Sunday, October 11, 2009

Liz Weston, Journalist LA Times / Author "Your Credit Score"

I’m Liz Pulliam Weston, the most-read personal finance columnist on the Internet and author of the book, Your Credit Score, and I believe credit will be the big story for 2010.

We’ve already seen a revolution in the credit card industry, with issuers doubling or tripling rates, lowering credit limits and shuttering accounts even for customers with great credit scores and perfect payment histories.

This is pushing many over the financial edge into bankruptcy, and threatening the credit scores of others by reducing their available credit. Those who still have good credit need to know they have the power to fight back against these changes, or take their business elsewhere, since customers with credit scores of 740 and above are still in high demand.

If the economy continues to shed more jobs than it creates, defaults will remain high and issuers cautious about extending credit to anyone with less-than-exceptional scores. Expect truly good balance transfer offers to get scarce and rewards deals to get less appealing for all but the sterling-credit class.

New rules mean people under 21 will have a much tougher time getting a credit card starting in February—but they will still need good credit scores to get decent apartments, insurance rates and car loans when they’re out of school. Parents need to think about whether they want to co-sign for a card or add a child as an authorized user to one of their own accounts. This is a child-by-child issue—co-signing can work for the most responsible but could be a disaster otherwise.

If your clients have credit card debt, they should fix their rates now by paying off their debt with a three-year, fixed-rate personal loan from a credit union, where those with good credit can get a fixed rate of 10% to 11%. Other alternatives: social lending sites such as Prosper or Lending Club.

If they can’t pay off the debt within three years, they need to talk to a legitimate credit counselor and possibly a bankruptcy attorney. The old days of easy credit aren’t coming back soon, and strapped borrowers need to realistically assess their options rather than continue to struggle with unpayable debts.

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