Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to guard your cash from debit card fraud. Also in the news: How good credit can open doors when renting your first apartment, how to prepare for the inevitable stock market crash, and when to write up a financial agreement with your partner.

Debit Card Fraud Still Rising; Here’s How to Guard Your Cash

When Renting Your First Place, Good Credit Can Open Doors
Don’t let your score determine your options.

Will the Stock Market Crash? Yes. Here’s What to Do Now
Taking preventative action.

When and How to Write Up a Financial Agreement With Your Partner
Taking a big step.

Q&A: How to get a higher credit limit after the card company turns you down

Dear Liz: I asked for a credit limit increase on my Visa card from $5,000 to $20,000. I was turned down because of not enough income. I was very disappointed and wonder what if anything I can do to reverse the situation.

I am a 77-year-old retired widow who owns my home with no mortgage. My annual income is around $50,000 from Social Security and my required minimum distributions from IRAs. I have no debt. My investments and savings obviously don’t count. I was about to charge $12,000 in airline tickets and wanted to take advantage of the cash back on the credit card. I always pay my credit card bill in full every month. I feel discriminated against.

Answer: Imagine you’re a lender and one of your customers suddenly demands that you quadruple the amount you’ve agreed to lend her, with the resulting credit line equal to 40% of her income. That might give you pause.

Or perhaps not. Credit card issuers have different policies about when to grant or deny credit, and those policies can change over time as they try to manage the risks of their lending portfolios. Also, issuers may be less generous to their longtime customers than they are to the new customers they’re trying to attract.

Understanding all that can help you formulate a game plan to get what you want. One option is to call the issuer, explain your situation and ask for a temporary credit line increase so you can book those tickets.

Another (and certainly more lucrative) option would be to apply for a new credit card with a fat sign-up bonus from a different issuer. Several cash-back cards offer rewards of $150 to $200 once you spend a certain amount within the first few months, and you would meet that requirement easily with your ticket purchases.

If you’re willing to consider something other than a cash-back card, you can check out travel rewards cards that offer points or miles. Several have bonuses that can translate into $400 or more of free travel.

Applying for a new card might temporarily drop your credit scores a few points, but that shouldn’t be a concern if you’re not planning to apply for a major loan in the next few months.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why free life insurance at work might not be enough. Also in the news: 5 personal finance books to read this year, picking a career you’ll actually like, and why your debt to income ration matters.

Why Free Life Insurance at Work Might Not Be Enough
Making sure you’re fully covered.

5 Personal Finance Books to Read This Year
Help from the experts.

Ask Brianna: How Do I Pick a Career I’ll Actually Like?
One of life’s biggest decisions.

Why Your Debt to Income Ratio Matters, and How to Find It
Measuring your financial health.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to leverage great credit without borrowing a dime. Also in the news: How to get your taxes done for free, how to hang on to more cash, and how to save for your kid’s college and still live.

How to Leverage Great Credit Without Borrowing a Dime
Capitalizing on great credit.

How to Get Your Taxes Done for Free
Examinging the offers.

To Hang On to More Cash, Let Go of These in 2018
Time to get rid of those delivery apps.

How to Save for Your Kid’s College and Still Live
The saving doesn’t have to be painful.

Q&A: How to improve your credit score and whether you should bother

Dear Liz: My credit scores are good, but I was wondering if there is a way to bring your scores to 800 or more if your income isn’t that high. I always pay my bills on time and my credit card off each month. In the last two years, I took out a small loan to pay off a car, then paid off furniture and now am paying on six new windows for my home.

My FICO scores run from 747 to 781. I’m told the reason they aren’t higher is that the number of accounts I have is too low and that my credit report shows no recent nonmortgage installment loans or “insufficient recent information” about such loans. I’m pleased that my scores are that high, but they say you get the best low-interest loans with a score over 800.

Answer: It’s not true that you need FICO scores of 800 or above to get the best deals. The best rates and terms typically are available once your scores are above 760 or so on the usual 300-to-850 FICO scale. Some lenders set the bar lower, to 740, 720 or even less. Also, your income is not a direct factor in your credit scores — although having a higher income can lead to creditors granting larger lines of credit, which could favorably impact your scores.

If what you’re after is bragging rights, there are some ways to boost good scores even higher.

The easiest may be to make more frequent payments on your credit card to reduce your credit utilization, or the amount of available credit you’re using. If your issuer reports your statement balance each month to the credit bureaus, paying off what you owe a few days before the statement closing date will reduce your apparent credit utilization. Just remember to pay off any remaining balance once you get your bill.

Another approach would be to apply for another credit card and spread your purchases between the two cards, which also can lower your credit utilization. Either way, continue to pay your cards in full, since there’s no credit scoring advantage to carrying a balance.

Taking out another installment loan could boost your scores, but it’s not smart to borrow money you don’t need if your scores are already good.

Remember, too, that there are many different credit scoring formulas. There are different versions and generations of the FICO score as well as FICO rivals such as VantageScore.

If you achieve an 800 with one type of score, you might not with another — and whatever score you achieve, you might not keep for long. Your scores fluctuate all the time, based on the changing information in your credit files.

It’s worth the effort to improve bad or mediocre scores because those can cost you in many ways such as higher interest rates, higher insurance premiums, bigger utility deposits and fewer options for cellphone service. Improving already good scores doesn’t offer much if any payoff, so it’s usually not worth incurring extra costs to do so.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Buying home insurance after a wildfire starts. Also in the news: Why good credit might not be good enough for a mortgage, a quick quiz to test how you’re doing financially, and why Americans are more afraid of student debt than they are of Kim Jong Un.

Can You Buy Home Insurance After a Wildfire Starts?
It could be too late.

Want a Mortgage? Good Credit Might Not Be Good Enough
What else you might need.

How Are You Doing Financially? Take This Quick Quiz
How’d you do?

Americans are more terrified of student debt than North Korea’s Kim Jong Un
When your debt is scarier than a nuclear weapon.

Equifax just changed the rest of your life

Adding freezes to your credit reports is an appropriate response to the massive Equifax database breach that exposed the private information of 143 million Americans.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking those freezes will keep you safe, however.

Credit freezes lock down your credit reports in a way that should prevent “new account fraud,” or bogus accounts being opened in your name. But there are so many other ways the bad guys can use the information they stole, which included Social Security numbers, birthdates, addresses and some driver’s license numbers. In my latest for the Associated Press, find out the other ways the Equifax breach will affect your life for years to come.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to boostrap your credit for free or cheap. Also in the news: 3 ways to get your business up and selling on Amazon, three things to do for the best online banking, and how to save at the start of your career.

How to Bootstrap Your Credit for Free — or Cheap
Slow and steady.

3 Ways to Get Your Business Up and Selling on Amazon
Start making money.

For the Best Online Banking, Do These 3 Things
Easy steps.

How to save at the start of your career
The earlier the better.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 ways to scrub a collections stain off a credit report. Also in the news: Why you probably need title insurance, socially responsible investing, and the Equifax hack just got worse.

3 Ways to Scrub a Collections Stain Off a Credit Report
Do your homework.

Title Insurance: What It Is and Why You (Probably) Need It
Title insurance protects the insured from a financial loss related to the ownership of a property.

Socially Responsible Investing Takes Clearing a Few Hurdles
Align your investments with your values.

Your Credit Cards May Also Have Been Compromised in the Equifax Hack
It keeps getting worse.

Outrage after outrage

Yesterday Equifax broke the news hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers and other sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans (a group that apparently includes me, my husband, our daughter and probably you).

Because that wasn’t enough, today the outrages just continued:

  • The breach was discovered at the end of July. What was Equifax doing in the meantime? Well, its executives sold about $2 million worth of company shares,  The Washington Post reports.
  • The same day the breach was announced, Congress scheduled a hearing on a bill to shield the bureaus from full accountability from their actions.
  • Equifax offered free credit monitoring for a year, but didn’t make clear whether its usual binding arbitration language applied. So were people waiving their right to sue over the breach? Equifax wouldn’t say, until the New York Attorney General demanded and got an answer: the binding arbitration clause applies to the monitoring product, not the breach. Just in case, after signing up I sent this letter using Equifax’s opt out clause to (hopefully) preserve our right to sue.
  • Credit monitoring doesn’t prevent anything; it just notifies you after you’ve been victimized. Equifax is also offering free credit freezes, which prevent others from opening accounts in your name. Well, it was supposed to be free; some journalists reported they were charged $3.
  • Experian and TransUnion aren’t offering free anything. To shut down your credit, you need freezes at all three bureaus. The others are charging $3 to $10 each, plus additional fees if you need to temporarily lift the freeze to apply for credit, a job, insurance, cell phone service, utilities, an apartment, etc. Oh, and freezes won’t help with other types of crime, such as medical and criminal ID theft or blackmail. (The hack is a potential national security threat, according to experts quoted by the New York Times.)
  • Oh, and when victims try to enroll in credit monitoring, Equifax tells them to come back in a few days. Because, apparently, they’re kind of busy.
  • In fact, all three bureaus’ Web sites were having trouble under the deluge of requests. Sites were freezing and offering error messages; people were getting busy signals or being kicked off calls.

There was no way to make this breach better, but clearly there were plenty of ways to make it worse.