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9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs

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9 Essential Tax Tips for Entrepreneurs

For many entrepreneurs, there is no topic more fraught than taxes. In fact, a 2015 survey of small business owners found that 40% say dealing with bookkeeping and taxes is the worst part of owning a small business and that they spend 80+ hours a year dealing with taxes and working with their accountants. Taxes can be time-consuming, confusing, and a drain on your finances if you don’t prepare well. So whether you choose to do your taxes on your own or hire a professional, this guide can provide some sound advice and hopefully make tax time a little less taxing.

 

#1 Select the Right Entity for Your Business

 

One of the first decisions you’ll make when setting up your business is whether to function as a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, or corporation. In her recent blog post, Wendy Connick, an IRS enrolled agent and owner of Connick Financial Solutions, says “the type of business entity you choose will have a huge effect both on how you pay taxes and how much tax you pay. It’s wise to consider the pros and cons of each business structure before making a final decision.”

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to form a business, as it is not a legal entity. The business owner just needs to register the business name with the state and secure the proper local business licenses. The downside is that the sole proprietor is personally liable for the business’s debts.

Partnership

A partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship, but two or more people share ownership. Both partners contribute their money, labor, or skill to the business and share in its profits and losses.

Limited liability company (LLC)

An LLC provides more protection from liability than a sole proprietor or partnership but with the efficiency and flexibility of a partnership.

Corporation

A corporation is more complicated and usually recommended for larger companies with multiple employees. It is a legal entity owned by shareholders, so the corporation itself, not its shareholders, is legally liable for business debts.

Unlike other business entities, corporations pay income tax on their profits, so they are subject to “double taxation,” first on company profits and again on shareholder dividends.

To avoid double taxation, corporations can file an election with the IRS to be treated as an S Corporation. S Corporation income and losses “pass through” to the shareholder’s personal income tax return instead of being taxed at the corporate level.

Some small businesses and freelancers may save on self-employment taxes by registering as an S Corporation and paying themselves a salary. Sole proprietors, partners, and LLC members pay self-employment tax on their entire business net income, but S Corp shareholders only pay self-employment taxes on their wages. They can receive additional income from the corporation as a distribution, which is taxed at a lower rate.

Connick says “many small business owners start out as sole proprietors and adopt a different structure once the business gets big enough to make it worthwhile (which would typically be when the business is making over $50,000 a year).”

 

#2 Get an Employer Identification Number

 

All businesses, even sole proprietors should get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Technically, sole proprietors can use their Social Security number (SSN) as the business’s identification number, but that means providing an SSN to any clients or vendors who need to issue a 1099, a move that can leave you more exposed to identity theft.

Applying for an EIN from the IRS is free and can usually be done in a matter of minutes using the IRS’s online form.

#3 Make Sure Your Business Isn’t Just a Hobby

 

You know you’re in business to make money, but would the IRS agree? If your company is operating at a loss, the IRS could reclassify your business as a hobby, resulting in some serious tax consequences.

A business is allowed to offset taxable income with business expenses, but hobby expenses cannot be netted against hobby income. Instead, they are deducted as miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A and limited to the amount of hobby income reported on Schedule C. This means a hobby business can never result in a net loss, and you may be prevented from deducting hobby expenses entirely if you don’t itemize deductions.

If you’ve been making money in your business for a while and just have one bad year, you don’t have to worry about the IRS reclassifying your business as a hobby. If you’ve been losing money for a while and especially if your business involves some element of personal pleasure or recreation (such as horse racing, filmmaking, or restoring old cars), you’ll want to make sure you’re treating your business like a business in case the IRS challenges your losses.

The IRS takes several factors into consideration:

  • Does the amount of time you put into the business suggest an intention of making a profit? Side projects are more likely to face scrutiny because you’re spending the majority of your time at another full-time job.
  • Do you depend on the income you receive from the business?
  • Were any losses beyond your control or occur in the startup phase? Losses due to poor management and overspending are less likely to hold up under examination.
  • Have you changed operation methods to improve profitability? Many business experience setbacks. If you learn from mistakes and try to correct your course, the IRS is more likely to agree that you have the intention of running a profitable business.
  • Do you have the knowledge and experience necessary to be successful in your field?

If you are concerned about an IRS challenge of your losses, there are a few steps you can take to treat your activity as a business:

  • Keep thorough business books and records.
  • Maintain separate business checking and credit accounts.
  • Obtain the proper business licenses, insurance, and certifications.
  • Develop and maintain a written business plan.
  • Document the hours spent working on your business, especially if it is a side project.

 

#4 Track Income and Expenses Carefully

 

Maintaining separate business checking and credit card accounts is not only a good way to demonstrate that your business is not a hobby, but it’s also an excellent way to simplify tracking business income and expenses.

Benjamin Sullivan, an IRS enrolled agent and a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group LLC in its Austin, Texas, office, says “small business owners can get a tax benefit from almost anything that is an ordinary and necessary business expense. Travel, meals, advertising, and insurance costs are just some of the popular deductions.”

Use small business bookkeeping software

Small business accounting software like FreshBooks, Xero, or QuickBooks Online can help you easily and quickly track your business revenues and expenses. They can usually be set up to import transactions from your business checking account automatically and let you snap pictures of receipts with your phone.

Whether you choose to use a software program or just a spreadsheet, establish a system for organizing records and receipts right from the beginning. “Little expenses can add up quite a bit over the course of a year,” Connick says, “but you can’t deduct them if you don’t know what they are.”

Special rules for travel, meals, and entertainment

It is especially crucial to maintain good records for business travel, meals, and entertainment expenses. The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct 100% of their business-related travel and 50% of the cost of business meals and entertainment expenses, whether you are taking a client out for a meal or traveling out of town. Because these categories are prone to abuse, the IRS requires documentation to substantiate that these expenses have a legitimate business purpose.

For meals and entertainment, in addition to a receipt that shows the amount, time, and place, taxpayers should also make a note of the individuals being entertained and the business purpose. Meeting this requirement can be as simple as jotting down a note on your receipt or in your calendar regarding who you dined with and the business matters discussed.

For travel expenses, hotel receipts must include a breakdown of the charges for lodging, meals, telephone, and other incidentals. Your hotel should be able to provide an itemized receipt at checkout.

Save cash instead of taxes

One trap that small business owners often fall into is spending money to save on taxes. At year end, many entrepreneurs look at business profits and think they need to spend their cash to avoid a big tax bill. Don’t spend a dollar to save forty cents in tax. If you truly need a new computer, extra supplies, or a new vehicle, buy it. Don’t spend money just to avoid a tax bill. Remember, taxes are a cost of doing business. If you’re paying taxes, you’re making money.

#5 Set Aside Money for Taxes

 

When you set up a separate business checking account, it’s also a good idea to set up a separate savings account to help you organize funds and set aside money for taxes.

Our tax system is a “pay as you go” system. When you receive a paycheck from an employer, money is regularly withheld on your behalf. When you are self-employed, making estimated tax payments is your responsibility. If you don’t pay in enough during the year to cover your income tax and self-employment tax, you may have to pay an underpayment penalty.

Estimated tax payments are due on the 15th day of April, June, September, and the following January. You have a few options for calculating what you owe each quarter:

Use Form 1040ES

This form includes a worksheet to help you estimate how much you owe for the current year. (Corporations use Form 1120-W to calculate estimated taxes.)

Look at last year’s return

If you’ve been in business for a while and there are no significant changes this year, you can aim to pay 100% of last year’s tax as a safe-harbor estimate (110% if your adjusted gross income for the prior year was more than $150,000).

Make a quarterly estimate

If your income fluctuates, you may prefer to make a quarterly calculation. Calculating estimated payments is complex. It depends on your tax bracket, deductions, credits, etc. In this case, it’s best to work with a tax professional who can consider all of the factors and recent changes in the tax law.

Sullivan says, “Tax planning isn’t a one-time exercise that should be done at the end of the year or at tax time. Instead, tax planning is an ongoing process of structuring your affairs in a tax-efficient manner.”

#6 Don’t Forget to Track Your Mileage

 

When you drive your personal vehicle for business, you have two options for deducting business automobile expenses: the standard mileage rate or actual expenses.

The IRS releases the standard mileage rate annually. The rate is $0.54 per mile for 2016. It goes down to $0.535 cents per mile for 2017. You simply multiply the standard mileage rate by the number of miles you drove for business during the year.

To use the actual expense method, total up all of the costs of operating your vehicle for the year, including insurance, repairs, oil, and gas, and multiply them by the percentage of business use. For example, if you drove 10,000 miles during the year and 5,000 of those miles were for business, your percentage of business use would be 50%. If it cost $7,000 to own and operate your vehicle, your deduction using the actual expense method would be $3,500 ($7,000 x 50%).

You can use whichever method gives you the largest deduction. However, if you want to use the standard mileage rate, you must choose it in the first year the car is used for business. In subsequent years, you can choose either method.

Whichever method you choose, you must track your business miles. You can do that with a paper log kept in your glove compartment or with an app such as MileIQ or TrackMyDrive. “Note that ‘business purpose’ is a pretty broad category,” Connick says. “If you drive to the supermarket and pick up some pens for your home office while buying groceries, the trip counts as business mileage.”

 

#7 Consider the Home Office Deduction

 

Some business owners avoid claiming the home office deduction, believing it to be an audit trigger. That may have been true in the past, but today’s technology has made home offices much more common. Connick suggests entrepreneurs shouldn’t fear the home office deduction if they meet the requirements. “It’s no longer audit bait,” she says, “especially if you use the safe harbor method to calculate your deduction.”

To take advantage of the home office deduction, you must use the area exclusively and regularly, either as your principal place of business or as a setting to meet with clients. The home office deduction is based on the percentage of your home used for the business. You can choose either the traditional method or the simplified method for deducting expenses.

Under the traditional method, you’ll calculate the percentage of your home that is used for business by dividing the square footage of your office by the square footage of your entire home. For example, if your home is 1,500 square feet and your office occupies 150 square feet, the business percentage is 10%. Then, you can deduct 10% of all of the expenses of owning and maintaining your home, including mortgage interest, real estate taxes, utilities, association dues, insurance, repairs, etc.

Under the simplified method, you’ll take a deduction of $5 per square foot, with a maximum of 300 square feet. So if your home office measures 150 square feet, the home office deduction would be $750 (150 x $5).

 

#8 Save for Retirement

 

For most self-employed people, the simplest option for retirement saving is an individual retirement account (IRA). Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, but with an annual contribution limit of just $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older), you may want a retirement savings option that allows you to save more.

Connick says her number one tip for entrepreneurs is to open a SEP-IRA. “These retirement accounts are cheap to open and maintain,” she says. They also “have a high contribution limit, and contributions are fully tax deductible.” SEP-IRAs allow entrepreneurs to contribute up to 25% of their net earnings from self-employment, up to a maximum of $53,000 for 2016.

The deadline to contribute to a SEP-IRA is the due date of your return, including extensions. So 2016 contributions can be made until April 18, 2017, or October 15, 2017, if an extension is filed.

 

#9 Get Help from a Professional

 

Connick recommends that entrepreneurs hire a professional to do their taxes. “If you pick someone who knows their stuff,” she says, “you will likely save more than enough off your tax bill to pay for their fees. For that matter, tax preparation fees are deductible!”

When choosing a tax professional, look for someone with experience working with self-employed taxpayers. The IRS maintains an online directory of return preparers who have additional credentials, such as EAs, attorneys, and CPAs. Search the directory to find a professional near you with the credentials or qualifications you prefer.

If there is one thing all entrepreneurs can agree on, it’s that everybody dreads tax season. Having a basic understanding of tax law, maintaining organized records throughout the year, and working with a professional can help you make the most of this least wonderful time of the year.

Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson |

Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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10 Places Where You Can Earn Six Figures and Still Be Broke

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A household bringing in $100,000 each year might look financially stable on paper. But after factoring in taxes, housing, transportation, and other basic budget line items, a new MagnifyMoney analysis found six-figure families can easily struggle to make ends meet.

In our report, The Best and Worst Cities to Live On Six Figures, we analyzed 381 major metros across the U.S. to see where a family earning $100,000 has the most wiggle room in their budgets.

We based our estimates on a two-earner household with two adults and one child and a gross annual income of $100,000 ($8,333 per month).

Then we created a reasonable budget for monthly expenses and subtracted that total from their after-tax income. We ranked cities from worst (least amount of money left over at the end of each month) to best (the most amount of money left over at the end of each month).

Behind the Budget:

We based most of our budget estimates on publicly available data, but we had to make some assumptions. We assumed one of the household earners carries some student debt, that all families set aside at least 5% in personal savings, and that they enjoy some entertainment throughout the month. That budget includes basic necessities: housing, food, transportation, child care, as well as variable spending on student debt, savings, and entertainment. See our full methodology here.

Key Findings

  • In 11 out of 381 metro areas analyzed, households earning six figures would spend more than 90% of their total take-home pay on basic monthly expenses. The average across all 381 metros is 75% of take-home pay spent on monthly expenses.
  • In 71 out of 381 metro areas analyzed, households earning six figures are spending more than 75% of their budget on basic monthly expenses.
  • Six figures and broke in Washington, D.C.: The worst metro area for a family earning $100,000 includes Washington, D.C. and neighboring cities Arlington and Alexandria, Va. After factoring in monthly expenses, families would be $315 in the red. Stamford, CT, San Jose, CA, San Francisco, CA, and the New York City area round out the 5 worst areas for affordability.
  • California is the ultimate budget killer: The Golden State is home to 9 out of the top 20 worst metros for six-figure families, including San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Diego and Napa. However, Los Angeles area six-figure families are able to save about $500 a month more than San Francisco area families, thanks to lower housing costs.
  • Tennessee dominates: If you’re looking for bang for your buck, it doesn’t get more affordable than Tennessee. The top three best metros for six-figure households are in Tennessee, and a total of five out of the top 10 best metros on the list are from the Volunteer State.
  • Living large in Johnson City, Tenn.: The best metro area for a family earning $100,000 is Johnson City, Tenn., where families only spend 62% of their household budgets on basic expenses. After factoring in monthly expenses, families would have a surplus of over $2,400 each month.
  • The South reigns supreme. The Southeast and Southwest tied as the best region for six-figure families, requiring them to use an average of only 70% of their income on basic expenses.
  • Steer clear of the coasts. In another tie, the Northeast and West ranked worst among the five regions. On average, six-figure households spend 80% of their earnings in these regions.
  • Housing is a budget buster. In 64 out of 381 metros, six-figure households are spending more than one-quarter of their monthly income on housing. In 18 out of 381 metros, six-figure households are spending more than one-third of their budget on housing.
  • Child care isn’t cheap. Child care expenses consume 10% or more of household budgets in 42% all metro areas (161 of 381).

View the complete data here.

The WORST Metros for Six-Figure Households: By the Numbers

1. Washington, D.C./Alexandria/Arlington, VA

It’s shockingly easy for a household earning $100,000 to live beyond their means in this high-cost metro area. To meet the basic costs of these seven expenses, they would spend 5% more than they actually earn after taxes, leaving them $315 in the red. Housing and childcare alone consume a whopping 60% of the household budget of a family living in this metro area.

2. Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, CT

Thanks mostly to lower average child care costs ($959 per month vs. $1,000+ in metros like Washington, D.C., and Boston), families earning $100,000 would be slightly better off — but only slightly. After accounting for expenses, they would still be $139 in the red. Housing has much to do with that. It would consume 43% of the household budget alone.

3. San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, CA

It’s a good thing Silicon Valley gigs pay well. A $100,000-earning family in the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area would only just manage to make ends meet, according to our findings. They would spend 99% of their total income on basic expenses. Nearly half of their income would go toward housing (46%), more than households in any other metro area analyzed.

4. San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA

Right next door to the no. 3 worst metro on our list, the San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward combo presents another budget-busting challenge for six-figure households. The area gets an edge because it has a slightly more affordable housing situation. A family earning $100,000 would use roughly 43% of their budget on housing. And when all’s said and paid for, families would use 96% of their earnings on basic expenses.

5. New York, NY/Newark/Jersey City, NJ

We land back on the East Coast for the no. 5 worst metro for six-figure households. New Yorkers and the bridge and tunnelers of Newark and Jersey City, N.J., may face exorbitant housing and child care expenses, but they luck out in one key area: transportation. The area ranks the third most affordable for transportation, likely due to the prevalence of public transit. A six-figure household would only use 13% of their budget to get around. That’s nearly half the rate spent on transit in nearby Lexington Park, Md. (23%). Still, cheaper transit options don’t quite make up for the fact that a family earning $100,000 in this area would still have to dedicate a total of 57% of their budget to housing and child care alone. At the end of the month, 96% of their earnings would be dust.

6. California/Lexington Park, MD

High earners in California/Lexington Park, Md., will spend a fair chunk of their earnings on transportation — 23% of their take-home pay. After housing, transportation is the most expensive line item in their budget. Still, they benefit from relatively low housing expenses compared to the other metros in the bottom 10, which gives households here a boost. Higher taxes also leave them with less take-home pay

7. Kahului/Wailuku/Lahaina, HI

Thanks to one of the highest income tax rates in the U.S., high-earning households in Hawaii start off with less take-home pay than their counterparts across the country. A married couple earning $100,000 and filing taxes jointly would get hit with an 8.25% state income tax rate.

Both higher housing costs and transportation expenses make this region in Hawaii, located on the island of Maui, one of the worst places for six-figure households. At the end of each month, they have just $292 left in the household budget. The majority of their take-home pay will go toward housing (38%) and transportation (18%).

8. Honolulu, HI

A family earning $100,000 in Honolulu would fare slightly better than their neighbors on Maui, thanks to lower transportation costs. At the end of each month, they have $302 left in the household budget, versus $292 for households in the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina area.

9. Boston/Cambridge, MA/Newton, NH

Relative to their take-home pay, Boston families earning $100,000 spend well over half their household budget on housing and child care — 36% and 17%, respectively.

10. Santa Cruz/Watsonville, CA

Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA rounds out our rankings. A household earning $100,000 would scrape by at the end of the month with just $329 left.

The BEST Metros for Six-Figure Households: By the Numbers

1. Johnson City, TN

The Southeast is by far the best region to move to if you want to stretch your six-figure income, and Tennessee should be top of your list. Four out of the top 10 best places to earn six figures belong to Tennessee metros.

2. Morristown, TN

A six-figure family living in Morristown, TN would have just over $2,500 left in the bank after paying for essentials and a bit of entertainment. That’s plenty of cash to build up an emergency fund.

3. Cleveland, TN

Tennessee continues to dominate the list, with Cleveland, TN coming in third place among the most affordable places for six-figure households. Families spend just 63% of their post-tax monthly income on essentials, savings and entertainment.

4. Hattiesburg, MS

Hattiesburg, MS takes the no. 4 spot, where  a six-figure family can afford to cover essential expenses, plus savings and entertainment with just 64% of their post-tax income.

5. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX

A family earning $100,000 per year in McAllen, TX would have more than enough to meet their basic needs and then some. Only 14% of their income is spent on transportation ($955 per month) and just 16% goes toward housing ($1,086 per month).

6. Jackson, TN

We’re back to the Volunteer state at No. 6 with Jackson, TN.

7. Chattanooga, TN-GA

Right on the border of Tennessee and Georgia, Chattanooga proves to be a great location of a family bringing in $100,000 per year. Relatively low housing, child care and transportation costs leave plenty of breathing room in the budget.

8. Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN

The midwest makes its first and only showing in the top 10 affordable places list with Lafayette, IN. Just under two-thirds (65%) of a family’s monthly post-tax income would be used on budget essentials like housing, food, child care and transportation.

9. Jackson, MS

We’re back to Mississippi at No. 9 with Jackson, MS making a strong showing among the most affordable places for a six-figure family.

10. Brownsville-Harlingen, TX

Texas rounds out the top 10 affordable places for $100,000 households, with the Brownsville-Harlingen area nabbing the last spot. Families would have over $2,300 left in the bank at month’s end based on our estimates.

A Tale of Two Cities

In the graphic below, see how different life is for a family earning $100,000 in Washington, D.C. vs. Johnson City, TN.

Regional Findings

Click a region to jump to the rankings:

West West West West West MidWest Northeast SouthWest SouthEast SouthEast

Methodology:

We based our findings on the projected disposable income for a family of three — two adults and one child age 4 years old. We assume the total household gross income is $100,000.

We estimated post-tax income for each metro area.

Housing

Based on metro-level estimates from U.S. Census Current Population Survey

Child care

Economic Policy Institute — State level child care costs in the U.S.

Food

Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, April 2017

Based on a moderate plan for a family of three: One male (age 19 to 50 years), one female (age 19 to 50 years), and child (age 4 to 5 years). Adjustment factor of 5% added.

Transportation

Based on metro-level data compiled by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation

U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development “Location Affordability Portal”

Student debt payment

State Level Household Debt Statistics 2003-2016, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Student Loan Debt Balance per Capita is distributed equally over 10 years with an interest rate of 4.66%.

Entertainment

We assumed all households would spend 5% of their income on entertainment, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditures Survey (CE)

Personal savings

We assumed all households would set aside 5% for personal savings, based on averages from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, personal savings rate.

Data analysis by Priyanka Sarkar, Arpi Shah and Mandi Woodruff.

Mandi Woodruff
Mandi Woodruff |

Mandi Woodruff is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mandi at mandi@magnifymoney.com

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Consumer Watchdog, Featured, News

How the “Financial Choice Act” Could Impact Your Wallet

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

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

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

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

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

What did the Dodd-Frank Act do, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean to consumers?

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

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

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

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

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

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How a Spending Freeze Can Save Your Finances

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Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo. saved $3,000 doing a 30-day spending freeze.

Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo. saved $3,000 doing a 30-day spending freeze. Photo courtesy of Laura Vondra.Just after the 2016 holiday season passed, recent empty-nester Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo., realized she was at a new financial crossroads — after struggling to make ends meet for 30 years as a single mother of three, she was finally going to learn what it felt like to have wiggle room in her budget.

To jumpstart her new financial lease on life, she decided to try a spending freeze. Spending freezes are fairly straightforward but difficult to execute: for a set period of time, you stop spending money on anything that is not essential.

For Laura, a spending freeze would allow her to take full stock of her financial picture. At the time, she had over $110,000 in debt — a combination of student loans and credit card debt.

Her goal was to start a 30-day freeze beginning January 1, 2017. When the big day arrived, the registered nurse set the ground rules: she’d spend money only on gas and food (for herself and her trio of beloved cats, Baby Girl, Matilda, and Poppy). When she wasn’t shopping for essentials, she left her debit and credit cards at home.

At the end of the month, the results were undeniable: Laura had saved roughly $3,000 — one-half of her monthly earnings. She used the funds to completely pay off one of her credit cards. “Before, I always felt like I was broke, I was poor. This month showed me ‘no, you’re not.’ I could easily live off of what I make,” she told MagnifyMoney. “[I realized] I could actually live off of half of that.”

How to Do a Spending Freeze — the Right Way

The goal of a spending freeze is to reign in all unnecessary spending and help to jumpstart your savings goals.

While a spending freeze requires you to not do something, not spending money isn’t always the easy choice in our consumer-driven culture. Here are a few tips to steel your resolve when faced with the inevitable ad for something you really, really, really need want.

Set a time limit and stick to it.

Committing to a certain time frame will help you remember that your frugal period is only temporary, and prevent you from binge-spending when you get weary of sticking to your budget.

Everyone has a different frugality threshold. The spending freeze can help you test your limit. Start off with a shorter freeze, for maybe about a week, then extend it if it feels tolerable, and learn new financial habits along the way. Eventually you’ll be able to handle a no-spend month or even a year or two like some extreme budgeters have done.

Clemson, N.C., couple Jen and Jordan Harmon have gone on a 30-day spending freeze every January since 2014. For the parents of three, it began as a way to recover from holiday season spending.

“Christmas was awful [that year], and we had spent so much money. We were just miserable,” says Jen. Her father had passed away in early December 2013, and on top of those costs, the family had spent money on holiday gifts and fast food during the chaotic month.

Make a list of things that really matter.

Laura says her spending freeze was a way to take stock of what she really needed to spend money on — and what she didn’t. She began “spending [her] money on things that matter and on things that last, not just a dinner out or to get [her] nails done.”

She’s since focused on taking care of some things she didn’t think she would have been able to afford without going on the freeze, like eliminating her debt.

Set yourself up for success.

The more you plan ahead for your spending freeze, the easier it will be for you.

Laura, for example, planned ahead by brewing her own tea at home and bringing tea bags to the office to replace her daily $25 Starbucks habit.

The Harmons prepared lunches in advance so that Jordan wouldn’t feel pressured to spend money for food on his lunch break.

“It’s the convenience that really gets you,” says Jordan. “Once you break that habit, you realize going out to lunch may only be $5 a day, but it adds up.”

Tell EVERYONE and get them to join you

Telling your friends and family about your spending freeze is a great way to garner support for your no-spend trial as well as help you stay accountable.

When the Harmons announced their freeze on Facebook by making a spending-freeze group their friends could join, Jen said she was a little nervous, thinking, “What are people going to think?”

“I was surprised at the general positivity from friends. I thought one or two would sign up. It was like 20 people in the final group, which was more than I thought it would be,” says Jen.

You can also join groups like The Epic Spending Freeze Challenge and Bells Budget Spending Freeze on Facebook for support. Or, invite a friend or family member to join you. If your debt situation is complicated or you think you may need stronger debt support, groups like Financial Peace University and Debtors Anonymous can be good resources.

Laura joined a couple of spending-freeze groups on Facebook to keep herself motivated throughout the freeze.

“I remember talking a picture of my breakfast one morning, thinking ‘this is my last egg, I won’t have another egg until the end of January,’” she says. She says the image received several comments in the group from others who shared their final mid-month rations too.

Don’t be too rigid.

While social events can often come with a host of unexpected costs, you don’t have to avoid them altogether to have a successful freeze. Sometimes it just takes getting a little creative. You can look for free events in your area or plan nights in with your family or significant others.

Also, remember it’s your freeze, so you can bend the rules slightly for your sanity. When Laura received invites to hang out with friends at a local bar, she compromised — she ate a meal at home and purchased only drinks at the bar.

“I didn’t want to stay all month at home and be antisocial,” she says.

She made one more break for social life. In the final week of her freeze, Laura let her boyfriend — who was otherwise forbidden to spend money on her during the freeze — take her out to dinner using a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, so her meal was free.

Set a purpose for the money you’ll save.

You should be able to get a good idea of the amount of money you’ll save over the period when you first go over your spending-freeze budget. Give it a purpose. At the end of the freeze reward yourself with that thing you always wanted but could never find room in your budget for.

Jen Harmon, 32, and Jordan Harmon, 33, from Clemson, N.C. have completed a January spending freeze every year since 2014. Photo courtesy of Jen Harmon.

The Harmons said they are able to save a couple of hundred dollars each freeze, helping to boost their savings, and they’ve gotten into the habit of adding in the occasional no-spend week when necessary. So much so, that they were able to start saving to pay cash for a new family car. In 2016, the freeze helped boost their savings to buy a Prius that February. They say they would have financed the vehicle had it not been for what they learned practicing the spending freeze.

Hide the money (from yourself).

If you think you’ll have serious trouble keeping your hands off of your money, you could try hiding it from yourself to get that “out of sight, out of mind” effect. Transfer all of the money you won’t need to cover the essentials (or an emergency) to an online savings account or one-month CD with another bank.

When you check your main checking account and don’t see much money there to spend on impulse buys, you might be prevented from spending. On top of that, if you need the money, you’ll have to wait or work to get access to it since it will likely take a day or so for the funds to transfer. The wait may give you the time you need to think about the purchase before you buy.

A final word

Generally speaking, just about anyone can benefit from a spending freeze or no-spend period. The challenging spending break can help you develop a better mindset about how you use money and have lasting results on your day-to-day spending habits.

For example, Laura hasn’t tried another no-spend month, but now she’s found the money in her budget to pay $500 toward her credit card debt each month. She says once she eliminates $9,000 in credit debt, she’ll start making headway on about $100,000 in student loan debt.

She says the freeze helped her learn to spend her money on things that matter, not just on lifestyle perks like going out to dinner or getting her nails done. Building that mindset is the whole point of going on a spending freeze.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

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

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Building Credit, Featured, News

Average Credit Score in America Reaches New Peak at 699

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

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In late 2016, American consumers hit an important milestone. For the first time in a decade, over half of American consumers (51%) recorded prime credit scores. On the other side of the scale, less than a third of consumers (32%) suffered from subprime scores.1 As a nation, our average FICO® credit score rose to its highest point ever, 699.2

Despite the rosy national picture, we see regional and age-based disparities. A minority of Southerners still rank below prime credit. In contrast, credit scores in the upper Midwest rank well above the national average. Younger consumers struggle with their credit, but boomers and the Silent Generation secured scores well above the national average.

In a new report on credit scores in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in credit scores. The trends offer insight into how Americans fare with their credit health.

Key Insights:

  1. National average FICO® credit scores are up 13 points since October 2009.3
  2. 51% of consumers have prime credit scores, up from 48.1% in 2007.4
  3. One-third of customers have at least one severely delinquent (90+ days past due) account on their credit report.5
  4. Average Vantage® credit scores in the Deep South are 21 points lower than the national average (652 vs. 673).6
  5. Millennials’ average Vantage® credit score (634) underperformed the national average by 39 points. Only Gen Z has a lower average score (631).7

Credit Scores in America

Average FICO® Score: 6998

Average Vantage® Score: 6739

Percent with prime credit score: 51%10

Percent with subprime credit score: 32%11

Credit Score Factors

Percent with at least one delinquency: 32%12

Average number of late payments per month: .3513

Average credit utilization ratio: 30%14

Percent severely delinquent debt: 3.37%15

Percent severely delinquent debt excluding mortgages: 6.9%16

The Big 3 Credit Scores

Credit scoring companies analyze consumer credit reports. They glean data from the reports and create algorithms that determine consumer borrowing risk. A credit score is a number that represents the risk profile of a borrower. Credit scores influence a bank’s decisions to lend money to consumers. People with high credit scores will find the most attractive borrowing rates because that signals to lenders that they are less risky. Those with low credit scores will struggle to find credit at all.

Banks have hundreds of proprietary credit scoring algorithms. In this article, we analyzed trends on three of the most famous credit scoring algorithms:

  1. FICO® 8 Credit Score (used for underwriting mortgages)
  2. Vantage® 3.0 Credit Score (widely available to consumers)
  3. Equifax Consumer Risk Credit Score (used by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Each of these credit scores ranks risk on a scale of 300-850.

In all three models, prime credit is any score above 720.

Subprime credit is any score below 660. All three models consider similar data when they create credit risk profiles. The most common factors include:

  1. Payment history
  2. Revolving debt levels (or revolving debt utilization ratios)
  3. Length of credit history
  4. Number of recent credit inquires
  5. Variety of credit (installment and revolving)

However, each model weights the information differently. This means that a FICO® Score cannot be compared directly to a Vantage® Score or an Equifax Risk Score.

American Credit Scores over Time

Average FICO® Credit Scores in America are on the rise for the eighth straight year. The average credit score in America is now 699.

We’re also seeing healthy increases in prime credit scores. In the three major credit scoring models, a prime credit score is any score above 720.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 51% of all Americans have prime credit scores as measured by the Equifax Risk Score. Following the housing market crash in 2010, just 48.4% of Americans had prime credit scores.20

Credit Scores and Loan Originations

Following the 2007-2008 implosion of the housing market, banks saw mortgage borrowers defaulting at a higher rates than ever before. In addition to higher mortgage default rates, the market downturn led to higher default rates across all types of consumer loans.

To maintain profitability banks began tightening lending practices. More stringent lending standards made it tough for anyone with poor credit to get a loan at a reasonable rate.

Although banks have loosened lending somewhat in the last two years, people with subprime credit will continue to struggle to get loans. In February 2017, banks rejected 85% of all credit applications from people with Equifax Risk Scores below 680. By contrast, banks rejected 8.74% of credit applications from those with credit scores above 760.22

Credit Scores and Mortgage Origination

Before 2008, the median homebuyer had an Equifax Risk Score of 720. In 2017, the median score was 764, a full 44 points higher than the pre-bubble scores. The bottom tenth of buyers had a score of 657, a massive 65 point growth over the pre-recession average.23

Some below prime borrowers still get mortgages. But banks no longer underwrite mortgages for deep subprime borrowers. More stringent lending standards have resulted in near all-time lows in mortgage foreclosures.

Credit Scores and Auto Loan Origination

The subprime lending bubble didn’t directly influence the auto loan market, but banks increased their lending standards for auto loans, too. Before 2008, the median credit score for people originating auto loans was 682. By the first quarter of 2017, the median score for auto borrowers was 706.26

In the case of auto loans, the lower median risk profile hasn’t paid off for banks. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion dollars of auto loans fell into severely delinquent status. That means the owners of vehicles did not pay on their loans for at least 90 days. Auto delinquencies are now as bad as they were in 2008.28

Consumers looking for new auto loans should expect more stringent lending standards in coming months. This means it’s more important than ever for Americans to grow their credit score.

Credit Scores for Credit Cards

Unlike other types of credit, even people with deep subprime credit scores usually qualify to open a secured credit card. However, credit card use among people with poor credit scores is still near an all-time low. In the last decade, credit card use among deep subprime borrowers fell 16.7%. Today, just over 50% of deep subprime borrowers have credit card accounts.30

The dramatic decline came between 2009 and 2011. During this period, half or more of all credit card account closures came from borrowers with below prime credit scores. More than one-third of all closures came from deep subprime consumers.

However, banks are showing an increased willingness to allow customers with poor credit to open credit card accounts. In 2015, more than 60% of all new credit card accounts went to borrowers with subprime credit. 25% of all the accounts went to borrowers with deep subprime credit.

State Level Credit Scores

Consumers across the nation are seeing higher credit scores, but regional variations persist. People living in the Deep South and Southwest have lower credit scores than the rest of the nation. States in the Deep South have an average Vantage® credit score of 652 compared to a nationwide average of 673. Southwestern states have an average score of 658.

States in the Upper Midwest outperform the nation as a whole. These states had average Vantage® Scores of 689.

Unsurprisingly, consumers across the southern United States are far more likely to have subprime credit scores than consumers across the north. Minnesota had the fewest subprime consumers. In December 2016, just 21.9% of residents fell below an Equifax Risk Score of 660. Mississippi had the worst subprime rate in the nation. 48.3% of Mississippi residents had credit scores below 660 in December 2016.35

These are the distributions of Equifax Risk Scores by state:37

Credit Score by Age

In general, older consumers have higher credit scores than younger generations. Credit scoring models consider consumers with longer credit histories less risky than those with short credit histories. The Silent Generation and boomers enjoy higher credit scores due to long credit histories. However, these generations show better credit behavior, too. Their revolving credit utilization rates are lower than younger generations. They are less likely to have a severely delinquent credit item on their credit report.

Gen X and millennials have almost identical revolving utilization ratios and delinquency rates. Compared to millennials, Gen X has higher credit card balances and more debt. Still, Gen X’s longer credit history gives them a 21 point advantage over millennials on average.

To improve their credit scores, millennials and Gen X need to focus on timely payments. On-time payments and lower credit card utilization will drive their scores up.

A report by FICO® showed that younger consumers can earn high credit scores with excellent credit behavior. 93% of consumers with credit scores between 750 and 799 who were under age 29 never had a late payment on the credit report. In contrast, 57% of the total population had at least one delinquency. This good credit group also used less of their available credit. They had an average revolving credit utilization ratio of 6%. The nation as a whole had a utilization ratio of 15%.39

Sources

  1. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  2. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  3. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  4. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  5. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian, Accessed May 24, 2017
  6. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  7. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  8. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  10. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  11. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  12. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  13. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Late Payments, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  14. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Revolving Credit Utilization Ratio, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type, All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  16. Calculated metric using data from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type and Total Debt Balance and Its Composition. All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.Multiply all debt balances by percent of balance 90 days delinquent for Q1 2017, and summarize all delinquent balances. Total delinquent balance for non-mortgage debt = $284 billion. Total non-mortgage debt balance = $4.1 trillion $284 billion /$4.1 trillion = 6.9%.
  17. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  18. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  19. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  20. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  21. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  22. Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). The SCE data are available without charge at http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce 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.
  23. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  24. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  25. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Number of Consumers with New Foreclosures and Bankruptcies, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  26. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  27. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  28. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  29. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  30. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  31. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  32. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  33. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  36. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  37. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  38. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Vantage® Credit Score, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  39. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Credit Quality Rising … The Beat Goes On,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed May 24, 2017.
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

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

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4 Ways Being a Perfectionist Can Hurt Your Finances

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

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Everyone knows a perfectionist. They’re that friend who obsesses about succeeding in everything they do, fears making even the smallest mistakes, and berates himself at the first sign of failure.

American culture tends to reward those who relentlessly pursue high standards, and many perfectionists even claim the anxiety that motivates them to get things done is helpful. However, numerous studies support the opposite: perfectionism can be an extremely harmful personality trait that can lead to anxiety, depression, or self-harm.

Trying to maintain your finances perfectly comes at a price, too. If you’re demonstrating any of the following traits of financial perfectionism, you could be harming your financial future.

You’re waiting to focus on your finances until you’ve learned everything there is to know about money first

Financial perfectionists fear making mistakes with their money. They may put off investing, for example, until they feel they can do it perfectly and with consistent success.

“Fear of making the wrong decisions is a powerful thing and oftentimes keeps people from making decisions at all,” says Overland Park, Kan.-based certified financial planner Patrick Amey.

Time is money. If you’re waiting to know everything about money to start working on your finances, you might waste valuable time and miss out on potential income from investment. In the worst-case scenario, you could never start building wealth because you don’t make the time to educate yourself on financial matters.

For example, there is no perfect time to enter the market. As Knoxville, Tenn.-based certified financial planner Rose Swanger puts it, “we all experience the perfect hindsight effect.” Swanger says she often hears people speak of the returns they would have reaped if they had invested during the financial crisis. In reality, she adds, no one could have predicted how long or how well the market would recover.

The key is to start investing now and stick with it for the long term. Rather than obsessively tracking stocks and trying to pick the best investments, Swanger encourages her clients to practice systematic investing. They invest an equal amount of money every week or month (for example, automatically contributing 10% of their paycheck to their retirement fund).

They key to investing isn’t to be perfect — it’s to start as early as possible. Case in point: according to JP Morgan’s 2017 Guide to Retirement, a person who invests $5,000 a year starting at age 22 would have more than $820,000 saved by the time they are 65 years old. If they had waited until age 35 and invested the same amount, they would have saved only half as much, $419,000.

The market will have its ups and downs. Don’t let that deter you from investing because you think it reflects poorly on your ability. Nobody can predict the market, not even the professionals paid to try. Aim to keep your investments diversified with broad exposure to the market (like you would get with a target-date fund) and try not to get spooked if the market starts to look shaky.

It can be as easy as enrolling in your employer’s retirement plan if you have access to one. If not, you can set up an investment account with most banks or a mutual fund company like Fidelity or Vanguard.

You give up on your budget too easily

Budgets are especially susceptible to a perfectionist’s all-or-nothing approach to situations. For example, you could be following your budget religiously for weeks, then you receive one unexpected bill that skews your spending for the month. Rather than make adjustments to your budget to accommodate the unexpected, you might give up on the entire plan until you can get it just right.

“I’ve seen budgets for groceries down to the penny. While I appreciate this hard work, it is very rare that the exact same amount can be spent on groceries each month, and determining the right amount can be painstaking,” Amey says.

Amey advises creating a cash flow system that allows for flexibility so you won’t feel as guilty when you can’t follow your budget down to the last penny. Random expenses are a fact of life, but they are difficult to predict. Leave room in your budget for wedding gifts, birthdays, or even emergencies, so they won’t throw you off and leave you feeling discouraged at the end of the month.

If your budget doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up for it. Forgive yourself and try to adjust accordingly.

You’re desperate to achieve the “perfect” credit score

While it’s nice to brag about maxing out your credit score, having a perfect 850 is not only almost impossible, it’s also completely unnecessary.

No lender requires you to have an 850 to get approved or be offered the best terms. According to Informa Research, which tracks interest rates by credit scores, the ideal FICO credit score for the best credit offers is 760, not 850. In fact, you’ll still have a good shot at getting approved for the best deals with a credit score 90 to 130 points off the maximum.

So, if you already have a score in the mid-700s, your efforts to increase your score could be pointless. If you’re not quite at a 760 yet, try these strategies to help build your score.

Depriving yourself of simple pleasures can lead to “binging”

Much like the dieter who finally snaps from starvation and eats a tub of ice cream, trying to adhere to an inflexible budget could make you more prone to sudden “binge” attacks.

After months of depriving yourself of small creature comforts like a daily coffee or a cab ride home after a long night, you might decide to reward yourself with a night out. And because it’s been so long since you’ve enjoyed spending money, you might go overboard, ordering way more than you might on a normal day, offering to pay for your friends’ tabs, etc. And once you’ve blown your budget, you might consider it a total loss and toss it out the window altogether.

If that sounds like you, it’s a sign you might be too hard on yourself. When you deprive yourself to follow an extremely strict budget you’re depleting your self-control.

If this happens to you, try to modify your budget and focus your mind on your overarching goal of financial freedom instead of financial perfection.

Whatever you do, Melville, N.Y.- based certified financial planner David Frisch says to try not to get frustrated with the short-term deviations, or mistakes, and keep the long-term goals in mind. He adds to remember in these situations that no one is perfect, and so expecting to handle your finances perfectly can’t be realistic either.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

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

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Consumer Watchdog, Eliminating Fees, Featured, News

What the New DOL Fiduciary Rule Means For You

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Geeting advice on future investments

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Fiduciary?

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

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

What is Changing Exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

Exceptions You Should Know About

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

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

How These New Rules Might Affect Your Investment Options

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

What Will the Larger Impact of These Changes Be?

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

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

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

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

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

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

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

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Featured, News

1 in 5 Americans Will Go into Debt to Pay for Summer Vacation

Editorial Disclaimer: 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.

Advertiser Disclosure

With summertime right around the corner, millions of Americans will pile into cars, planes, and trains and head off for summer vacation.

In a new nationwide poll, MagnifyMoney asked 500 U.S. adults planning to take a summer vacation how they will pay for their getaways.

Alarmingly, we found a significant number of vacationers are willing to drive themselves into debt for some fun in the sun.

Key findings:

  • The average American will spend $2,936 on their summer vacation in 2017

  • 1 in 5 vacationers (21%) will go into debt to pay for their summer getaways

  • People who already have debt are twice as likely to use debt to cover some vacation expenses as people who are debt-free: 30% vs. 13%

  • Vacationers who plan to use debt to pay for their vacation will also spend nearly twice as much as the average vacationer: $4,351 vs. $2,936

  • Summer vacation FOMO is real: 31% of people say they feel pressured to go on vacation even though they’d rather pay off debt.

—————————————

Summer Vacation: The Ultimate Debt Trap?

Summer vacation will set the average American back nearly $3,000 this year, according to the survey.

But an alarming number of travelers will be going into debt to finance their getaways.

One in five (21%) of respondents said they plan to go into debt to pay for vacation, according to the survey.

Among those who said they plan go into debt to pay for vacation, a whopping 71% admitted to already carrying some credit card debt.

People who already have debt are more likely to turn to debt to pay for vacation (30%) than those who are debt-free (13%).

 

Using debt to pay for a big trip may not seem like a big deal. But our survey shows using debt can lead people to spend more than they might spend otherwise.

When we looked at respondents who said they are planning to take on debt to pay for their vacation, we found that they were likely to spend significantly more on vacation than their peers.

On average, survey respondents said their vacations will cost $2,936 this year. And they plan to cover 20% of that expense ($595) with some form of debt.

On the other hand, people planning to go into debt said they will spend nearly twice that amount on their vacation — $4,351. And they’ll use debt to cover an even larger share of their total vacation expenses — 38% vs. 20%.

On the flip side, vacationers who have no debt will spend the least on vacation and plan to cover just 14% of their total vacation costs with new debt.

Vacation debt can easily stick around for months or even years to come, depending on how much debt a consumer already has to contend with.

Let’s say a person pays for their vacation expenses on a credit card with an average APR of 16%. They spend $1,670. If they make only minimum payments each month, it would take them over five years to pay off the debt, and they would pay $822 in interest charges.

When it comes to vacation, credit cards are king

The vast majority of respondents who said they will use debt to pay for some of their vacation expenses will use credit cards.

 

FOMO + Vacation Debt

It’s evident from our survey that outside societal pressure to take a big summer vacation can push someone to spend outside of their means.

Nearly one-third (31%) of people who already have debt say they felt pressure to go on vacation anyway.

The pressure is even worse for people who said they are planning to go into debt for vacation. Nearly half (46%) said they felt pressure to go on vacation even though they’d like to pay down some of their existing debt.

People who planned on taking on debt to pay for their summer vacation were also less likely to say they would be willing to skip a summer vacation to pay off their debt.

More than half (53%) of people planning to go into debt for vacation would be willing to skip vacation to pay off debt.

Meanwhile, 60% of people who have no debt said they’d be willing to skip a vacation to pay off debt.

Millennials Rack Up the Most Vacation Debt

Millennials may spend more on vacations than older generations, but it’s Gen Xers and Boomers who are more likely to fund their vacation expenses with plastic.

On average, 18-35 year olds said they will spend $3,163 on vacation and take on $725 of debt in the process. By comparison, respondents age 35 and older will spend $2,761 on vacation and cover $495 of it with debt.

Millennials were slightly more susceptible to peer pressure as well. Just under half (49%) of 18-35 year olds who plan to go into debt for vacation said they feel pressured to vacation rather than pay off debt. Comparatively, 44% of those age 35 years and older who said they plan to go into debt for vacation also said they felt pressure to do so.

Methodology: MagnifyMoney commissioned Pollfish to conduct an online survey of 500 U.S. adults who plan to take a vacation this summer and are responsible for most of the cost of the vacation. Responses were collected April 15 – 26, 2017.

Mandi Woodruff
Mandi Woodruff |

Mandi Woodruff is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mandi at mandi@magnifymoney.com

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Auto Loan, Featured, News

This Brooklyn Grandmother Fought Back Against a Shady Used Car Dealer and Won

Editorial Disclaimer: 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.

Advertiser Disclosure

Rhoda Branch, 52, lost thousands of dollars and her mobility when a used car dealer took her for a ride. But with the help of a consumer protection group, she fought back — and won.

This story is Part II of a MagnifyMoney investigation into the risky business of subprime auto lending. Read Part I here

Rhoda Branche’s rocky road began with Superstorm Sandy in 2012. After the hurricane totaled her car, she turned to Giuffre Motors in Brooklyn to shop for a new vehicle.

“They said they would help me,” recalled Rhoda. “They were very friendly – and then they just starting pushing the papers through.”

She said the dealership promised her $4,000 in incentives to buy a used 2004 Volvo SUV – and offered to arrange a loan for her.

According to a copy of the contract obtained by MagnifyMoney, the incentives were missing from the sales contract Rhoda signed. The financing was no bargain either – a subprime loan with an annual interest rate of 23.5%.  Subprime customers are typically high-risk borrowers who pay more in finance charges because of poor credit histories.

Worst of all, Rhoda’s $13,000 SUV would soon stop running. Instead of repairs, the dealership gave her the runaround.

“It was a vehicle that shouldn’t be on the road,” Rhoda said. “They just said the vehicle was fine. It looks good on the outside, but it was a lemon.”

In desperation, she took the Volvo to other mechanics and spent $3,000 from her own pocket, but the SUV kept breaking down. As a last straw, she surrendered the title of ownership to the finance company that held her loan.

Without a car, it often takes Rhoda two buses, a subway ride, and 90 minutes to travel nine miles from her apartment in Coney Island, N.Y., to a hospital where she frequently seeks treatment.

“I have to take public transportation,” said Rhoda, who suffers from injuries that required operations on both knees. “It is very time-consuming. It causes a lot of pain. I have pains all over my body because I had surgery.”

Not the Only One

“Many sellers of cars to people with subprime credit sell you junk. And they know they’re selling you junk,” said Remar Sutton, a former car dealer turned consumer advocate. He wrote about the tricks of the used car trade in his book, “Don’t Get Taken Every Time.”

“They sell you a car they know you cannot pay for, or they know will break down, and they repossess it because you can’t pay for it or it breaks down,” said Sutton. “And then they sell it again.”

Rhoda did not know she was the latest in a long line of customers who were victims of the dealership’s unethical sales tactics.

The New York attorney general sued Giuffre in 2010 on behalf of 42 customers who claimed they were cheated. In Kings County Supreme Court, a judge ordered the dealership to pay more than a half-million dollars in fines and restitution for its illegal business practices.

Giuffre had “a common practice of strong-arm sales methods and unethical conduct,” wrote Judge Bernard Graham in his 2011 decision. “The list of grievances is extensive and unsettling.”

Rhoda was one of at least one dozen consumers who filed complaints against Giuffre with New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Under pressure from the DCA, Giuffre agreed to pay $180,000 in fines plus $100,000 into a restitution fund as part of a consent order in April 2014, nine months after Rhoda’s complaint.

From the settlement, Rhoda confirmed she received roughly $4,600 in restitution. And two months after the consent order, Kings County Civil Court dismissed a $5,000 claim against Rhoda by a finance company that tried to collect the unpaid amount of her car loan.

Owner John Giuffre could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not respond to MagnifyMoney’s interview requests.

As a result of the DCA consent order, Giuffre was forced out of the car business in New York City. His last dealership closed in December 2014; its doors and windows remain boarded shut. But consumers have plenty of reasons to remain cautious.

“There are, unfortunately, thousands of companies in America that will deliberately sell you cars that they know are going to break down,” said Sutton.

Rhonda hopes she can afford to buy another car someday. But she’s afraid of being ripped off again.

“Now I’m very skeptical going to other places because I remember what I went through,” she lamented. “I don’t know what dealership I should trust when I’m ready to buy another vehicle.”

How to Buy a Used Car Without Being Cheated

Shop for financing before you look for a vehicle: The subprime interest rate a credit union can offer may be half of what a car dealer charges you. Don’t assume that your poor credit history means you won’t have a shot at getting a loan from a reputable lender. It’s perfectly fine to get your own financing outside of a dealer — and, as our story shows, it’s often much more affordable. To make matters better, if you come in with a verified offer from another lender, the dealer has an incentive to try to beat their offer.

Check your credit score yourself: Don’t take a dealer’s word on it when it comes to your credit. Your score may be good enough to qualify for a better rate on a loan elsewhere, but the dealer may not want you to know that.  You can check your credit score on a number of sites for free, including the Discover Scorecard. And again, if you shop around for rates before you go to the dealer, you will know exactly what rates you deserve — and when they are offering you a bad deal.

Buy a car that works: Bring a mechanic or a knowledgeable friend to check it out before you decide. You can also check the vehicle’s background by getting a vehicle history report through resources such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, CARFAX, and AutoCheck.

Buy a car you can afford: If a dealer makes promises, be sure to get it in writing. Go in with a firm idea of what kind of car you want and how much you can afford to pay.

And slow down: Never sign a contract in a hurry. Dealers may be friendly, but they’re not really your friend. To double-check a dealer’s reputability, check out their reviews and rating on the Better Business Bureau website.

Additional reporting by Mandi Woodruff

Mark Lagerkvist
Mark Lagerkvist |

Mark Lagerkvist is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mark here

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Auto Loan, Featured, News

This Woman Fell Into a Used Car Loan Trap — Now She’s Fighting Back

Editorial Disclaimer: 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.

Advertiser Disclosure

Mary McDuffie Morton, 31, was sued by an auto financing company after she stopped making payments on a used car that had mechanical issues. Now the mother of four, who said she was misled by the company, is fighting their claims in court.

This story is Part I of a MagnifyMoney investigation into the risky business of subprime auto lending. Read Part II here.

In the summer of 2013, Mary McDuffie Morton, 31, needed money to buy a car. At the time, the recently divorced mother of four had a poor credit history. So she was excited to hear she could get a subprime loan at a used auto dealership in Bronx, N.Y.

“It [seemed] too good to be true,” Mary recalls. “As long you have a job, you’re approved. It’s like wow, OK, I’m guaranteed approval.”

Nationwide, customers like Mary owe more than a quarter-billion dollars in high-interest, high-risk subprime auto loans. A recent report by Moody’s Investors Service found that Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., a major originator of subprime auto loans, has been slacking when it comes to verifying the income reported by loan applicants, according to Bloomberg. This can make it easier for car buyers to take on more debt than they can afford to repay.

But big banks aren’t the biggest problem in auto lending. About three-fourths of subprime auto loans do not originate in banks or credit unions. Instead, they are often signed at car lots like the one in Bronx, N.Y., where Mary was lured by the promise of easy credit.

In many cases, those customers are taken for a ride by predatory dealerships and finance companies alike.

“Their main job is not to care for you. It’s to care for their pocketbook, and that’s all they’re there for,” says Remar Sutton, a former car dealer turned consumer advocate.

“How many of you have seen the ads that say, ‘No credit, bad credit, no worries, we’re the credit fixer’? That is not why those ads are running. Those ads are running because they know if you think you have bad credit, you will pay anything for a car, and they’ll knock a home run on you,” warns Sutton.

That’s what happened to Mary. To buy a used 2003 GMC Envoy XL, the dealer told her she needed to first borrow roughly $7,000.

“The dealership told me they were going to shop around for lenders for me – and they were going to call one and get back to me,” Mary says.

The dealer selected Dependable Credit Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y. The interest rate on Mary’s loan was a whopping 24.9% – just one-tenth of a point below the threshold of criminal usury in New York State.

Mary signed the contract, despite an interest rate so high that it was nearly illegal.

“I was scared that if I didn’t go along with that deal, I wouldn’t get a car, ” she says.

The Secret Bonus

Like many lenders that work with auto dealers, to get business from dealers, Dependable offers them a secret bonus. It’s called a “Dealer Reserve Advance,” and it can add an extra two points of interest to the consumer’s loan. The dealer keeps 70% of it as a reward for making the referral to the finance company.

“When you go into that dealership, do you think they’re going to point you in the direction of a cheap loan? Of course not. They’re going to send you to the finance source that will pay them cash up front on the loan,” says Sutton.

Dependable executives did not respond to multiple requests for an interview or comment.

On its website, the finance company claims it does business with 250 used car dealers in seven states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York – and has financed more than $200 million in loans.

“They’re in hundreds of dealerships because they’re making millions of dollars, because people who are poor, people who are worried about their credit, are being taken advantage of by that business,” says Sutton, a co-founder of FoolProof, a nonprofit website devoted to consumer education.

Mary said the vehicle she purchased had mechanical problems that the dealer refused to fix. Sensing that she was being cheated, the former Bronx resident refused to make loan payments until she received a title proving she owned the car.

“They sold me a lemon,” complains Mary. “I knew that the deal was just a big scam.”

A Long Fight in Court

Dependable repossessed the Envoy when Mary’s payments were five weeks delinquent. By the time she received the title, the car was gone – and she was thousands of dollars in debt.

According to records obtained by MagnifyMoney, the finance company sold the vehicle to an undisclosed owner for $4,200 – a price that was $5,000 less than what Mary paid just four months earlier.

Then Dependable sued her in Bronx County Civil Court for a bill packed with extra charges. The tally includes nearly $1,200 in repairs by Westchester Auto Center and more than $1,700 in storage fees charged by Saw Mill River Realty.

The three businesses are located at the same address. State records show that all three share the same chief executive.

Dependable continues to charge Mary 24.9% interest on a loan for a car it repossessed and sold to someone else three years ago. Last year, the company told the court Mary owes nearly $11,000.

“Unfortunately, most places that want to make you a subprime loan simply want to make more money on you,” says Sutton.

With the help of a legal aid group, Mary is countersuing. She alleges she was cheated through deception and illegal business practices by the finance company and the dealer.

In a counterclaim filed by Mary’s attorney, Shanna Tallarico with the New York Legal Assistance Group, in October 2016, Mary claims that the dealer also required her to trade in her 2004 Cadillac CTS in order to purchase the used Envoy.  The dealership agreed to give her just $1,900 for the vehicle, citing “a significant problem with the Cadillac’s engine,” according to Mary’s counterclaim. Days later, she claims the dealership listed that same Cadillac for sale for $9,999.

Efforts to reach the dealer for comment were unsuccessful. Mary’s case is still pending, Tallarico says.

“I felt like I had just thrown money in the garbage,” says Mary. “The whole experience was a waste of money.”

How to Buy a Used Car Without Being Cheated

Shop for financing before you look for a vehicle: The subprime interest rate a credit union can offer may be half of what a car dealer charges you. Don’t assume that your poor credit history means you won’t have a shot at getting a loan from a reputable lender. It’s perfectly fine to get your own financing outside of a dealer — and, as our story shows, it’s often much more affordable. To make matters better, if you come in with a verified offer from another lender, the dealer has an incentive to try to beat their offer.

Check your credit score yourself: Don’t take a dealer’s word on it when it comes to your credit. Your score may be good enough to qualify for a better rate on a loan elsewhere, but the dealer may not want you to know that. You can check your credit score on a number of sites for free, including the Discover Scorecard. And again, if you shop around for rates before you go to the dealer, you will know exactly what rates you deserve — and when they are offering you a bad deal.

Buy a car that works: Bring a mechanic or a knowledgeable friend to check it out before you decide. You can also check the vehicle’s background by getting a vehicle history report through resources such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, CARFAX, and AutoCheck.

Buy a car you can afford: If a dealer makes promises, be sure to get it in writing. Go in with a firm idea of what kind of car you want and how much you can afford to pay.

And slow down: Never sign a contract in a hurry. Dealers may be friendly, but they’re not really your friend. To double check a dealer’s reputability, check out their reviews and rating on the Better Business Bureau website.

Additional reporting by Mandi Woodruff

Mark Lagerkvist
Mark Lagerkvist |

Mark Lagerkvist is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Mark here

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