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When Balance Transfers Make Good Sense

farmers market 2

Last week, while at a Farmer’s Market, I met an old friend.  Instead of chatting about the price of carrots and cookies, we began talking about finances. I listened to her talk about the worries of being a social worker and how she was struggling with her six figure debt while surviving on her very small salary.  I asked her if she had credit card debt. She said, “Yes.” “And how’s your credit score?” I continued. “I think it’s pretty good, last time I checked,” she said. I then asked her, “Have you ever considered a balance transfer?” She didn’t say anything for a moment. She was thinking. Then she asked, “What’s a balance transfer?”

Do the Math

 Let’s make it simple. A balance transfer is moving debt from Bank A to Bank B in order to take advantage of a reduced or zero interest rate. Let’s use a hypothetical to illustrate. Let’s say that a person named Jane has $10,000 of credit card debt. Jane’s interest rate is 20% with Blue Bank.  Jane also has a good credit score of 700, and she makes payments to her Blue Bank card of $300 per month.

Jane is paying $3,600 a year.  Over the next 12 months, she is paying $1,845 of that $3,600.00, in interest. If Jane decides to take advantage of a balance transfer offer, she can move her debt to another bank and reduce her interest rate.  Jane looks around for offers.

To entice Jane, Yellow Bank offers a great interest rate or a no interest rate for a set period of time, which could be 6 months to 18 months. Yellow Bank wants Jane’s debt and hopes that if she opens a new credit card account; Jane will keep spending, pay later or do both. But even more, Yellow Bank hopes that Jane still has a balance to pay off at the end of the low-interest balance transfer period. This will give Yellow Bank more return on their risk because Jane will be paying higher interest rates.

Hypothetically, let’s say Jane decides to transfer her Blue Bank balance to Yellow Bank. This sort of transfer happens between two banks, not two bank accounts at the same bank.  If Jane moves her Blue Bank card debt to a Yellow Bank card with zero percent interest, she will be able to apply all her payment each month toward her principal.

According to MagnifyMoney’s tool, one balance transfer could save Jane $3,675. With multiple balance transfers, (giving Jane more time to pay off the balance) Jane may be able to save as much as $4,118.

But that’s not all.  There are fees and don’t forget the tricky introductory periods. Jane may have had to pay up to 5% to transfer her balance over from Blue Bank to Yellow Bank, which is $183.75.  But if you subtract the balance transfer fee from the interest Jane would have paid, Jane will still save about $3,491. Not too shabby.

Tricky Balance Transfer Fees and Introductory Periods

On the surface, a balance transfer looks straightforward, but make sure the balance transfer is truly worth it.  Balance transfer fees typically are 3%, 4% or even 5%.

According to UK market at researchers Consumer Intelligence, research indicates that 20% of consumers who transfer card balances, to get a better rate, never pay down their debt.  40% make late making monthly payments, 21% missed payments entirely, 10% pay less than intended and 23% have no idea why they suddenly were being charged interest.  A whopping 34% never pay their balances down before they are charged interest, something to keep in mind.  It happens to the best of us.

It’s OK to be somewhat concerned about the introductory period.  But don’t fret too much about being victimized by a “bait and switch” type banking scheme. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 stops banks from luring customers into a balance transfer and then drastically increasing the interest rate months later. Once you agree to a balance transfer at a set interest rate and period, you’re guaranteed the rate as long as you follow the rules. Banks can only cancel your promotional rate if you’re 60 days late with payments. Don’t be late, a cardinal rule.

Some cards have zero balance transfer fees and zero interest introductory rate offers.  Look for these. However, these are typically available to people with really good credit scores. We’ll talk a little bit about credit scores, in a moment.

In Jane’s hypothetical situation, if she does nothing, she pays $4,718 in interest over 50 months until the debt is paid off.  If she transfer’s once, she pays $1,043 in interest (at 1.7%) and fees over 37 months until the debt is paid off.  If Jane transfers her debt multiple times, she will likely pay less in interest and fees over 36 months until her debt is paid off. More often than not, for users with good credit scores, lower “promotional” interest rates more than make up for the fees spent on transfers.

Messing Up Good Credit Scores

Credit scores often drop, depending upon how a balance transfer is accomplished.  First, any hard credit inquiry when opening an account is a bad mark on a credit score.  But how bad is that bad mark?  It depends.

According to Quizzle, a free credit score report website, it is quite probable that every hard inquiry into your credit report will cause a drop of three to five points in your credit score.

Maxine Sweet, Experian’s vice president of public education, told The Huffington Post that recent hard inquiries “account for very few negative points in scoring models and are even less negative within a few months.”

Beware, however, if you are trying to refinance or buy a new home or car, in the near future, it may be best not to ding a good credit score before you finance the big purchase. According to a website called Credible, there are ways to protect your credit scores from the dings received by hard inquiries.

In our hypothetical, if Jane decided that she didn’t want to lower her credit score she would be placing an economic value of about $943.60 on each point she chose not to lose. This doesn’t make sense, if Jane has no intention of refinancing or purchasing a new home within the next 1 to 2 years and she already has good credit. In Jane’s situation, it seems rather penny wise and pound foolish not to take advantage of a balance transfer offer and save the $4,718.00 in interest, over the course of about 50 months.

What to do with Old Credit Cards

It’s also good to know that opening a new account lowers the average age of the overall credit profile, but canceling an old card after transferring a balance really puts a negative ding on the credit scores. That’s not good because again, lowering credit scores might mean higher costs in other areas of life, like renting an apartment, starting a business, purchasing a home, refinancing student loans or trying to buy or re-finance a home.

If a zero interest balance transfer makes good economic sense to you, and you’ve done the math, it’s probably best in most circumstances to keep the old credit card account open, provided new balances are not run up on the card.

Balance Transfer Rules of the Road

  1. Don’t miss payments — ever.
  2. Typically, you have only 60 days to complete the transfer. Do this or lose the promotional interest rate.
  3. Don’t close your old card.
  4. Don’t use the new card to rack up more debt. In some cases, interest will immediately start accruing on the new purchases (unless there is a 0 percent purchase offer). As a general rule, it is best not to use the card since the goals is to pay off the debt.
  5. Never use the card at an ATM for a cash advance, especially don’t do it with a balance transfer card.

Finding a Balance Transfer

As a general rule, to qualify for a balance transfer, you’ll need a credit score of 680 or better.  According to Nick Clements, co-founder of financial products comparison website, MagnifyMoney, “Banks are looking for ‘high-balance, low-risk’ customers.” This means that your credit card debt is probably less than $20,000 and you always pay on time, and are likely paying the minimum due or just a bit more. If you have had credit for a while, MagnifyMoney offers a free balance transfer calculator for consumers carrying credit card debt.

When to Avoid a Balance Transfer

A balance transfer can be a simple way to slash interest rates and amount of time it takes to pay off debt. But it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. “If you can pay off your debt in six months or less, or can’t afford multiple transfers, than it probably is not worth doing a balance transfer.

If you have debt that you can’t possibly manage, and have little or no hope of paying it off, talk to a good Bankruptcy lawyer now.  There are more ways to skin a cat.  In other words, your helpful lawyer may have great ideas on how you can become virtually debt free and save most of the things you own, like your car, your savings and your home.

Lower Credit Scores, Now What?

If you have a lot of credit card debt and a credit score below 680, you may not qualify for a balance transfer, but no worries. You can still reduce your interest rates by using a personal loan. Ask your local bank or check out websites like Lending Club or Prosper

These websites allow you to pre-qualify for a personal loan, using soft inquiry rather than a hard inquiry on your credit report. The soft inquiry doesn’t cause a drop in credit score points, but as we mentioned before.  The hard inquiry will.

Some Things Just Make Good Sense, Some Don’t

Unless you are in the process of buying or refinancing a home or financing something big, and you’ve got the golden ticket of a 680 credit score or higher, it just doesn’t make good sense to pay high credit card interest rates. Do the math.  Figure it out. Even my friend from the Farmer’s Market now has a plan to help manager her debt, even with her meager social worker salary.

If a Balance Transfer Makes no sense and your debt getting way out of hand, you know what to do.  Good bankruptcy lawyers typically don’t charge for a first consultation. Find a good bankruptcy lawyer, set up your free consultation and see if a fresh start is right for you.

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The Law Office of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting new clients.  Call and schedule your first appointment.  We are a small law office offering your first confidential consultation, absolutely free of charge.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.com, visit us at Ginger B. Kelly on Facebook or feel free to call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2017, by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

 

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2 Comments

June 29, 2017 · 4:22 pm

Nervous about your new job? How to Ace Your Criminal Background Check, Even With a CWOF or a Filing!

The Job Interview

So you live in Rhode Island or Massachusetts and you’ve got a CWOF or a Filing, just like a lot of other people.  You want that new job.  You apply for the job and passed the interview process with flying colors.  Then, the interviewer or your future boss asks you for a routine criminal background check. This is the point where you get a little nervous.

When you apply for a job, some employers hinge an offer for employment based on passing certain phases of the employment process.  One of those phases, or steps to getting a new job, is a criminal background check.  A criminal background check is a snapshot of your criminal record.  In Massachusetts, a criminal records check is called a Massachusetts CORI (Criminal Offender Record Inquiry).  The equivalent, in Rhode Island, would be a Bureau of Criminal Identification check (“BCI”).  A BCI can be obtained, in person, from the State Attorney General’s Office, in Providence.  A CORI can be acquired, online, under certain terms and conditions.  Both require a consent form, signed by you.  This is the routine, in many instances.

In Rhode Island, there are a growing number of laws requiring individuals to have not only a state background check, but a fingerprint-based national background check.  The same is true for Massachusetts.  Alarm company workers and private security employees, bank workers, nursery school and daycare employees, nurses and adult day care facility workers are examples of the types of jobs that require extensive criminal background checks.  There are more.

No wonder why so many people worry about the background check stage of the employment process.  It’s the critical moment when a person must be concerned that someone will find out about their past.  Many of us have had a blemish on our record at one time or another. In some cases, a person may have been arrested for a criminal offense such as a DWI/OUI, but never convicted of the crime. Your case was not officially dismissed but you were not found guilty.  It’s a strange state limbo to be in, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In Massachusetts, the deferred sentence form of alternative disposition is called a CWOF, which means that the case was “continued without a finding”.  In Rhode Island, deferred sentencing is often called, a “Filing.”  Both alternative dispositions are just about the same. Both result in the defendant making the request, the prosecutor (typically, the district attorney) agrees to a conditional guilty plea.  The defendant agrees, (or stipulates) that there was enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty of the alleged crime, with a catch.

That catch is the condition.  The plea is conditioned upon the deferred sentence, which means the defendant will not fight the charges, but agree to be placed on probation in exchange for the prosecutor’s agreement not to prosecute unless something happens to revive the matter in the future, for example the defendant is charged with another crime or misdemeanor.  The defendant then must fulfill the probation agreement for the period of time the judge assigns.  At the end, the judge may then throw out the sentence and guilty plea and the incident is cleared from the defendant’s record.  Usually a CWOF or a Filing is continued for one year, but two years is not out of the question.  The deal is, as long as the defendant gets no more criminal charges, the underlying matter will be dismissed in a point and time in the future. With no charges, the record will be wiped clean.  In the future, the defendant will appear to have never committed the crime or the misdemeanor.  Looks like a great deal, and it is.

This is a great disposition for the future, especially when the facts are not good, or favorable for the defendant, but what about now?  What will show up with a deferred sentencing agreement, like a CWOF or a Filing?  What will my employer see when they run a background check?  This is something you’ll certainly want to know about, before they ask you to sign a consent form.

Rhode Island, as a general rule a criminal or misdemeanor Filing “may” not show up on BCI report, but sometimes blemishes like this will show up in other places.  In Rhode Island it is easy to see, online, basic facts about a person’s criminal history.  This is what your new boss won’t tell you.  Employers tend to look at everything carefully, even a Google search of your name and former names and online public records.  In Massachusetts, it’s a little bit different.

In Massachusetts, a CWOF will very likely appear when the person’s criminal record is exposed for an employer to who made the request.  On the other hand, without a CWOF, it is not quite as easy to discover a person’s Massachusetts arrest or conviction record, online or in other places, like a Google search.  But your new boss will know everything. They will find out you have a deferred sentence or alternative disposition.

The issue is, for both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, like many other states, potential employees may face negative consequences on job applications when a blemish like a deferred sentence shows up on their record.  Even a simple arrest without a conviction, in many instances, will prompt an employer to revoke a job offer.  There are no laws against this.

There is little that can be done about this, but there is something that can lessen the effects of an unfavorable background check.  In some instances, this one thing can take a bad situation and flip flop it into good.  Here’s how.

There is nothing better than a new employee who is unafraid to face the truth.  There is nothing wrong with point blank, no excuses, pure and genuine honesty.  So, the best way to protect yourself from this kind of situation is to be upfront with your employer.  Explain your situation, very briefly.  You need not go into great detail.  Simply tell them that you were not convicted, but something may show up on your criminal record.  It’s quite simple.

In the job interview process, honesty is always the best policy.  Being honest may prompt an employer to think more favorably about you.  You will show your interviewer or potential employer that you are an honest person.  You will show that you are unafraid to take ownership and responsibility of your past mistakes. These are great character traits no one can see in a resume or cover letter.  These things may also indicate that you could become a trustworthy employee.  When this happens, the deferred sentence (CWOF or Filing), with potential for being a bad thing, is turned into good. The opportunity to be honest and open about your past is an open door opportunity to show you take ownership of your past, you are brave and honest with you new boss.  In the worst case scenario, your CWOF or Filing will become a non-issue.  In this instance, your new boss may never bring this up again.

On the other hand, if you decide to take your chances with your employer, by not mentioning a current criminal mark or a blemish, the result will likely not be good.  Omitting facts, important to your employer, tends to show that a person has something to hide.  Omitting facts, by not disclosing things about your past that may be important, isn’t going to help you, it will only hurt you.  However, the moment you are open, unafraid and upfront, your job interview and background check should go just fine.

If not, and you in the worst possible scenario, you lose the interview or the job, simply move on and know that you did your very best.  When all’s said and done, no one can buy that good feeling you will have knowing that you did the right thing. Jobs will come and jobs will go, but personal integrity, which includes being open and honest, is simply one of those good things in life money can’t buy.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

6 Comments

July 17, 2015 · 7:30 am

Slip and Fall, an Icy Tail in Massachusetts

February 19, 2015, (republished February 13, 2017)

It’s official, Worcester County, Massachusetts is the snowiest place in the US.  It’s only February 19th and so far this year we’ve had over 107 inches of snow!  This means that people who live in Massachusetts, particularly in Worcester County, are on double duty to prevent injuries from slip and fall accidents.  Here’s the “scoop” on clearing the snow.

John Cole Northeast American Gothic

In the past, Massachusetts law regarding snow and ice injuries exempted property owners from liability if someone was injured as a result of snow that naturally accumulated and had not been cleared.

However, in 2010 things changed.  Pursuant to Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation, SJC-10529 (July 26, 2010), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court changed this nearly 100-year old rule. Now, Massachusetts property owners must remove snow and ice to protect others and to protect themselves from slip and fall liability.

What does this mean to you?  Homeowners in Massachusetts have a responsibility to clear the snow and ice from their driveways, walkways and other areas of their property. It is important to make sure your family and others, such as friends, postal carriers and delivery workers, can safely visit your property without slipping and falling.  If someone slips and falls on the ice or snow, on your property, you could be held liable for damages even if that person was not invited onto your property.

If you have issues, regarding a slip and fall injury, or snow and ice buildup, ice dams or something under contract, it’s always best to contact your attorney.  If you need an attorney, give me a call.  I always enjoy listening, answering questions and speaking with others.  Your first consultation is free and our driveway and walkway is free and clear of snow and ice. Just sayin’ 😉

ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit www.attorneykelly.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2017 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

1 Comment

February 20, 2015 · 3:33 am