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43 Million Americans Could Get a Big Credit Score Boost Soon — Here’s Why

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

 

Some 43 million Americans might see their credit report improve soon, thanks to new policies put into effect by the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

As of Sept. 15, credit reports will no longer include medical debts that are less than six months past due.

This is a big deal. At least one unpaid medical collection appears on one in every five credit reports, and these medical debts negatively affect the credit scores of as many as 43 million Americans, according to a 2014 study of collection data by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

This is the second major change to credit reporting this year that could help boost millions of Americans’ credit scores. As of July 1, the major credit reporting agencies agreed to remove from consumer credit reports any tax lien and civil judgment data that doesn’t include all of a consumer’s information.

This new medical debt reporting change, however, will have a far greater impact. Research has shown that many consumers’ medical debts aren’t all that representative of their creditworthiness, which helped drive the bureaus to make the change. In fact, around 50 percent of Americans with medical collections on their credit report had no other significant blemishes on their credit report, according to the CFPB.

And even though the cost to your credit can be dire, most Americans don’t actually even owe that much for their medical expenses — the average unpaid medical collection tradeline is only $579, according to the CFPB’s 2014 study. This means many consumers are taking major credit hits for a relatively low bill.

Additionally, the agencies have promised that if your insurance company ultimately pays off a medical collection, this debt will be removed from your credit report altogether. Both of these changes will provide more time for insurance claims to process, says John Ulzheimer, a consumer credit expert based in Atlanta.

Expect to see an impact soon

The changes officially take effect on Sept. 15, and their influence will be felt fairly immediately. These new policies are both immediate and retroactive, meaning no medical debt from within the last six months should show up on your credit report after that time.

Jenifer Bosco, a Boston-based staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) who specializes in medical debt, recommends using these changes as an opportunity to check your report now. That way, you can see if there are any collections that need to be altered because of the new debt practices.

Bosco suggests viewing your credit report for free by filling out an online request with Annualcreditreport.com. You can check out MagnifyMoney.com’s online guide for a bank-by-bank breakdown of how to easily receive your FICO Score.

The immediacy of this agreement is important, because medical collections can be a long and arduous process. Bosco says the new 180-day window is especially helpful because it provides a cushion for consumers who are trying to work through expenses with their insurance provider.

“It’s definitely helpful for people who might actually just have a debt and owe the money, but also people who are going through a lengthy process with their insurance company to get something covered under their policy,” Bosco says.

How much will credit scores improve?

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While it’s difficult to measure exactly how much unpaid medical bills can affect your credit, Ulzheimer says these debts are typically just as detrimental as other collection types. “For example, the impact can range from severe, if you don’t have other unpaid bills on your credit report, to nominal, if medical bills are just one of many outstanding collections,” he told MagnifyMoney.

Having good credit often makes the cost even higher. According to the CFPB’s collection data research, an unpaid medical bill of $100 or more can drop a credit score of 680 by more than 40 points, but the same bill could drop a score of 780 by more than 100 points.

Consumers who notice incorrect medical debt after Sept. 15 should send a dispute to the credit agency that falsely reported it, the NCLC recommends in a press release. If this doesn’t work, you can reach out to the CFPB. If your state’s attorney general was one of the offices involved in the agreement, you can direct your issue to them.

The CFPB research also found that the lack of price transparency and complex insurance coverage systems make medical bills often a source of confusion for consumers. People can often incur debts simply because they aren’t sure exactly what they owe or who they need to pay. Having more time to figure out what you owe, pay your debts, and work through collections with your insurance company can be a major financial benefit, Bosco says.

Bosco also says the changes go beyond specific circumstances and that these protections will be helpful regardless of your situation.

“It benefits all consumers who have medical debt,” she says.

Better credit for all?

The changes are the result of two separate settlements — one with the Attorney General of the State of New York and one with the attorneys general in 31 other U.S. states — but Ulzheimer says the changes are universal.

This means that regardless of what state you live in, credit agencies can’t fault you for medical debts that are less than 180 days old, or for collections that are ultimately handled by your medical insurance.

Hopefully, these changes mean there will be less medical debt bogging down Americans’ credit overall.

The agreement was reached voluntarily, which means there is no sweeping federal or state law or regulation guiding these changes but shows the credit agencies are on board.

“We have never hesitated to go beyond the letter of the law to voluntarily improve the existing credit reporting environment,” Stuart Pratt, the president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) said in a press release announcing the changes. The CDIA represents the country’s consumer data industry, which includes the three major national credit agencies.

Still, this decision is incredibly important considering how instrumental the “Big Three” are in determining credit scores.

The federal government considers Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to be the country’s major credit agencies, and you’re entitled to a free report from all three companies each year. The information that shows up on reports from the “Big Three” carry major weight, so having a chance to improve your score with these groups can go a long way.

To aid this process, the NCLC has created guidelines — called the Model Medical Debt Protection Act — to help protect consumers from unfair medical collection procedures. The guidelines can be used as a standard for improving their medical debt practices even further.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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10 Great Free Checking Accounts

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

The humble checking account may not offer rewards, cash back or many of the other perks offered by ritzy credit cards, but it remains the cornerstone of your financial life. Nobody likes paying monthly maintenance fees, so why not pick a free checking account that does away with them altogether?

Below, we’ve selected nine of the best free checking accounts by scouring our database for products meeting the following criteria:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • A low initial deposit amount (between $0-$50) needed to open the account
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • Minimal third-party ATM fees
  • Available nationwide

10 bests free checking accounts of March 2020

Account Name

Minimum needed to open

APY

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$05.09% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking$04.00% (applies to balances up to $50,000)
T-Mobile Money$04.00%(applies to balances up to $3,000)
One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account$503.50%(applies to balances up to $10,000)
Evansville Teachers FCU Vertical Checking$30 ($25 if you're already a member of this credit union)3.30% (applies to balances up to $20,000)
Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking$03.00%(applies to balances up to $15,000)
Andigo Credit Union High-Yield Checking$03.00% (applies to balances up to $10,000)
Simple Account$00% to 1.75% on balances in Protected Goals
Axos Bank$501.25% (applies to balances up to $150,000)
SoFi Money$01.10%

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union provides an online-only Free Rewards Checking account to anyone in the nation who becomes a member. You can qualify for membership with a one-time $5 payment to Consumers Cooperative Association. Perks of the account, which charges no monthly maintenance fees and requires no minimum balance, include unlimited third-party ATM fee refunds.

However you do have to meet some requirements in order to get all of the benefits of the account (including the high APY). The APY for this account is divided into three tiers, with the lowest earning 3.09%, the middle 4.09% and the highest tier 5.09%. The requirements for each of these tiers are:

To earn 3.09%

  • Receive eStatements
  • Make at least 12 debit card purchases a month
  • Post direct deposits or ACH payments of at least $500 each month

To earn 4.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Have a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card and spend at least $500 a month on it

To earn 5.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Spend at least $1,000 a month on your Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card

Keep in mind these high APYs only apply to balances up to $10,000. The portion of any balance between $10,000.01 and $25,000 earn 0.20% APY, and balances greater than $25,000 earn an APY of 0.10%.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

TAB Bank Free Kasasa Cash Checking

Headquartered in Ogden, Utah, TAB Bank offers a great rate on its Free Kasasa Cash Checking account. Developed by the Kasasa Corporation, a Texas-based financial services and marketing organization, Kasasa accounts help smaller banks compete against larger rivals by providing higher rates.

TAB’s account charges no fees for using third-party ATMs, and reimburses up to $15 in third-party ATM fees per month. There are no fees and no minimum balance requirement for this account, but to earn 4.00% APY reward rate, every month you must:

  • Deposit at least one ACH payment or direct deposit, or make one bill pay transaction
  • Make at least 15 signature-based debit card purchases of at least $5 each

If you don’t qualify in any given month, your balance earns 0.05% APY, and third-party ATM fees are not refunded. You can earn the reward rate APY on balances up to $50,000, which is well above the other maximum balances on this roundup. Balances greater than $50,000 earn an APY of 0.25%.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on TAB Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

T-Mobile Money

Wireless carrier T-Mobile is venturing out into new territory with a financial product – a competitive one, too. T-Mobile Money is a new checking account that pays a 4.00% APY on balances up to $3,000. Balances over $3,000 earn an APY of 1.00%. There are no monthly fees, overdraft fees, transfer fees, ATM fees or minimum balance requirements.

In order to receive the 4.00% APY, though, T-Mobile Money does require the following:

  • Enroll in a qualifying T-Mobile wireless plan
  • Register for Perks with your T-Mobile ID
  • Make at least $200 in qualifying deposits to your checking account in the calendar month

Balances that do not meet these requirements, or balances over $3,000, will earn 1.00% APY.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on T-Mobile Money’s secure website

Member FDIC

One American Bank Kasasa Cash Account

This small community bank, based in Sioux Falls, SD, offers a nationally available Kasasa Cash checking account that earns a decent 3.50% APY on balances up to $10,000. You need a minimum of $50 to open the account, but after that all you need to do to earn the very competitive APY of 3.50% is:

  • Make at least 12 debit card purchase transactions a month of at least $5.00 each
  • Receive electronic bank statements, account notices and disclosures
  • Log in to online banking at least one time a month

If you meet these qualifications, One American Bank also refunds up $25 in third-party ATM funds per month.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on One American Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking

Don’t let the name of this credit union fool you—anyone can become a member if they open a $5 savings account, which then allows you to open a Vertical Checking account.

This free checking account doesn’t charge a monthly service fee or require you to maintain a minimum balance, and in return gives you an APY of as high as 3.30% on balances up to $20,000, provided you fulfill the below requirements:

  • Make at least 15 debit purchases each month
  • Make at least one direct deposit into the account each month
  • Login to your mobile or online banking at least once each month
  • Opt in to receive eStatements
  • In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Lake Michigan Credit Union Max Checking

Despite its name, the Lake Michigan Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $5 donation to the ALS Foundation. That small donation can pay off tenfold with the credit union’s Max Checking account, which features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $15,000. The account also has no minimum balance requirements and no monthly fees.

In order to receive the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Direct deposit into any LMCU account
  • Make a minimum of 10 debit or credit card transactions per month
  • Make 4 logins to home banking per month
  • Sign up for e-statements

The Lake Michigan Credit Union’s Max Checking account also offers up to $10 in monthly reimbursements for non-LMCU ATM fees.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Lake Michigan Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking

Another credit union with a competitive checking account is the Andigo Credit Union High Yield Checking account. With a handful of physical branches in Illinois and mobile banking services, Andigo Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $15 donation to ConnectVETS.

Andigo’s High Yield Checking account features a 3.00% APY on balances up to $10,000, has no monthly fees, no minimum balance requirements and $12 a month in ATM surcharge rebates. However, to take advantage of the 3.00% APY, you must:

  • Have $500 or more in total direct deposit
  • Make 15 or more debit card purchases per month

Accounts that do not meet those qualifications earn a 0.06% APY. Balances above $10,000 earn 0.10% APY.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Andigo’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Simple Account

Another online-only account, Simple is owned and backed by regional bank BBVA Compass and offers customers a checking account that’s intertwined with the app’s Protected Goals savings account, and additional budgeting tools. Simple doesn’t charge any fees, meaning users enjoy:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance needed
  • No account closing fee
  • No stop payment fees
  • No debit card replacement fee
  • No ATM fee if using Simple’s network, but users can be charged a fee by other banks if using a non-network ATM

One fee you do have to pay is a foreign transaction fee when using your Simple card internationally, which can be up to 1% of the transaction.

As a cash management product, the Simple Account automatically comes with a savings account feature. While the checking balance in a Simple Account earns a token 0.01% APY, Simple’s Protected Goals savings balances earn an APY of 1.75%.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Simple’s secure website

Axos Rewards Checking

With a generous APY and no fees, online bank Axos offers a checking account that stands apart from the pack. Axos’ Rewards Checking account boasts an APY ranging from 0.4166% to 1.25%, depending on your balance and how many monthly transactions you make with your debit card. The account has no maintenance fees and no monthly minimum balance requirements, however there is a required $50 to open an account.

Axos says it does not charge overdraft or NSF fees for customers of its Rewards Checking account. The bank also offers overdraft protection, and will transfer available funds from a linked account, up to a maximum of six times per month.

The Axos Rewards Checking account’s other standout features include:

  • Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursement
  • No overdraft or NSF fees plus overdraft protection

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Axos Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

SoFi Money

SoFi may be better known for its personal loan products, but its SoFi Money cash management account offers a great free checking experience. This account earns a decent 1.10% APY with fees and no minimum balance requirements. SoFi charges no ATM fees of its own, and it will reimburse you for any third-party ATM fees you are charged anywhere in the world. If you need physical checks, you can request them from SoFI.

SoFi partners with multiple banks to hold your money in FDIC-insured accounts. This means that SoFi Money accounts are FDIC insured on balances up to $1.5 million in total, well above the standard $250,000 FDIC insurance level available with conventional accounts.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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38% of Investors Are Worried They’ll Lose Retirement Savings Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brings the world to a screeching halt, one of its many detrimental effects is its impact on the stock market. With businesses shuttering, unemployment spiking and economic fears rising, the stock market has been hit hard, with multiple indexes plunging to new, multi-year lows in March.

Such a significant decline has taken a toll on individual investors, too. According to a new survey of over 1,000 respondents by MagnifyMoney, 38% of investors fear they’ll lose all of their retirement savings due to the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. Already, the coronavirus outbreak has caused investors to lose money and alter their investing behavior, our survey found.

Key findings

  • Our survey found that 38% of investors are worried they’ll lose all of their retirement savings because of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • About 59% of investors said they’ve already lost money from investments during the pandemic (this does not include the 26% of respondents who weren’t sure if they had lost money).
  • The majority of the investors surveyed (39%) said they’re avoiding looking at their investment portfolio amid the coronavirus pandemic. On the other hand, 26% said they are “constantly” checking their investments.
  • Roughly 45% of surveyed investors said they had made changes to their portfolio in the last two weeks, as the coronavirus spread throughout the U.S. and across the world.
  • More than 1 in 10 investors said they’ll never feel comfortable with the stock market again, though 29% said they still feel comfortable. Other investors said they’d need to see some positive signs before they felt comfortable again.
  • When asked how the coronavirus will affect their future investing decisions, 55% of investors said it would impact them in some way (this percentage does not include the 13% who weren’t sure). Most notably, 29% will decrease their level of risk, 23% will make sure they have plenty of money outside the market and 21% will further diversify their portfolio.
  • Still, the vast majority of investors (78%) are confident the stock market will recover from the decline associated with the coronavirus. Only 8% don’t think the stock market will recover in their lifetime.

How much investors have lost amid the coronavirus pandemic

With markets swinging wildly and diving to new lows, investors have understandably lost money in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, our survey reveals that the majority of investors (59%) have lost money — a figure that did not include the 26% of investors who were not sure if they had.

The bulk of investors who have lost money during the coronavirus outbreak, though, have lost less than $50,000, with 26% saying they lost less than $10,000, 12% saying they lost between $10,000 and $24,999 and 8% saying they lost between $25,000 and $49,999. However, some investors are reporting hefty losses, with 4% losing between $50,000 and $74,999 and 10% losing a staggering $75,000 or more. Meanwhile, our survey found that 15% of investors haven’t lost any money and 26% don’t know how much they have lost.

What’s arguably more alarming, though, is the sheer amount of investors (38%) who said they fear they have lost all of their retirement savings as fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the markets. While that percentage was fairly consistent across generations, it was highest among those in Generation Z. Nearly half (47%) of Gen Z worried their retirement savings would be completely wiped out, compared to 40% of millennials, 45% of Gen Xers and 30% of baby boomers.

One potential reason for the gap in concern between Gen Zers and baby boomers is that younger generations likely have far smaller nest eggs than their boomer counterparts, meaning it wouldn’t take as much market volatility to wipe out their retirement savings.

How the coronavirus pandemic is impacting investor behavior

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the economy, our survey found that many investors (39%) are choosing to avoid checking their portfolios altogether. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said they are looking at their portfolios occasionally, while 26% said they are checking in constantly.

Of those who are shielding themselves from watching their portfolios plummet, many are baby boomers. Our survey revealed that almost half of baby boomers (48%) are steering clear of checking their portfolio right now, compared to 37% of Gen Xers, 35% of millennials and 27% of Gen Z.

Despite the fact that many investors are opting against looking at their portfolios during this turbulent time, some are still making changes to their investing behavior in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Our survey found that while the majority of investors (55%) have not made any changes in the last two weeks, 19% have taken some money out of the stock market, 18% have reduced their level of risk, 9% have changed the type of stocks they’re investing in and a surprising 8% have taken all of their money out of the stock market.

How the coronavirus pandemic will influence future investing decisions

Stock market ups and downs are par for the course when it comes to investing, and our survey suggests that even the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the stock market isn’t enough to have a lasting effect on the confidence of many investors. In fact, we found that the majority of investors (78%) think that the stock market will recover from the drop associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, 8% of investors said they don’t think the stock market will ever recover in their lifetime, while 15% investors said they didn’t know if it would. It’s worth highlighting, too, that Gen Zers were far more likely (18%) than any other generation to not have faith that the stock market will make a recovery in their lifetime.

While we did find that most investors are confident that the market will recover from the drop associated with the pandemic, that confidence doesn’t necessarily translate to comfort. In fact, our survey found that 11% of respondents said they will never again feel comfortable with the stock market, which could impact how — and whether — they invest again in the future.

Meanwhile, 29% of investors said they still feel comfortable with the stock market during these turbulent times, though most investors said they’d need to see the following major changes to feel comfortable again:

  • 32% said that the Dow Jones would need to show positive growth
  • 29% said that the number of COVID-19 cases would need to significantly decrease
  • 20% said that news coverage of the stock market would need to turn more positive
  • 19% said the government would need to inject a stimulus into the stock market
  • 10% said they would need their financial advisor to tell them it’s okay

Aside from rattling investor confidence, our survey reveals the coronavirus outbreak could have lingering effects on investor behavior in the future. Only 32% of investors said their future investing decisions won’t be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, 29% said it will cause them to decrease their level of risk, 23% said that it would cause them to make sure they have enough money outside of the stock market and 21% said it will cause them to diversify their portfolio more. A striking 4% said they may not invest anymore.

What you should do when the stock market is dropping

When the stock market is taking multiple nose-dives as it has been recently, it’s understandable to feel uneasy. It’s important to remember, though, that investing is a critical component of building a healthy financial life, and stock market declines are par for the course.

In fact, market corrections — which is when the stock market drops 10% or more from its most recent high — happen every few years. Factoring in all corrections, the S&P 500 still has an average annual rate of return of around 10% over the longer term.

During times of turbulence, money moves you can make include:

  • Keeping your emotions in check when looking at your investment portfolio
  • Avoid pulling your money out of a declining market on impulse
  • Making sure you have a solid emergency fund in a liquid savings account
  • Considering a more conservative portfolio allocation if you’re closer to retirement and therefore have a shorter timeline

Methodology

MagnifyMoney conducted an online survey of 1,010 investors, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. We defined generations as the following ages in 2020:

  • Gen Z are ages 18 to 23
  • Millennials are ages 24 to 39
  • Gen X are ages 40 to 54
  • Baby boomers are ages 55 to 74
  • Silent generation are age 75 and older

The survey was fielded through Qualtrics from March 18-19, 2020.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.