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Car inspection pays trip dividends

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BETHESDA, Md. (6/1/11)--If you plan to hit the long road this summer, schedule a vehicle inspection first to make sure your car is travel-safe and fuel-efficient (Car Care May 23). An inspection could help you avoid injury and having to spend precious vacation time and money on repairs. As an added bonus, an efficient vehicle gives you more miles to the gallon and costs less to operate. Make sure your safety check includes:
* Tune-up. Despite technological advances, car and truck engines still need to be tuned up. Today’s tune-up includes replacing filters, checking and filling fluids, changing spark plugs, checking the battery, and checking and replacing hoses and belts. The result: Your engine correctly balances power and fuel economy while achieving the lowest emission levels. * Brake disks, pads, and lines. Brakes are just about the most important safety device on your car. Brake disks should be shiny from the inside to the outer edge, and fairly uniform. If disks need to be replaced, make sure they are replaced in pairs. Pads are cheap; make sure they are at least one-eighth inch thick or replace them. Rubber-coated brake lines should be soft and supple. If you see cracks, or the lines are rigid, it’s time to replace them. Inspect the hard, metal lines for corrosion, especially if your car has been exposed to snow and road salt. * Tire inflation and tread. Properly inflated tires are safer, last longer, and provide the best fuel economy. Look for the manufacturer’s inflation recommendation on the driver’s side door jamb sticker or in your owner’s manual. Bulges and bald spots mean you need new tires. Check the tread for uneven wear that indicates the need for a wheel alignment. * Battery. Check for corrosion--white crusty residue around the battery posts. Keep the posts clean, otherwise it will get harder and harder to start your car. There are many good products on the market to help you clean your battery. * Gas cap. Consumers are hard on gas caps: They leave them at the pump, on the car roof, or lose them in ditches by the roadside. Besides protecting from the danger of gasoline spills from recently filled tanks, these small, inexpensive caps can save money in fuel expenses. Check the fit--listen for a hiss when you loosen the cap. A properly fitting gas cap eliminates fumes, gas evaporation, and prevents damage to the fuel system from water, dirt, and other contaminants.
Give yourself and loved ones safe summer travels and peace of mind by scheduling your inspection now. For more information, read “Getting Great Gas Mileage on Two Wheels” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Spending and travel advice on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (5/27/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program offers advice for smarter spending and affordable travel. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Balance Cost and Value.” Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., explains how you can decide when you might be better off paying more for certain goods and services. * “Seven Expenses You Should Negotiate.” Kim McGrigg, community manager, Money Management International, Denver, provides suggestions for negotiating prices on home improvement projects, vehicles, clothing and more. * “Tips to Stretch Vacation Dollars.” Emily Kaufman, travel contributor to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” author, and blogger, The Travel Mom, Woodland Hills, Calif., shares cost-saving ideas for family travel this summer. * “Have the Unique Travel Experience of Your Dreams.” Sue Tanzman, owner and president, Martin’s Travel and Tours Inc., Los Angeles, reveals tricks of the trade to help you save money on transportation and accommodations while traveling.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Balance Cost and Value” and “Find Good Travel Deals Even in a Bum Economy” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Young grads face tough job market

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NEW YORK (5/25/11)--As graduation ceremonies loom at high schools and colleges, new grads face a tough job market (CNN Money May 16). Young people age 16 to 24 make up about one-quarter of the nation’s unemployed workers with a 17.6% unemployment rate. At about 3.7 million people, members of this age demographic are having trouble getting their careers started. Today more than ever young people need an education to advance their lives. As the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) 2011-2012 Environmental Scan notes, in 1973 three-quarters of employees in the U.S. had a high school degree or less. High-school dropouts today make up only 11% of the work force. “The trend toward a knowledge-based economy driven by innovation and globalization will continue to accelerate,” the E-Scan reports, calling today’s work world “a college environment.” Indeed the unemployment rate for high school dropouts 25 years and older is 14.6%, reports CNNMoney.com. For those with only a high school degree, the unemployment rate is 9.7%, more than double that of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Still, the hiring picture is better for new college grads this year than last. CUNA’s MoneyMix (May) reports that, in its job outlook update for fall 2011, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers plan to hire 19.3% more graduates this year than they did in the previous year. The available jobs confirm that education is the key for employable young people. A Labor Department survey of employers found that some jobs grew steadily through the recent recession--jobs in health care, education, the federal government, and information technology services. Those industries that lost the most jobs: construction and manufacturing. Some tips for job hunting:
* If you have an affinity for an organization or company, reach out and express your interest. * Focus on quality, not quantity. In other words, seek jobs that appeal to your interests and talents. * Consider using social media to demonstrate your talents. Writing a blog can demonstrate both initiative and an aptitude for technology. * Pick and choose your targets, and work your contacts. Stay in touch even when job interviews don’t work out. * Sell yourself and your knowledge of the company that you are hoping will hire you. * Consider freelancing or working a temporary assignment to gain experience and get your foot in the door. * Don’t forget the personal touches; send a thank you note or e-mail.
And if you’ve been laid off, find more job-search suggestions in “Get Back in the Game After Losing a Job” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Protect against phone bill cramming

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WASHINGTON (5/23/11)--Have you noticed a charge on your phone bill for something you didn’t purchase? You may be the victim of cramming. Cramming is the term that describes unauthorized third-party charges on mobile and landline telephone bills. Consumers can pay for services not offered by their phone carrier--such as subscriptions, collect calls, and charitable donations--through their phone bill. Cramming occurs when unscrupulous third parties place false charges on the bill to collect money for services they didn’t provide. Cramming has the attention of lawmakers in Washington and consumers are seeing some relief. The Senate Commerce Committee’s investigation into the practice has helped reduce the number of unauthorized charges on millions of consumers’ phone bills (Consumer Reports May 17). The problem is far from over, however. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, referred to cramming as an extensive problem for both businesses and consumers during a Federal Trade Commission forum on the subject (The Hill May 11). The good news is that you can take these steps to protect yourself from cramming:
* Understand your bill. Take time to familiarize yourself with the layout of your phone bill, understand the terms used, and be aware of the legitimate charges. Contact your phone carrier if you have any questions. You can also visit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website to learn more about both wireless and landline telephone bills. * Review your charges. Review your monthly phone bill to make sure you’re only being charged for services you’ve requested. Pay close attention to any charges labeled in generic terms such as “service charge,” “activation,” “Web hosting” and “voice mail.” Also look for collect calls you didn’t accept and calls placed to unfamiliar area codes. These may also be indications of cramming. * Be careful with contests and giveaways. Read the fine print for any contests, giveaways and prize drawings you enter. Crammers often use these methods to trick consumers into registering for services. * Block third-party charges. Ask your phone company if it’s possible to block all charges from third parties. Understand that this may limit you from using legitimate third-party services; many, but not all, phone carriers will honor this request.
For more information, read “Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Car maintenance credit use on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (5/20/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program covers do-it-yourself car repair, research on credit use, wedding registry websites, and gift-giving ideas. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Top 5 Car Repair Jobs You Can (and Should) Do Yourself.” Robert Baldassari, master mechanic, AutoMD.com, Carson, Calif., discusses easy do-it-yourself vehicle maintenance that can save you money. * “Unrealistic Overuse of Credit.” Dr. Marsha Richins, professor of marketing at the University of Missouri in Columbia, analyzes research findings on consumers who overuse credit. * “Seven Unique Wedding Registry Websites.” Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert, Santa Ana, Calif., reviews registries that allow guests to give unconventional wedding gifts, such as a donation to charity or toward a couple’s future home purchase. * “Give the Gift That Keeps Giving.” Madeleine Greene, accredited financial counselor and co-author of “The Best Little Money Book,” Barnesville, Md., shares financially useful gift ideas for graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and more.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Keep Your Old Car Running” and “Put Your Financial House in Order Before Tying the Knot” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Lock down your mobile phone

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YONKERS, N.Y. (5/18/11)--Millions of mobile phone users store some kind of personal data on their devices, yet few users have taken precautions to secure their phones (Consumer Reports June 2011). The 2011 national State of the 'Net survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, revealed that only 20% of mobile-phone owners use personal identification numbers (PINs) or passwords on their phones, despite using phones to access financial accounts and medical records and to store other sensitive data. Many phones hold comprehensive contact lists; some even contain a list of passwords. In addition, there’s been an increase in malware attacks against smart phones, most recently the DroidDream malware that infected about 260,000 Android phones. DroidDream was capable of hijacking passwords and banking credentials, but Google quickly shut down the app from Android Market and provided a tool to clean the malware from infected phones. Last week a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on mobile privacy raised questions about how much consumers know about data sharing and their phones. Federal Trade Commission panel member Jessica Rich, deputy director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, testified that most consumers who use location services are unaware that location data--tracked by mobile phone providers--may be used for marketing purposes (Reuters May 11). There is no privacy law to protect mobile-phone users, and consumers are not asked for consent to use the data. Consumers Union recommends these mobile phone protection ideas:
* Set up a PIN. For most phones, go to Settings. For iPhones, look for a choice to set a passcode. Android devices have a “location and security” option. * Use free security services. Many smart-phone makers have over-the-air backup, remote phone locating, remote phone locking, and data-erasing capabilities. * Install Lookout. This software allows you to lock the phone--or even erase data--remotely. * Turn off GPS. If you don’t turn off the global positioning system, your photos could be geotagged. * Use caution when downloading an app. Use recognized sources only, such as Apple’s App Store, Google’s Android Market, and Amazon’s Appstore. Regardless of the source, read reviews and scrutinize requested permissions before downloading an app.
For more information, click on “Keep Passwords Strong, Secret, and Safe” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Teen job market will be tough this summer

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WASHINGTON (5/16/11)--Teens hoping to make some summer cash might need to put in a little extra effort when looking for a job. An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that 25 states still have teen unemployment rates higher than 25%, according to the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), Washington, D.C. “Nationally, nearly one in four teens is looking for work without success,” said Michael Saltsman, research fellow at EPI. Facing a challenging market, teens will need to be proactive when seeking employment. U.S. News & World Report (March 17) offers these suggestions to help teens land that summer gig:
* Don’t wait. Many seasonal employers, such as amusement parks, have filled summer positions already. Apply as early as possible for the best chance of finding a job. * Look beyond summer programs. Government summer-employment programs, often popular with teens, are hiring fewer students this year due to budget cuts. Teens might find more opportunity if they look for work as a waiter or retail-store employee. For instance, The Home Depot plans to hire 60,000 workers this summer--a number comparable with past summers. * Be an entrepreneur. Think about your skills and how you could use them to create your own summer work. Babysitting, lawn mowing, or tutoring are all promising options. Plus, you’ll face less competition from other job seekers. * Dress to impress. Select professional clothing for the interview, even if the position you’re applying for doesn’t require it. This shows maturity and makes a positive first impression. * Don’t throw in the towel. Even if you’re not having any luck finding a job, don’t give up. Many teens admit defeat early on because they don’t expect the job hunt to be so difficult. Remember that summer work is excellent experience and can help you find employment during and even after college. So keep at it--your diligence will likely pay off.
For more information, watch “How to Help Your Teen Enter the Work Force” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

College selection financing on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (5/13/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program examines kid-targeted marketing, college selection, college financing and résumé writing. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “The Pint-Size Consumer.” Adam Hanft, founder and CEO, Hanft Projects, New York, explains how marketers promote products directly to kids. * “Finding the Right College Fit.” Ken Albert, certified college planning specialist, certified financial planner, and author of “Finding the Right College Fit: The Ultimate Guide to College,” Tampa, Fla., shares advice to help students find the best college for them. * “Financing College.” Ken Kamen, president, Mercadien Asset Management, and author of “Reclaim Your Nest Egg: Take Control of Your Financial Future,” Princeton, N.J., provides suggestions to help students and parents make college financing decisions. * “Résumés for Dummies: Your Go-To Guide for Getting Your Foot in the Door.” Jim Lemke, Phoenix, global vice president of organizational development at Opportunity International, Oakbrook, Ill., and technical editor, discusses how to create an effective résumé.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Get Back in the Game After Losing a Job” and use the “What Will It Take to Save for a College Education?” calculator in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Scoot around save gas

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McLEAN, Va. (5/11/11)--High gas prices have persuaded many folks to park their cars and find other ways to get around--many on two wheels. Motorcycle sales among major brands rose 7.2% in the first quarter of this year, and scooter sales are up an even more impressive 50% from this time last year (USAToday.com April 28). According to Vespa, a scooter manufacturer headquartered in Italy, if just 10% of U.S. drivers shifted a third of the miles they travel to motor scooters, it would reduce gasoline consumption by 3.9 billion gallons a year; that would save 198 million barrels of oil and $21.4 billion a year. Scooters average 75 miles a gallon. If you’re thinking about making a two-wheeled purchase, here are things to consider:
* Don’t look at fuel savings alone. You’ll save on gas, but the purchase of a scooter or motorcycle can be expensive. Scooter prices range from $800 up to $9,000. Motorcycles range from $4,000 to more than $20,000 depending on make and model. Also figure in insurance, routine maintenance, and safety gear such as helmet, jacket, gloves and pants. * Check lifestyle fit. Decide whether a motorbike purchase really makes sense for you. If you need to carry cargo or passengers on a regular basis, a motorcycle or scooter might not be the right choice unless you also have another vehicle. * Choose a bike that fits your body. Motorbikes come in many different sizes. Test drive bikes you’re interested in to make sure you’re getting a good fit and one that’s comfortable. * Know the risks. Driving a crotch rocket may look like fun, but will be far more dangerous than driving a car. No matter how careful a driver you are, you can’t predict actions of other drivers. Adverse road conditions such as gravel, ice, or rain can be much more treacherous for motorcyclists than other drivers. Take a training course. To find one near you, visit the Motorcycle Safety Foundation website. * Research financing options. It’s just as important to research interest rates when purchasing a two-wheeled vehicle as it is for a four-wheeled purchase. Check with the auto loan specialists at your credit union to see what rates they offer on motorcycles and scooters.
For more information about driving a motorcycle or scooter, read “Getting Great Gas Mileage on Two Wheels” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Selling your house when you have to

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MADISON, Wis. (5/9/11)--If Charles Dickens were writing about home sales today, his opening line might be: “It was the worse-comes-to-worst of times.…” Although sales of existing homes rose in March, they’re still more than 6% lower than one year ago (National Association of Realtors April 20). Average house prices nationwide peaked in April 2006 and are now 31% lower (S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices February 2011). So chances are you’re not going to get anywhere near what you thought you’d get out of your house five years ago--if you can sell it. Can’t wait out the lousy housing market? When you have to sell, you’d better be bold, according to editors from the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance. Here’s how:
* Be prepared to lower your price. Properly pricing a house for sale is part of the expertise real estate agents charge for and you should expect. Using that advice, which will be based on recent sales of comparable homes in the area, consider asking a bit less than competing sellers. Give that price a fair chance, but don’t cling to it if it doesn’t attract buyers. After a month or two of no action, drop your starting price by as much as 5% to 10% to persuade shoppers who passed the first time around to take another look. * Be prepared to sweeten the deal. If you’ve cut your price as much as you can, don’t feel that you’re handcuffed. Look for possible incentives, such as an earlier move-out date, or appliances, furnishings, or the backyard play equipment that you’d be willing to leave behind. Also consider ways you can help a cash-strapped buyer with upfront expenses, such as closing costs or condo fees, in exchange for accepting your stated price. * Clean it and fix it. Each faulty light switch or constantly running toilet makes shoppers wonder what hidden flaws your house might have. Each scuffed wall and stained shower curtain makes it harder for shoppers to imagine feeling comfortable in your house. Time and money spent on improving your house’s first and second impressions will put your asking price in a more reasonable light. * Think about hiring a “stager.” This is a pro skilled in determining how to make a house presentable. Ask your real estate agent for recommendations, then check out prospects’ before-and-after evidence and their references. Expect to pay a few hundred dollars for an analysis, and up to $100 an hour for repairs and refurbishing, plus expenses, if you decide not to do the work yourself. * Showcase your house online. Sellers today have many options for spreading the word about--and pictures of--houses for sale. Explore all possible Internet “shoppers’ guides,” not only your agent’s standard Web posting, but “enhanced listings” that give you top billing, as well as alternate sites such as Facebook and Craigslist. Housing is a buyer’s market, and under these conditions, the sellers who connect are the ones who are most creative and flexible.
For more ideas, see “You Can Sell Your House--Even in a Down Market” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Money lessons from Mom on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (5/6/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program discusses money lessons from moms, ideas for using a tax refund, Internet overload, and legislation to fight online tracking. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Money Lessons From Mom (A Mother’s Day Thank You).” Stacy Johnson, certified public accountant and executive producer and president, Money Talk News, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., highlights financial advice from moms. * “Five Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund.” Laura Adams, certified personal financial counselor, Gainesville, Fla., outlines options for using a tax refund. * “Do You Suffer From Internet Info Overload?” Steven Rosenbaum, CEO of Magnify.net and author of “Curation Nation,” New York, explains how the increasing amount of content shared online can affect you. * “You’re Being Tracked Online! New Legislation May Protect You.” Eduard Goodman, attorney and chief privacy officer, IdentityTheft911, Scottsdale, Ariz., discusses new rules that could shield you from online tracking.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Step Carefully: Covering Digital Footprint Is Key to Web Privacy” and watch “Talk With Your Children About Family Finances” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Quickly boost your credit score

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ATLANTA (5/4/11)--If you’ve recently tried to refinance your mortgage, or get a new one, you--along with 25% of all mortgage loan applicants--may have found yourself being denied a loan for a home you can afford. What’s up? Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the government entities that back just about every mortgage written, have tightened lending guidelines and raised the bar on credit scores (CNNMoney April 20). The average credit score to get a conventional mortgage at a low interest rate has risen from 720 in 2007 to 760 today. Add to that the fact that you can get rejected for violating even one Freddie/Fannie guideline--for example, having a total debt-to-income ratio that exceeds 45% (in 2009 the limit was 55%). You can do something about it, and quickly. Here are three fast ways to improve your credit score while staying within the new Freddie/Fannie guidelines:
* Lower your credit-utilization ratio. Almost one-third of your credit score is based on your credit-utilization ratio. That’s the total of your credit-card balances divided by the total of your credit-card limits. Pay down balances and use 20% or less of your available credit, and ask your creditors to increase your credit limit. Increasing your credit limit will help you keep your use to 20% or less of your available credit. Just beware of the temptation to spend more just because you can. And keep accounts open--closing unused accounts could hurt your score by instantly raising your utilization ratio. * Correct any mistakes in your credit report. If you’ve been denied a loan, ask your lender for copies of your reports. You also can get one free credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus--Equifax, Experian and Transunion--annually, from annualcreditreport.com. On the same website, you can purchase a credit score from any of the three agencies, and report any mistakes. Correcting mistakes can improve your score quickly, especially if you do it online. The credit bureaus must process disputes within 30 days, and they usually settle them even faster than that. * Pay your bills on time. This hasn’t changed. Missed payments remain in your credit history, counting as a negative for seven years. But the new Freddie/Fannie guidelines are tighter than ever: Missing payments on credit cards, auto loans, and other debts in which the balances do not have to be paid off every month--for example a student loan--will add 5% of your outstanding balance to the debt part of the debt-to-income calculation. In other words, if the outstanding balance on your student loan is $20,000 and you miss a payment, $1,000 gets added to the debt side of your debt-to-income calculation.
For more information, use the Debt-to-Income Ratio calculator and read “Find the Path to Home Ownership” and “Earn and Keep Your Best Credit ‘Grade’” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.