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3 Strategies for Fighting Credit Card Fraud

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.

Credit Card Fraud

Unfortunately, credit card fraud is common – and the odds are high enough that it will likely happen to you at least once in your life.  You can stay ahead of the game by having a plan for avoiding, detecting and responding to fraud.

Prevention 

To avoid fraud, you want to reduce the chance of your credit card information (number, expiration date, security code, pin) or your personal information (social security number, address, date of birth, mother’s maiden name) ending up in the hands of fraudsters.

As a general rule: I try to avoid using my debit card as much as possible.  If fraud hits me, I would rather it hit my credit card limit rather than cash in my bank account.  Even if you get your money back, losing your cash (even for a few days) can be a lot more painful than losing your credit card limit while the bank investigates.  (You can also benefit from earning cashback or airline miles on your everyday spend by using your credit card).

Here are a few important tips:

  1. Don’t carry all of your credit cards with you at all times.  I tend to carry my primary credit card and a back-up credit card.  No more.  That way, if my wallet is lost or stolen, I limit the potential damage, and I have my other back-up credit cards at home.
  2. When you use your card for cash at an ATM, always cover your pin code.  A deadly combination occurs when the card information is skimmed, and the person behind you in line (who put the skimmer on the ATM or is paid by the person who did) observes your pin code.  They can then use the skimmed card information and the pin code to withdraw cash. Even worse: you probably won’t get that money back, because the pin code is used.
  3. Avoid sketchy ATM machines.  The best ATMs are on branch premises.  Why?  Because they have 24 hour CCTV and a team of fraud enforcement that likes putting people in jail.  They will work to defend their equipment.
  4. Avoid making online purchases at public computers (airline lounges, internet cafes).  The chance of having your information stolen is much higher.
  5. Never share your credit card information via email.  Never write down your pin code or your password.
  6. Phishing is a common type of online fraud: the site looks like Amazon, or your bank – but it isn’t.  Especially if you are clicking on an email offer – make sure you are going to the actual website of the company.  Email offers that then ask for lots of personal information are big red flags.
  7. People steal phones to get your information, which is more valuable than the phone itself. Do not store your social security number, credit card information or other personal information on your smartphone.
  8. Change your passwords regularly!
  9. Update your operating system regularly – especially when you are told that it is a critical security fix!

Detection

Fraud can happen to even the most careful person.  I used to run the Fraud Department at a bank, and I was hit with fraud.  The key is early detection.  And as soon as you detect, call the bank!

You need to be alert to 2 worries:

  1. Someone stole your identity and applied for new credit.
  2. Someone stole your credit card information and is going shopping with your money.

For 1:  sign up for services like CreditSesame, Quizzle and CreditKarma.  You will then be able to see when someone applies for new credit.  If you see that someone applied for credit, then you can take action before the credit is approved.  You should look at your credit report every month, to make sure nothing surprising shows up.

For 2: sign up for alerts on your credit card and regularly check you balance.  As soon as you see suspicious activity, make a phone call to your bank and let them know.

Recovery

If you discover fraud, the most important thing is not to panic.  Here is what I recommend:

  1. Change all passwords on your accounts.
  2. Make sure you call your bank and have any card that could have been compromised blocked and re-issued.
  3. If you haven’t already, sign up for credit monitoring services so that you can continue to watch for any suspicious activity.

If you think you identity was stolen, and the fraudsters are looking to apply for new credit, then consider a Credit Freeze.  This can be painful if you are planning on applying for credit any time soon – because your credit bureau will be frozen.  But, if you want complete peace of mind to thwart the fraudsters, this is certainly an option.

When I experienced fraud, I had my effected card re-issued.  I suffered no loss (because I called the bank right away to report).  And I felt comfortable because I never saw a new credit application appear in my name.  There are enough tools out there to help you take control and feel comfort.  Just make sure you sign up for them and guard your identity and your credit cards wisely.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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6 Simple Steps to Improve Your Credit Score

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Credit score large

Going from a 550 credit score to above 700 may seem overwhelming, but you only need six simple steps and to improve your credit score.

Step 1: Get a line of credit

In order to establish credit history, you need to have a form of credit. The simplest way for you to begin will be to open a credit card. If your score is low or non-existent, then you’ll need to apply for a secured card or a store card.

  • Secured Card:  You’ll use your own money as collateral by putting down a deposit of a few hundred dollars with the bank. Typically, that amount will then be your credit limit. Once you prove you’re responsible, you can get back your deposit and upgrade to a regular credit card. [Our favorite is the Discover it® Secured Card – No Annual Fee. You can apply here, or learn more about secured cards in general here]

  • Store Card: People with a low credit score can often still get store cards because banks are more likely to approve users who apply through the store. The catch is that the interest rates are often very high if you can’t make your payments. [Read more here]

Step 2: Keep your utilization rate low

Utilization is the amount of your credit limit you spend each month. For example, if you have a $500 credit limit and spend $50 in a month, you’re utilization will be 10%. Your utilization is part of what determines your credit score.

Your goal should be to never exceed 30% of your credit limit. Ideally, you should be even lower than 30% because the lower your utilization rate, the better your score will be.

We recommend you make one small purchase (hello, pack of gum) a month to keep your utilization low and help increase your credit score at a faster rate.

Step 3: Pay in full, and on time, each month

The easiest way to prove you’re responsible is to only charge what you can afford. Never use your credit card to buy an item you won’t be able to pay off on time and in full each month.

Being late on your payments has a huge, negative impact on your credit score.

There is also no advantage to only paying the minimum amount due on your card. That will only result in you paying interest and does nothing to help your credit score. So just save yourself money and pay your entire bill.

Step 4: Avoid credit card debt

This goes hand-and-hand with step three. By only purchasing what you can pay off in full, you’ll never accumulate credit card debt.

If you’re already in debt from the misuse of credit cards, then make sure you continue to pay at least the minimum due on time each month. Paying on time is the number one indicator of a responsible borrower. You should consider applying for a personal loan, and using the money from the loan to pay off your credit card debt. Personal loan companies have interest rates that start as low as 4.25%, and they are approving people with credit scores as low as 550. You can shop around for a personal loan without hurting your score, because the lenders will approve you using a soft pull (which doesn’t impact your score). A recent study by Lending Club showed that people who paid off their credit card debt with a personal loan saw their score increase by 31% on average, right away. You can look for the best personal loans using this personal loan tool at LendingTree. [Disclosure: LendingTree is the parent company of MagnifyMoney.] With a single application, you can check your rate with dozens of lenders. And the best part: LendingTree uses a soft pull, which means your credit score will not be negatively impacted.

After you pay off your credit cards with the proceeds on the loan, do not build up your debt again. Instead, just make one purchase each month and pay it off in full.

Once you pay off your cards, resist the urge to close them. Closing your cards will not only lower your utilization but remove history which damages your score in the “length of history” category.

Step 5: As your score improves, so do your options for better credit cards

You’ll start to get credit card offers as you begin to build your credit history and improve your score. Credit card companies still love sending snail mail.

Beware of any offers, especially for cash back cards, while your score is below 650. These cards typically provide little value and can smack you with high interest rates if you fail to follow step three.

Not sure if an offer is a good deal? Try checking it out in our cashback reward cards page. Our Magnify Transparency Score will let you know if it’s the real deal.

Once you get your credit score above 680, the good credit card offers will start rolling in. You can have your pick of the top-tier reward credit cards and start using your regular spending to get cash back or rack up points for travel.

Step 6: Protect your score

Once you’ve achieved a higher credit score, but sure to protect it by following these simple steps:

  • Always pay on time – late or missed payments will cost you dearly

  • Try to keep your credit used below 30% of your available credit

  • If you apply for a store card to increase your credit then immediately put in the freezer (literally if you have to) and avoid spending

  • Be sure to check your credit reports for accuracy and signs of fraud – you’re entitled to one free report per year from each of the three credit bureaus

If you have any questions or just want a helping hand, please reach out to us at info@magnifymoney.com or tweet us @Magnify_Money

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erin@magnifymoney.com

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The Only Reason to Open a Store Credit Card

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storecard

 “And would you like to open a [insert store] card today to receive an extra 10% off your purchase?”

We’ve all heard this upsell strategy. Store credit cards seem to be available at just about any place you exchange currency for goods – except for maybe Seven-11.

For years I firmly shook my head and said, “thanks, I’m all set for today” without ever considering the possible advantages of opening a store card.

Then Banana Republic got me thinking about using a store card to increase my credit limit thus driving down my utilization to improve my credit score.

Why I got a store credit card: to improve my score

The moderately-expensive store was offering 40% off most of the store which could be coupled with any discount already bestowed upon sales rack items. While trying on clothes, I overheard the dressing room attendant mention if you opened up a Banana Republic credit card, you’d receive 30% off a full-priced item and an additional 10% off everything else.

Like most shoppers, I looked down at the massive stack of clothing I had my eye on I started to do the math. All those discounts could net me over $600 worth of clothing (at it’s original price) for $120. While weeding through the dresses, blouses and pants I started to do another math equation.

If I opened a store card, I would be increasing my overall credit limit. I could use the card for one purchase a month – or none – thus lowering my utilization. A utilization rate below 30% helps prove you aren’t a risky borrower and can increase your credit score. So, if my overall credit limit went from $5,000 to $8,000, and I continued to only spend about $1,200 on my cards each month, I could lower my utilization from about 25% to about 15%. Plus, establishing and using another line of credit responsibly would help improve my overall score.

The opportunity to improve my score, and maybe a little bit of the discount, convinced me to open up a store card — which now sits my hypothetical freezer.

The application process was painless and required I give certain personal information, like my address and social security number, to the cashier. Within a minute I’d been approved. Store cards are ideal for people trying to build their credit from scratch or anyone rebuilding a botched score.

Low scores get approved for store cards

You don’t need to be part of the 700-prime-score-club to get approval for store credit cards. In fact, banks approve much lower scores for store card than they would normally allow if you just walked into a local branch or applied directly for a bank credit card online.

The reason being, banks promise retailers a certain approval rate (perhaps people with a score of 550 or higher), which then requires the banks to approve customers they’d normally consider risky.

Opening a store card is an ideal way for someone with a lower credit score to begin rebuilding his or her credit.

Getting approval for the credit card increases a person’s credit limit thus driving down their utilization ratio as well as diversifying their types of credit. But it only helps if you use the card wisely – perhaps by simply tucking it away. If you do plan on using the card for affordable purchases,  it can still be used at any store – not just the one with the logo on the front.

Just beware: when you apply for a store credit card, there will be an inquiry on your credit report. If you want to see where you have a good chance of getting approved for a credit card but do not want to hurt your credit score, consider using a tool from CreditCards.com (you can visit the tool on their website by clicking this link). With this tool, a soft pull that doesn’t hurt your score is pulled and you get to find cards where you have higher approval odds. This might be a good stop before a store card.

Be careful about making purchases on a store card

Just because you have the card doesn’t mean you should be swiping it. Stores (and banks) will entice you to spend on their card by giving all sorts of promotional offers like sales, special discounts or reward points.

Don’t fall for these traps. Seriously. Seeing those promotional offers should set off alarm bells in your head – kind of like when you’re watching a horror movie and want to scream at that stupid character walking into a creepy, dark house.

Store cards have high rates, so if you get caught in a debt cycle it will not only hurt your credit score and history but also attack your wallet. Only use a store card if you’re able to pay a purchase off in full each month.

How you know your credit score is increasing

Not many people send snail mail these days, but banks still love direct mail. Once you start having a mailbox stuffed with credit card offers, you’ve been tapped into the “credit-worthy” group. The first round of mailers might be from sketchy-sounding companies, but it just means you’re on the rise.

Once your score hits a pleasing 680, you’ll be bombarded by offers from well-known credit card companies.

Know yourself and your limitations

Store cards are a simple way to increase a low credit score, but be honest with yourself before signing up. If you tend to easily succumb to sales, discount deals, and promotional offers then perhaps this will end up putting you in debt instead of improving your credit score.

Would you consider opening up a store card to help your credit score?

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erin@magnifymoney.com

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What Makes a 700+ Credit Score?

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whatisacreditscore

Three little numbers known as a credit score will determine a lot of your financial life. Credit scores help lenders assess your “risk factor” and unlike high-school girls, lenders aren’t interested in dealing with a risky bad boy. The lower your credit score, the more likely they think you are to default on a loan, make late payments or jet off to a foreign country and assume a new identity.

I first learned my credit score in a small, back-alley realtor office in New York City. My roommate and I were struggling to find a clean, safe, rodent-free apartment with an affordable price tag for two young twenty-somethings.

The realtor insisted I fork over $30 to run a credit report for my prospective landlord. After giving her my weekly food budget, I was informed I had a score in the 700s – which was apparently good enough for my landlord-to-be to deem me responsible.

At the time, I had no idea what the score meant or where it had come from.

The answer: through the diligent use of a credit card in order to establish credit history.

What goes into a credit score?

Fair Issac and Company (or FICO) – who owns the definition and scores credit – uses five different factors to assign you a credit score.

  • Payment history (35%): do you make payments on time? Missed payments can crush your credit score quickly

  • Amounts owed (30%): the more debt you have, the lower your score.  But even more important than the total amount you owe, is the amount you owe in relation to your total credit limit –which is called utilization.  If you max out every card you have, you will get punished

  • Length of credit history (15%): the longer you’ve had credit, the better

  • New credit (10%): this looks at how many new accounts you have opened, and many times you have applied for credit.

  • Types of credit used (10%): the more types of credit you have, the better.  So, someone who has successfully managed a car loan, a mortgage and a credit card would score better than someone who just managed a credit card successfully

What’s a good score?

The higher your score, the better the deals you can get from banks and lenders. FICO typically calculates scores between 300 and 850. You should strive for a 700+ credit score.

Why do I want a score above 700?

A score of 700 essentially puts you in the “prime” group and open up opportunities that aren’t available to other consumers including:

  • When you buy a home, you will get the best mortgage rates

  • When you buy a car, the 0% financing from manufacturers will be yours

  • When you apply for a credit card, all of the best bonus and introductory offers will be waiting for you

  • When you apply for auto insurance, you will be considered more responsible – and get better rates

  • When you apply for a job, you will easily pass screening that regularly includes credit scoring

People in Club Prime are diligent about paying on time, use less than 30% of their available credit (also called utilization) and have at least a three to five years of credit history. They also tend to have a good mix of credit instead of just credit cards or just student loans and don’t apply for lines of credit on a regular basis.

Why am I not “prime”?

There are two common reasons for why you may not have a credit score above 700.

  1. If you’ve shunned credit or are young and just entered the workforce then you don’t have enough history to have established a high credit score.
  2. If you’ve been using more than 30% of your utilization ratio, making late payments or missing your payments entirely, and applying for new forms of credit are all factors that can keep your credit score from moving into 700 range.

Check out 6 simple steps for improving your credit score.

Don’t be discouraged by a low score

If you’ve struggled with your financial situation, don’t be discouraged by a low credit score. They are fixable. It may not be easy at first, but taking simple, actionable steps you can begin rebuilding your score and eventually become a member of Club Prime.

Do you have a story to share about credit scores? Let us know in the comment section or email us at info@magnifymoney.com.

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erin@magnifymoney.com

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3 Ways to Build Your Credit History from Scratch

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howtobuildcredithistory-lg1

Meet Katie. Katie is a role model of financial health. She’s never overdrawn her bank account, always pays her bills on time, doesn’t carry any student loan debt and has diligently used one credit card for four years.

When Katie went to check her credit score, she discovered she was a thin file meaning her years of responsible financial behavior didn’t do much to boost her credit score. In part, Katie’s lack of diversity in her credit history could produce a thin file. Her credit card lender also might not report her card to all three credit bureaus.

Even though Katie is financially responsible, she still has to do some work to build her credit history.

Why you need credit history

If you ever plan to make a purchase you can’t buy outright in cash, such as a home, car or education, then you’re going to need a loan. Lenders want proof that you’re reliable; otherwise you may get hit with high interest rates or declined for a loan.

How do you establish (or rebuild) credit history?

To establish credit history, you need to have – you guessed it – a form of credit. Credit could come in the form of student loans, credit cards, home mortgages or a variety of other ways.

College credit cards

For young adults – especially college students – it’s relatively simple to begin creating a credit history. They can apply for a credit card (perhaps by having a parent co-sign) or take out a loan to help cover the cost of education. You can find a list by filtering for college students on our Cash Back Rewards page.

If you made it to later in your twenties with no debt, no credit cards and no loan of any kind – well congrats – but the time may have come to establish credit history.

Secured Cards

You can still open a credit card by applying for a secured card. A secured card is ideal for people who have no credit, are not students or have recently filed bankruptcy. Typically you provide a deposit (usually a few hundred dollars) and then your credit limit will be a few hundred dollars.

By simply making one purchase a month and paying it off on time and in full, you’ll begin to establish a line of credit and later be able to apply for other lines of credit and increase your “types of credit” factor in your credit score.

Store Cards

If you’re working on rebuilding credit, you can also consider applying for a store card. Banks are more likely to approve consumers with much lower scores through a store card than if the same consumer walked into the bank to apply for a credit card.

Protect your credit

Your credit history and score are huge assets to your financial health. You need to be diligent about ensuring they stay in good shape. Consider these tips the financial equivalent of eating your fruits and veggies:

  • Always pay on time – late or missed payments will cost you dearly

  • Try to keep your credit used below 30% of your available credit (ie: if your available credit is $1,000 then only spend $300)

  • If you apply for a store card to increase your credit then immediately put in the freezer (literally if you have to) and avoid spending

  • Be sure to check your credit reports for accuracy and signs of fraud – you’re entitled to one free report per year from each of the three credit bureaus

Erin Lowry
Erin Lowry |

Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erin@magnifymoney.com

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