What You Should Know Before Closing Credit Card Accounts

After learning the difference between traditional, secured, subprime, retail and major credit cards, you may want to close one or more of your credit cards, especially if you have more than five. If that’s your only solution to increasing your credit score, learn more about the credit process before closing an account.
Most credit scoring systems award a higher credit score to those who have no more than five credit cards. Before rushing to close an account, know the impact it will have on your credit score.
Here are a few basics about owning credit cards.
Fifteen percent of your credit score comes from the age of your credit accounts. The older your credit accounts are, the better it is for your credit score. Credit scoring systems consider the average age of your accounts. If possible, never close older accounts. If you do, you will drive down the average age of your accounts which will decrease your credit score.
Closing a credit card account may also affect your utilization rate. “Utilization rate” is the ratio of your credit card balance against your credit limit, expressed as a percentage. For example, if you charge $800 on a credit card with a credit limit of $2,000, your utilization rate is 40 percent. Credit-scoring bureaus reward people who have utilization rates below 30 percent. If you want to be rewarded by the credit scoring bureaus, always keep your utilization rate under 30 percent.
How does closing credit card accounts impact your utilization rate? If you transfer the balance on the account you want to close to another account, consider this first. If you decide to cancel a credit card and transfer the remaining debt to another card, you may cause the utilization rate on the second card to rise sharply.  This may cause your credit score to drop.
Leaving a balance on your card after canceling the account is worse than transferring a balance because you won’t have a credit limit to offset the balance owed. For example:  If you leave a $700 balance on the canceled card, your utilization rate will suffer dramatically since the limit on the card will be $0.
Develop a strategy to increase your credit score when you have more than five credit cards. Your best bet is to keep all of them active but pay them off every month. This is achieved with a budget. Plan which expenses you will pay with credit cards.
A steady history of payments will demonstrate to credit-scoring bureaus your ability to manage your accounts and will eventually improve your credit score. Pay special attention to the cards with the highest limits, oldest ages, and best interest rates. Be sure to keep these cards active, maintaining a utilization rate below 30 percent.
Retail credit cards, cards which can only be used at the designated company on the card, are an exception to the “keep-them-open” rule. There is no reason to purchase monthly from these stores. Letting a retail account go inactive may not be the ideal choice, but it should not be a cause for alarm unless it causes your credit score to drop. If that happens, call the retail store and to see if you can reactivate the card.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Great News – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now accept a 620 FICO score for Mortgage Loans!
Has less than stellar credit prevented you from getting a mortgage? If so, you may be in your new home sooner than you think!
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are easing tight lending standards to give worthy high-risk borrowers an opportunity to become homeowners. The minimum down payment has been reduced from 5% to 3%. Although the goal of these mortgage giants is to help first-time and lower income borrowers,  they will still require borrowers with less than a 20% down payment to purchase private mortgage insurance.
FICO is also revising their formulas for generating grades this fall. No longer will overdue medical bills and paid collection accounts have a negative effect on your credit score.
Reporters E. Scott Reckard and Tim Logan write, “Improved scores could make it easier for millions of Americans with past credit blemishes to get loans or to get them at lower rates. Experts cautioned, though, that borrowers might have to wait a year or more to see the effect of changes because lenders will not quickly overhaul their systems to evaluate consumers and price loans for them.
What’s more, the effect on the housing market, a major key to economic growth, is likely to be muted. Analysts said change would be seen more rapidly in auto loans and credit cards than in mortgages.”
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FICO are fighting for consumers who have had a financial meltdown and are rebuilding their credit the correct way. If you want to take advantage of this opportunity, NOW is the time to set your financial house in order!
Apply the principles in the 720 Credit Score program. Within 12-24 months, your credit score will put you in a position to take advantage of the eased lending standards of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In a year or so, you can become a proud homeowner instead of renter if that is your desire.
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FICO, and 720 Credit Score are extending you a helping hand. Are you ready to accept the challenge?

Becoming an Authorized User Quickly Increase Your Credit Score

The easiest and fastest way to increase your credit score is to become an authorized user on a family member’s credit card account.
This is an excellent strategy for teen children or people who have suffered a severe financial crisis. Both are interested in building or rebuilding their credit. As an authorized user, they receive the benefits of someone else’s credit but have no contractual obligation to pay the bills.
A person’s individual credit score is not considered when becoming an authorized user. Neither is his or her credit report reviewed. There is no pre-qualification for an authorized user status on a credit card. However, the credit card’s history will be reported on the authorized user’s credit report as long as the authorized user is related to the account holder.
Becoming an authorized user on a family member’s credit card will quickly raise your credit score, even after bankruptcy or other financial disaster, by allowing you to “borrow” the account holder’s clean credit history.
Family members may not be receptive to adding you to their credit card accounts if they believe you will not honor your commitment to repay the charges you make. You must assure them of your ability to re-pay. Show them how you will repay charges or tell them you do not want a credit card or access to their account. Your goal is to become an authorized user to increase your credit score.
To protect the family member adding you as an authorized user, here are two suggestions:

  1. The account holder should shred the credit card that arrives in your name.
  2. The account holder should never give you the account number, credit card expiration date, or card security code.

Both of you will then benefit. How? Your credit score will increase because you have a good credit report. The account holder benefits because he or she is able to help a family member without worrying about irresponsible behavior on your part.
Authorized users must be related to the account holder for their bad credit scores to benefit from this strategy. Try to choose someone with the same last name and address. Otherwise, the credit-scoring bureaus might not recognize your status as an authorized user and your credit score might not improve.
Call the credit card company and ask if they are reporting your status as an authorized user. You can also check your credit report to see if the account is appearing. If not, choose another account holder.
Be sure that you also choose a responsible relative with an account in good standing. If you become an authorized user on an account that becomes delinquent, guess what happens? Your score will drop. Therefore, pick an account with a clean history of payments and a utilization rate of no more than the 30 percent limit. If the balance exceeds 30 percent, or if the account holder makes a late payment, you should immediately remove your name as an authorized user so the negative information does not hurt your credit score.
Authorized users usually see a quick jump in their score. In twelve or eighteen months remove yourself from the account because you should be able to qualify for loans on your own.

Are You a Victim of Identity Theft?

Do you know if someone has stolen your identity? Are they living the good life at your expense?
80 percent of people have errors on their credit reports. Most of these errors are a result of identity theft. If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you may not be interested in using credit again. That’s the biggest mistake you can make! Use this as an opportunity to protect yourself and learn how to build your credit wisely.
Once a thief acquires your personal information, she or he can quickly steal your identity and suck your account(s) dry. This can be a devastating financial loss. Additionally, it takes a tremendous amount of time to correct these errors.
Hackers have infiltrated Target, Neiman Marcus, Johns Hopkins and many other organizations. Do you think they’re capable of stealing your information? Of course they are! Now, more than ever, you need to safeguard your personal information against scheming identify thieves. Don’t leave yourself open to identity theft. Be aware of the many ways identity theft might occur.
Dumpster diving. You may not dumpster dive but identify thieves will. This is one of the easiest ways to collect personal information. The credit card offers you discard without a thought can be used by dumpster divers to set up credit accounts in your name. Bank account statements that have your credit card number or banking information can be used to purchase items online or over the phone. To prevent this, purchase a shredder and shred all items containing your personal information.
Open-access mailboxes. If your mailbox does not lock or is an easily accessible community mailbox, beware of identity thieves snatching your mail and setting up bogus accounts in your name. Protect yourself from identity theft by putting a hold on your mail when away from home for extended periods of time.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Guard your purse and bags. Never leave them unattended. If an identify thief has access to your credit card, driver’s license, and Social Security number, they will enjoy the good life at your expense. If possible, never, ever carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
Phishers and Phreakers. Be especially wary of phishers and phreakers. Phreakers are people who search for personal information by eavesdropping on telephone calls.  Phishers send cleverly disguised emails that ask you to provide personal account information. Using anti-virus software and a firewall is a good way to cut down on malignant attempts by criminals to access your information. Do not share your password with anybody and change it often to decrease the possibility someone may hack into your computer. Also watch out for spyware which can be installed on your computer without your consent. It can monitor your computer for personal information, such as credit card numbers.
Guard your Social Security number. Each person’s social security number is unique. If an identity thief gains access to your Social Security number, she or he can make financial decisions that can affect you for years. Do not give out your number unless you started the call and can confirm the identity of the person or company you are calling.
Check your credit report often. Obtain a free copy of your credit report yearly from all three credit bureaus. Your best weapon against identify theft is getting a copy of your credit report every three months. This allows you to immediately identify any suspicious information or other irregularities.
Another often overlooked important safeguard against identify theft is double-checking the purchases on your credit card as well as withdrawals from your bank account.

Is your car a filthy mess?

Is your car sloppy? What about your home? Your office? Your yard? I’m a little embarrassed to admit my answers were, “yes, yes, yes, and yes.” Embarrassed because I realized sloppiness impacted every area of my life, including my finances.
Now, I am happy to say that was the old me. But before I acknowledged my sloppiness, I justified it by telling myself I was hyper and needed to stay busy. Although my space appeared untidy, there was “order” in my sloppiness.  I had a general idea of where things were. If they weren’t there, I kept looking until I found what I was looking for.
But then I noticed something…
My thinking changed when I intentionally made the decision to give every physical thing a purpose. When I made better decisions about my personal space, I started making better decisions about my time and my finances. Sloppiness no longer reigned in my life or my finances.
Making a decision to give every physical thing a purpose is not quite right. What really happened is I had to re-train my mind to give a purpose to things. When I assigned a purpose to things, sloppiness decreased in my life and finances.
The floor of my car is not a trashcan. That’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to stabilize the car, keep me from falling through, hold the seats in place, etc. No longer do I put garbage on the floor of my car. If I must store garbage in my car, I place it in a bag whose purpose is to hold garbage.
You might think that organization and cleanliness are irrelevant to credit or financial problems. I disagree.
If your physical space is sloppy, your life will most likely be sloppy. This sloppiness will extend into your finances also. Re-training your mind to give everything its purpose and place allows you to make better financial and spending decisions.
If your mind is not trained to examine everything, decide its purpose, and then put it in the right place, you will make purchases that do not honor your long-term goals. This leads to impulsive buying—not buying with a purpose to further your goals.
Giving things a purpose, and then placing them where they belong, gives you control over your life. It allows you to eliminate dead weight and garbage.It also gives you the opportunity to accept things that will improve your life.
Imagine the impact of training your brain to put things in its place. You can immediately eliminate expenses unrelated to your goals. Ideas to help you become more frugal will appeal to you. Frugality will eliminate sloppiness in your finances.
When making purchases with a purpose, sloppiness loses its hold on your life and your finances.
What do you think? Am I crazy? Spot on? Let me know your thoughts below!

“way too intense”… sound familiar?

I can be overbearing to my family (luckily for you, we’re not related).
For example, once I traveled home to visit my sister and parents, and Lacey (my sister) said to me, “Phil, it’s no fun when you come home because you are way too intense.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
She responded, “Phil, you are always pushing us to be better, and although there is a good part to that, it drains us. For example, Mom called me last week and said, “Lacey, let’s all get on a diet and lose weight, Phil’s coming to town!”
Ha! Can you believe that?
That is when it hit me… I don’t love them in an unconditional way. My love is coming across as conditional and fabricated and it exhausts them.
So with Easter weekend here, there is a chance you may see your family, or if you celebrate Passover, you just did. I figured I would take this moment and take a break from talking about credit.
So here is what I’m challenging myself to do this weekend with my family:
I’m going to start with my wife and stop complaining about the parts of the relationship that I’m frustrated with. I’m going to love her exactly the way she is and trust that our relationship is exactly where it is suppose to be.
I’m going to acknowledge my kids for how far they have come and not how far I expect them to be.
I’m going to give up judging other family members about what they “should be doing” or “should have done.”
I’m going to enter every conversation looking for the 1% that I can agree with, instead of the 99% that I disagree with.
I’m going to look at those that I’m frustrated with in a compassionate way and realize they are doing the best they can do at this moment.
Does any of this resonate with you?  Are you up for doing this too?
Share your stories and insights with me and be an inspiration for all of us.
Click here to read Part II of this blog.

My wife is turning 40, and I’ve got something to say

My beautiful wife, Lily, is turning forty on Monday, and people keep asking her what it feels like.
“Are you freaking out?”
“Enjoy the last few days of your thirties! You’ll be over the hill soon.”
Lily simply laughs.
I say that she “simply” laughs, but if you have ever heard her laugh, you know that there’s nothing simple about it. Lily’s laugh turns heads. It is the kind of laugh that fills a room. It is nothing short of an exultation of the spirit .
It is a complex symphony of all the secrets of life.
That laugh envelops me. And even on the worst days—and with four kids ages six and under, you can bet that there are bad days—Lily shares that laugh with me.
Lily knows something that I want to know, that I strive to know. Lily knows how to celebrate life, and how to find delight—comprehensive delight—no matter what.
I’m an optimistic guy. I never give up, but I’m no match for Lily. We are blessed, but we also have experienced our share of grief and pain. And Lily is the one who pulls us out … every single time.
I’m telling you this because I want you to imagine that laugh the next time you are feeling financial strain. The next time you have that awful feeling in the gut of your stomach, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then imagine being in a place of total peace. If only for a few moments, let yourself feel calm and tranquil.
You see, I don’t believe that people who are feeling anxiety and panic can make the best solutions. I think the best way to find a solution—a truly good solution—is to be in a place of peace. Only then do you have the clarity to analyze the different paths you can take.
It’s that simple.
Philip Tirone
P.S. If you have a question about credit, finances, or budgeting, be sure to leave a comment below.

How to Get Your Credit Limit Increased, by 720 Credit Score

A while back, a student of mine called into my one-on-one Q&A session with a problem: She’d unexpectedly had her credit card limits reduced, which affected her debt-to-limit ratio, which in turn caused her score to drop.
Credit card companies do this regularly—they promise you a big limit, and then a few years later, they lower your limit out of the blue. This hurts your credit score, which is in part based on the debt you carry as a percentage of a limit.
In fact, 30 percent of your credit score is based on the debt you carry as a percentage of the limit.
For instance, let’s say you have a $5,000 limit and a $1,000 balance. Your balance would be 20 percent of your limit, which would be looked upon favorably by the credit-scoring bureaus.
But if the credit card companies went and dropped your limit to $2,000, your balance of $1,000 would be 50 percent of your limit, which would be looked upon negatively by the credit-scoring bureaus.
The credit-scoring bureaus will respond most favorably if you never carry a balance higher than 30 percent of your limit. So if they drop your limit, watch out! Your credit score will drop, too.
Well, like I said, this happened to one of my clients, and I told her how to fight back. Then I got this letter (which I’m editing slightly so that you have the complete context):
“I had one card with a limit that had been lowered, and I decided to try to get it raised a second time. The credit card company refused my request the first time, so I called back. After spending 1.5 hours on the phone with five or so people (who by the way, got a little more patronizing each time they transferred me to someone new), they still would not do it.  
“But … during the conversation, one of them mentioned something about calling the “Portfolio Risk Department.” After just five minutes on the phone with ONE person in the Portfolio Risk Department, they restored my full credit limit! Done!
“I never would have known to even try this if not for your fabulous program and awesome encouragement! Thank you so much once again!”
At times like this, I love my job more than usual. I’ve said it before: Your credit score is your financial reputation, and I’m tickled pink to help people fight back when their reputations are being tarnished!
So if you need to increase your credit limit, call and ask for the Risk Department. Let them know your credit score is being adversely affected.
With that in mind, let me know if you have any questions about rebuilding your score. From time-to-time, I answer them in my weekly email/blog. Leave a comment below, and I’ll try to answer it in the coming months.

The best way to pay off credit cards, by 720 Credit Score

A few weeks ago, I told you about my friend with $68,000 in credit card debt. For most of it, that feeling of being in debt is crippling. We feel like our lives are out-of-control—like all the balls could drop at once.
So I reminded you to be strategic, to push the emotions out of the way and really examine the opportunities. Well, one of my readers asked me about a specific strategy for paying off credit card debt.  Roger, thanks for taking my advice and running with it. I’m thrilled to help you find a strategy.
A lot of people are confused about paying down credit cards because there is so much contradictory advice out there. And the conversation can be even more complicated because sometimes your short-term financial interests are at odds with your long-term goals regarding your credit score.
For instance, if you consider your financial interests only, the smart move is paying offer the credit cards with the highest interest rate first because this one will cost you the most money. But from a credit-scoring perspective, you should pay off cards with the highest balance first (and/or transfer high balances to cards with lower balances) because the closer you get to a 30 percent utilization rate, the better.
So Roger, here’s my answer:

  1. Figure out when you are next going to need to rely on a high credit score. Are you buying a car soon? A house? Getting a new job? If so, protect your credit score by first getting all your balances below 30 percent of the limit. Once this goal is accomplished, start paying the card with the highest interest rate.
  2. If you are several years away from needing a high credit score, but you have that out-of-control feeling and want to get your finances in order, then you might need to sacrifice your credit score by transferring as much debt from cards with high interest rates to cards with lower interest rates, even if this means exceeding a 30 percent utilization rate rule—by a lot.

I know that what I just said might be controversial, especially coming from a credit expert, but the truth is that sometimes you have to sacrifice your credit score to make your life work. A credit score by itself is totally meaningless. It’s how you use it to enhance your life. And sometimes letting it take a nosedive is the best thing for your life. (In fact, even though it’s terrible for your credit score, I’m a proponent of bankruptcy sometimes because I think it can make people’s lives a heck of a lot easier.)
The good thing about the world of credit-scoring is that if you know what you are doing, it won’t take all that long to rebuild your credit score, so even if you do sacrifice your score, you can take the right corrective steps to see your score transform in a year or two.
I hope this helps Roger, and everyone else, too.
Philip Tirone
P.S. I’m sure this sparks some questions, so be sure to comment below. Depending on my schedule, I don’t always answer every question, but as you can see, I do read each comment!

The important part of improving your score fast, by 720 Credit Score

If I had to choose one thing as the most important aspect for raising your score after a financial meltdown, it would be this: Apply for new credit.
The problem is: How can you qualify when your score is low?
We generally refer people to secured cards, but even then: If you are already having financial problems, how can you afford the deposit required by secured cards?
Fortunately, our researcher, Natalie, found a new card that accepts applications for people with a score as low as 580. It’s not a secured card, so you don’t have to put any money down to qualify.
If you don’t have three cards in your name and cannot afford secured cards, you should apply for this card right away. Don’t wait, even for a day since we don’t know how long the guarantee will last.
Of course, we’ve done the research, and we believe this is one of the best subprime cards out there. It isn’t one of the 46% of cards that will hurt your score, so as long as you keep your balance low and pay your bills on time, this card will help your score increase.
Click here to apply.