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ByCurtis Watts

What Happens if You Lie on Your Taxes?

A young man sits at his desk on a laptop computer

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more.

According to the IRS, the average tax refund in 2018 was $3,103. When you hear that number and then do your own taxes, you expect your refund to be close to that amount. If it’s not–or worse, you owe money–it can be tempting to fudge the numbers to increase your refund. However, misrepresenting yourself on your return is tax fraud, and it has grave consequences.

Consequences of lying on your taxes can include:

  • Being audited
  • Fines and penalties up to hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • Jail time

Learn more about the penalties below and how to avoid them.

Will I Get Caught if I Lie on My Taxes?

The IRS gets all of the W-2s and 1099s that you receive, so it knows if you don’t report all of your income. Even if the income you’re trying to hide came in the form of cash payments, your financial activity can send up a red flag with the IRS that might trigger an audit.

What Is an IRS audit?

An IRS audit is an extensive review of your taxes and financial records to ensure you reported everything accurately. Though most people have a less than 1% chance of being audited, it’s not worth the risk.

Undergoing an audit is a time-intensive and costly process that involves providing years of documentation and even in-person interviews. If the IRS audits you, you can hire a professional to represent you and your interests.

While the IRS may have only flagged one return for audit, it can review any return from the past six years. If it finds more issues, it can add penalties and fines for every year with problems. If you made tax mistakes for the past several years, you could end up owing thousands for taxes you misrepresented.

Can You Go to Jail for an IRS Audit?

While being audited in itself doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, if you’re found guilty of tax evasion or fraud, that’s a different story. The outcome of an audit is a determining factor in whether or not you will be charged with an offense that carries jail time.

What Is the Penalty for an Incorrect Tax Return?

If the IRS finds errors on your return and audits you, the penalties and fines assessed can be steep.

According to Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax and Consulting, lying on your taxes to reduce your tax bill or boost your refund may end up costing you more in the long run.

“If you don’t pay your tax liability by the due date, the IRS will charge you a late payment penalty. Even if you file on time, you may still be charged a late payment penalty if you under-report your income and the IRS find out,” Zimmelman said.

In addition to that penalty, the IRS can also charge you interest on the underpayment. “If you’re found guilty of tax evasion or tax fraud, you might end up having to pay serious fines,” said Zimmelman.

While tax evasion or tax fraud is normally imagined as something that affects high earners and big executives, even those with lower incomes need to be careful. When describing the penalties for tax fraud, the IRS does not differentiate between income amounts or how much you underpaid your taxes. If you falsify any information on a return, it can fine you up to $250,000.

Can the IRS Put a Person in Jail?

In addition to owing thousands of dollars in penalties, fees and interest, you may also face criminal charges that result in jail time. While the IRS itself cannot jail offenders, the courts can.

Criminal investigations and charges start when an IRS auditor detects possible fraud during an audit of your returns. Courts convict approximately 3,000 people every year of tax fraud, signaling how serious the IRS takes lying on your taxes.

How Long Is the Jail Sentence for Lying on a Tax Return?

The length of the sentence for lying on a tax return depends largely upon the specific details of your situation. These details determine the exact charge against you. That determines the penalties you may face.

The odds of the IRS charging you for fraud is relatively small. Even if you are investigated, the chances of you facing a criminal charge are pretty slim. However, with the potential consequences being as severe as they are, lying on a tax return is not worth the risk just to get a little extra money in your refund.

Are There Other Ramifications of Lying on Your Taxes?

In addition to massive fines, penalties and potential jail time, lying on your taxes to reduce your income can have other negative ramifications. For example, it can impact your ability to secure lines of credit.

“If you under-report your income, it might hurt you when you try to buy a house or apply for a personal loan,” said Zimmelman. “You might not get it if it looks like you cannot afford to pay it back, so lying on your taxes may hurt in that respect.”

When mortgage companies and banks review your application, they request copies of your tax returns to check your total income. If you lied about your income to lower your tax liability, your full income won’t be on the return. That means you may be denied for the loan you need, hurting your financial future.

Moreover, failing to file a return at all can completely tank your credit report. So, not only do lenders not have an accurate picture of your income, they see a less than stellar credit report as well.

How Can You Get More on Your Tax Return Legally?

Nobody likes owing money to the IRS at the end of the year or getting a miserly refund. However, tax fraud is a serious crime. Glossing over your income, boosting your deductions or any other form of “fudging numbers” is lying on your tax return, and that’s tax fraud.

That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with owing or receiving less than you desire. There are a number of legal ways to get a bigger tax refund.

Even if none of those avenues are open to you, it’s still better to tell the truth. Saving yourself a little money at filing time can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It may even land you in jail.

Save yourself the headache and report your information accurately and on time. And, make sure you know what you need to do to avoid common mistakes made on taxes.

The post What Happens if You Lie on Your Taxes? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know

A person stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking greenery and a blue sky, holding their arms aloft and their fingers making peace signs

There’s no single way to get out of debt that’s best for everyone. Each individual case is as unique as you are.

It’s important to consider your situation when deciding which debt relief plan is the best option for you. To help you weigh those options, we have provided an overview of some of the major options here:

  • Debt avalanche and debt snowball
  • Debt consolidation
  • Credit counseling
  • Debt management plan (DMP)
  • Debt settlement and debt negotiation
  • Bankruptcy

How Debt Relief Programs Affect Credit

The debt that you carry (your credit utilization rate) makes up roughly one-third of your overall credit score. When you pay off debt, your credit score typically improves. This is especially true with revolving credit lines—such as credit cards—where your balance is approaching or hovering around the maximum limit. You want to keep your utilization rate below 30% to avoid negative effects to your credit score.

However, reducing your debt can also lower your credit score—even when it’s a good thing! For example, paying off a loan and closing that account may reduce your credit age or mix of accounts, which account for about 15% and 10% of your credit score, respectively.

The type of debt relief program you use can also positively or negatively affect your credit score. Debt settlement, for example, utilizes some tactics that generally have a more negative effect than other types of debt relief programs. Keeping in mind your current credit standing, the program itself and your credit needs will help you make the best choice.

Start by signing up for the free credit report card from Credit.com. This handy tool provides a letter grade for each of the five key areas of your credit for a quick snapshot of where you stand. You can also dig deeper into each factor to monitor what’s happening with your credit and find areas for improvement.

→ Sign up for the free Credit Report Card now.

The Main Approaches to Debt Relief

Once you have a clear picture of your credit history, you can choose one of the six main approaches to debt relief to help you get out of debt. These include the snowball/avalanche option, debt consolidation, credit counseling, debt management plans, debt negotiation/debt settlement and bankruptcy. Each option has its own advantages and drawbacks as well as its own impact on your credit score, both short term and long term.

Debt Relief Option Immediate Credit Impact Long-Term Credit Impact
Debt Snowballs and Avalanches None Reliably Positive
Debt Consolidation Small impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Credit Counseling None expected None expected
Debt Management Plan (DMP) Moderate impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Debt Negotiation or Debt Settlement Severe damange Slow recovery
Bankruptcy Severe damage Slow recovery

Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Reliably Positive

The debt snowball and debt avalanche approaches are simply methods of repaying your debts. The choice between snowball or avalanche often comes down to a matter of personal choice.

The debt snowball is when you pay off your debts one at a time, starting with the ones that have the lowest balance. This eliminates those debts from your credit record quickly.

The debt avalanche is when you pay off your debts one at a time, but you start with those that have the highest balances instead. While it takes longer to clear debt from your credit history, the debt you clear takes a larger chunk out of your overall balance owed.

As long as you stick to the minimum payments needed on all of your other credit accounts while you work to pay down your debt, this method has little immediate impact on your credit report and a reliably positive one long term.

Debt Consolidation

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Small (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

Debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards can help you manage your debt by combining multiple lines of credit under one loan or credit card. While this helps by making one payment out of several, it’s not a strategy that actually gets you out of debt. It’s more like a tool to help you get out of debt faster and easier.

Consolidation loans often offer lower interest rates than the original credit lines themselves, which enables you to pay off your debt faster. In addition, having one lower monthly payment makes it easier to avoid late or missed payments.

Balance transfer credit cards let you transfer debt from other cards for a minimal fee. These cards sometimes require that you pay off the balance transfer balance within a certain timeframe to avoid being charged interest. If you choose a balance transfer card, be sure you choose one with terms favorable to your situation and needs.

This form of debt relief has its own set of pros and cons. While it can improve your credit utilization ratio by paying off balances that are close to the credit limit, simply moving balances from one creditor to another doesn’t do a lot for your immediate scores. Transferring multiple debts to one balance transfer card may make your utilization rate higher, which could drop your score as well.

At the same time, opening a new account will require a hard inquiry, which will slightly negatively impact your credit score. A debt consolidation loan adds a new account to your credit report, which most credit scoring models count as a risk factor that may drop your score in the short term as well. On the other hand, adding a loan or credit card to your credit history could improve your credit mix. You’ll need to keep all these factors in mind when determining whether a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card is right for you.

Credit Counseling

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None expected
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: None expected

A credit counselor is a professional adviser that helps you manage and repay your debt. Counselors may offer free or low-cost consultations and educational materials. They often lead their clients to enroll in other debt relief programs such as a debt management plan, which generally require a fee and can affect your credit (see below for more information). Bes ure you fully understand the potential impact of any debt relief program suggested by a credit counselor before you sign up. They’re here to help, so don’t be afraid to ask your counselor how a new plan could affect your credit.

Credit counseling can also help you avoid accumulating debt in the first place. By consulting a credit counselor about whether or not a line of credit is advisable given your current situation, for example, you can avoid taking on debt that will affect you adversely. Choosing a good credit counselor for your situation is essential for positive results.

Debt Management Plan

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Moderate (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

A Debt Management Plan is typically set up by a credit counselor or counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to that agency, and the agency disburses that payment among your creditors. This debt management program can affect your credit in several ways, mostly positive.

While individual lenders may care that a credit counseling agency is repaying your accounts, FICO does not. Since FICO is the leading data analytics company responsible for calculating consumer credit risk, that means a DMP will not adversely affect your credit score. Of course, delinquent payments and high balances will continue to bring your score down even if you’re working with an agency.

When you agree to a DMP, you are required to close your credit cards. This will likely lower your scores, but how much depends on how the rest of your credit report looks. Factors such as whether or not you have other open credit accounts that you pay on time will determine how much closing these lines of credit will hurt your score.

Regardless, the negative effect is temporary. In the end, the impact of making consistent on-time payments to your remaining credit accounts will raise your credit scores.

Debt Negotiation or Settlement

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Some creditors are willing to allow you to settle your debt. Negotiating with creditors allows you to pay less than the full balance owed and close the account.

Creditors only do this for consumers with several delinquent payments on their credit report. However, creditors generally charge off debts once they hit the mark of being 180 days past due. Since charged-off debts are turned over to collection agencies, it is important to try to settle an account before it gets charged off.

Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors on your behalf, but their tactics often require you to stop paying your bills entirely, which can have a severe negative impact on your credit score. In general, debt settlement is considered a last resort and many professionals recommend bankruptcy before debt settlement.

Bankruptcy

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Filing for bankruptcy will severely damage your credit score and can stay on your credit report for as long as 10 years from the filing date. However, if you are truly in a place of debt from which all other debt relief programs cannot save you, bankruptcy may be the best option.

Moreover, by working diligently to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy you have a good shot at improving your credit scores. Depending upon which type of bankruptcy you file for—Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13—you will pay back different amounts of your debt and it will take varying timelines before your credit can be restored.

Learning the difference between the three main types of bankruptcy can help you choose the right one. A qualified consumer bankruptcy attorney can help you evaluate your options.

Getting Debt Free

Whichever method of debt relief you choose, the ultimate goal is always to pay off your debt. That way, you can save and invest for your future goals. For some, taking a hit to credit temporarily is worth it if it means being able to finally get their balances to zero.

By monitoring your credit with tools like our free Credit Report Card and keeping your financial situation in perspective, complete debt relief is not only possible but within reach.

The post Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit

Debt consolidation is one of the most effective ways to effectively manage debt. It can greatly improve your debt-to-income ratio and help you get back on your feet. You will have more money in your pocket and less debt to worry about, and while your options are a little more limited if you have bad credit, you can still get a consolidation loan.

In this guide, we’ll look at the ways that a debt consolidation loan will impact your credit score, while also showing you the best ways to consolidate credit card payments and find a credit card consolidation plan that suits your needs.

What is a Debt Consolidation Loan and How Does it Work?

A debt consolidation loan can help you to manage credit card debt and other unsecured debts by consolidating them into one, manageable monthly payment. You get a large loan and use this to clear all your current debts, swapping several high-interest debts for one low-interest loan.

You’ll consolidate multiple payments into a single monthly payment, and, in most cases, this will be much less than what you’re paying right now.

The problem is, creditors aren’t in the business of helping you during your time of need. They’re there to make money, and in exchange for your reduced monthly payment, you’ll get a loan that extends your debt by several years. So, while you may pay a few hundred dollars less per month, you could pay several thousand dollars more over the lifetime of the loan.

Why Consider Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit?

You can use a debt consolidation loan to consolidate credit card debt, clear your obligations, reduce the risk of penalties and fees, and ultimately improve your credit score. What’s more, you may still be accepted for a debt consolidation loan even if you have a poor credit score and a credit report with several derogatory marks.

It’s an option that was tailormade for borrowers with lots of unsecured debt, and it stands to reason that anyone with a lot of debt will have a reduced credit score. Of course, it still helps if you have a high credit score as that will increase your chances of getting a low-interest debt consolidation loan, but even with bad credit, you can get a loan that will reduce your monthly payment.

How Does Debt Consolidation Affect Your Credit Score?

A debt consolidation loan can impact your credit score in a number of ways, all of which will depend on what option you choose:

  • A balance transfer can reduce your score temporarily due to the maxed-out credit card and a new account.
  • If you use a consolidation loan to clear credit card balances, you will diversify your credit report, which can benefit up to 10% of your credit score.
  • If you continue to use your credit cards after clearing them, your credit utilization will drop, and your credit score will suffer.
  • A new consolidation loan account will reduce your credit score because it’s a new account and because the average age of your accounts has decreased.
  • Debt management will reduce your credit utilization score by requiring you to cancel credit cards. This accounts for 30% of your total credit score. 

The good news is that all of these are minor, and the short-term reductions should offset in the long-term. After all, you’re clearing multiple debts, and that can only be a good thing. 

A debt consolidation loan will not impact your score in the same way as debt settlement or bankruptcy.

Alternatives to a Debt Consolidation Loan 

A debt consolidation loan isn’t your only option for escaping debt. There are numerous options for bad credit and good credit, all of which work in a similar way to a debt consolidation loan.

These may be preferable to working with a consolidation loan company, especially if you have a lot of unpaid credit card balances or you’re suffering from financial hardship.

How Does a Debt Management Program Work?

Debt management is provided by credit unions and credit counseling agencies and offered to individuals suffering financial hardship and struggling to repay their debts. A debt management plan typically lasts three to five years and works with unsecured debt only, which includes medical debt, private student loans, and credit cards, but not mortgages or car loans.

A debt management plan ties you to a credit counseling agency, which acts as the middleman between you and your creditors. The agency will help to find a monthly payment you can afford and then negotiate with your creditors. You make your monthly payment through the debt management program and they distribute this to your creditors.

Debt management specialists are experts in negotiation and know how to get creditors to bend to their ways. They understand that lenders just want their money and are keen to avoid defaults and collections, so they remind them that failing to negotiate may increase the risk of such outcomes.

Debt management programs are not free. You will be charged a small up-front fee in addition to a monthly fee. However, the amount of time and money they save you is often worth the small charge.

The only real downsides to a debt management plan is that you’ll be required to cancel most of your credit cards, which will impact your credit score, and if you miss a single payment then creditors will revert to previous terms and your progression will be lost.

A Balance Transfer

You don’t need a debt consolidation loan to consolidate your debt. You can also use something known as a balance transfer credit card. 

A balance transfer allows you to consolidate credit card debt onto a single card. These cards offer you 0% interest for up to 18 months and allow you to transfer multiple credit card balances.

As an example, let’s assume that you have the following credit card balances:

  • Card 1 = $5,000
  • Card 2 = $2,000
  • Card 3 = $3,000
  • Card 4 = $5,000

That gives you a total credit card balance of $15,000. If we assume an APR of 20% and a minimum payment of $500, you will repay over $20,000 in 42 months, with close to $6,000 covering interest alone.

If you use a balance transfer credit card, you will be charged an initial balance transfer rate of between 3% and 5%, after which you will not be required to pay any interest for up to 18 months. Continue making those same monthly payments, and you’ll repay $9,000 before that introductory period ends, which means your debt will be reduced to just $6,000 and can be cleared in 14 months with less than $800 in total interest.

This is a fantastic option if you have a strong credit score, otherwise, you may struggle to find a credit limit high enough to cover your debts. However, it’s worth noting that:

  • Your credit score may take an initial hit due to the new account and maxed-out credit card.
  • The interest rate may be higher, so it’s important to clear as much of the balance as you can before the introductory period ends.
  • You may be charged high penalty fees for late payments.
  • You can’t move credit card debt from cards owned by the same provider.

What About Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement works in a similar way to debt management, in that other companies work on your behalf to negotiate with your creditors. However, this is pretty much where the similarities end.

A debt settlement specialist will request several things from you:

  • You pay a fee (charged upon settlement).
  • You move money to a secure third-party account.
  • You stop meeting your monthly payments.

They ask you to stop making payments for two reasons. Firstly, it will ensure you have more money to move to the third-party account, which is what they use to negotiate with creditors. They will offer those creditors a lump sum payment in exchange for discharging the debt, potentially saving as much as 90%, on top of which they will charge their fee. 

Secondly, the more payments you miss, the more unlikely it is that your account will be settled in full, at which point the lender will be more inclined to accept a sizable settlement.

Debt settlement is not without its issues. It can reduce your credit score, increase the risk of litigation and take several years to complete. However, it’s the cheapest way to clear your debts without resorting to bankruptcy.

You can do debt settlement yourself by contacting your creditors and negotiating reduced sums, but you will need to have a large sum of cash prepared to pay these settlements and you’ll also need a lot of patience and persistence. There are also companies like National Debt Relief that can help, as well a huge number of lesser-known but equally reputable options. 

Who is Eligible for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation?

In theory, you can use a personal loan as a debt consolidation loan. In other words, instead of working with a debt consolidation company and allowing them to set the rates and find suitable terms, you just apply for a personal loan, use it to pay off your debts, and then focus your attention on repaying that loan.

This can work very well if you’re using it to repay credit card debt. The average credit card APR in the US is 16% to 20%, while the average personal loan rate is closer to 6%. A personal loan acquired for this purpose will give you more control over the total interest and repayment term. 

However, while you may pay less over the term, it’s unlikely that you’ll reduce your monthly payments. A debt consolidation loan is designed to provide an extended-term so that the monthly payment will be reduced, and unless you choose a loan with a long term, you won’t get the same benefits.

The biggest issue, however, is that you need a very good credit score to get a loan that is big enough to cover your debts and has interest that is low enough to make it a viable option. This is easier said than done, and if you’re drowning in debt there’s a good chance your credit score will not be high enough to make this feasible. 

Is it Time for Bankruptcy?

If you have mounting credit card debt, personal loan debt, and private student loans, and you’re struggling to make the repayments or clear more than the minimum amount, you may want to consider bankruptcy.

It should always be seen as the last resort, as it can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score and make it difficult to get a home loan, car loan, or low-interest credit card for many years. However, if you’re not confident that debt settlement will work for you and believe you’re too far gone for debt management and consolidation, speak with a credit counselor and discuss whether bankruptcy is the right option.

You can learn more about this process in our guides to Filing for Bankruptcy and Rebuilding your Credit After Bankruptcy.

Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit Homeowners

If you own your home, you have a few more options for debt consolidation. When you use your home as collateral against a loan it’s known as a secured debt. It means the lender can repossess your home if you fail to meet the repayments. This also eliminates some of the risks associated with lending, which means they offer more favorable interest rates and terms.

Home Equity Loan and HELOC

An equity loan is a large personal loan secured against the value tied-up in your home. You can acquire an equity loan when you own a large share of your property, in which case you’re using that share as collateral.

Interest rates are very favorable, and you can receive a consolidation loan that clears all your debts and leaves only a small monthly payment and easily manageable debt in their place.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), works in much the same way, only this time you’re given a line of credit similar to what you’d get with a credit card. You can use this credit to repay your debts, after which you just need to focus on repaying the HELOC.

An equity loan and a HELOC provide the lowest possible interest rates of any debt consolidation loan. However, failure to meet your monthly payments will damage your credit score and place your home at risk.

Cash-Out Refinancing for Consolidation

Cash-Out refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a new, larger mortgage. The difference between these two home loans is then released to you as a cash sum, allowing you to clear your debts in one fell swoop. 

Cash-Out refinancing is often used to fund a child’s college education or a new business, but it’s becoming increasingly common as a form of debt consolidation, helping American homeowners to clear credit card debt and other unsecured debts.

Reverse Mortgages

Reverse mortgages work in a similar way to home equity loans, but with a few key differences. Firstly, they are only offered to homeowners aged 62 or older. Secondly, there is no monthly payment and no other recurring obligations.

A reverse mortgage is only repaid when you sell the home or die. There are also some obligations with regards to maintaining the home and living in it full time, but you don’t need to pay any fees and can use the money gained from this mortgage to clear your debts.

Summary: Consider Your Options

A debt consolidation loan is a great option if you’re struggling with debt. You can try a debt management plan if you have bad credit, a balance transfer if you have great credit, and debt consolidation companies if you’re somewhere in the middle.

But as discussed already, these are not the only options. The debt relief industry is vast and caters for every type and size of debt. Do your research, take your time, and make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option before you decide.

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

ByCurtis Watts

How Many Credit Cards Should You Have for Good Credit?

Have you ever wondered, "How many credit cards should I have? Is it wise to have a wallet full of them? Does having multiple credit cards hurt my credit score?"

If you’ve been following this blog or the Money Girl podcast, you know the fantastic benefits of having excellent credit. The higher your credit scores, the more money you save on various products and services such as credit cards, lines of credit, car loans, mortgages, and insurance (in most states).

Even if you never borrow money, your credit affects other areas of your financial life.

But even if you never borrow money, your credit affects other areas of your financial life. For instance, having poor credit may cause you to get turned down by a prospective employer or a landlord. It could also increase the security deposits you must pay on utilities such as power, cable, and mobile plans.

Credit cards are one of the best financial tools available to build or maintain excellent credit scores. Today, I'll help you understand how cards boost your credit and the how many credit cards you should have to improve your finances.

Before we answer the question of how many credit cards you should have in your wallet, it's important to talk about using them responsibly so you're increasing instead of tanking your credit score.

5 tips for using credit cards to build credit

  1. Make payments on time (even just the minimum)
  2. Don’t rely on being an authorized user
  3. Never max out cards
  4. Use multiple cards
  5. Keep credit cards active

A common misconception about credit is that if you have no debt you must have good credit. That’s utterly false because having no credit is the same as having bad credit. To have good credit, you must have credit accounts and use them responsibly.

Having no credit is the same as having bad credit.

Here are five tips for using credit cards to build and maintain excellent credit scores.

1. Make payments on time (even just the minimum)

Making timely payments on credit accounts is the most critical factor for your credit scores. Your payment history carries the most weight because it’s an excellent indicator of your financial responsibility and ability to pay what you owe.

Having a credit card allows you to demonstrate your creditworthiness by merely making payments on time, even if you can only pay the minimum. If the card company receives your payment by the statement due date, that builds a history of positive data on your credit reports. 

I recommend paying more than your card’s minimum. Ideally, you should pay off your entire balance every month so you don’t accrue interest charges. If you tend to carry a balance from month-to-month, it’s wise to use a low-interest credit card to reduce the financing charge.

2. Don’t rely on being an authorized user

Many people start using a credit card by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account, such as a parent’s card. That allows you to use a card without being legally responsible for the debt.

Some credit scoring models ignore data that doesn’t belong to a primary card owner.

Some card companies report a card owner’s transactions to an authorized user’s credit report. That could be an excellent first step for establishing credit … if the card owner makes payments on time. Even so, some credit scoring models ignore data that doesn’t belong to a primary card owner.

Therefore, don’t assume that being an authorized user is a rock-solid approach to building credit. I recommend that you get your own credit cards as soon as you earn income and get approved.

3. Never max out cards

A critical factor that affects your credit scores is how much debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your total available credit limits. It's known as your credit utilization ratio, which gets calculated per account and on your accounts' aggregate total.

A good rule of thumb to improve your credit scores is to keep your utilization ratio below 20%.

Having a low utilization ratio shows that you use credit responsibly by not maxing out your account. A high ratio indicates that you use a lot of credit and could even be in danger of missing a payment soon. A good rule of thumb to improve your credit scores is to keep your utilization ratio below 20%. 

For example, if you have a $1,000 card balance and a $5,000 credit limit, you have a 20% credit utilization ratio. The formula is $1,000 balance / $5,000 credit limit = 0.2 = 20%.

There's a common misconception that it's okay to max out a credit card if you pay it off each month. While paying off your card in full is smart to avoid interest charges, it doesn't guarantee a low utilization ratio. The date your credit card account balance is reported to the nationwide credit agencies typically isn't the same as your statement due date. If your outstanding balance happens to be high on the date it's reported, you'll have a high utilization ratio that will drag down your credit scores.

4. Use multiple cards

If you need more available credit to cut your utilization ratio, there are some easy solutions. One is to apply for an additional credit card, so you spread out charges on multiple cards instead of consistently maxing out one card. That reduces your credit utilization and boosts your credit.

Having the same amount of debt compared to more available credit instantly reduces your utilization and improves your credit.

For example, if you have two credit cards with $500 balances and $5,000 credit limits, you have a 10% credit utilization ratio. The formula is $1,000 balance / $10,000 credit limit = 0.1 = 10%. That’s half the ratio of my previous example for one card.

Another strategy to cut your utilization ratio is to request credit limit increases on one or more of your cards. Having the same amount of debt compared to more available credit instantly reduces your utilization and improves your credit.

5. Keep credit cards active

Credit card companies are in business to make a profit. If you don't use a card for an extended period, they can close your account or cut your credit limit. You may not mind having a card canceled if you haven't been using it, but as I mentioned, a reduction in your credit limit means danger for your credit scores.

A reduction in your credit limit means danger for your credit scores.

No matter if you or a card company cancels one of your revolving credit accounts, it causes your total amount of available credit to shrink, which spikes your utilization ratio. When your utilization goes up, your credit scores can plummet.

Anytime your credit card balances become a higher percentage of your total credit limits, you appear riskier to creditors, even if you aren't. So, keep your cards open and active, especially if you're considering a big purchase, such as a home or car, in the next six months.

In general, I recommend that you charge something small and pay it off in full several times a year, such as once a quarter, to stay active and keep your available credit limit in place.

If you have a card that you don't like because it charges an annual fee or a high APR, don't be afraid to cancel it. Just replace it with another card, ideally before you cancel the first one. That allows you to swap out one credit limit for another and avoid a significant increase in your credit utilization ratio.

If you're determined to have fewer cards, space out your cancellations over time, such as six months or more. 

How many credit cards should you have to build good credit?

Now that you understand how credit cards help you build credit, let's consider how many you need. The optimal number for you depends on various factions, such as how much you charge each month, whether you use rewards, and how responsible you are with credit.

There's no limit to the number of cards you can or should have if you manage all of them responsibly.

According to Experian, 61% of Americans have at least one credit card, and the average person owns four. Having more open revolving credit accounts makes you more likely to have higher credit scores, but only when you manage them responsibly. 

As I mentioned, having more available credit compared to your balances on revolving accounts is a crucial factor in your credit scores. If you continually bump up against a 20% utilization ratio, you likely need an additional card.

You can keep an eye on your credit utilization and other important credit factors with free credit reporting tools such as Credit Karma or Experian.

Also, consider how different credit cards can help you achieve financial goals, such as saving money on everyday purchases you're already making. Many retailers, big box stores, and brands have cards that reward your loyalty with discounts, promotions, and additional services.

If you continually bump up against a 20% utilization ratio, you likely need an additional card.

I use multiple cards based on their benefits and rewards. For instance, I only use my Amazon card to get 5% cashback on Amazon purchases. I have a card with no foreign transaction fees that I use when traveling overseas. And I have a low-interest card that I only use if I plan to carry a balance on a large purchase for a short period.

There's no limit to the number of cards you can or should have. Theoretically, you could have 50 credit cards and still have excellent credit if you manage all of them responsibly.

My recommendation is to have a minimum of two cards so you have a backup if something goes wrong with one of them. Beyond that, have as many as you're comfortable managing and that you believe will benefit your financial life.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

ByCurtis Watts

All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

Paying off debt can be an excruciating process, depending on how much money you owe. But your debts may not haunt you forever. Most consumer debts have a statute of limitations. That means that after a certain amount of time has gone by, collectors can’t sue you for failing to pay off outstanding debts. Here’s everything you need to know about the statute of limitations on debt.

See how long it’ll take to pay off your credit card debt.

Understanding the Statute of Limitations on Debt

You can be taken to court for not paying off certain debts. But there’s a limit on how long debt collectors can chase after the borrowers they want to sue.

The period in which someone can take legal action against you for owing money is known as the statute of limitations. In many cases, that time period either begins on the date you last made a payment or when your account becomes delinquent (which usually happens 30 days after a borrower fails to make a payment). But sometimes, the statute of limitations begins whenever you last used the account, acknowledged that you owed debt or agreed to make a payment (more on that later).

Statutes of limitations offer consumers with old debts some protection from debt collection agencies. After the statute of limitations on a debt expires, that unpaid debt is considered to be time-barred. At that point, borrowers no longer have a legal obligation to pay off their debts.

Different states have different statutes of limitations. And there are different rules attached to different types of debts. In Iowa for example, the statute of limitations on credit card debt is 10 years. In Alaska, Alabama and Washington D.C. it’s only three years.

Not all consumer debts have a statute of limitations, however. Federal student loans, for example, haven’t had a legal expiration date for over two decades.

What to Do With Time-Barred Debts 

All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

While you may no longer be legally responsible for your time-barred debts, you’re not totally off the hook. Most negative credit information – like unpaid debts – can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. But tax liens can remain on your credit report for up to 15 years and bankruptcies can be reported for 10 years.

Not repaying the old debt you owe after the statute of limitations expires could hurt your credit score. And you could have a hard time trying to buy a house or take out a new loan.

Related Article: The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

If you decide to pay off an old debt, it’s important to make sure you have documentation confirming that the debt is yours before making a single payment. You may have to pay off your debt in full in order to avoid restarting or extending the statute of limitations on your debt. So talking to a lawyer before making a single payment is a good idea.

When a Collector Asks About Your Time-Barred Debt

Even though you can’t be sued for your time-barred debts, a debt collector may try to come after you anyway. Bill collectors are required to follow certain rules under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). But they have the right to contact you even after the statute of limitations on a debt runs out. If a debt collector threatens to sue you for a time-barred debt, he or she could be violating the FDCPA.

Statutes of limitations can be tricky. So if you’re not sure whether your debt is past its legal expiration date, it’s a good idea to ask a debt collector who contacts you if your debt is time-barred. If he or she says no, it’s best to ask for the date of the last payment and request written proof that the debt they’re trying to collect is actually yours.

You’ll need to be careful when speaking to debt collectors, especially when dealing with a debt you believe is time-barred. If you say the wrong thing, the statute of limitations could be restarted or extended and you could end up having to pay a bill collector what you owe. The debt collector could also sue you and win.

The clock on your debt can restart if you admit to owing a debt, promise to start paying it or attempt to start repaying it by sending money to a debt collector. But the guidelines associated with extending and restarting the statute of limitations vary depending on where you live.

Related Article: Understanding Debt

Final Word

All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

If you don’t know if the statute of limitations on your debt has expired, you can check with someone from a local legal aid society, an attorney or your state attorney general’s office. Or you can figure it out yourself by finding out when the statute of limitations begins and looking up your state’s laws regarding the statute of limitations on debts.

After you can confirm that the statute of limitations on your debt has in fact expired, you’ll have to decide what to do with it. You can pay off the debt and improve your credit score or ignore it and wait until it disappears from your credit report. You could also dispute the old debt or try to work out an agreement so that you end up paying less than what you owe your creditor.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Geber86, ©iStock.com/fstop123, ©iStock.com/ozgurdonmaz

The post All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

ByCurtis Watts

Freezing Your Credit

In the age of paperless transactions, identify theft is something that virtually all of us are susceptible to. If your identity is stolen, the consequences can be severe, and in some cases, can take years to recover from. One way to be proactive against fraud and defend yourself from identity theft, is to freeze your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. 

Placing a credit freeze on your credit report will stop identity thieves from being able to open new accounts, lines of credit, or make any large purchases in your name, regardless of whether or not they have your Social Security number or any other sensitive information. 

What a credit freeze means

A credit freeze is a process that shuts off access to your credit reports at your request. Without your verified consent, your delicate information cannot be acquired. This means that if someone were to attempt to apply for credit in your name, your report would come up as “frozen,” and therefore the creditor would not be able to see the information needed for the application to be approved.

You can unfreeze your credit at any time by using a PIN or a password. 

Reasons to freeze your credit

It might be a good idea to freeze your credit if you’re experiencing any of the following situations:

  • Your data has been compromised in a data breach: It happens. If you’ve been a victim of a data breach and personal information related to your identity has been leaked or made vulnerable to cyber criminals, a credit freeze can offer you some extra protection. 
  • You have reason to think you’ve been a victim of identity theft: Perhaps you’ve checked your credit recently and noticed open accounts that you don’t recognize. Maybe you’ve been getting phone calls from collections agencies requesting payments from accounts you know you didn’t open. While a credit freeze won’t be able to stop them from using accounts a thief has already opened, it can stop them from opening any more. 
  • You want to protect your child from identity theft: According to the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, parents and legally guardians of children 16 years old and younger have the right to open a credit account for their child with the sole purpose of putting a freeze on it to protect them from identity theft. 

How to freeze your credit 

The process of freezing your credit is simple but does require a few steps. You will need to get in touch with each of the three major credit bureaus one by one and request a credit freeze:

  • Experian: Contact by phone at 800-349-9960 or go to their website.
  • Equifax: Contact by phone at 888-397-3742 or go to their website.
  • TransUnion: Contact by phone at 888-909-8872 or go to their website.  

The credit bureaus will ask you for your Social Security number, your date of birth and other information to verify your identity.

Once you freeze your credit, your file will be unattainable even if a thief has sensitive information such as your social security number or date of birth. If you need to use your credit file, you can unfreeze your credit report at any time. 

How to unfreeze your credit

Once you’ve frozen your credit file, it will be remain blocked until you decide that you would like to unfreeze it. You will need to unfreeze your credit report in order to open a new line of credit or make a major purchase. 

Unfreezing your credit file is simple. All you will need to do is go online to each credit bureau website and use the personal identification number (PIN) that you used to place the freeze on the account. If you don’t want to complete this task online, you can also unfreeze your credit file over the phone or through postal mail. 

When the unfreezing process is done online or by phone, it is completed within minutes of submitting the request. However, if you send your request via mail, it will take much longer. 

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to unfreeze your credit through all three of the major credit bureaus if you don’t want to. For instance, let’s say you plan to apply for credit somewhere. You can ask the creditor which credit bureau it will go through to pull up your report, and only unfreeze that one credit bureau. 

You may also have the option to unfreeze for a specific amount of time. Once the time is up, your credit file will automatically freeze again. 

Credit freeze pros and cons

There are a few reasons why you might want to freeze your credit in this day and age, but just like with anything else, there are pros and cons to credit freezing. Here is a general breakdown of the benefits and downfalls of putting a freeze on your credit report:

Pros:

  • It prevents thieves from opening new lines of credit: With a credit freeze placed on your account, no one will be able to open a new line of credit or any other type of account requiring a credit check using your personal data. Anyone trying to commit fraud will be stopped in their tracks as soon as lenders notice that the report is frozen. 
  • It won’t affect your credit score: Freezing your credit report will not damage your credit score. Additionally, if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, freezing your credit report could actually protect your credit score from being damaged due to fraud. 
  • It’s free: It used to be the case that some credit freezes would cost a fee, but that is no longer the way it works. 

Cons

  • It requires some effort: Putting a credit freeze on your credit report takes some effort. You will need to get in touch with all three credit bureaus. 
  • You will need to remember your PINs: A PIN is required to lift or freeze your credit report. If you lose it, you will need to jump through extra hoops to create a new one.

It can’t stop thieves from accessing your existing accounts: Credit freezes can only stop fraudsters from opening new accounts using your information. If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, a credit freeze can’t block thieves from committing fraud with your current accounts. This means that thieves can still make a purchase using a credit card they stole from you.

Freezing Your Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

ByCurtis Watts

Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/becon, Â©iStock.com/Xesai, Â©iStock.com/Kerkez

The post Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

ByCurtis Watts

How Often Can You Check Your Credit Score, and How Do You Get It?

A woman sits on a couch with her laptop in her lap.

Do you keep a close eye on your personal finances? Or maybe you’ve never given them much thought. Either way, it’s time to start paying more attention to your credit score. Your credit score can control a lot—what loans you qualify for, the credit cards that are available to you, etc. To keep on top of it all, it’s important to check your credit score. But how often can you check your credit score, exactly?

You know what they say: knowledge is power. Find out how often you can check your credit score below so you can arm yourself with knowledge about your personal finances.

The Difference Between Your Credit Score and Credit Report

Before looking into how often you can check your credit score, it’s important to understand the difference between a credit score and a credit report. They can be easy to confuse, so you might think they’re the same—but they’re not.

Your credit report is a detailed document about your credit history. It shows active and past accounts, whether you paid on time and how much credit you’ve used compared to open balances. Other information might include names of your past employers if you’ve ever included them on a credit application, as well as negative records such as collections accounts and bankruptcies.

Your credit score is a three-digit number, typically between 300 and 850, that’s calculated based on all the information in your credit report. There are many credit scoring models, including popular models such as FICO and VantageScore.

While credit scoring models all work toward the same goal—providing an overall picture of how likely you are to pay your debts—they do so with slight variations in the formulas. That means your credit scores might vary between these models.

You also have more than one credit report. Not every lender or business reports to all three of the major credit bureaus, for example. So the information in your credit file can also vary slightly. That also means that you have different credit scores, too.

How Often Can You Check Your Credit Score for Free?

Here’s where the difference between credit score and credit report comes in. You can get your free credit report from each of the three major bureaus via AnnualCreditReport.com.

Usually, the reports are available once every year. Which means you could get a look at your credit information every four months by spreading out your requests for each of the bureaus. However, due to personal financial stress related to COVID-19 and to help consumers best manage credit and finances during this time, AnnualCreditReport.com and the three credit bureaus are making reports available weekly through April 2021.

Unfortunately, a free credit report doesn’t mean a free credit score. When you order your report you get the detailed information in your file. You don’t get the score the bureau might show lenders when you apply for credit. To get regular access to your credit scores, you typically have to pay for it.

Reasons to Check Your Credit Report and Score

So why do you need to keep tabs on your credit score and credit report? Here are a few reasons:

  • Keeping a regular eye on your credit report helps you identify inaccurate negative items that might be dragging down your score. The faster you catch and challenge the accuracy of these items, the more likely you’re able to prove they’re not correct. The credit bureaus have to remove them if they can’t be proven correct.
  • Checking your credit report regularly helps you see whether suspicious activity is occurring, which can indicate that you’re a victim of identity theft or fraud. Again, knowing and acting early can save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
  • Knowing your credit score and how it moves up and down over time can also help you understand whether there might be issues with your report. If you see the score moving in a negative direction and aren’t sure why, you can investigate further.
  • You might want to check your credit before you apply for a loan, especially one with greater qualification requirements such as a mortgage. That way, you can fix any possible issues before a lender evaluates you for approval.
  • You may also want to ensure there aren’t any surprises on your report before you apply to rent an apartment, get auto insurance quotes or send your resume in for a job opportunity, as some of these opportunities can depend in part on your credit history.
  • If you’re working to improve your credit history and score, you may want to see that your efforts are having a positive impact.

How Can You Get Your Credit Score?

You might have access to your credit score via your credit card provider. If this is a benefit you get as a card holder, you can typically see the score by logging into your credit card account online or via a mobile app. The downside is that this is only one possible version of your score.

You can see another version of your score by signing up for Credit.com’s Credit Report Card. You’ll get a score that updates every 14 days as well as information about the five major factors that go into determining credit scores and how you’re faring with each.

If you want to get more bang for your buck, it might be time to look at ExtraCredit. You’ll get access to five useful services, including TrackIt, which will give you a look into 28 of your FICO Scores. 

How Many Points Does Your Credit Score Go Down for an Inquiry?

Requesting your own score or credit report doesn’t impact your score at all. That’s because this is considered a soft inquiry. Only hard inquiries impact your credit score. Hard inquiries occur when a lender pulls your credit to evaluate you for a loan or other credit.

So, whether you’re requesting your credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com or investing in a service such as ExtraCredit, get as much information about your credit as you can. It won’t hurt your score to do so.

Sign up for ExtraCredit today!

The post How Often Can You Check Your Credit Score, and How Do You Get It? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com