The pros and cons of credit cards

This was originally published on Monday, August 21, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Almost everyone uses a credit card these days especially with the boom of online retail. You can’t rent a car or make a hotel reservation without one.

The ease of swiping your card makes it too easy to pay bills or cover you in case of an emergency. This ease of use can also land you in deep debt. Before making the decision to get a credit card, consider these pros and cons.

Pros

  • Purchasing power: the power to make a purchase while traveling overseas, online, by phone and of course in the store. Many of the large credit card issuers like Visa and Master Card are accepted nearly everywhere.
  • Financial backup: In case you have an unexpected event like a busted pipe in your kitchen, your credit card can be used to pay for parts and, in some cases, a plumber without going to an ATM. They can also help in case of a health care emergency or an expensive auto repair.
  • Rewards: Some cards will reward you for using their credit card for every-day purchases such as gas or groceries. Others will reward you when you travel or award cash back as an incentive.
  • Credit score: If you use your card wisely it will certainly help your credit history. It can also help repair your credit by showing how responsible you are by making your payments on time.
  • Expense record: Especially when you are traveling, a credit card can help you keep track of your expenses
  • Pay later: It has happened to the best of us, and we run short of cash and need to buy groceries or fuel. You are able to make your purchase and pay it off later.
  • Protection: Credit cards allow you to dispute billing errors and some even provide insurance for expensive purchases. Most credit cards are now equipped with an EVM chip. A Europay, MasterCard and Visa chip is a global standard for credit cards to authenticate and secure transactions. The EVM chip is much harder to hack than a swipe strip. In the case of a fraudulent transaction, the card holder is usually protected.

Cons

  • Interest: A high annual percentage rate can send you deep into debt if you do not make significant monthly payments or pay your balance off.
  • More usage: Studies have shown that people tend to purchase more when they use a credit card. Some feel compelled to spend more than what they have.
  • Late fees: If you do not make a payment you incur a late fee. Although it may be $30 to $50, it adds up quickly if you repeat this habit. Sometimes consumers will allow the balance to roll over for several months racking up interest and late fees.
  • Bad credit: Studies have shown that many people fall into serious debt due to poor credit card habits. Carrying a large amount of debt and acquiring too much debt can ruin your credit score.

After weighing the pros and cons and understanding the type of credit card that is suitable for you and your lifestyle, remember to keep track of your purchases, avoid overspending and make timely payments to avoid extra fees. Use your card with reputable businesses and if your card is lost or stolen, report it to your credit card company as soon as possible.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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Variety of credit cards from which to choose

This was originally published on Monday, August 21, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

There are many types of credit cards and not all cards are for everyone. Before you begin applying for a credit card, you should check your credit score to ensure that there are not errors that could prevent you from getting the best interest rates.

Most people feel that the credit card company is the most important factor — Visa, Mastercard, etc. Although that should be factored into your decision, here are other types of cards you ought to consider:

Standard credit card. These are no frills and no rewards, just credit. If you simply want a credit card to make an occasional purchase, then this card is for you. They are relatively easy to understand and most financial institutions offer this type of card.

Usually there are different interest rates for standard purchases, cash advances and balance transfers. Your interest rates are determined by your credit history.

Rewards Credit Card. These cards encourage you to use their credit cards when you make purchases by rewarding you with cash back, points or merchandise.

  • Cash back. This reward is getting a certain percentage of your purchase back as cash. Most cards offer 1 percent to 3 percent for general purchases and sometimes a higher percentage at a certain store for certain purchases, such as groceries. Look for a card with low or no annual fees.
  • Travel. If you are an avid traveler, this card may be of interest to you. Many airlines team up with a bank to offer an exclusive airline credit card. Making purchases with these cards earns mileage or discounts with partner hotels and rental car chains. Some may waive baggage fees or access to airport membership clubs. Accumulated points can also be used to upgrade seating on a trip.
  • Merchandise. You receive points for your purchases, which can be exchanged for merchandise that the credit card issuer sells. These items can be small, like a watch, to larger items such as tablets, cameras and even jewelry.

Student credit cards. This card is designed for college students. Students usually must be enrolled in a four-year university. These cards usually have a lower interest and lower credit limits. Students should be careful they don’t go overboard and get into debt they cannot pay off with little to no income.

Premium cards. These are offered to those with high income and excellent credit. They usually enjoy perks such as personal shoppers, hotel room upgrades, access to airport lounges and priority airline boarding. These perks usually come with high annual fees.

Store credit cards. Some large retail chains offer in-store credit cards. Sometimes they are issued by a financial institution and not by the store directly. Usually, a clerk or manager can issue you a card right in the store. The card is issued after a quick credit check. Most of the time, a salesperson will offer you a discount if you open a card during your visit. Store credit cards usually have high interest rates, especially if you do not pay your monthly balance in full.

Retail credit cards. Large credit card issuers may partner with a major retailer. These are not like the in-store credit cards, which can only be used at the store. These can be used anywhere, like a regular card, but their rewards offer perks at their store or online website, such as free shipping and discounts not offered to other customers. You can only redeem the reward with the retailer and interest rates are usually high.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Differences between debit card and credit card

This was originally published on Monday, August 14, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Credit cards can be a great tool to build credit, but they can also be financially dangerous. A credit card is nothing but a tool. Depending on the skills, knowledge, and self-control of the user, it can be helpful or harmful. Understanding your credit card and its terms is vital to using it properly.

Your credit and debit cards may look very similar, but they work very differently. Credit cards are a revolving line of credit, credit that is automatically renewed as debts are paid off. Your debit card is electronically linked to your checking account. Here are some other differences:

  • Spending limit. Your credit card limit is set based on your credit score — the better your score, the higher your credit limit is. Your debit card is limited to the funds you have in your checking account. Both can be assessed an over-the-limit fee if you go over available funds.
  • Interest rates. If you pay your credit card’s full balance off each month, you won’t have to pay interest. If you make a monthly payment, you will be charged an interest fee based on your balance. A debit card has no interest changed. If you keep funds in your account, you may be paid some interest.
  • Payments. You can pay your credit card balance based on how much money you have. You can pay the minimum required monthly payment up to the full balance of your credit card. With a debit card, your account is debited almost immediately when you make a purchase.
  • Fees. Most credit cards charge an annual fee, late payment fees and over-the-limit fees. If you try to make a purchase using a debit card and don’t have enough money to cover the charge in your account, you may incur an insufficient fund fee.
  • Receiving cash. You can use your credit card to get money from an ATM, called a cash advance. Most credit cards charge a different, higher interest rate for cash advances. If you use your an ATM of your debit card’s financial institution, or a point-of-sales machine at a store, you may not have to pay a fee. For both credit and debit cards, there are usually fees associated with using a different financial institution’s ATM.
  • Effect on your credit. Your credit card affects your credit history. To build a positive credit history, you should use your card regularly, pay off your monthly balance in full, make your payments on time, and not close your account unless you absolutely have to. Your debit card may affect your credit history if you constantly go over your account balance and are charged overdraft fees.

Secured vs. unsecured

There are two types of credit cards, secured and unsecured. A secured credit card limit is determined by the amount of cash deposited before being able to make a purchase. The cash deposited acts as collateral, something provided to a lender as a promise of payment/reimbursement.

Secured credit cards are a great opportunity to establish a good credit history. Unlike a prepaid credit card, your cash deposit doesn’t run out. You continue to make payments and will incur interest if you don’t pay off your balance in full. If you cancel your secured credit card or transition into an unsecured credit card, you will receive your deposit back if your balance is paid off.

Unsecured credit cards don’t require collateral, so issuers take more of a risk. Because of this risk, issuers rely heavily on your income level and credit history.

Most first-time credit card users don’t have a long enough credit history for issuers to approve a large amount of credit. Many times, a co-signer is needed.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Find right credit card for you

This was originally published on Monday, August 7, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: I have never had a credit card and have always used cash. I am considering getting one to use in case of emergencies and for the trip I am planning next summer. I have considered several types but honestly, I find it all a bit confusing. Do you have any tips that could help me decide which credit card is a fit for a first-time owner?

Answer: There are many types of credit cards and looking for the right one can be perplexing and overwhelming. Taking the time to find one that fits your lifestyle and budget is essential.

When used responsibly, a credit card can help you build a good credit history. Good credit history can help you get loans with reasonable interest rates, insurance, cell phone plans and, in some cases, secure a good job.

Some cards reward you for using their cards and others can help you protect your purchases in case of theft or damage. In your case, you may need a credit card to secure your travel plans such as rental cars and hotels.

Before you decide, ask yourself three questions: Do you really need a credit card? How much of my budget can you commit to paying the credit card loan (because that is what a credit card is, a loan)? Can you save to purchase the item instead of using a credit card?

Answer these questions honestly. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you determine which card meets your needs. There are other aspects that you should understand before making a decision.

Short-term loan

A credit card is basically a short-term loan. Depending on the amount you pay monthly, you may or may not accrue interest. If you pay your entire credit card balance at the end of the billing cycle, you will not accrue interest. However, if you pay a partial amount of your balance, you will accrue interest on your average daily balance. The interest is a charge for borrowing the money.

 If you pay just the minimum balance each month, you could find yourself in a long-term cycle of debt. By law your credit card statement must show you the difference of paying off the minimum balance versus making a larger payment.

A normal billing cycle is usually 30 days. Most billing cycles will have a few days grace to pay on your loan. If you miss the cutoff date, a late fee will be assessed.

Credit cards use revolving credit that is automatically renewed as the balance is paid off and can be kept open indefinitely. Your credit limit, or line of credit, is the maximum amount you can borrow. If you have reached that limit, you must pay down the balance before you can borrow more. Some credit cards will assess charges that are beyond your limit and will charge you “over the limit” fees which can be a monthly or daily fee.

Why get a credit card?

There may be many personal reasons why you may need one, but from a financial point of view, a credit card is a method of building good credit. Your credit score is factored by your payment history, the amount you owe on your accounts, how long you have had the credit and the type of credit you use.

Another reason for owning a credit card may be the perks. Some cards offer cash, points or other bonuses. For example, if you travel a lot, consider getting a card that rewards you with airline miles or points for hotel stays. Some cards offer discounts at certain partnering stores or gas stations.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

 

After death, who pays for student loans?

This was originally published on Monday, July 31 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

When a loved one passes, it is a very emotional and trying time. Having to deal with your loved one’s affairs after they pass can be a long and drawn out process.

If they have a student loan that isn’t fully paid off, the loan can be passed on to someone else, depending on the type of loan.

  • Federal loan. If your loved one had a federal student loan, it won’t be passed on to anyone; the loan ceases. The survivors will have to present an official death certificate to the loan provider.
  • Parent PLUS loan. A federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan is a credit-based loan that the parent or parents of a dependent, undergraduate student may borrow to help pay for educational expenses. Since it is a federal loan, it can be discharged when either the parent or the student dies. The estate and the heirs won’t be responsible to pay the loan.  Unfortunately, there are tax consequences associated with the death discharge of a Parent PLUS loan due to the student’s death. Parents will receive a 1099-C form from the Internal Revenue Service after the debt is canceled. The remaining debt canceled is treated as taxable income. Parents in this situation could be hit with a large tax bill.
  • Private student loan. Some private student loan lenders do offer a death discharge, but not all of them. This loan is more like a traditional personal loan. Private lenders may request the estate to pay off the loan. However, if the deceased is the sole signer the heirs or other relatives aren’t generally considered liable.  If there is a co-signer, the co-signer is legally responsible for the debt. In some cases, the death can cause the loan to go into default and accelerate the debt repayment. In other words, the lender can demand the entire loan is due immediately.  The co-signer may request a co-signer release. To obtain the release, the lender will require the co-signer to make on-time payments for a specified period of time, to illustrate they are financially capable of handling payments on their own.  If the deceased is married, depending on local laws, the spouse may be liable for the loan. If the loan was obtained before the marriage, the loan may be forgiven.

Be prepared

To ensure your loved ones are not responsible for your debts, the best thing you can do is to make sure you and your family are protected by understanding your lender’s policy regarding death discharge and reviewing it in depth. A life insurance policy can help with any outstanding debts and protect your family from aggressive loan providers.

Preparing now can save your family from financial trouble in the future.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

A deceased loved one’s debt: Who pays what?

This was originally published on Monday, July 24, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Question: My sister passed away unexpectedly. She left behind a few loans, including a mortgage, a new car loan and a student loan. Some of the loans she took out were done by her, but a few were co-signed by family members. She passed with good credit and was up to date on her loan payments. Our family would like to get a better understanding of what we are responsible for and what happens to the loans she had acquired by herself.

Answer: Condolences to you and your family. Losing a family member is certainly emotional. Once the ceremony of the funeral and burial are done, the stress of finalizing your loved one’s estate can be overwhelming.

Generally, creditors get paid first from the estate and assets left behind; the beneficiaries receive whatever remains. The person who is legally appointed to be the executor will use the assets to pay off the debt. This can be done by using money left in a bank account or even selling off property or stocks.

If there are not enough assets to pay off the debt, creditors may get part of what is left and the family members may not be responsible to pay off the debt.

Sometimes it is not that straightforward. The type of debt may also play a factor as to who is responsible for paying off the debt.

  • Mortgage. If the mortgage has a joint homeowner, he or she will inherit the house and the mortgage. Federal law prohibits lenders from forcing a joint homeowner to pay off the mortgage immediately after the death of the co-owner. If the mortgage doesn’t have a joint homeowner the executor can continue to pay the mortgage from the estate. If the estate doesn’t have enough money, the person(s) who inherit the house can take over the mortgage payments.
  • Home equity loan. If someone inherits the house, they will also inherit the loan. A lender can request the inheritor to repay the home equity loan immediately. If the inheritor doesn’t have the money, the lender may require selling the house. Lenders do have the option to work with the inheritor to take over payments.
  • Credit cards. If the credit card has a joint account holder, he or she will be responsible for the unpaid bills. Authorized users listed on the account are not responsible to pay off the remaining balance. If the estate doesn’t have enough to pay off the credit card balance, the credit card companies absorb the debt. Credit card debt, unlike a car loan or mortgage, is considered an unsecured loan because the loan is issued on the borrower’s creditworthiness.
  • Car loan. If the car loan has a co-signer, the co-signer is responsible for continuing the payments or paying off the loan. If the deceased is the sole owner of the loan, the executor can pay the loan from the estate. If the payments stop, the lender can repossess the car. If the estate can’t pay off the loan, the inheritor of the car can continue making payments.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

A lot of costs beyond price of your home

This was originally published on Monday, July 17, 2017, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Once you decide to purchase your home, there’s more to consider than just the purchase price or your monthly mortgage payments. It’s easy to let emotions get in the way of reality, especially if it is something we want.

There may be some things you need to consider before signing for that dream home. Some of concerns may be financial, while others require a little investigating on your own.

Down payment. The amount you contribute to your home will determine how much your total mortgage loan will cost. Depending on the type of loan you get, you can pay anywhere up to 20 percent of the home’s sale price.

Private mortgage insurance. Depending on how much of a down payment you make, you may be required to purchase private mortgage insurance. In most cases, it will be rolled into your monthly mortgage payment. Your loan provider usually requires you to have private mortgage insurance to protect lenders against loss if a borrower defaults.

Homeowner’s insurance. Many banks require a homeowner’s insurance policy be purchased before closing on the home. The policy covers personal liability and hazard insurance to cover the home and the contents within it. It may also cover special conditions to which your house may be exposed, such as flood or earthquakes. Ensure you read your policy carefully and understand exactly what it covers.

Title insurance. On Guam, it’s common for property to be passed down from generation to generation without being recorded or going through the proper legal channels. Title insurance ensures the property you are buying is free and clear of any claims, taxes or property disputes.

Appraisal fees. Lenders will require a potential buyer to hire an appraiser to determine the value of the home. They take into account similar properties in the area, market trends, house amenities, square footage, defects and structural concerns. The fee is usually paid by the buyer prior to the sale being finalized.

The appraised value could greatly impact your down payment, loan terms, monthly payments and, in some cases, even your ability to buy that particular house.

Home inspection fee. Although not common on Guam, you may decide to hire a home inspector to look at electrical wiring, plumbing and cooling systems to determine if there are any defects. As a buyer, you can request the price be lowered or that the seller fix the defect before you purchase the home.

Escrow fees. An escrow is a third-party that will hold the money while the buyer and seller finalize the contract. Generally you’ll have a portion of the monthly mortgage payment held in escrow to pay for property taxes and insurance.

Credit report fees. Some loan institutions will charge a fee to check your credit worthiness.

Survey fee. A survey is a drawing or map showing the precise legal boundaries of a property and other details. If an existing survey of the land can’t be obtained, a new survey will have to be conducted. Your lender may require you to have the land surveyed to ensure the boundaries are where they are supposed to be and there are no legal issues.

Loan origination fee. This fee covers the lender’s administrative costs of preparing the required documents for the loan and the closing paperwork. Average cost of the fee is usually 1 percent to 2 percent of the loan amount.

Recording charges. The state and local governments charge this fee to record your deed, mortgage and loan documents regarding the sale.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.