Monday, April 28, 2014

New legislation hopes to shake up the credit reporting industry and help consumers.

U.S. consumers may be getting a valuable ally when it comes to correctly reporting their credit scores if newly introduced legislation gets passed.  A bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Brian Schatz (D-HI,) among others, would call for accuracy and accountability from the credit bureaus when it comes to reporting consumers’ credit.  The Stop Errors in Credit Use and Reporting (SECURE) Act of 2014 would give the public an avenue for transparency in reporting, a way to access free credit reports, and a way to dispute and correct inaccuracies under protection of the law.  

Errors aren’t harmless since lenders, banks, and employers base their rates, premiums, and hiring decisions, on consumers' credit score.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a study that said up to 40 million Americans have error(s) on their credit reports.  At least 10 million of these errors would result in higher interest rates on loans or put them at other financial detriment.  Errors can take the form of duplicates, misreporting, identity errors and mix-ups, and outdated items. 

Under the current system, Credit Reporting Agencies (CRA’s) put very little man-hours or resources into fixing inaccuracies and errors, and there’s no minimum standard for to accurately match and report data.  However under the new act, there would be new procedures that CRA’s were legally mandated to follow, protecting consumers.

S. 2224 dovetails on a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) which calls for free, verifiable credit reports and scores to all consumers one a year.  That differs from the current system where CRA’s provide a free report that is almost valueless.  They sell “educational” scores and reports to consumers that are rarely used by lenders.  Too often, consumers start by requesting a free copy of their credit score and end up duped into paid credit monitoring services.

The Act would:

“Ensure that agencies send consumers’ disputes and supporting documents to the creditor when there is an error on a report, so that they can thoroughly review the consumer’s claim.
Make it easier for consumers to spot errors in their credit reports by requiring that consumers receive a free copy of their credit report if anyone makes an unfavorable decision based on the report.
Give consumers the ability to request a free credit score along with their annual free credit report to see what credit they might be eligible for.
Give courts the ability to stop a credit reporting agency from reporting inaccurate information and provide the Federal Trade Commission with new authority to stop sloppy practices.”  
For instance, if a consumer filed a legitimate complaint for an error on their report, the CRA would only have 14 days to provide evidence of the reporting.  This would include debt collection agencies affiliated with the CRA’s. 
The SECURE Act is cosponsored by Senator Sanders as well as Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  It’s also endorsed by the Consumers Union, the National Consumer Law Center, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Consumer Action, and U.S. PIRG. 

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  You can read the complete Act here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

10 Strategies to give your credit score a quick boost.

Keeping a great credit score is the best way to save money on your mortgage, car loan, credit cards, and other interest rates, and it can take a lifetime of responsible financial choices to achieve that.  But there are things you can do in the short term to boost your credit score.  These aren’t magic tricks or secret techniques but legal and ethical credit restoration tactics that are at any consumer’s disposal to give their credit score a quick jump.  Remember that every person’s credit history and report is different so we recommend checking in with Blue Water Credit first for a comprehensive review and credit repair strategy.

1. Pull your credit report and check for errors.

The first step should always be to get a current credit report and review it line by line.  Remember that there are three major credit bureaus and they each may report different information, so it might be a good idea to check all three.  Look for errors on larger accounts first, length of history, payments reporting on time, and that your balances are accurate.  Move your way down to the smaller stuff but leave no stone unturned.

2. Dispute the errors.

After this review, you’ll be able to highlight inaccuracies or items that are hurting you that can be addressed.  Dispute each and every inaccuracy or error, no matter how big or small.  You can do this through the credit bureaus online systems here: 

It’s also a god idea to consult with us first to make sure it’s done right and see if our professional representation will help.

3. Pay down balances.

One of the major factors that used to compute your credit score is your ratio of debt to available balances.  To achieve the best credit score, you’ll want to keep your debt to balance ratio around 30% or less on each of your revolving credit items (like credit cards.)  You don’t have to pay them down to $0 and don’t close them, but paying down your balances will boost your score quickly.

4. Don’t necessarily close old accounts.

Like we mentioned above, closing old accounts can actually hurt your credit score in many cases.  One of the other factors of credit scoring is the length of time or seasoning accounts have been open, and the older a credit line, the more it displays an established history.  So don’t close down old accounts or your score may move backward.

5. Cluster your loan shopping.

Too many credit inquiries can hurt your credit score if they’re spread out over a long period of time, so when you’re shopping for the best rates on a loan, make sure to get all of your credit pulls done within a two-week period (approximately.)  If pulls are clustered, the credit bureaus will know you’re shopping for good rates for the same loan, not trying to take out to extend yourself by taking out multiple new debts. 

6. Apply for a credit line increase.

If you can’t pay down your balances to the proper ratio (around 30%,) think about applying for a credit line increase with your existing credit card accounts.  You can do this easily just by calling your existing lender, usually without any paperwork or credit pulls.  If they do increase it, your credit utilization ratio will be better (even with the same amount of debt,) and therefore your score will get a quick boost.

7. Consolidate.

Some times we have multiple credit cards or accounts with the same bank.  Consolidating these into one account can help raise your credit score in certain circumstances – namely, if you can blend a newer account into an older account.  That will help show longer term, seasoned debt and give your score a positive jump, but be careful to manage this one correctly because you also don’t want to throw your ratios out of whack.

8. Add accounts that aren’t showing up.

Many people don’t realize how many accounts can and should report on your credit, but don’t.  You can request that certain paid accounts are added to your credit report.  Of course only add accounts that were in good standing, but this can add well-seasoned positive credit lines that boost your score.  Think about cell phone accounts, cable and internet accounts, utilities, and phone companies when making this request.  They aren’t obligated to report, but they sometimes will if you request it politely and consistently. 

9. Pay by the report date.

We always think about paying our bills on time before their due date, but another tactic to raise credit score is to pay them by the date that credit line reports to the bureaus.  That will help show lower balances if you frequently use your accounts or credit lines.  Call your creditors and ask what day of the month they report.

10. Remember that the law is on your side!

The credit bureaus have to follow the letter of the law when it comes to reporting your credit, so don't be afraid to escalate a complain if inaccuracies or errors aren't erased from your credit report.   You can do this with your creditors, the credit bureaus themselves, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if things get serious.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

When it comes to seasonal allergies, Sacramento suffers.

The City of Trees might as well be called the City of Pollen, because our beloved Sacramento has just been ranked #22 out of the worst cities in America for allergies according to ratings from pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.  That’s no surprise for any of us who have lived in Sactown for long and enjoyed the spring ritual of feeling like you’ve been pepper sprayed directly in the eyes, nose, and throat.  What’s scary is that experts say allergy season allergy season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and getting more intense all over the country due to environmental, air quality, and even health factors.  But there is hope for allergy sufferers in Sacramento who don’t have to feel like zombies from April to August any more.  We’ll walk you through the ABC's of allergies, over-the-counter and prescription remedies, natural cures, and general tips on how to beat them.

 Allergy ABC's:

Allergies affect up to 80 million people in the U.S. every year, or about 25% of the population.  We usually call these seasonal allergies, which include indoor/outdoor allergies, hay fever, and allergic rhinitis.  Most allergies develop in early childhood but for some, they appear later in life due to environmental factors.  They can range from annoying to downright debilitating, and can lead to more serious health concerns like asthma in some cases. 

The most common allergies are:

Tree, grass, weed pollen
Hay fever
Mold spores
Dust mite and cockroach allergens
Cat, dog, and rodent dander

Allergies can be slightly different based on region because of local flora, and in Sacramento we’re susceptible to pollen from mulberry, oak, and ash trees as well as grasses.  Poor air quality also contributes to allergies in Sacramento because it’s a valley where air sits.  According to American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, pollen from Sacramento can spread up to 400 miles away!  So how do we combat seasonal allergies?

Allergies never actually go away but you want to keep the symptoms from flaring up.  They’ve been described as a fire that you want to keep smoldering, not exploding into a big blaze.  So using the right combination of treatments and preventive measures will help you keep that fire to only a smolder.

Over the Counter Allergy Medications:

There are several kinds: Topical nasal sprays, inhaled corticosteroids, antihistamines and oral antihistamines and decongestants

For mild season allergies, most people use over the counter (OTC) nasal sprays and inhalants and oral antihistamines to manage symptoms.  They are not addictive, but can lose their effect after a couple months so consider switching brands every once and a while.  If you’re going to be taking them regularly, it’s important to look for a brand that says “nonsedating,” on the box so they won’t make you sleepy all day.  Or take them after dinner so most of the sedation will occur at night when you’re sleeping, anyway.

Try no to take OTC decongestants to treat allergies.  It may help with the stuffiness and runny nose immediately, but they’re designed to treat colds, not allergy symptoms, and it could be dangerous or counterproductive to take them longer than 7 days.  Ask your pharmacist about side effects.

Prescribed allergy medications:

About 50% of allergy sufferers can treat their symptoms with over the counter meds, while the other half need something stronger and prescribed.  For some people, allergies get so bad they go to an allergist, who can do skin tests to see exactly what you’re most allergic to, and help treat it.  The allergist or doctor can then treat you with allergy shots, exposing the body to small doses of allergens so you can build up a tolerance.  This series of shots usually needs to be started in January or done regularly. 

There are Antihistamines, Leukotriene modifiers that block the action of inflammatory chemicals that are released when your body is exposed to allergens, Intranasal antihistamines that work better than oral, Antihistamine eye drops to reduce redness, swelling, itchiness and wateriness.

There are popular natural remedies: 

A Neti pot helps you rinse out your nasal cavities with a saline solution.  It flushes out the irritants, microbes, and mucus out of your sinuses but doesn’t completely eliminate the problem.  Mix warm water with sea salt or use the solution sold with your Neti pot.

Probiotics are used to treat nasal and sinus symptoms.  A study published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology reports that specific strains were effective in combating allergies in supplement form:  Lactobacilli casei, Lactobacillus paracasei, L. acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium longum.

Drinking a lot of water is great, but most city or bottled water is extremely acidic and acids compound allergy problems.  So try to drink 8-10 glasses a day of alkaline water, which you can buy or convert via special additives or filters.  Staying hydrated helps improves allergies for 38% of participants in one recent study. 

Green tea is rich in an antioxidant phytonutrient called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that blocks histamine and immunoglobulin E (IgE) chemicals linked to uncomfortable allergy-symptoms. 

Sugar is extremely acidic and triggers mucus formation, so cutting back on the white stuff should help stop the sneezing.  By eliminating or minimizing sugar intake for even 30 days (and no artificial sweeteners, either,) you’ll feel your allergies get better.
Cut down on your dairy intake.  Up to 70% of the population can’t tolerate dairy well because they’re missing the enzyme lactase, so drinking milk and ingesting dairy makes your immune system work harder, responding worse to pollen
Other tips to control allergies:

When working outside or going through old books, boxes, or dusty basements or attics, wear a protective allergy mask.  You can buy disposable cheap surgical masks or a longer lasting respirator with a high efficiency particular (HEPA) filter. 

Check the daily pollen counts on the morning news, websites, or even new social media apps, and try not to work or play outdoors on days when it’s high.

Wait until 2 or 3 pm to go outside.  Pollen is released from grass in the morning and rises with the heat as the day goes on, so by early afternoon it should be high enough that you won’t be overly exposed.

Rainy days are great for washing away pollens and allergens, so go out to work or play after the rain.

To control symptoms and avoid flare-ups, take allergy medications before you head outdoors, not after.

On bad pollen days, keep car windows shut and set the ventilation to recirculate.

Don’t use humidifiers or vaporizers inside the house.  It won’t help your allergies because increased humidity can lead to more mold and dust mites.

About 1/3 of allergens end up indoors, so install a high efficiency furnace filter, a HEPA air filter, and HEPA filter on your vacuum.  Change them every spring and early summer.

Washing your sheets at least once a week in 140-degree water will kill dust mites.

You probably can’t wash your pillow as easily, but you can freeze it for 12 hours every few weeks, which will also kill those harmful dust mites.

Start early with prevention – your symptoms might not get really bad until April, but by starting in January or February you’ll help prevent the conditions that create bad allergies.  By the time the weather heats up and trees start budding, your body will be conditioned to respond and you’ll be able to keep that fire to a smolder instead of flaring up.


Do you have any other tips or remedies to help control allergies?  Let us know and we’ll share them!