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Warning Signs of Personal Loan Scams

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Interest in personal loans is rising this year, industry experts say. 

Unfortunately, potential scams are rising too.

Amid record-breaking unemployment rates and a staggering economy, consumers are seeking personal loans for two primary purposes: to consolidate credit card debt or simply to get by, says Brian Walsh, CFP and senior manager of financial planning at SoFi, a national personal finance and lending company. 

“This is a way to help get them through until they get back to normal,” says Walsh.

Scammers have taken notice. In the first four months of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported more than 18,000 accounts and more than $13.4 million in losses to COVID-related fraud. Those complaints cover a range of financial scams. But personal loan scams have been a problem since before COVID. Last year, the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group, recorded nearly 44,000 reports about potential personal and business loan scams. 

“Unscrupulous people will try to take advantage of people’s needs,” Walsh says. And in the middle of a pandemic that’s putting the economy through the ringer, those unsavory people are finding ample opportunity. 

If you’ve determined that a personal loan makes sense for you, the next step is to explore red flags and warning signs of personal loan scams. 

Personal Loan Scams Warning Signs 

“There are basically two main reasons you could get scammed: people are either trying to steal your money, or they’re trying to steal—and maybe sell—your personal information,” says Jamie Young, managing editor at Credible.com, an online loan marketplace.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for.

Too Good to Be True

“If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is,” Walsh says. In fact, all the experts we spoke to echoed this sentiment. They agreed if a lender has a guaranteed approval for a fast loan, raving reviews only on their own website, doesn’t care about bad credit, or offers  no credit check at all, it’s wise to do a ton of research before you agree to anything. 

That might include reaching out to you. “It’s not uncommon for banks to send you offer letters in the mail. But if it’s a bank you’ve never heard of and they’re randomly reaching out to you with a deal seeming a little too good to be true, you should proceed with caution,” says Farnoosh Torabi, NextAdvisor contributing editor and host of “So Money” podcast.

Bad Credit? No Problem

Pre-approvals, guaranteed approvals, or no credit checks seem to be common themes in personal loan scams. If the lender is making guarantees before checking your financial history, be cautious. Guaranteed approvals or no credit checks are possible scams. “A lender needs to do some sort of underwriting to assess and price that loan appropriately. If they’re not doing that, it’s a red flag to me,” Walsh says. 

Upfront Payment

All the experts we talked to said to be wary of advance-fee scams. 

“With some personal loans, you’ll need to pay for an application or the origination fee, but that’s going to come from the loan,” says Walsh. In other words, any fees associated with the loan should be covered by the loan itself. If you have to come up with out-of-pocket money, walk away. 

Pro Tip

Your state’s finance department should maintain a registry of approved lenders. Check it.

These fees are often worded with legitimate terms like “application fee” or “processing fee.” However, these fees are anything but legitimate and often ask you to do things that may seem odd, like purchase a prepaid card, says Anuj Nayar, financial health officer at LendingClub.  

“Legitimate personal loan lenders do charge something upfront. It’s called an origination fee, and that’s normal — but it’s taken out of your loan proceeds,” Young says. On the other hand, she says, “advance-fee loans are not legitimate. You should never be giving anyone your money out of your pocket before you get approved.”

Lack of Company Information

Another big alert of a potential loan scam is a lack of information about the lender. Legitimate financial institutions usually have an address and ample contact information on their site. If your lender has no information about their company other than a URL, do some extra digging before you give them any personal information. 

Pressure Tactics

Finally, if a lender ever applies any pressure, don’t bend to it. “No one’s going to pressure you if they’re a legitimate lender,” says Young. 

“Make sure you aren’t feeling pressure to make a decision today or disclose personal identifiable information like a bank account number, Social Security number, or credit or debit card information,” says Nayar. Reputable institutions will not force your hand or rush the personal loan application process. 

How to Vet Loan Providers

Make Sure the Website is Secure

Check the company’s website URL to see if it has HTTPS. The S stands for secure. HTTP (with no S) is not a secure site to handle personal data collection. You want to make sure the site is secure since you will be giving personal information, says Young. 

Look Them Up

A reputable financial institution should have information about themselves online. “If you can’t find any information on this company or this product, walk away,” Torabi says. She recommends doing a Google search with the institution’s name and the word “scam” to see what comes up.   

Read Reviews

“Do some internet sleuthing,” Young says. And Walsh agrees. “Whenever you’re shopping for a financial product, you should read reviews and shop around as much as possible,” he advises. Scour reviews to make sure other consumers haven’t been mistreated by any lender you’re considering.  You can check out Better Business Bureau and google “reviews for X company,” Young suggests. 

Ignore the Fishy Offers

As our experts emphasized, you may get offers sounding too good to be true. Ignore them. Don’t fall into the trap of big promises of waived credit checks and guarantees for a fee.   

Vet Through Government Tools 

Government resources are free and “there to help consumers not get taken advantage of,” says Walsh. You can vet your potential lender through one of these sites by typing the name of the company into the search bar.  If there are charges against them, one of these sites will report on it. 

Experts recommend:  

Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC)

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) 

The American Bankers Association (ABA)

Check Your State’s Registration Resources 

Your state’s finance department should maintain a registry of approved lenders. “With personal loans, it’s about verifying the institution and making sure they’re registered,” Torabi explains. State resources vary; some states issue lender’s licenses, others register them. Look up your state’s system and make sure the lender you’re considering checks out. For example, I searched for “New York state licensed lenders” and reached New York State’s Department of Financial Services. Here you can search for information on licensed lenders in New York. 

Shop and Compare Rates.

Compare rates with a few lenders to make sure you’re getting the loan money you need with the lowest interest rate possible. “With any product you shop for, you shop around. Don’t limit yourself to this one offer,” Torabi says. 

The Bottom Line 

Not only does vetting any financial institution you’re considering protect you from personal loan scams, but it can also help you get the lowest interest rate possible. 

Watch out for lenders asking for money upfront or pressure you, especially if you can’t find much info about their company. When in doubt, it pays to go with a lender you know you can trust. 

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European Regulator Worries Banks Are Ignoring Borrower Troubles

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The European Central Bank is worried lenders in the eurozone aren’t properly evaluating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the financial health of borrowers, a problem that could result in a sudden cascade of defaults.

Andrea Enria,

head of banking supervision at the ECB, said banks are setting aside less money to cover for loan losses than peers in other countries, including the U.S. He added that the provisions are below levels reached during the financial crisis and short of the levels models suggest are required.

“The way in which banks are preparing for asset quality deterioration varies widely and could, in some cases, be insufficient,” Mr. Enria said Thursday.

He expects the impact of renewed lockdowns will be reflected in banks’ fourth-quarter results and through 2021. Several eurozone banks are due to report their annual results next week.

The true health of eurozone borrowers has become harder to track due to the amount of financial support from the ECB and the region’s governments, which includes payment holidays on existing loans. In Italy, for instance, over a quarter of loans to businesses are under payment moratoriums. In Portugal, half of the credit to companies in the hospitality and restaurant sectors are under the program.

State guarantees on loans have also incentivized eurozone banks to continue lending, including to small companies that would likely go bust without that help.

Mr. Enria said that while the support is likely helping banks to keep their loan books healthy, there are signs lenders aren’t properly looking at the personal situation of the borrowers who received support.

“Since March last year we told banks that they should develop additional indicators to try to understand the quality of their customers and to see through the moratoria,” Mr. Enria said. “We are not seeing a lot of that happening,” he said.

The ECB earlier last year said bad loans in the eurozone could soar as high as €1.4 trillion, equivalent to $1.7 trillion, if the economies were to contract more than expected, a scenario the central bank said was severe but plausible. That amount would be more than during the aftermath of the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

The ECB said the probability of that scenario is lower now, but “significant uncertainties remain in the short to medium term.”

Most banks were able to keep their capital levels stable through last year, although nine have taken advantage of looser regulatory requirements and ate into their buffers, the ECB said Thursday without naming the lenders.

The biggest concern for regulators is that low profitability—and a potential flood of losses from bad credit—could quickly deteriorate those capital levels.

Write to Patricia Kowsmann at [email protected]

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How long do offers last, and what if I have bad credit? We answer the most-asked mortgage questions

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Forget the eyes – nowadays, it is our internet searches that provide a window into the soul.  

We often turn to search engines to ask the questions that are on our minds, whether we’re just looking for a quick answer or because it’s something we are embarrassed to ask in person. 

Now, Britons’ most common mortgage questions have been revealed, thanks to a new analysis of Google searches.  

Many of the mainstream lenders are able to offer a mortgage within 2-3 weeks of an application being submitted, according to the mortgage experts we spoke to

Many of the mainstream lenders are able to offer a mortgage within 2-3 weeks of an application being submitted, according to the mortgage experts we spoke to

Comparethemarket.com looked at search data from the last twelve months, and discovered that the most asked mortgage question, with 20,960 searches, was ‘How long does a mortgage application take?’

Britons also wanted to know how long a mortgage offer lasted for, how to get a mortgage with bad credit, what an interest only mortgage was, and what a lifetime mortgage was. 

Applying for a mortgage can sometimes be complicated, and there is often a lot of jargon to contend with – so it is not surprising that people search online for more information.

This is Money asked Mark Harris of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, Nicholas Morrey of mortgage broker John Charcol and a spokesperson from the Mortgage Advice Bureau to help provide answers to the five most-asked questions.

How long does a mortgage application take?

The most common mortgage question on Google, this is particularly relevant at the moment given that some buyers are keen to complete before the stamp duty holiday ends on 31 March. 

But the answer depends on the type of mortgage application being submitted, according to Harris.

For example, a product transfer – where you stay with your current lender but move to a new deal – can take a matter of days, whilst a more complex mortgage application can take weeks.

‘Once the application is submitted, a lot depends on the lender and the complexity of the application – it may take anywhere between one day to two weeks for an initial assessment to take place,’  Harris said. 

If you’re self-employed or the mortgage valuation requires a surveyor to visit the property in person, then you are likely to face further delays. 

A firm mortgage offer will follow once your application has been fully reviewed and an acceptable valuation received.

The experts we spoke to said that typically, it would to take two to three weeks from application to offer – but the pandemic has meant that these timescales have been stretched. 

‘Unfortunately, during the Covid-19 pandemic, lenders have suffered from staff and resource issues and tasks are taking longer to complete,’ said Harris.

‘Also, given the effect on employment and income, lenders are scrutinising applications in greater depth to see how applicants have been affected.’ 

How long does a mortgage offer last?

In most cases mortgage offers last for six months, although some offers will only last for three months.

‘If the offer expires, lenders will sometimes agree to an extension – although this will sometimes require a re-assessment by the lender,’ said Morrey.

A typical mortgage offer will last for six months, but this can sometimes be extended

A typical mortgage offer will last for six months, but this can sometimes be extended

‘For example, the original deal may no longer be available, or a new valuation may be required, or the lender may wish to re-assess your income and outgoings.’

Where an application involves a new-build property, the offer may last longer – potentially up to 12 months, according to Harris.

‘Borrowers should be aware that some new builds have completion deadlines that may not coincide with offer expiry dates,’ he said.

How to get a mortgage with bad credit?

Some lenders will not offer mortgages to people with a history of bad credit, and this was something that Google searchers wanted to know how to get around. 

Lenders that are willing to do so often charge a higher interest rate, to reflect the increased level of risk.

‘When getting a mortgage with bad credit, you can expect to borrow less and to pay more in interest in comparison to someone who has an exemplary credit record,’ explained the spokesperson for the Mortgage Advice Bureau.

Having bad credit may mean you are not able to borrow as much on your mortgage

Having bad credit may mean you are not able to borrow as much on your mortgage

‘High street lenders are generally averse to dealing with those who have bad credit, which can make it pretty difficult.

‘When you apply for a mortgage, it can register on your credit file – and if you apply to a number of lenders to see if they will lend to you, it may be doing additional damage to your credit score.’

‘Your best option, according to Mortgage Advice Bureau, is to contact an established and experienced mortgage broker.

‘They will have access to contacts and deals that are exclusive and not available to the general public. The mortgage broker will carry out a ‘soft’ credit check first, so your inquiry doesn’t negatively impact your credit score.’ 

What is an interest-only mortgage?

Another common question on Google concerned interest-only mortgages. So what are they? 

When borrowing for a home, you can either opt for a repayment mortgage or an interest-only mortgage.

With a repayment mortgage, you will pay back a part of the loan, as well as the interest, each month until you eventually pay off the mortgage.

With an interest-only mortgage, you will only pay the interest each month, with the loan amount remaining the same.

‘It means your monthly payments will be lower but, at the end of the mortgage term, the full amount you borrow is still outstanding and you have to pay the lender back everything at that time,’ said Morrey.

‘When applying for an interest-only loan, the borrower must demonstrate that there is a clear and credible strategy in place to repay the capital,’ added Harris.

What is a lifetime mortgage?

A lifetime mortgage is a mortgage secured on your home, with the loan only being repaid when you pass away, go into long-term care or sell the property.

Two examples of this are retirement interest-only mortgages and equity release mortgages.

Equity release allows you to access some of the equity in your home via a lifetime mortgage

Equity release allows you to access some of the equity in your home via a lifetime mortgage

‘Lifetime mortgages often have fixed rates of interest, and in the case of equity release mortgages, the fixed rate is for life and not just two or five years,’ explained Morrey.

He added: ‘They should not be confused with lifetime tracker mortgages, which track a specific index such as the Bank of England base rate – these will likely have an end date and won’t be for a ‘lifetime’ in itself.’

There are strict lending criteria, with the amount you can you borrow depending on your age.

‘Seeking expert financial and legal advice is crucial for this type of mortgage,’ said Harris.

‘An adviser covering both equity release and standard mortgages would be most useful as they can assess the most suitable route forward.’

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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What is a Subprime Mortgage?

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What is a subprime mortgage? If you’re asking this question, chances are good you’re either trying to borrow for a home with poor credit or you’ve been offered a loan you’re concerned is a subprime loan. We’ll explain the answer to the question “what is a subprime mortgage?” and discuss some of the risks and alternatives.

What is a subprime mortgage?

Prime loans usually offer competitive interest rates to well-qualified borrowers. A subprime mortgage is similar to a conventional mortgage, except it has a higher interest rate. Subprime loans are geared toward borrowers with bad credit who can’t qualify for a prime mortgage at the best rates. Lenders take a bigger risk with subprime loans, so they charge substantially higher rates due to the borrower’s poor credit history.

If you have a credit score below 620, you may not be able to qualify for a prime mortgage, but you might get a subprime mortgage.

Types of subprime mortgages

There are multiple types of subprime mortgage loans. However, one particular type of loan — an adjustable-rate mortgage — is especially common for subprime mortgages.

Adjustable-rate mortgages

Many subprime mortgages are adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs. The introductory rate on an ARM is fixed for a limited time. For example, a 5/1 ARM provides a fixed rate for five years. After that, the rate adjusts based on a financial index.

That means your interest rate may go down — but it could go up, too. ARMs carry more risk than fixed rate loans. If interest rates rise, monthly payments could increase. If you take out an adjustable loan, find out how high your payment could go. Don’t assume you’ll always be able to refinance or sell your home before it adjusts.

Fixed-rate mortgages

With fixed-rate subprime mortgages, the interest rate remains the same for the entire repayment period. Since the rate doesn’t change, payments don’t change.

The important question is, what is a subprime mortgage interest rate you’d qualify for? You need to make sure the rate is reasonable and that monthly payments are affordable.

Shop and compare rates from multiple mortgage lenders for poor credit to find the best subprime loan rates. And use a mortgage calculator to see how much your monthly payment would be for any loan you’re considering.

Interest-only mortgages

Interest-only mortgages allow you to pay only interest for a limited time, such as the first five years. This makes monthly payments more affordable, but you don’t make progress in reducing your loan principal.

At the end of the initial period, you’ll begin paying both principal and interest. Your payments may rise substantially because you’ll have a shorter timeline to pay your loan off. If you took a 30-year mortgage and only paid interest for the first 10 years, you’d have just 20 years to pay off your entire principal balance.

Most interest-only loans are also structured as ARMs, so you take the added risk of rates going up and payments rising.

Dignity mortgages

Dignity mortgages are a specific type of subprime loan offered by some lenders. With this type of mortgage, you’ll initially have a high interest rate. But if you make on-time payments for a period of time, your interest rate will eventually be reduced to the prime rate.

Subprime mortgage risks

It’s important to also consider if you’re willing to take on the risk of this type of loan. Some of the biggest risks include:

  • Interest costs will be high: You will pay significantly more mortgage interest over time than if you took out a conventional mortgage.
  • Finding a lender may be difficult: Not all mortgage lenders offer loans to subprime borrowers. You could be limiting your potential loan options.
  • Payments could increase: If you choose an ARM, you face the risk of interest rates going up and payments rising.
  • Foreclosure is possible: If you don’t pay your subprime mortgage loan, your lender will foreclose. Your credit could be severely damaged.

Lenders are required under Dodd-Frank financial reform laws to conduct an “ability-to-repay” assessment. This ensures borrowers are capable of paying back their loans. These mandates can reduce the risk for borrowers. But the bottom line is buying a house with bad credit can create a host of complications.

Alternatives to subprime mortgages

You may be wondering if there are other options. The good news is that there are multiple solutions for borrowers with bad credit. Some of the best options include these government-back loans:

  • FHA loan: FHA lenders often work with borrowers with lower credit. FHA loans are available to borrowers with credit as low as 500 as long as they make a 10% down payment. Borrowers with scores of 580 or higher can get approved with a 3.5% down payment.
  • VA loan: A VA mortgage loan is available to eligible service members and veterans regardless of their poor credit history. The VA doesn’t set a minimum score, but some lenders do.

USDA loan: These allow you to purchase eligible homes in rural areas. More stringent underwriting is required to qualify borrowers with credit scores below 640. But it may still be possible to qualify.

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