If you are considering using a debt relief or debt consolidation company, arm yourself with information. For a fee, they negotiate with your creditors on your behalf, resulting in lower balances or interest rates. Legitimate debt relief companies will obtain a written agreement from each one of your creditors, detailing the terms of the agreement, your obligations, and what will be reported to the credit bureaus. In some cases, if your balances are lowered the creditor might report bad debt or a charge-off, which will negatively impact your credit history and score. Also keep in mind that debt relief companies generally charge higher interest rates than your bank or mortgage lender, particularly if you have less than stellar credit. So you might not save much in the long run, especially once you factor in fees. It’s up to you to do the math.
Credit scoring companies analyze consumer credit reports. They glean data from the reports and create algorithms that determine consumer borrowing risk. A credit score is a number that represents the risk profile of a borrower. Credit scores influence a bank’s decisions to lend money to consumers. People with high credit scores will find the most attractive borrowing rates because that signals to lenders that they are less risky. Those with low credit scores will struggle to find credit at all.
Remember, there are lots of reasons why your credit may be in rough shape. Most are related to your spending habits. So, for instance, if you missed a few payments or your debt levels are too high (think over 30% of your total available credit limits), disputing errors won’t help your case — you’ll have to make some changes to improve your credit scores. And you may have to wait a bit to see an uptick.
Your goal with a balance transfer should be to get out of debt. If you start spending on the credit card, there is a real risk that you will end up in more debt. Additionally, you could end up being charged interest on your purchase balances. If your credit card has a 0% balance transfer rate but does not have a 0% promotional rate on purchases, you would end up being charged interest on your purchases right away, until your entire balance (including the balance transfer) is paid in full. In other words, you lose the grace period on your purchases so long as you have a balance transfer in place.
Getting a bump in credit limit on one of your existing cards has a similar effect as getting a new credit card on your credit utilization but is even quicker and easier. Another plus: While you may not get as much of a credit limit increase as with a new card, your credit score will also not suffer the new credit card ding and will benefit from the age of the existing account.
Some lenders might be open to renegotiating terms with you to reduce interest rates, create payment plans that get you caught up, remove fees and maybe even forgive portions of balances. Just remember that if this happens, you may have tax consequences since forgiven and canceled debts may be taxable. Additionally, according to Albaugh, sometimes settling with creditors on your own requires a lump-sum payment, whereas bankruptcy allows for installment payments on a lowered amount.
With a balance transfer, you move your existing credit card debts onto a new card. Depending on your credit score, you may be able to qualify for a balance transfer card that doesn't charge any interest for an introductory period that can be up to a year or more. Yep—zero interest. The average credit card interest rate these days is nearly 13%. Having a year or more where you're charged little to no interest gives you the opportunity to use every available dollar to pay down the balance.
You're also entitled to a free credit report if you've been turned down for credit because of something on your credit report, if you're currently receiving government assistance, if you're unemployed and planning to look for a job soon, or if you think you've been a victim of credit card fraud or identity theft. Some states even have laws that let you get an additional free credit report each year. All these free credit reports should be ordered directly through the credit bureaus.
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The Discover it® Student Cash Back is our top pick for a student card since it has a wide range of benefits. There is a cashback program where you can earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum each time you activate, plus 1% unlimited cash back automatically on all other purchases. Plus, new cardmembers can benefit from Discover automatically matching all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. Another unique perk is the good Grades Reward: Receive a $20 statement credit each school year that your GPA is 3.0 or higher, for up to five consecutive years.
Cons: You lower your retirement savings, and you may have to pay income taxes and an early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than 59 ½. Also, you can usually only borrow up to 50 percent of your account balance (up to $50,000), and you must pay back the money within five years unless you’re using it to buy a home that will be your principal residence.
To see any major or fast credit repair, try to balance your credit utilization. In the credit industry, there is something known as the sweet spot, which we covered above. The goal with this tip is to get your credit utilization into this category, or 25%-45%. So, we highly suggest creating a game plan by setting aside all your debt and categorizing in terms of priorities. Ask yourself the following questions:
Next, estimate your monthly spending habits for other expenses such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Create a limit, based on your income, of what you can spend in each of the different categories of expenses. For example, if you tend to spend $400 a month on groceries, try to stick to $300 a month on groceries by making changes like buying generic brands, using coupons, and resisting impulse purchases.