5 Cringe-Worthy Credit Mistakes

Man cringing over credit card mistakes

You don’t need a special news alert to know…

…we’re all human.

Being human means we’re all bound to make a mistake or two when it comes to making credit decisions. Here are 5 of the most common credit card mistakes. See how many you’ve evaded.

Applying for every credit card under the sun (and being approved). Having a little buying power is great, but too much power can lead to a mountain of available credit and plenty of potential to begin mounting debt. This looks risky to a lender. Stick with one or two and be sure they’re the best card you can carry.

Misplacing your magnifying glass—you really do need to read the fine print. Within that tiny print lies the answer to whether you’ll be paying more to have that credit card in your wallet and how long. Do your homework–there are plenty of companies out there with annual fees, short introductory rate periods, difficult repayment terms, fees to transfer balances and more.

How does your card rate? Low, we hope. When applying for a credit card, you probably didn’t opt to be tied for life to its balance. Not shopping for the best rate can mean paying down a balance for much longer than you might realize. Save yourself some time, money and stress and search for the best rate you can get. The lower the rate, the faster the balance will be paid off.

Don’t listen to mom—less isn’t always more. When it comes to paying off high-interest credit cards, making the minimum payments may seem innocent enough, but it leads to bloated balances. To keep balances low and easy to maintain, don’t charge more than you can pay off within a month or two and be sure to make more than the minimum payment. Your future self will thank you.

Fashionably late or just bad credit karma? Though there isn’t a specific formula to follow for A+ credit, one thing’s for sure: making your payments on time, every time, is the best thing you can do to keep your credit score up. Be the life of your own credit party—be fashionably on time with your payments.

When you’re ready to begin building your own credit or make the switch to a card that’s in your best interest, look to MembersFirst to provide a reasonable solution to your credit needs (even for those who’ve thought ‘guilty’ after each of the 5 cringe-worthy mistakes above.) Visit membersfirstga.com for a list of solutions and details on our various credit card programs and promotions for anyone, at any age and any stage.

5 Car Finance Gimmicks and Tricks to Beware Of

Auto Loans — the offers are everywhere.  Some are greater than others while others just seem like a great deal, but are they really?

“0% for 6 months!” “No payments for 90 days!” “Cash back up to $3000!” “We’ll give you more for your trade!”

How do you know which great deal is really, well…a great deal?

While some could prove to work in your favor, here are a few auto finance gimmicks and deals to be mindful of.

  1. Too-Good-To-Be-True advertised discounts and rates.  Not all dealers are created equal.  Some use lower-than-usual rates and price discounts to draw buyers in.  The deal could be on one particular vehicle that may or may not still be available.  Be sure to get all the details before sitting down in a finance chair.
  2. Don’t be bullied by special discounts and offer time limits.  If you’ve been quoted a price with a substantial discount which also comes with a fast-approaching expiration date, don’t feel you need to make a hasty decision without time to consider.  The expiration date of a promotion should be clear and upfront and shouldn’t make you feel rushed into making a decision to buy.
  3. Focusing on the payment vs. the purchase price and terms.  While it’s important to make sure your payment falls within your means, don’t get caught up in what you would prefer to pay each month and neglect the details of the purchase price and finance terms.  Paying less each month, but stretching the terms longer to afford a higher-priced vehicle could prove to cost a lot more in the long-run.
  4. Substantial offers to pay off your trade.  You know what your trade is worth—so does the dealer.  If you’re offered much more than your trade is typically worth, be sure the overage hasn’t been retrofit into the finance side of the deal.  Traditionally, less is offered for your trade than its worth, so research the value before signing on the dotted line.
  5. Offers of 0% vs. Cash Back.  One way or another, a lender is going to profit from the sale of a vehicle.  0% offers usually work for the dealer by increasing the sales price of a vehicle.  Cash back deals are usually contingent upon the rate you pay or the price of the vehicle—sometimes both.  Give a good look to the fine print of these deals and consider traditional pricing and financing before these.

Get a quote from your credit union before finalizing a loan with a dealer.  Your credit union is here for you with one goal – to help you afford life.  It doesn’t matter where you find the car you choose (we do have some great friends at local dealers as well!), we will always check the values against the asking price, we’ll always give you a fair rate and we will ask for a copy of the vehicle title to avoid unnecessary hassle when it comes time to register your vehicle. Our GAP and Warranty programs are very affordable and save you from hidden dealer fees. You can protect your family and yourself in the event of unfortunate circumstances with our Optional Credit Life or Credit Disability Protection.  We share a financial relationship built on trust and value your membership as we work to fit your needs. You’ll always see the terms and conditions of our offers up front and receive fair pricing and rates on all the products and services we offer. With that in mind, you can feel comforted knowing an auto loan through MembersFirst is a great decision.

Ready to purchase your next vehicle?  Check with us first!  We have loan programs for everyone, in every stage of life.  Whether you’re just starting out on your journey to build credit, doing just fine or need a fresh start, look to MembersFirst!  Visit membersfirstga.com, give us a call at 404-978-0080 or stop by your local office to get the process started today. 

And, if you’re ready to start looking for a fantastic car, take a look at some of the services offered through MembersFirst:

Member Showroom:  A Car-Buying Service, Powered by TRUECar
Enterprise Car Sales:  A great pre-owned car-buying experience in your area

Equifax® Data Breach: How to Protect Your Financial Identity

equifax data

By now, it’s safe to assume most of us have heard about what Equifax is referring to as a ‘cybersecurity incident’. For those of us who haven’t, here’s a quick recap:

  1. Hackers took advantage of a weak area in an Equifax application between May and July 2017.
  2. Information that may have been stolen included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, birthdates and driver’s license numbers for close to 143 million U.S. customers.
  3. You will need to take action to protect your information and credit by first visiting equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if you were included in this data breach.
  4. Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring to those effected.
  5. In addition to the breach of personal information, some 209,000 credit card numbers and 182,000 dispute documents containing personal information may also have been stolen. Equifax will alert those affected via U.S. mail.

Also, while it’s true we have the word ‘credit’ built into our name, it’s important to understand your credit union was not breached and your account information with the credit union remains safe.

What this breach could mean to you.

Thieves could use the stolen information to pretend to be you and open accounts like credit cards, auto and personal loans in your name. This could be harmful to your chances of being approved for loans and accounts you are actually applying for in the future. Landlords, utility companies, cellular service providers, employers and others also use your history when deciding to hire, grant you credit, lease a home to you, provide you with internet and other services necessary for daily life. If someone else has taken your good credit on a joy ride, it’s likely they won’t plan to also make the corresponding payments, thus, leaving you with raised debt ratios and poor pay history. All this adds up to lowered credit scores and one big mess to clean up once you’ve discovered they’ve taken advantage of your hard work.

So how, then, do you protect yourself?

The good thing to know is you do have options which could prevent the above scary situation. Some experts suggest a complete ‘freeze’ of your credit file while others suggest a ‘lock’. The two seem the same; however, there’s a difference in how to go about adding and removing the freeze or lock.

According to TransUnion, a major credit reporting agency, locking your credit file puts you in control of preventing lenders and others from accessing your credit. When you lock your credit yourself, there’s zero waiting period, need for a PIN number and no fee is charged. TransUnion suggests enrolling in their credit monitoring program, TrueIdentity, which gives you the ability to lock and unlock your credit anytime while providing free monitoring alerts for critical credit information changes.

Freezing your credit, however, means you’re turning over control to credit reporting agencies to remove and control access to your credit file. You initiate the request to freeze and unfreeze, reporting agencies do the rest. A few things to keep in mind with a credit freeze:

  • There are fees associated with freezing and unfreezing your credit and you must initiate the request with each of the major credit agencies separately. These fees can range from $3 – $10, depending on your state, per request.
  • You may not be able to immediately freeze and unfreeze your credit file. Keep this in mind if, for instance, you’re out and about car shopping and decide to have your credit pulled for loan approval. In some cases, it can take up to 48 hours and may require a fee to unfreeze. Patience is a virtue, but in a world where instant gratification often reigns, it can feel like an eternity.
  • A PIN is required and must be provided when applying for new credit. If you forget your PIN, you’ll have to take in-depth steps with one or more of the credit bureaus to verify your identity and reset your PIN. As this breach is related to personal identifying information, identification processes may be strenuous. If you choose this option, be sure to choose a PIN you will remember.

Clark Howard made it even easier for all by providing links to freeze or lock your credit with each of the 3 main credit bureaus (thanks, Clark!)  You can visit the page by clicking here.

As credit card info for 209,000 cardholders across the U.S. and possibly another 182,000, we encourage you to take advantage of Remote Control Card services by logging into mobile banking using our FlexTeller app and turning your debit cards ‘on’, or active, and off, or ‘disabled’ as you need to use them.  If you have questions about this service, let us know!

Is there such a thing as ‘too much’ protection?

In this case, it’s not possible to be overzealous in protecting your financial identity, especially since it’s important to remember you may not immediately see false accounts or trade lines on your credit report. Identity thieves are patient…this breach happened in May – July 2017 and it’s possible, if your information is misused at all, it may not be evident for a long time. If you do not choose (and even if you do) to block or freeze your credit, you should be diligent in monitoring your financial accounts and credit report for any suspicious activity. You can do this by requesting your credit report from each of the three major credit agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, at no charge, once per year. To request a copy from one or each of these agencies, visit annualcreditreport.com. Some may choose to enroll in other credit monitoring services like Credit Karma. If so, understand these services are not the ‘be all, end all’; combine the info you see with these services to what you see on the credit reports you request.

Still, despite all you can do to help yourself, we’re here for you as well…working to calm the concerns you’ve expressed to us when calling, emailing and stopping by one of our offices. You should know we take this breach very seriously and have taken steps to ensure your member advisors are working to protect you and your information. Just as we’ve always done, we’ll continue to ask you to verify your account and contact information by asking several questions when you call. This will continue to be consistent across the board and we ask that you be patient while we complete this process as it’s truly in your best interest. A few extra seconds spent verifying your identity could prove to save you hours of frustration in the long-run should identity thieves attack the security of your information.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 404-978-0080.

Brainy Browsing and Purchasing Tactics

user entering credit card on tablet

It seems every time you turn around there’s another item you need—and you needed it, like, yesterday.  A replacement water filter for the fridge, new carpet, an extra garage door opener…

So, what do you do?  If you can’t visit your favorite retail shop, you’ll probably go to your second best option — online shopping.

Whether on your mobile device or a computer, you may have a few of your favorite online shops bookmarked.  Online retail giants like Amazon.com, eBay.com and Zappos.com continually update their safe-purchase policies, but have you checked the security settings of other websites lately?  Are you sure your purchases and personal info is still protected?

There’s plenty you can do to protect your info whether you’re online or out and about.

Spam filters are there for a reason.  Don’t disable (or forget to activate) the spam filter settings on your browser and in email programs.  Though you may not receive notifications each time a suspicious email or a website pop-up is blocked, rest assured the spam filter is doing its job.  If you’re worried it may redirect a legitimate email to the wrong location, just check your spam or ‘junk’ email folder every so often.

Don’t ignore update notifications.  Keep firewall and anti-virus programs up-to-date.  As new malware seems to pop up daily, your computer and mobile device support systems work constantly to keep your content protected by creating new protection policies and pushing them through to you via updates.

Be a skeptic.  If an email or link on a website seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Fraudsters work hard to reach you in various ways.  Don’t assume the email you just received from Aunt Rhonda bragging about the gigantic sum of money she won is legit.  Her email could have been hacked.  Look for phrases that don’t quite make sense, hover over links in emails to see where they point and be leery of shortened URLs that don’t give you clues as to where the link is taking you.

Keep your cards in sight.  Card readers, also known as skimmers, can be present anywhere.  Skimmers retain information when someone runs your card through a smaller machine under a counter or concealed in clothing.  These card readers can even fit over the top of a legitimate card reader at an ATM.  The stolen information can be copied onto another card for use by someone else.  Keeping an eye on your cards at all times and being on the lookout for fake readers can reduce the risk of your information being stolen.

Trust your instincts.  When in doubt, make a purchase from another location or website.  Doing so can save you a lot of time and financial hassle later on.

If you think your personal information has been used by someone other than you or if your cards have been compromised, be sure to alert your financial institution immediately.  The sooner you take back control of your finances, the easier it will be to clean up the mess another may have created for you when unjustly using your information.

If your credit and debit card company don’t come equipped with services like fraud prevention and account monitoring, consider switching to a financial institution like MembersFirst–we take every threat very seriously and will work with you to identify where the information leaks might be.  Don’t put a bandage on the issue; get to the root of the issue by protecting your info as much as you can.

Staying Financially Sound During A Job Loss

membersfirst logo

Planning. It’s singlehandedly the best thing you can do for your budget. It allows room to allot funds for retirement, unexpected bills such as an increase in a utility bill, a veterinary or ER visit and even room to budget for entertainment and family weekend activities.

But does your financial outlook include a plan for an unexpected job loss?

You may be making plans for the funds coming in each pay period, but if those funds cease to find their way into your checking account, you’ll likely be forced to access savings, or worse—available credit. Looking ahead and planning for a loss such as this is just good practice. As you may consider setting aside a portion of your income each pay period for unforeseen circumstances, putting away a little each month in the event you or someone in your household loses income will assure you’ll stay financially sound as you search for another job.

In the September issue of Consider This, a publication issued by Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, a recent poll suggests close to 31 percent of respondents stated they would not be able to cover even a month’s expenses after a loss of income.

Though the unemployment rate is down to 6% from 10.5% in 2010, the rate at which Georgians have experienced a job loss or loss of income still has a great impact on our economy and the financial choices we make.

When creating your financial plan, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Begin contributing funds to an emergency funds account. A minimum of 6-9 months is suggested. MembersFirst offers special savings accounts with no fees that you may use for any purpose.
  • Even a little income is better than not at all. If having difficulty finding another job that’s right for you, consider working in a temporary or part time position to continue bringing in an income. Contact the Department of Labor for assistance if needed.
  • Stay diligent. Should you experience a lay off or termination, try to get ‘back in the game’ as soon as possible.
  • Borrow funds from a current investment. If you find yourself out of work for an extended period of time, avoid accessing lines of credit – this could cost much more in the long run.
  • Evaluate and reevaluate. What are you spending money on that could be cut from your budget temporarily? Try lowering your cable or cellular plan to the minimum until you’re back on your feet.
  • Consolidate your credit cards into a fixed-rate loan. Making one payment to one financial institution at a fixed rate is better for your credit (which a new employer may check) than missing payments.
  • De-Fee Yourself. Are you paying unnecessary fees for banking services? Open a no-fee checking, like our No Fee Checking account at MembersFirst.
  • Consider making a Credit Union your primary financial institution. Credit Unions, in general, charge less in fees on products and services, such as checking and savings account, and less interest on loans than a traditional bank.
  • Talk to a Member Advisor. Let one of our team members help you identify the best way to maintain financial calm as you search to replace lost income.

 

Do you have a plan in the event you have a loss of income? Which unnecessary expenses will you plan to remove temporarily? We’d like to know–weigh in on the discussion.

For more on how you can reduce fees and keep more of your hard-earned money, stop by one of our locations, visit us online at MembersFirstGA.com or give us a call at 404-978-0080.