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50 Smart Money Moves | NextAdvisor with TIME

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You have to do it yourself.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the financial devastation wrought by coronavirus in 2020, let it be this: Help is out there, but it’s not just going to come to you. 

This year, you can take that literally. As Americans who’ve spent the past few months social distancing are well aware, at the end of the day you’re on your own. And though there are a range of relief programs available to the millions who’ve been knocked off course financially, nearly all come with the same string attached.

“You have to ask for it — and ask the right way,” as Liz Weston of NerdWallet recently put it

Under the federal government’s stimulus act, for example, if you’ve been affected by COVID-19 you have the right to take an “accommodation” from your credit card issuer, which can include waived late fees, lower interest rates, or even the ability to skip payments — without negatively affecting your credit report. But in order to get that accommodation, you have to do the legwork by calling your credit card issuer and asking for it. 

Likewise, the same law gives you the right to request a forbearance on a federally backed mortgage for at least 180 days, meaning you can skip payments without accruing late fees or additional interest. Those payments might be due in one lump sum at the end of the six months, or you might be able to tack them on to the end of your term — but again, you have to call your lender and ask. 

It’s not just government programs. In March, Ally Bank’s auto financing division said it would give new customers a break on their first payment for 90 days. Bank of America said it would defer loan payments and add them to the end of the term. TD Bank said it would waive fees for cashing out CD accounts before full maturity. But in each case — you guessed it — you had to call and ask. 

The government is adding an extra $600 to weekly unemployment benefits through July. That’s automatic … if you can manage to get benefits in the first place. Getting through to state unemployment offices has become a Herculean effort as archaic systems suddenly get swamped. In fact, relatively few relief programs were automatic. Stimulus checks were, within certain income limits, as were forbearance programs for federal (but not private) student loans. 

Otherwise, it’s on you. And in a way, personal finance experts say, that’s how it’s always been. No one is going to look after your finances the way you would — not a broker, a CPA, or financial advisor. And certainly not the government. 

“That was my goal when I opened up the Suze Orman Financial Group: to make people as independent from people like me as possible,” says the personal finance author and podcaster Suze Orman. “When I started my firm, [my clients] had to go to Charles Schwab and open up their own account. They would pay me an advisory fee. I didn’t manage money — because I wanted them to understand that they could manage their own money.” 

“If you want to find the best financial advisor in the world, look in the mirror,” Orman says. “Because nobody’s gonna care about your money more than you.”

Orman says she hopes those who have been forced to dig themselves out of a financial hole this year won’t forget how hard it is — and strive to put themselves in a position where they don’t have to depend on other people next time.

If you’re ready to take control over your money this year, here are 50 expert-approved places to start.

With reporting by Kara Cutruzzula. Illustrations by Elisa Faye.

Check Out Credit Counseling Services

Photo illustration to accompany roundup article on 50 smart money moves to make right now

You don’t have to wade through a difficult financial situation on your own. Whether you have a large amount of high-interest debt or simply want advice on budgeting and saving, a certified credit counselor can provide you with free or low-cost one-on-one advice. Commonly offered through nonprofits, credit counseling is a low-risk option that helps you get a clearer view of your financial situation. Consolidated Credit launched Shutdown Hotline, a free phone service that offers debt analysis and referral to COVID-19-specific resources. And the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is also offering free credit counseling services devoted to assisting people in light of the pandemic.

Crunch Your ‘Survival Number’

Many people are buckling down on saving right now — how low can you go? To determine your “survival number,” add up all the monthly costs of your bare minimum essentials: rent, food, health care, etc. You don’t necessarily have to live on your survival budget, and calculating one doesn’t mean you’re embracing a scarcity mindset. In fact, there’s power in knowing how resourceful you can be, writes NextAdvisor contributor Jully-Alma Taveras, creator of the YouTube channel Investing Latina. Jully-Alma’s survival number is $581; use her downloadable spreadsheet to figure out yours.

Open a Bill Account

This is ideal if you often find yourself paying your bills late or getting into debt. Sierra Howard of @IDontDoBudgets recommends creating a dedicated bill account by calculating all your fixed monthly expenses and adding a $50 cushion (to avoid overdraft fees). Set up a separate checking account, make a monthly direct deposit into it for the total amount, and put your bills on auto-pay from this same account. Consider it off-limits and for bills only.

Fix Mistakes on Your Credit Report

New this year: The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — are allowing you to check your credit report for free on a weekly basis until April 2021. Make the request at annualcreditreport.com, then take 15 minutes to run through your credit report and make sure your information is correct. About one in 5 consumers has a mistake on their credit report, according to a Federal Trade Commission report from 2013, and some errors will cost you extra money on loans or insurance policies. Plus, with new debt forbearance options being extended due to COVID-19 hardship, there’s even more reason to do an accuracy check. Those accommodations should not be reflected on your report as derogatory. If you find a mistake, use our email template to fire off a complaint; the credit bureaus will be legally mandated to investigate it.

Set Up Banking Alerts

If you avoid looking at your account balances because it stresses you out, you’re missing out on an opportunity to be more intentional with your spending. Sometimes it’s better to let the information come to you: Go to your online banking platform and set an email or mobile alert for every credit card charge or account debt. You may spot expenses you didn’t even know about, like recurring subscriptions.

Try a New Budgeting Strategy

Chances are, your budget went out the window this year. Whether you’ve taken a hit on income or shifted your spending habits under lockdown, it’s probably a good time to check in on your finances. One tactic worth trying: zero-based budgeting. It forces you to designate a purpose for every dollar you earn, so it’s a great way to reset your intentions around saving and debt management. “Broke Millennial” author (and NextAdvisor contributor) Erin Lowry says it’s particularly useful for people with irregular income.

Hit Pause on Your Mortgage

It’s something to consider — with caveats. The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) has made it easier for most homeowners to enter forbearance programs, essentially suspending or reducing mortgage payments for up to a year, without damaging their credit scores or incurring special fees. Those with federally backed mortgages can go down this road by calling their lenders, but you should know about the tradeoffs first. Interest will still accrue and you will need to make up missed payments in the future.

Apply for Expanded Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are a crucial safety net in times of crisis. For the first time, many self-employed workers, independent contractors, and part-time workers are eligible for benefits, thanks to the CARES Act’s provision for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The stimulus package also added an extra $600 weekly benefit to any eligible claims, though that’s set to expire at the end of July. Filing for benefits can be tricky and time-consuming, especially since states are catching up on a backlog of applications. If you think you’re eligible, we recommend filing online and being prepared with the necessary information.

Quit Smoking

Everyone knows it’s an expensive habit, and COVID-19 has given us a new incentive to keep our lungs healthy. In the U.S., the average price of a pack of cigarettes is $6.28. Use this calculator to determine how much money quitting will save you weekly, monthly, even after 20 years, based on how many cigarettes you smoke a day and the cost of a pack in your area.

Call Your Lenders

Photo illustration to accompany roundup article on 50 smart money moves to make right now

If you can’t afford to pay your bills right now, it pays to be proactive. Many credit card issuers and lenders are working out deals with people who have lost income due to the pandemic, and experts say it’s in your best interest to be transparent about your situation before you fall behind. Call your lenders, explain your circumstances, and ask about any hardship programs they have in place. They might lower your interest rates, allow you to skip or defer payments, or pay later with additional interest, all of which are better options than skipping payments altogether. Liz Weston offers useful talking points here. And as Ron Lieber at the New York Times recommends, document your conversations to make sure your lenders follow through on what they say.

Get Help with Home Buying

Believe it or not, the housing market is still churning, and many Americans are moving forward with their dreams of becoming first-time homeowners. If that’s the case for you, consider whether there are any special loans, grants, or assistance programs you can take advantage of. We talked to Olivia Bernard, a 23-year-old who bought her first home in Georgia in part thanks to multiple assistance programs. Check out this list of resources, which has links to first-time home buyer services in every single state.

Get a Balance Transfer Credit Card

If you’re having trouble paying down your credit card debt because the interest portion is high and you have good credit, you might be a candidate for a balance transfer. Many of these cards offer an introductory 0% APR, meaning you can give yourself time to pay off the debt without interest. Due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, credit card issuers are a bit nervous about extending credit, making access and incentives less available than before the pandemic. But if you’ve got a high credit score (around 670 or higher), it’s a financial tool worth considering. Be aware this move often comes with fees: It can cost between 3% and 5% of your balance to transfer your debt to the new card.

Redirect Your Savings

How different are your spending habits today compared to six months ago? With many recreational activities ruled out because of the lockdown, one smart tactic is to take all the money you were spending on a gym membership, eating out, travel, and social activities, and funnel it into a high-yield savings account or paying down debt. Not only will you get a better sense of where you want to spend your money again when you’re able), but you’ll feel like you accomplished something when your favorite activities do return.

Build Your Emergency Fund

This one’s important. Building a savings cushion is a fundamental step toward financial wellness — one that can protect you in tough times and help you grab opportunities in good times. This year’s sudden unemployment crisis shows us not only how useful an emergency fund is, but how hard it is to achieve. Don’t be overwhelmed, though. Start small with a goal that feels reasonable to you. Putting even a few dollars away every month for the future can become a lifeline during extreme circumstances. Check out our emergency fund guide for more inspiration.

Refinance Your Mortgage

Homeowners: If you have job security and expect to be in your home for more than a few years, now could be the time to take advantage of low mortgage rates. The government has lowered both short- and long-term interest rates to encourage investments and keep the market stable. These rates give homeowners the opportunity to lower their monthly mortgage payments, adjust their loan term, or get a fixed-rate mortgage instead of a variable-rate mortgage. Don’t be afraid to shop around and compare rates from various lenders to make sure you’re getting a good deal. And don’t rush it — low interest rates are here to stay for a while, experts say.

Get a Spotify Discount

This one is from our friends over at @financesnacks on Instagram: You can save $12 a month by switching to a Spotify family account and splitting the cost among five people.

 

 

Follow the Experts

Make your screen time a bit more productive by adding a dose of money inspiration to your feed. Danetha Doe has one mission: to elevate the self-worth and net worth of women. NextAdvisor contributing editor Farnoosh Torabi answers questions and interviews notable guests three times a week on her podcast “So Money.” And Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche says she has helped more than 800,000 women save more and pay off debt.  

Return One Item

Look around your house or apartment. Is there anything you recently purchased that you haven’t opened or used because it wasn’t quite what you imagined or needed? Don’t let it sit there. Fill out the return form to get your money back, then arrange to have it picked up or drop it off at the post office if possible. There’s no point in eating the cost of something you’re not going to use.

Borrow From Your 401(k) — But Only If You Have To

This is usually a big no-no, but tough times require tough moves. Taking money out of your 401(k) or other retirement account can pull you off track from your long-term goals and lock in market losses, but personal finance experts say it can be a better move than taking on unmanageable debt right now. That’s partly because the calculus has changed in 2020, with federal stimulus legislation waiving the usual steep penalties that come from tapping your 401(k) early. Read up on the new rules and see if this is the right move for you.

Check Your Subscriptions

Photo illustration to accompany article on 50 smart money moves to make right now

Maybe you signed up for a cable channel for one sporting event, or subscribed to an online program when you needed to learn a certain skill. But are they still relevant to your life now? A quick scan through a credit card bill can help you discover any recurring subscriptions and monthly payments that you no longer need. Take a few minutes to cancel them and consider all the money you’re saving.

Stay Away From Credit Repair Companies

Building good credit is essential to your financial health, and poor credit will cost you. So it might seem tempting to hire a credit repair company that promises to do the work of repairing your credit score for you. Many such companies have stepped up their advertising outreach during the pandemic. But beware: These companies aren’t worth the cost, and you can do everything they promise to do by yourself — for free.

Choose a ‘No-Spend Day’

This is easier than you think, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in your home. Pick one day of the week where you commit to spending zero dollars — no ordering takeout or buying anything online. If all goes well, repeat the following week.

Upcycle Something in Your House

If you want to cut back on shopping, you can still get creative. The Instagram account @upcyclethat features tutorials to transform everyday or discarded objects into something new.

Get Credit for Your Work

Your credit report follows you for life, and it tracks your financial history in obsessive detail. Then, banks use the information on your report to calculate your credit score, a three-digit number that determines what kind of terms you’ll get on financial products like mortgages or insurance policies. Before the stakes are too high, like when you’re applying for a car loan, get familiar with how your credit score is calculated. The formula’s not a secret, and with enough time and patience you can manipulate it. Plus, the same behaviors that will boost your credit score are also likely to get you in better financial shape.

Join an Online Community

Sometimes it’s helpful to know that other people are going through a similar situation. The free online network Ladies Get Paid has thousands of members offering help on finding a job or looking for a mentor, and NPR’s Facebook community Your Money or Your Life features advice from members on saving and investing.

Funnel Your Transportation Cash

Subway ridership in New York is down 92%, which means thousands of people are saving money usually spent on their daily commute — as much as $127 per month, if you typically buy a 30-day MetroCard. The same goes for car-friendly cities, too. Rather than spend that savings elsewhere, take the money usually spent on gas or public transportation and earmark it for a future use.

Choose the Right Bank Account

Saving money is hard. Don’t make it harder by using the wrong type of bank account. Your four main options are a savings account; a checking account; a certificate of deposit, or CD; and a money market account, or MMA. Check out our guide to choosing the right one, which is all about finding the optimal balance of interest rate, liquidity, and fees. And remember you can use a mix of accounts that suit your goals, such as CDs for a future down payment and a high-yield savings for an emergency fund.

Get Obsessed With Online Books

Your bookstore or local library might be closed, but their digital resources aren’t. Many library systems are connected to apps like OverDrive and Libby, which allow you to check out digital books from home — for free. Plus, signing up for a library card has never been easier and can usually be done from home.

Spend Your Credit Card Points

If you have a rewards credit card that racks up points with every dollar spent, now may be the time to cash them in. Maybe you were saving those points to redeem on a big trip — but if that no longer looks likely, you can instead use them to shop on your Amazon account, spend them at other stores on necessities you would have bought anyway, or even get cash back.

Use the 5-Second Rule

Photo illustration to accompany article on 50 smart money moves to make right now

One trick to move forward on your money matters is to use the “5 Second Rule” created by author and talk show host Mel Robbins. It’s simple: When you have an instinct to act on one of your financial goals, Robbins says you have to do it immediately — or else your brain will find a way to shut it down. So if you want to be proactive, count backwards: 5-4-3-2-1. When you reach “1,” take action. Check your accounts, look at your taxes, resist the impulse purchase. Counting down and giving yourself that window of time can distract you from worries and excuses.

Finish That Course You Already Bought

Maybe you wanted to learn a new skill or finally committed to buying the Malcolm Gladwell MasterClass six months ago, but then never actually started it. Now’s the time, according to Tonya Rapley of @MyFabFinance. You can calculate what you already spent on the course, and tell yourself you’re getting that money back — plus new knowledge — when you complete the course.

Check Out High-Yield Savings Accounts

The current national average savings rate is a measly 0.07% — but you can earn 10 times that by choosing a high-yield savings account with an online bank. If you’re fortunate to have some savings, or you’re working on building them up, consider moving that cash to a high-yield online savings account such as the ones offered by Ally and Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Your money will still be relatively accessible, but it’ll earn much more interest than it would in a traditional bank account. Compare your options, taking care to find the highest interest rate without any monthly maintenance fees or minimum balances.

Consider a New Student Loan Schedule

If you have a federal student loan, your payments have been suspended from March 13 to September 20, 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. This temporary relief can be extremely helpful if your income has gone down. Keep in mind that in most cases, interest will keep accruing even while you sit out payments. If your income hasn’t been affected in recent months, and you can afford it, continue making payments. And if you need your payments to be more manageable in the long term, you can talk to your loan servicer about an income-driven repayment plan, in which your monthly payment is based on your income — and in some cases can be driven down to $0.

Become a Contact Tracer

Increased testing and tracing are two strategies for preventing the further spread of COVID-19 — and contact tracing is one of the fastest-growing jobs right now. It involves calling people who came into contact with confirmed positive patients, checking symptoms, and referring them to nearby resources. Qualifications vary by state and can range from having a high school diploma to a college degree, but tracing is usually fully remote and ranges from $17 to $22 an hour. Take this free course offered by Johns Hopkins University and look up the job requirements in your state.

Work on Your Estate Plan

Nobody likes to talk about death, but you’ll do yourself and your family a huge favor if you get your affairs in order while you’re healthy. If you don’t have a will or other estate documents, consider doing it now. Working with an attorney to draw up basic documents can cost between $500 to $1,000, advises CBS News business analyst and NextAdvisor contributor Jill Schlesinger — or there are online services like Quicken WillMaker & Trust, which costs around $90. Think of it as the smartest money move you can make for the future.

Negotiate Your Cell Phone Plan

How much data do you use per month? How many texts do you send? The cell phone plan you signed up for two years ago might not be as relevant to your life today. Log in to your account, check your usage, and call — yes, call — your cell phone company to negotiate your bill or adjust your plan. Knocking even $10 off a month will add up.

Talk to Your Landlord

Typically, this isn’t the most enticing idea, but when rent takes up an average of 35% of your income, it’s a good place to look for savings. If you’re renting and plan to stay through your lease, or possibly extend, and you’ve been a model tenant so far, try asking the owner to knock some dollars off your rent. With many people plotting to move elsewhere or outside bigger cities, they might rather keep a good tenant than risk searching for a new one. You’ll gain even more leverage if you team up with your neighbors and negotiate as a group.

Make Your Contributions Count

If you’re donating to a nonprofit or social justice organization like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, try to make your money go even further. Many employers have a charitable match program — if they do, your money could go twice as far. Ask your HR department if you can’t find any details. Plus, keep an eye out on social media, because some generous individuals are offering to personally match donations if you share a screenshot of yours.

Avoid These Home-Buying Mistakes

If you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, get educated on the money traps you might face. Putting down a small down payment, buying a house you can’t afford, failing to get a preapproval, getting the wrong kind of mortgage … there’s a lot to look out for. That’s why we asked Chris Hogan, author and personal finance expert, to walk us through the eight most common mistakes that first-time home buyers make.

Buy a Bike

With public transportation seeing record low ridership during lockdown, many are turning to alternate forms of getting around. Consider investing in a bicycle — not only can it save you money when it comes to subway fare or putting gas in the car, but it’s a cheaper form of exercise than a gym membership. Fair warning: Other people have had the same idea, and many bicycle companies are reportedly backlogged.

Find a New Go-To Cheap Meal

Trade In Your Electronics

If you’re in the market for a new phone, don’t forget about the one you already have. Apple has a trade-in program that offers up to $500 credit for certain devices, which can be used on a new purchase or as future store credit. You can also trade in an old computer for credit via the Apple website or, starting mid-June, in Apple’s retail stores. The trade-in program extends to tablets and watches, too. For other phones, Verizon offers a trade-in program, as does T-Mobile.

Automate, Automate, Automate

If you have a pang of fear every month and ask yourself, “When’s the credit card due? Is my electric bill paid? How much should I put into savings every month?” do yourself a favor and automate most – if not all — of your online bills and investments. Setting up automatic payments once will save you time, energy, and — yes — money every month (those late fees add up). Just make sure you’re adding enough cushion to your checking account to avoid any overdraft fees.

Sell Your Old Stuff

If lockdown encouraged you to go through your closet, you can list and sell some of your old clothes on a site like ThredUp, which calls itself the world’s largest online secondhand shopping destination — and recently partnered with Walmart to expand its e-commerce resale options. If you have more than just clothes, LetGo is another marketplace where you can connect with buyers.

Check in on Your Retirement Plan

“With so many other pressing financial demands — combined with living through a global pandemic and likely recession — it’s completely understandable why you may scoff at the notion of retirement,” writes Erin Lowry. But ignoring this situation now will only make things harder in the future. Assuming you’re able to meet your essential needs right now, Lowry breaks down a few smart tactics for keeping your retirement planning on track.

Charge More

No, not on your credit card. If you’re self-employed, a small business owner, or a freelancer, take a hard look at the rates for your services. When’s the last time you increased them or gave yourself a raise? Not all industries are down this year—if you have clients who are weathering the recession, consider starting the conversation. This applies to full-time workers too. Budgeting and saving hacks will get you far, but earning more will truly power up your finances.

Do Your Taxes

This year, Tax Day was postponed until July 15, giving people a little extra time to pull together their documents and file. But if you’re still putting it off, don’t wait: Since a majority of people get refunds every year, think of it as money waiting to be received.

Nail Down Your Emergency Fund Target

Every single expert says you should have an emergency fund. But once you dig into the details, there’s a lot less agreement. Should you sock away $1,000? Three months of expenses? A year of expenses? The truth is that the answer depends on many individual factors, like your job security, your goals, and even your age. We polled 11 different personal finance experts for their recommendations — and got 11 different answers. See which emergency fund target is right for you, and let that number be your guide as your work toward your savings goals.

Stop Betting on the Lottery

The average American spends nearly $70 a month on lottery tickets and betting pools, according to research released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year. For older Americans, that figure is even higher: up to $132 per month. If you’re one of the people driving up those averages, compare the long odds of hitting the jackpot with the guaranteed interest rate you’d get on that money if you put it into a high-yield savings account.

Get a Deal on a Car

It’s not wise to rush into any big purchase, especially a car. But the recent bankruptcy of rental-car company Hertz has flooded the market with relatively cheap used cars, and experts say you may be able to get a steal of a deal. If you need to finance the purchase, make sure you can manage the debt. Author Suze Orman says a good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t finance a car unless you can afford to pay it off completely within 3 years.



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Credit Repair Companies

USA Credit Repair Review

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Consumers looking into credit repair companies are faced with many different options, some better than others. USA Credit Repair falls short of meeting our standards in several areas, including quality of services, pricing structure, and sales practices. Our review breaks down these red flags and more to help you make the most informed decision when approaching credit repair.


Pros Explained

  • Free consultation: Get a credit repair consultation before deciding if you want to commit to services.
  • Offers an accelerated service: If you’re in a rush, you can pay for faster results.
  • Cancel anytime: USA Credit Repair doesn’t lock customers in with long-term contracts.
  • Online portal: Track your progress via a convenient account management portal.

Cons Explained

  • Misleading claims: USA Credit Repair makes several claims regarding fees and guaranteed results that could easily mislead customers.
  • Lack of pricing transparency: The company fails to disclose pricing online, forcing you to talk to a sales agent to get a quote.
  • Website difficult to navigate: It’s hard to find the information you need on USA Credit Repair’s website.
  • No educational resources: We typically like to see credit repair companies provide value with free educational materials, but USA Credit Repair doesn’t make these available.
  • Doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee: USA Credit Repair promises results within the first 30 days but doesn’t back this claim up with any type of financial guarantee.

Types of Services

USA Credit Repair’s services are limited to the bare minimum typically required of a credit repair company. There are no clearly defined service packages, just a single membership option with few opportunities for customization.

Credit report analysis

The first step in USA Credit Repair’s process is a credit report analysis. A credit expert reviews your credit reports in depth, looking for negative items bringing down your score. Each item is carefully examined to determine whether you might have grounds to dispute it with the credit bureau.

Credit disputes

If USA Credit Repair identifies items in your credit reports that are inaccurate, they’ll contact the credit bureaus on your behalf to initiate the dispute process. This includes filing appeals if a dispute is initially denied.

If you believe a credit reporting error comes from the lender’s side, you can also have USA Credit Repair send a validation request to ask for proof that the debt is legitimate. Finally, the company handles goodwill interventions, which can be an option for a small number of people with a single negative mark but overall good credit. If the item is accurate but an anomaly on your report, you may be able to have it removed just by showing an otherwise positive payment history.


Optional Add-ons

Credit repair companies sometimes sell add-ons to their core packages for an extra fee. For example, they may offer credit monitoring or identity theft protection to be used in tandem with their credit repair services. USA Credit Repair doesn’t make any of these available, although it does provide one optional service to speed up the credit repair process.

Accelerated program

Unexpected credit reporting errors can hold up time-sensitive processes such as applying for a mortgage. If you’re on a tight schedule, USA Credit Repair’s accelerated program provides faster results for an additional upfront fee. However, the company doesn’t say exactly how much more efficient its accelerated program is compared to standard service. Without any guarantees, it’s hard to say whether this add-on is even worth it.


Customer Service

Like most credit repair companies, USA Credit Repair stays in touch with customers via phone and email. Operating hours are somewhat limited, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. EST. The company also hosts an online portal where customers can log in and check the status of their credit repair case 24/7.

Each customer is assigned a dedicated case representative who oversees their entire credit repair process from start to finish. While this is fairly common, not every company does it and it makes a big difference in the overall customer experience. With a designated case manager, you’ll always have someone to talk to who is familiar with your specific situation.


Company Reputation

USA Credit Repair’s reputation among customers is mixed. To the company’s credit, it has no complaints registered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which keeps a record of customer-reported issues related to poor business practices and potential legal violations. It also has an average 4-star rating on Google with mixed positive and negative reviews.

However, USA Credit Repair has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau and a pile of concerning complaints. Many former customers claim that they were charged hundreds of dollars in advance for services that failed to produce results. There are also reports of harassing phone calls after discontinuing services with the company.

Just because a company doesn’t have any complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn’t make it automatically trustworthy. Most consumers don’t know about the CFPB complaint database, and it’s not uncommon for smaller companies like USA Credit Repair to have no complaints. In addition to vetting companies through the CFPB database, you should also look at other resources like the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and Google Reviews.

If you have a complaint about the services of a credit repair company, you can file a complaint with the FTC or call 877-FTC-HELP.


Contract Duration

On its website, USA Credit Repair advertises that it has no contracts and offers a “month to month” service that customers can cancel anytime. But according to testimonials from former clients, this isn’t exactly the whole truth. Many customer complaints allege that company representatives convinced them to pay for multiple months ahead of time in one lump sum, typically in three-month quantities. Although this may not technically be considered a long-term contract, it’s a problematic practice, to say the least.


Cost

Our most pressing concern while reviewing USA Credit Repair was its pricing structure. First and foremost, the company doesn’t disclose its prices online. This is typically a red flag, as it forces customers to talk to a sales representative just to get a quote, which opens up opportunities for pitfalls. Pricing may vary by individual and plan, although according to the information we received and reports from customers, base pricing is around $99 per month.

With that said, an overwhelming number of former customers claim that they were charged upward of $300 in advance for multiple months of service. This typically appears to happen after the customer calls in and is convinced by a company representative that their credit repair case will take a certain number of months to resolve. Those who enroll in the accelerated program can expect to pay an additional $350 fee on top of regular service charges.

USA Credit Repair also publishes some misleading information on its website regarding its fee structure. The company advertises no upfront fees, but this is a moot point since the Credit Repair Organizations Act makes it against the law for credit repair companies to collect payment before services have been rendered. To make things worse, hidden in the website’s fine print is a disclaimer that states “an initial setup work fee will be charged within the first week or once initial work is completed.”

One other item we found missing was a discount for couples. It’s fairly standard for credit repair companies to give couples a break on fees when signing up since their reports share much of the same information. With USA Credit Repair, couples have to pay full price for two individual memberships.

The one silver lining is that USA Credit Repair’s initial consultation is free. Not every credit repair company does this. A free consultation is a good opportunity to ask the company hard questions about whether any items stand out on your report as potential errors. If the representative is unable to point to any legitimate mistakes, credit repair may not be necessary for you.

Remember that credit repair companies can’t work magic. If all the information on your credit report is accurate and there are no errors to dispute, you’ll only be able to improve your credit by keeping debt low and making consistent on-time payments.


The Competition: USA Credit Repair vs. CreditNerds

To see if USA Credit Repair was worth the $99 monthly fee, we compared it to CreditNerds, a competitor that offers free basic credit repair. Instead of collecting fees from its customers, CreditNerds makes money by referring clients to affiliate partners.

We were unable to find anything significant in USA Credit Repair’s service offering that wasn’t available through the free CreditNerds plan. If that wasn’t enough, CreditNerds provides some of the most advanced educational tools in the industry—also without charging a dime. CreditNerds gives USA Credit Repair a run for its money and is absolutely worth considering before you sign up for a paid plan.

  USA Credit Repair CreditNerds
Year Founded 2004 2007
Services Offered Credit repair Credit repair, funding
Customer Service Touchpoints Phone, email, client portal Phone, email, client portal
Upfront Fee $99.00 $0
Monthly Fee $99.00 $0


Verdict

Overall, we aren’t impressed with USA Credit Repair’s limited services, especially given the company’s relatively high fee of $99 per month. Several competitors offer complete service packages at significantly lower prices, many of which take a more effective approach that includes credit education and long-term financial planning. Even if USA Credit Repair did provide better value, the company’s advertising practices and lack of transparency make us concerned that customers could easily be misled and fall into traps.



How We Review Credit Repair Companies

Since the credit repair industry is well-known for leading consumers astray, we take a highly critical approach to reviewing companies. Our scoring system analyzes quality of services and pricing, comparing them to industry standards and best practices. We look at each company’s marketing language and flag any misleading terminology. We also give higher scores to companies that provide educational materials to help customers achieve long-term financial success.

Learn more: Read our full Credit Repair Review Methodology here.



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CreditRepair.com Credit Repair Review

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One of the most well-known credit repair companies, CreditRepair.com has been helping consumers address credit disputes since the late 1990s. But just because a credit repair company has spent decades in business doesn’t mean it offers the best services. While CreditRepair.com has a competitive range of plans, there are also a few red flags you should know about before you decide to enroll in credit repair services.


Pros Explained

  • Offers a free credit evaluation: Get a free online credit snapshot that includes your credit score, a summary of the negative items on your report, and suggestions for how to address them.
  • Choose from three service levels: CreditRepair.com offers options for basic, moderate, or aggressive credit repair based on your needs.
  • Robust educational library: Even non-customers can take advantage of the free credit information, videos, and interactive calculators at CreditRepair.com.
  • Mobile app available: Download the free CreditRepair.com mobile app to track your progress and get alerts.
  • Option for in-house credit monitoring: Two of CreditRepair.com’s three service packages include ongoing credit monitoring and alerts.

Cons Explained

  • Poor customer reviews: CreditRepair.com gets consistently poor feedback across multiple review sources.
  • Lacks full pricing transparency: Pricing isn’t disclosed up front on CreditRepair.com’s website, and you need to watch out for hidden fees.
  • Limited monthly disputes: Depending on the plan you choose, you’ll only get 15 to 19 disputes per month.
  • Not available in all locations: CreditRepair.com may be unable to offer services in your area of residence due to lack of local legal representation. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t disclose its service areas; you’ll have to enter your address to find out.
  • No money-back guarantee: Many competitors offer a refund if they aren’t able to remove any items from your report, but CreditRepair.com doesn’t have a similar policy.

Types of Services

CreditRepair.com offers three service packages with tiered levels of service. These are designed with the idea that not all customers need the same level of support in repairing their credit; some may just have one or two errors to be corrected while others are in need of a complete overhaul. This allows customers to save money by not paying for services they aren’t likely to ever use.

Direct Plan

The entry-level Direct Plan is the one most suited for individuals with an overall decent credit history, but who could benefit from correcting a small number of errors on their report. The plan comes with up to 15 disputes per month (five per credit bureau), a quarterly credit score update, and access to customer service as needed. However, CreditRepair.com will not dispute inaccurate hard inquiries on your report with this plan.

Standard Plan

The next step up is the Standard Plan. This package includes the same number of monthly credit disputes and credit score checks, but adds a few features useful to those with more extensive credit repair needs. In addition to your quarterly credit score, you’ll also get a personalized analysis as to what has changed and what could still be improved. Ongoing credit monitoring is included with alerts sent anytime there is a significant change. CreditRepair.com will also dispute hard inquiries on your behalf.

Advanced Plan

If you have extremely poor credit and need improvements that go beyond disputing inaccurate information, the Advanced Plan may be more suited to your needs. The package includes roughly the same credit repair benefits as the Standard Plan, although you’ll get 19 disputes per month instead of 15. However, the plan also comes with $1 million in identity theft insurance and access to personal finance tracking tools to help you better manage your open credit accounts.

Service Direct Plan Standard Plan Advanced Plan
Monthly items disputed 19 15 15
Credit score checked Monthly Quarterly Quarterly
Credit score analysis Monthly Quarterly  
Customer support
Credit monitoring  
Hard inquiry disputes  
Identity theft insurance    
Credit account management tool    

Optional Add-ons

Between CreditRepair.com’s three tailored plans, there isn’t much need for add-on services. With that said, the company does sell one optional extra that can be tacked onto any package.  

Quickstart Service

If you’ve just discovered errors in your credit report while in the process of a major financial event (such as applying for a mortgage), you’re probably on a tight schedule to correct the issue. CreditRepair.com’s Quickstart service charges a small one-time fee to automatically retrieve your TransUnion credit report from partner site Credit.com and load it into their system. This can save a bit of time as CreditRepair.com won’t have to wait to start looking through your report.

Pay close attention as you’re completing the checkout process on CreditRepair.com. The company automatically checks the box selecting Quickstart, and unless you uncheck it, you’ll be charged an extra $14.99 for a service that you may not want or need.


Customer Service

CreditRepair.com’s main customer service touchpoints are via email and phone, the latter of which is operated Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. MST.

Customers can also download a mobile app for easier access to their account dashboard and credit score tracker. The app is available for both iOS and Android and gets generally positive reviews with at least four-star ratings in both app stores.


Company Reputation

From an objective standpoint, CreditRepair.com’s services appear to offer good value with a broad range of services. Unfortunately, however, many customers seem to disagree. The company has a D rating from the Better Business Bureau, 62 complaints in the past three years, and a three-star average rating.

More worrisome is that CreditRepair.com has been the subject of 16 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the past three years and was even sued by the agency in 2019. According to the lawsuit, CreditRepair.com and a competitor owned by the same holding company, Lexington Law, both violated telemarketing laws and charged illegal credit repair fees before any service had been rendered. This violates the Credit Repair Organizations Act, which states credit repair companies cannot collect payment before providing their services.

If you have a complaint about the services of a credit repair company, you can file a complaint with the FTC or call 877-FTC-HELP.


Contract Duration

None of CreditRepair.com’s service plans are subject to contracts, meaning you can cancel anytime without penalty. According to the company, most customers need to pay membership fees for an average of six months to see results.


Cost

CreditRepair.com prices its services according to the table below, with fees ranging between $69.95 and $119.95 per month depending on the plan you choose. Those who select the Quickstart service will incur an additional one-time fee of $14.99.

  Direct Plan Standard Plan Advanced Plan
Monthly fee $69.95 $99.95 $119.95

To stay in compliance with the Credit Repair Organizations Act, CreditRepair.com calls its first month of membership fees a “first work fee”. This is because credit repair companies aren’t allowed to start charging monthly fees until they’ve already begun performing work. From a practical standpoint, this doesn’t change anything for the consumer, but it’s something to be aware of as you’re signing up for credit repair.


The Competition: CreditRepair.com vs. The Credit Pros

No two credit repair services are the same. To gauge how CreditRepair.com stacks up against the competition, we pitted it against The Credit Pros. Both companies charge similar monthly fees for their entry-level plans, although The Credit Pros’ most premium plan is pricier than CreditRepair.com’s most expensive option. The Credit Pros also charges a significant upfront fee whereas CreditRepair.com has none.

While The Credit Pros is higher in price, we find the difference justified. All packages include credit monitoring and identity theft protection, items CreditRepair.com only offers with higher-tier plans. The Credit Pros will also submit unlimited disputes on your behalf, while CreditRepair.com places a cap on the number of disputes per month at each of its service levels. Finally, The Credit Pros offers financial management tools to all of its credit repair customers that CreditRepair.com doesn’t match. These include bill payment reminders, a budgeting system, and automatic syncing with your open accounts.

  CreditRepair.com The Credit Pros
Year Founded 1997 2009
Services Offered Credit repair, monitoring, identity theft protection Credit repair, monitoring, identity theft protection, financial planning
Customer Service Touchpoints Phone, email, mobile app Phone, email, client portal
Upfront Fee $0 $119.00 to $149.00
Monthly Fee $69.95 to $119.95 $69.00 to $149.00


Verdict

Looking at CreditRepair.com’s plans and services, they seem to provide much better value than competitors, especially considering the inclusion of credit monitoring and identity theft protection with premium packages. However, we’re highly concerned with the volume of customer complaints and CreditRepair.com’s history of facing legislation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s best to proceed with caution with this company.



How We Review Credit Repair Companies

We assess a variety of factors to review credit repair companies, using a quantitative scoring system to assign each a total score out of five possible points. Our method looks at the services offered by each company, including the number and variety of plans available and their value in terms of pricing. We also look at each company’s reputation among customers and with third-party agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Finally, we walk through the customer purchasing experience to see what you can expect if you decide to enroll in credit monitoring services.

Learn more: Read our full Credit Repair Review Methodology here.




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ADR Financial Group makes its name as one of The Best Credit Repair Companies in the USA

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Your credit score plays a vital role when it comes to buying a car, purchasing a home or obtaining a loan for any other purpose like starting a business. In cases where you have a lower credit score, these purchases may become unrealistic and impossible to achieve. It may result in having to pay higher interest rates or putting down a large down payment. Having negative marks on your credit report will hamper your creditworthiness which is why it is important to stay on top of your finances. 

Within a short period of time, ADR Financial Group quickly raised to the top as one of the best credit repair companies in the United States. Founded by Alexis (“Lex”) DeWitt and Ratiq (“Rocky”) DeWitt, ADR Financial Group is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. ADR Financial  Group is dedicatedly assisting their  its clients with the removal of inaccurate, erroneous, and unverifiable accounts on their credit report. With a mission to deliver a clean credit profile to its their clients, ADR Financial Group also educates their clients on how to achieve the highest credit scores during restoration. 

ADR Financial  Group is not your typically credit repair company.  What separates ADR apart from all, is the fact that their program is personalized to fit their client needs,  rather than providing a generic procedure for all. Although credit is an important aspect of life it is not taught in schools or institutions. This is the sole reason behind the establishment of ADR Financial Group. Over the years, ADR helped many of their clients reach their financial goals . Till date, ADR has helped more than 700 families purchase their dream home, removed more than $17 million of debt from credit reports and deleted over 72,000 negative accounts.

Some of the services offered by the company are Full-Service Credit repair, DIY Credit Repair, Tradelines, Credit Education, Business Credit and Credit Monitoring. Moreover, ADR also teaches other entrepreneurs how to start their own credit repair company to help change lives. Check out their website www.badcreditcostmore.com if you’re interested in their services. 

In the next 5 years, the company plans to be a pioneer for all those who find difficulty in purchasing their homes. ADRs target is to help 5000 families in building a home of their dreams. Besides this, ADR plans to make financial literacy a topic of discussion in many schools and households. ADR is making a significant impact in urban 

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