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7 Ways To Reduce Your Mortgage

MoneyTipsFor most homeowners, mortgage costs are the largest regular expense in the family budget. How can you manage those costs in the most efficient way? We offer a few suggestions for reducing either short- or long-term mortgage expenses to fit your needs. 1. Refinancing – According to Casey Fleming, Mortgage Advisor at C2 Financial and author of The Loan Guide, "When you are refinancing a mortgage, the most important thing is to identify what your goals are." Do you want to accept a longer loan term and higher total costs over the time of the loan to minimize your monthly payment? Are you interested in the opposite path of shortening your loan term to pay off your loan more quickly and save on total costs? For those looking to lower their payment, Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at, suggests, "Consider refinancing if you think you can shave a half to three-quarters of a percentage point off of your interest rate." Jordan Goodman, Personal Finance Expert and Author at, agrees with the half-point threshold, noting, "It's going to take a while to recover those closing costs." 2. Rate Shopping – You can save on your initial mortgage or a refinancing by shopping around for a better rate. However, check your credit report first to make sure that an unexpected blemish on your report does not undermine your efforts. Credit reporting errors can — and do — occur. If you believe there is a mistake on your credit report, you can resolve it with a single click using our credit correction service. 3. Asking Your Current Lender for a Better Rate – Banks and credit unions are keenly aware of their competition. If you have a suitable credit score and an excellent repayment record, try asking your bank to meet a potential competing rate. They may reject your request, but there's no harm in asking. 4. Adding Payments toward Principal – By adding an extra payment toward your principal each year, you can save significant amounts of money on interest while increasing your home equity. However, you must verify with your lender that extra payments are being applied only to principal. Should you come into a large one-time windfall, some lenders will allow you to "reset" your mortgage by making a large payment toward principal and keeping the monthly payment the same, thus significantly reducing your loan term. 5. Avoiding Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) – By making a down payment of at least 20%, you can avoid PMI altogether — but if that ship has already sailed, you can ask your lender to cancel the PMI once you reach a suitable level of equity in your home. You may not have to wait until the 20% equity mark if you have an excellent repayment record. It can’t hurt to ask! 6. Considering Loan Modification – A loan modification is not a refinancing, but a changing of the loan terms to assist those who are having trouble making their payments. There are several federal loan modification plans available, so discuss your goals with your lender to assess your qualifications. A lender would rather work with you than have you miss payments and eventually default on your loan. 7. Verifying Your Assessment – You could be paying too much in property tax if your home value is improperly assessed. The National Taxpayers Union has estimated that up to 60% of U.S. homes are assessed beyond their true value. However, think about how long you plan to stay in the home — a reassessment may have an impact on your ability to sell. With suitable planning and collaborative effort with lenders, you can meet your mortgage reduction goals, whether they are based on lowering monthly payments, lowering overall costs, or any other financial objective. MoneyTips is happy to help you get free mortgage and refinance quotes from top lenders. Photo © Originally Posted at: Can I Get the Lowest Mortgage Rate?Three Things You Should Consider Before You RefinanceCan I Get a Mortgage After Bankruptcy?

How to Make Quick Money Online

If you have a computer, an internet connection and a high tolerance for tedious tasks, you can make quick money online. You’ll just have to think small: bite-size tasks with bite-size paychecks that can add up if you do enough of them.

Typically, these online jobs take minutes to complete and involve answering surveys, testing websites, transcribing videos or other one-off assignments. For each task, you receive anywhere from pennies to the rare double-digit dollars.

It’s up to you to determine whether that type of work and the meager earnings are worth your time. There are other things to watch for, too, such as not getting paid for your efforts. More on that later.

Here are the pluses and pain points of several popular sites that will pay for your work:

Complete tasks with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk

What: Amazon’s popular Mechanical Turk is an online marketplace based on the concept that people do some jobs better than computers. Temporary employers or “requesters” list “human intelligence tasks,” known as HITs, that workers can complete for pay. That includes tagging images, describing content that appears in videos and participating in studies. The amount you receive depends in part on the effort and time needed to complete a task. For example, you may earn $12 for transcribing an hourlong video recording and 80 cents for a three-minute recording.

Watch for: Those who’ve tried Mechanical Turk give it mixed reviews. Some people have filed complaints against Mechanical Turk and left negative reviews with the Better Business Bureau. Kristy Milland, founder of the online community, says inexperienced “Turkers” are at risk of getting swindled because it can be hard to know whom to work for. At worst, a requester may take your work and refuse to pay.

Mechanical Turk’s participation agreement states that Amazon has no control over requesters and their actions. If you don’t get paid for your work, follow the directions on the Mechanical Turk website to contact the requester. If that doesn’t work, you can contact Amazon customer service.

The good news, Milland says, is that “people will voluntarily help you find decent work and avoid these pitfalls.” She urges new workers to check out the many online communities of Turkers who share resources and insights. In addition to TurkerNation, you can join other forums such as MTurk Crowd, Facebook groups and the Mechanical Turk Reddit group of more than 20,000 people. Milland also suggests checking out Turkopticon, which reviews HITs and requesters.

These robust communities show that, while Mechanical Turk is far from perfect, many have found it to be worth their time. Some people say they earn hundreds of dollars per week.

Test drive a website on

What: Businesses want their websites to be functional and intuitive. But anyone who’s fumed at a “404 not found” error message knows that those companies don’t always get it right. That’s where comes in. You receive tests that involve navigating websites and recording yourself narrating the experience. (For example: “I clicked ‘add to cart’ but don’t see the item there.”)

Thanks to your insights, the companies that work with UserTesting, such as Intuit TurboTax and CarMax, learn how to improve their sites.

Watch for: Each test requires a 20-minute recording and answers to four written questions. You earn $10, via PayPal, for each test. You don’t get paid if the company whose website you tested is dissatisfied with your insight. But, according to, that happens less than 1% of the time.

Take surveys, watch videos for sites like Swagbucks

What: Dozens of websites including Swagbucks, InboxDollars, Toluna and CashCrate want your opinion and will give you a few bucks for it. The workflow is fairly consistent across these types of websites. Typically, you take surveys, watch videos or shop online in return for cash or points, which you can redeem through PayPal or gift cards. While the pay varies by website and task, it’s usually low, but the tasks take little time and effort.

Watch for: Before working for these sites or any other, search online for reviews from other workers who’ve tried them. Learn what you can about their experience, earnings and success with customer service., for example, lists reviews of Swagbucks and similar sites. Search the Better Business Bureau website to get an idea of how long an online employer has been in business and what consumers have said about it.

Whatever route you choose to earn quick money online, never pay for opportunities or give bank account information upfront. Learn more about avoiding online scams and time wasters.

Doing odd jobs online isn’t for everybody, even if the website is legitimate. But this method may be worth a try if you don’t mind humdrum work — and lots of it.

Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.

Chick-fil-A introduces new gluten-free bun

In response to customer requests, Chick-fil-A announced the addition of a new gluten-free bun option to its menu, making it one of the first fast food restaurants to offer the item.

>> Read more trending news 

The 150-calorie bun, made with premium ingredients like quinoa and amaranth and lightly sweetened with molasses and raisins, is now available in restaurants nationwide, according to a company news release.

>> Related: Chick-fil-A adds new sandwich, lemonade to summer menu

It comes individually packaged and can be ordered with any Chick-fil-A sandwich for an additional $1.15.

The company tested the option in three U.S. cities in 2016 and found the bun to be the most commonly ordered item with the grilled chicken sandwich and grilled chicken deluxe sandwich.

“Our hope is that the gluten-free bun addition opens up options for gluten-sensitive customers to enjoy more of our menu, Leslie Neslage, senior consultant of menu development at Chick-fil-A, said.

Gluten-free items are most commonly consumed by people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, as if it were a poison.

Click here to read more information on the gluten-free bun and other gluten-free options at Chick-fil-A.

Stock Market Basics: What Beginner Investors Should Know

If you’re not well-versed on the basics of the stock market, the words and numbers spewed from CNBC or the markets section of your favorite newspaper can border on gibberish.

Phrases like “earnings movers” and “intraday highs” don’t mean much to the average investor, and in many cases, they shouldn’t. If you’re in it for the long term — with, say, a portfolio of mutual funds geared toward retirement — you don’t need to worry about this lingo, or about the flashes of red or green that cross the bottom of your TV screen. You can get by just fine without watching the market much at all.

But if you’re interested in trading stocks, you need to start with some basic knowledge about how the stock market works.

Stock market basics

The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about the ins and outs of stocks.)

But this isn’t your typical market, and you can’t show up and pick your shares off a shelf the way you select produce at the grocery store. Individual traders are typically represented by a broker — these days, that’s often an online broker. You place your stock trades through the broker, which then deals with the exchange on your behalf.

The NYSE and the Nasdaq are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern, with premarket and after-hours trading sessions also available, depending on your broker.

Stock market indexes

When people refer to the stock market being up or down, they’re generally referring to one of the major market indexes. A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies.

You’re likely to hear most about the Standard & Poor’s 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones industrial average; they are often used as a proxy for the performance of the overall market. Investors use indexes to benchmark the performance of their own portfolios. You can also invest in an entire index through index funds and exchange-traded funds, which track a specific index or sector of the market. Read more about ETFs here.

Bull markets vs. bear markets

Neither is an animal you’d want to run into on a hike, but the market has picked the bear as the true symbol of fear: A bear market means stock prices are falling — thresholds vary, but generally to the tune of 20% or more — across several of the indexes referenced earlier.

Younger investors may be familiar with the term bear market but unfamiliar with the experience: We’ve been in a bull market — with rising prices, the opposite of a bear market — for over eight years. That makes it the second-longest bull run in history.

It came out of the Great Recession, however, and that’s how bulls and bears tend to go: Bull markets are followed by bear markets, and vice versa, with both often signaling the start of larger economic patterns. In other words, a bull market typically means investors are confident, which indicates economic growth. A bear market shows investors are pulling back, indicating the economy may do so as well.

The good news is that the average bull market far outlasts the average bear market, which is why over the long term you can grow your money by investing in stocks.

The importance of diversification

The above statement is true about a diversified portfolio — the S&P 500, which holds 500 of the largest stocks in the U.S., has historically returned an average of around 7% annually, when you factor in reinvested dividends and adjust for inflation. That means if you invested $1,000 30 years ago, you could have around $7,600 today.

That long-term growth would have happened despite several bear markets, which you can’t avoid as an investor. What you can avoid is the risk that comes from an undiversified portfolio. Individual stocks frequently fizzle to a lifetime loss of 100%, according to a recent working paper by Arizona State University professor Hendrik Bessembinder.

If you throw all of your money into one company, you’re banking on success that can quickly be halted by regulatory issues, poor leadership or an E. coli outbreak (yes, we’re talking about Chipotle). To smooth out that company-specific risk, investors diversify by pooling multiple stocks together, balancing out the inevitable losers and eliminating the risk that one company’s contaminated beef will wipe out your entire portfolio.

But building a diversified portfolio of individual stocks takes a lot of time, patience and research. The alternative is the aforementioned ETF or index fund. These hold a basket of investments, so you’re automatically diversified. An S&P 500 ETF, for example, would aim to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 by investing in the 500 companies in that index.

The good news is you can combine individual stocks and funds in a single portfolio. One suggestion: Dedicate 10% or less of your portfolio to selecting a few stocks you believe in, and put the rest into index funds.

Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @arioshea.

Managing Money on Minimum Wage

When you’re earning minimum wage, it might seem as though you need to work magic to make ends meet — let alone save for the future.

But you don’t have to be a financial wizard to effectively manage your money. By setting clear goals with achievable milestones, you can put yourself on the path toward a better future.

Map out attainable goals

First, set your financial goals. This might feel overwhelming when you’re contending with challenges today, but it’s actually the best way to overcome those challenges. Your goals might include getting out of credit card debt, establishing an emergency fund or saving for college. You’ll want to break bigger goals down into smaller, more quickly attainable achievements so you’ll stay engaged and encouraged.

“It’s important for people to think about those short-term savings goals,” says Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO at the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, a nonprofit that works with low-income individuals and families throughout the United States. “Those are the important first steps to make sure that you’re moving forward.”

Create a flexible budget

Next, build a budget that supports your goals. Consider starting with the 50/30/20 budget. This approach allocates: 50% of your income to necessities such as housing and groceries; 30% to “wants” like entertainment and dining out; and 20% to savings, such as a retirement or emergency fund, and debt, such as credit card bills.

  • 50% of your income to necessities such as housing and groceries;.
  • 30% to “wants,” such as entertainment and dining out
  • 20% to savings, such as a retirement or emergency fund, and debt, such as credit card bills
You’ll need to know your monthly income to get started. If it’s variable due to irregular hours or tips, use old tax returns to establish an average. Then use a budgeting worksheet to visualize your expenses. Include expenses that don’t occur regularly, such as car maintenance or health insurance copayments. Compare your expenses with the 50/30/20 budget and adjust those three buckets to fit your circumstances. For example, if credit card payments wipe out your 20% allocation for savings and debt, you might temporarily reduce your “wants” spending so you can still make progress toward your savings goals. To make the process easier, you can track your spending and progress with an app or website. And be sure to revisit your budget whenever your income or expenses change. Open checking and savings accounts People with lower incomes and greater income volatility are less likely to have a bank account than higher income individuals. And unbanked workers must often spend money on prepaid debit cards or check-cashing services to get paid. “Not only are those expensive ways to operate, but it actually slows down the progress that you’re trying to make,” Mintz says. A NerdWallet study found that unbanked households that used a prepaid debit card paid $196.50 to $488.89 in fees in 2013. Start by opening a savings account separate from your checking account, if you have one. (If not, open one of each.) That will make your saved cash easier to track and harder to spend, but it’ll still be accessible when you need it. Choose your accounts carefully. Some charge fees if you can’t meet minimum direct deposit or monthly balance requirements, and that can be a financial drain, says Matthew Konsa, associate director of programs at Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, an organization that provides financial empowerment programs for people with low to moderate incomes in New York. Consider automating There are some big benefits to automating your bill payments and savings. You’ll avoid missing payments and getting hit with late fees while steadily building your fund for emergencies or long-term savings goals. However, you might not be ready to fully automate payments if you don’t always have enough money to cover your bills. And checking account overdrafts come with fees and can indirectly hurt your credit score. Weigh the benefits and risks to determine if automating is right for you. Get government help Federal programs for low-income workers can lower some of your living costs. It’s worth looking into options such as the housing choice voucher program, Medicaid, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program. You might also be able to find help with child care, utilities, heating, car insurance and phone costs, to name a few. Use the government’s benefits finder to determine which federal programs are available to you. If you receive assistance, adjust your budget to account for it. If your income isn’t stable, make sure to research program requirements before you apply; a good week at work might jeopardize your eligibility. Many programs determine eligibility on an annual basis, but recertification periods for SNAP benefits can be as often as monthly for users without regular income. Keep this in mind if your income is close to the qualification threshold. Avoid bad debt It can be tempting to fall back on credit cards and payday loans, but those can lead to more trouble, especially if you don’t have an immediate way to pay them off. “People don’t recognize that these bridge or ‘payday’ loans are only exacerbating the challenge, rather than giving them a break,” Mintz says. Instead, he suggests seeking professional financial help from a trustworthy source, such as city counseling services and community-based nonprofits. You can also get fast cash in other ways, including selling your stuff or getting a community loan. It’s worth taking a look at your monthly expenses and trying to lower your bills to create more wiggle room in your budget, too. Build credit Regardless of your goals, building credit should be a part of your financial game plan. Your creditworthiness doesn’t just affect your credit card’s interest rate. It can also impact the apartment you can rent and your cell phone plan, among other things. If you don’t know where you stand, start by getting a copy of your free credit report, which contains information that determines your credit score. If you have poor credit — or no credit — look into options such as credit-builder loans, secured credit cards and secured personal loans. Then make sure to use your credit wisely. That means paying bills on time, avoiding credit card debt and keeping your oldest accounts open as long as you can. If you already have credit card debt, focus on paying off as much as possible, starting with the balance on the card with the highest interest rate. Boost your earnings If you’re living on minimum wage, it’s important to explore other money-making options. Start by assessing your skills, experience and interests. For example, if you’re always the designated photographer for friends’ gatherings, maybe you can offer your photo skills on a freelance basis. If you have time to explore a new line of work, take advantage of your local job training center or visit for online training options. Free online courses or community college classes might also be helpful.

If you pursue a college degree, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, for each year you’re in school to access financial aid such as grants and scholarships. And be wary of for-profit colleges. On average, students at these schools pay more than those who attend an in-state public school, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Those who attended for-profit colleges are also more likely to be unemployed six years after starting at the school, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research paper. If you’re considering a for-profit college, ask these questions before you enroll.

Remember, you don’t have to tackle all these steps at once. Start with smaller tasks — setting goals and creating a budget — and then move on to larger ones, including building credit and increasing your earnings. With time, you’ll become more comfortable and confident managing your money.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @devondelfino.

What Is Private Mortgage Insurance? (PMI)

Buying a home usually has a monster obstacle — coming up with a sufficient down payment. You can put less than the traditional 20% down payment but the lender will likely require you to buy mortgage insurance.

The concept behind mortgage insurance is not quite the same as with other insurance plans. You pay a monthly premium to the insurer who protects the mortgage lender in the event you default. There are two types of mortgage insurance: government and private.

What is private mortgage insurance? (PMI)

PMI is insurance for the mortgage lender’s benefit, not yours. It’s a concession often required when your down payment on the purchase of a home is less than 20%. Because the lender is assuming additional risk by accepting a lower amount of upfront money towards the purchase, they will often call for the borrower to purchase private mortgage insurance.

Private mortgage insurance will pay the lender a portion of the balance of the principal due if you stop making payments on your loan. PMI will typically pay the difference between a conventional 20% down payment and what a borrower actually paid upfront.

For example, if you put down 5% to purchase a home, private mortgage insurance might cover the additional 15%. A loan default triggers the policy payout as well as foreclosure proceedings; so that the lender can repossess the home and sell it in an attempt to regain the balance of what is owed.

The cost of private mortgage insurance is based on the size and type of mortgage loan you are applying for, your down payment and credit score. The average annual cost can range from 0.55% to 2.25%, according to insurance firm Genworth and the Urban Institute, an economic think tank.

GET EXPERT ANSWERS TO YOUR MORTGAGE QUESTIONS Get personalized help from an unbiased mortgage broker. Understand your options and find the best rates. Get Started COMPARE MORTGAGE RATES FOR FREE See personalized mortgage rates in seconds using our comprehensive mortgage tool. Check Rates When can you cancel private mortgage insurance?

Once your mortgage principal balance is less than 80% of the original appraised value or the current market value of your home, whichever is less, you can generally cancel the private mortgage insurance. Often there are additional restrictions, such as a history of timely payments and the absence of a second mortgage.

Mortgage lenders are required to tell you at closing how long it will take for you to reach that loan-to-value mark, and update you annually of any cancellation options. Generally, mortgage lenders are required to cancel PMI once the mortgage balance dips down to 78% of original value.

Private mortgage insurance can also be terminated if you reach the midpoint of your payoff. For example, if you took out a 30-year loan and you’ve completed 15 years of payments, PMI may be terminated.

Mortgage insurance for FHA and VA loans

Mortgage insurance for loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates a little differently from conventional mortgages.

VA loans to active, disabled or retired military servicemembers and their eligible surviving spouses never require mortgage insurance, but most borrowers will pay a “funding fee” ranging between 1.25% and 3.3% for purchase loans. This fee depends on a wide variety of factors, including whether you’ve applied for a VA loan before and how much money you’re putting down, if any.

VA loans are also available to certain reservists and National Guard members. Others may also qualify. The VA Eligibility Center has details at 888-768-2132.

Mortgages backed by the FHA require a 1.75% upfront mortgage insurance payment as well as monthly mortgage insurance premiums ranging from .45% to 1.05%, depending on the loan term and amount. (Premium rates as of January 2017.)

The down payment decision

Mortgage insurance allows a lot of people to become homeowners who otherwise might not be able to. And it’s natural to want to put down as little money as possible, but you’ll want to consider the real costs now and down the road.

The way the system works is: The larger the down payment, the better your financing deal. You’ll get a lower mortgage interest rate, pay fewer fees and gain equity in your home more rapidly. But ultimately it’s a matter of balancing your short-term financial capabilities with the realities of your local real estate market and your future savings and earnings potential to determine the best long-term financial result for you.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @halmbundrick.

Personal Loans For People With Fair Credit

MoneyTipsIf your credit score is in the low- to mid-600s, you have what is usually considered to be fair credit — not in the range where you have trouble getting personal loans at all, but in the range where finding a good interest rate and reasonable terms can be challenging. Whether you are experiencing a temporary fall in otherwise good credit or you have built your credit up from poor to fair status, it takes effort to find a loan that meets your needs. Banks and credit unions are less likely to offer you a loan with fair credit unless you take the path of a secured loan that is backed by some form of collateral, such as your car, the contents of your bank account, or the equity in your home. With a secured loan, you are likely to receive a much better interest rate than you could receive otherwise, but there are two drawbacks: you put your collateral at risk, and your loan amount is limited by the amount of collateral that you supply. Depending on your reason for the loan, a secured personal loan may be your best bet. For short-term predictable debt of moderate size that you can repay soon, the interest on a secured loan is likely to be superior to credit cards (and will certainly be superior to a high-interest payday loan). Promotional credit card deals may be a viable alternative, but you must check the terms carefully and also resist the urge to rack up further debt. Consider that, with only fair credit, you are not likely to get the best credit card offer any more than you would the best loan offer. If the above alternatives do not fit your needs, an unsecured personal loan is probably the best option. However, you may need to consider online lenders to find a suitable deal. Some online vendors are merely extensions of existing large bank operations, but others have novel business models that allow for lower overhead and flexibility in lending criteria. The following two examples represent excellent online options for you: online specialists in the intermediate credit range and peer-to-peer lenders. Avant Fair credit puts you squarely in the middle of Avant's primary customer base. Avant offers traditional installment loans with defined payments at regular intervals, as compared to payday loans that require short-term lump-sum repayment or credit cards that allow you to rack up sizable debt while requiring only minimum payments. With an installment loan, you can continue to build your credit rating simply by making your regularly scheduled payments on time. Loan amounts are available from $1,000 to $35,000 and interest rates as of this writing range from 9.95% to 35.99%. Repayment terms are available from 24 to 60 months, giving you the flexibility to find your optimum repayment conditions. With fair credit, you are likely to be in the middle-to-upper range of the interest rate range, but that is still likely to be a superior option to alternatives at your fair credit level. Administration fee ranges from 0.95% to 4.75%, which will automatically be deducted from your loan proceeds at the time the loan is funded. There is no balloon payment at the end of your loan and you have the option of paying off your loan early without penalty to limit your interest payments. You may be able to benefit from late fee forgiveness or payment date adjustments under certain circumstances, perks that are not always available with a fair credit loan. In general, Avant represents one of the best balances between terms and borrowing limits that are available within the fair credit range. Lending Club Lending Club is one of the leading peer-to-peer lenders, where borrowers like you are matched with investors who are willing to lend you money. You will fill out a simple application online and Lending Club assigns you a grade based on available data, which determines the range of interest rates for which you qualify. There are seven letter grades and five subdivisions within those grades. As of this writing, the best possible rating (A1) can receive a 5.99% interest rate while the worst (G5) will receive 35.89%. Investors will see this profile and decide whether to fund your loan. In essence, the investor decides what risk you present and whether your loan goes forward. If you have other factors in your favor that can counteract a lesser credit score, for example, a relatively low debt-to-income ratio or higher income, investors may be more willing to lend you money as compared to a traditional bank or credit union. Loan amounts are available up to $40,000 with repayment terms from 36 to 60 months. There is an origination fee of between 1% and 6%, but there are no penalties for prepayment or any hidden fees. Lending Club caters to the upper end of the fair credit range, with an average credit score of 699 as of March 31, 2016. A typical use of Lending Club is for credit card debt consolidation, where debt has risen but payments are regularly made on time and income is still moderately high. Should you qualify, you are likely to receive a better rate than with other alternatives — but if not, Avant and other online lenders are still available for your needs. With personal loan shopping with online vendors, initial rate comparisons can take place without a hard credit pull that can lower your rating. Rate estimates are usually done through a soft credit pull, which is more analogous to ID verification and background checking than it is a financial assessment. Check each lender's website to verify at what point a hard credit pull is required. You want to keep these to a minimum, as they can lower your score even more. Once you find a lender with a suitable interest rate and favorable terms, be sure to read the terms and conditions thoroughly so you understand your rights and obligations and can make a direct cost comparison. We suggest doing a further background check on the lender by reviewing their ratings with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as researching online customer reviews. The lender is going to research you thoroughly, so turnabout is fair play. Do keep in mind as you pore through reviews that lenders dealing with fair or poor credit are taking greater risks. If you set up loan repayment through an automatic withdrawal from your bank account, make sure that you understand the timing of withdrawals and what happens in case of a bank overdraft or a refused payment. Charges will apply, the only question is how much and through which organization (the lender or the holder of your bank account). By setting up a low balance alert, you may be able to prevent overdrafts and eliminate penalty fees. There are avenues for acquiring personal loans when you have bad credit; it just takes more time and perseverance to find the terms that are right for you. You can consider one other path as well: If possible, take steps to improve your credit rating before taking out a personal loan. Review your credit report for errors and pay down debts as much as possible, and your loan options may look far better. If you are interested in a personal loan, visit our curated list of top lenders. Photo © Originally Posted at: Loans For People With Poor CreditHow To Get A Personal LoanHow To Get A Personal Loan Online

Car Wrecks Rise as Phones Divert Drivers’ Eyes

America’s roads are increasingly dangerous, with the number of car crashes increasing every year and reaching nearly 6.3 million in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s up from about 5.3 million accidents in 2011.

The rise in crashes is attributed to several factors, including an increase in driving overall, but one of safety advocates’ top concerns is distracted driving. A recent poll supports those worries: A majority of people admitted to driving distracted at some point during the past year, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted for a NerdWallet report on the state of driving in America.

» MORE: Your personality may affect — geez, look out! — distracted driving

Cell phones are our biggest distraction

Mobile phones help us connect with the world, but many of us continue to stay connected while driving, too. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans who have driven in the past 12 months said they had used a cell phone while driving, according to NerdWallet’s survey.

And this distraction is taking a toll: 14% of all fatal “distraction-affected” crashes involved cell phone use in 2015, the latest year for which data is available from the Department of Transportation.

“We all want to see these alarming accident numbers reversed,” says Robert Passmore, assistant vice president of personal lines policy for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a trade group. “For that to happen, our driving habits need to change. Putting down our smartphones and staying focused on the road can reduce accidents.”

Among those in NerdWallet’s survey who used a cell phone while driving, 38% said they had texted while driving, including using voice-to-text options. Texting while driving is perhaps the best-known distraction and has been banned in 46 states and Washington, D.C., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But cell phone use that contributes to crashes may be underreported, according to the National Safety Council, for reasons including:

  • In many cases, police officers rely on drivers to admit cell phone use
  • Officers may not report cell phone use if it’s not a violation in their area or if more serious or obvious violations are committed
  • Crash reports might not be updated if an investigation later finds that cell phone use contributed to the accident

According to NerdWallet’s survey, of those who used a cell phone while driving in the past year, 13% said they weaved in and out of lanes, almost went off the road, almost had an accident or did have an accident.

» MORE: Who’s going to pay for that? Maybe you (and your insurance)

Other driving distractions

Among Americans who have driven in the past 12 months, 62% said they were distracted by something other than a cell phone — including a majority (58%) who said that they ate behind the wheel and 10% admitted to performing personal care, such as shaving, applying makeup or caring for their nails, the NerdWallet survey found.

Driving distractions other than cell phones Among Americans who have driven in the past 12 months, 62% admit to doing at least one of the following: Eating58% Grooming: Shaving, nail care or applying makeup10% Caring for a child in the back seat9% Using a laptop or tablet7% Changing clothes5% Getting intimate4% Drinking alcohol4% Reading a book, newspaper or magazine4% Putting foot out window or both feet on dash while using cruise control3% Playing an instrument1% Source: Survey conducted May 3-5, 2017, by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one activity.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s 2017 Driving in America report

Staying focused when others aren’t

If you have an iPhone, Apple may soon help you become a less-distracted driver: The new iOS 11 operating system, set to be released this fall, includes a feature that can detect when you’re driving and will silence notifications.

There are also smartphone apps to help you avoid distracted driving, including:

  • SafeDrive, an app that turns safe driving into a game, allowing you to earn points you can trade in for discounts on products and services
  • DriveMode by AT&T is available for customers of all cell phone carriers in English and Spanish. It will silence alerts and auto-reply to text messages while you drive; similar apps are available from Sprint and Verizon (Android only).
  • LifeSaver is an app for parents who want to monitor a teenager’s driving. It locks the phone while the teen is driving and sends notifications when they have arrived at a destination. It’s also available for businesses with fleets of vehicles.

Passengers can help curb distracted driving, too. A recent survey commissioned by Travelers Insurance found that 48% of passengers said that they always or often speak up when they’re riding with someone who’s using a phone while driving.

“I think that’s very encouraging,” says Chris Hayes, second vice president of transportation risk control for Travelers. “Passengers should feel they have a stake with each ride.”

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @LacieWrites.

Credit Card Startups Race for Space in Your Wallet

It takes a serious optimist to look at the big names and complicated regulations in today’s credit card industry and think, “There’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur!” But during the past few years, multiple startups have dived into the market. Credit card spending in the U.S. is making a comeback, and these businesses are hoping their bets pay off. Here’s what they’re offering.

SelfScore: Easier credit access for international students

Target customers: International students who want to build credit in the United States.

If you’re an international student going to college in the U.S., it’s very hard to qualify for a credit card — especially without a Social Security number or a co-signer. SelfScore, founded in 2013, provides a cost-effective solution.

The company offers two credit cards. Neither charges an annual fee or requires a deposit, co-signer or Social Security number.

“We provide you access to credit, whether you are a no-file customer or a thin-file customer, using alternative data — not [credit] bureau data,” says Kalpesh Kapadia, SelfScore’s co-founder and CEO. Those alternative data include an applicant’s bank account activity, such as deposits, withdrawals, debits, credits and fees.

If you get an SSN after receiving the card, you can call the number on the back of your SelfScore card and add it to your account, Kapadia says. After that, you’ll be able to pull your FICO score, which will reflect the payment history on your SelfScore account.

SelfScore has cardholders from 126 countries, Kapadia says.

Final: More secure online payments

Target customers: Avid online shoppers and those trying to avoid the headaches that come with card fraud

EMV-chipped cards are everywhere, but credit card fraud, especially online, is still common. Final, founded in 2014, allows customers to generate additional credit card numbers tied to one credit account so they don’t need to update card information with every merchant if one number is compromised. The card offers 1% back on everything and doesn’t charge an annual fee.

Final customers get a plastic card with a 16-digit number and access to an online dashboard, where they can generate new credit card numbers for remote purchases. They can use a number just once or assign different numbers to different merchants.

“If [cardholders] put a merchant-locked card on file with Netflix … that card gets locked to Netflix on the first transaction, and no other merchant can use the card, which helps reduce the risk of fraud,” says Alex Cramer, head of cards at Final.

Some major issuers also offer limited-use card numbers, but they’re not as easy to customize and track as Final’s. This past year, Final’s beta waitlist has attracted more than 100,000 sign-ups, Cramer says. The card became available to the general public in June.

Blispay: Better in-store rewards and financing offers at small businesses

Target customers: Small businesses that want to offer in-store financing and people with good credit looking for financing options or big rewards

Store credit cards are cash cows for big-box retailers, but they’re often out of reach for smaller merchants. Blispay, founded in 2014, lets these retailers offer promotional financing and a robust rewards card at the register.

The Blispay card pays 2% cash back on everything and doesn’t charge interest or require payments on purchases of more than $199, if paid in full within six months. It doesn’t charge an annual fee.

“The hero of our product is the value of it — particularly around financing — for merchants and consumers,” says Greg Lisiewski, founder and CEO of Blispay. The 2% cash-back rate is one of the best available. The card is a Visa, so it’s accepted almost everywhere, including Costco.

To date, Blispay has partnered with over 500 merchants, most of which are midsize businesses that sell expensive items, such as guitar shops and bridal boutiques, Lisiewski says. You can apply in stores that offer the card or online.

Claire Tsosie writes about credit cards at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Reach her at or on Twitter at @ideclaire7.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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