The Federal Trade Commission recently released a new study that found a whopping 26 percent of people identified at least one error on their credit report. And it wasn't just people crying wolf — even the notoriously difficult credit bureaus agreed with the consumers 79 percent of the time and made at least some changes to their credit reports. About half of those identified errors resulted in a change in the consumer's credit score — meaning that by the credit bureaus' own admission, 13 percent of people had incorrect credit scores. Of course, when the FTC asked the consumers themselves, the picture got even worse. Around 63 percent of people that alerted the bureaus to credit report errors said the bureaus did not correct all of the erroneous information.
The study estimated that the credit bureaus report on at least 200 million consumers. That means that about 52 million people would probably find errors on their credit reports if everyone took the time to check them, and about 26 million people could easily have their credit scores increased by simply reporting those errors to the credit bureaus. If you add it all up, it's likely that Americans are paying billions in extra interest due to errors on their credit reports.
How your credit score affects your wallet
Your credit score is not just about whether you get approved for a credit card or loan. It also dictates what kind of interest rate you are offered or how much your credit limit will be. Many lenders have score cutoffs for certain rates or credit limits. If your score is 696 and their cutoff is 700, you will be missing out on the better interest rate by only 4 points, which means you will be paying extra interest for no reason. Fixing the errors on your credit report will help guarantee that you are getting the best interest rate or the highest credit limit possible. And of course, it will also give you the best chance at getting that credit card or loan in the first place.
Here's how to fix your errors
Contact the credit bureaus: You can contest any entry on your credit report yourself. You will need to fill out a separate dispute request for each credit bureau the error occurs on — either Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Each credit bureau has directions on how to file a dispute on their website. After the bureau receives the dispute, it will be noted on your credit report that the item is being investigated. If you want help filing the dispute, several credit report monitoring services offer help and advice when it comes to correcting errors on your credit report. Check out our reviews of the top credit monitoring services for full details or to sign up.
Follow up: According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the credit bureaus have 30 days (or a "reasonable" amount of time) to research your dispute. After the 30 days are up, they can either verify the item (meaning it was correct and no changes will be made), modify the item to make it accurate or delete the item. They can also categorize your dispute as "frivolous," which means that the credit bureau does not believe that you are serious. If you are not satisfied with the credit bureau's investigation or the outcome, you can ask them to include a statement of the dispute in your credit report and to make it available to anyone who views your report, although this will cost a fee. If you are convinced there is a meaningful error that the bureaus refuse to fix, you should consider getting help. While there are a lot of scams out there, the best credit repair services can provide you relatively inexpensive legal assistance in doing everything the law allows to get those errors fixed. We reviewed the best (and least scammy) credit repair services and give you full details about each in our credit repair service reviews.
Continue to monitor your credit: Errors can occur on your credit report at any time. It's always a good idea to monitor your credit on a regular basis. There are many credit report monitoring services that will give you copies of your credit reports and updated credit scores, watch your credit report for you and alert you whenever there are changes to your reports or scores. This is also an effective way to protect against identity theft.
If you want to keep an eye on your credit report for the possibility of future mistakes, you can check out our reviews of the top credit monitoring services and find out which ones have free trials and the best deals on credit monitoring.
With the economy improving, credit card issuers are trying harder than ever to attract new cardholders with good credit, offering extremely generous introductory bonuses to help sway you to their card. Still, with all the credit cards out there, how do you know which ones have the best bonuses? Luckily, we did the research for you. We looked at all the top rewards credit cards and found the cards with the best introductory bonuses, ranging from $400 to spend on anything you want all the way up to the equivalent of $680 in airline flights. Check them out to find which card bonuses sound best to you.
Best Overall Intro Bonus Credit Card:
Barclay Arrival World Mastercard | APPLY NOW
This card is kind of insane when it comes to bonus features. First, you get 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months, which is $400 that the card is pretty much just giving you, and redemption is simple as you can just use the $400 to pay for anything on your credit card statement. On top of that, The Barclay Arrival World Mastercard gives 2x the points on every purchase, which is higher than most other travel cards. And beyond that, you get another 10% bonus on any points you use for travel, so if you spend 10,000 points on travel, you get 1,000 points back. The only downside is the $89 annual fee, but even that is waived for the first year. This card took the top prize as best travel rewards credit card in our travel rewards card analysis, so chances are you’ll want to make this the most-used card in your wallet, even after you redeem the $400 intro bonus.
The Runner-Up: Chase Sapphire Preferred | APPLY NOW
This is another great all-around card, although this introductory bonus requires more spending. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 40,000 bonus points just like the Barclay Arrival World Mastercard, but only when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months. The card also offers 2x the points when you spend on travel and dining, but only 1x what you spend on everything else. It has a slightly higher annual fee of $95, but that is also waived for the first year.
Branded Hotel Credit Cards: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express | APPLY NOW
Branded hotel credit cards are often more tricky when it comes to points, since most have different tiers of hotels and the number of points it costs to stay varies from tier to tier. So 20,000 points may get you a night at a Tier 2 hotel but not a Tier 6 hotel. Regardless, hotel credit cards are usually pretty generous with their points.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express also has a great introductory offer. You get a 10,000-points bonus with first purchase and another 15,000-points bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months, which is equal to about $575, according to our calculations from our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 4-5 points for each $1 you spend on Starwood Preferred Guest hotels and resorts. This card does have an annual fee of $65, but it is waived during the first year.
The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase also offers a great intro deal. You get 50,000 bonus points (or $450) after spending $1,000 in first 3 months, plus 1 free night stay after account approval. You also get 5 points for every $1 you spend at Marriott hotels. The annual fee is also waived for the first year, although it is $85 every year after that. Or you could try the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card. You get 2 free nights after spending $2,500 in first 4 months. It also awards a huge 10 points per $1 spent at participating hotels, which can help rack up the points. However, there is a $95 annual fee, so beware of that.
Branded Airline Credit Cards:
United MileagePlus Explorer Card | APPLY NOW
Branded airline cards are usually pretty generous when it comes to handing out introductory bonus points, mostly to get customers to commit to flying with their airline. But that’s good news for us.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a great airline card – you’ll get 30,000 miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months, which equates to about $510, according to our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 2 miles for every dollar you spend on United flights, can enjoy priority boarding, and your first checked bag is free. Plus there are no foreign transaction fees so if you travel internationally you can save a ton of money. There is a $95 annual fee, but the first year fee is waived.
If you like to fly the friendly skies of American Airlines, Citi Platinum Select/AAdvantage Visa Signature Card members get 40,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, which equates to about $680, according to our travel rewards credit card analysis. They also earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines flights, receive priority boarding, and their first checked bag is free. In addition users earn 10% of their redeemed miles back, up to 10,000 miles each year. The annual fee for this card is $95, so take that into account
If you are a Delta flyer instead, you can try the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. They offer 30,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months, which equates to about $180, according to our travel rewards credit card analysis. You also get 2 points for every $1 you spend on Delta flights, priority boarding, your first checked bag is free and you’ll save 20% on in-flight meals, drinks and movies. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.
There are myriad challenges in starting a business from your home. Just getting the infrastructure in place to conduct business can seem like a daunting task, much less actually creating a successful operation. Fortunately, the proliferation of cloud services has been a boon to small businesses. Everything from legal services to phone and fax to computer backup can now be done over the Internet. Not only does this make these services more convenient and quicker to set up, but they are also usually much cheaper and easier to use.
At NextAdvisor.com, we’ve tested and reviewed many of the best cloud services for small businesses. Here are some of our top picks to get your home-based business up and running quickly and inexpensively:
The legal aspects of setting up a business can be confusing, and hiring a lawyer can be costly. Deciding on the optimal legal structure can have enormous tax and liability implications down the road, so there are some critical choices to make. Fortunately, online legal services have made the process simple, painless and cheap. These services can help you determine the best structure for your individual situation, then walk you through the set up, file the paperwork and provide you with any additional legal documents you might need, all for a low fixed price. If you are looking for a more long-term option, some of the services charge a monthly fee for full access to their legal document library and other features, as well as discounts on local lawyers that can help you with any more complicated legal issues you have.
In most cases, VoIP (a.k.a. Internet phone service) is much cheaper and more efficient than regular phone service. For example, ATT’s price for unlimited local and long distance calling for business is $45/line each month, which doesn’t include add-ons. Leading business VoIP providers offer plans for less than $20 month that include a wide range of free features like conference calling, voicemail to email transcription, call-forwarding and call-hunting, and an auto-attendant for answering and routing calls. The best part is that most of these services don’t require a contract so you can cancel or change your plan at any time.
The fax machine seems like a vestige from the ancient technology past that should have gone the way of its contemporaries like the floppy disk and the black and white monitor decades ago. Yet all too often, either sending or receiving a fax is essential to getting business done. Luckily, the cloud has eliminated the need for bulky and expensive fax machines. Internet fax services are cheaper, greener and far less of a hassle. No separate phone line is required (don’t worry – you still get your own fax number). Incoming faxes go directly to your email as PDFs or other file types of your choosing. You can send outgoing faxes however you like, including directly from documents on your computer, from pictures snapped with your smart phone or scans from your printer.
Financing Your Business
If you walk into a bank and ask for a loan to get your small business started, you’re likely to get laughed out of the building. Yet go online and apply for one of the bank’s credit cards? If you have good credit, you’ll probably be approved. Business credit cards have provided the initial funding to millions of businesses. The right card will give you both the most rewards for your expenses and a nice 0% intro APR, which functions as an interest-free loan. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that most of the consumer protections for credit card holders required by the CARD Act, such as limits on fees and increased interest rates, do not apply to business credit cards. And since you’d have to provide a personal guarantee on your new business’s credit card anyway, you may want to consider getting a personal credit card to use for business expenses.
File Backup and Storage
Losing files or even entire hard drives can mean the loss of months or more of hard work, something any new business can ill afford. Online backup is an easy, hassle-free way to keep all of your company’s important files in the cloud. You don’t have to purchase any hardware or worry about remembering to back things up. Your files are securely uploaded to servers in the cloud while you’re doing your normal work – it all happens in the background. Starting at just a few dollars a month, this is cheap insurance for your valuable files.
Even if your business has nothing to do with the Internet, potential customers will want to check out your web site, so you should probably have one. Fortunately, these days web hosting providers make setting up your site simple and cheap. Even if you don’t know anything about web design, many hosts have great web site builders for novices that can help you get a professional-looking site up quickly. And you can do it all for less than five dollars a month, including the cost of buying a domain, which is free with many leading hosts. Your best choice for a host will depend a lot on your needs, so some good web hosting reviews will be helpful in making the best selection. At NextAdvisor.com, we looked at the top web hosts and rated them on everything from price to average uptime, about which we’ve collected over three years of data.
Mailing and Shipping
Yes, even those dreaded trips to the post office can be replaced by the cloud. Online stamps services let you buy and print your own custom postage and shipping labels. Better yet, if you just need to contact your customers, an email marketing service can help you deliver messages for practically nothing.
Starting a business from home is hard, but don’t make it harder than it has to be. Take advantage of the ease of use and cost savings that the Internet can offer for some of the basic services your business needs. You’ll be left with more time and more money to spend on the other things that really matter.
Q: How do I redeem my miles with the Barclay Arrival World Mastercard?
A: The Barclay ArrivalTM World Mastercard® (Earn 2x on All Purchases) makes it easy to redeem your miles for flights, hotels, car rentals or even statement credits. Cardholders earn 2 miles for every dollar spent, and 1,000 miles is equal to $10 in travel. So if you spend $500 on a purchase, you'll earn 1,000 miles or $10 worth of travel.
After you've accrued miles, just book your travel any way you want – online, over the phone or even with a travel agent. All you need to do is use your Barclay Arrival World Mastercard to pay for the travel, how you book it doesn't matter.
Once you've booked the trip, use your previously accrued miles for a statement credit toward the travel you booked. This means you don't even have to have enough miles to pay for the whole trip – you can use the miles you have and then pay cash for the rest. So if you have 20,000 miles (which equals $200) and your travel cost is $300 you can "spend" your 20,000 miles and the pay the $100 difference. You can even use your miles to pay for someone else's travel, as long as you use your Barclay Arrival World Mastercard to pay for the travel arrangements.
The Barclay Arrival World Mastercard is our #1 ranked travel card, and came in first place in our 2013 Travel Rewards Analysis survey with a flight and hotel point value of $2 for every $100 spent. We think this card is a great value because in addition to offering it's users 2 points per $1 spent, cardholders will earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 month – equal to a $400 bonus. In addition, if you spend your earned miles on travel you'll earn an extra 10% in miles. So if you spend 10,000 in miles on travel you'll receive a 1,000 mile bonus! The travel bonus is not a one time thing, it is available at all times so you can always earn the 10% bonus. Once you earn it, the bonus will be deposited in your rewards bank and you can spend it however you like.
Overall, the Barclay Arrival World Mastercard is a great choice if you're in the market for a travel reward card, or even a regular rewards card since you can redeem your miles for statement credits (like cash). And if you travel internationally you won't need to pay foreign transactions fees, which can save you a lot of money.
Men and women are simply different animals when it comes to spending money. From what they buy to when they buy it, sociologists have mapped out the differences extensively over the years. But the gender gap extends beyond what they are buying; men and women also utilize their credit cards differently. Men are more likely to take out a cash advance, while women are more likely to carry a balance. Where else do they differ? This graphic paints a picture of the key differences between men and women when it comes to credit cards.
Q: My kid keeps bugging me about the new Justin Bieber prepaid card? Is it worth it?
A: It depends on what kind of debit card you are looking for. The SpendSmart prepaid card, the card that Justin Bieber is promoting, is a solid debit card, especially for kids. There is no setup fee, like other prepaid cards, and the monthly fee is only $3.95. It also boasts a low ATM withdrawal fee of $1.50, which is cheaper than most other prepaid cards.
The biggest advantage for parents is that the SpendSmart card lets parents block kids from making purchases in places they shouldn't like liquor stores and online gambling sites.
Looking for a prepaid card with even fewer fees? Check out Serve from American Express. It has no setup fee and no monthly fee, which could save you around $50 a year. You also get one free ATM withdrawal a month, and the fee after that is only $2. The only issue with the Serve card is that it is only accepted where American Express is accepted, which cuts down on the number of place you can use it.
Q: Can I direct deposit my paycheck onto a prepaid debit card?
A: Most of the prepaid debit cards we review let user direct deposit their paycheck free of change. There are several advantages to this, including convenience and the speed with which you get your paycheck funds – especially if you normally get your check mailed to you. Additionally, some cards charge to add funds so if a card offers free direct deposit you can save a substantial amount of money over time.
These are the debit cards we review that offer free direct deposit:
Serve® from American Express: Our number one rated debit card features free monthly fees, mobile apps for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and great American Express perks like purchase protection, roadside assistance and entertainment access. Users can add money to their card via direct deposit, linked bank account, debit card, credit card, or cash using a MoneyPak.
PayPalTM Prepaid Mastercard®: Best for current or soon-to-be PayPal customers as it requires a PayPal account to access its online account tools and other features. However, if you want to be a PayPal initiate they offer a linked savings account with a high 5% APY. You can add money to the card with direct deposit, the NetSpend Reload Network, bank transfers and reload packs.
PrePaid Visa® Classic RushCard: Good all-around card with extra perks like a free prescription discount card and discounted health care plans. This card is also features a full-fledged website and mobile apps for the iPhone and Android. You can add money with direct deposit, PayPal, cash deposit, check/money order and bank transfer.
Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card: Offers users great online and mobile tools (iPhone and Android) along with up to 55% in prescription savings and a limited rewards program. Users can add money via direct deposit, bank account transfers, PayPal, another NetSpend card or cash/check at a partner location.
Account Now Gold Visa® Prepaid Card: A basic debit card that provides online account access (but no mobile apps) and features a $15 bonus for using direct deposit. The extensive fee structure means that depending on how you use this card it might be costly over time. You can add funds via direct deposit, or with cash at an eligible store.
READYDebit Platinum Visa® Prepaid Card: A more expensive monthly fee than other cards we review, but it offers a free credit score and score tracking with direct deposit. The credit information is a nice add-on, but you must use direct deposit to get it and the credit score brand isn't mentioned, so it's hard to say how valuable the data is. You can add money with direct deposit, savings/checking account transfer, MoneyPak, or from another READYDebit card.
While most consumers know that APR stands for "Annual Percentage Rate" and APY stands for "Annual Percentage Yield," there is still confusion pertaining to what these are used for. When applied to loans and savings accounts, APRs are interest rates that require you to pay extra money, and APYs indicate a rate of return that makes you extra money, respectively. We break it down below:
An APR is the yearly interest rate you will pay if you carry a balance on your credit card, student loan, mortgage, etc. Since many of our readers come to the site to read our thorough credit card reviews, I will now discuss how APRs work for credit cards:
- One credit card may have a few different APRs. There may be one percentage rate for purchases, a different rate for balance transfers and another for cash advances.
- A credit card may offer a different APR for a user with average credit than for a user with a good or excellent credit history. Those with better credit histories are generally considered more creditworthy and qualify for a lower APR. These APR ranges are displayed as "x% – y% APR" in the card information and Terms and Conditions.
- Many credit cards offer an introductory APR, like a 0% APR for the first few months. If you get a card with a 0% introductory APR, you won't be paying any interest on your balance during the intro period. Keep in mind that this introductory APR will generally go up after the introductory rate expires.
- Consumers with good/excellent credit can usually qualify for these low introductory rates.
- There are "fixed" rate APRs that rarely change in credit cards, as well as "variable" rate APRs that change more often.
- Credit card companies are required to notify you if your fixed rate APR changes; however, they are not required to do so with a "variable" rate card, so you should always be paying attention to your interest rate.
- Learn more about credit cards and try our free credit card chooser to see which card is best for you.
On the other hand, APYs are much simpler to understand. An APY is the rate at which you will earn money on the balance in your savings account over the course of a year. Here's the lowdown on APYs and savings accounts:
- The higher your APY, the more money you will earn on the money you've put in your savings account.
- Different accounts pay interest in different ways. For example, with the American Express online savings account interest is compounded daily and credited monthly, while the Capital One 360 account compounds interest monthly and credits monthly as well.
- Some accounts offer higher APYs for people with higher balances, like the Everbank savings account which has an introductory APY of 1.25% for 6 months, and 1.01% thereafter, but your balance must be at least $5,000 in order to dodge their monthly fees.
- Online savings accounts offer higher APYs than regular banks because they don't need to spend as much money on employees and branches.
- Most of the top ranked online savings accounts also offer zero fees and no minimum balance requirements.
- Compare all of the top online savings accounts here and try the free online savings account calculator to see which savings account will make you the most money.
Q: Which secured credit card is best for international travel?
A: The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is a great card for traveling outside the U.S. because it does not charge any foreign transaction fees. A foreign transaction fee is a charge that many credit card issuers add onto the tab when you make a purchase outside the U.S., and can add an extra 2% – 3% onto the price. When you use the Capital One Secured Mastercard though, you won't have to pay this charge — a great way to save money when you travel.
A secured credit card like the Capital One Secured Mastercard is a terrific choice for anyone with a limited (or no) credit history, or for those who have past or current credit issues. It works and looks just like a regular credit card, except that it uses a security deposit made by the user as collateral for the credit line. And the Capital One Secured Mastercard automatically reports your payment history to each of the 3 credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — which means that if you make your payments on time you can help improve your credit score.
All of these features make the Capital One Secured Mastercard our #1 pick for anyone with poor credit. Or you can take a look at all of our Bad Credit Credit Card Reviews and pick a secured card that fits your needs.
Need a little extra spending cash for the summer months? We are giving away a total of $500 to 4 of our lucky Google+ followers! We will be drawing 4 winners over the course of a month. The first winner, picked March 22, will win $50. The second winner, picked on March 29, will win $100. The third winner, picked on April 5, will win $150. And the last winner, picked on April 12, will win $200. You must follow all instructions below to enter. Good luck!
First, follow us on Google+:
Next, answer a few questions for us:
(OPTIONAL) Enter your email to sign up for our newsletter
Terms and Conditions for NextAdvisor $500 Giveaway
- To be eligible, participants must fill out the survey by the closing date, April 11, 2013 at midnight PST.
- No purchase is necessary to participate in this contest. Participants who don’t have Facebook or Internet access can send a postcard with their name and address to 1110 Burlingame Ave. Suite 201, Burlingame, CA 94010
- Anyone over the age of 18
- Each participant may enter only once. All additional entries will be disqualified
- Participants must be citizens of the United States and must have a valid ID and U.S. mailing address to apply.
- Contest opens: March 13, 2013
- Contest closing: April 11, 2013
- Drawing of winner: March 22, 2011; March 29, 2011; April 5, 2011; Grand Prize: April 12, 2011
- There will be a $50 prize (March 22), a $100 prize (March 29), a $150 prize (April 5) and a $200 prize (April 12). (All prizes are in USD.)
- The Sponsor and Promoter of this Contest is NextAdvisor Inc.
- Participants may not be employees of NextAdvisor, connected advertising and promotional agencies and their respective affiliates and associates or such employees' immediate family members and persons with whom such employees reside.
- NextAdvisor retains the right to extend or alter the contest including closing date without prior notification.
- Incomplete entries will be disqualified.
- Proof of identity must be produced on request.
- Decision of the winner is final. No correspondence will be entered into except with the winning entrants.
- By claiming the prize, the winners authorize the use, without additional compensation, of his or her name for use in promotional/advertising efforts in any medium (including and without limitation, radio broadcasts, newspapers and other publications in television or film releases, slides, videotape, and distribution over the internet) which NextAdvisor may deem appropriate.
- In accepting the prize, the winner acknowledges that NextAdvisor may not be held liable for any loss or damage associated with accepting or using the prize.
- By submitting an entry, participants acknowledge their acceptance and understanding of these rules.
- Any false information provided within the context of the contest by any participant concerning identity, mailing address, telephone number, email address, ownership of rights or non-compliance with these or the like may result in the immediate elimination of the participant from the contest.
- NextAdvisor reserves the right in its sole and unfettered discretion at its sole discretion to choose winners.
- NextAdvisor further reserves the right to disqualify any entry that it believes in its sole and unfettered discretion infringes the rights of any third party, otherwise does not comply with these Official Rules, or violates law.
- NextAdvisor further reserves the right to disqualify any participant who tampers with the submission process or any other part of the contest. Any attempt by a participant to deliberately damage any web site or undermine the legitimate operation of the contest is a violation of criminal and civil laws and should such an attempt be made and NextAdvisor reserves the right to seek damages from any such participant to the fullest extent of the applicable law.
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- This contest is subject to all federal laws of the United States of America. These rules shall be governed by, subject to, and construed in accordance with federal laws. If any provision(s) of these Rules are held to be invalid or unenforceable, all remaining provisions hereof will remain in full force and effect.
Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most of the services we review. Our editors thoroughly research and whenever possible test each service we review and offer their honest opinions about each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.