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Credit Card Myths That You Should Know About »

Do you understand how credit cards and debt settlement work? You might think it’s a simple matter.  Just contact your credit card company and make a deal that works for you. However, there are a number of credit card and debt settlement myths that you need to know about.

For example, here’s one myth that I was discussed in a recent article: “Anyone can get their credit card bill reduced”.  Well that’s certainly a myth.  Take a look at the following article for more credit card myths that you should know about.

8 Credit Card Myths You Need To Know

Auto Loans: Take Control of the Financing »

Stereos and tinted windows aren’t the only options you’ll need to consider when you’re ready for your next vehicle. Also look closely at your different choices for financing a new car. For many people, an auto loan is their second biggest monthly expense after their mortgage or rent. Here are some strategies to consider.

Tip 1: Shop for a loan before you visit a dealership or bid for a car over the Internet. After reviewing your credit report to correct errors (see Check your credit report for accuracy), ask your bank and several other lenders about their loans and costs so you are in a better position to get the best possible terms. If you’re a homeowner, you could also consider using a home equity loan or line of credit instead of a traditional auto loan, but remember, you could lose your home if you can’t repay the loan. Know what car dealers are offering in terms of financing by reading their advertisements, making phone calls or checking the Internet. Many dealers offer discounted loans (such as zero-percent financing) or cash rebates, but not both. "In some situations, it may be better to accept the dealer’s rebate and pass up the zero-percent financing in favor of a loan from a bank that does charge interest," said Joni Creamean, an FDIC Senior Consumer Affairs Specialist.

Tip 2: Think carefully about how much car you can afford and how much of a loan you need. The dollar amount of your loan largely will be determined by the sales price of the vehicle minus your down payment, any rebates and the value of any trade-in. Don’t forget, however, the costs of auto insurance, sales taxes, annual property taxes on the car (if any), and options you may be inclined to buy, such as an extended warranty. Also remember that every item you add to your loan instead of paying upfront will add to the total cost of the loan because you will pay interest on the amount financed.

Tip 3: Consider getting "pre-qualified" by a lender for a specific loan amount. "This doesn’t mean you have been approved for a loan," said Creamean, "but it will help you know approximately how much you can afford to spend on a car and how much it will cost you in finance charges before you get to the dealership." Consumer advocates also suggest that you not tell the dealer if you’ve been pre-approved elsewhere for a loan until after you’ve negotiated the best price on a car. They say that some dealers may be less flexible on the price of the vehicle if it’s clear that the dealership won’t be earning money on a loan.

Tip 4: Understand the costs and risks of choosing a long repayment period. "A longer loan term will be tempting because it means a lower monthly payment, but that also means a higher total cost overall because you will be paying interest longer," warned Creamean. For example, a $25,000 loan at a seven percent interest rate for three years will cost $772 a month. Stretching the term to five years will drop the monthly payment to $495 but will increase the total cost of the loan by about $2,000. Creamean offered another reason to be cautious with a repayment term of five years or more: The aging vehicle’s resale value may fall below what you owe on the loan if the terms are spread out too long. "In the later years of the loan, you’ll still be making payments on what is an older vehicle that may have a lot of repair and maintenance costs," she said. "And if you decide to sell your car, you may have to come up with extra cash out of your own pocket just to pay off the old loan."

All About Identity Theft »

Here’s some good info about about identity theft and how to prevent yourself from getting taken:

An identity thief is someone who obtains some piece of your sensitive information, like your Social Security number, date of birth, address, and phone number, and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.

How Identity Thieves Get Your Information

Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. For example, they may:

  • Get information from businesses or other institutions by:
    • Stealing records or information while they’re on the job
    • Bribing an employee who has access to these records
    • Hacking these records
    • Conning information out of employees
  • Rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving".
  • Get your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report
  • Steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as "skimming." They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
  • Steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • Steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, new checks, or tax information
  • Complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location
  • Steal personal information from your home
  • Scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official

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Bonds – Are They Good Investments? »

Bonds are a security and are generally good investments for the older crowd who wants to earn higher interest rates for income. Bonds also belong in younger portfolios to enhance investment balance. But beware; the Big Bad Wolf may be knocking on the bond investing door.

In 2009 you couldn’t make 1% a year in the safest investments with easy access to your money. Examples include: money market bank accounts, short-term CDs, T-bills, savings accounts, and money market funds. But you could earn more than 6% in some bonds and over 4% in the safest ones in the world, the U.S. Treasury bond. Why not jump on these good investments?…

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Fun and Frugal Family Outings »

The time we spend with our families is priceless. But most popular family activities are quite expensive. Even a simple night at the movies can put a serious dent in the budget by the time you buy tickets, popcorn and drinks for everyone.

Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives to expensive family outings. They provide the opportunity to have just as much fun at a fraction of the cost. Some are even free.

Movies and Music

Kids are often itching to see the newest releases at the movie theater. Doing so even once a month, however, can get pricey. One alternative in some areas is the drive-in. Admission is usually much cheaper than it is at a regular theater, and some let you bring your own drinks and snacks. Drive-ins usually show fairly new releases, so the kids can say they saw something that’s not out on video yet.

Some theaters offer reduced-price matinees during the day. Some even have free kid-oriented movies on weekend days. These options offer the theater experience without the outrageous cost.

Kids often want to go to concerts, but tickets to see the most famous bands are far from cheap. Check your local paper for free concerts in the park. Many areas have them during the warm months. Young children can enjoy the music without the huge crowds and deafening sound systems, and older children might gain an appreciation for less well-known bands.

The Great Outdoors

Nature offers a wealth of possibilities for family outings. Camping is a wonderful activity for families, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as pitching a tent in the back yard, or you can spring for a camper and rent space at a campground. Bring the grill and some hamburgers or hot dogs, or catch some fish to fry.

Parks are great for day trips. Those with playground equipment can keep youngsters entertained for hours on end. Hiking trails offer opportunities for exercise and exploration. Most parks have picnic facilities, so you can pack a lunch instead of eating out.

Other Ideas

Here are some more inexpensive family activities to consider:

* Play miniature golf. Admission is usually quite reasonable, and it provides the opportunity for relaxed yet engaging family competition.

* Visit a petting zoo. These small zoos do not have the exotic animals you see at larger ones, but kids can feed and pet the animals.

* Go to a museum. Some offer cheap or free admission, while others cost more. But the larger and more expensive ones often sell season passes, so if you live close by, you can visit numerous times for one low price.

* Go boating. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a body of water, boating is fun and relaxing. Canoe and paddleboat rentals are inexpensive, and when you’re done boating there are usually other cheap or free activities in the area.

* Attend events at a nearby college. These may include plays, concerts, dance recitals and movie showings. Prices are low, and student discounts usually apply to kids, too.

Having fun as a family doesn’t require a six-figure income. If you look hard enough, you can find lots of free or cheap activities that parents and kids can enjoy just about anywhere.

Every Little Bit of Savings Adds Up »

Living on a budget is the key to financial freedom, but getting started can be frustrating. When we look at our expenses and see all of those bills we’re paying every month, it’s easy to throw our hands up in disgust. But what about all those little expenses we incur? You might be surprised to find out just how much they amount to.

It’s easy to dismiss cutting back on little things. A few dollars a month won’t make a significant difference in the big picture. But a few dollars here and a few dollars there adds up to a few more dollars. When you cut back in a lot of small ways, you could end up with a lot more money at the end of the month.

Waste Not, Want Not

One thing we can do that is good for the budget is stop wasting so much. This can apply to many areas in our lives. From eating to home heating, waste equals money going down the drain unnecessarily.

Cooking for the family instead of eating takeout or dining out is a great way to save money. But if you’re throwing food out, the benefit is reduced. So if you have leftovers, don’t let them end up in the trash. Some dishes freeze well, and this makes for easy dinners when you don’t have time to cook. You could also eat dinner leftovers for lunch the following day.

If your home is not well insulated, you’re probably wasting lots of money on home heating and cooling. Insulating will cost some money up front, but it will pay for itself quickly. If you have drafts around windows and doors, weatherstripping can help maintain the temperature of your home.

Most households waste an unbelievable amount of electricity. This can be prevented in part by using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs. Turn lights, televisions, computers and other devices off when you’re not using them, and open blinds to take advantage of the sun’s light during the day.

Do Yourself a Favor: Do It Yourself

Any time you pay someone else to do something that you could do yourself, you’re spending money unnecessarily. This applies to little things like buying coffee instead of making your own, as well as to larger expenses such as home repairs.

Many of us buy coffee or a soft drink from a convenience store or coffee shop on the way to work in the morning. This can really add up over time. Instead, make your own coffee, or buy soda in 2-liter bottles and pour some into a smaller bottle or cup to take with you. The same applies to lunches. Instead of springing for fast food, take a sandwich or something microwavable to work.

While we’re not all good at all types of repairs and maintenance, most of us can do some things for ourselves. Maybe you could change your own oil instead of paying someone else to do it. If the walls need painting, consider getting friends and family to help you do it instead of hiring a painter. Things like these can save us a noticeable amount of money right away.

When you add up the savings, little things can make a big difference to the budget. So take a close look at your budget and see what small expenses are lurking there. If you can eliminate or reduce them, it could positively impact your bottom line.

2 Tips to Help Improve Bad Credit »

In some cases, bad credit is a result of irresponsible money management. But it often occurs because of unexpected financial hardship. One day you might have all of your bills current, and the next you could become disabled or lose your job. And if you fall behind on your debts, it will wreak havoc on your credit rating.

Credit repair agencies claim that they can remove bad entries from your credit report. But did you know that you can often have them removed yourself at a much lower cost? There are two methods by which you may be able to get negative entries removed from your report.

Tip Number 1: File a Dispute with the Credit Bureaus

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires credit bureaus to investigate any item on your credit report that you dispute. If the information is found to be false, inaccurate or unverifiable, it must be corrected or removed from your report. The bureaus have 30 days from the time they receive notice of the dispute to complete their investigation.

If there is any inaccurate information on your credit report, a dispute is certainly in order. But some people have had luck disputing items that were in fact accurate, including judgments, collections accounts and repossessions. If such items are not verified by the creditor (or the court in the case of judgments) within the time limit for investigation, they must be removed.

If you decide to dispute a legitimate entry, simply write a letter to each of the credit bureaus stating that you dispute that entry. No explanation is required. But keep in mind that if the entry is verified, it will remain on your report. And if the creditor verifies the information after the 30-day time limit, the credit bureau may reinstate the entry as long as they notify you at least 5 days before doing so.

Tip Number 2: Negotiate with Creditors

Dealing with creditors can be intimidating, especially if you’re not on good terms with them. But speaking to your creditors directly may help you get negative information removed from your credit report.

If you only have a late payment or two on your account, a creditor might be willing to remove the derogatory information once you’ve resumed a regular payment schedule. If you’ve experienced repossession or had an account turned over to collections, payment in full might persuade them to remove the negative entry. It sounds like a long shot, but you never know until you ask. Requests to remove late payment information may be made after you’ve brought you account current. But if you’re hoping for removal of a repossession or collection action, it’s best to negotiate a deal before you pay anything.

If You Can’t Get the Bad Entries Removed

There is no guarantee that disputing information on your credit report or negotiating with creditors will get negative items removed from your record. If it doesn’t, the best thing you can do is try to build up some positive information on your report.

The first thing you need to do when trying to rebuild good credit is bring past due accounts current. Try to work out a deal with your creditors to accomplish this, or talk to a credit counseling agency. But don’t miss payments on current accounts to put money toward those that are past due. If it comes down to paying one or the other, keep the current account current.

Once you’ve brought all of your accounts current, put a priority on keeping them that way. Making your payments on schedule will raise your credit score, and with the passage of time, the good entries may outweigh the bad.

Debit vs. Credit Cards: How They Stack Up – Part 3 »

We’ve been comparing debit cards with credit cards in this series.  This time we’ll talk about credit cards and their potential benefits and drawbacks.  Then we’ll discuss some federal protections available to credit card users:

Potential Benefits of Credit Cards

A Fast, Unsecured Loan: Credit cards enable you to buy goods or services now and – unlike debit cards – pay later. Your payment won’t be due for at least 21 days after your monthly credit card bill is mailed or delivered.

Options to Avoid Interest: If your card has an interest-free grace period and you pay the balance off each month, you won’t be assessed finance charges.

Building a Good Credit Record: If you’re careful about how you manage your credit card, especially by paying your bill on time, your credit score will go up and you may qualify for lower interest rates on loans and credit cards.

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Debit vs. Credit Cards: How They Stack Up – Part 2 »

Last time we were talking about the potential benefits and drawbacks to using debit cards. This time well talk about about some of the consumer protections available to debit card users:

Consumer Protections for Debit Card users

Federal law includes protections against debit card errors and the loss or theft of your card, although consumers are required to promptly report a lost debit card or unauthorized transaction. In addition, industry practices may give you added protection.

“To be fully protected under the law, you must submit specific information about unauthorized debit and ATM card transactions within a short time period,” stressed Kirk Daniels, an FDIC Supervisory Consumer Affairs Specialist. “That’s also why it’s important to review your bank statements and report a problem as soon as possible.”

Unlike the federal protections for credit cards, which cap your liability for unauthorized charges at $50 (see the credit card section), your liability limit for a debit card depends on the situation and your promptness in reporting the lost card or unauthorized transaction. Specifically, the maximum legal liability is $50 if you notify the bank within two business days after discovering an unauthorized transaction. But if you notify your bank after those first two days, under the law you could lose up to $500, or perhaps much more. Some banks may voluntarily waive all liability for unauthorized transactions if the cardholder took reasonable care to avoid fraud or theft, but consumers must still report errors promptly.

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Debit vs. Credit Cards: How They Stack Up – Part 1 »

Debit cards, which work like electronic checks, are becoming more widely used as an alternative to credit cards to pay for goods and services. In this two part series, we’ll help you better understand how the two types of cards work and the potential benefits and concerns. First let’s talk about debit cards, their potential benefits and drawbacks:

Potential Benefits

Convenience and Speed: As with credit cards, debit cards are a way to pay for purchases quickly, without writing checks or having to make sure you are carrying enough cash.

Limiting Your Costs: As long as you don’t overdraw your account (see the fees section below), debit cards are a good way to pay for purchases without borrowing money and paying interest. You also may avoid other costs associated with credit cards, such as annual fees.

Cash Back: You can use a debit card when you make a purchase at stores or to withdraw cash from your bank’s ATM (generally at no charge). In contrast, most credit cards charge fees and interest for cash advances.

Safety: You won’t need to carry large amounts of cash that can be lost or stolen.

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