October 26, 2006


Myth [mith] – noun – an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify something; any invented story, idea, or concept. In the world of credit, innumerable myths abound. Let’s explore a few …

MYTH. When delinquent accounts, judgments, missed payments and other “negatives” are paid, they will be removed from my report. TRUTH – the information will remain. Your credit file is a credit HISTORY, it will simply reflect that it has been paid [which is obviously better than unpaid].

MYTH. Credit reporting agencies make credit decisions. TRUTH – credit reporting agencies provide information [nothing more] to lenders who make the decisions.

MYTH. Personally viewing my credit report will lower my credit score. HUGE MYTH. TRUTH – viewing my credit report will have no negative bearing on my credit score.

MYTH. In the case of divorce, the divorce decree will always carry more weight than the credit obligations. TRUTH – the credit obligation will override a divorce decree.

MYTH. I need to keep a balance on my credit cards and other debts to build a credit history. TRUTH – credit use and on-time payment are what build a credit history. I can do this and still pay the balance in full each month.

MYTH. Shopping for the best rate for an auto loan or home mortgage is not a good idea because the multiple inquiries will be a negative. TRUTH – while many inquiries can hurt one’s credit, inquiries for auto loans and mortgages will be lumped and treated as one inquiry. Shop for the best deals!

MYTH. While poor credit has obvious financial consequences, it doesn’t really affect anything beyond that. TRUTH – an estimated 70% of employers will review your report prior to a hire. Money problems have been linked to less productivity at work, more missed work days, problems at home, and other “baggage” many employers don’t want.

MYTH. I must give permission for a company to see my credit report. TRUTH – with the exception of an employer, permission is not needed. Just look at the inquiry section of your report and you’ll see a lot of people that “pre-approved” you for a credit offer that you never gave consent to.

MYTH. If I’m responsible with credit, I have no need to review my reports. TRUTH – depending on which study you read, it is estimated that as much as 80% of consumer reports contain errors; about 1/3 of those errors are big enough to result in the denial of credit! Ensuring the information in your report is accurate is ultimately YOUR responsibility.

MYTH. Credit reports are the same from company to company. TRUTH – although most companies will report to all three bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), this was not always the case. Also, the speed at which they update information is not the same. I’ve never seen a scenario where the reports were identical with all three …

MYTH. Credit repair companies can fix my credit problems. TRUTH – most are scams. Most are attempting to either (1) work illegally; or (2) try to fix errors that I can fix myself for no cost. Be careful.

MYTH. Credit is too difficult to understand. TRUTH – everyone can AND SHOULD understand their credit. Schedule an appointment if you need help.

Ordering your free credit report(s)
- Credit Scoring - MYFICO
- Improving credit, Disputing errors - OFS Resources

- Register for 1 credit Financial Survival (PFP 1183)
- Register for 1 credit Financial Success (PFP 4318)

The Financial Tip of the Week is a service of ...
University of Missouri-Columbia
Personal Financial Planning Department
Office for Financial Success
Dr. Mark Oleson - OFS Director

October 19, 2006


Credit card companies are notorious for many of their “business” tactics. Many consumers [often students] fall prey to various credit card traps. Many of the more common ‘traps’ are well documented – others, not so much … I want to take the opportunity this week to talk about the more common [as well as new] traps. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. My initial intent was to write about the most recent trap I’ve read about (Trap #10) – as I started, however, I thought it might be also beneficial to remind you about some of the other more common traps as well.

1. FEES. Fees continue to become an ever-so-important part of a credit card companies revenue. The most common fees include: over-the-limit, late payment, convenience check and balance transfer fees. According to Carddata.com, over-the-limit and late fees have risen 138% and 160% respectively over the past 10 years.

2. PENALTY RATES. More and more companies are becoming less forgiving of late payments. Bank of America, Citibank, and other notable card companies currently raise rates to 30%+ for a single missed payment! OUCH.

3. INTRO OFFERS. Most people are aware of the tactic used by companies to lure in customers with a low rate offer for a short period of time – most people aren’t aware of the cards terms once the intro period expires.

4. USING A CARD WHERE YOU’VE TRANSFERRED A BALANCE. If taking advantage of a intro rate or balance transfer “special” be certain not to use the card for other purchases – your payments don’t go to your higher rate purchases, the payment will go to the ‘special rate’ portion of the balance.

5. CONVENIENCE CHECKS. These are awfully enticing – the checks often come made out to you and advertise that you can use them for anything. The catch? Most charge cash advance rates (~20%), most charge an average transaction fee of 3% of your check amount, and you normally will lose your grace period [even if you pay in full at the end of the month]. Not a great deal in most instances.

6. UNIVERSAL DEFAULT CLAUSE. A tactic initiated in recent years that creates penalty rates not only in the instance where you miss a payment with that particular card. In this agreement, the card is entitled to raise your rates even if you miss a payment elsewhere!

7. “YOU’RE PRE-APPROVED”. This ‘announcement’ makes many feel warm and fuzzy. The reality? All this means is that the company has reviewed your credit report and won’t reject your application based on that information. If you apply for the card, you can still be turned down because of insufficient income or other reasons that won’t be reflected within your credit report.

8. BAIT AND SWITCH. I’ve got a credit card that I use to obtain benefits – cash back on gas and other purchases, etc. If someone else were to apply for that card [or any other credit card requiring someone to have excellent or well established credit], instead of being turned down, on the application, there will be a statement where you are essentially giving permission to the CC company to give you their ‘base’ card if you are turned down for the card in which you are applying.

9. DECREASING MINIMUM PAYMENTS. One of the most financially rewarding tactics (for the CC company) is to decrease your required minimum payment as your balance decreases, essentially keeping you in debt longer. This is a smart tactic on their part because many people that can’t afford to pay the balance in full will simply pay the minimum payment. This required payment will decrease over time, extending the repayment period and interest paid over time.

10. NO MISSED PAYMENT PENALTY RATE. I’m sure this heading is perplexing. The idea of an interest rate going up because of missed payments is rational. But is it legal for a rate to go up for someone that doesn’t miss any payments? That’s what I’ve been reading recently. More and more “savvy” consumers in past years have taken advantage of 0% balance transfers, intro offers, and other “deals.” What many consumers saw as a loophole is now beginning to be closed by CC companies. Smart Money magazine wrote of an individual with what most would consider near perfect credit (790 credit score) – never missed a payment, never over the limit … He carried $8,000 on a credit card because he was taking advantage of the 0% rate for life offer. It was obviously quite a shock to open his statement and see a rate of 29.99%! Apparently, his card company viewed him as a higher credit risk because of his debt and thus, according to the card agreement, had the right to bump him to the ‘default rate’ … Normally, default rates are triggered by missed payments, but apparently, high balances can also trigger a default rate [due to higher risk on the part of the company]. A 2005 study by Consumer Action found that 90% of card issuers would use a universal default rate hike if a customer's credit score decreases, 86% would do so if they paid a mortgage or any other loan late. Nearly half (43%) would hit you with universal default if they decide you have too much debt, while 33% would do it for the exact opposite reason: too much credit available. You can see a rate hike even if all you do is get a new credit card (33%) or shop around for a car loan or mortgage (24%). BE CAREFUL – THE CREDIT CARD TRAP IS WIDENING!

*Schedule a Financial Counseling/Planning Session at the OFS
*Monday/Wednesday walk-in appointments at SSC

The Financial Tip of the Week Blog is a service of ...
University of Missouri-Columbia
Personal Financial Planning Department
Office for Financial Success
Dr. Mark Oleson - OFS Director

October 12, 2006


Last August, The Pension Protection Act of 2006 was passed, providing many benefits to savers. It was created with an eye on helping to “Protect pension and retirement plan participants and promote individual savings.” In a nutshell [don't worry, we won’t dive into the entire 1,304-page Act today], we’ll focus on five of the prominent areas in the plan …

1. Permanency to retirement plan and savings incentives. Contribution limits to IRAs, 401(k)s, and other workplace savings plans were increased in 2001 but were due to expire in 2010. This legislation makes these increases permanent. It also makes permanent the relatively new Roth 401(k) option which was slow to catch on for fear it would also disappear in 2010.

2. Automatic 401(k) enrollment. The new plan makes it easier for corporations to set up automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans. They can also set the plans to increase contributions automatically over time. I think this is great. If you don’t, you can ‘opt out’ – the issue now is that you may need to opt out of your company plan rather than opting in. In a study of four large companies that made 401(k) enrollment automatic, researchers found that 96% of employees were saving in a 401(k) plan six months after being hired [compared with 43% that were saving after six months prior to the switch to automatic enrollment]. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, it is expected that automatic enrollment would increase 401(k) participation from about 66% (currently) of eligible workers to more than 90%. Employers will be able to start contributions at 3% of salary and increase it over time to 6%. “Lifecycle” or “Target Retirement” funds are likely to be the default fund.

3. Deposit your tax refund automatically into an IRA. Starting in 2007, you can directly deposit all or a portion of your federal tax refund into an IRA. Consider this – the average tax refund of $2,400 is more money than the average person now saves for retirement annually!

4. Other IRA Enhancements. Beginning in 2010, it will be possible for anyone to convert eligible workplace savings plans or traditional IRA assets into a Roth IRA [regardless of income]. There are many other enhancements [primarily estate planning-related] which you can read more about below.

5. 529 College Savings Plan benefits are now permanent. The benefits of this college savings tool, established in 1996, were set to expire in 2010. This uncertainty kept many potential parents on the sidelines or in other vehicles because of their uncertain future.


- White House Pension Act Fact Sheet
- Fidelity Investments

- TIAA-CREF – Pension Protection Act of 2006 Guide

*Schedule a financial counseling/planning session at the OFS
*Walk-ins (M/W from 3-5pm) at the Student Success Center

The Financial Tip of the Week is a service of ...
University of Missouri-Columbia
Personal Financial Planning Department
Office for Financial Success
Dr. Mark Oleson - OFS Director

October 05, 2006

8% RULE ...

In an interview earlier this week, I was asked the question of what financial pitfalls most befall college students. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am much more concerned about pride (why students don't come to seek financial assistance than why they do come). Aside from pride, the biggest financial problem I’ve witnessed is student loans. There are a lot of potential factors here: overspending, no budget, borrowing more than can afford to be repaid, having a ‘head in the sand’ approach and not really having a clue about what they owe or anything else about their financial situation, and increasing educational costs, just to name a few.

I want to share a couple of free resources designed to help people evaluate their student loan situation. One uses a needs-based approach, and one uses a rule of thumb to gauge your financial situation.

Financial Path to Graduation.
The Path, developed at Brigham Young University nearly ten years ago, takes a needs-based approach to asking questions to evaluate your situation. Where will my current course of action take me? Will I be able to afford this situation? This process requires a student to evaluate their individual path to determine if it will lead them to firm footing at graduation, as opposed to an all-too-common scenario of owing more than can be afforded. After witnessing the benefits of the program for students, BYU began requiring that students complete The Path prior to being given new loans – the results have been impressive: lower default rate, fewer borrowers, lesser loan amounts … not bad in the current environment of more borrowers and more borrowing.
Read more about early results of their Path program.

SLOPE Calculator (8% Rule).
I think when reviewing ones student loan situation that a rule of thumb can also offer insight into the “path” that one is on. A generally accepted rule of thumb in the student loan arena is that one can afford a payment that is 8% or less of your gross income (if you don’t have an idea of what starting salaries are in your field of study, The Path can help). Obviously 8% is a guideline only, 8% for one person may create a hardship (picture someone with a large car payment, credit card debts, etc.) vs. someone with similar student loan debt but no other debts. That is the exact reason I prefer a needs-based approach. The advantage of the 8% rule is it allows me at any stage of my education to take stock in where I am. A really nice tool to help in this process was developed by the Colorado Student Loan Program. The Illinois “Mentor” program uses this tool and provides detailed information about what it is and how it works. It is well worth the few minutes it would require to examine your current student loan borrowing.

- Schedule a financial counseling/planning session
- Walk-in sessions available Mondays/Wednesdays (3-5pm) at the Student Success Center

The Financial Tip of the Week is a service of ...

University of Missouri-Columbia
Personal Financial Planning Department
Office for Financial Success
Dr. Mark Oleson - OFS Director