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DefCon: ‘Credit Hackers’ Win the Credit Card Game … Legally

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Hacking

Hundreds of “credit hackers” are legally gaming financial institutions by taking advantage of loopholes in the U.S. credit-reporting system, a security researcher says — warning that identity thieves could follow suit.

Christopher Soghoian, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, took a security expert’s eye to the tricks already in use by a healthy subculture of clever consumers who have managed to garner zero-interest loans and erase some information from their credit profiles. He’s presenting his findings Saturday at the DefCon hacker convention.

“The techniques outlined in this paper are not traditional hacking,” he said in an interview. “All that is being done is taking advantage of the formalized structure of the process.”

In his paper (.pdf), Soghoian highlights several approaches perfected by the credit hackers.

In one ploy, the consumer generates a massive amount of quick credit by carefully timing simultaneous applications from different lenders. This takes advantage of the fact that it takes several days for an inquiry to appear on a consumer’s credit report, leaving issuing banks blind to the parallel applications.

Read more at: WIRED Magazine

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{Photography by Ted Percival}

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Cheaper Mortgages Spark Lower FICO Scores for Payers

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Saving is for wimps! I have a plan for affordable housing

Victor Stern thought his money troubles were over when he got approval to modify his home loan. Then his credit score dropped 121 points.

Stern, a business development director at an information technology company in Charlotte, North Carolina, said he was shocked to see his credit score drop to 619 from 740 after entering the trial period for a loan adjustment under President Barack Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program. A salary reduction caused him to seek a change in the terms of his loan before he missed any payments.

Banks, including Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp., report the loan modifications to credit bureaus. The adjustments can lower credit scores because of the way the FICO formula, the most widely used by U.S. lenders, works. (Read more at: Bloomberg.com)

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{Photography by Woodley Wonder Works}

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The Best Online Tools for Personal Finance

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Online Budgeting Sites

Consumers are paying closer attention to what they buy, how much they save, and where they invest. These resources can be a huge help. Even better, most of them are free.

It’s tougher than ever to plan your finances. But it’s also easier than ever to find help on the cheap.

There are a host of Web sites that help you lay out a budget and track your spending and investments. Some let you set up a plan for a long-term goal, like college or retirement, and others offer advice about where to put your money. And many of these services are free of charge.

To help you wade through all the choices, we scoured the Web to find some of the best online tools and got recommendations from personal-finance pros. Here’s a look at some of the best sites we turned up, in a range of categories. (Read more at: Wall Street Journal)

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{Photography by Binder Donedat}

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The Descent into Credit Card Debt Hell

Friday, June 26th, 2009

The descent into credit card debt hell

When used wisely, credit cards can be the cornerstone of a sound financial strategy. A solid credit history makes you a good credit risk and that in turn allows you to purchase the necessities of life. But credit cards can also be a slippery slope. One misstep and you’ll tumble into the abyss of credit card debt hell . . . (Read more at: Mint)

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How to Deal with Collection Agencies and Attorneys

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Overdue Bills

You have received a letter in the mail saying that a bill on which you owe has been sent to collections. Whether this is the first letter you have received or the collection agency has been calling you to collect, the most important thing is that you take care of your debt in collects immediately before you incur more interest, acquire more fees, and blemish your credit record. Here are the steps you should take immediately.

Evaluate the Bill in Question

The first thing you should do is gather all bills, letters, and information you have about the debt that was sent to collections. Evaluate whether you in fact do owe this bill. If you do not know what the bill is for or you do not think you truly owe the bill, you should begin by requesting information from the agency. You have a right to request a copy of the original bill. If the bill does not belong to you, you will have to be ready to dispute the charges.

Be Ready

Once you have evaluated the situation and you agree that you in fact do owe the amount in question, sit down and evaluate your monthly expenses in order to come up with a game plan for paying off the bill. When you do make the call to the collections agency, you will want to know how much you will comfortably be able to afford to pay per month when negotiating a payment schedule. . . (Read more at: Debt-Professor.com)

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{Photography by Listener42}

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New regulations signed into law by Obama could bring back the tight access and low limits of the ’50s

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Cloud Ceiling

“I have never paid any interest,” said the 78-year-old retired teacher and salesman. “I clear the account every month, and I don’t run up a big bill.”

If the industry — and its customers — maintained the prudence of Hockett’s Depression-era upbringing, the new credit card law signed Friday by President Obama might never have been necessary.

Instead, most people probably have more in common with Barbara and Albert Sanchez, who got their cards decades later, on the other side of Fresno from Hockett and a world away from mid-century attitudes about debt. (Read more at: LATimes.com)

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{Photography by Don Nunn}

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