CFPB Sues ITT for Allegedly Exploiting Students with Predatory Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sent a jolt through the for-profit college industry this week when the federal agency sued ITT Educational Services Inc. for predatory lending practices, saying it would seek restitution for victims, a civil fine and injunctions against the company.

The CFPB accused ITT, which owns and operates ITT Technical Institute, of exploiting its students by pushing them into high-cost private loans the school knew likely would end up in default. Colleges are the beneficiaries of much of the loan money paid out for tuition, fees, books and other expenses. Schools receive the money, regardless of whether the student succeeds at school and graduates.

“ITT marketed itself as improving consumers’ lives, but it was really just improving its bottom line,” CFPB Director Richard Corday said in a statement. “We believe ITT used high-pressure tactics to push many consumers into expensive loans destined to default.”

The suit marks the first time the CFPB has taken action against a college in the for-profit business. The action comes one month after 13 states sent subpoenas to ITT and three other for-profit colleges, demanding documents about recruiting practices and financing.

An ITT spokeswoman declined to comment on the pending CFPB lawsuit, but told Reuters “we believe that the Bureau’s claims are without merit.”

ITT Considered a National Leader

ITT, based in Carmel, Ind., is considered one of the leaders in the for-profit college industry with more than 70,000 students spread across 140 schools in 35 states. The school’s website shows it predominantly offers career-focused degrees in seven areas, ranging from information technology to nursing.

Tuition at ITT is among the highest in the country in the for-profit industry, Corday said. A four-year degree from ITT can cost $88,000 and a two-year degree $44,000. The U.S. Department of Education said that 75 percent of students at for-profit schools borrowed money to pay the tab.

Students from for-profit colleges receive about $30 billion in federal loans every year. The problem at ITT is that federal loans don’t cover full tuition at the school. The CFPB’s suit claims that ITT enticed students to close the tuition gap with a zero-interest loan the school called “Temporary Credit.”

It was temporary because the loan terms said it had to be repaid by the end of the school year, even though ITT knew that wouldn’t happen, CFPB officials said. The CFPB said that when the students couldn’t repay the loan, they were pushed to convert it to high-cost, long-term loans. The CFPB accused ITT CEO Denise Ramos of telling investors that was the company’s plan all along.

Students Destined to Fail

Specifically, the suit alleges ITT acted improperly in four major areas:

  • Financial aid staff pressured students into predatory loans.
  • Threatening expulsion as a way to coerce students into taking out private loans and finishing their degrees at ITT. Since credits don’t transfer to most non-profit schools, transferring is not an option.
  • Misleading students into thinking they would land a high salary job after graduating that could help repay the student loans.
  • Pushing loans, despite its own projection of a 64 percent default rate for its students, far above the national average of 14.7 percent.

Although for-profit schools enroll just 13 percent of the students, they accounted for 46 percent of the student loan defaults over the last three years.

The Department of Education estimates that over the next 20 years, the average default rate for all for-profit colleges will be 49 percent.

“Today’s action should serve as a warning to the for-profit college industry that we will be vigilant about protecting students against predatory lending tactics,” Corday said.

Ironically, ITT Tech’s corporate philosophy posted on the school’s website reads: “Long-term integrity is worth far more than short-term profit.”

How to Choose Where to Retire

As soon as you approach retirement age, one of the questions that will keep coming to your mind will be where to retire and settle down. However, before you make any decision, you need to have a solid plan on the ground.

Regardless of how diligent, productive, and hardworking we are at our workplace, we will all have to retire some day. In spite of this, most people tend to give little or no attention to some very decisive retirement plans. These may include the best states to retire and enjoy the rest of their lives. They often wait until retirement hits before taking steps to make plans for their life after service. At this point, they may be forced to make a hasty conclusion and end up settling in a place that will cause a financial strain.

But if you don’t want to stretch your benefits beyond what you can handle, you must put a solid plan in place to facilitate a smooth and seamless retirement process. This is because retirement comes with a lot of surprises, and these may hit you where it hurts the most if you are not prepared.

Most Americans wish to enjoy their retirement in an accommodating, flexible environment, where they can also enjoy their old age. However, they find it difficult to choose the most suitable state for their lifestyle and fixed earnings. While many prefer to live closer to their friends and family, others want a location that suits a low profile lifestyle.

In this article, we will focus on the important factors that can help you determine the best states to retire at the end of your career.

Photo Credit: Matthias Z. (Pexels)

Discovering the Best States to Retire in the US: What You Need to Know

Life is in stages, and for every stage, there are some new challenges. However, how you handle these challenges depends majorly on your level of preparation and planning. More often than not, you will find yourself trying so hard to adjust your lifestyle in order not to exhaust your retirement benefits. But when you settle down in a welcoming and tax-friendly environment, you can enjoy your retirement benefits and boost your savings. That is why you need to weigh your options and consider the most suitable state for your lifestyle before finalizing on your relocation decisions.

Many states have a beneficial package for every retiree willing to relocate after their service. However, as long as most retirees make their retirement plans based on their personal evaluation, some places will most likely be more suitable for them than the others. 

To discover the best states to retire in the US, you must consider a lot of factors. While making your consideration, you should consider the negative and positive attributes of each state, as well as research their living standard.

Other important factors that will help you determine the right state to settle down after your retirement include:

Cost of Living

The cost of living in any state is an essential factor that should top your list of considerations before you conclude. If you are planning on making your pensions, savings, and Social Security last for as long as possible, then you have to settle down in an affordable state.

As the cost of living in most US states differs from each other, it may either increase or lower your level of spending, depending on the area you live in.

You may have to dole out a considerable amount of money to access some basic services. However, in other places, these same services can go for a lesser amount of money. If you don’t want to deplete your retirement benefits quickly, you may want to consider relocating to an affordable state with a reasonably low cost of living. When you live in a region where you can manage your daily expenses without cutting back too much on the things you love, it may improve your standard of living and allow you to take on new hobbies.

Security

Every retiree will prefer to settle down in a safe and secure environment. Before you decide which state you would like to spend the rest of your life in, it is important to consider the security risks and conditions. An unsafe environment can endanger your life and that of your property. And you don’t want to spend the rest of your life worrying about your safety when you should be enjoying the things you love the most. That is why you need to choose a place with fewer security issues and crime rates.

Best states to retire
Photo Credit: Huy Phan (Pexels)

Climate and Temperature

The weather condition of most US States differs from each other. And because of this, you have to ensure that the weather of the state you are intending to relocate to suits your lifestyle and health condition before finalizing your relocation plan.

During the winter, some states in the US experience some bizarre weather, including violent storms and heavy snow. If you find it difficult to acclimate to cold weather conditions, you may want to consider a place with a suitable climatic condition for your health before you conclude your plans.

Availability of Basic Social Amenities and Other Important Service

As a retiree, you will require a lot of services to keep up with the normal standard of living. That is why it is important to consider places with affordable access to basic social amenities and psychosocial services.  

Living in a neighborhood with fewer services can affect your well-being, as well as limit you from accessing most of the needful health services.

Photo Credit: Kaboompics (Pexels)

Closeness to Family and Friends

The state in which your family and friends reside also determines where you might select while searching for the best state to spend your old age. When you retire to a residence closer to your family and friends, you can always enjoy a friendly and warming environment.

Tax

Relocating to a new state after your service years is adventurous and exciting, especially as you no longer have to punch the clock and can afford to do all the things you love the most. However, paying taxes can quickly help to drain your retirement benefits, now that you are living on a fixed income.

While you are getting close to retirement, you should make plans to settle in a state with a friendly tax system. You can check out places with no state income tax or tax on retirement benefits, as they can help boost your savings and increase your wealth.

Housing

As you edge towards retirement, you need to make a proper plan for your housing and accommodation. Everybody has a different view when it comes to selecting a suitable house to live in.  When you choose to settle down in a state with cheaper housing options, you can save more money and still get your desired choice of residence, where you can call home.

The Best States to Retire in the US

Every state across the US has prominent factors that will attract or drive away retirees willing to relocate. However, the following states stand out from the rest, as they offer friendly low property and inheritance tax rates and affordable access to essential services. At the same time, you also enjoy the scenic view, pleasant weather, and conducive environment of these states, as they will add glamor to your retirement plans.

Some of these states include:

  • Nebraska
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Florida
  • South Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky

5 Ways to Take Control of Your Credit Card Habits

Have you ever used a credit card to pay off another card? I’ll admit it: I am one of those people. At that time, I was living my life worry-free, making money and having fun. Anytime a friend said, “Let’s go out of town for the weekend,” I happily went along, regardless of my budget.

This led to more and more debt, which I continued to ignore, hoping it would take care of itself. The turning point for me was finally having the courage to look at my financial reality. But I was $187,000 in debt before I got to that point.

Don’t wait as long as I did. Whatever debt you’ve accumulated, it’s possible to change your credit card habits, provided you’re willing to be aware of your finances. Here’s how.

Take Control of Your Credit Card Habits

  1. Look at the Numbers
  2. Stop Playing Into the Drama
  3. Start Some New Habits
  4. When You Do Spend, Buy Things That Last
  5. Use Your Card to Your Advantage

Look at the Numbers

To start, gather all your credit card statements and calculate the total amount you owe. Now, divide it by 12 for the whole year. Look at that figure. Is it possible for you to actually make a payment of that amount each month after subtracting your living expenses and any other debts?

If that seems impossibly high, then you’re living beyond your means – with the help of credit cards. Now, divide that number into 24, or even 36, giving yourself two or three years to pay off the debt.

Still not doable? Then commit to paying a small amount each month to your balance, even if it’s just $20. And in the meantime, stop using your credit cards until you get to a place where you are able to pay off the entire balance in full each month. To change your habits, you’ve got to make some different choices.

Stop Playing Into the Drama

Credit card debt is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history, and everyone seems to have a horror story to tell. Well, it’s time to stop listening to your own trauma and drama and start looking at what actions you can take. At one point I had three different jobs, rather than sit and complain to my friends and family about my debt.

Anytime someone offered me paying work, I took it. Some jobs I loved; some I hated. Some were really slow. None of it mattered. I was constantly looking for what else I could do to make more money and put a dent into my debt.

Start Some New Habits

We’re taught that the value of money is spending it or saving it to spend later. How many people pay off their credit cards and think, “Great! I’ve got another $10,000 (or whatever their credit limit is) to spend?”

Start a new habit. Allow yourself to have money in your life and watch it grow. One of the best tools for this is the 10% account. That’s where you put away 10% of every single cent you get as a gift to yourself. It’s not your emergency fund or to pay bills. It’s about being grateful for you.

When I first started my 10% account, I was still in debt. Even though it made no sense, I started putting aside 10%, and after three or four months, I no longer had panic and stress about money. It changed the energy around money for me.

When You Do Spend, Buy Things That Last

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your debt, try using your credit card to purchase things of intrinsic value. You could start by buying a silver teaspoon to stir your coffee. Find out the price of silver and buy a spoon for less. Learn about things of intrinsic value that bring you a sense of wealth. If not a material object, what about a subscription to a publication that makes you rich in other ways?

Use Your Card to Your Advantage

Having a credit card isn’t bad in itself. There are ways to use it to your advantage without creating more debt. I now use my credit card for a lot of different things. At the end of each month when I pay it off, I’ve usually accumulated a ton of miles on my frequent flyer card. That means I could get upgraded to business class or first class when I travel. That’s the joy of business. How could you use your credit card to your advantage?

To be clear, this is not financial advice. These are practical tools that will help you change your money habits – and your attitude around money – so try these approaches and see how they change your outlook.

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How To Remove Autovest LLC From Your Credit Report

It’s all too easy to fall behind on car payments and find yourself with a collections entry on your credit report.

Whether you simply forgot to pay your bill or you’re dealing with financial hardship, you could be contacted by a collections agency like Autovest LLC.

When your debt goes into collections, it can have serious repercussions for your credit score and add unnecessary anxiety to your life.

Fortunately, getting a collections account off your credit report is easier than you might expect.

Below, we’ll give you a better idea of who Autovest is and show you how to get them deleted from your credit report.

What Is Autovest LLC?

Unfamiliar with the name Autovest LLC? You can rest assured knowing Autovest is a legitimate company.

The collections agency has been around since 2003, collecting on automobile debts across the country.

According to its website, the agency holds over $1.7 billion of consumer auto debt, purchased from banks and auto financiers.

You can reach Autovest at the address below:

26261 Evergreen Rd Ste 390
Southfield, MI 48076

How Does Autovest LLC Work?

When lenders and service providers are unable to reach you and you fail to make a payment on your account, they eventually turn over your debt to a collections agency like Autovest.

While some agencies are paid to assist the companies in collecting debts, Autovest purchases the debts outright.

Once the agency owns your debt, it gets reported to one, two, or all of the major credit bureaus.

A collections entry is added to your report, where it stays for seven years unless you get it removed.

Collections entries may only lower your score slightly depending on your overall credit use and other factors, or it can do significant damage.

This type of entry can bring down your payment history, which accounts for 35% of your credit profile.

In addition to bringing down your credit score, a collections account means you’ll get frequent phone calls, robocalls, and letters from the agency until payment is made.

But don’t pick up the phone or log in to the Autovest website to make a payment just yet, because simply making a payment won’t lead to the collection account’s deletion from your report.

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How to Deal with Autovest LLC

Like most debt collectors, Autovest has its share of negative reviews from consumers, including complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Better Business Bureau.

Some complaints are concerned with the agency’s failure to respond to requests for debt validation and their faulty reporting.

In light of those complaints, it’s important to understand the rights granted to you by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The FDCPA keeps debt collectors from harassing you and seeks to ensure accurate reporting.

Here are a few specific protections offered by the FDCPA:

  • Debt collectors can’t talk to other people about your debt.
  • They may not call you outside of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Agencies must provide validation of debts if requested within 30 days.
  • You may choose a preferred method of communication.

The last provision is an important one. For the best results, you should always communicate with Autovest in writing.

That way, you’ll have the documentation you need to get Autovest off your credit report.

3 Ways to Remove Autovest LLC from Your Credit Report

Ready to say goodbye to Autovest LLC?

Below are three strategies that can help you with removing the collections account from your credit report.

  1. Send a debt validation letter
  2. Negotiate a payment
  3. Pay for professional help

1. Send a Debt Validation Letter

According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you can request more information about the debt a collections agency is seeking to collect on.

If you submit a debt validation letter within 30 days of being contacted by Autovest, they are legally required to furnish you with proof of your debt.

That might include your auto lender’s name, your account number, and dates surrounding your payment history.

If you’ve never fallen behind on car payments and Autovest’s entry on your credit report came as a surprise, you may be a victim of identity theft or simply the subject of a reporting error.

In both cases, you should send a debt validation letter to get to the bottom of the issue.

But individuals with legitimate debt may find this strategy to be successful, too.

Debt collection agencies, especially third-party entities like Autovest LLC don’t always retain the documentation they need to validate your debt.

Without proof of your debt, they would have no choice but to cease their collection attempts.

That would not only put an end to their calls and letters, but it would also result in the immediate deletion of the entry from your credit report.

Submitting a debt validation letter couldn’t be easier, and it could solve your collections issues without costing you more than an envelope and postage.

Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Report

2. Negotiate a Payment

If it’s too late to send a debt validation letter, or the agency was able to validate your debt, you should try arranging a pay-for-delete agreement.

Remember that paying the full amount you owe Autovest will not lead to its removal from your credit report.

Instead, you need to offer to pay the agency to get the negative entry deleted from your report.

Their consent is key here. The best part of a pay-for-delete is that you might be able to get Autovest to settle for less than what you owe them.

Try negotiating to pay 30 to 50% of your account balance, and you could walk away debt-free without paying all of what you owe.

For this strategy to work, you should negotiate with Autovest in writing. If you get someone to agree to accept your payment in exchange for a deletion over the phone, there may not be any proof of your arrangement.

A letter gives you clear-cut documentation to see your case through. If you aren’t already, sign up for free credit monitoring and track your score in the weeks following your payment.

Your report should be updated within a month’s time. If it isn’t, you should send the agency and potentially the credit bureaus a letter following up on the situation.

3. Pay for Professional Help

Dealing with debt collection agencies can sometimes be an unpleasant experience. At the very least, it’s time-consuming.

If you’d rather leave it to someone else, a credit repair company could be well worth the cost.

These companies are staffed with experts who will evaluate every aspect of your credit to see what areas need improvement.

Then, they’ll create a plan and actively work to get your score up.

That includes disputing inaccurate reporting and negotiating with collections agencies like Autovest.

They can tackle a number of challenging credit problems, like:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Liens
  • Judgments
  • Repossession
  • Hard inquiries
  • Identity theft

Many of these companies offer multiple levels of service at different price points so you can choose a package that fits your budget and your needs.

If your score could use a lift and you don’t know where to begin, give one of our top credit repair companies a try.

What is Avantus on My Credit Report?

Wondering why Avantus LLC is on your credit report?

Finding an entry on your credit report that you don’t recognize can be scary, especially when the entry is accompanied by a decrease in your score.

If an entry from Avantus is on your report, it’s most likely because you applied for a mortgage recently.

Getting approved for a mortgage, loan, or credit requires a hard credit inquiry, which can lower your score.

While one entry won’t hurt your score too much, several hard inquiries can do some major damage.

Read on to learn more about Avantus LLC, how hard credit inquiries work, and how you may be able to get an entry removed from your report.

What Is Avantus LLC On My Credit Report?

Avantus LLC is a company that primarily provides specialized credit reports for mortgage lenders.

It lists several additional services, including:

  • Soft credit checks
  • Employment verification
  • Two-factor authentication
  • Tenant screening
  • Social Security Number verification

That means Avantus could check your credit for multiple reasons; however, a mortgage application is the most likely cause.

Avantus specializes in offering merged credit reports to lenders, such as tri-merge reports.

This type of report combines data from your TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax reports to give lenders a comprehensive overview of your past credit use.

This report helps your prospective lender to make a decision on your application.

How Long Does a Hard Credit Inquiry Stay on Your Report?

If you don’t get it removed, a hard credit check will stay on your report for 2 years.

A hard inquiry can lower your score, though it becomes less impactful over time.

This sort of inquiry occurs when a lender, prospective employer, landlord, or other entity requests one or more of your credit reports.

Some lenders only request one of your credit reports, while others may use two or all three to make a decision. That means any or all of your scores could be affected.

Hard credit inquiries take place with your consent when you submit an application for funding.

Unlike a hard inquiry, a soft inquiry is a less extensive credit check that verifies your credit score.

Your report might undergo a soft inquiry when you:

  • Check your score with a free credit monitoring service
  • Get pre-approved for a loan or card
  • Compare quotes

Though soft inquiries don’t affect your score, a hard inquiry may drop your score by a few points.

And if you have a handful of several applications in the last two years, hard inquiries can have a more severe impact on your score.

To minimize the negative effects of hard inquiries, try to do all of your mortgage shopping within a 14-day window.

During that timeframe, each individual application won’t result in a loss of points.

Another piece of advice: Often, mortgage lenders share their minimum requirements for credit, income, downpayment, etc.

Check into the approval odds before applying for a loan and only apply for ones you’re likely to get.

Learn More: Soft vs. Hard Inquiries

How to Remove an Avantus LLC Inquiry from Your Credit Report

If you applied for a mortgage recently, you don’t have to worry about an inquiry from Avantus.

But if you can’t think of anything that could have resulted in an inquiry from the company, you should get the hard inquiry deleted from your report.

It could be a sign of identity theft, or at the very least, a reporting error.

Either way, your score shouldn’t suffer.

Here are a couple of pointers to help you get Avantus off your report if it’s there by mistake.

Dispute the Inquiry

Reporting accidents happen. Unfortunately, so does identity fraud.

If a hard inquiry winds up on your credit report without your consent, you should reach out to the company named, and also to the credit bureaus.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1990 gives you 30 days to file a dispute for a hard inquiry.

You can file a dispute with the bureaus by phone, mail, and online.

While all three approaches can be effective, you may want to communicate with the bureaus via certified mail for documentation purposes.

To catch hard inquiries as soon as they’re added to your report, you should invest in a good credit monitoring service.

There are several excellent paid and free credit monitoring services that can alert you to new entries and any overall changes to your report.

Monitor Your Credit

Get Help from a Credit Repair Company

Hard inquiries can be hard to deal with sometimes, pun intended.

If you’re drowning in credit issues and don’t know where to begin improving your score, a credit repair company can be a real lifesaver.

They can dispute inaccuracies on your report, such as a fraudulent entry from Avantus LLC, contacting the company and the appropriate bureaus to ensure it gets deleted.

These companies are equipped to help with a slew of more challenging credit issues, too, such as:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Charge offs
  • Debt collections
  • Late payments
  • Foreclosure
  • Judgments
  • Liens

Whether you’re reeling from identity theft, struggling with an unexpected financial hurdle, or simply overwhelmed with late payments, credit repair services can be well worth considering.

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Getting Avantus LLC Removed from Your Report

It can be disheartening to see your credit score drop when you’ve been making timely payments on all your accounts.

But as long as you applied for a mortgage, job, or even an apartment recently, you don’t need to stress over an entry from Avantus LLC.

The inquiry will have less of an effect on your score as time progresses, falling off your report in two years.

But if you didn’t submit an application that could have resulted in the inquiry, it’s time to get it removed.

Whether you dispute the entry yourself or work with one of the most highly-reviewed credit repair companies, don’t waste another day.

What is AMRent on My Credit Report?

Have you discovered an entry from AmRent on your credit report?

Credit card and loan applications aren’t the only things that require a hard inquiry.

Sometimes landlords run a credit inquiry as a part of their screening process for applicants.

If you’ve recently applied for residence at a new house or apartment, it could lead to a hard inquiry from AmRent.

What Is AmRent On Your Credit Report?

AmRent is a consumer reporting agency that specializes in obtaining the records of prospective tenants for landlords and rental companies.

Specifically, they supply some of the following data:

  • Credit reports
  • Criminal records
  • Eviction data
  • ID verification
  • Employment/income authentication

This information helps paint a picture of an individual’s financial habits and overall lifestyle to determine whether or not they would be a responsible tenant.

AmRent provides its clients with exhaustive reports to help streamline their decision-making process.

How Do Hard Inquiries Work?

It’s important to distinguish between the two types of credit inquiries: hard and soft.

A soft credit check might occur when you use a service like Credit Karma to check your credit score.

A soft inquiry could also happen when you get quotes for a loan or credit card.

This type of inquiry basically verifies your score. As such, it doesn’t get added to your credit report or negatively affect your score.

Unlike a soft inquiry, a hard inquiry does lower your score, and it stays there for two years.

Hard inquiries are more invasive than soft inquiries, allowing lenders or businesses to obtain your full credit report.

A hard inquiry might occur when you apply for a:

  • Loan
  • Mortgage
  • Credit card
  • Apartment lease
  • New job

A hard credit inquiry might impact any or every one of your credit scores, depending on which reports the landlord chooses to request.

So, how much does an inquiry lower your credit score?

One credit inquiry won’t likely lower your score too much, usually only dropping it by a few points.

However, if your credit report is chock-full of recent credit, loan, and residential applications, it throws up a red flag to the bureaus and can do more significant damage to your score.

To limit the effects of hard inquiries, try to:

  1. Check the approval odds before applying for anything that requires a hard inquiry.
  2. Submit all your applications for a specific type of loan within 14 days.

How to Remove AmRent from Your Credit Report

As you can see, one hard inquiry shouldn’t be too devastating to your credit.

However, if you never applied for a lease and submitted to a credit check, AmRent should not be on your credit report.

If you suspect identity fraud or a reporting error is to blame for AmRent’s presence on your report, here are two ways to get the inquiry off your report.

Dispute the Inquiry with AmRent and the Bureaus

Your first line of defense if you’re hit with an unsolicited hard inquiry is to dispute it.

Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have a total of 30 days to send a letter of dispute if an inquiry is on your report due to an error or identity fraud.

You should be able to clear up the situation by mailing AmRent a letter of dispute.

You may also dispute the debt with the credit bureaus, explaining the situation to them.

This method should lead to the removal of the hard inquiry from your report.

Staying alert to changes to your credit score is all but impossible without a credit monitoring service.

Since you only have 30 days to file a dispute, tracking your credit is crucial to getting inaccurate entries deleted.

If someone is using your identity fraudulently, credit monitoring can be vital to catching them early on and protecting your financial wellbeing.

There are plenty of great credit monitoring sites out there, and many of them are free.

Take a few moments to sign up for one of them if you haven’t already.

Monitor Your Credit

Reach Out to a Credit Repair Company

Repairing your credit can be a tedious task. If you need assistance getting inquiries removed from your credit report, you may want to pay for a credit repair service.

There are dozens of companies that specialize in helping consumers like you to improve their credit scores.

They can dispute inaccuracies on your report and get them deleted, but they can also assist you with more complex issues, like:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Charge offs
  • Collections
  • Foreclosures
  • Judgments
  • Liens
  • Repossession

You’ll get a customized plan and top-notch assistance from a representative dedicated to your case.

If you want to take your score to the next level and don’t mind paying for help, a credit repair service is an excellent investment.

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Getting AmRent Removed from Your Report

Sometimes, a slight drop in your credit score is inevitable.

Hard inquiries are an essential part of getting approved for funding, or in this case, for a new home.

If you recently submitted a rental application, you don’t need to worry too much about the accompanying inquiry.

It should only result in a small decrease in your credit score, and it will fall off of your report completely in two years.

However, if you didn’t apply for a lease and think Am Rent is on your report by mistake, you should dispute the entry ASAP.

If you need assistance, one of the top credit repair companies can help you get started.

Student Loans, Other Debts Are Stressing Americans More Than Ever

The American Psychological Association (APA) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York aren’t working together on the mental and fiscal health of America — but they certainly could.

The APA released its annual “Stress in America” survey on Feb. 11 and noted a slight increase in stress levels in 2013. The first uptick since the survey started six years ago.

A week later, the Federal Reserve released its quarterly report on household debt and credit.

That report also showed a slight jump in consumer debt for 2013. It was the first boost since 2008.

As anyone dealing with the stress of debt can attest, the two are very much related.

Debt Rises for First Time in Five Years

There was definitely more debt in America in 2013, specifically in the last two quarters of the year. Total debt over those two quarters increased $368 billion.

That reversed a trend where consumers had reduced their debt in 18 of 19 quarters from the end of 2008 to the summer of 2013. Debt dropped an astounding $1.35 billion during that time and so did stress levels, as measured by the APA.

The APA’s “Stress in America” survey uses a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 representing no stress and 10 being extreme stress. Levels peaked in 2007 at 6.2 and declined every year when it reached 4.9 in 2012. The level jumped slightly to 5.1 in 2013.

“I think it is safe to say that being in debt is a stressful circumstance,” said Stuart Vyse, author of “Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold on to Their Money” and professor of psychology at Connecticut College.

He says that once you achieve a certain standard of living, “it’s difficult to change and adapt to a simpler life. People continue to live beyond their means rather than reduce expenditures to meet their income and that can be very stressful.”

Student Loans Are Biggest Contributors to Stress

Total debt in America rose to $180 billion in 2013. It was down $188 billion the first two quarters of that year. It’s also the first year total debt jumped since 2008.

Overall, the total debt in America is $11.52 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve, well under the peak of $12.68 trillion after Q3 of 2008. Most of that drop is attributed to reduced credit card spending.

Student loan debt, which has soared from $579 billion in 2008 to $1.02 trillion at the end of 2013, accounts for the bulk of increased debt over the last five years. Approximately 70 percent of college students owe money at graduation, with an average student loan debt of $26,600.

That could explain why young adults, ages 18 to 33, showed the largest increase in stress levels recorded by the APA survey.

“As long as people are carrying large amounts of debt, they will continue to experience stress,” Vyse said. “And when there is uncertainty about the economy and employment, there is going to be even more stress.

“That’s why money is and always will be at or near the top of the list of stressors in the United States.”

FMA Alliance Ltd.

Have you been contacted by a collection agency known as FMA Alliance Ltd., or simply FMA Alliance?

FMA Alliance is a legitimate collection agency representing a number of different entities.

Of particular concern is that they often represent government agencies.

That means they may be collecting past-due taxes, fines, government fees, court-ordered debts, and even tolls.

Our recommendation when dealing with FMA Alliance Ltd.—or any other collection agency—is to be as proactive as possible.

In this guide, we’ll be showing you specific strategies for dealing with FMA Alliance.

What Is FMA Alliance?

FMA Alliance Ltd. began operations in 1983, and is based in Houston, Texas.

The company started by handling collection accounts for local doctors’ offices. They have expanded to represent clients in the healthcare, finance, and retail fields.

But they also handle collections for student loans and governments. The latter includes debts for federal, state, and municipal governments and their agencies.

That includes collecting for utility bills, business taxes, court-ordered debt, parking, and moving violations, emergency medical fees, permit and licensing fees, and even bridge, tunnel, and highway tolls.

The company seems to be a small operation, collecting debts in only a limited number of states.

However, there’s no indication if they simply represent original creditors, or purchase the debt outright and become the first lien holder.

Is FMA Alliance Legit?

FMA Alliance Ltd. is a legitimate business that has a Better Business Bureau rating of “A+”, which is the highest rating provided on a scale of A+ to F.

The company has been accredited by the BBB since 2013.

There have been just nine complaints filed against FMA Alliance Ltd. in the past three years.

And this is too small a sample size to give any clear pattern of potential issues with the company.

If you are overwhelmed by dealing with negative entries on your credit report,
we suggest you ask a professional credit repair company for help.

Ask Lex Law for Help

Before You Deal with FMA Alliance Ltd.

Below, we will get into the strategies for dealing with FMA Alliance Ltd.

But first, there are some basic rules you’ll need to be aware of when dealing with all collection agencies.

1. Don’t deal with collection agencies by phone

The first instinct for dealing with a collection agency is often to reach out with a phone call. This may be seen as the best way to resolve a collection account quickly.

That may be true. But conducting regular phone calls with any collection agency can easily do more harm than good.

Collection agents are trained and experienced in dealing with debtors.

They know how and when to apply pressure. And this may cause you to become confused and off-balance.

Collection agencies routinely press debtors for more information that more easily connects them with a specific debt. They will also pressure you to make payments you may not be in a position to afford.

None of that can possibly go in your favor. But what makes matters worse is that collection agencies typically record phone calls.

That means any representations you make on the call can be held as evidence against you. They would use this if the company decides to pursue a lawsuit.

Phone contact may be—or seem to be— convenient with a collection agency. But you need to put a stop to it as soon as possible.

2. All contact with a collection agency should be in writing

Under federal law, you have a right to insist all contact with a collection agency be conducted in writing. And that’s exactly what you should do.

During your first phone call with the company, assert your right to demand all contact be handled in writing.

That will put an end to the phone calls, which may be coming in rapid-fire succession.

It’s almost impossible to process multiple phone calls about a past-due debt, let alone deal with it intelligently.

By requiring the collection agency to contact you in writing, you’ll put an end to the phone calls—and the intimidation they often bring.

But there are even more advantages to conducting communication with a collection agency in writing.

Written correspondence limits an exchange. The collection agency will be forced to make its point.

But they’ll have to do it without using any type of intimidating language that may be a violation of federal law.

Meanwhile, you’ll be able to keep your own communications short and to the point.

Any letters you send to a collection agency should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

That will not only prove you sent the letters, but also that they were received.

Save all correspondence—yours and any from the collection agency—in a dedicated file folder.

This will give you the ability to access the latest exchanges. So you’ll always know exactly where you’re at in any negotiation process.

Equally important, your file full of correspondence may be your best defense if the collection agency chooses to bring a lawsuit against you.

3. Never promise to make a payment unless you’re willing and able to make it

Debtors are sometimes intimidated into promising to send at least partial payment to the collection agency to get past an uncomfortable moment.

But that payment may never be sent if the funds to do so are not available.

Unfortunately, making a promise to send payment and failing to do it is not a harmless event.

The collection agency can claim breach of contract and use it as evidence against you in a lawsuit.

Never promise or even hint at sending payment to a collection agency unless you have the funds available, and fully intend to send them.

4. Familiarize yourself with your rights under federal law

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides consumers with certain protections from collection agency abuses.

You can learn these protections by reading the Debt Collection FAQs provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Just knowing your rights under federal law may give you the upper hand when a collection agency starts getting ugly.

Get Legal Help in Dealing with FMA Alliance Ltd.

If you’re sensing that dealing with collection agencies doesn’t always go as planned, you’re thinking right.

Most consumers, unfamiliar with how the collections process works, fail to achieve their desired result.

There’s no shame in that, it’s just that you’re operating on an uneven playing field.

If the debt you owe is large, or if FMA Alliance isn’t being cooperative—and especially if they threaten you with a lawsuit—you’ll need to get legal representation from a credit repair specialist.

We recommend Lexington Law, which is one of the top credit law firms in the country.

They’re likely to have more success with FMA Alliance than you will on your own.

Ask Lex Law for Help

Specific Strategies for Dealing with FMA Alliance Ltd.

With the basics for dealing with collection agencies under your belt, let’s move on to the specific strategies for dealing with FMA Alliance Ltd.

But as we move forward, be aware that the strategy you choose—and how effective it might be—will depend largely on the type of debt FMA Alliance Ltd. is attempting to collect.

The process may be more complicated with a government debt than with a retail debt.

1. Demand FMA Alliance Ltd. Provide a Debt Validation Letter

In theory, at least, all collection agencies are required to provide consumers with proper validation of the debt they are attempting to collect.

FMA Alliance Ltd. may or may not provide this validation voluntarily. But if they don’t, you’ll need to specifically request it. And remind them they are obligated to do so under federal law.

You’ll do this by demanding FMA Alliance Ltd. provide you with a debt validation letter.

The letter should spell out the specifics of the debt. This would include the original date of the obligation, the amount due, when it first went into collection, and exactly who the original creditor is.

It should also provide any information that specifically connects you to the obligation.

Once you receive the debt validation letter, you can begin examining it for clues on how to dispute the claim.

For example, many collection accounts are the result of either an uncredited payment or mistaken identity.

The collection agency may even be attempting to collect a debt you’ve long since paid. But they didn’t properly credit it to your account.

Mistaken identity is a surprisingly common situation, especially if you have a common name.

The collection agency may be attempting to collect a debt owed by someone with the same or a similar name.

But if you can show that you have a different address—or that you never lived at the address on record—you may be able to challenge the validity of the debt.

2. Request a Goodwill Deletion

This is a strategy worth trying if you already know the debt is yours—and you fully intend to pay it (or have already done so).

And your primary concern is improving your credit score.

It works something like this: you’ll send FMA Alliance Ltd. a goodwill letter.

The letter will need to explain that the reason the account went into collection was due to circumstances beyond your control.

That can include the death of a loved one, a divorce, a natural disaster, being called for military service, or anything similar.

You’ll request that FMA Alliance Ltd. remove the collection account from your credit reports as an act of goodwill.

If your letter is convincing, and especially if you can provide documentation supporting your story, the company may agree and remove the debt from your credit reports.

3. Offer a Pay-for-Delete Agreement

This is one of the more speculative strategies for dealing with any collection agency. In large part because it’s not guaranteed to work.

You’ll send FMA Alliance a pay-for-delete letter. In the letter, you’ll propose to pay the debt in full in exchange for the company deleting the account from your credit reports.

That sounds like a fair exchange, doesn’t it? Except for one thing—pay-for-delete arrangements are not legally enforceable.

Collection agencies can show a debt as paid on a credit report, but they’re not supposed to delete it after receiving payment.

For that reason, they can accept your money, then fail to remove the collection account from your reports.

If that turns out to be the case, you’ll have no legal recourse. Even if FMA Alliance agreed to the arrangement in writing.

4. Demand Deletion if FMA Alliance Can’t Fully Validate the Debt

There’s a second strategy involving the debt validation letter.

Say FMA Alliance doesn’t provide the letter, or it comes back missing significant information.

If this is the case, you have a right under federal law to demand the agency remove the collection account from your credit report and halt all further collection efforts against you.

If they agree, not only will the debt be canceled, but your credit report and your credit score will be restored.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the collection agency will probably continue attempts to collect a debt even though they’re unable to fully validate it.

You can assert your rights under the FDCPA. But that hardly means the collection agency will cower in fear and give in to your demand.

As often as not, you’ll need to hire an attorney to take over dealing with the collection agency.

That’s not a bad thing, because they’ll be better able to make the case that the agency has violated federal law than you can yourself.

5. Settle the Debt for Less than the Full Amount Owed

Interestingly enough, some collection agencies may suggest this route in your first contact. That’s because it’s a common practice in the industry.

It’s a collection agency putting the “half a loaf is better than none” strategy into practice.

But even if they don’t, you can suggest settling. Send FMA Alliance a letter offering to pay part of the debt in exchange for satisfaction of the entire amount.

We recommend making an initial offer of 50% or less of the full amount of the debt.

If FMA Alliance is willing to negotiate, they’ll counter with a higher figure. You’ll then negotiate back and forth until an agreed-upon amount is reached.

Once it has, insist FMA Alliance confirm all details of the agreement in writing.

That will include their willingness to accept a reduced amount in full satisfaction of the debt, a promise to end collection action against you, and a commitment to report the account as fully paid with all three credit bureaus.

You should not send any money to the collection agency until you receive a letter that includes all the information above.

If you send money before receiving the letter of confirmation, FMA Alliance may accept your payment as a partial settlement of the debt, then continue to pursue action against you for the balance.

What is AMEX DSNB on My Credit Report?

Curious about an entry for AMEX/DSNB on your credit report?

If you applied for an American Express or store card from Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, you have no reason to worry.

A hard inquiry is simply a lender’s way of checking your credit report to decide whether or not to approve your application.

A hard credit check isn’t likely to do too much damage to your credit report. But combined with other inquiries, it can affect your score more severely.

In the guide below, we’ll break down how hard credit inquiries work and discuss a few strategies for getting an inquiry removed from your report.

What Is AMEX/DSNB On My Credit Report?

AMEX/DSNB represents American Express/Department Stores National Bank.

Department Stores National Bank issues credit cards for Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

DSNB issues two types of cards in partnership with these retailers:

  • American Express cards
  • In-store only cards

AMEX DSNB can show up on your report if you’ve applied for one of these cards in the last two years, but also if you’ve been added to someone else’s account as an authorized user.

Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Report

How Do Hard Inquiries Work?

When you compare quotes, get pre-qualified for a card offer, or check your credit score online, your credit undergoes a soft inquiry.

A soft inquiry doesn’t necessarily go on your report or lower your credit score.

Once you move on from comparing offers to actually applying for a card or loan, your credit report(s) will undergo a hard inquiry.

This type of inquiry is more exhaustive and gives your prospective lender access to your entire credit report.

That information helps lenders to assess how responsible of a borrower you are, often serving as the main determining factor in whether or not your application gets approved.

In addition to lenders, prospective employees often obtain your credit report as a part of their screening process, as do landlords and rental property management teams.

Companies may request access to your TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax reports, meaning all three of these scores could be impacted by your application.

A hard inquiry will stay on your report for two years and may result in a slight hit to your score.

If you have several inquiries and other negative entries, the impact could be worse.

To reduce the impact on your score, you should limit your credit card and loan applications.

Do your research beforehand and only apply for cards you’re likely to get approved for based on your credit history.

Additionally, if you’re applying for a particular type of loan, like a mortgage, submit all your applications within a 14-day window.

Learn More: Soft vs. Hard Inquiries

How to Remove AMEX DSNB from Your Credit Report

Is there an inquiry from AMEX/DSNB on your report, even though you didn’t apply for a card?

If that’s the case, you should be able to get a hard inquiry deleted from your report.

Here are two strategies for getting it removed.

Dispute the Inquiry

There’s no reason to let a hard inquiry lower your score if you didn’t apply for a credit card.

An unsolicited hard inquiry could be a sign of identity fraud, putting all of your finances in danger.

That’s why it’s crucial to act quickly to dispute any inaccuracies you come across on your report.

Once an entry shows up on your report, you have 30 days to dispute it.

You can dispute an entry with the company named, in this case, DSNB, or with the credit bureaus.

You have three options for disputing an entry with the bureaus:

  • Online
  • Over the phone
  • By mail

Sending a letter via certified mail provides you with the most concrete documentation, but the other methods will work, too.

If the bureaus determine that the entry is illegitimate, it will be removed from your report.

The key to getting an entry deleted is moving quickly. A free credit monitoring service can be an invaluable asset, alerting you to changes to your report.

An app like Credit Karma will notify you of updates to your report, give you recommendations for improving your score, and provide you with customized offers for cards and loans in your credit range.

You should also take advantage of annualcreditreport.com, which gives you a free copy of your credit report each year.

Use a Credit Repair Company

Want to leave disputing errors and cleaning up your credit to the pros?

If so, there are several top-notch credit repair companies that can help with all of your credit problems.

They’ll come up with a comprehensive plan to help you improve multiple aspects of your credit score.

That includes disputing fraudulent inquiries with companies and credit bureaus.

They can save you a ton of time and eliminate the hassle of confronting the bureaus yourself.

They can also assist you with more complicated credit problems, such as:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Charge offs
  • Collections entries
  • Foreclosure
  • Judgment
  • Late payment
  • Liens
  • Repossessions

These companies offer multiple levels of service so you can pick one that fits your budget and the level of assistance you need.

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Getting AMEX/DSNB off Your Credit Report

If you applied for a Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s card or were added as an authorized user to a friend or relative’s account, there’s no need for concern.

A hard inquiry may have a small impact on your score, but it’s a routine part of applying for new credit.

However, if you didn’t apply for a card or give someone permission to add you to their account, it’s important to take action quickly.

You should get in touch with the credit bureaus and Department Stores National Bank.

Whether there’s been a reporting error or someone is using your identity fraudulently, you need to get to the bottom of things.

And if you don’t want to go it alone, one of the top credit repair companies can help you through the process.

Harnessing the Power of Technology to Boost Your Personal Finances

What motivations do you need to boost your personal finances? For you, improving your financial status is your utmost priority, and there may be a million and one reasons to keep striving until you achieve that goal. However, you may have everything that you need to build wealth at your fingertips without even realizing it. In today’s world, finance majorly drives the affairs of commerce, business, and various activities in society. This makes “getting money” a critical key to financial freedom.

Previously, making wise investment choices to build wealth did not really come easy for an average investor. But with the advent of technology, you can now access a wide range of information and digital resources that will help you make smart financial decisions. With the availability of video-based financial, educational tools online, you can easily learn how to invest, save, and create wealth that will set you on the right path to financial freedom.     

Therefore, while it is great to understand the importance of finance in your daily life, it is also crucial to be aware of how you can boost your finances. This awareness is called financial intelligence, and in this article, you’ll learn how technology can help you make more money.

Photo Credit: Artem B (Pexels)

Some Popular Ways Where Technology Can Help Boost Your Personal Finances

Generally, we all need money for the most common things. Mostly, we have needs, goals, expectations, and responsibilities that motivate us to acquire more resources. Interestingly, there are some tech-savvy individuals who have used technology to stay updated on wealth creation practices and opportunities like budgeting, savings, and investment. So if you think technology is only about gadgets and apps, then it is time to rethink how it can impact your personal finances positively.

Thankfully, technology has changed how we live. It has impacted our social life and businesses and has created more money growing opportunities. The same technology has seen the creation of some of the world’s youngest billionaires via social media innovations. Likewise, financial technology has the world running on less cash and carrying out more seamless transactions. Here are some other top ways you can optimize technology and harness its transformative value for your financial growth.

Discover the Power of Automation

Remember the convenience you enjoy when you receive important news alerts and updates on your computer and mobile devices. It is fascinating to see how a world of information is open to you in just a single click. Essentially, we are able to maximize time and resources efficiently when we let technology automate tasks for us. For example, banks are now encouraging customers to use more cashless banking alternatives like apps and internet banking solutions. This innovation makes it easier to reach your savings goals.

Although technology can boost your personal finances, values like financial discipline will help you optimize opportunities when you get one. Hence, you must choose to set auto-saving options with savings or piggy bank apps. Each month or weekly (as you set it), you can lock away a particular amount of your paycheck. 

From the app, you can pay off bills, make transfers, move money to your emergency fund account, and save what you have for the future. Another advantage is automating your credit card payments to avoid the lender’s penalties and other implications that reduce your creditworthiness. Your decision to carry less cash reduces the chances of you spending your money on things off the budget. By teaching yourself to control spending, you climb the first step of financial intelligence. It is only through strategic savings that you can build a gradual pile that will boost your personal finances in the long run.

Utilize Investment Tools

Again, budding entrepreneurs and individuals who want to boost their personal finances for business purposes and other reasons would find investment apps an asset worth having. Some of these apps expose you to high-yielding savings and investment opportunities that can help you increase your financial capacity. Most times, what you need might be an investment opportunity to boost your accumulated wealth.

It is only through technology that these luxuries have been made possible.  All you need to do is approach the best financial and investment products companies to get started on how investments can boost your personal finances.

Boost your finances
Photo Credit: Burak K (Pexels)

Track your Cash Flow

Do you know how much money you make each month? If you can remember this, then consider how much you spend also. One of the keys to boosting your finances is knowing how you spend your income. However, trying to track every spending on your own with a pen might riddle your analysis with errors and oversight.

You can install an expense tracker app on your mobile device to record all your spending items. Some finance apps allow you to link your accounts from banks, mortgages, cards, and investments to help you generate a comprehensive expense report at the end of each week or month.

You can search your app store or library for a good expense or finance app to start tracking your finance.

Believe in Budgeting

Now you have a clear picture of your finances, including income and expense.  The next thing would be to create and follow a financial plan by drafting an effective budget. Of course, it’s so easy to create a budget; the issue is about sticking to them.  Holding cash or the absence of a financial goal makes it hard to follow through with budgets. With this being said, you just have to be intentional and strong-willed about budgeting.

With your monthly income in view, use a budget app to outline your paramount expense items, such as rent, car insurance, and utilities. After considering the essentials, you can then add items like gas, internet, power, food, grocery, and recreation. For a budget to be considered effective, it would have succeeded in helping you minimize expenses, block financial leakages, and inspire savings. The journey to financial freedom is a gradual process. It involves making smart decisions, learning financial literacy, and exploring new opportunities for income growth. You may not be able to transform your personal finances overnight. But you can utilize technology to boost them significantly.