2. First Premier – The bank claims to want to offer people a second chance when it comes to their finances, but its fee structure and fine print prove the exact opposite. First Premier charges you a $95 processing fee just to apply for a credit card. Then it levies a $75 annual fee on the credit cards and most cards only come with a $300 limit. You’re paying $170 for a $300 credit line! The APR is a painful 36%. In year two the annual fee reduces to $45, but then you’re charged a monthly servicing fee of $6.25. And to top it all off, you’ll be charged a 25% fee if your credit limit is increased. Stay away from this card! Use the $170 it would take to open the card and get a secured card instead.
There’s a way to boost your credit score that doesn’t involve paying down debt or any of the other more traditional score boosting tactics. Since credit scores are determined, in part, on the difference between your credit limit and the amount of credit you use, ask for a higher credit limit. Your chances of increasing it are likely better than you think. Of those who apply for a higher credit limit, 8 out of 10 are approved, according to a recent Bankrate Money Pulse Survey. While it helps to be over 30, odds are good for all adults. To avoid having your credit diminished by asking for a higher limit, ask for the highest credit line increase that won't trigger what's called a hard inquiry. (See also: Credit Score: Hard vs. Soft Inquiry.)
Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.
You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.
But tread carefully. This a field ripe with scam artists who rebuild nothing but their own bank accounts. If you are approached with an offer of help to negotiate your debt, make sure that you receive a copy of the "Consumer Credit File Rights Under State and Federal Law" and a detailed contract for services including contact information, stated guarantees and an outline of fees and services before you provide any personal information or turn over any financially-related documents. Ask for references, do online research and keep copies of all paperwork and correspondence in case a dispute arises.
If you see missed payments that shouldn’t have been there, write it down. Your credit score is negatively impacted when you are 30 days or more past due. If you see a balance on a card that you haven’t used in years, it could be because the account has been stolen. Misinformation in the accounts section harms your credit score, so make a note of all incorrect information.
You can also receive a credit limit increase without making an additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is beneficial for people who need a higher credit limit and don’t want to (or can’t) tie up their money in a deposit. Also, this card comes with a credit resource center — which is available to everyone — and Platinum Mastercard® benefits that include travel accident insurance and price protection.
If you’re unable to pay all of your bills on time, “cushion the blow to your credit score by defaulting on just one account. There is a component in the FICO score called 'prevalence,'" says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com. "That means having five collections is worse than having one." He recommends that you “let the account with the highest monthly payment fall behind to free up more money every month to pay your other debt obligations.”
If following the steps above seems daunting, some organizations specialize in paid credit repair services. Most of the services require a monthly subscription fee between $60-$100 per month, and most reviews report that the negative items are completely removed within 3-5 months. Despite the high cost, legitimate companies provide a valuable service if you’ve been the victim of identity theft and you want someone else to do the work for you.
Some folks swear by setting automatic payments using their bank’s online bill-paying system or their creditor’s automatic-payment system. If you prefer more control, at least sign up for automatic payment alerts from your lender, via email or text. Then set up a place in your house where you always pay bills, and get an accordion file that enables you to arrange the statements by due dates. Be sure to time your payment so the check or electronic funds transfer will arrive on time.
A good idea would be to keep three to four credit card accounts open, but only use one or two of them; put away or cut up the others. Once you have paid off a card, though, keep the account open, even if you don’t want to use it anymore. Closing a card will lower your credit score, even if you always paid on time and never carried an outstanding balance. If a card's high annual fees are making it undesirable, try asking the credit card company for a downgrade to one of their free or lower-fee cards. This allows you to maintain a longer history with the company, which is important for a healthy credit score. The company will report to the credit bureau that you have a good record with them, which will increase your credit rating.
Additionally, the security deposit you used to obtain the card is used if you were to default on your payment. However, this is not the case if the balance in which you have defaulted happens to be higher than the security deposit amount. Using the security deposit means that even if you default, the card will be paid because it is secured by your funds and you will not have the account end up in collections due to nonpayment.
While the Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal CU has a slightly higher security deposit at $250, it does have one of the lowest APRs of a secured card at 13.99% Variable. This may come in handy if you find yourself carrying a balance month to month — but we strongly encourage you to pay each bill on time and in full to avoid interest charges. This card is available to everyone regardless of residence by joining the American Consumer Council for free during the application process.
Taking out a loan should be a relatively seamless process. There are a lot of lenders to choose from, so conducting research to see which financial institutions provide the best — and worst — user experience can save you a lot of headaches. Browse each bank’s website to review customer service contact options, read reviews and search social media to see what people are saying about your top choices.
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