Ways To Improve Your Credit Score

Is your below-average credit score keeping you up at night? No one wants to be denied a mortgage or loan, or face higher interest rates because of a poor credit score. But if you do have a low credit score, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Fortunately there are changes you can begin making to your financial lifestyle that can have a significant positive impact on your score.AdobeStock_93575617

To start, it’s good to know exactly which credit score tier you fall into. Generally speaking, “Excellent” credit is defined as any score at or above 750. A “Good” credit score is one that falls between 700 and 749. If your credit score falls between 650 and 699, you have a “Fair” credit rating. “Poor” credit would be a score that lies between 600 and 649. And “Bad” credit is any score below 600.

If you don’t know your credit score, there are a few different ways you can find out. One potential way is to check your credit card or loan statement. Many major credit card and loan companies have started to provide credit scores to their customers on a monthly basis. If your credit card or loan provider offers this service, your score is typically listed on your monthly statement, or can be accessed by logging into your account online.

Your credit score can also be purchased directly from the three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax, or Transunion – or you can obtain your FICO credit score through http://www.myfico.com.

Another way is to utilize a free credit score service like Credit Karma. Before signing up for these types of services however, be sure to read any fine print associated with the offer. And be aware of “free” sites that require you to enter your credit card information. Many times, you’ll need to cancel the service within a specified period of time in order to avoid charges on your credit card.

Once you’ve determined your credit score, and your credit tier, it’s time to check your credit reports. The law allows you can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies every year. You can order these free reports from a central website – http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Or you can call 1-877-322-8228 for your report. There is also a request form that you can download from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/sites/www.consumer.ftc.gov/files/articles/pdf/pdf-0093-annual-report-request-form.pdf. Just fill it out and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Once you have your reports, look for any errors such as incorrect records of what you owe on your accounts, or late payments that never occurred. When verifying information in your credit reports, keep in mind that each of the three major credit reporting agencies operate separately from one another. So, if you find an error on one agency’s report, you’ll need to check to see if that error also exists on the other reports. Any errors you find should be disputed directly with the credit reporting bureau that produced the report. If the same error appears on multiple reports, you’ll need to dispute each one individually with the different credit bureaus.

Once you have a handle on your credit reports, consider these tips for improving your credit score:

  • Pay down balances on your accounts. Eliminating or reducing your balances has the greatest impact on your credit score, according to financial experts. That’s because credit utilization – which is the amount you can borrow versus the amount of debt you’re carrying – accounts for 30% of your score. Paying down balances is also one of the fastest ways to improve your credit score. And if you have nuisance balances – small balances carried across several credit cards – get them out of the way as fast as you can, since one of the factors used in determining your credit score is the number of cards that have balances.
  • Pay your bills on time. Paying your bills on time shows that you can handle credit responsibly. If you repeatedly make late payments, you’ll be considered a greater risk by creditors. To ensure you’re making timely bill payments, take advantage of payment alerts, or bill pay services through your financial institution.
  • Have a good mix of accounts, such as loans and credit cards. It shows that you’re capable of handling different types of accounts.
  • Consider opening a new account. While it may seem strange to open a new credit card account while you’re paying off balances on existing ones, in some cases doing so can actually help your credit score. This is because a new credit card will increase your total outstanding credit line and thereby improve your credit utilization ratio. But don’t overdo it and try to open several accounts at one time. This will trigger multiple inquiries that will show up on your credit reports, which could drag down your score.
  • Don’t close out existing credit cards once you pay them off. Once you pay off the entire balance on your credit card, you may be tempted to close the account for good to avoid racking up additional balances. But doing so could have a negative impact on your credit score, since closing an account will decrease the amount of credit available to you. If you keep your card open instead, and either use it sparingly, or not at all, that available credit will help to reduce your credit utilization, and improve your credit score.

Starting the process of improving your credit score may seem daunting, but every little thing you do to help clean up your credit reports will go a long way toward brightening your financial future.

Protecting Yourself Online

Though the internet has many advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. Here are some tips to keep you safe online:AdobeStock_144724542

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with. Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer the security questions in password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, your mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

CD Investing Strategies: Things to Consider

Anyone interested in investing has heard of a certificate of deposit, or CD. It’s a financial product similar to a savings account. Where a CD differs, however, is that it has a specific, fixed term, and a fixed interest rate. It is intended for a CD to be held until maturity, at which time the money may be withdrawn together with the accrued interest, or rolled over into a new CD term.cd-investing-strategies

Most banks offer a variety of CD terms. Term lengths can range anywhere from six months to 5 years or more, depending on the financial institution.

At Bank5 Connect, we offer CDs with terms of 6, 12, 18, 21, 24, and 36 months. And the minimum deposit to open a Bank5 Connect CD is only $500.

While CDs provide a safe, guaranteed return on your investment, getting the most out of them requires you to think strategically. Here are some tips to help make your CD work for you:

  • Give thought to the length of your CD term. When your money is tied up in a long-term, multi-year CD, you run the risk of missing out on higher-yielding opportunities. A lot can change over the course of several years, and rates are no exception. The Federal Reserve meets every six to seven weeks about whether or not to change interest rates. Think of how disappointing it would be to see rates rapidly increasing around you, and all of your investing dollars are locked up in an underperforming CD for 4 more years.
  • Don’t withdraw your money from a CD before it matures. It’s important to understand all of the penalties associated with taking your money out of a CD before it reaches maturity. Doing so can take a huge bite out of your earnings. For a CD with a term of a year or more, the average penalty for withdrawing your funds early is six months’ worth of interest. In some cases, early withdrawal penalties can even dip into your principal if the CD hasn’t been opened long enough to cover the penalty fees through interest.
  • Do your homework regarding rates. If you don’t shop around for the best CD rates, you could end up missing out on some real bargains. With the internet at your disposal, it’s easier than ever to compare the CD products offered by various financial institutions. Using the comparison tools available on sites like DepositAccounts.com, it’s easy to find the most competitive CD offerings before choosing which to invest in.
  • Know when your CD is nearing maturity. Most financial institutions will automatically roll the funds in your CD over to a new CD with similar terms once it matures, unless you instruct them otherwise. However, allowing a CD to automatically roll over to a new term could be a costly mistake if you haven’t evaluated all of your other options. It pays to assess other investment opportunities to ensure you’re putting your money in a place that makes sense for you given your current situation and financial goals.
  • Use CD laddering to help generate a stream of interest income. A CD ladder could be a great was to prevent your funds from being unnecessarily tied up. This type of investment strategy involves setting up a collection of CDs that will mature at different intervals so you regularly have funds becoming available. For example, if instead of putting all of your investment dollars into an 18-month CD, you split those dollars three ways and open a 6-month CD, a 12-month CD, and an 18-month CD, you will have funds becoming available every 6 months, and a third of your money will still be earning interest at an 18-month rate!

With a little strategic thought, investing in CDs could be a great opportunity to earn some extra cash. But remember that it’s always best to consult with a tax advisor before making any major financial decisions. To learn more about the CDs offered by Bank5 Connect, visit http://www.bank5connect.com/home/cds.

12 Ways to Protect Your Mobile Device

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same convenient access for criminals. Follow these tips to keep your information – and your money – safe.AdobeStock_94918198

  1. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  6. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a Social Security number on your mobile device.
  7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  8. Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.
  12. Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.

How to Make Saving Fun

Spending money can be a lot of fun. Shopping sprees, luxury vacations, delicious restaurant dinners – what’s not to like? Saving money, on the other hand, can sometimes feel like a chore. You typically do it because you have to, not because you want to.how-to-make-saving-fun

But, that doesn’t have to be the case. It’s possible to fill up your piggy bank while having fun at the same time. Let’s take a look at some ideas to help you look forward to saving money, instead of dreading it:

  • Consider becoming a mystery shopper. Lots of companies are looking for people to try their products and services and will reward them in return. Just make sure you sign up with a legitimate company – there are a lot of “mystery shopping” scams out there. Some of the most well-known legitimate companies include BestMark, IntelliShop, and Market Force, and they’re all free to join! MSPA Americas (formerly known as the Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America) is a great resource for helping to identify legitimate mystery shopping opportunities.
  • Instead of spending money on family outings to the movies or the mall, look for free activities close to home. They’re out there, you just need to track them down. Check out Facebook or your local newspaper to see what fun things are happening in your neighborhood. Or try a Google search on “free things to do in YOUR TOWN HERE”.
  • If you’re trying to save, but still need a night out on the town, take advantage of happy hours. You can get great discounts on food and drink if you time it right.
  • Make your own “piggy bank” so you can watch your savings grow! Get crafty with the kids and create your own savings jar. There are some great ideas at http://www.coolcrafts.com/cool-diy-piggy-banks/ to help get you started. Or, you can simply use Mason jars – or any container that can hold money – and label them with your specific savings goals, such as “Vacation” or “Holiday Gifts”.
  • If you’re trying to inspire your child to get into the savings habit, you can offer an extra incentive by rewarding them when they reach certain saving milestones. For example, they could work toward saving enough money to get their favorite dessert or dinner, permission to stay up late one night, or the opportunity to invite a friend over.
  • Challenge yourself and your family members to see who can save the most money in a week. Whether you save $5, $10, $20, or more, throw down the gauntlet and see who can win!
  • With the holidays upon us, avoid the hustle and bustle of shopping and make homemade gifts instead. And get the whole family involved. You can find inspiration and ideas on websites like Pinterest and Homemade Gifts Made Easy.
  • Go second-hand shopping. Whether it’s at a garage sale or a second-hand store, you’ll be surprised at all the bargains you can find at a fraction of their initial cost. Even if you don’t have money to buy, browsing can be just as much fun.
  • Look for volunteer opportunities at venues such as festivals and concerts. You could be a ticket-taker or work at a food stand. And chances are you’ll be able to attend the event for free!
  • Get rid of stuff online. Those outgrown clothes, baby toys, and old text books that are cluttering up your house can find new life elsewhere, and you can make money to boot! There are plenty of online yard sale sites, plus there’s Craigslist and other sites like letgo.com, where you can sell your unwanted and unneeded items. To unload old books from college, there are sites like Bookscouter that can connect you with book buyback companies online.

Preparation Tips for a More Enjoyable Vacation

We all have different ideas of a “perfect vacation.” Some like to relax at the beach, others like something a little more adventurous. But whatever your definition of a perfect vacation, it probably doesn’t involve extra stress, right? If you’re aiming for a stress-free getaway, a little preparation can help minimize potential financial worries and security concerns, so you can enjoy every second of your well-deserved vacation.preparation-tips-for-a-more-enjoyable-vacation

For starters, a major part of your vacation planning should be creating a budget. You should try to anticipate what your expenses will be while you’re away, such as the costs of transportation, lodging and food. Once you have a good idea how much the basics of your trip will cost, be sure to factor in expenses like souvenirs, entertainment, and other little splurges. By having money already set aside and budgeted for your trip, you can minimize the chance of going “spend crazy” and racking up unforeseen credit card expenses. After all, it’s not fun coming home to sky-high credit card bills.

After you’ve got your budget in order, be sure to alert your bank of your vacation plans, including your travel dates and destination. Doing so will let them know that they can expect purchases outside of your normal routine and area, helping to reduce the chance of them putting a fraud alert on your credit or debit card and freezing access to your funds.

What’s more, let your bank know if you plan to make any large or major purchases during your vacation. Many financial institutions have a daily spending limit on their accounts, so it’s a good idea to confirm any limit you may have, and request it be raised if necessary. A quick phone call to the bank is well worth it if it can save you the embarrassment of being declined at the sales register.

Once your finances are in order, it’s a good idea to be proactive about your security as well. Before you head off on your vacation, considering suspending delivery of your mail and newspaper, especially if you’ll be away for more than a few days. If you don’t, your mail and newspapers will start to pile up, which could put you at risk. Think about all of the bills and credit card offers you receive on a daily basis. You definitely don’t want the sensitive information in those mailings to fall into the wrong hands. And think about all the people who pass by your house on a daily basis. Do you really want your pile of newspapers and bulging mailbox to advertise that you’re not home? An empty house can be pretty inviting to a burglar.

Along those same lines, while it may be tempting to share your vacation escapades on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, think twice about doing it. Those beach photos and updates from the airport give crooks a clue that you’re away from home. It’s a much safer idea to save your photos and stories and share them online when you return.

With a little planning, you’ll be ready to have fun and leave the financial stress and security concerns behind, so you can enjoy your perfect vacation.