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The Best Options for Rebuilding Your Credit Score

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The Best Options for Rebuilding Your Credit Score

A strong credit score is a vital part of your overall financial health. But rebuilding a damaged (or non-existent) credit score can feel impossible. Don’t despair. There are plenty of avenues you can take in order to rehabilitate your credit score and it all begins with identifying your starting point. 

How Bad is Your Bad Credit Score? 

Before you start to panic about rehabilitating your bad credit score, let’s determine if it’s even bad. Where do you fall in the range of FICO and VantageScores?

  • Above 750: Excellent Credit
  • 680 – 749: Good Credit
  • 620 – 679: “Near Prime” or Acceptable Credit
  • 550 – 619: Sub-prime
  • Below 550: Bad Credit or No Credit Score/Thin File

Your credit score isn’t the only thing that will keep you from being approved for credit. These factors are common reasons for being declined.

  • Your debt-to-income ratio is above 50%
  • You have no credit score
  • You have been building up a lot of debt recently
  • You are unemployed

In order to focus on rehabilitating your credit score, you’ll need to start with getting a line of credit. This may sound impossible because you’re constantly getting declined. Fortunately, there are options tailored specifically for people looking to re-establish credit.

[Read more about bad credit scores here.]

Rehabilitating a Bad Credit Score (550 and under) 

Get a Secured Card

You’ll use your own money as collateral by putting down a deposit, which is often about $150 – $250. Typically, the amount of your deposit will then be your credit limit. You should make one small purchase each month and then pay it off on time and in full. Once you prove you’re responsible, you can get back your deposit and upgrade to a regular credit card. Read more about secured cards here.

[Check out our secured credit card database here.]

Rebuilding from a 551 – 619 score 

Apply for a Store Credit Card

You might be used to checking out at a store and being asked if you’d like to open a credit card. While these credit cards come with really high interest rates and are great tools to tempt you into buying items you don’t need, there is a big perk to store credit cards: they’re more likely to approve people with low credit scores. Just be sure to only use the card to make one small purchase a month and then pay it off on time and in full. Unsubscribe to emails about deals and don’t even carry it around everyday in your wallet if you can’t resist the desire to spend. Read more here. 

[Find all the details about how to improve your score here.]

If you’re unable to get a store credit card, you should apply for a secured card.

Rebuilding from the 620 to 650 score 

If you’re on the 620 end of the spectrum, you may want to consider applying for a store card or, if you’re rejected, a secured card. Store cards typically approve into the lower 600 range. Just be careful that you aren’t tempted into the spending traps like 30% off sales for card members. Just make one small purchase a month and pay it off on time and in full. 

650 really isn’t a terrible credit score. You’re average and even closing in on good credit, which starts at 680. Lower interest rates and better options will be available to you, which is why it’s important to get there.

If you’re looking to get a credit card with a 650 score, then you should consider checking to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards. This will help minimize your chance of rejection upon applying.

It will be a harder to be approved with a debt-to-income ratio above 40%.

Otherwise, your goal in this bracket should be to use no more than 20% of your total available credit. Pay your bills on time and in full. And keep pumping that positive information onto your credit report until you reach the 700+ category. 

Who You Need to Avoid 

Access to credit and loans may come easier than you expect, but that should also be a danger sign. There are several lenders who are willing to provide lines of credits or loans to people with poor credit. These options are often very predatory. If you’re simply trying to rebuild your credit history and improve your credit score, then there is no need to take this offers. If you’re in desperate need of a line of credit for an emergency, but have bad credit, please email us at info@magnifymoney.com for a tailored response.

Here are the options you need to avoid when trying to rebuild credit:

1. Payday and Title Loan Lenders – There is never a need to take out a payday or title loan if you’re trying to merely rebuild or establish credit history. Most of these lenders don’t report to the bureaus and you’ll likely end up in a painful vicious cycle of borrowing and being unable to pay it down.

[How to get out of the payday loan trap.]

2. First Premier – The bank claims to want to offer people a second chance when it comes to their finances, but its fee structure and fine print prove the exact opposite. First Premier charges you a $95 processing fee just to apply for a credit card. Then it levies a $75 annual fee on the credit cards and most cards only come with a $300 limit. You’re paying $170 for a $300 credit line! The APR is a painful 36%. In year two the annual fee reduces to $45, but then you’re charged a monthly servicing fee of $6.25. And to top it all off, you’ll be charged a 25% fee if your credit limit is increased. Stay away from this card! Use the $170 it would take to open the card and get a secured card instead.

[Read more about First Premier here.]

3. Credit One – Credit One does an excellent job of confusing consumers into thinking they’re applying for a Capital One card. The logos are eerily similar and easily confused.

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capital one

While Credit One is not as predatory as First Premier or payday loans, there is really no need to be using it to rebuild your credit score. Credit One makes it a bit tricky to get to its terms and conditions without either going through the pre-qualification process or accepting a direct mail offer. You’ll see this when clicking to look at its credit card option.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.34.54 PM

A quick Google search yielded this terms and conditions sheet, which may be slightly different than the one you’d receive if you applied for a card. According to the one we found, Credit One charges an annual membership fee of $35 to $75 in year one and then $35 to $99 moving forward. Credit line minimums are between $300 and $500. So you could be paying $99 for a $300 credit limit. APR is relatively standard, but on the high side, with 17.90% to 23.90%. Given the high annual fees, we recommend saving your money and using a secured card with no annual fee to begin rebuilding your credit score.

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Which Credit Cards Allow a Co-Signer (And What to Do If You Can’t Get One)

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Which Credit Cards Allow a Co-Signer (And What to Do If You Can't Get One)

There may be no greater misconception in the financial world than the notion that “anyone” can get a credit card. Getting approved for a traditional credit card is no sure thing. In fact, a recent study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found the approval rate for general-purpose credit cards to be less than 40%.

All of which means many borrowers, particularly those who are routinely denied new credit, need another way to access credit if they want to build or improve their credit history. Finding a reliable co-signer is one option. The concept is simple. If you can’t get approved for a traditional credit card on your own, you find a co-signer with a stronger credit profile who is willing to agree (in writing) to bear full responsibility for the card’s balance should you not pay, thus easing the lender’s concerns.

Joint accounts work much the same way, but there’s a big difference: joint account holders have charging privileges, meaning they can use the card as they want, whereas co-signers usually do not. At the end of the day, whether someone is a co-signer or a joint account holder, they’re every bit as liable as you for any outstanding debt on the card and, for better or worse, the resulting impact on their credit history.

Banks That Accept Co-signers

Among the major credit card providers, only a few, such as Bank of America and U.S. Bank, allow for joint or co-signed accounts, while most others, such as American Express, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Discover, do not.

Should You Ask Someone to Co-sign Your Credit Card?

According to most credit experts, however, it’s not really a question of can you get a co-signed credit card, but rather, should you?

The answer, according to those same experts, is virtually unanimous.

Experts Agree: Avoid Co-signed Credit Cards

“Few people realize what they’re asking when they ask someone to co-sign,” says Ben Woolsey, president and general manager of CreditCardForum. “They think the bank just needs someone as a credit reference. It’s way beyond that, and something that’s never really a good idea.”

Among the many drawbacks to pursuing a co-signed or joint account is the significant risk you’re asking that co-signer to accept, according to Michelle Black, a credit expert with HOPE4USA, an organization that specializes in helping consumers and businesses repair and access credit. Ultimately, the co-signer has nothing to gain and everything to lose. If you fall behind on payments, they must either pick up the slack or see their own credit dragged down by your failure to stay current.

“Co-signing is like playing Russian roulette with your credit scores,” says Black. “It’s extremely dangerous and typically ends badly.”

The fact that all of the risk associated with a co-signed credit card generally falls on the shoulder of the co-signer often creates challenges that go beyond the financial realm, according to Woolsey.

“It’s something people should approach carefully with respect to the ethical position you’re putting someone in,” Woolsey says. “Aside from the financial risk, there’s also the dynamic of potentially hurting the personal relationship, and that’s something people don’t really think about.”

Fortunately, there are many alternatives to co-signed credit cards, most of which are equally effective at providing access to credit and building your overall credit profile, without the financial and moral hazards.

Alternatives to Getting a Co-signed Credit Card

Become an authorized user on someone else’s account

One of the best alternatives to a co-signed credit card is to have someone add you as an authorized user to an already existing account, says Woolsey.

“It gives you all the benefits of getting a card in your own name, but it gives the primary account holder the control they don’t have as a co-signer, because they can revoke that privilege any time they want,” he says.

Whereas only some of the aforementioned credit card companies allow for co-signed credit cards, all allow for the addition of authorized users to an account.

Get a secured credit card

If you’re strictly looking to build or improve your credit, the secured credit card is another alternative. With a secured credit card, you put down a cash deposit that in turn becomes the line of credit for your account. If you put down a $1,000 deposit, you have $1,000 against which to spend and build credit. As you make “payments” on your secured card over a set period of time (usually 6 to 12 months), the lender will report your good behavior to credit bureaus. Some lenders may even upgrade you to a traditional credit card once you’ve proven you can make on-time payments.

Most major credit card companies offer secured credit cards, as do most credit unions.

“Secured cards can be a wonderful credit-building tool when managed responsibly,” says Black.

Take out a personal loan

If you’re looking to build your credit profile while also gaining access to cash, a personal loan is another option to consider, says Tim Hong, SVP of Products at MoneyLion.

“When you agree to a personal loan, you get your funds upfront and have a steady, predictable payment schedule,” Hong says. “You know exactly how much it will cost over time and when you’ll be done. That’s a dramatically different and more predictable experience than a credit card.”

Apply for retail credit cards

Finally, borrowers needing to build their credit profile can always fall back on the old-fashioned store credit card. Though not everyone is a proponent of store credit cards, most such cards, especially those from retailers, tend to have a lower barrier to entry than standard credit cards, says Ryan Frailich, a financial coach and planner based in New Orleans, La.

“Of course, since they’re taking on more risk by approving cards for those without a great track record, they also have the highest interest rates,” says Frailich. “If you go this route, you have to be absolutely certain you can pay off the full balance monthly.”

The Bottom Line

Whether you find a co-signer for your credit card or pursue one of the many alternatives, the experts agree your primary focus should be on building your credit to the point where banks will approve you on your own.

“What it boils down to is that co-signing is really just one option amongst many,” says Hong. “In the big picture, it’s about showing that reliable payment history and improving your credit score so you avoid having the need for the co-signed card to begin with.”

 

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12 Million People Are About to Get a Credit Score Boost — Here’s Why

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12 Million People Are About to Get a Credit Score Boost

Some serious tax liens and civil judgments will soon disappear from millions of credit reports, the Consumer Data Industry Association announced this week. As a result, millions of consumers could see their FICO scores improve dramatically.

The CDIA, the trade organization that represents all three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — says they have agreed to remove from consumer credit reports any tax lien and civil judgment data that doesn’t include all of a consumer’s information. That information can include the consumer’s full name, address, Social Security number, or date of birth. The changes are set to take effect July 1.

Roughly 12 million U.S. consumers should expect to see their FICO scores rise as a result of the change says Ethan Dornhelm, vice president of scores and analytics at FICO. The vast majority will see a boost of 20 points or so, he added, while some 700,000 consumers will see a 40-point boost or higher.

Even a small 20-point increase could improve access to lower rates on financial products for these consumers.

“For consumers, the news is all good,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer. “Your score can’t go down because of the removal of a lien or a judgment.”

The change will apply to all new tax lien and civil-judgment information that’s added to consumers’ credit reports as well as data already on the reports. Ulzheimer says consumers who currently have tax liens or judgments on their credit reports that are weighing down their credit scores will be able to reap the rewards of removal almost immediately

“The minute the stuff is gone, your score will adjust and you’re going to find yourself in a better position to leverage that better score,” says Ulzheimer.

But, importantly, he notes that just because credit reporting bureaus will no longer count tax liens or civil judgments against you, it does not mean they no longer exist at all. Consumers could still be impacted by wage garnishment and other punishments associated with the liens and judgments.

“This is the equivalent of taking white-out and whiting it out on your credit report. You can’t see it any longer, but you still have a lien, you still a have a judgment,” Ulzheimer says.

Solution to a longstanding problem

Many tax liens and most civil judgments have incomplete consumer information.

The changes are part of the CDIA’s National Consumer Assistance program that has already removed non-loan-related items sent to collections firms, such as past-due accounts for gym memberships or libraries. The program also has set a 2018 goal to remove from credit reports medical debt that consumers have already paid off.

“Some creditors may have liked having inaccurate credit reports, as long as they were skewed in their favor. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work. This action is just one more proof that the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] works, and works well, and shouldn’t be weakened by special interest influence over Congress,” says Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The move is likely the result of several state settlements and pressure from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal financial industry watchdog.  Beginning in 2015, the reporting agencies reached settlements with 32 different state Attorneys General over several practices, including how they handle errors. The CFPB also released a report earlier this month that examined credit bureaus and recommended they raise their standards for recording public record data.


Time to start shopping for better loan rates?

High credit scores can lead to long-term savings. Borrowers who expect their scores to improve as a result of these changes may find better deals if they can wait a few months to buy a new house, refinance a mortgage, or purchase a new car. Even a 10-point difference can lead to lower rates on loans.

If you expect the credit reporting changes might benefit you, Ulzheimer suggests holding off on taking out new loans or shopping for refi deals, such as student loan refinancing.
“Let it happen, pull your own credit reports to verify the information is gone, then take advantage of the higher scores,” Ulzheimer says.

Ulzheimer also says the changes may not be permanent. “There is a possibility that if the credit reporting bureau is able to find the missing information, the negative information could reappear on consumer credit reports,” he says.

There isn’t anything in the law that forbids the reporting of liens and judgments anymore, and lenders can still check public records on their own to find missing information.

Ulzheimer says if he were the CEO of a reporting agency, that’s exactly what he would do.

“I would embark on a project to get this information immediately back in the credit reporting system,” he says, then adds all he’d need to do is find an economic way to populate the missing data.

“From a business perspective, I would do it in a New York minute. Because I would immediately have a competitive advantage over my two competitors,” says Ulzheimer.

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Guide to Adding an Authorized User to Your Credit Card

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Disclaimer: Though we have done our best to research information regarding this topic, be aware that issuing banks may have unique rules and agreement terms that apply to their particular credit card accounts. Contact issuing banks directly for questions on terms and policies relevant to specific credit card accounts.

What Is an Authorized User?

An authorized user on a credit card account is any person you allow to access your credit card account. Not to be confused with a joint account holder, an authorized user can only make purchases and, in some cases, have access to certain card benefits and perks. Joint account holdership is becoming extremely rare, but typically occurs when two people apply for a credit card together. In joint account ownership, both people are liable for charges and can access and make changes to a credit card account.

An authorized user can be a spouse, relative, or employee. When you designate an authorized user on your credit card account, this person usually gets a card bearing their name with the same credit card number as the primary cardholder. In this scenario, the primary cardholder is liable for all transactions made by themselves as well as by any authorized user tied to their account.

Why Would You Add an Authorized User to Your Credit Card Account?

There are many reasons you might think about designating an authorized user for your credit card account. It all comes down to convenience and extending benefits that a credit account offers: access to credit, related perks, and credit card rewards, as well as the potential to improve the credit score of the authorized user.

For example, couples that share expenses might find it easier to designate one or the other as an authorized user to avoid passing a single card back and forth to make purchases. Perhaps you have a relative who lives far away, and it would be easier to give them access to your credit account for emergency purchases. You may also have a child that you want to assist in building credit history to increase their credit score. Adding them as an authorized user could help with this, but we’ll cover that more in another section.

Additionally, if you are an employer whose employees need to make purchases on behalf of the company, it would make sense to make them an authorized user. Without this designation, it could be extremely inconvenient for them to not have a company credit card at their disposal.

In some cases, adding an authorized user can also accrue reward points connected to a credit card account. These reward points can be used to make purchases or receive discounted pricing on things like travel and retail products. Typically, points are accrued from reaching credit card spending amounts within a certain time frame. Sometimes, the act of adding an authorized user can garner additional rewards as well.

How Can I Add an Authorized User to My Credit Card Account?

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As the primary cardholder you are the only person who can designate an authorized user. The authorized user cannot contact the credit card issuer and add themselves to your account. You will have to contact the issuing bank and request to add one or more authorized users to your account.

Depending on the bank and the technology in place, you may be able to handle this process entirely online. Some banks allow you to log in to your banking portal to designate additional authorized users, create their own bank login and profile as well as determine the level of access you’d like them to have to your account. Levels of access can range from being able to view transactions only to making purchases. If your bank doesn’t have this technology in place, usually a phone call is sufficient.

Adding Authorized Users Online

How to Add an Authorized User to a Chase Credit Card Account:

  1. Log into your Chase credit card account
  2. Under “My Accounts” click “Add Authorized User”
  3. Complete the information requested (see screenshot below for reference)How to Add an Authorized User to a Chase Credit Card Account

    How to Add an Authorized User to a Bank of America Account:

  1. Log onto your Bank of America account.
  2. Select the credit card you’d like to change.
  3. Click on the tab labeled ‘Information & Services’
  4. Scroll down to the section labeled “Services”
  5. Click on “Add an authorized user”

How to Add an Authorized User to a Chase Credit Card Account

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How to Add an Authorized User to a Capital One account:

  1. Log onto your Capital One credit card account online.
  2. Under the “Services” tab, click “Manage Authorized Users”
  3. Click “Add New User”

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How to Add an Authorized User to a American Express credit card account:

  1. Log onto your Amex account online.
  2. Click on “Account services”
  3. From the lefthand menu, select “Card Management”
  4. Under “Account Managers”, click “Add and Manage Users with Account Manager”screen shot 10
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How to Add an Authorized User to a Citi credit card account:

1. Log onto your Citi credit card account online.
2. Select the “Account Management” tab.
3. Click “Services” from the lefthand menu.
4. Click “Authorized Users”
5. Click “Add an authorized user”
6. Fill in the authorized user’s personal information.

 

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How to Add an Authorized User to a Barclays credit card account:

  1. Log onto your Barclays credit card account.
  2. Select the “services” tab.
  3. Under the dropdown menu, select “Authorized users”
  4. Select “Add an authorized user”
  5. Complete the form to add an authorized user.
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Who Can Be an Authorized User on My Account?

An authorized user can be anyone you choose, whether they are related to you in some way or not. In most cases, the bank will request identifying information such as name, birthdate, Social Security number, and address. Some card issuers require that authorized users meet age requirements, and others do not have age requirements. As always, check with the bank to understand the criteria authorized users must meet for your card.

The Fees

Some credit cards will charge an additional fee for more additional authorized users, while others will offer this benefit at no charge. Make sure you read the fine print in your cardholder agreement so that you are aware of all the fees associated with having one or more authorized users on your account.

Fees can range from less than $100 to a few hundred dollars and beyond each year. Business accounts especially can carry higher fees when multiple authorized users are associated to one account.

Liability

As the primary account holder, you must understand that you are 100% solely liable for any and all charges made on your account by both yourself and your authorized user. If you have been designated as an authorized user, you do not legally share liability for purchases made on the credit card account. However, you may have a personal arrangement with the primary account holder to pay your share of charges when the bill is due.

What Can an Authorized User Do?

This can depend on the level of access you’ve chosen with your card issuer for your authorized user. If there are not varying levels of access to choose from, check with the card issuer to find out exactly what an authorized user can and cannot do.

In most cases, an authorized user cannot make changes to an account. They cannot close an account, request changes in bill due dates, change account information, or request limit increases or a lower annual percentage rate.

Again, this varies from card issuer to card issuer, but there are many other things an authorized user can do.

Here are some possible capabilities based on the terms of your credit card issuer:

  • Make purchases
  • Report any lost or stolen cards
  • Obtain account information
  • Initiate billing disputes
  • Request statement copies
  • Make payments and inquire about fees

Benefits of Adding an Authorized User

As mentioned before, adding an authorized user to a card can be for convenience, accruing rewards, or sharing card perks and benefits. An authorized user can be incredibly convenient in the case that you don’t have your personal card or for some reason don’t have immediate access to it.

Having an authorized user can help a primary user reach limits to earn reward points for some cards. One of the most effective marketing strategies of credit card companies is to offer bonuses and rewards for adding authorized users to your account. Adding another user to your account could add a few thousand extra reward points you would not have earned without adding the user. Then, there’s always the chance that the authorized user will make purchases that contribute even more to your attempt to accrue reward points.

Finally, there are a number of credit cards that offer perks or benefits that can extend to your authorized users. Depending on your credit card, benefits like car rental insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and extended warranties could apply to all purchases made, including those by your authorized users, on your credit card account.

Benefits of Becoming an Authorized User

Though the credit-reporting landscape is changing, there’s still the potential to “piggyback” on a primary account holder’s credit history for a card in good standing. But not all credit card companies report information to credit bureaus for authorized users in all circumstances. However, to know for sure what will be reported to the credit bureaus in regard to your authorized user status, speak with your card issuer for the details of what information is reported and when to credit bureaus.

Another benefit is having access to more credit. If you are in a bind and have emergencies that come up, access to credit can be helpful. Plus, exercising diligence in managing purchases and bill payment can help you develop good credit habits.

You should also know that being an authorized user may grant you access to certain perks for account holders and their primary users. There are benefits like access to travel lounges, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, travel credits, and discounts an authorized user could be privy to as well.

What Could Go Wrong?

If for some reason the credit card account doesn’t remain in good standing, the credit score of both the primary account holder and the authorized user could be affected. If you are a primary account holder, make sure your authorized user understands the terms under which they can make purchases. If they make purchases that cause your payments to be delinquent, your credit score could suffer.

Even if you did not give this person permission to make purchases with your credit card account, the fact that you designated them as an authorized user is evidence that you at some point trusted them with your credit card access. A claim of criminal or fraudulent activity in this instance would be extremely difficult to prove, so choose your authorized users wisely.

Though not as common with an authorized user, your credit score could be negatively affected if an account becomes delinquent. Because tradeline reporting for authorized user accounts to credit bureaus varies from card to card and scenario to scenario, a delinquent account status could still appear on your credit report. If you will be added to someone’s account as an authorized user, find out whether or not the credit history of the account will be reported to credit bureaus under your authorized user status.

Removing an Authorized User from an Account

Either the primary cardholder or the authorized user can remove an authorized user from an account by contacting the credit card issuer. You may be asked to verify your information as well as the information of the primary account holder.

In many cases, only one card number is issued between one or more users. Your credit card company may deactivate the primary cardholder’s credit card number and reissue a new card and number once an authorized user is removed from an account.

If your status as an authorized user does show up on your credit report for the credit account after you’ve been removed from a credit card account, you may have to contact credit bureaus to have it removed.

The Best Way to Manage Shared Credit Access

Designating someone as an authorized user is not something to be taken lightly. Even a small misunderstanding of credit card issuer terms and your own interpersonal credit arrangement can cause problems. Before adding an authorized user to your account, set ground rules around card use that covers access to perks and making purchases.

Some things to consider and discuss with your authorized user include:

  • What is the goal in having the authorized user on the account?
  • Will the authorized user have a physical card?
  • When is it OK to use or not use the credit card to make purchases or access card perks?
  • The credit history of both the primary cardholder and the authorized user
  • Good credit habits that will prevent identity theft and fraud
  • Setting up monitoring alerts with the credit card company or an identity theft protection service

The ability to add an authorized user to a credit card account can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, convenient benefits of access to credit and credit card perks can make life easier in so many ways.

On the other hand, this same convenience can cause problems if both the primary cardholder and the authorized user don’t understand the rules of engagement with each other or the terms set forth by the credit card company.

Adding an authorized user to your account has the potential to be incredibly convenient and mutually beneficial if handled the right way. Make sure you follow best practices to get the most out of this financial arrangement.

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Collection Accounts Don’t Always Hurt Your Credit for Seven Years

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Collection Accounts Don't Always Hurt Your Credit for Seven Years

When you fall behind on a bill, you might get charged a late fee and your late payments could be recorded in your credit reports. If a bill goes unpaid for long enough, your creditor may send or sell your account to a collection agency.

The collection agency will then attempt to collect the balance from you — sometimes aggressively — and often reports its possession of your account to the credit bureaus. A new account with the collection agency’s name will then appear on your credit reports, and this can have a significant negative impact on your credit scores.

You might think that paying off the debt clears everything up, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Generally, if you pay the amount you owe or settle for a lower payment, the collection account on your reports will be updated and marked paid in full, settled, or something similar. The impact of a collection account on your credit scores diminishes over time, and a paid account could look better to creditors than an unpaid account. But like other derogatory marks, the account can remain on your reports for up to seven years and 180 days since the account first became delinquent (your first late payment with the original creditor).

After an account is removed from your credit report, collection agencies can still continue to attempt to collect payment as long as the account isn’t outside the governing statute of limitations (state laws determine how long a creditor can attempt to collect certain debts).

Even so, removing a collection account could improve your credit scores, making it easier and less expensive to open new loans or lines of credit. Here are a few exceptions to the standard timeline and instances when a collection account won’t affect your credit score.

You’re a New York state resident. For current New York state residents, satisfied judgments and paid collection accounts must be removed five years from the date filed or date of last activity, respectively.

The collection account was for a medical bill that your insurance paid. A settlement between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the three nationwide credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — in March 2015 resulted in new national credit-reporting policies. Now, medical debt can’t be reported to the credit bureaus for 180 days, and medical collection accounts that are being paid, or are paid in full, by an insurance company must be removed from your credit report.

You didn’t have a contractual agreement to pay the debt. Another result of the settlement in New York was that credit reporting agencies can no longer report debts that aren’t a result of a contract or agreement you signed. In other words, if your debt from a parking ticket or library fine gets sent to a collection agency, it won’t be added to your credit reports.

The collection agency agrees to a pay for delete. Also known as pay for removal, a pay-for-delete agreement with a collection agency is an arrangement in which you agree to pay some or all of the amount owed the collection agency and requests the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your reports.

You’ll want to get a written agreement from the collection agency before sending a payment, but this could be difficult because in general a pay-for-delete agreement is considered a little shady. “Right now, the credit reporting standards do not allow for deletion of accurate collections simply because they’re paid,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, simply that it’s counter to the standards that debt collectors have been given by the credit reporting industry players.”

It requires the collection agency to stop reporting an account that legitimately existed, which may violate the agreement the collection agency has with one or more of the credit reporting agencies.

Your debt collection agency has a special policy. In October 2016, Midland Credit Management, a subsidiary of Encore Capital Group, one of the largest debt collection agencies in the world, announced a new policy.

If MCM bought your debt and you begin payments within three months, and continue making payments until the account is paid off, the company won’t report the account to the credit bureaus (i.e., it won’t appear on your credit reports).

Additionally, if it’s been more than two years since the date of delinquency and you pay the account in full or settle the account, MCM will request the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your credit reports.

The account isn’t yours. If a collection account is on one of your credit reports and you don’t owe the debt, or it’s a type of collection account that meets one of the above criteria for removal, you may be able to dispute the account. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus and data furnishers (such as a collection agency) to correct inaccurate information.

Your lender uses one of the latest credit-score models. You might have paid or settled a collection account and still have to wait for the account to drop off your credit reports. However, if your lender is using the latest base FICO Score, FICO 9, or the VantageScore 3 scoring model, paid or settled collection accounts won’t affect your credit score. FICO Score 8 and 9 don’t consider collection accounts if your original balance was under $100.

However, lenders may use older credit-scoring models, which means a collection account could affect your score for as long as it’s on your credit reports and regardless of the original debt.

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7 Signs You’re Working With a Shady Credit Repair Firm

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7 Signs You're Working With a Shady Credit Repair Firm

It’s natural to want a quick fix for your credit problems, but be wary of any practice that seems deceptive — even if it could work in your favor.

In September 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against Prime Marketing Holdings, a credit repair firm based in Van Nuys, Calif. In its complaint, the CFPB alleged the company charged customers advance fees “totaling hundreds of dollars” and misled customers about their ability to remove negative items from their credit reports.

The case is still active, but it’s just one example of the proliferation of credit repair abuse in the U.S. And it gives rise to the question: How do I know if a credit repair company is legitimate or just another scam?

We’ve put together a litmus test of seven signs you could be working with a shady credit repair company.

1. They ask you to pay before they start working.

One of the biggest red flags in the credit repair business is requiring an upfront fee before any services are rendered. Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), credit repair companies can’t charge advance fees before rendering services.

In some cases, advance fees can be only a couple of hundred dollars. But some companies have been found to ask for thousands of dollars upfront. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission sued Doug and Julie Parker, owners of a Texas-based credit repair firm called RMCN Credit Services, Inc. The FTC claimed the couple charged customers a staggering $2,000 retainer fee before they completed any work. In the end, the Parkers were fined $400,000 by the federal watchdog.

2. They try to give you a new “credit identity.”

Another dodgy credit repair practice is when a company tries to convince clients to create a “new credit identity.” To establish this identity, the firm may offer to issue the client a nine-digit “credit profile number” or even prompt them to apply for an employer identification number with the IRS. With the new number in place, the firm could them encourage the client to apply for new credit and stop using their real Social Security number.

Don’t be fooled — this practice is completely illegal. An EIN is only used to identify businesses, and it is not a substitute for a Social Security number. Additionally, that credit profile number could easily be someone else’s stolen Social Security number. “These companies may be selling stolen Social Security numbers, often those taken from children,” the FTC warns. If you fall for this trap, you are essentially committing identity theft.

3. They ask you to lie on credit applications.

Some credit repair organizations may also ask you to lie on credit applications in order to qualify for more credit. For example, they may ask you to report more income than you earn. It’s illegal to make false statements on credit applications.

4. They dispute correct information on your credit report.

Yet another way credit repair companies try to manipulate the system is by misinforming consumers about the rules surrounding credit reports. They may tell consumers that they can fight every single item on their credit report — even if the item is accurate.

This is not true. If there is a negative item on your credit report that you feel is an error, you absolutely can fight to have it removed. But if it’s negative because you were, indeed, late on your bill, or did, in fact, file for bankruptcy, you cannot file to have it removed by claiming it is inaccurate.

5. They promise to get you a perfect credit score.

When a company promises they can improve your credit score or even get your score up to a specific number, don’t believe their hype.

In 2015, the FTC filed suit against a company called FTC Credit Solutions for making exactly these types of claims. The company’s representatives told customers they would get their credit score into the 700s and promised any negative credit report information could be removed. On top of that, they also charged advance fees before rendering any services. The case was settled very quickly to the tune of a $2.4 million penalty against the defendants.

6. They claim they are affiliated with a government agency.

Some repair firms fraudulently claim they are affiliated with the FTC or another government agency. If you are filing bankruptcy, it is true that you’ll be required to get some kind of credit counseling. But that counseling must be from a government-approved organization. There’s a full list of approved credit counseling firms on the U.S. Trustee Program website. If you’re thinking of working with a firm that isn’t on that list, you might want to reconsider.

7. They don’t want you to contact the credit bureaus on your own.

Don’t believe a company that tells you they are the only way to contact the credit bureaus. By law, any consumer can contact credit bureaus directly without a third party. You also have the right to access your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus once per year for free. If you’ve been rejected for anything for credit-related reasons, you have 60 days to request a free copy of your report. This enables you to keep potential creditors honest.

If a company ever tells you that you are not allowed to contact the credit bureaus on your own, walk away — fast.

How to Repair Your Credit All by Yourself

The MagnifyMoney team highly recommends taking simple steps to improve your credit on your own, without the risk of working with a shady credit repair firm.

Read MagnifyMoney’s full, in-depth guide to repairing your own credit.

Start by getting a copy of your free credit report from each of the credit bureaus. The simplest way to do this is by requesting copies at AnnualCreditReport.com, which is a government-sponsored website.

From there, look over your information to make sure everything is accurate. If there are late payments listed, did you actually pay late? Does it show closed accounts accurately? Do you recognize all of the accounts?

Sometimes reports do have errors. If you find one, consider the fact that you may be a victim of identity theft and take appropriate steps as necessary.

If you’re instead the victim of an honest mistake, contact the credit bureaus directly. You will have to do so online and via written letter. You will also have to contact the entity that incorrectly reported the line item. You can get a sample letter here.

Be sure to keep copies of all of your paperwork and follow up on your dispute. The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate. If all turns out well, they will remove the item, which could result in a higher credit score.

If they do not find in your favor, you can request that a copy of the dispute be attached to your credit report moving forward, but you will have to pay a fee to do so. While this will not improve your credit score, it could potentially alert future creditors to the fact that you do not agree with the negative item.

There are also rare cases where you can attempt to get an accurate item removed from your credit report. If you were not aware of a debt, but you quickly paid it off once you were properly notified, the creditor may be willing to remove the item from your report. This kindness may also be extended if you were experiencing a temporary illness or life emergency. These removals are rare, but are most often rewarded when you are an otherwise responsible steward of your debts.

To make your case to your creditor, you will need to write them a letter of goodwill. In it, explain that you understand why the item is on your report, but also explain why you temporarily were unable to fulfill your obligation. Stress the fact that you are an otherwise responsible borrower, and point out specific instances in your business relationship where this has proven to be true.

It’s also a good idea to appeal to their human side. Explain what the removal of the debt would mean for you. Is there a major milestone coming up, such as a job interview or a mortgage application? Thank them sincerely for the time they’re taking to review your case and cross your fingers. Goodwill letters do not have a high success rate, but you will have a zero percent success rate if you don’t try.

Read MagnifyMoney’s full guide on letters of goodwill.

Finding Legitimate Solutions

Even though there are a lot of scammers out there, it’s good to remember that there are legitimate credit repair organizations, too. However, before you pay a company to help you repair your credit, read our guide on repairing your credit on your own and our guide on credit counseling. At the very least, properly vet a credit repair firm before you sign up for their services — and watch out for the warning signs we covered before.

Another potentially safer way to go about credit repair is by working with a not-for-profit credit counselor. These organizations have a lower rate of deceptive practices and can work with you in a more holistic manner to resolve not just your credit report woes but also your current debt situation.

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Where to Get Your Credit Report for Free

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Where to Get Your Credit Report for Free

If you haven’t checked your credit report lately, you’re not alone. A 2016 survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International found more than half — about 54% — of Americans hadn’t even checked their credit score — the number constructed from factors in your credit report — within the past year. What’s worse, almost a quarter of respondents had never checked their score, making them extremely vulnerable to financial crime. Checking your credit report may seem like any other financial chore, but you shouldn’t keep placing it on the back burner. Similarly to getting a check-up at the doctor’s office, checking your credit report is a preventative measure you should take at least once a year with a bonus: it’s free.

What Is a Credit Report?

Your credit report paints a financial picture of your life. It is a complete history of your use of credit going back at least seven years, good and bad. This includes credit card accounts, student and personal loans, and mortgages, and information about how you use them such as payment history or accounts that have gone to collections. It may also include any utility and other bills that have gone unpaid and were sent to collections. There are three main companies that track your credit report: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Don’t confuse your credit report with your FICO credit score. Your credit score is a numerical figure that is calculated by using the information from your credit reports. Banks and lenders weigh information from your credit report to create a credit score to gauge how responsible you are when it comes to credit. If your credit reports show a solid history of on-time payments and a good mix of different types of loans, your score will reflect that. Likewise, if your credit report shows lots of missed payments and debt collection accounts, you can expect a poor score.

Knowing the information that is currently on your credit report can help you stay ahead of fraudsters and give you details about how you can improve your credit score. If you don’t check your credit report annually, you may not be able to accurately track the health of your credit score, or know when someone has used stolen personal information from you. In addition to those benefits, checking your reports annually can be an exciting way to benchmark your financial progress.

Where to Get Free Credit Reports

You should check your credit report annually for yourself, but you may also need a report to apply for a car loan or to rent an apartment, etc. When you do need a copy of your report, you can get one for free from a few sources.

You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus. You can order a free copy of your credit report from all three bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com. Like the name implies, you can only order each report once a year for free.

Since you only get one free report from each of the three bureaus per year, stagger them throughout the year. For example, once every four months, request a report from one of the bureaus.

If you want to get an update on your credit report more than once a year, but you don’t want to pay for it, there are a bunch of tools out there that offer credit monitoring for free.

Credit.com offers a Credit Report Card tool to monitor your Experian credit report. All you need to do is go to credit.com, and click “Free Credit Report Card” under the “Credit Cards & Score” tab to create an account. The report card updates every 14 days.

Credit Karma gives you access to your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports for free. You can also sign up for their free credit and account monitoring services. If you do, you’ll receive an email alert whenever your credit score changes, and you’ll be notified whenever a new account is opened. The reports update weekly.

Credit Sesame gives you access to your TransUnion credit report via their credit monitoring service. The service updates your report each month.

Mint.com, a free money-management website and app, gives anyone with a Mint account access to their free Equifax credit report. The report is updated every 30 to 60 days.

Quizzle offers a free VantageScore — a scoring model developed by all three credit bureaus — and a free Equifax credit report, which is updated every six months.

Once You Have Your Report

Once you see your credit report, you should check it carefully for any wrong or negative information impacting your credit score. Double check to make sure the open accounts reported all belong to you. Check that the payment information is accurate and all of the account balances are correct. If you find any errors, you should dispute them directly through the bureau websites. MagnifyMoney has a more in-depth guide about how to do that here.

You might not see any errors, but realize that you need to work on rebuilding your credit. A healthy credit score can be very helpful to you when making a large purchase like a car or first home. MagnifyMoney’s complete guide to help you rebuild your credit can be found here.

You may also notice that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. That may take a few more steps to clear up, but you can find what to do here.

 

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BankAmericard Secured Card Review: $39 Annual Fee, 20.74% Variable APR

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Building credit when you’re starting from zero can be difficult. One way to build credit is by opening up a secured card. Secured cards are an introduction into the world of credit. You deposit a certain amount of money to establish your credit limit. Then, you pay off your balance in full every month to establish a good credit history and avoid late fees.

If you prove you can use a secured card responsibly, you will likely be offered a traditional credit card.

Today we’ll review Bank of America’s secured credit card. Bank of America is not the only financial institution that offers secured credit cards. In fact, you may find better terms elsewhere. Check out our full review for more details:

BankAmericard Secured Credit Card Details

Minimum deposit

To open a BankAmericard Secured Credit Card, you have to make a minimum deposit of $300. The maximum you can deposit is $4,900. BankAmericard Secured Credit Card users do not earn interest on their deposits. For this reason, it may make sense to make a smaller deposit to open your secured card and store any extra funds you have in a savings account where you can earn interest.

Determining your credit limit

Your credit limit is determined by your security deposit, your income, and your ability to repay. Some users will only be able to spend as much as they originally deposited to open the card. However, if you prove that you have the income to repay, you may have a larger line of credit extended to you, making the card only partially secured. For example, if you deposit $300, but Bank of America looks at your income and decides you’re able to pay $700 back, your line of credit would exceed your deposit by $400.

Building your credit

Once you’ve had the card for 12 months, Bank of America will re-evaluate your credit history and ability to repay. If both of these things are trending to the positive, they may return your deposit, making the card fully unsecured. This is an ideal situation for those trying to establish or rebuild their credit.

Because Bank of America does report their secured card customers to each of the three credit bureaus monthly, you are likely to see an uptick in your score if you’re using the card responsibly. This increases the likelihood that you’ll get your deposit back at the end of the 12-month period.

Interest rates and fees

The BankAmericard Secured Credit Card is not without fees. In fact, its fees are probably the least attractive thing about it:

(Terms are current as of Jan. 3, 2017)

  • $39 annual fee
  • 20.74% variable APR on transactions, balance transfers, direct deposit, and check cash advances
  • Up to 29.99% variable APR penalty if you miss a single payment
  • Fee of $10 or 3% — whichever is more — on all balance transfers and direct deposit or check cash advances
  • 25.49% variable APR on bank cash advances
  • Fee of $10 or 5% — whichever is more — on all ATM, over-the-counter, same-day online, or cash-equivalent cash advances
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • Maximum late payment penalty fee of $37
  • Maximum returned payment penalty fee of $27

In addition to these fees, you have an option to set up overdraft protection with your secured card if you have a Bank of America checking account. If the card is used for overdraft protection, you will be charged a $12 fee each time. While this is better than the typical $35 overdraft fee, it’s still not ideal. Many financial institutions offer free overdraft protection when you are linked to a savings account; however, Bank of America charges $12 every time, whether you’re linked to your savings account or your secured card.

Safety and benefits of the BankAmericard Secured Card:

The BankAmericard Secured Credit Card does come with some security benefits. For one, you have $0 liability protection. This means that if anyone uses your card fraudulently, you won’t have to pay a dime as long as you report it and provide any requested information to Bank of America.

It also comes with chip technology and ShopSafe. ShopSafe is a program that generates a temporary card number for use when shopping online. It links directly to your card, but protects you from having your real card number stolen.

Another benefit is signing up for email and text alerts. These can either provide you with the information you want at the drop of a hat or remind you when your bill is due so you don’t rack up those nasty interest charges and late fees.

What You Need to Get Approved for a BankAmericard Secured Card

To determine approval, Bank of America looks at several factors, including:

  • Your ability to pay the security deposit
  • Your ability to make monthly payments
  • Information pulled from all three credit bureaus
  • Past management of other Bank of America accounts for current members

Pros and Cons of the BankAmericard Secured Card:

Pros

  • Option for partially secured card for those with adequate income
  • Status regularly reported to all three credit bureaus to help you build or rebuild your credit
  • Potential to turn into an unsecured card after twelve months if used responsibly, removing the need for the hard credit pull that would be involved in opening a new card

Cons

  • Annual fee of $39
  • Interest rates are high — once you qualify for an unsecured card, it may be worth the hard pull and shopping around for lower rates
  • Associated overdraft protection is not free
  • Deposit does not earn interest

How the BankAmericard Secured Card Stacks Up to the Competition

Bank of America is not the only financial institution that offers secured credit cards. In fact, you may find better terms elsewhere.

USAA’s secured credit card does offer interest on your deposit through a 2-year CD. Interest rates are variable, but currently sit at 0.54% APY. The minimum deposit is $250, and the maximum is $5,000.

Interest rates charged to customers and associated fees are lower. There is a $35 annual fee, but no penalty APR or foreign transaction fees. Interest rates are between 10.15% and 20.15% APR, depending on your creditworthiness. All cash advances and balance transfers come with a 3% fee, and the fee for a late charge is $35. The only place where this card is more expensive than the Bank of America option is returned payment fees, which come in at $35. Both fees are only $25 for the first occurrence, however.

Another option is the Discover it Secured Credit Card, with a minimum deposit of $200 and a maximum of $2,500. This card earns you cash back rewards points on all your purchases as you build your credit. Depending on how much you spend, you could yield more in cash back rewards than the CD with USAA would yield you. It comes with no annual fee, penalty APR, or foreign transaction fee. They also won’t charge you a late fee the first time you miss a payment. After that, you pay $37.

While it lacks many fees, interest rates are actually higher than the Bank of America option at 23.24% APR on purchases and balance transfers. Balance transfers also incur a 3% fee. (Currently, there is an offer for 10.99% APR on balance transfers for the first six months.) APR for cash advances is 25.24%. The fee for cash advances is either $10 or 5% — whichever is more.

Don’t Focus on Rewards

Maybe the fact that the BankAmericard Secured Credit Card doesn’t offer you cash back is actually a positive. It won’t reward you for spending more money, and that’s a very good thing from a psychological perspective — especially if you are recovering from past credit follies.

We still like USAA’s interest-bearing CD option as it doesn’t incentivize additional spending, but does offer consumers a return on their deposit.

Your exclusive goal when using a secured card should be to rebuild your credit by using it and paying it off in full every month so you don’t incur interest or late charges. If rewards would entice you to do otherwise, sticking with Bank of America could be a smart move.

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Here’s the Right Way to Use a Student Credit Card

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Here's the Right Way to Use a Student Credit Card

Credit cards can be a great way to build your credit while in college. But if you aren’t careful, they can quickly turn into a seductive debt trap, sending you down a path to poor credit.

If you are an inexperienced borrower, you could easily spend more than you are able to comfortably pay back each month and end up in delinquency or being hounded by debt collectors. You also run the risk of ruining your credit score before you really need it for important purchases after college.

If you’re ready to start building your credit, then that’s great. Before you do, you should get a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into before you apply for a credit card.

What Is a Student Credit Card?

A student card is a credit card specially designed by a lender to get college students started with credit. It helps them build a relationship with customers early on and helps you build your credit score.

The major difference between a student credit card and a regular credit card is that the student card will likely have a higher interest rate. That’s because the bank has no way to prove you are a reliable borrower yet since you have little to no credit history. Regular cards tend to average about 15% annual interest. In a recent MagnifyMoney study, we found the average student credit card carries an interest rate of 21.4%.

Why Should I get a Student Credit Card?

Your goal with your student credit card is to build your credit so that by the time you graduate, you have a healthy credit score in the high 600s to mid 700s. That way, when you graduate, you’ll be in a great position to make larger purchases like a new car or your first home. At that point you may actually want to earn rewards, and you’ll qualify for the best cards because you have a great score.

Many people look to credit when they need extra money.

However, you should only get a credit card if you want to build your credit score, not because you need extra money to make ends meet. This is important, so we’re going to repeat it again: You should only get a credit card if you want to build your credit score, not because you need extra cash to make ends meet.

If you can’t afford your monthly expenses as it is, a credit card might only make things worse. When you take out a credit card, you are paying a company to lend you money for a short while. If you can’t afford to pay the full balance on your card before your bill is due, the bank or credit card company will charge you interest.

Let’s say you charged $300 to your student card for books at the start of the semester. If you made a minimum monthly payment of $9, it would take four years and four months to pay off a card with a 21.4% annual percentage rate (APR). At that point you would have paid a total of $460, assuming your books were your first and only charge on the card.

Choosing Your First Credit Card Wisely

Because you likely have little or no credit history, your main goal with a credit card should be to build your credit score. There are two main criteria you should look for when shopping for your first credit card:

  1. No annual fee

Choose a card that has no annual fee, first and foremost. You shouldn’t worry about finding a card with the best rewards or even the best interest rate. You’re not getting a card for the perks, and since you don’t have much credit history, a low APR isn’t really an option for you right now.

You just need to make sure that the card won’t cost you anything annually to build your credit. Carefully read the fine print. Some lenders may waive the fee for a period, then start charging you.

  1. Easy to set up auto-pay

This next point is almost as important: look for a card that has an online platform that makes it easy to set up automatic payments. This will make it easy to make sure you pay your bill each month.

Three no fee options with well rated smartphone apps for easy payments are the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students, and Capital One Journey.

Your limit may not be very high as a student, but that’s fine because this card is for practice and to build your score. Your limit will likely land somewhere between $500 and $2,000.

The key is to make all your payments on time, and in full each month, which is why having a reliable smartphone app from your credit card provider is so important. Otherwise, penalty interest rates on these card are 29% or more.

You may also want to check with your parent’s credit union to see if they have a student credit card. The mobile apps aren’t always as easy to use for payments, but they can have lower rates in case things go wrong and many credit unions allow parents to cosign for students under 21.

Justice Federal Credit Union’s student card has a 0% rate for 6 months, and a  fixed 16.9% APR afterward with no annual fee. It allows parents to co-sign and anyone can join Justice credit union by becoming a member of the Native Law Enforcement Association for $15. You can apply for the card before you take care of membership formalities.

Since the implementation of the Credit CARD Act in 2010, lenders have been barred from promoting student credit cards on college campuses. As a result, the number of student credit card accounts have fallen by more than 60%. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found in its 2016 Campus Banking Report that lenders and institutions have shifted their partnerships to checking accounts or prepaid debit cards loaded with fees instead.

Using Your First Credit Card

Focus on making consistent, on-time payments, and keeping your credit utilization — that’s how much of your total credit limit you use — as low as possible. You should aim to use no more than 20% of your total limit. For example, if you have a credit card limit of $500, you should never charge more than $100 at a time to your card.

On-time payments and utilization make up 60% of your credit score, so it’s a big deal to miss a payment or max out your card.

Automation makes it very, very easy to achieve both these goals.

  1. When you get your card, figure out what 20% of your credit limit is. Example: 20% of $200 is $40.
  2. Find something that you pay for each month that costs less than that. This might be a payment for a streaming service such as Hulu, Netflix, or Spotify.
  3. Set up your account to take the payment from your credit card each month.
  4. Set up your checking account to pay your credit card balance each month.

After you set up all of the payments, you can forget about using your credit card. The automation is doing all of the work for you. Stash it somewhere safe (not your wallet) so that you won’t be tempted to use it.

Sit back and watch your score grow with free tools such as Credit Karma or the Discover Credit Scorecard. By the time you graduate, you should easily see your credit score in the high 600s or mid-700s.You’ll also have demonstrated your self-discipline and responsibility to banks, and will have an easier time getting a loan for a car or mortgage.

5 Other Ways to Build Your Credit Score

There are plenty of other ways to build your credit score if you aren’t quite ready to take on the responsibility of a credit card.

Become an authorized user on your parent’s credit card

Ask your parent to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. If you are an authorized user, the behavior on that card (spending, payments, etc.) will be reported on your credit report as if it were your own, helping you build your credit. This strategy could also backfire. If your parents don’t use credit responsibly, it could hurt your credit score in turn. Negative behavior — even if it isn’t yours — will be reported as if it were yours as well.

Get a secured credit card

A secured card is a simple way to start building your credit history. This card can help prove to lenders you can be responsible without a lender having to take much risk. You’ll put down a deposit, and the lender will give you a line of credit. Typically, your line of credit will equal the amount of your deposit.

Get a co-signer

If for any reason you don’t qualify for a credit card on your own, you might be able to ask someone to co-sign the agreement with you. Big banks generally don’t offer this, but some credit unions like the Fort Knox Credit Union allow parents to cosign for students under age 21.

That means that they will be responsible for the payments if you can’t pay them. If you go this route, you’ll need to be very careful to only charge what you can afford to pay off each month. If you miss payments, it will negatively affect both of your credit scores.

Get a credit-builder loan

A credit-builder loan is similar to a secured credit card, but it requires no down payment. These loans are typically only offered by community banks and credit unions. When you are approved, the bank will deposit your loan in a savings account for you. You can’t access it until you’ve paid the loan back, however.

Build credit with rent payment

Paying your rent on time can help you build your credit score if it’s reported to the bureaus. Ask your property management company or landlord if they report rental payment data to Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax rental bureaus.

If they don’t, you can ask them to either start reporting or you can sign up for a rent payment service like PayLease or RentTrack that will let you pay for your rent online and give you the option to report your payments to the bureaus. The rent payment information will be included on your standard credit report and can help you build a score without a credit card.

A Final Word of Advice

We had to add this, because we know you just love it when a professor keeps talking after the lesson is over. But really, this is important so pay attention.

If you don’t think you have the self-discipline to handle a credit card right now, then don’t get one. College is full of opportunities to be a present hedonist — to say YOLO — and having a credit card can make it tempting to spend money you don’t really have.

Rebuilding your credit takes a long time and can get very expensive. It’s not worth ruining your credit score, and it will make it a lot harder to make those larger purchases when you graduate. If you can’t be disciplined enough to keep your utilization low and make your payments on time, then don’t get a credit card. You will have plenty of opportunities to build your credit after college.

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View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

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View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

There are lots of free credit scores floating around, but most of them are not the true FICO score that lenders subscribe to and use as part of their decision.

However FICO is working to change that by allowing banks and credit unions to give you free ongoing access to the real score they use to make lending decisions as long as you are an account holder.

The easiest place for anyone to get their free FICO is via the Discover Credit Scorecard. You do not need to be a customer of Discover – anyone can register and get their official FICO score for free. The data is from the Experian credit bureau.

To find out where to get your FICO score from the other credit bureaus, read on.

Every bank chooses at least one of three credit bureaus to calculate a FICO score: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. The FICO score one bank uses can be different than another depending on which credit bureau they pulled a report from.

The good news is, you can now see your real, free FICO score from all three credit bureaus depending on which banks hold your accounts. FICO itself charges almost $60 for you to see those scores, though they also throw in full copies of your credit reports, which the free bank scores do not.

Here’s where to find your real, free FICO scores from banks or credit unions anyone can join:

Equifax Scores

Citibank

  • Available With: Any Citibank branded credit card. This does not include Citibank cards with other brands like the American AAdvantage or Hilton HHonors cards.
  • Where to Find It: On your online statement
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Learn more

DCU Credit Union

  • Available With: Any credit card, or a checking account with direct deposit
  • Where to Find It: Look for an invitation in your online account
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Learn more

Huntington Bank

  • Available With: The Huntington Voice credit card – you will get a FICO Bankcard 02 Score from Equifax
  • Where to Find It: Log into your account and you’ll see a link

PenFed

  • Available With: PenFed members with active checking accounts, installment loans, and revolving lines of credit
  • Score Updated: When PenFed refreshes – no set schedule
  • Where to Find it: Login to your account and click ‘Your FICO Score is Ready’
  • Notes: PenFed uses a more advanced ‘Next Gen’ FICO score that has a different scale than traditional FICO scores, with 150 as the lowest score and 950 as the highest score. Most banks use a score with a scale of 300 to 850. Because of this the score you see on PenFed’s site may be higher or lower than what you see from others.
  • Learn more

Experian Scores

Capital One and American Express regularly use Experian’s FICO among others for credit decisions.

American Express

  • Available With: Any American Express credit card
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Where to Find It: On your online account

Chase

  • Available With: Chase Slate credit card accounts
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Learn more

Discover

  • If you have a Discover credit card already, you will see your FICO score on your statement and online. It is updated monthly.
  • If you are not a Discover customer, you can sign up to get your FICO score for free by visiting CreditScoreCard.com.

First National Bank of Omaha

  • Available With: Any credit card account
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Where to Find It: On your online account
  • Learn more

Please note: a previous version of this blog post noted that USAA provides a free FICO credit score. USAA actually provides a free VantageScore.

Transunion Scores

Bank of America

  • Available With: Select credit card accounts
  • Score Updated: Monthly, with history
  • Where to Find It: Link available on your account summary page under the ‘Tools and Investing’ section

Barclaycard

  • Available With: Any credit card account
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Where to Find It: Link available on your account summary page
  • Learn more

Walmart / Sam’s Club

  • Available With: A Walmart Credit Card, Walmart MasterCard, or Sam’s Club Credit Card
  • Score Updated: Monthly
  • Where to Find It: At Walmart.com/creditlogin, only if you enroll in online delivery of monthly statements
  • Learn more

Unknown Bureau

 State Employees Credit Union of North Carolina

  • Available to all credit card holders

Other, less open to the public free FICO providers include:

  • Ally, for auto loan holders
  • Hyundai and Kia Motor Finance, which offer a quarterly score, but only if you’re a new buyer, recent college grad and bring your diploma to the dealer at the time of purchase.
  • Sallie Mae, which offers a free, quarterly Transunion score if you receive a new Smart Option Student during the 2014-2015 academic year or later.
  • Merrick Bank doesn’t have open applications, but does offer free scores to its cardholders.
  • Some credit unions with limited membership also offer scores, so check yours to see if it provides them.

 

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