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Credit

One of the best things you can do to build awareness of your financial condition is to view your credit report. Your financial condition — as perceived by potential lenders — can cost or save you thousands of extra dollars throughout your credit repayments, such as the life of a mortgage, for instance.

Credit Card

You can get them for free these days, too. In fact, you are entitled to three credit reports, one from each of the three major reporting bureaus, each year. You can either get them all at once or visit annualcreditreport.com (the government’s official free credit report source) three times a year, to space the credit reports out evenly. Personally, I prefer the latter approach.

What You’ll Probably Find

Well, if your credit report is anything like mine, it contains a list of credit cards with basic information like partial account numbers, a credit limit, and payment history. Some probably date back to college, when you signed up for a credit card in exchange for a free t-shirt at freshman orientation. You may not even know where to find the actual credit card anymore.

For example, here’s a snapshot of one of my own records. This card account hasn’t been touched since 2011, but here it is, on my 2017 report:

old cc sc

There are a number of reasons that I keep this card active, though.

Reason 1. It’s one of my oldest accounts. I opened this card back in 2005 when I was a college freshman (cliché, I know). It’s the second oldest credit card I have, and even though I don’t use it, I like to keep my credit score’s Average Age of Accounts as high as possible.

Average Age of Accounts and How Your Credit Score Is Calculated

Were I to cancel this card, that number — an average of the credit length of all my revolving accounts — would go down. No, it wouldn’t be substantial, but I would still rather avoid it unless necessary. Which leads me to…

Reason 2. It doesn’t have an annual fee. Since I don’t use this credit card, it just sits around collecting dust (actually, I shredded it years ago, so that’s just a figure of speech). It doesn’t have any sort of fees involved, so I’m alright with that. However, if I were being charged an annual fee to hold the account, I would close it faster than you could say “Semi-Annual Sale.”

Many rewards credit cards do have annual fees; whether they’re worth it or not is up to you. If you’re using the card and earning great cash back (that more than negates the fee), go for it. If not, then you’re just throwing money away. And with a mere $1,000 credit limit impacting my credit utilization ratio, it wouldn’t be worth my cash to keep the account open.

Before closing an unused card due just to an annual fee, though, try calling the issuer. Sometimes, they will be willing to waive the cost for you — at least for that year — just to retain your account. Others may have a version of the card that doesn’t have an annual fee, and would happily switch your account over to that product instead. It would keep the benefits of the account on your credit, while avoiding the unnecessary drain of a fee every 12 months. Win-win.

Reason 3. I am still paying off balances on other cards. That credit utilization I just mentioned? This is where that comes into play.

If you don’t hold balances on any of your other accounts (i.e.: you have no credit card debt), closing a card like this won’t really impact you. I, on the other hand, am still paying off some old credit card balances… so closing an account with a $1,000 limit would ding my credit score in yet another way.

This is because of my debt-to-available credit ratio. Also called credit utilization, this is the ratio of how much debt you owe (your balance) versus your line of credit (the available credit). Let’s look at an example.

  • If you have three credit cards, adding up to a total of $10,000 in available credit, but keep a $0 balance on each one, closing a $1,000 limit card won’t hurt. Your utilization will remain at 0%.
  • However, if you have $10,000 in credit but hold balances adding up to in $5,000 in debt, your ratio is already 50%. If you close down that $1,000 card with a $0 balance, your debt-to-credit ratio just jumped up to 55.6%!

So, take into account where your credit already stands before closing an unused card. If you don’t hold any debt, you’re probably fine to close the card and won’t notice much of a difference. If you need that line of credit to boost your utilization, or need the account to factor into your average age of accounts, perhaps it’s worth keeping the plastic around.

Related: Millennials Aren’t Using Credit… But Should They?

Still Want to Close the Card?

So, the above reasons don’t impact you, and you’re still ready to cut up some cards? Go right on ahead… but take these three steps into account.

Step 1. Save your best, oldest card. Find the credit card with the longest, cleanest history, and keep this card. If you don’t know where the credit card is, call the company to update your address information and ask them to send you a new card. This probably isn’t the card you want to use moving forward, though. Just keep the credit history clean, and spend on/earn rebates with newer cards.

Step 2. Close all other inactive accounts. You can do this by calling the phone numbers that are listed with the information for each card. If you have an active card with the same company, ask to move your credit limit from the inactive card to the active card, and then close the inactive card. This will keep your credit history long and your credit report short.

Step 3. Choose the best card to use. If you are struggling to get out of debt, you should choose a low-interest card with no perks. If you are managing your money well, this should be the card that offers the best perks (like cash back, airline miles, etc.) for you and your lifestyle.

Try looking through lists of cards like

You may not have to apply for a new card if you already have one by the same lender; just call customer service and ask to convert your card. They may have some additional options for you, too.

How to Get Your (Legitimately) Free Credit Report

If you want to improve your credit score and get the lowest mortgage rates, the bottom line is you want to keep your oldest, cleanest credit card to show a long, solid history of responsible credit. You also want to have a low debt-to-income ratio and credit utilization ratio (by paying off your balances every month).

Doing these will help you to improve your credit score, qualify for the best interest rates, and receive some of the best credit products (such as rewards credit cards).

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AMEX Blue Cash PreferredWhen the Credit Card Act was passed years ago, many thought it would be the end of credit card rewards programs. Despite increased costs of operations, credit card issuers continue to beef up their attempts to attract new customers, with bonuses for signing up and growing perks. The best cards you’ll find today seem to include the same 1% cash back on most purchases with 5% cash back for select spending categories that change every three months. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a nice surprise, offering a welcome bonus and up to 6% cash back on everyday purchases. It’s simple and straightforward with no rotating reward categories and no enrollment required.

American Express offers new cardholders of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express a welcome bonus. They’ll give you 150 Reward Dollars after you use your card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. The welcome bonus offer is not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months, or any other consumer Blue Cash® Card account within the last 90 days.

Learn More: Compare this and other rewards cards, and apply online HERE.

Also included with this offer is a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. Once that introductory period has expired, the purchase APR will vary with the market based on the prime rate. It is currently at 13.49% to 23.49% variable, based on your creditworthiness.

The best feature of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is its cash back rewards program. This is truly unmatched right now, and is actually even better with a limited time offer of 10% cash back at restaurants for the first six months (up to $200 cash back earned)!  Every eligible purchase earns cash back in the following amounts:

  • Limited Time Offer: Apply by 5/3/17 — Earn 10% cash back on purchases at U.S. Restaurants in the first 6 months, up to $200
  • 6 percent cash back at US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases
  • 3 percent cash back on gasoline at US gas stations
  • 3 percent cash back at select US department stores
  • 1 percent cash back on other purchases
  • Terms and limitations apply.

Your cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit and is earned only on eligible purchases. Unlike previous versions of the Blue Cash Card, where rewards could be redeemed only once a year, cardholders can redeem rewards as soon as they’ve accumulated $25 or more.

Unfortunately, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is not free. It comes with a $95 annual fee. However, considering the savings at the grocery store and gas pump, this card can potentially save you hundreds of dollars every year, even with the annual fee.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express — when you add up the 150 Reward Dollars and the cash back program — might be one of the most rewarding credit cards offered by American Express. Be sure to review the terms and conditions for restrictions that apply to this offer. Terms and restrictions apply.

learn_more

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Important Note! The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

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In your personal finance journey, you may or may not have come across peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms. The great news is, these have proven to be solid investments over the past few years, providing much higher returns than what you could earn on bank investments. But we have to wonder:  will P2P platforms continue to be reliable investments, particularly if the economy begins to weaken?

p2p

Since P2P lending only got its start in the early 2000s, we don’t have a particularly strong or reliable track record to fall back on. The first platforms only began coming on line as the last recession – the Financial Meltdown – was unfolding. So while they have been a picture of success since their inception, we don’t really know how they’ll hold up under pressure.

What Effect a Weakening Economy Might have on P2P Lending

In the absence of any substantial performance data from the last recession, we can only speculate what effect a weak economy will have on P2P lending. But we can rely on the general performance of loans in past recessions for strong clues.

When the economy declines, asset prices fall and unemployment rises. In turn, default rates on virtually all types of loans rise. Since P2P loans are unsecured and taken for a variety of purposes, they most closely relate to credit cards.

According to the Federal Reserve, credit card default rates were at 2.34% at the end of 2016. However, they hit a high of 6.77% during the second quarter of 2009, in the middle of the Financial Meltdown.

While P2P loans are priced to accommodate certain default levels, they are based on the most recent default experience. Should default rates rise to something close to what they were in 2009, P2P loans priced based on today’s default rates will likely suffer disproportionate losses in interest rate return.

The Flood of Institutional Money Might Weaken Lending Standards

The basic concept of P2P lending is simple. Individual borrowers come to lending sites in search of loans, which will ultimately be funded by individual investors. But as interest rates have continued low, institutional participation in P2P lending has grown, as banks and other large lenders seek higher returns. For example, Lending Club recently reported that banks funded 31% of loan originations in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared with 13% in the third quarter.

One of the concerns over increased institutional participation is loan quality. As institutions bring larger amounts of capital into the space, loan quality may decline. That can happen as P2P lenders lower underwriting standards in order to draw in a larger number of loans. As they do, the quality of those loans will gradually decline, eventually increasing the rate of default.

It remains to be seen if that will play out as a worst-case scenario. However, not only is the industry itself relatively new, but institutional participation is only very recent. That means that the impact of greater institutional participation has yet to be felt.

Lending Club’s 2016 Scandal

In May of 2016, Lending Club’s CEO, Renaud Laplanche, was forced to resign amid a scandal. A summary of the event disclosed that:

Lending Club conducted a review, under the supervision of a sub-committee of the board of directors and with the assistance of independent outside counsel and other advisors, regarding non-conforming sales to a single, accredited institutional investor of $22 million of near-prime loans. The loans in question failed to conform to the investor’s express instructions as to a non-credit and non-pricing element. Certain personnel apparently were aware that the sale did not meet the investor’s criteria…The review further discovered another matter unrelated to the sale of the loans, involving a failure to inform the board’s Risk Committee of personal interests held in a third party fund while the Company was contemplating an investment in the same fund.

Since Laplanche’s resignation, earnings have gone negative three quarters in a row. What’s more, the pattern of losses are expected to continue through 2017. The company is forecasting losses of $69 million to $84 million, on revenue in the range of $565 million to $595 million for the year. The company cites the loss of investors in the aftermath of last year’s scandal.

We should reasonably expect that Lending Club, as the largest platform in the P2P space, will recover. However the episode should serve as a warning that the development of P2P lending won’t necessarily be an elevator ride straight up. With the number of P2P lenders increasing steadily, there are bound to be more negative surprises.

Read More About Reducing Risk With Lending Club here.

That might make a strong case for spreading your P2P investments across several lending platforms.

The Nature of P2P Loans Themselves

Despite the positive overall performance of P2P lending over the past few years, the practice contains two built-in issues.

The first is the fact that the loans are largely comprised of debt consolidation loans. Though such a loan can potentially improve a borrower’s financial situation by lowering the interest rate and monthly payment that he or she is paying, it also holds the potential to borrow even more money.

For example, many borrowers engage in serial debt consolidation. They have a few credit cards, and then do a debt consolidation to lower the monthly payment. But one or two years into the debt consolidation, and they rack up more credit cards. Eventually, there’s another debt consolidation – and maybe even a third, and a fourth.

From a risk standpoint, the problem is that the borrower is never actually paying off debt. Often, the debt consolidation simply sets the stage for the next round of borrowing. As that cycle continues, the risk of default on the latest debt consolidation loan increases.

The second major concern is that most P2P loans are unsecured. Borrowers can typically take loans as high as $40,000, and for nearly any purpose, without having to put up any collateral. In the event of a loan default, there will be no assets to seize in order to satisfy the debt.

In an economy with low unemployment, low interest rates, and rising asset prices, neither issue is a major concern. But when the economy eventually weakens, both run more than a slight chance of becoming more pronounced.

Positioning Your P2P Portfolio for Leaner Times

All of this should be a reminder that P2P lending, like virtually all other types of investing, is not completely risk-free. And despite recent healthy performance, the situation could change — and change dramatically — in the event of an economic slowdown.

None of this is to discourage investing in P2P lending. Since the next recession is virtually inevitable, though, now is the time to prepare your investments for a change in circumstances.

Prepare Now: Sweat In Up Markets So You Don’t Bleed In Down Markets

How can you protect yourself?

  • As noted earlier, consider investing on several P2P lending platforms. That will minimize the risks associated with any one platform.
  • Don’t use P2P investing as a substitute for the fixed income portion of your portfolio. Instead, make it part of your fixed income investments, to offset and increase the lower rates paid on traditional but safer fixed income investments. You should have both P2P and traditional fixed income investments.
  • Invest across various risk grades, despite the fact that returns may be higher on the weaker grades. Lending Club’s Statistics page (“Loan Performance Details” chart) shows that default rates increase substantially with each lower credit grade.

In regard to the last item in particular, it’s important to realize that default rates are likely to increase more dramatically in the lower credit grades in the face of a bad economy. Those are, after all, the highest risk loans being made.

We don’t have much information available as to how well P2P investing performed in the last recession. But that makes it even more important, at this late stage of the current economic recovery, to make some reasonable assumptions about what’s likely to play out. This will allow us to best prepare for it.

How do you think P2P investing will do when the economy takes the next nosedive?

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So, you’re thinking about adding some plastic to your wallet. You want to take advantage of as many bonuses and offers as possible, and you definitely want to earn cash back where you can. You may even be thinking about travel hacking, where you open a number of new accounts in order to reel in a number of introductory point, mile, and cash back offers. Where do you look first?

524 rule

Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards with different perks, including low-fee balance transfers, travel rewards, rotating cash back categories, and even 5% back at Amazon. They are one of the more prominent card issuers, and frequently issue large sign-up bonuses to encourage new customers. Chase, however, has an interesting rule that makes them stand out when it comes to travel hacking.

The 5/24 Rule

You may have heard about their 5/24 Rule, especially if you’ve spent any time researching card hacking.

Simply put, if you’ve opened up 5 new accounts in the last 24 months, you’ll be denied for most Chase credit cards. This rule is all but inflexible, even with calls to customer service to beg them to reconsider. This is unfortunate, as it could lead to you missing out on some of the largest sign-up bonuses seen on credit cards to-date.

One important note: there are numerous reports that being pre-approved in a Chase branch for these cards leads to approval for the card. Anecdotally, I traveled to New York City last November and was approved in-branch for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 12/24 accounts. So, this work-around could be a possibility if you live near a Chase branch.

Check Out Its Brother Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re considering taking on the travel hacking game (beware: it requires strong organization skills and a lot of attention to detail!), Chase should be high up on the list of issuers to pursue. You’ll be applying for credit cards regularly, so you’ll quickly exceed the limitations for the 5/24 rule. For example, in the last 24 months, I’ve applied and been approved for 15 cards. In the world of travel hackers, that’s not even on the high side of new accounts.

Cards Not Under 5/24

The following cards are reportedly not under Chase’s 5/24 rule:

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (I was approved last month at 13/24)
  • British Airways
  • Fairmont
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Disney (both Rewards and Premier)
  • AARP
  • Marriott Business (note: there are conflicting reports on this but I was approved last October at 11/24)

Note that these credit cards will still result in a hard pull and the opening of a new account. So, if you’re interested in them, you should prioritize them after you’ve put yourself past the 5/24 threshold.

Which Card First?

First of all, a disclaimer: if you’re getting into travel hacking, here’s the criteria you need to meet:

  • Have an excellent credit score (I would put this at 720+, if not 740+)
  • Pay off your credit card statement balances in full each month
  • Be disciplined and organized with your money
  • Be able to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card without being financially irresponsible
  • Be unafraid of spending time doing research — there are no shortcuts here!

I would prioritize Chase cards as follows:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  3. Chase Ink Preferred
  4. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
  5. Chase Marriott Rewards
  6. Chase Freedom
  7. Chase Freedom Unlimited
  8. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

Note that there are more than 5 on this list, so you’ll have to do some research as to which card is right for you. The Chase Sapphire and Ink lines earn Ultimate Rewards points. These offer flexible and valuable redemptions across a number of airlines and other travel partners. The Chase Freedom line offers cash back perks as statement credits. The other branded cards like United and Marriott offer brand-specific points and miles.

I’ve prioritized the United and Marriott cards ahead of the Freedom cards for a few reasons. First, it’s possible to change your credit card to the no-fee Freedom cards after some time. So, if you’re a Sapphire Preferred cardholder and you’d like to discontinue paying the fee, it’s possible to change that card over to a Freedom.

Second, the bonuses for those two branded cards are relatively valuable at the moment. The United offer at 50,000 miles is higher than it was in 2016. The Marriott points are now eligible to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express at a good rate (3:1).

If I were just getting into travel hacking, I would be going straight down this list. You may be put off by the Ink Preferred being a business card, but applying for a business card isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Many people run small self-owned business through eBay selling or Etsy shops, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a business line of credit for those expenses. The process is nearly exactly the same as a personal application; you’ll just need to provide some information about the type of business you operate.

To 5/24-ers and Beyond

My advice to the unfortunate folks who are past 5/24: don’t worry about it. While some of these bonuses are stellar (the previous Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus at 100,000 points was great while it lasted), the sheer number of other card issuers and bonuses means that there’s no shortage of great perks to be had.

Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on airlines like Delta and American, as well as Membership Rewards points through American Express. New cards are constantly being rotated in and out. So, it’s more important to be able to jump on the higher bonuses when available, than to worry about getting back under 5/24.

Best of luck out there, and happy travels!

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Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express – 35,000 Starwood Points Review

by Michael Pruser
starwood

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is continually one of the best-reviewed cards from this issuer. Card owners are also the most likely to rate high on customer satisfaction surveys. This is probably due to the fact that the card offers excellent incentives and a low interest rate. NEW LIMITED TIME OFFER […]

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Getting Out of Debt: Make That New Year’s Resolution Work

by Luke Landes
CLIMB DEBT

Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This resolution, like all others, unfortunately tends to be forgotten within weeks. Well, if you resolved to get out of debt this year — and haven’t yet abandoned that idea now that we are at the […]

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Millennials Don’t Use Credit… But Should They?

by Abby Hayes

A recent survey by Bankrate showed that many millennials don’t carry credit cards on a day-to-day basis. In fact, just 33 percent of those surveyed in the 18 to 29 crowd even owned a credit card at the time of the survey. People in the 30 to 49 category carried significantly more plastic, with about 55 percent […]

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Why Do I Have More Than One Credit Score?

by Stephanie Colestock
credit-score

At some point in your life, you’ve talked about your credit score. In fact, you’ve probably talked about it many, many times. What it is, how to improve it, how much you paid to get it… But what if I told you that “it” is really just one of dozens of potential scores out there, […]

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Which Credit Card Should Be Your First?

by Aliyyah Camp
first-cc

Getting your first credit card is a significant financial milestone. Maybe you’re a college student jumping into personal finance for the first time. Or maybe you’ve just never had a reason to get a credit card before. Regardless, you may be overwhelmed with all the options that are out there. When it comes to getting […]

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How to Get Your Credit Report for Free

by Abby Hayes

Many consumers know that they can get a free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. But this report only shows your credit report, not your actual credit score. When you go to get your free annual credit report, the credit bureau will likely ask if you […]

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