How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

I've received several questions from Money Girl podcast listeners about paying off credit card debt. It's a fundamental goal because carrying card balances come with high interest, a waste of your financial resources. Instead of paying money to card companies, it's time to use it to build wealth for yourself.

7 Strategies to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

1. Stop making new card charges

If you're carrying card balances from month-to-month, it's essential to understand what it costs you. As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

The first step to improving any area of your life is to acknowledge your mistakes, and financing a lifestyle you can't afford using a credit card is a biggie. So, stop making new charges until you take control of your cards and can pay them off in full each month.

As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

Yes, reining in your card spending will probably require sacrifices. Consider ways to earn extra income, such as starting a side gig, finding a better-paying job, or selling your unused stuff. Also, look for ways to cut costs by downsizing your home, vehicle, memberships, or unnecessary expenses.

2. Consider your big financial picture

Before you decide to pay off credit card debt aggressively, look at the "big picture" of your financial life. Consider any other debts or obligations you should prioritize, such as a tax delinquency, legal judgment, or unpaid child support. The next debts to pay off are those already in default or turned over to a collection agency.

In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

Assuming you don't have any debts in default, focus your attention on your emergency fund … or lack of one! I recommend maintaining a minimum of six months' worth of your living expenses on hand. In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

3. Make more than the minimum payment

Many people who can pay more than their monthly minimum card payment don't do it. The problem is that minimums go mostly toward interest and don't reduce your balance significantly.

For example, let's assume your card charges 15% APR, you have a $5,000 balance, and you never make another purchase on the card. If your minimum payment is 4% of your card balance, it will take you 10½ years to pay off. And here's the worst part—you'd have paid almost $2,400 in interest!

4. Target debts with the highest interest rates first

Make a list of all your debts, including credit cards, lines of credit, and loans. Include your balances owed and interest rates charged. Then rank your liabilities in order of highest to lowest interest rate.

Getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most.

Remember that the higher a debt's interest rate, the more it costs you in interest per dollar of debt. So, getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most. Then you can use the savings to pay more on your next highest interest debt and so on.

If you have several credit cards, evaluate them the same way—tackle them in order of highest to lowest interest rate to get the most bang for your buck. And if a credit card isn't the most expensive debt you have, make it a lower priority.

In general, debts that come with a tax deduction such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and student loans, should be paid off last. Not only do those types of debt have relatively low interest rates, but when some or all of the interest is tax-deductible, they cost you even less on an after-tax basis.

5. Use your assets to pay off cards

If you have assets such as savings and non-retirement investments that you could use to pay down high-interest credit cards, it may make sense. Just remember that you still need a healthy cash reserve, such as six months' worth of living expenses.

If you don't have any or enough emergency money saved, don't dip into your savings to pay off credit card debt. Also, consider what you could sell—such as unused sporting goods, jewelry, or a vehicle—to raise cash and increase your financial cushion.

6. Consider using a balance transfer card

If you can’t pay off credit card debt using existing assets, consider optimizing it by moving it from higher- to lower-interest options. That won’t make your debt disappear, but it will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Balance transfers won’t make your debt disappear, but they will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Using a balance transfer credit card is a common way to optimize debt temporarily. You receive a promotional offer during a set period if you move debt to the account. By transferring higher-interest debt to a lower- or zero-interest card, you save money and use it to pay down the balance faster.

7. Consolidate your high-rate balances

I received a question from Sarah F., who says, “I love your podcast and turn to it for a lot of my financial questions. I have credit card debt and am wondering if it’s a good idea to get a personal loan to pay it down, or is that a scam?”

And Rachel K. says, "I love listening to your podcasts and am focused on becoming more financially fit this year. I have a couple of credit cards with high interest rates. Would it be wise for me to consolidate them to a lower interest rate? If so, will it hurt my credit?" 

Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

Thanks to Sarah and Rachel for your questions. Consolidating credit card debt using a personal loan is not a scam but a legitimate way to shift debt to a lower interest rate.

Having an additional loan added to your credit history helps you build credit if you make payments on time. It also works in your favor by reducing your credit utilization ratio when you reduce your credit card debt.

If you qualify for a low-rate personal loan, here are some benefits you get from debt consolidation:

  • Cutting your interest expense
  • Getting a fixed rate and term (such as 6% APR for 60 months with monthly payments of $600)
  • Having one monthly debt payment
  • Building credit

A couple of downsides of using a personal loan to consolidate debt include:

  • Being tempted to continue making credit card charges
  • Having potentially higher monthly loan payments (compared to minimum credit card payments)

While it may seem counterintuitive to use new debt to get out of old debt, it all comes down to the interest rate. Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

What should you do after paying off a credit card?

Credit cards come with many benefits, such as purchase protection, convenience, and rewards. Don't forget that they're also powerful tools for building credit when used responsibly. If maintaining good credit is one of your goals, I recommend that you keep a paid-off card open instead of canceling it.

You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To maintain or improve your credit, you must have credit accounts open in your name, and you must use them regularly. Making small purchases charges from time to time that you pay off in full and on time is enough to add positive data to your credit reports. You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To learn more about building credit and getting out of debt, check out Laura’s best-selling online classes:

  • Build Better Credit—The Ultimate Credit Score Repair Guide
  • Get Out of Debt Fast—A Proven Plan to Stay Debt-Free Forever

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How Does Coronavirus Affect Life Insurance?

Coronavirus hasn’t entirely ended life as we knew it, but it’s certainly caused changes, some of which are likely to be with us for a very long time.

For some the coronavirus is literally a matter of life and death, and it raises an important question: how does coronavirus affect life insurance?

No one likes to think about the possibility of losing their life, or that of a loved one to this virus, but for over 150,000 families here in the US, it has turned out to be a reality.

Let’s examine the impact it may have on your existing policies, and perhaps more importantly, how it may affect applications for new life insurance coverage.

How Does Coronavirus Affect Life Insurance You Already Have?

There’s good news if you already have a life insurance policy in place. Generally speaking, the insurance company will pay a death benefit even if you die from the coronavirus. With few exceptions, life insurance policies will pay for any cause of death once the policy is in force. There are very few exceptions to this rule, such as acts of war or terrorism. Pandemics are not a known exception.

If you’re feeling at all uncomfortable about how the coronavirus might impact your existing life insurance policies, contact the company for clarification. Alternatively, review your life insurance policy paying particular attention to the exclusions. If there’s nothing that looks like death due to a pandemic, you should be good to go.

But once the policy is in place, there are only a few reasons why the insurance company can deny a claim:

  • Non-payment of premiums – if you exceed the grace period for the payment, which is generally 30 or 31 days, your policy will lapse. But even if it does, you may still be able to apply for reinstatement. However, after a lapse, you won’t be covered until payment is made.
  • Providing false information on an application – if you fail to disclose certain health conditions that result in your death, the company can deny payment for insurance fraud. For example, if you’re a smoker, but check non-smoker on the application, payment of the death benefit can be denied if smoking is determined to be a contributing cause of death.
  • Death within the first two years the policy is in force – often referred to as the period of contestability, the insurance company can investigate the specific causes of death for any reason within the first two years. If it’s determined that death was caused by a pre-existing condition, the claim can be denied.

None of these are a serious factor when it comes to the coronavirus, unless you tested positive for the virus prior to application, and didn’t disclose it. But since the coronavirus can strike suddenly, it shouldn’t interfere with your death benefits if it occurs once your policy is already in force.

How Does Coronavirus Affect Life Insurance You’re Applying For?

This is just a guess on my part, but I think people may be giving more thought to buying life insurance now they may have at any time in the past. The coronavirus has turned out to be a real threat to both life and health, which makes it natural to consider the worst.

But whatever you do, don’t let your fear of the unknown keep you from applying for coverage. Though you may be wishing you bought a policy, or taken additional coverage, before the virus hit, now is still the very best time to apply. And that’s not a sales pitch!

No matter what’s going on in the world, the best time to apply for life insurance is always now. That’s because you’re younger and likely healthier right now than you’ll ever be again. Both conditions are major advantages when it comes to buying life insurance. If you delay applying, you’ll pay a higher premium by applying later when you’re a little bit older. But if you develop a serious health condition between now and then, not only will your premium be higher, but you may even be denied for coverage completely.

Don’t let fears of the coronavirus get in your way. If you believe you need life insurance, or more of it, apply now.

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That said, the impact of the coronavirus on new applications for life insurance is more significant than it is for existing policies.

The deaths of more than 100,000 people in the US is naturally having an effect on claims being paid by life insurance companies. While there’s been no significant across-the-board change in how most life insurance companies evaluate new applications, the situation is evolving rapidly. Exactly how that will play out going forward is anyone’s guess at the moment.

What to Expect When Applying for Life Insurance in the Age of the Coronavirus

If you’re under 60 and in good or excellent health, and not currently showing signs of the virus, the likelihood of being approved for life insurance is as good as it’s ever been. You can make an application, and not concern yourself with the virus.

That said, it may be more difficult to get life insurance if you have any conditions determined to put you at risk for the coronavirus, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

These include:

  • Ages 65 and older.
  • Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 40 or greater.
  • Certain health conditions, including asthma, chronic kidney disease and being treated by dialysis, lung disease, diabetes, hemoglobin disorders, immunocompromised, liver disease, and serious heart conditions.
  • People in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

Now to be fair, each of the above conditions would require special consideration even apart from the coronavirus. But since they’re known coronavirus risk factors, the impact of each has become more important in the life insurance application process.

If any of these conditions apply to you, the best strategy is to work with insurance companies that already specialize in those categories.

There are insurance companies that take a more favorable view of people with any of the following conditions:

  • Over 65
  • Kidney disease
  • Certain lung diseases, including Asthma
  • Liver disease
  • Certain heart conditions

More Specific Application Factors

But even with insurance companies that specialize in providing coverage for people with certain health conditions, some have introduced new restrictions in light of the coronavirus.

For example, if you have a significant health condition and you’re over 65, you may find fewer companies willing to provide coverage.

The insurance company may also check your records for previous coronavirus episodes or exposures. Expect additional testing to determine if you’re currently infected. Most likely, the application process will be delayed until the condition clears, unless it has resulted in long-term complications.

Travel is another factor being closely examined. The CDC maintains an updated list of travel recommendations by country. If you’ve recently traveled to a high-risk country, or you plan to do so in the near future, you may be considered at higher risk for the coronavirus. How each insurance company handles this situation will vary. But your application may be delayed until you’ve completed a recommended quarantine period.

Other Financial Areas to Consider that May be Affected

Since the coronavirus is still very much active in the US and around the world, financial considerations are in a constant state of flux. If you’re concerned at all about the impact of the virus on other insurance types, you should contact your providers for more information.

Other insurance policies that my warrant special consideration are:

  • Employer-sponsored life insurance. There’s not much to worry about here, since these are group plans. Your acceptance is guaranteed upon employment. The policy will almost certainly pay the death benefit, even if your cause of death is related to the virus.
  • Health insurance. There’s been no media coverage of health insurance companies refusing to pay medical claims resulting from the coronavirus. But if you’re concerned, contact your health insurance company for clarification.

Action Steps to Take in the Age of the Coronavirus

Many have been gripped by fear in the face of the coronavirus, which is mostly a fear of the unknown. But the best way to overcome fear is through positive action.

I recommend the following:

1. Be proactive about your health.

Since there is a connection between poor health and the virus, commit to improving your health. Maintain a proper diet, get regular exercise, and follow the CDC coronavirus guidelines on how to protect yourself.

2. If you need life insurance, buy it now.

Don’t wait for a bout with the virus to take this step. It’s important for a number of reasons and the consequences of not having it can be severe. Compare the best life insurance companies to get started.

3. Consider no medical exam life insurance.

If you don’t have the virus, and you want to do a policy as quickly as possible, no medical exam life insurance will be a way to get coverage almost immediately.

4. Look for the lowest cost life insurance providers.

Low cost means you can buy a larger policy. With the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, having enough life insurance is almost as important as having a policy at all. Look into cheap term life insurance to learn more about what you can afford.

5. Keep a healthy credit score.

Did you know that your credit score is a factor in setting the premium on your life insurance policy? If so, you have one more reason to maintain a healthy credit score. One of the best ways to do it is by regularly monitoring your credit and credit score. There are plenty of services available to help you monitor your credit.

6. Make paying your life insurance premiums a priority

This action step rates a special discussion. When times get tough, and money is in short supply, people often cancel or reduce their insurance coverage. That includes life insurance. But that can be a major mistake in the middle of a pandemic. The coronavirus means that maintaining your current life insurance policies must be a high priority.

The virus and the uncertainty it’s generating in the economy and the job market are making finances less stable than they’ve been in years. You’ll need to be intentional about maintaining financial buffers.

7. Start an emergency fund.

If you don’t already have one place, start building one today. If you already have one up and running, make a plan to increase it regularly.

You should also do what you can to maximize the interest you’re earning on your emergency fund. You should park your fund in a high-interest savings account, some of which are paying interest that’s more than 20 times the national bank average.

8. Get Better Control of Your Debts

In another direction, be purposeful about paying down your debt. Lower debt levels translate into lower monthly payments, and that improves your cash flow.

If you don’t have the funds to pay down your debts, there are ways you can make them more manageable.

For example, if you have high-interest credit card debt, there are balance transfer credit cards that provide a 0% introductory APR for up to 21 months. By eliminating the interest for that length of time, you’ll be able to dedicate more of each payment toward principal reduction.

Still another strategy for lowering your debts is to do a debt consolidation using a low interest personal loan. Personal loans are unsecured loans that have a fixed interest rate and monthly payment, as well as a specific loan term. You can consolidate several loans and credit cards into a single personal loan for up to $40,000, with interest rates starting as low as 5.99%.

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article. But that’s because the coronavirus comes close to being an all-encompassing crisis. It’s been said the coronavirus is both a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time. It requires strategies on multiple fronts, including protecting your health, your finances, and your family’s finances when you’re no longer around to provide for them.

That’s where life insurance comes into the picture. The basic process hasn’t changed much from the coronavirus, at least not up to this point. But that’s why it’s so important to apply for coverage now, before major changes are put into effect.

The post How Does Coronavirus Affect Life Insurance? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

Your minimum monthly payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay on your credit card balance. Any less could result in a derogatory mark, any more will clear more of the principal. 

Your monthly payment is one of the most important aspects of your credit card debt and failure to understand this could seriously impact your credit score and leave marks on your credit report that remain for up to 7 years.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how these payments operate and how you can quickly clear your credit card debt.

How Minimum Payments on a Credit Card are Calculated

The minimum payment is calculated as a percentage of the total balance at the end of the month. This percentage ranges from 2% to 5%, but it has been known to go lower. 

As an example, if you have a $5,000 credit card balance and are required to pay 5% a month, then your monthly payment will be $250. However, this only covers the principal, which is the money that you borrowed. It does not cover the interest, which is where things get a little complicated and expensive.

What Influences Your Minimum Monthly Payment?

The reason credit card interest is so high is because it compounds. This means that if you have an annual percentage rate of 20% and a debt of $20,000, that debt will climb to $24,000, at which point the next billing cycle will commence and this time you’ll be charged 20% on $24,000 and not $20,000.

However, credit card interest is calculated daily, not yearly. To arrive at your daily percentage rate, simply divide your interest rate by 365 (the number of days in a year) and then multiply this by your daily balance.

For example, if we stick with that 20% interest rate, then the daily rate will be 0.00054%. If we multiply this with the daily balance, we get an interest rate of $2.7 for the first day. Multiply this by 30, for the total days in a billing cycle, and it’s $81. That’s your total interest for the first month.

So, when we calculate the 2% minimum monthly payment, we’re calculating it against $5,081, not $5,000, which means we get a total of $101.62, reducing the balance to just $479.38.

In other words, you pay over $100, but reduce the balance by a little over $20 when you make that monthly payment. If penalty fees and interest rates are added to that, it will reduce in even smaller increments.

Pros and Cons of Only Paying the Minimum Payment on your Credit Card

As discussed above, it’s imperative that you make the minimum payment, avoiding any late payment charges or credit score reductions. However, if you only make those minimum payments every month then it will take a long time to clear your balance and you may struggle to keep your head above water.

The Benefits of Paying More Than the Minimum

Many borrowers struggle to pay more than the minimum not because they don’t have the money, but because they fail to see the benefits. They focus on the short-term and not the long-term, seeing an extra $100 payment as a lost $100 in the present, as opposed to a saved $500 in the future.

However, if you can get over this mindset and start paying more than the minimum, you will do your future self a huge favor, helping with all of the following:

Shorten the Term and Lessen the Interest

Every extra dollar that you add to your minimum payment can help you get out of debt quicker than if you simply stick with the minimum. This is true for all debts—a higher monthly payment means that more money goes towards the principal, which means there is less interest to compound.

Credit card debt is like a snowball gathering momentum as it rolls, and this is exacerbated every time you miss a payment and are hit with penalty fees. By paying more than the minimum, you’re taking a giant chunk out of that snowball and slowing its progression.

You’ll Improve Your Credit Utilization

Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most important parts of your credit report, counting for 30% of your total. This ratio takes your total available credit (such as a credit limit on a credit card) and then compares it to total debt (such as the balance on that credit card). The higher the number, the more of your credit has been used and the more your credit score will suffer.

Every time you pay more of your credit card balance, you’re reducing this score and significantly boosting your credit score.

Avoid Maxing Out Your Balance

Not only will a maxed-out credit card do some serious damage to your credit utilization score, but it can also have a direct impact on your credit score on the whole. Lenders don’t want to see it and credit bureaus will punish you for it. If you’re still using the card and only paying the minimum, you may be stuck in a cycle of persistent debt, but by paying more and using it less, you can prevent that.

You May Get a Better Credit Limit

Credit card issuers monitor their customer’s activities very closely. If they clear their balances every month without issue, they are more inclined to increase their credit limit, offer them rewards, and generally provide them with good opportunities. If they are accumulating large amounts of credit card debt and only meeting their minimum payments, they’ll be less inclined to do any of those things.

It always helps to get on a creditor’s good side, because you never know when you will need that improve credit limit or access to that generous rewards scheme.

What Happens if you Only Make the Minimum Payment?

If you only pay the minimum, the debt will take a long time to clear and you’ll repay huge sums of interest in that time. If we go back to the previous example and assume an APR of 20%, a balance of $5,000 and a minimum payment of 2%, you will repay over 400% in interest alone and it will take you decades to repay the debt.

Thankfully, very few credit card providers will actually let you pay such a small amount on such a substantial debt. But even if we increase the minimum payment to 5%, it still looks abysmal for the borrower. It would take them about 9 years to pay the balance, requiring $250 a month and paying close to $2,500 in interest.

Although it’s more realistic, this is still a poor option, especially when you consider the card will still be active and you may still be using it, which means that every time you make a repayment, you’re adding more debt and offsetting all your hard work.

Your credit score will not suffer if you only make the minimum payment. Providing you make it on time then you will build a respectable payment history, a stable credit report, and a credit score that is sure to impress lenders. However, it won’t look great for your finances as you’re giving yourself an expensive liability that will cripple your debt-to-income ratio and your credit utilization ratio for years to come.

Are There Any Advantages to Just Paying the Minimum?

The only advantage to paying just the minimum is that you will have more money in your pocket at the end of the month, which will allow you to make additional investments and purchases that would otherwise not be available to you. However, this is a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at it, because while you will have more cash in the long-term, it comes at the expense of many additional risks and obligations, not to mention thousands of dollars’ worth of additional interest paid over the term.

What Happens if you Can’t Pay the Minimum Payment?

If there is a late payment or a missed payment, your creditor may charge you a penalty fee or a penalty rate. If your payment is due for more than 30-days they may also report you to the credit bureaus, at which point a derogatory mark will appear on your credit report and your credit score will drop.

This can happen even with a single missed payment, which is why you should never simply skip a payment on the basis that you’ll just double-up next time around.

Instead, contact your creditor, explain your situation, and see if there is anything they can do to help you. They may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and, in most cases, they will offer you some kind of reprieve. After all, they want their money, and if they can increase their chances of getting paid by providing you with some leeway, they’ll often be more than happy to do it.

Some people believe that you can simply pay a few dollars and it will count as a minimum payment and not show on your credit report. This is a myth. Technically, any payment that doesn’t meet the full minimum requirement can be classed as a late payment and can lead to fees and derogatory marks.

Resources to Lower Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

It’s important to keep a close eye on your credit card statement and activity at all times. Monitor your spending, making sure it doesn’t go overboard, and if you find yourself struggling to make payments at any time, checkout the following resources and options to get the help you need:

  • Credit Counselors: Speak with a trained expert who has helped many individuals in a similar position. They will discuss your finances and your debts and will help you to find a solution.
  • Debt Management: A debt management plan can help when you’re struggling to meet your debt obligations and have a huge debt-to-income ratio. They will provide assistance and help you swap multiple debts for a single consolidation loan.
  • Debt Settlement: An option that works best for individuals with multiple debts and missed payments. It’s one of the cheapest ways to clear personal loan and credit card debt, as well as other forms of unsecured debt.
  • Debt Consolidation: Another consolidation loan option, this time with a long term, ensuring that you pay less per month but more over the term. This is a good option if you’re stuck in a tricky spot right now and need to reduce your outgoings.

In all the above cases, you can use the NMLS Consumer Access site to find a legitimate and reputable company or professional working within the financial sector. You can also use resources like the Better Business Bureau as well as the many guides, reviews, and help files right here on the Pocket Your Dollars website.

How to Reduce the Balance on a Credit Card Debt

One of the best ways to reduce your balance is to initiate a balance transfer. As the name suggests, this entails moving your balance from one card to another. Balance transfer cards entice you by offering a 0% APR on all transfers and this lasts for up to 18% with the best providers. 

In that time, you won’t pay any interest on your balance, which means all your monthly payment will go towards the principal and you can reduce your debt in huge leaps as opposed to small steps.

These cards are not without their issues, however. You will need a good credit score to get a card that has a good APR and balance transfer offer. If you don’t, and you fail to clear the balance during that introductory period, you may be paying more interest than you were before.

In most cases, though, these cards will be just what you need to ease the burden of mounting credit card debts and get back into the black. Take a look at our guide to the best balance transfer cards to learn more and discover how you can move your current balance to a card that has more preferable terms, in the short-term at least.

The Bottom Line: Clear that Balance

A minimum payment is the least amount you need to commit to a credit card balance. If credit card debt was a house party, the minimum payment would be the equivalent of showing up, saying your introductions, and then hiding in the corner for the rest of the night. If you really want to make an impact, you need to be proactive.

It doesn’t have to be twice or thrice the size of your minimum payment. It doesn’t have to be a consistent sum that you pay every month, but it does have to be something. Don’t worry if it’s only 1% or 2% of the balance, because every additional payment helps. Just pay whatever you can afford, whenever you can afford it. A small amount of money today can save you a huge sum of money in the future.

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

The post What’s a Good Credit Score? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

Foreign transaction fees are irritating little charges that every traveler has faced, and most credit card users have questioned. They are the bane of a frequent flyer’s life and if not managed carefully, could result in some serious charges. But what are these charges, why do they exist, what’s the average fee, and how can you avoid them?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge levied every time you make a payment in a foreign currency or transfer money through a foreign bank. These fees are charged by credit card networks and issuers, often totaling around 3%.

For example, imagine that you’re on holiday in the United Kingdom, where all transactions occur in Pound Sterling. You go out for a meal and use your credit card to pay a bill of £150. Your credit card issuer first converts this sum into US Dollars and then charges a foreign transaction fee, after which the network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) will do the same.

If we assume that £150 equates to exactly $200, this will show on your credit card statement first followed by a separate foreign transaction fee of $6.

When Will You Pay Foreign Transaction Fees?

If you’re moving money from a US bank account to an international account in a different currency, there’s a good chance you will be hit with foreign transaction fees and may also be charged additional transfer fees. More commonly, these fees are charged every time you make a payment in a foreign currency.

Many years ago, foreign transaction fees were limited to purchases made in other currencies, but they are now charged for online purchases as well. If the site you’re using is based in another country, there’s a good chance you’ll face these charges.

It isn’t always easy to know in advance whether these fees will be charged or not. Many foreign based sites use software that automatically detects your location and changes the currency as soon as you visit. To you, it seems like everything is listed in dollars, but you may actually be paying in a foreign currency.

Other Issues that American Travelers Face 

Foreign transaction fees aren’t the only issue you will encounter when trying to use American reward credit cards abroad. If we return to the previous example of a holiday in the UK, you may discover that the restaurant doesn’t accept your credit card at all.

In the UK, as in the US, Visa and MasterCard are the two most common credit card networks and are accepted anywhere you can use a credit or debit card. However, while Discover is the third most common network in the US, it’s all but non-existent in the UK. 

Discover has claimed that the card has “moderate” acceptance in the UK, but this is a generous description and unless you’re shopping in locations that tailor for many tourists and American tourists in particular, it likely won’t be accepted.

There are similar issues with American Express, albeit to a lesser extent. AMEX is the third most common provider in the UK, but finding a retailer that actually accepts this card is very hit and miss.

Do Foreign Transaction Fees Count Towards Credit Card Rewards?

Foreign transaction fees, and all other bank and credit card fees, do not count towards your rewards total but the initial charge does. If we return to the previous example of a $200 restaurant payment, you will earn reward points on that $200 but not on the additional $6 that you pay in fees.

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

The easiest way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge them. Some premium cards and reward cards will absorb the fee charged for these transactions, which means you can take your credit card with you when you travel and don’t have to worry about extra charges.

This is key, because simply converting your dollars to your target currency isn’t the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. A currency conversion will come with its own fees and it’s also very risky to carry large sums of cash with you when you’re on vacation. 

Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

All credit card offers are required to clearly state a host of basic features, including interest rates, reward schemes, and annual fees. However, you may need to do a little digging to learn about foreign transaction fees. These fees can be found in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which should be listed in full on the provider’s website.

To get you started, here are a few credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:

  1. Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: A high-reward and low-fee credit card backed by the Bank of America.
  2. Capital One: All Capital One cards are free of foreign transaction fees, including their reward cards, such as the Venture card.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: A premium rewards card aimed at big spenders. There is an annual fee, but not foreign transaction fees.
  4. Citi Prestige: One of several Citi cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and the best one in terms of rewards. 
  5. Discover It: A solid all-round credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, as noted above, the Discover network is rare outside of the United States.
  6. Wells Fargo Propel World: An American Express credit card with good rewards and low fees, including no foreign transaction fees.

Summary: One of Many Fees

Foreign transaction fees are just some of the many fees you could be paying every month. Credit cards work on a system of rewards and penalties; you’re rewarded when you make qualifying purchases and penalized when you make payments in foreign currencies and in casinos, and when you use your card to withdraw cash.

Many of these fees are fixed as a percentage of your total spend, but some also charge interest and you will pay this even if you clear your balance in full every month. To avoid being hit with these fees, pay attention to the terms and conditions and look for cards that won’t punish you for the things you do regularly.

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com