Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
September 22, 2011
I'm sure you've heard many a time that you should check your credit report regularly to be sure that it accurately represents your credit history. In fact, you need to check your reports from all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) as they are likely to be different from one another.
And, you probably know that you should go to www.annualcreditreport.com to see your free report from each of the three bureaus once a year. Whether you're looking for a job right now or not, consider this your annual nag from me to go check your reports! Look for any mistakes and then act to have mistakes corrected. Your credit report influences the cost of insurance, interest rate on loans, and whether it's difficult to contract for services such as utilities, phone or even renting an apartment.
However, in Illinois as well as a few other states, your credit report and credit score can no longer be used when you apply for a job. The Employee Credit Privacy Act went into effect in January. Under the act, Illinois' employers may not use a person's credit history to determine employment, recruiting, discharge or compensation. According to a press release from Governor Quinn's office, under the new law, employers may access credit checks under limited circumstances, including positions that involve: bonding or security per state or federal law; unsupervised access to more than $2,500; signatory power over businesses assets of more than $100; management and control of the business; access to personal, financial or confidential information, trade secrets, or state or national security information.
If you're applying for jobs, you also need to know that by federal law you have the right to more than one free credit report per credit bureau per year. For example, if you are
then you can get an additional free credit report. You need to contact the credit bureaus directly for these reports.
It's tough to find a job these days. Knowing our rights in tough times is important. For more information about credit card reports, visit U of I Extension's website Credit Card Smarts.
September 22, 2011
Reflecting on Refinancing
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September 20, 2011
Last week I wrote about Go Direct, the US Treasury's effort to have all recipients of Federal payments such as Social Security, SSI, and veteran's benefits receive those payments electronically. If recipients don't sign up to have their payments automatically deposited to a bank or credit union account, they will receive a Direct Express debit card and their benefits will be loaded onto the card each month beginning in March 2013.
I recently researched other prepaid debit cards that we can buy, use, and re-load. The fees on some can add up quickly, and some have fees for something as basic as making a purchase. Not so for the Direct Express card: there are very few fees, and it would be easy to use the card without ever paying a fee.
But there is at least one thing that could trip up users and cost them: ATM withdrawals. As I said last week, card users can make one free ATM withdrawal for each benefit payment they receive on the card. After that, there are actually two kinds of fees that they could pay:
Direct Express will charge you $0.90 per withdrawal. That's not a lot, unless you're taking multiple withdrawals of just $10 or $20 at a time. Unfortunately, that's what we saw in Illinois a number of years ago when public recipients starting having benefits deposited on their LINK cards. They had no experience with ATMs. When they read or were told that they could take their money out in increments of $20, some thought they could only withdraw $20 at a time. The result? Lots of fees from both the LINK card and the owner of the ATM.
If you're not using an ATM that belongs to the Direct Express® card surcharge-free ATM network (see FAQ #4.5) you'll also be paying a surcharge to the bank that owns the ATM. According to Bankrate.com, ATM surcharges averaged $2.33 in 2010, and 99% of banks charge a fee when non-customers use the bank's ATM.
According to Direct Express FAQ # 4.7, the card issuer does not impose a limit on the amount you can withdraw at one time from an ATM - but the bank that owns the ATM can, and probably will, impose a limit. According to the FAQ, "ATM owner's daily ATM withdrawal limits typically range from $200 to $1,000."
Here's the moral of the story: individuals who are not accustomed to using banks and ATMs may not fully understand the consequences of multiple withdrawals from ATMs. They may also not understand the importance of looking for a bank that is part of the surcharge-free network. If you know someone who will be getting a Direct Express card, help them understand easy ways to use the card for free: make purchases, get cash back when you make a purchase, or see a bank teller to get your cash.
September 12, 2011
There was a time when you could get your Social Security check by mail and buy a savings bond at the bank or through payroll deduction. Those days are drawing to a close.
As of January 1, 2012, you will no longer be able to visit your local bank or credit union to buy a savings bond. The bonds will still be for sale, but you'll have to do it through Treasury Direct, where you set up an online account with the US Treasury. This is the same website and account where you purchase other Federal debt instruments such as Treasury Bills, Notes and Bonds, and TIPS. For now, it will be much less convenient to purchase Savings Bonds as a gift, but the Treasury hopes to make that less cumbersome in the future.
Go Direct is the US Treasury's campaign to have all benefit payments paid electronically by March 1, 2013. This includes SSI, Social Security, veteran's benefits, and other federal payments. If you have a checking account, you'll be asked to have your check automatically deposited. It's safe, secure, and reliable. You can set it up online or by calling (800) 333-1795. Be prepared by having the necessary information on hand.
Maybe you like the feel of getting that paper check and figure you'll just ignore this whole thing. The Feds are one step ahead of you. If you don't provide a bank account for auto deposit, you'll still be converted to electronic payments. Your money will be deposited each month onto a prepaid debit card known as Direct Express ®.
The Direct Express ® card is a type of prepaid debit card, like ones you may have seen advertised as a way to carry money for a trip or to give a child. It carries the MasterCard logo, and you can use it pretty much the same way you use any MasterCard-branded credit card or bank debit card.
The US Treasury negotiated an extremely low-cost fee structure for Direct Express ®. You can make purchases in-store or online, get cash back when you make a purchase, or get cash from a bank teller – all for free. You're allowed one free ATM withdrawal for each benefit payment deposited to the card. You can check your balance online or at an ATM for free. You'll pay a fee if you use the card outside the United States, take additional ATM withdrawals, request paper statements, or request a replacement card more than once per year. Pay attention to these exceptions, and you'll probably never see a fee for using the card.
Both of these changes are aimed at saving the federal government tens of millions of dollars. Paper checks and bonds are much more costly to issue, mail, and handle.
My dad's Social Security check has been automatically deposited to his checking account for years. But if he had to make the change now, it would be impossible for him to understand and do it on his own. If your parent, grandparent, or another elderly friend is still receiving paper checks from the federal government, talk with them about this change. Help them decide whether to have their benefits deposited into a checking account or onto the Direct Express card. If they're not comfortable going online to set up auto deposit, they can call (800) 333-1795. Help them prepare by identifying the information they will need about their benefit payment and their bank account.