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SelfScore Launches Rewards Card for International Students in US

A year after it began offering credit cards to eligible international students, alternative lending company SelfScore is increasing its portfolio of financial products. On Tuesday, it’s rolling out the SelfScore Achieve Mastercard, a student credit card with a higher credit limit, cash-back rewards and an introductory 0% annual percentage rate on purchases.

At first the new card will be available only to international students studying in the U.S., but the company plans a broader rollout to all eligible college students in the fall, says Kalpesh Kapadia, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

The best news for would-be cardholders?

“We will not be looking at credit scores,” Kapadia says. Instead, the company will use its proprietary scoring system, opening the card up to people who don’t have a FICO score, commonly used to qualify for credit cards.

More on that below. First, let’s look at the new card.

» MORE: Alternative lenders offer credit cards for newcomers to the US

SelfScore Achieve Mastercard: The basics

SelfScore’s first credit card product, the SelfScore Classic Mastercard, is fairly bare-bones. Credit limits start at only $500 but can be increased to $1,500 once the cardholder meets certain requirements, like linking the card to a bank account and making several on-time payments. The Classic has no annual fee, and it doesn’t require a Social Security number. It does, however, help newly arrived students build a credit history in the U.S.

The new card has a little more meat to it:

  • Credit limits of up to $5,000
  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited cash back rewards of 1% on all purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Introductory APR of 0% on all purchases for the first six months

Both cards come with Mastercard Platinum benefits, including purchase assurance, extended warranty, travel assistance and car rental collision waivers.

How to qualify for a SelfScore Mastercard

Traditional credit scores depend on how you’ve handled credit in the past. But what if you’ve never had credit before, or your credit history was left behind in your home country when you moved to the U.S.?

SelfScore says it wants to help creditworthy students, and eventually nonstudents, who are stuck in the conundrum of not being able to get credit because they don’t already have credit.

SelfScore evaluates creditworthiness by looking at documents common to international students, such as passports, student visas and financial documentation that foreign students must submit to their universities anyway.

“Funding sources matter,” Kapadia says. “You have demonstrated that to the university and to the embassy overseas. We are piggybacking on that.”

» MORE: How foreign students and immigrants can get a credit card

Expanding access to credit

Even though SelfScore doesn’t rely on traditional credit scores, the company recognizes that international students will need those credit scores as their financial needs change over time. SelfScore reports account activity to all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — so responsible use of a SelfScore card will result in a better credit score over time.

But Kapadia isn’t keen on helping students build credit only to lose them when they can qualify for more enticing credit cards elsewhere. Hence the new rewards card and a hinted-at suite of premium credit cards in the future.

» MORE: The best student credit cards

Expanding mission

Right now, SelfScore is sticking to its roots — helping international students get access to credit and build a credit history in their new country. But the company’s mission has expanded over the past year. It wants to help “deserving but underserved populations gain financial independence through access to credit,” Kapadia says.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.

Mortgage Rates Tuesday, March 28: Steady Decline

Mortgage rates today for 30- and 15-year fixed loans dropped by 2 basis points, while 5/1 ARMs fell by 1 basis point, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Tuesday morning.

The 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed and the 5/1 ARM are continuing a downward slide after hitting peak levels in mid-March, NerdWallet’s analysis shows. The 30-year fixed rate hasn’t been this low since Feb. 27.

MORTGAGE RATES TODAY, TueSDAY, MARCH 28:

(Change from 3/27) 30-year fixed: 4.27% APR (-0.02) 15-year fixed: 3.67% APR (-0.02) 5/1 ARM: 3.83% APR (-0.01)

Get personalized mortgage rates

 

» MORE: How much home can you afford?

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published annual percentage rate with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. APR quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

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How I Ditched Debt: The Family CEO

4 Ways to Manage the Cost of Raising a Baby

Kids are expensive, and estimating how much you’ll spend on your first bundle of joy is tricky. There are diapers, clothing, furniture, food and toys to think of, as well as costs that may not spring immediately to mind, like life insurance and college savings.

But whether you’re expecting a child now or planning for one down the road, knowing the expenses involved can help you prepare. And a new study finds would-be parents might be shocked by the potential cost of raising a baby during its first year.

According to a new NerdWallet analysis, baby’s first year could set some families back as much as $21,000 — more than four times the amount most would-be parents estimate, based on data from a related Harris poll.

NerdWallet analyzed expenses associated with a baby’s first year for two hypothetical households in which both parents work — one with a $40,000 annual income and one with a $200,000 annual income — to illustrate how families with different resources might navigate the cost of raising a child. We then compared both households’ total first-year expenses with American expectations, as determined by an online Harris poll.

Here are four financial action items for parents-to-be.

1. Get real about the potential cost …

More than half of respondents (54%) currently expecting a child or planning to have one within the next three years believe the average U.S. baby’s first-year costs total $5,000 or less. But even if parents decline life insurance coverage for themselves and wait to start a college fund, they’re likely to spend far more, according to the analysis.

Be realistic about how much you might have to spend in your first year of parenthood. An online baby calculator can help you estimate expenses.

2. … Especially the biggest cost: child care

Unless a friend or family member is willing to care for your infant when you return to work — if you do — prepare to pay handsomely for child care. According to the analysis, full-time, center-based care is the biggest expense of the first year, at about $8,059. If that surprises you, you’re not alone. Just 37% of would-be parents predicted it would be among the costliest factors.

When you’re able, set aside money for high-dollar and ongoing costs such as child care, and make them a line in your monthly budget. The cost of diapers will seem small in comparison.

3. Prioritize emergency savings

People of all income levels struggle to set aside money in preparation for a new baby. Among parents and would-be parents making less than $50,000 per year, 38% said they had nothing saved, or didn’t plan on saving, prior to baby’s arrival; 21% of those making $100,000 or more said the same.

To ensure you’re ready for unexpected costs of all kinds, start an emergency fund. Not opening or contributing more to one was one of the top financial regrets of all parents surveyed. Once that’s established and you have the clothes and other must-haves for baby, consider college savings and life insurance for all guardians.

4. Gauge how much your loved ones can help

Sixty-one percent of people currently expecting a baby or planning to have one in the next three years say they think friends and family will pay more than 20% of baby’s first-year costs.

If you’re unsure what help to expect from your loved ones, ask — tactfully, of course. And you can start by registering for practical items from your baby checklist. Nursery furniture and accessories, diapers and clothing in a range of sizes will help you manage costs far more than stuffed animals.

For the analysis’ complete results and methodology, click here.

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: elizabeth@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

How to Take Advantage of Post-Purchase Price Drops

If something goes on sale after you bought it, don’t kick yourself. You won’t necessarily have to eat the cost of your inopportune timing.

Here are some options for getting money back.

Ask for a price adjustment

If you spot a lower price within a few weeks of purchase, you’ll often be able to get the difference refunded by going directly to the retailer. Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Best Buy are a few stores that offer price adjustments. While some retailers match competitors’ prices before purchase and only their own prices afterward, Target will match select competitors’ prices up to 14 days after you buy.

To make the process even easier, download Paribus, an app that monitors price reductions and sends price adjustment requests to retailers on your behalf.

Keep your receipts handy in case the store requires them. If you made your purchase online, make note of your order number before contacting the site.

For travel purchases, it pays to make a phone call. For instance, if hotel room rates change prior to your stay, you can ring the front desk and ask to have your bill adjusted to the new, lower rate.

Or, cancel your reservation and book again if prices drop — as long as you’re within the cancellation window, won’t face a fee and haven’t prepaid, says Rick Seaney, CEO and founder of travel website FareCompare. Always read the fine print.

Take advantage of price protection

Credit cards offer another approach to getting a refund through price protection. If your card has this feature, you’ll usually need to register items after you buy them with the card, then submit a claim form if you notice a price drop. For instance, Discover cardholders can file a claim to get back up to $500 on eligible items if they find a lower price within 90 days of purchase.

Citi has Citi Price Rewind, a price protection program that searches over 500 retailers’ online sites for 60 days after purchase. If Citi finds a lower price on a registered product, you can get a refund for the difference up to $500 per item and up to $2,500 per year. Some purchases, like refurbished items and food, don’t qualify.

So whether it’s monitoring prices for a few weeks after you buy, calling a merchant or registering a purchase on your credit card, putting in a little extra time can equal some extra money.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Mortgage Rates Monday, March 27: Drop; Buyers Face Tight Inventory

Mortgage rates today for 30-year fixed loans and 5/1 ARMs dropped, while rates for 15-year fixed loans rose, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Monday morning.

House_pricetag Mortgage Rates Today, Monday, March 27 (Change from 3/24) 30-year fixed: 4.29% APR (-0.05)15-year fixed: 3.69% APR (+0.01)5-1 ARM: 3.84% APR (-0.02) See your personalized rate offers Trulia: Buyers face lowest inventory since 2012

Fewer options for starter and trade-up homes are creating a dilemma for hopeful home buyers, who are also encountering rising home prices, according to the Trulia Inventory and Price Watch.

The quarterly report evaluates the supply of starter, trade-up and premium homes for sale across the U.S. and in the country’s largest metro areas.

» MORE: How much home can you afford?

Overall, there were 5.1% fewer homes on the market year-over-year in the first quarter of 2017, Trulia reported. The metro areas that have experienced the strongest home price growth since 2012 were also the housing markets with the lowest levels of inventory, Trulia said.

Inventory of starter homes — which are typically more affordable and desirable among first-time home buyers — and trade-up homes dipped 8.7% and 7.9%, respectively, year-over-year. Meanwhile, the number of premium homes slipped just 1.7%.

For would-be home buyers, especially millennial first-time buyers, saving for a down payment amid rising home prices and low inventory presents the biggest obstacle to homeownership.

“In markets plagued with tight inventory and decreasing affordability, millennials, who make up most of these first-time buyers, may find homeownership increasingly out of reach,” Ralph McLaughlin, Trulia’s chief economist, said in a news release. “However, there continues to be an uptick in new construction, which should help increase supply in some inventory-constrained markets.”

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published annual percentage rate with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. APR quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

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Money Tips for Your Upcoming Study Abroad Trip

With spring break plans booked and paid for, many college students are now looking forward to their next adventure by prepping for study abroad in the summer or applying to do so in the fall.

More than 300,000 U.S. students headed to another country to study during the 2014-15 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. While a semester abroad is a great educational and cultural opportunity, students don’t want to learn money lessons the hard way.

With that in mind, NerdWallet wanted to help students prepare financially for their trip and find out where U.S. students were going. (Hint: for many, it’s just across the pond.)

Money tips to pack before studying abroad

Before students traveling, families should hammer out how they can access extra funds if they face a costly emergency or simply run out of money. If you’re a student headed overseas, you have a few options:

Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card

When you’re an authorized user, you get a credit card with your name on it, but the bill goes to your parent, who is responsible for paying it — so use it wisely. Families who go this route should choose a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and ensure that it works wherever the student is visiting. (Visa and MasterCard work just about everywhere, and this analysis shows which gives the better exchange rate in 44 currencies.)

Use a debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs

Be savvy and avoid ATM fees to save money for gelato. Look for financial institutions that reimburse ATM fees worldwide. Using a bank that partners with ATM networks or institutions in the country you’re visiting will help you dodge fees, too.

Have your parents transfer money to you

With this tool, you can compare foreign exchange rates and fees for money-transfer services, which provide another way to get cash in a pinch. Depending on the provider and destination, families in the U.S. could send money directly to a student’s bank account or a pickup location within the same day. Getting money transferred to you can be a little trickier than using a credit card or ATM, but it’s a viable option if you need more than what’s in your bank account and you don’t want to rack up more credit card charges. Look into sending and delivery options, expected delivery speeds and foreign exchange rates.

Where in the world American students go

Of course, financial planning and budgeting depend, in part, on where you’re visiting. Below are the 10 countries that received the most American students in the 2014-15 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

Consider conversion rates when planning your trip, as well as the price differences between here and wherever you study. If you get a jones for a Big Mac in Paris, it’ll set you back the equivalent of $8.46, according to the XE.com currency converter. The same burger is a bit more affordable in Beijing, where it runs around $4.20. Take a date to the movies in San José, Costa Rica, and you’d spend about $10.26 for two tickets; they’d be nearly three times as much, $30.58, in Tokyo.

Whether you plan to hit the books in London or see the sights in Rome, tell your bank and credit card company where and when you’ll be traveling abroad. That way, those institutions won’t suspect fraud and suspend your accounts.

Once you’re locked in financially, you can brush up on your language skills, buy a selfie stick and work on other, more fun, aspects of planning for your semester abroad.

Caren Weiner Campbell and Laura McMullen are staff writers at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ccampbell@nerdwallet.com or lmcmullen@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ccampbell_nw or @lauraemcmullen.

How to Invest $50,000

Everyone has a different definition of financial comfort, but let’s just say there’s not a whole lot uncomfortable about $50,000 landing in your lap — except, maybe, the weight of all that paper.

Deciding how to invest that amount of cash can get pretty heavy, too, especially if you — like most people — aren’t used to a flood of money all at once. Do you stick it in a mutual fund? Try to sniff out the next hot stock? Portion it as $1 bills so you can roll around on a carpet of money?

We suggest a more measured approach. First, make sure you know whether this money will be taxed — the IRS could quickly turn that $50,000 into a still-exciting-but-slimmer $35,000. Then check two crucial financial boxes: having an emergency fund and not having high-interest debt.

Now you’re ready to consider some investment options. Here are five suggestions for how to invest $50,000.

How to invest $50,000 Jump in with both feet Invest in an older, wiser version of yourself Take advantage of the room to diversify Get outside the retirement bubble Consider getting some advice for less 1. Jump in with both feet

When it comes to investing, time matters — specifically, time in the market. There’s an opportunity cost to keeping your money in cash, because even days and weeks of investment growth matter. So while you may be tempted to dribble this money in bit by bit, the best strategy, as outlined by Vanguard, is to go whole hog and drop that cash in.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time to figure out the best investment for you. (What do you think we’re doing here, anyway?) It means that once you’ve landed on a plan, jumping in will typically outperform dollar-cost averaging, a fancy term for that dribble strategy of investing a set amount at regular intervals in an attempt to smooth out the market’s highs and lows.

2. Invest in an older, wiser version of yourself

The you of tomorrow will really appreciate it if the you of today puts this money into a retirement account.

If your company offers a 401(k) that matches employee contributions, and you haven’t been contributing enough to earn that match, let this cash influx free up your budget so you can do so. (Unfortunately, you can’t dump this money in there in one shot, despite the advice above. A 401(k) has an annual contribution limit of $18,000 — $24,000 if you’re 50 or older — and is funded via deferrals from your paycheck; most don’t accept lump sum contributions.)

The other option, if you don’t have a 401(k) or you’re already fully funding one, is an individual retirement account like a Roth or traditional IRA. These, too, have annual contribution limits — a combined $5,500 ($6,500 if 50 or older). Is it worth putting away that kind of chump change now that you’re such a baller? This Roth IRA calculator, which does the math to project the value of your contributions down the line, will tell you that the answer is “yes.”

» Which retirement account is best for you? We break down IRAs vs. 401(k)s

3. Take advantage of the room to diversify

Plenty of things get easier when you have more money, and diversification is one of them.

When you have a couple hundred or a even few thousand dollars, it’s hard to spread that money around. Many people end up choosing a fund with built-in asset allocation, like a target-date fund, or a Standard & Poor’s 500 index fund, which holds some of the largest companies in the U.S.

But with $50,000 you can really get your diversification game on — did we make that sound fun? — and look at all the things that a good asset allocation plan considers: taxes, investment goals, time horizon and risk tolerance.

If the goal is retirement and your time horizon is long, that means, well, you’ll probably still put most of your portfolio into an S&P 500 index fund. Those big companies are big for a reason, and their continued growth and stability is a good anchor. But you’ll also have money left to spread around to funds that hold small and medium-size companies, and to international and emerging markets. For nearer-term goals, or to balance out risk, you can select bond funds.

» Want to pick stocks instead? Here’s our guide for how to buy stocks

Because the cash you have is more than 401(k) and IRA contribution limits, you’ll probably also want to open a brokerage account so you can invest the rest. You should look at all your long-term money as one larger portfolio, regardless of how many accounts you have. For example, you can fill gaps in a subpar 401(k) investment selection with the investments you choose in your IRA or taxable account.

You also want to optimize for tax efficiency. Because a taxable brokerage account is, well, taxable, it makes sense to hold investments that carry a low tax burden — like stock index funds and municipal bond funds — in that account. Investments that are taxed as ordinary income or that generate capital gains, like corporate bond funds and mutual funds with high stock churn, should go in a tax-deferred account like a traditional IRA or 401(k).

4. Get outside the retirement bubble

As far as investing goals go, retirement hogs all the attention. But a windfall can feel like permission to consider the goals that are secondary but also important, such as a house down payment or college for your kids.

A house is not an investment, but it is an asset. Assuming your home holds value, your monthly mortgage payments build up a pot of equity you can tap one day. But first you’ll need a down payment, and it can take years to save up the recommended 20% down to avoid private mortgage insurance, which can add $100 or more to your monthly payment, depending on your home value. This extra cash can go a long way toward speeding up that process.

As for a college fund, the IRS allows you to front-load 529 plan contributions, which are subject to the annual gift tax exclusion. You can put in five years’ worth of contributions at one time — that’s $70,000; or $140,000 for a married couple — without paying a gift tax.

5. Consider getting some advice for less If you want someone to dive deep into your financial life, you want a financial advisor. And these days, you can get one for much less than you would’ve paid five or 10 years ago, thanks to online advisor services like Personal Capital and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. Your $50,000 meets the minimum balance requirement for both services. How to invest  We’ve written about how to invest other amounts as well. • $500 • $1,000 • $5,000 • $10,000 • $20,000

These companies have computer algorithms doing much of the portfolio management dirty work, but on the front lines are human advisors who can walk you through the recommendations made by those computers and make adjustments based on your feedback.

The computers make the services cheaper than a direct relationship with a financial advisor, but the human element is still very much there. At Personal Capital, you’ll pay 0.89% of your account balance and be paired with a dedicated financial advisor. At Vanguard, you’ll pay 0.30% and work with a team of advisors, meaning you may speak to a different person each time.

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

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