MOVED 6 Reasons to Make All Your 2020 Travel Plans Now

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 26, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Now is the time to plan your trips for 2020.

Where will you go in 2020? While it may seem like you have all the time in the world to figure that out and book your trips, there are several big benefits to making your travel plans sooner rather than later. You don't necessarily need to get every ticket, hotel, and vacation rental booked this second, but a broad-brush plan will make everything easier and more affordable.

Man in puffer jacket and parka crossing narrow bridge over forest and pointing intrepidly at mountain in distance.

1. You're more likely to follow through

We've probably all met someone who talks about all the places they'll go without ever making it happen. It's easy to tell yourself that this is the year you're going to Europe, or South America, or any other destination that interests you. But then life gets in the way. It seems as if you're constantly too busy, so you keep postponing your trip. Before you know it, another year has passed, and you're back to square one.

Planning is the key to making sure you go on the trips you want. Once you pick out a timeframe and start making the necessary arrangements, that trip moves from being a nice idea to a concrete plan you're putting into action.

2. You can watch for the lowest prices

It's not always true that you can get the lowest prices by booking early because prices often fluctuate. The advantage of making plans early is that you can monitor prices and book when you see a good deal. If you're shopping at the last minute, you're under more pressure to book something right away.

To have a better chance of snagging a low price, enter your desired travel dates on a booking site and set up price alerts. Another option is to book refundable airfare and accommodations. That way, if the price of either goes down later, you can cancel your original reservation and rebook it at the lower price.

3. There are more opportunities to book with travel rewards

If you use travel credit cards and you want to book using your points, you're much more likely to find award availability by shopping early. There's usually a limited number of flight seats or hotel rooms you can book with travel rewards. If you wait too long, other travelers may snatch them up first.

Keep in mind that many loyalty programs also have two types of airfare/hotel stays you can book with points: a standard option and a saver option that costs significantly fewer points. Saver airfare/hotel stays go much more quickly, for obvious reasons

4. You can request time off from your employer in advance

Although every employer is different, many of them handle time off on a first-come, first-served basis. When employees in the same role need time off, whoever asked first gets priority.

By figuring out your travel dates now, you can also request your vacation time at work. And in the event that your employer can't accommodate the dates you want, you'll have plenty of time to find alternative dates that work.

5. You have more time to budget and save for your trip

Vacations can be expensive, even when you're careful about your spending and you look for ways to save money on your trip. Unfortunately, this expense often pushes people to do one of the following:

  • Go into debt with loans or credit cards to pay for their trips
  • Skip travel because they don't have the money for it

Neither option is ideal. It's not a good financial decision to go into debt for an unnecessary expense, but you also don't want to miss out on traveling entirely.

The better solution is to save a set amount per month until the date of your trip. And if you get started on this early, you'll have a much easier time saving enough.

6. Popular activities can sell out quickly

It's never fun when you book a trip and learn about an activity that you'd love to do, only to discover that it's sold out. Many popular activities and events, such as tours and concerts, sell out several months in advance. If you miss out, you either won't be able to go or you'll need to pay a much higher price.

Don't wait

Although last-minute travel can be exciting, you're better off making your plans well ahead of time for the places you really want to go to. If you plan properly, 2020 could be the year when you take that trip (or trips) you've always wanted.

Topics: Credit Cards, Travel

MOVED 9 Travel Lessons I Learned After 1 Year of Living Abroad

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 26, 2019 6:00:00 AM

Here are my best pieces of travel wisdom.

In the past year, I've gotten more firsthand travel experience than ever before. It was my first year living as a digital nomad, and with no lease agreement tying me to one place, I've had the opportunity to move around and take a lot more trips.

Being a frequent traveler is a kind of crash course in what to do and what not to do. After spending time in three countries and counting, taking a dozen flights, and suffering through the occasional delay, these are the travel lessons I've learned to live by.

Middle-aged man looking at an iPad while sitting on rocks overlooking a sunset over mountains.

1. The most direct route is worth the cost

It's tempting to save some cash by booking airfare with more stops, but it's also important to consider how that extra stop will affect your travels. Flying to your destination will take you longer, and you may be more tired when you get there. You probably have limited vacation time to begin with. Do you want to spend more of it sitting around in an airport?

That doesn't even touch on the potential problems that could arise, such as delays or flight cancellations. Each stop you add to a trip makes it more likely something could go wrong.

2. Travel points you can redeem as cash are extremely valuable

I know that everyone raves about transferring points in hopes of those high-value redemptions, but I've found that I actually redeem points as cash more often.

If you're unfamiliar with how this works, some travel rewards cards let you redeem your points at a fixed rate to purchase travel in cash. For example, a card issuer may let you redeem rewards at $0.015 per point. In that case, you could use 10,000 points to purchase a $150 airline ticket.

This option comes in handy when you won't get a lot of value out of award tickets, which is often the case for shorter domestic flights. It's also helpful when there aren't any convenient award tickets available for the route you want.

3. You won't need to pack as much as you think

This is popular travel advice, but it's popular for a reason. Many travelers overestimate what they need to take and come to regret it when they're lugging around multiple heavy, awkward pieces of luggage.

A good way to approach packing is to treat it like writing a paper for school. Your first attempt is just the first draft. After that, it's time to review your work and cut unnecessary items. Odds are you won't use every piece of clothing and gadget that you initially thought you needed.

4. Always have a form of entertainment at the airport

If you're the type of person who dreads going to the airport, that could be down to a lack of planning. It's no fun to sit around an airport. But it can be nice to relax and spend the wait watching shows you downloaded or catching up on the reading you've always wanted to do.

Of course, this is especially important if your flight gets delayed. As frustrating as that can be, it's much worse when you're waiting for hours with nothing to do.

5. Vacation rentals are better than hotels for the budget-minded traveler

Trying to take a vacation without breaking the bank? One of the best ways to spend less is by choosing a vacation rental instead of a hotel.

Hotels typically cost more per night, with prices that are often twice as much or more than comparable vacation rentals. The price disparity becomes even greater when you consider the extra charges you can incur at a hotel. There may be resort fees or additional taxes charged upon checkout. And since most hotel rooms don't have kitchens, you'll likely go out to eat more.

6. Bring at least one backup credit card

Hopefully, you won't ever lose your credit card while you're traveling. But you should bring along an extra one in case it does happen. If you'll be outside the United States, you should also make sure that the credit cards you take with you don't charge foreign transaction fees. 

7. Be prepared, not paranoid

When discussing the safety of an area, the loudest voices often split into two groups. There are those who assume 95% of the world is dangerous and you'd be crazy to go there. And then there are those who would tell you an active war zone "really isn't as bad as people say."

As it often goes, this is a situation where the most sensible option is the middle ground. Any time you're traveling somewhere new, you should read up on common crimes in that area and watch out for potential dangers when you're there. However, you shouldn't let paranoia keep you from enjoying yourself.

8. Use an ATM instead of exchanging currency

Although currency exchanges are the traditional way to get cash while abroad, the exchange rates are rarely a good deal. It's better to withdraw money from an ATM using your debit card. You should check what kind of fees your bank will charge before you go, and if it will be expensive, look into checking accounts with no foreign transaction fees.

9. Unlock your phone and buy local SIM cards

Wireless carriers may charge an arm and a leg if you want to use your cell phone internationally. Fortunately, there's a much more affordable solution -- unlock your phone and when you arrive at your destination, buy a SIM card with a prepaid plan. You can often buy a local SIM card at the airport upon arrival. In many countries, weeks of prepaid data costs just $10 or less.

Making the most of every travel experience

It's always exciting when you have the opportunity to travel. By following the right strategies, you can save money and ensure you have an amazing trip.

Topics: Credit Cards, Travel

MOVED Why Do I Have So Many Credit Scores?

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 25, 2019 2:00:00 PM

You have a lot of credit scores, and they're not all the same.

It's not difficult to get a free credit score these days. And if you check your score in a few different places, you might find that the numbers don't always match up. That doesn't necessarily mean that any of them are wrong. It probably means the scores are based on different credit reports or a different scoring model. 

The truth is, if you have a loan in your name or a credit card in your wallet, you have dozens of credit scores and one isn't necessarily more correct than another. Here's a closer look at what credit scores are and why you have so many of them.

Bespectacled young man looking at the numerous credit cards in his hand with confused disbelief.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a three-digit number that's essentially a financial grade. It's based on the information in your credit reports. These contain details of current and past credit accounts in your name, including payment history, balances, and information from public records. Everyone has three credit reports, one for each credit bureau -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- so you effectively have three credit scores for every scoring model, one corresponding to each report.

There are several credit scoring models in existence because each one weighs the factors in your credit report a little differently. The goal of credit scores is to help lenders more accurately predict how a person will handle borrowed money. Lenders want to protect themselves from losing money to borrowers who go bankrupt. Credit scoring companies constantly analyze data from millions of borrowers. If they spot new data that could help them predict risk more accurately, they might create a new credit scoring model that incorporates this information to give them better results.

FICO® Scores and VantageScores

The two most commonly used scoring models are the FICO® Score and the VantageScore. If you're going to look up your credit score, you should check one of these since lenders are most likely to look at them when checking your credit. Both FICO and VantageScores have a few different versions, but they all use the same scoring system of 300 to 850, with a higher score being better. 

They look at pretty much the same factors, though VantageScore gives a stronger weight to payment history while FICO cares more about your credit utilization ratio -- the ratio between the amount you charge to your credit cards each month and the credit you have available to you. Other factors that both scoring models consider include the average age of your credit accounts, which types of credit you have on your account (credit cards, mortgages, etc.), and how often you apply for new credit.

There might be a slight variance between what you see and what lenders see. This depends on which version of the scoring model your lender is using and which credit report the score is associated with. Your credit reports all have largely similar information, but some financial institutions may only report payments to one or two of the credit bureaus instead of all three, resulting in slightly different scores even when using the same version of the same scoring model.

Other credit scoring models

Unless a company specifies that the score it's providing you with is a FICO or VantageScore, it's probably neither. Some companies develop their own educational scores using proprietary scoring methods. These may have different scoring ranges, too, so while a 600 might not be a great FICO or VantageScore, it could be a good score in a different model. 

These educational scores aren't used by lenders, so they're not that useful if you're trying to estimate your odds of success when applying for a new loan or credit card. But they can still provide valuable information on steps you can take to improve your credit. These educational scores may come with insights on how you can improve your credit score, like making efforts to pay all your bills on time in the future. Following those tips can help improve all of your credit scores.

How to raise your credit score

You'll never know exactly which version of which credit scoring model your lender is going to look at, so you must take steps to raise all of your scores if you want the best odds of success. This sounds intimidating, but it's really not that bad when you know that all scores consider the same basic factors.

Payment history is always the most important element, so paying your bills on time is critical. Set up automatic payments or reminders for yourself if you tend to forget. Your credit utilization ratio is the other major factor in your score. Try to limit yourself to 30% or less of your credit limit each month. A higher ratio indicates a heavy reliance on credit and suggests you may not be able to handle taking on more debt without falling behind on your payments.

Limit how often you apply for new credit and be careful about closing old credit accounts, as these are both things that can negatively affect your score. Applying for new credit generates a new hard inquiry on your report, which drops your score by a few points, while closing a credit account can hurt your credit utilization ratio by bringing down the total amount of credit you have access to. 

Time may seem like an enemy because negative marks on your credit report stick around for seven to 10 years, but it can also be your friend because a consistent, responsible payment history can help your score improve. Be patient and stay committed to demonstrating your financial responsibility and your score will rise over time, regardless of the credit scoring model. 

Topics: Credit Cards, 0% APR & Low Interest

MOVED 7 Strategies to Earn More Credit Card Rewards in 2020

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 25, 2019 8:00:00 AM


Let's make 2020 your most rewarding year yet.

When you've been using a rewards credit card for a while, you eventually reach the point where you want to take your earnings to the next level. Maybe you earned $700 in cash back last year, but you want to raise that to $1,200 or even $1,500. Or you want to go from 50,000 travel points per year to 100,000.

With the right strategies, it's possible to increase the total rewards you earn by 50%, 100%, or even more. Whether you prefer cash back or travel rewards, here are the changes you can make to get these kinds of results in 2020.

Young woman holding a calculator and a credit card and grinning with satisfaction at the credit card.

1. Apply for at least one new card to earn a sign-up bonus

The consumers who earn the most rewards are always on the lookout for the biggest credit card sign-up bonuses. With bonuses, you can earn a big chunk of cash back or travel points, and it usually takes just a few months.

Considering how quickly you can earn rewards this way, it's smart to apply for at least one card with a sign-up bonus each year. If you think you can manage more cards, then you may want to start looking for a new one each time you complete the requirements for a bonus.

2. Combine a flat-rate rewards card and a card with bonus categories

There are two types of rewards credit cards:

  • Flat-rate cards -- These earn one rate, such as 1.5% back on all your spending.
  • Bonus category cards -- These earn higher bonus rates in certain spending categories, such as 3% back at grocery stores. On regular spending, they typically earn 1% back.

To get the best of both worlds, you should carry each type of card. You'd use your bonus category card in any of the categories where it will earn you extra points and your flat-rate card for everything else. 

3. Review your spending to choose the right bonus category card

It's important to choose a bonus category card that you'll be able to use often. For that reason, you should review your spending to find the categories where you spend the most money.

There are a few ways you can do this. You could review all your expenses for the past month. If you want to go back further, you could use an entire year. Another option is to look at your monthly budget.

This will give you a good idea of whether you'll benefit most from a card that earns more back at grocery stores, restaurants, or another spending category.

4. Check the special offers your credit card company sends you

Credit card companies occasionally send out special offers that give you the opportunity to earn extra points. For example, I've seen offers of 500 to 1,000 points for either making at least three contactless card payments or for using a card at least three times through a payment app.

Offers like these aren't difficult to complete, so make sure you check any emails from your card issuer.

5. Use the shopping portals for your rewards cards

Most credit card companies have shopping portals. A shopping portal is a site you visit through your online credit card account, and it contains an assortment of merchant sites where you can shop to earn extra points. Under each merchant, the portal will list the number of additional points you earn per $1 spent.

Click the link from your card issuer's shopping portal to visit the store you'd like to shop in. You'll then earn extra points on any purchase you make.

6. See if you can get retention offers for the cards you already have

The last thing a credit card company wants is to lose a cardholder. To avoid that, it may offer you something extra if you want to cancel your card. This is known as a retention offer, and it could be an annual fee waiver, bonus rewards, or anything else the card issuer can provide to retain clients.

You can take advantage of this by calling your card issuer and telling them that you're thinking about canceling your card. The worst-case scenario is that they don't offer you anything, in which case you can always say that you've changed your mind and you want to keep the card. But there's also a good chance that you'll get a retention offer.

7. Consider carrying more than one bonus category card

Although a flat-rate card and a bonus category card are a great combination, you can earn even more by carrying multiple cards with different bonus categories.

It's obviously better from a rewards perspective to have more bonus categories where you can earn extra. The downside is that you'll have more credit cards to manage. That means more bills you need to pay on time, and you'll also need to remember which card to use for each purchase. If you can handle that, then it's worth expanding the number of bonus category cards you use.

Maxing out your rewards

It's never a good idea to spend more money in the pursuit of credit card rewards. That's why you need to find ways to earn as much back as possible on your normal expenses. By adopting some or all of the strategies above, you'll be able to wring a lot more rewards out of your typical spending.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED 4 Common Credit Card Fees You Don't Need to Pay

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 24, 2019 4:00:00 PM

Credit card companies set their own terms, but you get some influence over which ones apply to you.

Credit cards have their perks, but they also have their price. And that price can get very expensive if you run up a balance you can't pay back. Choosing the wrong credit card can also cost you in lost rewards and additional fees. The good news is, you can avoid many of these costs by choosing the right card and managing your money responsibly. Here are four credit card fees you don't have to pay.

Young woman holding credit card and looking at laptop screen suspiciously.

1. Annual fee

There are so many rewards credit cards available today that don't charge an annual fee, you shouldn't pay for one unless you want to. In rare cases, it might be worth it -- for example, if you're paying for a premium travel credit card that offers free travel vouchers and free luggage. But you should always do the math first to calculate whether the rewards you'll earn outweigh the cost of the annual fee. If not, move on to a different card.

Read the fine print carefully when signing up for a new card. It may be that the annual fee is only free or discounted in the first year, but then a standard fee kicks in in the second year. Check the cardholder agreement to learn about the card's annual fees, including any promotional rates. 

You may be able to negotiate a reduced annual fee with your card issuer, or even eliminate it completely. But card issuers don't have to agree. If you've had the card for a long time, you can use your loyalty as leverage and threaten to switch to a different credit card if they don't comply. Be prepared to make good on that threat if your card issuer denies your request.

2. Foreign transaction fees

You can incur foreign transaction fees when you use your credit card in a foreign country. This fee is often 3% of the transaction and you'll pay it every single time you use your credit card on your trip. It's possible to rack up quite a bit if you're not aware of these fees. 

Most top travel rewards credit cards don't charge foreign transaction fees, so choose one of these cards if you're planning to travel abroad. Check the cardholder agreement on your existing credit cards if you're unsure about whether they have foreign transaction fees. Another option for getting around these fees is to rely primarily on cash while you're abroad. It's still a good idea to have a credit card for backup, though, in case there's an emergency or you run out of cash.

3. Interest

Everyone knows that if you don't run up a balance you can't pay back, you'll never pay a dime in credit card interest. However, that knowledge isn't especially useful if you already have credit card debt. In this case, you can still avoid interest payments temporarily -- and possibly forever -- if you use a balance transfer card

These cards have 0% introductory APRs for six to 21 months. Pay off your balance within this timeframe and you won't need to pay any more interest. Balance transfers usually have a fee attached -- often a percentage of the balance you're transferring -- but this option will probably still be more affordable than continuing to deal with the interest you are paying right now.

If you cannot pay the full balance back within the introductory APR period, your remaining balance will begin accruing interest at the standard APR unless you transfer that remaining balance to another balance transfer card. 

4. Late fees

Late payments can hurt your credit, and they also come with late fees, which can make your balance more difficult to pay back. Your card issuer may charge you up to $28 for your first late payment and up to $39 for any additional late payments. But you can easily avoid these fees by always paying your credit card bill on time. Set up automatic payments, if possible, or set reminders for yourself so you remember to pay the bill by the due date.

The only things you should have to worry about paying for are the purchases you charge to your credit card. Read through the cardholder agreement before you sign up with a new credit card and make sure you understand all the associated costs. Then, choose and use your cards responsibly so you can avoid the four fees mentioned here.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED 9 Ways Having No Credit Score Makes Life Harder

Posted by Elizabeth Aldrich on Dec 24, 2019 10:00:00 AM

...and how to build good credit from scratch.

If you don't have a credit score, you're not alone. A recent study on credit scores done by The Ascent shows that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are "credit invisible" or "credit unscorable". This means they either have no credit history with the main credit bureaus or there is insufficient information to generate a credit score.

Unfortunately, having no credit score makes your life harder in a number of ways.

Stressed-out bespectacled man looking at document.

1. It's difficult to buy a car

Without a credit score, it'll be hard to qualify for anything other than predatory auto loans with sky-high interest rates. Unless you can provide a cosigner or pay in cash, you'll end up paying a premium to buy a car. 

What's worse, because cars depreciate in value quickly, it's easy to end up upside down on an auto loan. If you take a loan with a high interest rate, you could wind up owing more money than the car is worth. If you were to wreck your car in this situation, your car insurance would only cover the current value of your car, meaning you'd be stuck paying back an auto loan for a car you can no longer use.

2. It's almost impossible to buy a house

Having no credit makes it nearly impossible to buy a house unless you can afford to make a huge down payment and pay astronomically high fees. At the very least, the process of getting approved for a home loan will be extremely lengthy and involve lots of additional documentation, as you don't have a credit score to prove to lenders that you can borrow responsibly.

These barriers make it much harder to invest in property, meaning folks with no credit score have limited access to one of the most popular methods of asset building and wealth generation.

3. You might struggle to cover emergency expenses

We all have to deal with unexpected expenses from time to time. While it's always best to have cash reserves on hand to cover them, sometimes it's not possible. People with good credit can access low-cost financing tools in these situations, such as low-interest loans and 0% APR offers on credit cards

People with no credit, on the other hand, will have to rely on secured credit cards or high-interest loans, which are extremely costly. They can even start your credit score off on the wrong foot -- high interest rates make it more likely that you'll miss a payment -- and with no other credit history, bad marks will be hard to combat. If you have no credit score, it's even more important that you build a generous emergency fund.

4. It can be harder to find a place to rent

Landlords usually run background checks on potential renters, and these often include a check on your credit history. Good credit shows you're likely to pay your rent on-time, while no credit provides no such proof. 

If you have no credit, a landlord might require a bigger deposit or a cosigner. In bigger cities with high demand for housing, they might not give you a chance at all.

5. You won't be able to get a better rate on student loan debt

College students tend to have no credit as they've either never borrowed money before, or they're just getting started with student loans. The problem with graduating from college with a slim credit file and student loan debt is you won't be able to qualify for the best student loan refinancing.

If you build your credit throughout college, you might be able to refinance your student loans soon after graduation. This can lead to a significantly lower interest rate, which often means lower monthly payments and less money spent on interest fees.

6. It'll be hard to qualify for a credit card

You might not need a credit card now. However, there are situations where they come in handy. For one, some businesses, such as hotels and rental car agencies, won't let you make a reservation without a credit card.

Credit cards can also offer lucrative travel and cash-back rewards, and they're even more generous when you've got excellent credit. With a high enough credit score, you can even travel for free with credit card points.

7. Your insurance rates might be higher

Credit history is a factor for some car insurance companies when deciding how much to charge you for an insurance policy. While bad marks such as overdue payments are worse than not having credit at all, many still consider a short credit history to be a negative.

If you have no credit, be sure to shop around for the best rates on car insurance. Some policy providers take credit scores into consideration more than others.

8. You might have to pay a security deposit on utility contracts

Utility companies typically run credit checks before offering you a contract. This includes companies offering electricity, water, gas, cable, internet, and phone service, so it's not something you can simply forgo.

If you have no credit, you'll likely be required to pay a security deposit before signing up for utilities.

9. You won't get the best deals on cell phone contracts

Most cell phone providers will check your credit before offering you a contract for a cell phone and/or cell phone service. While it's still possible to get a new cell phone with no credit, you might not be offered the best deals on new phones.

Many carriers will also require you to put down a deposit of a few hundred dollars on a cell phone contract if you don't have good credit.

How to build a credit history from scratch

One of the easiest -- and cheapest -- ways to consistently build credit is to use credit cards regularly and always pay them off. Secured credit cards are one way that people with no credit can gradually build up a payment history. They require you to put down a deposit, which is usually equal to your credit limit, and allow you to spend and make payments. The best secured credit cards have low or no security deposit requirements and no hidden fees. Just make sure to pay off your bill in full each month to avoid interest charges. 

There are now a number of credit cards that will approve you, even if you have no credit history at all. While there are many downsides to not having credit, the good news is that building credit has never been easier.

Topics: Credit Cards, 0% APR & Low Interest

MOVED Are You "Credit Invisible"? Here's How to Build Your Credit Score

Posted by Christy Bieber on Dec 24, 2019 6:00:00 AM

Around 11% of U.S. adults have no credit score. If you're one of them, here's what you need to do. 

Having a good credit score is really important -- and recent research from The Ascent shows the average American has a pretty good one. But while the average FICO® Score hit 704 in 2018, there are still millions of Americans who don't have the credit they need to be able to borrow. 

In fact, a surprising number of Americans are considered "credit invisible," which means they have no record with the major credit reporting agencies and no credit score can be generated.

A man sitting on a bench looking out at a wintry lake and fading into physical transparency.

Having no credit record can make it difficult to rent an apartment, get a credit card, or borrow money for big purchases. And it can lead to the use of expensive non-traditional forms of credit such as payday loans.

If you're a credit invisible, you don't have to stay that way forever. There are some simple things you can do to help you build your score. 

How many Americans are credit invisible?

The Ascent's research found that as many as 26 million consumers in the U.S. have no record with credit reporting agencies and so are considered credit invisibles. This is about 11% of the adult population of the United States.  

The same research showed that a further 19 million consumers -- about 8.3% of all adults -- in the U.S. have a record with the major credit reporting agencies, but their credit record is too thin to receive a credit score.

How can you build your score if you're one of them?

Unfortunately, being credit invisible can be a big problem as many companies check your credit -- not just lenders. Auto insurers, landlords, cell phone companies, and utility companies all review your credit history when deciding on the terms of doing business with you. And some employers do a credit check too.

If you have no credit history, these companies and individuals don't have an easy way to tell if you're trustworthy and likely to stick to your financial commitments. They may be less likely to rent you an apartment or may charge you a higher deposit to get connected to water and electricity. 

The good news is, developing a credit record isn't hard. You just need to start by building a payment history. 

The easiest way to build a payment history is to get a credit card. And while you may have difficulty getting a traditional card, there are plenty of secured cards out there you can start with. A secured card requires you to put down a deposit equal to your credit limit. You can then make small charges on your card and pay them off in full each month. Your credit transactions will be reported to the credit reporting agencies and you'll develop a credit record that -- over time -- enables the credit reporting agencies to give you a score so you'll be invisible no more. 

Store cards may also be easier to qualify for and can also help you to develop that all-important credit history. Try applying for one at your favorite store, making periodic small purchases with it, and paying them off right away. 

You could also ask someone in your life who has good credit to cosign for a credit card or a loan for you. This would enable you to get approved and get your credit history started. Asking a loved one to add you as an authorized user to one of their credit cards would work too. This would enable the account to be listed on your credit history, even though you wouldn't be responsible for paying the credit card bill.

Getting credit will open up your credit report. Then, you need to make sure you exhibit responsible borrowing behavior by keeping your credit balance low (try to use less than 30% of your available credit) and always paying your bills on time. 

You don't have to be credit invisible anymore

If you don't want to be credit invisible any longer, the tips above can help make sure you build a positive credit history so lenders will be eager and willing to do business with you. Get started ASAP because it takes time to build credit. Now is the perfect time to stop living in the shadows and make sure you're seen. 

Topics: Credit Cards, 0% APR & Low Interest

MOVED Want to Boost Your Travel Rewards? You May Want a Cash Back Card

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 22, 2019 4:00:00 PM

Cash back and travel rewards aren't mutually exclusive anymore.

You might think that it's impossible to earn travel points with a cash back credit card. After all, you earn travel rewards with travel cards and cash back with cash back cards. Simple, right?

Although that seems logical, it isn't always the case. Some credit card companies are now blurring the line between their cash back and travel cards, effectively allowing you to convert cash back to travel points. And that's great news for travel enthusiasts, because once you understand how this works, it can help you earn hundreds and even thousands more points every month.

Young couple on a bus smiling and looking at something through the window.

How it works

Chase and Citi are the two biggest credit card companies that currently allow you to convert cash back rewards into travel points. To do this, you must have at least one of each type of card with that card issuer.

When you have both travel and cash back cards, you can transfer any cash back you accumulate over to your travel card. The standard rate is one point per $0.01 of cash back you transfer.

Let's say you have two Chase credit cards, a travel card and a cash back card. You have $500 in cash back available. Instead of redeeming that cash, you could transfer it to your Chase travel card, where it will become 50,000 points. It will then have all the same redemption options as any rewards you earned with your travel card, such as transfers to any of Chase's travel partners.

By the way, Chase and Citi only let you transfer cash back to travel cards in their own respective travel rewards programs, which are Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou® Rewards. You can't transfer cash back to one of their co-branded airline or hotel credit cards. If you have a Chase cash back card, you wouldn't be able to turn your cash back into miles on a Chase credit card with United Airlines.

Maximizing your travel points with cash back cards

When you're able to convert cash back to travel points, you can take advantage of spending categories where cash back cards earn better rewards. This gives you the opportunity to earn significantly more points on your everyday spending.

For example, imagine you have a travel credit card that earns three points per $1 spent on travel and dining, and one point per $1 on everything else. If you also have a cash back card that earns 5% on internet, cable, and phone spending with the same company, you can transfer that cash back to your travel card.

If you had used your travel card to pay those bills, you'd be earning one point per $1. Instead, you can pay with the cash back card, earn 5%, and send the cash back to your travel card -- effectively earning five points per $1.

Here's what makes this even better -- many of the best cash back credit cards don't have annual fees, so you'll be boosting your travel rewards without needing to pay anything extra.

A simple, effective travel rewards strategy

If you already have a travel credit card with Chase or Citi, there aren't any drawbacks to adding one or more of their cash back cards to your wallet. It's a smart way to earn more travel points on your typical expenses, and it won't cost you a thing. You will have more credit card bills to pay each month, but that's easy enough to manage with automatic payments or by setting yourself reminders.


Topics: Credit Cards

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Posted by Matt Frankel, CFP on Dec 18, 2019 3:08:17 PM

Posted by Christy Bieber on Dec 31, 1969 7:00:00 PM


A below-average credit score could have financial consequences -- so how does your score stack up? 

Credit scores affect your ability to borrow, your cost of borrowing, and all kinds of transactions with any company that checks your credit. 

Since these scores are so important, it's important to know what yours is. It can also be helpful to know where you stand relative to your peers.

A group of friends riding bikes along the waterfront.

Fortunately, new research from The Ascent is packed with information about credit scores in the United States. You can check out how you compare to the average American, as well as people in your age group and your state. And if your score is below average, we also have some tips to help improve it so you can excel when it comes to credit. 

How does your credit score compare to the average?

According to The Ascent's data, the average FICO® Score in the United States hit 704 in 2018. This is a four point increase from 2017 and a 14 point increase from the average score a decade before. It's also considered to be a good score that would qualify the average American for loans at reasonable rates from most lenders. 

We also looked at the average FICO® Score by age. Those who are 60 and over have the highest average of 747, while pre-retirees aged 50 to 59 have an average score of 713. Both of these scores are considered good to excellent.  

Younger Americans tend to have lower average scores than their older counterparts, though. Young adults aged 18 to 29 average a score of 659, while adults age 30 to 39 have an average score of 677. Americans between the ages of 40 and 49 have an average score of 690. 

The Ascent's research also revealed that the average VantageScore was 694 as of the first quarter of 2018. VantageScores are an alternative to FICO® Scores. FICO® Scores are determined using a formula created by the Fair Isaac Corporation, while VantageScore's formula was developed in 2006 by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. 

What to do if your score is below average?

If your score is below average, you may have more trouble getting approved for financing and you may have to pay above average rates for credit cards, personal loans, or other types of financing.

But you don't have to just accept a lower score. You can be proactive and take steps to try to increase it. To do this, you need to understand that your score is based on a number of factors: your payment record, how much of your available credit you use, the age of your credit history, the types of credit you have, and how many inquiries are on your credit report (inquiries go on your report when you apply for new credit). 

If you can improve your payment history by making payments on time and paying down debt, you can hopefully earn a score that's at least as good as the average American’s -- or perhaps even better. 

Now you know how your credit score compares

Knowing how your score compares can help you to determine where you stand when it comes to your credit -- and whether there's room for improvement. Hopefully, your score is above average or at least equal to it. But if not, responsible behavior can boost it over time and put you on par with your peers. Then you'll be able to qualify for competitive financing from a lender of your choice. 

Topics: Credit Cards