Author Archives: gretchen

6 Surprising Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

In tough economic times like these, it’s easy to fall behind on bills, charge things to your credit cards just to get by, even foreclose on your home just to get out of debt. But all of these things lead to a plummeting credit score, which turns into serious financial problems that stick with you for years to come. But there are ways to boost your credit score, and a recent article on U.S. News highlights six ways you can do so that may surprise you.

  1. Vet your credit report for errors. Often times many credit errors can be made as a result of someone simply sharing the same name as you – many of which are cases of identity theft. It’s your responsibility to monitor all three of your credit reports and check for clerical errors throughout the year. There are many free services to choose from these days, and most banks offer credit reporting for a fee that is easily accessible from your online accounts.
  2. Don’t take out too many cards. Every time you apply for a credit card, it’s noted on your credit reports. Applying for a bunch of cards in a short time will raise a few eyebrows and get you labeled as a “credit seeker” and a risk. Do not apply for credit you do not need.
  3. The less debt, the better. A common credit score myth is that carrying some credit card debt is better for your credit card score.  As a rule of thumb, try to use less than 10 percent of your total credit limit. And if you can make more than one payment a month, that will also help boost your score since banks report at different times each month.
  4. Don’t wait to pay off your bill at once. Try making micropayments throughout the year. “Such small payments help your credit score because they lower your debt utilization ratio, which accounts for 30 percent of your credit score,” according to the article.
  5. More credit can be good credit. Don’t be afraid to increase your credit line – not to spend more money, but as a way toimprove your credit utilization ratio.
  6. Keep your cards active.  Just having a card isn’t enough to improve your credit score: You have to use them – and use them responsibly – to have a positive impact on your credit score.

For an in depth look at these steps on improving your credit score, click here.

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3 reasons prepaid cards may be right for you

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding prepaid credit cards, usually as a result of misconceptions and miseducation. Many Americans get stuck paying high fees because they haven’t properly researched the prepaid cards out there to decide which one makes the most financial sense, and which solution will help them avoid the most fees.

While prepaid cards are not the best financial solution for everyone, a recent article on Yahoo sites three reasons prepaid cards could be right for you.

  1. You’ve been tagged by ChexSystems. ChexSystems is a credit bureau that specifically caters to banks, tracking individuals who do fail to pay bank fees or settle negative accounts. Once you’re on this list, which lasts for five years, you will have issues opening a new checking account. Prepaid cards provide a useful alternative to those who cannot get a checking account and allow people the ability to pay bills online, which leads to more financial responsibility.
  2. You’re having trouble managing a traditional checking account. Traditional banks can charge outrageous overdraft fees, which can quickly get out of control and costly to someone who cannot maintain a positive balance. And with 84 percent of checking account holders incurring an overdraft fee, according to a 2006 FDIC study, you’re certainly not alone in bouncing a check once in a while. In this case, prepaid cards can sometimes be a cheaper alternative to a traditional checking account.
  3. You’re a student. Prepaid cards are an excellent solution for younger adults, who are not quite ready for the financial responsibility that comes along with having a checking account. Parents can load money onto the cards each month or week and help guide and manage their children’s financial decisions without the risk of their kids destroying anyone’s credit in the process.

The complete article can be found here.

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Avoid getting buried in student loans

Earlier this month, after news surfaced about national student debt topping off at $1 billion, we posted 5 Steps to Paying off Student Loans, which offered tips on how to conquer your student loans. But for those of you who haven’t yet gotten loan, and don’t want to sink into a situation where you cannot repay your loan, a great thing to do is your due diligence.

A recent article in the Detroit Free Press offers information on a few more loan calculators to help you make smart financial decisions. As part of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ”Know Before You Owe,” it has launched a new calculator that allows you to  compare loan amounts, scholarship offers and savings needed to attend a specific college.

The article points out that Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org, said that as a general rule, an undergraduate student should not borrow more than $10,000 for each year in college.

After you settle on your loan, you should set a payment schedule. The article recommends using these services to determine the amount you will be paying each month www.finaid.org,www.simpletuition.com and www.studentaid.ed.gov. If those monthly payments are too high, you can always reduce the amount you end up borrowing.

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5 money tips from savvy financial moms

Most moms are in charge of many aspects of their children’s lives, eating, sleeping, and perhaps most important: financial education. A recent article on CBSNews.com highlights five money tips from financially savvy moms.

  1. Know the difference between wants and needsRita Cheng, a financial adviser and mother of three in Potomac, Md., says it’s not always easy to determine the difference, other times it’s crystal clear. ”In this day and age it is really hard” for parents to differentiate, she says, noting that it’s not easy to keep kids grounded.
  2. Don’t spend it all in one place. Teach your kids that money is divisible and that they can and should set some aside for savings.
  3. Live within your means.  Lynn Ballou, managing partner of Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, Calif. teaches her children not to fear the “b-word” (budget) and to understand the difference between gross income and net. ”Find out what your take-home is, and learn to live on your take-home. If you can’t, you need to do something else,” says Ballou.
  4. Wait before buying. No one is immune to impulsive behavior, especially kids. Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the CFP Board in Washington, advises her daughter to “sleep on it” when she really wants to purchase something. ”It’s amazing how much the impulse to spend goes away if you give it time,” Blayney says. “So, give it time, give it time,” Blayney says.
  5. Work at being a smart consumer. Cheng uses coupons as a fun way to teach her children to be more savvy shoppers. As a reward, they take their savings and put it toward iTunes gift cards and family entertainment.

To read more about how theses moms are helping their children make smart financial decisions, click here.

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3 Times When You Should Not Be Shopping

Let’s face it: We’re not always the most responsible, especially when it comes to shopping. And with all the Memorial Day Sales about to kick off, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of  the times we should not be shopping. A recent article on PT Money addresses this, and outlines the top three times you should not be shopping.

  1. Avoid shopping when you’re sad. Retail therapy is not the solution! Studies show you are more likely to buy more when you’re sad, so stick to Hagen Daas and a Real Housewives marathon to get you through a tough day.
  2. Avoid shopping when you’re hungry. According to the article, starving shoppers can lead to overspending, so snack before you hit the mall.
  3. Avoid shopping when you’re angry. A bad attitude can lead to poor financial decisions and for you to think and say “Heck with it!” and throw caution to the wind. Shop happy.

According to the article there are good times to shop: “You should buy a car at the end of the month, late in the day. You should buy your winter coat in the Spring. You should shop for airline tickets on Tuesdays.”

To learn more about happy shopping, click here.

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Tips for Credit Card Denials

Credit card issuers are feeling the effects of fraud – global fraud losses on credit and debit cards totaled $7.6 billion dollars in 2010, up 10% from 2009.

A recent article by Chris Taylor for Reuters detailed the rise of hackers stealing personal information and loading fraudulent charges on cards, forcing financial institutions to deny many transactions in an effort to stem losses.

Taylor offered the following tips on credit and debit card denials:

  • Talk to the card companies – let them know when you’ll be traveling overseas, or even in a different state, or intend to make a large purchase.
  • Have a backup card – since triggers for a denial are not universal, a second card from a different financial institution might accept the charge.
  • Use a prepaid card – since prepaid cards are loaded with cash, they won’t be denied.
  • Wait it out – the predictive models used by financial institutions should improve, decreasing the amount of denials for legitimate purchases.

For more on credit card denials and how financial institutions are responding, read Taylor’s entire article here.

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Children’s Hunger Alliance’s Summer Food Service Program

CCFI has been a long-time partner of the Children’s Hunger Alliance and a staunch advocate for Hunger Prevention and Awareness.

Starting on today through June, 1,  2012, CCFI, Sunny 95 and the Children’s Hunger Alliance are teaming up to bring awareness to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in Central Ohio.  SFSP is one of several Child Nutrition Programs sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by The Ohio Department of Education.

Other Child Nutrition Programs include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program and After School Care Snack Program. These programs reimburse schools and other youth-serving organizations for providing nutritious meals to children. Nationally over 25 million children in over 90,000 schools participate in Child Nutrition Programs. The SFSP in Ohio daily serves meals and snacks for over 120,000 children at nearly 1,500 sites through the SFSP during summer.

All Central Ohio CheckSmart® and Express Consumer Loans stores will be donation centers for the Summer Food Service Program.

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Western Union Thanks A Thousand Campaign

We’ve enjoyed assisting many of our valued customers with Western Union products like money orders, bill pay and wire transfers.* After all, Western Union is a trusted leader in global payment solutions.

Now, Western Union has teamed with Grammy Award-winning artist, actor and author Common for an online campaign to help consumers share their stories of gratitude and love for family, loved ones and friends to say thank you, with a chance to win $1,000 every day through June 17.

The Western Union Thanks A Thousand campaign invites consumers to upload a personalized video, photograph or brief essay to thank their mothers, families, loved ones and friends for being special in their lives. Eligible participants should visit www.thanksathousand.com to share their stories of appreciation and learn more about the contest.

You’ll find more information about the Thanks A Thousand campaign in all of our stores where Western Union products are offered. We encourage everyone to participate and wish you the best of luck!

*Western Union product offerings vary by store location.

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5 Steps to Paying off Student Loans

It’s recently been reported that Student Loan debt is topping off at $1 trillion – that’s right trillion! In a time when many of us are struggling to financially keep our heads above water, many Americans are simply defaulting on their loans, sinking deeper in debt.

So what can you do to avoid another financial sinkhole? A recent article on DailyFinance.com by Jean Chatzky, outlines five steps you can take to pay off your student loan.

  1. Assess the situation. It’s not uncommon to have more than one loan. Try plugging in your numbers to the National Student Loan Data System. There you will be able to identify your servicer, which will be different than your lender, and will be the company you work with to pay back your loan. If you worked with a private lender, pull your credit report to see which company that is.
  2. Update your information. Most loans are made when you’re still living at home with Mom and/or Dad. Make sure the name, address and phone number are the most up-to-date on the loan.
  3. Set a repayment strategy. Federal loans are more flexible than private loans. You can choose to pay off your loans in 10 years or 25 years. You can arrange to make lower payments now and higher payments later, or you can tie your payments to your income.
  4. Make it automatic. You can opt for automatic bill pay, which will assure that you’re never late on payments. If you do not have a checking or saving account from which to draw, a prepaid credit card could be a good option.
  5. Focus your efforts. If you are making the minimum payments each month, but run into some extra cash, put it towards paying down those loans. Try starting with the ones with this highest interest rates.

To read the full article, click here.

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Have Prepaid Cards Uncovered the Myth of Free Checking?

As more and more people across the country use prepaid cards as one of their everyday financial resources, traditional checking accounts and the fees associated with them been making headlines.

U.S. News & World Report recently published an article questioning the myth of “free” checking accounts.  The facts contained in the article certainly raise serious questions about the free checking claim made by many banks and credit unions.

  • Consumers paid $31.6 billion in overdraft fees in 2011
  • Consumers paid $7.1 billion in ATM fees in 2010
  • Many consumers pay for checks, maintenance fees, and debit card fees

The article offered the following tips to ensure you pay as little in fees as possible:

  • Say no to monthly fees (mostly tied to maintaining minimum balances)
  • Closely monitor your balance to avoid overdrafts
  • Avoid ATM fees
  • Don’t neglect interest

And while prepaid cards offer many consumers an extremely competitive product for the money, the article encourages consumers to investigate and understand the fees associated with a prepaid card.

Read the complete article here.

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