The Checkout

Archive: Credit Issues

The Economy that Stole Christmas

Every fall, retailers try to lower the bar for expectations of holiday performance. They warn of tough times and slow sales, and then cheer when -- surprise! -- things aren't all that bad on Dec. 26. But this year is different. This year, retailers have legitimate reasons to worry, just like the rest of us. In a story this morning, I wrote about the real pressures that retailers are facing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The industry reported additional sales numbers today that feed those worries. Abercrombie & Fitch said sales at stores open at least a...

 

By Ylan Mui | October 9, 2008; 03:55 PM ET | Comments (2)

Chatting It Up with Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart held its first online chat with shoppers Thursday on its new Web site, www.makeyourdollarstretch.com. The guest chatter was Ellie Kay, who dug herself out of $40,000 in debt and now writes books about saving money. The chat was the latest example of Wal-Mart's attempts to refresh its image under the new slogan, "Save Money. Live Better." (The old motto was "Always low prices. Always." Just in case you missed it.) For two hours, Kay fielded questions on everything from how to start a budget to paying for college tuition to filing bankruptcy -- though not in such a depressing...

 

By Ylan Mui | June 20, 2008; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

Credit Where It's Due

Have you ever had your credit card interest rate increase for no apparent reason? Have you ever been charged interest on a late fee? Or have you ever been charged an overlimit fee twice for going over your limit just once? If so, you're not alone, and several lawmakers have taken notice. In recent months, one member of Congress after another has introduced a bill to curb "unfair" and "deceptive" practices by credit card companies. The latest bill was unveiled this week by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich). Their Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure...

 

By Kathy Lally | May 2, 2008; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (11)

Are You Saving Enough?

This past weekend, my husband and I worked on our taxes. (This is early for us, but when you have a baby due next week, you have a powerful antidote to the procrastinating tendencies that normally kick in.) Eyeballing our form, my better half guessed we'll probably have to pay this year, after a couple years of receiving refunds. This wasn't a surprise. We went to a financial planner who assured us it was better to change our withholding so that we could have money now, as opposed to letting Uncle Sam hold onto it until tax refund time. But...

 

By Annys Shin | February 27, 2007; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (14)

Please Act Responsibly Most of the Time

Coming to a screen near you: The payday lending industry asks you not to borrow so much money from them. The industry's lead trade group, a.k.a. the Community Financial Services Association of America, yesterday debuted a $10 million national advertising campaign to better educate consumers about when--and when not--to take out a payday loan. In the ad: Images of average Joes and Janes going about their daily lives flash across the screen. CFSA president Darrin Andersen says: "We want you to always to use payday advances responsibly. Payday advances are never designed to be a long-term financial solution. It is...

 

By Annys Shin | February 22, 2007; 10:30 AM ET | Comments (23)

Student Loan Aid May Be on the Way

Winter break is drawing to a close at many colleges and universities and there's movement afoot to lower the cost of higher education. For the 200,000 people the U.S. Department of Education estimates put off or give up on going to college because they can't afford it, the newly installed Democratic majority in the House may work to cut the interest rate on need-based student loans and expanding Pell Grants and tax credits, according to Gannett News Service's Maureen Groppe. Whether any of those proposal will survive in the Senate or a presidential veto remains to be seen. For those...

 

By Annys Shin | January 8, 2007; 09:30 AM ET | Comments (29)

Congress to Hear Earful on Credit Report Errors

Congress is about to get an earful on how hard it is to fix errors in credit reports thanks to incoming House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank. Last week, Frank said he plans to hold hearings on the matter after reading a Boston Globe story on the "glacial and ineffectual response of the three giant keepers of consumer credit records -- Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion -- to any errors in their files, even those that appear to result from fraud." Such errors can wreak havoc on consumers who are denied credit as a result or end up hunted by collection...

 

By Annys Shin | January 3, 2007; 10:23 AM ET | Comments (31)

Credit Monitors: A False Sense of Security

Credit-monitoring services are not all they're cracked up to be, the New York Times reported yesterday. Credit monitoring has become a lucrative business for the big three credit reporting agencies and large banks as consumers try to protect themselves against identity theft. The big three typically sell consumer credit data to big banks for 20 cents to $1 per report, the Times reported. That same information -- your information -- can be repackaged and sold to you for credit-monitoring purposes for $3 to $16 per month. Wall Street analysts estimate credit monitoring is a $900 million business that will grow...

 

By Annys Shin | December 13, 2006; 09:25 AM ET | Comments (20)

Plastic with Parental Controls

Two years ago, MasterCard introduced a Hello Kitty debit card targeted at girls ages 10 to 14. Now, it's offering the Allow Card, "a Prepaid MasterCard designed for Kids ... and the parents who love them!" So the Web site tells us. The card's target audience, by the way, are kids as young as 10, and as old as 19. According to the press release that came our way yesterday, it can do wonders such as help younguns "get a grasp of their allowance and finances, establish a better sense of trust with their parents and learn valuable life lessons,...

 

By Annys Shin | November 17, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Up, Up, Up With Those Bank Fees

Death by a thousand cuts. That's sort of how bank fees feel. Two dollars here. Ten dollars there. It adds up...for banks, that is, which rely on fees for a bigger chunk of their bottom line. Sure you could avoid many of these fees if you always use your bank's ATM, never overdraw your account and maintain the required minimum balance. But banks count on the vagaries of life such as needing cash right when you're nowhere near an ATM for your bank, or an emergency expense that leads to a bounced check. And guess what? You're probably paying more...

 

By Annys Shin | November 2, 2006; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (57)

Designed to Confuse

Credit card companies don't talk down to you. Instead, they assume you can read at a 10th to 12th grade level or higher. But don't take it as a compliment. A Government Accounting Office study released yesterday listed the required reading level of credit card agreements as one of several ways in which the top six credit card issuers leave consumers in the dark about practices such as charging interest based on debt that has been paid off and punishing consumers for late payments with penalties of as much as $39 and higher interest rates. The study looked at credit...

 

By Annys Shin | October 12, 2006; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (33)

The Identity Theft Business

By now, most people have been frightened with statistics about the prevalence of identity theft. Or they have at least seen those Citibank commercials in which identity thieves, speaking through the mouths of their victims, wax on about the joys of their ill-gotten loot. You couldn't ask for a better marketing campaign for the cottage industry that has sprung up to protect consumers from identity snatchers. According to the New York Times, 10 million pay about $100 a year to protect their credit information. That adds up to a $1 billion industry. There are credit monitoring services, offered by the...

 

By Annys Shin | October 11, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (22)

Saving Private Ryan from Bankruptcy

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a story about the Pentagon and Congress going after payday lenders that target military personnel. A payday loan, in case you're wondering, is typically a two-week loan of $500 or less that doesn't require a credit check. To get one, all you need is a checking account and a pay stub. Fees can be high, adding up to an annual percentage rate of 390 percent or more. Department of Defense brass and consumer groups are convinced such high fees help trap service members in debt. Payday lenders say they're just helping people who...

 

By Annys Shin | September 28, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (55)

Watch Out for The Credit Watchers

Before I begin, a little housekeeping. Thanks to the reader who clarified that "ein lo sechel" is Hebrew for "he has no sense." Lots of expertise out there on ads for FMNV in schools. Thanks to reader DJV9973 who tried to explain why the payoff is so small for schools that allow ads for FMNV. "I suspect that advertising for FMNV is largely comprised of signs on vending machines and advertising distributed through other media such as newspapers, magazines and closed-circuit television broadcasting equipment. Schools don't receive money for the vending machine advertisements, but they do receive money for the...

 

By Annys Shin | September 22, 2006; 07:14 AM ET | Comments (14)

Buy Your Way to Enlightenment

Now you can be One with your credit card. New age publisher and yoga video distributor Conscious Enlightenment LLC and Visa have teamed up to bring you the Enlightenment Card. Its motto: Changing the World with Every Point You Earn. The card is imprinted with different soothing images, including the face of Buddha, a.k.a the man who gave up his wordly possessions in pursuit of spiritual salvation. Priceless. "We figured people are going to have the credit cards no matter what. This is a solution that allows people to earn yoga classes or yoga retreats, make a difference in them...

 

By Annys Shin | September 14, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

Reward Card Challenges

Today, there are rewards credit cards for just about anything. Just by using your card you can earn cash or discounts for buying books, gas, cars, toys, pet supplies, crafts, trips, coffee, etc. But sometimes, consumers have complained that these cards are just not very rewarding. Cardweb.com, a Web site that monitors the credit-card industry, reports on a new survey by Disney Rewards Visa (another rewards program, of course), which found that while 41 percent of moms have rewards credit cards, 53 percent of this group have not redeemed their points. Why? The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that...

 

By | August 30, 2006; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (25)

Borrowers Beware of Credit Card Offers

Before you sign up for that latest, greatest credit-card offer--you know, the one that promises a low- or no-interest rate on a balance transferred from an existing credit card--make sure you're aware of what you may be getting yourself into. A lot of fine print in the offer could make it unattractive. That's the advice of two credit-card experts who have been reviewing the latest solicitations flooding your mailboxes. First, even if the offer is for low interest or zero percent interest on the transferred sum, nearly all have a fee for making the balance transfer. It's typically 3...

 

By | July 26, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Debt Collectors: The Good, the Bad...

Debt collectors are good for you--and the economy! I bet you didn't know that. Neither did I until I read the latest study from ACA International, the association that represents debt collectors. Normally I would throw such a study away, discounting it as self-serving dribble. But the study's findings are so intriguing I had to share them. And of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts on them: According to the study done for ACA by PricewaterhouseCoopersLLP: * The number of employees in the third-party debt collection industry has grown from 70,000 in 1990 to 150,000 in 2005. * The...

 

By | July 12, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (44)

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Hold Policies

If you carefully monitor your bank account or credit-card bill online, you may be spotting some surprising and disturbing fees--especially after buying gas. A colleague recently complained about an extra $1 charge she spotted the day after she filled her tank. The charge disappeared the next day. She was actually lucky. As gasoline tops $3 a gallon, there are reports that consumers are finding $50 to $80 holds on their bank accounts or credit cards after they buy gas, at least until the actual transaction is processed. For some consumers, those holds could result bounced checks or maxed credit limits....

 

By | May 5, 2006; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (28)

Protect Yourself From Overdraft Protection

District writer Andrew Trotter admits he's not the most careful person when it comes to balancing a checkbook. After he bounced a couple of checks a year ago, his bank suggested he sign up for overdraft protection through a bank-issued credit-card. In his case, if there was not enough money in his account to cover a check, his credit card would automatically make a cash advance (rounded to the next $100) to his bank account. "I was encouraged to use this not just as a backstop but as a convenience so I could write checks without worrying about my balance...

 

By | May 1, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (42)

The Not-So-Rewarding Credit Card

If you're using a credit-card that offers a cash-back award and you don't pay it off in full every month, you may want to consider whether the card's worth keeping. Why? Many of these cards have significantly boosted their interest rates in the past few months -- way more than other credit-cards, says Justin McHenry, research director for IndexCreditCards.com Credit Card Monitor, which tracks hundreds of credit cards. "For people who don't carry a balance," the interest rate hike won't be a concern, McHenry said. But for those who do, "what you get back in cash may not make up...

 

By | April 20, 2006; 06:48 AM ET | Comments (11)

Ripped Up Over Credit

Rob Cockerham is a longtime blogger from Sacramento. On cockeyed.com, the 37-year-old digital printer/Web editor has a lot of fun, pulling pranks (such as putting phony menus in some TGIF restaurants) and conducting "science experiments" (dissecting a Hot Pocket). His specialty, though, is determining how much is inside a particular product. (A package of ramen, for example, has enough noodles to add up to 170 feet when each noodle is stretched out. I know you needed to know that.). Cockerham's curiosity knows no bounds, as he seems to test anything and everything. So, it's no surprise he decided to see...

 

By | April 12, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (22)

Bankruptcy Confusion

The new bankruptcy law, passed just three months ago, has created a lot of confusion. Meanwhile, a lot of age-old myths about bankruptcy continue. For example, there's the perception that bankruptcy will give consumers a chance to start over with their credit. That is not necessarily the case--bankruptcy stays on a credit report for seven to 10 years--impacting a consumer's credit profile. That, in turn, can lead to higher interest rates and perhaps even some difficulties in getting a job. Another myth: All debts can be discharged in bankruptcy. The truth: Certain debts such as child support, student loans and...

 

By | January 17, 2006; 06:45 AM ET | Comments (5)

 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company