How Long Does It Take To Buy A House?

How long does it take to buy a house? The answer is: it depends. You can buy a house in a matter of weeks or it can take you anywhere from 4 to 6 months. The question is how ready are you? It can take a long time, and that’s just learning about various mortgage options or improving your credit score.

So understanding the various factors involved in buying a house can give you an estimate of how long it will take you to buy the house

Check out now: 5 Signs You Are Not Ready To Buy A House

How long does it take to buy a house? A step-by-step guide.

It can take a homebuyer a few weeks to several months to complete the home buying process. But when determining how long it will take you to buy a house, you first have to find out if you will be pre-approved for a mortgage. There is no sense of shopping for a house to then realize you can’t afford it.

If you are interested in comparing the best mortgage rates through LendingTree click here. It’s completely free.

I. How long does it take to get a pre-approved mortgage letter in order to buy a house?

If you’re serious about buying a house, it’s important to get pre-approved for a mortgage. So when it’s time to make an offer, the seller will know you’re serious. If you don’t have one handy, the seller will likely move to the next buyer.

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage in order to buy a house can take longer. That is because you have to make sure your financial situation is in shape. For example, your income-to-debt ratio, your down payment, and your credit score must be good. That’s exactly what a mortgage lender will look at.

Even when these things are in order, shopping and comparing mortgage rates and fees can take several weeks.

Let’s take a look on how long it will take you to get these things in shape before buying a house.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE.

A. How good is your credit score?

A low credit score can make buying a house take longer, because it can take months to a year to improve a bad credit score.

A conventional loan will usually require a 640+ credit score.

In fact, your credit score is the number 1 item mortgage lenders look at to decide whether to offer you a mortgage. And if it is not where it’s supposed to be, you might get rejected.

Luckily for you there are other ways to get a loan with much lower credit score: FHA loans.

FHA loans only require a credit score of 580 with 3.5% down payment. You may get qualified with a 500 credit score, but you’ll have to come with a 10% down payment.

So before you get into the fun part of shopping for a mortgage or visiting homes, it’s best to know what your credit score is and take steps to improve it.

You can get a free credit score at Credit Sesame.

B. Fix errors on your credit report.

Fixing errors on your credit report in order to get pre-approved for a loan in order to buy a house can take 30 days.

According to Transunion, “most investigations are completed within 2 weeks, but some may take up 30 days.”

Again, we recommend you get a free credit report at Credit Sesame. A credit report will give you a detail analysis of your credit history, how much debt you owe, and how creditworthy you are, etc. If there are any errors or inaccuracies, fix them immediately so there’s no surprise when you’re actually applying for a mortgage.

The best way to do that is by filing a Transunion dispute or Equifax dispute.

C. Do you have a down payment for the house?

How long it will take you to buy a house will also depend on whether or not you already have money saved up for a down payment.

Unless you’re going to buy the house with outright cash, you’ll need a down payment. And saving for a down payment can take a long time. Depending on your income and expenses, saving for a down payment on a house can take years.

Assuming, for example, you want to buy a house that will cost you $450,000, and you’re using a conventional loan to finance the house. With a 20% down payment, you will need to come up with $90,000.

Let’s say again, because of other monthly expenses, you can only save $1500 a month for the down payment.

You see how long it will take you to save for a down payment to buy the house? 5 years. And that doesn’t even take into account other upfront costs of buying a house, such as closing cost.

While it’s possible to get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3.5% of the home purchase price, it’s advisable to put at least 20% down. The reason is because you will avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lenders in case you default on your mortgage.

Home buyers with a down payment below 20% are usually charged with PMI.

Another reason for a larger down payment is that it reduces the cost of the mortgage, grows equity much faster, and saves you on interest over the life of the loan.

As you can see, it can take you as much as 5 years from the time you’re thinking about buying the house to the time you’re actually ready to start the process.

But once you have taken care the things above, buying a house can go a lot faster.

II. How long does it take to find a real estate agent?

Average time: 1 day to a month

Once you have been pre-approved for a mortgage, the next step is to find an experienced real estate agent. Finding a good real estate agent can take a day to a month. Websites such as Zillow and Redfin list real estate agents you can use.

III. Shopping for a home.

Average time: a few weeks to a few months

With the help of a real estate agent and your own due diligence, finding a home can can go faster or take longer depending on available homes, the season and your desired location.

But experts say on average it can take a minimum of three weeks to a few months.

IV. Making an offer, negotiation, and inspection.

Average time: 1 to 10 days

Once you have found the home of your dream, the next step is to make an offer. You and the seller can go back and forth negotiating the price.

Once your offer has been accepted, you and the seller sign something called a purchase agreement. Then, the next step is to hire a professional to inspect the home for defects. Depending on your state, a home inspection must be completed within 10 days. And if the inspection finds some defects in the house, that could delay the process.

V. How long does it take to close on a house?

Average time: 30 to 45 days.

Once the inspection is done, your lender will need to officially approve you for the loan. And depending on the lender, it can also affect how long it takes to buy a house. You may need to provide additional documents. But the lender will need to assess the home for its value. And depending on the program (whether it’s conventional loan or FHA loan) it can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days to close on a home.

Bottom line

When asking yourself this question: “how long does it take to buy a house?” The answer is : it depends. If you have your credit score, your down payment, your other finances under control, you can buy your house in two months or less. But if you have to save for a down payment, fix errors on your credit report, raise your credit score, the whole home buying process can take years.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE

Still wondering how long it takes to buy a house? Read the following articles:

  • 5 Signs You’re Not Ready To Buy A House
  • 10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes To Avoid
  • 3 Signs You’re Not Ready to Refinance Your Mortgage
  • The Biggest Mistakes Millennials Make When Buying a House
  • 7 Signs You’re Ready To Buy A House

Work with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc). So, find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post How Long Does It Take To Buy A House? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

Understanding Long-Term Care Insurance

A lot of us don’t like to think about this, but inevitably there will come a time where we will all need help taking care of ourselves. So how can we start preparing for this financially?

Many people opt to purchase long-term care insurance in advance as a way to prepare for their golden years. Long-term care insurance includes services relating to day-to-day activities such as help with taking baths, getting dressed and getting around the house. Most long-term care insurance policies will front the fees for this type of care if you are suffering from a chronic illness, injury or disability, like Alzheimer’s disease, for example. 

If this is something you think you’ll need later on, it’s crucial that you don’t wait until you’re sick to apply. If you apply for long-term care insurance after becoming ill or disabled, you will not qualify. Most people apply around the ages of 50-60 years old. 

In this article, we will discuss long-term care insurance, how it works and why you might consider getting it.   

How long-term care insurance works

The process of applying for long-term care insurance is pretty straight forward. Generally, you will have to fill out an application and then you’ll have to answer a series of questions about your health. During this point in the process, you may or may not have to submit medical records or other documents proving the status of your health. 

With most long-term care policies, you will get to choose between different plans depending on the amount of coverage you want. 

Many long-term care policies will deem you eligible for benefits once you are unable to do certain activities on your own. These activities are called “activities of daily living” or ADLs:

  • Bathing
  • Incontinence assistance
  • Dressing
  • Eating
  • Getting off and/or on the toilet
  • Getting in and out of a bed or other furniture

In most cases, you must be incapable of performing at least two of these activities on your own in order to qualify for long-term care. When it’s time for you to start receiving care, you will need to file a claim. Your insurer will review your application, records and make contact with your doctor to find out more about your condition. In some cases, the insurer will send a nurse to evaluate you before your claim gets approved. 

It’s very common for insurers to require an “elimination period” before they start reimbursing you for your care. What this means is that after you have been approved for benefits and started receiving regular care, you will need to pay out of pocket for your treatments for a period of anywhere from 30-90 days. After this period, you will get reimbursed for your out-of-pocket expenses and from there.

Who should consider long-term care insurance

Unfortunately, the statistics are against our odds when it comes to whether or not we will eventually need some type of long-term care. Approximately half of people in the U.S. at the age of 65 will eventually acquire a disability where they will need to receive long-term care insurance.  Of course, the problem is, long-term care can be really expensive. Unless you have insurance, you’ll be paying for your long-term care completely out-of-pocket should you ever need it.

Your standard health insurance plan, including Medicare, will not cover your long-term care. The benefits of buying long-term care insurance are that:

  • You can hold on to your savings: Many uninsured seniors have to dip into their savings account in order to pay for their long-term care. Because it’s not cheap, many of them drain their life savings just to be able to pay for it.

 

  • You’ll be able to choose from a larger variety of options: Being insured gives you the benefit of being able to choose the quality of care that you prefer. Just like with anything else, you get what you pay for when it comes to healthcare. Medicaid offers some help with long-term care, but you’ll end up in a government-funded nursing home. 

 

How to buy long-term care insurance

If you’ve recently started thinking about shopping for long term-care insurance, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:

  • Do you mind being insured on a policy with an elimination period?
  • Can you afford all of the costs including living adjustments?
  • Are you interested in a policy that covers both you and your spouse, otherwise known as “shared care”?

There are a few different ways to go about getting long-term care benefits. You can either buy a policy from an insurance broker, an individual insurance company, or in some cases, your employer. Obtaining long-term care insurance through your employer is probably going to be cheaper than getting it as an individual. Ask your employer if it’s included in your benefits. 

Many people also opt to shop for hybrid benefits insurance policies. This is when a long-term care policy is packaged in with a standard life insurance policy. This is becoming a lot more common in the world of insurance. Keep in mind that the approval process may be slightly different for a hybrid insurance policy than of that of a stand-alone long-term care insurance policy. Make sure to ask about the requirements before you apply. 

Best long-term care insurance packages

There are not very many long-term care insurance companies that exist as there once was. It’s hard to wrap our heads around purchasing something that we don’t yet need. However, here are a few examples of companies that offer competitive long-term care packages:

 

  • Mutual of Omaha: This company offers benefits of anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000. While the main disadvantage of this company’s packages is that they do not cover doctor’s charges, transportation, personal expense, lab charges, or prescriptions, you CAN choose to receive cash benefits instead of reimbursements. This company also offers discounts for things like good health and marital status. This company’s insurance policies offer a wide range of options and add-ons so you can make sure that all your bases are covered.

 

 

  • Transamerica: This company’s long-term policy, TransCare III, is good if you don’t want to hassle with an elimination period. If you live in California, this may not be the best choice for you because California’s rates are a lot higher than the rates in other states. Your maximum daily benefit can be up to $500 with this program, with a total of anywhere between $18,250-$1,095,000. 

 

 

  • MassMutual: Popular for their SignatureCare 500 policy which comes in both base and comprehensive packages, is a long-term care and life insurance hybrid. This is very appealing to many seniors wanting to kill two birds with one stone. This company also has a 6-year period as one of their term options, which is pretty high.

  • Nationwide: This program sets itself apart from many other programs available because it allows you to have informal caregivers like family, friends, or neighbors. You will receive your entire cash benefit every month and it is up to you to disperse the funds as you would like. Currently, this company does not have their pricing available online, so you will need to speak with an agent to discuss prices.

 

Understanding Long-Term Care Insurance is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score

Credit card bills can be confusing. If everything was straightforward and clear, credit card debt wouldn’t be such a big issue. But it’s not clear, and debt is a massive issue for millions of consumers. 

One of the most confusing aspects is the minimum payment, with few consumers understanding how this works, how much damage (if any) it does to their credit score, and why it’s important to pay more than the minimum.

We’ll address all of those things and more in this guide, looking at how minimum credit card payments can impact your FICO score and your credit report.

What is a Credit Card Minimum Payment?

The minimum payment is the lowest amount you need to pay during any given month. It’s often fixed as a fraction of your total balance and includes fees and interest.  

If you fail to make this minimum payment, you may be hit with late fees and if you still haven’t paid after 30 days, your creditor will report your activity to the major credit bureaus and your credit score will take a hit.

When this happens, you could lose up to 100 points and gain a derogatory mark that remains on your credit report for up to 7 years. Making minimum payments will not result in a derogatory mark, but it can indirectly affect your credit score and we’ll discuss that a little later.

Firstly, it’s important to understand why you’re being asked to pay a minimum amount and how you can avoid it.

How Much is a Minimum Credit Card Payment?

Prior to 2004, monthly payments could be as low as 2% of the balance. This caused all kinds of problems as most of your monthly payment is interest and will, therefore, inflate every month so that every time you reduce the balance it grows back. 

Regulators forced a change when they realized that some users were being locked into a cycle of credit card debt, one that could see them repaying thousands more than the balance and taking many years to repay in full.

These days, a minimum payment must be at least 1% of the balance plus all interest and fees that have accumulated during that month, ensuring the balance decreases by at least 1% if only the minimum payment is met.

Do I Need to Make the Minimum Payment?

If you have a rolling balance, you need to make the minimum monthly payment to avoid derogatory marks. If you fail to do so and keep missing those payments, your account will eventually default and cause all kinds of issues.

However, you can avoid the minimum payment by clearing your balance in full.

Let’s assume that you have a brand-new credit card and you spend $2,000 in the first billing cycle. In the next cycle, you will be required to pay this balance in full. However, you will also be offered a minimum payment, which will likely be anywhere from $30 to $100. If this is all that you pay, the issuer will start charging you interest on your balance and your problems will begin.

If you spend $2,000 in the next billing cycle, you have just doubled your debt (minus whatever principal the minimum payment cleared) and your problems.

This is a cycle that many consumers get locked into. They do what they can to pay off their balance in full, but then they have a difficult month and that minimum payment begins to look very tempting. They convince themselves that one month won’t hurt and they’ll repay the balance in full next month, but by that point they’ve spent more, it has grown more, and they just don’t have the funds.

To avoid falling into this trap, try the following tips:

  • Only Spend What You Have: A credit card should be used to spend money you have now or will have in the future. Don’t spend in the hope you’ll somehow come into some money before the billing period ends and the credit card balance rolls over.
  • Get an Introductory Interest Rate: Many credit card issuers offer a 0% intro APR for a fixed period of time, allowing you to accumulate debt without interest. This can help if you need to make some essential purchases, but it’s important not to abuse this as you’ll still need to clear the full balance before the intro period ends.
  • Use a Balance Transfer: If you’re in too deep and the intro rate is coming to an end, consider a balance transfer credit card. These cards allow you to move your full balance from one card (or cards) to another, taking advantage of yet another 0% APR and essentially extending the one you have.
  • Pay the Minimum: If you can’t pay the balance in full, make sure you at least pay the minimum. A missed payment or late payment can incur fees and may hurt your credit score. 

Why Pay More Than the Minimum?

You may have heard experts recommending that you pay more than the minimum every month, but why? If you’re locked into a cycle of credit card debt, it can seem counterproductive. After all, if you have a debt of $10,000 that’s costing you $400 a month, what’s the point of taking an extra $100 out of your budget?

Your interest and fees are covered by your minimum payment and account for a sizeable percentage of that minimum payment. By adding just 50% more, you could be doubling and even tripling the amount of the principal that you repay every month.

What’s more, your interest accumulates every single day and this interest compounds. Imagine, for instance, that you have a balance of $10,000 today and with interest, this grows to $10,040. The next day, the interest will be calculated based on that $10,040 figure, which means it could grow to $10,081, which will then become the new balance for the next day. 

This continues every single day, and the larger your balance is, the more interest will compound and the greater the amount will be due over the term. By paying more than your minimum payment when you can, you’re reducing the balance and slowing things down.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt My Credit Score?

Paying the minimum amount every month ensures you are doing the bare minimum to avoid hurting your credit history or accumulating fees. However, it can indirectly reduce your score via your credit utilization ratio.

Your credit utilization ratio is a score that compares the credit limit of all available credit cards to the total debt on those cards. It accounts for 30% of your credit score and is, therefore, a very important aspect of the credit scoring process.

The more credit card debt you accumulate, the lower your credit utilization rate will be and the more your score will be impacted. If you only pay the minimum, this rate will become stagnant and may take years to improve. By increasing the payment amount, however, you can bring that ratio down and improve your credit score.

You can calculate your credit utilization score by adding together the total amount of credit limits and debts and then comparing the latter to the former. A combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, for instance, would equate to a 50% ratio, which is on the high side.

Can Credit Card Fees Hurt My Credit Score?

As with interest charges, credit card fees will not directly reduce your score but may have an indirect effect. Cash advance fees, for instance, can be substantial, with many credit card companies (including Capital One) charging 3% with a $10 minimum charge. This means that every time you withdraw cash, you’re paying at least $10, even if you’re only withdrawing $10.

What many consumers don’t realize is that these fees are also charged every time you buy casino chips or pay for some other form of gambling, and every time you purchase money orders and other cash products. 

Along with foreign transaction fees and penalty fees, these can increase your balance and your minimum payment, making it harder to make on time payments and thus increasing the risk of a late payment.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

5 Reasons for Credit Card Closure

Here are some reasons for credit card closure.

Having a wallet full of plastic can be a big temptation to overspend, which can lead to missed payments and a decreased credit score. If too many credit cards have you busting your budget, this might be a good reason for credit card closure. On the flip side, closing a credit card may hurt your credit score by messing with your credit history and credit utilization rate.

Depending on your situation, there are reasons for credit card closure. Canceling a credit card isn’t a bad idea if you close accounts that cost more to maintain than they’re worth and do it in a way that won’t significantly hurt your score.

Why Would a Credit Card Company Close Your Account?

While you’re considering your reasons for credit card closure, your credit card issuer might be doing the same thing. A credit card company has the right to cancel your card any time, and you may not get any warning it’s been canceled until it’s declined at the register.

A credit card provider will close your account if you quit paying the minimum monthly amount due. Missing one or two payments may only freeze your account until you’re caught back up, but your account will probably be closed after six months of nonpayment. Credit card companies have many other reasons for credit card closure.

Common reasons that may prompt a credit card issuer to cancel your account include:

  • Inactivity with a zero balance for several months
  • A drop in your credit score, especially due to late payments to other companies
  • Eliminating the type of card you have and closing everyone’s accounts
  • Going out of business because they’re no longer profitable

Do Closed Accounts Affect Your Credit Score?

Closing an account can affect your credit score because it can change your credit history and utilization rate, which are two major factors used to calculate your credit score. Your credit history is based on the amount of time all your credit card accounts have been open, so closing an older account can hurt.

Your credit utilization is based on the amount of available credit you’re currently using, so closing an account with a large credit limit and low balance can hurt even more. When deciding whether you should close a credit card account, consider some reasons why credit card closure makes sense.

1. You’re Getting Divorced

If you’re getting separated or divorced from a person who shares a joint account with you, close the account. Otherwise, you remain fully responsible for any bills your soon-to-be-ex might run up on the card. Even if your divorce decree says your former spouse will be responsible for the bill, you’re still on the hook as long as the account remains open. The credit card issuer is only interested in collecting the balance and will look to both accountholders for payment.

2. You Don’t Want to Pay the Fees

If your credit card company is charging an annual fee that you don’t want to pay, ask them to waive it. You can also ask them to waive a late fee if you’re accidentally late and you’re rarely late. If the credit card issuer won’t budge on a hefty annual fee, it could be a good reason for credit card closure and taking your business where there’s no annual fee.

3. The Card No Longer Makes Sense

Maybe you have a card you specifically opened to take advantage of frequent flyer miles because you traveled often for business. If your job no longer requires you to jet around the country or you move somewhere not serviced by the airline associated with this account, the card loses its appeal. Most airline rewards cards carry hefty annual fees after the first year, so it makes sense to close these accounts and switch to a card with a more useful rewards program.

4. The Card Has Been Used Fraudulently

Credit card fraud is the best reason for credit card closure. Typically, the credit card issuer automatically closes your account and issues you a new card when your credit card has been lost or stolen. However, this isn’t always the case when your card is used in other potentially fraudulent ways, such as:

  • You subscribed to a product or service online and, despite your best efforts to cancel the subscription, you keep getting hit with a monthly charge for something you no longer want.
  • You provided your credit card number for the collection of monthly payments on a debt, but the company is taking larger payments than you agreed to make.
  • You let your children use your account once for an emergency, and now, they use it every time another “emergency” occurs.

In these and similar situations, you may want to close your account. Otherwise, you risk having to fight to get future charges reversed.

5. You’re Done with Debt

You may have reached the point where you see no other way to get out of debt than to cancel your credit cards. It’s best for your credit score to keep a credit card or two open and just pay the balance in full each month, but this approach may not work for you. If you know you can’t resist the temptation of whipping out the plastic when you want something you can’t afford, it could be a good reason for credit card closure. However, before you make that decision, ask yourself two questions.

Is It Better to Close Unused Credit Cards?

Sometimes it can be better to close an unused credit card, especially if the card has a hefty annual fee. When you don’t use a credit card enough to outweigh the annual fee and come out ahead on its rewards program, the card is costing you money. It’s probably better to close an account in this situation.

Is It Bad for Credit to Close a Credit Card?

It can be bad for your credit to close a credit card if the card your closing is one of your oldest credit accounts and/or has a high credit limit with a low balance. As previously mentioned, closing older accounts hurts your score by lowering the length of your credit and payment history. Closing an account can also hurt your credit by changing the amount of your revolving credit utilization.

How to Exit Gracefully

If you’ve decided that closing a credit card account is the best course of action, try to minimize the damage to your credit score as much as possible. A credit card in good standing offers a lot of positive credit history that stays on your credit reports longer if you keep it open.

Although closing the account doesn’t make the card automatically disappear from your credit reports, you do lose the benefit of the available credit associated with that account. This changes your balance-to-available-credit ratio or revolving credit utilization.

To understand the credit utilization aspect of your credit reports, get a free credit report card from Credit.com. Calculate your balance-to-available-credit ratio by looking at your available credit compared to how much of this credit you’re using on individual cards and all your credit cards combined. When you’re using a significant portion of your available credit, you lose points when your credit score is calculated. Before closing an account, keep these factors in mind.

1. Keep Your Credit Utilization Ratio Low

An open credit line with a large limit and zero balance helps lower your overall revolving utilization, especially when you’re carrying balances on your other accounts. Keeping utilization at 10% is ideal, but you can still have a good credit score when using up to 25% of your available credit. Before closing an account, calculate how it changes your overall utilization to ensure losing that available credit won’t hurt your score much.

2. Keep Accounts Open

If you have several old accounts, closing one won’t impact your score as much as it would if you only had a couple. Keeping as many of your older accounts open as possible is better for your credit score. If you have only one credit card, it’s seldom a good idea to close your account. About 10% of your credit score is based on the different types of credit you have.

3. Keep Oldest Accounts

Whenever possible, keep your oldest accounts open. Most scoring models consider the age of your accounts, including your oldest and newest accounts, and the average age of all your accounts. A seasoned credit history helps keep your score healthy. A closed account also eventually falls off your credit report, and you lose all the positive history associated with the account.

After weighing the pros and cons, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to keep hanging onto a credit card. Before you close that account, make sure your credit score won’t suffer too badly. Sign up for Credit.com’s Credit Report Card and receive the latest tips and advice from a team of credit and money experts. You also benefit from a free credit score and action plan that helps you determine whether closing a credit card account is right for your situation.

The post 5 Reasons for Credit Card Closure appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

American Express Gold card vs. American Express Platinum card

American Express has several different credit cards that can give valuable rewards to travelers. Some Amex cards are co-branded with another hotel or airline partner, but the issuer also has top-notch travel credit cards in its own currency.

Known as Membership Rewards, American Express’s proprietary rewards currency can be very valuable in the hands of the right spender.

Two of the most popular credit cards offering Membership Rewards are the American Express® Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express. In this article, we will compare the two cards – looking at their perks, points earning and redemption options and comparing which card might be right for you.

See related: Which cards earn American Express rewards points?

American Express Gold vs. American Express Platinum

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Rewards rate
  • 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, including Uber Eats and select delivery services
  • 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases annually)
  • 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • 2 points per dollar on prepaid car rentals through amextravel.com
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • 10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership
  • 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com – on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. After that, it’s 1 point per dollar
  • 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • 2 points per dollar on prepaid car rentals through amextravel.com
  • 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
Welcome bonus 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 6 months 75,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months
Annual fee $250 $550
Estimated yearly rewards value (for someone who spends $15,900) $707 $856
Annual credits
  • Up to $120 in annual Uber Cash ($10 each month)*
  • Up to $120 in annual dining credits
  • $200 airline incidental credit on one airline of your choice
  • Up to $200 in annual Uber Cash ($15 each month with a $20 bonus in December)
  • Up to $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 for purchases made between January and June and another $50 for purchases made between July and December)
Airport lounge access None
  • American Express Centurion Lounges
  • Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta)
  • Airspace Lounges
  • Escape Lounges
  • Priority Pass Select
Other travel benefits
  • $100 property credit and upgrade (when available) when booking hotel stays of two nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection
  • Transfer points to American Express travel partners
  • Terms apply
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
  • $100 property credit and upgrade (when available) when booking hotel stays of two nights or longer through the Amex Hotel Collection
  • Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Marriott Bonvoy Gold status
  • Transfer points to American Express travel partners
  • Terms apply

*Uber Cash benefit applicable to US Eats orders and rides only.  Must add Gold Card to the Uber app in order to receive the Uber Cash benefit.

Earning points

One area where the American Express Gold card shines in this comparison is in earning points on everyday expenses. The Platinum card offers 5 points per dollar spent on flights and hotels (on up to $500,000 in combined purchases per calendar year, then 1 point per dollar), as long as you book with the airline or American Express Travel. If your spending habits include a lot of booked travel, the Platinum card is a great option.

But the Gold card’s 4 points per dollar spent at worldwide restaurants (including Uber Eats purchases) and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1 point) is one of the best spending category bonuses around. Dining and groceries are two of the top spending categories for many people, and the American Express Gold card delivers with high bonuses in both of them.

Redeeming points

Cardholders of both the American Express Gold card and the American Express Platinum card can redeem Membership Rewards points in exactly the same ways. They can both transfer to American Express’s wide variety of hotel and airline transfer partners. Both cards also can redeem points to book travel through amextravel.com or as gift card purchases or statement credits.

For more inspiration on how to redeem your Membership Rewards, check out our guide on the best ways to spend American Express points.

Bonus perks

There is no question that the perks on the American Express Platinum card are better and more extensive than those on the Gold card. The Platinum card offers up to $200 of annual airline incidental reimbursement, and it also comes with more monthly Uber Cash — up to $200 per year compared to the Gold card’s potential $120 annually. For frequent travelers, the airport lounge access, hotel elite status with Hilton and Marriott and Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit will come in handy.

See related: Guide to American Express lounges

The only bonus perks that the Gold card has that the Platinum card does not are the up to $10 in monthly dining credits and the alternative Rose Gold card design. However, the ongoing dining credits perfectly complement the Amex Gold’s monthly Uber Cash, 12-month complimentary Uber Eats Pass membership (must enroll by Dec. 31, 2021) and 4X points on Uber Eats orders — making it a definitive card for food delivery. On the other side of the American Express Gold vs. Platinum debate, the Amex Platinum carries a higher monthly Uber Cash allowance and provides the same Uber Eats Pass perk, but it doesn’t earn rewards on Uber’s services.

Nevertheless, whether the enhanced perks of the American Express Platinum card are worth its higher annual fee is something that will depend on your specific spending and travel habits.

Annual fee and authorized users

many perks to help offset the high annual cost.

Also worth noting is that there is no additional fee to add authorized user cards on the American Express Gold card (up to five additional cards, then $35 annually for six or more). On the Amex Platinum, you can add up to three authorized users for a total of $175 per year and then an additional $175 annual fee for any following authorized user.

This is an important callout, as authorized users on the Platinum card get their own airport lounge access, Gold status with Hilton and Marriott as well as access to American Express’s Fine Hotels and Resorts and Hotel Collection. Authorized users do not get the $200 airline credit or any of the other perks that the primary cardholder gets.

See related: How to add an authorized user to an American Express card

Bottom line

The American Express Gold card is definitely more accessible for more people, with its much lower annual fee. But if a $550 annual fee doesn’t faze your budget, take a look at the perks that come with the American Express Platinum card to see if you’ll get enough value to offset the higher cost.

If you travel frequently and don’t already have hotel elite status or a Priority Pass lounge membership, you may see value in the Platinum card. If you’re a foodie who spends a lot on restaurants, groceries and Uber Eats deliveries, the Gold card might be for you.

Or consider that both cards earn valuable Membership Rewards points, and American Express easily lets you combine points earned on different cards. So instead of choosing between the Amex Gold vs. Platinum, you might even find value in having both cards in your wallet.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

talk to a credit bureau

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax Reason for Calling Phone Number General inquiries 800-525-6285 Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273 Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191 Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285 Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191 Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045 Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian Reason for Calling Phone Number Buying a credit report,

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file 888-397-3742 or

888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN) Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000 Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239 Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Milkos, Â©iStock.com/sturti, ©iStock.com/fstop123

The post How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19

mortgage during coronavirusGetty Images

Getting a mortgage, paying your mortgage, refinancing your mortgage: These are all major undertakings, but during a pandemic, all of it becomes more complicated. Sometimes a lot more complicated.

But make no mistake, home buyers are still taking out and paying down mortgages during the current global health crisis. There have, in fact, been some silver linings amid the economic uncertainty—hello, record-low interest rates—but also plenty of changes to keep up with. Mortgage lending looks much different now than at the start of the year.

Whether you’re applying for a new mortgage, struggling to pay your current mortgage, or curious about refinancing, here’s what mortgage lenders from around the country want you to know.

1. Rates have dropped, but getting a mortgage has gotten more complicated

First, the good news about mortgage interest rates: “Rates have been very low in recent weeks, and have come back down to their absolute lowest levels in a long time,” says Yuri Umanski, senior mortgage consultant at Premia Relocation Mortgage in Troy, MI.

That means this could be a great time to take out a mortgage and lock in a low rate. But getting a mortgage is more difficult during a pandemic.

“Across the industry, underwriting a mortgage has become an even more complex process,” says Steve Kaminski, head of U.S. residential lending at TD Bank. “Many of the third-party partners that lenders rely on—county offices, appraisal firms, and title companies—have closed or taken steps to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19.”

Even if you can file your mortgage application online, Kaminski says many steps in the process traditionally happen in person, like getting notarization, conducting a home appraisal, and signing closing documents.

As social distancing makes these steps more difficult, you might have to settle for a “drive-by appraisal” instead of a thorough, more traditional appraisal inside the home.

“And curbside closings with masks and gloves started to pop up all over the country,” Umanski adds.

2. Be ready to prove (many times) that you can pay a mortgage

If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, you might not be able to buy your dream house (or any house) right now.

“Whether you are buying a home or refinancing your current mortgage, you must be employed and on the job,” says Tim Ross, CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Troy, MI. “If someone has a loan in process and becomes unemployed, their mortgage closing would have to wait until they have returned to work and received their first paycheck.”

Lenders are also taking extra steps to verify each borrower’s employment status, which means more red tape before you can get a loan.

Normally, lenders run two or three employment verifications before approving a new loan or refinancing, but “I am now seeing employment verification needed seven to 10 times—sometimes even every three days,” says Tiffany Wolf, regional director and senior loan officer at Cabrillo Mortgage in Palm Springs, CA. “Today’s borrowers need to be patient and readily available with additional documents during this difficult and uncharted time in history.”

3. Your credit score might not make the cut anymore

Economic uncertainty means lenders are just as nervous as borrowers, and some lenders are raising their requirements for borrowers’ credit scores.

“Many lenders who were previously able to approve FHA loans with credit scores as low as 580 are now requiring at least a 620 score to qualify,” says Randall Yates, founder and CEO of The Lenders Network.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new home today, now is a good time to work on improving your credit score if you plan to buy in the future.

“These changes are temporary, but I would expect them to stay in place until the entire country is opened back up and the unemployment numbers drop considerably,” Yates says.

4. Forbearance isn’t forgiveness—you’ll eventually need to pay up

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act requires loan servicers to provide forbearance (aka deferment) to homeowners with federally backed mortgages. That means if you’ve lost your job and are struggling to make your mortgage payments, you could go months without owing a payment. But forbearance isn’t a given, and it isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

“The CARES Act is not designed to create a freedom from the obligation, and the forbearance is not forgiveness,” Ross says. “Missed payments will have to be made up.”

You’ll still be on the hook for the payments you missed after your forbearance period ends, so if you can afford to keep paying your mortgage now, you should.

To determine if you’re eligible for forbearance, call your loan servicer—don’t just stop making payments.

If your deferment period is ending and you’re still unable to make payments, you can request delaying payments for additional months, says Mark O’ Donovan, CEO of Chase Home Lending at JPMorgan Chase.

After you resume making your payments, you may be able to defer your missed payments to the end of your mortgage, O’Donovan says. Check with your loan servicer to be sure.

5. Don’t be too fast to refinance

Current homeowners might be eager to refinance and score a lower interest rate. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the best move for everyone.

“Homeowners should consider how long they expect to reside in their home,” Kaminski says. “They should also account for closing costs such as appraisal and title insurance policy fees, which vary by lender and market.”

If you plan to stay in your house for only the next two years, for example, refinancing might not be worth it—hefty closing costs could offset the savings you would gain from a lower interest rate.

“It’s also important to remember that refinancing is essentially underwriting a brand-new mortgage, so lenders will conduct income verification and may require the similar documentation as the first time around,” Kaminski adds.

6. Now could be a good time to take out a home equity loan

Right now, homeowners can also score low rates on a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, to finance major home improvements like a new roof or addition.

“This may be a great time to take out a home equity line to consolidate debt,” Umanski says. “This process will help reduce the total obligations on a monthly basis and allow for the balance to be refinanced into a much lower rate.”

Just be careful not to overimprove your home at a time when the economy and the housing market are both in flux.

The post 6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19 appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com