Credit card

5 Myths About Credit Cards That Won’t Go Away

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The idea of evaluating a person’s creditworthiness goes back as early as 1899, when Equifax (originally called Retail Credit Company) would keep a list of consumers and a series of factors to determine their likelihood to pay back debts. However, credit cards didn’t make an appearance until the 1950s, and the FICO score as we know it today wasn’t introduced until 1989.

Due to these timing differences, many U.S. consumers hold on to damaging myths about credit cards. Let’s dispel five of these widely held but false beliefs and find out what to do to continue improving your credit score.

Myth #1: Closing unused cards is good for credit

Remember when United Colors of Benetton used to be all the rage and you shopped there all the time? Fast forward a decade; you don’t shop there anymore, and you’re thinking about shutting down that store credit card. Not so fast! Closing that old credit card may do more harm than good to your credit score.

Your length of credit history contributes 15 percent of your FICO score. If that credit card is your oldest card, then closing it would bring down the average age of your accounts and hurt your score. This is particularly true when there is a gap of several years between your oldest and second-to-oldest card. Another point to consider is that when you close a credit card, you’re reducing your amount of available credit. This drops your credit utilization ratio, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO score.

What to do: Keep those old credit cards open, especially when they are the oldest ones that you have. Just make sure that you’re keeping on top of any applicable annual fees and they’re not tempting you to spend beyond your means.

Myth #2: Holding a credit card balance is good for credit

Your payment history is a more influential factor to your FICO score than your total amount owed to lenders (35 percent versus 30 percent, respectively). This means that if you have a choice between paying off and holding on to debt, it’s generally better to pay it off. However, responsible…

6 Infuriating Ways You’re Ruining Someone Else’s Credit

Your credit score is one of the biggest deciding factors in your financial health. It influences whether you qualify for the best interest rates on mortgages or auto loans, it can impact your insurance rates, and it can even determine whether you land that dream job or not.

Establishing good credit requires managing your credit accounts responsibly. But your own credit score isn’t the only one that can suffer the consequences of poor credit management. In the same way money can ruin a friendship, your financial carelessness could ruin someone else’s credit. Here’s how.

1. Charging up someone else’s credit card

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card helps build your own credit history. You’ll receive a credit card in your name, and you’re allowed to make charges on the account. But even though your name is on the card and the account shows up on your credit report, only the primary account holder receives the statements. This person is ultimately responsible for any purchases you make with the card.

If you’re an authorized user, the mature thing to do is pay whatever you charge each month. If you don’t or can’t pay, this sets in motion a chain of events that could ruin the other person’s credit.

Any purchases you charge to the account can raise the primary account holder’s balance and increase their credit utilization ratio beyond a healthy range (utilization ratio is the credit card balance compared to the credit limit). Ideally, credit utilization should never exceed 30 percent of a credit limit — the lower, the better. A high utilization ratio can lower credit scores.

In addition, ringing up charges on someone’s credit card and not paying what you owe could trigger payment problems. This can happen if the primary user doesn’t have enough money for higher minimum payments. If they can’t pay the credit card bill within 30 days, the credit card company could report the late payment to the credit bureaus. While a 30-day delinquency won’t tank a credit…

4 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Credit Increase

Feeling penned in by the low credit limits on your credit card? You might be able to boost your credit limit to a higher amount. Often, all it takes is a single call to your card provider. The bigger question, though, is whether you’re financially prepared for a higher limit.

Your credit card providers will always set a credit limit on your cards, the maximum amount you can borrow. If you have a short credit history or a low FICO credit score, your credit limits might be low ones, sometimes under $1,000. If you have a long credit history and high scores, your limit might be $10,000, $20,000, or more.

How do know if you’re ready for the financial responsibility of a higher credit limit? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do You Pay Your Credit Card Bill Late?

Do you pay your credit card bills by their due dates every single month? Or have you missed payments in the past? If it’s the latter, you might want to hold off on requesting a higher credit limit.

Paying your credit cards 30 days or more late will cause your FICO score to drop by 100 points or more. Your credit card provider will also charge you a penalty, and your card’s interest rate might soar. If you have a higher credit limit and a high balance, an interest rate spike could cost you quite a bit in extra interest payments.

Having a history of late payments will also give your credit card provider pause; the financial institution might not want to boost your limit if you don’t always pay your bill on time.

Do You Carry a Balance on Your Card?

The smart way to use a credit card is to pay off your balance in full each month. This way, you boost your credit score by making on-time payments, and you won’t get hit by the high interest that is often…

18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Most people have already been victims of the most basic forms of identity theft — having fraudulent charges on your credit card. Those even less lucky have been victimized in more aggressive ways, with criminals obtaining medical care, working, and flying in our names.

Unwinding that mess can take years and thousands of dollars. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the crime doesn’t generally stop with the one person who stole your information. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data gets packaged and sold on the underground Internet so that different people all over the world could be impersonating you at the same time.

“It’s a pain. It does cause a lot of stress,” said Lindsay Bartsh, of San Rafael, California, who said that straightening out a web of fraudulent medical bills, flights, job applications, and credit applications took every minute of her free time for a year.

How does it happen? Here’s a look at both the most common ways thieves steal our data, as well as some of the newest ploys to watch out for.

1. Mail Theft

Bartsh believes this time-honored tactic is how her personal information got out into the criminal underworld. An expected W-2 tax form never arrived. Assuming it was stolen, it would have given thieves a wealth of information, such as Social Security number and workplace.

2. Database Hacks

When a large corporation gets hacked, the effect can be widespread. When the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management was breached, some 22 million people had their personal information exposed. (I was one of the many who received a warning about this, because I had a writing contract with a government agency.)

3. Malicious Software

If you have a virus on your computer, you may suffer more than a slowdown or a system crash. Some malicious programs that spread as viruses record every keystroke you type, allowing thieves to find out your online banking username and password. These programs can infect your mobile phone as well as your computer.

4. Search Engine Poisoning

This is a sneaky way of tricking people into giving up their own personal data, or getting malicious software onto a person’s computer. The criminals create a fake website similar to a real one, or that could plausibly be a real one.

One tactic is for you to click through to the fake site and try to buy a product, entering your credit card or debit card number. Another way they try to get you is for you to unknowingly download information-stealing software onto your computer.

Where does the search engine part come in? These criminals manipulate Google and other search engines’ algorithms to get their phony sites ranked high in search listings, leading users to believe they must be legit. Fortunately, Google has made progress in preventing this in recent years, but it still happens.

5. Phishing

Phishing is a term that broadly means “fishing” for personal information through a variety of common social interactions — so-called “social engineering.” The most common phishing attack happens when you get an email that looks like it came from your bank or another legitimate company. It may come with an alarming subject line, such as “overdraft warning” or “your order has shipped.” When you click a link in the email, you may see a login screen identical to your normal login, which will trick you into entering your username and password. You could also be asked for more identifying details, such as Social Security number and account number.

Fortunately, banks have put some countermeasures into place to fight phishing. You can also protect yourself by not responding directly to incoming messages. If you get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, type your bank address into your browser instead of clicking the link, sign in, and check your account’s message center. Or just call your bank’s customer service number.

6. Phone Attacks

The Internal Revenue Service has been warning for several years that scammers are calling people claiming to be the…

Which Credit Card Should You Use to Get Free Hotel Stays?

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If your goal is earning free hotel stays, it’s hard to know which type of rewards card to get. While co-branded hotel credit cards are an obvious pick, general-purpose travel credit cards that let you redeem points for different kinds of travel rewards can work well for free hotel stays, too.

Which card is best? It depends on your travel style and vacation goals. Let’s dig into both types of cards to see how they work, whom they’re best for, and where they fall flat.

Co-Branded Hotel Credit Cards

Each major hotel chain — Hyatt, Carlson, Marriott, IHG, Hilton, and the like — offers a unique set of options. Where IHG only has one co-branded hotel credit card, Hilton has several. Some hotel brands offer co-branded business cards, too, giving you even more ways to rack up points.

These co-branded cards have several benefits and drawbacks, compared to more flexible travel rewards cards.

Focused Strategy Generally Nets Extra Points and Perks

Hotel credit cards can offer great value if you’re an enthusiast for a specific chain. If your family always stays at Hiltons, for example, getting the Citi Hilton HHonors might be smart. Not only do you get automatic Gold status just for being a cardholder, but you can quickly earn points on stays for free nights. Co-branded cards generally offer very high bonus points for stays at its properties. They also often feature generous sign-up bonuses that can cover free stays for a few nights. (See also: Tips for Using Hotel Reward Points to Get the Most Value)

You’re Stuck With One Chain

The downside with hotel credit cards is that they aren’t as flexible as general travel credit cards. With a co-branded hotel credit card, you can only book free nights at a hotel within that chain. So, if your travel plans change or you want to try a different hotel brand, you might be out of luck.

Award Availability May Be Limited

Another downside with hotel credit cards is that even though most major hotel brands advertise “no blackout dates” for award nights, they still may limit award availability. So, even if you have the points to burn, you may not be able to use them for the exact dates you…

4 Reasons to Add Your Teen as an Authorized User on Your Credit Card

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Giving your kid access to your credit card account might make you squirm, but there are some good reasons to do it. Teens need to be educated about credit before they leave the nest and get their own credit cards. While you could just hand them your credit card whenever they want to make a purchase, there are extra benefits to making them an authorized user on your account.

An authorized user gets a card in their own name and can make purchases just like the primary user on the account. However, only the primary user is responsible for paying the charges. That sounds scary but there are ways to handle the situation so that your child gets the most from it without landing you in debt. (See also: What You Need to Know About Adding Another User to Your Credit Card)

Let’s look at the notable benefits that come with making your child an authorized user on your account.

1. Lessons on Credit and Debt

Teenagers may not really understand what credit is until they experience it firsthand. By introducing teenagers to credit early on, they can gain an understanding of what it means to owe someone money — and that every dollar spent must be paid back. They’ll also learn about credit card interest this way, and how not paying your balance in full means owing more money over time.

To make this lesson effective, you’ll need to establish with your teen that they are responsible for paying the charges they make and any interest they incur. If you simply pay for all their purchases, they’ll learn very little about responsible credit card use.

For example, your teen might use their authorized user card for new clothes at the mall without a care in the world. When the bill arrives, however, if you have made it clear that they will have to pay for the charges, they’ll be forced to face the consequences of their spending.

If they’ve kept the cash on hand to pay their bill, they can be proud of that accomplishment. If not, they’ll learn what it means to carry a balance and pay interest. And when those $49 jeans end up costing $61, they might feel the pain of their decisions in a way no other method of learning can convey. (See also: 13 Things to Teach Your Kids About Credit Cards)

2. Lessons in Budgeting

The example above presents a great way to introduce kids to another adult concept — budgeting….

Best Credit Cards to Use For a Home Renovation

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Millions of Americans enjoy repairing and maintaining their homes in their spare time. Many do it to save money on necessary repairs or to increase the value of their properties. And some just find the work itself to be rewarding.

When it comes time to invest in your own home renovation, you’ll want to use the right tools and materials for the job, including the right credit card. The best credit cards for a home renovation can offer you rewards for your purchases, promotional financing options, and perhaps both.

Here are the best credit cards to use for a home renovation.

1. Lowe’s Consumer Credit Card

Lowe’s is one of the largest home improvement stores, and while this card’s standard APR is a high 26.99%, it offers attractive rewards and promotional financing options. When you use this card, you can receive one of the following three benefits:

  • 5% off all purchases, OR
  • Six months of deferred-interest financing on purchases of $299 or more. Interest is waived if you pay off the entire amount within six months of purchase, OR
  • Project financing on purchases of $2,000 or more, for 36, 60 or 84 months, with rates of 3.99%, 5.99%, and 7.99% respectively (cannot be used at Lowes.com). Fixed monthly payments are required.

If you’ve got a big project that you can pay off within seven years or less, the card is a pretty good deal. It carries no annual fee, but it is not part of a larger payment network so you can only use it at Lowe’s.

2. The Home Depot Consumer Credit Card

If you prefer The Home Depot to Lowe’s, this card might make sense for you, though you won’t be able to get the long-term financing the Lowe’s card offers….

8 Most Common Mistakes When Doing a Balance Transfer to Eliminate Debt

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Many credit cards offer 0% APR promotional financing on balance transfers, allowing you to move debt from high-interest cards onto one that offers zero interest for an introductory promotional period. These promo periods are nothing to sneeze at. They can last as long 21 months.

So what’s the catch? The truth is that balance transfer offers can be incredibly valuable, but only when you use them properly and avoid making some common mistakes.

1. Assuming You’ll Get the Best Balance Transfer Deal

You might not always be approved for the balance transfer card you want. For example, the best 0% APR deals are only given to those with excellent credit. While you may have had excellent credit in the past, having a large balance for a long time might have caused your credit score to slip. (See also: One Ratio Is Key to a Good Credit Score)

Even if you are approved for the card, it may come with a credit line that’s substantially lower than you need. If that’s the case, you may want to consider applying for a second balance transfer card.

2. Trying to Transfer a Balance From the Wrong Card

Consumers sometimes don’t realize that you can’t transfer a balance between two cards issued by the same bank. So if you have an outstanding balance on your Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you can’t open up a new Chase Slate card and expect to transfer your balance to it.

Keep this in mind before you apply for a balance transfer card. Every time you apply for a credit card your credit score takes a little hit. It can usually recover fairly quickly, but there’s no need to ding it unnecessarily for a card that doesn’t even serve your needs. (See…

6 Credit Card Mistakes That Could Be Ruining Your Credit

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It’s difficult to overstate how important your credit record and credit score are. Not only will good credit enable you be approved for the most attractive credit cards, it’s vital for receiving the lowest rates on a car loan, a mortgage, and on home and auto insurance premiums. It can even make the difference in whether you get the apartment or job you want, since both landlords and employers often run credit checks on applicants. (See also: 15 Surprising Ways Bad Credit Can Hurt You)

Unfortunately, many credit card users are making big mistakes that are ruining their credit. Since it can take years for some of the most negative items to drop off your credit report, it’s crucial to avoid making these mistakes in the first place. Here are six credit card mistakes that could be ruining your credit.

1. Paying Late

The most important factor in your FICO score — the most popular credit score lenders use to evaluate you — is your payment history. It makes up 35% of your score. (See also: 5 Things with the Biggest Impact on Your Credit Score)

If you are using a credit card, your first priority should be to always pay your credit card bill on time. While one bill paid a few days late won’t cause lasting damage to your credit score, paying late frequently will hurt more. On top of that you’ll usually be subject to late fees.

Thankfully, there are many tools to help you pay on time. Most credit card issuers offer automatic payments to ensure that you never pay late. You can also request a specific payment due date so you can arrange all your bills to be due at the same time each month. That way you can sit down and pay bills just once a month rather than keeping track of various bills as they come in. Additionally, you can sign up for payment reminders by email or text.

2. Paying Less Than the Minimum

Paying just the minimum payment on your credit cards will hurt you financially, but paying below that is even worse — much worse.

To avoid being considered delinquent on a credit card account, you not only have to make your payments on time, but the payments must be at least the minimum amount required, which is stated on your bill. If…