Your Complete Guide To Identity Theft Protection

Young woman in business attire seated at an outdoor cafe stares worriedly at a laptop screen with her head in her hands.Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.

1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Also remember that Advantage One offers members a free annual credit checkup as well. However you obtain your score, be sure to check for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.

2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.

3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.

If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.

4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.

5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.

6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.

7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.

8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.

9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. Advantage One offers affordable Identity Theft Protection service in conjunction with our Benefits Plus checking account. Other services don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.

Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.

Your Turn:
Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
safesmartliving.com
wisebread.com
centsai.com

Understanding The Credit Card Trap

Young couple uses credit card to pay for their stay at a pricey hotelDid you know the average American household carries $6,358 in credit card debt?

If that doesn’t sound too alarming, consider this: A debt of $5,000 with an interest rate of 24.99% (which is the current rate of a typical Capital One or Citibank card), where only the minimum payment is made each month and no additional charges are made to the card, accumulates $4,823 in interest over five years. That means the cardholder would be paying nearly double the amount that was originally spent!

Why do most Americans carry so much credit card debt and find themselves stuck in the debt trap? Let’s take a deeper look at credit card usage, debt and interest rates so we can understand this phenomenon and ensure credit cards are used responsibly.

The minimum payment mindset
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research website, a third of credit card holders make just the minimum payment each month.

Here’s how it usually happens: You use your card for a purchase you can’t really afford, or you want to defer paying for it from your savings. When your credit card bill arrives, you either choose to make just the minimum payment or it is all you can afford to pay at the time. You figure you’ll pay off the rest when your finances improve. Soon, you’re in the trap of pulling out your card whenever you want to purchase something beyond your budget. Since you’re only making the minimum payment, it seems like it doesn’t matter all that much if your credit card debt grows a little larger. From there, the cycle continues as debt climbs and you continue using your card for purchases you’d be better off not making.

This is a quick illustration to show how your “small balance” of just a few thousand dollars can really mean paying more than double that amount over the years because of interest.

Also, when you’re trapped in this mindset, your balance barely budges. With a debt of $5,000 and a minimum monthly payment of $150 (at 3% of the total balance), you’ll only be paying $47.30 each month toward your principal. The rest goes toward your interest accrued.

Take a moment to think about this the next time you decide to use your credit card to pay for something you can’t afford. Is it worth paying $5,000 over the next five years for a $2,500 vacation?

Credit scores and prolonged debt
Another important aspect of prolonged credit card debt is the detrimental effect it can have on your credit score. Your credit score gives potential lenders and employers an idea of how financially responsible you are.

One of the crucial factors used in determining your credit score is your debt ratio, or the percentage of available credit that you’ve already spent. In most credit score formulas, the more credit you’ve used, the lower your score. If you’ve fallen into the habit of using your credit card whenever you’re short on cash, and are only making the minimum payment each month, you likely use a high percentage of your available credit.

Even worse is when your credit card company sees that you’re running low on available credit, and may offer to increase your line — or even do it automatically. If you agree to the upgrade, there’s nothing stopping you from racking up another huge bill, further decreasing your score.

Another important component of your credit score is the trajectory of your debt. If you’re barely making progress on your balance, you won’t score high in this area either.

A low credit score can prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage, auto loan or even an employment opportunity. If you do get approved for such loans with your less than stellar credit score, you’ll likely be saddled with a hefty interest rate, which significantly increases your monthly payments and the overall interest you’ll pay.

Is it really worth racking up that credit card bill?

Should I throw out all of my credit cards?
Hold onto your cards. You need to have some open and active cards for maintaining a healthy credit score; however, it’s important you use your cards responsibly.

First, be careful not to fall prey to the minimum payment mindset. Live within your means and learn to find happiness in what you have instead of chasing the elusive and transient thrill of material possessions. Before using your card for something you can’t afford, imagine this purchase haunting you for years to come. Is it worth paying double the amount it costs in interest payments? Is it worth harming your financial health?

Second, if you’re already carrying a large credit card balance, stop using that card and work on increasing the amount you pay off each month. Even a relatively small monthly increase can make a big difference in the total amount you ultimately pay toward your balance.

Third, to use your cards responsibly and keep your score high, it’s best to use your credit card for non-discretionary payments, like your monthly utility bills. This way, you’ll be keeping your accounts active without running the risk of overspending. Remember to pay your credit card bill on time to avoid paying interest.

Finally, take a long look at your current cards. What’s the interest rate on your cards? As mentioned above, the current interest rate on a typical Capital One card is 24.99%, which can nearly double a balance of a few thousand dollars over the course of five years. Look at alternatives, like an Advantage One Platinum Rewards Visa® credit card that may offer you a substantially lower rate. If the new card rate is substantially lower, you could literally save yourself thousands of dollars over the coming years.

Your Turn:
Have you gotten yourself out of the minimum payment trap? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nytimes.com
creditkarma.com
genxfinance.com

Do My Monthly Bill Payments Affect My Credit Score?

Calculator and papers with credit rating on deskQ: I’m working on improving my credit score, so I’m being extra careful about paying my bills on time. But, since I don’t see these payments reflected in my score, I’m wondering: Do my monthly payments, like utility bills, count toward my credit score?

A: It’s commendable that you’re working toward improving your credit score, because building and keeping a strong credit history is crucial for your long-term financial wellness. However, unless you’re delinquent on a monthly utility bill, these payments will not affect your credit score.

However, there is a way out. Read on for four steps that can help your on-time monthly payments boost your credit score.

1. Use a Rent-Reporting Service
Your monthly rent payments can reflect positively on your credit score, but only if the credit bureaus know you’re paying your rent on time. They won’t accept this information from consumers, but you can sign up for a rent-reporting service, which will pass on this information to one or two of the three major credit bureaus. Some of these services are free, though most charge for the service, with fees of up to $100 a year.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular rent-reporting services:

  • Rent Reporters: For a one-time enrollment fee of $94.95, your rent payments will be reported to TransUnion and Equifax for two full years. If you want to continue with the service after the initial two-year period, the cost is $9.95/month.
  • Rental Kharma: You’ll pay $25 for the initial setup and then $6.95/month. Rent reporting through this option is shared only with TransUnion.
  • RentTrack: Fees vary for this option, and it’s dependent on whether your landlord also uses the service. RentTrack, though, reports to all three credit bureaus.

2. Sign up for Experian Boost
Since early 2019, the Experian credit bureau has offered consumers the opportunity to have utility bills reflected on Experian credit scores. To sign up for the service, Experian requires access to your checking account information so the agency can identify your bill payments. Once it’s found the relevant information, Experian will ask you to verify the details and to confirm that you want this information included in your credit report. Once consent is received, your credit score boost will happen instantly.

Experian Boost only accepts on-time payments and, consequently, can only improve your score. However, if you neglect to pay any reported bills for three consecutive months, the change in your score will be reversed and will fall back to its previous level.

It’s also important to note that Experian Boost only increases your Experian score and does not affect your Equifax or TransUnion scores.

3. Use SimpleBills
SimpleBills is a service that currently reports utility bills to Equifax, with plans to include TransUnion and Experian in the future. The credit-reporting service charges $2.99/month and can be helpful for those who want to improve their score for building a credit history to qualify for a credit card or a loan payment.

Unfortunately, while your Equifax number may see an increase through SimpleBills, major score algorithms, like FICO and Vantage, might not consider this data when calculating your score.

4. Go Off the Beaten Track
If none of these options sound attractive to you, consider going the unconventional route by seeking an alternative score.

Alternative scores, like the PRBC or the FICO XD Model, will include information like your cable, rent, insurance, phone, utility and student loan payments, when calculating your credit score. Some alternative scores will integrate this data on their own, while others will allow you to self-report these payments, sometimes for a nominal fee.

While alternative scores can help individuals appear responsible for prospective employers and landlords, they won’t do much to build your real credit history or to make you eligible for a large loan.

If you’re serious about improving your score, you can take one or all of the steps outlined here to help your on-time bill payments boost your numbers. For the biggest impact on your score, make sure you are paying all your credit card bills on time, preferably in full. Don’t open any new cards while working on improving your score, and keep your credit utilization low.

If you need help managing debt and staying on top of your credit score, look no further than [credit_union]! Give us a call at [cu_phone] or drop us a line at [cu_email] to see how we can help. Your financial wellness is always our priority.

Your Turn:
Do you self-report your utility bills to any of the three major credit bureaus? Use the comments section to tell us how you do it and how it’s impacted your score.

SOURCES:

https://www.thebalance.com/add-positive-credit-history-to-your-credit-report-960100

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/credit-report-rent-payments-incorporated/

https://www.www.bankrate.com/credit-cards/boost-credit-score-by-self-reporting/amp/

https://www.prbc.com/how-it-works

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/does-paying-utility-bills-help-your-credit-score/

https://www.creditkarma.com/insights/i/experian-boost-allow-utility-telecom-payments-credit-scores/

https://www.growingfamilybenefits.com/paying-bills-build-credit/

https://simplebills.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

How Is Your Credit Score Determined?

The importance of understanding what influences your credit score
When it comes to buying a house, purchasing a new vehicle or applying for a credit card, your credit score is bound to come into play. As an influential factor in a financial institute’s decision whether to loan you money or not, your success often rests on this mysterious number. What is this important score and how is it determined? Learning this will help you take steps to raising your score over time.

Your credit score is calculated by a combination of five different factors, each contributing a different ratio of influence. According to Stacy Smith, Senior Publish Education Specialist for Experian, it involves your payment history, utilization, length of credit history, recent activity and overall capacity.

Payment history
Certainly the most persuasive factor in determining your current credit score, your payment history tells creditors about your likelihood of paying back any loans for which you’re currently applying. Amy Fontinelle, personal financial expert writing for Investopedia, explains that consistently paying your credit card, utility bills, student loan and other bills on time month after month will produce a higher credit score that reflects your financial reliability. On the other hand, a track record of late or below-minimum payments will bring your credit score down.

Utilization
Having a credit card and consistently using it will be reflected positively on your credit score over time, but using it too much could actually harm it. According to Dana Dratch, contributor at Bankrate.com, it’s important to keep your balance below 30 percent of your limit on every credit card—both individually and total. For example, if you have a $7,500 credit limit, you don’t want the balance to exceed $1,500.

So, if you’re maxing out your credit card every month for the bonus points—even if you’re paying the bill in full each month—that probably won’t look good to creditors who may see you as constantly spending in excess or charging everything to live paycheck to paycheck. If it reaches 30 percent, proactively pay the balance on the account before continuing to charge to it.

Length of credit history
This factor is not as influential as the first two and it covers multiple territories: how long has each account been open? Are all accounts still actively used or are some being neglected? Does the applicant have a variety of accounts—credit cards, auto loans, mortgages etc? This category is tricky because it is improved over time; suddenly opening a variety of accounts and using them religiously will only hurt your score, explains Smith.

Recent activity
While a healthy credit history is important, so is the current state. If you’ve taken on a loan or opened a new line of credit in the last 6 – 12 months and are applying to do so again, you are more likely to struggle with payments than you would be to excel. This is why you should not open multiple credit accounts around the same time, advises Smith.

Overall capacity
To a minor degree, your credit card reflects how much outstanding debt you have and how that impacts your overall financial situation. If you have a low amount of outstanding debt and a healthy, steady income, you don’t have to worry about this being an issue.

How to read your credit score
Your credit score actually consists of three scores calculated by major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Each number generally ranges between 300 (low end) and 850 (high end). The higher the three-digit number, the healthier your credit is.

If your credit score is lower than you need it to be, worry not. The number is recalculated often, and healthy financial habits will steadily raise it over time.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

How a Personal Loan Impacts Your Credit

The relationship between loans and credit scores
It’s well-known that your credit score has a big impact on your ability to take out a loan, as marchfeatured_prsnllnimpactwell as on the total amount of the loan and interest rate your lender offers. But did you also know that the relationship works in the other direction as well?—that a loan can impact your credit score?

To understand this relationship, you have to consider where your credit score comes from. Your credit score is calculated using a variety of factors, including your payment history, the total debt you owe and the number of credit lines recently opened. When you take out a personal loan, the last two factors are affected.

Even just applying for a loan has an impact, since your credit score goes down slightly each time an inquiry is placed on your credit report by a lender checking your credit.

The financial advantage of finding a great loan far outweighs the negative impact that an inquiry has on your credit score. If you take out a personal loan to pay back a high-interest credit card, for example, you would benefit from the reduced interest and your credit score could be improved overall.

“A personal loan may help your credit score by moving credit-card debt over to the installment loan column,” states NerdWallet staff writer Amrita Jayakumar. “The way credit scores are figured, borrowers who use all or most of the available credit on their cards get hit with a significant penalty.”

Another thing to know about the impact that loan applications have on your credit score is that each inquiry may not count fully against your credit score if you are just comparing the rates of more than one loan. For example, if a car dealership places an inquiry on your credit score in the process of offering you an auto loan, and you want to check with your local financial institution to find a better deal, the second inquiry may not count against you.

“Generally any requests or ‘inquiries’ by these lenders for your credit score(s) that took place within a time span ranging from 14 days to 45 days will only count as a single inquiry, depending on the credit scoring model used,” according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “You can minimize any negative impact to your credit by doing all of your shopping in a short amount of time.”

Once you have taken out your loan, it is important to make regular payments in order to maintain and improve your credit. A strong payment history goes a long way toward achieving a good credit score, and as you pay down your loan, your overall debt will decrease, further benefiting your credit.

So if you are considering taking out a loan, don’t let fear of a negative impact on your credit score stop you from exploring your options.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Credit Scores and Loans

The relationship between your credit score and the loan you need

If you’re interested in applying for a loan in the near future, you may be wondering about the relationship between credit scores and loans. Not only does your credit score impact the type of loan you can receive, loans also affect your credit score. The following information will help you understand more about the ways that loans and credit scores impact each other.

Credit score affects loan interest rates
When you need funds for a large purchase, such as tuition, a new vehicle or a home, it’s important to understand all of the factors that will be important during the loan application process. Your credit score is one of the most important of these factors. If you already know your credit score, you’re one step ahead of many people, but you still have to know exactly what it means.

“Today’s economy runs on credit,” states Erin Peterson from Bankrate. “Good credit can be the make-or-break detail that determines whether you’ll get a mortgage, car loan or student loan.”

Your credit score represents your financial history and paints a picture of how responsibly you have used your credit. Lenders use this information to assess how likely you are to repay a loan. If you have a low credit score, lenders fear that you may not be able to pay off your loan, which will cost them money. In order to balance this risk, lenders offer people with lower credit scores loans with higher interest rates.

“If you have a higher mortgage rate because of a low credit score, it means you’ll be paying that much more in interest in the end,” according to Elizabeth Rosen, Banks.com contributor. “Thus, a strong credit rating can help secure a low mortgage rate, which gives you lower monthly mortgage payments overall.” This is why it’s important to pay attention to your credit if you need to secure a loan.

Loans also affect your credit score
Your credit score has a big impact on your ability to get a loan, but loans also affect your credit score. The application process itself can have an impact on your credit score because each time a lender checks your credit, your score goes down a few points.

“That’s because 10% of your credit score comes from the number of credit-based applications you make,” according to About.com guide LaToya Irby.

Fortunately, this won’t hurt your ability to shop around to find the best loan because there is a grace period during which multiple lenders can check your credit without your score going down. This means that the second lender you speak with will see the same credit score as the first, so you have the opportunity to receive competitive offers.

“Even after you’re done rate shopping, the loan inquiries are treated as a single application rather than several,” explains Irby. “That window of time is between 14 and 45 days depending on which credit score the lender checking your score is using.”

Any loans that you have now can also impact your credit score. You can improve your credit score and prospects for future loans by making payments for any current debt on time. Irby notes that “payment history is 35% of your credit score. That’s more than any other credit score factor.” This also means that paying late or defaulting can seriously harm your credit, so be sure to take your current financial responsibilities seriously.

The balance of your current loans also affects your credit; you gain credit points as you pay back the balance.

“The larger the gap between your original loan amount and your current loan balance, the better your credit score will be,” states Irby.

Your credit score and loans go hand-in-hand. Good credit can help you receive a good loan, and good loan repayment patterns can help you achieve good credit. The steps you take today to repay your loans responsibly and take care of your credit will boost your ability to get a great loan in the future.


Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser
Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.