All About Credit Card Processing Fees

All About Credit Card Processing Fees

When you make a payment with a credit card not all of that money goes to the merchant. Your payment has to be authorized by multiple companies or banks along the way and some of them will deduct fees for their services. A portion of your payment goes to your card issuer’s bank, the merchant’s bank, the big payment networks such as Visa and Mastercard as well as payment processing companies. Here’s what you need to know about credit card processing fees.

What Happens When You Make a Credit Card Transaction

Before we break down the individual credit card processing fees, it’s helpful to give a quick rundown of what happens when you make a payment with your credit card.

When you try to make a purchase with your card, whichever credit card processor the merchant uses will need to receive authorization to complete the transaction. To do that, the first step is to send your information and the transaction details to the appropriate payment network, Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover.

The payment network then contacts the bank that issues your credit card. Your card issuer has to confirm that you have enough available credit to cover the purchase you are trying to make. If you have enough available credit, it will approve the transaction. If you don’t have enough, it will deny the transaction. That approval or denial goes back to the payment network, who sends its approval (or denial) of the transaction back to the merchant’s bank.

This entire process only takes a few seconds but it happens every time you make a purchase with your card. It doesn’t matter whether you swipe, insert a card with an EVM chip or manually enter your credit card number.

Average Credit Card Processing Fees Average Credit Card Processing Fees Visa 1.40% – 2.50% Mastercard 1.60% – 2.90% Discover 1.56% – 2.30% American Express 1.60% – 3.00%

The table above lists an an average range for credit card processing fees from each major credit card provider. These ranges are meant only to give you an idea of how it works. There are a number of things that go into the final processing fees for any individual merchant (more on that later). Credit card issuers also are not always transparent with their fees and how they change over time. This is particularly true of Discover and American Express. However, credit card processing fees generally average around 2%. Another key trend is that American Express regularly charges higher fees.

Credit Card Processing Fees: Interchange Fees

All About Credit Card Processing Fees

An interchange fee is money that merchants pay every time they make a credit or debit card transaction. It’s typically a percentage of the transaction plus a flat rate for each transaction. For example, an interchange fee might be 1% of the transaction plus a flat fee of $0.25 per transaction.

This fee goes to the credit (or debit) card’s issuing bank so that it can cover its own fees. In general, a credit card issuer will charge higher fees for cards that offer more perks of benefits. However, the biggest fee that your card issuer has to pay is an assessment fee. This goes to the credit card network (e.g. Visa or Mastercard) and all networks charge the same assessment fee.

Interchange fees make up the majority of credit card processing costs for a merchant. There is a base part of the interchange fee that is non-negotiable because it is the same no matter what credit card companies a merchant works with. There is also a markup fee, which is an additional cost on top of the base fee. The markup goes to credit card processing companies (learn more about them in the next section) and they vary between processors. These fees are negotiable so a merchant should always compare these fees before choosing a company to process their transactions.

Credit Card Processing Fees: 
Merchant Service Providers

Even though merchants have to contact card-issuing banks to approve every transaction, they do not directly contact those banks. Instead, the transaction goes through a middle man that allows merchants and banks to communicate. This middle man is a merchant service provider (MSP). Common MSPs are Square and Payline.

MSPs charge merchants a certain fee for every transaction, whether it’s a sale, declined transaction or return. They may also charge the merchant a setup fee, a monthly usage fee and a cancellation fee.

Some merchants may have a bank that provides these services, but the majority of merchants have to use a third party MSP.

Online Versus In-Store Transactions

Credit card processing fees are cheaper if you pay in-person versus online. That’s because there is a greater risk of fraud with online payments. If you buy something in a store, the merchant has the ability to confirm that someone if using a real card and that they are the cardholder. This is harder to do with an online payment. The result is higher fees as companies try to protect themselves from fraudulent payments.

MSPs also charge additional fees for providing the software that makes an online payment transaction possible for a merchant.

The Bottom Line

All About Credit Card Processing Fees

It only takes a few seconds for a credit card transaction to go through, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Multiple banks and companies help facilitate transactions and they all want their cut of the profit. This is where credit card processing fees come in. A merchant has to pay an interchange fee every time a transaction is made, some of which is non-negotiable and some of which varies depending on the merchant service provider that a merchant uses.

A merchant bears the brunt of credit card processing fees and some merchants cannot afford to pay all the fees. This is a common reason why smaller merchants do not accept credit cards. These fees are also the reason that some merchants will require a minimum transaction amount in order to use a credit card.

Common Credit Card Fees to Avoid

  • Some credit cards charge an annual fee. This is a fee the cardholder pays each year simply for the privilege of having the card. Annual fees are particularly common for credit cards that offer valuable rewards. Shop around though because you can avoid an annual fee with some of this year’s best rewards credit card.
  • If you plan to travel, using your card outside of the U.S. could leave you paying a foreign transaction fee. Luckily, we have some cards with no foreign transaction fee in our list of the best travel credit cards.
  • One fee that you can avoid with responsible credit card usage is a late payment fee. This is a fee that your card issuer will charge if you do not pay your bill by the due date. You should always pay on time because paying late will not only result in a fee but your credit score could also be negatively impacted.

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Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

If left unchecked, extensive amounts of credit card debt can cripple your finances. The good news is there are many ways to handle debt, though each requires a dedicated effort on your part. But if you can manage to consolidate credit card debt, you will reduce your burden relatively quickly. In the process, you’ll avoid the exorbitant interest rates that accompany most credit cards. Below we take a look at some of the most effective techniques you can use to make this goal a reality.

Find Out Your Credit Score

Before you can work on improving your credit and minimizing your debt, you have to know where you currently stand.

Many credit card issuers allow cardholders to see their FICO® credit score free of charge once a month, so check out if any of your cards include that free credit score. The three major credit bureaus – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – also give out free annual credit reports. If that’s not enough, websites like Credit Karma™ and Credit Sesame provide a free look at your credit score and reports as well.

It is vital to review your credit report with a fine-tooth comb to ensure the accuracy of the information. If you find errors be sure to let the credit bureau in question know so the issue can be eradicated as soon as possible.

Zero Interest Balance Transfer Cards

Although it might seem counterintuitive to apply for another credit card to lessen your debt, a zero interest balance transfer card could really help. These cards typically include an introductory 0% balance transfer Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for six months or more. This ultimately allows you to move debt from one account to another without incurring more interest. However, once the introductory offer concludes, any leftover balances will revert to your base APR.

These offers aren’t totally free, though. Most cards also charge a balance transfer fee that’s usually between 3% and 5% of the transfer. Even with this initial payment, you will almost always still save money over leaving your debt where it stands currently.

If you want to consolidate credit card debt, here are three different balance transfer credit cards you could apply for, with varying introductory interest rates and transfer fees:

Balance Transfer Credit Cards Card Intro Balance Transfer APR Balance Transfer Fee Chase Slate 0% APR for first 15 months; then 16.49% to 25.24% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness No fee for first 60 days; then $5 or 5% of each transfer, whichever is greater Citi Double Cash Card 0% introductory APR for 18 months from date of first transfer when transfers are completed within 4 months from date of account opening; then 15.49% to 25.49% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness $5 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater BankAmericard® credit card 0% APR for first 15 billing cycles; then 14.49% to 24.49% Variable APR, depending on your creditworthiness No fee for first 60 days; then $10 or 3% of each transfer, whichever is greater Take Out a Personal Loan

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

The thought of taking out another loan probably doesn’t sound too appetizing to consolidate credit card debt. But a personal debt consolidation loan is one of the speediest ways to rid yourself of credit card debt. More specifically, you can use it to pay off most or all of your debt in one lump sum. That way, your payments are all merged into a single account with your lender.

The APR and length of the offered loan and the minimum credit score needed for approval are the main factors that should go into your final decision on a lender. By concentrating on these three components of the loan, you can map out what your monthly payments will be. As a result, you can more easily implement them into your financial life.

Applying for a personal consolidation loan can have a detrimental effect on your credit. Unfortunately, most institutions will run a hard credit check on you prior to approval. However, many online lenders don’t do this, which might ease your mind depending on the severity of your debt situation.

These loans are available through a wide variety of financial institutions, including banks, online lenders and credit unions. Here are a few examples of some of the most common debt consolidation lenders:

Common Debt Consolidation Lenders Banks Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Fifth Third Bank Online Lenders Lending Club, Prosper, Best Egg Credit Unions Navy Federal Credit Union, Unify Financial Credit Union, Affinity Federal Credit Union Auto or Home Equity Loan

If you own assets like a home or car, you can take out a lump-sum loan based on the equity you hold in them to consolidate credit card debt. This is a great way to reuse money you paid toward an existing loan to take care of your debt. When paying back your auto or home equity loan, you’ll usually pay in fixed amounts at a relatively low interest rate. Even if this rate isn’t great, it’s likely much better than any offer you’d receive from a card issuer.

Equity loans are technically a second mortgage or loan, meaning your house or car will become the loan’s collateral. That means you could lose your house or car if you cannot keep up with your equity loan payments.

Create a Budget

Tips to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

To build a budget, you first need to figure out your approximate monthly net income. Don’t forget to take into account taxes when you’re doing this.

You can then start subtracting your variable and fixed expenses that are expected for the upcoming month. This is where you will likely be able to identify where you’re overspending, whether it’s on food, entertainment or travel. Once you’ve completed this, you can begin cutting back where you need to. Then, use your surplus cash to pay off your debt one month at a time.

It shouldn’t matter if you’re dealing with substantial credit card debt or not. A monthly spending budget should always be a part of how you manage your finances. While this is likely the slowest way to eliminate debt, it’s also the most financially sound. At its core, it attempts to fix the problem without taking funding from an outside source. This should leave very little financial strife in the aftermath of paying off your debt.

Professional Debt Counseling

Perhaps since you’ve found yourself in serious debt, you feel like you want professional help getting out of it. Well the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®) is available for just that reason. The NFCC® has member offices all around the U.S. that are certified in helping you consolidate credit card debt.

These counselors won’t only address your current financial issues and debt. They’ll also work to create a plan that will help you avoid this situation again in the future.

Agencies that are accredited by the NFCC® will have it clearly displayed on their website or at their offices. If you’re not sure where to look, the foundation created an agency locator that’ll help you find a counselor nearby.

Borrow From Your Retirement

Taking money early from your employer-sponsored retirement account obviously isn’t ideal. That’s means borrowing from your retirement is a last-ditch alternative. But if your credit card debt has become such a handicap that it’s affecting all other facets of your life, it is a viable option to consolidate credit card debt.

Because you are technically loaning money to yourself, this will not show up on your credit report. Major tax and penalty charges await anyone who has trouble making payments on these loans though. To make matters worse, if you quit your job or are fired, you’re typically only given 60 days to finish paying it off to avoid incurring a penalty.

Tips To Consolidate Credit Card Debt

  • If you take the time to come up with a budget, don’t let it go to waste. While you might find it tough to stick to, especially if you’re trying to cut back, it is the best way to manage your money correctly. Even if a budget becomes habit, stay vigilant with where your money is being spent.
  • Although a financial advisor will cost money, he or she might be able to help you keep your finances in check while ultimately helping you plan for the future as well. However, if this isn’t an option for you financially, stay on track with your NFCC® debt counselor’s plan.
  • There are so many ways to gain access to your credit score that there’s virtually no excuse for not knowing it. It doesn’t matter if you do it through one of the top three credit bureaus, FICO® or one of your card issuers. Just remember to pay attention to those ever-important three digits as often as possible.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

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What Is the CVV on a Credit Card?

What Is the CVV on a Credit Card?

If you’ve made a purchase online or over the phone, you’re probably familiar with the three sets of credit card numbers you have to hand over. These numbers include the credit card number, the expiration date and the CVV. If you’re an online shopping pro, you’ll know where to find the CVV. But what exactly is the CVV on a credit card?

What Is the CVV on a Credit Card?

A credit card’s CVV acts as another line of security against fraud. The CVV, or card verification value, can also be referred to as the CSC, or card security code. These numbers serve as one of the most important anti-fraud measures for a credit (or debit) card, especially with the rise of virtual transactions. So when you make a purchase online or over the phone, giving the CVV assures a merchant that the purchase is legitimate and authorized.

When you use your card in person, retailers can check your ID to make sure you’re the cardholder. But merchants can’t do the same when you make an online purchase. Instead, the CVV serves a substitute for personal identification. Plus, your card carrier can verify your card’s unique CVV in the event verification is needed.

Not all merchants require you to enter your CVV when making a purchase. This doesn’t make a merchant illegitimate, however. In any case, you always want to make sure you’re handing over your credit card information to a merchant you trust.

Where to Find Your Card’s CVV

Card carriers print their CVVs in different places on their cards, so it’s important to know where the CVV is on your card(s). If you have a Visa, Mastercard or Discover card, you can find the three-digit CVV on the back of your card to the right of the signature strip. The number may also be adjacent to either your full credit card number, or just the last four digits of it.

However, if you have an American Express card, you can find the CVV on the front, right side of your card. Also note that Amex calls this number a card identification number (CID). An Amex CID is also four digits instead of three.

What Is the CVV on a Credit Card?

How a CVV Protects You

A card’s CVV comes in handy mostly for online purchases. Again, it acts as another line of defense against fraud. So even if a hacker gains access to your credit card number, expiration date and full name, they still need your CVV to complete the transaction. Luckily, CVVs aren’t as easily obtainable as your other credit card information.

This is due to the Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standard (PCI DDS). This was created by Amex, Discover, Mastercard, Visa and other credit card leaders to establish standard rules for credit card information storage. One of its main stipulations states that merchants cannot store your CVV after you make a purchase. However, there’s nothing preventing merchants from storing the rest of your card’s information, like the credit card number. This makes it harder for criminals to find the CVV attached to your credit card number.

The CVV also works in tandem with a credit card’s magnetic strip and the newer EMV chip technology. The printed CVV on your card is embedded in the card’s magnetic strip. The chip has a digital CVV equivalent called the Integrated Chip Card Card Verification Value (iCVV). So when you use your card in person, whether you swipe or insert the chip, your CVV will still be confirmed.

Limitations of a CVV

What Is a CVV on a Credit Card?

Typically, the issues that arise with CVVs are often self-inflicted by the cardholder. Since it’s hard for fraudsters to obtain your CVV through a credit card database, they turn to other illegal means. This includes phishing and physically stealing your cards.

These scams occur as the occasional email or pop-up on your computer, enticing you to make an online purchase. Some scams are easy to spot, due to misspelling or other obvious errors. However, because online merchants so often ask you to enter your CVV, hackers can also include that requirement on their fraudulent page. If you enter your credit card information, including the CVV, the hackers have easily gained access to your account.

Of course, there is always the possibility of getting your credit card physically stolen. In this case, the thieves don’t need to hack anything since all your information is there on the card. Your best bet is to cancel your card as soon as possible, request a new card from your issuer and dispute any unauthorized charges made to the account.

Final Word

What Is a CVV on a Credit Card?

While in-person purchases aren’t entirely foolproof, online transactions put you and your information more at risk of fraud. To combat this, credit card providers created CVVs and their associated regulations to help keep your personal credit information safe. You can help protect yourself, too, by only entering your card information on websites you trust.

Tips for Keeping Your Card’s Info Safe

  • It’s important to research and find the right credit card for you. When you’re looking through a card’s features, you should look at its security features. Make sure you’re comfortable with its limits.
  • Never engage with any emails, ads or websites that you don’t immediately recognize as legitimate. This includes not clicking on suspicious links and not entering your credit card’s account number, expiration date and especially the CVV.
  • Be sure to look for a “Secure” tag to the left of the web address of any site you’re making an online purchase through. Only encrypted sites feature these tags, so you can feel confident your card’s information will be safe in these transactions.

Find the Top 3 Financial Advisors for You

Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with top fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by Smartasset and is legally bound to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

talk to a credit bureau

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax Reason for Calling Phone Number General inquiries 800-525-6285 Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273 Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191 Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285 Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191 Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045 Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian Reason for Calling Phone Number Buying a credit report,

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file 888-397-3742 or

888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN) Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000 Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239 Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

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How Does a Line of Credit Work?

How Does a Line of Credit Work?

When it comes to borrowing money, you have a few options like loans and credit cards. With a loan, you receive a lump sum all at once. You then have to repay that amount, plus interest over time. You also have the option of taking out a line of credit from a bank or credit union. A line of credit is more similar to a credit card than to a loan. Let’s take a look a how a line of credit works exactly.

How Lines of Credit Work

A line of credit works like a credit card. You receive a set credit limit and your borrow money as you need. You can get a line of credit in a wide range of amounts, whether you need $1,000 or $100,000 or more. This is different from a loan, where you receive a lump sum all at once and pay it back over time. With a line of credit, you get to spread out your usage over days, months or even years. You only have to repay what you’ve actively borrowed.

For example, say you need some extra money to make some home repairs. A loan would give you $10,000 upfront (if you qualify). You almost always have to start repaying that immediately. On the other hand, you can get a line of credit for $10,000 if you think you’ll need that much. You can borrow whenever you need, say for a new roof one month and then a new kitchen the next. You don’t even have to borrow the entire $10,000 if you need. This can help you borrow in smaller amounts which makes it much easier to pay back.

Just like credit cards, lines of credit also carry interest rates. Your credit report will determine the rate and the amount of the credit line. This rate determines how much your debt grows over time. However, the rate only applies once you’ve actually borrowed and spent the money. Simply having a line of credit won’t accrue interest if you haven’t spent any of it.

To access your line of credit, you can write a special check, on the institution’s website, over the phone or in person at an institution’s branch. This is during your “draw period.” You’ll then pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest, during the “repayment period.”

How to Get a Line of Credit

How Does a Line of Credit Work?

Just like with any credit application, you’ll need to provide the lender with your personal and financial information. This includes your Social Security number, date of birth, home address, employment information, income and more. Often, it’s not enough to list the information. You’ll need to provide proof this information like pay stubs.

Lenders will also look at your credit score and credit report. They want to ensure you’re safe enough to lend to. If you have a history of making late payments or going into debt, you probably won’t qualify for a line of credit. This is especially true since lenders never know when you will actually borrow from the line of credit.

Managing Your Line of Credit

The beauty of a line of credit is that you have it there when you need it. But if you don’t borrow from it, you don’t have to pay a penny of interest. It can be used for home or car repairs, a wedding, college expenses and more.

As with any other type of credit, you should only borrow what you absolutely need. It’s equally as important to pay it back as agreed. Review your bill each month and, if you can, make more than just the minimum payment. If any extra money shows up in your budget, like a raise or a bonus, put that money toward the loan. To stay on top of your payments and avoid accruing too much interest, you might want to automate your payments directly from another bank account.

Should I Get a Line of Credit?

How Does a Line of Credit Work?

Lines of credit are good for upcoming big purchases where the total cost isn’t entirely known. Home repairs are a good example since unexpected costs do tend to spring up. You may also open a line of credit associated with your checking account if you anticipate running into overdraft fees and costs.

You’ll also want to review the fees and rates that may come with a line of credit. Fees can often includes late fees, fees for accessing your account and application fees. There may also be closing costs when you close the deal. Plus, interest rates tend to be higher for lines of credit. They’ll go even higher if your credit isn’t up to par. This will vary from institution to institution so be sure to check the paperwork or ask a representative.

Finally, it’s important to only ever borrow money when you can afford to pay it back. This means not only what you borrow, but any fees and interest you may accrue. Excessive borrowing can get you into serious trouble and debt.

Bottom Line

Lines of credit can really come in handy when you have a big purchase in the future, but you don’t know the exact cost. They allow for much more flexibility in borrowing and repaying the amounts. Plus, if you’re responsible about it, you’ll end up borrowing and repaying much less than you would with a regular loan. Just always remain aware about any fees, rates and due dates so you can stay on top of your finances and debts.

Tips for Staying out of Debt

  • The key to staying out of debt is simply to spend and borrow what you can afford. That way, it will be easier to pay back on time and in full so you don’t incur any late fees or accrue any interest.
  • If you feel yourself about to fall under a pile of credit card debt, you have the option of transferring that credit card balance to a balance transfer credit card. That will give you some time to pay back that amount at no interest. You’ll have to do so quickly, though, before the promotional period ends.

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Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

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Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card is an important security step for protecting your card’s information if it should fall into the wrong hands. Merchants are supposed to check that the signature on the card matches the signature on the sales receipt as a security precaution. If a card has no signature on the back, they aren’t required to process the ensuing payment.

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Signing the back of your credit card is always better than not, without exception. It’s another step provided by your credit card company to try and keep your personal information as safe as possible. When used in conjunction with the card verification value (CVV) on your card, it creates a line of defense should a fraudster try to swipe your plastic.

While the signature itself doesn’t protect you, the ability for a salesman to match it to your existing official signatures is where its value lies. This is done most commonly with your driver’s license, or if you’re abroad, your passport is a fine stand-in. In other words, taking a few seconds to sign that little black or white strip could be the difference between your identity being stolen and not.

Here’s a look at how the major credit payment networks handle unsigned cards:

Mastercard

Mastercard urges merchants in its payment network not to accept charges from customers with unsigned credit cards. On the back of every Mastercard, it even says “not valid unless signed.”

The company tries to instill in merchants that they should not process customer transactions unless the customer’s signature appears in the signature space on the back of the card.

If the card has no signature, merchants are to request the customer sign the card. A merchant also will need to see a confirming form of identification.

Visa

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

At Visa, merchants must verify that the signature on the back of any card matches the customer’s signature on the transaction receipt and any identification. They want to know you are who you say you are and recreating the same signature on demand when you sign for a credit card transaction is one way to do it.

Visa considers an unsigned credit card to be invalid. The words “Not Valid Without Signature” appear above, below or beside the signature panel on all Visa cards. Turn over the card and you’ll see it. And like Mastercard, Visa urges merchants not to accept unsigned credit cards.

When a customer presents an unsigned Visa card to a merchant for payment, Visa requires a merchant to check the customer’s identification by requesting a government-issued form of ID.

Where permissible by state law, the Visa merchant may also write the customer’s ID serial number and expiration date on the sales receipt. (Beginning in California in 1971, the recording of personal information during credit card transactions has become illegal, with the passage of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act.)

Visa also instructs merchants to ask the customer to sign the card, within full view of the merchant. They then check that the customer’s newly written signature on the credit card matches the signature on the customer’s ID. If a customer refuses to sign a Visa card, the card is considered invalid and cannot be processed. Merchants will then be forced to ask the customer for another form of payment.

Discover

Discover keeps things very simple. The company urges its cardholders to sign the backs of their Discover cards as soon as they activate them.  This is because the signature makes the card valid and a cashier may decline the transaction if the card is not signed. 

American Express

American Express also urges retailers to compare a customer’s signature on the back of an American Express card with the transaction sales receipt. And if an American Express card is presented unsigned, the clerk is to request a photo ID of the customer with a signature. Following this, they must request the customer sign the back of the American Express card and the sales receipt while the clerk is holding on to the customer’s photo ID.

Writing “See ID” on a Credit Card

Should You Sign the Back of Your Credit Card?

Writing “see ID” or “check ID” on a credit card might seem like a great way to protect from fraud. But it actually may invalidate the card. This is because only your valid signature that a merchant can match with a signature on a sales receipt is acceptable. In some cases, the merchant may ask you for another card to make your purchase. To save yourself from a slower-than-needed transaction at the cash register, sign your credit card as intended.

Tips for Protecting Against Credit Card Fraud

  • Only carry the credit cards you need. When you travel, keep a list of the credit cards that you have with you. Make note of their full account numbers and expiration dates, as well as contact numbers for the issuers. It will come in handy if something should happen to your wallet, phone or both when traveling.
  • Go paperless and start checking your credit card statements online to avoid having to keep and shred your paper statements. Just be sure to keep your online passwords in a safe place and to update them from time to time.
  • Check your credit card transactions each month to check for errors or suspicious activity. Quickly report any transaction you don’t recognize to your card issuer.

Find the Top 3 Financial Advisors for You

  • Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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What Is Cash Back?

What Is Cash Back?

Cash back is a rewards benefit that many credit cards offer to cardholders. By taking advantage of it, you’ll receive back a prespecified percentage of certain purchases you make. Many credit card companies will provide higher cash back rates on certain types of purchases, such as airfare, gas, food and more. Cash back is just one way that credit cards offer rewards, as mileage and points are some alternatives.

Before you spend too much money with your credit cards, make sure you have a financial plan in place. Speak with a financial advisor today.

What Is Cash Back?

The most commonly recognized style of cash back is what you have likely seen advertised as cash back credit cards. This specifically refers to earning a certain percentage of your credit card purchases back as cash rewards. However, cash back rates vary widely, as do the categories that they apply to.

You usually won’t see credit card cash back rates higher than 5%, while 1% is the typically minimum you will earn. Cash back categorization is significantly more complex though, with a merchant category code (MCC) system being the main organizing force.

MCCs run the entire cash back industry, as they ultimately decide how each purchase you make is classified. These designations coincide with cash back rates set by the issuer of your card. For example, you could use your card for a $50 dinner at a steakhouse, which has a “restaurant” code. If your card offers a 2% cash back rate on all spending at restaurants, you’d earn $1 cash back.

Familiar alternatives to cash back include point- and mile-based programs, though many cardholders are partial to cash back. Cash back affords cardholders an independence that is ideal, since you can redeem it for nearly anything.

Popular Cash Back Credit Cards

What Is Cash Back?

Discover, American Express, Mastercard and Visa all have cash back rewards credit cards available for prospective cardholders. Each abide by their own set of regulations, though card issuers decide on cash back rates, promotions and bonuses. Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Capital One represent some of the most active card issuers on the market today.

Below are a few examples of what you can expect to earn when looking for a cash back credit card:

Cash Back Credit Cards Card Name Cash Back Rates Cash Back Bonus Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi 4% cash back on eligible gas up to $7,000 per year, 3% cash back on eligible travel and restaurants, 2% cash back in-store and online with Costco and 1% cash back elsewhere None Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card 3% cash back in a category of your choosing, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% cash back on all other purchases (up to a quarterly cap of $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/choice category purchases) $200 bonus cash back for spending at least $1,000 over your first 90 days Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back everywhere $150 cash back bonus when you spend $500 during your first three months Citi Double Cash Card 1% cash back on your purchases and another 1% cash back when you pay your bill None Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back on groceries and 1% cash back elsewhere $300 cash back bonus for $3,000 spent over your first three months TD Cash Visa® Credit Card 3% cash back on dining, 2% cash back at supermarkets and 1% cash back on everything else Earn $150 cash back when spending $500 within the first 90 days (See Terms) USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Unlimited 1.5% cash back on everything None Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express 3% cash back on up to $6,000/year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% cash back on other purchases $150 bonus cash back for spending $1,000 over your first six months Getting Cash Back at Retailers

What Is Cash Back?

Picture this: you’re buying some groceries on a Sunday morning, but know you’ll need $40 cash to fill up your car with some gas later. You could swipe your debit card at the supermarket and then head over to the ATM. Or you could ask for cash back right from the cashier, eliminating the extra errand.

The above situation represents the alternative definition of cash back. It’s ultimately the use of a cash register as if you were swiping your debit card at the ATM. When you request cash back from a cashier, your bank account will be charged the amount you asked for. This enables the funds to be pulled from your account so the cash can be placed in your hand.

Although this generally only applies to debit cards, there are a few exceptions for credit cards. Discover® allows cardholders to ask for cash back at more than 50 large retail stores without a transaction fee.

Bottom Line

There are many benefits to utilizing credit card rewards programs. But spending money that technically isn’t yours will always involve some level of risk. If you’re in good financial shape, though, cash back and other types of credit card rewards can help you take more vacations, save money on purchases and more.

Credit Card Tips

  • Managing your credit cards and any debt you accumulate using them is a major part of your long-term financial outlook. Consider working with a financial advisor to make sure you’re managing your money with your goals for the future in mind. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can connect you with up to three advisors in your area. Get started now.
  • If you’re someone who wants freedom when spending credit card rewards, you may prefer cash back to a points- or mileage-based reward system. However, keep in mind that cash back rates are sometimes less than those in point-centric programs.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SIphotography, ©iStock.com/MJ_Prototype, Â©iStock.com/Juanmonino

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How Does Cash Back Work?

How Does Cash Back Work?

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Credit card companies typically offer a plethora of rewards options for their cardholders to take advantage of. But cash back has long been a favorite of many, as it gives you the chance to earn cold, hard money for making everyday purchases. If you’re confused about how cash back works, read on for a full explanation.

How Cash Back Works

At its core, cash back refers to a predetermined percentage of a purchase you make being returned to you as cash rewards. Cash back rates typically range between 1% and 5%, though there are some outliers to be mindful of. Credit card issuers will usually clearly label what types of purchases earn what level of cash back. But like anything in the credit card industry, you must read the fine print.

This is mainly because all purchases and cash back rewards are governed by merchant category codes, or MCCs. Credit card companies ultimately determine these designations, with Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover calling the shots. Some common codes are “restaurant,” “department store,” “airline” and “entertainment,” among others. So if you earn 5% bonus cash back at restaurants and you go to Burger King — which has a restaurant MCC — you’ll get that 5% back.

But what these limiting MCCs sometimes don’t take into account are businesses that could fit into more than one category. Included in this group are hotels, superstores like Walmart, tourist attractions like museums and other multi-faceted establishments. In turn, you could lose out on cash back if you’re confused about which category a purchase you made falls into.

As an example, let’s say your family orders room service while on vacation in The Bahamas. You pay with your credit card thinking you’ll get the advertised 3% cash back on dining. When your credit card statement comes in the mail, however, you’ve only received the base 1% earnings. This is because the MCC of your hotel is just that, a hotel, which leaves your credit card issuer blind to what you really bought.

Unfortunately situations like these often offer very little recourse, as your card’s issuer has no ability to change these codes. In fact, only the major credit companies can change their own code selections.

New cardholders will often receive cash back promotions and bonuses. These offers can either be recurring — monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. — or simply for just one period of time, usually at the beginning of your account’s life. Hypothetically, a recurring bonus might look like this: “Earn 3% cash back at supermarkets and wholesale clubs, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.” On the other hand, a one-time promotion might allow for 5% cash back on airfare purchases made during the first three months you’re a cardholder.

Depending on your card, cash back may be capped or it could expire after a period of time. While some cards feature both an earnings limit and expiration dates, others may have no restrictions. All cash back cards have their own, unique system surrounding them. So it’s important to refer to your documentation whenever you have a particular question.

Using Your Cash Back Earnings

How Does Cash Back Work?

The vast majority of cash back credit cards offer variations of the same choices for redeeming rewards. Most often, you’ll see statement credits, checks, bank account deposits, gift cards and charitable donations available to you.

  • Statement credit – Instead of receiving your cash back in-hand, you can apply it to your upcoming monthly bill, saving you money in the process.
  • Check – As one of the more direct ways of redeeming cash back, checks allow you to basically do whatever you want with its value.
  • Bank deposits – Eligible accounts usually include checking accounts, savings accounts or investment accounts.
  • Gift cards – With this option, you can convert cash back into retail credit at a store or website at which you want to shop.
  • Donations – Many card issuers have open relations with charities. These partnerships open the door for you to aid your favorite causes with real money.

It’s by far the easiest to redeem cash back through your card issuer’s website that it provides. Here you’ll not only see your rewards status, you will also know every possible redemption you could make. If you’d rather talk to a real person, most companies still have rewards phone lines you can call, as well.

Those who’d rather not have to worry about where their rewards currently stand will find that a redemption threshold might be helpful. Not all cards offer this feature. But if yours does, set a threshold at which your cash back is automatically redeemed in any manner you desire. Additionally, some cards require you to attain a certain amount of cash back before redeeming is possible.

Cash Back With Each Major Credit Card Company

what is cash back

There are tons of different cash back cards, depending on your credit score you may be eligible for some but not others. While it’s impossible to give universal specifics for each credit card company, below we’ve provided overviews of some of the most popular cash back cards.

Citi Double Cash Card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 1% at the time of purchase, 1% when you pay them off

Limit or Expiration: No limit; Expires if no eligible purchases are made for 12 months

Redemption Options: As a check, statement credit or gift card

The “double cash” nature of the Citi Double Cash Card means you effectively earn cash back twice: first when you make the initial purchase and again when you pay your credit card bill. The 12-month expiration is fairly standard and the lack of limits on how much cash back you can earn is generous. Statement credits, checks and gift cards are three of the most common redemption choices, so it’s no surprise to see them offered here.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 3% in the category of your choice, 2% on purchases at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: Cash back on choice category, grocery stores and wholesale club purchases is limited on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Once you have $25 or more, you can redeem as a statement credit, a check or a deposit to an eligible Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® account

Take note of the combined $2,500 quarterly limit on 3% and 2% cash back in category of choice and at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, respectively. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card also requires cardholders to have a minimum of $25 in earned cash back before they can redeem.

Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card
(American Express)

Cash Back Rate: 3% on U.S. supermarket purchases, 2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department store purchases, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: 3% rate at U.S. supermarkets is limited to $6,000 a year in purchases then drops to 1%; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: After earning at least $25, redeem as a statement credit in $25 increments; Gift cards and merchandise redemptions from time to time

Amex offers some of the strongest rewards cards around, and the Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card is no exception. It does come with some limits; namely the 3% cash back rate on U.S. grocery store purchases is capped at $6,000 in purchases a year. At that time, cardholders earn 1% in cash back on groceries.

Discover it® Card
(Discover)

Cash Back Rate: 5% in rotating categories like gas station, supermarket, restaurant, Amazon.com and wholesale club purchases, 1% on other purchases; Full cash back match at the end of your first year

Limit or Expiration: $1,500 cap on purchases that earn the 5% rate each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Statement credits, deposits to a bank account, gift cards and eCertificates, pay with cash back at select merchants and charitable donations

Discover cards offer great first-year cash back matches and distinctive cash back categories. These traits are on full display with the Discover it® Card. This includes 5% cash back on purchases ranging from dining to Amazon.com. However, there are limits for this rate and you have to opt in to categories each quarter to qualify. This card also offers five redemption options — the most on this list.

Tips to Maximize Cash Back Potential and Minimize Credit Risk

  • Cash back is one of the most prolific perks that the modern credit card market has to offer. But it’s important that you don’t overspend outside of your means just for the sake of rewards. Because many cash back cards come with higher annual percentage rates (APRs), this could force you into large, unsustainable interest payments.
  • Whenever possible, swipe your card for purchases in bonus categories. Not all cards have these to offer, but most do. So make sure you know which cards in your wallet offer bonuses at places like gas stations and supermarkets.
  • Know what types of redemptions — statement credits, bank account deposits, gift cards etc. — work best for you. This will drastically narrow down your card options, making the decision process much simpler.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/4×6, Â©iStock.com/Pgiam, Â©iStock.com/Ridofranz

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

The post How Does Cash Back Work? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

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