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SelfScore Launches Rewards Card for International Students in US

A year after it began offering credit cards to eligible international students, alternative lending company SelfScore is increasing its portfolio of financial products. On Tuesday, it’s rolling out the SelfScore Achieve Mastercard, a student credit card with a higher credit limit, cash-back rewards and an introductory 0% annual percentage rate on purchases.

At first the new card will be available only to international students studying in the U.S., but the company plans a broader rollout to all eligible college students in the fall, says Kalpesh Kapadia, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

The best news for would-be cardholders?

“We will not be looking at credit scores,” Kapadia says. Instead, the company will use its proprietary scoring system, opening the card up to people who don’t have a FICO score, commonly used to qualify for credit cards.

More on that below. First, let’s look at the new card.

» MORE: Alternative lenders offer credit cards for newcomers to the US

SelfScore Achieve Mastercard: The basics

SelfScore’s first credit card product, the SelfScore Classic Mastercard, is fairly bare-bones. Credit limits start at only $500 but can be increased to $1,500 once the cardholder meets certain requirements, like linking the card to a bank account and making several on-time payments. The Classic has no annual fee, and it doesn’t require a Social Security number. It does, however, help newly arrived students build a credit history in the U.S.

The new card has a little more meat to it:

  • Credit limits of up to $5,000
  • No annual fee
  • Unlimited cash back rewards of 1% on all purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Introductory APR of 0% on all purchases for the first six months

Both cards come with Mastercard Platinum benefits, including purchase assurance, extended warranty, travel assistance and car rental collision waivers.

How to qualify for a SelfScore Mastercard

Traditional credit scores depend on how you’ve handled credit in the past. But what if you’ve never had credit before, or your credit history was left behind in your home country when you moved to the U.S.?

SelfScore says it wants to help creditworthy students, and eventually nonstudents, who are stuck in the conundrum of not being able to get credit because they don’t already have credit.

SelfScore evaluates creditworthiness by looking at documents common to international students, such as passports, student visas and financial documentation that foreign students must submit to their universities anyway.

“Funding sources matter,” Kapadia says. “You have demonstrated that to the university and to the embassy overseas. We are piggybacking on that.”

» MORE: How foreign students and immigrants can get a credit card

Expanding access to credit

Even though SelfScore doesn’t rely on traditional credit scores, the company recognizes that international students will need those credit scores as their financial needs change over time. SelfScore reports account activity to all three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — so responsible use of a SelfScore card will result in a better credit score over time.

But Kapadia isn’t keen on helping students build credit only to lose them when they can qualify for more enticing credit cards elsewhere. Hence the new rewards card and a hinted-at suite of premium credit cards in the future.

» MORE: The best student credit cards

Expanding mission

Right now, SelfScore is sticking to its roots — helping international students get access to credit and build a credit history in their new country. But the company’s mission has expanded over the past year. It wants to help “deserving but underserved populations gain financial independence through access to credit,” Kapadia says.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.

Mortgage Rates Tuesday, March 28: Steady Decline

Mortgage rates today for 30- and 15-year fixed loans dropped by 2 basis points, while 5/1 ARMs fell by 1 basis point, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Tuesday morning.

The 30-year fixed, 15-year fixed and the 5/1 ARM are continuing a downward slide after hitting peak levels in mid-March, NerdWallet’s analysis shows. The 30-year fixed rate hasn’t been this low since Feb. 27.

MORTGAGE RATES TODAY, TueSDAY, MARCH 28:

(Change from 3/27) 30-year fixed: 4.27% APR (-0.02) 15-year fixed: 3.67% APR (-0.02) 5/1 ARM: 3.83% APR (-0.01)

Get personalized mortgage rates

 

» MORE: How much home can you afford?

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published annual percentage rate with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. APR quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

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How I Ditched Debt: The Family CEO

4 Ways to Manage the Cost of Raising a Baby

Kids are expensive, and estimating how much you’ll spend on your first bundle of joy is tricky. There are diapers, clothing, furniture, food and toys to think of, as well as costs that may not spring immediately to mind, like life insurance and college savings.

But whether you’re expecting a child now or planning for one down the road, knowing the expenses involved can help you prepare. And a new study finds would-be parents might be shocked by the potential cost of raising a baby during its first year.

According to a new NerdWallet analysis, baby’s first year could set some families back as much as $21,000 — more than four times the amount most would-be parents estimate, based on data from a related Harris poll.

NerdWallet analyzed expenses associated with a baby’s first year for two hypothetical households in which both parents work — one with a $40,000 annual income and one with a $200,000 annual income — to illustrate how families with different resources might navigate the cost of raising a child. We then compared both households’ total first-year expenses with American expectations, as determined by an online Harris poll.

Here are four financial action items for parents-to-be.

1. Get real about the potential cost …

More than half of respondents (54%) currently expecting a child or planning to have one within the next three years believe the average U.S. baby’s first-year costs total $5,000 or less. But even if parents decline life insurance coverage for themselves and wait to start a college fund, they’re likely to spend far more, according to the analysis.

Be realistic about how much you might have to spend in your first year of parenthood. An online baby calculator can help you estimate expenses.

2. … Especially the biggest cost: child care

Unless a friend or family member is willing to care for your infant when you return to work — if you do — prepare to pay handsomely for child care. According to the analysis, full-time, center-based care is the biggest expense of the first year, at about $8,059. If that surprises you, you’re not alone. Just 37% of would-be parents predicted it would be among the costliest factors.

When you’re able, set aside money for high-dollar and ongoing costs such as child care, and make them a line in your monthly budget. The cost of diapers will seem small in comparison.

3. Prioritize emergency savings

People of all income levels struggle to set aside money in preparation for a new baby. Among parents and would-be parents making less than $50,000 per year, 38% said they had nothing saved, or didn’t plan on saving, prior to baby’s arrival; 21% of those making $100,000 or more said the same.

To ensure you’re ready for unexpected costs of all kinds, start an emergency fund. Not opening or contributing more to one was one of the top financial regrets of all parents surveyed. Once that’s established and you have the clothes and other must-haves for baby, consider college savings and life insurance for all guardians.

4. Gauge how much your loved ones can help

Sixty-one percent of people currently expecting a baby or planning to have one in the next three years say they think friends and family will pay more than 20% of baby’s first-year costs.

If you’re unsure what help to expect from your loved ones, ask — tactfully, of course. And you can start by registering for practical items from your baby checklist. Nursery furniture and accessories, diapers and clothing in a range of sizes will help you manage costs far more than stuffed animals.

For the analysis’ complete results and methodology, click here.

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: elizabeth@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

Freelancers: Here's What You Need to Know About Getting a Mortgage

When my husband (then fiancé) and I began preparing to purchase our first home, I was a burden.

I know what you’re thinking — my writing career as a freelancer simply must not have been generating enough money to allow me to contribute, and I needed to ride on the coattails of my fiancé’s full-time job and steady paycheck to get the home of my dreams.

Given the reputation of a freelancer’s income, I don’t blame you. And having started on this new career just months before house hunting, I actually was a little strapped for cash.

However, it wasn’t my uncertain income that excluded me from the mortgage-qualifying round. Despite my limited pennies, I was more than willing to be an equal partner in the house-buying process.

The bank? They had different ideas — ideas I didn’t even know existed until I was in the thick of it all. They told me my income would not be considered when pre-approving us for a mortgage loan amount. Instead, the loan would be based on my fiancé’s income alone.

This came as a surprise, to say the least. So I’ve made it my mission to spread the word to others who might find themselves in the same boat. Let’s break this down, shall we?

What Freelancers Need to Know

When it comes to mortgage loans, there’s a special exception for freelancers, business owners and even real estate agents — basically, it’s a rule for people who are self-employed with a sporadic income.

So, what exactly is this rule? Well, the bank told me I needed two full years of freelancing income history for them to consider for our loan amount. (Shopping for home loans? Be sure to check your credit first. You can view two of your free credit scores, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

Be warned: These specific restrictions might vary from bank to bank, so you’ll want to talk to your own lender to determine what you need.

The general rule is that you’ll need to share 24 months’ worth of income history in the form of your personal and business tax returns. They average those two years to get a general idea of how much you make during a typical year, which they can then use to determine what size loan you could realistically handle. (You can see how much house you can afford here.)

Since I had only been freelancing for a handful of months, I had next-to-no information to share with them. My business was just getting off the ground — I barely had two months of income to report, let alone two full years.

So we were left with a choice: Either we could wait for two years until I had built up a solid enough income history as a freelancer for them to consider, or we could qualify for a loan using just my husband’s income.

The latter option was a little demoralizing. I was making money, so why couldn’t I be an active part of the purchasing process? Why was I being punished by having to take a backseat and watch my fiancé sign his name on that pile of paperwork? Starting my own business as a freelancer was a scary enough leap without being made to feel like a lesser half of our partnership.

However, it didn’t take me long to begin to understand where the bank was coming from. It’s a risk to lend money to a freelancer — someone who might make $7,000 one month and $700 the next. But just because I could understand it, didn’t mean I liked it.

So my fiancé and I worked out an arrangement so I could still feel like I was involved in our home purchase. I wrote him a check to contribute to our down payment, and we continued to shuffle money around between the two of us to cover the mortgage and other living expenses until we were married and shared joint accounts.

It was a bit of a roundabout way to involve me in the process, and it still had its frustrating moments.

As a freelancer, I still work full time — just not in the way a bank can calculate. But in the end, it was actually a good thing. The fact that we received our loan amount after reporting only my husband’s income means we took on a loan and bought a house priced well within our budget.

While the process was far from painless, knowing we’ll never be house poor? Well, that’s priceless.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Deciding to Rent or Buy a House

If you’re at the age when your peers are making major life moves — getting married, having kids and buying homes – you might be feeling it’s time to join them. Or you may simply just be at that stage all on your own.

Either way, plenty of young adults are starting to get the home-buying itch. While there are a lot of appealing benefits to homeownership, taking on that kind of debt is not without risk. The decision to rent vs. buy is one you should make carefully.

If you’re trying to figure out your next move, consider asking yourself these eight questions. The answers should steer you in the right direction.

1. What Is My Top Financial Priority?

Buying a home will slow down your ability to make progress on other financial goals. You’ll need to focus on lowering expenses or increasing your income so you can afford a down payment and monthly mortgage payments. (This guide can help you understand more about how to determine your down payment on a home.)

That extra cash will be funneled toward your mortgage rather than paying off credit cards or student loans if you have them. Other financial goals, such as saving for retirement and building an emergency fund, may also have to take a back seat.

Assess your competing financial goals and decide which ones take priority. Buying a house might come first in your book, or perhaps you’ll decide to work toward other money goals before committing to a mortgage.

2. Do I Have Savings For a Down Payment & Closing Costs?

Renting requires some savings – you’ll need enough cash to cover the first month’s rent and the deposit.

To buy a home, however, the minimum you’ll need to have saved is usually 6% or more of the home’s value. Even FHA loans require a minimum down payment of 3.5%, and closing costs add another 2-3% to the costs.

But that’s the minimum; a 20% down payment is better to give you a decent amount of equity and avoid private mortgage insurance.

If you don’t have sufficient savings, you’ll need to focus on saving for a down payment before you’re in a position to buy. And even if you do have savings, it’s worth it to think through the best use of those savings and whether you’d rather allocate that cash to other goals.

3. How Do Home & Rent Prices Compare?

Housing markets also affect whether it’s a better idea to rent versus buy. If you’re facing sky-high rent prices that climb each year, a mortgage starts making a lot of sense. On the other hand, if you want to live in an expensive area, you could be priced out of buying a home (especially without extensive savings).

4. How Long Do I Plan to Live Here?

The longer you live in a home, the more likely it is that the financial investment of buying a property will pay off.

If you like your city, have a steady job, and are ready to live in the same space for a few years, buying is often more cost effective, but not always. You may want to crunch the numbers to see how long you’d need to live in a home to break even on your initial costs.

5. Will I Qualify for a Good Deal on a Mortgage?

You’ll need a decent income and good credit to qualify for the lowest rates and best terms on mortgage loans. It’s sometimes possible to get a mortgage if you have bad credit, but you’ll pay a lot more over time. (Haven’t checked where your credit stands? Now’s the time. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Think of it this way: most mortgages last 30 years. With that in mind, you may see that it’s financially worth it to spend a few months to a year rebuilding your credit if it means qualifying for a lower interest rate for those 30 years. For example, if you boost your credit score by 50 points – from the mid-600s to over 700 – you could qualify for a mortgage rate that’s 80+ basis points lower, according to MyFICO.com.

6. What Other Costs Will I Be Responsible for as a Homeowner?

When comparing costs of renting versus buying, make sure you’re including home-owning costs beyond mortgage principal and interest.

There are escrow costs, homeowner’s insurance, and property taxes. You can expect home maintenance costs to equal 1-3% of your home’s sale price each year. Then there are homeowners’ association fees and new utility costs such as trash collection and water. Meanwhile, renters are usually not responsible for any of these costs.

7. Am I Comfortable with the Risks of Owning a Home?

It’s a popular argument that owning is smarter than renting because you’re investing in a home. But as with any investment, owning a home has its own inherent risks.

There are no guarantees you’ll get a good return on your investment. Just ask the many homeowners who defaulted on their homes after the 2008 mortgage crisis. And even in a strong housing market, there are the everyday risks of unemployment or other financial hardships.

8. How Would Renting vs. Owning Affect my Lifestyle?

Guiding forces in your decision to rent or own are your lifestyle and values. For many, the freedom of choice, privacy, and control that come with owning a home are big selling points. Other people might prefer the convenience, flexibility, and short-term commitment that comes with renting.

Know what you want and choose a housing setup that will help you achieve it. Owning a home can be an admirable accomplishment for some people. Maybe it will be for you, too. Only you know the answer.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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