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What’s a Credit Freeze?

May 30, 2019

What does buying a house, applying for a student loan, and getting a personal loan all have in common? They are all different forms of credit. Credit is provided to you by a financial lender.  That lender will utilize your credit report in order to evaluate your credit history to decide if you qualify for credit with them. While evaluating your credit history and credit score they will do an inquiry on your credit. This inquiry can affect your credit score and can be placed on a report depending on the type of inquiry that’s completed by the institution. It’s essential to know the two different types of credit inquiries, what a credit freeze is, how it relates to a credit inquiry, the benefits of a credit freeze, and how to put one in place and remove it.

 

What Is a Credit Inquiry?

 

According to myFICO.com, a credit inquiry is a “request by a ‘legitimate business’ to check your credit.” These checks are categorized as either “hard” or “soft” inquiries, which we’ll break down in more detail later. “Credit pulls” are often a casual term used to describe both types of inquiries which gives a person, lender, or company the ability to view your credit report and see your credit score. Both types of credit pulls are included on your credit report but, only you can see the soft inquiries.

 

For example, imagine you’re looking for a mortgage. Let’s say that a credit card company recently did multiple soft credit inquiries on your account to “pre-qualify” you for a new credit card promotion that they have. When the mortgage company you submitted an application too reviews your credit report, they will not see the soft credit inquiries completed by the credit card company.  Additionally, the soft inquiries that were completed by the credit card company will not affect your credit score.

 

Regardless, the type of credit you’re opening, obtaining credit takes time, careful consideration, and patience. Each time a lender accesses your credit score and credit report to make a decision, you run the risk of damaging your creditworthiness. So what types of credit inquiries will affect your credit report and credit score? What type of credit inquiry are they, soft credit pulls or hard credit pulls?

 

 

Student Loan Refinancing: How to Avoid Predatory Lending

 

 

 

Soft Credit Inquiries vs. Hard Credit Inquiries

 

There are many differences between soft credit inquiries and hard credit inquiries. For example, soft credit inquiries can be part of the employment process if you are applying to a financial institution. Soft credit inquiries won’t affect your credit score, and they won’t show up on a credit report. Soft credit inquiries can be done without your permission. You may be wondering, “who’s sitting around running my credit report on a Saturday night?” Involuntary checks on your credit report will typically come from financial lenders who want to market a “pre-qualified” offer to you. We’ve all seen these types of mailers that you get from unfamiliar companies that say “Hey, you’ve pre-qualified for an auto loan! Here’s your special code go sign up today!” Soft credit inquiries usually consist of employment verification checks, pre-qualified credit card offers, when you check your credit score, and pre-qualified insurance quotes. Now, we know what a soft credit inquiry or soft credit pull is, but what is a hard credit inquiry or hard credit pull?

 

 

Hard credit inquiries are usually completed for larger banking requests like submitting an application for a mortgage. For example, you’d submit an application if you were applying for a mortgage, personal loan, auto loan, or student loan, among other types of loans. After having a hard credit inquiry completed there is a chance that your credit score may be affected. Multiple hard credit inquiries can affect your credit score negatively and all the hard credit inquiries will be visible on your credit report. These inquiries can show up on your credit report for up to two years after the inquiry is completed.

 

Typically when you’re submitting an application or applying for new credit – it will affect your FICO score if you are applying for a loan with multiple lenders. You should still apply to multiple lenders to find yourself the best interest rates. Now, if you are applying for the same type of credit, it is likely that if the inquiries are done within a certain window, they may be counted as a single inquiry. Inquiries are important to understand because they are the building block to your credit score and credit report which illustrates for lenders your financial wellness. Be sure that you know what you are signing up for before you proceed to submit those application documents. Speaking of financial wellness, what is a credit freeze and how can you benefit from it?

 

What is a Credit Freeze?

A credit freeze is pretty self-explanatory, it’s a freeze or hold that is placed on your credit to stop lenders from completing any inquiries. You may have heard a credit freeze referred to as a security freeze. Having a credit freeze will not impact your day-to-day financial wellness routines. You’ll still have the ability to pull an annual credit report to review it for accuracy. If you want to open up new credit that will require a hard credit inquiry all you need to do is simply lift the credit freeze temporally until it is completed. It’s important to note that though you may have a credit freeze in place, creditors, debt collectors, who actively have an account that belongs to you and government agencies utilizing warrants, and subpoenas will have access to your credit report.  All these simple things to secure your financial wellness and guess what? It gets better, all credit freezes are free!

 

You’re protecting your identity from thieves who may be trying to open accounts in your name, but it doesn’t cost a dime – no brainer! As we learned above, when you’re applying for credit like a mortgage, a lender will need to do a hard credit inquiry. If you’re not expecting to have your credit reviewed, it’s recommended that you place a credit freeze on your account. It’s important to know how to put a credit freeze into action and get it onto your account ASAP to keep those thieves away! Also, if you are a parent of a child under the age of sixteen, you should consider freezing their account too as per the FTC.

 

How to Implement a Credit Freeze

Now it sounds like it’s a lot harder than it actually is to implement a credit freeze. It also sounds way expensive too, but we know thanks to government laws it is free! Here’s how to place a credit freeze with each of the major U.S. credit agencies.

 

Equifax:

Visit https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/ to setup an Equifax account.

 

Step 1 –

Provide Personal Information (Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Mobile Number, Address)

 

Step 2-

Create Account Details (Email Address, Password)

 

Step 3-

Verify your identity using a text message or answering financial questions about yourself. My phone was broken, so I got to take my very own financial quiz to confirm my identity.

 

Step 4-

Once the quiz questions are answered you’re queued to sign in.

 

Step 5-

Select “Place or Manage A Freeze”

 

Transunion:

Visit https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze to setup a Transunion Account.

 

Step 1- Select “Add Freeze”

 

Step 2- Provide Personal Information (Name, Date of Birth, Last 4 Digits of Social Security Number, Address)

 

Step 3- Create an Account

 

Step 4- Verify finance history via questions provided.

 

Step 5- Add Credit Freeze.

 

Experian:

Visithttps://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html and select “Add a Security Freeze”

 

Select Whose Credit You’d like to Freeze

 

Step 1- Provide Personal Information (Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Address, Email Address, Create a Pin)

 

If you are serious about freezing your credit you’re going to want to utilize all three U.S. major credit agencies Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. Most of them provide a pin once the freeze is placed, so be sure that you keep that pin for your records. When you are ready to lift the security freeze or credit freeze you should have it readily available to you.

 

How To Lift a Credit Freeze

 

You can lift a credit freeze or you can choose to remove it altogether. In order to do so, it’s similar to the credit freeze sign up process. You need to contact each credit agency and make a request to remove the credit freeze. As we discussed previously many of the three major agencies utilize a pin, almost like a password, that you’ll need to provide to lift or remove the credit freeze from that bureau.

 

Attaining good credit and working hard to keep your finances healthy, isn’t easy. With all the recent data breaches it is so important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family from those looking to complete identity theft. One incorrect credit inquiry could cause a much bigger problem for you then taking the time to prevent it now. Credit freezes aren’t the only way to protect your credit from thieves if you lifted your credit freeze or removed it fully you may want to look into utilizing fraud alerts.

 

 

Are Student Loans Impacting Your Credit Score?

 

 

Fraud Alerts for Credit Reports

If you don’t want to freeze your credit but want added security for your credit reports, try fraud alerts. There are three different types of fraud alerts: initial fraud alert, active duty fraud alert, and extended fraud alert. What’re the differences between each and what makes them different from a credit freeze?

 

Initial 90 Day Fraud Alert

 

The initial fraud alert is an alert that lasts usually around 90 days and is often used when financial information, credit card numbers, or your wallet have been stolen or even lost. The initial fraud alert gets placed on your credit report. Meaning, if someone is, in fact, trying to steal your identity they will have a difficult time because companies will be required to take additional steps to verify your identity before issuing additional forms of credit. You can place these alerts on your credit report by contacting a credit agency. Once one agency is contacted they must notify the other two U.S. credit agencies. Initial fraud alerts can be renewed after the 90 day period.

 

Active Duty Alerts

 

These alerts are designed for people who are on active military duty. They operate similarly to initial fraud alerts in that they require businesses to complete extra tasks to confirm the borrower’s identity before an additional form of credit can be issued. These types of alerts typically last about 12 months or a year but can be renewed to match the deployment period. When you contact a credit agency, it must notify the other two U.S. credit agencies. Also, according to the FTC, the credit agencies must remove your name from any marketing lists for prescreened credit card offers for two years unless you request otherwise.

 

Extended Fraud Alerts

 

Extended fraud alerts are commonly used if you have already fallen victim to identity theft. Extended fraud alerts last 7 years. In order to place this type of alert on your credit report, you’ll need to send proof of identity theft to one of the three major U.S. credit agencies. Here is a great government resource if you ever fall victim to identity theft.

 

Similarities and Differences between Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts

 

Fraud alerts and credit freezes have some similarities and unique differences. For example, both alerts and freezes are free of charge according to U.S. federal law. Any current creditors will still have access to your credit report even if you have fraud alerts enabled or you have a credit freeze in place. If you choose to open any new forms of credit while these are enabled it could lengthen the process for the new creditor. These are the similarities but what makes fraud alerts and credit freezes different?

 

One main difference is for a credit freeze each U.S. agency will need to be contacted directly. Whereas, for fraud alerts, if you notify one credit agency, that credit agency is responsible for notifying the other two credit agencies. During a credit freeze, prospective lenders will not have any access to your credit report. With a fraud alert, prospective lenders do have access to your credit report but will need to take additional steps before issuing new lines of credit. The last and one of the most obvious differences between these two is that credit freezes don’t have an expiration date. A credit freeze can be placed on your credit report until the end of time unless you request that it is removed. A fraud alert typically will expire within a year, or seven years depending on the type of fraud alert you’ve selected.

 

 

5 Reasons to Refinance Your Student Loans

 

 

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paying down student loans with a credit card
2020-10-27
Should I Pay Down Credit Card or Student Loan Debt?

Dealing with student loans can be incredibly challenging for many college graduates. According to Experian, Americans carry an average student loan balance of $35,359. On top of that, the average credit card debt is nearly $6,200, says the credit reporting agency.    In most cases, targeting one debt at a time can help you pay off your balances faster and save you more money on interest. So should you pay down credit card or student loan debt first?   Here’s how to develop your strategy:  

Should You Pay Off a Credit Card or Student Loan First?

In the vast majority of cases, it’s better to prioritize your credit card debt before your student loan debt. This is primarily because credit cards charge higher interest rates than student loans.    Additionally, credit cards don’t have set repayment schedules, so it’s easy to add to your balance even while you’re paying them off. As a result, credit cards may keep you in debt for longer than student loans with firm repayment terms.   For example, let’s say you have the following debts:  
  • A credit card balance of $7,000 on an account with a 20% annual percentage rate (APR) and a $120 monthly payment.
  • Combined student loans worth $30,000 with a weighted-average rate of 6.5% and a $341 monthly payment. 
  In total, your minimum monthly payment would be $461, and if you were to pay just that amount and add no new debt to your credit card, you’d pay off the student loans in 10 years and the credit card in a little more than 11 years. You’d also pay a total of $24,739 in interest over that time.   Now, let’s say you could afford to put $510 toward your debt every month. If you were to add the extra payment toward your credit card debt until it was paid down, your balance would be paid off in a little under six years. Then if you use the total amount you were putting toward your card toward your student loans, you’d pay those off about a year and a half early. You’d also save $9,643 in interest.   If you were to do the opposite and focus on your student loans first, you’d pay those off sooner, but the higher interest rate on your credit cards will result in more total interest charges.    You can use a debt avalanche calculator to find out what you could save with your specific situation.  

Can You Pay Off Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Another thing you may be wondering is, can you transfer student loans to a credit card? The U.S. Department of the Treasury doesn’t allow federal student loan servicers to accept credit cards as a payment method, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a private lender that offers it as an option.   But you still can technically use a credit card to pay off a student loan by using the balance transfer feature. 

Many credit card issuers send out blank balance transfer checks that you can use to pay off other credit card accounts or other types of debt. These checks often include an introductory 0% APR promotion, which could potentially save you money as you pay down your balance.   To use one to pay off student loans, you’d write the check out to your loan servicer and submit it as payment or write the check to yourself and deposit it into your checking account, then make a payment.   But just because it’s possible to do this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a scenario where using a credit card balance transfer to pay off a student loan is the right move. Here’s why:  
  • Balance transfers come with fees, which can range up to 5% of the transfer amount.
  • If you don’t pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ll be stuck paying a higher interest rate, which can be in the mid teens or even upwards of 20%, on the remaining balance. 
  • The lack of a set repayment term on a credit card can make it more difficult to stick to your repayment plan and keep you in debt longer. 
  In other words, if you have credit card debt, using a balance transfer credit card to pay it off interest-free is generally a good idea. But it’s not worth doing the same thing with your student loan balance.   If you have a cash-back rewards credit card, you can also opt to use your rewards to help pay down your student loans.   

Using Your Credit Cards Wisely While You Have Student Loan Debt

In an ideal world, you’d never carry a balance on a credit card because when you pay your bill in full every month, you’ll avoid interest charges. But if your financial situation is tight because of student loan debt and other obligations, it can be difficult to avoid.    Whether or not you can afford to avoid credit card debt right now, here are some tips to help you limit your exposure to the risks they present:  

Always pay on time

Even if you can just make the minimum monthly payment, paying on time will ensure that you don’t get slapped with late fees and a ding to your credit score. If you do miss a payment, make sure to get caught up quickly — you won’t avoid a late fee but late payments aren’t reported to the credit bureaus until they’re past due by 30 days.  

Try to avoid a high balance

Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of available credit you’re using at a given time. So if you have a $1,000 balance on a card with a $2,000 credit limit, your utilization rate is 50%. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what your rate should be, but the higher it is, the more damage it will do to your credit score. So if you can, try to keep your balance as low as possible relative to your credit limit.  

Seek lower interest rates

As you work to pay down credit card debt, a balance transfer card with a 0% APR promotion can be a great way to save money on interest charges, even if you can’t pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, you may try to call your card issuer and see if you can get a reduced interest rate. There’s no guarantee your request will be granted, but credit card companies will sometimes offer a lower rate for at least a short period.  

Avoid using your card as you pay it off

If you keep adding charges to your credit card while you’re paying down the balance, it can feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. If you can, try to stick to using cash or your debit card while you pay down your debt — at least for most of your expenses — to make it easier to achieve your goal.   As you take these steps, you’ll be able to avoid some of the drawbacks that come with using credit cards regularly. They’ll not only help preserve your credit score but also make it easier to pay off your balance, so you can turn your focus to your student loans.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Happy couple admiring their home
2020-10-22
Should I Build Home Equity or Pay Down Student Loans?

Owning a home is a goal for many people. In fact, 40% of young millennials are saving to buy a home. If you already own a home, congratulations on achieving your goal! If you are now faced with a mortgage and student loans, you may wonder which debt you should prioritize. Should you build home equity or pay down your student loans?    Here we will explain what home equity is, how to build it and when it’s better to focus on home equity or paying down student loans.   

What is Home Equity?

When you pay on a mortgage, even if you haven’t yet paid it off completely, you’re building equity in your home. Home equity is the difference between the market value of the house and what you owe. Here’s an example of how to calculate it:  

How to Calculate Home Equity

  You can calculate your home equity by subtracting the balance of your mortgage from the current value of your home. The value of your home is determined by the fair market value of your house or the appraised value. This number is the true value of your asset (your house) since it takes into account the amount you owe on the loan.    Your home equity is calculated in your net worth. You may have heard that home equity can be “tapped into.” This means you can borrow against the equity of your home and use the money in a variety of ways. A home equity loan can cover home renovations or pay off higher-interest debt.    Your home is valued at $375,000 and your mortgage balance is $275,000. You determine the equity by taking the value of $375,000 and subtracting the mortgage balance of $275,000. The equity in your home is $100,000.   

Home Equity and the Housing Market

  Your home’s equity often increases when you make mortgage payments, especially when paying down the principal on your loan. Your home’s equity can also increase when its value rises. Although the value is determined primarily by the housing market, you can raise the value through home improvements.   Just as the value of your home can increase based on the market, however, it can also decrease based on the market. The only sure way to increase your home equity is by paying down your mortgage loan. The more of the loan you pay off, the more your equity increases.  

Building Home Equity vs. Paying Down Student Loans

  If you follow the normal payment schedule, you’ll increase your home equity slowly. If you make extra payments towards your mortgage, you can build equity faster. However, if you also have student loans, should you build home equity or pay down your student loans instead? Let’s take a look at some factors that can help determine the best course of action:   

Interest Rates

If either your mortgage or any student loan has a variable interest rate, you may want to focus on that loan first, because you are at risk that the rate can rise and leave you with a higher payment to make. In addition, if one of your loans has a much higher interest rate than the other, you may choose to focus on it first.  

Security

With student loans, in certain instances, if you are facing financial hardships you can temporarily suspend payments. Mortgages offer less flexibility with payments, therefore missing payments can result in foreclosure and losing your home.  

Loan Balances

If you have student loans with lower balances than your mortgage, you may be able to pay them off more quickly. Then, you can continue to build equity after paying down your student loan debt.   

Tax Implications

You may get a bigger tax break by building equity versus paying off student loans. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Interest paid on student loans is deductible, however, there is a cap on how much. As of 2020 the cap is $2,500. Your income must meet the requirements to be able to deduct this amount.    Interest paid on mortgages is also deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. The mortgage interest deduction can be much higher than $2,500. To learn more about either of these options, consult with your tax advisor.  

Refinancing Your Student Loans With ELFI

If you don’t want to choose between building equity or paying off your student loans, then consider refinancing your student loans with ELFI. Use our student loan refinance calculator* to see how much you may be able to save.   

The Bottom Line 

Each person’s financial goals and situation are unique, so you have to make the best decision for you. Hopefully, however, knowing more about both options and which is better in certain circumstances will help you make an informed decision.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
Man feeling overwhelmed by student loans
2020-10-15
What to do When Your Student Loan Payment is Overwhelming   

Having student loans is not unusual. In fact, 45 million people have them. It’s also incredibly common to feel overwhelmed by your student loan payments.   A survey of student loan borrowers found that almost 65% of respondents said they lose sleep because of the stress caused by their loans. If you find yourself overwhelmed by your monthly student loan payment, there are some options you should consider to lessen the burden.   Before you can explore alternatives, however, you need to know the types of loans you have. Certain options are only available for federal loans as opposed to private loans. Check the Federal Student Aid website to determine any federal loans you may have, and request your free credit report to see any private loans. Once you’re familiar with your loans, you can consider new courses of action.  

Create a Budget

If you don’t already have a budget, create one! This will allow you to see if you can afford your current student loan payment. It will also show you areas where you’re spending unnecessarily. If you find there just isn’t enough income to cover all your necessary expenses, then you can begin working on different ways to reduce your student loan payment.  

Research Different Payment Plans

If your federal student loan payment is overwhelming, consider switching to a different payment plan. When you initially begin repayment, your loans are automatically put on the standard repayment plan. On this plan, your payments are based on a ten-year repayment term.   A Direct Consolidation Loan can help you change your payment plan to help make your payment more affordable. It can also help consolidate multiple federal loans into one loan. (Note: Consolidating your federal loans is different from student loan refinancing, discussed below.)   This will help you qualify for certain longer repayment plans, resulting in a lower monthly payment. One of the drawbacks of extending your payment term is you will end up paying more in interest costs over time.  

Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment

Certain loans are eligible for income-driven repayment plans. They can help make your payments more affordable and are based on your income and family size.  

Graduated Student Loan Repayment

If an income-driven repayment plan does not work for you, you can change to a graduated repayment plan. Your payment will begin low and increase over time for a ten-year term.  

Extended Student Loan Repayment

Another option is an extended repayment plan. To qualify, you must have certain loans over at least $30,000. Your payment may be fixed or may increase over time for a 25-year term.  

Look Into Refinancing

If you have overwhelming private or federal student loan payments, consider student loan refinancing. Refinancing may lower your interest rate and reduce your monthly payment. This is a good option even if your current payment fits your budget.   Refinancing can help lower your monthly payment, and can also save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. Refinancing means obtaining a private loan to pay off your existing student loan or multiple loans.   Student loan refinancing differs from consolidation, which is only for federal student loans and may not necessarily reduce your interest rate. You can refinance private or federal loans, or both, and can also change your student loan repayment term to better fit your needs.   Here is an example of how refinancing can save you money:   If you have $65,000 of student loans with a 6% interest rate and have 10 years remaining on your loans, you will pay approximately $722 per month. If you refinance and qualify for a lower interest of 3.61%, your monthly payment would be reduced to approximately $646 per month. This equals savings $76 per month in savings. You will also save more than $9,000 in interest over the life of the loan.   To see how much you could save, try ELFI’s Student Loan Refinance Calculator.*  

Increase Your Income

Of course, increasing your income is easier said than done. If your student loans payments are becoming overwhelming, however, it may be a necessary step. Increasing your income through overtime hours or a side hustle can make your payments more manageable. A side hustle can be as easy as babysitting or dog walking, or more involved like starting a side business based on a passion.   If you haven’t begun repayment on your loans, but know you will face a significant loan payment after graduation, consider these steps:  

Build a Budget Early

Start a budget before repayment begins that includes your future student loan payment. This will allow you to see if you will be able to comfortably afford your payment. It will also help you build an emergency fund and a strong financial foundation.  

Seek Employer Student Loan Benefits

Look for an employer that offers student loan assistance. The number of companies that are offering student loan benefits is increasing, although the benefit is still rare. Some offer monthly benefits that can help you pay your loans off faster. Others offer a yearly benefit amount for a certain number of years. Either way, extra money from an employer to help pay loans will help you reduce your loan amount faster.  

Work Toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Apply for employment that may qualify for forgiveness. If you have federal loans, certain employment can qualify for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Certain loans and types of employment are required so be sure to pay close attention to the requirements.  

Bottom Line

If you have an overwhelming student loan payment, explore your options to reduce your payment while furthering your debt-free journey.  
  *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.   Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no­­­ control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.