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How to Request a Credit Limit Increase With Wells Fargo

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.

Wells Fargo Bank

If you want to continue to increase the amount of credit available to you without constantly applying for more credit cards or loans, requesting a credit limit increase is a reasonable solution. However, like most things in life, there are pros and cons to requesting a credit limit increase.

The pros of requesting a credit limit increase:

There are at least two reasons why requesting a credit limit increase may be a good idea for you. First, since you have already proven yourself as a valued customer, it can be easier and faster to request and receive an increased credit line as opposed to applying for a brand new line of credit. Second, if approved, it can increase the total amount of credit available to you, which can potentially improve your credit score. That’s because your utilization rate — how much credit you’re using vs. how much credit you have access to — makes up 30% of your credit score.

The cons of requesting a credit limit increase:

There are also some downsides to requesting a credit limit increase. First, the request will likely trigger a hard check on your credit, which can lower your credit score by a few points. Second, if you are requesting the increase so that you can spend more each month, the advantage of lowering your credit utilization to improve your credit score would disappear. Additionally, it becomes a slippery slope; the more you spend, the harder it can become to pay off the credit card each month, which could lead to credit card debt.

How a credit limit increase can help raise your credit score even if it initially dips

Any hard checks on your credit will likely result in your credit score dropping a few points temporarily. However, the benefit of an increased credit limit and its impact on your credit score will make up for the few points it dropped from the hard credit check.

The number of hard credit checks on your account is not a huge factor in determining your credit score. What is a huge factor in determining your credit score? Credit utilization. In other words, how much of the credit available to you are you using? Ideally, you want to keep your credit utilization under 20%. An increase in your credit limit will immediately lower your credit utilization percentage. However, this will only be the case if you don’t increase your spending with the increased credit line.

Since your credit utilization has a larger impact on your credit score than the number of hard checks, requesting the credit limit increase is likely to help raise your credit score. As improving your credit utilization will do more to improve your credit score than the hard check would lower your credit score, it’s worth it to ask for a credit limit increase.

How to request a credit limit increase with Wells Fargo

Before asking for a credit limit increase with Wells Fargo, you should make sure you meet the minimum requirements of having an account that is at least a year old. If you don’t satisfy these requirements, then your request is likely to be denied. If they do a hard check on your credit and ultimately deny your request, you will still see the negative impact of a few points from having the hard credit check without the benefit of increasing your credit utilization.

Unfortunately, unlike many other banks these days, Wells Fargo does not have a simple online process to request a credit limit increase. According to the Wells Fargo FAQ, if you want to ask for a credit limit increase, you will need to call 1-800-642-4720. As with any request for a credit limit increase, be prepared to have them run a hard check on your credit and to answer questions regarding your current income level.

You can find the information on the Wells Fargo website by going to the “Loans and Credit” section and then clicking “Credit Cards.”

Then click “See credit card FAQs.”

 

The information on how to increase your credit limit by calling the number mentioned above is listed toward the bottom.

How to improve your chances of getting the credit limit you want

 

While ultimately the decision to increase your credit limit is up to the bank, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances. According to credit card expert Jason Steele, banks like Wells Fargo will “look at your reported income, which would demonstrate your ability to repay the loan. They would also look at the length of your relationship with Wells Fargo, and how long your account has been opened. Finally, they might also look at your payment record, and of course, your current credit utilization.” So by ensuring you have an excellent repayment record and a good relationship with the bank and the accounts you have with them, you can give yourself a better chance of being approved.

When looking at those who received the credit line increase they wanted and those who didn’t, the biggest difference appeared to be how active a customer was with Wells Fargo. Meaning they regularly used their credit card and paid it off, and they also often had another type of account with Wells Fargo, such as a mortgage.

Liz Stapleton
Liz Stapleton |

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

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Georgia’s Own Visa Classic Review: Good Choice for Rebuilding Credit

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

The Georgia’s Own Visa Classic card is made for those with low credit scores and helps you rebuild and re-establish your credit. If you’ve struggled in the past with getting approved for other credit cards due to poor credit, you may qualify for this card. By using this card, coupled with proper credit behavior, you will be able to improve your credit score.

Visa® Classic from Georgia's Own Credit Union

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on Georgia's Own Credit Union’s secure website

Visa® Classic from Georgia's Own Credit Union

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
12.99%-17.99%
Credit required
bad-credit
Bad
  • No annual fee
  • 2% foreign transaction fee
  • There is a balance transfer fee of 3% of the balance transfer; $10 minimum
  • Due date is 25 days after the close of each billing cycle. No interest if full balance is paid. Interest on cash advances and balance transfers begins on the transaction date.

How the Card Works

This is a relatively straightforward credit card. There is no annual fee and no rewards. Lack of a rewards program makes this card predominantly for rebuilding credit. Look at it this way — there are no tempting rewards to lead you to overspend, allowing you to focus on rebuilding your credit.

The APR for this card is a fair 12.99% to 17.99%. Other cards charge upward of 20%, so this is reasonable. However, a lower APR shouldn’t encourage you to accrue a balance month to month. Always make it a point to pay your balance in full and on time.

A good way to start rebuilding your credit with the Georgia’s Own Visa Classic is to add a recurring payment, like Netflix or Spotify. You can solely have your monthly Netflix or Spotify charge on your credit card statement and increase your credit score as long as you pay your bill in full and on time. This will give you a low utilization (the amount of your credit limit you use), which is a key factor in determining your credit score. For example, if you have a credit limit of $100 and charge your recurring $7.99 Netflix bill, then you will have a utilization of 8% (below 20% is ideal).

How to Qualify

In order to qualify for this card, you need to have a stable source of income, so a job is needed. This will prove that you can afford to make your monthly payments on time and are responsible.

In addition, since this card is provided by a credit union, you have to join Georgia’s Own Credit Union. Don’t worry if you reside outside of Georgia; anyone can become a member regardless of residence. There are four free eligibility options that can qualify you for free membership. Otherwise you will have to join the GettingAhead Association, with a $5 annual membership fee. The best bet is to speak to a Georgia’s Own loan officer (404-874-1166) and see if you’re pre-approved for the credit card. If pre-approved, you can join the GettingAhead Association while completing your credit card application. All members will also need to keep $5 in a savings account that must remain in the account while you have the card open.

A note on the application process for Georgia’s Own — when you apply for a credit card on Georgia’s Own website, you are directed toward an application that is for all the credit cards they offer. This means that depending on your creditworthiness, you may not be directed to the Visa Classic as an option. Therefore if you want to apply directly for the card, the best bet is to speak with a loan officer, who will tell you if you’re pre-approved for the Visa Classic card.

What We Like About the Card

Good chance of getting approved

Georgia’s Own tailored this credit card toward those needing to rebuild or re-establish their credit history. This gives those with bad credit a greater chance of being approved. Also, if your score is above 620, you are more likely to be approved.

Fair APR

This card has a fair APR ranging from 12.99% to 17.99%. This is significantly lower compared to other cards targeted to people with less than perfect credit, with APRs as high as 23.99%. Although your goal is to pay every bill in full and on time each month, if you keep a balance this low, APR won’t accrue as much interest as other cards.

What We Don’t Like About the Card

Have to join the credit union

In order to get this card, you have to join Georgia’s Own Credit Union. There are four free eligibility options, and if you don’t qualify for free membership, you will have to join the GettingAhead Association, with a $5 annual membership fee. You will also need to keep $5 in a savings account that must remain in the account while you have the card open.

2% foreign transaction fee

Make sure to leave this card at home when you travel abroad as you’ll be charged a 2% foreign transaction fee on all purchases. This is slightly lower than most cards, which charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, yet high enough to increase your bill significantly if you make purchases abroad.

No rewards program

There is no rewards program for this credit card. Georgia’s Own offers a Visa Platinum card that has a rewards program, but you may have a harder time qualifying if you don’t have a good credit score.

Who the Card Is Best For

If you’re someone who has a low credit score and doesn’t mind working with a credit union, this card may be right for you. We recommend this no-frills card for people who want to rebuild their credit with a credit card. While you won’t earn any rewards with this card, if you practice proper credit behavior, you’ll be rewarded by a better credit score.

Alternatives

Secured Card with Rewards

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Minimum Deposit

$200

APR

23.99% APR

Fixed

If you don’t want to join a credit union, you might want to consider a secured credit card to help you build credit. With a secured card, you make a deposit – and receive a credit limit based upon that deposit. The good news is that your secured credit card will report to the credit bureaus. That means your good behavior can help you improve your credit score over time. One of our favorite secured credit cards is from Discover.

Rewards Card with Good Approval Odds

Walmart® MasterCard<sup>®</sup>

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Cashback Rate

up to 3%

APR

17.65%-23.65%

Store cards are more likely to approve people with low credit scores, and the Walmart MasterCard is known to have approved applicants with scores as low as 520. In addition to promising approval rates for people with bad credit, the Walmart MasterCard has unlimited rewards with up to 3% cash back. Don’t worry if you don’t shop at Walmart since you can earn rewards on any purchase. Be aware that this card has a higher interest rate than the Georgia’s Own card, so compare which card is best for you.

Bottom Line

With no annual fee and fair interest rates, the Georgia’s Own Visa Classic credit card is a good option for those with bad to fair credit who are looking to improve their credit score. If you don’t mind working with a credit union, this card is a good option to rebuild credit.

FAQ

If you don’t qualify for the four free eligibility options, you will have to join the GettingAhead Association, with a $5 annual membership fee. The best bet is to speak to a Georgia’s Own loan officer (404-874-1166) and see if you’re pre-approved for the credit card. If pre-approved, you can join the GettingAhead Association while completing your credit card application. All members will also need to keep $5 in a savings account that must remain in the account while you have the card open.

You should work hard to make sure you make payments on time every month. A missed payment will lead to a late fee and interest accruing on the balance. This will ultimately leave a negative mark on your credit report and lower your credit score. Try not to spend more than you are able to and stick to a budget with these helpful budgeting apps in order to rebuild your credit score.

There is no one way to increase your credit score; rather, there are numerous behaviors responsible cardholders practice to establish good credit history. Good practices include paying all of your statements on time and in full and keeping a utilization below 20%; these will help you rebuild credit.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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Average Household Credit Card Debt in America: 2017 Statistics

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

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

Key Findings:

  • While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. As of December 2016, households with credit card debt owed an average of $7,703, down 27.2% compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.
  • Credit card balances and credit card debt are not the same thing. The 73 million Americans who pay their bill in full each month have credit card balances reported to the major credit reporting bureaus.
  • Assessing financial health means focusing on credit card debt trends rather than credit card use trends.

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

Credit Card Use

Number of Americans who use credit cards: 203 million1

Average number of credit cards per consumer: 2.22

Number of Americans who carry credit card debt: 127 million3

Credit Card Debt

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

Total credit card debt in the U.S.: $504 billion4

Average credit card debt per person: $3,9715

Average credit card debt per household: $7,7036

Credit Card Balances

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

Total credit card balances: $764 billion as of January 2017, an increase of 7.3% from the previous year.7

Average balance per person: $5,5518

Who Pays Off Their Credit Card Bills?

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

31% of households carry a balance all year

27% of households sometimes carry a balance10

Understanding Household Credit Card Balances vs. Household Debt

At first glance, it may seem that Americans are taking on near record levels of credit debt. Forty-two percent of American households11 carry credit card debt from month to month, and, if you look at the total credit card balances among U.S. households, the figure appears astronomical — $764 billion. But that figure includes households that are paying their credit debt in full each month as well as those that are carrying a balance from month to month.

While credit balances are increasing, the amount of debt that households are carrying from month to month is actually much lower than it was leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The total of credit card balances for households that actually carry debt from month to month is $504 billion.

As of the first quarter of 2017, households with credit card debt owed an average of $7,703.3 That is a decrease of 27.2% compared to October 2008, when household credit card debt peaked at $10,588.12b

And as household incomes have risen in recent years, this has helped to lower the ratio of credit card debt to income. Today, indebted households with average debt and median household incomes have a credit card debt to income ratio of 14.9%.13 Back in 2008, the ratio was 19.1%.

Credit Card Debt per Person

Once we adjust for these effects, we see that an estimated 127 million Americans carry $503 billion of credit card debt from month to month. Back in 2008, 7 million fewer Americans carried debt, but total credit card debt in late 2008 hovered around $631 billion.16 That means people with credit card debt in 2008 had more debt than people with credit card debt today.

Average credit card debt among those who carry a balance today is $3,970 per person2 or $7,703 per household.3 Back in 2008, credit card debtors owed an average of 28.6% more than they do today. In late 2008, the 115 million17 Americans with credit card debt owed an average of $5,567 per person12a or $10,689 per household.12b

Delinquency Rates

Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying.

In the second quarter of 2009, delinquency rates were 6.77%, nearly three times higher than they are today. Today, credit card delinquency rates among U.S. households are down to 2.34%.14

Credit card debt is well below recession levels, but balances continue inching upward. In the last year, overall credit card balances rose 7.3% to $764 billion.

Our Method of Calculating Household Credit Card Debt

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

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

A common estimate of household credit card debt is:

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

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

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

Our credit card debt estimate is:3

Credit Card Debt: Do We Know What We Owe?

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

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

Are We Paying Down Credit Card Debt?

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

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

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

In fact, 14% of consumers have credit card balances above $10,000.27 At current rates, consumers with balances of $10,000 will spend more than $1,386 per year on interest charges alone.28

Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards29

Even an average revolver will spend between $54530 and $55631 on credit card interest each year.

Credit Debt Burden by Income

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

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

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

Generational Differences in Credit Card Use

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

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

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

Better Consumer Behavior Driving Bank Profitability

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

Despite better borrowing behavior, banks have held interest on credit cards steady between 13% and 14%37 since 2010. Today, interest rates on credit accounts (assessed interest) is 13.86%. This means bank profits on credit cards are at all-time highs. In 2015, banks earned over $102 billion dollars from credit card interest and fees.38 This is 15% more than banks earned in 2010.

How Does Your State Compare?

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

Footnotes:

  1. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The June 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows 76.1% of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 203 million credit card users.
  2. May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 4, Q1 2017, 453 million credit card accounts. 453 million credit card accounts / 203 million credit card users1 = 2.2 credit cards per person.
  3. The 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households reports 58% of credit card users carried a balance in 2015. 203 million1 * 58% = 118 million people with credit card debt.Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67% of credit card users were not “full payers.” This results in a high estimate of 136 million people with credit card debt.Average estimate is 127 million with credit card debt.
  4. Using data from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, 203 million credit card users * (58% not full payers) * $4,011 per individual5 = $472 billion in credit card debt.Using data from Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate 203 million credit card users * (67% not full payers) * $3,930 per individual5 = $535 billion in credit card debt.Average estimated total credit card debt is $504 billion.
  5. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $764 billion in outstanding credit card debt. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33% full payers, we calculate:[$764 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 203 million credit card users1)] / (203 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $3,930Using their estimate of 42% full payers, from the 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households and the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:[$764 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 42% full payer * 203 million credit card users1)] / (203 million credit card users * (100% – 42% not full payers)) = $4,011Average estimated credit card debt per person is $3,971.
  6. Average per person credit card is $3,9715 and the average household contains 1.94 adults over the age of 18. $3,971 * 1.94 = $7,703.
  7. May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Compare Q1 2016 to Q1 2017, outstanding credit card debt (Page 10).
  8. May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q1 2017, credit card debt $764 billion / 203 million1 = $3,759.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian,Accessed May 24, 2017. National Balance on Bankcards- average of $5,551.
  10. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.
  11. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1% of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1% of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.Between 48 million14 and 58 million15 households carry credit card debt. Using the average of the two estimates, we believe 53 million households out of 125.82 million households carry credit card debt.
  12. a. CCP data shows 76.6% of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit showed 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33% full payers, we calculate:[$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users)] / (183 million credit card users * (100% – 33% not full payers)) = $5,365U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5% of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:[$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports)] / (240 million people with credit reports * (44.5% not full payers)) = $5,769Average estimated credit card debt per person is $5,567.b. Average per person credit card is $5,56712 and in 2008, the average household contained 1.92 adults over the age of 18. $5,567 * 1.92 = $10,689.
  13. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Real Median Household Income in the United States [MEHOINUSA672N], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSA672N, March 17, 2017.
  14. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Delinquency Rate on Credit Card Loans, All Commercial Banks [DRCCLACBS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DRCCLACBS, March 16, 2017.
  15. Statement balances are the balances owed to a credit card company at the end of a billing cycle. Full payers will pay off the entirety of their statement balance each month. Finding an estimate of full payers’ statement balances was not an easy task. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York does not provide estimates of full payers compared to people who carry a balance.In order to get our estimates, we turned to academic research outside of the Federal Reserve Banks. In the paper, Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we found robust estimates of the statement balances of “full payers.” According to their analysis (see Table 1-A), full payers had mean statement balances of $3,412 (when summarized across all credit cards) before they went on to pay off the debt.We multiplied $3,412 by the estimated number of full payers to get the estimated balances of full payers.
  16. CCP data shows 76.6% of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows $866 billion in outstanding credit card debt in Q3 2008. Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows an average balance of $3,412 for “full payers.” Using their estimate of 33% full payers, we calculate:$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * 33% full payer * 183 million credit card users) =$659 billionU.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation, 2008 Panel, Wave 4shows 44.5% of all households with a credit report have credit card debt. Using this along with the $3,412 full payer balance from Table A-1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang, we calculate:$866 billion – ($3,412 (full payer balance) * (100% – 44.5%) full payer * 240 million people with credit reports) = $587 billionEstimated credit card debt is $623 billion.
  17. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The June 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 76.1% of the adult population uses credit cards. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 203 million credit card users. Page 30, 2015 Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households shows that 58% of households with credit cards sometimes or always carry a balance.203 million * 58% = 118 million people with credit card debt
  18. Source: Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2015 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). “The SCE data are available without charge at www.newyorkfed.org and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.”The June 2016 Survey of Consumer Expectations Shows 76.1% of the adult population uses credit cards. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 267 million adults with credit reports. For a total of 203 million credit card users. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards by Benjamin J. Keys and Jialan Wang shows that 67% of credit card users were not “full payers.”203 million * 67% = 136 million people with credit card debt
  19. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports 37.1% of U.S. households carry credit card debt. There are 125.82 million U.S. households.
  20. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw reported that 46.1% of U.S. households carried a balance the month prior to the Survey of Consumer Finances.
  21. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $2,300 per household with credit card debt.
  22. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic median credit card debt of $3,500 per household. Two-person households systematically underreported their debt.
  23. The 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances reports a median credit card debt of $5,700 per household with credit card debt.
  24. Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, and Wilbert van der Klaauw used CCP data and determined a more realistic average credit card debt of $9,600 per household.
  25. The Complex Story of American Debt, Page 9.
  26. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  27. Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing.
  28. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, June 6, 2017.February 2017 interest rate on accounts assessed interest 13.86%: $10,000 * 13.86% = $1,386.
  29. Table 1 in Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  30. $3,9312 * 13.86%28 = $545
  31. $4,0112 * 13.86%28 = $556
  32. Minimum Payments and Debt Paydown in Consumer Credit Cards.
  33. 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian,Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for baby boomers is $6,889 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Balances on Credit Cards, Experian,Accessed May 24, 2017. Average credit card balance for millennials is $3,542 compared to a national average of $5,551.
  36. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Commercial Bank Interest Rate on Credit Card Plans, Accounts Assessed Interest [TERMCBCCINTNS], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TERMCBCCINTNS, June 6, 2017.
  37. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Sources of Revenue: Credit Card Income from Consumers for Credit Intermediation and Related Activities, All Establishments, Employer Firms [REVCICEF522ALLEST], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/REVCICEF522ALLEST, March 17, 2017.
  38. CCP data shows 76.6% of people with credit reports had balances on credit cards in September 2008. The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit shows 240 million adults with credit reports in Q3 2008. For a total of 183 million credit card users.The May 2017 Report on Household Debt and Credit, Page 3, Q3 2008, credit card debt $886 billion / 183 million = $4,720
  39. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017. All average credit card debt balances are calculated using the following formula:(Total Credit Card Balancea – Balance of Population Not Carrying Debtb) / Population Carrying Credit Card Debtc
    1. Total Credit Card Balance = (Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population)
    2. Balance of Population Not Carrying Debt = Average Credit Card Debt Per Capita * Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card
    3. Population * % of Population Using a Credit Card * (1 – .375)
  40. State Level Household Debt Statistics 1999-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, May, 2017.
  41. Data from Consumer Credit Explorer.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

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

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Credit Cards, Earning Cashback, Reviews

Ally CashBack Credit Card Review: Is it Worthwhile if You Don’t Bank with Ally?

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.

Last year, Ally Bank rolled out the Ally CashBack Credit Card with a rewards program that offers 2% cash back on gas and groceries with no cap.

In addition to the cash back you earn from spending, Ally gives you a special 10% Ally Deposit Bonus when you deposit cash back earned into an eligible Ally Bank account.

Ally CashBack Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Ally Financial’s secure website

Ally CashBack Credit Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
2% on certain categories, 1% on everything else
APR
13.74%-23.74%

Variable

Credit required
excellent-credit

Excellent

  • No annual fee
  • 2% cash back at gas stations and grocery stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Receive a $100 bonus when you make $500 in eligible purchases during the first 3 billing cycles
  • Get a 10% Ally Deposit Bonus when you deposit your cash rewards into an eligible Ally Bank account
  • 13.74%-23.74% purchase APR
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months from account opening on balance transfers, then a variable APR of 13.74%-23.74%. Balance transfer fee is 4% of the amount transferred, $10 minimum
  • 3% foreign transaction fee

The Ally CashBack Credit Card Offer

1. Earn up to 2.2% cash back at gas stations and grocery stores.

Factoring in the 10% Ally Deposit Bonus, you have the potential to earn a total of 2.2% cash back in the gas and groceries category.

You have to deposit cash back earned into a qualifying account to get the 10% bonus. Qualifying accounts include:

  • Ally Money Market accounts
  • Non-IRA Online Savings accounts
  • Interest Checking accounts

Fine print alert: Discount stores, superstores, and warehouses are not included in the groceries category. Stores like Target, Walmart, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club specifically may be off limits for 2% cash back.

Ally Bank qualifies your purchases for cash back using merchant codes. You can call up a store directly to see if it has a merchant code within one of these eligible 2% cash back categories:

  • Grocery
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Service stations
  • Automated fuel dispensers
  • Fuel dealers

2. Earn up to 1.1% cash back on all other purchases.

Purchases outside of groceries and gas earn 1% cash back. You can earn a total of 1.1% if you add in the 10% Ally Deposit Bonus.

3. Earn an introductory incentive.

There’s an introductory bonus of $100 if you spend $500 within the first three months of having this card.

How to Redeem Cash Back

You can redeem cash back in two ways. As mentioned, you get the extra 10% bonus if you deposit cash back into an eligible Ally Bank account.

The second option is redeeming cash back for statement credit. You need to build a balance of at least $25 before you can redeem cash back.

What We Like About the Ally CashBack Credit Card

You guessed it — we think the most attractive feature of the Ally CashBack Credit Card is the 10% Ally Deposit Bonus. We also like that this card has no spending cap for the 2% categories.

Other benefits are that there’s no annual fee and the interest rate range is reasonable.

The card even has a 0% APR introductory deal on balance transfers, although the 4% balance transfer fee is something to consider before moving your money.

The Ally CashBack Credit Card Fine Print

One of the major drawbacks of this card is the merchant code restrictions.

Don’t get us wrong — the Ally CashBack Credit Card isn’t the only cash back rewards program that uses merchant codes to qualify purchases. Pretty much every niche category card has some fine print related to what you will and will not earn bonus cash back on.

Before shopping at a warehouse or specialty food store with this card (or any category card for that matter), double-check the merchant code to see if the purchase will be eligible for 2%.

One more spot where the Ally CashBack Credit Card has fine print is the program termination policy. If your account is canceled for any reason, by you or Ally Bank, you forfeit the cash back balance. Ally Bank also reserves the right to change terms or cancel the cash back program. If this occurs, you may give up your balance.

To avoid losing out on money, keep the card in good standing and cash out whenever you hit the $25 mark just in case Ally Bank should change terms in the future.

Who the Ally CashBack Credit Card Is For

This card is best suited for current Ally Bank customers, but even people who bank with Ally should explore other options.

For non-Ally Bank customers, the 2.2% on gas and groceries is not worth opening two new accounts (the credit card account and a qualifying savings or checking account) to earn maximum cash back.

There are too many other category cards to consider ahead of this one that can give you more than 2.2% on gas and groceries.

There are even a few cards that offer you 2%+ cash back on all spending with no pesky category restrictions to keep up with.

We’ll share two alternatives with you in the next section.

But first, here’s an example to give you an idea of how much you can earn with the Ally CashBack Credit Card:

Say you spend $4,000 per year on groceries and $2,000 on gas. You can earn up to $132 in cash back for the year. (This includes the 10% Ally Deposit Bonus.)

Keep this scenario in mind because we’ll reference it next when reviewing a competitor.

For eligibility criteria, Ally Bank doesn’t get specific about the type of credit history or score you need to get approved.

However, some applicants have reported getting declined because of too many recent inquiries or new accounts. These are factors to be mindful of that could hurt your chances of getting approved.

Cash Back Alternatives

We have a list of the top cash back cards for all categories in this post. Here are two alternative cards from that roundup to take a look at:

Amex Blue Cash Preferred

The Amex Blue Cash Preferred card is one of our top picks for gas and grocery shopping rewards. This card gives you a huge 6% cash back on groceries and 3% cash back on gas. You get 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Amex Blue Cash Preferred card has a $95 annual fee.

Back to our example scenario from above:

If you spend $4,000 annually on groceries and $2,000 annually on gas, you earn $300 in total cash back from the Amex Blue Cash Preferred. Subtract the $95 annual fee, and you still net $205 in cash back. Remember — the Ally CashBack Credit Card only gives you up to $132 in this same spending scenario. The moral of the story is, rewards cards that have an annual fee can still outperform cards with no annual fee. So don’t let a fee deter you from reviewing an offer.

Alliant Visa Signature

If you do most of your shopping at wholesale stores or you prefer a non-category card, the Alliant Visa Signature card is another option we recommend. The Alliant Visa Signature card gives you an unlimited 3% cash back for the first year with no fee. After the first year, you earn 2.5% cash back on all purchases with a $59 annual fee. If your spending is all over the map, an unlimited cash back card like the Alliant Visa Signature can give you more flexibility than the Ally CashBack Credit Card.

Rewards Cards: Frequently Asked Questions

No, Ally cash back does not expire as long as your account remains open and in good standing. There is no limit to the amount of cash back rewards that may be earned.

Anything over 1.5% cashback is a good deal. There are some cards that offer more — as much as 5 or 6% cash back on purchases. But sometimes those offers are too good to be true. Banks don’t like to lose money, and will pepper the fine print with all sorts of limitations. For example, they may offer 5% cash back on only purchases at certain types of retailers and only for certain periods of time. And those categories may change every quarter, which can make it hard to keep track.

Don’t let those cash back promises pressure you into spending more than you can afford. If you don’t pay your statement balance in full each month, you could get slapped with sky high interest charges. That would totally negate any benefit you might get from earning cash back. Cash back cards are only valuable if you can pay your bill in full and capture the entirety of your cash back rewards.

It depends on the card. Some cards allow you redeem cash back dollar for dollar as a statement credit, which can help lower your total balance. Just keep in mind that applying cash back to your card statement does not count as a monthly payment. Other cards will increase the value of your cash back if you spend on certain categories, like travel. Review your terms carefully to be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Find the card that fits your day-to-day spending needs best, beyond the flashy sign-up bonus offers and cash back promises. Pay your bill in full each month (spend only what you can afford to pay off).

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor at taylor@magnifymoney.com

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Credit Cards, Earning Cashback, Reviews

Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Review: 2.5% Unlimited Cash Back

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.

Few credit cards offer unlimited 2.5% cash back on all spending without caps or complicated category restrictions. Alliant Credit Union recently rolled out its Cashback Visa Signature Card, which may very well be the “holy grail” of unlimited cash back cards.

The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card gives cardholders 3% cash back the first year and 2.5% back subsequent years. This card does have an annual fee, but the fee is waived for the first 12 months.

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Alliant CU’s secure website

Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$59 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
Unlimited 3% cash back during the first year; 2.5% cash back afterwards
APR
10.99%-23.99%

Variable

Credit required
good-credit

Good

  • Exclusively designed for those spending $50,000+ a year on their card
  • Rates as low as 10.99%APR
  • $59 annual fee, waived the first year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A true cashback card: 3% cash back in year one & 2.5% cash back after

How the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card works

Alliant Credit Union is an online credit union that anyone can join. If you don’t meet the standard credit union qualifying criteria (being a relative of a member or working for a select organization), you can join by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success.

If you choose to apply for this card, be sure to swipe it as much as possible during the first year to make the most of the free 3% cash back. This is a great deal.

The annual fee after the first year is $59. Aside from the annual fee, the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card has extra costs within the card terms that are pretty typical of any credit card.

Most notably, there’s a 3% balance transfer fee and no foreign transaction fee.

Redeeming Your Cash Back

You can redeem cash back earned through statement credit when your cash back balance reaches $25. Cash back expires after five years. Cash back also expires if your credit card account is closed voluntarily or involuntarily.

Who This Credit Card Is Best For

We highly recommend the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card if you hate keeping up with revolving category cards. Category rules can be a pain. This card makes earning cash back painless.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who likes using category cards (airline, grocery, gas, etc.), this card also partners nicely with others. Keep it in your wallet to maximize rewards in areas that your category cards don’t cover.

Alliant Credit Union has very lenient member-qualifying criteria, so non-members can join today. If you already have an Alliant Credit Union card, call credit card services to request an upgrade.

Cardholders report that you can get approved with a score in the high 600s, although credit card services states qualification is based on more than just your credit score.

For example, you may qualify for this card with less-than-perfect credit if your income is high. Since this is a Visa Signature card, credit limits are higher than traditional cards, and that requires having enough income to support a good-sized limit.

What we like about the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card

We like this card a lot because it’s one of few credit cards that give you 2% cash back without a long list of rules on what you can and can’t buy.

Until now, the Citi Double Cash card has been our top recommendation for no-fuss 2% cash back on all spending. However, the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card is giving the Citi Double Cash card some stiff competition.

The 3% cash back without an annual fee the first year is very hard to beat. And if you spend at least $1,000 per month on the card after year one, 2.5% cash back with the annual fee still outperforms the Citi Double Cash card.

We’ll discuss why the magic number for spending is $1,000 in our credit card comparison below.

What we don’t like about the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card

There’s not too much to discuss that’s negative about this card. The one thing to be mindful of is that it does not have an interest-free intro deal on new purchases or balance transfers.

This means you shouldn’t take out this card intending to go on a crazy shopping spree or to finance big life events like a wedding, relocating, or traveling unless there’s a repayment plan in the strategy.

You’ll get a great deal of cash back from large purchases the first 12 months, but you need to pay off the balance promptly to avoid many interest charges.

Three Alternative 2%+ Cash Back Credit Cards

We started out this post mentioning that there aren’t too many unlimited 2%+ cash back cards available, so let’s dive into the three main alternatives:

  • Citi Double Cash
  • Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature
  • USAA Limitless Cashback Rewards Visa Signature

Citi Double Cash

The Citi Double Cash card is usually our “go-to” pick for unlimited 2% cash back with no category restrictions.

The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card clearly has the Citi Double Cash card beat in the first year. Things get a little less clear-cut when the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card starts costing $59 annually.

As mentioned, when taking the fee into consideration, you need to spend over $1,000 per month on the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card to earn more from it than the Citi Double Cash card.

Here’s the calculation breakdown:

  • Citi Double Cash: $12,000 (spent) x 2% (cash back) = $240
  • Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card: $12,000 (spent) x 2.5% = $300 – $59 (fee) = $241

The more you spend beyond $12,000 per year, the more the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Card outperforms the Citi Double Cash card.

Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature

The Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card is another 2% cash back option with no fee, but this card comes with conditions. You can only earn 2% cash back when you direct deposit rewards into a Fidelity Investment account.

This is still a decent deal for Fidelity Investment customers. If you plan to spend less than $12,000 per year on your rewards card, consider this one or the Citi Double Cash card.

USAA Limitless Cashback Rewards Visa Signature

Lastly, the Limitless Cashback Rewards Visa Signature card from USAA offers an unlimited 2.5% cash back with no annual fee. This card also has restrictions.

You have to keep a certain amount of cash in a connected USAA checking account to qualify for 2.5% cash back. Plus, the card is only made available to select USAA members who live in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

In comparison to these cards, the Alliant Cashback Visa Signature card is a rare bird with its over 2%+ cash back program and very limited fine print.

Rewards Cards: Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, the Alliant cash back rewards expire after 5 years, and you also forfeit your unused rewards if you close your account. It’s important to note that cash back doesn’t expire exactly 5 years from the date you earn it. Cash back rewards expire on a rolling, annual basis; cash back earned in a calendar year will expire on the December cycle date of the fourth calendar year in which it was earned. For example, any unredeemed cash back earned in 2017 will expire on the December cycle date in 2021.

Anything over 1.5% cashback is a good deal. There are some cards that offer more — as much as 5 or 6% cash back on purchases. But sometimes those offers are too good to be true. Banks don’t like to lose money, and will pepper the fine print with all sorts of limitations. For example, they may offer 5% cash back on only purchases at certain types of retailers and only for certain periods of time. And those categories may change every quarter, which can make it hard to keep track.

Don’t let those cash back promises pressure you into spending more than you can afford. If you don’t pay your statement balance in full each month, you could get slapped with sky high interest charges. That would totally negate any benefit you might get from earning cash back. Cash back cards are only valuable if you can pay your bill in full and capture the entirety of your cash back rewards.

It depends on the card. Some cards allow you redeem cash back dollar for dollar as a statement credit, which can help lower your total balance. Just keep in mind that applying cash back to your card statement does not count as a monthly payment. Other cards will increase the value of your cash back if you spend on certain categories, like travel. Review your terms carefully to be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Find the card that fits your day-to-day spending needs best, beyond the flashy sign-up bonus offers and cash back promises. Pay your bill in full each month (spend only what you can afford to pay off).

Taylor Gordon
Taylor Gordon |

Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor at taylor@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards, Reviews

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa Review: Great Savings for Future Auto 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.

The Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa card is made for college students and helps you build credit while also taking advantage of rewards. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent, and double points during the 60 days after opening your card. The rewards points can be redeemed for cash back, travel, merchandise, and more. This card is especially beneficial if you plan on taking out an auto loan in the next few years, as you may be eligible to redeem rewards points for a .25% or .50% interest reduction on an Altra auto loan. The various features Altra provides make this card a good option for students starting their credit journey.

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

APPLY NOW Secured

on Altra’s secure website

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Rewards
1 point per dollar spent
APR
14.90%

Fixed

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit
  • Earn double Reward Points on every dollar of purchases in the first 60 days after opening your new account. After, earn 1 point per dollar spent.
  • Points can be redeemed for cash back, travel rewards and merchandise.
  • Redeem 5,000 CU reward points for a .25% point reduction or 10,000 points for a .5% point reduction off an Altra vehicle loan.
  • Each quarter one random cardholder will have their previous month’s purchases paid (up to $500, $50 minimum).
  • Receive a one-year congratulatory letter rewarding you with $20 for maintaining your account in an “exceptional way.”

How the Card Works

Altra offers a credit card designed with students in mind to help you build credit. There is no annual fee for this card, though you may have to pay a $5 membership fee; but more on that later. In addition to a low 14.90% APR, Visa Checkout, and fraud alerts, Altra offers a rewards program. You will earn 1 point per dollar spent on all purchases and will earn double points during the 60 days after opening your new account. This allows you to get a rewards boost while you’re in the honeymoon phase of being a cardholder. However, this may not be the largest rewards program compared to other cards, but it is better than no rewards.

The reward points that Altra offers do not have a standard value like most rewards programs. Instead, points can be redeemed for merchandise or cash back at CURewards.com. Note that there is only one cash back option of $50, and you need 8,334 points to redeem. So you would need to spend $8,334 to receive $50 cash back.

Although you earn unlimited rewards points, they expire after five years — but on the last day of the year. For example, if you earned points on June 1, 2017, they would expire in five years but on the last day of the fifth year — December 31, 2022. As a result, think twice about saving all your points for a large reward because you may lose them.

In addition to a rewards program, Altra will give you a $20 cash back reward at the end of your first year as a cardholder. All you need to do to qualify is to maintain your account in an “exceptional” manner by having no late payments, no over-the-limit usage, and 6 out of 12 months’ activity. This should be an easy $20 since your goal is to pay every statement in full each month.

If that isn’t enough, Altra will choose one cardholder at random each quarter and pay their previous month’s purchases, with a minimum of $50 and maximum of $500 paid. To qualify for this “lottery” you need to be in good standing, which means you pay your bill on time and in full every month, and wait for your lucky day!

If you plan on taking out an auto loan in the next few years, Altra has a unique offer that can save you significant money. You are able to redeem 5,000 points for a .25% interest reduction or 10,000 points for a .50% interest reduction on your Altra auto loan.

Keep in mind that your primary goal with a student card is to create a positive credit history with the hopes of having a credit score in the 700s upon graduation. Don’t let the prospect of rewards hinder your credit and lead to overspending. Some best practices to promote a positive credit score include paying each statement in full and on time and using no more than 20% of your credit limit — meaning don’t max out your card.

How to Qualify

Altra designed this card with students in mind, which means they don’t expect you to have a great credit history, or any at all. Though they do expect you to have a stable source of income, so a job is needed to apply for this card. This will prove that you can afford to make your monthly payments on time and are responsible.

Another requirement Altra has that is unique to credit unions is that you need to be a member to become a cardholder. No worries, though, since the application process is simple. You can either qualify for membership via various eligibility options or by joining the credit union for $5. In addition, while you’re actively using the card you will need to keep $5 in a savings account.

What We Like About the Card

Low APR.

Altra offers a relatively low 14.90% APR, compared to other cards that offer APRs as high as 24.74%. The low APR is beneficial if you don’t pay your balance in full one month and as a result are charged interest. It helps that Altra has an APR 10% lower than competing cards; however, you should always pay your bill in full every month to avoid interest charges and damage to your credit score.

Earn rewards points.

Altra provides you the opportunity to build your credit while also earning rewards. With this card you can earn 1 reward point per dollar spent. Even better is that during the first 60 days after opening your account you will earn double rewards points. Don’t let this get to your head and spend more than you can to maximize your double points. Remember that your primary goal is to build good credit, and earning rewards is only an added bonus. It’s important to note that Altra rewards points do not have a standard value like typical rewards programs from other credit cards. Point value varies based on each redeemable item.

$20 cash back for good behavior.

If at the end of your first year as a cardholder you have no late payments, no over-the-limit usage, and used your card for 6 out of 12 months, you will receive a $20 cash back reward. This is an added perk for responsible cardholders that makes Altra’s card more appealing.

Random winner each quarter.

An added level of excitement is Altra’s bill pay “lottery.” Each quarter Altra will choose one random cardholder and pay their previous month’s purchases, anywhere between $50 and $500. Make sure you’re in good standing to qualify.

Redeem points for a lower interest rate on an Altra vehicle loan.

If a car is in your near future, Altra provides a great option that can save you money. You will receive a .25% or .50% point reduction on your loan by redeeming 5,000 and 10,000 points, respectively. This may save you a significant amount of cash in the long run.

What We Don’t Like About the Card

Foreign transaction fee.

Be careful if you travel abroad since this card charges a 1% foreign transaction fee. This isn’t as high as some cards that charge 3%; however, you can find other student cards that don’t charge a fee when you’re traveling out of the country, such as the Discover it for Students card or the Capital One Journey Student Rewards card.

Need to join the Altra Federal Credit Union.

Unlike credit cards from banks, you have to be a member of the Altra FCU. There are two ways to become a member, and the first option — meet their eligibility requirements — is free. Otherwise you will need to pay a one-time $5 membership fee. All members will also need to have a $5 balance in an Altra savings account that must remain in the account while you have the card open.

Who the Card Is Best For

If you’re a student who doesn’t mind joining a credit union and wants to earn rewards while building your credit score, this card may be right for you. We recommend this card for students who plan on taking out an auto loan since you can benefit greatly from the .25% or .50% interest reduction Altra offers. With numerous cardholder benefits, the Altra FCU Student Visa card is a good choice for students starting their credit journey.

Alternatives

If You Frequently Spend on Gas, Groceries, and Restaurants

The Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students card is a great card if you want to receive a cash rebate for your purchases. With Golden 1 you will earn a cash rebate instead of rewards points that will be deposited into your account at the end of every month. The cash rebate program also boasts a high 3% rebate for gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, with 1% for all other purchases. If you frequently spend money in these areas, you’ll be able to maximize your cash rebate. You can become a member of Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8 per year and keeping at least $5 in a savings account.

If a Credit Union Isn’t for You

Not everyone wants to join a credit union, and there are numerous student credit cards offered by banks. The Discover it for Students card is a great card to help you build credit while earning cash back. With Discover you will earn 5% cash back on quarterly rotating categories and 1% elsewhere — but it doesn’t end there. They also reward students with good grades, match your cash back at the end of the first year, and provide access to your FICO score for free. Overall, Discover is a great card for students who don’t mind tracking rotating categories to maximize cash back.

FAQ

It’s a smart choice to start building your credit while you’re in college so by the time you graduate you have a healthy credit score in the high 600s to mid 700s. As a result, you’ll be in good standing with financial institutions and will benefit from being able to make larger purchases like a new car. Also, if you want to get an additional credit card that offers cash back or rewards, you will be more likely to get approved with a good credit score. Check out our student credit card guide.

To join the Altra Federal Credit Union you may already meet several eligibility options that come at no cost. If not, there is a one-time $5 membership fee. You will also need to have a $5 balance in an Altra savings account that must remain while you have the card open.

You should work hard to make sure you make payments on time every month. A missed payment will lead to a late fee and interest accruing on the balance. This will ultimately leave a negative mark on your credit report and lower your credit score. Try not to spend more than you are able to and stick to a budget with these helpful budgeting apps.

If a credit card isn’t the right product for you, don’t fret, there are other options available. You can build credit by using a secured card or by becoming an authorized user on your parents’ account. A secured card is where you deposit an amount of money that acts as collateral, and the amount you deposit becomes your credit limit. This is a great way to build credit with less risk than a typical credit card. Compare the best secured cards for your needs. Your second option, becoming an authorized user, allows you to piggyback off of someone else’s good credit. You will receive their good credit behavior on your credit report.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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Building Credit, Credit Cards

A Guide to Getting Your Free Credit Score

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

As a consumer of financial products it is important to monitor your credit score on a regular basis. This will ensure that you know where you stand in the credit landscape when it comes time to apply for a new credit card, loan, mortgage, or other product. Monitoring your credit score regularly can also help notify you of any unexpected changes to your credit history such as fraud.

There are numerous free credit scores available for you to access; however, not all scores are considered equal. Credit lenders will often pull specific scores, depending on the product you are applying for. Therefore, we have created a simple chart for you to see where you can get specific credit scores from the top two companies — FICO® and VantageScore. The best part is, it’s all for free!

Read on for details on important aspects that make up your credit score and which score suits your individual needs.

 

Finding the Right Credit Score

Where to Access Your Credit Score for Free

The below chart lists some of the various versions of credit scores and where you can access them for free from a variety of banks, credit card companies, and personal finance websites.

FICO® Score vs. VantageScore

You may be wondering which score is better — FICO® score or VantageScore? We’re going to break down what the different versions of the two scores are best for in the next section, but for now here are several differences between the two major types of credit scores.

Find the Best Credit Score for Your Needs:

The credit score that you are looking for varies, depending on what type of credit you are looking to apply for. Each credit score version has different benefits, and lenders pull certain scores in accordance with your application.

Credit Score Monitoring

The best options: All VantageScores and FICO® scores

If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and stay on top of your credit, either VantageScore or FICO® score will suffice.

New Credit Card

The best options: FICO® Bankcard Scores or FICO® Score 8 primarily; FICO® Score 3

Where to get them: Get your FICO® Score 8 from Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

When applying for a new credit card, these scores are most likely to be pulled by credit card issuers. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus.

Mortgage Loans and Mortgage ReFis

The best options: FICO® Scores 2, 4, 5

Where to get them: myFICO for $59.85

These scores are used in the majority of mortgage-related credit evaluations, with lenders pulling your score from all three bureaus. However, these scores are not free and can only be purchased at myFICO.

Auto Loans

The best options: FICO® Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, 8, 9

Where to get them: myFICO for $59.85

Auto scores are industry-specific and used in the majority of auto-financing credit evaluations. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus. Unfortunately, these scores are not free and need to be purchased at myFICO.

Personal Loans, Student Loans, and Retail Credit

The best option: FICO® Score 8

Where to get it: Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

For other financial products such as personal loans, student loans, and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is best. This is the credit score most widely used by lenders, and they may pull your score from one or all three bureaus when making a decision.

Other Scores and Their Value

FICO® Score 9 is the newest model and not widely used yet. It is also not available for free at this time. The benefits of this score are that it doesn’t penalize you for paid collections and reduces the ding you get from unpaid medical collections. See our review for more information.

The FICO® NextGen score is used to assess credit risk, but only a small number of lenders use it due to its 150-950 scoring range and older model.

Credit Score Basics

What are the three credit bureaus?

There are three credit bureaus that report your credit score to financial institutions and personal finance websites. The bureaus are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. They collect credit information from a plethora of lenders and data providers and then consolidate it into a credit file, with your credit score being the key piece of information. You can’t get your credit score directly from the bureaus, but earlier in this article we discussed numerous resources where you can access your credit score — for free.

What is a FICO® score?

A FICO® score is a number that predicts how likely you are to pay back a loan or other credit products in a timely manner. FICO® scores range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be approved for credit cards, loans, mortgages, and other financial products. FICO® scores are the most widely used credit scores — influencing over 90% of U.S. lending decisions.

How is a FICO® score calculated?

FICO® scores are calculated from data in your credit reports and made up of the following five key factors:

Source: ficoscore.com
  1. Payment history (35%):
    Your payment history is simply a record of your on-time or missed payments. It’s the largest component of your FICO score — and therefore the most important aspect to focus on if you want to improve it.
  2. Amounts owed — aka utilization (30%):
    Utilization is the amount of your credit limit you use. It is ideal to have a utilization below 20%. If you have two credit cards, one with a $10,000 limit and the other $5,000, then your total credit limit is $15,000. If you have a combined $3,000 debt across both cards, then your utilization would be 20%.
  3. Length of credit history (15%):
    The total length of time that you’ve had credit across all products you have. For example, expect your credit score to be slightly lower if you have had credit for six months versus six years.
  4. New credit (10%):
    Frequency of credit inquiries and new account openings. When you open a new account, your credit score will take a slight dip for about six months, then it will rise — as long as you’re responsible in the other four factors mentioned.
  5. Credit mix (10%):
    This is the different types of credit you have. This includes credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, and other financial products. The more variety of credit you’re responsible with, the better your score will be.

What is a VantageScore?

A VantageScore is also a number that measures your credit risk. These scores typically range from 300 to 850 (501-990 for earlier models) and are used by 20 of the 25 largest financial institutions. VantageScores are in line with FICO® — the higher your score, the better. VantageScores are more widely available for free from online resources than FICO® scores; however, a majority of lenders pull your FICO® score when making decisions.

How is a VantageScore calculated?

VantageScores are calculated from data in your credit reports and influenced by the following six key factors:

Source: your.vantagescore.com

FAQ

Credit scores are typically updated every 30 days. Depending on your activity, your score may remain the same or fluctuate.

No, checking your score will not do any damage to your score.

Your credit scores differ based on the information that each bureau pulls. Most information is the same, but one bureau may use unique information that another bureau doesn’t have, creating a difference in scores. Also, if you compare your FICO® scores and VantageScores, they will differ because they use different criteria when pulling your score.

A FAKO score is a non-FICO score that is known as an “equivalency score” or “educational score.” FAKO scores give you a general picture of where you stand, but aren’t used by lenders when making a credit decision and therefore aren’t accurate in predicting if you’ll be approved.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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5 Ways to Protect Your Money on Summer Vacation

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.

Summer vacations should be a time to relax and recharge your batteries. It’s also a time to socialize more, travel more, and fly to exotic destinations.

For those who are traveling long distances (especially to another country) during the summer, there are a few precautions you need to take to ensure that you protect your money. If you set these in place, you can relax a bit more and, hopefully, have more fun on your trip.

Tell Bank and Credit Card Companies About Your Travel Plans

If you don’t tell your bank or credit card company that you’re planning on traveling, they may think all those purchases you’ve made are faulty. Unfortunately, that means that you may lose access to your credit or debit card.

It only takes a few minutes to call these places and let them know about your plans. Doing so is even more important for those planning on traveling overseas. When you call, let them know the places you plan on visiting and how long your trip will last.

Only Bring the Necessities in Your Wallet

If you have a lot of cards and IDs in your wallet, only take what you will use on your trip. For example, bring a credit card, a backup credit card, and an ATM or debit card if you plan on withdrawing cash. If you need to, bring your driver’s license.

To prevent identity theft, leave your Social Security card at home in case your wallet gets stolen. If you think you might need it for any reason, photocopy it and black-out the last four digits. In fact, it’s a good idea to make photocopies of credit and bank cards you’ll be taking with you on your trip, as well as your IDs (including the passport data page) to keep on hand. You can also give copies of those, as well as your travel itinerary, to a trusted friend or family member at home in case of an emergency.

The less you have in your wallet, the less of a hassle it will be if you do need to replace your cards if they get stolen. It’s even better if you put your credit cards and IDs in separate locations so you don’t lose all access to cash during your trip.

Use Your Credit Card as Much as Possible

Most credit cards will protect you from liability for fraudulent purchases, which is helpful in case your card is lost or stolen. Also, if you make most of your major purchases on your credit card (such as hotel and flights), you may be eligible for travel insurance. Of course, that depends on the terms on your credit card.

Using credit cards instead of cash means that you can recoup your losses much faster. If someone stole cash from your wallet, the chances of getting that money back are pretty slim. However, if you have a credit card stolen, all future purchases made will not be your responsibility.

If you want to save money on pesky exchange fees, make sure to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. That means you’re only paying the exchange rate on the day you make a purchase. You can even consider using a cash back or travel rewards card to earn points while you travel. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, allow you to earn 2x points on travel and dining purchases.

Watch Out for Fake ATMs

There may be times when you need to get cash during your vacation. With thousands of ATM machines around the world, there’s no shortage of access. However, you’ll want to make sure that the machine you’re getting your cash from is a legitimate one.

Unfortunately, thieves like to put fake ATM machines in high traffic tourist areas. What happens is they end up stealing your card information and all your money along with it. In 2010, a man in Beijing was arrested for installing a fake ATM machine near a corner store. Unsuspecting passers-by would use the machine, get an “out of order” message, and later discover their accounts had been drained.

If you’re unsure about the ATM machine, don’t use it. The Beijing fraudster went to some trouble to make his ATM look legit, even adding signage like “24 hours self-service,” according to media reports. But there were some pretty clear giveaways to show the Beijing machine was a fake — the money slot was sealed shut, the security camera was a piece of plastic, and the receipt slot was sealed.

To play it safe, it might be better to avoid stand-alone ATMs and stick to ATMs that are located in airports, transportation hubs, hotels, or banks.

You can even do a bit of research beforehand and look up ATM machine locations on your bank or credit card website. For example, Visa and MasterCard show locations of their ATM machines around the world. You can easily do a search and know which one you can head to.

Also, consider keeping only a small amount of cash in the account linked to your debit card. Even if your account is compromised, a thief won’t get away with much.

Keep Up with Your Purchases from Your Trip

There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but you still need to be alert on your trip. Whenever you purchase something, check the receipt to make sure all charges are accounted for or you got the right change if you paid in cash. If you have online bank access, check to see if all charges are actually yours.

Also, you’ll want to be as organized as possible. Aside from only bringing the necessities in your wallet, make sure you can access your things easily in your purse or bag. If you have to search in your bag a lot, you may end up misplacing important documents or lose valuable items.

It’s also a good idea to review your credit card and bank statements when you get back from your trip if you weren’t able to check it during your trip. If there is fraudulent activity, report it right away.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your money on your summer vacation doesn’t have to be stressful or take a lot of time. As long as you take some precautions and are careful in your surroundings, you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation much more.

Sarah Li Cain
Sarah Li Cain |

Sarah Li Cain is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah Li here

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards of 2017

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

Getting a credit card while you’re in college might seem dangerous or confusing. But if you are able to use a student credit card responsibly, you do not need to be afraid, and you can set yourself up for financial success after you leave school.

Fortunately, learning how to choose and use the right student credit card is relatively simple. Make sure you avoid annual fees and go with a bank or credit union you can trust. When you get the card, make sure you use it responsibly and pay the balance in full and on time every month. If you do these things consistently over time, you can leave school with an excellent credit score. And if you want to rent an apartment or buy a car, having a good credit score is very important.

Our Top Pick

Discover it® for Students

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover’s secure website

Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit, New to Credit
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • Earn 5% cash back in rotating categories each quarter like Amazon.com, restaurants, ground transportation and more, up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile & online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Best for Commuter Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover’s secure website

Discover it® chrome for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 2%
APR
13.99%-22.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit, New to Credit
  • Get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year, automatically.
  • 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases every quarter - no sign-ups needed. 1% cash back on all your other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 cash back each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & your FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements, on mobile and online.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 13.99% - 22.99%.
  • Click "APPLY NOW" to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.

Best Flat-Rate Card

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

Journey Student Credit Card from Capital One

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 1.25%
APR
20.99%

Fixed

Credit required
fair-credit

Average Credit

  • Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month
  • There’s no limit to the amount of cash back you can earn, and rewards don't expire
  • Get access to a higher credit line after making your first 5 monthly payments on time
  • Pay no annual or foreign transaction fees
  • Fraud coverage if your card is lost or stolen
  • Pick the monthly due date that works best for you

Best Intro Bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 3%
APR
11.90%-21.90%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit
  • Build Credit history while you are in college
  • Earn 3% cash back on gas, grocery and drugstore net purchases (purchases minus returns/credits) for 6 months and 1% cash back on all other net purchases.
  • Earn unlimited cash rewards with no complicated calculations, no minimum purchase requirements and no expiration dates.
  • Flexible rewards redemption options. Cash rewards are redeemed in $25 increments and you can choose to have them automatically deposited into your Wells Fargo savings account or apply rewards as a credit to a qualifying Wells Fargo product. Request a paper check or redeem in $20 increments at a Wells Fargo ATM with a Wells Fargo Debit or ATM card. Redeem rewards for travel, gift cards, and more
  • Extra cash rewards earning potential and deals at your favorite stores when you shop the Earn More Mall®
  • Free access to Wells Fargo Online® credit education and tools

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

APPLY NOW Secured

on Altra’s secure website

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
APR
14.90%

Fixed

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit
  • Earn double Reward Points on every dollar of purchases in the first 60 days after opening your new account. After, earn 1 point per dollar spent.
  • Points can be redeemed for cash back, travel rewards and merchandise.
  • Redeem 5,000 CU reward points for a .25% point reduction or 10,000 points for a .5% point reduction off an Altra vehicle loan.
  • Each quarter one random cardholder will have their previous month’s purchases paid (up to $500, $50 minimum).
  • Receive a one-year congratulatory letter rewarding you with $20 for maintaining your account in an “exceptional way.”

Also Consider Also Consider

Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students:

This credit card offers a snazzy rewards program: rather than accumulate points, you’ll get a cash rebate instead. All you have to do is make a purchase. At the end of the month, you’ll get a rebate of 3% of gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, and 1% of all other purchases deposited back into your Golden 1 savings account at the end of the month. You can join Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8 per year and keeping at least $5 in a savings account.

What should I look for in a student credit card?

The most important thing to consider when looking for a student credit card is that it charges no annual fee. You should never have to pay to build your credit score. Fortunately, most student cards don’t charge you an annual fee, but it’s still something to watch out for.

The second most important thing you should keep an eye out for are tools that help you learn about credit or even promote good credit-building habits. For example, some student credit cards will give you a free monthly FICO score update. You can use this freebie to see in real time how your credit score changes as you build credit history by keeping the card open, or paying down your credit card balance, for example.

The last thing you should be considering when picking out a student credit card is the rewards program. I know, I know, it seems counterintuitive. But stick with me — I’ll show you why in the next question.

Why shouldn’t I be concerned about maximizing my rewards while in college?

Rewards cards are nice to have. But if you’re a college student, here’s the truth: you probably won’t spend enough to earn meaningful rewards.

Why? With a good rewards program, you can earn points or cash back. A small percentage of your monthly spending can add up quickly. However, given the tight budget that most college students live on, it will probably take a while to earn meaningful rewards. For example, if you earn 1.25% cash back and spend $300 a month on your card, you would earn $45 of cash back during the year.

College students are very good at making good use of $45. And our favorite card offers a great cash back rewards program. Just don’t expect to earn a lot of cash back, given the tight budget of a college student.

Why should I get a credit card as a college student?

There are a lot of great reasons why you should get a credit card, as long as you can commit to using it responsibly.

The single biggest reason why you should get a credit card as a college student is because you can start establishing a credit history now. When you graduate from college, you will need a good credit score to get an apartment. And your future employer will likely check your credit report. Building a good credit history while still in college will help prepare you for life after graduation.

Getting a credit card while in college can also train you to develop good credit habits now. But you need to be honest with yourself. If you find that you can’t avoid the temptation of maxing out your credit card, you might want to switch to a debit card or cash.

Finally, getting a credit card now can be the motivation you need to start learning about credit. These skills aren’t hard to learn, and they could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars later in life (when you want a mortgage, for example).

What is the CARD Act and why should I care about it?

Many years ago, credit card companies would market on college campuses. You could get a free beer mug or t-shirt in exchange for a credit card application. And you would be able to qualify for a credit card without having any income. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act was signed into law in May 2009 to change a number of practices.

How did the CARD Act change student credit cards?

The CARD Act made a lot of changes in how credit card issuers do business with students. One of the biggest changes was requiring students to be able to demonstrate an ability to pay. If you are under 21 and do not have sufficient income (a campus job, for example), you would need to get a co-signer.

In addition, colleges must now limit the amount of credit card marketing on campus. The days of free t-shirts and pizzas in exchange for credit card applications are gone. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible for a college student to get a credit card. Some highly reputable banks and credit unions still offer student cards. And building a good credit score while still in college is still highly recommended.

How can I protect myself from racking up debt?

When used properly, credit cards are a very convenient method of repayment. However, when not used properly, you can end up deep in credit card debt. It is important to establish a healthy relationship to credit now, with your first credit card.

You should try to ensure that you pay off your credit card bill in full and on time every month. Ideally, you should set up an automatic monthly payment. And to keep yourself on track, take advantage of alerts offered by most credit card companies. You can even get daily text messages reminding you of your balance.

How can I automate my credit card usage?

If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. There’s actually a way you can automate your payments so you never even have to bother with the hassle of using a credit card. All it takes is a few minutes of upfront work.

First, you’ll need at least one recurring monthly bill of the same amount, such as Netflix or Spotify. Log in to your account and set up an automatic payment each month using your credit card. Make a note of how much your monthly bill costs.

Next, log in to your bank account. Set up a second automatic payment to go to your credit card each month for the same amount as the bill. If your bank doesn’t offer the option to set up automatic payments, you may also be able to set up your credit card to automatically withdraw the amount of the bill from your bank.

Because you know this bill will be for the same amount each month (barring any price increases), you can literally just leave this running in the background each month on autopilot. You don’t even have to carry your credit card in your wallet if you don’t want to. Then, when you graduate, you’ll automatically have an improved credit score!

What happens to my student credit card when I graduate?

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line. But what about your student credit card? You will have a few options once you graduate.

First, you can simply keep it. You will want to keep the credit card open, because it helps you build a long credit history. However, you might want to call your credit card company and ask if you can migrate to a standard (non-student) credit card.

But if you have been using your credit card properly, you will have an excellent credit score when you graduate – and you will be able to get any credit card that you want.

Here is a summary of our favorite cards:

Credit cards
Best for
Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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RANKED: The 10 Best Options When You Need Cash Fast

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.

What happens when your emergency fund isn’t enough?

Long-term unemployment or a medical emergency can easily dry up a once-healthy rainy day fund, leaving consumers wondering where to turn next. According to a recent consumer expectations survey by the New York Federal Reserve, only one in three Americans say they wouldn’t be able come up with $2,000 within a month to cover an unexpected expense.

It’s during times of vulnerability like this that it’s easy to jump at seemingly quick and easy sources of cash, like payday lenders, credit cards, or even your 401(k).

Unfortunately, practically every potential source of cash that doesn’t come from your own piggy bank is going to cost you in some way.

But at this point, it’s all about choosing the lesser of all evils — when all you have are crummy options, how do you decide which one is the best of the worst?

We’ve ranked common sources of emergency short-term cash from best to worst, which can help you sort through your borrowing options when your savings dry up.

#1 Personal loan from family and friends

It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with a loved one, but asking a friend or relative for a small loan can be a far better idea than turning to high-interest credit debt, or worse, payday lenders. Unless they’re offering, it doesn’t have to be an interest-free loan. Agree on an interest rate that seems fair and is lower than what you’d find through a bank or other lender.

Because you have a relationship already, you may have an easier time convincing them to lend you money versus a bank that would make the decision after doing a credit check and evaluating other financial information.

#2 (tie) Lender-backed personal loan

A personal loan can be a solid borrowing option if you need money in a pinch or you’re looking to consolidate other debt. The process to apply for a personal loan is similar to applying for a credit card or auto loan, in that the lender will run your credit and offer you a certain rate based on your creditworthiness.

If your credit is poor, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the running for a personal loan, but it will cost you in the form of much higher interest charges. For example, Lending Club offers loans with APRs from 5.99% to 35.85%, but it’s willing to lend to people with a credit score as low as 600. You can get rates from multiple lenders without impacting your credit score here.

Why choose a personal loan over a credit card? It really comes down to math. If you can find a personal loan that will cost less in the long term than using a credit card, then go for it. Use this personal loan calculator to estimate how much a loan will cost you over time. Then, run the same figures through this credit card payoff calculator.

#2 (tie) Credit cards

If your need for cash is truly short-term and you have enough income to pay it off quickly, then credit card debt can be a decent option. This option gets even better if you can qualify for a card with a 0% interest offer. The card will let you buy some time by allowing you to cover your essentials while you work on paying off the balance.

Because the debt is unsecured, unlike an auto title loan, you aren’t putting your assets at risk if you can’t pay.

#3 Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

You may be able to leverage the equity in your home to cover short-term emergency needs. A HELOC, or home equity line of credit, is a revolving credit line extended to a homeowner using your home as collateral. How much you can take out will depend on your home’s value, your remaining mortgage balance, your household income, and your credit score. A home equity line of credit may allow you to borrow the maximum amount, or only as much as you need. You will also be responsible for the costs of establishing and maintaining the home equity line of credit. You can learn more about these here.

You’ll choose the repayment schedule and can set that for less than 10 years or more than 20 years, but the entire balance must be paid in full by the end of the loan term. You’ll pay interest on what you borrow, but you may be able to deduct it from your income taxes. Keep in mind that if you are unemployed, it will be unlikely that you’ll be approved for a HELOC.

HELOC vs. Personal loans

Because home equity lines of credit are secured against the borrower’s home, if you default on your home equity line of credit, your lender can foreclose on your home. Personal loans, on the other hand, are usually unsecured, so, while failure to make your payments on time will adversely impact your credit, none of your personal property is at risk.

#4 A 401(k) loan

A 401(k) loan may be a good borrowing option if you’re in a financial pinch and are still employed. And it is a far better bet than turning to a payday lender or pawn shop for a loan. Because you’re in effect borrowing from yourself, any interest you pay back to the account is money put back in your retirement fund. You are allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of the total amount of money in your account, whichever is less. Typically, 401(k) loans have to be repaid within five years, and you’ll need to make payments at least quarterly.

But there are some cons to consider. If you get laid off or change jobs, a 401(k) loan immediately becomes due, and you’ll have 60 days to repay the full loan amount or put the loan funds into an IRA or other eligible retirement plan. If you don’t make the deadline, the loan becomes taxable income and the IRS will charge you another 10% early withdrawal penalty.

#5 Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) withdrawal

Generally, withdrawing funds from your retirement savings is a big no-no, because you’re going to miss out on any gains you might have enjoyed had you kept your money in the market. On top of that, there are fees and tax penalties, which we’ll cover in the next section.

But there is an exception: the Roth IRA or Roth 401(k).

Because funds contributed to Roth accounts are taxed right away, you won’t face any additional tax or penalties for making a withdrawal early. The caveat is that you can only withdraw from the principal amount you’ve contributed — you’re not allowed to withdraw any of the investment gains your contributions have earned without facing taxes and penalties.

However, it is still true that any money you take out is money that will not have a chance to grow over time, so you will still miss out on those earnings.

#6 Traditional 401(k) or IRA withdrawal

Experts typically recommend against borrowing from your 401(K) or IRA, but when you’re in desperate need of cash, it may be your best option.

Just understand the risks.

If you withdraw funds from a traditional retirement account before age 59 1/2 , the money will be taxed as income, and you’ll be charged a 10% early distribution penalty tax by the IRS. You may want to speak with a tax professional to estimate how much you’ll have to pay in taxes and take out more than you need to compensate for that loss. There’s no exception to the income tax, but there are a number of exceptions to the 10% penalty, such as qualified education expenses or separation from service — when you leave a company, whether by retirement, quitting, or getting fired or laid off — at 55 years or older.

When you take that money out, not only will you lose out on potential tax-deferred investment growth, but you’ll also lose a huge chunk of your retirement savings to taxes and penalties.

#7 Reverse mortgage

Homeowners 62 years old and older have another option for cash in a pinch: a reverse mortgage. With a reverse mortgage, your property’s equity is converted into (usually) tax-free payments for you. You can take the money up front as a line of credit, receive monthly payments for a fixed term or for as long as you live in the home, or choose a mix of the options. You keep the title, but the lender pays you each month to buy your home over time.

In most cases, you won’t be required to repay the loan as long as you’re still living in your home. You’ll also need to stay current on obligations like homeowners insurance, real estate taxes, and basic maintenance. If you don’t take care of those things, the lender may require you to pay back the loan.

The loan becomes due when you pass away or move out, and the home must be sold to repay the loan. If you pass away, and your spouse is still living in the home but didn’t sign the loan agreement, they’ll be allowed to continue living on the property, but won’t receive any more monthly payments. When they pass away or move out, the home will be sold to repay the loan.

The reverse mortgage may take a month or longer to set up, but once you get the paperwork set you can choose to take a line of credit, which could serve as an emergency fund, advises Columbus, Ohio-based certified financial planner Tom Davison.

He says the reverse mortgage’s advantages lie in the fact that it doesn’t need to be paid back until the homeowner permanently leaves the house, and it can be paid down whenever the homeowner is able. You can also borrow more money later if you need it, as the line of credit will grow at the loan’s borrowing rate.

Take care to look at the fine print before you sign. Under current federal law, you’ll only have three days, called a right of rescission, to cancel the loan. Reverse mortgage lenders also usually charge fees for origination, closing, and servicing over the life of the mortgage. Some even charge mortgage insurance premiums. Also, if you pass away before the loan is paid back, your heirs will have to handle it.

#8 Payday loan alternatives

While regulators work to reign in the payday lending industry, a new crop of payday loan alternatives is beginning to crop up.

Services like Activehours or DailyPay allow hourly wage earners to get paid early based on the hours they’ve already worked. Activehours allows you to withdraw up to $100 each day and $500 per pay period, while DailyPay, which caters to delivery workers, has no cap. DailyPay tracks the hours logged by workers and sends a single payment with the day’s earnings, minus a fee ranging from 99 cents to $1.49.

Another alternative could be the Build Card by FS Card. The product targets customers with subprime credit scores and offers an initial low, unsecured $500 credit limit to borrowers, which increases as they prove creditworthiness. The card will cost you a $72 annual membership fee, a one-time account setup fee of $53, plus $6 per month just to keep it in your wallet. It also comes with a steep interest rate — 29.9%. After all of the initial fees, your initial available limit should be about $375.

#9 Pawn shop loans

Pawn shop loan interest charges can get up to 36% in some states and there are other fees you’ll have to pay on top of the original loan.

Pawn shops get a shady rap, but they are a safer bet than payday lenders and auto title loans. Here’s why: Because you are putting up an item as collateral for a payday loan, the worst that can happen is that they take possession of the item if you skip out on payments. That can be devastating, especially if you’ve pawned something of sentimental value. But that’s the end of the ordeal — no debt collectors chasing you (payday loans) and no getting locked out of your car and losing your only mode of transportation (title loans).

#10 Payday loans and auto title loans

We have, of course, saved the worst of the worst options for last.

When you borrow with a payday loan but can’t afford to pay it back within the standard two-week time frame, it can quickly become a debt trap thanks to triple-digit interest rates. According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 14% of payday loan borrowers can afford enough out of their monthly budgets to repay an average payday loan. Some payday lenders offer installment loans, which require a link to your bank account and gives them access to your funds if you don’t pay.

Some payday lenders today require access to a checking account, meaning they can dip in and take money from your bank account if you miss a payment. Also, your payday loan will be reflected on your credit report. So if things end badly, your credit will suffer as well. They have no collateral, so payday lenders will continue to hound you if you miss payments.

And, of course, auto title lenders require you to put up your wheels as collateral for a loan. And if you rely heavily on your car to get to and from work, having it repossessed by a title lender could hurt you financially in more ways than one.

The loans are usually short-term — less than 30 days — so this might not be a good option for you if you don’t foresee a quick turnaround time for repayment. If your household depends on your car for transportation, you may not want to try this option as there is a chance you could lose your car. If you don’t repay the loan, the lender can take your vehicle and sell it to cover the loan amount.

One more thing to watch out for is the advertised interest rate. Auto title lenders will often advertise the monthly rate, not the annualized one. So a 20% interest rate for the month is actually a 240% APR.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

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

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