Personal Finance

Credit Card Perks that Honor Active-Duty Military

Originally published on CardRatings.

As a way to say “thank you,” both the country and credit card companies offer special benefits for active-duty military members and, in some cases, their spouses.

No matter your credit card, active-duty military members and their spouses are eligible for benefits related to the Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides financial help to active-duty military personnel and their spouses (more on these benefits below); however, many credit card issuers go above and beyond the SCRA and offer additional benefits, such as waiving annual fees or even lowering interest rates beyond what the law requires.

Let’s take a look at the SCRA, five additional military credit card benefits, how to request those benefits and some top cards for active military personnel.

What is the SRCA and how does it help military members?

The SCRA protects the finances of military members (and their families) while they are on active duty. Congress passed the SCRA, which expanded the Soldier’s and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940, in 2003.

The SCRA caps active military members’ interest rate at 6 percent for financial obligations incurred before military service. The creditor must forgive interest greater than 6 percent. It can’t defer it to later and it must also forgive the interest retroactively.

SCRA deals with rental agreements, security deposits, mortgage interest rates, health insurance, income tax payments, mortgage foreclosures and, yes, credit cards.

Military members have until 180 days after their end of service to notify creditors and provide the necessary documents to benefit from the 6 percent APR cap.

To be eligible, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be a member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty or a reserve component called to active duty,
  • Be National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 days,
  • Be a Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned officer,
  • Be a U.S. citizen servicing with another nation, which is allied with the U.S. “in the prosecution of a war or military action,” or
  • Be the spouse of an active duty service member.

The SCRA helps those in the active military with a number of financial situations, but let’s look at how credit cards go beyond that.

4 additional credit card perks for military members

From waiving fees to cutting the APR, credit card companies thank active service members in multiple ways. Here are a few of the ways credit card companies say “thank you” to military members.

Annual fee waivers

This is largely an under-the-radar perk but can be a huge money saver, especially for cards with hefty annual fees like the CardName, which offers lucrative luxury perks but comes with a $550 annual fee (read more about this card below). If you’re active-duty military, however, you don’t have to worry about the $550 fee.

American Express isn’t the only issuer to waive annual fees for active duty military. ChaseCapital One and Citi all waive annual fees for active military members (and, yes, you must be active duty to qualify for the fee waivers).

Lower APR

The SCRA requires creditors cap their APR at 6 percent for active service members; however, some card issuers drop it even further.

Citi completely removes the APR during active duty time. USAA and Capital One lower the APR to 4 percent. USAA even goes beyond that and extends the 4 percent APR until a year after active duty ends.

No late fees

American ExpressCapital OneUSAA and Chase will waive late fees for active military members.

A word of caution — late payment information will still go to credit bureaus, which can affect your credit score. So, it’s not a good idea to miss a payment even if your card may waive the fee.

Wipe out all fees

Some credit card companies remove all fees while you’re on active duty. For instance, Capital One and USAA cut foreign transaction, balance transfer, cash advance and all other card-related fees.

How to request SCRA, additional military-based benefits

Now that you know about all of these benefits let’s talk about how you notify credit cards about being an active military member.

You must provide the creditor with a copy of your military orders. Contact your credit card company either via phone or online. Don’t be deterred if the customer service representative isn’t familiar with these benefits. Just request to speak to a supervisor. You should also expect to answer a series of questions about your military service.

Once your creditor receives your information, it will review your SCRA eligibility to confirm you are an active duty military member or the spouse of an active service member. The creditor will examine the provided documents and check the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center.

Each credit card has a similar process to verify SCRA benefits and to get other active military-related card benefits.

Top cards for military members

All credit cards will give you the benefits that are part of the SCRA, and some cards will provide added benefits. If you’re ready to start taking advantage of these benefits available to you, keep reading for some of the top cards from issuers offering special military benefits.

Before you apply, however, remember that being active duty military doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be approved for a credit card; your credit history and score will still be factors in whether you’re approved.

To see the list of best cards, head over to CardRatings.

Personal Finance

5 Credit Card Trends for 2018

Originally published on CardRatings.

Credit cards usage is nearing pre-Great Recession levels as Americans feel more confident about their jobs and economy.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently reported that the average credit line, number of accounts and outstanding card debt are all on the upswing. There isn’t quite as much credit card debt (yet!) compared to before the recession, but it’s increased 9 percent over the past two years.

The credit card upswing has led credit card companies to think up new ways to woo customers. They’ve diversified rewards programs, expanded technology like mobile payments and implemented better account security.

The already active credit card market will get another jolt when the tax cut goes into effect in 2018, which could mean more disposable income over the next year.

Economists and consumers are optimistic about 2018, but what can you expect for credit cards? Here are five things to watch in 2018:

Less signing when you make purchases

You’ve probably noticed that you don’t have to sign for as many purchases you did just a couple of years ago. Credit card companies and businesses have lowered the hassle of signing after you swipe or insert your card. These policies are about making things easier at checkout.

And the “no-signing” trend continues to gain steam. American Express, Discover and Mastercard have all announced that they are doing away with signatures for domestic purchases (and, in some cases, for purchases abroad as well).

You’re probably wondering: How will credit card companies prevent fraud if you don’t have to sign? Well, first off, your signature at check out is likely a squiggly line anyway, so it’s not exactly helping prevent fraud at present.

Plus, more and more shopping each day is done online where you don’t sign for your purchases. And lastly, credit card companies have improved fraud prevention through better technology (see below for more on that) and customer alerts, so they believe the signature isn’t needed anymore.

Not signing for your credit card purchases may seem off-putting at first, but once you get used to it in 2018, you’ll likely not pine for the days of signing for those purchases.

More chip technology

Anyone who has used a credit card outside of the U.S. knows that shopping with a credit card is quite different outside of the American borders.

EMV technology, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, is standard in other parts of the world, but Americans continue to occasionally swipe for purchases even if you have noticed a significant increase in the “insert your card” EMV technology closer to home in the past few years. The EMV technology can feature chip and signature or chip and PIN, which offers it a little bit of added protection.

EMV stores credit card data on a computer chip embedded on the card rather than on the magnetic stripe you’re used to. Card readers that utilize chip technology don’t need to be connected to a phone or the internet to approve the charge. That’s different from the classic magnetic stripe card that continually communicates with the credit card company.

Also, hackers can tap into magnetic stripe card by attaching a reader over the existing card reader. That means a cardholder who swipes for a full tank of gas may not realize that a hacker just got their credit card information. Overall, American consumers with magnetic stripe cards are much more at risk of being the victim of credit card fraud. In fact, a 2013 Nilson Report study found American consumers accounted for one-quarter of credit card purchases, but half of the world’s credit card fraud.

Chip technology is designed to change that stat.

U.S. credit card companies are moving more into EMV technology, though many are still in the chip and signature world with future plans to move into the chip and PIN world. Cayan reported that 73 percent of credit card purchases on Black Friday in 2017 were with chip technology. That’s an increase from 55 percent in 2016. Credit card companies have issued 462 million chip cards to cardholders, and more than half of U.S. storefronts now accept cards with the technology.

The added fraud protection seems to be working. Visa reported that counterfeit fraud at U.S. chip-enabled merchants decreased 66 percent in June 2017 compared to two years ago.

If you don’t have a card with chip technology yet, your credit card company could very well be sending you one in 2018. If you already have a chip card, be aware that your company could be moving in the chip and PIN direction very soon.

More metal cards

Credit cards are not just a tool to make purchases. In many ways, they’ve become a status symbol.

Credit card companies now offer special cards that set you apart from other consumers. Sure, plastic rewards cards are great, but metal cards can impress.

Beyond the look and feel, a metal card’s benefits vary by card – just like plastic cards. Some metal cards specialize in travel rewards, while another might give cash back. Some have hefty annual fees, while others are more affordable.

Plastic credit cards remain more common than metal cards, but that’s the point. Metal cards are meant to stand out.

Offering a metal card gives credit card companies another way to tempt top customers and high spenders. In many cases, the metal cards offer similar rewards and perks as regular plastic cards, but with the added benefit of a special card that will get a second look by store employees and friends alike. Furthermore, those metal cards just might hold up better in your wallet.

If you want a side of prestige with your credit card, you’ll likely have more opportunities to get a metal card in 2018 if you’re a top customer.

More rewards for balance transfers

There was a time not too long ago when credit card companies were focused on fairly bare-bones balance transfer credit cards. The thought was that consumers interested in these cards solely cared about getting a temporary lower APR and maybe even not paying a balance transfer fee. It was great for consumers, but it meant that many of them just put the card in a drawer after taking advantage of that balance transfer offer – not exactly what credit card issuers want you to do with the card they send you.

Now, more companies are sweetening their balance transfer cards by adding rewards programs and perks. It’s a win-win for consumers and credit card issuers. Suddenly that awesome rewards credit card that you want to use every day might also come with a sweet balance transfer or 0 percent interest deal as well.

With Americans feeling confident about the economy and spending more as a result, many consumers will likely look for ways to consolidate debt and pay a lower interest rate. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a balance transfer card that allows you to do all that, but that you want to keep in regular rotation because of the rewards it offers?

A better economy means more available money for consumers; therefore, look for credit card companies to offer more cards and added perks as they try to lure more consumers to their brand.

More emphasis on mobile wallet

Despite credit card and technology company efforts, mobile payments remain a small percentage of credit card-related purchases. Companies will continue to look for ways to increase mobile payments in 2018. In fact, Chase Freedom® cardholders who activate the bonus categories for the first quarter of 2018 will earn 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in mobile payments with Chase Pay®, Apple Pay®, Android Pay™ and Samsung Pay (and on gas station and phone/cable/internet purchases).

More users have mobile wallet technology these days. For instance, Apple Pay® doubled its users in 2017 with one estimate saying the service could have reached 86 million customers by the end of the year. Starbucks also saw a 10 percent increase on its Mobile Order & Pay service in 2017. In fact, 30 percent of Starbucks payments in June were done via its mobile app.

Despite those numbers, mobile payments still are just a small portion of credit card payments.

However, as cardholders look to offer easier ways to use their credit cards and smartphones continue to play a larger part of our lives, look for credit card and mobile phone companies will continue to push mobile payment offerings in 2018.

Personal Finance

A Whole New World of Rewards for Disney Fans

Originally published on Credit Karma.

You no longer have to wish upon a star to have Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell or even Yoda on your credit card.

Disney offers two rewards credit cards through Chase that offer all kinds of Disney-related perks: Disney® Premier Visa® Card and Disney® Visa® Card. From fun Disney and Star Wars card art to the chance to earn Disney Rewards Dollars that you can use toward Disney products or vacations, these cards are perfect for fueling your Disney fanatic side.

Disney® Premier Visa® Card takes the perks one step further by offering a more generous rewards program and introductory bonus. These add-ons come with a $49 annual fee, while Disney® Visa® Card charges no annual fee, but we still think Disney® Premier Visa® Card is the clear winner between the two.

Let’s compare the cards side-by-side to find out why.

See Credit Karma page for side-by-side comparison.

The winner: Why we prefer Disney® Premier Visa® Card

Both cards offer great Disney benefits, but Disney® Premier Visa® Card gives a little bit extra. Yes, that “extra” come with a $49 annual fee, but you can more than offset the cost if you expect to use your card for everyday purchases or plan to use the card to pay for an upcoming flight.

Extra rewards

Disney® Premier Visa® Card lets you earn 1 percent in Disney Rewards Dollars on your everyday purchases and 2 percent at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. Those locations include Walt Disney World® Resort, Disneyland® Resort, Disney Cruise Line and more.

With Disney® Visa® Card, you only earn 1 percent on all purchases.

Option to redeem points toward flights

With the Disney® Premier Visa® Card, you can even redeem Disney Rewards Dollars toward flights. There are no airline limitations or blackout days. Just pay for a flight using your Disney® Premier Visa® Card, then redeem your Disney Rewards Dollars for a statement credit toward your ticket purchase. (Just make sure you redeem them within 60 days of purchasing your ticket.)

This flight perk means you could use your Disney® Premier Visa® Card to book a roundtrip flight to a Disney resort, enjoy card benefits while you’re there, earn more Disney Rewards Dollars while you’re at it, then fly home and partially cover your flight by redeeming your Disney Rewards Dollars.

Note that with either card, once you rack up your Disney Rewards Dollars, you can use them toward Disney and Star Wars toys and movies at Disney Store or other Disney locations. You can also request a Disney Rewards Redemption Card once you collect 20 Disney Rewards Dollars. However, it’s only with Disney® Premier Visa® Card that you can redeem points for statement credit toward flights.

As a bonus, there are no limits on the number of Disney Rewards Dollars you can earn with both cards, so you have unlimited opportunity to save up for a big Disney trip or purchase.

Special events and discounts

The following special discounts and events are available to cardholders of either Disney card.

As a card member, you have access to exclusive events at Disney Store and VIP packages when you buy premium tickets to Aladdin or The Lion King on Broadway.

You get 10 percent off select merchandise purchases of $50 or more at Disney Store and DisneyStore.com, and at select locations at Disneyland® Resort, Walt Disney World® Resort, Disney’s Beach Resort Destinations and the Aulani Resort in Oahu, Hawaii.

You and six guests can also enjoy one Disney Character Experience per day at private cardholder locations at Disney parks. Plus, you can enjoy 10 percent off select dining locations most days at Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts.

Cool card designs

Both Disney credit cards offer card art that will be the envy of your Disney-loving friends. You can choose from 10 different designs, including the Magic Kingdom, Sorcerer Mickey and Elsa. There are cards with Yoda and Darth Vader for Star Wars fans, too.

Generous introductory bonus

We’ve gone over all of the Disney perks, but this card is more than just a rewards card for Disney purchases. You also earn a $200 statement credit when you spend $500 on purchases with Disney® Premier Visa® Card in the first three months from account opening.

With the Disney® Visa® Card, you only get a $50 statement after your first purchase.

Counterpoint: Why you might want the Disney® Visa® Card instead

Disney® Visa® Card offers many of the same benefits as the premier card, but without an annual fee.

You still get the choice of 10 card designs, the prestige of a Disney card and the chance to earn 1 percent in Disney Rewards Dollars on all purchases. But you miss out on Disney® Premier Visa® Card’s added perks.

When is Disney® Visa® Card a better bet? If you don’t plan to use it much.

Maybe you already have other cards and see the Disney card as a cool addition to your wallet, but not one you expect you’ll use that often. In that case, a card without an annual fee could be a better choice.

This card might also be a wise move if you’re interested in the Disney discounts and special events, but don’t care as much about the rewards program. This card earns 1 percent in Disney Rewards Dollars across all purchases, so you may not collect rewards as quickly. The premier card rewards can add up more rapidly, but that won’t matter if you’re not interested in the perks unique to Disney® Premier Visa® Card.

Personal Finance

American Express Waives Annual Fees for Military Personnel, Their Spouses

Originally published on CardRatings.

American Express offers quite the money-saving perk to military personnel: The issuer waives the annual fees for its credit cards – even for The Platinum Card® from American Express, which comes with a $550 annual fee price tag.

This is largely an under-the-radar perk, but can be a huge moneysaver for American Express cardholders, especially if you’re a service member who wants to enjoy the lucrative luxury perks that accompany The Platinum Card® from American Express. As an added bonus, the spouses of military personnel are also eligible for the annual-fee waiver.

Before you start crunching numbers only related to your annual fee savings, know this: The Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA) offers protections to active duty military personnel and their spouses when it comes to a number of financial situation and loan terms and those terms apply regardless of credit card issuer. Amex takes it a step further, however, with the annual-fee waiver. More on the SRCA below, but first, let’s look at some of the top Amex cards military personnel should consider in light of this annual-fee waiver perk.

American Express cards for military personnel

So, now that you know you can get your American Express annual fee waived as an active service member or spouse of a service member, what are some American Express cards to check out?

Well, since that annual fee is going to be waived, you might as well take advantage of some of the fantastic perks (airport lounge access, for instance, with The Platinum Card® from American Express) available with higher-annual-fee cards. In fact, you and your spouse could apply separately to really take advantage of the features and rake in the rewards.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card® from American Express is the perfect card to have when the card waives the annual fee. Why? It has a $550 annual fee, but servicemembers can benefit from the card’s perks without paying the annual fee that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive.

This is a premium credit card, and you get a lot with it including a generous rewards program if you’re a frequent flyer. The card offers a whopping five-times the Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with the airlines or with American Express Travel. Plus, you get a 60,000-point bonus when you spend $5,000 on your card in the first three months.

The card offers many travel-related perks, including access to hundreds of airport lounges through the Global Lounge Collection, 24/7 access to the Platinum Club Concierge who can help with travel arrangements, and a credit to cover your Global Entry or TSA Precheck™ application fee every five years. Plus, cardholders have access to the Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels and Resorts programs, which give members perks such as hotel credits for spa services and meals and complimentary WiFi and room upgrades at select hotels. And, as you would expect with a card of this caliber, you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees when you use your card while abroad.

The Platinum Card® from American Express also gives you up to $200 a year in statement credit to cover travel-related charges like baggage fees and in-flight refreshments that you charge on your card.

Not too shabby when you consider you won’t be paying any annual fee.


Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express doesn’t have an untouchable annual fee – it’s just $95, and, thanks to a special offer, that’s waived for everyone for the first year, but as a member of the military you don’t even have to worry about it after the first year. So, while The Platinum Card® from American Express is probably the card you want to consider first given the huge annual fee savings, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a worthwhile candidate for the second slot in your wallet.

The reward categories for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express make it an excellent card for your everyday spending; you earn 6 percent back on the first $6,000 spent annually at U.S. supermarkets, 3 percent back on purchases at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1 percent back on all your other purchases. By the way, most supermarkets these days sell a host of gift cards and, yes, you can earn 6 percent back when you buy gift cards at those supermarkets.

Since you, as a member of the military, are eligible for waived annual fees, consider carrying both the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express for your everyday spending AND The Platinum Card® from American Express with which you earn maximum rewards on your travel and enjoy those luxury travel perks described above.

There’s really no reason not to carry both cards and those rewards you’ll be racking up will come in handy down the road.


Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express is another exclusive card that charges a $195 annual fee (waived for everyone the first year). It also offers a travel-related rewards program, but it adds restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets to its rewards categories, making this another excellent option for your everyday purchases.

The card offers three times the points for flights booked directly with airlines; two points per $1 spent at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and one point per $1 for all other purchases. The card also gives you 25,000 points when you use the card for $2,000 worth of purchases in the first three months. In addition, you are also eligible for a $100 airline fee credit to cover baggage fees at one pre-selected airline and a $75 hotel credit and room upgrades through The Hotel Collection.

Overall, the travel rewards are not as generous as with The Platinum Card® from American Express and the everyday rewards aren’t as high as with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, but if you’re committed to carrying only one credit card, rather than combining the rewards from both The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express as described above, the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express offers the best of both worlds.

How to request a waived fee and SCRA benefits from American Express

If you already have an American Express card, you can call American Express at 1-800-253-1720. Tell the representative that you’re an active duty military member and request a waiver of your card’s annual fee as well as the SCRA protections for your card. Don’t be deterred if the customer service rep isn’t familiar with these benefits; just request to speak with a supervisor. You should also expect to answer a series of questions about your military service.

You can also contact American Express online. American Express allows you to log into your account and request SCRA benefits. Once you’ve made contact with American Express, you can also send a copy of documents with the account number to: American Express, Attn: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, PO Box 981535, El Paso, TX 79998-1535. It’s a good idea to contact the company before sending your documents, so Amex is aware that you’re sending documentation its way.

Once American Express has your information, it will review your SCRA eligibility to confirm you are an active duty military member or the spouse of an active service member. American Express will examine the provided documents and check the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center. Be aware that, depending on how long the verification process takes, you may have to pay the annual fee up-front before being reimbursed when your status is verified.

Even if you don’t choose to take advantage of the annual fee waiver offered by American Express (but, really, why wouldn’t you?) each credit card issuer has a similar process to verify your eligibility for SCRA benefits even though they don’t necessarily waive the annual fee, so contact your card company by phone or online and it can start the verification process.

Speaking of the SCRA, just what are some of the benefits? Keep reading to find out.

SCRA protection for active military members

American Express goes above and beyond with its annual-fee waiver, but there is federal legislation that caps interest rates for active servicemembers and their spouses and that law applies to credit cards beyond those issued by American Express.

Congress passed the Servicemembers Civil Rights Act (SCRA) in 2003, which expanded the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940. The SCRA protects the finances of military members (and their families) while they are on active duty. The provisions deal with rental agreements, security deposits, mortgage interest rates, health insurance, income tax payments, mortgage foreclosures, and yes, credit cards.

To be eligible, you must be a:

  • A member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty or a reserve component called to active duty,
  • National Guard personnel under a call or order to active duty for more than 30 days,
  • A Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned officer,
  • A U.S. citizen servicing with another nation, which is allied with the U.S. “in the prosecution of a war or military action,” or
  • The spouse of an active duty servicemember.

The SCRA caps active military members’ interest rate at 6 percent for financial obligations incurred before military service. The servicemember must provide the creditor with a copy of his/her military orders and a written notice to take advantage of the interest rate cap, but that’s not a bad hoop to jump through for an interest rate cap that could literally save you hundreds of dollars if you happen to have some credit card debt you’re working to pay off.

The creditor must forgive interest greater than 6 percent. It can’t defer it to later and must also forgive the interest retroactively. Military members have until 180 days after their end of service to send the required documents to the creditor.

Personal Finance

Personal Loan Guide

Originally published on Wise Piggy. NOTE: This article was published in 2016 so information about the loans and banks may have changed. 

Personal loans can be a powerful tool to help pay down credit card debt, secure cash for emergencies, or help with a major home project. Benefits include:

  • Interest rates that are usually lower than credit cards.
  • A fixed APR so payments remain the same for the life of the loan.
  • Potentially positive impact on your credit score.
  • Unsecured debt, so there is no need to put up collateral, such as a house or other property.

Personal loans are also a booming corner of the lending marketplace, via banks, credit unions or finance companies. TransUnion reports that unsecured personal loan balances reached $92 billion in the first three months of 2016, doubling from the same period in 2012.

Personal Loan Basics

Personal loans are used for a number of reasons:

  • Debt consolidation
  • Credit card bills
  • Wedding
  • Home project (especially if you don’t have enough equity in your home)
  • Healthcare expenses
  • Vacations
  • Car purchase and repairs

How is a personal loan different from other options?

A personal loan is usually unsecured, which means that you don’t have to put up collateral, such as your house, which is the case for secured loans, such as home equity loans and mortgages.

The major benefit of an unsecured loan is you have peace of mind that you won’t have your home taken away if you fail to pay it off. The downside of an unsecured loan is you will likely pay higher rates than a secured loan because the lender is taking a bigger risk.

Benefits of Unsecured Loans

  • No collateral
  • Quicker approval process
  • Interest rate does not change

Drawbacks of unsecured loan

  • Higher rates
  • Need better credit history than a secured loan
  • Lower loan limits than a secured loan

What kind of credit score do you need? 

You can see by the above chart that most lenders expect at least a 600 credit score, but there are others that have no minimum credit score.

You will have a harder time getting an unsecured personal loan than a secured loan, such as a mortgage or car loan if you have bad credit. The reason is a borrower puts up collateral for a secured loan. The lender is taking a bigger risk loaning money when no collateral is involved so the rates are higher for unsecured loans.

Getting a great rate

Make sure that before you apply for a personal loan that you do all you can to maximize your credit score. This can save you thousands over the course of paying off a personal loan.

Why? A lender will give a borrower with a higher credit score a better, lower rate.

So, if you have a credit score of 600 or less, it’s best to spend some time working on that score. Here are three ways you can improve your credit score before applying for a personal loan:

  • Reduce credit card use.
  • Pay down your balances as much as you can.
  • Don’t get a new credit card in the months leading up to your personal loan application.

How much can a higher credit score save you?

Here is an example to show exactly how a higher credit score is a major advantage in the loan market. It means you pay less in interest over the life of a loan and can have lower monthly payments at the same time.

 
Personal Loan at 600 FICO
Personal Loan at 700 FICO
Amount Borrowed
$20,000 $20,000
Interest Rate 20% 12%
Monthly Payment $743.28 $664.29
Total Interest Paid $6,757.66 $3,914.30
Total Amount Paid $26,757.66 $23,914.30
Payoff Time 3 Yrs 3 Yrs

How a personal loan may improve your credit score

Getting a personal loan to consolidate your credit cards will increase your credit score in the long term – as long as you make regular payments, don’t open new accounts and don’t fall back into the credit card trap again.

But a word of caution: When you first get a personal loan, your credit score will likely drop. This is normal. It’s because a new loan is seen an additional risk.

The good news is that consolidating credit card debt into a personal loan could help your credit score:

  • By paying your personal loan on time, not opening new accounts and not using your cards recklessly again, your debt-to-credit ratio will increase on your credit cards. About 30 percent of your credit score is based on the debt-to-credit ratio, or how much credit is available on your cards. Only your payment history makes up a larger percentage of your credit score. A better debt-to-credit ratio will mean a better credit score.
  • A personal loan is seen as a different type of credit than credit cards – installment vs. revolving. Having a greater diversity of types of credit, such as loans and mortgages, is better for your score than having just credit cards.

Here’s an important caveat – think of your personal loan as a do-over if you need to consolidate credit card debt. Take what you learned from getting into your credit card situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

You shouldn’t see the zero balances on your credit cards as a chance for a spending spree.

It’s OK to use your credit cards occasionally so your card isn’t closed because of inactivity. In fact, it’s good for your credit score to occasionally use your cards for a regular purchase like groceries. But make sure you pay off your bill and don’t use your cards for unnecessary purchases or things you can’t afford.

Another important credit score-related note: You may want to close your credit cards, but this can have a negative impact on your credit score. Instead, use your credit cards wisely and pay them off monthly.

Applying for a Personal Loan

Many lenders will ask you why you are applying for a loan. Some lenders may even limit how personal loan money is used. For instance, one lender might only allow you to consolidate credit while another might forbid you to pay off your college tuition with a loan.

The APR may also vary depending on the reason for your loan.

For these reasons, it’s important to let the lender know why you need a loan.

Prepayment penalties

If you hope to pay off your loan early, check to see if there is a pre-payment penalty. You don’t want to be penalized if you are able to pay off the loan quicker than your loan terms. If you do encounter a pre-payment penalty think twice about taking out that loan.

There’s more than APR

Don’t just choose a lender for one thing, such as a low APR, though this is the most critical factor. You’ll want to take everything into account.

As you will see on the above chart, you’ll want to compare APR, loan amounts offered, loan terms and origination fee. If you need the money quickly, the turnaround after approval may be critical for you. If having face-to-face interaction is important, you will likely want to find a lender with a local branch or superior customer service.

What’s an origination fee?

A term you might not recognize is origination fee, which is added to the loan amount that serves as a processing fee. It can also be called an activation fee.

For instance, let’s say your $20,000 loan includes a 5% origination fee. That will add $1,000 to your loan amount. This might not mean much if you get a great APR, but it’s important to consider.

Hard pull versus soft pull

You’ll want to consider whether the lender requires a hard pull of your credit history to apply for a loan or to find out rates. A hard pull of your credit history will likely affect your credit score. This might not concern you, but it’s something to think about if you will need the highest credit score possible in the near future.

If you get declined by a lender who performs a hard pull, your score will be lower if you apply for a personal loan with another company. Don’t apply for a personal loan unless you really need one.

How do you apply?

The good news for prospective borrowers is it’s never been easier to apply for personal loans. Many companies now allow you to apply by providing only minimal information, but others might require more information, such as:

  • Identification
  • Past income
  • Debt obligations
  • Social Security number

One important piece to note about applying for a loan. Some lenders may require an in-person visit to a local branch in order to get a loan approved. You’ll want to find this out before starting the process.

One last piece of advice

Be careful with what you borrow. Just because a lender offers up to $25,000 doesn’t mean you need to borrow that much. Know what you need, don’t ask for more and then make sure you pay each month.

Best Personal Loans

Choosing the right lender for a personal loan can be a complicated and confusing process. What makes it even more difficult is some lenders are better than others in specific areas.

We researched which lenders stand out in different categories. We’ve included two lenders for each category to give you variety and also because most lenders don’t offer loans in all states.

Best Lenders for Excellent Credit

Earnest

About: The San Francisco-based company is a great bet for a borrower with good credit who wants to pay off the loan as soon as possible.

Earnest’s APR is one of the best APR ranges in the personal loan marketplace. Though there is no minimum credit limit to apply for an Earnest personal loan, the company’s loans are geared for those with good credit.

Loan terms are between 12 months and 36 months and there is no origination fee.  There are no penalties for making extra or early payments.

Earnest loans are available in 36 states.

You should be aware that the company performs a hard pull of your credit record when you apply so your credit score may be impacted.

In order to get approved, you need to be employed, possess savings enough to cover at least a month of “normal expenses,” have a good credit history, carry a positive bank account balance and make enough money to support paying back the loan in addition to your normal living expenses.

Earnest isn’t for those with little or poor credit but could be the right choice if you have a good credit history.

Penfed Credit Union

About: Established in 1935 and one of the largest credit unions, PenFed Credit Union is a great option for those with good credit – especially for borrowers who need time to repay the loan.

Penfed’s loan terms stretch all the way to 60 months so you have the flexibility to pay the loan in five years if needed.

The credit union expects a minimum 700 credit score so you need to have good credit to expect to get approved.

APR is competitive and loan terms are either 36 months, 48 months or 60 months. The APR is higher for the longer loans. There is no origination fee or pre-payment fee so you won’t get charged a penalty if you pay it off sooner.

Penfed, which offers personal loans in all 50 states, takes a day to fund approved loans.

You will need to join the credit union, but you can do that during the application process.

Best Lenders to Get Money Quickly

OneMain Financial

About: If your personal loan gets approved by noon, you can get your money the same day from OneMain Financial.

OneMain Financial, which was founded in 1912 and owned by CitiBank, offers loans in 43 states. It has branches across the country so OneMain Financial is good if you want face-to-face interaction.

OneMain Financial’s APR ranges are on the high side. You can loan as little as $300 or as much as $15,000. Loan terms are limited to 36 months and 60 months.

There is no origination fee and no prepayment penalties, which means you can pay off your loan early without any fees if your financial situation improves.

Best Lenders for Low APR

SoFi

About: SoFi has one of the lowest APRs in the personal loan marketplace and is a great alternative to consolidate credit cards and pay a lower rate.

SoFi’s APR is low and loan terms are 36 months, 60 months or 84 months and you can pay off the loan early and not get penalized. There is no origination fee and the loans are available in 47 states.

Loans range from $5,000 to $100,000.

The San Francisco company, which has funded more than $4 billion in loans, reviews more than credit score when deciding on loans. SoFi also looks at career experience, monthly income versus expenses, financial history and education.

One plus is SoFi offers unemployment insurance so you are able to miss a limited number of payments if you lose employment.

Wells Fargo

About: If you want the peace of mind of a well-established financial institution, Wells Fargo could be the right choice for your personal loan – but you’ll have to be a Wells Fargo customer to apply.

Unlike the newer online lenders, Wells Fargo has been around since 1852 and offers banking, insurance, investments, mortgage and consumer and commercial finance.

Wells Fargo offers personal loans with no origination or prepayment fees. It has competitive APR and loans up to $100,000. The lender also has loan terms that range from 12 to 60 months so it suits nearly every borrower.

The lender says you can have a decision about a personal loan within 15 minutes and you can get funding within the same day. Established name, quick turnaround for funds, flexibility in terms and no fees make Wells Fargo a strong choice in the personal loan market.

Best Lenders for Millennials

Pave

About: Geared to young borrowers, Pave offers low APR to help young people “further their education, relocate for their dream career or get their finances back on track.”

Based in New York City, the company allows you to chat online with the Pave team.

The company analyzes a prospective borrower’s credit score and history and takes into account a person’s work history, current employment, education and future earning potential.

Pave offers loans between $3,000 and $25,000 with loan terms of only 24 months or 36 months.

Personal loans are available in 35 states and you can get money within a few business days if approved.

There is an origination fee of between 1% and 2%, but there is no prepayment penalty so you won’t be charged if you’re able to pay off the loan quicker.

Upstart

About: If you have a great credit history, Upstart could give you a personal loan with a low APR. If your credit isn’t so good, you might wind up paying much higher rates.

The company promotes its easy loan application process that allows prospective borrowers to apply in minutes. An added benefit is that there is no hard pull to apply so you don’t have to worry about your credit score taking a hit when you apply.

Upstart’s personal loans are limited to 36 months, but there’s no prepayment fee so you can pay off before the three-year timeframe.

Upstart gives loans between $3,000 and $35,000. It only takes a day to get money after a loan approval.

On the downside, there is an origination fee of between 1% and 6% so you’ll want to keep that in mind and calculate that cost coupled with a possible low APR.

Best Lender for No Fees

Discover

About: You may know Discover from their credit cards, but the company also offers personal loans that have great APR and no fees.

Discover provides varied loan terms, low APR, quickness in payment and no origination or prepayment fees.

Discover’s loan approval process may take a day depending on circumstances. Funds are available as early as the next business day once the borrower accepts the terms.

A real benefit of Discover is the lack of fees. There are no origination, prepayment or closing fees.

The lack of a prepayment penalty means you can take out a loan for a longer period of time, but pay it off early if your finances improve.

Personal Finance

5 Ways Credit Cards Can Improve Your Health

Originally published on CardRatings.com.

When not used properly, credit cards can hurt your mental – and, of course, your financial – well-being. But, when used correctly and smartly, your overall physical, mental and financial health can actually benefit when you use your credit cards.

The first step with credit cards is understanding what it takes to create credit health with your cards. This basically means using your cards the right way and not sinking further into debt.

A study of young adults found that household financial debt hurts psychological health and overall health. High debt is “associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health and higher diastolic blood pressure,” according to at least one study.

But credit cards themselves aren’t the root cause of the evil. It’s how you use them that causes the problems.

Personal finance columnist Liz Weston says there’s no credit card reward rich enough or “healthy” enough to offset the cost of carrying credit card debt.

“When you’re carrying a balance, your primary concern should be getting the lowest possible interest rate so you can get out of debt faster,” she says.

But for those of you already in the good habit of paying your balance in full every month, you could consider a card that will reward another of your good habits: taking care of yourself with spa treatments, diet, and exercise, Weston says.

So, let’s take a look at some ways in which your credit cards can actually help you get physically healthy.

Put your gym membership and fitness or yoga classes on a credit card that earns rewards

You have a trip planned to Europe or you want a bigger TV. Get a rewards card to help pay for those purchases while also using that card to pay for a gym membership. That way, you’re collecting points while enjoying the health benefits of physical activity. Auto-payments, whether for your gym membership or your electric bill – are a fantastic way to rack up rewards. Some credit cards even pay bonus rewards for promptly paying your bill. BUT (and this is a big BUT) you must pay these charges off each month for this method to make sense.

Furthermore, be sure you’re paying on time or you’ll be accruing finance charges and potentially late fees as well.

Use bonus points to buy personal fitness equipment and training

You’ve had your eyes on a piece of fitness equipment that’s advertised during your favorite show, but you can’t fit it into your budget. Sign up for a rewards credit card that allows you to cash in your rewards and pay toward personal fitness equipment. In this scenario, don’t sign up for a travel rewards card that will only allow you to use points for specific travel. Instead, look for a rewards card that makes the most sense for you and your lifestyle.

Consider a card that offers cash back and commit to depositing your cash back into a savings account that you only tap into when you’re ready to make that big purchase. In other words, use your rewards credit card as a sort of savings plan that doesn’t require you to do anything more than make the everyday purchases you would be making anyway.

Use credit cards that reward healthy lifestyles

There are actually credit cards out there that can help you get healthy.

Discover lets you earn anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent cash-back bonus rewards by making purchases through its online shopping portal, Discover Deals, which features top-of-the-line fitness retail partners, such as Nike, Finish Line, and Reebok.

American Express cardholders can use their membership rewards points to buy health and fitness items such as:

  • Workout accessories, such as heart monitors, fitness trackers and balance balls

  • Home gym equipment, such as treadmills, elliptical machines, and exercise bikes

  • Spa gift cards from SpaFinder and Red Door Spas

“You’re developing better credit, paying off your bills each month and getting the rewards,” says Rocco Castellano, Las Vegas-based fitness expert and personality, business coach and author.

Leave your car at home and shop with your credit card

The beauty of a credit card is that you don’t have to bring your bulky wallet or pocketbook with you when you shop. One credit card in your pocket is enough. Better yet, in many places, you can use a smartphone app or mobile wallet to make purchases so you don’t even need the physical card.

How does this help your fitness? Let’s say there is a store that’s a mile away and it’s easy to get there by foot or bike. Leave the car at home and take a brisk walk or ride your bike. You’ll get exercise and save on gas, which could help you pay your credit card bill.

When Ellie Kay and her husband got rid of their second car, it forced them to walk more – and they benefited financially, too.

“We were out of debt in two and a half years and my husband got really buff,” said Kay, who is “America’s family finance expert®” and author of 14 books, including “The 60 Minute Money Workout.”

Dump high-interest cards and transfer balances to lower APR card (use the savings for fitness)

If you’re paying monthly interest charges, it’s important to make sure you have the lowest APR possible; it could be that you qualify for a 0 percent offer, so shop around for low introductory APR cards or balance transfer credit cards.

If possible, transfer your balance to a 0 percent introductory APR card, such as Chase Slate, winner of CardRatings 2017 Editor’s Choice award for Best Balance Transfer Credit Card. Then, while you’re paying down the principal, use the savings on interest for a gym membership or a fitness class as long as whatever you set as your monthly credit card payment is enough to pay off the principal before your lower APR period ends.

Paying off your balances in full each month is a good habit. So is diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight and stay active. Financial well-being and physical well-being go hand-in-hand, so get started working on both.

Personal Finance

Which Capital One Credit Card is Right for You?

Originally posted on CardRatings.com.

Capital One is one of the most widely known credit card brands with its celebrity pitch people asking “What’s in Your Wallet?”

It’s also one of the nation’s top 10 banks in terms of deposits and offers a portfolio of products and services to consumers, small businesses, and commercial clients.

Capital One has many credit cards that sound so similar that it might be difficult to know which one to choose. Here’s a head-to-head comparison of several Capital One credit cards that boils down the differences.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card vs. Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and its lesser known sibling the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card are both geared toward travelers.

But which card is best depends on how much you travel.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is one of the top travel rewards cards. It offers:

  • 40,000 miles (that’s $400 in travel) once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months
  • Unlimited 2x miles on every purchase; that’s two miles for every dollar spent
  • A $59 annual fee, but that’s waived for the first year

The Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card offers:

  • One-time bonus of 20,000 miles ($200 in travel) once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months
  • Unlimited 1.25x miles on every purchase; that’s 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend
  • No annual fee

You can use the points on either card for travel expenses, including plane tickets, hotel accommodations, and auto rentals. There are no restrictions so you don’t have to purchase through a specific airline or hotel, unlike other cards.

Neither card charges foreign transaction fees (typical foreign transaction fees on other cards are 3 percent), and both offer fraud coverage and security alerts as well as 24/7 emergency travel assistance. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card does come with some additional benefits as part of the Visa Signature® family.

Which one is best for you? Well, that really comes down to whether you spend enough on your credit card to earn enough miles to offset the annual fee of the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you do the math and find that earning two-times the miles on all your purchases means that you earn enough rewards to cover $59-plus of your annual travel expenses, the card is probably right for you.

If on the other hand, you are just an occasional credit card user who wants to know you’re earning SOMETHING for the times you do swipe your card, then the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card is likely a better choice.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Rewards Credit Card vs. Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Rewards Credit Card

Whether the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card or the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is better for you depends largely on your credit history.

Both cards offer 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases, no foreign transaction fees, fraud protection and security alerts and neither has restrictions on eligible purchases. In other words, you’re not limited to spend in specific product or service areas or companies, and you don’t have to worry about a cap that affects your rewards earning.

Here’s the main difference – the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is for people with excellent/good credit; the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is for those with average/fair/limited credit.

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card has:

  • No annual fee.
  • $100 bonus after spending $500 within your first three months.
  • Nine months of 0 interest on purchases and balance transfers for new cardholders.

The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers:

  • A $39 annual fee.
  • A higher APR.
  • Credit Steps program allows you to graduate to a higher credit line after making your first several payments on time.
  • No 0-interest period on purchases or balance transfers.

Both cards are great options for those who want to gain cash back, but which card to choose depends on your credit history. If your history is solid enough to avoid the annual fee, then do it! If you need to build up some credit first, the $39 annual fee of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card could very well be worth it as there aren’t many cash-back rewards cards out there available to folks with average/fair/limited credit.

Capital One® Platinum Credit Card vs. Capital One® Secured MasterCard®

Choosing between the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card and Capital One® Secured MasterCard® could once again come down to credit history as well as whether you have the funds to put forward up front for a secured credit card.

The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is geared for people with an average credit history; this could be someone who has defaulted on a loan in the past five years or who has limited credit history, but who otherwise has been consistent with payments and it seeing their credit score on the upward trend.

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard®, on the other hand, is designed for those looking to build or rebuild their credit.

Both offer fraud coverage; Credit Steps, which allows you to get a higher credit limit if you make your first five monthly payments on time; and CreditWise, which lets members access their credit score and monitor their credit. They both offer all of the Platinum MasterCard benefits as well. Additionally, neither card has an annual fee and neither is a rewards card.

Basically, the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card is good for people with a limited credit history or who are looking to get back on track but certainly haven’t crashed their credit. The Capital One® Secured MasterCard®, though, is an option for someone who does need a bigger credit boost or who may not have yet built a credit history.

The Capital One® Secured MasterCard® has a credit line that ranges between $200 to $3,000, which is based on a person’s credit history and security deposit amount of $49, $99 or $200. Assuming your account is in good standing, the security deposit is fully refundable when you close the card (hopefully to graduate to an unsecured card after your credit history has improved).

The secured card offers financial education through its website that helps you understand the ins and outs of building or rebuilding credit. It also has a Credit Simulator that shows you how specific actions can affect your credit score.

Ultimately, the secured card is good for someone who has had issues with their credit and is now looking to rebuilding it. It could be an option for someone who is currently using a prepaid debit card or no card at all. The Capital One® Platinum Credit Card, on the other hand, is meant for people who may have had a misstep, but who aren’t at a point at which they need to completely start over with building credit.

Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business vs. Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Capital One offers a number of business credit cards in addition to its consumer cards. Let’s take a look at two popular business card options: Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business and Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business are both, as the names imply, cash-back rewards cards, but their differences will matter depending on the nature of your business.

Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business offers:

  • No annual fee.
  • 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases with no cap on earning.
  • A $200 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business features:

  • A $59 annual fee (the fee is waived the first year).
  • 2 percent cash back on all purchases with no cap on earning.
  • A $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months.

Both cards offer free employee cards fraud coverage and alerts, quarterly and year-end summaries to help with budgeting and tax time, no foreign transaction fees and Visa Business Benefits.

Each credit card requires excellent credit, which means you’ve never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a loan, and haven’t been more than 60 days late on any credit card, medical bill or loan in the last year.

Whether to choose Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business or Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business really depends on whether you want to pay an annual fee and how much cash back you want. In this case, an annual fee likely only makes sense if your business spends enough each year to earn the rewards that would more than offset that fee. Otherwise, you’re better off with the no-annual-fee version even though it has slightly lower rewards.

Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business vs. Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business

Like the Spark® cash-rewards cards mentioned above, Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business and Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business are similar except for the annual fee, rewards-earning rate, and intro bonus potential. In fact, these cards are almost identical to the cash-rewards cards above except that they are focused on travel rewards and geared toward businesses that find themselves on the road or taking to the skies on a regular basis.

Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business offers:

  • No annual fee.
  • 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases.
  • One-time bonus of 20,000 miles ($200 in travel) once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business offers:
  • $59 annual fee (waived the first year).
  • Two miles per dollar on all purchases.
  • One-time bonus of 50,000 miles ($500 in travel) once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months.

Both cards require applicants with excellent credit. They also offer free employee cards, fraud coverage and alerts, quarterly and year-end summaries for budgeting and tax time, no foreign transaction fees and Visa Business Benefits.

Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business is better for frequent travelers, while Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business is geared more for occasional travelers. Once again, you’ll need to determine whether your business spends enough to offset the annual fee with rewards earning; if so, go for the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business. The 2 miles per $1 will add up, and a $59 annual fee is really quite reasonable.

Which card for you?

Capital One offers so many credit cards that it might be difficult to choose the right one for you. When making that decision, think about:

  • Do you want points for travel or cash back?
  • Is your credit excellent, average or do you need to work on it?
  • Do you want a card with no annual fee or are you OK paying a fee if it means added benefits and the chance to rack up rewards at a higher rate?

By asking yourself three questions, you can make an educated decision as to which Capital One card is right for you.