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Free ways to check your credit score
Are you the kind of person who loves to keep up with your credit score, or do you prefer it to come to you as more of a surprise (which we don’t recommend)? Either way, you will have to know your credit score at some point in your life, and it’s better to be prepared for that day. We know you’re on a budget, so here are some ways you can track your credit score for free.
Understand how it works
Before you check your credit score, you need to know how your score is determined. Your score is based on a number of factors: how much debt you owe, the status of debts you have paid in the past, the length of your credit history, and a few other things. Basically, your credit score is a snapshot of how reliable you are when it comes to paying back money you have borrowed. For example—if you currently have a lot of debt, your credit score may be lower, even if you have consistently repaid loans in the past.
Why does my credit score matter?
You have an apartment you love, a car that’s paid off, and no student loans—so why do you want better credit? First, it’s important to remember bad credit can follow you for a long time, as in several years. That means you need to plan now for the future. You should also remember your credit score can affect a lot of aspects of your life, like renewing a lease, buying a house, or even getting a job. Your credit score is not just about how much money you have—it’s about how dependable you are in repaying your debts.
Where to check for free
There are a few services that allow you to check your credit for free. While you may be limited in the number of times you can check your score for free, these services are still reliable resources for being able to track your credit score on a regular basis.
Annual Credit Report: You are entitled to a free credit score every year through the Annual Credit Report service. If you’re not taking advantage of this report, you should start. A) It’s free! and B) Even if you have great credit, no credit, or are currently living off the grid where no one can find you, it’s nice to check in once in a while and make sure your score has not undergone any unexpected changes in the last year. There are no downsides, so sign up for this service ASAP.
Equifax: This service currently offers six free reports a year. This is frequent enough to help you stay on top of your credit score, but not so frequent that you will be getting updates every day. If you want a way to keep tabs without notification overload, this might be the right choice for you.
Credit Karma: This is an option that’s grown in popularity over the last few years. With the ability to check your score anytime, the Credit Karma service is useful for those who like to track every change in their credit. You can sign up for email or text alerts, and download the app to get even more updates and info.
Other places: Did you know your credit card statement probably has your credit score on it? So do your mortgage documents, and your bank can sometimes tell you more about your score. These are great and easy ways to find your current score and see how your credit is improving.
There are various options for checking your credit score for free, but starting with one of the examples here may be a great way to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. Of course, you can always do some research on your own and look for even more choices that allow you to check your credit for free.
Your credit score will change (but not how you think)
Credit scores aren’t always consistent from service to service. Different credit bureaus use different criteria to determine your overall score. So, you may see one number on your bank statement and receive a different number from your annual report. Be sure to check the date of the report, as that can also account for any discrepancy you see between scores.
Be cautious about over-checking
It’s tempting to run your credit score all the time, whether you are just curious or even trying to apply for something small, like a store credit card. Be careful about running your credit too often (aside from checking through services like we mentioned above) because this can harm your credit rating. As long as you keep an eye on your spending and debts, you can get a general idea of how your credit score is faring for at least a few months at a time.
Managing a credit score is never easy, but it can be done with the right resources and a little planning. You don’t have to avoid it—you don’t even have to pay for it. Keep up with your credit so your future can remain secure.
Breaking down the basics of contactless credit cards
Have you noticed how there are dozens of ways to pay with your credit card these days? From tapping, dipping, or swiping, to mobile wallets, our payment methods are continuously evolving. Many financial institutions are switching to contactless credit cards, and for good reasons—it makes paying faster, safer, more efficient, and more secure. With the tap of your credit card, you can make purchases in seconds, all while ensuring your card’s information is protected. Before you make your next trip to the register, learn more about the scores of benefits of using contactless credit cards.
What is a contactless credit card?
Contactless credit cards are a new payment method that allows you to make purchases with just a quick tap. Contactless cards are powered by radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to communicate with contactless-enabled payment terminals. Payment terminals transmit high-frequency radio waves. When you place your contactless credit card within two inches of the terminal, it connects and authenticates your payment information. Then, your purchase is verified. Contactless credit cards also have an EMV chip and credit card number, expiration date, and magnetic stripe, so if stores don’t have a contactless reader, you can make purchases using the other methods.
What are the benefits of a contactless credit card?
There are dozens of benefits to using a contactless credit card. Tapping to pay takes less than a second, which is quicker than inserting or dipping a chip card—and significantly faster than cash. Because contactless credit cards are an almost instantaneous payment method, you’ll spend less time waiting in line and have more time to enjoy your favorite coffee. Contactless credit cards are also just as secure as a chip card. Each contactless transaction creates a unique, one-time code or password to safeguard your payment information, thus reducing your chances of becoming a victim of fraud. Not only are credit cards more secure, but they’re also safer. By tapping your card, you reduce touching surfaces at checkout, so your health is protected.
How do you use a contactless credit card?
All contactless card payments work the same way. Here’s how to use your contactless credit card:
- Make sure your card has the Contactless Indicator, and ensure the merchant’s credit card terminal has the Contactless Symbol. The Contactless Indicator and Symbol are four curved lines and look similar to a WiFi symbol.
- When prompted, hold the card within one or two inches of the Contactless Symbol.
- Wait for confirmation. If your purchase is approved, you’ll hear a beep or see a green light or checkmark. That’s it!
Where can you use a contactless credit card?
Contactless payments are becoming prominent at establishments across the country. You can use your contactless credit card at your favorite places, whether it be the coffee shop, restaurants, vending machines, grocery stores, taxis, and so much more, ensuring you can swiftly and securely make purchases.
Georgia’s Own is thrilled to provide members with the convenience and accessibility of contactless credit cards, plus low rates, enhanced fraud controls, and more. Don’t have a Georgia’s Own Visa® contactless credit card? Learn more or apply today.
Does a balance transfer affect your credit score?
Balance transfers are an excellent way to consolidate your debt and pay it off as quickly as possible. But, it does have positive and negative impacts on your credit score. Despite some minor negative impacts, balance transfers can immensely transform your credit score. Here’s how:
How does a balance transfer negatively affect your credit score?
A balance transfer can cause a dip in your credit score in the short run. When you apply for a balance transfer, lenders conduct a hard inquiry to determine if you’re a capable borrower. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for about two years. Several hard inquiries show you’re seeking credit from too many sources, which could indicate you may not be a reliable borrower. This differs from a soft inquiry, which is when you check your credit or a lender is trying to pre-approve you. Soft inquiries do not affect your credit score.
Balance transfers can also lower your credit score by reducing the average age of your accounts. If you have three cards with an average account age of 48 months, and you decide to open a balance transfer card as your fourth, the average age of your accounts would lower, which could drop your score.
This has a minimal impact on your credit score, but it’s still critical to be aware of. It’s imperative to keep old, unused accounts open to maximize the average age of your accounts. But, if an old account has a high annual fee that you can’t afford, then it might be in your best interest to close it—weigh the pros and cons before closing the account.
How does a balance transfer positively affect your credit score?
Despite some hindrances, a balance transfer can considerably raise your credit score. Balance transfers reduce your credit utilization rate, which is the percentage of available credit that you’re using.
Low rates show that you’re not accumulating debt. Ideally, you want your credit utilization rate to be below 30%. For example, if you have multiple credit accounts and move the balances to a single account, your credit utilization rate shows as 0% on the old accounts. It’s crucial to take advantage of the 0% APR period so you can pay off your debt as soon as possible. This will then decrease your credit utilization rate over time.
Your credit utilization rate accounts for 30% of your FICO® Score, which is the score most used by lenders.
What should I do after I apply for a balance transfer?
After you’ve applied for a balance transfer, avoid applying for more credit. Limit the number of hard inquiries on your credit report as much as you can, and only apply for loans unless they’re necessary.
Don’t make purchases with your balance transfer card. The sole purpose of your card is to pay off debt, not accumulate more. When you add to that debt, it makes paying your balance during the 0% APR period more challenging. Create a budget to cut out unnecessary expenses and avoid accruing more debt.
Lastly, set up auto payments to ensure you’re paying your credit card bill on time each month. This boosts your credit even more—payment history accounts for a large portion of your FICO® Score. Choose a specific amount to transfer from your checking account to pay your bill. It should be enough to pay off your card within your 0% APR period.
Balance transfers can do wonders for your credit score, despite some drawbacks. When you use a balance transfer card responsibly, your credit score can grow in the long run. Check your spending habits, stick with your budget, and you’ll be debt-free in no time with a credit score on the rise.
If you’re ready get your finances in order, try a balance transfer.
Why get your credit card from a credit union?
In today’s market, there’s no shortage of credit card options, so it can be difficult to decide which one is the smartest choice. It’s always wise to shop around for the best deal, which, more often than not, is your local credit union.
Same function, better features
Why should you consider a credit card from a credit union over a big bank issued credit card? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Better rates. Credit union credit cards carry an average annual percentage rate that can be several percentage points below those offered at big banks. In fact, federal law prohibits federal credit unions from charging interest rates higher than 18%. Big banks have no restrictions on the amount of interest they can charge their credit customers.
Lower fees and penalties. In addition to lower APRs, many credit unions waive balance transfer fees, and levy significantly lower over-limit, cash advance, and late payment fees. With all of your options, be sure you’re aware of the fees before you sign on the dotted line. One misstep could be especially costly.
Generous grace period. Credit unions typically extend a five-day grace period for late payments in comparison with one day at big banks, and most will give you a second chance before raising your interest rate. Over time, an increased interest rate adjustment can amount to a substantial penalty if you carry a balance each month.
Rewards programs. The same incentives provided by big bank credit cards are also offered through credit union credit cards. If points, travel, or gift cards are what makes you happy, you won’t have to sacrifice your favorite perks. Most of those bonuses come from the payment processor, like Visa or MasterCard, not from the card issuer, so rest assured your refund protection and car rental insurance can very possibly remain intact.
A strong competitive edge
Credit unions are able to offer more customer-friendly options and conveniences because they are owned by their members. They are not-for-profit organizations and, therefore, don’t need to maximize their revenue. In fact, profit on credit cards is used to provide lower mortgage rates and higher savings account rates to its members. In today’s cost-conscious market, their consumer-focused service and competitive products have earned them a substantial edge over the traditional big banks where profit is a top priority.
5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Rewards Credit Card
One of the best things about choosing to use a rewards credit card for your day-to-day spending is the points, miles or cash back you can earn every time you swipe. But it can be tricky. To make sure you’re getting the most out of your card, take a look at the tips below.
Pick a card that offers rewards you’ll actually use
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement around a new card that’s just hit the market. But before you apply, consider whether the card comes with a rewards program that actually fits your lifestyle. Otherwise, you might get stuck with a bunch of points or miles that you’ll never redeem — something that happens to 1 in 5 consumers, according to NerdWallet’s research on reward cards.
Doing some digging upfront to find a card that will be valuable to you is the key to ensuring you’ll get the most out of your plastic.
Know your card’s rewards earning structure
By investing a little time in reading your card’s terms and conditions, you might find there are ways to score extra points on certain kinds of spending.
For example, it’s common for travel credit cards to award extra points or miles for every dollar spent on dining out. Consequently, using your travel card when you take your family out to dinner or pick up your morning coffee is a smart idea, because it will help you get to your next vacation faster. Knowledge is power, so get familiar with the ins and outs of how to maximize earning your rewards.
Budget carefully every month
If you’re carrying a balance on your card and justifying it with all the rewards you’re earning, here’s a wake-up call: You’re paying out much more than you’re bringing in. Most credit cards return only about 1% of your spending in rewards, and charge double-digit interest rates on unpaid balances.
To make the math work in your favor, stick to a budget so you don’t put more on your card than you can pay off each month.
Keep your account in good standing
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a credit card is to fall behind on payments. Miss one and your account will no longer be in good standing and your ability to earn rewards could be jeopardized. Also, your credit score will suffer.
The solution? Pay your credit card bill on time each month, preferably in full but at least the minimum due. Online bill pay can make that process fast and easy.
Be smart about redeeming your rewards
Many rewards cards have multiple options when it comes time to redeem points or miles. For example, in some cases you’ll be able to choose between travel credits or merchandise.
However, it’s common for points or miles to vary substantially in value depending on how you cash them in. Before you go through with a rewards redemption, do the math to figure out which choice will give you the most bang per point. After all, there’s no sense in using your rewards on a vacuum when they would go further if redeemed for airfare.
Following these tips can help sweeten the treats a rewards card can provide while you navigate the tricky ins and outs of how it all works.
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Are points really worth it?
Are rewards programs worth the hassle- or the cost? That depends on you, and the types of rewards you’re working towards. For instance, airline miles are notoriously difficult to redeem…blackout dates, limited seats, and inconvenient flight times are just a few of the challenges. In comparison, hotel and merchandise points are relatively easy to earn and redeem, as are cash back rebates.
The offers can be so tempting
You’re spending money, so why not get something in return? It’s a great option for consumers who love to travel, can be flexible and are organized enough to keep track of the offers and deadlines. Even better are the points that can be redeemed for cash. It sounds too good to be true, but is the opportunity for rewards worth some of the trade-offs? Should you even consider a higher interest rate or an annual fee in exchange for a seemingly lucrative points program?
The answer is in the details
The key is having a clear and detailed understanding of the rewards program. Many programs set minimum spending requirement each month before points can be earned while others have minimum redemption requirements. Miles might only be redeemed on one named airline. Big cash back advertisements may be for a limited time or restricted to specific shopping categories. Each program is different and unique so heed the small print.
There’s also the credit card terms to consider. If you’re not able to pay off your credit card balance each month, the cash back bonus won’t make a dent in the interest you’re accruing, and some credit card companies charge a hefty annual fee.
Maximizing your benefit
To get the most benefit from a rewards program, you should plan to use your credit card frequently. You should also have your debt management well under control and be able to avoid accumulating any revolving debt as a result.
Ask any group of people why they chose a given credit card, and a vast majority will say it’s the rewards that reeled them in. For some consumers, they work. For others, they sound too good not to work. Understanding the details and knowing your own spending habits are what will help you choose the card that best suits your needs.