Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Google, Walgreens and H&R Block want to be your bank. Also in the news: 6 packing and planning tips for long-term travel, the imminent return of international travel, and Verizon’s new children’s money management app.

Google, Walgreens and H&R Block Want to Be Your Bank
Companies are working with partner banks to offer FDIC-insured accounts through their own apps and platforms.

6 Packing and Planning Tips for Long-Term Travel
No matter how long you plan to work abroad, these preparations can help set you up for a smoother trip.

Ask a Travel Nerd: I’m Vaccinated — Can I Finally Go Abroad?
The return of international travel is imminent, but you’ll have to book soon and be flexible with your plans.

Verizon introduces a children’s money management app
It’s never too early to start teaching financial responsibility.

Q&A: Mailing checks really is a bad idea

Dear Liz: I differ with your opinion that electronic payments are far more secure than sending checks through the mail. My own personal experience sending checks for about 40 years with only one mishap (which wasn’t attributable to the USPS) provides great confidence in mail as a payment system. In contrast, not a month goes by without news of some large organization entrusted with all kinds of personal and financial information being breached in a cyberattack. If the bad guys get my credit card information, I’m out no greater than $50. I’m not also going to risk them having my bank account and routing numbers for the dubious convenience of saving a stamp. Yes, mailboxes get broken into, but until there are real penalties for inadequate computer security, corporations will continue to underfund their network security and be reactive instead of proactive. I’ll take my chances with the local thieves and not the worldwide population of black hat hackers.

Answer: You’re quite right that databases where information is stored can be vulnerable to hackers if companies don’t take the proper precautions. But avoiding electronic payments doesn’t keep your information out of those databases. Information about you is collected and stored whether you like it or not. You didn’t contribute your Social Security number, date of birth and credit account details to Equifax, for example, but chances are good you were one of the 147 million Americans whose information was exposed when that credit bureau was breached.

In contrast to some databases, electronic payment transactions have strong encryption that makes it extremely difficult for hackers to intercept and read the information. Criminals would much rather target information that’s at rest in databases than try to capture and decode it in transit.

Your checks are almost certainly being converted to electronic transactions, in any case. Few checks are physically passed between banks these days. Often a biller will take the routing and account numbers that are printed on your check and use them to request an electronic funds transfer through a clearinghouse such as the Automated Clearing House (ACH).

Because those numbers are printed on every check you send out, by the way, anyone who sees that piece of paper, from a mail thief to someone inputting the payment into a company’s computer system, could misuse that information. That’s a far bigger risk than the possibility an electronic payment could be hacked in transit.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You may qualify for free or cheaper health insurance now. Also in the news: Big banks join effort to ease path to credit cards, 3 ways technology can help minority-owned businesses recover, and the 12 states ending the extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.

You May Qualify for Free or Cheaper Health Insurance Now
The latest coronavirus relief package made health insurance free or significantly less costly for millions of people.

Big Banks Join Efforts to Ease Path to Credit Cards
Large lenders are participating in a pilot program allowing them to share bank account information with the credit bureaus, easing access for credit card applicants.

3 Ways Technology Can Help Minority-Owned Businesses Recover
Start by embracing e-commerce.

These 12 States Are Ending the Extra $300 Per Week in Unemployment Benefits
Find out if yours is one of them.

Q&A: This guy still sends checks through the mail. How that could mess up his credit score

Dear Liz: My husband has a lower credit score than I. He gives me a check every month from his personal checking account, which I deposit in our family account so I can pay our credit cards. He thinks that he needs to pay some of the cards directly in order to improve his score. He likes to send checks by mail, the old fashioned way (which drives me crazy!). Do you think this practice will improve his score?

Answer: The short answer is no. Credit scoring formulas don’t care who pays the bills, as long as the bills get paid on time.

Perhaps explaining some credit scoring basics would help.

People don’t have one credit score. They have many, because there are many different scoring formulas in use.

The most commonly used credit score is currently the FICO 8. There are many other versions of the FICO scoring formula, including some that are tweaked for different industries such as credit cards and auto loans. In addition, there are VantageScores, a rival formula created by the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit scores are based on the information in your credit reports at those bureaus, which are private companies that typically don’t share information. Because information can vary from bureau to bureau, your credit scores from each bureau may differ as well.

There’s no such thing as a joint credit report or a joint credit score, so couples typically will have different scores even if they have some joint accounts. How long a person has had credit, how many credit accounts the person has and the mix of credit types can be different, resulting in different scores.

Your husband may have lower scores than yours currently, but that’s not in itself a problem that needs to be fixed. If his scores are generally above 760 on the typical 300-to-850 scale, he’ll get the best rate and terms when applying for credit.

If his scores need improving, he should start by checking his credit reports from each of the three bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. (These reports used to be free just once a year, but you can now get them for free every week until April 2022.) He should dispute any information that’s inaccurate such as accounts that aren’t his or accounts showing missed payments if all payments were made on time.

He may be able to improve his scores by lowering how much of his available credit he’s using or adding an account or two. Opening accounts may temporarily ding his scores, but typically the new account will add points over time if used responsibly.

And do try to persuade him to stop sending checks in the mail. A check that goes astray can result in a missed payment that can knock 100 points or more off credit scores. Electronic payments are far more secure and efficient.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do when you can’t open a bank account. Also in the news: 6 tips to streamline insurance payments on home damage claims, college-bound grads could exit with $38K in student loan debt, and how to build your business credit score.

What to Do When You Can’t Open a Bank Account
A bank or credit union could deny an account application.

6 Tips to Streamline Insurance Payment on Home Damage Claims
Reporting the damage to the insurance company in a timely fashion can put more money in your pocket faster.

College-Bound Grads Could Exit With $38K Student Loan Debt
There are a number of ways to cut down on the amount borrowed for a bachelor’s degree before, during and after college.

How to Build Your Business Credit Score, and Why It Matters
What you need to know about establishing your business credit score and how to improve it.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How one person’s travel credit card benefit saved them over $1000. Also in the news: How to file a complaint against your bank, how to buy the car you loved in high school without losing your shirt, and these states will pay off your student loan debt for moving there.

How My Travel Credit Card’s Benefit Saved Me Over $1,000
When the unexpected happens, a credit card’s trip cancellation or interruption insurance may recover the cost of nonrefundable expenses.

How to File a Complaint Against Your Bank
Work with your bank and if that fails, submit a complaint that specifies the problem and your proposed solution.

Buy the Car You Loved in High School (Without Losing Your Shirt)
Shop wisely.

These States Will Pay Off Your Student Loan Debt for Moving There
A look at the Smart Buy program.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Turn your quarantine clutter into money. Also in the news: 10 digital banking services changing up checking, what to do when you’re a victim of debit card fraud, and how your stimulus checks will affect your taxes.

Turn Your Quarantine Clutter Into Money
What to do if you went a little overboard.

10 Digital Banking Services Changing Up Checking
New banking players are redefining what a checking account looks like.

Debit Card Fraud? Act Fast to Protect Your Money
When dealing with debit card fraud, get in touch with your bank quickly to protect your account.

How Will Stimulus Checks Affect My Taxes?
Find out if you have to pay taxes on those checks.

Q&A: Dementia and financial accounts

Dear Liz: You recently discussed the importance of adding spouses to financial accounts before one of them dies to make it easier for the surviving spouse. I wholeheartedly agree. I would add that this needs to be done sooner rather than later. If one of the spouses is diagnosed with dementia, the bank will likely not make changes to accounts. People have to be able to understand what they are signing.

Answer: That’s an excellent point. Another important task is to create powers of attorney for healthcare and finances. These allow someone else to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Someone in the early stages of dementia could sign such a document if they understand what it is, but otherwise the family might have to go to court to get a conservatorship, which can be an expensive process.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 rules for first-time car buyers. Also in the news: Buzzy banking apps for kids and teens, getting your bank accounts in order for 2021, and knowing your COVID mortgage forbearance rights.

6 Rules for First-Time Car Buyers
Break it down into an orderly process: budgeting, financing, choosing a car and then negotiating a clean deal.

Buzzy Banking Apps for Kids and Teens
Developing good money habits early.

Get Your Bank Accounts in Order With These 2021 Resolutions
Streamlining for the new year.

Know Your COVID Mortgage Forbearance Rights
How to report an unscrupulous lender.