Yesterday, FICO announced that it will be releasing FICO Score 9. If you have unpaid medical bills or other collection items, this change will impact you.
What is FICO?
FICO is the most widely used credit score in the country. 90 percent of all credit decisions (mortgages, cards, credit cards, personal loans and more) use the FICO score in some way.
So, when FICO makes a change to its score, we should listen. This score has a big impact, because lenders use it and others (like CreditKarma) are trying to approximate it.
What are they changing?
This change is huge for people with unpaid medical bills and other collection items.
Unpaid medical bills
According to Experian, 64.3 million Americans have a medical collection record on their bureau. In the current world, this can significantly harm their credit score.
If you have an unpaid medical bill, it can be reported to a credit bureau in two ways:
The medical service provider can report to the bureau, or
A third party debt collection agency that has purchased the debt, or has been contracted to collect the debt, can report it
99.4 percent of cases have been reported by collection agencies. So, if your doctor is calling you to pay – it probably hasn’t been reported to an agency. But, once a collection agency starts calling you, you probably have a negative item on your credit bureau.
The purpose of a credit score is to help lenders understand the likelihood of someone being responsible and paying back on time. There has been a widespread belief that people have been unfairly punished for medical bills. In fact, the CFPB has proven that people have been unfairly punished, in a May 2014 report.
With the new score, FICO is agreeing with the CFPB. Medical collections will now be differentiated from non-medical collections. And people will be “punished less” for medical collections. This makes sense, for three reasons:
The medical system is complex, and many people have been hit with small medical collections that they didn’t even realize they owed. For example, with a small co-pay that ended up with a collection agency.
Historically, many responsible people could not get insurance because they had a pre-existing condition. And, when medical disaster struck, they had no way to pay the medical bills. They tried to be responsible, but couldn’t.
Even with insurance, multiple emergencies in a family can lead to large deductible payments. Doctors and hospitals can quickly turn over bills to collection agencies, resulting in a negative remark on the credit bureau. Even people who are just paying back their medical bills, responsibly, over time can be punished.
This is a big win for the CFPB. Hats off. A government agency has done the math for the industry, and the industry has agreed. This should result in better access to credit, and lower rates on existing credit – once (and if) the changes are accepted by the industry.
Paid Collection Accounts will now be bypassed
Beyond medical bills, many other types of debt can end up on your credit bureau. For example, failure to pay your utility bill, your phone bill, your overdraft or any other type of debt can result in your account being sold to a collection agency. And the agency will usually report the collection account on your bureau. Having these accounts can seriously harm your score.
But, the older the collection item, the less impact it has on your score. I have regularly met people who felt confused. They have recovered and now had money. Should they pay back that five-year-old collection item, or just let it age. They wanted to pay it back, but would receive advice from some people not to do so. Why? Because activity on a collection item could make it appear more recent.
This change removes all ambiguity. If you pay back your collection items, your score will benefit. This is the way it should be.
When will I see the impact
Unfortunately it will take a while. FICO sells its credit score to banks. Whenever a new score is introduced, a bank has to decide whether or not to upgrade. In order to make this decision, they need to do a lot of analysis.
First, they will perform a “retro” analysis. This means they will look at the past few years of their portfolio history, and they will estimate how the portfolio would have performed if the new score was used.
They will then need to build strategies, which includes the cutoff (above what score will they approve accounts), the pricing and the extra rules that they want to build. In my experience, this takes 12 to 18 months (there are so many committees that need to approve this!).
Banks are very eager to “swap in” new customers. So, if previously rejected customers can now be approved, banks will be keen to proceed.
They are less keen to charge people lower interest rates. So, the CFPB needs to watch the banks closely. If people are truly lower risk, they should pay lower prices. But, banks are not eager to reduce pricing.
We fully support the changes. Medical bills are being severely punished. And people should not be afraid to pay off collection accounts.
We are realistic: it will be a while before we feel the impact.
And we are rightly skeptical: banks will be happy to approve more people and give more credit. They will be less excited to reduce interest rates.
It’s no secret that financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S. However, this does not mean that you can’t seek financial education from reputable sources. If you have little to no knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your finances, then you may consider credit counseling.
Credit counseling can involve a variety of services including educational materials and real-world application to your finances. Credit counselors can help you to set a budget and advise you on how to manage debt and your money in general.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address the money issues you are facing.
Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.
How Do You Find a Credit Counselor?
Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and the consumer protection agency present in your state to see if there have been any complaints filed.
When looking for a good credit counseling agency, first ask about what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide you.
You do not want to be pushed into a debt management plan simply because that is their top service. And make sure you understand the organization’s fee system, not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.
MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which are a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.
How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?
Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice has said that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has suggested that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.
Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ requires that if the household income is less than 150% of the poverty line, then the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction. While the poverty line varies depending on household size, it ranges from $11,880 for a single person family household to $24,300 for a family of four.
Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant fee reduction or waiver, may also be set forth by your state.
How Long Does Credit Counseling Last?
While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will then follow up to ensure you understand the actions you needed to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary if you see a significant change to your financial situation.
What Do You Accomplish with Credit Counseling?
According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are starting. Second, an analysis of the factors that contributed to the financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. This gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.
What Is the Difference Between Credit Counseling and Debt Management Programs?
A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.
A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which will, in turn, apply it to your debts. The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month as well as negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those things for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.
Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated with the debt management plan and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may have you agree to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.
How Does Credit Counseling Impact Your Credit Score?
Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that fact does not affect your score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling can impact your score. For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit the payment on your behalf late to your creditors, which can damage your credit score. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, it is possible that the credit counseling agency will issue a late payment on your behalf. This is why it is important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.
Who Should Consider Credit Counseling and When?
While credit counseling is sometimes required, like in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling. Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin, based in Boston, Mass., explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”
Anyone struggling with personal finance should consider credit counseling as a viable option so long as they use a reputable credit counseling agency. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities, and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to ‘save’ the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.” If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyway, but it could also help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.
Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.
Most of us start the year with high hopes for the health of our bodies, minds, careers, and — of course—bank accounts. But you probably don’t need a statistician to tell you that when it comes to keeping your New Year’s resolutions, the odds are stacked against you.
[Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.]
Why do these plans fall apart so easily? We talked to two certified financial planners to find out what held people back from sticking to their self-improvement plans in years past — and what can be done to overcome these obstacles in 2017.
No. 1: Your resolutions are unrealistic or unclear.
Vague, lofty goals like “lose weight” or “save money” can do more harm than good; undefined targets can leave you overwhelmed and discouraged when you don’t immediately succeed. That’s why resolutions should start small, according to Kristen Euretig, certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans in Brooklyn, N.Y., a company specializing in helping today’s women with their finances. “Take into account a realistic but ambitious goal that can be achieved in a year and would be forward momentum toward an even larger goal,” says Euretig. “Buying a house may be too much to tackle in a year, but saving the first 10% of a down payment could be a realistic starting point that would also be quite an accomplishment.”
Another trick to keep you from getting overwhelmed? Be as specific as possible. Euretig recommends breaking up big resolutions into defined subgoals with set deadlines. Rather than resolving to pay off student debt, says Euretig, start by figuring out if your payment plan is working to your advantage. That way, you’ll better understand the time and effort required to reach your goal and appreciate any incremental progress along the way.
No. 2: Your resolutions don’t align with your needs or lifestyle.
Ever find yourself rationalizing your way out of a behavioral change? Maybe you can’t go to the gym today because you have important errands to run, or you neglect that book on your nightstand because there is a movie on Netflix you’ve been meaning to watch. Your reasons may be legitimate, but using them as a means of abandoning your self-improvement plan is detrimental to you in the long term.
Melissa Ellis, certified financial planner at Sapphire Wealth Planning in Overland Park, Kan., knows that a thorough understanding of your current behaviors and lifestyle can help you anticipate the setbacks you will face throughout the year and think up solutions that will keep you on track when challenges arise. If your goal is to max out your Roth IRA, Ellis notes, you need to make sure you have the discretionary income to make it happen; if you know at the start of the year that you’ll have to cut back somewhere else in your budget (like your take-out habit) to find the extra money, you’re more likely to stick to the plan.
No. 3: You sacrifice your future well-being for your present happiness.
Most of us treat our future self as a different person. Unfortunately, it’s often a person we don’t seem to care much about. This phenomenon — our willingness to sacrifice our future well-being for immediate gratification — is called myopia temporal discounting. It’s one reason why many people continually put off diets, start saving for retirement later than they should, or rack up credit card debt for items or experiences they can’t afford. In fact, credit cards are the ultimate trap for people who like to live in the present vs. think about the future.
“It’s easier to put off the intangible, because it’s not an immediate need,” says Ellis. Try connecting with your future self by visualizing what you would like your life to look like at age 40, 60, or 75, and think about what steps, however small, you can take today to make that vision a reality.
You should know your financial personality — that is, how you perceive time and how that perception impacts your financial habits — before you make any financial resolutions. The better you understand your strengths and weaknesses, the more likely you will be to succeed.
Can you remember what your resolutions for last year were? It typically only takes about three weeks for most of us to get back into our old routines and forget all our intentions for the new year, especially if you don’t have a time frame for achieving the goal or a way to measure your progress.
“The best way to stick to resolutions is to make them real and to hold yourself accountable,” says Euretig. “Write goals down. Make a vision board. Put a picture of the vision board as the wallpaper of your phone. Share your resolutions with an accountability partner who you can check in with along the way or with your social media community.” Setting aside time each week or each month to check in with yourself about your success will help you remember the resolutions throughout the year. If you need an extra boost, tap a friend or family member who can help remind you to stay on track or, even better, join you on the journey.
No. 5: You forget to reward yourself.
It’s easy to lose motivation as the year goes on and you settle into old routines. Any sense of urgency goes away, and you can end up putting off behavioral changes indefinitely until it’s January again.
That’s why Ellis recommends rewarding yourself throughout the year if you are successfully sticking to your resolution. If you meet your goals of, say, paying off a department store credit card, maybe buy yourself a pair of shoes — but be sure to do it in cash, so you’re not buying something you can’t afford and racking up more debt. “It’s something concrete you can look at to remind you that you have made a change,” Ellis says.
Whether your goals are about money, your career, relationships, or fitness, it’s important to remember that good things typically don’t come easily. Taking time to set the right goals, define an execution plan, and regularly track your progress will make sticking to your resolutions a little less painful — and a lot more likely to happen.
Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.
Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.
You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:
A comparison tool which lets you see student loan terms all at once, with no need to give up personal information.
But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.
Can I Get Approved?
Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:
Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.
This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.
Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.
If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.
But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.
Is it worth it?
Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.
If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:
Is there an origination fee?
Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.
Is the interest rate fixed or variable?
Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.
This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).
We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.
Places to Consider a Refinance
If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.
You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.
Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:
1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.35% and Fixed Rates from 3.38% (with AutoPay)
SoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to match borrowers with each other.
2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.18% and Fixed Rates from 3.38% (with AutoPay)
Earnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.38% and variable rates starting at 2.14%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.
3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.32% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)
CommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.
4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.09% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)
LendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.
In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:
Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.37% APR – 8.16% APR and fixed rates range from 4.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years.
College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 2.63% – 5.88% APR.
Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.50% – 7.45% APR.
Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.56% – 6.16% APR (variable).
First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.25% – 4.10% APR. Variable rates range from 2.43% – 4.23%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve, the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.13% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years.
RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.49% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.99% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.
You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at email@example.com.
There are a lot of 0% APR credit card deals in your mailbox and online, but most of them slap you with a 3 to 4% fee just to make a transfer, and that can seriously eat into your savings.
At MagnifyMoney we like to find deals no one else is showing, and we’ve searched hundreds of balance transfer credit card offers to find the banks and credit unions that ANYONE CAN JOIN which offer great 0% interest credit card deals AND no balance transfer fees. We’ve hand-picked them here.
If one 0% APR credit card doesn’t give you a big enough credit line you can try another bank or credit union for the rest of your debt. With several no fee options it’s not hard to avoid transfer fees even if you have a large balance to deal with.
1. Chase Slate® – 0% Introductory APR for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer FEE
This deal is easy to find – Chase is one of the biggest banks and makes this credit card deal well known. Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.
You can get this offer if you complete the balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account. So it’s worth a shot to see how big of a credit line you get. If it’s not enough, move on to the other options below.
2. Alliant Credit Union Credit Cards – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
Alliant is an easy credit union to work with because you don’t have to be a member to apply and find out if you qualify for the 0% APR deal.
Just choose ‘not a member’ when you apply and if you are approved you’ll then be able to become a member of the credit union to finish opening your account.
Anyone can become a member of Alliant by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success.
If your credit isn’t great, you might not get a 0% rate – rates for transfers are as high as 5.99%, so make sure you double check the rate you receive before opening the account, and they might ask for additional documents like your pay stubs to verify the information on your application.
3. Edward Jones World MasterCard – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
You’ll need to go to an Edward Jones branch to open up an account first if you want this deal. Edward Jones is an investment advisory company, so they’ll want to have a conversation about your retirement needs.
But you don’t need to have money in stocks to be a customer of Edward Jones and try to get this card. Just beware that you only have 30 days to complete your transfer to lock in the 0% rate.
4. First Tech Choice Rewards – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
Anyone can join First Tech Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $8, or the Computer History Museum for $15. You can apply for the card without joining first. This introductory 0% for 12 months on balance transfers with no fee deal is for the First Tech Choice Rewards World MasterCard, and you also get 10,000 points for opening the card (no spending required). The points don’t expire as long as you have the card, and 6,000 points is enough for $50 cash back, while 11,000 points is enough for $100 cash back, which can help you pay down your card.
5. La Capitol Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
Anyone can join La Capitol Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Louisiana Association for Personal Financial Achievement, which costs $20. Just indicate that’s how you want to be eligible when you apply for the card – no need to join before you apply. And La Capitol accepts members from all across the country, so you don’t have to live in Louisiana to take advantage of this deal on the Prime Plus card.
6. Quorum Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
Quorum is a New York based credit union anyone can join by joining the Select Savers Club during the application process – just choose ”I would like to join through an association” on the application page. All of Quorum’s credit cards offer the 0% for 12 months with no fee deal.
Just be aware the 12 months starts from when your account opens, not when you make the transfer, so if you wait a month to do the transfer, you’ll only get the zero deal for 11 months.
And the 0% deal isn’t prominent on the Quorum site, you’ll see it buried in the fine print. Look for the sentence “The introductory purchase and balance transfer APR is 0% for 12 months from account opening and applies to ALL Quorum MasterCard credit cards” at the very bottom of their page.
7. Purdue Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
The Purdue Federal Credit Union doesn’t have open membership, but one way to be eligible for credit union membership is to join the Purdue University Alumni Association as a Friend of the University. Anyone can join the association, but it costs $50. The minimum credit line on the Visa Signature card offering 0% is $5,000, so if approved the $50 would be like a transfer fee of 1% or less. The good news is you can apply and get a decision before you become a member of the Alumni Association.
8. Logix Credit Union Credit Card – 0% APR for 12 months , NO FEE
If you live in AZ, CA, DC, MA, MD, ME, NH, NV, or VA you can join Logix Credit Union and apply for this deal. Some applicants have reported credit lines of $15,000 or more for balance transfers, so if you have excellent credit, good income, but a large amount to pay off (like a home equity line), this could be a good option.
9. First Tennessee Bank Credit Card – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE
If you want to apply online for this deal, you’ll need to live in a state where First Tennessee has a branch though. Those states are: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
You need to have an existing First Tennessee account to apply online, but if you don’t have one, you can print out an application and mail it into their office to get a decision. You’ll find a link to the paper application when the online form asks you whether you have an account or not.
10. DCU Credit Union Visa Platinum – 0% APR until July 2017, NO FEE
This deal is valid for transfers between January 1 and January 31, 2017 for the DCU Platinum or Platinum Rewards Visa.
DCU lets you process transfer requests online once you’ve opened your account, even using its mobile app.
You’ll have a choice to apply for the DCU Visa Platinum or Visa Platinum Rewards. The Platinum without rewards has a lower ongoing APR, starting as low as 9.00%, compared to 11.75% for the Platinum Rewards card, so if you’re not sure you’ll pay it all off by July the Platinum without rewards is a better bet.
Anyone can join DCU by becoming a member or Reach Out for Schools for $10, and you can join the organization when you open your membership.
11. Aspire Credit Union Credit Card – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE
You don’t have to be a member to apply and get a decision from Aspire. Once you do, Aspire is easy to join – just check that you want to join the American Consumer Council (free) while filling out your membership application online.
Make sure you apply for the regular ‘Platinum’ card, and not the ‘Platinum Rewards’ card, which doesn’t offer the introductory deal.
12. Elements Financial Credit Card – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE
To become a member and apply, you’ll just need to join TruDirection, a financial literacy organization. It costs just $5 and you can join as part of the application process.
13. Justice Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE
If you’re not a Department of Justice, Homeland Security, or U.S. court employee (or a few others), you need to join a law enforcement organization to be a member of Justice Federal. One of the eligible associations for membership is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It costs $15 to join.
You can apply as a non-member online to get a decision before joining. And Justice is unique in that its Student credit card is also eligible for the 0% no fee deal, so if your credit history is limited and you’re trying to deal with a balance on your very first card, this could be an option.
14. Xcel Platinum Visa – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE
Anyone can join Xcel by becoming a member of the American Consumer Council, and you can apply for the card as a non-member of the credit union, but not everyone who is approved for the card will get the low intro rate. Xcel advises you contact them to get as sense of whether your income, credit history, and employment history will qualify for the intro rate.
Are these the best deals for you?
If you can pay off your debt within the 0% period, then yes, a no fee 0% balance transfer credit card is your absolute best bet. And if you can’t, you can hope that other 0% deals will be around to switch again.
But if you’re unsure, you might want to consider…
A deal that has a longer period before the rate goes up. In that case, a balance transfer fee could be worth it to lock in a 0% rate for longer.
Or, a card with a rate a little above 0% that could lock you into a low rate even longer.
The good news is we can figure it out for you.
Our handy, free balance transfer tool lets you input how much debt you have, and how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It will run the numbers to show you which offers will save you the most for the longest period of time.
The savings from just one balance transfer can be substantial.
Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt, you’re paying 18% in interest, and can afford to pay $200 a month on it. Here’s what you can save with a 0% deal:
18%: It will take 32 months to pay off, with $1,312 in interest paid.
0% for 12 months: You’ll pay it off in 28 months, with just $502 in interest, saving you $810 in cash. That even assumes your rate goes back up to 18% after 12 months!
But your rate doesn’t have to go up after 12 months. If you pay everything on time and maintain good credit, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to shop around and find another bank willing to offer you 0% interest again, letting you pay it off even faster.
Before you do any balance transfer though, make sure you follow these 6 golden rules of balance transfer success:
Never use the card for spending. You are only ready to do a balance transfer once you’ve gotten your budget in order and are no longer spending more than you earn. This card should never be used for new purchases, as it’s possible you’ll get charged a higher rate on those purchases.
Have a plan for the end of the promotional period. Make sure you set a reminder on your phone calendar about a month or so before your promotional period ends so you can shop around for a low rate from another bank.
Don’t try to transfer debt between two cards of the same bank. It won’t work. Balance transfer deals are meant to ‘steal’ your balance from a competing bank, not lower your rate from the same bank. So if you have a Chase Freedom with a high rate, don’t apply for another Chase card like a Chase Slate and expect you can transfer the balance. Apply for one from another bank.
Get that transfer done within 60 days. Otherwise your promotional deal may expire unused.
Never use a card at an ATM. You should never use the card for spending, and getting cash is incredibly expensive. Just don’t do it with this or any credit card.
Always pay on time. If you pay more than 30 days late your credit will be hurt, your rate may go up, and you may find it harder to find good deals in the future. Only do balance transfers if you’re ready to pay at least the minimum due on time, every time.
With the holiday season drawing to a close, some Americans are going to find themselves nursing a pretty serious debt hangover.
In our second annual holiday debt survey, MagnifyMoney found consumers who took on debt this holiday season will kick off the New Year with an average of $1,003 worth of new debt. That is up from $986 in 2015, for a year-over-year increase of 1.7%.
Our survey consisted of a national sample of 552 Americans who reported they added debt during the holidays.
Here are key findings:
Most people who went into debt didn’t plan on it
Racking up credit card debt isn’t exactly a problem in and of itself, so long as you have the cash on hand to pay it off quickly. But in our survey, we found the vast majority — 65.2% — of consumers who took on debt did so unexpectedly this year, and didn’t budget for the extra expenses.
It’s easy to imagine scenarios in which people might spend more than they can afford over the holidays. Last-minute gifts, family emergencies, and, for some, fewer work hours, can all add up to a hefty credit card bill if not planned for in advance.
Most people will be paying off their debt for 4 months or more
Less than one-quarter of those surveyed said they can pay off their debt within one month. Nearly half (46%) predict they’ll need four months or more to pay off their holiday debt, or will only make the minimum monthly payments.
Nearly 12% of respondents said they only plan on making minimum monthly payments, which can extend repayment for years.
A person carrying an average debt load of $1,003 who makes one $25 minimum payment per month would need 58 months (4.8 years) to pay off their debt. That calculation assumes an average APR of 16%.
On top of paying off their principal balance of $1,003, over that time they would pay an additional $442 worth of interest for a grand total of $1,445.
Credit cards were the most common form of debt
For another year, credit cards reign as the most popular source of holiday debt. In fact, even more consumers reported using credit cards for holiday debt this year than in 2015 — 59.9% vs. 52%.
Unfortunately, the number of consumers who turned to payday loans this year increased, from 6% in 2015 to 7.1% in 2016. Payday and title loans are hands down the most costly options for people who find themselves in need of cash.
We did find one bright spot, however. This year, the rate of consumers who said they used store credit cards fell dramatically, from 30% in 2015 to 17.1% in 2016. Store credit cards can often come with painfully high interest rates and other gotchas like dreaded deferred interest policies.
Shoppers are stuck with higher rates this year
This year, half of survey respondents (50%) said their debt carries an APR of 10% and above. Among those, 34.7% have APRs between 10-19% and 16% carry APRs above 20%.
The rate of people who are stuck with 20% or higher APRs rose significantly year over year, from 9% in 2015 to 16% this year.
But most people won’t bother to get a lower rate
Despite the fact that almost half of respondents expect to take 4 months or more to pay off their debt, a mere 13% of respondents said they plan to shop around to find a better rate with a different bank or loan. That’s even worse than last year, when 22% of respondents said they would shop around for a better rate.
The most cited reason for not wanting to shop around is not wanting to deal with another bank, noted by 20.9% of respondents this year.
Using the MagnifyMoney credit card payoff calculator, we found a consumer with $1,003 in debt at a 16% rate making minimum payments would shave over a year off debt repayment and save over $400 in interest payments by finding a 0% balance transfer.
Millennials were most likely to go into debt over the holidays
Among all age groups, people ages 24-35 were most likely to say they went into debt this holiday season with a rate of 14.3%. With the exception of 45-54-year-olds, the likelihood of going into debt decreased with age. Seniors were least likely to say they went into debt, with a rate of 7.6%.
How to free yourself from holiday debt:
In preparation for the new year, MagnifyMoney released the 2nd edition of its free 45 page Debt Free Forever eBook – that you can download to prepare your action plan, tailored to whether your situation calls for a quick switch to a lower rate, or more significant debt payoff advice.
Key tips for beating the debt cycle include:
Understand where your money actually went. The best way to fix your spending problem is to understand where the money has actually gone. And there are great apps, like LevelMoney or Mint, which can help you understand where your money has gone over the last 3 months. We particularly like LevelMoney, because it splits your expenditure into fixed, recurring expenses and variable expenses.
Review your credit report from all three reporting agencies. You need to know what is on your credit report in order to build a good credit score. You can download your report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com for all three bureaus.
Understand your credit score and put together a plan to improve your score during 2017. People with the best scores never charge more than 10% of their available credit and pay their bills on time every month. Not only is that good for your score, but it is good for your wallet. And you can now get your official FICO score for free in a number of places. Otherwise, you can get your VantageScore at sites like CreditKarma.
If you have a good credit score, your debt can probably be refinanced. Mortgages, student loans, auto loans and credit cards (with a balance transfer or personal loan) can all be refinanced. Find ways to lock in much lower interest rates now before rates go up to help you pay off your debt faster. But avoid extending the term to get a lower payment. The biggest trap people fall into with refinancing is that they lower their rate and extend their term, like taking a 30 year refinance on a mortgage that’s set to be paid off in 15 years. By doing this, you might end up paying more money in the long run. Second, be careful before you refinance federal student loans, because you give up valuable protection.
Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first will save you the most money (the debt ‘avalanche’ method), but a recent study shows you’re more likely to stick to paying off your debt if you pay the debt with the smallest balance in full first (the debt ‘snowball’ method), even if it doesn’t have the highest interest rate. That’s because small ‘wins’ help build momentum to keep you motivated.
Automate all of your payments. Data has consistently shown that automating decisions greatly increases the likelihood of achieving your goals. To build that emergency fund, set up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings account. (Even better, get a higher interest rate online account and keep it completely separate from your checking account). To build your retirement savings, automate your 401(k) or IRA contributions. And to pay your credit card bill, automate your monthly payments.
‘Net worth’ is not just a concept for the rich, and you need to focus on your net worth now. Net worth is a simple concept: it is what you own minus what you owe. Building wealth and being financially responsible means you are building your net worth. A good salary doesn’t help your net worth if you’re spending it all on your car and clothes and not saving each year. Focus on the right number: building your net worth.
Before you consider a balance transfer:
If you need to buy yourself more time while you trim expenses and work on paying down your debt, a balance transfer can be a useful tool, but one that can backfire if you’re not disciplined. A balance transfer is simply a process where you transfer the balance from one or more credit cards onto a single new credit card with a different rate.
You can use our balance transfer calculator to estimate whether getting a balance transfer credit card will help you save money and pay off your debt faster.
If it will help, you’ll first need to check your credit score to see where you stand since you’ll be applying for another credit card. Balance transfer offers typically require a credit score of 680 or higher to be approved.
It’s also important to do the math before signing up for a new credit card. Be honest about how much you can afford to pay each month to determine how much a balance transfer will save you in the long run.
And keep these tips in mind:
Many balance transfer offers have fees of 3% or more. While that can be worth it for large balances, make sure you compare the fee versus what you will save in interest and when you think you’ll pay off the debt.
On most cards, balance transfer offers are only valid if you complete the transfer within the first 60 days.
One month before your rate expires, look for another offer because when the 0% period expires, the interest rate will rise significantly.
Don’t spend on the new card. Unless the 0% offer extends to purchases, you will be charged interest on your spending and rack up more debt.
2016 Post-Holiday Debt Survey Questions
Methodology: MagnifyMoney surveyed 552 U.S. adults who reported they added debt over the holidays via Google Consumer Surveys from December 26 – 27.
Average Debt Among Shoppers Who Said They Went into Debt Over the Holidays
Did you go into debt this holiday season?
Age 25-34: 14.3%
Age 35-44: 10.9%
Age 45-54: 12.5%
Age 55-64: 8.5%
Age 65+: 7.6%
If you went into debt, did you plan to go into debt this holiday season?
If you’re struggling to pay off several debts at once, a group of researchers may have found the best strategy for success.
In the study, which was highlighted in the Harvard Business Review in December, researchers found people who concentrated on paying off just one of several debts before moving on to the others repaid their debt 15% faster than people who consolidated their debts and tackled them all at once.
The researchers, who hailed from Boston University, University of Alberta, University of Manitoba, and Georgetown University, collected anonymous data from more than 6,000 HelloWallet users over 36 months. HelloWallet is an online financial program that allows employees to make financial goals and track their spending and debt payments.
By analyzing the methods HelloWallet users used to pay off their debt — focusing on one small debt at a time or paying all debts at once — the researchers could tell which method worked best.
“Our research suggests that people are more motivated to get out of debt not only by concentrating on one account but also by beginning with the smallest,” Boston University professor Remi Trudel, co-author of the report, told the HBR.
If this strategy sounds familiar, it should. It’s exactly how the popular “debt snowball” strategy works. In this method, the key lies in building momentum early on by achieving small “wins,” paying off tiny debts first and working your way up to larger debts.
When you pay off your first $200 account balance, you’re more likely to be excited to tackle the credit card with $500 on it, then the card with a $1,500 balance, and so on. Likewise, by focusing on smaller debts, consumers are doing the crucial work of building good financial habits at an early stage. Once those habits become ingrained in their financial picture, they are more likely to keep them up, even as they take on larger debts.
If anything, Havard’s research simply supports why the snowball method is so popular — it really works.
Of course, if you are a fan of the other popular debt payoff methods like the debt avalanche or debt consolidation, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on a path to failure. If you have the option to consolidate all of your debts into one single loan at a lower rate (for example, by taking advantage of a balance transfer), math is on your side. By consolidating your debts at a lower interest rate, you will spend less money on interest over time.
However, if your high interest debts also happen to be the largest of your debt balances, you run the risk of getting discouraged early on and losing momentum because it will take so much more time to pay them off. If you are not confident that you’ll be motivated to pay off one large debt balance, you might be better off — as the Harvard study shows — working on your smallest debt first, even if it means paying more interest in the long run.
When you snowball debt, you order all of your debts by balance and prioritize paying off the account with the lowest amount first. The method was made popular by Dave Ramsey and is the approach many use when tackling debt. The hope is that paying off lower balance loans will motivate you to pay off the remainder of the debt.
Mathematicians would likely argue in favor of the debt avalanche method. The avalanche approach has you order your debt by interest rate in order of the balance. Then, you prioritize paying off the account balance with the highest interest rate and attack the rest of your debt that way. The argument for this method is that it saves you money in the long run since you can avoid paying the most interest and will likely address the principal of your debt faster.
If your account with the highest interest rate is also your highest or one of your highest accounts by amount, the “avalanche” could have the opposite effect of the snowball method. It can be difficult to stay motivated if you don’t feel as if you are making much progress, and you could be discouraged early on.
The payday loan trap begins innocently enough. You’re low on cash, you’ve maxed out your credit cards, and none of your family or friends can loan you the money. Borrowing $250 from a payday lender seems like a logical solution. As long as the $250 plus a $37.50 fee is paid at the end of the two-week term – the time your next paycheck comes due – you’ll be debt free. No harm, no foul.
Before you know it, you run out of money again and can’t repay the loan two weeks later. So you pay a fee to extend the loan for another 14 days. When the next term is up, you can have the lender cash your check or draw from your account for the initial amount of $250 plus the $37.50 fee, or you can pay to extend, yet again, with another fee payment.
This plot replays itself over and over again for months on end. After a year, you will have paid $975 to borrow $250. Effectively, you borrowed money with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 390%.
“It’s important to note that payday loans are structured intentionally to make it very difficult to walk away from,” says Diane Standaert, executive vice president and director of state policy at the Center for Responsible Lending. “The lender takes direct access to a borrower’s bank account in order to establish the loan, either through a check or direct access to their online account. This leverage creates a business model that makes it nearly impossible to walk away.”
This is the payday loan debt trap, but it can get worse. In this guide, we’ll explain how to get out from under a payday loan and avoid falling into the trap again.
How to Get Out of the Payday Loan Trap
There are several strategies to get out of the vicious payday loan cycle, and the strategy you choose to implement will largely depend on your financial situation.
To free up funds to pay back your loan, you’ll have to cut expenses where you can. Start by creating a budget and look at costs that are easy to cut like restaurants and other discretionary spending such as shopping trips and travel.
Next, move to some medium-cost necessities like the cable, internet, and cellphone bill or auto and rental insurance premiums. Call these companies and negotiate with them to lower costs or see if you qualify for a discount.
If you’re still having a difficult time coming up with the extra cash to pay down your loans, look to some larger expenses like your car payment and rent. It may be in your best interest to sell your car and find a more affordable mode of transportation or a less-expensive car. Consider moving or getting a roommate to reduce the cost of rent.
Finding extra money in your budget will allow you to put more income toward the debt you have acquired and catch up on your payday loans.
Work with your lenders
While you create a budget, go to your payday lender and ask if they can provide you with an extended payment plan (EPP). EPPs give the borrower more time to pay off a loan without added fees and interest and without getting turned over to a collections agency, as long as the borrower doesn’t default on the EPP.
If your lender doesn’t offer an extended payment plan, you may want to turn to any other entities you owe money to. If you have non-payday loan debt, like credit card debt, auto loans, student loans, and the like, talk to the lenders of these debts to see if they can help restructuring your debt.
Restructuring means your lender could extend the term of the loan to reduce the cost of monthly payments, or reduce the frequency of payments being made. For some student loans, you may be allowed to make income-based repayments. By reducing other required monthly payments, you will be able to put more money toward paying down your payday loans. Note that restructuring could impact your credit score, but will not be as costly as bankruptcy.
Other lenders who might be able to help
Whether you choose to work with a credit counselor or tackle the payday loan repayment on your own, another option is to seek alternative lenders who may be able to assist with getting you out of the payday lending debt cycle.
Alternative Lender #1: Friends and Family Financing
Receiving a small loan from your family is a popular option suggested on the credit website message boards. This can help you make a one-time payment to the payday lender and close your payday loan once and for all. After which, you can pay back your family in small payments made up of the fees you would have otherwise been paying to the payday lender. Typically, friends and family won’t charge you added fees or interest, so this is the most preferred and affordable route for a borrower who is strapped for cash.
Alternative Lender #2: Faith-Based Organizations and Military Relief
If you are a military servicemember or veteran or a have a religious affiliation, your participation could open up short-term lending and relief opportunities.
A few faith-based lenders have cropped up around the U.S. that are primarily focused on helping borrowers refinance their payday loans and get out of the payday lending debt cycle. One example is Exodus Lending, a nonprofit organization in Minnesota that pays off their clients’ payday loans in exchange for their clients’ paying Exodus for the loan balance over the course of 12 months without interest or additional fees.
Military service members also have protections and emergency relief assistance through various veterans organizations.
With a 600+ credit score, you may be able to secure a personal loan with an average APR between 6% and 36%, a range considerably lower than the 400% to 700% APRs that come with payday lending. Use the funds you receive through your personal loan to pay off all outstanding payday loans and close the door to payday lending for good.
Then make the minimum monthly loan payment for your new personal loan on time and in full.
Once you’ve built your credit above the 600 threshold, visit your local credit union to apply for a personal loan.
Continue to improve your credit score with responsible personal loan and credit card repayments. Over time, your score will improve yet again. Once your score is over 700, you will be eligible for even more affordable personal loans with APRs as low as 4%.
Are there times it makes sense to walk away?
There are times when bankruptcy is the best option to relieve debts you are not able to pay back. If you choose to go this route, you will be required to obtain a pre-bankruptcy credit counselor before you file.
It’s important to find a government-approved credit counselor through the U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) to ensure a reasonable counseling rate – a fee of less than or equal to $50 is considered reasonable. USTP-approved agencies are required to inform clients that services are available for free or at a reduced rate, based on the client’s ability to pay, prior to the exchange of any information and the counseling session.
A credit counselor will help evaluate your personal financial situation, create a personal budget plan, and look into alternatives to filing for bankruptcy, like restructuring debt or negotiating with your payday lender. After all options have been exhausted, your counselor can help you explore your options for bankruptcy.
Many borrowers have been told that bankruptcy is irrelevant for payday lending. They also fear that they could be arrested if they fail to make payments. This is a common myth spread by debt collectors for payday lenders. These threats are illegal, and if they happen to you, make sure to contact your state attorney general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Low credit ratings and the absence of access to a bank account can lead to exceedingly expensive financial products. A Vanderbilt University Law School studyfound evidence that access to payday loans increases personal bankruptcy rates, doubling Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings for first-time payday loan applicants within two years.
How payday loans can lead to bankruptcy
Most payday loans are secured by getting access to a borrower’s online checking account or by receiving a signed check from the borrower for the amount of the loan plus the loan borrowing fee.
When borrowers fail to make their payment upon the loan due date, and don’t pay the extension fee, the lender can withdraw the amount due through the borrower’s online account or cash the signed check.
If the borrower doesn’t have enough funds in their account to cover the amount rendered, their check will bounce and they will incur a bounced check fee and a returned check, which impacts the borrower’s credit report and credit rating. With a record of bounced checks, the bank can go as far as shutting down the borrower’s bank account and make it difficult for the borrower to obtain any new accounts.
What are your rights with a lender?
To begin the fight against payday loans, we must review the borrower’s rights when they enter the loan agreement, understand how lenders get away with hemorrhaging money from borrowers, and what legislation is doing about it.
Payday lending isn’t legal in every state. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia (see the map above) have effectively capped payday loan interest rates at 36% APR. Residents of the remaining states without APR caps stay unprotected against the harm of the inescapable payday lending debt cycle.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), payday lenders are not required by federal law to offer borrowers the lowest rates available. This is because lenders charge a fixed-fee price. Some states, as Standaert mentioned, cap these fees such that the annual rate for a two-week loan doesn’t exceed the enforced rate cap.
Although lenders are not legally bound to offer the lowest rates available, federal law requires payday lenders to disclose the cost of the loan in terms of an annual APR, so the borrower will see on the website or on their contract that the interest rate is 300% or more, according to Standaert.
“Though, disclosures of the price alone do not alleviate the concerns about the predatory structures of this product,” says Standaert. “Payday loans are marketed as a quick fix to a financial emergency, but payday lenders know that their business model is built on keeping people trapped in debt they can’t repay.”
Fees versus interest
It’s important to note the language lenders use in how they structure these financial products. Payday lenders are able to charge excessive amounts in “interest” because in reality, they aren’t charging interest, they’re charging a fee.
If your payday loan were treated as a loan with a designated payback period, interest rate, and amortization schedule, then for every payment you made over the course of time you borrowed the money, a portion of your $37.50 would go to pay down your $250 loan balance.
In the case of payday loans, every payment you make to extend the loan is purely a fee-based payment, or interest-only payment with a 100% principal payment at the end of the term.
What legislation has done and will do
“A rate cap, such as what the fifteen states and D.C. have enforced, is the strongest protection they can enact on the state level. There is activity at the federal level as well,” says Standaert.
“The CFPB, has been working for the past several years to rein in the harms of the payday lending debt trap,” adds Standaert. “While the CFPB doesn’t have authority to enforce a rate cap, their strongest role is to establish rules that enforce payday lenders to assess whether the loan is affordable in light of a borrower’s income and expenses prior to issuing a loan.”
“While states have the ability to address cost, the CFPB can address the harmful nature of these loans,” says Standaert. “Restricting the predatory business practice of payday lending can allow better financial products to come to the forefront for borrowers who need financial relief.”
Standaert said that the Center for Responsible Lending and other organizations dedicated to fair financial products for consumers have seen overwhelming support for the CFPB and states to crack down on payday loans.
“Seventy-five percent of voters in South Dakota went to the ballot box this November and voted to reduce the cost of payday lending from 500% to 36%,” says Standaert. “This was the first time voters have reached a conclusion of this sort.”
“Whether the cost is too high, they have issues with how their bank account is being treated, or they have experienced unfair debt collection tactics, the CFPB accepts complaints for people from all around the country struggling with payday loans for all kinds of reasons,” says Standaert.
Improving a low credit score can feel like an overwhelming task. But you only need to follow these five simple rules to improve your credit score.
Rule 1: Keep your utilization rate low
Utilization is the amount of your credit limit you spend each month. For example, if you have a $500 credit limit and spend $50 in a month, you’re utilization will be 10%. Your utilization is part of what determines your credit score.
Your goal should be to never exceed 20% of your total credit limit across all of your cards. That means if you have three credit cards with a total available limit of $5,000, you should never carry more than a combined total of $1,000 across the three cards. The lower your utilization rate, the better your score will be.
We recommend you make one small purchase a month to keep your utilization low and help increase your credit score at a faster rate.
Rule 2: Pay in full and on time each month
Being late on your payments has a huge, negative impact on your credit score.
There is also no advantage to only paying the minimum amount due on your card. That will only result in your paying more interest and does nothing to help your credit score. So just save yourself money and pay your entire bill. The easiest way to prove you’re responsible is to only charge what you can afford. Never use your credit card to buy an item you won’t be able to pay off on time and in full each month.
Rule 3: Eliminate lingering debt
If you’re already in debt you can’t afford to pay off, make sure you continue to pay at least the minimum due on time each month. Paying on time is the number one way to boost your credit score.
Balance transfer: A balance transfer or personal loan can help you consolidate your debt and reduce your interest rate. If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro annual percentage rate (APR). You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.
Personal loan: Consider applying for a personal loan and using the money from the loan to pay off your credit card debt. Personal loan companies have interest rates that start as low as 4.25%, and they approve people with credit scores as low as 550.
Use our simple comparison tool to find personal loan offers. Then, easily see if you prequalify for a loan without dinging your credit in the process.
After you pay off your credit cards with the proceeds on the loan, do not build up your debt again. Instead, just make one purchase each month and pay it off in full.
Once you pay off your cards, resist the urge to close them. Closing your cards will not only lower your utilization but also remove history which damages your score in the “length of history” category.
Rule 4: Resist temptation
You’ll start to get credit card offers as you begin to build your credit history and improve your score. Beware of any offers, especially for cashback cards, while your score is below 650. These cards typically provide little value and can smack you with high interest rates if you fail to follow Rule 3 above.
Once you get your credit score above 680, the good credit card offers will start rolling in. You can have your pick of the top-tier reward credit cards and start using your regular spending to get cashback or rack up points for travel.
Rule 5: Protect your score
Once you’ve achieved a higher credit score, be sure to protect it by following these simple steps:
Charge a small amount to the card each month and pay it off in full.
Aim to carry a balance that is no more than 20% of your available credit limit.
Looking for a balance transfer credit card to help pay down your debt more quickly? We’re constantly checking for new offers and have selected the best deals from our database of over 3,000 credit cards. This guide will show you the longest offers with the lowest rates, and help you manage the transfer responsibly. It will also help you understand whether you should be considering a transfer at all.
Very few things in life are free. But, if you pay off your debt using a no fee, 0% APR balance transfer, you can crush your credit card debt without paying a dime to the bank. You can find a full list of no fee balance transfers here.
Longest with $0 Intro balance transfer fee and 0% Intro APR
With Chase Slate® you can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.
You can get longer transfer periods by paying a fee, so this deal is generally best if you have a balance you know you ‘ll pay in full by the end of the promotional period. And don’t expect a huge credit line with this card, so it may be best for smaller balances you can take care of quickly.
A no fee alternative if you already have a Chase balance or are looking to take care of additional balances is the Alliant Credit Union 12 month, 0% deal. There’s no fee for the transfer, and Alliant is one of the largest credit unions in the United States, so they’re used to handling new members.
Alliant is a credit union anyone can join, with national availability, by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success, though you can apply for the card without being a member.
There is a late payment fee of up to $25, and a penalty APR of 24.49% if you make a late payment that lasts until you make 6 on time payments in a row
Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period
The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (9.49% – 21.49%) is more than 10%, which is a wide range. You also don’t know which balance transfer promo APR you get (0% – 5.99%) until you apply.
There are late payment and cash advance fees
Tip: Beware that not everyone approved gets the 0% introductory rate. Some people report needing a 720 FICO to get 0%, otherwise you may be approved for a rate as high as 5.99%.
If you think it will take longer than 15 months to pay off your credit card debt, these credit cards could be right for you. Don’t let the balance transfer fee scare you. It is almost always better to pay the fee than to pay a high interest rate on your existing credit card. You can calculate your savings (including the cost of the fee) at our balance transfer marketplace.
These deals listed below are the longest balance transfers we have in our database. We have listed them by number of months at 0%. Although you need good credit to be approved, don’t be discouraged if one lender rejects you. Each credit card company has their own criteria, and you might still be approved by one of the companies listed below.
Although this isn’t the longest available deal in the market, the Citi Simplicity is one of the most friendly. There are no late fees ever and no penalty APR if you miss a payment. So it’s a safer choice in case things go wrong than other options.
With the longest balance transfer deal good for 24 months (2 years), you can get 0% APR until 2018.
Discover it® – 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer: 0% for 18 months, 3% fee
This is a basic balance transfer deal with an above average term. If you don’t have credit card balances with Discover it’s a good option to free up your accounts with other banks. If you have really good credit, the ongoing APR as low as 11.49% is lower than many other balance transfer deals we’ve seen.
If you think it will take longer than 2 years to pay off your credit card debt, you might want to consider one of these offers. Rather than pay a balance transfer fee and receive a promotional 0% APR, these credit cards offer a low interest rate for much longer.
The longest offer can give you a low rate that only goes up if the prime rate goes up. If you can’t get that offer, there is another good option offering a low rate for three years.
Longest low rate balance transfer card
Unify Financial Credit Union, As low as 5.24% APR, no expiration, $0 fee
If you need a long time to pay off at a reasonable rate, and have great credit, it’s hard to beat this deal from Unify Financial Credit Union, with a rate as low as 5.24% with no expiration and no fee to transfer. The rate is variable, but it only varies with the Prime Rate, so it won’t fluctuate much more than say a variable rate mortgage.
Just about anyone can join Unify Financial Credit Union. They’ll help you figure out what organization you can join to qualify, and you don’t need to be a member to apply.
SunTrust Prime Rewards, 3.75% APR for 36 months, 3% fee
If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C., or West Virginia you can apply for this card without a SunTrust bank account.
The deal is you get the prime rate for 3 years with no balance transfer fee. That’s currently 3.75% though your rate will change if the prime rate changes, either up or down, and you have 60 days to complete your transfer. Also beware the prime rate deal isn’t for new purchases, so only use this card for a balance transfer.
In order to be approved for the best balance transfer credit cards and offers, you generally need to have good or excellent credit. If your FICO score is above 650, you have a good chance of being approved. If your score is above 700, you have an excellent chance.
There are balance transfers available for people with scores below 650. The offer below is targeted at people with lower credit scores. As a result, there is an annual fee and the balance transfer offer isn’t as sweet. However, it will still be better than a standard interest rate.
Just remember: one of the biggest factors in your credit score is your amount of debt and credit utilization. If you use this offer to pay down debt aggressively, you should see your score improve over time and you will be able to qualify for even better offers.
Capital One Quicksilver One,
0% APR for 9 months, $0 transfer fee
Balance transfer deals can be hard to come by if your credit isn’t great. But some banks are more open to it than others, and Capital One is one of them.
While there is no transfer fee for this card, and it has a 0% APR for almost a year, beware there is a $39 annual fee. If you try a couple of the options above and have no luck, then consider this as a fallback option.
If you use your credit card at an ATM, it will be treated as a cash advance. Most credit cards charge an upfront cash advance fee, which is typically about 5%. There is usually a much higher “cash advance” interest rate, which is typically above 20%. And there is no grace period, so interest starts to accrue right away. A cash advance is expensive, so beware.
Always pay on time.
If you do not make your payment on time, most credit cards will immediately hit you with a steep late fee. Once you are 30 days late, you will likely be reported to the credit bureau. Late payments can have a big, negative impact on your score. Once you are 60 days late, you can end up losing your low balance transfer rate and be charged a high penalty interest rate, which is usually close to 30%. Just automate your payments so you never have to worry about these fees.
Get the transfer done within 60 days
Most balance transfer offers are from the date you open your account, not the date you complete the transfer. It is in your interest to complete the balance transfer right away, so that you can benefit from the low interest rate as soon as possible. With most credit card companies, you will actually lose the promotional balance transfer offer if you do not complete the transfer within 60 or 90 days. Just get it done!
Don’t spend on the card
Your goal with a balance transfer should be to get out of debt. If you start spending on the credit card, there is a real risk that you will end up in more debt. Additionally, you could end up being charged interest on your purchase balances. If your credit card has a 0% balance transfer rate but does not have a 0% promotional rate on purchases, you would end up being charged interest on your purchases right away, until your entire balance (including the balance transfer) is paid in full. In other words, you lose the grace period on your purchases so long as you have a balance transfer in place.
Don’t try to transfer between two cards of the same bank
Credit card companies make balance transfer offers because they want to steal business from their competitors. So, it makes sense that the banks will not let you transfer balances between two credit cards offered by the same bank. If you have an airline credit card or a store credit card, just make sure you know which bank issues the card before you apply for a balance transfer.
3 Steps for Setting up a Balance Transfer
Nick Clements of MagnifyMoney, who once ran a large credit card business, explains how to set up a balance transfer.
Savings calculator – which card is best?
If you’re still unsure about which cards offer you the best deal for your situation, try our calculator. You get to input the amount of debt you’re trying to get a lower rate on, your current rate, and the monthly payment you can afford. The calculator will show you which cards offer you the most savings on interest payments.
Balance transfer or a loan?
A balance transfer at 0% will get you the absolute lowest rate. But you might feel more comfortable with a single fixed monthly payment, and a single real date your loan will be paid off. A lot of new companies are offering great rates on loans you can pay off over 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. You can see a list here.
And you might find even though their rates aren’t 0%, you could afford the payment and get a plan that takes care of your debt for good at once.
As a general rule, if you can pay off your debt in six months or less, it usually doesn’t make sense to do a balance transfer.
Here is a simple test. (This is not 100% accurate mathematically, but it is an easy test). Divide your credit card interest rate by 12. (Imagine a credit card with a 12% interest rate. 12%/12 = 1%). In this example, you are paying about 1% interest per month. If the fee on your balance transfer is 3%, you will break even in month 3, and will be saving money thereafter. You can use that simplified math to get a good guide on whether or not you will be saving money.
And if you want the math done for you, use our tool to calculate how much each balance transfer will save you.
With all balance transfers recommended at MagnifyMoney, you would not be hit with a big, retroactive interest charge. You would be charged the purchase interest rate on the remaining balance on a go-forward basis. (Warning: not all balance transfers waive the interest. But all balance transfers recommended by MagnifyMoney do.)
Many companies offer very good deals in the first year to win new customers. These are often called “switching incentives.” For example, your mobile phone company could offer 50% off its normal rate for the first 12 months. Or your cable company could offer a big discount on the first year if you buy the bundle package. Credit card companies are no different. These companies want your debt, and are willing to give you a big discount in the first year to get you to transfer.
Completing a balance transfer is easy. If you are applying for a new credit card, most credit card companies will just ask you for the account number of the credit card that has the debt. The transfer will then happen automatically. (It will look like the balance transfer credit card made a payment for you). You can also call your credit card company, and complete the transfer easily on the phone.
Automate your payments so that it doesn’t happen! If you do miss a payment, you will be charged a late fee. If you become 60 days late, you could lose your promotional interest rate and could be charge the punitive rate, which is often near 30% with most companies.
Many credit card issuers will allow you to transfer money to your checking account. Or, they will offer you checks that you can write to yourself or a third party. Check online, because many credit card issuers will let you transfer money directly to your bank account from your credit card. Otherwise, call your issuer and ask what deals they have available for “convenience checks.”
You can call the bank and ask them to increase your credit limit. However, even if the bank does not increase your limit, you should still take advantage of the savings available with the limit you have.
Mathematically, the best balance transfer credit cards are no fee, 0% offers. You literally pay nothing. The best in the market is offered by Chase, which has a 15 month 0% introductory offer with a $0 introductory fee.
However, if your debt is already with Chase, or you think it will take years to pay off your debt, you should consider a longer duration offer or a personal loan. You can find 21 month offers with 3% fees and 24 month offers with 4% fees. Your savings over the two years would likely be substantial, even when you include the cost of the fee.