From Personal Finance

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Ways to Get Your Credit Score

A credit or FICO score is one of the most important financial pieces of information out there. It is an expression of a person’s creditworthiness based on information sourced by the three credit bureaus, specifically Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian.

Historically, the score was a mystery to most individuals. The Annual Credit Report service, for example, offered users the opportunity to view their credit reports and confirm their accuracy, but did not provide the actual FICO number that is so critical to determining eligibility for credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and other lines of credit. As a result, paid credit monitoring services often took advantage of customers by providing the score in exchange for a paid subscription to the credit monitoring service.

Recently, however, legislative changes and action by regulators in Washington have allowed consumers to obtain their score free of charge. With a few bits of information, most people can now get their credit number using one of the following 4 methods.

  1. The Credit Karma Website

Credit Karma was one of the very first websites to offer a numeric credit score to its users free of charge. Initially, Credit Karma pulled data from the Trans Union credit bureau and used it to simulate an individual’s numeric score. The result came close, but was not always an exact match to the actual score produced by Trans Union’s own algorithm. However, in recent years, like Milwaukee title loan companies, Credit Karma went a step further by delivering the actual number to its Milwaukee users.  Once a month, Credit Karma users can login and check changes to their actual FICO score. In exchange for the service, users are subjected to targeted advertisements for credit cards and other financial products based on their score. Other websites like offer a similar service.

  1. Your Credit Card Provider

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made possible by the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, ushered in a new era of credit report transparency. After passage of the act, credit card issuers started offering their customers their credit score free of charge as a benefit to having the card. Discover and Barclays were the first to roll out the service. Earlier this year, Citi Bank, Chase, and Bank of America jumped in the game as well.

  1. Your Auto Loan or Mortgage

Several auto loan and mortgage servicing companies are offering customers their credit score free of charge as well. Ally Financial started providing the service to all of its auto loan customers this summer. When presenting the service for the first time, President and CEO Jeffrey Brown noted that “access to your FICO Score is the latest addition to the free resources Ally makes available to our customers to help them get educated on their personal financial matters.” Like Ally, other banks are using the availability of the FICO score as a value added service in a competitive marketplace for financial products.

  1. Non-Profit Credit Counselors

HUD-approved housing counselors and other non-profit organizations can often provide a FICO score free of charge. Approved credit counselors can be found online by visiting the Department of Justice website. Housing counselors can be found by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Both are excellent options for consumers without an existing credit history and without access to the internet.

What are Flex Loans?

A consumer with bad credit could be able to get a flex loan from a financial institution that offers it. What are flex loans? These are small loans intended for consumers who are looking to borrow up to $4,000 for any number of reasons including medical bills, auto repair or other expenses. The traditional banks only offer certain types of loans and so consumers will go to these small lenders for the funds.

The Funds

It does not matter if you need the funds for three months or seven days, it is important that you get the appropriate amount of money that you need for whatever reason. This type of loan provides flexibility to the end user and gives the control needed to spend it.

Convenience and Flexibility

Unlike installment loans or payday loans, flex loans offers the consumer the convenience of making a one-time application and get the funds at any time. In addition, the consumer can make payments at their own convenience and at their own pace as long as the dates for the scheduled payments are met. If you needed a small amount such as $25, you could get that as well, but this is the minimum amount.

How it Works

Once you receive your flex loan, you can pay the minimum due or an extra amount to reduce the balance and pay it off faster. You pay no late fees and as your balance continues to be reduced as you pay, you will be able to get more money as long as it is within your credit limit. There is no penalty attached to your payment if you pay off the balance at an earlier date. In fact, your line of credit will be kept open so that if you are interested in additional withdrawal of funds, you can do so at a later date.

Flex Pay Installment Loans

The flex-pay installment loan is different from the normal payday loans that you may have heard about. You would pay back the lender with monthly installments that have scheduled dates instead of paying back the entire amount on the next scheduled pay date. If you need quick cash for unexpected expenses and find it difficult to repay the entire loan amount on the next pay date, then this loan is for you. The lender will give you specific dates to pay back the loan, but you can also pay the entire amount or make extra payments on the principal at any time that you want and there is no penalty associated with that either. When you make those extra payments, it lowers the interest rate that you will have to pay on the loan.

The Bottom Line

If you are unable to obtain a loan from a traditional bank, then this is the type of loan that will suit you, especially if you are undergoing financial hardship of any kind. Flex loans, if paid on time with no delinquency can help the consumer who has bad credit to restore their credit. You have the option to consolidate all of your debt with a flex loan as long as the amount is no more than $4,000.


Peer to Peer Power

Financial technology is all the rage lately. Any major technology player out there is investing in this technology and making it a stable part of their company. For example look at Apple, which has begun to Apple something that is everywhere in their business. It was a novel concept at the time, but is something that they pushed forward and other companies are beginning to take notice of it as well.

The power to the people is becoming real and the tools are at people’s disposal. It all started with Paypal and has moved onto the mobile way of paying now. The payment system has always been something that either took power away from the people or gave it to them.

During the transition of the bartering system to the role of currency was when there was a lot of power that was shifted to the people. Eventually that role got taken over by government regulation and big powerful banks. What is being seen now is a shift in the other direction and the power is in the hands of the consumer in terms of currency.

Decentralized Becoming the Norm

For the longest times banks were the only bastion of storing money and operating the monetary system. If you were to pay someone you’d store most of your money at one of these banks and transfer it through their systems.  The same can be said for loans and other monetary needs. Now there is a rise of things like Apple Pay and applications like Square Cash that allow you to send or receive money to friends, family or clients.

A Catalyst for Change

These types of apps aren’t only disrupting regular old traditional retailer, but other areas as well. One of the biggest areas of concern for the banks is something called Peer to Peer lending or (P2P), something that is paving the way for the future in terms of loans and lending.

It has been predicted that the industry is going to reach over $1 trillion by 2025, an impressive number indeed. What all of this really comes down to is avoiding high fees for transactions which is in the end where traditional banking services receive and make most of their money.

Take for example Bitcoin, which allows for somewhat anonymous transactions and also the proliferation of what some call a more stable decentralized network for many to use as a currency across the world.

Many companies that are also part of this new wave of the future taking advantage of this new way of lending are solar companies. The solar energy projects are being funded through these new lending processes and in the meantime being able to afford their projects without the hassle of going through traditional lenders.

The possibilities are limitless for this new type of lending and as stated earlier is a paradigm shift in the idea of giving more power back to the consumer and person who is being lent the money by bypassing the banking institutions


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90% of Mobile Health and Finance Apps Vulnerable to Critical Security Risks

If you’re like most Americans, then you probably use at least one health and/or finance app on your Smartphone or tablet. Perhaps you’re a business owner who manages client accounts via an app, or just an everyday person who uses a mobile banking app. Whatever the case may be, you probably think your apps and your sensitive information is pretty safe. Well, think again. According to a startling new study by Arxan, an app security company, most of these sensitive apps aren’t nearly as secure as you think they are!

The company looked at 126 different health and finance apps, all of them popular, well-known, and widely used. What it found was that a whopping 90% of them had security problems that users and even, in some cases, the makers of the apps, were unaware of.

One of the security experts who worked on the study admitted that there’s a huge difference between how safe users tend to think these apps are and how safe they actually are…and that’s not a good thing. Users who feel safe with an app will put in all kinds of sensitive, personal information…not realizing that they’re putting themselves at risk when they do.

And, while it might seem that app security is a new concern, brought on by the prevalence of mobile devices, that’s not totally true. Security experts working on the study were quick to point out that many of the problems that exist with modern apps also existed (and still do exist) with early websites and other “technological” means of information transferring.

People tend to think, falsely, that modern apps are a lot more secure than the older ways of transferring information. So, they let their guards down, which, according to the study, can be quite dangerous. The study found several common problems among the apps it tested. They included:

l Weak server side controls

l Poor transport layer protection

l Data leakage

l Broken cryptography

l Bad authentication practices

l Poor binary protection

Sadly, these were just a few of many problems found, and most of the apps also proved vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking. While this information is frightening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop using these applications entirely.

Instead, it means that you should set all included security features to the highest possible level, change passwords regularly, use only secure connections, and always download your apps from legitimate, trustworthy sources.

If users of these apps can be more vigilant about how they use them and where they use them, there’s a good chance that no harm will come from using them. However, it is always recommended to keep physical backups of any important information that you might lose if the app was hacked into or shut down and, of course, to be honest in all your dealings in case information about app users is ever leaked.

It’s a scary world we live in, but we can’t escape technology entirely, which is why the best thing to do is to simply be as careful as possible.


The 1 New Year’s Resolution To Improve Your Finances 4 Ways

Just about everyone promised themselves on December 31st that 2016 would be the year that they get into shape, make healthier habits, and improve themselves in every way. But what about your finances?


Most people promised to spend less, save money, and stick to their budgets more carefully. But there’s a better New Year’s Resolution that you should be making to improve your finances: Learn to speak finance.


If you take the time to learn to truly understand what every bank statement claims, what your credit card provider is really offering you, and what your mortgage terms really say… you’ll notice a marked improvement in your finances throughout 2016.


Here are the four reasons why learning to speak finance should be your 1 financial resolution this year:



  • You’ll Find That Your Health Insurance Isn’t “One Size Fits All”



Do you really have the right health insurance plan for your needs? You might be surprised to find that your plan is nowhere near the right fit for you. But if you can learn to speak finance, the savings will be apparent.


For starters, just because you’re paying the lowest possible premium on your health insurance doesn’t mean that you’re getting the insurance with the lowest overall cost. Learning to speak finance and fully understanding your insurance options will help you to choose the best plan that’s REALLY the most cost-effective option.


Here are a couple useful resources to help you sort out the insurance jargon that stands in the way of the perfect health plan:


  1. You’ll Get Out of (And Stay Out of Debt)


Credit card debt in particular is a nasty burden that most Americans have to deal with. But understanding your credit card provider’s terms, your credit plan, and your credit card statement will halt the threat of debt.


Taking the time to read over your APR could save you thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Knowing your real APR will help you decide if your current credit card is worth it. Even if your rate is around 18% you could wind up paying more than twice what the purchase is worth when you use your card. And if you find that you can’t afford those rates, making only the minimum payment will sink you deep into debt before the year is out.


  1. You’ll Pay Less For Your Bank


Banks are finding new sneaky ways to charge you for banking with them. ATM fees, checking fees, debit card usage, and more… they’re increasing the charges for anything and everything. Unless you carefully read over their rules and terms.


If you understand the finance speak in their terms, you can waive most of the fees that come your way, and learn how to dodge them in the future.


  1. You’ll Pay Less in Investment Fees


There’s an investment fee for just about everything. Taking actions (and even not taking actions) will cost you if you don’t learn to understand the investment terminolgy they use to confuse you into accepting those hefty fees.


Going over your original paperwork and finding loopholes, or simply sitting down with your financial advisor and making them walk you through every single fee and comparing it to competitors can save you serious cash. You might be paying too much for your fees. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission annual fees of 1% can reduce an investment portfolio earning 4% annually by nearly $30,000 compared to the same portfolio with a 0.25% fee over a period of 20 years. So double-check that list of fees they charged you with.