The Charge-It Blog

  • Kayla Albert

    Debt collection rules in an age of texts, social media

    As text messages replace phone calls and social media grows as the primary way we stay connected with friends and family, debt collectors are using new ways to reach and keep tabs on debtors.

    That’s forcing regulators to modify long-standing rules, reining in some debt collectors’ use of new technology and new media.

    Rules for debt collection in the age of texts and social media

    The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and in late March the agency clarified that while it’s OK to use text messages and social media to contact debtors, debt collectors cannot be deceptive in doing so.

    What does this mean? Well, the only debt collection communication explicitly forbidden remains the postcard, because the debt can easily be revealed to a third party. However, using social media and texts to collect on a debt isn’t exactly a free-for-all.

    If you’re being contacted by a debt collector through text or social media, know your rights:

    1. Creditors and collection agencies can’t tell your friends and family about your debt.
    It is illegal for collectors to disclose the existence of debts to anyone other than authorized individuals (such as an attorney representing the debtor, spouses, parents or guardians of minors who may have accounts, executors and administrators) — unless the debtor gives permission to disclose that information. In addition, debt collectors cannot publicly post about your debt on any social media site.

    2. Creditors and debt collection agencies can’t contact you — or your social media connections — under false pretenses.
    If debt collectors are going to attempt to reach you through text or social media, they must do so in a way that makes their intentions clear. Sending a Facebook friend request, for instance, could violate the law if you don’t know who they are or why they are contacting you. In addition, they can’t make up a story in order to get personal information about you from your friends or family.

    3. Texts can’t be designed to deceptively resemble fraud alerts.The FTC cites “YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD xxxx-xxxx-5463 … Call immediately” as an example. The text, similar to ones sent by defendants in the Messaging for Money law enforcement sweep, were “a sneaky – and illegal – way” for collectors to get a response from debtors.

    While harassment and deceptive collection practices aren’t allowed with texts and social media — or any other form of communication for that matter — debt collectors can use these channels in ways that aren’t against the law. 

    For instance, debt collectors may collect public information from your social media accounts as well as from the pages of your connections.

    Just because a debt collector hasn’t “friended” you on Facebook, it doesn’t mean he can’t see enough public posts and pictures to determine basic information, such as where you live, work or what kind of car you drive. All of this information can be compiled to make initial contact or attempt to make a case against you.

    Even if you have stringent privacy settings, your information can be pulled from the pages of your connections, such as messages you’ve written or pictures you’ve been tagged in.

    So as with everything you post on social media, be careful. You never know who is checking you out online. It might even be a debt collector.

    SEE ALSO: Know your rights with debt collectors and 8 tips to deal with debt collectors like a pro

    Full Story
  • Jeff Herman

    Pink Ribbon card helps Susan G. Komen year-round

    This blog post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, see the bottom of this page.

    Runners and walkers in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure — or anyone who wants to support the organization year-round — can do so with every purchase using the Pink Ribbon Banking MasterCard benefiting Susan G. Komen.

    With each swipe or dip, the cardholder benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer education and research group in the United States. Komen receives a minimum of $3 for each new Pink Ribbon BankAmericard account opened and 0.08 percent of every purchase (8 cents of every $100) using the MasterCard.Pink Ribbon card benefits Susan G. Komen with every purchase

    “Those micro-donations” add up, says Carrie Hodges, managing director, cause marketing and sponsorship. Since 2009, Susan G. Komen has received more than $7 million from Bank of America through the Pink Ribbon credit card and checking program.

    Bank of America also is the presenting sponsor of the Race for the Cure — held in cities across the U.S. and around the world on various dates through the year.

    The Pink Ribbon credit card, though, benefits both the organization and the cardholder with cash back.

    “Cardholders don’t have to give up cash back,” Hodges says. “Bank of America gives that back to cardholders on top of” the percentage given to Komen with every purchase.

    Cash back on the Pink Ribbon card is 3 percent on gas, 2 percent at grocery stores and now at wholesale clubs, and 1 percent on all other purchases. The fine print: The cash bonus rewards apply to the first $2,500 in combined category purchases each quarter.

    With this card, there’s no annual fee, and the card has a 0 percent introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days. After 12 billing cycles, the variable APR is 13.24 to 23.24 percent (interest rate depends on your credit score).

    And cardholders get a $100 online cash rewards bonus after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days.

    A couple of things to note about cards affiliated with a cause or charity (often called affinity cards):

    Some affinity cards benefiting nonprofits have high APRs and/or annual fees. If you don’t pay your bill on time and in full, cardholders can easily go into debt trying to do good. And with some affinity cards, the perks (miles, points or cash back) for the cardholder are limited.

    Also with affinity cards, it’s important to note the percentage of purchases that go toward the organization. While it’s easy to donate with each use of an affinity card, it can be more beneficial to the organization — and you — to make a single gift (which you can deduct on your taxes).

    Full Story
  • Jeff Herman

    Rack up miles and points with gifts for Mom

    You’re likely to buy flowers, chocolate-dipped strawberries or some other gift for mom for Mother’s Day, so why not snap up the bonus offers available through your credit card’s shopping portal, an airline e-shopping mall or airline dining clubs?

    For example, if you use American Airlines AAdvantage e-Shopping portal, you can get 30 miles per $1 spent on ProFlowers orders. You also can earn 250 miles with $150 or more spent on gifts for Mom at select merchants at the portal. And some retailers offer free shipping.Motivational mantras that can doom your credit

    You don’t need an airline credit card to score these extra miles and more. Just open a frequent flier account with your preferred airline or airlines, register your credit cards and order your gifts as you normally would at the airline’s e-shopping mall. If you sign up for emails from the shopping portals, you’ll get advance notice of the sweetest deals.

    And if you’re taking mom to brunch, lunch or dinner for Mother’s Day, you can earn miles while using a card registered in a credit card rewards dining program.

    Check out Susan Johnston Taylor’s story on “How to score airline miles without having an airline card” for details and links to several of the airline shopping portals and dining programs.

    Taylor mentions that the airline dining programs often have sign-up bonuses. The popular travel site ThePointsGuy.com notes that signing up for United’s dining program can net you up to 5,000 bonus miles and instant VIP status (5 miles for every dollar spent). Here are the details: http://thepointsguy.com/2016/04/5000-miles-vip-status-mileageplus-dining/

    If you’d rather not use airline e-shopping malls, several card issuers have their own shopping portals with discounts and sometimes free shipping with purchases at everyday retailers.

    For example, Chase’s online shopping portal for cash-back cards offers 15 percent cash back on ProFlowers purchases, and 10 percent cash back on FTD.com orders and Shari’s Berries orders. Read Dawn Papandrea’s story, “Rewards malls can turbocharge miles, points, cash,” for details.

    And if you’re using a shopping portal that’s not affiliated with an airline or a card issuer, Taylor offers “5 tips to boost savings using cash back shopping portals.”

    Full Story
  • Dawn Papandrea

    Can an app keep you from splurge spending?

    Ever wish there was a little voice to talk you out of the urge to splurge? That’s the idea behind Ally Financial’s newly launched free app, “Splurge Alert,” which enlists the help of family and friends to steer you away from purchase temptations.

    Using geolocation technology, the app determines when you enter a “splurge zone” based on criteria you specify (for instance, if you’ve indicated that department stores are your weakness), and alerts the people you pre-selected to be your shopping Big Brothers. what-costco-switch-means-2-u_Sm

    While the concept might sound like it’s bordering on creepy, it’s really just using technology to keep you accountable to a personal goal — in this case, a commitment to spend less on frivolous items. It’s not unlike a fitness app in which you can befriend buddies who will motivate you to get in those extra walking steps.

    Whether or not you’re considering trying out this app, here are three low-tech ways to keep yourself on a budget and sidestep splurges:

    1. Avoid going to stores to shop. If you know that walking into certain stores will trigger a much bigger spending spree than you intended, find another place to shop. Or, shop online so that you’re only putting what you need into the shopping card.

    2. Use shopping baskets instead of carts. When you’re carrying around items, you’ll be more mindful, and hopefully more selective, as to how much you are buying. With shopping carts, there’s a tendency to keep filling them mindlessly.

    3. Allow splurges, but only after you’ve saved for them. Being frugal is hard work, but it should come with a few rewards from time to time. There’s nothing wrong with a splurge as long as you’re not draining your checking account or running up a credit card bill you can’t handle.

    SEE ALSO: 6 ways to recover financially after a spending spree

    Full Story
  • Kayla Albert

    What Costco’s card switch means for you

    What does Costco’s split from American Express in favor of Citigroup and Visa mean to cardholders? Three words: More cash back. And in recent weeks, the biggest U.S. retailer, Walmart, and Bank of America and Chase have stepped up the rewards offered with some of their own cards.

    The new card on the block
    Citi purchased AmEx’s portfolio of Costco-branded credit cards in February, and Costco AmEx cardholders will be able to use the new Costco Anywhere Visa cards starting June 20. No muss. Not much fuss (although some cardholders aren’t happy with the change). No additional application process for the new card and no credit pull.

    The new credit cards don’t have an annual fee, but Costco customers do have to pay the warehouse club’s membership fee of $55.what-costco-switch-means-2-u_Sm

    Already have a Visa? You’ll be able to use any Visa at Costco starting June 20.

    Until then, Costco shoppers paying with plastic will need to hang on to that American Express card. Costco AmEx transactions will cease after June 19.

    Richer rewards
    In addition to greater flexibility at the register (Visa is the largest card network in the U.S.), Citi is giving Costco customers better credit card rewards.

    Costco Visa cardholders will get 4 percent cash back on gas (up to $7,000 annually, then 1 percent after that), 3 percent on restaurants and certain travel purchases, 2 percent on purchases made at Costco and 1 percent on everything else.

    Under AmEx, cardholders received 3 percent on gas (up to $4,000 annually), 2 percent on restaurants and travel and 1 percent on everything else.

    Awards earned by Costco AmEx customers will be transferred to the new Visas after the switch.

    Credit card competition heats up
    Just weeks after news of the impending Costco switch to Visa, Walmart announced increased rewards for its credit cards and prepaid MoneyCards.

    These higher awards include 3 percent cash back on Walmart.com purchases, 2 percent on gas purchased at Walmart or Murphy gas stations, 1 percent on purchases made in-store and everywhere else.

    That’s up from $5 in cash back for $500 spent at Walmart, and 5 cents per gallon on gas at Walmart gas stations.

    Worth noting is that Costco rival Walmart’s Sam’s Club has its own cash back program similar to Costco’s new one — 5 percent cash back on gas at Sam’s Club, 3 percent cash back on dining and travel and 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Sam’s Club went through its own card network switch in 2014, shifting from Discover to MasterCard.

    Starting June 1, Bank of America increased cash rewards for BankAmericard cash rewards cardholders, adding wholesale and warehouse clubs to the 2 percent cash back category, which includes grocery stores. The quarterly cap on cash-back earnings also increased to $2,500 from $1,500 on purchases at grocery stores, wholesale/warehouse clubs and gas stations.

    And Chase’s Freedom Visa now includes wholesale clubs, including Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s, in the 5 percent cash back category through the end of the year. The 5 percent cash back on purchases at wholesale clubs was to end at the end of the quarter, which is June 30.

    The bottom line
    With increased payment flexibility for Costco customers, better rewards for cardholders and increased credit card competition, it’s a win-win-win for card users.

    What do you think of the card switch and rewards changes? Drop me a line. Let us hear from you.

    Full Story
  • Tom O'Connell

    Some restaurants switching to plastic only

    Cash once was king, but it’s being dethroned at some plastic-only restaurants.

    A 2014 study by financial services group TSYS found that 74 percent of customers of dine-in restaurants preferred to pay with a credit or debit card. Just 18 percent preferred cash.

    It’s also easier than ever for eateries to accept plastic, even food trucks, thanks to payment systems such as Square. Ninety-two percent of U.S. restaurants now take credit cards, according to 2015 data from Euromonitor.

    For these reasons — and because there’s less chance of robberies with card swipes instead of printed money in the registers — some restaurants are just dumping cash transactions altogether.

    Korean fusion chain Chi’Lantro in Austin, Texas, is going cashless this month. The local chain’s food trucks have been cashless for months for safety plastic-only-table-tent_Smreasons.

    Owner Jae Kim told Eater that though most of the local chain’s customers (85 percent) pay by credit or debit already, the shift to only plastic at all of Chi’Lantro’s rolling and sit-down restaurants is “a big risk for us.”

    Other restaurants accepting only cards and mobile payments include Split Bread in San Francisco and Bozzelli’s Deli & Pizza’s Washington, D.C., location.

    “Cash is archaic,” said Michael Bozzelli, co-owner of Bozzelli’s. “Going cashless allows us to expedite the transaction process.”

    Accepting plastic also increases sales, notes Anita Campbell, founder and publisher of Small Business Trends. Cards also boost tips. “Why? Simple: Consumers are not tied to what is in their wallets at the moment,” she writes.

    “When you pay cash, you can ‘feel’ the money leaving you,” writes money-management guru Dave Ramsey. “This is not true with credit cards. Flipping a credit card up on a counter registers nothing emotionally. A study of credit card use at McDonald’s found that people spent 47 percent more when using credit instead of cash.”

    At Chi’Lantro, signs noting the switch to cashless payments have been posted throughout the restaurants. Not everyone is pleased.

    Kim tells Austin television station KXAN that people have walked out the door when told of the policy, “because they just don’t agree with it.”

    “It may hurt our business in the beginning, but we think in the long term, it will really benefit everyone,” he says.

    For hungry boomers, cashless restaurants harkens back to actor Karl Malden’s advice in American Express commercials of the ’70s and ’80s: “Don’t leave home without it.”

    SEE ALSO: 3 groups slowing any shift to a cashless society in the U.S.

    Full Story
  • Dawn Papandrea

    Do you need credit when you retire?

    When you think about the need to have a good credit score, you probably associate it with buying a home, getting a good rate on an auto loan, and other “young adult” milestones. That’s probably why nearly half of baby boomers aged 51-70 said in a recent survey that they believe one’s credit score matters less after age 70.

    While that may be true in some cases, the survey by TransUnion (one of the three major credit bureaus) revealed some common misconceptions about the impact that credit standing can have on the lives of seniors.credit-important-seniors_Sm

    Among the findings, just 61 percent said that credit score was important for co-signing loans for adult children or grandchildren, and only 32 percent thought their score could affect their ability to move into a nursing home or long-term care facility.

    Despite those findings, as the population ages and life expectancy increases, maintaining a strong credit score throughout your life is becoming more important.

    “Good credit cannot only help them finance medical expenses and long-term care, but also help them support children, grandchildren and other family members as they take on middle-life expenses, like buying a house or paying for school,” Ken Chaplin, senior vice president for TransUnion, said in a news release.

    Keeping your credit in shape as you age is not unlike maintaining your own health. Here are some ways to keep your score young and vibrant:

    • Stay active. Just as you power walk, golf, or do pool aerobics, it’s important to flex your credit muscles regularly, too. The simplest way to do that is to use a credit card or two for small purchases each month, and pay the bill in full. You might designate a card for your gas, your groceries, or your prescriptions, for instance.
    • Get regular check-ups. Checking your three credit reports on a regular basis, at least once per year via annualcreditreport.com, will help ensure that warning signs of fraud or identity theft don’t go unnoticed. A routine exam will confirm that all of the accounts listed are accurate and up to date.
    • Get fit for your golden years. As you get older, you should keep aiming for as close to a debt-free lifestyle as possible. Keep paying all your bills on time, and work on eliminating any lingering credit card balances if you have them.
    • Start a healthy budget diet. As you approach your nonworking years, it’s a good idea to practice living on what your fixed income will be when you retire. Anything extra that you can put into savings and/or retirement accounts to help ensure that you don’t have to borrow will help give your credit status longevity.

    While you might not think that your credit score will come into play later in life, taking good care of it could serve you well should the day come when you need to sign for a loan or qualify for a great interest rate for something. In short, keeping up with your financial fitness regimen is something that can benefit you for a lifetime.

    SEE ALSO: 7 ways to keep your credit strong in your later years

    Full Story