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How to Budget for Non-Necessities

By | Credit Cards

You’ve decided that your budget needs an overhaul in order to reach your financial goals. But you might find it difficult to manage your discretionary funds after you’ve paid your essential bills each month. Find out how to create a budget that actually works so you can take total control over your spending and manage your money more efficiently.

Necessities vs. Non-Necessities

Before you learn how to budget for non-necessities, it’s important to define what a non-necessity is compared to a necessity. The best way to do this is to determine the monthly bills that you simply can’t avoid: rent, student loans, car payments, and utilities are common necessities. However, if you find that your budget is extremely tight, you may decide to take more drastic action and reduce some of these costs. You could try refinancing your student loan, moving to a less expensive home, or trading in your financed car for something you can buy in cash.

Non-necessities, on the other hand, are an excellent place to start reigning in your spending. These include expenses that you can actually control. Groceries and eating out, for example, are common culprits when it comes to over-spending. You can also control things like shopping and entertainment.

3 Steps for Creating an Effective Budget for Non-Necessities

Now that you know the difference between essentials and non-essentials, it’s time to get that spending in check. Here are three easy tips on how to budget for non-necessities.

1. Determine Your Baseline Costs

The first step for creating a non-necessities budget is figuring out those baseline costs of your monthly essentials. Start by totaling your take-home pay after you pay taxes. If your employer also takes out things like health care and 401(k) contributions before you get your check, you can use the amount that gets cashed or deposited into your checking account.

You can then compare the money you bring in to how much you need for those basic living expenses. Again, if the numbers are totally off, you may need to think about drastic changes in your living situation to make it work. Otherwise, subtract your necessary living expenses from your take-home pay to see how much you have to work with for other expenditures throughout the month.

You’ll use this number to inform your choices in the next two steps.

2. Decide How Much to Save

Your next step in budgeting for non-necessities is figuring out how much you want to put away into savings each month. This is tricky because, although a savings account isn’t a required bill each month, padding your account is essential for when you have an emergency come up or a long-term goal that requires a large amount of money.

Think about your upcoming needs for the short-term, mid-term, and long-term. For the short-term, you should consider saving $500 for emergencies like medical bills or a car repair. In the mid-term, think about things you’d like to save up for, like a down payment or a vacation. Finally, consider how much you’ll need to put away to take care of long-term goals like retirement.

When you add up all these categories, it may seem like a lot out of your budget each month. But you really should prioritize each type of savings, even if it’s technically a “non-necessity.”

3. Categorize Your Non-Necessities

Now that you’ve designated a set number of dollars for necessities and your savings goals, you can finally divvy up your remaining funds for those non-necessities. Start by categorizing your money by your frequent spending habits. For an accurate view of your spending, analyze your bank account from the last few months or use an app that does it for you.

Since you know how much you have to work with each month and have an idea of how you currently spend, you can figure out the best ways to cut back if needed. Choose how many nights a month you can afford to go out to eat or how much you can spend on new clothes or movies each month.

Budget for Credit Help

If you’ve accumulated multiple negative entries on your credit report, your budget might be overblown with excessive interest on your loans and credit cards. Getting professional help with credit repair could help you financially in the long run. Get a free consultation today with Ovation Credit to find out how we could help your specific situation.

Worried about a spending freeze? Don't know what a spending freeze is? Find out here.

What’s a Spending Freeze — And Should You Try One?

By | Credit Cards

Planning to pump the brakes on your spending habits? There are plenty of ways to accomplish your goal — such as creating a budget or avoiding social media — but none are quite as dramatic as the “spending freeze.” What’s a spending freeze? The concept is simple. For a designated period of time—such as a weekend, a week, or a month — you resolve not to fork over money for anything other than your household bills, necessary groceries, medications and gas, or transportation fare. The idea of a spending freeze has been picking up steam lately, fueled by the minimalistic philosophy of Marie Kondo. It can also kick-start your savings and bring you closer to achieving financial goals. Read on to find out everything you need to know about this popular phenomenon — and whether it’s the right move for you.

The Ground Rules

You’re ultimately in charge of your own spending freeze. As a result, you decide how strict or forgiving the restrictions can be. Most spending freezes allot a certain amount for groceries and fuel, as well as payments for regular monthly bills. Unnecessary items would include any restaurants, coffee on the way to work, entertainment purchases, and clothing. For a family, you would typically agree on the ground rules and post them in an easily accessible location — and make sure everyone is as dedicated to the buy-nothing mentality as you are.

Your Goals

Choosing a goal is the smartest way to stay committed during a spending freeze. Think about what you want to accomplish — whether it’s paying off your credit card debt, saving up for a vacation, or finally starting your emergency savings fund. Write down your goal and place it in areas where you’re likely to see it any time you might feel the urge to buy something. Next, figure out what you’ll do with the amounts you save from the spending freeze. Most experts recommend creating a savings account where you can automatically transfer the money you saved during the spending freeze. For example, if you normally spend $75 dining out during the weekend, you’d transfer the $75 you saved during the spending freeze into your savings account.

Disadvantages

A spending freeze can be very demanding, even for a short period of time. The all-or-nothing mentality of a spending freeze can seem too daunting for some people. You might fully commit to the idea, only to feel your resolve weaken around the time you’d normally order takeout on a Friday night. In addition, some people follow through on the spending freeze, only to return to their poor financial habits once the spending ban ends. Most spending freezes aren’t sustainable over a long period of time, and financial experts often recommend them only as a quick “refresh” when you want to rein in your spending and tidy up your monetary habits a bit.

Advantages

A spending freeze is a temporary exercise — but it can jump-start a lifelong commitment to budgeting and smarter money management. You’ll need to take a hard look at your finances and nix anything you can live without — and then force yourself to actually do so over that period of time. When you are successful, you may realize that those items weren’t as necessary as you had thought. A spending freeze also prompts you to search for other sources of free entertainment and encourages you to use what you have — whether it’s the food in your pantry, the clothes in your closet, or the sporting equipment in your garage that’s been collecting dust for years. You might discover different hobbies that don’t cost any money — a valuable life lesson.

Is It Right for You?

A spending freeze comes down to your own personal goals. If you have found yourself making unnecessary impulse purchases and want to curb those bad habits, a spending freeze can be a savvy choice. You’ll become more in tune with the state of your finances — and you’ll learn what motivates you to spend, and what you can enjoy doing as an alternative. However, spending freezes don’t work for everyone. If you find the idea to be too restrictive, you might feel more comfortable simply reviewing your finances, deciding on areas where you can save money, and designing a budget.

Partners in Financial Success

While you’re pondering the next steps toward financial freedom, check out the rest of our offerings here at Ovation Credit. We can help guide you in your efforts to live a better credit life. Find out more about how we can help with a free consultation.

References

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/03/27/5-reasons-to-try-a-two-week-spending-freeze

Are credit card reward points taxable? Find out here.

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on the Credit Card Rewards You Earn?

By | Credit Cards

You’ve been piling up those credit card rewards and points, maximizing the value of your rewards cards and applying those earnings toward everyday purchases and travel expenditures. The rewards you collected are yours to keep — right? Not so fast. Before you finalize your tax returns, make sure you are following the correct protocol for credit card reward taxes. Unfortunately, the IRS has yet to present any clear-cut instructions on this topic, but it’s important to review your usage of credit card rewards every year and avoid the possibility of an unexpected tax bill. Ultimately, your own personal situation will determine whether you keep those hard-earned rewards to yourself, or if the government is legally entitled to a piece of the pie. Here’s what you need to know about credit card reward taxes —and when you do and don’t have to report them as income.

When to Report

When you take advantage of a credit card’s generous sign-on bonus – such as $200 if you spend $1,000 in the first three months as a cardholder — the IRS considers that income. Here’s why: The IRS deems income to be anything you earned that isn’t directly related to a purchase you made. If instead of receiving cash back, you earned a bonus in the form of points or miles, the same logic would apply. The tricky part is determining the value of the airline miles or points, so you know how much to report as income. Since the actual value of those rewards can vary depending on when and how you use them, you may want to consult a tax professional in this situation to properly calculate the dollar amount of your miles or points bonus.

When Not to Report

The good news is that you do not have to pay credit card reward taxes in most situations. The majority of people collect their credit card rewards by using their plastic over a long period of time. You’re basically spending money and earning a rebate. So if your credit card issuer offers 3 percent cash back on all purchases and you spend $100 in a month, you’d stand to earn $3 back in rewards — which the IRS considers a discount on those purchases, not income. Since you spent money in order to qualify for those rebates, those rewards are yours to keep. If you racked up airline miles or rewards points instead of cash back, the same situation applies. The IRS deems those rewards as a version of a discount, and they don’t fall under the taxable category as defined by federal government standards.

Check Your Credit Card Agreement

Some credit card issuers have begun disclosing in the cardholder agreement that they may report credit card rewards to the IRS if they meet a certain threshold, generally $600. If you’re concerned about credit card reward taxes, check your credit card agreement to find out if your issuer might be among those that report to the IRS. Still, unless you fall in the sign-on bonus bracket, your credit card rewards likely wouldn’t be reportable.

Business Expenses

You need to be a little more cautious when you’re using a rewards credit card for work-related expenses that you plan to deduct as business expenses. If, for example, you make a $750 purchase and earn 2 percent cash back, you are only allowed to deduct the actual amount you paid, including the cash-back “discount” — which would be $735.

Got a 1099?

While it’s rare to receive a 1099 from a credit card company, it’s entirely possible that you could if you earned more than $600 for a sign-on bonus. In that case, make sure you do report the credit card reward taxes that are subject to the 1099. If you simply toss the 1099, you could end up with a hefty tax bill and penalty. And if you earned less than $600 over the course of a year in the form of sign-on bonuses, you won’t receive a 1099 — but tax experts advise you to report the amount anyway. Your best bet: If you earned a sign-on bonus, report it as miscellaneous income. You’re better off erring on the side of caution where the IRS is concerned.

Here’s More Help

It can be tricky trying to decode the mysteries of credit card reward taxes, but don’t let credit card rewards add to your stress at tax time. For more guidance, browse through the rest of our blog posts in our Education section. Then let us know how we can help you brighten your credit outlook with a free consultation here at Ovation Credit.

Make sure to keep up to date on the latest scams.

The Biggest Traps for Credit Card Fraud and Scammers in 2019

By | Credit Cards

Each time you hand over your credit card or enter in your personal information online, you could be unwittingly exposing yourself to credit card fraud. Chances are, if you haven’t been a prey of a credit card scam, you know someone who has. In a 2018 study from Riskified, an alarming 49 percent of respondents admitted to falling victim to a credit card scam. As banks and credit card companies mobilize to combat this trend, fraudsters and scammers are developing increasingly more sophisticated tactics to stay one step ahead. Fortunately, you can sidestep identity theft and fraud by educating yourself on the latest scams and how to detect them. Here’s our roundup of the biggest credit card scams of 2019.

Credit Card Phone Scams

This fraud can be one of the toughest to spot. Scammers masquerading as representatives from your credit card issuer call to alert you of suspicious activity on your account. If the fraud actually occurred, you might find out in the same way — with a call from the credit card company. But if the caller asks you to verify account information, such as the security code on the back of your card, hang up and call your credit card’s customer service department. It also helps to check your account online for any unauthorized charges. In another possible scam, someone posing as a credit card rep might call you promising to slash the interest rates on your card in exchange for a substantial upfront charge. Don’t fall for it — your credit card company would never proposition you about decreasing your interest rates for a fee.

Credit Card Email Scams

You might receive an email from your credit card issuer advising you to update your personal information before you can receive your new chip card. Chip cards, now commonplace in the credit card industry, were specifically designed to reduce fraud. But if you receive this type of message, don’t click on any links or provide any personal details. Your credit card company wouldn’t send an email asking you to update your personal information. If you are uncertain, call the number on the back of your credit card to verify the source of the email.

Credit Card Skimming

Scammers steal your credit card information by inserting a skimming device over a regular credit card payment terminal — typically at a gas station, ATM, or self-checkout lane. Skimmers are typically invisible to the unsuspecting consumer. The devices send your sensitive financial information to a scammer who can then use it to open new accounts in your name or run up charges on your current card. Keep your eyes peeled for any suspicious-looking card readers and, if possible, compare them to another card reader close by. Some red flags for skimmers include a strange color or misaligned graphics on the ATM screen, loose parts on the payment terminal itself, and anything that looks even just a little bit different from the usual.

Mail Theft

It might seem old-fashioned in today’s digitally driven landscape, but mail theft remains one of the biggest credit card scams. Thieves can potentially steal your identity by swiping mail containing your credit card information. If your credit card issuer prints your full account number on the invoice, a scammer could use that number to make purchases. To avoid the possibility of mail theft, shred all documents that contain any sensitive information —even junk mail containing credit card offers can be a target these days. Better yet, switch your invoices and statements to digital format so you don’t have to worry about mailbox theft.

Malware or Viruses

You might think you’re installing a completely legitimate software update on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Instead, you could be downloading malware that monitors your keystrokes — such as your credit card information — and transmitting that information to a scammer. This scheme most commonly strikes when you’re using public Wi-Fi – so avoid logging into an unsecured network. If you absolutely must use public Wi-Fi, steer clear of any transactions that might reveal private data.

Regain Your Peace of Mind

If you’re concerned that you might be a victim of any of the biggest credit card scams — or that the effects might already be tarnishing your credit report — don’t wait another day to take back control. Contact our team at Ovation Credit. We’ll restore your name to its good standing and ease all of your credit concerns. Reach out for a free consultation here.

References

https://blog.riskified.com/inside-riskifieds-shopping-and-fraud-behavior-report/

https://www.businessinsider.com/credit-card-fraud-scam-what-to-do-2018-8

Interested in an Apple Card? Here's what you should know before purchasing.

The Lowdown on Apple Cards: Are Cards with Fancy Features Good for Your Credit?

By | Credit Cards

Having already conquered the tech market, Apple is now setting its sights on dominating the world of credit cards. Last month, Apple unveiled the buzzworthy new Apple Card through its partnership with Goldman Sachs. Packed with features geared toward techies and millennials, the Apple Card is bound to make a splash with its target market when it debuts this summer. But are Apple Cards good for credit — or just another gimmick that could drag down your credit score? If you count yourself among those breathlessly awaiting the Apple Card, read on to find out what you really need to know about this innovative upcoming entrant to the credit card landscape.

The Features

The Apple Card is being marketed as primarily a digital card that’s integrated with the Apple Pay and Apple Wallet platforms and designed to be used right from your iPhone or Apple Watch. (You’ll also receive a physical card for when a merchant doesn’t accept Apple Pay as a valid payment option.) From the Wallet app, you’ll be able to track your transactions and categorize your spending. Apple is also touting the ease of use for customers, who can schedule payments within the app. There’s an additional benefit of being able to see how much interest you’ll owe based on the payment amount you designate. Even the customer service option can be accessed via text.

What Sets It Apart

The Apple Card professes that it won’t charge any fees — even late fees for a missed payment. You’ll simply accrue additional interest.  If you’re a dedicated Apple aficionado, you’ll love the rewards program structure — 3 percent cash back for purchases from the Apple store, as well as 2% cash back for purchases made with Apple Pay and 1 percent for all other purchases.  Your cash back — which Apple refers to as “daily cash” — will be automatically applied to your Apple Pay balance, which you can use for purchases or to pay down your Apple Card. Most dramatically, the physical card boasts absolutely no number on it whatsoever — a big boon for security and fraud prevention.

Are Apple Cards Good for Credit?

The interest rate is between 13.24 percent and 24.24 percent, based on individual credit scores. That’s a fairly broad swath that’s in keeping with the industry standard — but keep in mind that those with middling credit will likely be subject to the higher rates. As with most cards, those with good credit will score a much lower interest rate, while the lower-rung consumers could find themselves paying a premium — in the form of a much higher APR — for the privilege of carrying an Apple Card in their wallets.

Is It Superior to Other Cards?

The Apple Card’s novel features and sleek packaging could make it a promising addition to the credit card market. However, the rewards are probably only alluring if you’re a devoted Apple fan or shop with merchants that accept Apple Pay on a regular basis. If neither of those conditions applies to you, you could likely find a much stronger rewards card that caters to your personal interests or needs. As for the other benefits, you probably won’t gain much from the Apple Card — or any similar card with fancy features — if you tend to carry a balance on your credit cards from month to month. The amount you’ll pay in interest will outweigh any of the benefits you’d gain.

Bottom Line

While the Apple Card does make plenty of promises, it isn’t the only credit card with fancy features. Plenty of cards offer no annual fees and extend benefits, such as cash back, discounts on travel charges, and extended warranty protection. It’s important to analyze the features in the context of your specific financial situation, as well as the interest rate and credit limit of the card itself. If a credit card will tempt you into excessive spending, it’s not worth it — no matter how salivating its benefits.

Still, if you think you will benefit from the tech-friendly budgeting feature and ease of use within the iPhone, and you’re sure to use it responsibly and stick to your budget, the Apple Card could eventually elevate your credit profile — and the fee-free premise certainly doesn’t hurt.

Stay in the Know

Whether you’re wondering if Apple cards are good for credit, or searching for ways to increase your credit score, we can help at Ovation Credit. Keep up with the latest trends on our blog and while you’re at it, learn how we can assist your credit repair needs here.

Should you be using or saving your credit card reward points?

Should You Cash in Your Credit Rewards Points – or Keep Saving?

By | Credit Cards

For most people, credit card reward points provide a much-needed perk to regular credit card usage. When you know you are earning credit card reward points for your purchases, it can soften the blow of those larger expenses. Once you have collected a substantial amount of points, you probably wonder whether it’s wise to cash them in now — or keep saving for a better reward. Of course, you don’t want to wait too long, or your points might expire. The way that you use your points can be just as important as how you earn them. As you weigh your options, check out our helpful advice for deciding how to capitalize on your credit card rewards points.

When to Save Points

If your credit card offers big-ticket incentives for accumulating a certain amount of points, it makes financial sense to stockpile the rewards. Generally, these types of cards favor the travel-oriented consumer, who’s looking to earn points toward airline miles or hotel stays. In the end, your efforts could net you a free — or significantly discounted — vacation that might normally cost thousands of dollars. But some cards set eligibility restrictions for these points, so make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully. Even if you don’t have any trips planned in the immediate future, your travel rewards card might offer other redemption options, such as merchandise or gift cards. But if your primary reason for obtaining the card was for travel, it’s best to keep saving up those points for that particular purpose. The value of the airline tickets and hotel stays is typically much better than the merchandise or gift cards offered by the card issuer.

When to Redeem Points

When you have a more general-use credit card rewards program — one that isn’t geared specifically toward travel — it’s best to redeem your points more frequently. If your card allows you to cash in your points to pay down your balance, you could be saving yourself a good chunk of money — and interest charges — starting right now. You might also choose to use your rewards points on items that you purchase most frequently, such as groceries or gas. Saving money where you can is one of the biggest perks of a credit rewards program, which is why cashing in when you can is often a smart move. Your credit card issuer will typically have a conversion chart so you can see exactly how your points translate into cash (for example, one point may equal one cent). That’ll allow you to determine how to best maximize your rewards points.

The Fine Print

Whether your rewards card offers points that can be redeemed for gift cards or merchandise, make sure to scour the terms and conditions. Some cards have a time limit on how long you can accrue a points balance without spending. Regardless of how you use the rewards, you’ll want to cash in before that expiration date. Your card issuer might also change the terms of its rewards program at any time. For example, they could decide to increase the threshold for redemption of certain rewards — which would effectively devalue the points you already have. They are required to notify you of any such changes, so be sure to read any notices from your credit card issuer when they come in the mail.

Keeping Your Points

Whether you choose to save your points up or redeem them every month, it’s critical to keep your account in good standing. Most credit card companies have a clause in the agreement allowing them to withhold rewards under certain circumstances — such as if you miss a payment. You’ll also lose out on your points if you close the account, so make it a point to redeem any points before you cut ties with that particular card. And check in with your account, and your points, on a regular basis. Some cards could yank your points balance if you leave the account inactive for a long period of time. If you think you might forget to redeem your points, see if your card offers an auto-redemption option.

Learn More

Educating consumers like you on smarter credit card usage is just one of our specialties here at Ovation Credit. When you contact us for a free consultation, we’ll help you improve your credit with a thorough review of your credit report. Reach out and let us know how we can help you here.

Think before you buy. Learn what you can't buy with your credit card.

What You Can’t Buy With Your Credit Card

By | Credit Cards

Credit cards can be one of the single most powerful items in your wallet. When used correctly, they can steadily build a positive credit history, greenlighting your way to better interest rates and loan approvals. Mismanagement of credit cards, on the other hand, could send you spiraling into debt and financial woes. With their sheer power and convenience in a tech-friendly marketplace, it seems difficult to envision purchases you can’t buy with your credit card. However, there are several scenarios in which you cannot use plastic to finance your purchases. Read on for our roundup of the most common items you can’t buy with your credit card.

Payments for Other Credit Cards

If you’ve ever been strapped for cash around the time one of your credit card payments was due, you might have toyed with the idea of using another credit card to make the payment. Beyond the fact that this typically will not make much financial sense, it’s also a no-no for credit card companies. You probably won’t even be able to find the option to do so on your card’s payment platform. There is, however, a loophole: you can transfer your balance to another credit card, but you will incur a balance transfer fee and possibly other conditions.

Illegal or High-Risk Activities

Think twice before you charge anything that could be considered an illegal or high-risk activity. A credit card company may disallow the charge. Examples of such activities include casino gambling, online gambling, adult pornography, medical marijuana, and lottery tickets. Of course, some of these activities are legalized or at least operate in a legal gray area — but many credit card companies have decided that they are simply not worth the risk, due to the high likelihood that these customers will dispute the charges at a later date. Online gambling, for instance, is illegal in the United States, so most of those sites will prohibit you from paying with plastic. In other situations, it’s up to the card issuer to decide what is acceptable card usage. For American Express, online pornography and medical marijuana don’t pass muster, but these activities could be fair game for other card companies.

Substantial Loan Payments

You might salivate at the idea of all the rewards points you could rack up by charging your mortgage or student loan payment (and then immediately paying off the bill from your checking account). Generally, though, your lender has rules in place to forbid you from doing this. It’s likely a combination of reasons; on the lender’s side, they do not want to pay the hefty credit card merchant fees, while the credit card company doesn’t want to take on the risk of a substantial charge that may or may not be paid off. Your checking account is generally the smartest funding source for these transactions.

Money Orders

You will likely have to pony up cash or a debit card to purchase a money order, for the simple reason that a money order basically amounts to purchasing cash. Be wary of any money order issuer that doesn’t bat an eye when you hand over your credit card. Even if it’s accepted, you will probably end up paying a fee and a higher interest rate for this transaction, since your credit card company will likely treat it as a cash advance.

Cryptocurrency

Depending on the type of card you have, you may or may not have trouble using your credit card to purchase cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin. Some card issuers may allow it, but then later slap you with a cash advance fee for the transaction. For that reason, it’s best to avoid using plastic for cryptocurrency purchases altogether.

Stocks

In most cases, you can’t buy stocks with your credit card. Your investment accounts generally must be funded with actual money from your checking account. Most brokerage firms strictly prohibit the use of plastic. Even if you could find a service that might allow credit cards, you would likely lose out on any of the benefits, thanks to the steep credit card interest rate and the relatively low rate of return on any investments you’d be making.

Education Leads to Success

At Ovation Credit, we want to equip you with the tools and knowledge to build a better credit life. Make today the day you start on the journey to a more improved credit standing. Reach out to us for a free consultation here.

It's easy to skim your credit card statement but make sure to check out the fine print.

Credit Card Statement Fine Print: 6 Key Areas to Watch

By | Credit Cards

If you’re like most credit card users, chances are that you quickly scan your credit card statement when it arrives in the mail, check your balance on the front page, and then chuck it into the trash. You could be making a big mistake if you neglect to scrutinize your credit card statement’s fine print, at least once every couple of months. The fine print is typically the place where credit card companies sneak in the most essential details about your account. If you aren’t aware of the various account terms and conditions — or any changes that could be in your future — you might set yourself up for some very costly blunders. Knowing how to decipher your credit card statement fine print arms you with the knowledge to become a more responsible credit card user. The next time your credit card statement arrives, be sure to check out these top six areas.

1. Notices of Changes to Interest Rate

If your credit card company has plans for an interest rate increase on the horizon, it is required to advise you of the increase at least 45 days before it takes effect. You should be able to find this information near the top of your credit card statement, typically under a boldface heading such as “Notice.” The information should also specify the date that the higher interest rate will become effective. The credit card company may or may not advise you if it will be increasing your interest rate if you miss a payment or reach your credit limit — but if it does have such a policy, you will likely be able to find that information in this area as well.

2. Dispute Charge Policy

When the time comes for you to dispute a charge with the credit card company, you need to know about your card’s specific guidelines for doing so. The credit card statement fine print will typically outline everything you need to know about their dispute policy — where to email or mail your correspondence, what documentation to include, and the basic framework for the card’s dispute investigation process.

3. Explanation of “Other” Fees

On the back of your credit card statement, the issuer explains various fees that may be applied to your account, depending on your usage. For instance, if your card allows cash advances, the fine print will clarify the fees you incur each time you use this perk. Be sure to peruse this area of your credit card statement thoroughly. The fine print may also address fees that most card users wouldn’t expect — such as fees for the card company to report your account activity to the credit bureaus, pay by telephone, or other customer services.

4. Interest Rate Calculation

If you want a comprehensive rundown of how your credit card applies interest to your purchases, your credit card statement is the place to find it. The fine print should also address the timing of the “grace period,” also known as the date by which you would need to make a payment before interest is assessed.

5. The Date Your Card Issuer Reports to the Credit Bureaus

Knowing when the credit card company reports to the credit bureaus is essential if you have goals of improving your credit score. Some card companies are more helpful in this area than others. If you are scheduled to make a payment after the credit card company reports to the credit bureaus, the company will likely report the balance it had on file for you at the time — even if you paid it off in full just a few days later. Sometimes, the credit card company reports the information on your statement closing date — but this can vary from issuer to issuer (which is why checking your statement is so important!).

6. Rewards Cards Provisions

Many Americans carry at least one rewards card in their wallets. As valuable as they can be, rewards cards often come with their own elaborate set of terms and exceptions. For instance, your credit card issuer might stipulate that you will have to wait a number of weeks for rewards points to be applied to your account. The fine print will also discuss the conditions that must be in play to remain eligible for those rewards — such as the length of time your account has been open and whether or not you have missed a payment.

Keep Up the Momentum

Reviewing your credit card statement is also an excellent way to spot errors or even fraudulent charges. If you find either one, you’ll have a solid reason to take up a dispute with your credit card company. At Ovation Credit, we can help with that dispute process, saving you the time involved in building a case yourself. Contact us here for a free consultation.

college students figuring out credit

6 Smart Credit Card Strategies for College Students

By | Credit Cards

College students will be testing the waters of credit card usage as they enter adulthood. For the first time, they’ll be swiping plastic for basic purchases, setting the groundwork for their futures as responsible adults. While this is an excellent way to build credit, it can lead to disastrous results. After all, students also have a packed calendar of academic and social commitments — so it’s understandable that smart financial planning doesn’t typically rate highly on their list of priorities. But careless spending can quickly add up, and it can take years to undo the damage of high-accrued credit card balances. Learn about how you can use a credit card safely and responsibly with these six tips.

1. Look for a Card That’s Student-Friendly

More than ever, credit card companies are catering to students in search of convenient and stress-free payment options. Do a little research on credit cards that are geared toward college students. You’ll want to look for a card with no annual fee or other hidden fees, as well as low interest. Although you may encounter more than one appealing offer, avoid the temptation of opening too many cards. One card is ideal for most students. It offers you the chance to track your spending and plan for due dates without becoming too overwhelmed.

2. Charge What You Can Afford to Pay Off

Be honest with yourself about how much you’ll be able to pay off every month, and set an appropriate limit. The best policy is to only use your credit card for purchases you can easily pay off that month. That way, you’ll avoid racking up debt that will only snowball in the coming months. If you have already reached the limit you established for yourself that particular month, leave the card at home and stick to cash for the time being.

3. Pay on Time, Every Time

Late payments can quickly wreck your credit score — and it can be difficult to recover as a nascent credit card user. This is the single most important part of responsible card ownership. When you first sign up with the credit card company, make it a point to set up an auto-pay option. You can usually choose the amount and the date that the payment will be withdrawn from your account. Take advantage of all the tech tools now widely available with most card issuers. It’s a great idea to download the credit card’s app onto your smartphone and opt-in for alerts about approaching due dates. The more reminders you can set for yourself, the better.

4. Stay Well Below Your Credit Limit

A good rule of thumb is to make sure your credit card balance never exceeds 30% of your credit limit. For instance, if you have a $2,000 credit limit, you won’t want to have an unpaid balance greater than $600 at any given time. If you are already only spending what you can afford to pay off each month, sticking to this tip won’t be a problem.

5. Encourage Responsible Card Ownership in Your Friends

Once you have adjusted to using a credit card responsibly, encourage your friends and classmates to shop around for a similar card. When more of your friends have plastic in their wallets, you are less likely to be the one offering up your card for nonessential purchases. One example: College students commonly frequent restaurants together. If you’re the only person there with a card, you might be stuck picking up the tab, while your friends fork over cash to cover their share of the bill. This can be tricky because while you will end up with more cash in your wallet, it won’t necessarily help you pay off the balance at the end of the month.

6. Prepare an Exit Strategy

If you run into some difficulties and can’t pay your balance in full, make sure you’re at least paying the minimum amount due. You will end up paying more in interest, but that’s better than accruing late fees. And if you decide that you aren’t ready to use a credit card, you may want to shelve the plastic for a few more years. Work toward paying off what you owe and close the account.

As you comb through college student credit card offers, make sure you’re also thinking about your credit report. Now that you have a credit card, you’ll want to check in on your credit report regularly. The numbers and terms on a credit report can be confusing to read, and it can be even tougher to figure out if all of the information reported is accurate. If you need a helping hand sorting out what’s on your report, reach out for a free consultation with the Ovation Credit team.

Young woman just found out the best credit card offer.

Credit Card Offers You Should Think Twice About Taking

By | Credit Cards

When you’ve embarked on the journey to build or improve your credit, choosing the right credit cards is nearly as important as paying your bill on time. Ideally, your credit card should offer low interest or APR (a minimal or nonexistent annual fee), and rewards or other incentives that fit in with your lifestyle. Unfortunately, credit card companies often use misleading language to steer unsuspecting consumers into signing up for credit card offers that do not actually help credit. As you sift through the next stack of credit card offers in your mailbox, make sure you take the time to review the fine print hiding underneath the colorful attention-grabbing headlines and lofty promises. There are certain credit card offers to think twice about taking. We’ll give you the lowdown on the most glaring offenders, so you can separate the good credit card offers from the not-so-good and downright harmful ones.

Tricky Bonus Conditions

Credit card companies count on generous welcome offers to entice new customers into signing up. The problem? If the user does not meet certain conditions — such as never holding a card from that company before — the company reserves the right to deny the bonus. What that means: Think twice before you take a credit card welcome bonus offer. You may not qualify for the offer, based on any other accounts you have ever opened with that issuer. And even if you do qualify now, the card issuer could revoke your eligibility for several reasons. Your best bet is to call up the card issuer and confirm the terms and conditions of the offer, as well as your eligibility. You will also want to hold onto the documentation setting forth the credit card offer guidelines.

Store Credit Cards

Store credit cards effectively solicit consumers with tempting offers, such as 10% or 20% discounts on purchases or the chance to earn store credit. Think about the timing of the offer — right as you are about to drop a significant amount of cash, and it’s likely when you do not have the time to carefully review the rates and the terms you are accepting. Most people only find out about the excessive interest rates after they receive the first bill a month or two later. The average APR on a store credit card can reach around 22.99%. If you do not pay the balance every month, the interest you’ll rack up will easily cancel out any of the benefits.

Low-Rate Intro Offers

Introductory offers are another example of a credit card offer you should think twice about taking. Some cards lure you in with the promise of a low-interest rate during the introductory period — a common offer for cards geared toward appliance or furniture purchases. If you fail to read the fine print, you will not find out when the intro period expires — and the rate that will then take effect. Many people are shocked to find their rates jump exponentially after the intro period. To add insult to injury, the interest usually starts accruing at the time of purchase. If you have not paid off the debt during the intro period, the interest could be charged retroactively at the higher rate.

Rewards Cards

The right kind of rewards card pays off in dividends, allowing you to earn points that can be later redeemed for travel, other high-ticket items, or cash back on the items you purchase the most. However, remember that some rewards cards can come with a hefty price tag in the form of high-interest rates or annual fees. Before you commit to a card with alluring rewards, make sure the card actually gels with your lifestyle — and doesn’t bring with it any exorbitant fees. In addition, be prepared to pay off the balance every month, or the amount you pay in interest will offset the rewards. Think twice about taking a credit card offer that sounds too good to be true.

The best kind of credit card offer can set you up for a healthier credit score. While you are shopping around for the best offer to improve your credit score, check out the rest of the services we can offer you at Ovation Credit. Our team of professionals can whip your credit report into shape quickly and efficiently. Find out how we can help you today with a free consultation here.

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