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EPEC receives funding to begin rapid rehousing program | Journal-news

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MARTINSBURG – The Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center is working to break the circle of stress and failure, specifically related to housing, in a system that sometimes seems designed to cause those struggles with its new venture.

Through a special portion of HUD funding specifically for licensed domestic violence service provides, EPEC recently received funding that will allow for the start of a rapid rehousing program, a safe living space being a large obstacle for many survivors.

The funding also helped create a full-time position that will focus solely on housing.

“Housing is one of our biggest issues,” EPEC Executive Director Katie Spriggs said. “Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women, so obviously, housing and domestic violence go hand in hand.”

The rapid rehousing program helps survivors find safe housing in which EPEC will fully pay for the rent through the HUD funding. Spriggs and EPEC housing advocate Jenna Pepple stressed the challenges survivors face on numerous fronts when it comes to finding safe housing following leaving a violent situation.

“When people are in these situations, when they’re experiencing domestic violence, they’re leaving everything behind,” Pepple said. “They leave all of their belongings, everything in order for safety. Safety is the primary thing at that time. A lot of the times, there’s financial exploitation or where the abuser is in control of the money. These people are leaving all of that behind and coming into a shelter. They’re starting from basically nothing. Affordable housing is so important, because we need that safe space for them. We need them to have something that is solid and constant so they can work through else to get them back on their feet.”

And the trauma that comes from living in a violent situation – trauma that comes in many forms – carries with them, rapid housing tackling that from an informed mindset that focuses on helping the victim find independence.

“Rapid rehousing is basically a housing-first idea that for the people that have the most difficult access to housing – people who might have a mental health issue, a substance use disorder issue, as well as experiencing domestic violence and/or they’ve been chronically homeless and/or the whole list goes on,” Spriggs said. “For the people who are most difficult to house, the idea is you house them first and you deal with everything else in the meantime, because at least then, they don’t have to worry about housing. It also operates on the tenet that housing is a right and not a privilege. As a human being, you have a right to safe housing.

“When they leave the situation, they’re leaving the violence, but they’re taking everything that happened with them. They’re taking bad credit. They’re taking evictions. They’re taking medical debt. They’re taking all of these things that we know sets us up for failure, that are hard to get out of. You should see how hard it is to house someone that has an eviction on their record. It takes an act of God. Getting them expunged is not as easy as it sounds. Plus, that involves an attorney. Attorneys cost money. It is a system that is not designed for people that struggle financially. If you sit in the system a minute, all of the other coping mechanisms make sense. Substance use disorder makes sense. Alcoholism makes sense. If everything you try fails, you have to find a way to cope. And you can’t access mental health services because guess what? They cost money. It’s an endless loop.”

Through the rapid rehousing program, funding will provide full rent, with EPEC being able to support eight to 10 units at a time across the Panhandle. The organization will pay the rent for anywhere from three months up to a year depending on the circumstances and situation.

“The plan for most of them will be we do 100% (of rent) three months, 75% for the next three months, 50%, so it weans them off it,” Spriggs said. “Obviously for some people, it’s going to be more complex. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach for everyone, but it’s the goal.”

The lease will be in the client’s name, though EPEC will be paying the bill. The goal is to stabilize the victim in the housing and allow them to stay in the location once the victim takes over the lease.

The pandemic has truly shined a light on the need for affordable housing for domestic violence victims more than ever, a need EPEC already knew existed greatly.

“It’s definitely changed the way we use the shelter and housing and how important it is,” Spriggs said. “We still have people in the shelter that have been with us since March, and that’s unusual. It doesn’t usually take that long. One thing COVID taught us was there’s not enough affordable housing, which we already knew, but it taught us on a real large scale. As soon as you put an eviction moratorium and nobody is allowed to be evicted, there goes every single open unit. There’s nowhere to put new people, because we don’t have enough housing.

“That definitely taught us a lesson. We obviously saw a rise in domestic violence as a whole during COVID, people being stuck at home, high stress, lack of employment, all of those things contributing to domestic violence. We’ve definitely seen more requests for shelter without any additional shelter space, so this is another way – I feel like we’ve been doing this for years – of trying to skirt the lack of shelter space we have.”

Working for EPEC for roughly a year, housing has been the largest obstacle Pepple has seen, one she has fought against time and time again and one she is happy to tackle head on in her new position.

“I have been the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been working here for about a year now,” she said. “At first, I was kind of a crisis advocate, then a domestic violence advocate. The No. 1 issue, the No. 1 barrier I was always running into was housing. I just had these clients, and it was like, ‘If only we could get them in somewhere, we’d be able to do this. We’d be able to figure it out.’

“For the longest time, there were no solutions whatsoever. Finally, they literally created an entire position to help with people with the one barrier I have been trying to get over the entire time I’ve been an advocate. Now, I’m at the forefront of it. I get to do that myself. I’m so freaking exciting to help people in a way we haven’t been able to in such a long time. It’s going to be a whole new world, and I’m so ready.”

With funding secured, the next step in getting the program functional is partnering with property owners and landlords around the area. EPEC will be hosting a Zoom session from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. on Dec. 17 to meet with potential partners interested in being part of the program. Participants are not asked to be on for the entire three hours, but instead, EPEC representatives will be logged on as those interested can pop in to hear 15-20 minutes of information on the program. Any landlords and property owners who stay for the entire informational pitch will be rewarded with a $25 Target gift card.

Landlords must have units in Berkeley, Jefferson or Morgan counties, though there do not need to be openings currently available. Spriggs noted that HUD funding does not allow for utilities to be paid on their own but does allow for utilities to be paid if included as part of the rent, so that will be a large part of the informational session.

For more information on the rapid rehousing program or the Zoom session, contact Pepple at 304-263-8522 or at [email protected].

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3 credit habits that you need to break

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Are you using your credit card responsibly? Or do you have a few bad habits? Take a look at three common bad habits that people have with their credit cards and the best ways to stop doing them.

Habit 1: Pushing the limits

The first bad credit habit is pushing your outstanding balance close to its limit. What’s wrong with that? The first problem is that you’re giving yourself a larger debt load to contend with every month — one that accumulates interest the longer that it sits. It could be very difficult to pay down, and it could even lead to you maxing out your card.

The second problem with this habit is that it leaves you vulnerable to emergencies. You’ve taken up the majority of your available credit, so you can’t depend on it for unexpected payments. What if you need to pay for an urgent repair and there’s not enough room on your card? What can you do?

To avoid that difficult situation, you could apply for an online loan to help you cover the emergency costs and move forward. See how you can apply for an online loan in Ohio when you have no other safety nets to fall back on. It’s important that you only turn to this solution when you’re dealing with an emergency. It’s not for everyday purchases or small budgeting mistakes.

In the meantime, you should try your best to keep your credit utilization at 30% or lower — this means that your balance should be below the halfway point of your limit.

Habit 2: Paying the minimum

You pay your credit card bills on time, but you only give the minimum payment. While this habit can stop you from racking up late fees and penalties, it can still get you into hot water if you’re not careful.

Only paying the minimum for your bill will make it very difficult for you to whittle down the balance, especially when you’re continuing to charge expenses on your card. You’re only taking $20-$25 off a growing pile.

So, what can you do? If you’re paying this amount by choice, stop it — you’re only making things harder for yourself down the line. If you’re paying this amount because you don’t have any more funds, look at your budget to see whether you can cut your monthly costs to get more savings and use them to tackle your balance.

Habit 3: Using it for every single expense

You don’t need to put every single expense on your credit card. Your morning coffee? Your afternoon snack? Putting these small, everyday expenses on your card is a habit that can make your balance climb quickly.

You also don’t want to put some very important expenses on there, like mortgage payments. For one, these payments are large and will take up a significant amount of your credit. Secondly, if you need to use a credit card to make these payments on time, you need to reinvestigate your budget to see whether you can actually afford your living space.

So, what you should you do? Use a debit card, cash or checks to pay for the items above. Only put expenses on your credit card that you’re positive you can pay off in a reasonable timeframe.

Don’t let these bad habits drag you down and get you into financial trouble. Break them now, before it’s too late.

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Free credit reports have been extended; here’s why it’s important to check yours regularly

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Checking your credit could save you from identity theft. (iStock)

Typically, you’d be able to check your credit report — at least for free — just once annually through each of the three major credit reporting agencies. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, credit reports are now more accessible than ever.

Credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all offering  free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022.

The move means better insight into your financial health during what, for most, is an economically challenging time. According to experts, it might also be a time that’s ripe for at-risk personal information and identity theft, too — even more reason consumers should be checking their credit on the regular.

HOW OFTEN DOES YOUR CREDIT SCORE CHANGE?

Have you checked your annual credit lately? If not, here’s what you need to know about these free nationwide credit reports and how to get them. If you’re not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum, you may want to start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.

Free credit reports for all?

The nation’s three credit bureaus initially started offering free weekly credit reporting last year, just after the pandemic began. In early March, they announced they’d extended the offer for another year, this time through April 20, 2022.

To request your free credit reports and access copies, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com and provide some basic information to verify your identity (things like your date of birth, Social Security Number, and address).

Once your report is ready, you should see a detailed list of all open and closed accounts in your name, your payment history, recent credit activity and more.

5 BENEFITS OF HAVING A GOOD CREDIT SCORE

Protect yourself from identity theft

There are many reasons why checking your credit activity is important, but chief among them? That’d be the prevalence of data breaches in today’s world — not to mention the risk of identity theft they come with.

“In the past, it was perfectly acceptable for people to check their credit history once a year, but now with security breaches happening on a regular basis, consumers should be monitoring their credit more closely than ever,” said Clint Lotz, president and founder of TrackStar.ai, a predictive credit technology firm.

Lotz said the Equifax breach — which exposed over 147 million Americans’ personal information in mid-July 2017 — is the perfect example of why watching your credit report is important as far as identity theft protection goes. The pandemic, he said, adds an extra layer of risk to things.

“It took them [Equifax] months before they even realized they had been hacked, and considering that they hold files on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s fair to say that many identities were stolen by the time they caught up to it,” Lotz said. “With many of us worrying about very serious issues not related to our credit, it’s a prime time for that stolen data to be put to work by bad actors in slow, methodical ways and in the hopes that nobody notices it.”

More reasons to check your credit

Checking your credit health often isn’t just good for detecting fraud alerts and to protect your identity, though. You can also monitor your report for errors — things like inaccurately reported late payments, for example — and then dispute those with the credit bureau.

If the error gets corrected, it could improve your credit score and make a jump from bad credit to a FICO score that’s more favorable. Not sure of your credit score? Head to Credible to check your score without negatively impacting it.

WHAT IS CREDIT MONITORING, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

You can also use your credit reports and scores to monitor your financial habits — like the timeliness of your payments or how much debt you have left to pay off. Both of these factors can play a big role in your score, as well as how likely you are to get approved for loans, credit cards and other items.

“If you’re taking out a loan, getting insurance or even applying for a new job, checking your credit will allow you to see an overview of what would be seen by others looking at your credit,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney with the Tayne Law Group. “Staying up-to-date on your credit reports and information allows you to know exactly where you need to improve.”

Want to be sure your credit is stellar before applying for a loan or insurance policy? Consider Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which lets you use positive payment history on utilities, streaming and other bills to improve your credit score.

Set up a monitoring service, too

Though checking your credit reports manually is smart, you should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These consumer financial services check your credit information and score regularly and alert you of any changes.

IS IT WORTH PAYING FOR CREDIT MONITORING?

If you’re interested in monitoring your credit or improving your score, head to Credible and learn more about how Experian can help. You can also use Experian Boost to get credit for on-time bill payments.

Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at [email protected] and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.

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Do Personal Loans Have Penalty APRs?

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

When you make your credit card payment late, you’re often subject to late fees and a penalty APR, which is a temporary spike in your interest rate.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, has a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR, but the penalty APR is a variable 29.99% (see rates and fees). Penalty APRs usually last for at least six months, but card issuers often reserve the right to extend them — especially when you continue making late payments. A look at the terms for the Citi® Double Cash Card show us that the “penalty APR may apply indefinitely.”

Penalty APRs are certainly not a trap you want to fall into, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about if you have a personal loan. Personal loan lenders can, however, charge late fees upwards of $39 per late payment. Whether your loan charges late fees all depends on how good of a loan you qualify for, and that comes down to your credit score, borrowing history and ability to make your payments.

Personal loans also tend to charge lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The average personal loan interest rate for two-year loans is currently 9.46% according to Q1 2021 data from the Federal Reserve, compared to 15.91% for credit cards.

Typically, interest rates for personal loans range between roughly 2.49% and 24%, but personal loans for applicants with bad credit can come with even higher APR — so do your research before applying.

Other common personal loan fees include:

  1. Interest: The monthly charge you pay to borrow money
  2. Origination fee: A one-time upfront charge that your lender subtracts from your loan to pay for administration and processing costs
  3. Late fee: A one-time fee charged for each payment that you fail to make by the due date or within your grace period
  4. Early payoff penalty: A fee incurred when you pay off your balance faster than planned (because the lender misses out on months of expected interest payments)

As you can see, personal loans can be costly, even without a penalty APR. It’s obviously best to avoid paying extra fees whenever possible. That’s easier to do when you have a good to excellent credit score, since you’ll qualify for better loan options.

Select has a free tool to help match you with personal loan offers without damaging your credit score.

None of the loans on our best personal loan list charge origination fees or early payoff penalties, but some may charge late fees.

Our top picks for best personal loans

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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