July 29, 2008


Keeping up with the world of student loans is a near impossibility ... the myriad of issues facing borrowers, the complicated worlds of federal and private loans, consolidation and loan repayment issues. That of course doesn't even touch upon the continual change in student loan policies and regulations, making the world of student loans a literal moving target. It is definitely enough to give one a headache.

Let me share one of the most useful student loan resources I've come across - The Project on Student Debt. Their mission: "Recognizing that loans play a critical role in making college possible, the Project's goal is to identify cost-effective solutions that expand educational opportunity, protect family financial security, and advance economic competitiveness." Let me share a few of the resources/info available on their site: (http://projectonstudentdebt.org/).

- Borrower's guide [based on the numerous July 1, 2008 changes].
- Current loan policy initiatives.
- Find out how the credit squeeze impacts the student loan industry.
- Information borrowers can use both before and after borrowing loans.
- Overview of current loan terms and rates.
- Resources/assistance for borrowers having trouble with their loans.
- State by State student loan indebtness data.
- Student loan tips for recent graduates.
- Up-to-date info on the new Income-Based Repayment option.
- Up-to-date info on the new Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The website is easy to navigate and to find whatever you are looking for (also, all information provided on their site is free). It's critical to review this type of information prior to making student loan decisions.

July 17, 2008


I don't think anyone would argue that solicitations from various sources and means can become extremely annoying. It's been almost two years since I shared resources for opting out of such unwanted solicitations and felt it was a good time for a reminder ...

The National "Do Not Call Registry" allows you to register both land lines and cell phones (https://www.donotcall.gov) by e-mail; or you can call toll free 1-888-382-1222 (from the number you are registering). Registration is free. It used to be effective for five years. With the passing of the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007 (signed in Feb. 2008), numbers placed on the registry will now remain [removed] permanently (until you "opt in"). Solicitors affected by the legislation are now required to stop the calls within 31 days of registration. Unfortunately, it won't stop all telemarketer calls. Banks, phone companies, airlines, insurance companies, nonprofit charitable organizations, and politicians are not under the jurisdiction of the FTC, and won't be impacted by the list. In addition, the list only applies to calls across state lines. Sales calls within a State will still be permitted unless you also opt out of solicitations through your State ‘do not call’ registry (or if your State integrated their list with the national one - some did when the Federal list was initiated in 2003). For state info: http://www.the-dma.org/government/donotcalllists.shtml.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit reporting agencies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance. What you may not have known is that the FCRA also enables you to “Opt-Out,” which prevents the credit reporting agencies from providing the information contained in your credit file to others.

There are two good ways to stop [or at least slow] offers:

(1) Go to www.OptOutPrescreen.com (or call 888-5-optout). These are the credit reporting agencies opt in/opt out resources which will stop the agencies from selling your information to direct marketers. You can opt out for a five-year period or permanently (you can always opt back in if you decide you miss the mail!). If you use the website provided, you can fill out a very brief, simple form to opt out. It will then provide a screen with the information you provided that you will need to print out, sign, and mail to the address provided in order to permanently opt out. If you don’t do that last step (print and mail), it will opt you out for the 5-year period instead.

(2) Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Do Not Mail file.
You can access this online – this process costs $1. You can also send a letter or postcard with your name, address and signature to: Mail Preference Service; Direct Marketing Association; PO Box 643; Carmel, NY 10512. The ‘mail method’ also costs $1 [+ postage]. Your name stays on the list for 5 years, and you can re-register at the end of that period.

Credit card companies get consumer information from other sources in addition to those mentioned above, so, while these two methods will considerably slow down credit card offers, the offers won't necessarily stop completely. For additional info, review the FAQ page for opting in/out at: https://www.optoutprescreen.com/faq.htm.

July 11, 2008


Typically, people are rewarded for doing the "right thing" - the recent tax stimulus has created a headache for some; but a solution has been created ...

If you were among those taxpayers who chose to have your tax refund directly deposited into an IRA, you won't be surprised at this point [since the last of the tax rebate checks have now been issued] to learn that your economic stimulus check has also been direct-deposited into that same account. This is not a concern unless you had already contributed the maximum amount to your IRA (or had other plans for the rebate).

The IRS is allowing you (in this circumstance) to withdraw up to the full amount of the stimulus payment without triggering taxes or the 10% penalty for early withdrawal. You also won't have to withdraw any earnings on the amount either (typically earnings on excess contributions have to be withdrawn but the IRS has waived that rule). The money will be treated as if it had never gone into the account. You have until April 15, 2009 (October 15th if you file for an extension on 2008 taxes) to retrieve the money from the IRA.

Additional Resources.
Economic Stimulus Payment FAQ
Not Too Late to Get Rebate

July 02, 2008


"Free credit" advertisements bombard consumers every day. I've talked about misgivings with common ones like freecreditreport.com (a place where you get something for free and then proceed to overpay for that 'freebie'). Let me share some freebies that are worth your time.

AnnualCreditReport.com. This freebie should be on everyones list. This is the only "legitimate" source for obtaining your free credit report. This is the government-sponsored site that allows you to obtain one report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus.

Free credit monitoring. Under normal circumstances, this is not a free service, it is one you pay for (and the cost-benefits are arguable). Under a recent class action settlement, TransUnion has agreed to offer free credit monitoring to more than 160 million people. Eligible? Anyone who had an open credit account or open line of credit [credit cards, car loans, mortgages, student loans, or any other loan would qualify] from any lender any time between January 1, 1987 and May 28, 2008. Go to www.listclassaction.com from now until September 24 to sign up. If you go, you'll find you have two options:
(a) 6 months* of free credit monitoring with a cash payment (if there is a settlement remaining) and the option of filing an individual suit; or
(b) 9 months of "enhanced" services with no cash payment and no potential lawsuit.
*The 6 month option provides unlimited daily access to your TransUnion credit report and TransUnion credit score and e-mail notification of any 'critical' changes in your credit report.

Credit Card Service. Many credit card companies (most?) have numerous credit services available [for fee] to manage credit, view credit, "prevent" identity theft, etc. Rumor has it that Washington Mutual actually provides ones credit score [for free] as part of your credit card statement each month. Not a bad card benefit.

Credit Score Simulators. I recently came across several free websites that will use various pieces of your provided information in order to assist you in 'simulating' what your credit score is. They claim to be pretty accurate - I'll let you be the judge. In no particular order:

- http://credit.com
- http://www.freebiecreditreport.com/estimatecreditscore.php
- http://www.freecreditanalyzer.com
- http://www.bankrate.com/brm/fico/calc.asp
- http://www.creditkarma.com
- https://www.quizzle.com