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Should You Refinance Your Student Loans?

Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 — and the broader impact on our economy — now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.

Refinancing student loans can also make sense if you’re willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates to see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.

Get Started and Compare Rates Now

Still, it’s important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.

It’s hard to say what will happen after that, but it’s smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far “ahead” by refinancing in a financial sense.

Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and we’ll go over those disadvantages below.

Should You Refinance Now?

Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes: Go to next question.

Do you have good credit or a cosigner? 

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes:  Go to next question.

Do you have federal student loans?

  • If no: You can consider refinancing
  • If yes: Go to next question

Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance
  • If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.

Reasons to Refinance

There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:

  • Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans.
    You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
  • Save money on interest over the long haul.
    If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
  • Change up your repayment timeline.
    Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
  • Pay down debt faster.
    Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If you’re someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.

Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now

While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:

  • You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19.
    The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
  • You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans.
    Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldn’t refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
  • You’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions.
    Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if you’re struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if you’re unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
  • Your credit score is low and you don’t have a cosigner.
    Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you don’t have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most don’t require a credit check, so they’re a great deal if your credit is imperfect.

Important Things to Note

Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.

Compare Rates and Loan Terms

Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.

We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and “check your rate” without a hard inquiry on your credit score.

Check for Signup Bonuses

Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if you’re able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.

We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.

Consider Your Personal Eligibility

Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.

Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that “many lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.”

It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Also, remember that you don’t have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.

4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.

Step 1: Gather all your loan information.

Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.

Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.

From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.

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Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.

Once you’ve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.

Step 4: Complete your loan application.

Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.

The Bottom Line

Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if you’re refinancing federal loans with a private lender.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card is an important security step for protecting your card’s information if it should fall into the wrong hands. Merchants are supposed to check that the signature on the card matches the signature on the sales receipt as a security precaution. If a card has no signature on the back, they aren’t required to process the ensuing payment.

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card is always better than not, without exception. It’s another step provided by your credit card company to try and keep your personal information as safe as possible. When used in conjunction with the card verification value (CVV) on your card, it creates a line of defense should a fraudster try to swipe your plastic.

While the signature itself doesn’t protect you, the ability for a salesman to match it to your existing official signatures is where its value lies. This is done most commonly with your driver’s license, or if you’re abroad, your passport is a fine stand-in. In other words, taking a few seconds to sign that little black or white strip could be the difference between your identity being stolen and not.

Here’s a look at how the major credit payment networks handle unsigned cards:

Mastercard

Mastercard urges merchants in its payment network not to accept charges from customers with unsigned credit cards. On the back of every Mastercard, it even says “not valid unless signed.”

The company tries to instill in merchants that they should not process customer transactions unless the customer’s signature appears in the signature space on the back of the card.

If the card has no signature, merchants are to request the customer sign the card. A merchant also will need to see a confirming form of identification.

Visa

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

At Visa, merchants must verify that the signature on the back of any card matches the customer’s signature on the transaction receipt and any identification. They want to know you are who you say you are and recreating the same signature on demand when you sign for a credit card transaction is one way to do it.

Visa considers an unsigned credit card to be invalid. The words “Not Valid Without Signature” appear above, below or beside the signature panel on all Visa cards. Turn over the card and you’ll see it. And like Mastercard, Visa urges merchants not to accept unsigned credit cards.

When a customer presents an unsigned Visa card to a merchant for payment, Visa requires a merchant to check the customer’s identification by requesting a government-issued form of ID.

Where permissible by state law, the Visa merchant may also write the customer’s ID serial number and expiration date on the sales receipt. (Beginning in California in 1971, the recording of personal information during credit card transactions has become illegal, with the passage of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act.)

Visa also instructs merchants to ask the customer to sign the card, within full view of the merchant. They then check that the customer’s newly written signature on the credit card matches the signature on the customer’s ID. If a customer refuses to sign a Visa card, the card is considered invalid and cannot be processed. Merchants will then be forced to ask the customer for another form of payment.

Discover

Discover keeps things very simple. The company urges its cardholders to sign the backs of their Discover cards as soon as they activate them.  This is because the signature makes the card valid and a cashier may decline the transaction if the card is not signed. 

American Express

American Express also urges retailers to compare a customer’s signature on the back of an American Express card with the transaction sales receipt. And if an American Express card is presented unsigned, the clerk is to request a photo ID of the customer with a signature. Following this, they must request the customer sign the back of the American Express card and the sales receipt while the clerk is holding on to the customer’s photo ID.

Writing “See ID” on a Credit Card

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Writing “see ID” or “check ID” on a credit card might seem like a great way to protect from fraud. But it actually may invalidate the card. This is because only your valid signature that a merchant can match with a signature on a sales receipt is acceptable. In some cases, the merchant may ask you for another card to make your purchase. To save yourself from a slower-than-needed transaction at the cash register, sign your credit card as intended.

Tips for Protecting Against Credit Card Fraud

  • Only carry the credit cards you need. When you travel, keep a list of the credit cards that you have with you. Make note of their full account numbers and expiration dates, as well as contact numbers for the issuers. It will come in handy if something should happen to your wallet, phone or both when traveling.
  • Go paperless and start checking your credit card statements online to avoid having to keep and shred your paper statements. Just be sure to keep your online passwords in a safe place and to update them from time to time.
  • Check your credit card transactions each month to check for errors or suspicious activity. Quickly report any transaction you don’t recognize to your card issuer.

Find the Top 3 Financial Advisors for You

  • Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/PeopleImages, Â©iStock.com/hsyncoban, Â©iStock.com/RichLegg

The post Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Understanding Debt Settlement Letters

If you’re unable to pay back a large amount of debt, you might be interested in learning more about debt settlement. Debt settlement works to negotiate with your creditors to forgive all or part of your debt. Throughout this process, communication is usually done with written letters. Written letters work best to convey the clear and detailed terms you have for your creditor.

A debt settlement letter is a written proposal for you to offer a specific amount of money in exchange for forgiveness of your debt. These letters address why you’re unable to pay the debt, how much you’re willing to pay now, and what you would like from the creditors in return. Working through the proposal is how both parties determine the terms and agreements of the debt settlement exchange.

What Is Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement is the meticulous process of negotiating terms with your creditors, in hopes of them forgiving a portion of your debt. Those who look for debt settlement usually are doing so because they can’t pay off all the debt they’ve accumulated. Instead, they offer a decent portion of the debt owed upfront in exchange for the account to close in full.

The following are the key steps in reaching a debt settlement:

  1. Decide if you want to work on your own or hire debt settlement professionals. Professionals can be of great help, but sometimes their fees can get quite expensive.
  2. Save up the amount of money you are proposing before even getting started. If the creditor accepts your proposal, you’ll need to pay the agreed amount within a specified time frame.
  3. Write a debt settlement letter to your creditor. Explain your current situation and how much you can pay. Also, provide them with a clear description of what you expect in return, such as removal of missed payments or the account shown as paid in full on your report.
  4. Ask for a written confirmation after settling on an agreement. Request this before you send the payment, as it acts as an extra layer of liability coverage in the future.
  5. Send your payment. Keep in touch with your creditors until all terms and agreements are fulfilled.

What Is Debt Settlement?

What To Consider Before Sending a Debt Settlement Letter

Sending a debt settlement letter has the potential to do both harm and good. The extent to which you are affected depends on your current situation. Some people may not think that the benefits outweigh the negatives when settling debt. Others may be limited when it comes to other options and are more willing to take the risk.

Pros of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

Sending out a debt settlement letter can be beneficial if you’re in financial hardship. Many people who can’t afford to pay off their debt end up filing for bankruptcy. While settling is never a guarantee, it may put you in a better financial position. If the request is accepted, debt settlement amounts usually settle for around 50 to 80 percent of the total balance. Reaching out to your creditors and addressing the issue can also relieve some of the stress you feel to pay off your debt.

Cons of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

As mentioned, debt settlement is never a guarantee. If there’s no agreement made, you may end up owing more than you did originally due to missed payments and late fees. If you hire professionals, you may owe them various fees and payments.

Settling debt can often appear as a bad financial move and can negatively impact your credit health. Missed payments on the account may still appear in your report, even if you were negotiating your settlement during that time. There’s also a chance that your account shows up as a debt settlement on your credit report. This may cause other creditors to see you as an unreliable candidate in the future.

Pros and Cons of Writing a Debt Settlement Letter

How To Write a Debt Settlement Proposal Letter

When writing a debt settlement letter, it’s important to be explicit and detailed. Treat the letter as a contract between you and your creditor. Include your personal information and account number for easy identification. You’ll need to outline the amount you can pay and what you expect in return. If you want to propose a good settlement offer, consider offering around 30 percent of what you owe. This can set the baseline for the negotiations your creditor will put forth.

In order to have your proposal approved, creditors must believe that you’re truly unable to pay off what you owe. This is why elaborating on the reason you can’t pay off your debt can benefit you. Financial hardships can include serious injury, unexpected loss of work, and environmental disasters. Depending on your hardship, creditors may ask for documented proof. For instance, a serious injury may need proof from a doctor.

Below is a template to guide you when writing your letter:

[First & last name]
[Home or mailing address]
[Telephone number]

[Current date]

[Account number of which you’re looking to settle]

[Creditor or organization name]
[Creditor’s address]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’m writing this letter in regards to the amount of debt on the account number stated above. As a result of financial hardship, I am unable to pay back the amount in full. [Here, take the time to explain your hardship so the creditor has a better picture of what’s going on].

I would like to propose an offer to settle this debt for [$ how much you will pay] as a final settlement. In return, I request [what you expect in return; ex: removing late payments on your credit report]. I would also like freedom from any liability associated with the debt of this account. I expect this to appear in my report by stating that the account is now paid in full.

If you are willing to accept this offer, please send me a signed and written agreement. Once I receive this, I will pay the agreed amount within [number of days they can expect your payment]. Please let me know by [a specified deadline].

Sincerely,

[Your Signature]

[Printed Name]

What To Outline in Your Debt Settlement Letter

What To Expect After Sending Your Letter

After sending your letter, you may be eager to see if your creditor approves or declines the request. For this reason, including a response date in your letter will help your chances of a prompt reply. As you wait, ensure you have the agreed amount of money saved up and ready to go if they accept your offer. It can also be a good idea to request confirmation that they have received your payment.

You may want to check and make sure the appropriate changes appear on your credit report and account. Debt settlement may relieve your debt, but it can also negatively impact your financial health. Debt settlement is usually reflected in your report for some time. Seeing this may make you appear as risky to future lenders.

Debt settlement may be worth your while if you find yourself struggling due to a hardship. When writing a letter, remember it’s very important to be careful with your words. A well thought out debt settlement letter can make all the difference when it comes to liability. This helps in ensuring that both parties uphold their part of the agreement.

Since it may negatively impact your credit score, you may feel nervous about settling your debt. You may fear creditors thinking you’re a poor candidate for future financial requests. Keep in mind that there are still many credit card and loan options out there for people who are working towards rebuilding their credit.

The post Understanding Debt Settlement Letters appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

protecting yourself from credit card theft

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost. (See also: Don’t Panic: Do This If Your Identity Gets Stolen)

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my "web host," there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information. (See also: 3 Ways Millennials Can Avoid Financial Fraud)

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

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It’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you're not stuck with the cleanup. Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. | #Creditcard #creditcardtheft #personalfinances


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