.95 a month, and does not include resolution services. If you are very concerned about identity theft, 3-bureau monitoring could be worth the investment.

 

  • Set up alerts on all active accounts (free)

Most banks, credit card companies and credit unions have a feature that allows you to receive an alert (text message or email). Make sure you set these up for all accounts – especially accounts that you rarely or never use. (You can read our guide to setting up alerts here.)

3. Resolution

If you are the victim of identity theft, you will need a game plan for resolution. The best place to start is IdentityTheft.gov, where you can see a full checklist of the steps to take to ensure you minimize losses and regain control of your identity.

You might want to have help with the resolution process. That is where credit resolution services come in. In a best case scenario, you give power of attorney to the company, and you will have a dedicated case worker handling everything (which can take years).

  • Cheapest resolution service: Zander ($6.75 per month)

At Zander, you are paying for “white glove” on-shore service if your identity is stolen. You will also have a $1 million insurance policy to cover any expenses associated with recovering your identity.

 

Bottom Line

  • Freeze your credit with all 3 credit bureaus
  • Sign up for free 1-bureau credit monitoring at CreditKarma
  • Make sure all open (existing) accounts have both alerts and dual-factor authentication enabled
  • Check your report with the other 2 bureaus at least once a year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com
  • Sign up for credit resolution services ($6.75 a month) at Zander

If you do these things, you will have a cost-effective strategy to protect yourself. Below is the original guide that was published. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us at info@magnifymoney.com.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is any attempt by another person to use your identity for their own personal or financial benefit. Identity theft victims are protected by law, and they have the right to a full restoration of their identity, but achieving restoration isn’t always easy. It is up to identity theft victims to find and follow the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission to achieve full restoration of their accounts, identity and good legal standing.

Identity theft manifests itself in two forms:

Account Takeover

The most common form of identity theft is an account takeover which involves another person using either your credit or debit accounts to make transactions for their benefit.

Identity Takeover

A less common form of identity theft is called identity takeover. This involves thieves using the name, social security number, or other personally identifying information to fraudulently assume their victim’s identity for their own benefit.

When it comes to identity takeover, it’s not just your credit and money that is at risk, it’s your entire identity. In worst case scenarios, you may find that your ID is filled with false medical records, false work documents, criminal charges, unpaid taxes in addition to financial and credit issues to resolve.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Identity theft can take place through physical and cyber channels, and nearly everyone is at risk for identity theft. Knowing the most common identity theft scams can help you take common sense steps to mitigate risk.

Account Takeover:

  • Data Breaches- Your account number gets stolen from a large corporate database along with thousands or millions of other people’s accounts.
  • Account Skimming- A thief steals your card ID and pin from an ATM or during a transaction, and uses it for purchases or to steal cash later on.
  • Stolen Cards- A thief steals your card and uses it.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining account information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your account information when you are logged into an account on an unsecure wireless connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your card (or your ATM Pin) to make purchases without your knowledge or consent.

Identity Takeover:

  • Stolen tax documents- Thieves steal tax documents that include SSN, employment information and more from your mail, trash or digital locations.
  • Documents in your trash- Thieves steal documents with personally identifiable information from your trash or recycling bin.
  • Data Breaches- Your personal information gets stolen from a large corporate database.
  • Phishing- A cyber criminal reaches out to unsuspecting people in the hopes of obtaining personal and financial information
  • Online Hacking- Cyber criminals steal your personal information when you are not on a secure wireless internet connection.
  • Unauthorized use- A friend or family member uses your personally identifying information (such as SSN, address, and more) for personal gain.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Although it is impossible to eradicate identity theft, but each person should take steps to mitigate their risk of identity theft and the reach of consequences in the event of such theft.

Mitigating the risks and costs associated with identity theft depends on a thoughtful approach in four categories:

  • Proactively preventing identity theft
  • Monitoring your identity for fraud
  • Limiting the cost of resolution
  • Restoring your identity

You can learn more about the free and paid options for each of these categories below:

Prevention

Although it’s impossible to completely prevent identity theft, everyone can take steps to decrease their risk of being a victim.

It is particularly important to note that friends and family members are often the perpetrators of identity theft. If you are unwilling to press charges against someone, then you need to do all you can to prevent them from stealing your identity.

How do I prevent identity theft?

Account Takeover:

Criminals can find ways around even the best security, but you can take steps to make yourself a less attractive target for thieves.
Top 10 ways to decrease your risk of Account Takeover

  • Don’t give out your ATM PIN to anyone (including family or friends).
  • Use your hands to cover the pin-pad when using an ATM
  • Avoid ATMs at convenience stores or other locations that don’t have security footage
  • Password protects your phone.
  • Don’t log into bank accounts or credit card statements on public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not give out account information (online, over the phone, or in person) unless you are about to make a transaction.
  • If anyone calls to ask for your account information, do not give it out. If you suspect the call may be legitimate, call your credit card company or bank back through their secured lines.
  • Use high quality passwords for online financial accounts.
  • Change passwords for online financial accounts frequently.
  • Shred documents (including old checks) that have account numbers in them before disposing.

Identity Takeover:

Protecting yourself from identity takeover requires protecting yourself from cyber-criminals, criminals who may have access to paper documents, and from thoughtless friends and family members. Even though identity takeover is less common, it’s even more important to take protective measures against it.
Top 7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Takeover

  • Do not give out your Social Security number to anyone unless there is a legitimate financial, tax or employment need.
  • Shred or burn documents that contain personal identifying information.
  • Do not access tax documents or tax software via public Wi-Fi.
  • Do not store your Social Security Number on your phone.
  • Freeze your credit if you suspect someone attempted to steal your identity.
  • Use anti-virus software or personal encryption software.
  • Use high quality passwords on all accounts that contain personal info.

What companies can help me prevent identity theft?

Most protective measures are free to consumers, and any company that promises full prevention of identity theft is lying. Because identity thieves constantly evolve, it is not possible to fully avoid identity theft risk.

Account takeover

Identity Guard
Unfortunately, no company can completely prevent others from taking over your accounts. As long as you have digital accounts you will retain some level of risk.

However, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk by providing customers with password, keystroke and anti-virus protection on their personal computer. This will reduce your risk of being individually targeted for identity theft.Identity Takeover

If you are worried about identity takeover, one low cost option you may want to consider is a credit freeze. If you are either in the process of cleaning up identity theft, or you have reason to believe that you are at a high risk for identity theft then you should consider placing a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze prevents other people from viewing your credit history, and it prevents you and others from initiating new lines of credit.

Credit freezes (which range from $4-$10 per credit bureau, and are free if you are a victim of identity theft) provide as much protection as any of the major identity theft insurance products that are available on the market.

Some companies can help you reduce your risk of identity takeover by adding additional security against hackers and cyber criminals.

LifeLock

The premier advertiser of identity theft protection services was LifeLock who has been sued repeatedly for falsely advertising their ability to completely prevent identity theft. Since then, LifeLock has turned more towards advertising protection through monitoring.

Identity Guard

Using the encryption methods explained above, Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) mitigates risk for account takeover from cyber criminals who may target personal information.

Monitoring

When it comes to identity theft, the best defense is the early detection of fraudulent activity. If you detect fraudulent activity early on, you can usually prevent full account takeovers, quickly get reimbursed for fraudulent activity, and deal with less paperwork as you unravel the effects of identity fraud. As a result, we recommend that everyone take monitoring their personal information seriously.

How do I monitor for identity theft?

Account Takeover

Since account takeover involves the fraudulent use of existing credit and debit accounts, it is fairly easy to monitor your accounts using just a few simple tricks.

  • Set up your own alerting system on all open accounts (even if you don’t use them regularly)
  • Review transactions before paying your credit card bill.
  • Pay attention to alerts from your bank or account issuer if they experience a data breach
  • Receive proactive data breach updates using identity theft protection services.

Identity Takeover

Identity takeover has both financial and non-financial components, but most monitoring efforts focus on the financial component of monitoring. This is because identity theft most commonly manifests itself through new credit accounts being opened or negative information (unpaid bills) being introduced to your credit report. The top ways to monitor for identity takeover include:

  • Annually check for fraudulent or incorrect information on savings accounts or checking accounts using the ChexSystems.
  • Pay for three credit bureau monitoring.
  • Pay for web or “dark web” surveillance that will identify if your social security number is being offered for sale.
  • Pay for change of address alerts from monitoring companies.

What companies can help me monitor for identity theft?

While no company can identify every instance of identity theft through monitoring, you may find that you are more comfortable maximizing the amount of monitoring available to you.

Identity Takeover

Identity Takeover typically manifests itself through negative credit information, so monitoring your credit report for fraudulent information, is the best way to monitor for identity theft.

In addition to the free annual credit reports, free two bureau monitoring, and free checking account monitoring, it is possible to pay to receive three bureau credit monitoring services along with the monitoring of other data that will help you identify and resolve identity theft early on.This can be a good choice if you are in the midst of dealing actively with credit card fraud, or you want some of the additional coverage from these insurance providers.

3-logos

TrueCredit ($19.95/month) and AARP ($12.95/month or $109.99/year) offered through TrustedID also provides cost effective monitoring of all three credit bureaus. AARP and TrustedID also provide up to $1 million in Identity Theft insurance which is a benefit explained below.

myFICO
myFICO ($29.95/month or $329/year) offers quarterly 3 bureau credit monitoring along with intelligent identity theft monitoring features including Black Market Website Surveillance of the sale of your identity information and Social Security number alias watch which monitors the names and addresses associated with your SSN.

Limiting the Cost of resolution:

Although laws exist to limit financial loss for consumers, identity theft resolution tends to have some out of pocket costs. These costs include liability losses (limited to $50 if fraudulent charges are reported within 2 days or $500 if reported within 60 days), legal costs (ranging from $20 for notarized forms to a few thousand if you undergo legal battles), and lost wages if you have to take time off to battle the legal system.

How do I limit the costs of resolution?

Account Takeover

  • Use debit and credit cards that advertise $0 Fraud Liability
  • Report any fraudulent transactions (especially cash withdrawals) immediately.
  • Follow your bank’s process for cancelling and reissuing accounts immediately.
  • Change login IDs, passwords, and PIN codes immediately.
  • Follow these steps to report identity theft.

Typically account takeover can be resolved at no out of pocket costs to you. By alerting your issuing bank, you can typically be made financially whole (unless the theft involved ATM withdrawals using your PIN number).

Identity Takeover

  • Report identity theft right away.
  • You will need to file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • Change passwords and PINs as quickly as possible.
  • Follow these stepsas quickly as possible to minimize the likelihood of litigation.
  • Consider purchasing identity theft insurance which will cover the financial costs associated with identity theft resolution.

Identity takeover is much more cumbersome to resolve, but outside of litigation, the financial costs are limited. If you are worried about loss liability or potential courtroom expenses, you may want find that purchasing identity theft insurance protection will be valuable for your peace of mind.

What companies can help me limit the cost of resolution?

Account Takeover

If your account is taken over, by law your financial institution must hold you to a $0 Fraud Liability on fraudulent transactions if you still have possession of your card.

However, if your card was lost or stolen, then you have up to $50 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within two days, and up to $500 in liability if you report the fraudulent transaction within 60 days. After that point, your liability is limitless.

ZANDER
Zander ($6.75/month or $75/year) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers. Additionally, they offer up to $10,000 in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.Zander will not pay out any benefit if the unauthorized transfer was made by a person using your card and your PIN if you gave them access to that information in the past.

Identity Takeover

Among the most prominent identity theft products, identity theft insurance promises to cover the complete cost associated with identity theft. This can include the costs of notarization, legal costs, filing costs, and even lost wages. Identity theft insurance policies can cover anywhere from $25,000- $1 Million in coverage though $25,000 should be more than sufficient for most people.

ZANDER
Zander ($6.75 per month) offers resolution services at no additional cost to their customers, and up to $1 million in coverage for identity theft related losses. Additionally, they offer up to $10K in recovery of fraudulent electronically transferred funds if legal recourse with a financial institution has failed, and the customer has sought funds from their financial institution first.
EQUIFAX

Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers up to $25,000 in identity theft insurance along with 3 credit bureau monitoring services, resolution services. Although their limit is lower than the other companies, $25,000 is likely to be more than enough to pay for all the legal fees and lost wages that could occur in a worst case identity theft scenario. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.
Identity Guard

Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) offers 3 credit bureau monitoring and personal resolution services, and their insurance is up to $1Million. Their insurance does not cover recovery of unauthorized electronic funds.

Resolution

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then it is up to you to report the identity theft and restore your good name to all affected areas. This can be a time consuming task, and some companies are willing to take on the burden for you.

How do I restore my identity after I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

Account Takeover:

  • Call your credit or debit card company, cancel your existing account, and have them replace it with something new.
  • Make sure that fraudulent charges are removed and your money has been restored.
  • If instructed by your bank, file an identity theft affidavit and a police report.
  • If necessary, follow these steps to resolve identity theft according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • If you have paid for identity theft resolution services, report identity theft to your company, so that they can complete resolution steps on your behalf.

Account takeover can usually be resolved between you and your financial institution without too much red tape or documentation required.

Identity Takeover:

  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov, a website that will walk you through all of the steps required to take back your identity. You will also be able to speak with real people. Steps include:
  • Place a Fraud Alert and Get Credit Reports
  • Report identity theft to FTC
  • File a police Report
  • Freeze your credit
  • Close fraudulent accounts
  • Repair your credit report
  • Unravel misuses of your ID for tax, work, social security, medical or other purposes.
  • Utilize resolution services from an existing identity theft resolution policy to assist or resolve issues for you.

What companies can help me restore my identity?

The average identity theft victim spends more than 30 hours unraveling the work of identity thieves in order to make themselves whole again. Several companies offer a range of identity theft resolution services that can help resolve both account takeover and identity takeover.

Resolution Assistance

These companies offer resolution help, but they do not restore your identity on your behalf.

EQUIFAX
Equifax ($17.95 per month) offers resolution assistance through a members only toll-free hotline; depending on your situation, they may assign a caseworker directly to you, but it is up to you to complete all filing. Equifax has an A+ rating with the BBB, but their identity theft product had few online reviews

Identity Guard
Identity Guard ($19.99 per month) provides a toll free hotline and promises one on one service, but you are expected to do the heavy lifting associated with filing paperwork and recovery. Identity Guard has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and all complaints filed against them have been resolved. Online customer reviews showed overwhelmingly positive support.

PrivacyGuard
PrivacyGuard ($19.99 per month) offers a team of fraud experts but not individualized caseworkers. The experts take on much of the burden of contacting creditors and filing paperwork. However, online reviews for PrivacyGuard showed overwhelmingly negative experiences including billing problems and poor customer service.

myFICO
myFICO ($29.95 per month) provides 24/7 restoration assistance with identity theft experts, and they promise to hire lawyers, investigators and legal case managers on your behalf if you need legal help. However, some of the resolution burden continues to rest with the consumer.

Guaranteed Full Resolution:

These companies promise to do all the work necessary to restore your identity on your behalf.

ZANDER
Zander Insurance ($6.75 monthly) is one of the top names in restoration services. They assign a US based case worker directly to your case and promise to do all the heavy lifting associated with restoring your identity. They boast a 100% success rate in identity recovery, have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and overwhelmingly positive online reviews.

IDShield
ID Shield ($19.95 per month) promises that a licensed private investigator will be assigned directly to your case, and provide you with complete resolution. They are not rated by the Better Business Bureau, but they have very positive online reviews.

Determining the Right Products for You

Best overall free strategy

  • Use AnnualCreditReport.comto review your 3 bureau credit report once per year.
  • Use ChexSystemsto check for accurate checking and savings information once per year.
  • Use CreditKarmato access two of three credit bureau reports on a weekly basis.
  • Set up transaction alert s for open credit accounts.
  • Review debit and credit transactions at least monthly.
  • Keep your information secure and private.
  • Freeze your credit if you fall victim to identity theft.
  • Follow the FTC stepsto resolve identity theft.

Cheapest Way to Maximize Resolution

For a little more money:

      Purchase ID Shieldand receive personalized resolution services from a Kroll Private Investigator (especially helpful in complex identity takeover situations) along with single bureau credit monitoring: Total Cost $9.99 per month

Cheapest Way to Limit the Cost of Resolution

  • Purchase Zander Identity Theft Insuranceand receive up to $1 million in identity theft insurance including recovery of up to $10,000 in unauthorized electronically transferred funds along with recovery services: Total Cost $6.75 per month

Best Coverage That Money Can Buy

You’ll get the most value by combining the free credit monitoring from CreditKarma and the resolution services from Zander Identity Theft Insurance — Credit Karma would alert you to a problem and Zander would help you resolve it, and Zander’s service costs $6.75 per month.However, for those who are willing to sacrifice a bit in the way of resolution services for additional monitoring, myFICO Ultimate 3B ($29.99/month) offers acceptable resolution services combined top insurance and the best monitoring services on the market.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Best of, Credit Cards

Best Credit Cards of 2017

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

As you look for a new credit card, remember the golden rule of credit cards:

Choose a rewards card for your spending bonuses. Choose a low-rate card for your borrowing and paying off debt. Don’t confuse the two types of cards!

We examined each card type’s fine print to understand fees, rewards rates, interest rates, and more. After digging into the cards, we determined that these are the best credit cards to have in your wallet.

Credit cards offer more than unparalleled consumer protections and an easy way to track your spending. They can offer 2% cash back, 6% category bonuses, and travel miles. Credit card issuers spent more than $22.6 billion on rewards in 2016 alone. That’s 23% more than they spent in 2015. If you haven’t changed your rewards credit card in the last two years, you’re leaving money on the table.

Even if you carry credit card debt from time to time, credit cards can be a tool to help you plow out of debt. No matter what your situation, MagnifyMoney can help you find the credit card that will put money back in your pocket.

Best Cash Back Rewards Cards

Citi Double Cash®

The Citi Double Cash® credit card offers straightforward rewards. You earn 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay off your bill. This is a great card for people who don’t want to worry about difficult reward redemptions. It’s also one of the first credit cards that encourages you to pay off your bill in full each month. After all, you don’t get the second half of your reward until you pay off your credit card.

Best Cash Back Credit Card of 2017

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

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Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Annual fee
$0*
Cashback Rate
1% when you buy, 1% when you pay
APR
14.49%-24.49%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Excellent/Good

Alliant Cash Back Visa® Signature

With 3% cash back in the first year, and 2.5% all other years, this card offers some of the best pure cash back rates on the market. The $59 annual fee means that you have to spend at least $1,000 per month to come out ahead relative to a 2% earnings rate. Not everyone feels comfortable putting that much on a credit card each month. But if you regularly spend that much (and pay off your debt), this is the right credit card for you.

First Year 3% Back

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

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Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$59 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
Unlimited 3% cash back during the first year; 2.5% cash back afterwards
APR
11.24%-24.24%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

Capital One® BuyPower CardTM

This credit card isn’t for everyone, but it offers compelling rewards for GMC devotees. Since GMC doesn’t want to earn money from this credit card, they offer premium rewards and perks to all cardholders. Perks include 5% back on the first $5,000 you spend on the card. If you plan to buy a new GMC vehicle, make this your new favorite credit card.

Up to 5% Toward Your Next Vehicle

Capital One® BuyPower Card®

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Capital One® BuyPower Card®

Annual fee
$0
Cashback Rate
5% on your first $5,000 in purchases, 2% after that
APR
13.90%-23.90%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
excellent-credit

Excellent/Good

QuicksilverOne Rewards® from Capital One

If you struggled with credit in the past, but you’re back on track, the QuicksilverOne® Rewards card from Capital One® offers the right rewards at the right price. If you spend at least $225 per month on credit cards, you’ll earn more than you pay in annual fees. Normally, we don’t recommend cards with annual fees and low earning rates. However, this card is an exception if you have fair credit. Once your credit improves, you can call Capital One and ask for a no-fee card with better rewards.

OK for Fair Credit

Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

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Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Annual fee
$39
Cashback Rate
Unlimited 1.5%
APR
24.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Best Cash Back for the Way You Spend

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Everyone needs to eat, but grocery spending can eat into your budget. By using the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you can save 6% at U.S. supermarkets without clipping a coupon. You’ll pay a $95 annual fee, but big grocery spenders will earn that much and more from their annual supermarket spend.

6% Supermarket Bonus

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

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Terms Apply

Rates & Fees

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Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Annual fee
$95
Cashback Rate
6% at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 3% at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, 1% on other purchases
APR
13.99%-24.99%

Variable

Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa® Platinum Card

With an unlimited 5% cash back on fuel purchases, this is one credit card that can lower your pain at the pump. Unlike other credit cards, rewards get applied to your statement balance. This means you don’t have to fiddle around with awards programs. You’ll simply pay less each month.

5% Gas Bonus Cash

Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa® Platinum Card

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Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa® Platinum Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
5% back on all gas station spending, 1% on all other purchases
APR
10.25%-15.25%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card

If you’re constantly in the air, the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card offers one of the market-leading rates for purchasing airfare. If you want to redeem your rewards for more airfare, you can find rates as high as 4.5%, but if you want cash, the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards card offers the best rate. You’ll earn an effective 4.25% cash back rate whenever you buy tickets directly from an airline.

5x Airfare Bonus

PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card

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PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express® Card

Annual fee
$0
APR
9.74%-17.99%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

Capital One® Premier Dining Rewards

Offer is no longer available. It’s easy for restaurant spending to dominate your credit card spending. If you eat out a few times a week or more, the 3% cash back on dining will help you enjoy more rewards after you enjoy your meal. Plus, this no-annual-fee card comes with travel protections that usually require at least a $59 annual fee. Foodies can feel good about having a card that rewards them for the way they spend.

Also Consider Also Consider

Chase Sapphire ReserveSM

If you’re a traveling foodie, you may want to consider the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM Credit Card. The card allows you to earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on dining or travel and 1 point for every other dollar you spend. When you redeem the points for more travel, you get a 50% bonus, which brings the rewards rate up to 4.5 cents for every dollar you spend on dining or travel.

The card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, but it also comes with a $300 annual statement credit for travel purchases and superior travel protections. Plus, you’ll earn a 50,000 point bonus if you spend $4,000 in three months.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card

If you’re already an Amazon Prime customer, you can enjoy an additional 5% off with every purchase. Anyone who is addicted to Amazon’s convenience will love saving even more on their everyday spending. Of course, some people worry they spend too much online. This credit card doesn’t have to make your problem worse. If you choose to remove “instant purchase” from your Amazon account, you’ll force yourself to think before you check out

5% Online Retail

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card

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Amazon Prime Rewards Visa® Signature Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
5% back on all Amazon purchases, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, 1% back on other purchases
APR
15.24%-23.24%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

Also Consider Also Consider

Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Target REDCardTM

If you’re not already an Amazon Prime member, the Amazon card isn’t a good fit for you. Instead, consider the Target REDCard™. As a REDCard holder, you’ll get 5% off all Target and Target.com purchases, free shipping, and an extra 30 days for returns. When it comes to everyday shopping needs, you can’t find a better rate than 5% off. Just don’t carry a balance on this card: REDCard™ credit cards carry a 23.65% APR. If you want the same discount without another credit card, you can also get a REDCard™ debit card.

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Credit Card

Kiplinger named the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Credit Card their 2016 “Easiest for flight redemption” credit card. We can see why. Customers can use points

directly with airlines, redeem through the Chase rewards portal, or choose a statement credit. With a huge intro bonus and great perks, this makes a great card for airline travelers.

The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Best Overall

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Annual fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Rewards
2 points on travel and dining, 1 point on all other spending
APR
16.99%-23.99%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good/Excellent

Also Consider Also Consider

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® card offers 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in your first 90 days. On top of that, users will earn two miles for every dollar they spend and a 5% bonus on every mile they redeem. Each point is worth one penny and can be redeemed for a statement credit on all travel-related purchases. The Arrival Plus® card requires an $89 annual fee that is waived in the first year.

Unfortunately, Barclaycard’s perks are not quite as good as Chase’s. They have trip accident and trip cancellation insurance, but you don’t get auto rental collision coverage, baggage protection, or other important perks. From a points-earning perspective, Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite MasterCard® is a long-term winner, but lack of perks puts it behind Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Card

Capital One® Venture® Card allows you to earn a 50,000 point bonus when you spend $3,000 in your first three months. You’ll also earn an unlimited two miles for every dollar you spend. With just a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, this is one of the few travel rewards cards that might be worthwhile to lower spenders. The card also comes with all Visa Signature® benefits. Those benefits include secondary auto rental collision damage waivers, hotel upgrade options, and free extended warranties. If you can’t justify a high annual fee, consider this Venture® card for your travel credit card needs.

Discover it® Miles Travel Credit Card

The Discover it® Miles card offers one of the best rewards rates for travel credit cards without an annual fee. You’ll earn unlimited 1.5 miles per dollar, and Discover will match all the Miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year. Points are worth 1 cent each, so your first year you earn an effective rate of 3% on all your spending. You can redeem your rewards at any time for any type of travel.

3x Rewards Your First Year (With No Annual Fee)

Discover it® Miles

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Rates & Fees

Discover it® Miles

Annual fee
$0
Rewards
Unlimited 1.5x Miles per dollar on all purchases, every day, with no annual fee. We'll match all the Miles you've earned at the end of your first year.*
APR
11.99%-23.99%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit
Good / Excellent

Also Consider Also Consider

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card

BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card

The standard rewards rate for this fee-free credit card is 1.5 miles per dollar spent. However, you’ll also earn a 20,000 point bonus if you spend $1,000 or more in your first 90 days. High net worth individuals also have an opportunity to boost their rewards. If you have at least $20,000 in assets at Bank of America or Merrill Edge, you’ll earn 25% more rewards. At $50,000 in assets, you’ll boost your earnings by 50%. With $100,000 in assets, you’ll get 75% more rewards. That’s the equivalent of 2.63 miles for every dollar spent. For high net worth individuals, this card offers higher earning potential than some of the best cards with fees.

Priceline RewardsTM Visa® Card

When traveling abroad, you need a credit card with Chip + PIN technology and no foreign transaction fees. Many international merchants, hotels, and restaurants can accept the more common Chip + Signature technology featured on U.S. credit cards, but automated kiosks at train stations and other travel hubs require the PIN technology. Thankfully, the Priceline RewardsTM Visa® Card has the required technology, and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Plus, you’ll earn a few rewards when you spend with this card. It’s not the best credit card for earning rewards, but it’ll save your money and your sanity when you’re abroad.

No Fee for International Travel

Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card form Barclaycard

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on Barclaycard’s secure website

Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card form Barclaycard

Annual fee
$0
Rewards
5 points on eligible priceline.com purchases, 1 point on all other purchases
APR
15.99%-25.99%

Variable

Credit required
excellent-credit

Excellent

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood points are among the most valuable points on the market. They are transferable to many airlines, and you can even trade 1 Starwood point for 3 Marriott points. Thanks to flexibility in transferring and redeeming points, this is our favorite card for earning free hotel stays. Many users can get at least 2.5 cents per point in value on their redemption.

Triple Your Hotel Rewards

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

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on American Express Bank’s secure website

Terms Apply

Rates & Fees

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Annual fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Rewards
up to 5x points
APR
16.24%-20.24%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

Best Sign-Up Bonuses

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Credit Card

Earn $500 cash or $625 in travel credits when you spend $4,000 in your first three months. This isn’t the largest sign-up bonus available today. However, the flexible points redemption options and great travel protections make this our top choice for travel sign-up bonuses.

The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Best Travel Bonus - $625

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Annual fee
$0 Intro for the First Year, then $95
Rewards
2 points on travel and dining, 1 point on all other spending
APR
16.99%-23.99%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good/Excellent

Also Consider Also Consider

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card

U.S. Bank customers with good credit and high spending may qualify for the lucrative $750 travel sign-up bonus with the Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card. You need to spend $4,500 in 90 days to earn the 50,000 point bonus. When redeemed for qualified travel, 50,000 points translates to $750 in travel. The Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® comes with a hefty $400 annual fee, but most people will make that up easily. The card offers a $325 annual statement credit for travel purchases, complimentary access to airport lounges, and other high-end perks. In addition to offering the best sign-up bonus on the market, it offers some of the most exciting travel perks. This card failed to become first place because of the high annual fee, but for frequent travelers, this is the best card on the market.

TruWest Visa® Signature Card

TruWest Visa® Signature

If you don’t spend much money on credit cards, you can still earn lucrative sign-up bonuses. The TruWest Visa® Signature Card offers a $100 sign-up bonus when you spend just $100 in your first 90 days. You’ll also get a competitive interest rate and no annual fee. The card also comes with secondary auto rental collision damage waivers that can save you money when renting a vehicle. Cardholders only earn 1 point for every dollar that they spend, and points can be redeemed for a penny (or for more when redeemed through the TruWest redemption portal).

Best 0% APR Purchase Credit Cards

21 Months Without Interest

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

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on Citibank’s secure website

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Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Intro BT APR
0%

promotional rate

Balance Transfer Fee
$5 or 3% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater
APR
14.99%-24.99%

Variable

Duration
21 months
Credit required
good-credit

Excellent/Good

Also Consider Also Consider

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Citi® Diamond Preferred® offers 21 months of interest-free financing. However, Diamond Preferred customers will pay late fees if they make late payments. As long as you make on-time payments, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® makes an excellent 0% intro APR credit card.

When the promo period ends, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® has somewhat lower interest rates than the Simplicity card, but you still don’t want to carry a balance on this card.

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Barclaycard RingTM MasterCard®

In an effort to give big bank customers a community feel, Barclaycard created Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard®. All members get the same interest rate for borrowing, and members can transfer in with no balance transfer fee. For someone paying off substantial debt, this can be a huge savings. Plus, all members get to voice their opinions on product changes. The Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® accepts customers with average credit, so many people who don’t qualify for other balance transfer cards will qualify for this one. Even better, if you qualify, your everyday borrowing rate is 13.99%. It’s not the best rate on the market, but it’s lower than most leading balance transfer cards.

15 Months, No Fee

Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard<sup>®</sup>

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on Barclaycard’s secure website

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Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard®

Intro BT APR
0%

promotional rate

Balance Transfer Fee
0%
APR
13.99%

Variable

Duration
15 months
Credit required
excellent-credit

Excellent Credit

Also Consider Also Consider

Chase Slate<sup>®</sup>

Chase Slate®

Like Barclaycard, Chase Slate® offers an 0% Introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made within the first 60 days of account opening. However, the card has a higher regular variable interest rate (15.99%-24.74%), 3% foreign transactions fees, and just a 21-day grace period before interest begins to accrue. Other than the fine print, Chase Slate® is a solid balance transfer credit card.

Santander Sphere® Credit Card

A 0% balance transfer, 0% APR for purchases, rewards, and modest interest rates. The Santander Sphere® Credit Card has it all. But the real reason to use this credit card is the 24-month balance transfer period. Even if you have substantial credit card debt, you could pay it all off by the end of the 24-month 0% balance transfer period. The card charges a 4% balance transfer fee, so this shouldn’t be your first choice card (it’s better to use two 15-month credit cards with 0% balance transfer fees). Despite the fee, you should consider this card if you’re committed to paying off all your credit card debt in under two years.

Longest Balance Transfer

Sphere® Credit Card from Santander

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on Santander’s secure website

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Sphere® Credit Card from Santander

Intro BT APR
0%

promotional rate

Balance Transfer Fee
$10 or 4% of the amount of the transfer, whichever is greater
APR
13.49%-23.49%

Variable

Duration
24 months
Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Also Consider Also Consider

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Citi® Simplicity® Card

Citi® Simplicity® offers just a 21-month balance transfer period, but this card is much friendlier than the Santander Sphere® Credit Card. You’ll never pay late fees with Citi® Simplicity®, and the balance transfer fee is 3% instead of 4%. Citi® Simplicity® has some gotcha fees (like foreign transaction fees and cash advance fees), but it’s designed for ease of use. Take a look if you want a simpler balance transfer credit card.

Best Low Interest (Not 0%) Credit Cards

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card is close to the perfect credit card. It offers a low everyday borrowing rate, a significant sign-up bonus, and no balance transfer fees. This card is straightforward and easy to use. You have to become a member of Elements Financial Credit Union, but you can easily join online. When it comes to low interest rates for people with average credit, this is our top choice.

No Gimmicks, 9.99% Interest Rate

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on ELFCU’s secure website

Elements Financial Platinum Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
9.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Visa® Platinum Card from Trustmark Bank

People with excellent credit can see rates as low as 7.15% with the Visa® Platinum Card from Trustmark Bank. Even if you have fair credit, your rate is only as high as 12.15%. The card isn’t perfect. It comes with a host of late fees, and other problematic fees that could lead to financial trouble. However, the low borrowing rate makes it worth considering, especially for people who don’t qualify for great rates elsewhere.

Great Rates for All

Visa® Platinum Card from Trustmark Bank

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on Trustmark Bank’s secure website

Visa® Platinum Card from Trustmark Bank

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
7.15%-12.15%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Fair

Tinker Federal Credit Union Visa® Classic

Even people with fair credit can qualify for the Tinker Federal Credit Union Visa® Classic credit card. It’s a straightforward credit card with interest rates between 9.50% and 11.50%, depending on your credit score. The card doesn’t come with special perks or bonuses, but for people with fair credit, this is an excellent unsecured credit card option.

OK for Fair Credit

Tinker Federal Credit Union Visa® Classic

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on Tinker Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Tinker Federal Credit Union Visa® Classic

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
9.50%-11.50%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Fair

Best Credit Cards for Building Your Credit Score

Discover it® Secured Credit Card

If you’re building or rebuilding your credit score, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card offers your best opportunity to build credit without unreasonable fees. You won’t pay an annual fee, the deposit is reasonable, and the path to a deposit return is automatic. Other secured credit cards have lower interest rates or smaller required deposits. However, the Discover it® offers the tools and insights that you need to increase your credit score.

Best Secured Card for Bad Credit

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
APR
23.99% APR

Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Also Consider Also Consider

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® offers deposits as low as $49, and you won’t pay an annual fee. Plus you’ll have access to the CreditWise tools that can help you build your credit. Unfortunately, Capital One doesn’t automatically review your credit use to return your security deposit. This means you will have to call the bank after a year to ask for a credit card upgrade.

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® offers better benefits than other secured credit cards. For example, you’ll get price protection, free extended warranties, and secondary auto rental insurance. However, your credit limit will likely be so low that you can’t take advantage of these protections at first.

Best Credit Cards for Students

Discover it® for Students

The Discover it® for Students credit card offers reasonable rewards to students who might not qualify for better credit cards. With this card, you won’t pay an annual fee, you’ll have access to credit info, and you can earn up to 5% back in rotating categories. Plus, you’ll have a chance to double your rewards at the end of your first year and earn an extra $20 when you keep your grades up. This is an ideal card for college students who want to improve their credit score.

Discover it® for Students

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair

Also Consider Also Consider

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One®

Students can earn up to 1.25% cash back when they use the Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One®. The card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, travel perks, and more. As a customer, you’ll also have access to the CreditWise® portal from Capital One®. The portal offers free insights into your credit score and the steps you can take to improve it. The rewards aren’t as good as the Discover it® for Students credit card, but it’s worth a look, especially if you already have a bank account with Capital One.

Best Credit Cards for Business Spending

Chase Ink Business PreferredSM Credit Card

The Chase Ink Business PreferredSM Credit Card offers a huge intro bonus and opportunities to earn triple points. Customers can use points directly with partner airlines, redeem through the Chase rewards portal, or choose a statement credit. With a huge intro bonus and great perks, this makes a great card for business owners who want to earn great rewards for their business spending.

Best Credit Card for Business Rewards

Chase Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Chase Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Annual fee
$95
Rewards
3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in select categories each account anniversary year, 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
APR
16.99%-21.99%

Variable

Credit required
excellent-credit

Excellent

Also Consider Also Consider

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

For business owners who want straightforward cash back rewards, the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business may be the best option. It comes with unlimited 2% cash back. Plus, you can earn a $500 intro bonus when you spend at least $4,500 in your first three months. The Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business makes a lot of sense for business owners who want to give their employees credit cards because they don’t charge to make employees authorized users.

The card does have a $95 annual fee (waived the first year), but any business owner who spends more than $1,000 per month will outearn the Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business, which only earns 1.5% back.

Also Consider Also Consider

Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card

Chase Ink Business CashSM Card

The Chase Ink Business CashSM Card offers 12 months of interest-free financing for business owners. It’s not as long as the intro borrowing period from the Blue BusinessSM Plus Credit Card from American Express, but it is another great option. Right now, you’ll earn a $300 intro bonus when you spend $3,000 in your first three months with the Chase Ink Business CashSM Card. Plus, you’ll enjoy Chase’s famous travel insurance protections on a card with no annual fee. The only drawback to this card is the high everyday borrowing rates and the fees (including a 3% foreign transaction fee and late payment and returned payment fees).

Learn More

A credit card allows you to build a credit score without paying interest or fees, but you shouldn’t open a credit card if you don’t understand how to use it. In our in-depth study of credit card debt, we found that 73.2% of U.S. adults have a credit card, and 58% of them had credit card debt in the last year. That means that a lot of people pay credit card interest each year.

We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of credit card use, but you cannot enjoy the benefits unless you understand the credit card risks. A credit card is a short-term loan. To avoid paying interest on your credit card, you need to pay back the credit card balance on time and in full every month. When you’re prepared to take on that responsibility, open up a credit card.

If you’ve struggled with debt, consider setting guardrails in place for your credit card use. You could use debit cards for all purchases except a small monthly bill (like internet service). This will help you increase your credit score without pushing you to overspend. Some people use services like Debitize to deduct credit card expenses from their checking account as they spend. Both strategies can prevent you from going into debt.

Over time, you may learn about opportunities to borrow money at 0% interest rates, or to earn cash back rewards. However, when you first open a credit card, your primary goal should be building your credit score.

The best type of credit card depends on your credit history and your goals. Many people love credit card rewards. You can earn big sign-up bonuses, or up to 2% cash back on all your purchases when you use credit cards.

Of course, the best credit cards aren’t always the cards that offer the biggest rewards. If you’re trying to pay off debt, you’ll want to look at 0% balance transfer credit cards. People who are new to credit or need to rebuild credit should consider secured credit cards.

Most credit cards have high interest rates. That makes them less attractive for borrowing money in the long term. These days, you can find 0% purchase offers for up to 21 months. Consider 0% purchase cards for times when you have a cash flow emergency or when you want to pay off a larger purchase over time.

The best way to maximize credit card rewards is to take advantage of sign-up bonuses. Credit cards offer bonus rewards worth 10%-30% cash back when you meet a spending threshold. But you need to be careful with this type of strategy.

Deal chasers can end up in serious credit card debt, and they pay more in interest and fees than they earn in rewards. You also may end up paying multiple annual fees on cards you never use.

Low-interest credit cards can be an important part of your financial plan, but you have to be careful when you use them. If you qualify for a 0% APR credit card, consider using that promotional interest rate strategically. Some people use 0% APR rates to even out cash flow for a big purchase. For example, if you need materials for a remodel or new appliances, a 0% loan makes sense. Whenever you borrow on credit cards (even at a 0% rate), you need a plan to pay off the debt before the end of the intro rate. Borrowing money at double-digit rates always hurts. Part of your plan to eliminate debt should involve making more than the minimum payments on your credit card debt, even when the interest rate is at 0%.

Many people keep low-interest credit cards around for emergencies. This is an effective strategy when you’re just getting started or if you have unpredictable income. However, a low-interest credit card does not replace an emergency fund. Everyone can work to save a $1,000 checking account buffer as soon as possible. In time, you may want to save as much as six months of income in cash.

Balance transfers are one of the more complex credit card features. If you have credit card debt or personal loans, you can transfer the balance of an existing debt onto a new credit card. Why would you want to do that? Some credit cards offer 0% introductory interest rates for balance transfers. This means that you can save money on interest payments while you pay down debt.

In our popular guide to becoming debt free, we outline specific ways you can use a balance transfer. Our guidelines help you save money and improve your financial peace of mind.

If you want to use a balance transfer to pay off debt faster, these are the things you should know:

  1. You need to transfer the balance immediately. Balance transfer offers last anywhere from 30 to 90 days after you open a credit card. Take advantage of the 0% interest right away.
  2. You may pay a balance transfer fee. In general, you will pay a 3%-4% balance transfer fee. That means you’ll pay $300-$400 to transfer $10,000 of credit card debt.
  3. You can transfer debt more than once. Most people spend years getting into credit card debt. That means it could take years to get out of debt. You don’t need to pay painfully high interest rates if you can’t eliminate all your debt by the end of the promo period. Instead, make a plan to transfer your debt at the end of the introductory offer. For example, you can use a 15-month balance transfer followed by a 21-month balance transfer to eliminate your credit card debt in less than four years.
  4. Use this calculator to compare personal loans to balance transfers to see which will save you more money.

Credit cards are the best tool for building (or rebuilding) a credit score. They are the only credit option that allows you to build a credit score without paying interest or fees. We’ve seen people build credit scores in the 700s range with just a single credit card.

If you want to build your credit score using just credit cards, follow this strategy. First, identify the type of credit card you should use. Most people open a student credit card or a secured credit card for their first credit account. Look to prequalify for a credit card if possible. Since you want to keep your first credit card open forever, you’ll want to avoid predatory lenders with high fees and unclear contracts. We explain the red flags below.

Once you have a credit card, you’ll want to keep your credit card utilization low. People with the best credit scores typically have utilization rates below 15%. What does that mean? If you have a $200 credit limit, then aim to spend less than $30 per month on your credit card. That doesn’t mean carry a $30 balance from month to month. It means never spend more than $30 on your credit card at one time.

You’ll also need to pay your credit card bill on time and in full every month. This is the easiest way to build your credit score. Keep tabs on your credit score using Credit Karma or a tool offered by your bank. Don’t apply for new credit cards until you have average or good credit.

If you have no credit history, or items in collections, banks will consider you a poor credit risk. That means you won’t get the best credit card perks, and you’ll have high interest. However, people with poor credit shouldn’t be subject to unclear contracts or high fees without merit.

When we read credit card contracts, we’ve noticed that even secured credit cards come with complex fine print that includes:

  • Annual fees automatically added to bills.
  • No opportunity to transfer to an unsecured credit card.
  • User fees.
  • Interest begins accruing immediately (no grace period).

If you’ve got bad credit or no credit, banks like Credit One, First Premier, First Progress, and Continental Finance will target you with fee traps. Most or all products offered by these banks failed MagnifyMoney’s transparency score. If you have a card by one of these banks, shut it down. You don’t need these fee traps. Instead, open a secured credit card from a reputable bank or credit union that is willing to work with you.

Please note: If you’ve undergone bankruptcy in the last year, you may not qualify for secured credit cards from reputable institutions. Rather than choosing a shady lender, wait for a year to open a new credit card.

If you have just a few derogatory marks on your credit, you will probably qualify for secured credit cards that will help you rebuild your credit score.

When you use a credit card responsibly, you’ll enjoy two major perks. First, credit cards help you build your credit. This means you’ll pay less for auto loans or mortgages. It means that landlords will be more likely to accept you as a tenant, and you won’t have to pay deposits for utility bills.

The second perk is protection against fraud. By law, you’ll never pay more than $50 for fraudulent charges on your credit card. However, most credit cards offer an even better perk. They offer $0 fraud liability. Plus, credit card companies monitor your credit card use to shut down fraudulent transactions as soon as they happen.

Debit cards don’t offer that kind of protection. According to the FTC, your bank can hold you responsible for 100% of the losses associated with your debit card if you fail to report the fraud within 60 days.

Debit card liability from FTC.gov.

Most rewards credit cards offer other protections and perks, too. Check your credit card’s guide to benefits to see if you have these amazing benefits:

Price protection – You bought a big ticket item and then found a cheaper price a week later. If your credit card offers price protection, you can get the price difference refunded to your card. Cards that offer this perk usually offer price protection that lasts 30-90 days.

Purchase protection – Protect your items from theft or accidental damage for up to 30-90 days. Credit cards that offer this insurance may require proof of loss or damage. The program also compensates loss only up to $1,000 in most cases. Still, this is a great asset that most people don’t understand.

Visibility to credit score – You need to know your credit score and how to improve your score. Most credit card companies now offer free credit-reporting tools to help you improve your credit health.

Free extended warranties – Never pay for an extended warranty again. Many credit cards will match manufacturer warranties.

Auto rental collision damage waiver – If you don’t have rental protection on your car insurance, you want to rent cars with a credit card that offers primary auto rental collision damage waivers. This benefit will easily save you $20 or more every day that you rent a vehicle.

Trip interruption/cancellation insurance – Was your trip interrupted or canceled due to events outside of your control? Your credit card may refund what your airline, train, or hotel will not.

Lost luggage insurance – Airlines won’t compensate you when they lose your luggage, but your credit card will. Credit cards that offer this perk usually limit loss to $3,000 per person.

Concierge level identity theft resolution services – If you become the victim of identity theft, the biggest cost to you is your time. Some credit cards will resolve all identity-theft-related issues for you.

Access to airport lounges – Some high-fee travel credit cards give you unlimited access to airport travel lounges.

Upgrades on hotel stays – Credit cards offer all kinds of hotel-related perks. You can get everything from free breakfast to discounted room upgrades to elite hotel membership status.

Free checked bags – Some airline cards offer free checked bags. Other cards will refund airline fees up to a set amount each year.

Concierge services – Need help booking tickets or hotels or reserving restaurants? Call the concierge service provided by your credit card. They will provide you with insights and the help you need to make your life easier.

The most common credit card fees are late payment fees. If you pay your bill late by even a day, most credit card companies will automatically assess a fine in excess of $20 (some are as high as $39).

The good news is if you have a history of on-time payments, most banks will waive the late payment fee if you call and ask them.

Other common fees you should consider include:

  • Foreign transaction fees: You’ll pay 1%-3% on every transaction that you make overseas.
  • Returned payment fees: If the check for your payment bounces, you’ll pay a hefty fee in most cases.
  • Cash advance fees: Unless you want to pay $5-$10 to get cash out of an ATM, avoid cash advances.
  • Balance transfer fees: When you transfer a balance, you’ll generally pay 3%-4% of the total balance.
  • Penalty APR: Your interest rate may increase if you make a late payment.

The minimum payment calculation differs by credit card issuer. The most common is 1% of the principal balance plus any interest or fees that accrued in the month (or a set amount, like $25, if the minimum due is very low).

If you look on the back of you bill, your credit card company will provide information on how to pay off your debt in three years or less.

It’s better to make no payment than to make a payment less than your required minimum. If you have multiple credit cards, try to make the minimum payments on the greatest number of credit cards. Don’t pay late on one credit card one month, and then a different card the next month. This will just get you into a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

If you truly cannot make the minimum payments, choose which card should go into default. Strategic default will trash your credit score, but it’s better than starving or going homeless.

In the long run, you will need to increase your income and decrease your expenses, so that you can pay off all your debt.

If you use your credit card at an ATM to take out cash, a few things will happen. First, you would be charged a cash advance fee, which is usually about 3%. Second, interest would start accruing immediately, because most issuers do not have a cash advance grace period. And the cash advance interest rate is usually much higher than the purchase rate. Don’t be surprised to see interest rates as high as 24% (or higher).

We do not recommend closing credit cards because it can reduce your credit score. Closing unused credit cards does two things. First, it reduces your total available credit. That increases your utilization, which is bad for your score. Second, the age of your open credit cards helps your score. If you close old accounts, you can hurt your score over time.

However, we recommend closing credit cards from time to time. You may wish to close a credit card that has an annual fee. Before you close a credit card, try to call the bank and ask about a no-fee option.

You might also need to close a secured credit card if your lender will not return your deposit despite your credit score growth.

If you choose to close a credit card, follow these guidelines: Don’t close a credit card if you need a new loan in the next six months. Open a new credit card before you close an existing credit card.

Every credit card application requires a bank to make a hard credit inquiry. A hard credit inquiry will reduce your credit score about 5-10 points in most cases. In general, you only want to apply for one credit card at a time. You should also wait at least three months between applications in most cases.

If you’ve got no credit, bad credit, or fair credit, you may struggle to get approved for a credit card. Instead of applying for tons of credit cards at once, look to prequalify for a credit card. This will keep your credit score up.

NO! Carrying a balance will not help your credit score. This nasty rumor keeps good people trapped in bad debt. You do not need to pay interest to grow your credit score.

Although carrying a balance will not help your credit score, using your credit card will help your score. If you don’t use your credit card, your bank will not report usage to the three major credit bureaus. This won’t help your credit score grow.

As a rule of thumb, you should use your credit card at least once every month. Once you make a charge, you can pay off your bill.

The law requires that any payment amount beyond the minimum due must be applied to the highest APR balance first. Most credit card companies apply the minimum payment to the lowest APR balance first. As a customer, you want to eliminate high APR debt. That means you should make payments as big as possible. The extra amount will always go to the most expensive debt first.

If a bank denies your credit card application, they must explain why they denied your application. However, answers can be frustratingly vague. These are the most common reasons that your credit card application was denied.

  • Bad credit history: If you have items in collections, late payments, auto repossession, foreclosure, or bankruptcy on your credit report, you may not qualify for certain credit cards. A history of defaulting on credit cards makes it particularly difficult to get a decent credit card. However, you can recover from bad credit. These six steps can help you improve your credit score over time.
  • No credit history: You may also struggle to get a credit card if you have no credit history. If you’ve never had a loan or credit card, consider a secured credit card first. You may also have some luck opening up a store or gas station credit card.
  • No evidence of income: Credit card companies need to know that you can pay your bill. If you’re unemployed or your income is sporadic, the company may not extend a line of credit to you.
  • You’re too young: If you’re under 18, you won’t qualify for a credit card without a co-signer. Young adults 18-21 years old may struggle to obtain a credit card, too. We recommend secured credit cards or student credit cards for young adults.
  • You applied for a bunch of credit cards: Applying for multiple credit cards at once sends negative signals to banks. They see someone who is desperate for credit. That means, you have a higher risk of default. Apply for one credit card at a time. Ideally, you should wait at least three months between credit card applications.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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