Waging War Against Porch Pirates

front door with christmas wreath and packages

Ahoy, mateys!

Holiday shopping season is upon us and your (not-so) friendly neighborhood porch pirates are gearing up to pilfer the holiday treasures being delivered to your doorstep.

We’ve all seen the familiar footage from a home security camera: a fish-eye view of a home’s front porch sporting a stack of smiling Amazon Prime boxes. An unexpected car pulls up. A stranger approaches the cardboard booty. He or she looks to the left, looks to the right, scoops up the bounty and runs back to the car, ruining the holidays for everyone.

The holiday season can be stressful enough with arranging travel or hosting overnight guests; baking; cleaning; shopping and wrapping gifts. You don’t need the extra burden of some crooks stealing your joy and peace of mind.

Here are some ways you can conquer the porch pirates and lay claim to the best holiday ever.

Have your packages delivered elsewhere

If you have the luxury of being able to have your packages delivered to your office, this is one of the best options. As a bonus, you can easily hide the gifts from your family.

If this isn’t an option, have your orders shipped to a neighbor or family member who is home during the day.

FedEx packages can be picked up at one of their offices or a local participating Walgreens location.

UPS packages can be received at a local UPS Store, CVS or Michael’s stores or you can arrange to have them delivered on a day when you are home.

Let the delivery person in

Most respondents to a recent PCMag survey of 1,500 people said they are willing to spend an average of $110.86 on home protection gadgets. A total of 28 percent said they have a security camera, 25 percent have a video doorbell,and 17 percent have a smart lock.

Smart locks allow you to unlock your door from your smartphone or computer. Video allows you to see who is at your door. You can instruct delivery people on where to drop the packages and then lock up after they leave.

Smart locks range in price from $100-$300, which is worth it if your family is safe and happy.

Have packages delivered to your car

Key by Amazon allows Amazon Prime members to have their packages left in their home, garage or even their cars.

Download the app to have your items shipped to your car within hours. Check the app or website to see if your product, vehicle and address of the vehicle are eligible for delivery. Pick a delivery time and you’re set. You will receive notification of when your package is out for delivery and when the driver is en route.

According to the Amazon website, “Key In-Car Delivery is available with select makes and models. It is available with model year 2015 and newer Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC and Volvo vehicles and requires an active connected car service plan, such as OnStar and On Call.”

Key In-Car Delivery is available on tens of millions of Amazon items and works with Same-Day, One-Day, Two-Day and Standard Shipping. They cannot deliver heavy or bulky items weighing more than 50 pounds.

Track your packages

If high-tech gadgets aren’t your thing, simply use your low-tech skills to track your packages. UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, Amazon and FedEx all offer tracking online.

Sign up for USPS Informed Delivery to automatically get a daily email containing scans of the mail being delivered and tracking numbers of expected packages.

UPS offers the My Choice program. and FedEx’s Delivery Manager also helps keep track of deliveries.

Tracking information for Amazon packages can be found in your order details.

Your special deliveries are at risk, and the porch pirates are sure to be marking their spots of opportunity this holiday season. Use these tips from Mutual Credit Union, and ensure your gifts are received by those you intend.

Your turn: How do you do battle with the scourge of porch piracy? Let us know in the comments.

8 Ways To Beat Holiday Stress

holiday-stress

‘Tis the season to be merry-except sometimes, it’s not.

If you tend to feel stressed when the holidays roll around, here are eight tips to help turn that frown upside down.

1. Watch the buck

Nothing kills holiday cheer like a mountain of debt. Stick to a budget when doing your holiday shopping, and only spend what you can afford. Be extra careful not to overspend as the holidays draw near, and you’re feeling the pressure to finish your shopping in time.

2. Give back

According to the American Psychological Association, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to give back to the community.

Beat the stress by sharing holiday cheer with those who are less fortunate. You can bring some toys to the local hospital to brighten up a sick child’s holiday, volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit a nursing home and put a smile on the residents’ faces.

3. Stick to a schedule

Lack of quality sleep can make stress levels soar. You don’t need to follow your regular routine over the holidays, but it’s a good idea to keep some sort of schedule. Make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye, and if a physical workout is part of your daily routine, don’t neglect it over the holidays.

4. Party smart

If you like to party, you can end up getting sick over the holidays. Do yourself a favor this year and watch what you imbibe. Enjoy a glass or two of your favorite alcoholic beverage, but try to keep the drinking to a minimum. Similarly, it’s OK to break your diet over Christmas, but it’s best not to go overboard.

5. Delegate

If you’re hosting a large crowd this Christmas, all the extra work can bring your stress levels through the roof. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to do it all! There’s nothing wrong and there’s everything right with asking for help.

6. Take some “me” time

“Me” time is important, and in the chaos of the holidays, this need is often neglected. Consider getting a manicure, taking a solitary half-hour walk, or just locking yourself in your room for some peace and quiet. You’re not being an antisocial snob if you need your “me” time; you’re just being human.

7. Give up the guilt

If you tend to overanalyze every interaction you have with family and friends, you can really beat yourself up over the holidays, questioning everything you’ve said. Try to let go this season and give yourself a break.

8. Lower your expectations

A common cause for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations. It’s best not to build huge castles in the air and to keep your expectations to a minimum. If you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be struggling with mountains of disappointment this holiday.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season stress-free from all of us here at Mutual Credit Union!

 

Your Turn: How do you beat the holiday stress? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

What Is The Prime Rate And Why Does It Matter?

A bank manager and customer look at interest rates

Q: What is the prime rate and why does it matter?

A: The prime rate, or prime, is the current interest rate that financial institutions in the U.S. charge their best customers.

We have answers for all your questions on the prime rate.

How is the prime rate determined?

First, the Federal Reserve System, which is the central bank of the United States, sets the federal funds target rate, or the interest rate, it thinks is best for financial institutions to use when lending each other money. When financial institutions lend each other money, they base their interest rates on the federal funds target rate. The Wall Street Journal then surveys the country’s largest financial institutions to determine the rate they are using and then publishes it as the prime rate. This number is generally 3 percent higher than the federal funds target rate.

The fed’s target rate, and consequently prime, changes often. The committee who sets the federal funds target rate meets a minimum of eight times a year to discuss possibly changing the rate. You can check out the changes in the prime rate at Federalreserve.gov.

How does the prime rate affect the individual?

First, the interest rate on nearly every loan is affected by the prime rate. Financial institutions and large lenders will base their interest rates on the prime rate, generally establishing their current rates at an amount that is higher than the prime. If the prime rises, the interest rate on your loans and adjustable-rate credit cards rises as well.

Second, the prime rate affects liquidity in the financial markets. When the rate is low, liquidity increases. This means funds are more readily available because loans are less expensive and easier to qualify for. This, in turn, generates a growing economy as businesses expand.

Is the prime rate the only factor used to determine individual interest rates?

While the prime is the starting point used to determine an interest rate on a loan, it is by no means the only factor considered.

Your credit score plays a vital role in the interest rate you’ll be granted for a loan. The higher your score, the lower the interest rate you’ll earn. Keep your score high by using your cards sparingly and paying your credit card bills on time.

Here at Mutual Credit Union, we also consider the general state of your finances when determining your interest rate on a loan. If we see that you’re working toward paying down your debts, we’ll be more likely to grant you a favorable interest rate.

Also, as an institution devoted to your success, we are always striving to help you maintain financial wellness.

Your Turn: How do you keep your credit score high and your interest rates low? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

6 Misleading Advertising Ploys To Beware Of This Black Friday

ARTICLE-misleading-advertising

Here at Mutual Credit Union, we hate seeing your money go to waste, so we’ve put together a list of misleading advertising you may encounter when hunting for deals this Black Friday.
1. Very limited quantities
That $200-off supersized TV on the front page of the big-box circular that landed in your mailbox looks like an incredible deal-until you show up at the store on Black Friday and find it’s sold out. Of course, no deal lasts forever, but when a store that’s only been open for the day a few hours, claims it’s run out of an item, you can assume it only stocked a limited quantity.
When checking out the ads for Black Friday, look for an “In-Stock Guarantee” or a “1-hour In-Stock Guarantee.” This will allow you to get a rain check for a sold-out item as long as you show up on Black Friday, or in the case of the 1-hour guarantee, as long as you show up within the first hour of opening.
2. No discount
In this ploy, retailers deceive shoppers into thinking a product is on sale. They’ll list an item in a Black Friday circular so you’ll assume it’s being offered at a discount when it’s actually being sold at regular price. Do a quick check of an item’s standard selling price before running out to buy it on Black Friday.
3. Full price with a store gift card
At first glance, a regular-priced item that comes with a store gift card can seem like a fantastic deal; however, some research might reveal this product is being sold elsewhere on Black Friday for less. Also, if you’re not a regular customer at this store, you may end up blowing that gift card on stuff you don’t need.
4. Sales based on a dishonest manufacturer’s price
When retailers advertise their sales, they’ll often post the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, for customers to compare. However, this value can be theoretical at best and simply dishonest at worst. If the item was never actually sold at the listed MSRP, the number is essentially meaningless.
Avoid getting pulled in by this deceptive advertising ploy by checking out an item’s retail price online.
5. Stripped-down or downgraded versions
When shopping for computers and TVs, read up on every feature offered with the product. A common Black Friday ruse is to advertise a discounted item, which offers the very minimum in features and accessories. These “add-ons” are often essential features whose lack can make the device almost useless until you buy them.
Your Turn: Have you ever been taken in by a misleading ad? Tell us about it in the comments.

6 Ways To Spot A Payday Loan Scam

Payday Loans Neon Sign

Payday loan scams may seem like old news, but they’re more common than ever. In fact, in 2018, the FTC paid a total of $505 million to more than one million victims of payday loan scams.

In this scam, a caller claiming to represent a collection agency who is acting on behalf of a loan company tells victims they must pay their outstanding balance on a payday loan. They’ll ask victims to confirm identifying details, such as their date of birth or even their Social Security number. They claim they need it as proof that they’ve seen the victim’s loan application and actually do represent the company. Unfortunately, the caller is actually a scammer trying to rip off victims or steal their identity.

In many payday loan scams, victims may have applied for a payday loan but not yet completed the application, or they may have submitted the application but not yet received the funds. In these scenarios, the victim has unknowingly applied for a loan with an illegitimate company which proceeds to sell the victim’s information to a third party. This way, the caller can appear to be an authentic loan collector because they know lots of information about the victim.

If you’ve applied for a payday loan, be on the lookout for these six red flags, any of which should alert you to the fact that you’re being scammed:

1. You’ve never received a payday loan

While these scams usually target people who have filled out an application for a payday loan, fraudsters often go after victims who haven’t completed one or who have done so but have not yet been granted the loan. Obviously, you can’t be late paying back a loan you never received.

If you haven’t completed your application or you haven’t yet received an answer from the loan company you applied to, you’re talking to a scammer.

 2. The caller demands you pay under threat of arrest

Scammers often dishonestly align themselves with law enforcement agencies to coerce victims into cooperating. A legitimate loan company will never threaten you with immediate arrest.

3. The caller refuses to divulge the name of his collection agency.

If the caller actually represents a collection agency, they should have no problem identifying this agency by name. If they refuse to do so, you may be looking at a scam.

4. You can’t find any information about the agency the caller allegedly represents.

The caller is sometimes willing to name the agency, but the company is completely bogus. If you’re suspicious about the call, do a quick Google search to see what the internet has to say about this company. If you can’t find any proof of the company’s existence, such as a web page, phone number or physical address; or the search turns up evidence of previous scams, hang up.

5. You have not received a validation notice in the mail.

By law, anyone representing a collection agency and attempting to collect on an outstanding debt must send a validation letter to the debtor. This letter will inform the borrower that they can dispute the debt within 30 days. It will also detail the amount of money owed and the party to whom it must be paid.

If you have not received any such letter in the mail before the alleged debt collector calls, you’re probably looking at a scam.

6. The caller only accepts immediate payment over the phone.

If the caller was reaching out to you on behalf of a legitimate collections agency, they’d be happy to work out a payment plan with you, and provide you with an address to which you can mail your payments. When a “collector” insists that you pay in full over the phone and refuses to furnish an address to which you can mail your payments, you’re likely talking to a scammer who is only interested in getting your financial information and your money.

If you find yourself struggling to survive financially between paychecks, call, click or stop by Mutual Credit Union today. We’ll be happy to help you learn how to keep your finances at optimum health.

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a payday loan scam or a similar con? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Word Of The Month: HELOC

People painting house

Life at the Richards’ house had gotten really busy since the twins’ arrival-and really noisy. At first, Trish and Adam were delighted with the action. They loved their twin baby siblings and each day, they snapped dozens of pictures of the tiny infants to post on their Facebook and Instagram pages and show to their friends. They were the proudest older siblings ever.

But after a few weeks, the constant crying and the baby paraphernalia scattered all over the house began getting on their nerves.

One day, Adam stumbled down to the kitchen for breakfast, bleary-eyed and grumpy.

“Those twins,” he groaned. “They kept me up all night!”

Mrs. Richards looked at him while rocking one of the twins. “They kept you up?” she laughed. “I didn’t see you getting up for the four o’clock feeding!”

“Or the two o’clock feeding, for that matter,” a tired-looking Mr. Richards chimed in. “Come to think of it, I didn’t see you at the six o’clock feeding either.”

Adam fell into a seat and flung his head down on the table. “Well, they woke me up. Again and again and again. Why do they need to cry every time they eat? And so loudly!”

“You’re complaining? I didn’t sleep a wink!” Trish announced, shuffling into the kitchen. “I heard them crying all night long!”

“I don’t know how I’m going to stay awake in class today,” Adam grumbled.

“Me neither,” Trish said. “Can’t me and Adam move to the basement?”

Adam brightened. “Yeah. Then we won’t hear those annoying babies all night!”

Right on cue, the baby in Mrs. Richards’ arms started howling. Adam and Trish covered their ears and winced. Mrs. Richards stuck the baby’s pacifier into her mouth and rocked her.

“You know, we’d need to finish fixing up the basement if you guys want to sleep there,” Mr. Richards said thoughtfully.

“Oh, can we? Can we please?” Trish and Adam begged.

Mr. and Mrs. Richards shared a long look.

“We’ll see,” Mrs. Richards said after a while. “It isn’t fair for the two of you to be woken up by the twins night after night.And the basement may be the perfect solution. But it’s going to cost a lot of money to finish it, so we need to figure out if we can swing it.”

“It would be nice to have a little more living space around here.” Mr. Richards said thoughtfully. “You know what? Today’s my last day of paternity leave-maybe Mom and I can work something out while you two are at school,” Mr. Richards said. “We’ll talk about this later.”

***

When Adam and Trish came home that afternoon, their parents were waiting for them at the kitchen table with big smiles on their faces.

“Guess what?” Mrs. Richards said. “We’re going to be fixing up the basement soon and you guys can both move down there!”

Adam and Trish whooped and shared high-fives.

“When can we move?”

“Can I paint my new room with chalkboard paint?”

“Can I have a sleepover next weekend?”

Mr. Richards held up his hands. “Hey, slow down there! Nothing’s happening just yet! We’ll discuss all the details when they become relevant.”

“What happened today, Mom? Dad?” Trish asked curiously.

“Yeah, did you guys win the lottery?” Adam grinned.

“Not quite,” said Mr. Richards. “We actually took a trip to the credit union today.”

“That’s right,” said Mrs. Richards. “And we opened up a HELOC.”

“A what?” Adam and Trish chorused.

“A HELOC,” Mr. Richards said calmly. “Or a home equity line of credit. It’s an open line of credit we now have against our house’s equity.”

“Can you say that again in English?” Adam asked.

Mrs. Richards laughed. “Sure. That means the credit union allows us to borrow money we need for renovations. This is called a line of credit, meaning we can withdraw the money we need, when we need it. And then we pay it back, just a little bit at a time.”

“And it’s against-what was that you said?” Trish wrinkled her eyebrows.

“Our home’s equity,” Mr. Richards explained. “That means the credit is secured by the value of our home. It’s serving as collateral, or a guarantee, that we won’t default on the loan and neglect to pay it back.”

Adam and Trish were quiet as they processed this information.

“Cool,” Trish said after a while. “Now we can afford to finish the basement.”

“Yeah!” Adam cheered. “And we get to sleep without the twins screaming their heads off right near our rooms!”

The baby monitor chose that moment to start crackling-and soon the sound of an infant’s howling shattered the calm in the kitchen.

Mr. Richards stood up to go fetch the crying baby from upstairs, but before he went, Adam and Trish stopped him.

“Thank you, Mom and Dad,” they said together. “This is awesome news!”

“Don’t thank us,” Mrs. Richards smiled. “Thank the credit union!”

Talking points:

  • A HELOC is an open line of credit that allows the borrower to withdraw money as needed, and a HEL (home equity loan) is a loan that the borrower receives in one lump sum. Which do you think is the smarter choice when funding a home renovation?
  • How is taking out a HELOC different than using a credit card?
  • Why do you think some people make improvements on their home before they sell their house?

Why You Should Finance Your Next Car Loan At Your Credit Union

new car loan

When shopping for a new set of wheels, your first stop should be right here, at Mutual Credit Union. Though many people start their process on the dealer’s lot, you’ll enjoy a lower rate, a simpler loan application and other benefits by choosing to finance your car with your credit union.

This is why people are increasingly choosing to finance their cars directly through credit unions. In fact, auto loans comprise more than a third of all the active loans across the 5,600 credit unions in the U.S.

Let’s take a look at the differences in the auto loan process at a car dealership versus Mutual Credit Union.

Financing an auto purchase at a car dealership

When you visit a dealer’s lot with the intention of purchasing a car, the dealer will likely ask you how much you’re willing to spend on your vehicle of choice. You may have already worked out your numbers, or, you may just have a vague idea of how much you can realistically afford. Either way, the dealer will probably try persuading you to push your self-imposed limits to the max or even to go over your ceiling price.

But, if you’re financing your car through the dealer, that’s only the beginning. Once you’ve chosen the car you’d like to buy, you’ll need to submit a complicated auto loan application form, which the dealer will send to the finance companies it partners with. This can include lenders and financial institutions – even Mutual Credit Union! The dealer will then share the lenders’ offers with you and ask you to make your choice.

However, in most cases, the dealer is only the middleman. This means they are going to present your options in a way that most benefits them – and not you. Thanks to this practice, even a fantastic offer from Mutual Credit Union will be presented as higher than it actually is, or may not be presented at all.

For example, say your dealer contacts three lenders: Lender A, Lender B and Lender C. Lender A agrees to offer you a 5% Annual Percentage Rate (APR), Lender B offers a 6% APR, and Lender C offers a 7% APR. But the lender will not automatically present you with Lender A’s offer. Instead, they will first determine which lender would afford them the greatest profit.

The rates presented by the above lenders are known as the “buy rates,” or the lowest possible rate the lenders will grant the borrower.  Lender A might offer the dealer a flat fee for each new loan the dealer nets them at the buy rate, with more profit granted for each new tier of a car price, such as $10,000. Lender B, on the other hand, allows the dealer to increase the buy rate by 3% to a new “contract rate.” The dealer then pockets the difference as his own profit. Lender C allows the dealer to offer a contract rate at 2% higher than the buy rate.

In the above scenario, it isn’t hard to picture the dealer pushing you to accept an offer from Lender B or Lender C at the new contract rate of 9%. If you complain that this rate is too high, the dealer may then suddenly “remember” that Lender B is willing to finance the loan at a 7% APR. In either case, there’s very little chance you’ll end up being presented with the offer that is truly in your best interest. And you’ll never even know you’ve been duped!

Financing an auto purchase at a credit union

Getting an auto loan with your credit union is a completely different experience. Why? Because we exist to serve your best interest.

When you walk into Mutual Credit Union with the intention of taking out an auto loan, you’ll be dealing with people who know who you are and what your financial reality is like. No one will try to push you into a loan you can’t afford.

The process of applying for a Mutual Credit Union Auto Loan is simple, quick, and easy. You can even apply for a loan online. Also, as a member of Mutual Credit Union,you already have a headstart on getting that pre-approval.

One of the biggest advantages you’ll have when financing an auto loan through your credit union, though, is a lower APR. Because you’re working directly with the lender, you’ll only hear the actual rate we offer instead of a marked-up rate the car dealer presents to you.

Also, as member-owned and operated institutions, credit unions famously offer loan rates that are consistently lower than those offered by large lenders and banks. In fact, according to Bankrate, the average APR on a credit union auto loan in the beginning of 2019 was a full point lower than the rates offered by banks.

Another key advantage you’ll enjoy from a credit union-financed auto loan is a more relaxed setting when determining how much you can afford to pay each month toward your new car. There’s no rush and no pressure when you’re sitting at Mutual Credit Union and working out your budget. In contrast, when you’re standing in the dealer’s lot surrounded by cars you wish you could afford, you’re far more likely to make a decision you’ll later come to regret.

If you’re in the market for an auto loan, make your credit union your first stop. You’ll enjoy a lower rate and the friendly, professional service you’ve come to expect at Mutual Credit Union.

Your Turn: Have you financed a car purchase through your credit union? Tell us about it in the comments.

Do My Child’s Activities Really Need to Make Me Go Broke?

little girls playing soccer with coach.jpg

Extracurricular activities are an important part of a child’s development. They allow students to shine in ways that may not be possible in the classroom. It also helps kids step out of their social circles to forge new friendships. They may even be your child’s gateway to a college scholarship and possibly a lucrative career. 

But extracurricular activities are expensive. If you’ve got several school-aged children and each wants to participate in two activities, you can be looking at an investment as high as $10,000 or more for fees, equipment, uniforms, instruments and supplies. 

No worries though; you don’t have to choose between your budget and your children’s happiness. Here are some ways to save on your kids’ extracurricular activities: 

1. Limit the number of after-school activities you allow for each child 

If you’ve got several over-ambitious young ones at home, consider limiting extracurricular activities to just one per child. You’ll be doing your children a favor by forcing them to pick an area of focus, allowing them to channel all their energy in one direction. Plus, it’ll be easier for them to keep track of just one schedule — and it’s a lot easier on your carpool calendar, too! 

2. Register early 

Lots of children’s’ sports programs offer discounts of up to 30 percent just for signing up early. Speak to your children about after-school programs and sports teams well before the season so you can register early and snag those early-bird specials. 

3Purchase used equipment 

Save big on sports gear by purchasing gently used equipment from sites like PlayItAgainSports and SidelineSwap. Some of these sites also allow you to sell your own used equipment. 

4. Swap equipment 

If you have friends with kids who are also into sports and music, see if you can swap equipment and instruments from year to year. 

5.  Rent musical instruments 

If you’ve got budding musicians at home, consider renting the instrument they’ve taken up this year. There’s no way to tell if that burst of passion they’re currently nursing for the oboe is just a passing phase or the beginning of a lifelong hobby. Some instruments, like the French horn, can cost as much as $1,000 but can be rented for as little as $50 a month. 

If your child is convinced they’ve found their instrument of choice, you can purchase gently used musical instruments from resale sites like Craigslist, eBay or Reverb. 

6. Volunteer your time 

If you’ve got the time to coach a team or to walk around selling refreshments during games, you might be able to nab a discount on the program’s fees and equipment. 

By making smart, frugal choices, you can turn your children’s dreams into reality without draining your wallet. 

Your Turn: How do you save on your children’s extracurricular activities? Share your own tips with us in the comments.

 

SOURCES:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/g27678115/back-to-school-hacks/

https://www.moneycrashers.com/save-extracurricular-activities-kids-after-school/

https://www.parents.com/parenting/money/saving/11-ways-to-save-on-after-school-activities/

Word of the Month: Credit Card

Father and son using laptop together, online shopping

Kate and her mom were going shopping for school supplies. Kate had her mind set on exactly what she wanted. She’d even scribbled a list of all the things she was going to buy at the store.

“And can’t I get that?” she asked, pointing at the sequined pencil case her best friend Lori had told her about.

“Oh, Kate,” her mom groaned. “We can’t buy the most expensive of every supply on your list!”

Kate was stumped. “But why not?” she asked. “If it’s too much money, you can just put it on your credit card!”

Mom gave her a look, and then said under her breath, “Let’s talk about this a little later, at home. Meanwhile, let’s try to find all of your supplies at decent prices.”

Kate agreed and they finished shopping without any more arguments.

After they’d gone home and put away all of Kate’s supplies, Mom prepared two tall glasses of lemonade. She sat down at the kitchen table, across from Kate.

“Let me explain how it works, Kate,” she said. “A credit card isn’t ‘free money.’”

Kate yawned. “I know, I know—you get a bill at the end of the month and you need to pay it all back.”

Mom nodded. “Exactly. But there’s a few things you don’t know about credit cards.”

“Like what?”

“First of all,” said Mom, “lots of credit cards cost money just to have. It’s called an ‘annual fee.’ Also, credit cards don’t lend you that money for free. They charge you interest on every purchase you make.”

“Interest?”

“That means extra money, a certain percentage of the purchase that you need to pay to the credit card company.”

“So it really costs you more than the price!” Kate broke in.

“Exactly,” Mom smiled. “You won’t have to pay the interest if you pay the full amount on your bill on time, but most people don’t. And then they end up paying for that one little purchase for months—or even years and years!”

“So, if the best way to use a credit card is to pay up your full bill each month, why have one at all?” Kate asked. “Why not just use cash?”

“That’s a great question,” Mom said. “There are two main reasons people have credit cards other than to help them pay for stuff they can’t really afford,” she explained. “One is to get the rewards. Lots of credit cards offer points and money back for specific purchases you make on the card.”

“Cool!” said Kate. “Like a bonus for spending money?”

“Right,” said mom. “But it sometimes can get out of control and people spend more than they planned just because they’re getting some points out of the deal. So it doesn’t quite work out as planned. Plus, lots of rewards cards have an annual fee, so they’re expensive just to have.”

“Wow,” Kate said. “And what’s the second reason?”

Mom reached into her wallet and pulled out her MasterCard. “You see this?” she asked. “This helped me buy our house!”

Kate’s eyed bulged. “You can buy a house on a credit card?”

Mom threw back her head and laughed. “No, Kate,” she said. “Let me explain. Let’s say someone has a bunch of open credit cards but they’re super-careful with how they use them. They’re always careful about paying their balance on time and they never rack up huge bills. What does that say about them?”

“They’re responsible!” Kate said. “They know how to pay back what they borrow and they don’t spend too much money.”

“Exactly!” Mom smiled. “So when someone wants to take out a huge loan—like a loan that will help them buy a house, the people lending them that money will look at the way they use their credit cards. It’s called their credit history and credit score. The person’s credit history will tell the borrower about their credit card use in the past, and their credit score is like a grade which shows how responsible they’ve been with their credit. Are you following?

Kate nodded. “I think so.”

“So, why do you think the lender will look at their credit history and credit score when deciding if they will lend this person money to buy a house?”

“Because they want to make sure the person will pay them back!” Kate exclaimed.

“You’re catching on really quickly,” Mom grinned. “I was always very careful with my credit cards, and that helped us get a mortgage for this house!”

“Wow,” Kate said. She had a lot to think about. “What do you say we open a credit card for me, Mom?” She asked. “I want to start building my credit score right now!”

Talking points:

  • Can you explain the way a credit card works?
  • Why do you think credit card companies let people borrow so much money from them?
  • Are credit cards a good way to purchase something you can’t afford? Why, or why not?

8 Things To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen

Retiree - Financial planning

  1. Lock the compromised account. Dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised accounts and ask to have them locked, or even shut down.
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This helps alert creditors that someone may be trying to open accounts in your name. Contact one out of the three credit bureaus to add the fraud alert to all three. Visit Equifax.com or Experian.com or Transunion.com.
  3. Consider a credit freeze. This will make it impossible for the scammer to open a credit line or loan in your name.
  4. Alert the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Visit https://www.identitytheft.gov and follow the site’s instructions.
  5. Strengthen your passwords. In addition to changing them, use strong and different passwords for all your online accounts.
  6. Check your account statements. It’s best to do so frequently to look for suspicious activity.
  7. Open new credit cards and accounts. Replace compromised accounts that you’ve shut down so you can be inconvenienced as little as possible.
  8. Repair your credit. Be extra careful about paying your bills on time and keeping your credit utilization low.

Your Turn: Have you ever been the victim of credit card fraud? Share your story with us in the comments.