10 Questions – Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

March 3, 2016

I love Spring! The snow is melting. The days are getting longer. I wake up in the morning to hear the birds chirping outside my window. My tulips are even popping up along the west side of the house. I am getting antsy to get outside more. My kids are definitely getting antsy to get outside more. Even my wife (not so much an outdoorsy kind of person) is ready for it to be nice out.

You know who else is getting antsy? Anyone thinking about buying a home. Here in South Dakota, the winter brings a normal lull to home-buying. After all, who wants to move in the middle of a blizzard? But now that it’s getting nice out…..

While we encourage home ownership for anyone that is ready, willing, and able, we also realize that there are two groups that should not be so antsy about moving. First, there are those who don’t want to own a home – and that’s ok. Second, there are those who want to own, but just aren’t ready. Read the rest of this entry »

Night of the Living Dead Debt

October 29, 2015

I have to admit, I’m not really a big Halloween fan. Sure, I loved it as a kid. There was all of the candy, the class party, all of the candy, a later evening out trick-or-treating, and then there was all of the candy. But now? Ehh. I think it’s the whole zombie invasion thing that bugs me. Seriously? The living dead? There really are people out there preparing for the zombie apocalypse as if it were more imminent than the threat of snow this time of year. (If you weren’t in eastern South Dakota, we got our first round of snow yesterday.) And this seems to be their holy day of the year, the big blood festival.  Come on people!  REALLY?!? Read the rest of this entry »

Student Loans – 20 Questions You NEED To Know (and the college may not teach you)

August 13, 2015

‘Tis the season.  Ok, so that line can be used for a lot of seasons.  This one, specifically, is that season studentsof the empty nesters.  Drive by any college campus and you will know what I mean.  There is the happy student that can’t wait to be on their own, the stoic father standing by offering quiet support, and the mom tearing up over her baby all grown up.  Yeah, maybe it’s a little idealized, but you get the point.

It’s also the season of signing.  I’m not aware of any school that will let you attend classes without their knowing how they are going to get paid.  So you have to go sign all of those student loan documents.  I’ve been there.  “Just sign by the X”, and so we do.  With the ever increasing student loan amounts, I wanted to offer up 20 questions you should be able to answer BEFORE you sign by the ‘X’.  You may not think about it for another 4-5 years, but now is the time to make sure you get it right. Read the rest of this entry »

Lies Your Friends Will Tell You About Credit Cards

July 30, 2015

Credit cards – they certainly can be one hot topic of discussion.  Unfortunately, some of those conversations I’ve been a part of end up being one hot mess.  Everybody seems to have an opinion.  Many of those opinions are based on something someone told them somewhere.  But you know what they say about opinions – they are like butts.  Everyone has one and a lot of them stink.  So let’s get rid of the credit card opinions out there and deal with the facts.  Just the facts. Read the rest of this entry »

Dealing With “THE CALL”

June 23, 2015

“Pay NOW or else!”

“Or else what?”

“Or else we will have you arrested, have your kids taken away, tell your friends and family how bad you are at paying what you owe, publish your debts in the local newspaper, continue to call at all hours of the night, notify your employer that you owe us a lot of money, and whatever else it takes to get you to pay up instead of being a @#(!%……” Read the rest of this entry »

The Wrong Side of the Credit Road

June 9, 2015

A few years ago, my dad was headed to my grandparents’ farm.  That trip involved about a mile and a half of hilly gravel road.  As he crested the top of the tallest hill, he met an oncoming vehicle that was traveling square down the center of the road.  If you drive gravel roads at all, you know that’s a bad place to be on a hill.  My dad was to his right and the other driver swerved to their right, nearly missing my dad.  She went over the top of the hill in her direction and he went on in his own direction.

A short time later, the sheriff’s deputy showed up in the farmyard and started asking my car accidentdad a lot of questions.  As it turns out, the other driver in his near-miss had gone in the ditch and rolled her car after crossing the top of the hill.  She was claiming that some madman had run her off the road.  After my dad quickly explained his version of the story, the deputy assured him he shouldn’t have any trouble.  “We know her.  I’d believe your story.  She has a history with us.”

That was the last my dad heard of the incident.  A driver had gone off the road, rolled her car, and claimed it was my dad’s fault.  And he never heard anymore about it.  Why?

It’s all about the history.

As you might expect, we see quite a few clients who are struggling to rebuild their credit history.  “But, I don’t plan on buying a house any time soon (if ever),” people argue.  “And I’m fine driving old cars that I pay cash for.  I don’t need to worry about my credit.”

Let’s talk about who all uses your credit report:

  • Lenders – Anyone looking to lend you money, even for a simple credit card.
  • Landlords – They want to know your payment history and if you are likely to pay rent on time.
  • Service Providers – From utilities to cell phone companies, they also want to know the likelihood of getting paid.
  • Employers – Current and potential, if you are going to be handling their money, they want to know what level of temptation you may have to help yourself.  More and more, they are also checking the credit history of employees’ spouses.
  • Government Licensing – looking to get a professional license that the state issues?  They’ll want to know your history first.
  • Insurance Companies – It’s all risk management for them and your credit report is one way they will evaluate that.  Better history, lower insurance payments.

Yep.  Even if you don’t plan on getting a loan, there is a lot riding on your credit report.  This is probably something you should pay attention to.  If your credit report needs some attention, there are a few ways you can go about doing that.  Let’s take a look at your options:

Do it yourself

To be completely transparent, ANYTHING that can be done to fix your credit report, you can do yourself for free.  Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free credit report.  There are even links right in the online report to begin the dispute process for any negative items that are old or incorrect.  It very well may take more work than that to get everything straightened out, but you certainly can do it yourself for free.

Non-Profit Counseling

This is where we come in.  In a credit report counsel, we pull your credit report and then educate you on what it says, what it means, and what you can do to fix it.  We aren’t going to do it for you, but we will give you direction and accountability if you like.  We can also help with budgeting as fixing your credit report is probably going to take some extra money.

While costs between agencies may vary, our cost for a credit report counsel is $35, although if you are looking to buy a home, we have grant funds available from Wells Fargo to cover the cost of your appointment.

Credit Repair Company

Still overwhelmed with the whole process?  There are for-profit companies that will take your information and do all of the work for you.  They will take care of disputing items and filing paperwork to clean up your report.  Just be aware that, while it is the highest level of service, they are for-profit and will charge you for that service.  We have had clients come to our office after paying $1,000 or more to such a company.

Which ever direction you choose to go in repairing your credit, remember that anything that can be done to fix your credit can be done by you for free.

If you would like to know more about your credit report or how credit works, the counselors at the Center for Financial Resources would be happy to help.

Just remember – your future is counting on you having your credit report on the right side of the road.  Start repairing it now before you have your own near-miss.

written by Breck Miller
image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Financial Fitness Is No Mickey Mouse Subject

March 19, 2015

My family and I just got back from a trip to that magical mecca of all things entertainment and marketing – Disney World. I have to say, it was a great trip and Disney really does a great job of making sure everything is taken care of for you. Not only are the bathrooms clean (a big deal in our family), but we didn’t even have to wait at the airport for our bags. They just magically showed up in our room. The kids had fun. I ate a lot. It was all good. Although I do have to admit that there was one point where my mood nearly broke, changing me to a raging, lecturing know-it-all. Read the rest of this entry »

More Romantic Than a Credit Report? I Think NOT!!!

February 10, 2015

“How you doin’?”

It’s ok. Go ahead and crack a little smile. You probably know exactly what I am referring to.

Thank you Joey Tribbiani for creating that ubiquitous introduction. ‘Tis the season, love is in the air, the store aisles are full of red and pink, and social gatherings everywhere are ringing with one “How you doin’?” after another. It is, after all, Valentine’s Day. Whether using it as an excuse to be spoiled or to pick up a quick date, people everywhere will be looking for their Valentine this week.

Ever tried it? Perhaps you don’t have that same tone that Joey does, but we all tend to ask the question of someone at some point in time. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, you might be asking why Center For Financial Resources cares about Valentine’s Day. Maybe not the day itself, but we see “How you doin’?” as a little more inclusive that Joey probably did.

Most people want to find that special someone valentinewho has everything they are looking for. Perhaps it is a sense of humor, a high level of intelligence, certain physical traits, or perhaps they are just willing to say ‘yes’. More and more, a healthy credit history is a part of that ‘need to have’ list as people become more serious in their relationships.

Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? For most, a credit history certainly isn’t as glamorous as other traits, but it can have longer lasting impact than some traits we regularly deem ‘important’. Here are some reasons why your “How you doin’?” needs mean “How you doin’ financially?”.

Beauty Fades, A Credit Report Doesn’t – They may be the most physically beautiful person in the world, but one weekend of gluttonous eating while laying in the sun for 48 hours straight and that beauty will probably be just a memory. Unfortunately, the overwhelming bills for the weekend won’t go away. Minimum credit card payments mean your weekend splurging may take the next 16-30 years to pay off. Miss a payment and that is on your record for the next seven years, 10 if you end up filing chapter 7 bankruptcy over it.

A simple financial mistake here and there can have a long lasting impact of your future endeavors. Is your Valentine someone who thinks about and plans for the future? Or are they one to strictly enjoy the ‘here and now’? One ‘off the chain’ weekend now may mean the two of you have to put off the purchase of your new dream home for the next couple of years.

Two Shall Become One – What do you and your Valentine want to do together? Careful – I’m thinking financially here. When you marry, your credit reports are often considered together. While you may have a stellar credit history, if your special someone has a less-than-special credit history, you may get turned down for a loan just the same. You may be able to apply without the other person’s credit report, but then you can’t use their income for qualifying either.

Finding that special someone with the special credit report may be a bit of a boon for you. Not only might it open up more credit opportunities for you if you have a slightly lower score, but the behavior that got them the higher score may rub off on you too. On top of using their credit, that better behavior may even increase your own credit score. How’s that for a gift that keeps on giving?

Didn’t Get That Raise? It’s Their Fault! – Who wouldn’t like to make more money? Better yet, who wouldn’t want their spouse to make more money so you could quit working and do whatever you want? Did you know that, depending on the job, potential and current employers may check your credit report and decided whether or not you get/keep the job based on your report? Did you know employers are even requiring they check your spouse’s credit report? Employers have realized that two people’s finances often become one when you become a single household and one spouse can have a great deal of influence on the other. If your spouse’s actions indicate they may be a bad influence on you, your employer may not trust you either.

With or Without Them – Unfortunately, some people will find themselves without their special someone. Whether divorce or death, you may find yourself without your true love. But you may not be done with them. Their financial habits may create debt that survives the death of your relationship or your partner. Are you willing to take on that possibility? Should things end, you may be down to just your own income (after getting turned down for the promotion because of your spouse’s credit report) and still have to pay half the debt their behaviors incurred. I don’t really like to see any relationship end, but if it does…..

I certainly don’t mean to rain on your Valentine’s Day parade. We will be celebrating it ourselves with a pizza picnic and movie in our living room. (Hey, it’s tradition and it doesn’t run up a big credit card bill.) Enjoy the day. Buy the flowers. Eat the chocolate. I hope you do find that special someone if you haven’t already. Just make sure to ask them “How you doin’?”.

If things aren’t financially stellar for either you or your ‘other’, here’s a date idea for you – schedule an appointment with one of our counselors. They can help get the two of you talking in a healthy way and headed in the same financial direction. Given the impact finances can have on life, it’s almost like relationship counseling. We have definitely had couples leave appointments in a much better place than when they came in.

Go out, have fun. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day. But remember, if you don’t bother asking them “How you doin’?”, you may quickly dating a Smelly Cat.


written by Breck Miller
image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

Bet I Can Still Scare You

December 8, 2014

It is always interesting to see the change in people’s reactions when they find out what you do for a living. On a recent hunting trip, I was one of several adult males in the shed while we were cutting up our deer. One individual that happened to stop by was cussing fairly regularly in conversation.

At some point, the fact that I had previously been in professional church work came up. His eyes went big and his face turned red in embarrassment as he apologized for his language. His jaw hit the floor when I grinned and said it was OK because we are all human. Oh yeah, I may have used a cuss-word of my own in there too.

I generally try to keep my language in control, but what can I say? When people least expect it, I like to go for the shock value. Read the rest of this entry »

When “Juice” Doesn’t Come In A Bottle Or Box

December 3, 2014

Last week I talked about lessons from growing popcorn this summer. Same idea this week, just a little different context. One week per month I spend three afternoons at the state penitentiary here in Sioux Falls teaching credit to inmates who are about to be released. I certainly hope they are learning something from my time there. I can definitely tell you I am learning as well when I am there. To illustrate this, here is some new terms and phrases I have learned from my students at the pen: Read the rest of this entry »

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