The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association recently revealed that 80 percent of consumers admitted they would benefit from answers to everyday financial questions from a professional. This is based on a financial literacy survey recently commissioned by the two organizations.
“In the same survey, 44 percent of respondents gave themselves a grade of C, D or F in their knowledge of personal finance skills,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Considering the complexity of today’s economic environment, it is not surprising that an increasing number of people are hungry for concrete answers to their financial concerns.”
To help consumers stay on solid financial ground, the NFCC offers the following answers to five frequently asked questions:
Q: What is the best way to build or rebuild credit?
A: Start slowly. Applying for too much credit at once can send the wrong signal to lenders. Gas cards and department store cards can be easier to obtain, as they typically offer a relatively low line of credit. However, these types of cards may come with a higher interest rate than a general purpose card. Also, consider getting a co-signer on a loan, becoming an authorized user on another person’s account, or obtaining a secured credit card.
Q: How can a credit score be raised?
A: There are multiple credit scores, but most models place the highest weights on two elements: bills being paid on time and the percentage of available credit that is utilized. There are no silver bullets to raise a score overnight, but absent any seriously damaging marks, paying at least the minimum amount required by the due date and not using more than 30 percent of available credit should increase the score.
Q: Is it possible to save when on a tight budget?
A: Living without a well-funded savings account is living without a financial safety net, as it’s not a matter of if the unplanned expense will occur, but when. Having one month’s income socked away should sustain people through most short-term emergencies. To find money to devote to savings, try reducing each spending category by $10 per month. This amount won’t be missed, yet will yield enough to provide a cushion for emergencies. Having 10 percent automatically deducted from your paycheck is also an effective way to fund a savings account without dramatically lowering disposable income.
Q: With multiple debts, which should be paid first?
A: When paying off a large amount of debt, staying the course is a key to success. To remain motivated, it is important to select a debt repayment plan that complements your personality type. People concerned about paying lots of interest will be better served by power-paying the card with the highest APR. For these people, seeing the balance come down significantly each month is enough incentive to stay in the game.
However, people who prefer instant gratification are more likely to remain motivated by paying off small balances first, then moving the money that had been dedicated to that payment to the next smallest balance.
Q: Can a prepaid debit card be used like a debit card attached to a checking account?
Prepaid cards branded with the American Express, Discover, MasterCard, or Visa logos can be used anywhere these cards are accepted, just like debit cards attached to bank accounts. They can be used for everyday expenses such as buying groceries, paying bills, and traveling. Some cards even come with savings programs. The cards also include the brand’s zero liability protections against fraudulent charges and lost or stolen cards and other consumer protections to safeguard funds. Although asking questions is a good first step, equally important is the source of the answer.
Although asking questions is a good first step, equally important is the source of the answer.
“Unscrupulous debt relief agencies are often more interested in their bottom line than the consumer’s, making it critical to reach out to a legitimate agency for help,” continued Cunningham.