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Financial Resources – News Articles & Links


February Feature Article
How Your Choices Can Impact Your Credit Score
 
Q: I’ve had some trouble with credit in the past, but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. I think I’m doing everything right, but my credit score still isn’t rising! What gives?

A: Credit scores can affect you more than you know. Employers look at credit scores. Landlords look at credit scores. Bill providers look at credit scores, and they might decide to charge you if yours gets too low. With all this pressure, you’ve no doubt started working on some good habits for improving your credit score. You pay your bills on time, are sure not to max out your credit line and work hard not to default on a loan. You might be surprised to find out that some actions you take to improve your credit score are actually hurting it.

If your credit score isn’t where you want it to be, it might be due to one of these habits. Read on for four good ideas that might actually be hurting your credit score:

1.) Debt settlement
Settling your old debt can seem like an easy way to get out of a sticky situation. You make an agreement with a third party, pay a part of your debt and the owner writes off the rest of it.  Settling a debt for less than you owe can take your credit score down as much as a hundred points. This happens because the debtor only took your settlement on the assumption they’d never see the full amount you owed. Future lenders worry that they’ll end up in the same situation, and that makes them hesitant to lend.

2.) Turning down credit
It might seem like a good idea to reject a higher credit limit. If your credit card offers to boost your limit, that might seem to indicate you have more money to spend. If you’ve struggled with responsible credit management in the past, you might want to turn it down in an effort to keep your spending in check. Keeping your credit limit low can give you a budget and a sense of security regarding when you’ll stop yourself from spending.

However, a higher credit limit does come with benefits. To be exact, it can boost your score quite a lot through something called a credit utilization ratio. That’s the ratio of your credit card balance to your credit card limit. The less you spend relative to what your limit is, the higher your score in terms of this factor. That means, if you have a higher credit limit, you’ll be using less of it, and therefore increasing your score.

3.) Avoiding credit cards
Many people might think it’s easier to just not have a credit card at all. While it might make your life simpler at first, it can complicate your relationship with credit in the future. You might not need credit for day-to-day things like buying groceries or gas, but you will need it for a home loan, auto loans and to prove to potential landlords and employers that you can be trusted. So long as you’re paying everything on time and not carrying a high balance, a credit card is much more beneficial in the long run.

4.) Closing paid accounts
Paying off a credit card can be a big struggle. Once it’s over, your instinct might lead you to throw it away, burn it or otherwise have it completely out of your life once and for all. Credit reporting agencies say something different, though. Since 15% of your credit score is the length of your credit history, you want to keep your cards for as long as possible.

Additionally, your credit utilization score is worth 30% of your total score. Closing a credit card account also kills available credit, which lowers that balance-to-limit ratio. You can destroy the card itself and delete its record from online shopping sites to be certain you’ll never accidentally use it, but don’t cancel it. Even after all that, you should keep the account open (provided there’s no annual fee attached to it), just to keep your score up.

Credit scores have never been easy.  We encourage you to visit your neighborhood branch office to meet with a First Service representative to help answer your questions about budgeting, credit management, or debt consolidation.


Tax Bill - Some Key Changes

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS
Despite efforts to create limitations on the availability of pre-tax contributions to 401(k) retirement plans, Congress decided to leave retirement plans largely untouched after receiving powerful pushback from taxpayers in all sectors of the economy. The Act did make some minor changes though, including changes to a rule regarding the ability to convert funds in traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. Currently, taxpayers have the ability to convert funds from a pretax IRA to a post-tax Roth IRA and pay tax on the money that is converted. Taxpayers also currently have the ability to change their minds and undo this conversion through a process called recharacterization. The Act has repealed the rule allowing recharacterization of a Roth IRA back into a traditional IRA after a conversion.

MORTGAGE INTEREST TAX DEDUCTION
The final Act will not affect current homeowners; it would allow them to continue to deduct the interest paid on up to $1 million of mortgage debt. New homebuyers will only be able to deduct the interest on up to $750,000 of their mortgage principle on home purchases scheduled to close on or after January 1, 2018. The new cap expires at the end of 2025.  It is important to note that the MITD only applies to those filers who opt not to take advantage of the new standard deduction, which is $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for joint filers under the Act. Those individuals who opt to still itemize, will also be able to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local property taxes under the bill.

HOME EQUITY LOAN INTEREST DEDUCTION
The Act limits the deductibility of interest paid on some home equity loans/lines of credit for loans beginning after December 31, 2017, depending on the purpose of the loan. The Internal Revenue Code currently distinguishes between "acquisition" debt, meaning loans to buy, build or substantially improve a main or second home, and other "home equity" debt. The Act does not alter this distinction, but eliminates the deduction of "home equity" debt and limits total "acquisition" debt to $750,000. Existing home equity lines of credit may also not be "grandfathered" into receiving the deduction. Additionally, beginning in 2018, any interest accrued on certain existing home equity loans/lines of credit may not be deductible. The suspension expires at the end of 2025. 

This article is for general information purposes, as we do not provide tax advice.  Individuals should consult their tax advisor for specific questions.


Special Alert
Equifax Inc. Data Security Breach 

On September 7, Equifax announced a cyber security incident potentially impacting approximately 143 million U.S. consumers.  Based on the company’s investigation, the unauthorized access occurred from mid-May through July 2017.
 
Information accessed during the breach primarily includes the following: 
  • Names
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Birth Dates
  • Addresses
  • Driver’s License Numbers (in some instances)
In addition, credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers and dispute documents with personal, identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers have also been breached.
 
Equifax has established a website that consumers can access to see if they were impacted by the breach. If your data was exposed by the breach, Equifax is offering complimentary Identity Theft Protection and Credit File Monitoring.

Important Update about your EMV Chip Debit Card

When you use an EMV chip-enabled debit card to make a payment, most merchants that are equipped with EMV chip card terminals give you the option of paying as either “Debit” or “Credit.” Either option may require you to enter your PIN.  Always inform the cashier "you want to choose credit.”  You might encounter the two options - US MasterCard or International MasterCard, always choose International MasterCard; and your transaction will be completed as a credit transaction.  You may also see US MasterCard and MasterCard, choose MasterCard and your transaction will be completed as a credit transaction.  Please note, you may still be required to enter a PIN, but as long as you select credit, International MasterCard or MasterCard, the transaction will be processed as a credit transaction and not Point of Sale (POS).  If you don't see these options, the merchant you are shopping with has decided for you; and they will only route it through US MasterCard as a POS transaction.

Many members who make purchases with their debit cards at certain retailers, no longer have the option of choosing “Credit” when making their payment. Unfortunately, some stores have made the business decision to require their customers using a debit card to use the “Debit” option and enter their PIN, thus making the “Credit” option unavailable. When your purchase, if over $50, goes through as a pin-based POS debit transaction, it will incur a nominal 50 cent fee.

If a retailer does not permit you to select “credit” at the sale terminal, you have the following options:

  • Complete the transaction and pay a 50 cent fee
  • Cancel out of transaction; and pay with a First Service VISA Credit Card instead
  • Cancel out of the transaction and pay with a check or cash

Let your voice be heard!  If a retailer tells you that you no longer have an option on how to pay for your transaction – we encourage you to call or write the store. Let them know that as a consumer, you want them to bring back your choice on how you pay for your purchases.


Additional online resources:

  • MyCreditUnion.gov - Financial tools and calculators, including college savings, student loans, mortgages and retirement savings. Users also have access to a personal budgeting worksheet.
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  • Pocket Cents - A financial literacy tool for all age groups which provides personal finance lessons and tips for groups including youth, tweens, teens, young adults, families, seniors, parents, educators and service members.

Click here for additional free Consumer Protection links to protect your identity and personal information.