Protecting your credit during the coronavirus pandemic

Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. You can use the steps below to manage and protect your credit during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every twelve months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

Credit reporting under the CARES Act

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.

How your creditors report your account to credit reporting companies under the CARES Act depends on whether you are current or already delinquent when this agreement is made.

  • If your account is currentand you make an agreement to make a partial payment, skip a payment, or other accommodation, then the creditor is to report to credit reporting companies that you are current on your loan or account.
  • If your account is already delinquentand you make an agreement, then your account will maintain that status during the agreement until you bring the account current.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, and you bring your account current, the creditor must report that you are current on your loan or account.

For more information, go to: click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have requested their free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. If so, did they find any errors?  What did they learn from the credit reports?
  • Encourage students to request their credit reports if they have never obtained one from the credit reporting agencies.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to contact your creditors as soon as possible if you can’t make payments on time? What are the consequences if you don’t?
  2. What are the special requirements that the CARE Act places on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting agencies? Under what circumstances these special requirements apply?

Want a retail store credit card?

Retail store cards are credit cards that can be used only in a single store or at an affiliated group of stores. Like other credit cards, a store card will show as a line of credit on your credit report.

The advantage of these cards is that they tend to be easier to get, even if you have a poor or limited credit history. If you’re able to make consistent and on-time payments, a retail store card can be one way to help you build or improve your credit .

The disadvantage is that retail store cards may carry higher interest rates than traditional credit cards.  Also, if the card has a deferred-interest promotion, you could end up paying even more in interest if your balance isn’t fully paid off by the end of the promotional period.

Six rules for using your store credit card wisely 

  1. Watch your overall spending during the holidays
  2. Pay your bill on time
  3. Understand the differences between zero-interest and deferred-interest promotions
  4. Limit the number of cards you apply for
  5. Don’t get close to your credit limit
  6. Act fast if you can’t pay your bills

For more information, go to

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/six-tips-when-offered-retail-store-credit-card/

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they have any retail store credit cards. If so, what has been their experience?  Share the information with classmates.
  • Ask students to make a list of possible advantages or disadvantages of retail store credit cards. Share the list with the class.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If there is a deferred-interest promotion, why is it important to pay off deferred balance in full before the end of the promotion period?
  2. If you already have several other credit cards, will you be able to manage one more card?
  3. What is the difference between zero-interest and deferred-interest promotions?

Financial Literacy for Children

A lifetime of skillful financial decisions starts with experiential learning at a young age. To increase financial literacy for the next generation, consider these actions:

  • Give children a payday. Instead of a weekly allowance with simply giving money, create a system of earning these funds. Connect their household chores to earned amounts with a weekly payday. This practice can teach a child that people are paid for work to earn money for their living expenses.
  • Create awareness of opportunity cost. Every financial decision has trade-offs. Once money is spent, that money is not available for other uses. Keeping money in a clear jar allows the young person to visually see what funds are available, and when the money is gone.
  • Allow children to experience borrowing. If a child wants to buy something but does not have the money, set up a signed loan agreement with repayment terms. Also create a plan for the amount owed to be taken from future household earnings. Have the young person physically pay the money to better understand how credit works.
  • Connect them in the budgeting process. Include children in the discussion of family finances and the household budget to help them understand where money is spent. Consider creating a chart with spending amounts, or use slips of paper representing money that are used to pay the bills each month.
  • Teach wants vs. needs. Shoes or a clothing item may be a need but not a high-fashion version. To cover the cost of the higher-priced item, young people should be required to earn the amount for the additional expense.
  • Use money games. These activities can help children understand earning, saving, wise spending and other basics of money management for a financially sound future.

For additional information on financial literacy for children, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to locate other actions used by parents to teach their children smart spending and wise money management.
  • Have students talk to parents to obtain suggestions that might be used to teach wise money management to children.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. What are the financial, social, and relational benefits of children learning smart spending and wise money management early in life?
  2. Describe possible money management learning activities for children that involve creative use of technology.

Better Credit by “Piggybacking”?

Is it possible for a person with bad credit to inflate his/her own credit score and get the money-saving benefits of better credit by “piggybacking” on the credit of a stranger? That’s how a Denver-based business pitched its services to cash-strapped consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission says the defendants couldn’t back up their score improvement claims and engaged in several illegal practices that violated the FTC Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

BoostMyScore and CEO William O. Airy claimed to offer consumers “the amazing benefit” of having another person’s credit “‘copied and pasted’ on to your credit report,” giving the buyer “the biggest possible FICO® score boost in less than 60 days; and it’s guaranteed!” Here’s how the defendants described their services, for which they charged consumers between $325 to $4,000 – or even more:

Online and in radio ads, the defendants promised consumers concrete benefits – for example, qualifying for a mortgage. According to one promotional piece, “ . . . many of our customers realize a jump of about 120 points in as little as two weeks. What would a credit score increase of that size mean for you? If you are like most people, that could be the difference between having your mortgage application approved or not.”

The settlement prohibits the defendants from marketing credit repair services that attempt to add an authorized user to anyone’s credit unless that person has actual access. In addition to other provisions to protect consumers in the future, the proposed order prohibits misrepresentations about the legality of credit piggybacking. Most of the proposed $6.6 million judgment would be suspended due to the defendants’ financial condition.

For More Information click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if it is possible to boost their own credit scores by someone else’s good credit.
  • Ask students if they know what information creditors use in determining whether a loan will be approved or denied.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can be done to prevent companies such as Boost My Score, to stop deceiving already financially-strapped consumers?
  2. How effective are the cease-and-desist orders and fines by the Federal Trade Commission, if the defendants don’t have to pay due to their financial condition?
  3. What are the true and tried methods of improving your credit scores?

Disputing Errors on Credit Reports

Your credit report contains information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s credit reporting companies.

Some financial advisors and consumer advocates suggest that you review your credit report periodically. Why?

  • Because the information it contains affects whether you can get a loan — and how much you will have to pay to borrow money.
  • To make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a house or car, buy insurance, or apply for a job.
  • To help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to summarize major provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. How does the law protect consumers?
  • What is the importance of reviewing your credit report periodically?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why only authorized persons are allowed to obtain credit reports?
  2. What must a credit bureau do when you notify the credit bureau that you dispute the accuracy of its information?
  3. What should you do if you are denied credit, insurance, employment, or rental housing based on the information in the report?

COVID-19 Robocall Scams

Scammers are using illegal robocalls to profit from Coronavirus-related fears.  Illegal robocalls are universally hated, so why do scammers still use them? Because scammers need only a few people to take the bait for them to make money. Scammers might do that by getting your bank account number, tricking you into handing over gift card PIN codes, or stealing valuable personal information such as your Social Security number.

Crises such as COVID-19, bring out the best in people, and the worst in scammers who pretend to be from the Social Security Administration, offering fake Coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients, and scaring small businesses into buying bogus online listing services.

To hear examples of illegal robocalls exploiting concerns about the Coronavirus, and to stay up to date on the latest Federal Trade Commission (FTC) information, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.

Now that you know what Coronavirus robocall scams are like, make sure you share this information with your friends and family members. And, if you get such scam calls,don’t believe them. Instead:

  • Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Consider using a call blocking app or device. You also can ask your phone provider if it has call-blocking tools. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls.
  • Report the call. Report robocalls at ftc.gov/complaint. The more the FTC  hear from you, the more they can help fight scams.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they or their family members have received such calls. If so, how did they respond?
  • How many students or family members have considered using a call blocking app or have contacted their phone provider to block such calls? Summarize their findings.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it not advisable to ask the caller to remove your name from their call list?
  2. How does reporting your robocalls help the FTC combat scammers?

FINRA Investor Education Foundation Publishes “The State of U.S. Financial Capability”

Did you know that in 2018:

  • 19% of households spent more than their income?
  • 46% of individuals lacked an emergency fund?
  • 35% of credit card holders paid only the minimum on their credit cards?

In September 2019, the FINRA Foundation released data from its latest Financial Capability Study—one of the largest and most comprehensive financial capability studies in the United States. Among the findings, younger Americans, those with lower incomes, African-Americans and those without a college degree face the toughest financial struggles. More than 27,000 respondents participated in the nationwide study. Conducted every three years beginning in 2009, it measures key indicators of financial capability and evaluates how these indicators vary with underlying demographic, behavioral, attitudinal and financial literacy characteristics—both nationwide and state-by-state.

For more information, click here

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they spend more than their income in a given year.
  • Ask students if they have a rainy day fund. If not, why?
  • Ask students if they pay in full when the credit card bill arrives. If not, why?

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be some reasons why almost one in five households spends more than their income?
  2. Why is it important to have a rainy day fund? Why almost half of Americans lack such a fund?
  3. Why is it vital to pay credit card bills in full? What are the costs of paying a minimum balance?

Tips for gift card shopping

Gift cards are one quick way to get through your last-minute holiday shopping list. But before you give (and get) gift cards, here are a few things you need to know.

  • Inspect gift cards before you buy. A gift card should have all its protective stickers in place. Report the card to the store if anything looks scratched off or damaged.
  • When you buy, save the receipt. Keeping the gift card receipt can be helpful if you run into problems with the card. 
  • Treat gift cards like cash. Report a lost or stolen gift card to the card’s issuer immediately. Most card issuers have toll-free numbers you can find online to report a lost or stolen card. Depending on the card issuer, you may even be able to get some money back.
  • Buy gift cards from sources you know and trust. Think twice about buying gift cards from online auction sites, to avoid buying fake or stolen cards.
  • Read the gift card’s terms and conditions. Know the deal you’re getting with gift cards. For example, are there fees every time it gets used – or if it sits unused?

And here’s the most important gift card tip of all:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Gift cards are a scammer’s favorite way to steal your money. Anyone who demands that you pay them with a gift card, for any reason, is always a scammer. This includes calls from imposters claiming to be a family member with an emergency, calls from the IRS and Social Security, law enforcement, and utility companies. Simply, never pay with a gift card.

Report gift card scams directly with the card issuer, then report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have ever given or received a gift card. If so, let them describe their experience.
  • Make a list of differences between a traditional debit-card and gift cards.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to inspect gift cards before you buy them?
  2. What are some of the disadvantages of gift cards?
  3. What happens to a gift card holder when the retailer/issuer goes bankrupt?

Apartment Loans

Many recent college graduates choose to rent expensive, upscale apartments rather than putting money into savings. Their “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on being “close to the action” or luxury-living amenities comes at a cost, with high demand for these units resulting in spiraling monthly rents.  To cover these higher costs, “apartment loans” are now available in several urban areas.

Similar to the high-risk mortgages that triggered the financial crisis in 2008, apartment loans may be viewed as predatory lending.  Renters may borrow up to $15,000 with no interest for the first six months, but then encounter an annual interest rate of 15-17 percent.  Some justify these loans in that the costs are lower than payday lending.

If you have to take out a loan to pay the rent for an apartment…you CAN’T afford to live there.  Your ability to build wealth and long-term financial security will depend on living within your income.

For additional information on apartment loans, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct a survey of renters to determine actions they took to determine the location and cost of obtaining an apartment.
  • Have students create a visual presentation with the dangers of apartment loans.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What actions might be considered to avoid apartment loans?
  2. Describe financial and personal concerns associated with apartment loans.

Top Frauds

Are you at risk for fraud?  What are some of the more common frauds and how much could it cost you?

  • In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports, and Americans said they lost money to the fraud in 25 percent of those reports. Americans reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud – an increase of 38 percent over 2017.
  • The top reports in 2018 were: imposter scams, debt collection, and identity theft.
  • Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. Of those people who reported fraud and their age, 43 percent of people in their 20s reported a loss to that fraud, while only 15 percent of people in their 70s did.
  • When people in their 70s lost money, the amount tended to be higher: their median loss was $751, compared to $400 for people in their 20s.
  • Scammers like to get money by wire transfer – for a total of $423 million in 2018. That was the most of any payment method reported, but there was a surge of payments with gift and reload cards – a 95 percent increase in dollars paid to scammers last year.
  • Tax-related identity theft was down last year (by 38 percent), but credit card fraud on new accounts was up 24 percent. In fact, misusing someone’s information to open a new credit card account was reported more often than other forms of identity theft in 2018.
  • The top 3 states for fraud and other reports (per 100,000 population) are Florida, Georgia and Nevada. The top 3 states for identity theft reports (also per 100,000) are Georgia, Nevada and California.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their relatives or friends have ever been victims of fraud. If so, what was the outcome?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of local, state, and federal agencies where fraud can be reported.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible that the reason more young people reported fraud is because older persons are less likely to report?
  2. Are older people not reporting fraud because they are not tech savvy, or embarrassed by their inability to know they were scammed?