Tuesday April 22, 2014
Usually it's helpful to have a co-signer. That person allows you to qualify for a loan that you otherwise wouldn't receive by promising to repay the loan if you are unable or unwilling to do so. Unfortunately, having a co-signer might be a liability years later -- even if you've been making payments on time.
A report out from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that some lenders demand repayment if a co-signer on a private student loan dies or declares bankruptcy. That's a nasty surprise to borrowers who can't come up with a large lump sum or refinance the loan.
How does this happen? Some lenders include language in their agreement that says the loan is due if a co-signer dies or declares bankruptcy. When borrowers fail to repay the loan in full, the loan goes into default, and the borrower's credit suffers (making it even less likely that they'll be able to refinance the loan, much less get a mortgage or auto loan).
The CFPB is looking into the issue and may issue consumer protection regulations eventually, but what can you do in the meantime? If you've got private student loans and you used a co-signer, find out if you can get the co-signer removed from the loan -- it may be possible after several years of on-time payments. That way you'll be in the clear if something happens to your co-signer.
Friday April 18, 2014
With all of the data and security breaches lately, you may wonder what you can do to protect yourself from identity theft.
The main thing is to keep an eye on your account activity and check your credit reports regularly. If you want to step it up a notch (or more), you can also take measures to protect your credit information. Experian just published a nice infographic that explains how you can do that and compares the features of two approaches: a credit freeze and a fraud alert.
Credit freezes and fraud alerts can help protect you, but they're not perfect. For starters, you never know when an identity thief will try to use your information (even if it was just stolen recently it might not get used for years). Fraud alerts might expire before anything happens, but you can set long-term alerts if you've been a victim of identity theft. Credit freezes, on the other hand, will protect you indefinitely, but your credit will be locked down; you won't be able to borrow money, and other organizations will have a hard time conducting background checks (a potential employer, for example) while the freeze is in place.
Remember that your credit isn't the only thing that thieves are interested in. They also want to get into your bank accounts and other accounts, so keep an eye out for suspicious transactions anywhere you have assets.
Tuesday April 15, 2014
Heartbleed is the latest threat to your identity and online security, and it's worth paying attention to. However, as in many cases, there's little that you can do besides monitor your accounts for suspicious activity (and change passwords after websites have updated their systems).
Fortunately, as the Washington Post reports, "many of the Web's most critical sites -- those belonging to banks and governments -- were not vulnerable to Heartbleed in the first place." So your bank account is probably safe from a direct attack. Things are a lot less safe if you used the same password for your bank and other online services.
Soon, all of this will be behind us -- or it will seem to be. The headlines will move on to other topics, but the stolen information will still be out there, and thieves will be doing the best they can with it. As Money Talks News explains, this is just "the beginning of phishing season." Changing your passwords is prudent, but you really need to stay alert in the coming years and months because that's when things will start happening.
Get in the habit of suspecting that most email messages are bogus, and think twice before giving out information to any inbound callers as well.
Thursday April 10, 2014
Want to know how your prepaid debit card stacks up? Are you paying too much in fees?
It's tough to find out without going through the fee sheets of numerous cards. But that's exactly what Bankrate did as part of the 2014 Prepaid Debit Cards Survey. They looked at 30 cards with a focus on monthly fees, ATM fees, and purchase fees (there are about a million different types of prepaid card fees out there).
Prepaid cards have a reputation for being expensive, but Bankrate provides some statistics that are encouraging: 33% of the cards studied will waive monthly fees if you load enough onto the card each month. That's a great way to keep prepaid cards from costing an arm an a leg -- assuming you don't pay fees every month to load the card (direct deposit and electronic transfers are often free).