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

4 Reasons Why Retail Stores Fail

A major brick-and-mortar retail store closed recently in the town where I live. The problem for those of us who live here or in the surrounding area is that it was one of the few stores like it for over a hundred miles.

If I want to buy any of the kinds of products they were selling I now have to either do it online, or jump in my car and drive at least an hour and a half. One way.

That’s a lot of time wasted driving back and forth when I could be doing something else, like running my business.

But, the retail chain I am talking about is not alone. Every few months I hear about other retail businesses that are closing some of their store fronts.

Why Retail Stores Fail

I started wondering why so many businesses are closing their brick-and-mortar locations. After some pondering, I feel like there are 4 main reasons these retail businesses may be dying out.

1. Prices of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

When I shop these days I do a lot of it online. There are several reasons for this, but one includes price.

Many physical stores simply can’t compete with their online counterparts when it comes to what they charge.

Trying to save money in your personal budget causes you to be more selective with your shopping. Retail customers are more focused on stretching their budgets these days than ever before.

It stands to reason, then, that you aren’t going to waste time and gas money to go to a brick and mortar store. Why would you when you can get the same or similar products online for less money? This is especially true since many online retailers are also offering free shipping to your doorstep these days.

2. Choices

Another of the reasons most brick-and-mortar retail businesses are dying out is simply that we now have more choices. Again, the internet has completely changed the way consumers used to buy their products.

With the touch of a few buttons on your phone or computer you can find the products you want and need. In fact, the same products are usually available at anywhere from a few to a thousand or more different retailers.

Anytime you needed something in the past, you had to go to a store to get it because you had no other choice. Now, if you don’t need it immediately you can order it online and still have it at your door within a couple of days.

3. Convenience

I don’t know about other people, but my time is extremely valuable these days. Because time is a factor in how I make my living, I am forced to make the most of it.

This compels me to shop in the most convenient way I can in order to optimize the number of hours in my day. Therefore, I can take a quick break from work and do part of my personal and household shopping online whenever I want.

I am sure convenience drives other consumers to shop online as well. Rather than going to a brick-and-mortar store, you can shop any time you want and get what you need.

4. Customer Service

Have you ever gone into a store and been treated rudely or ignored by the sales people? Everyone experiences this at one time or another, so I’m sure you’re not an exception.

Poor customer service just doesn’t cut it anymore in the brick-and-mortar world. If a retailer wants to keep your business, they must treat you well and be willing to give you their time.

They must do this because otherwise you can go somewhere else or order online to get the same products for the same amount of money or possibly less.

With everything said, are retail stores going to continue to die out until there are none left? I don’t think so.

My feeling is that the world of retail is evolving and will continue to evolve. It may even become better despite the fact that it may be due to necessity.

But with all of these reasons most brick-and-mortar retail business are dying out, retailers have no choice. They either change to give customers what they want, or they’ll eventually die.

Image: Due.com

This article, "Brick and Mortar Business Failing? Here Are 4 Possible Reasons" was first published on Small Business Trends

Product Launch Timing Tips

You can have the most brilliant products with the slickest marketing, but if you’re selling flip flops during a snowstorm, you’re destined for failure.  Not only does timing matter because it can make or break your sales, but it also matters when you consider all the effort and money invested in new product or service rollouts.  Want to waste your time and money?  Launch at the wrong time!

Product Launch Timing Tips

But as important as timing is, it’s also difficult.  But don’t lose heart!  There are strategies for improving your timing.

1. Realize that first isn’t always best.  While being first to market can draw lots of attention and even create new niches, it often comes with a whole host of problems.  There are frequently unanticipated problems – from legal challenges to supply chain issues.  Being second on the scene – particularly for problematic initial launches – can be a huge advantage.  You’ll be familiar with the challenges your predecessor faced, and you’ll have your fixes already in place.  You don’t have to do it first if you do it best!

2. Be ready.  Call me Captain Obvious, but if you want to make the most of opportunities when they present themselves, then you must be ready.  When a client is ready to bite, you have to ask for the sale and be ready to deliver.  When the market is primed for your brilliant new offering, you have to have it in the pipeline.  Like a vigilant soldier, you must be ready for action at any moment.

3. Do your homework.  The time to investigate whether consumers really want what you’re offering is before you put it out on the shelf (literally or metaphorically).  Learn who your customers are.  Learn what matters to them, and build that into your offering.  If your “plan” is to throw a whole bunch of stuff against a wall and see what sticks, then it’s not much of a plan.  You risk losing money, losing customers, and hurting your entire brand.  Timing is about preparation.

4. Make a lot of noise.  Build up anticipation around your new market entry.  Whether you’re adding to services you already provide or launching a new company, getting your new customers excited is critical to early success.  When it comes to marketing, your goal should be to reach as many ideal customers as possible and get them as hyped up as you can.  And if marketing isn’t your strong suit, I’d strongly advise hiring a pro to get the job done right.

5. Keep sight of the big picture.  When you’re generating enthusiasm and support for a new product, it can be easy to lose your perspective.  Make sure you keep your focus on the fundamental principle that should guide your business:  Profit First.  If you’re not profitable, you can’t grow.  You might not be able to develop other new products.  You might not be able to continue paying your employees.  Keep your eye on the bottom line.

Someone could invent the very best typewriter on the planet, but right now, there’s not a significant market for it. Timing is absolutely one of the biggest factors determining whether a product succeeds or flops.  Putting effort into timing your launch can make all the difference in the end.

Paper Planes Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Master the Product Launch with These 5 Steps" was first published on Small Business Trends

Pizza Shop Runs Unique Loyalty Program -- Get Ink, Get Free Pizza

Washington, D.C. based pizza shop &pizza is running a promotion to generate buzz for its newest Manhattan location opening up.

If you get a tattoo of an ampersand (the ‘&’ symbol), you’ll receive free pizza for an entire year.

It all started when &pizza decided to begin paying for its employees (or as they prefer to be called — tribesmen) to get tattoos.

Many employees decided to take advantage of the policy by inking themselves with the &pizza logo itself.

Lastoria calls &pizza “an anti-establishment kind of establishment. A non chain, chain.” And since tattoos often symbolize nonconformity, he promotes it.

He said:

“We’re not doing this because we want [employees] to swear their allegiance to us like we’re some insane dictator…We’re doing it because we listen to our people. They love the symbol, they love the look of it and they love what it stands for.”

Because the only thing worse than getting a tattoo that pledges your allegiance to a capitalistic business mogul is swearing your allegiance to some insane dictator.

Here he is trying to raise the minimum wage, which doesn’t sound socialistic at all:

Lastoria himself does not have the “&” tattoo — but he’s probably just not ready to commit to it yet.

The employee tattoo policy became such a hit that &pizza has extended it to its most loyal customers, too.

When they open their latest shop in Manhattan on October 3, the first 23 people in line can get a free “&” tattoo, along with a free year of pizza. And if the past &pizza tattoo promos tell us anything, the ink is gonna be wild.

The ink-for-free-pizza promo began in Baltimore, where the first five people in line received free & tattoos. One guy apparently got an “&” that took up his entire bicep. That’s dedication.

So if you don’t want to pay for your pizza or your tattoo, and you do want to fight corporate power and capitalistic advertising hop on over to &pizza on October 3. Next month I’m hoping for a Michael Kors tattoo. I could really use a new handbag.

Pizza Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Pizza Shop Runs Unique Loyalty Program Offering Free Tattoo, Free Pizza" was first published on Small Business Trends

What Is a Bing Business Bot and How Does Your Small Business Get One?

Small businesses rely on each employee to wear several hats, but being a jack-of-all-trades also takes time away from employees to do their job and do it well. Small business owners need as much help as possible, whether that is freeing up the hostess to get away from the phones and greet customers or focusing your executive administrator on running the front office instead of taking payments.

An employee’s day can easily be derailed by customers calling to ask the same questions over and over again; Are you open today? Where can I pay my bill? How do I find your prices? Where are you located? So, it’s easy to understand the necessity Bing sees in creating chatbots for small businesses. Chatbots save your paid employees time, which saves you money.

How Chatbots Work for Small Businesses

Bing launched Business Bots several months ago and is the first major search engine to do this. Bing Bots are programmed to know the answers to simple questions about a business. The business owner simply supplies answers to frequently asked questions such as hours of operation, location, menu items and more. The chatbots are engineered to understand questions and respond to those questions in natural language. This gets employees off the phone every other minute to say, “yes, we are open.”

What Is a Bing Business Bot and How Does Your Small Business Get One?

Bing’s bots can be used directly on Bing, Skype and even on a business’s website. If someone searches for a restaurant in Bing, the search engine results page (SERP) will bring up the listing with buttons to the website to call or to chat (see screenshot below).

So what if a bot doesn’t know an answer?

The bot has information stored for general questions, but if a customer asks a question it does not know the answer to the bot will provide the person with the business’s phone number. The bot will then reach out to the business owner so the owner can provide the answer to the question, so in the future the bot can be more helpful and again, continue to provide information about the business for its customers. This development may allow bots to continually update data and conduct transactions in the SERP.

The bot will also be available across platforms in the future – you create it once and publish across multiple channels such as Bing, Skype and SMS. Facebook Messenger and Cortana capabilities are coming soon.

The Evolution of the Chatbot

So, what is a chatbot, exactly? It’s a program that maintains a conversation with a user, using natural language. The bot understands the person’s intent and responds with the appropriate information. A mobile messenger is used for the chat, whether it’s SMS, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, or website.

The explosion of interest in chat bots can be surmised by a few developments:

  • Mobile messenger popularity: Mobile messengers have grown in popularity and are the most used apps on mobile devices. According to Chatbots Magazine, WhatsApp has reached over a billion users, Facebook Messenger is at 900 million and WeChat is at 700 million. Messenger apps have surpassed social media apps in global popularity. It’s easy to surmise that today, people prefer talking via typing, and businesses should adapt to make that an easier and more developed option.

What Is a Bing Business Bot and How Does Your Small Business Get One?

  • App fatigue: If you’re thinking about creating an app for your business, you may want to reconsider. App fatigue is growing. App fatigue refers to consumers who are tired of installing and then constantly updating new apps onto their smartphones. Put simply, users often download apps, use them once or twice and then never use them again. According to the same Chatbots Magazine study, as much as 23 percent of mobile users abandon an app after one use. A typical consumer has about 30 apps on their phone, but uses less than five on a consistent basis.  As you can see, often times, the development and launch of an app ends up being a waste of resources.
  • Support for bots through Facebook, Microsoft and other technology leaders: Bot support has grown within the last year, as both Microsoft and Facebook made announcements in 2016 for development and support of chat bots. This has led to the possibility of creating an approved bot and launching it across platforms, seeing affects all across the globe.

What Is a Bing Business Bot and How Does Your Small Business Get One?

  • Dramatic reduction in chatbot development costs: Finally, the development cost behind chatbots has dropped dramatically. Recently, major software companies like IBM, Microsoft, Facebook and Google have released free advanced development tools, frameworks and research data that has allowed companies to design chat bots for a relatively low price. This has led to advances such in Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Understanding, Speech Recognition and other advanced technologies.

The Takeaway

In the end, it’s easy to see that the mobile world we live in has become the perfect place for businesses to take advantage of chatbots to garner more interest. Chatbots work well with the generations that have grown up on technology and want the easiest, fastest and simplest way to get information. Of course large corporations see value in these and have the development capabilities, but small businesses should pay attention to this as well. With a small team and everyone stretched to capacity, a chat bot could make a big difference in operations and allow your employees to focus on the jobs that take creativity, personality, and intuition.

Red Robot Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What Is a Bing Business Bot and How Does Your Small Business Get One?" was first published on Small Business Trends