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Advice from a credit-repair expert: What to do if you can’t pay bills

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Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

  • According to credit-repair expert Matt Listro, if you’re having trouble paying your bills, the biggest mistake you can make is not reaching out to your creditor and explaining your situation.
  • In light of the coronavirus pandemic, banks and other lenders have expanded their financial relief programs to accommodate customers who have lost income — but these programs don’t work automatically; you need to reach out.
  • Another mistake is waiting too long to ask for help. Listro recommends contacting your bank as soon as you realize you may have trouble with your bills so you can get relief before the issue gets worse.
  • Get your free credit score with CreditKarma »

As millions of Americans have filed for unemployment and countless others have lost income for other reasons related to the coronavirus crisis, building and maintaining a good credit score is harder than ever. But it remains as important as ever, especially if you’re looking to apply for any type of loan in the near future.

To better understand how to manage credit problems during this crisis, I spoke to Matt Listro, one of the nation’s top credit repair experts.

Listro is the founder and owner of National Credit Fixers, which has been helping people with their credit since 1996. He’s also the producer of Credit Con, an annual conference for the credit-repair industry, and he sits on the advisory board of NACSO, The National Association of Credit Services Organizations.

You could get help from your lender — if you ask for it

According to FICO, the largest portion of your credit score, 35%, is attributable to your payment history.

Simply put, if you don’t pay your bills on time, it will be impossible to have good credit. So what should you do if you’re unable to make your payments due to the economic crisis?

According to Listro, there are a lot of misconceptions about your options in this situation, and most companies are actually willing to work with consumers during this crisis.

Listro says the biggest misconception is that people assume that various financial relief programs will work automatically, while the reality is that you need to reach out to your lender to explain your situation and discuss your options. 

Listro’s advice for people who have lost their jobs or have seen their hours reduced can be summed up simply as: “Be proactive.” He advises people to call their billers and see if they can be of assistance to you.

Talk to your creditors, including your mortgage company, your credit card company, and your bank. “You don’t know if your landlord will have the ability to be compassionate with you, but they might,” says Listro.

He points to many lenders that have programs to help people who are having trouble. Banks are offering customers assistance for mortgages, car payments, credit cards, and more. These programs could give you some extra time to make payments, waive late fees, and more, but it’s up to borrowers to contact them and ask to be part of the program.

Don’t wait until you’re in dire straits

Another issue is people waiting too long to ask for help from their lenders. “Don’t wait until you absolutely need it,” he says. “If you’re on the verge or you’re not sure how things are going to go, call your car loan company and get a little bit of a break now. It might give you the insurance that you need to make sure that you’re better next month or two months from now if this goes on longer than you think.”

Prioritize paying whatever bills you can

Listro says that “business is booming in credit repair,” but not for the reasons that you might expect. Spring is normally the busiest time for the credit-repair business, because that’s the time that people are looking for new homes. The coronavirus lockdown created a pent-up demand for new home buyers looking to quickly improve their credit.

Furthermore, Listro says that the stimulus checks and unemployment benefits have actually helped many people making minimum wage or who have a very low income, since the stimulus and unemployment benefits represent the highest percentage of their income. In this situation, the influx of cash may motivate them to get to work on improving their credit score. 

However, the way Listro sees it, credit repair is a luxury item. The first thing you should do is make sure you have enough money to pay your bills. If you have extra money after paying your bills and you’d like help building up your credit score, then you might seek assistance to help repair your credit.

Furthermore, some credit problems simply aren’t repairable. Listro doesn’t think that credit repair is right for everyone, and he doesn’t accept all of the potential clients who seek his services. “We’re not a solution to get out of debt,” he says. Listro also says that some cases are better suited to bankruptcy than credit repair.

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Exposition highlights breadth of Black-owned businesses in Harrisburg and Central Pennsylvania

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The beating heart of Black entrepreneurship in South Central Pennsylvania came out of the kitchens, the spare rooms, the garages, basements and literally whatever other business incubator space you can think of to command one of Harrisburg’s main stages Friday night.

The event is the “Black Is Beautiful Expo & Networking Event,” a free, business exposition put together by Urban Revolution Marketing at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Second Street specifically to showcase the products and services offered by Black and minority-owned businesses in and around Harrisburg.

It’s also a chance for winter-weary residents, in one stop, to see what’s been created around the city while the coronavirus pandemic has been raging.

The show continues Saturday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza. All attendees are given a temperature screening upon entry – which is free – and are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.

We’re not kidding about the pandemic part.

While “Black is Beautiful” features a handful of mainstays like Music Man Multimedia and the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, the expo floor was riddled with folks like Cecelia Davis, who in the wake of a recession lay-off from a local bakery, decided to go into business for herself and has now birthed her Cece’s Cake Shop.

“The big word was essential, last year,” Davis explained. “I felt very unessential being the one that was laid off… It motivated me though, because I knew that I had a skill (in cake decorating), I knew that I knew how to bake, which was kind of the other half of it. So it was just really a matter of figuring it out on my own.”

It’s much the same story for Shirley Reynolds, a Harrisburg woman who, after getting laid off from her job at Hollywood Casino, decided to re-direct her energies into a longtime interest in natural healing. She sells a variety of homemade candles and bath products through her online store, “Nature’s Abyss.”

“This is a great opportunity for everybody. I know it definitely is for me,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she liked the casino job, but the layoff last year put some things into focus for her: “The owners of the casino, people go to work to support his dreams and his goals. But I’m the only one that’s going to support mine… so I’m trying to get where he is with my business.”

Some of the businesses showing this weekend are a little farther along in their development.

Like Cebrum George II, a Carlisle man who over the last few years has parlayed a set of skin care products he initially developed for his family into full-time business called NuBorn Skin.

George has been working at his home-based business full-time for about five years now, selling at special events throughout the area and through a handful of retail shops. The pandemic, he said, forced him to sharpen his e-commerce game. “It’s a lot easier now, since I was basically forced to do that.”

He’s about ready now, George said, to search for dedicated manufacturing space for his face cleansers, moisturizers and beard conditioners.

And Regilynn Haywood, the proprietor of There She Glows day spa on Derry Street outside Harrisburg, has been in business for five years, but signed up to promote a new line of skin care products and to educate people about her new location in Swatara Township, which could have been out-of-sight and out-of-mind due to an eight-month pandemic shutdown.

“I’m here. I’m enjoying it. I love the vibes. I love who I’m meeting,” Haywood said. “I mean after Covid, you gain some connections, but you kind of lose your sense of community a little bit. So this is why I’m here. It’s to kind of feel a sense of community again.”

Some of the show was devoted to a different type of business – electoral politics.

Three of Harrisburg’s top-tier mayoral candidates – incumbent Eric Papenfuse, and his Democratic party challengers Otto Banks and Dave Schankweiler – had tables, as did incumbent Magisterial District Judge Sonia McKnight and city council candidate Robert Lawson.

They shared space with a number of community organizations like Young People of Color, Friends of Midtown, the Pennsylvania Diversity Coalition and Tri-County OIC.

The Harrisburg-based law firm of McNees, Wallace & Nurick chipped in with awards of one year’s worth of free legal services to five Black-owned businesses through its Legal Equity Advancement program.

The show is hosted by another Black-owned business, Urban Revolution Marketing.

After the success of an initial “Black Is Beautiful” expo in November, Urban Revolution CEO Bradley Wainwright said this month’s “Part II” was timed to fill a void created after the pandemic caused the cancellation of most of the Black History Month events around the city and region.

It was, by the looks of it, very much appreciated.

“I just wanted to come out and network with other people who are on the same mindset and just to support overall because this is what we need to grow in our Black community, is supporting one another,” said Harrisburg resident Mariah Lockette, who runs a financial literacy and credit repair business, Maximize With Mariah.

Florinda Smith, a retired city employee, was attracted to the show after seeing a television spot about it earlier this week.

“I love to support people who are doing things that empower one another in our neighborhoods and our community, and in the city. Because it’s what we need,” Smith said. “So I came down to check it out, and see what might catch my eye.”

Smith and Lockette both said they were impressed by the breadth and number of young Black entrepreneurs in the city.

“It’s very encouraging and uplifting to see, that the younger African-American men and women are doing things to leave a legacy behind,” said Smith. “To teach their children that you can do this, you can do whatever you want to.”

Show attendees who visit every exhibitor will be entered into a raffle for prizes, free products and free services, Wainwright said.

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PGX Holdings, Inc. — Moody’s announces completion of a periodic review of ratings of PGX Holdings, Inc.

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Announcement of Periodic Review: Moody’s announces completion of a periodic review of ratings of PGX Holdings, Inc.Global Credit Research – 26 Feb 2021New York, February 26, 2021 — Moody’s Investors Service (“Moody’s”) has completed a periodic review of the ratings of PGX Holdings, Inc. and other ratings that are associated with the same analytical unit. The review was conducted through a portfolio review discussion held on 23 February 2021 in which Moody’s reassessed the appropriateness of the ratings in the context of the relevant principal methodology(ies), recent developments, and a comparison of the financial and operating profile to similarly rated peers. The review did not involve a rating committee. Since 1 January 2019, Moody’s practice has been to issue a press release following each periodic review to announce its completion.This publication does not announce a credit rating action and is not an indication of whether or not a credit rating action is likely in the near future. Credit ratings and outlook/review status cannot be changed in a portfolio review and hence are not impacted by this announcement. For any credit ratings referenced in this publication, please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for the most updated credit rating action information and rating history.Key rating considerations are summarized below.PGX Holdings, Inc.’s (“Progrexion”) Caa2 Corporate Family Rating reflects the company’s unsustainable capital structure due to Moody’s expectations for continuing operating challenges from declines in revenue and earnings. The rating also reflects the overhang from the ongoing CFPB investigation that could lead to the need for the company to change its business model. Positively, the rating considers Progrexion’s leading market position within the credit repair services industry and strong profit margins despite margin compression.This document summarizes Moody’s view as of the publication date and will not be updated until the next periodic review announcement, which will incorporate material changes in credit circumstances (if any) during the intervening period.The principal methodology used for this review was Business and Consumer Service Industry published in October 2016. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.This announcement applies only to EU rated, UK rated, EU endorsed and UK endorsed ratings. Non EU rated, non UK rated, non EU endorsed and non UK endorsed ratings may be referenced above to the extent necessary, if they are part of the same analytical unit.This publication does not announce a credit rating action. For any credit ratings referenced in this publication, please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for the most updated credit rating action information and rating history. Oleg Markin Asst Vice President – Analyst Corporate Finance Group Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. 250 Greenwich Street New York, NY 10007 U.S.A. JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376 Client Service: 1 212 553 1653 Karen Nickerson Associate Managing Director Corporate Finance Group JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376 Client Service: 1 212 553 1653 Releasing Office: Moody’s Investors Service, Inc. 250 Greenwich Street New York, NY 10007 U.S.A. JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376 Client Service: 1 212 553 1653 © 2021 Moody’s Corporation, Moody’s Investors Service, Inc., Moody’s Analytics, Inc. and/or their licensors and affiliates (collectively, “MOODY’S”). All rights reserved.CREDIT RATINGS ISSUED BY MOODY’S CREDIT RATINGS AFFILIATES ARE THEIR CURRENT OPINIONS OF THE RELATIVE FUTURE CREDIT RISK OF ENTITIES, CREDIT COMMITMENTS, OR DEBT OR DEBT-LIKE SECURITIES, AND MATERIALS, PRODUCTS, SERVICES AND INFORMATION PUBLISHED BY MOODY’S (COLLECTIVELY, “PUBLICATIONS”) MAY INCLUDE SUCH CURRENT OPINIONS. MOODY’S DEFINES CREDIT RISK AS THE RISK THAT AN ENTITY MAY NOT MEET ITS CONTRACTUAL FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS AS THEY COME DUE AND ANY ESTIMATED FINANCIAL LOSS IN THE EVENT OF DEFAULT OR IMPAIRMENT. SEE APPLICABLE MOODY’S RATING SYMBOLS AND DEFINITIONS PUBLICATION FOR INFORMATION ON THE TYPES OF CONTRACTUAL FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS ADDRESSED BY MOODY’S CREDIT RATINGS. 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How to protect from scams

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Dear DO Line Readers: National Consumer Protection Week begins Sunday, Feb. 28. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and more than 100 federal, state, and local agencies, consumer groups and national advocacy organizations will participate in the 23rd annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW). It will run through March 6.

Martha Higbie
[email protected]

NCPW is a coordinated campaign designed to focus on the importance of keeping consumers informed.

• • • •

We decided to participate in this Consumer Protection Week by checking out some of the worst money and phone scams so that our Daily News DO Line readers will be informed. We know that our weekly readers may recognize these scams from previous articles.

 Phone scams: The FTC says that people might a lot of money to phone scams – sometimes their life savings. Scammers have figured out countless ways to cheat people out of their money over the phone. In some scams, they act friendly and helpful. In others, they might threaten or try to scare people. One thing we can count on is that a phone scammer will try hard to get money or personal information to commit identity theft.

• Imposter scams: A scammer pretends to be someone you trust such as a government agency like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or someone claiming there is a problem with your computer. The scammer can even have a fake name or number that shows up on your caller ID to convince you.

• Debt relief and credit repair scams: Scammers will offer to lower your credit card interest rates, fix your credit, or get your student loans forgiven if you pay their company a fee first. But you could end up losing your money and ruining your credit.

• Charity scams: Scammers like to pose as charities. Scams requesting donations for disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone. We should always check out a charity before giving money. Also, do not feel pressured to give immediately while on the phone.

• Trials that are “Free”: A caller might promise a free trial but then sign you up for products — sometimes lots of products — that you are billed for every month until you cancel.

Here’s how we can stop calls from scammers:

• Hang up. When you receive a robocall, don’t press any numbers. Instead of letting you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, it might lead to more robocalls.

• Consider call blocking or call labeling. Scammers can use the internet to make calls from all over the world. They do not care if you are on the National Do Not Call Registry. That is why your best defense against unwanted calls is call blocking. Which type of call-blocking (or call-labeling) technology you use will depend on the phone — whether it is a mobile phone, a traditional landline, or a home phone that makes calls over the internet (VoIP). It is recommended that you see what services your phone carrier offers and look online for expert reviews. For mobile phones, you can check out the reviews for different call-blocking apps in your online app store.

• Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. That’s called spoofing. So even if it looks like it is a government agency or the call is from a local number, it could be a scammer calling from anywhere in the world. You can learn more about unwanted calls and what to do about them at ftc.gov/calls.

The FTC points out what to do if you already paid a scammer:

• If you paid a scammer with a credit or debit card, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact your credit card company or bank right away. Tell them what happened and ask for a “chargeback” to reverse the charges.

• If you paid a scammer with a gift card, prepaid card, or cash reload card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the card, and ask if they can refund your money. The sooner you contact them, the better chance they will be able to get your money back.

• If you gave your username and password to a scammer, change your password right away. You should then create a new strong password.

• If you have given your Social Security Number to a scammer, visit identitytheft.gov to learn how to monitor your credit report to see if your number is being misused.

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