Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FICO Scoring Changes - Some are Good

The way your credit score is calculated is changing, and some of the changes could be to your benefit.

Fair Isaac Co,. the creator of the FICO score, has devised a new system that most CRAs will be using by spring. Under the new system, you will not be penalized for the occasional late payment as much as you have been in the past. The realization is that everyone sometimes misses a payment and the focus will be more on who is likely to default or not on a loan or a credit account.

Applications for new credit won't have the same impact either. Under the present system, having too many new applications for credit which cause an inquiry on your credit report have been marked against you. These will lose some of their importance and cast much less of a cloud under the new system.

Because credit scores are becoming increasingly important when someone wants to open a line of credit, take out a mortgage or loan or simply apply for a credit card, the new changes will improve scores for those with good payment histories and no delinquencies.
The new system will, however, further penalize those will recurring missed payments or overdue accounts.

Susquehanna Bank Issues Email Scam Alert

Susquehanna Bank, based in Pennsylvania, has issued a scam alert to all of its customers. Customers have been receiving phishing emails that purport to come from the bank but are really attempts to secure the customers personal and confidential information. The bank also warns that clicking on any links may compromise your computer's security. Here's the news release from their website:

Susquehanna Bank is warning consumers about a phishing scam in which fraudulent emails claim that the customer’s account has been suspended and they must go to a website to update their information so it can be unlocked. These are not legitimate emails from the bank, and consumers should not click on any links in these emails or respond with any confidential financial or other information. The emails are part of a phishing scam, in which criminals try to trick people into divulging their confidential information. Clicking on a link could expose a computer to malicious software that could track keystrokes, potentially giving the scammers private information such as account passwords. If you receive a suspicious email, you can notify us by emailing reportfraud@susquehanna.net.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Home Prices Down - Refinances UP

The prices for existing homes are dropping and the market is slumping, but mortgage applications are up. With the recent drop in the interest rate, people are rushing to refinance and take advantage of locking in a lower rate. But fewer seem to be rushing to purchase a home.

Refinance applications were up 92% from November, but purchase applications only 7%. The drop in interest rate has certainly sent people shopping for a better deal on their existing mortgages or trying to get out of ARM mortgages where the interest rate is about to increase.

The decline in housing inventory and house prices isn't generating a rise in sales, however, with most buyers willing to wait, expecting prices to drop lower.

Credit is a bit tighter and conditions for a loan stricter, but if you have equity in your house and are locked into a bad mortgage with a high rate or in an ARM about to balloon, this may be the right time for you to consider a refinance option.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Networking Site - OnlyAlumni.com

Social networking sites are hugely popular these days, with new ones cropping up from time to time to fill some particular niche that has somehow been overlooked. OnlyAlumni.com hopes to fill this void for college alumni who may be looking to connect with former fellow students and keep up on the news and events at their alma mater.

Each college or university has its own group page for members. Each page has subheadings for news and events. Finding your particular group is fairly easy as all groups are listed alphabetically. Therefore, Michigan State Alumni group is easy enough to find by scrolling the list and clicking on it takes you directly to the group page. You can create your account or sign into an existing account right there to view information on Michigan State University and the members of the group.

You don't have to wait until you graduate to join, it's an excellent way to connect to fellow students as well as keep up with the news on campus. For instance, if you attend Kent State University in Ohio, you can check out local events as well as post your own events, photos and messages. Did you study abroad on a Semester at Sea? There's a group for you, too.

The site is easily navigable and could be a very useful tool for both social networking and making business contacts as there are also numerous groups for employees of various companies. Making connections between former fellow alumni and prospective business opportunities can only be a good thing in terms of your career.

The site has a lot of potential and at this time is only lacking in membership. But all good things were once new and buzz about the site will swell the membership ranks in time, I am sure. OnlyAlumni.com is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in keeping up with the latest at their alma mater or looking to make worthwhile business connections.

New Scam Targets Seniors

Scam artists are targeting seniors with a new ploy that involves Social Security. The scammer calls the victim and tells them they will be receiving a new Social Security card, and in some cases, a new free medical card. The victim is asked for a lot of information and buried in that maze of questions are such things as social security numbers and bank account information.

This new identity theft scam works because people believe they will need their new cards to continue receiving benefits or could miss out on the free medical benefits that the promised card offers.

Agencies of the federal government do not ask for sensitive personal information over the phone. Anyone receiving a call like this should hang up and contact the Social Security Administration. Never give out SS numbers or bank account numbers over the phone unless you are absolutely sure of the identity of the party to whom you are speaking.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Deducting Job Search Expenses

If you searched for a new job in 2007, you can deduct certain of your expenses when you file your tax return, even if you didn't get a new job. You cannot deduct the expenses if you are looking for a new job in a new occupation, had a substantial lapse of time between your last job and your job search or if you were looking for a job for the first time.

You can deduct these types of fees:

* Résumé - you can deduct the cost of preparing and mailing résumés to prospective employers

* Employment agencies - you can deduct the fee if you engaged the services of an employment agency in your job search in the same occupation

* Travel expenses - If you traveled to an area to look for a new job you can deduct your travel expenses to the area and back. If you spent any of that time on personal pursuits outside of your job search, you can still deduct the portion of the travel expenses related to the job search.

Remember, these deductions only apply if you are searching for a job in the same occupation as your present job or most recent job. For more information on expenses you may be entitled to claim as deductions, refer to the IRS website.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review Credit Debt - New Year's Resolution

It's a new year and that's a great time to review your financial standing. Get out your credit card statements, look at your rates, fees, balances and decide if you could get a better deal. There are still some good credit card deals out there. Would a 0% interest balance transfer consolidate some balances and save you money? Don't jump into offers and if your credit card accounts are already outstanding deals, don't give them up to save a few pennies now, you could end up paying more later in interest and fees.

Reviewing your credit obligations can also help you devise a plan and strategy for paying down debt and cleaning up any accounts that cost you in interest over small balances. Think about paying off those balances with the highest interest first. Use balance transfers to save interest only if the interest rate doesn't go up astronomically after a short period. Read all the fine print and make a plan to eliminate the debts that are draining your budget in 2008.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Credit Card Benefits

Pulling out a credit card to make a purchase is not always a financial sin. Credit cards offer some protections that may help you in certain situations. For instance, if you dispute a charge on your bill because the merchant didn't deliver or the product was defective. If trying to work the situation out with the merchant doesn't solve the problem, contact your credit card company and file a dispute on the charge. You won't be responsible for the disputed charge until after the credit card company has contacted the merchant and you are satisfied. You may get the charge cleared if the dispute is settled in your favor.

Many credit cards offer other useful benefits, such as coverage for the insurance deductible on a rented car. Rental companies always ask for a credit card when hiring out vehicles, so read through your account details and see if any of your cards offer you this protection. If so, that's the card to use.

It's always a good idea to read the fine print to find out what penalties and interest the card company can charge and what changes they are allowed to make. But while you're doing that, don't forget to look for the benefits as well, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Credit Card Lenders See Share Prices Drop

The rise in credit card defaults is beginning to affect the price of shares of credit card companies. After Capitol One, a major lender, predicted another large loss due to credit default in 2008, shares fell by 32 cents according to CNN.Money.

Shares of American Express and Discover Financial Services also fell, American Express losing 30 cents to drop to $48.79.

CIBC World Markets analyst Meredith Whitney said that up until now consumers have prioritized credit card payments, and the loss in the credit card sector is new to investors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Christmas Debt Burdens Consumers

The Christmas season left many consumers a little dazed and on average, about $1600 further into credit card debt. What's more, many consumers used more than one credit card, dividing purchases amongst two, three or four cards - leaving them without a clear idea of the amount of debt they incurred.

Getting out of that debt could now take them years, just for this Christmas's shopping alone.

The worst thing to do is to allow yourself to slip up on payments. Some credit card interest rates will go up with just one late payment, making your purchases that much more costly and lengthening the time it will take you to pay them off.

The best advice? Make tightening your belt your New Year's Resolution. Shave and slice the money to cover your credit card debts out of every other household budget category possible.

It may be time to look for a 0% balance transfer card, or consult debt consolidation services.

Now that the season is past, take time to examine your credit card statements, work out a plan to pay off the debt on each and stick to it. Meanwhile, don't use your credit cards to make up for money you just cut out of your budget, in fact, don't use them at all. It's time for a moratorium on spending until you are clear of debt.

Monday, January 7, 2008

ToonUp Your Training Program

We all know that training seminars are necessary but too often employees attending training sessions lose interest because they don't feel engaged. That's when the snooze factor sets in. No matter how important your message is, employees who are watching the clock, doodling and daydreaming, are not going to receive the full benefits of the training experience. Employees themselves would rather not attend long and boring sessions but come to life when the presentation is engaging and interesting.

So, how do you present key concepts in a way that will both impart the important points of your training program and hold your employees attention, ensuring that they understand the message and that it will be retained? One company has a fun and unique way for you to communicate, train and motivate employees using animated software. Their animated cartoons called "ToonUps" can effectively get your message across while entertaining trainees abd capturing their attention.

Is there a better way to communicate than through educational entertainment? In addition to the ToonUps videos, they even have ToonUp Quizzes online that employees can take to ascertain their understanding and retention of important points and topics covered in the training. These quizzes feature the same animated ToonUps as well as facts, jokes, trivia and much more to make the learning experience pleasurable.

MaraStar covers a wide variety of topics of interest to both small business and large corporations. Videos for the sales staff focusing on sales tips or skills, videos for use by the Human Resources department on everything from Diversity to Punctuality and Absenteeism, as well as the basic points on office professionalism. Their video training library also contains ToonUps aimed at improving customer service and for call center training.

Remember, unless your message is communicated effectively, motivating and inspiring your employee, you are wasting both your time and your employee's time. MaraStar Communications gives you one way to make sure they're listening.

Free File 2007 Through IRS

Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $54,000 or less are eligible to use the Free File alternative through the IRS website. Free File is provided by "for profit" tax preparation companies but for those who qualify, it is free to prepare and file your taxes online through the Free File program.

In 2007, responding to critics of RALs, the IRS banned refund anticipation loans from its Free File program. However, the IRS promises fast refunds within 10 days of filing if the taxpayer chooses direct deposit.

If your adjusted gross income is less than $54,000 and you plan to use the Free File program, you must do it through the IRS website.

Those who do not qualify for Free File because their income exceeds $54,00 may still use the e-file option.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gunman Lets Victim Keep Credit Card

This is a story of someone being unbelievably smart, unbelievably courageous or unbelievably foolish. Whichever it was, he was also unbelievably lucky.

A Chicago man who was standing outside a store waiting for his family, found himself with a gun pressed to his head by a man asking for his wallet. Despite the fact that his life was in danger from the gunman, the victim asked if he might remove two items from the wallet before handing it over - an ID card and one credit card. The gunman obliged him and the victim removed the cards before giving the robber his wallet. The robber fled with a wallet containing other credit cards and about $150 in cash.

I don't know why the man wanted one credit card in particular, but let's hope that it was the card with the highest available balance and that all the others were already maxed out.