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6 Solid Tips for Veterans in Need of a Loan

U.S. military members transitioning out of service can find themselves facing many unique money challenges. After all, duty to one’s country can understandably push personal money management to the back burner. Fortunately, there are steps veterans can take to secure the funding they need to achieve their financial goals.

Here are some tips for veterans looking to secure a mortgage, small business loan or other types of financing.

1. Know What Federal Benefits Are Available …

There are programs out there designed to help veterans and their families overcome the various money challenges that can arise when a family member is on active duty. For instance, veterans are eligible for VA home loans, which often feature no down payment, no mortgage insurance and flexible underwriting requirements. And there are various grants, loans and business development programs backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration that can help former military members and budding entrepreneurs.

Veterans can get acquainted with the general benefits available to them on the Veterans Benefits Administration website. Prospective entrepreneurs can begin looking into business financing by checking out the Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development online.

2. Research All of Your Options

That’s not to say veterans should limit themselves to federal loan programs. For instance, when it comes to mortgages, “to be sure, VA loans aren’t the right fit for every veteran,” Chris Birk, a Credit.com contributor and director of education for Veterans United, a VA loan lender, said. “Understanding all of your mortgage options is also key to getting the best deal possible. Even veterans with sterling credit and a 20% down payment would benefit from comparison shopping between conventional and VA loans.”

3. Consider Financial Institutions That Cater to Vets …

If you do decide to go for a VA loan to buy a home, consider finding a mortgage lender who knows the ins and outs of that type of financing.

“VA loan market share has soared over the last decade, but it’s still a niche product for many lenders and real estate professionals,” Birk said. “Working with companies and professionals who know the ins and outs of VA loans can help ensure veterans get the most from this benefit.”

Similarly, you can look into finding a credit card issuer or bank that caters to former and current military members. (We’ve got a list of some of the better military credit cards here to help you kick off your search.)

And there are several startups, venture capitalist funds and, even, angel investors out there that offer small business financing exclusively to veterans and military members that may prove worthwhile, depending on your financial situation.

4. … But Be Sure to Assess Your Finances Holistically

We say “depending on your financial situation” because it’s important to consider factors beyond your status as a veteran when making money decisions. Take credit cards as an example. Ultimately, the right one for you will be influenced by your current financial situation or goals. For instance, if you’re trying to pay a lot of debt, you might want to look into a balance-transfer credit card. 

The same thing applies when exploring other financing opportunities — just because you’re a veteran doesn’t mean products designed for veterans are going to be the ones that best need your financing needs.

5. Watch Out for Scams

Due to the money challenges some veterans face (often related to spending extended periods of time out of the country or relocating frequently), they often find themselves on a scammer’s radar. That’s why it’s a good idea to vet any business you’re thinking of getting a loan from before filling out applications. You can start by conducting a thorough search online or checking a company’s status with the Better Business Bureau.

6. Brush Up Your Credit

A good credit score can make all types of financing more affordable, so it’s a good idea to see where you stand before applying for a loan. You can get a free credit report snapshot, along with two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. You can also pull your full credit reports from each of the major consumer credit reporting agencies for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. 

If you need to build credit, you can look into credit-builder loans or secured credit cards, which help people with thin files establish a history of using credit wisely. If you need to improve your credit, you can focus on paying down high credit card balances, disputing credit report errors and limiting applications for new credit, all of which can hurt your credit score.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

7 Ways to Save at Home Depot

If you work in the home improvement field or love do-it-yourself projects, there’s a good chance you’ve spent some significant time and money at Home Depot, one of the country’s largest suppliers of home improvement merchandise. But enthusiastic Home Depot shoppers know that, even after hunting down great deals, the bill can quickly spiral out of control at the register.

Luckily, there are many tricks that can save you a lot at Home Depot. Here are seven ways you can cut costs on your next expedition. 

1. Discounted Gift Cards 

Websites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com provide discounted Home Depot gift cards that save you a percentage of the total gift card value. For instance, as of writing this, Raise.com had gift cards discounted with up to 5.1% off their total value. 

2. Hunt for Coupons & Deal Alerts

You can look out for Home Depot flyers and coupons in your mailbox or in the store, but you can also get alerted to special promotions, deals and offers by signing up for Home Depot’s email or text alerts. Signing up right now will also get you $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more. 

3. Work the Low-Price Guarantee 

Home Depot offers a low-price guarantee for both online and in-store purchases. For online purchases, Home Depot will match any competitor price, including the item price and shipping costs. For in-store purchases, Home Depot will beat competitor prices on identical items by 10%. You’ll have to bring the ad, printout or photo to the cash register when you check out. Several exclusions apply to this policy, including custom products, open-box merchandise and auction pricing. 

4. Rent Equipment 

For equipment you’ll only use once or twice, you might want to evaluate the cost of renting versus buying. Many items can be rented on an hourly, daily or weekly basis at a fraction of the cost. For instance, we found a $188 leaf blower that can be rented for $23 a day. If you only need to blow leaves once a year, this can be a much more cost-effective option. 

5. Visit the Clearance Section

Many Home Depot locations have clearance sections located throughout the store (although they can sometimes be hard to find). Check out the far reaches of the store for deeply discounted items. 

6. Consider a Home Depot Credit Card

Home Depot offers a credit card (we’ve got a full review here) to help their customers finance home improvement projects. Home Depot is currently offering an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for all purchases of $299 or more if you pay off your balance in six months. They also offer cardholders up to 24 months of interest-free financing for special categories such as roofing supplies or custom kitchen cabinets.

If you were already planning on charging your Home Depot purchases to a credit card, you could avoid interest by taking advantage of these offers (although you can also avoid interest by paying off your balance in full each month).

Remember, before applying for any credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to see where you stand. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.

7. Join the Garden Club 

Avid gardeners should take a look at the Home Depot Garden Club, an email and text alert club that delivers special garden promotions and offers right to your inbox or mobile device. Plus, Home Depot is currently offering $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more when you sign up.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly. Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Sean Talks Money: How to Give Your Child Excellent Credit

My sister Megan called me recently asking for advice on picking a new credit card. Because she’s a college student and only 19, I assumed she’d qualify only for a student or secured credit card, so I spent 10 minutes talking her ear off about those options before I bothered asking whether she knew what her credit score was.

Her answer? 778, well into the “excellent credit” range many top-tier credit cards require. I was floored. My baby sister’s credit score was only 20 points lower than my own, despite my having a regular job, bill pay history and quite a few credit accounts to my name.

After some digging, I learned that my parents had basically gifted her near-perfect credit by the time she graduated high school. Here’s how they did it and how you can try to do the same for your kids.

How it happened

Looking at Megan’s credit score dashboard at NerdWallet reveals some interesting stats:

  • The oldest credit card on her report is older than she is, at 23 years and 7 months.
  • The average age of her accounts is 7 years and 2 months. (Seven years ago, my sister was 12.)
  • 12 open accounts.
  • An unblemished payment history.
  • Over $100,000 credit line.
  • Four hard inquiries in the past year, which is above average, suggesting that her score could rise even further once the impact of those “hard pulls” dissipates.

»MORE: Understand your credit score

Those stats aren’t errors. They just reflect the potential power of “authorized user” status.

My parents didn’t have a master plan when they added Megan as an authorized user of their cards. They did so simply because giving her direct access to their cards was easier than giving her cash when she went on school trips, attended dance camps, or just stepped out for gas or groceries.

Fortunately for Megan, my parents have had many years of impeccable credit hygiene, and she automatically gained that same benefit as an authorized user of their cards. As a result, my sister has amazing credit, even though the longest-serving card she herself owns is just 1 year and 5 months old.

“The first time I found out my credit score was when I applied for an apartment and they requested my credit information,” Megan told me. “I remember sitting at the desk in my dorm room, and once I found out, I immediately called my mom and then I ran around and told all of my roommates. Sadly they didn’t share the excitement since they had no idea what a credit score was.”

Should you do this for your children?

This may sound odd, but you can add your children of any age as authorized users on your credit cards. Here are the caveats you should keep in mind:

  • The authorized user approach makes sense only if you can add your children to a card in good standing, meaning you’re paying the bills on time and keeping the balance low. Any mistakes you make on your card, such as missing a bill or charging a high percentage of your credit limit, would damage your children’s credit score.
  • If you’re concerned about what your children might do with access to your credit line, then simply don’t give them the actual cards. Add your children as authorized users and then — when the mail comes — shred the cards or bury them in your sock drawer. Your children will get the credit benefit regardless of whether their card is ever used; the credit bureaus don’t know the difference.
  • FICO and VantageScore, the two biggest credit scoring companies in the U.S., aren’t enamored of the idea of credit piggybacking. They’re working on newer versions of their credit-scoring algorithms to lessen the positive impact of being an authorized user, so your children may not benefit as much as my sister did. That said, lenders tend to be rather slow to adopt the newer credit scoring algorithms, so this may not have much real-world impact for a while.
  • If you trust your children with access to your money, you’ll also need to trust that they’ll protect your credit card information. Make sure they know credit card security basics, like to use it only at reputable websites and businesses, and to never leave cards lying around in public sight.

My mom, Kristen, has some additional advice: “Make sure your child understands the importance of credit and that it isn’t free money. They can go and buy something on credit and it be pretty easy, but they have to understand that the charge has to be paid.”

If you have a card with solid payment history, consider adding your children as authorized users. It can help them build their credit and learn other financial skills that will serve them well when they’re no longer under your roof.

Sean McQuay is a credit and banking expert at NerdWallet. A former strategist with Visa, McQuay now helps consumers use their credit cards and banking products more effectively. If you have a question, shoot him an email at asksean@nerdwallet.com. The answer might show up in a future column.

Online Medicine: What to Know Before You Sign Up

By Cheryl Welch

Learn more about Cheryl on Nerdwallet’s Ask an Advisor

The world of health care is changing rapidly thanks to new advances in technology. Innovations such as patient portals and telemedicine allow patients and doctors to connect in new ways. However, there are pros and cons to both services.

Patient portals

Medical practices across the country are rolling out patient portals, which are secure websites where patients can view, download and share their health information, including blood work and lab results. They can also contact staff and doctors via a messaging system and request medical records, prescription refills and appointments — all 24/7.

Mary*, an RN in New York, loves using patient portals. She typically works overnight shifts and isn’t awake during normal business hours, so the service allows her to take care of medical tasks when it’s convenient. For example, she receives an appointment time within three days of requesting one via the portal.

Still, other patients, even the most technologically savvy, find these portals to be unfriendly. And some note that some portals aren’t mobile friendly, limiting their usefulness for patients on the go. They can also come with hidden costs. Another client, Ashley, was offered access to a free patient portal and told to email her child’s pediatrician with any questions — but later received bills for $50 per email.

Telemedicine

Some medical practitioners also offer telemedicine, or patient appointments via telecommunications technologies such as Skype. This service increases access to medical care in underserved regions and remote areas. It can also cut down on costs associated with traditional health care.

It’s a new process, but some states — including New York — already require insurance companies to cover telemedicine as they would in-office services. But doctors don’t necessarily advertise this to their patients. Visits can cost as little as $25 and help patients avoid in-person visits for routine ailments, but many don’t know they have the option.

Patient portals and telemedicine can benefit both patients and medical personnel, but doctors should do a better job of making both user-friendly, cost-effective experiences and publicizing their availability. In the meantime, patients should ask their practitioners and insurers about online medical services, including the costs involved, before diving in.

*Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the patients interviewed.

Cheryl Welch is the president of Hudson Valley Medical Bill Advocates.

Six Steps To Maximize Your Tax Refund

MoneyTips

Does your preparation for tax day start with a trip to the liquor store, or perhaps a one-way ticket to Costa Rica? Taxes are unpleasant, but drinking or fleeing the country is not the answer. Tackle your taxes head-on with solid preparation, and the experience may turn out to be more pleasant than you thought it would be. Here are a few tips to help you with your tax preparation and increase your chances of getting the biggest refund you deserve. 1. Start Immediately – Procrastination is just going to make things worse. Pressure will increase as tax-filing day draws nearer, and it is more likely that you will have problems finding vital paperwork or will make mistakes filling out your form. Get started on your taxes as early as you can and gather some positive momentum. 2. Organize Your Paperwork – Hopefully you have been storing and organizing important tax documents and necessary receipts throughout the year — but if so, you probably would not be reading an article about how to prepare for tax day. Start by gathering the basic tax documents. Last year's tax return, W-2 forms, 1099-MISC forms for any independent contracting work, other 1099s forms for things like bank accounts and brokerage statements, and 1095 forms to prove health insurance status. After securing all the basic documents, move on to receipts for all itemized deductions. Speaking of deductions.... 3. Explore Deductions – You may not even realize how many itemized tax deductions that you have, and simply assume the standard deduction is the best choice. Review the instructions for Schedule A and IRS Publication 529, "Miscellaneous Deductions" to see all the options available to you. Do not forget about "above-the-line" deductions like educator expenses and health savings account (HSA) deductions. You can take those deductions whether you itemize or not. 4. Max Out Your Retirement Contributions – Even though it is now 2017, you can still make contributions to your IRA until the tax-filing deadline in April and credit those contributions to your 2016 taxes — as long as your contributions for the year stay within the $5,500 limit ($6,500 if you are over fifty years old). Schedule your retirement contributions in a way that brings you the greatest tax advantage. 5. Consider Tax-Preparation Software – Do you prefer to file your own taxes? You may want to consider tax preparation software to see if it can help you avoid potential errors and identify other sources of deductions. Software is available in a wide range of capacities that can match the complexity of your tax situation, and prices are generally reasonable. If you made below $64,000 last year, you can prepare your taxes for free using the Free File tax preparation software available on the IRS website. 6. Seek Professional Assistance – Complex tax situations are best left to the professionals. You may be able to do your own taxes adequately, but a competent tax professional may be able to find you enough refunds to pay for their services and then some — and even if they cannot, you can enjoy greater peace of mind by not having to struggle through the tax forms yourself. Research a tax professional carefully, and do not just choose one based on advertising (certainly not on promises of the highest refunds). Check their certifications, experience, and online reviews of their services. Note that lawyers and accountants may be qualified to sign tax returns without having any experience in doing so. What's that smell? It is the sweet smell of successful preparation for tax day. That sure beats dealing with hangovers, or starting your new life in Central America. Need to file your taxes? Check out this site. Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ideabug

Originally Posted at: https://www.moneytips.com/how-to-maximize-your-tax-refund

Do You Qualify For An Earned Income Tax Credit?

Many Do Not Claim Their Tax Refunds Each Year

5 Tax Breaks For The Young

Six Steps To Maximize Your Tax Refund

MoneyTips

Does your preparation for tax day start with a trip to the liquor store, or perhaps a one-way ticket to Costa Rica? Taxes are unpleasant, but drinking or fleeing the country is not the answer. Tackle your taxes head-on with solid preparation, and the experience may turn out to be more pleasant than you thought it would be. Here are a few tips to help you with your tax preparation and increase your chances of getting the biggest refund you deserve. 1. Start Immediately – Procrastination is just going to make things worse. Pressure will increase as tax-filing day draws nearer, and it is more likely that you will have problems finding vital paperwork or will make mistakes filling out your form. Get started on your taxes as early as you can and gather some positive momentum. 2. Organize Your Paperwork – Hopefully you have been storing and organizing important tax documents and necessary receipts throughout the year — but if so, you p...

How I Ditched Debt: Well Kept Wallet

A Home Equity Loan Is a Smart Choice as Rates Rise

In recent years, home equity loans have gone the way of boy bands. So last-century. In an era of low interest rates, home equity lines of credit and cash-out refinances have been the equity-tapping products of choice.

Home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, have been popular because they usually are built with low introductory rates, which have been scraping the bottom. Cash-out refis have been sought because with mortgage rates at a historical floor, millions of homeowners have been refinancing to lower their rates and tap the equity in their homes.

Plain-and-simple home equity loans, with the security of a locked-in interest rate that never changes, have been yesterday’s news. But as the economy improves and interest rates rebound, you may have to go throwback if you want to access some of your home value.

Regulation stalled home equity loans

At least some of the blame for the missing home equity loans can be placed on regulation. Dodd-Frank, the wide-ranging financial reform act instituted in 2010, mandated that lenders revise statements and disclosures for home equity loans, but not for HELOCs.

It required lenders to implement extensive system changes, and as a result, some companies decided to eliminate home equity loan products. Besides, low interest rates and rising home values kept lenders busy with refinance demand and HELOCs. Banks and borrowers had no interest in the additional paperwork required on home equity loans.

Rising interest rates may change demand

Mortgage rates were under 4% for all but two months for 2015 and 2016, according to Freddie Mac. But the sun appears to be setting on the sub-4% mortgage rate.

Logan Pichel, head of consumer lending for Regions Bank, believes that as rates rise, more people may back down from a move-up mentality. He says homeowners in 2017 and beyond may consider remodeling their existing house — with its already low mortgage rate — instead of buying a bigger home at a higher interest rate.

In that scenario, a home equity loan may be the right solution.

Pichel predicts many homeowners will say, “I am not going to move up into the next bigger house because I’m sitting here today on a 3 1/2% mortgage rate, and if I were to sell my home and go buy another one, I now have a 4 1/2% mortgage rate.” A home equity loan would allow those homeowners to upgrade a kitchen, add a bedroom or build an outdoor living area, for example.

And with rates expected to climb in the months ahead, the relative advantage of a HELOC with a low introductory rate is not as clear because it’s likely to increase when periodic rate resets kick in.

“Our opinion is, we’re going to see fewer move-up buyers and we’re going to see more home equity business as a result of the increase in interest rates,” Pichel says.

Johnna Camarillo, manager of equity lending at Navy Federal Credit Union, agrees.

“I think we’re going to see a shift back to fixed equity loans,” Camarillo says. “Our members tend to be more fiscally conservative, and so they like the security of knowing that ‘my payment is always going to be X number of dollars.’ Especially if they already know that they’ve got a specific purpose for their loan.”

» MORE: Check mortgage rates now.

Fix it and forget it

After that decision, Pichel says, the next move is to choose between a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit. HELOCs usually begin with a slightly lower rate than fixed-rate home equity loans.

But HELOC rates are commonly adjustable and subject to the ups and downs of short-term interest rates, at least at the beginning. Many lenders allow borrowers to carve out a portion of their balance owed and put it into a fixed-rate loan.

“As you see an increase in interest rates, you’ll have a set of individuals that will say, ‘You know what, I’m going to lock in at a fixed rate,’ ” he says.

And some customers, Pichel says, appreciate the discipline of a fixed-rate loan for reasons including:

  • They know exactly what their monthly payment will be, which helps with budgeting.
  • Tapping home equity with a lump sum rather than through a line of credit removes the temptation to pay down and then draw money from the line again.
  • With a set number of payments, borrowers knows their payoff date.

Some customers like knowing the exact numbers. Navy Federal’s Camarillo says there’s a comfort level with knowing the specific amount you’ll owe, how long it will take to pay the loan off and what your payment will be each month.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

It’s OK to Spend Money on Yourself — Really

 

People who spend too much outnumber, by far, those who spend too little. But the methods that therapists and financial planners use to help “underspenders” can guide the rest of us about when it’s OK to splurge and when we should resist.

Chronic underspenders can be so terrified about running out of money that they put off health care, ignore needed home repairs or descend into hoarding, says financial planner Rick Kahler of Rapid City, South Dakota. Framing certain expenditures as an investment and creating a plan that helps them see how much money they can spend without causing financial ruin can ease their distress, he says.

“‘Spend’ is not a good word to a frugal person,” says Kahler, author of “Conscious Finance: Uncover Your Hidden Money Beliefs and Transform the Role of Money in Your Life.” “It connotes waste.”

Planning also helps those who are trying to handle money better by paying off debt, building savings and investing for retirement. High-quality experiences or purchases that give lasting pleasure can stave off burnout and “frugal fatigue” that might otherwise cause people to abandon their money goals.

Here’s how to walk the line:

Have a budget

You don’t want to splurge one month and wind up short on rent the next. A budget helps you find out where your money is going now and what upcoming bills you need to cover. Your just-for-fun spending will come out of the income that’s not already spoken for.

Decide how to invest in yourself

Experiences tend to give us more lasting pleasure than things, but the right purchases also can be an investment in happiness. If you’re learning to play music, for example, upgrading your instrument can contribute to your well-being every time you lay hands on it. If you feel guilty spending on pleasurable things, you may need some practice.

Psychologist and financial planner Brad Klontz of Lihue, Hawaii, tells his workaholic clients to get massages so they can be exposed to what it feels like to indulge.

Don’t wait until you’ve ‘arrived’

Paying off credit card debt and building emergency savings can take years. Investing enough for retirement will take decades. And you only live once. As long as you’re on track with your goals, you should be able to afford the occasional splurge.

What does it mean to be on track? Generally, it means that you’re saving enough to replace roughly 70 percent of your income in retirement and that you’re scheduled to pay off all your toxic debt, such as credit cards and payday loans, within the next five years, while making all required payments on any mortgages, auto loans and student loans.

If you’re not on track, your splurges should be on the smaller side until you’ve got a better handle on your money. Not sure? Consider a consultation with a fee-only financial planner who can give you an objective assessment, says Klontz, co-author of “Mind over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.”

Save the full amount before you spend on fun

This one habit can stave off a world of regret. If it helps, you can set up a dedicated savings account. Online banks and some credit unions let you set up multiple savings sub-accounts that you can name, so you can have ones for “vacations,” “guitar,” “new wardrobe” or whatever else you desire.

Use financing carefully

Even if you know better than to finance the fun stuff, you can find yourself overspending when borrowing for big purchases such as cars or homes. Borrowed money feels less real than cash in your wallet, so you may be more tempted to spend on luxury add-ons. You wouldn’t pay $2,000 cash for a DVD player, for example, yet people often shell out that much for “rear-seat entertainment systems.”

One way to make sure you can really afford what you’re buying is to first stick to conservative loans, which means a fixed-rate mortgage that lasts 30 years or less, or an auto loan that lasts four years or less. Then add the expected payment to all your current “must have” expenses: shelter, food, utilities, transportation, insurance, child care and other minimum loan payments. If the expected total is 50 percent or less of your after-tax income, you can probably afford the new payment.

If you continue to struggle with a fear of spending, both Klontz and Kahler recommend taking those anxieties to a therapist.

“It’s always emotional and rooted in some past wounding or unfinished business,” Kahler says. “We need to examine the baggage that keeps us stuck in those feelings.”

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

 

4 Credit Card Trends for 2017 and What They Mean for You

In 2016, high-end credit cards attracted a lot of attention with generous rewards and perks. But this year, issuers are going back to basics — and perhaps charging you more in the process. Here are four credit card industry trends taking shape for 2017.

1. More bread-and-butter rewards

Instead of aspirational rewards, such as free hotel stays and airline flights, issuers will focus more on “bread-and-butter rewards” this year, such as cash back, says David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, an industry newsletter.

“In 2017, we’ll see much more offers aimed at people in the middle class,” Robertson says. “All the big issuers have already committed themselves to their upscale programs. They have nowhere to go but down.”

The upshot: Keep an eye out for improved cash-back offers from issuers. More competition on this front is great news, especially if you spend more at the grocery store than on first-class flights.

2. Higher interest rates

If you missed the news about the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in December, don’t worry — we’ll relive that moment soon enough.

Recent projections by the Fed suggest that interest rates could rise by three-quarters of a percentage point this year. That means credit card debt could soon become more expensive, potentially costing you hundreds of dollars in additional interest over the next five years.

The upshot: When you pay your balance in full each month, you never have to pay interest. But if you do have credit card debt, move it to a card with a 0% balance transfer annual percentage rate, if you can qualify for one, and pay it down interest-free.

3. A growing subprime market

In 2016, the percentage of credit card accounts held by consumers with subprime credit reached its highest level since 2010, according to credit bureau TransUnion. But this doesn’t suggest a return to the days of easy credit, when it seemed even house cats could prequalify for cards with $20,000 limits.

“The credit card issuers are really very diligent about managing their risk and how much credit they’re providing on an account basis,” says Paul Siegfried, senior vice president of financial services at TransUnion. Delinquencies are staying relatively low.

The upshot: If you have bad credit, now’s a good time to get a secured credit card and start rebuilding your score. It might be easier to get started than it was in the past.

4. Smoother transactions

About three-quarters of people who owned a smartphone and had a checking account or debit card said they had used a mobile device to make at least one purchase or other type of payment in the past 12 months, according to a 2016 study by First Annapolis Consulting. On top of that, issuers are offering cardholders more ways to make purchases and redeem rewards directly with merchants online and through apps.

“We’ll be making new payments we wouldn’t have made before,” Robertson says of these frictionless payments.

The upshot: If you’re taking advantage of these faster payments, guard against overspending by sticking to a weekly spending limit. Don’t let convenience come between you and your budget.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

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