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Frequently asked financial questions
Mortgage | Credit cards | Auto loan | ATMs | Banking | Other

Mortgage

Do you quote mortgage rates on loans greater than $250,000?
We now survey jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage rates. Start at our mortgage home page. Choose a state. On the next page select  "Jumbo" from the product menu to find the rates in your area.

Where can I find the current prime rate?
The Wall Street Journal prime rate is quoted on Bankrate.com's Rate Watch. The prime rate is always the first rate listed.

Do your rate tables apply to refinancing an existing mortgage?
A recent Bankrate.com survey of some of the largest national lenders found that, in general, the rates were the same for new purchase of a completed home and a refinance.

On the mortgage rate tables, two banks listed the same rate, and the one with lower points reported a higher annual percentage rate (APR). Why?
The APR is based on points plus fees. The bank with the lower points and higher APR may charge fees that boost that APR. At the present time Bankrate.com does not list closing costs, but plans are under way to include that information.

How can I become a homeowner if I have bad credit?
All lenders make a judgment about character (your willingness to repay), capacity (your ability to pay) and collateral (the value of what you are buying) when deciding to grant you a loan. There are several tools that aid lenders in making this judgment, including automated credit or risk scores. As a result, separate lenders can look at the same loan and view the same credit risk differently. For more information, go to credit lenders.

What's an FHA mortgage?
Federal Housing Administration mortgages let you borrow up to 95 percent of the cost of a house if the price plus closing costs are within their guidelines. Your income is not a factor, but in many parts of the country few houses qualify because of the high cost of houses. You can get information from lenders or directly from FHA.

What is a home equity line of credit (HELOC)?
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a cross between a second mortgage and a credit card. You borrow against the accumulated value in your home -- above what you owe on your first mortgage. That represents your equity in the home. You withdraw the money and repay it in the same fashion you carry a credit card balance. See Bankrate.com's Loan Basics for more information.

Credit cards

How do I find a credit card with which I can consolidate $20,000 worth of credit card debt?
You can find a list of companies that will allow you to transfer balances by using Bankrate.com's credit card search engine. Choose "National" for cards available nationally, or pick a state. On the next page, under option 2, select "balance transfer" from the menu.

How do I find a credit card that offers rebates and special incentives?
There are many cards that offer what seem to be great deals, but make sure to read the fine print to understand the exclusions, limitations and bonuses. In selecting the card most suitable for you, consider the value of the rebate for you personally. Check out credit card rebate deals and cards offering frequent flyer miles.

What is a finance charge on a credit card bill?
The most common type of finance charge is assessed against the average daily balance. In a given month, all daily balances are added together, then divided by the number of days in the month. Some issuers include new purchases in their calculations; others do not. Still, others calculate the average daily balance for two billing cycles -- the current and the previous -- while some calculate the balance based on the current period only. Tip: Get a credit card that calculates charges based on the most recent cycle and that excludes new purchases.

What's the difference between a regular credit card and a gold card?
A gold credit card offers a larger line of credit -- generally $5,000 and up -- than a standard credit card. Income requirements are higher, too, generally $35,000 at minimum. In addition, issuers provide extra perks or incentives to card holders. Contact card issuers for specifics.

The interest rate on my credit card just went up without warning. Is that legal?
First, read the fine print in your credit card contract to find out if there is a cap on the percentage rate. If there is, has the rate risen beyond that? Check the disclosure statement to see if the issuer is allowed to raise the rate at will. Then try calling your credit card company and  asking for a lower rate. But first read Consumers can renegotiate credit card rates and fees -- but it's not easy.

I have been overcharged on my credit card statement.  Should I call customer service?
You can call if you like, but you must notify the lender in writing within 60 days. The card company then has 30 days to respond and 90 days to resolve the problem. They can't stop you from using your card while they are investigating the problem, and they can't release a bad credit report on you. If they don't respond, they can't collect the disputed amount or finance charges.

Auto loan

When is the best time to buy a car?
"The best day of the year to shop for a car is New Year's Eve," said W. James Bragg, author of Car Buye's and Leaser's Negotiating Bible. "Walk into a dealer with a cashier's check in your hand." Although there is not much rebate activity in the month of December, car lots are usually empty and salesmen are more than willing to offer a good deal. For those that don't want to wait until the end of the year, generally toward the end of every month is a good time to shop. Salesmen need to meet a quota. Catch them a few hours before closing, keep them there late, they'll be antsy to close the deal.

Banking

Do you have any recommendations on which financial institutions to use to refinance a home?
We do not provide referrals. However, any of the lenders on the Bankrate.com pages would be happy to discuss the alternatives that they can provide you.

What is the difference between chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is also known as liquidation because the debtor's unprotected assets are liquidated or converted to cash by a court appointee who disburses the funds to the debtor's creditors to repay part of the debt owed. Chapter 13 affords debtors the opportunity to repay all or part of their  debts over an extended time period. It requires that debtors have a consistent income to make future payments. It's designed for consumers who need relief from their creditors and collections to reorganize their debts. The debtor is allowed to keep basically all assets.

My bank recently merged with another bank and has a new name. Should I be worried about my loan?
Car, mortgage and other loans will not be renegotiated. The terms are bound by contract and will be honored by the acquiring institution.

I'm switching banks, how do I transfer my direct deposit?
Get the necessary paperwork from the Human Resources department at your workplace to change the route of the direct deposit. Never switch banks without first opening your new account at the new bank. Then, wait until you have received your first payment at the new bank before closing the old account.

How do I find a bank that doesn't charge high fees
"Express" accounts, as many banks call them, often boast low or no monthly fees and minimum balances, and other perks such as unlimited check writing. To search for the lowest fees in your area try our Checking search engine.

ATMs

It took me a few days to notice that my debit card was missing, now the bank says they won't pay me $300 that is missing. Do I have any recourse?
If you discover your ATM card is lost or stolen, report it immediately. You have two business days to report an unauthorized withdrawal listed on your monthly statement. If you do that you can limit your potential liability to the first $50 withdrawn. Waiting three to 60 days to report the problem extends your liability to $500. Waiting more than 60 days can cost you everything in your account.

How do I get around paying high ATM fees?
Use your ATM card at the grocery store! When you pay with the debit feature of the ATM card at many supermarkets, gas stations and stores such as Walgreen's and Wal-Mart, all offer cash back at the register. Here are some tips.

Where can I find a bank with low ATM fees?
Use our ATM rate finder, which surveys ATM rates nationwide.

What's a smart card?
Smart cards use a microprocessor or memory chip to store information. They can be loaded with a specified amount of cash that is then drawn off with every purchase. Credit cards and ATM cards store information on magnetic strips.

Other

I'm currently investing in a 401(k) plan through my employer. I need to withdraw all of the money for emergency use. Can I do this?
Most 401(k) plans allow withdrawal after the first five years but usually with stiff financial penalties. You will be taxed on all of your investment and earnings, and may pay a percentage of your savings as part of the penalty.

Who can I talk to about re-establishing credit?
You could call the Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization that helps people in debt re-establish credit. Their toll-free number is 1-800-388-2227.

What do all the abbreviations above the rate tables stand for?
For concise descriptions of the column headers, click here.

What criteria do you use in the rates?
For descriptions of the criteria used, click here.

How do you decide which banks to include in your high-yield rate listings?
We do not cover every financial institution in the United States. Nor do we cover all high rates. The following criteria must be met to be listed on our highest-yield rate tables. Institutions must: 1) be FDIC insured 2) have a branch people can walk into 3) accept funds by mail from all 50 states 4) have a staff large enough to cover the volume generated.