credit cards

Friday, July 18


Good credit score can save money

The Consumer Federation of America and Washington Mutual have released a study (conducted by Opinion Research Corp.) that found that less than 31 percent of Americans understand what credit scores mean. And they estimate that if Americans raised their scores by 30 points, the total annual consumer savings in interest payments would be $28 billion!

We here at Bankrate talk about credit scores a lot because we know the importance of them. I like to say that the magic words for a story to get lots of clicks on the Web site are "credit score" and "credit cards." Bankrate readers know how important they are.

Bankrate offers many tools and articles to help people raise their credit scores. First, we've got a tool that estimates FICO scores. If you're going out to buy a car or are applying for a new credit card, you should know your FICO range so you can negotiate the interest rate you'll pay.

And if you want to raise that score 30 points -- and save money -- start with these three easy ways to improve it. It's like losing weight: It doesn't happen overnight. You have to show the credit bureaus that you have improved the way you handle credit, that you aren't a risky customer. That's what the credit score really tells a lender.

If you start on your improvement track now, though, by the time the holiday shopping season rolls around, you might have earned those 30 points and can ask for a lower interest rate on your credit cards. Go get 'em!

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Gas stations drop cards

Here's a petroleum-made product that isn't being found at many gas stations these days: credit cards. I wrote last week about many of the gas stations around the Palm Beach, Fla., area offering a lower price for cash so that the station owners can avoid paying the credit card interchange fee, which is about 2 percent of a sale. But the interchange fee increases as the cost of the purchase increases.

Today the Associated Press is reporting the trend of gas stations not accepting credit cards because of the high fees they have to pay. The article quotes a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, a hard critic of the interchange fees, making good sense:

"We have always contended that it doesn't cost Visa and MasterCard any more to process a $1,000 transaction than it does a $100 transaction," said J. Craig Shearman, vice president of government affairs at the retail federation.

Of course, MasterCard and Visa counter that the benefits of accepting credit cards are worth the fee.

These days, though, if you can shave off a few pennies a gallon, you'll drive a little farther to that station or fill up your pockets with cash.

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Card debt per borrower dips

TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus, reported today that the national average credit card debt per borrower dipped 1.25 percent in the first quarter of 2008, from the previous quarter. They also found that delinquencies have declined.

The average credit card debt is now $1,673 per borrower; it was $1,694 in the fourth quarter of 2007. Still, that's up from where it was a year ago at the same time: In the first quarter of 2007, the average was $1,584.

The highest increases were in Alaska, Hawaii and Alabama. The District of Columbia had the greatest drop in its average credit card debt.

Delinquencies declined across the states, with North Dakota's delinquency rate dropping by 27.2 percent from the previous quarter.

How come people are paying down their credit cards? I'm just guessing here: Perhaps this is their only line of credit left and they can't afford to lose it. I don't think the government stimulus checks were in our hands by the end of the first quarter. Who knows -- maybe next quarter the pay-down rate will be even higher, thanks to Uncle Sam.

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