4 Steps For Protecting Your Identity This Tax Season

itheftLast Thursday, as you may have heard, TurboTax put a halt to it’s filing of state tax returns after a spike in suspicious filings. By Friday at 6 p.m., it was back in business. But a number of states that stopped issuing state tax refunds amid similar worries – including Vermont and Massachusetts – have yet to turn the spigot back on.

What’s the deal? In the past couple of years, there has been an increase in fraudulent returns filed in the hope of gaining a tax refund that belongs to someone else. In 2013, 1.6 million taxpayers were affected – and the IRS paid out $5.2 billion in fraudulent refunds. This year, state tax refunds are being targeted in particular.

Why? Because they’re low-hanging fruit.

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Protect Your Personal Information This Holiday Season

Locked WalletJP Morgan. Home Depot. Goodwill. And, yes, the IRS. Those are just four of the 636 data breaches that occurred through the first 10 months of 2014, a 30% increase over the same time period last year, according to the Identity Theft Research Center. Is it any wonder consumers are experiencing breach fatigue?

That’s what a new study of more than 1,200 consumers conducted by Morpace on behalf of LifeLock reveals. Consumers are very worried about their personal information being pilfered and used for identity fraud – two-thirds describe data breach as a serious life disruption, and half think it would be one of the worst things that could happen to them. But data breach is now so common that the overall attitude of many seems to be one of helplessness, with about half of consumers agreeing that they don’t know how to prevent data breach or what to do if it happens to them.

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Mailbag Monday: Secured Credit Cards to Establish Credit

collegemoneyHi Jean,

I’m wondering — what is the best secured credit card I could open to reestablish my credit? Thank you.

-Karen
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Mailbag Monday: Using The Fair Credit Reporting Act

debitcardHave you ever heard of a person being denied obtaining a credit card with a FICO score of 811? I pay my credit cards in full every month. This credit card offered two plane tickets. I really didn’t need the card, but I travel a lot and thought it was a nice benefit. What are your thoughts?

-Cheryl
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Wednesday Welcome: Using Micropayments to Pay Down Credit Card Debt

This week we bring you a second guest post from Bill Hardekopf, the CEO of LowCards.com. Last time he was here, he shared some little-known credit card perks, and today he’s helping you pay down your debt with micropayments. What exactly are micropayments? Read on.

Bill_Hardekopf (color)Summer vacations are just around the corner, and consumers need to have their credit card balances as low as possible in order to avoid costly interest charges. One way to do this is to make micropayments on their credit card bill.

Most consumers pay their credit card bill once a month, but cardholders can actually make a number of smaller payments throughout the month. Some banks and issuers allow payments to be made as often as once a day.

If you carry any balance from one month to the next, micropayments can reduce the interest because most credit card companies charge interest based on your average daily balance during that particular month. If you pay more often, you reduce your average daily balance and, as a result, the interest you pay that month. (more…)

Mailbag Monday: Solving Credit Conundrums

debitcardI need a reputable resource to help me with credit card debt. My husband and I make over $200,000 annually, but are drowning in debt.  Is consumer credit counseling a good option?

-Mary Beth

I am interested in consolidating my credit cards into one monthly payment. Please advise on organizations that offer this and please note that I am not looking for debt reduction.  Thank you

-Katie

 

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Mailbag Monday: Using a Personal Loan to Pay off Credit Card Debt

debitcardI was able to get a personal loan from my bank (with a low interest rate) to pay off $40,000 worth of credit card debt.  I have a total of nine cards. Is it advisable to cancel the cards that I have paid off?  Should I cancel the ones with a higher or lower credit limit? I don’t see myself using these cards in the future so is it wise to even keep them?

— Kris

Hi Kris. I’m going to give you the answer you asked for – and some advice you didn’t.  And then I want you to print this out and tape it to your fridge so you look at it every day. Although I’m sure you’ve read that cancelling credit cards hurts your credit score because it’s a knock on your credit utilization (the percentage of credit you have available to you, compared to the amount that you’re actually using), in your case closing some is the right thing to do for two reasons.  First, you simply have too many.  And second, it seems as if they’ve been too tempting for you in the past.  Start by closing the ones with the lowest limits, the highest annual fees and the highest interest rates.  In other words, hang on to the ones that – once you get your act together – you might want to use as a tool to make purchases you pay off every single month.

Getting your act together is the thing that you didn’t ask about – but that I’m going to address anyway.

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Mailbag Monday: Paying Off a Balance Transfer

debitcardHi Jean. I recently transferred a portion of the balance on my higher interest credit card to a Slate 0% card. Is it better to focus on paying down the higher interest card or getting the balance on the 0% card paid off within the introductory offer period?

— Trish

Oh Trish! I have to tell you, I have thought of this question so many times and never, ever been asked it.  In the best of all possible worlds, you’d transfer all your high interest rate debt to the Slate card, then wail on it at that 0% interest rate to make as big a dent in the teaser period as possible. (You did choose well when it comes to balance transfer cards, by the way — the 15 month 0% interest rate is just about as good as it gets.)

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Mailbag Monday: Rebuilding Your Credit

debitcardI’m a recent widow and was left with no insurance.  My house is being sold via short sale and I have moved to a small apartment, where I’ve paid the rent on time for the full year I’ve been here.  I would like to open a credit card, but would like a suggestion on where to go.  I know my credit rating is very poor, but I would like to get it back on track.  Do you have any suggestions?

— Jill

Hi Jill.  I’m so sorry for your loss and for the tough time that has followed.  The answer is that there are credit cards available for you.  Most of them are secured cards, so called because you deposit a sum of money (usually a couple to a few hundred dollars) to secure your credit.  The best of these report to all three credit bureaus on a regular basis, which enables you to build the sort of credit you need to eventually get a regular old credit card.

Among these, the folks at CardHub.com recommend the Capital One Secured Mastercard, which you can get with a deposit of as little as $49. If you’d prefer a card for which you don’t have to make a deposit, look at the Credit One Bank Credit Card with Gas Rewards (it gets around the deposit by charging an annual fee of $35 to $75.) Note: Your credit limits on both of these will be low, but your interest rate high.  So whatever you get, use it as a credit-building tool.  Note what your credit limit is.  Never rack up purchases that account for more than 30% of it at any time. And pay it off every single month.

Mailbag Monday: Help! My Issuer Canceled My Credit Card

debitcardMy husband called Chase Visa about his Marriott card (which he has had since 2002 in excellent standing) to have his 22.4% interest rate reduced (which I have done often for my card based on your recommendations– I now have 13.2% for a long time).  They refused. He asked for a supervisor who also flatly refused.  He told them he would cancel his card, and they did!  He carried a large balance each month, and was either paying off a large portion of it or, lately, paying the total balance.  We enjoyed the Marriott points, but now he says he will share my card and use his American Express instead.  Is this typical in this economy? Thanks so much for your time.

— Jennifer

Hi Jennifer.  I really can’t say how typical it is.  It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a large piece of research where hundreds or thousands of people tried – at once – to get their interest rates lowered and the results were recorded.  (Hey US PIRG: How about it?) Anecdotally, though, I’ve heard some stories like yours.  I’m very glad your husband is paying off his balance every month – rewards, whether they’re hotel points or frequent flyer points or even cash back, are never worth what you pay in interest.  What I would suggest is figuring out what kinds of rewards matter to you the most and then perhaps applying for a card that will give you a lot of them.  The Amex may do the trick for that, but there are a lot of cards offering big bonuses these days just for signing on and spending a few thousand dollars in the first few months (which business travelers like your husband often do anyway).  You might as well get the kind of rewards that can put you on a tropical island (or wherever you want to go) for a few days for free.

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