Friday, July 31, 2009

How To Negotiate With Your Creditors

Consumers Need a Back-up Card

Face it, we live in a credit-dominated society. Most of us can pay cash for our daily living expenses, but when it comes time to make a major purchase such as a house or a car, we need a thick credit file with a long history of responsible payments. Credit is a convenience that keeps us from having to carry large amounts of cash, and also allows us to buy now and pay later. Admittedly, many people have taken that perk to an extreme, but used appropriately, credit can be our friend.

Many consumers are now faced with having their existing lines of credit impacted by changes to the terms of their account. Higher interest rates, lower spending limits, increased minimum monthly payments, or even closed accounts have put many on the financial ropes. For this reason, Family Services, Inc. makes the following recommendations if the terms of your account are altered:

  • Ask for an explanation. Everyone deserves to know why the terms of their account were changed, so definitely inquire. Among other things, the creditor may close an account due to inactivity, because you no longer fit their business model, because you’ve become too much of a risk, or you’re no longer profitable.
  • Fight to get your previous terms reinstated. If you’ve had a sporadic pay history, are at or near your credit limit, or rarely use the card, you may not have a leg to stand on. However, if you’ve been a good customer, it’s worth it to call the issuer and plead your case, but you must have your financial ducks in a row before picking up the phone.
  • Build your case before you call. Know how long you’ve been a customer, the amount you usually charge each month, and underscore your good payment history.
  • Prove that you’re worth having. Get your credit report for free from www.annualcreditreport.com. Review it for accuracy. After all, you want to make sure that you and the creditor are seeing the same information. Next, pay the few dollars it costs to get your credit score. If you have a solid credit report and high credit score, you should be just the kind of customer any issuer wants.
  • Make them feel secure. Point out that you’re in a field that is not susceptible to layoffs, and that you have a steady income.
  • Be prepared to negotiate. Know what you want before you call, and be willing to negotiate if you have to. In other words, if your interest rate has been raised and your credit limit has been lowered, start off asking that both be returned to the previous levels. However, figure out in advance which is more important to you. Do you need a low rate because you carry a balance over from month-to-month, or does a high line of credit matter more to you? If you end up in a stand-off with the creditor, you’ll know where to give.
  • Ask for a supervisor. If you’re not getting the answers you want, move up the ladder until you either get what you’re after, or are convinced they are going to stand firm with their decision.
  • Inquire about the opt-out clause. If it makes more financial sense to do so, ask to have your account closed, with you continuing to pay the balance under the former terms. This option is often the right one for consumers who have had their interest rate or minimum payment raised to an unmanageable level. If it’s going to be a true financial hardship to meet the new terms, then it’s better to close the account.

“Even though having more plastic can equal more temptation, it might be smart to have a back-up card in case you lose charging privileges on your primary card,” says Michaele Pena of Consumer Credit Counseling Services, a division of Family Services, Inc. “Another card can be a safety net that will keep your access to credit open. Credit can be difficult to obtain, so testing the waters by applying for one more card – not a wallet full - before you actually need it will provide a degree of comfort during these uncertain times.”

For help making sound financial decisions, building a budget you can live with, or assistance digging out of debt, reach out to a trained and certified counselor at Family Services, Inc. To find the location closest to you, call Family Services, Inc. at 843-735-7802, or go online to www.fsisc.org. For counseling in Spanish, dial (800) 682-9832.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Choosing Homeownership

From: Military.com By: WellsFargo

Homeownership is about security, comfort, and fulfilling the American dream. The sense of community that comes with putting down roots in a place of your own, the security of owning the roof over your head, the opportunity for financial growth--all these accompany the choice to become a homeowner.

But buying a home is also the single largest investment most people ever make. Along with all the benefits of homeownership comes the responsibility to manage that investment wisely.

Benefits of homeownership

The rewards of owning your own home include many benefits unavailable to renters. Among other things, homeownership allows you to:

Start building wealth: Making a mortgage payment every month builds up your equity stake in your home, contributing to your long-term savings and helping you solidify your financial future.
Reduce your tax burden: The interest you pay on your mortgage is usually tax-deductible, which can lead to significant tax savings--especially in the early years of the mortgage term, when most of your monthly payments go toward interest. Make sure you consult your tax advisor about the deductibility of interest.

Build your credit history: Timely mortgage payments can contribute to a positive credit history.

Eliminate landlord hassles: You'll no longer have to fear non-renewed leases and rent increases.

Make the house your own: Aside from zoning rules, Homeowner's Association requirements, and local building codes, you'll be free to decorate, remodel, and renovate as you wish.

Responsibilities of homeownership

Before deciding to buy a home, consider the responsibilities that will accompany your purchase. You will most likely have to make some adjustments to account for the following:

Additional financial responsibility: Whether buying is more costly than renting depends on your individual circumstances. As a renter, some or all of your utilities may have been paid for, but now they will be solely your responsibility. You'll also be responsible for property taxes and homeowner's insurance in addition to your loan.

Maintenance and repairs: Maintaining your property will be up to you, not the landlord.

Less mobility: Unlike having a lease where you can move with minimal notice, moving when you own a home is more complicated since you're responsible for ensuring the mortgage gets paid.

Depreciation: Real estate often increases in value over time, but not always. Owning a home means facing the risk that its value will depreciate.

Beyond the financial benefits, the personal rewards of homeownership can be tremendous--as long as you prepare for the responsibilities that come along with it, and choose a home and a mortgage that are well-suited to your needs.