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How to Spot a Seedy Credit Repair Company

On the way to lunch the other day, I saw a bright pink sign decorated with ribbons attached to a post alongside the road. As it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, such signs aren’t exactly a strange sight. But the words written on the sign were downright odd.


I pondered the sign over lunch. Was this company offering special services to cancer survivors? Donating proceeds to cancer research? Simply shamelessly capitalizing on a popular charitable cause? Or, just hoping that people would do a shocked double-take like I did and visit their website?

The website itself is vague and did little to explain the peculiar sign. Yet something just didn’t sit right. And that left me wondering about how to sort out the bad apples of credit repair from the credit counseling services we often recommend.

Here are some signs that a company is out to victimize those with poor credit:

  • It wants you to pay in advance. Debt repair companies are prohibited by law from asking you for money until they’ve provided the services promised, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • It tries to stop you from helping yourself: If a debt repair company doesn’t explain to you what you can do yourself for free — or if it discourages you from contacting the credit bureaus on your own — consider that a red flag.
  • It promises a clean slate: If you have valid black marks like bankruptcies or delinquent payments  on your credit reports, nothing (except for the passage of time) will make them go away. Any company that promises to remove legitimate black marks on your credit report is up to no good. The same goes for companies that promise they can help you create a “new credit identity.”

If you suspect a debt repair company is behaving illegally, contact your state attorney general. And if you suspect the company is simply charging you for work you could do yourself, remember that you can often DIY it when it comes to correcting simple credit report errors (learn how here).

With protecting your financial interests in mind, here are some of the best personal finance blog posts of the week:

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff describes how a new house can eat away at your budget.

Daisy from When Life Gives You Lemons  lists her goals for the next few years — and how much they’ll cost.

Not Made of Money provides five tips for stretching your holiday budget.

Stupid Cents explains how to protect yourself when signing a contract.

Clever Dude breaks down some of the creative methods he used to pay down more than $20,000 in debt.

Eyes on the Dollar explores some of the financial complexities of becoming self-employed.



Consumers Feeling More Content with their Credit Cards, Survey Shows

American Express once again swiped top honors from 10 competitors in the annual J.D. Power and Associates credit card satisfaction survey.

It’s the sixth year in a row consumers have put the company at the top of the list, this time with 807 points out of a possible 1,000.

Next in line, in order, were Discover, Chase, Barclaycard, U.S. Bank, Citi Cards, Wells Fargo, Capital One, Bank of America, GE Capital Retail Bank and HSBC. All 11 issuers saw their scores increase from last year.

The survey of nearly 14,000 consumers conducted in June used six factors to rate satisfaction: customer interaction, billing and payment processes, credit card terms, rewards programs, benefits and services, and problem resolution.

Good news for industry
The results announced Thursday highlighted good news for credit card industry overall. Satisfaction scores averaged 753 on a 1,000-point scale this year, up from 731 in 2011 and 714 in 2010. That comfort level is the highest it’s been since the first of these studies six years ago and continues the steady increase that began with the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which limited fees and surprise interest rates hikes.

The biggest reason for the satisfaction boost appears to be happiness with the way problems are being resolved. That category’s ratings shot up 31 points. The average time required to resolve a problem fell to four days this year from five in 2011.

Improvements in the conflict resolution category coincided with the debut this year of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s national credit card complaint system — a public database where consumers can log their credit card complaints and issuers are expected to respond within 15 days.

The second biggest driver for satisfaction was the rewards category, which increased 28 points.

Only 11 percent of customers reported problems with their credit cards. Of those, nearly one in four point directly to credit card fraud. Still, there’s good news even in this category: More than half (52 percent) of customers hit with fraud were contacted by their issuer before they even realized they were a victims.

Upheaval subsides
The report sends a message of calm. It appears that, after a rocky few years of new regulations and economic upset, credit card users are taking a collective deep breath and settling in with the cards they’ve chosen.

“There has not been a lot of change in the past year in fees, credit limits and card terms — the things that often affect customers in a negative way,” said Jim Miller, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power in a statement. “After a series of dramatic changes, credit card customers are enjoying a time of stability.”


Prepaid Card Offers More than Just Plastic

Mango Prepaid CardWhen you think about reloadable prepaid debit cards, what is your first thought? For many, it is probably just a card that someone can get for making payments when they really don’t want to use their credit card or bank issued debit card. While this is partly true, prepaid cards have grown into something much more within the United States. For many consumers, prepaid has become a way of life which in turn have made companies re-evaluate their focus on those using this type of plastic. While in the past prepaid cards were just simply plastic with not much issuer interaction, things have changed and one company that seems to be leading the way is known as Mango Financial.


Unlike many prepaid card issuers, Mango Financial has decided to give consumers more than just plastic. Instead they are giving cardholders the ability to have a traditional banking experience without a commitment. To do this they have introduced actual brick and mortar locations where no bank account is needed to cash checks (load onto a debit card) for far less than it would cost at other places. Not only that, they also give those that enter the stores the ability to speak with someone or simply cash their checks on their own by using a kiosk. An actual overview of everything that can be done can be found within an article entitled "The Mango Store Lets You Bank Without Commitment".


Over the years prepaid cards have evolved tremendously and those considered as "unbanked" and "underbanked" have become one of the primary focuses of the industry. When it comes to those that are unhappy with their current bank or card issuer, prepaid cards are hoping to make the case that they offer a better, cheaper option. When cards are advertised many times you will see the benefits highlighted as being without this such as overdraft charges, which have become major news as of late. Instead they can simply pay a lower monthly fee (some void if certain amount is spent per month) that is said to save more money in the long run.


Many Prepaid Cards Tout “Helps Build Credit”

As many people look for alternatives to help build their credit without using credit cards, many have come across prepaid cards stating that they can do the same. While some cards are different, you have probably noticed that many have credit building features such as allowing cardholders to have access to a line of credit as well as reporting to the company known as the PRBC.  While many don’t know exactly who the PRBC is or what they do, for those that need help lifting their credit score it something that could be worth investigating.


So what exactly is the PRBC and what does it do? As an acronym for the Pay Rent, Build Credit Incorporation it is a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant credit storehouse so to speak. Currently it is being utilized by millions of Americans who are unable to obtain traditional credit for whatever the reason may be. In all it allows consumers to demonstrate their credit worthiness by their ability and commitment to future payments by using their payment history on recurring bills, such as rent, utilities, insurance and more.


When it comes to companies such as the PRBC, opinions are mixed on how much of an impact it actually has. While both sides have valid points, one thing that’s certain is that it can definitely help you if you are unable to get approved for a range of financial products and services. If your credit history is not where you would like it to be, using a prepaid card that reports to the PRBC is an option that should be considered. Just remember that it takes time and effort, and can’t be changed overnight.


Credit Card Issuers and Counselors Deepen Connection

As millions of people have found themselves facing credit card debt, many have decided that they want more control over their financial lives. While some have found ways to both pay off the balance and stop using their plastic; others have found out that they are unable to do so and have turned to credit counseling agencies (and debt settlement companies) in hope of finding an answer.  While in the past finding someone who would be able to help was a tough task, it has become easier now that the bulk of the Credit CARD Act has been implemented.


Since the new regulations have been put into place not much has been mentioned about the effect it has on issuers concerning the matter of credit counseling agencies. With its implementation, issuers are now required to direct cardholders that are having trouble repaying their debt to federally sanctioned counseling agencies. Not only that but they must also provide cardholders who want counseling with a toll-free telephone number on their monthly statement. Once the number is called consumers will receive the name, address, phone number, and Web site for multiple approved agencies.


While many issuers were already doing this in the past, now the main difference is that the agency must now be approved by the United States Trustee or a bankruptcy administrator. In addition to that, the agencies provided by issuers must also be located within the same state as the account’s billing address or a state specified by the cardholder.


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