Posts Tagged ‘finances’

How the Finance Bill Affects You

Posted on: May 22nd, 2010 by

Finance - Rockville, MDThere are some tantalizing possibilities that the financial overhaul bill could mean for you.  Merchants may decide to offer more discounts to people who pay cash.  You could also get a free credit score every time a lender or landlord penalizes you with a lousy interest rate or rejects your application because your score is not up to par.  Many mortgage prepayment penalties would also go away.

A possible problem for consumers is that a last-minute Senate addition could lower the fees that merchants pay to process debit card transactions.  This could mean that banks will lose revenue and they may try to make up for it by adding fees to checking accounts or cutting back on rewards programs.  Retailers say that once card costs fall, they will hire more workers and hold the line on prices.

None of this will be clear until there is a final bill.  It may take years to determine if this bill will actually put money in your pocket or keep your wallet from being taken advantage of.   But the basic outline is clear, so here are the areas to watch as a final bill emerges:

Debit and Credit Cards – I’m sure you have seen the signs that prohibit credit card use unless you are spending a specified minimum at many establishments.  It might surprise you to know that these signs are actually not allowed.  But, the new bill would allow such minimums.  Stores would also be able to offer discounts based on what card a customer was using.  The bill also specifies that cash discounts are acceptable, as are lower prices for people who use debit cards.

Mortgages – First, mortgage lenders would face restrictions on when they can charge borrowers a penalty for paying off their loan before the term of the mortgage is up.  They wouldn’t be able to charge pre-payment penalties at all for mortgages that have balloon payments or for those that allow people to make low enough payments that the mortgage balance rises instead of falls.  For more standard plain vanilla mortgages, pre-payment penalties would only be allowed in the first three years.  Second, the bill forbids anyone who sets up mortgages for customers from accepting compensation that would vary depending on the loan type.  And finally, the bill requires banks to consider applicants’ income, assets and credit history before making a loan.

Credit Score Availability – If you have any sort of adverse action taken against you, such as not getting the apartment you wanted, not getting a loan, or even not getting the best interest rate on a credit card, the person who took the adverse action will now be required to give you your score at no cost.

Keeping Your Money Safe Online

Posted on: May 17th, 2010 by

Dealing with Your Bank - FInancial Plan - Rockville, MDWhen you access your bank account online, you probably don’t think that at that very same moment, there could be a hacker somewhere, waiting to steal your information and your money.  Despite banks’ efforts to protect accounts from online theft, this is still proving to be a serious problem.  More banks were robbed online last year, than were in person.  One of the biggest threats to consumers are banking Trojans.  They are invisible and can steal multiple types of data, including passwords.  Some more advanced types of Trojans can make fraudulent transfers and drain your account while you are logged on to the account online.

The more questions and passwords you are asked to enter in order to log in to your account, the safer your bank’s website is.  If your bank only asks you to enter a username and password, like Wachovia, to enter its website, you are not entering a tightly secured site.  Other banks, like Bank of America, require customers to create a username, a site key name using a personalized picture, and a password.  It has been recommended that banks require customers to answer personalized questions before granting access to their site, but as you can see, not everyone is taking heed.

In the event that you become a victim of online theft, act quickly and know your rights.  The general rule for consumer checking and savings accounts is the bank is liable for most of the damage, as long as you report the illicit transfer in a timely manner.   But if you have a line of credit account or a business account, you need to be extra careful, because the bank will not always be obligated to pay for your loss.  Business accounts are the most vulnerable to online hackers and the least protected by the law.  Why would a criminal want to go after a smaller personal account when they can go after a six-figure business account?

You need to protect  yourself the best you can from these attacks.  You can not always rely on the banks’ websites to do that for you.  Make sure you do not access your account from a shared computer.  You never know who will be coming in behind you.  Be sure your computer has anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs, including security software with automatic updates.  Also, if you are using wireless service, check the settings to make sure your connection is encrypted.  Don’t connect to your account using a public network, like the ones you find in coffee shops.  Always review your statement regularly and carefully (although, you should be doing this anyhow to be fiscally responsible).  And finally, always, always, always, log out after every session.  Don’t leave the window up and let it time out and don’t just “X” out of the screen.  Keep yourself and your finances safe but being proactive and aware of the dangers lurking out there.