3 Things to Do to Get a Negative Mark Off Your Credit Report

Your credit score takes a hit if you fall behind on payments to a creditor, and again if an account is sent to the creditor’s collection department or sold to a third-party collector. You may be able to repair some damage to your scores by resolving a collections account on your credit reports.

Collections accounts generally stick to your credit reports for seven years from the point the account first went delinquent. You may want them off sooner than that; unpaid collections always hurt your scores. And while newer versions of FICO and VantageScore credit scores ignore paid collections, many lenders still use older formulas that count even paid collections against you.

How to Get a Negative Mark Off Your Credit Report

There are a few ways to get a collections account off your credit report, depending on your relationship with the creditor and the account status.

First, Do Your Homework

Get information on the debt from two places: your credit reports and your own records.

You can get a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus by using AnnualCreditReport.com. Some personal finance websites offer free credit report and score information.

Gather your own records for details on the account, including its age and your payment history.

Between the two, verify these details:

  • Account number
  • Account status (paid, charged off, closed)
  • The date the debt went delinquent and was never again brought up to date

Once you have the details straight, you can decide which approach works for you.

1. If a Collection is on Your Report in Error, Dispute It

You may have a collections account on your credit report that shouldn’t be there. Maybe it’s too old to still be reported, or the collection itself is incorrect.

Too old to be reported: Delinquent accounts should fall off your credit report seven years after the date they first became and remained delinquent. But that doesn’t always happen. For debts that linger longer than they should, file a dispute with any credit bureau that still lists the debt.

If a credit bureau has made a mistake on your report — if you don’t recognize the account or a paid account shows as unpaid, for example — gather documentation supporting your case. Then, file a dispute by using the credit bureau’s online process, by phone or by mail. The bureau has 30 days to respond.

Collection is incorrect: If you think the error is on the part of the debt collector, not the credit bureau, ask the collector to validate the debt to make sure it’s yours. Note that you have 30 days from the date the collector first contacted you to dispute the validity of the debt. If the collector can’t validate, the collection should come off your reports. Follow up to make sure.

2. If You Already Paid the Debt: Ask for a Goodwill Deletion

You can ask the current creditor — either the original creditor or a debt collector — for what’s called a “goodwill deletion.”

Write the collector a letter explaining your circumstances and why you would like the debt removed, such as if you’re about to apply for a mortgage. There’s no guarantee your request will be accepted, but there’s no harm in asking. A record of on-time payments since the debt was paid will help your case.

Your credit record will still show the late payments leading up to the collection action, but removing the collection itself takes away a source of score damage.

3. If You Haven’t Paid the Debt: Pay for Delete

Debt collectors may be willing to take the collections account off your credit report in exchange for payment on the debt. The collections account will be deleted, but negative information about late payments to the original creditor will persist.

Achieving a pay for delete is rare; you’re more likely to get one if a major life event led to the debt going into collections, such as a loss of job or illness.

If the collector does agree, it can be a win-win: The collector gets payment on the debt, and you get the account off your credit report. Note that you may be able to negotiate paying less than the full amount.

Get the agreement between you and the debt collector in writing to ensure the deal is upheld.

Credit Report Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "3 Tips to Remove a Negative Mark from Your Credit Report: A Business Owner’s Guide" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Pros and Cons of Hiring Remote Employees

More people are trading in commutes and cubicles for couches and coffee shops: As of 2016, 43 percent of employees worked remotely at least part of the time, up from 39 percent in 2012, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report.

For small businesses that don’t need employees onsite, high-speed internet, communication apps, and video conferencing make it easier to hire people located virtually anywhere. But forming relationships with remote workers may be more challenging.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring Remote Employees

Here are some pros and cons of hiring remote employees, along with tips on making it work.

Pros: Cost Savings, Flexibility

Businesses that are fully remote don’t need to pay rent and other expenses that come with a physical space, and partially remote businesses can make do with a smaller office.

Joe Scott, owner of Vault Cargo Management, says he always intended to have a remote team because of the flexibility. Lower overhead has been a bonus: Moving his six employees into an office in Green Bay, Wisconsin, would likely cost $1,500 per month.

“It would have hamstrung us as far as being able to grow as quickly as we have been able to, especially early on,” says Scott, who launched the outdoor equipment business in 2015.

And with remote employees, hiring isn’t limited by location. You can select from a larger talent pool and reach candidates with more diverse skills, knowledge and experience.

Remote hiring helped Scott find candidates that best fit his company’s culture. The team includes two employees in Texas, one employee in Wisconsin, one in California, one in New Jersey and one in the Philippines.

“We’re centered around an outdoorsy type of community with our business, so it’s very important we find people who fit that mold,” Scott says.

Employees are also more engaged when they work remotely most of the time and benefit from improved technological support, according to the Gallup study.

And bosses might be less likely to micromanage remote workers and pull them into unnecessary meetings, which can lead to higher retention rates.

“I feel like we haven’t really lost anyone,” Scott says. “A large part is because we’re flexible: As long as stuff gets done, it doesn’t matter when it’s happening.”

Jill Caren is the founder of 2 Dogs Media LLC, a digital strategies agency based in Monmouth County, New Jersey, that employs international part-time remote workers. She previously worked remotely as a designer and developer. With employees in multiple times zones, someone’s always on the clock, which she values.

“Waking up in the morning with work that was delegated the night before is a huge help with our schedule and in exceeding client expectations for delivery,” Caren says.

Cons: Loss of Connection and Discipline

Forming relationships with and among fully remote employees can be harder than in a traditional office.

Employees who work 100 percent remotely have the lowest engagement among remote workers, with engagement levels the same as employees who never work remotely, according to the Gallup study.

Everyone loses the in-person interaction, such as elevator conversations and after-work happy hours. Remote workers might also miss out on morale-boosting team-building events.

“It’s easy to kind of forget they are people on the other side of the screen, simply because we don’t ever really see them,” Scott says. “You have to keep in touch like you would in a physical setting.”

Candidates should also have the self-discipline and independence that’s required to work from home without being distracted by TV, social media, house chores or family and pets.

Caren had to fire a remote worker after six months due to a communication gap.

“Lack of understanding of the project requirements as well as lack of updates on project status were major issues,” Caren says via email.

How to Make it Work

The main keys to success are hiring right the first time, building a culture of trust, and having technology and support that facilitate effective communication.

Cristina Escalante, chief operating officer of The SilverLogic, a computer software company in Boca Raton, Florida, says the interview process screens remote workers for strong communication skills.

“When you’re working collaboratively as a team, you have to be able to think and communicate concepts effectively for someone who can’t see you in person,” Escalante says.

Daily interaction and frequent check-ins can help establish this expectation. And, when possible, annual in-person meetings or retreats help strengthen relationships.

Manufacturing Photo via Shutterstock

Remote Assistant Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The Amazing Trick to Getting the Most Out Your of Remote Employees" was first published on Small Business Trends

What to Do After a Hurricane - Small Business

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, resulting in what’s likely the worst disaster Texas has ever experienced. Officials estimate the recovery will take years, and small-business owners in southeastern Texas face many challenges to rebuilding, even if they had a solid emergency plan.

The Small Business Administration will release a list of local resource partners who can help business owners as soon as the agency can confirm that the partners — many of whom were also evacuated — are up and running, Mark Randle, lead public information officer for the SBA, said Tuesday. The resources will be available Hurricane Harvey, along with information regarding the SBA disaster loan program.

What to Do After a Hurricane

In the meantime, you can take some steps to start the recovery process.

1. Call Your Insurance Agent

Contact your insurance agent as soon as you can. The Insurance Information Institute has a step-by-step guide to help you prepare for the claims process and the adjuster’s visit. Have your policy number handy when you call, along with backup contact information so your insurer can get ahold of you as quickly as possible during the process. It’s essential you file an insurance claim to document that a disaster occurred.

2. Organize Your Records

Gather and organize your business records, which will be helpful when dealing with your insurance agent or applying for disaster relief funding. If your records were destroyed, there are ways to reconstruct them. Don’t access your business until it’s safe to do so, even though this may go against all of your entrepreneurial instincts.

Focus on:

  • Invoices dating back at least a year
  • Bank statements that can be used to track deposits and determine sales revenue
  • Last year’s federal and state tax returns
  • Purchase agreement, if you purchased your business from a broker
  • Business contracts
  • Budgets

3. Research Recovery Financing

The SBA’s disaster loan program provides low-interest loans to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters.

As a business, you may apply for up to $2 million in assistance, which will be made up of a business physical disaster loan that covers real estate, inventories, supplies, machinery and equipment, an economic injury disaster loan to cover working capital needs, or a combination.

According to Randle, the SBA tries to make a decision on each application within two to three weeks. Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, so submit yours as soon as you can.

Online alternative lenders might offer faster financing, but they’ll likely charge higher annual percentage rates than what you’d receive with the help of the SBA.

4. Watch Out for Scams

Natural disasters often bring out the best in people — but they can also bring out the worst.

“It’s a time when there’s a lot of help available — volunteers, faith-based groups — so you can kind of get in that mode where everyone is just good and helping,” Randle says. “But unfortunately, there’s a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Randle advises asking for identification and doing your due diligence before working with contractors, business financial lenders or anyone offering assistance. All SBA employees have official photo IDs and do not charge for any services regarding the disaster assistance program.

Randle also suggests considering local businesses that were serving your area before the disaster to avoid possible scams.

FEMA and local authorities will also release scam alerts as they learn about them.

FEMA Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The First Things Your Small Business Should Do After a Hurricane" was first published on Small Business Trends

What Credit Report Information Is and Isn't Included in Your Personal Credit Report?

The credit bureaus know a lot about you, but they don’t know everything.

Credit Report Information

The bureaus gather data about your past use of credit into reports, and that information makes up your credit scores. Lenders, landlords, employers and others might use your reports to help size you up.

To shake the feeling that they lay your entire financial life bare, take a look at what does and doesn’t show up on your credit reports.

5 Things That Aren’t on Your Credit Reports

1. Salary: It makes a big difference in your day-to-day life, but your salary doesn’t appear in your credit reports, and it doesn’t affect your credit scores.

2. Employment status: Credit reports might list your employers, but they don’t say whether or when your employment ended. The information is for identification purposes and comes from your past credit applications.

3. Marital status and spouse’s credit history: You can get married, but your credit reports won’t. You and your spouse will each have separate credit reports, and his or her credit won’t affect yours. So if you’re worried that marrying someone with poor credit will affect your good credit, you can breathe a sigh of relief. But take note: Accounts you open together — a mortgage or shared credit cards, for example — do show up on both credit reports, and mistakes such as late payments could affect you both.

4. Assets: Your bank balances, retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, and investments or brokerage accounts aren’t listed on your credit reports.

5. 401(k) loans: When you borrow money from yourself, it doesn’t appear on your credit reports. (But it’s also generally not a great idea — it can really set back your retirement saving progress.)

4 Things That Are on Your Credit Reports

1. Identifying information: Credit reports have identifying information including your name, address and birthdate.

2. Credit accounts: Reports list both open and closed credit accounts, including credit limits and payment records. That most often means credit cards and installment loans, such as car loans and mortgages. Rent can be included if your landlord reports it, but most do not.

3. Credit inquiries: This records instances when you’ve applied for credit or checked your scores.

4. Negative financial information: Reports might also include negative information such as payments you’ve made at least 30 days late, defaults, tax liens, debt collections and bankruptcies.

How to Get Your Credit Reports

You have a right to know what lenders and others see when they pull your credit data. You can monitor your credit by signing up for a source of free credit report information. Most sites offer a free credit score as well.

You also get at least one free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Get to know your reports. If something you don’t recognize pops up, it could signal identity theft, and the sooner you discover and address it, the better.

If you see a mistake, contact the credit bureau reporting it and ask to have it removed.

Credit Report Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Small Business Owners, Here’s What Your Personal Credit Score Will Tell Potential Lenders" was first published on Small Business Trends

Cardless ATM Cash Access - Turn Your Smartphone Into a Virtual ATM Card
While walking her dog one evening in San Francisco, Melinda Hickman suddenly realized two things. She needed to get cash to pay her house cleaner the next morning — and her bank card was back at home in her wallet. Unfazed, Hickman signed in to the Wells Fargo app on her smartphone. After a few taps, the app generated an eight-digit code. At a nearby ATM, she punched in the code and her PIN and was able to withdraw the money.

“It was simple and convenient,” she recalls. And because no swipe was involved, the transaction was more secure than a standard withdrawal.

Cardless ATM Cash Access

Convenience and security are two big reasons banks believe consumers will embrace cardless ATM access. Indeed, 2017 is shaping up to be the year cardless ATMs catch on. Since March, when Wells Fargo debuted app-based authentication at all of its 13,000 ATMs in the United States, customers like Hickman have carried out more than 1 million cardless transactions.

Payments-research firm Crone Consulting recently estimated that by fall 2017, 25% of the nation’s 425,000 ATMs would accommodate cardless access. Some examples:

  • Bank of America plans to have all of its ATMs equipped for cardless access by the end of 2017
  • Chase tested a pilot version of cardless access last year. Its system suffered some security lapses. This year, having tightened up account access, the bank is trying again with 600 machines in certain Florida, California and Ohio cities.
  • Smaller banks, including BMO Harris, Bank of Hawaii, Illinois-based Wintrust Financial and Boston-area Salem Five, have been providing this ATM option successfully for the past few years

How Cardless ATMs Work

During ordinary ATM transactions, you establish your identity with your PIN and the data stored on your card’s magnetic stripe. With cardless withdrawals, your phone takes on that task, which it can do in one of two ways:

  • App-generated code: Some codes, such as Wells Fargo’s, are numerical. Others, such as those used by BMO Harris and Bank of Hawaii, are two-dimensional bar codes, also known as QR codes. At the ATM, you enter the numerical code or scan the QR code, proving your identity and authenticating your upcoming transaction. In many cases, you’ll have to enter your PIN as well.
  • Near-field communication: This involves tapping your phone against a sensor attached to the ATM. A chip in your phone emits a signal by which the NFC-enabled ATM confirms your identity. (Apple Pay, Android Pay and similar digital wallet apps use NFC.) You then select the virtual debit card info stored in your app or digital wallet, enter your PIN and conduct your transaction.

Capital One uses NFC for its CashTapp system at brick-and-mortar locations in Boston; Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. Bank of America’s cardless ATMs use NFC as well. Wells Fargo has announced it will add NFC capability to all its ATMs this year; more than 40% already have NFC enabled.

Security is the Motivation

Why the push for cardless ATMs? Convenience is a big factor, though you do lose the flexibility of being able to use every ATM, as you can with a card. More significantly, app-enabled ATM access lessens the risk of having your card data stolen.

Card data are most commonly pilfered with skimmers, hidden devices that read and store account information when someone swipes a card at an ATM. When those data are combined with PINs that have been recorded with pinhole cameras or fake keypads, fraudsters can create and use counterfeit cards for those accounts.

Skimming accounts for more than 98% of ATM fraud losses, according to security firm TMD Security. The Secret Service estimates that consumers and banks lose $8 billion to skimming each year. In 2016, FICO reported, the number of compromised ATMs and point-of-sale card readers rose by 30%.

Consumers are aware of the danger. In one recent survey, 34% of ATM users in the U.S. said they were “very concerned” about card skimmers. In a different poll, 28% of American cash machine users said they wanted ATM authentication to be more secure.

What You Can Do to Be Safer

Cardless access definitely helps, but it’s not the only answer. A few crooks have already managed to hack the new system. As reported by computer security expert Brian Krebs, at least some of last year’s Chase account breaches occurred after thieves stole login details for the victims’ accounts, then altered the accounts’ authentication details to gain access.

“Layers of security need to be added to make it harder for the thieves, but users should also practice good identity hygiene,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. The ITRC recommends adding more authentication factors to your app, such as a fingerprint or second passcode; using antivirus software on your phone; and avoiding links in texts from unfamiliar sources.

The goal is to ensure that if you don’t swipe your card, fraudsters can’t swipe your data.

Smartphone Payment Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Small Business Owners Can Now Use Their Smartphones as Virtual ATM Cards" was first published on Small Business Trends