8 Essential Rules for Surviving Financial Hardship

At some point, most people experience an unexpected crisis that shakes their financial world. It could be losing a job, receiving a huge medical bill, or having a car break down at the worst possible time. But surviving a pandemic is a situation you probably never thought you would face.

No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first.

Along with the public health toll, the COVID crisis has put millions of people out of work. For those struggling financially, here are eight critical rules to help you manage money wisely, stretch your resources, and bounce back from this unprecedented health and economic disaster.

8 rules for managing a financial hardship

Here are the details about each rule to manage a financial setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Rule #1: Accept your situation and use your resources to seek help

The key to successfully navigating a financial setback is to be realistic. If you’re in denial and don’t face money troubles head-on, you can quickly compound the damage.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions. Start talking about your challenges with people and professionals you trust, such as a money-savvy family member, financial advisor, legitimate credit counselor, or an attorney.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions.

The following financial associations have certified volunteers who can offer free help and advice:

  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
  • The Financial Planning Association
  • Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education

Rule #2: Get a bird’s eye view of your finances

To fully understand your situation, create a list of what you own and owe; this is called a net worth statement. Compiling your data in one place helps you evaluate your financial resources, make decisions more efficiently, and have essential information at your fingertips if creditors or advisors ask for it.

First, list your assets: 

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles 

Then list your liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card debt

Include the estimated values of your assets, the balances on your debts, and the interest rates you pay for each liability. You could jot down this information on paper, enter it in a computer spreadsheet, or create a report using money management software.

When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth, which is an indicator of your financial health. It’s not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth when you’re in financial trouble.

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief  

Rule #3: Understand your cash flow

An essential part of bouncing back from a financial crisis is keeping an eye on your monthly income and expenses. Create a cash flow statement that lists your expected income and typical expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, prescriptions, transportation, and insurance. Again, you can create this report manually or by using budgeting features in a financial program.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending. Making temporary sacrifices will help you recover as quickly as possible with less long-term damage to your finances.

Rule #4: Shop your essential expenses

As you review your spending, it’s an excellent time to comparison-shop your essential expenses. Evaluate your highest costs first, such as housing, vehicles, and insurance, since they offer the most significant potential savings.

For instance, you may be able to move into a less expensive home, purchase or lease a cheaper vehicle, and shop your auto insurance to find better deals. Ask your utility provider about assistance programs that offer energy-saving improvements at no charge.

Rule #5: Communicate with your creditors

If you haven’t been in contact with your creditors, start a dialog with each one immediately. You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles. Ask them for solutions, such as deferring payments for several months, setting up a reduced payment plan, or refinancing a loan to reduce your financial burden.

You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles.

Creditors are likely to ask about details regarding your financial situation, so have your net worth and cash flow statements on hand when you speak to them. Be ready to complete any required assistance applications quickly.

Rule #6: Prioritize your debts carefully

Based on guidance from creditors and finance professionals, prioritize your bills and debts carefully. Your goal should be to conserve as much cash as possible without skipping essential payments. Always pay for necessities first: food, prescription drugs, and auto insurance.

Debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized

Use your net worth statement to rank your liabilities from highest to lowest priority. For instance, debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized. Keeping up with an auto loan is a high priority if you rely on your vehicle for transportation. Federal student loans are in automatic forbearance through September 30, and the relief may get extended through 2020.

Your unsecured debts—medical bills, credit cards, and private student loans—are lower priorities. Never pay these debts ahead of rent, a mortgage, or utilities when you have a cash shortage.

Rule #7: Don’t let collectors force you to make bad decisions

Prioritizing your debts means some may be paid late or not at all. If a debt collector contacts you about a low-priority debt, such as a medical bill or credit card, don’t allow them to persuade you to pay it before your highest priority bills.

Collectors may try various aggressive tactics, such as threatening to sue you or ruin your credit. A lawsuit could take years, and a creditor is more likely to negotiate a settlement with you. Remember that a creditor or collector can’t send you to jail for civil debts.

If you are behind on bills, that fact is likely already reflected on your credit reports. By the time a collector contacts you, the damage is already done, and paying the bill won’t improve your credit in the short-term.

Rule #8: Take advantage of local and federal benefits

If your income and savings have entirely dried up, use these resources to learn more about local and federal benefits.

  • FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • MakingHomeAffordable.gov can help you find a housing counselor or see if your mortgage is backed by the federal government and qualifies for forbearance
  • Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for
  • Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid

Financial challenges can cause you and your family to experience a flood of emotions, including anger, fear, and embarrassment. As difficult as it might be to put a financial crisis into perspective, it’s critical. No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first. There are millions of people who are dealing with COVID-related financial hardships.

Face the fact that your recovery could take a while. Do everything in your power to manage your budget wisely by getting organized, seeking ways to earn more, and spending less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from creditors, seek free advice from professionals, and take advantage of every local and federal benefit possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Maximize Rewards on Everyday Spending

Woman using credit card on everyday spending

While many rewards enthusiasts focus on signing up for new credit cards to earn signup bonuses, not everyone has the time or desire to play the signup game. There is effort involved in tracking multiple cards, annual fees, and rewards programs, after all, and some people don’t want to spend their time or mental energy this way.

If you’re someone who falls into this category, you may be better off maximizing one or two cards instead of chasing rewards. Fortunately, you can earn plenty of rewards over time if you’re savvy about your card’s benefits and bonus categories.

The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. Here are some tips that can help.

Brainstorm every bill you could pay with a credit card

Because rewards cards offer points based on each dollar you spend, maximizing the amount you can spend on credit is the best way to boost your rewards haul. The smartest strategy to use here is figuring out how many of your monthly bills you can pay with a credit card.

While you may not be notified or aware, it’s possible that bills you’ve been paying with a check or debit card for years can be paid with a credit card without any fees. While your bills may vary, some expenses you should try to pay with a credit card include:

  • Rent
  • Utility bills like electric or gas
  • Health insurance
  • Cable television and internet
  • Cell phone
  • Taxes
  • Daycare
  • Auto and home insurance
  • Subscription services
  • College tuition or student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Lawn care

Keep in mind that these are just some of the bills you could be paying with credit. Depending on your situation, you could have additional, uncommon expenses to cover that could be paid with credit with ease.

Also, remember that these additional bills should be paid with credit on top of your everyday expenses like groceries, dining out, gas or bus fare, and miscellaneous spending. Every time you buy something in person or online, you should strive to pay with your rewards card if you can.

Leverage your rewards card bonus categories

It’s also important to leverage your favorite card bonus categories, whatever they may be. This is especially important if you have a few cards with different bonus categories since you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right card for bills that let you earn bonus points.

Let’s say you have a travel credit card that earns 3x points on dining and travel and another card that earns 6x points at the grocery store. In that case, you would be smart to use the travel card for dining and travel purchases and your other card when you stock up on food. While the amount of rewards you earn with individual purchases may seem nominal, using the right card for the right purchase can help you earn a lot more rewards over time.

Set up auto-pay bills to be paid with credit

Most of us have bills set up to be paid automatically, whether it’s our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, gym membership, or utility bills. Make sure each bill you have set up to be paid automatically is set up to be paid with your rewards card and not a debit card. This way, you can earn rewards points on those expenses every month.

Use shopping portals and dining clubs

Many flexible rewards programs, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty programs have shopping portals you can access to earn extra points. Major airlines like American, Delta, and United also have shopping portals that work similarly. (See also: How to Maximize Rewards Through Credit Card Shopping Portals)

Some programs like Southwest and Delta also offer dining clubs. These programs let you earn additional points or miles just for dining at participating restaurants in your area. It’s easy and it’s free to join, so you may as well earn extra miles on your spending if you’re going to dine out anyway. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Airline Dining Rewards Programs)

How much the average family can earn

If you are skeptical the average family can rack up meaningful rewards without signing up for new cards over and over again, look at how this might work in real life. For example, imagine a family of four with two rewards card-toting adults. Across the two of them, they have:

  • A cash back card that earns 2% back
     
  • A travel credit card that earns 3% on dining and travel
     
  • A rewards card that earns 6% cash back at the grocery store on up to $6,000 in spending each year

To figure out how much this family might earn, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics spending averages from 2017. Here’s a rundown of that data for the year plus how much a family could earn in rewards over 12 months based on average expenses:

  • Food at home ($4,363): $261.78 in rewards at 6%
     
  • Food away from home ($3,365): $100.95 at 3%
     
  • Utilities, fuels, and public services ($3,836): $76.72 at 2%
     
  • Household operations ($1,412): $28.24 at 2%
     
  • Household supplies ($755): $45.30 at 6%
     
  • Household furnishings and equipment ($1,987): $39.74 at 2%
     
  • Apparel and services ($1,833): $36.66 at 2%
     
  • Gasoline and motor oil ($1,968): $39.36 at 2%
     
  • Other vehicle expenses ($2,842): $56.84 at 2%
     
  • Healthcare ($4,928): $98.56 at 2%
     
  • Entertainment ($3,203): $64.06 at 2%
     
  • Personal care products ($762): $45.72 at 6%
     
  • Education ($1,491): $29.82 at 2%

Total rewards: $923.75

While $900+ is a lot to earn in rewards within a year, you have the potential to earn a lot more. After all, these are just some of the expenses the average family faces and not all of them. If you could pay some additional big bills with credit each month like daycare or your rent, you could significantly add to your bottom line.

What to watch out for

While maximizing rewards cards is a smart idea if you’re using them already anyway, there are always pitfalls to be aware of when you’re using a credit card. Here’s what to watch out for during your quest for more cash back and travel rewards.

Fees for using credit

While there are many bills you can pay with credit without a fee, some vendors, merchants, and service providers charge a fee to use a credit card as payment. Fees are especially prevalent on bills such as utilities, cable or internet, rent, and insurance. Make sure to verify you aren’t being charged a fee to use credit before you proceed.

Annual fees

Don’t forget that some rewards cards charge annual fees. These fees may be worth it depending on your spending and rewards haul, but you should always factor them into the equation to make sure each fee is worth paying. If you’re against paying annual fees, look for rewards cards that don’t charge one.

Budgeting mishaps

Using a credit card for all your expenses may simplify your financial life, but it could also cause your budget to fall out of whack. Make sure you’re only spending on purchases you planned to make anyway, and that you’re tracking your spending and paying off your credit cards regularly.

Debt

Never use credit cards for purchases you can’t afford to repay if you’re pursuing rewards. The interest you’ll pay will always be much more than the rewards you earn. If you’re worried using credit will cause you to rack up debt you can’t afford to repay, you’re better off sticking to cash or debit instead.

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Want to maximise your credit card rewards? The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. We’ve got the ultimate tips and tricks to help you save money and earn more rewards! | #creditcards #rewardsprogram #creditcardrewards


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7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

The post 7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties?

This week’s Mint audit helps out a couple, Pasquale, 46, and Jillian, 39, who are starting a new life together after each experiencing divorce. Both work in software sales earning roughly the same income. When combined, their earnings average $450,000 a year.

The New Jersey couple shares a new mortgage and a savings account. They recently purchased a home together and pool a fraction of their incomes together into a joint account to pay for shared expenses such as the home loan, property taxes and utilities.

Pasquale and Jillian also arrived at the relationship owning their own properties. Pasquale has held onto his townhome in a nearby town that he bought after his divorce. He rents it out, earning a nice $500 monthly profit. Jillian also has a home in Florida, which she rents out. She more or less breaks even every month.

They would like advice related to managing their rental properties (should they sell them?), possibly buying a vacation home in the $250,000 to $350,000 range and, for Pasquale, saving up to help send his two daughters (ages 13 and 17) to college. They’re also wondering if they’re saving “enough” for retirement.

They had lots of good questions, and after an hour on the phone and a review of their finances, I was able to fit together some of their puzzle pieces.

First, here’s a break down of some their finances:

Retirement Savings

  • Pasquale: Contributes 5% to 401(k) and has about $500,000 in it. He also invests 15% in company’s ESPP (Employee Stock Purchase Plan)
  • Jillian: Contributes 5% to a 401(k) plus employer’s match, totaling 10%. She has about $200,000 saved. She also invests 11% in her company’s ESPP.
  • If they were to both cash out their ESPPs today, they’d have about $250,000 in gains, which are subject to income tax.

Child Support Payments

  • Pasquale: $4,000 per month

Debt (Credit Cards and Student Loans)

  • Pasquale: $18,000 in student loans
  • Jillian: $40,000 in student loans

Real Estate Holdings

  • Each of their individual properties has about $80,000 in equity.

 

Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Max Out the 401(k)s

The couple is doing fairly well with their retirement savings, but I think they are too exposed to their ESPPs. They contribute more to their ESPPs than their 401(k)s, which is very risky, considering an ESPP puts all your money in a single stock. A 401(k) is far more diversified.

They may benefit from reallocating some of those dollars back into their company 401(k). In doing so, I recommend they both aim to max out their 401(k)s, which also means a bigger tax deduction. This year’s maximum contribution is $18,500.

Transfer Some ESPP Earnings to College Savings

Every six months, each receives the chance to cash out some or all of the money in their ESPP. I recommend striking at the next opportunity to reduce their exposure to a market downfall and help pay for future college expenses. Taking 20 or 30 percent off the table and placing the dollars into a safer haven like a CD creates less risk.

For Pasquale, specifically, I’d look into selling some of his shares at the next opportunity and placing it into a plain vanilla savings account to cover at least the first two years of his daughter’s education. His daughter will choose a school soon and expects to receive some grants and scholarships to reduce the cost. At that point Pasquale can better estimate how much to withdraw from the stock plan.

For his youngest daughter, it’s not too late for Pasquale to open a 529-college savings account. That money can later be used for higher education costs without being subject to taxes. Investing $500 a month in a 529 starting today could help to afford at least the first year or two of school, depending on where she lands. Pasquale may even consider using some of the ESPP gains to fund the new 529 for daughter #2, if his eldest doesn’t need it.

Sell Rentals to Purchase a New Second Home

How emotionally tied are they to their individual properties? Pasquale said he could take it or leave it. The $500 cash flow is nice, but he’s open to selling it. Jillian, however, would be sad to part ways with the Florida home. While its rental income is just enough to cover the carrying costs, she likes the idea of keeping it. She’s always wanted to have a house by the water.

But I propose a scenario: What if they sold both rental properties and pooled the equity ($160,000) to afford a new second home that they’d both own? They’re eyeing a cabin near the Poconos in Pennsylvania. The estimated cost for a home that suits them is between $250,000 and $300,000. A 50% down payment on a $300,000 home would mean that their monthly mortgage would be roughly $700 per month, given today’s average interest rate of about 4.50% (or possibly higher for second homes.)

From selling the two properties they achieve their goal of affording a second home. Located in a popular resort area, they can also rent it out from time to time for more than $700 a week. Renting the place for just 8 or 10 weeks out of the year would probably cover the annual mortgage.

From there, any extra cash flow could be used to save more for retirement, travel, college, or whatever they wish.

 

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Negotiate Your Medical Debt

Let’s face it: The worst thing about having to go to the hospital to receive medical treatment is being slammed with a huge bill afterwards. Sometimes, these medical bills are so expensive that you simply don’t have the means to pull it off right away, especially without health insurance. While we may find it easier in the short term to pretend that our unpaid medical bills don’t exist, avoiding the problem could only make it worse. Many medical providers are aware of this, which is why there are ways that you can negotiate your medical debt when you are unable to pay in full. In this article, we will discuss the different ways you can go about taking care of those medical expenses so that they don’t stack up later and wreak havoc on your credit.

Negotiate for insurance rates

Without health insurance, you’ll most likely be charged a much steeper price. If you want to negotiate your medical bills, one thing you can do is research what the fair market value is for whatever treatments you received. Usually, this is the price that insurance companies have to pay medical providers, and most of the time, it’s a lot cheaper.

Once you’ve found the dollar amount you’d like to ask for, you will need to get in touch with the billing department. If the person on the phone turns you down, ask to speak to their supervisor. It’s important to remain calm and polite while doing this but be persistent. Continue to ask to speak to a higher ranking individual until you reach someone who agrees to make a deal with you.

Pay it in cash

Cash payments are hard to turn down in most cases. if you want to negotiate a lower price on medical bills, you can offer to make a cash payment. Call your medical provider or the billing department and ask them if they would be willing to knock down the price of your bills if you were to pay in cash. Explain to them that if they can’t offer you any other sort of financial assistance, then this is another route you can take.

Not only will this save them money on credit card fees and hours worked by office employees, but it will also save time spent on processing paperwork. This is a smart offer to make, as instant cash payments as opposed to electronic payments are a lot harder to say no to for any business or institution.

Ask for a payment plan

There’s a good chance that even after you’ve asked for a lower price and offered to pay in cash, your medical provider will be unwilling to give you a deal. When this happens, there is still one more thing you can try. Before readily handing over your credit card, ask them if you can make payments on your bill. Most companies will allow you to do this and are used to working with people who are unable to pay their bills in full. Be honest about how much you are able to pay at a time.

It’s likely that they will try to negotiate a higher payment amount, but politely tell them that it’s not feasible for you. Most of the time, they will be understanding and take whatever payment they can get. If you’re struggling financially, making small payments on your medical bills is the best way to go to keep your credit score in tact. As long as you are making payments on your bills, the companies will not report you to the credit bureaus.

Take precautionary measures

A lot of medical providers and medical facilities have programs that offer financial assistance, but you are going to have to ask them for it. Be transparent at the time of or even before your medical treatment occurs. If the treatment you are seeking is not a medical emergency, ask ahead of time if there is a cheaper option or if you can get a discount. If you don’t have health insurance, this needs to be explained as early on as possible. Let your doctor know if you are living off of low income or if you are in the midst of some other type of financial hardship that is keeping you from being able to pay for service.

If you are successful in negotiating your medical bills, you might want to get it in writing so that you have proof. In some cases, you may even want to make your request in writing so that you have it on record in case anything goes wrong later. Once a deal has been agreed upon by both you and the medical provider or billing department, type up a summary of the conversation including key details of who you spoke to and the prices that were negotiated.

Other options for paying bills

There is no one-size-fits-all way of clearing your medical bills once and for all.  Some people have insurance, some can afford to pay in full, and some are going to have to negotiate a lower price. If you have already tried negotiating medical bills and were unsuccessful, there are other options to explore. Here are some other ways you can go about paying your medical bills:

  • Medical credit cards: There’s no guarantee that your medical provider will accept a payment plan. However, most of the time, they will accept payment with the use of a medical credit card. If you have no other choice, ask your doctor’s office about how you can apply for a medical credit card. Usually, you are able to apply at the office right then and there. Most medical credit cards offer zero interest for up to 12 months. If you can manage to pay off the medical debt within that timeframe, then perhaps a medical credit card is a good choice for you. Be wary of this if you already have poor credit.
  • Personal loan: If you’ve already been through all of your other options and were unable to make something work, it might be time to look at taking out a type of unsecured credit, such as a personal loan. If you have a significant amount of medical debt looming over your head, this might be a good idea as you can usually take out anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000. Once again, if you don’t have a good history with using credit, seriously consider the pros and cons of doing this.
  • Interest free credit card: If you don’t end up qualifying for a payment plan or a medical credit card, you can use a 0% interest credit card to pay the tab as long as you have good or outstanding credit.
  • Hire a medical bill advocate: If you feel overwhelmed by the task of reading through your medical bills and looking for errors, you can hire a professional to do it for you. Medical bill advocates are familiar with common procedures and the prices of treatments. If you have been wrongfully charged or overcharged, a medical bill advocate will be able to find this right away. Aside from pinpointing any errors, experts in medical bills will also do the negotiating for you.

Final Thoughts

If you are feeling overwhelmed by a large medical bill, remember that you have several options for taking care of it. It might be tempting to ignore the bill altogether but doing this could really damage your credit. Being honest with your medical provider from the beginning can prevent you from having to deal with extra costs. However, sometimes medical bills are ineveitable and we have to pay them. Consider payment plans or a medical credit card, but whatever you do, don’t let your unpaid medical bills be a show stopper!

How to Negotiate Your Medical Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Build Credit with Fingerhut

If you’ve been wanting to make a big purchase, but your credit is less than spectacular, you might have looked into Fingerhut as an option. 

Fingerhut is an online catalog and retailer that showcases a multitude of products. On this website, customers can shop for anything from electronics to home décor to auto parts. Fingerhut offers financing through their own line of credit, making it appealing to shoppers with poor credit or a nonexistent credit history. Many consumers have a better chance of getting approved by Fingerhut, than they might have of getting approved through most other credit card companies. It’s an option worth looking into if you want to improve your credit score through credit utilization.  

The major difference between Fingerhut and credit cards that cater to low credit scores is that Fingerhut credit is exclusively available for use with its own company’s products and authorized partners. You’ll also find that the company’s products are pricier than they would be through most other retailers, while also bearing the weight of higher interest rates. While it might seem like a good idea if you don’t have good credit, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the company beforehand so that you know what you’re signing up for. 

How Fingerhut credit works

When you apply for a Fingerhut credit account, you can get approved by one of two accounts:

  • WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account.
  • Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank.

As it happens, by submitting your application, you are applying for both credit accounts. Applicants will be considered for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank as a direct result of being denied for the WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account. In other words, you won’t have a way of knowing which one you will be approved for prior to applying. Both credit accounts are issued by WebBank and are set up so that customers can purchase merchandise by paying for them on an installment plan with a 29.99% Annual Percentage Rate (APR). These are the only things that the different Fingerhut credit accounts have in common.

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account works very much like an unsecured credit card, except that it’s an account that you can only use it to shop on Fingerhut or through its authorized partners. 

This credit account features:

  •  No annual fee.
  • A 29.99% interest rate.
  • A $38 fee on late or returned payments.
  • A possible down payment; it may or may not be required. You won’t know prior to applying. 

If you get denied for this line of credit, your application will automatically be reviewed for the Fingerhut FreshStart Credit Account issued by WebBank, which is both structured and conditioned differently.

Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank

If you get approved for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan, you must follow these three steps to activate it:

  • Make a one-time purchase of no less than $50.
  • Put a minimum payment of $30 down on your purchase, and your order will be shipped to you upon receipt of your payment. You may not use a credit card to make down payments, but you can use a debit card, check, or a money order. 
  • Make monthly payments on your balance within a span of six to eight months.

You can become eligible to upgrade to the Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account so long as you are able to pay off your balance during that time frame or sooner without having made any late payments. Keep in mind that paying for the entire balance in full at the time you make your down payment will result in you not qualifying for the loan as well as being ineligible for upgrade. 

How a Fingerhut credit account helps raise your credit score

The fact that it can help you improve your credit is one of the biggest advantages of using a Fingerhut credit account. 

When you make your payments to Fingerhut in full and on-time, the company will report that activity to the three major credit bureaus. This means that your good credit utilization won’t go unnoticed nor unrewarded. If you use Fingerhut to improve your credit score, you will eventually be able to apply for a credit card through a traditional credit card company—one where you can make purchases anywhere, not just at Fingerhut. 

Additional benefits of a Fingerhut credit account

Besides using it as a tool to repair your bad credit, there are a few other benefits to using a WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account such as:

  • No annual fee.
  • Fingerhut has partnerships with a handful of other retailers, which means you can use your Fingerhut credit line to make purchases through a variety of companies. Fingerhut is partnered with companies that specialize in everything from floral arrangements to insurance plans.
  • There are no penalties on the WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account when you pay off your balance early.

How to build credit with Fingerhut

Fingerhut credit works the same way as the loans from credit card companies work: in the form of a revolving loan. 

A revolving loan is when you are designated a maximum credit limit by your lender, in which you are allowed to spend. Whatever you spend, you are expected to pay back in full and on-time through a series of monthly payments. This act of borrowing money and paying off bills using your Fingerhut account causes your balances to revolve and fluctuate, hence, its name. 

Your credit activity, good or bad, gets reported to the three major credit bureaus and in turn, will have an effect on your credit report. Revolving loans play a large role in your credit score, affecting approximately 30% of your score through your credit utilization ratio. If your credit utilization ratio, the amount of available revolving credit divided by your amount owed, is too high then your credit score will plummet. 

When using a Fingerhut account, the goal is to try to keep your amounts owed as low as you possibly can so that you can maintain a low utilization ratio, and as a result, have a higher credit score.

Alternatives to Fingerhut

If you’ve done all your research and decided that Fingerhut isn’t the right choice for you, there are other options that might serve you better, even if you have bad credit. There are a variety of secured credit cards that you can apply for such as:

  • The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card: You will need a $200 security deposit to qualify for this secured credit card, but you can most likely get approved without a credit check or even a bank account. It can also be used to improve your credit, as this card does report to the three major credit bureaus. While this card does come with an annual $35 fee, you can use it to shop anywhere that will accept a Visa. 
  • Discover it Secured:  For all those opposed to paying an annual fee of any sort, this card might just be the one for you. With a $0 annual fee and the ability to earn rewards through purchases, there’s not much to frown about with this secured credit card. One of the best perks, is that it allows you the chance to upgrade to an unsecured card after only eight months. 
  • Deserve Pro Mastercard: This card is a desirable option for those with a short credit history. There is no annual fee and no security deposit required and, if your credit history isn’t very long-winded, that’s okay. The issuers for this card may use their own process to decide whether or not you qualify for credit, by evaluating other factors such as income and employment. This card is especially nifty because you can get cash-back rewards such as 3% back on every dollar that you spend on travel and entertainment, 2% back on every dollar spent at restaurants, and 1% cash back on every dollar spent on anything else. 

Final Thoughts 

Fingerhut is an option worth looking into for those with bad credit or a short credit history. If you want to use a Fingerhunt credit account to improve your credit score, be sure to use it wisely and make all of your payments on time, just as you would with any other credit card.

Even though it might be easy to get approved, the prices and interest rates on items sold through Fingerhut are set higher than they would be at most other retailers, so it’s important to consider this before applying. 

There are a ton of options available, regardless of what your credit report looks like, if you are trying to improve your credit. If the prices of Fingerhut’s merchandise are enough to scare you away, you might want to consider applying for a secured credit card. 

How to Build Credit with Fingerhut is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What is Credit Card Churning? Dangers and Benefits

Credit card issuers have consumers right where they want them, lending money at high-interest rates and earning money from many different fees. Even reward cards benefit the issuers, because all the additional perks and rewards they provide are covered by the increased merchant fees, which essentially means the credit card company offers you extra money to incentivize you to spend, and then demands this money from the retailers.

It’s a good gig, but some consumers believe they can beat the credit card companies and one of the ways they do this is via something known as credit card churning.

What is Credit Card Churning?

Many reward cards offer sign-up bonuses to entice consumers to apply. Not only can you get regular cash back, statement credit, and air miles, but you’ll often get a reward just for signing up. For instance, many rewards credit cards offer a lump sum payment to all consumers who spend a specific sum of money during the first three months.

Credit card churning is about taking advantage of these bonuses, and getting maximum benefits with as little cost as possible.

“Churners” will sign up for multiple different reward cards in a short space of time, collect as many of these bonuses as they can, clear the card balance, and then reap the rewards.

Does Credit Card Churning Work?

Credit card churning does work, to an extent. Reward credit cards typically don’t require you to spend that much money to receive the sign up bonus, with most bonuses activated for a spend of just $500 to $1,000 over those first three months. This is easily achievable for most credit card users, as the average spend for reward cards is over $800 a month.

If you have good credit, it’s possible to sign up to multiple credit cards, collect bonus offers without increasing your usual spend, and get everything from hotel stays to free flights, cash back, gift cards, statement credit, and more.

However, it’s something that many credit card companies are trying to stop, as they don’t benefit from users who collect sign-up bonuses, don’t accumulate debt, and then pay off their balance in full. As a result, you may face restrictions with regards to how many bonuses you can collect within a specified timeframe. 

What’s more, there are several things that can go wrong when you’re playing with multiple new accounts like this, as all information is sent to the credit bureaus and could leave a significant mark on your credit report.

Dangers of Churning

Even if the credit card companies don’t prevent you from acquiring multiple new credit cards, there are several issues you could face, ones that will offset any benefits achieved from those generous sign-up bonuses, including:

1. You Could be Hit with Hefty Fees

Many reward credit cards have annual fees, and these average around $95 each, with some premium rewards cards going as high as $250 and even $500. At best, these fees will reduce the amount of money you receive, at worst they will completely offset all the benefits and leave you with a negative balance.

Annual fees aren’t the only fees that will reduce your profits. You may also be charged fees every time you withdraw cash, gamble, make a foreign transaction or miss a payment,

2. Your Credit Score Will Drop

Every time you apply for a new credit card, you will receive a hard inquiry, which will show on your credit report and reduce your FICO score by anywhere from 2 to 5 points. Rate shopping, which bundles multiple inquiries into one, doesn’t apply to credit card applications, so credit card churners tend to receive many hard inquiries.

A new account can also reduce your credit score. 15% of your score is based on the length of your accounts while 10% is based on how many new accounts you have. As soon as that credit card account opens, your average age will drop, you’ll have another new account, and your credit score will suffer as a result.

The damage done by a new credit card isn’t as severe as you might think, but if you keep applying and adding those new accounts, the score reduction will be noticeable. You could go from Excellent Credit to Good Credit, or from Good to Fair, and that makes a massive difference if you have a home loan or auto loan application on the horizon.

Your credit utilization ratio also plays a role here. This ratio is calculated by comparing your total debt to your available credit. If you have a debt of $3,000 spread across three credit cards with a total credit limit of $6,000, your credit utilization ratio is 50%. The higher this score is, the more of an impact it will have on your credit score, and this is key, as credit utilization accounts for a whopping 30% of your score.

Your credit utilization ratio is actually one of the reasons your credit score doesn’t take that big of a hit when you open new cards, because you’re adding a new credit limit that has yet to accumulate debt, which means this ratio grows. However, if you max that card out, this ratio will take a hit, and if you then clear the debt and close it, all those initial benefits will disappear.

You can keep the card active, of course, but this is not recommended if you’re churning.

3. You’re at Risk of Accumulating Credit Card Debt

Every new card you open and every time your credit limit grows, you run the risk of falling into a cycle of persistent debt. This is especially true where credit card rewards are concerned, as consumers spend much more on these cards than they do on non-reward credit cards.

Very few consumers accumulate credit card debt out of choice. It’s not like a loan—it’s not something they acquire because they want to make a big purchase they can’t afford. In most cases, the debt creeps up steadily. They pay it off in full every month, only to hit a rough patch. Once that happens, they miss a month and promise themselves they’ll cover everything the next month, only for it to grow bigger and bigger.

Before they realize it, they have a mass of credit card debt and are stuck paying little more than the minimum every month. 

If you start using a credit card just to accumulate rewards and you have several on the go, it’s very easy to get stuck in this cycle, at which point you’ll start paying interest and it will likely cost you more than the rewards earn you.

4. It’s Hard to Keep Track

Opening one credit card after another isn’t too difficult, providing you clear the balances in full and then close the card. However, if you’re opening several cards at once then you may lose track, in which case you could forget about balances, fees, and interest charges, and miss your chance to collect airline miles cash back, and other rewards.

How to Credit Churn Effectively

To credit churn effectively, look for the best rewards and most generous credit card offers, making sure they:

  • Suit Your Needs: A travel rewards card is useless if you don’t travel; a store card is no good if you don’t shop at that store. Look for rewards programs that benefit you personally, as opposed to simply focusing on the ones with the highest rates of return.
  • Avoid Annual Fees: An annual fee can undo all your hard work and should, therefore, be avoided. Many cards have a $0 annual fee, others charge $95 but waive the fee for the first year. Both of these are good options for credit card churning.
  • Don’t Accumulate Fees: Understand how and why you might be charged cash advance fees and foreign transaction fees and avoid them at all costs. The fees are not as straightforward as you might think and are charged for multiple purchases.
  • Plan Ahead: Make a note of the bonus offer and terms, plan ahead, and make sure you meet these terms by the due dates and that you cover the balance in full before interest has a chance to accumulate.
  • Don’t Spend for the Sake of It: Finally, and most importantly, don’t spend money just to accumulate more rewards. As soon as you start increasing your spending just to earn a few extra bucks, you’ve lost. If you spend an average of $500 a month, don’t sign up for a card that requires you to spend $3,000 in the first three months, as it will encourage bad habits. 

What Should You do if it Goes Wrong?

There are many ways that credit card churning could go wrong, some more serious than others. Fortunately, there are solutions to all these problems, even for cardholders who are completely new to this technique:

Spending Requirements Aren’t Met 

If you fail to meet the requirements of the bonus, all is not lost. Your score has taken a minor hit, but providing you followed the guidelines above, you shouldn’t have lost any money.

You now have two options: You can either clear the balance as normal and move onto your next card, taking what you have learned and trying again, or you can keep the card as a back-up or a long-term option. 

Credit card churning requires you to cycle through multiple issuers and rewards programs, never sticking with a single card for more than a few months. But you need some stability as well, so if you don’t already have a credit card to use as a backup, and if that card doesn’t charge high fees or rates, keep it and use it for emergency purchases or general use.

Creditor Refuses the Application

Creditors can refuse an application for a number of reasons. If this isn’t your first experience of churning, there’s a chance they know what you’re doing and are concerned about how the card will be used. However, this is rare, and in most cases, you’ll be refused because your credit score is too low.

Many reward credit cards have a minimum FICO score requirement of 670, others, including premium American Express cards, require scores above 700. You can find more details about credit score requirements in the fine print of all credit card offers.

Your Credit Score Takes a Hit

As discussed already, credit card churning can reduce your credit score by a handful of points and the higher your score is, the more points you are likely to lose. Fortunately, all of this is reversible.

Firstly, try not to panic and focus on the bigger picture. While new accounts and credit length account for 25% of your total score, payment history and credit utilization account for 65%, so if you keep making payments on your accounts and don’t accumulate too much credit card debt, your score will stabilize.

You Accumulate Too Much Debt

Credit card debt is really the only lasting and serious issue that can result from credit card churning. You’ll still earn benefits on a rolling balance, but your interest charges and fees will typically cost you much more than the benefits provide, and this is true even for the best credit cards and the most generous reward programs.

If this happens, it’s time to put credit card churning on the back-burner and focus on clearing your debts instead. Sign up for a balance transfer credit card and move your debt to a card that has a 0% APR for at least 15 months. This will give you time to assess your situation, take control of your credit history, and start chipping away at that debt.

What is Credit Card Churning? Dangers and Benefits is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Chase IHG Premier 140,000 Points + $50 Signup Bonus With $3,000 Spend, AF Waived (Ends 1/13/21)

Update 12/9/20: Deal is due to end on 1/13/2021 according to people with affiliate links. Make sure to apply through a link with the $50 bonus.

Update 10/1/20: Doing a dummy booking gets you 140,000 points + $50 statement credit with the AF waived. Somebody in the comments reported seeing a $150 statement credit, but I can’t get that to show at all. Updated the direct link.

Update 9/30/20: New direct link available, no longer needed to apply in app (wasn’t showing for everybody anyway). This time the annual fee is waived, making the deal the best ever.

The Offer

Direct link to offer

  • Chase IHG Premier card is offering a signup bonus of 140,000 points after $3,000 in spend within the first three months.

 

 

Card Details

  • Annual fee of $89 waived first year
  • Card earns at the following rates:
    • 25x points per $1 spent on IHG properties (10x from the card + 15x from status and club membership)
    • 2x points per $1 spent on gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
    • 1x points per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Free night certificate on card anniversary, this is limited to properties that cost 40,000 or fewer points
  • Automatic Platinum elite status
  • Fourth Reward Night Free on any stay of 4 or more nights
  • 20% discount when purchasing points
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • 10,000 bonus points when you spend $20,000 or more and make one additional purchase each account anniversary year
  • This product is not available to either (i) current cardmembers of this credit card, or (ii) previous cardmembers of this credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months. If you have the old IHG card, you’re still eligible to get this bonus/card.
  • Chase 5/24 rule applies to this card

Our Verdict

Best offer we’ve ever seen was 125,000 plus $50 statement credit, this one doesn’t have the $50, but comes with 15,000 more points. If IHG interests you and you are eligible, this one is worth signing up for. We’ll add this to our best credit card bonus page.

If you recently signed up with the targeted 125,000 points offer, you should be able to message Chase and have this 140k offer matched. As always read these things everybody should know about Chase credit cards before applying.

Thanks to all those who sent this in.

Post history:

  • Update 9/17/20: Deal is now publicly 125,000 points. But there is a 140,000 point offer showing up in app for some. Hat tip to Kyle
  • Offer was supposed to end at end of March, but is still alive and well. Hat tip to VFTW

Source: doctorofcredit.com

Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails

[UPDATE: Offer(s) below is no longer available through our site. Please visit our credit card marketplace for current offers.DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

If you prefer traveling by train, you’re already familiar with the advantages of riding the rails. You can avoid the hassles of airports and highways, travel in comfort, and take in the scenery as you go.

Many travel credit cards are singularly focused on flights and hotels. But some offer rewards that are just as valuable for train travelers.

Here are four travel credit cards for riding the rails.

1. Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard

Rewards: Three points per dollar on Amtrak purchases; two points per dollar on eligible travel purchases; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $79
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 16.49% to 24.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: This card is designed for regular Amtrak riders.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn triple points on all Amtrak purchases, double points on qualifying travel purchases, and single points on every other purchase. Points can be redeemed for car rentals, hotels, gift cards, and more. But when you redeem for Amtrak travel, you’ll earn a 5% rebate on points. You’ll also receive a free Amtrak companion pass with a yearly renewal once you open your account.
Drawbacks: If you don’t ride Amtrak, this card isn’t for you.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Rewards: Two points per dollar on dining and travel; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Annual Fee:
$95
APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable .
Why We Picked It: All travel purchases earn points that are redeemable for future trips.
For Rail Travel: Your travel purchases, including train tickets and public transportation, will earn double points. There are many redemption options, but you’ll get an extra 25% in value when redeeming points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Drawbacks: There is an annual fee. 

3. Citi ThankYou Premier

Rewards: Three points per dollar on travel; two points per dollar on dining and entertainment; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95.
APR: 
17.49 t 25.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: With triple points on travel, you can rack up rewards quickly.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn three points per dollar on travel, including passenger and commuter railways. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, merchandise, and more.
Drawbacks: There is no sign-up bonus. 

How to Choose a Card for Rail Travel

If you primarily travel by train, you’ll want a card that offers great rewards rates for those expenses. With the exception of Amtrak’s travel credit card, there aren’t many cards on the market that single out trains. However, many cards do count rail travel as part of their overall travel category.

For any card you’re considering, verify that train fare will earn travel rewards and that rail travel is a valid redemption option.

What Credit Is Required for Train Travel Rewards Credit Cards?

The best travel credit cards may require good or excellent credit. Make sure you meet the credit requirements of a card before you submit an application. You can check your credit report card for free at Credit.com.

Image: istock

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

The post Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com