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Consumer Watchdog

Shame on First Premier Bank: You get an F

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

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Updated November 11, 2014

At MagnifyMoney, we reward transparency, which is why we have established our Magnify Transparency score. We scrutinize financial products harder than those drug-sniffing dogs at an airport investigate your luggage. Those that can stand up to our rigorous testing and still prove to be transparent are awarded an A.

Unfortunately, it’s time we bring a failure to your attention: First Premier Bank

When I read First Premier’s claim that they wanted individuals “to receive a second chance when it comes to their finances,” my shady business radar went off.

There is nothing that is more repugnant to me than a financial institution preying on the vulnerable. And the credit cards offered by First Premier bank do just that. They serve no purpose other than to exploit people in financial difficulty.

Lets take a look at their MasterCard offering:

  • Step 1: Apply for a credit card, and pay a $95 processing fee. Yes, $95 just to apply for a credit card!
  • Step 2: Pay a $75 annual fee for the credit card.

As the bank admits, most credit cards only come with a $300 credit limit.  So, you have now spent $170 to receive a $300 line.  So, you will only have $130 of available credit.

Oh, and want to know the APR on that card?  A whopping 36%!

In Year 2, the annual fee reduces to $45.  But, wait.  You then have to pay $6.25 per month as a monthly servicing fee. That is another $75 per year.

And it still gets even worse.  If they increase your credit limit, they will charge you 25% of the limit as a fee.  So, if they increase your credit limit from $300 to $400, you will be charged a $25 fee.

This type of product is outrageous, and we can’t believe they are allowed to exist.  Even worse, the South Dakota Hall of Fame recently inducted Miles Beacom, First Primer CEO, into their club of famous and influential people from the state.

Why do they charge these fees?

There are 3 reasons why they charge these fees:

  1. By giving out a low credit line ($300) and then charging most of the credit line with fees ($170), First Premier is not actually giving out much credit at all.  This is a deceptive practice, which means the plastic is a way to charge high fees with minimal credit extended.
  2. People in difficult situations often under-estimate their options.  First Premier is taking advantage of that bias.
  3. Direct Mail offerings are easily misleading.  First Premier gets most of their business from Direct Mail – and people do not understand from the marketing how much they are actually going to pay ($170) in order to receive a low credit limit.

We find the business practices of First Premier abhorrent.  They deserve the F that we are giving them.  You won’t find any of their cards on our Balance Transfer or Cash Back tables.

I have a First Premier Card – what should I do?

Your goal should be to get out of that product as soon as possible.  Find a way to pay off the debt and close the account.

A decent way to pay off the debt would be the Wal-Mart Discover Card.  This credit card will accept FICO scores in the 500s.  You can do a balance transfer with a 3% fee and have an interest rate of 22.9%. That may seem high, but it is considerably lower than First Premier.

Be sure to keep keep an eye on your credit score.  Once it gets to the mid-600s, there are other great options out there for you.

And, we would love for you to do one more thing.  Complain to the CFPB.  If you are paying more fees than you think you should be paying – then go to this website: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/

Make a complaint.  Let the CFPB know how badly you have been treated.  It is sad that this company is allowed to make money the way that it does.  And it is even more depressing that the South Dakota Hall of Fame decided the CEO was worth honoring.

If you have had a bad experience with First Primer Bank (or any experience at all), we would like to hear from you. Please email us at info@magnifymoney.com or tweet us at @Magnify_Money. Let us know if you have another company or financial product you’d like Goofski to sniff out.

 

 

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

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

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Consumer Watchdog, News

Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow Class-Action Suits Against Finance Giants

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

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Senate Republicans on Tuesday killed a new rule that would have made it easier for Americans to file class-action lawsuits against big Wall Street banks. 

Vice President Mike Pence cast a critical vote to break a 50-50 tie, giving the Street its first major victory since the Trump administration took office in January.  

Implications for consumers 

In the regulatory overhaul following the housing slump, Congress directed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to write the rule preventing financial firms from imposing arbitration when consumers wished to band together in class-action cases to resolve disputes. 

For years, financial companies have included class-action waivers in new contracts offering a consumer financial product or service. The arbitration clauses forced consumers to waive their rights to join class-action lawsuits. 

CFPB’s proposed rule, issued in July, would have banned financial institutions from inserting such clauses in standard contracts. Consequently, it would have restored individuals’ ability to pool resources and fight against banks and credit card companies in court.  

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country,”  Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said in an emailed statement to MagnifyMoney. “Wall Street won and ordinary people lost.” 

He added, “As a result, companies like Wells Fargo and Equifax remain free to break the law without fear of legal blowback from their customers.” 

What’s arbitration? 

When a company includes a mandatory arbitration clause in a contract, it generally means disputes will be handled as individual cases in small claims court or settled outside the court system, through arbitration. A neutral third party — an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators — listens to the arguments and decides on a resolution.  

Arbitration is said to be faster, simpler and cheaper than litigation. But opponents of arbitration say its downsides include questionable neutrality on the arbitrator’s part, a lack of transparency and a lack of recourse. For example, in a court case, a losing party could appeal — an option that doesn’t exist in arbitration.  

The CFPB argues that reducing consumers’ options to private arbitration or an individual lawsuit makes it easy for companies to avoid accountability for actions that can affect thousands or millions of people. 

Why now? 

The Trump administration and Republicans have pushed to curtail the CFPB as part of a broader effort to weaken the Obama administration’s tighter federal grip over financial institutions.  

The arbitration rule had sparked a political firestorm in Washington. Over the summer, members of the Senate Banking Committee pledged that they would take the unusual step of filing a Congressional Review Act Joint Resolution of Disapproval to overturn the CFPB rule.  

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, D-Texas,  introduced a companion measure in the House. 

Under the Congressional Review Act, Republicans had about 60 legislative days to overturn the rule. In ensuing months, financial institutions and their Republican allies in Congress joined forces, making serious efforts to block the arbitration rule.  

The Treasury Department on Monday released a report against the rule. “The Bureau failed to meaningfully evaluate whether prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial contracts would serve either consumer protection or the public interest — its two statutory mandates,” according to the report. 

On Tuesday, the White House applauded the move by Senate Republicans. 

“The evidence is clear that the CFPB’s rule would neither protect consumers nor serve the public interest,” the White House said in a statement. “Rather, under the rule, consumers would have fewer options for quickly and efficiently resolving financial disputes.” 

Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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Consumer Watchdog, Pay Down My Debt, Personal Loans

Should You Avoid LendUp? A Review of Its Loans

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

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Updated October 25, 2017
Update: On Sept. 27, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered LendUP to pay more than $3.6 million in fines for allegedly misleading customers about its online lending service. Read the full CFPB order here

In a nutshell, the CFPB claims LendUP’s parent company, Flurish, Inc., misleadingly advertised its lowest-priced loans. LendUP advertised its loans as available nationwide, yet the most attractive loans were only available to customers in California, the agency says. 

The CFPB also claims  LendUP failed to accurately market the annual percentage rates offered with its loans and in some cases understated the true APR on its loans. 

What does the CFPB’s order mean for LendUP customers?

The CFPB has ordered the company to pay about $1.83 million in refunds to over 50,000 consumers. Consumers are not required to take any action. The company will contact consumers in the coming months about their refunds, the watchdog says.

In response to the CFPB’s claims posted on its website, LendUP says the transgressions date back to the company’s early days. “When we were a seed-stage startup with limited resources and as few as five employees. In those days we didn’t have a fully built out compliance department. We should have.”

Lendup LendUp is a company offering a better alternative to the typical shady payday loan. Its aim is to disrupt the payday loan system by providing consumers with more affordable loans, more education, and transparency.

This is quite a change from storefront payday lenders, who have confusing policies that often leave customers paying more huge amounts in interest.

LendUp wants to reform the payday loan industry by helping its customers get out of debt and build credit.

However, it could come at a hefty price for consumers. Payday loans are known for outrageous APRs, and while LendUp has more reasonable APRs than typical payday loan companies, it’s still something to be aware of.

Who Should Use LendUp?

Before we get into the details of the loans offered by LendUp, it’s important to address who should avoid its loans and who should consider them.

Payday loans are typically short-term loans to tide you over if you need money in between pay periods. The term can be one week, two weeks, or one month long. That’s a big difference from other personal loans that have terms of 1 to 5 years.

It comes down to your personal situation, and what you’re looking to use the money for.

If you have damaged credit or no credit at all, then payday loans might look like the only solution. LendUp can help you, but it’s important to consider the price.

If you’re simply looking to build credit, there are much better options out there. Taking a payday loan should be one of your last resorts. You can only start to build credit via LendUp when you reach Platinum or Prime status, which requires you to take on multiple loans.

Each time you borrow money from LendUp, you’ll be paying a significant amount in interest. For example, even if you only borrowed $100 for 31 days, you’d still pay $24.40 in interest (287.29% APR), according to their calculator.

For that reason, if you have poor or no credit, it’s better to look into opening a secured credit card, or trying to get approved for a store card. There’s no reason to pay $24 in interest if you don’t have to.

If you have severely damaged credit and are unable to get approved for any other solution, or you’re in dire need of cash to afford necessities like food, then you should consider LendUp over going to a regular payday loan store. LendUp is certainly the better option.

That said, if you’re looking for a long-term loan, or looking for more cash for a big purchase, then LendUp is not the right choice. You should check out the other personal loan lenders we’ve reviewed, such as SoFi*, Payoff*, and Upstart*.

How Does LendUp Work?

LendUp Ladder APRLendUp is a completely new solution to payday loans. It has what it calls the “LendUp ladder,” which is a point-based system. When you show that you’re a reliable customer and can make timely payments, you’re rewarded points, which enable you to climb up the LendUp ladder.

Update: In a consent order issued Sept. 27, 2016 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau claims LendUP misleadingly advertised its loans as available nationwide. However, the most attractive loans, which customers were told they could earn access to through LendUP’s “Ladder” rewards program, were only available to customers in California. 

You can also earn points by watching LendUp’s educational courses on credit and for taking loans with them.

Climbing up the ladder gives you different statuses. You start at Silver, and from there, you can advance to Gold, Platinum, or Prime status. Each status has better terms, and at Platinum and Prime status, you can report your payments to credit bureaus to build your credit.

LendUp also doesn’t allow rollovers. That means if you’re unable to pay back your loan on time, LendUp will not charge you a fee to extend it, as other payday lenders do.

Instead, it offers free 30-day extensions on loans, so if you’re unable to make a payment, all you have to do is log into your account, and choose the option to extend your loan. LendUp tries to work with its customers as much as possible to ensure they’re getting out of debt, not back into it.

According to its website, LendUp is also the “first and only licensed direct lender with a relationship to the major credit bureaus.” LendUp emphasizes that there’s no middleman involved when customers take a loan, which allows LendUp to maintain its transparency.

LendUp Loan Details

Terms vary based upon the status you have with LendUp and you can get a loan amount of $100 – $1,000 depending on your tier.

Silver starts you off with a minimum loan amount of $100 and a maximum of $250. The terms range from 7 to 31 days. The maximum loan amount offered is $1,000, accessible at Prime.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 5.57.58 PMLendUp provides a helpful calculator on its front page that gives you an idea of what you can expect with different loan amounts and terms.

For example, if you want to borrow $250, the APR range is 209.75% (30 days) to 755.03% (7 days).

According to ResponsibleLending.org, the typical two week payday loan as an annual interest rate ranging from 391% to 521%. LendUp falls within that spectrum.

Unlike payday lenders, LendUp rewards customers for continuing to borrower. LendUp does offer rates as low as 29% to its Prime customers, which is great when comparing against other payday loans. However, we’d prefer you focus on building your credit score and look to establish a line of credit with a credit union or get a personal loan from lender with better terms.

LendUp payday loans are also currently offered in only the following states: Ohio, New Mexico, Washington, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Wyoming, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Oregon, Kansas, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Minnesota.

LendUp is working on increasing its presence throughout the United States, but since its a direct lender, its has to comply with individual state laws and policies.

LendUp Application Process

The application process is fairly straightforward. LendUp says it should take 5 minutes or less to fill out the application and you’ll get an instant decision.

LendUp offers standard next day funding, instant funding, and same-day funding (Wells Fargo customers only). It warns that if you take instant or same-day funding, you’ll have to pay a fee to cover the cost.

LendUp offers a no credit check payday loan option. To qualify, you just need an active bank account and proof of income.

It assesses applicants on much more than just their FICO scores, which comes as no surprise. Throughout its site, LendUp makes it clear it wants to lend to those with bad or nonexistent credit. Like other personal loan lenders, LendUp uses its own algorithm consisting of different data points to determine whether or not to extend a loan to an applicant.

The Fine Print

LendUp states it doesn’t have any hidden fees, but as with any payday loan, you need to read the fine print.

First, fees and rates are dependent upon the state you live in, so make sure to review state specific information here.

The only fee that’s mentioned with a dollar value attached is a non-sufficient funds fee. LendUp automatically takes money out of your bank account, and if you don’t have enough money in there to cover it, you’ll get hit with this fee, which can be between $15 and $30.

Additionally, if you want to pay before your due date, you can pay with your debit card, but you’ll incur a fee to cover the cost of the transaction.

Opting to get your money instantly or same-day also comes with a fee.

What happens if you can’t afford to pay and you used your extension? This is a common concern among those already tight on money. On its site, LendUp says to contact them at the first sign of trouble. It’s willing to work with borrowers.

However, if you don’t pay, and you don’t contact LendUp, then there are consequences. LendUp can suspend your LendUp account, send your account to outside collection agencies, take legal action, and report your account delinquent to the credit bureaus.

Commendable, but Still a Payday Loan

LendUp’s mission is a commendable one – it wants to educate its customers and provide them with a better way to get back on their feet. LendUp is certainly an improvement over traditional payday lenders, but at the end of the day, it’s still a payday loan. When taking one, you need to consider the overall costs you might face.

Look into secured lines of credit or store credit cards – don’t look to take a payday loan first. Only take one if you desperately need the cash and you’re in a rough spot. Be aware of exactly what you’re getting yourself into, and make every effort to pay off your loan on time and improve your financial situation.

If you’re interested in looking into a loan with LendUp, use its site map to get specific information related to the state you live in, as loan terms vary depending on state.

*We receive a referral fee if you click on offers with this symbol. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations. You can learn more about how our site is financed here.  

Erin Millard
Erin Millard |

Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erinm@magnifymoney.com

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New CFPB Rules Get Tougher With Payday-Lender Debt Traps

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

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In early October, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it would implement long-awaited new rules aimed at limiting the power of payday and title lenders. The bureau director, Richard Cordray,  has been a vocal critic of the nonbank lenders, and the agency has been working on new rules to regulate lenders in this space for several years.

“The CFPB’s new rule puts a stop to the payday debt traps that have plagued communities across the country,” Cordray said in a statement. “Too often, borrowers who need quick cash end up trapped in loans they can’t afford. The rule’s common sense ability-to-repay protections prevent lenders from succeeding by setting up borrowers to fail.”These rules will apply to both brick-and-mortar and online lenders.

What changes are happening

Lenders are going to have to prove that a borrower can afford to repay the loan

One of the major rules is a “full-payment test” that will determine if borrowers can “afford the loan payments and still meet basic living expenses and major financial obligations.” Payday lenders typically don’t run a credit report on borrowers and only usually look at a pay stub to determine if you qualify.

Most consumers end up unable to repay the loan when it comes due, usually a couple weeks later. According to the CFPB, more than 80 percent of all payday loans are rolled over or renewed. The same is true for title loans, with 20 percent of borrowers losing their vehicle to title loan companies. Because there is little regulation on interest rates, these loans usually have APRs of 300 percent or more.

However, borrowers can avoid the full-payment test if the lender meets the following requirements: It must make 2,500 or fewer covered short-term or balloon-payment loans per year and earn no more than 10 percent of its revenue from such loans.

It won’t be as easy for lenders to access funds in borrowers’ bank accounts

Another issue is that many payday and title loans require access to the user’s bank account, where payments will be automatically debited. If the user does not have the amount available in his or her account, the account will be overdrawn. This usually results in the consumer being charged overdraft fees on top of the hefty interest already going to the payday lender.

According to the CFPB, “these borrowers incur an average of $185 in bank penalty fees, in addition to any fees the lender might charge for failed debit attempts, specifically, a late fee, a returned-payment fee, or both.”

One of the rules that the CFPB installed is a limit on attempted debits, so the lender has to get authorization from the consumer to debit the account more than twice. The CFPB also hopes to limit the amount of times a loan can be extended, as a way to decrease the fees the borrower must pay.

Borrowers can repay debt more gradually

To avoid the full-payment test, payday lenders can lend up to $500 if they structure the payments so the borrower can pay them off “more gradually.” However, there will be strict rules in place for this type of loan.

For example, lenders won’t be able to offer gradual repayment plans to customers who have recent or outstanding short-term or balloon-payment loans. They also can’t make more than three loans in quick succession and can’t make loans under this option if the consumer has already had more than six short-term loans or been in debt for more than 90 days on short-term loans over a rolling 12-month period.

Few options for borrowers in need

The CFPB’s long-awaited rules may help protect borrowers from predatory lenders, but don’t solve a key issue: There just aren’t that many viable alternatives for people who need to borrow small sums quickly.

A report from the Milken Institute, “Where Banks Are Few, Payday Lenders Thrive,” found that neighborhoods with more banks tend to have fewer payday lenders, and vice versa. There was also a strong correlation between payday lenders and neighborhoods with higher African-American and Latino populations as well as a greater instance of payday lenders where there are fewer high school and college graduates.

Jennifer Harper, who researched predatory lending in Chattanooga, Tenn., as part of the Financial Independence Committee for the Mayor’s Council for Women, said she hopes there will be a solution for consumers that doesn’t require them to take out a payday loan.

“We want to find an alternative to payday lending that would still allow people to access they need, without those crazy interest rates,’ she said. “Getting that quick access to cash may be fine for that day, but then it really puts a burden on the borrower long-term.”

Jason J. Howell,  a certified financial planner and fiduciary wealth adviser in Virginia, agrees with the new regulations taking place.

“The CFPB is taking the opportunity to protect the most vulnerable consumers: lower-income borrowers that are typically ‘un-banked,’” he said. “The proposed rule would reduce fees that make payday loans especially hard to pay back; and that could also reduce the issuance of these loans in the first place.”

Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here

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The Guide to Freezing and Thawing Your Credit Report

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

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The recent Equifax data breach that exposed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of about 44 percent of the current American population has many consumers now rushing to freeze their credit scores. However, many consumers may not grasp what that really entails.

In a recent survey by CompareCards.com, a subsidiary of MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree.com, 78 percent of respondents said they had never put a freeze on their credit reports.

When you freeze and thaw your report, you are preventing anyone else from opening a credit account under your name without your knowledge. It’s a smart way to defend yourself against some cases of identity theft. Massive data breaches like the one that hit Equifax are stark reminders of the importance of protecting sensitive information from potential fraudsters, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until your information is compromised in a data breach to act.

“We should all be vigilant,” says Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Being vigilant about your identity is just a part of the world that we live in. If being involved in a data breach is the catalyst that brings that to the top of your mind, then we can see that as a positive.”

What a credit freeze does — and doesn’t — accomplish

A credit freeze, or security freeze, is a tool consumers can use to restrict access to their credit reports. The freeze makes it harder for criminals to commit financial fraud using your information.

The freeze seals your credit reports so that new requests won’t be processed without your approval. You will need to use a personal identification number — only you will know it — to lift or thaw the freeze before creditors can again have access to your credit report. A freeze adds a layer of security, since most creditors won’t extend new credit without seeing your report.

You will need to request a credit freeze with each of the big three reporting bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — for the freeze to have the biggest impact.

Freezing your credit report will NOT:

  • Impact your credit score
    • A credit freeze will have no impact whatsoever on your credit score. Freezing your credit will neither raise nor lower your score.
  • Restrict existing creditors’ access to your report
    • Your current creditors, government agencies or debt collectors acting on behalf of those parties will still have access to your credit report if you freeze it.
  • Keep you from opening new credit
    • You will still be able to use your credit report to do things like open a new credit account, apply for a mortgage, rent an apartment or take any other action that calls for a credit check. But you’ll need to lift the temporary freeze before lenders can gain access to the report. If you know you’ll be doing any of those activities, you can temporarily lift the freeze for a certain party or a length of time, but it may cost you money to do so.
  • Prevent a criminal from committing fraud involving your existing accounts.
    • Freezing your credit report won’t prevent you, or any would-be thieves, from using your existing credit accounts. You will still need to vigilantly monitor all of your personal bank, credit and insurance accounts for fraudulent transactions or other signs of fraudulent activity.
  • Stop you from receiving prescreened credit offers
    • Freezing your credit report won’t stop lenders from sending you prescreened credit offers, as they prequalify new customers using a “soft pull.” A soft pull doesn’t show up on your credit report or harm your credit score. Banks buy the names of people who meet their credit criteria from credit bureaus to create their prequalification lists. So when you are prequalified, it just means you’re on a list somewhere. If you want to stop receiving such credit offers, call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or ask to be excluded here.
  • Protect you from all forms of ID theft
    • A credit freeze can help to prevent financial fraud, but it will still leave you vulnerable to many other kinds of fraud. When criminals obtain important and sensitive information like your Social Security number as they did in the Equifax breach, they can use this data to commit criminal, medical, tax and employment theft, too. For example, a thief could use your Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund, or use your personal information to obtain medical care or employment without your knowledge. Remain vigilant to protect yourself from other forms of fraud. Pay careful attention to any mail or phone calls from a medical office, government agency or other entity. They may be reaching out to verify your identity or report that someone else is attempting to commit fraud in your name.

How to freeze your credit report

You must go through a separate process with each of the three major credit bureaus to freeze your credit report.

Equifax

Equifax Complete Advantage Plan You can freeze your Equifax credit report online, by phone or by mail.

  • Online: In a statement issued in The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 27, Equifax said it would offer a new service that permanently allows consumers to lock and unlock their credit reports for free. The service is set to debut by Jan. 31, 2018.

    In the meantime, you can still freeze your Equifax score the traditional way, by visiting the Equifax security freeze site. You will first need to fill out a form with your personal information, then make any payment required by your state. Equifax’s site may be experiencing high traffic as a result of the recent breach, so it may not be able to process your request right away. If that is the case, try one of the other methods or try again online in a day or two.

  • Phone: Call 1-800-685-1111 (New York residents call 1-800-349-9960), and you should be connected with an Equifax representative who will verify your personal information and assist you with your credit freeze request.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. If you’re a victim of identity theft, this is the channel you will need to use; your request must be submitted in writing with relevant documents, like a police report or other documented proof of theft, to have your fee waived. Write a letter to the reporting agency requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: Equifax Security Freeze/P.O. Box 105788/Atlanta, GA 30348

TransUnion

TrueIdentity You can freeze your credit TransUnion report online, by phone or mail, or by using TrueIdentity,

  • Online: Go to the TransUnion security freeze site. You will need to log in or create a TransUnion account before you can submit your request online.
  • Phone: Call 1-888-909-8872 and a TransUnion representative should verify your personal information and assist you with your credit freeze request.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. Write a letter to the reporting agency requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: TransUnion LLC/P.O. Box 2000/Chester, PA 19016
  • TrueIdentity: TransUnion offers a free credit report monitoring service called TrueIdentity. The service allows users to lock and unlock their credit report with a swipe on their mobile device or a click online. It gives access to unlimited TransUnion Credit report refreshes, and alerts you if an entity pulls your TransUnion credit report.

Experian

Experian You can freeze your Equifax credit report online, by phone or by mail.

  • Online: Go to the Experian security freeze site. Select “add a security freeze,” then “apply online” and you’ll be redirected to a form requesting your personal information. Submit the form and make any payment required by your state to freeze your report.
  • Phone: 1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742). Press 2 to be guided through prompts to request a security freeze.
  • Mail: Request your credit freeze by certified mail. Write a letter to Experian requesting the credit request and send it to the following address: Experian Security Freeze/P.O. Box 9554/Allen, TX 75013

How to thaw your credit report with each agency

Equifax

You can temporarily thaw your Equifax credit report via mail, online Equifax's security freeze site, or by calling 1-800-685-1111. (New York residents dial 1-800-349-9960.) Send mailed requests to the following address:
Equifax Security Freeze/P.O. Box 105788/Atlanta, GA 30348

TransUnion

You can temporarily thaw your TransUnion credit freeze by mail, online or via TransUnion’s credit freeze site, or by calling 1-888-909-8872. Send mailed requests to the following address: TransUnion LLC/P.O. Box 2000/Chester, PA 19016

Experian

You can temporarily thaw your Experian credit report by mail, online via Experian’s security freeze site, or by calling 1-888-397-3742. Send mailed requests to the following address:
Experian/P.O. Box 9554/Allen, TX. 75013

How much a credit freeze will cost you — by state

The protection isn’t free. Each time you freeze your report, temporarily lift a freeze or permanently end one, you may have to pay a fee. In the wake of the Equifax hack, consumer advocacy groups and some lawmakers have renewed their efforts to allow data breach victims to sign up for free credit freezes in their states.

“It is outrageous that the credit bureaus charge us fees to prevent identity theft when we didn’t even give them permission to collect our information in the first place,” Mike Litt, a consumer program advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement a little over a week after the Equifax data breach was made public.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation (FREE) Act on the same day. The act is intended to make actions related to freezing credit reports free for all consumers nationwide.

Until the proposed act wends its way through both houses of Congress, the amount you may pay to freeze, thaw or permanently end a credit freeze will vary from state to state and may be up to $10.

The majority of states have laws in place that cap the amount a credit reporting agency is permitted to charge consumers to freeze, lift, or thaw their credit reports. A U.S. PIRG analysis released shortly after the breach found only four states — Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, and South Carolina— have laws in place that provide free credit freezes, thaws, or lifts for their citizens. The analysis found an additional four states provide free freezes, but charge for thaws.

There is a silver lining for some. If you can present documentation showing you are a victim of identity theft at the time you place a freeze on your credit, most states will waive fees.

You can check what your state will charge you for each action below. Multiply the amount by three because you will need to pay each credit bureau.

In a Sept. 15, 2017, statement addressing the recent breach, Equifax said it would waive security freeze fees for all consumers through Nov. 21 and refund those who have paid to place or remove a credit freeze since 5 p.m. on Sept. 7, just after the breach was announced.

Nearly every state has legally identified definitions of a “protected consumer,” which may be a minor, an elderly citizen, a service member, a spouse of a victim of ID theft, a medically incapacitated person or some other distinction. Depending on the state, a protected consumer may pay a different amount or have his or her fee waived. The National Conference of State Legislators has more information on whom each state counts as a protected consumer, here.

State

Consumer Category

Freeze

Thaw

End Freeze

Alabama

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$10

$10

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Alaska

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$2

$2

Arizona

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Arkansas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$5

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

California

Protected Consumer

$10

n/a

$10

Minor <16

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

$5

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Colorado

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$12

$12

Connecticut

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Delaware

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

$5

free

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

District of Columbia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

Florida

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Georgia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

n/a

free

Senior (65+)

free

$3

$3

All other consumers

$3

$3

$3

Hawaii

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Idaho

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$6

$6

$6

Illinois

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 18

n/a

n/a

n/a

Senior (65+)

free

$10

free

Active-duty military

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Indiana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

Iowa

Victim of ID theft

free

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$12

$12

Kansas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Kentucky**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Louisiana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

$10

n/a

n/a

Senior (62+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

n/a

n/a

Maine

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

Maryland

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Massachusetts

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Michigan

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Minnesota

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Mississippi

Victim of ID theft

n/a

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Missouri

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

free

Montana

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$3

$3

free

Nebraska

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

free

free

All other consumers

$3

$3

$3

Nevada

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

New Hampshire

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

n/a

$10

New Jersey

Victim of ID theft

free

$5

$5

All other consumers

free

$5

$5

New Mexico

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$5

$5

New York

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

n/a

$5

North Carolina

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Spouse of ID Theft Victim

free

free

free

Minor < 16 if file must be created

$5

n/a

$5

Senior (62+)

free

free

free

Other consumers

free

free

free

North Dakota

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

n/a

Ohio

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Oklahoma

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Oregon

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Pennsylvania**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

$10

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

free

Rhode Island

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

South Carolina

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

free

free

All other consumers

free

free

free

South Dakota**

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16 if file must be created, or Protected Consumers

$5

n/a

n/a

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Tennessee

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Minor < 16

$10

n/a

$10

All other consumers

$7.50

free

$5

Texas

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free (fee applicable if record must be created)

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Utah

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Vermont

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$5

$5

Virginia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Protected Consumer

free

n/a

free

All other consumers

$10

free

free

Washington

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Senior (65+)

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

West Virginia

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$5

$5

$5

Wisconsin

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

Non-victims

$10

$10

free

Wyoming

Victim of ID theft

free

free

free

All other consumers

$10

$10

$10

Sources: Consumersunion.org Transunion.com NCSL.org
**In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Dakota,  security freezes expire after seven years.

When a credit freeze makes sense — and when it doesn’t

You should freeze your credit report when you are in danger of financial or identity fraud.

Eva Velasquez, of the Identity Theft Resource Center, says consumers should consider freezing their reports if they are victims of identity theft or at an increased risk of having their information misused for identity theft because of lost or stolen items.

Consumers might also consider a credit freeze “if their personal information, specifically their Social Security number, is compromised in some way, like in that of a data breach,” says Velasquez.

Freezing your report is an important consumer protection you can and sometimes should take advantage of as a general consumer. However, there are several occasions when you may not want to freeze your credit.

  • You are planning to open a new line of credit (credit card, mortgage, etc.) in the near future.
  • You work for a company that requires a regular background check or access to your credit report.
  • You regularly open new accounts with financial institutions.

Ultimately, if you are not in danger of ID theft, the decision to freeze or unfreeze your credit report depends on whether or not you’re willing to go through the inconvenience and cost of unfreezing and refreezing each time an entity you approve of wants access to your credit report. If you want a more convenient way to monitor use of your credit report, you may want to consider placement of a credit fraud alert instead of the freeze, as explained below.

Pros and cons of freezing your credit report

Pros:

  • Locks your credit report
    The most obvious benefit you’d get from freezing all of your credit reports is an additional layer of protection. Only you can permit a lender or other entity to receive your full, detailed credit report. You’ll have the opportunity to verify a request’s legitimacy before anyone can obtain your report.
  • No impact on your credit score
    Neither freezing nor thawing your credit report will affect your credit score. Your credit score is impacted by positive or negative activity on your end. Adding protection is considered a neutral action.
  • Generally free for ID theft victims
    If you’re a victim of ID theft, you won’t be required to pay any fees to freeze, thaw or lift a freeze on your credit report in most states. However, you may need to provide additional documentation proving the theft and submit your request in writing.

Cons:

  • Need to plan before opening a credit line
    The added protection comes with the added inconvenience of freezing, or thawing your credit report when you need to apply for credit. This will take just a bit of forethought and may cost you up to $10 each time you thaw your report. You may take several minutes to complete thaw requests for all three bureaus online, which will make it a little more difficult to apply for a credit card in the checkout line. You can manually refreeze your accounts or set your request to automatically do so on a certain date.
  • Fees, unless you’re a victim of ID theft
    Each action — freezing or lifting a freeze — may cost you $3 to $10 in many states. The cost is often tripled, as it’s necessary to freeze or thaw all three of your credit reports if you are unsure which bureau the entity requesting your report will use. The cost may be high for some consumers. Freeze and thaw your reports wisely, and ask the requesting entity which bureau it uses to avoid paying unnecessary fees whenever you can.

An alternative to freezing your credit report

If you don’t think you are in immediate danger of ID theft, you can opt for less-drastic protection and set up a credit fraud alert with all three bureaus instead. When you have the alert set, all lenders attempting to pull your credit history will see a flag on the reports, alerting them to verify your identity before extending credit.

The entity is not required to go through additional verification, but the warning puts it at that entity’s discretion. You will still be able to apply for credit whenever you’d like, and won’t need to remember a PIN to unlock your credit report.

Additionally, fraud alerts are temporary. In most cases, you will be required to renew the alert in 90 days.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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The Truth About ‘Obama Student Loan Forgiveness’

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.

Source: iStock

The average 2016 college graduate carries $37,000 worth of student loan debt today according to an analysis of student loan debt by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com. Kantrowitz tells MagnifyMoney he expects that number to rise for 2017 graduates.

It’s no wonder that those drowning in debt can get desperate. And scammers have come up with a clever way to dupe these borrowers into spending money on services that promise to erase their debt. One of the most popular student loan scams today involves companies that charge borrowers to sign up for the so-called “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness” program.

The only problem is that there is no such loan forgiveness program.

The truth about “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness”

So-called student “debt relief” companies use “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness” as a blanket term for the various flexible federal student loan repayment programs implemented over the last decade by the Bush and Obama administrations.

What they don’t tell unwitting consumers is that these programs, which include income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, among others, are free to borrowers and do not require paying for any special services in order to enroll.

Promising relief to indebted college graduates, these companies lead people to believe that enrolling in these programs requires special assistance — which they may offer for a sizable upfront fee and/or recurring monthly payments. Rather than getting the help they need, borrowers are duped into paying for something they could easily accomplish for free with a simple phone call to their student loan servicer.

While there are multiple ways you can get scammed by debt relief companies claiming to offer you “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness,” there are some red flags that can help you spot a scam.

6 ways to spot a student debt relief scam

It’s important to note that it’s not illegal for a company to charge a borrower to enroll them in a program that’s free to them. These companies are arguably taking some of the work out of getting enrolled, even if that “work” could easily be accomplished with a phone call to your student loan servicer.

Nonetheless, some debt relief firms take things a bit too far, and it’s important to be aware of scams out there. After all, student loan forgiveness scams are really only one part of a broad range of debt relief scams. Debt relief scams share many of the same qualities and employ similar tactics to mislead consumers into paying for their services.

Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  1. They ask for fees upfront. By law, debt relief services are not allowed to ask for payment until they have performed services for their customer. A legitimate debt relief service may ask for a fee upfront, but they will place that payment in an escrow account, and they will not officially receive the payment until they complete the work.
  2. They charge fees for free government services. This one is a bit tricky. So long as a company makes it clear that it is possible to gain access to a government debt relief program for free, it’s not illegal for them to charge consumers for their help in enrolling in those programs. However, the worst actors out there will keep that information to themselves, leading consumers to believe they need to pay a professional for access.
  3. They claim to be affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education, which manages the federal student loan system, does not partner with any debt relief services. Any company claiming to be associated with the Department of Education is a scam.
  4. They “guarantee” that your debt will be forgiven. Services will try to entice customers by promising total loan forgiveness or a reduction in their student loan payments. But monthly payments for borrowers enrolled in federal student loan repayment programs are established by law and cannot be negotiated. Also, the legitimate loan forgiveness programs out there usually require making payments for several years, and there is no company that can promise loan forgiveness unless you meet those payment requirements first.
  5. They advertise “pre-approval” for debt relief programs. There is no “pre-approval” for federal income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness programs. They are free for borrowers, and so long as your loans are in good standing, it’s a matter of the types of loans you have when you took them out that qualifies you for the different programs. To see if you qualify for a given program, contact your loan servicer directly.
  6. They offer to make your student loan payments for you. You should be the only person submitting payments to your loan servicer. The Department of Education has contracted these loan servicers to manage federal student loans, and loan payments should be made directly through their websites. Never send your payment to a debt relief firm, even if they promise to pay your loans for you. The exception here is if you’re working with a debt relief firm to settle a debt with a lump-sum payment. In that case, they are legally required to hold your cash in an FDIC-insured account until they officially settle the debt. And if their client decides they no longer want their services, they have to return the funds to them in full.

Do your due diligence before working with any debt relief service, by keeping an eye out for these red flags, as well as checking sites like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Better Business Bureau for complaints against the company.

What to do if you’ve fallen for a student debt relief scam

If you’ve been scammed by a debt relief company, there are certain steps you need to take to prevent further financial damage. However, know that it is possible you may never get your money back.

Submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Reporting scams, can not only help others from losing their money, but if an investigation by the CFPB or FTC results in suit and judgment, then the debt relief company may be required to issue refunds, cease business, and ensure borrowers do not miss out on important repayment benefits.

Track your credit reports with all three credit bureaus to ensure your personal information is not used fraudulently. You can get one free credit report each year at annualcreditreport.com or use these free services to monitor your report for suspicious activity. If you fear a debt relief scammer has your Social Security number and other financial information, you might want to consider a credit freeze. That will stop anyone from being able to open a new line of credit without you knowing.

Contact your loan servicing companies and have any power of attorney authorizations removed. Some companies will ask borrowers to give them power of attorney so they can negotiate directly with their loan servicers. You don’t want to leave any company with this privilege because they will be able to make decisions about your loans without you knowing.

Contact your bank or credit cards to stop payment to the debt relief company and see if they can work with you to try and get your money back. It is common for debt relief services to charge monthly recurring fees for their services.

Change your Federal Student Aid password. Every federal student loan borrower has a unique login for the https://studentloans.gov site, where you can track all of your federal loans. If you gave a company your FSA information, consider that information compromised and change your FSA password immediately.

9 Legitimate Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

While there is no such program called “Obama Student Loan Forgiveness,” there are several legitimate student loan repayment programs that offer student loan forgiveness.

These programs have a wide range of requirements and payment terms, some as short as five years, others as long as 25 years, and can be available based on the types of federal student loans you have as well as your chosen career.

In addition to loan forgiveness programs, there are programs that offer loan repayment assistance or loan discharge. How much can be discharged and the amount of repayment assistance varies greatly depending on the program.

9 examples of legitimate loan forgiveness programs, loan repayment assistance programs, and loan discharge programs

What to do if you can’t afford your student loan payments

If you are struggling to afford your student loan payments, there are some actions you can take to ensure your loans remain in good standing and you avoid a default that could negatively impact your credit score.

Enroll in an income-driven repayment plan

If you are unable to afford your current payment, you can apply to change repayment plans. For example, if you are on a Standard Repayment Plan for your federal student loans, you could request to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. If you are already on an IDR plan and your income has changed significantly, you can request to have your payment amount recalculated.

Ask for a deferment or forbearance

If you are going through a temporary financial hardship, you can ask your loan servicer to apply a deferment or forbearance, which would not require you to make payments during the deferment or forbearance. While both a deferment and forbearance offer you relief from making payments, with a forbearance you will be required to eventually pay back the interest that accrues during that time. Also, it’s important to note that while you are in deferment or forbearance, you aren’t making payments, which means you might be missing out on forgiveness programs like PSLF if you are working in public service or for a nonprofit.

Consider refinancing or consolidating your loans

Refinancing involves taking out a new loan from a private lender and using that loan to pay off your old loan. The pros of refinancing include a reduced interest rate and the ease of having just one payment. If you refinance a federal student loan, you will lose all of the benefits that federal student loans offer.

Alternatively, you could consolidate your federal loans. A Direct Consolidation Loan combines all your loans using the average weighted interest rate into one loan. So instead of dealing with multiple loan servicers and multiple loan payments each month, you only have one student loan payment to make each month. You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan at no cost through the government’s Federal Student Aid website.

Work with your loan servicer

If you have private loans, your lender may not offer as many repayment options as federal loans. Reach out and work with your lender anyway. They may offer a financial hardship program that would lower your payments. Your loan servicer would much rather work with you to ensure they get paid.

Consider bankruptcy if you can pass the “hardship test”

While it is highly unlikely you will be able to discharge your student loans in bankruptcy, it isn’t impossible. You must either show that your loans would impose an undue financial hardship that will not go away or that the loan was not a qualified student loan in that it did not fit the definition or was in an amount that exceeds the school’s cost of attendance. An example of where this argument has been successful would be a private bar loan, a loan taken out to cover the expenses of taking the bar exam.

Liz Stapleton
Liz Stapleton |

Liz Stapleton is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Liz here

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GOP Moves to Block Rule That Allows Consumers to Join Class Action Lawsuits

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.

A rule that would make it easier for consumers to join together and sue their banks might be shelved by congressional Republicans or other banking regulators before it takes effect.

Members of the Senate Banking Committee announced Thursday that they will take the unusual step of filing a Congressional Review Act Joint Resolution of Disapproval to stop a new rule announced earlier this month by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (D-Texas) introduced a companion measure in the House of Representatives.

The CFPB rule, which was published in the Federal Register this week and would take effect in 60 days, bans financial firms from including language in standard form contracts that force consumers to waive their rights to join class action lawsuits.

The congressional challenge is one of three potential roadblocks opponents might throw up to overturn or stall the rule before it takes effect in two months.

So-called mandatory arbitration clauses have long been criticized by consumer groups, who say they make it easier for companies to mistreat consumers. But Senate Republicans, led by banking committee chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), say the rule is “anti-business” and would lead to a flood of class action lawsuits that would harm the economy. They also say the CFPB overstepped its bounds in writing the rule.

“Congress, not King Richard Cordray, writes the laws,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), referring to the CFPB director. “This resolution is a good place for Congress to start reining in one of Washington’s most powerful bureaucracies.”

Congress’s financial reform bill of 2010, known as Dodd-Frank, directed the CFPB to study arbitration clauses and write a rule about them. The rule permits arbitration clauses for individual disputes, but prevents firms from requiring arbitration when consumers wish to band together in class action cases.

Consumer groups were quick to criticize congressional Republicans.

“Senator Crapo is doing the bidding of Wall Street by jumping to take away our day in court and repeal a common-sense rule years in the making,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center. “None of these senators would want to look a Wells Fargo fraud victim in the eye and say, ‘you can’t have your day in court,’ yet they are helping Wells Fargo do just that.”

Meanwhile, the new rule also faces a challenge from the Financial Stability Oversight Council, made up of 10 banking regulators. The council can overturn a CFPB rule with a two-thirds vote if members believe it threatens the safety and soundness of the banking system. A letter from Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika, a council member, to the CFPB on Monday asked the bureau for more data on the rule, and raised possible safety and soundness issues. Any council member can ask the Treasury secretary to stay a new rule within 10 days of publication. The council would then have 90 days to veto the rule via a vote. It would be the first such veto.

The CFPB rule also faces potential lawsuits from private parties.

How to be sure you’re protected by the new rule

Barring action by Congress, the CFPB rule is slated to take effect in late September 2017, with covered firms having an additional 6 months to comply, meaning most new contracts signed after that date can’t contain the class-action waiver. Prohibitions in current contracts will remain in effect.

Consumers who want to ensure they enjoy their new rights will have to close current accounts and open new ones after the effective date, the CFPB said.

Bob Sullivan
Bob Sullivan |

Bob Sullivan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Bob here

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How the “Financial Choice Act” Could Impact Your Wallet

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.

 

Wikimedia Commons

A plan to repeal major aspects of Dodd-Frank — legislation enacted to regulate the types of lender behavior that contributed to the 2008 economic crisis — crossed its first major hurdle last week when the U.S. House passed the Financial Choice Act.

The bill still has to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed by the president before becoming a law. However, if it does, significant changes would be made to some regulations that might require consumers to pay more attention to their financial decisions.

“[The Financial Choice Act] stands for economic growth for all, but bank bailouts for none. We will end bank bailouts once and for all. We will replace bailouts with bankruptcy,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), House Financial Services Committee chairman, said in a press release. “We will replace economic stagnation with a growing, healthy economy.”

What’s at stake with the Financial Choice Act, and how does it impact your finances? We’ll explore these questions in this post.

What did the Dodd-Frank Act do, anyway?

Bailouts: After it was implemented in 2010 by President Barack Obama, one of the law’s main pillars was enacting the “Orderly Liquidation Authority” to use taxpayer dollars to bail out financial institutions that were failing but considered “too big to fail” — meaning their collapse would significantly hurt the economy. In addition, Dodd-Frank created a fund for the FDIC to use instead of taxpayer dollars for any future bailouts.

Consumer watchdog: Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent government agency that focuses on protecting “consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law.”

In one of its most high profile cases to date, the CFPB in 2016 fined Wells Fargo $100 million for allegedly opening accounts customers did not ask for.

The CFPB’s actions against predatory practices in a number of industries, including payday lending, prepaid debit cards, and mortgage lenders, among others, have won the agency many fans among consumer advocates.

“In fewer than six years, [the CFPB has] returned $12 million to over 29 million Americans, not just harmed by predatory lenders or fly-by-night debt collectors, but some of the biggest banks in the country,” says Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for consumers.

And how would the Financial Choice Act change Dodd-Frank?

No more bailouts: The Financial Choice Act would replace Dodd-Frank’s Orderly Liquidation Authority with a new bankruptcy code. So financial institutions would have a path to declare bankruptcy in lieu of shutting down completely.

Fewer regulations for banks: The act will provide community banks with “almost two dozen” regulatory relief bills that will lessen the number of rules small banks need to comply with, making it easier for them to operate.

A weaker CFPB: It would convert the CFPB into the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency (CLEA) and make it part of the executive branch. The Financial Choice Act also gives the president the ability to fire the head of the newly created CLEA at any time, for any reason, and gives Congress control over it and its budget. These changes will take away much of the power the CFPB holds to monitor the marketplace and pursue any unfair practices.

“It not only took the bullets out of [the CFPB’s] guns, it took their guns away,” Mierzwinski says.

Specifically, he says the CFPB would no longer be able to go after high-cost, small-dollar credit institutions, such as payday lenders and auto title lenders.

However, some experts see benefits from taking the teeth out of the CFPB.

“I personally think that’s a good thing because I think the way that the CFPB is structured is fundamentally flawed,” says Robert Berger, a retired lawyer who now runs doughroller.net, a personal finance blog. “You basically have one person with very little meaningful oversight that can have a huge impact on the regulations of the financial industry.”

The bill also would roll back the U.S. Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule, which isn’t part of Dodd-Frank, but requires retirement financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests. It went into partial effect on June 9.

What does this mean to consumers?

If the Financial Choice Act becomes law, opponents say it could mean that consumers will have to be even more careful with their financial choices and who they trust as a financial adviser because there will be less government oversight.

“If you’re a consumer, you’re going to have to watch your wallet even if you have a zippered pocket with a chain on your wallet,” Mierzwinski says.

If the bill passes the Senate, it could still face some hurdles. Any changes to Dodd-Frank regulations would need to be approved by the heads of the Federal Reserve System and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Comptroller of the Currency.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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What the New DOL Fiduciary Rule Means For You

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.

Geeting advice on future investments

Seven years in the making, the Department of Labor’s long-awaited Fiduciary Rule finally went into effect June 9.* The full breadth of the rule’s impact won’t officially be felt until January 2018, when advisors must be fully compliant with the rule’s requirements.

The rule survived an upheaval by the Trump administration, which had hinted earlier this year that it might seek to block the rule’s implementation.

Aimed at saving consumers billions of dollars in fees in their retirement accounts, the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule will require financial advisers to act in your best interest. However, the final rule includes a number of modifications, including several concessions to the brokerage industry, from the original version proposed six years ago.

Here’s what you need to know about these new rules and how they may affect your money.

*This story has been updated to reflect the rule’s successful release.

What is a Fiduciary?

So what exactly is a fiduciary? According to the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board, the fiduciary standard requires that financial advisers act solely in your best interest when offering personalized financial advice. This means advisers can’t put personal profits over your needs.

Currently, most advisers are only held to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s suitability standard when handling your investments. This looser standard allows advisers to recommend suitable products, based on your personal situation. These suitable products may include funds with higher fees — with revenue sharing and commissions lining their own pockets —  which may not reflect your best possible options.

What is Changing Exactly?

Affecting an estimated $14 trillion in retirement savings, the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule is meant to help you receive investment advice that will aid your nest egg’s ability to grow. Many investors have been pushed toward products with high fees that quickly eat away at profits.

All financial professionals providing retirement advice will now be required to act as fiduciaries that must act in your best interest. This applies to all financial products you may find in a tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Because IRAs offer fewer protections than employment-based plans, the Department is concerned about “conflicts of interest” from brokers, insurance agents, registered investment advisers, or other financial advisers you may turn to for advice.

Despite these new protections, the Department of Labor also made some key concessions. Previously, brokers were required to provide explicit disclosures about the costs of products to their clients. This included one, five, and ten year projections. However, this requirement has been eliminated. After heavy pushback from the industry, the Department of Labor also agreed to allow the use of proprietary products.

Additionally, the Department of Labor has pushed the deadline for full implementation of their new rules. Firms must be compliant with several provisions by June and fully compliant by January 1, 2018.

Despite all of these concessions, the Department of Labor’s highest official insists the integrity of their rule is still in place.

Exceptions You Should Know About

Although advisers working with retirement investments will no longer be able to accept compensation or payments that create a conflict of interest, there’s an exception many brokers will likely pursue.

Firms will be allowed to continue their previous compensation arrangements if they commit to a best interest contract (BIC), adopt anti-conflict policies, disclose any conflicts of interest, direct consumers to a website that explains how they make money, and only charge “reasonable compensation.” The best interest contract will soon be easier for firms and advisers to use because it can be presented at the same time as other required paperwork.

How These New Rules Might Affect Your Investment Options

Although these new rules don’t call out specific investment products as bad options, it’s expected advisers may direct you to lower-cost products, like index funds, more regularly. New York Times also predicts the new regulations may also accelerate the movement toward more fee-based relationships. They also suggest complex investments like variable annuities may soon fall out of favor.

What Will the Larger Impact of These Changes Be?

Backed by extensive academic research, the Department of Labor’s analysis suggests IRA holders receiving conflicted investment advice can expect their investments to underperform by an average of one-half to one percentage point per year over the next 20 years. Once their new rules are in place, they are anticipating retirement funds will shift to lower cost investments, savings consumers billions of dollars.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

Although these new rules are a positive step for consumers, it’s important to remember there are still a wide variety of financial professionals out there. And the quality of the advice you receive can vary greatly based on their level of education, experience, and credentials. In order to find someone who is equipped to handle your unique financial situation, you will still need to do your homework.

You may want to start by looking for a fee-only financial planner. Due to the nature of how they are compensated, fee-only financial planners operate without an inherent conflict of interest. They are paid a fee for the services they provide and they don’t earn commissions from product sales.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options you’ll want to ask about their credentials, what types of clients they work with, what types of services they offer, while carefully checking their background and references. Like any professional working relationship, you’ll want to feel comfortable with someone you are receiving financial advice from, so it’s important to make sure your personalities and priorities are aligned. Remember, no one cares more about your money than you do. That’s why it’s essential to carefully vet anyone who is working with you to secure a healthier financial future.

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

Kate Dore is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at kate@magnifymoney.com

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Overdraft ‘Protection’ is a Lie

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Young woman taking money from ATM

You wake up the day before payday to alerts from your mobile banking app saying your account has been overdrafted. How could this be? After all, you had $50 in your account last time you checked. So you start backtracking.

Dinner was only $45, right? You should have $5 to spare. Then you check your account and realize your $30 gym membership conveniently posted to your account this morning. Rather than declining the charge due to insufficient funds, your bank allowed the transaction to post — and charged you $35 for the favor.

This is an example of how banks have turned so-called overdraft protection and insufficient fund fees into a multi-billion-dollar cash cow.

According to a new analysis by Pew Research Center, more than 40% of 50 banks studied order transactions in a way that maximizes overdraft fees. The practice is called “high to low processing,” in which the bank posts transactions from largest to smallest rather than posting them chronologically. This can make customers more susceptible to incurring multiple overdraft fees on the same day.

The fees have effectively allowed banks to profit off of some of their most financially vulnerable consumers: those who keep low account balances and are thus at higher risk of overdrafting. Only 18% of checking account holders are responsible for 91% of overdraft and insufficient funds fee (NSF) fees according to research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Pew’s analysis found most heavy overdrafters — those who pay $100 or more in overdraft and NSF fees annually — earn less than $50,000 per year. One-quarter of these account holders pay up to a week’s worth of wages in overdraft fees each year.

In 2015, 628 banks with more than $1 billion in assets reported a total of $11.16 billion — about 8% of total net income — of revenue from consumer overdraft and NSF fees according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s more than two-thirds of all consumer deposit account fee revenues.

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Overdraft Protection: The Ultimate Catch-22

When you are enrolled in overdraft protection, you give the bank authority to approve charges when you don’t have enough to cover the full amount in your account. The bank will approve the transaction, then charge you a predetermined flat rate fee — typically around $32 — for allowing your purchase to go through.

That’s why overdraft protection is something of a catch-22. On the one hand, it saves you from the embarrassment of a declined card at point of sale. On the other, it is one of the most expensive ways to borrow money for what are typically small purchases.

Let’s go back to the payday example from before.

If you had not realized right away you overdrafted your account, you might have thought you still had $5 in the bank, just enough for a cup of coffee. Your debit card would have been approved for the $3 coffee thanks to overdraft protection — and you would have been hit with yet another $35 overdraft fee, twice in the same day. Effectively, you just borrowed $3 for a fee of $35 — an annual percentage rate of over 1,000%.

Here’s how the math works out (in this example, we assume the person banks with Bank of America, which carries an overdraft fee of $35):

Original balance: $50

Dinner: $50 – $45 = $5

Gym fee: $5 – $30 = -$25

Overdraft fee for gym membership: -$25 – $35 = -$60

Coffee: $-60 – $3 = -$63

Overdraft fee for coffee: $-63 – $35 = -$98

At the end of the day, you would be left with a negative balance of -$98.

Some institutions limit the number of times you can be hit with overdraft fees in a single day. Bank of America, for example, limits overdraft fees to four times a day. Some banks will allow you to link your checking account with another account to pull funds from when you overdraft, but will then charge you for an overdraft protection transfer fee, which is typically lower than a full overdraft fee. Even if your bank doesn’t approve the overdraft and your purchase is declined, you could still get charged an insufficient funds fee, which will usually be equal to the overdraft fee.

Overdraft fees can quickly spiral out of control if the person cannot afford to pay back the bank and bring their balance back in the black. If you maintain a negative account balance for about five days, you are charged on average $20 for what’s called an extended overdraft fee. More than half of the banks Pew studied said they charge an extended overdraft fee.

It’s important to make sure to take care of overdrafted accounts. Excessive overdraft fees could lead to a closed account or loss of check-writing privileges. It could also become difficult for you to open accounts with other banks if your bank reports your behavior to ChexSystems. ChexSystems keeps a record of your banking history similarly to how the credit bureaus keep track of your credit history.

In a worst-case scenario, excessive overdraft fees could damage your credit score as well. If your bank decides to write off your unpaid account and send it to collections, it can show up on your credit report. At that point, your accidental overdraft could seriously damage your credit score.

How to Avoid an Overdraft Fee

Don’t “opt in”

You can’t be charged an overdraft fee if you don’t sign up for the program, but beware: your bank can still charge you an insufficient funds fee.

Choose “no” when presented the opportunity to opt in to a debit card-based overdraft protection program. Don’t miss this step as it can be easily overlooked as part of the process. It may be in the form of a question asked by your banker or a pre-checked box when you enroll in online banking.

Link your accounts

If you are worried about getting denied at a point of sale and are okay with a fee to automatically transfer your own money, you can link your debit card checking account to another account for overdraft protection. This lets the bank pull the money from the account that you’re linked to to cover new transactions. Banks typically charge a median $5 fee for this service.

Track your balance

Keep your eye on your balance to avoid overdraft and NSF fees altogether. If your bank offers them, you can set up banking alerts so that you’ll be notified when your account goes into the negatives and balance it out before you’re charged a fee. You can use a budget-tracking app like Mint that sends you overdraft and fee notifications as well, although they may not come in time to help you.

You should also go over any automatic payments that you have set up and record and set reminders for them so that you won’t have any surprise withdrawals from your account.

Call your bank

If you don’t overdraft your bank account often, you have a better chance of getting the fee reversed. Because banks make most of their money from a small percentage of accounts that are regularly overdrafted, bank agents usually have more flexibility to reverse the charge for those who don’t overdraft as much. If you make a mistake, and don’t do it often, it’s worth a call to ask the bank to reverse the charge.

Best Banks with Low Overdraft Fees

There is no bank account that truly offers no overdraft fees. However, you can find a bank that either doesn’t allow you to overdraw your account at all or doesn’t excessively fine you for overdrawing your account.

Ally Bank is one of the better banks when it comes to overdraft penalties. So long as you link a savings account to your checking account, the bank will transfer funds from savings when you make a purchase larger than your available balance. And it doesn’t charge a fee for that transfer.

Bank of Internet’s Rewards Checking account has no overdraft or insufficient funds fee, but they will decline the charge if you don’t have enough to cover it in your account. The bank also gives you the option to link an account for overdraft protection with no fee for the transfer, or create a line of credit that can be used to cover overdrafts. If you decide to use the line of credit you will be charged interest on the overdraft balance until you pay it off, but there is no fixed overdraft fee.

MagnifyMoney has a full list of best account options for overdraft fees. In addition, you can use the checking account comparison tool to rank accounts based on overdraft fees and other options.

At the very least, opt out of overdraft protection to avoid getting hit with fees each time your card is declined.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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