Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you should shop for a car loan before going to the dealership. Also in the news: The lowdown on new tools to jump-start your credit, 7 Father’s Day gift ideas under $50, and the best beach towns to spend your retirement.

Car Buyers’ Best Cost-Saving Move: Shop for a Loan First
Don’t put yourself at the mercy of the dealership.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
The pros and cons.

7 Father’s Day Gift Ideas Under $50
It’s the thought that counts.

Dream of spending your retirement on the beach? Here are the best towns
Spending your golden years on the sand.

Q&A: How to boost your credit score before you buy a house

Dear Liz: I am trying to purchase my first home. I have a 20% down payment for the price range that I am looking for. The issue I am running into is that I have relatively new credit and my credit score is not great at all. I had to go to the emergency room two years back with no insurance and have medical expenses that went into collections. I am now in a financial spot to pay them off. These are the only negatives on my credit report that are unresolved. Will paying these off get my credit to the point that I can buy a home? I am lost as to how to get my score where it needs to be.

Answer: Unfortunately, paying collection accounts typically doesn’t help your credit scores, especially the scores used by most mortgage lenders.

Since you’re new to credit, you may not realize that you don’t have just one credit score. You have many. The two major types are FICO and VantageScore. The latest versions of each (FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0), ignore paid collections. In addition, FICO 9 and VantageScore 4.0 count unpaid medical collections less heavily against you than other unpaid debts.

But mortgage lenders typically use much older versions of the FICO score, which count all collections against you even if they’re paid.

That said, it would be tough to get a mortgage with unpaid collections on your credit report. Since you have the cash, you may be able to negotiate discounts so that you can resolve these debts at a somewhat lower cost. (Collectors typically would much rather get a lump-sum settlement than wait to be paid over time.)

You’ll also want to get some positive information reported to the credit bureaus to help offset the negative information. The fastest way to do that would be to persuade someone you know who has good credit to add you as an authorized user to one of his or her credit cards. This person doesn’t have to give you the card or any access to the account. Typically, the account history will be “imported” to your credit reports, which can help your scores as long as the person continues to use the card responsibly.

Another way to add positive information is with a credit-builder loan, offered by many credit unions and Self Lender, an online loan site. Usually, credit-builder loans put the money you borrow into a savings account or certificate of deposit that you can claim after you’ve made 12 on-time payments. This helps you build savings at the same time you’re building your credit.

Secured credit cards also can help. With a secured card, you make a deposit with the issuing bank of $200 or more. You get a credit limit that’s typically equal to that deposit. Making small charges on the account and paying it off in full every month can help you build credit without paying interest. You’ll want a card that reports to all three credit bureaus, because mortgage lenders typically pull FICO scores from all three bureaus and use the middle of the three scores to determine your rate and terms.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The lowdown on the new tools to jump-start your credit. Also in the news: How to pass a smog test – and what to do if your car fails, how insurance quotes affect your credit score, and what happens if you hit the Roth IRA income cap.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
How Boost and UltraFICO work.

How to Pass a Smog Test — And What to Do If Your Car Fails
One man’s hard-earned advice.

Does Getting Insurance Quotes Affect Your Credit Score?
The bigger problem is the reverse.

What Happens If You Hit the Roth IRA Income Cap?
Know your contribution limits.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What you need to know about student loan deferment. Also in the news: How to pass a smog test, exposing your data for better credit, and the best rewards credit cards of 2019.

Student Loan Deferment: What It Is and Who May Benefit
Putting your payments on hold.

How to Pass a Smog Test — And What to Do If Your Car Fails
Don’t panic.

Should you risk exposing your data just for better credit?A tempting offer, but read the fine print.

The Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2019
Putting your spending to work.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The lowdown on new tools to jump-start your credit. Also in the news: The new credit card that pays cash-back rewards for on-time payments, tuition discounts grow at private colleges and universities, and what to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
Learn how they work and if you should use them.

No credit history? This new credit card pays cash-back rewards for on-time bill payments
Introducing Petal.

Tuition discounting grows at private colleges and universities
Tuition costs are dropping.

What to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s
It’s never too early to prepare.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Is better credit worth exposing your banking data? Also in the news: The average 401(k) balance by age, 8 common and costly homebuying myths, and why debt collectors may soon be able to text you.

Is Better Credit Worth Exposing Your Bank Data?
Other ways to build credit.

The average 401(k) balance by age
Balances typically increase as you age.

8 Common and Costly Homebuying Myths
Don’t get trapped.

Why Debt Collectors May Soon Be Able to Text You
And email you.

Is better credit worth exposing your bank data?

America’s credit bureaus haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to protecting your private data. So you might well be skeptical about two new credit-enhancing products that require not just credit information but also access to your bank accounts.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why the boost in your score might not be worth the exposure of your banking data.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Are you robbing your parents’ retirement. Also in the news: When is your credit score high enough, when a cash back card is better than travel rewards, and how to pay for your pet’s healthcare.

Are You Robbing Your Parents’ Retirement?
Parents helping their adult kids at the expense of their future.

When Is Your Credit Score High Enough?
Your credit health matters.

It’s OK If Travel Rewards Cards Aren’t for You
A cash back card could be better.

How to Pay for Your Pet’s Healthcare
Taking care of your furkids.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How your tax refund could improve your credit. Also in the news: What to buy (and skip) in April, 8 warning signs it’s time to course correct in college, and 7 last-minute tax tips to lower your 2018 bill.

How your tax refund could improve your credit
Using your refund strategically.

What to Buy (and Skip) in April
Good time for a vacuum upgrade.

8 Warning Signs It’s Time to Course Correct in College
Change course if you want to graduate.

7 Last-Minute Tax Tips to Lower Your 2018 Bill
There’s still time to save money.

Q&A: Take a look behind the credit-score numbers game

Dear Liz: I recently got an email from my credit card issuer stating my credit score had just dropped 21 points. Having a good credit score and not aware of any recent adverse actions, my first reaction was alarm.

Checking with the issuer online, I saw only advertisements for “protect your credit” services, so I phoned. I was informed the numbers came from Equifax credit bureau. I contacted Equifax as well as TransUnion and Experian, which resulted only in more offers of products to protect my credit. I downloaded my free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com and found nothing suspicious. I was finally directed to FICO, but an email sent more than a month ago remains unanswered.

Is it legal for these companies to market their products through presumably fictitious or even fraudulent means? What is the best way to find out my true credit score? Can my credit score suffer because I ask these questions in a public forum?

Answer: Knowing a little more about how credit scoring works may put your mind at ease.

There is no one “true” credit score. Lenders and other companies use many different kinds. FICO is the leading credit scoring company and the FICO 8 is the most commonly used score, but many companies use older versions or ones modified for their specific industry (such as the FICO Auto Score 5, for example). Plus, your FICO 8 from Experian may be different from your FICO 8 from TransUnion or Equifax because the scores are based on the information in your credit bureau files and the bureaus are separate, competing businesses that don’t always have the same information.

Then there’s the VantageScore, a rival to the FICO, which is used by some lenders and by many sites that offer people their credit scores for free. The VantageScore formula is different from the FICO formula, so your numbers could be different as well.

All these credit scores, however, are created solely using the information in your credit reports. Your income, gender, address, political opinions, computer operating system and online comments are not included in credit score calculations.

Some people are understandably confused about that. Various start-ups and researchers have suggested that non-credit information — such as information gleaned from someone’s social media postings or online surveys — could replace credit information in loan decisions. But the U.S. has fair credit reporting laws that probably would make such alternatives unworkable. (It would be nice if start-ups checked to see what regulations apply to their industry before sending out press releases, but that doesn’t always happen.)

Given that you didn’t see anything obviously wrong on your credit reports, you don’t need to worry too much. The credit score drop you describe might be because you charged more on a credit card than usual, had a credit limit lowered or applied for a bunch of credit in a short period of time. It probably will reverse itself over time.

Alerting you to credit score changes isn’t an illegal practice, even if the company’s primary purpose in keeping you up to date is to market credit-monitoring services to you. (Credit protection is a misnomer because these services can’t prevent identity theft. They can only alert you if it’s already happened.)

You did exactly what you should have done when you were alerted to the point drop — you went to AnnualCreditReport.com and checked your credit reports. If you want to put your mind further at ease, consider freezing your credit, a process that could prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.