Data Facts Blog


Back On Track: The Housing Market Is Changing For The Better

Home ownership in the palm of your handsThe housing market is improving much faster than anyone would have expected a year ago. Nationally, the prices of homes increased by 10% since February of 2012. However, many in the industry think that this may be cause for concern. They are nervous that the fast pace of recovery will cause another bubble.

Housing prices have remained positive throughout the seasonally slow winter months. “Home prices ended the first quarter of 2013 in a similar fashion to how they started the year, stable and in positive territory,” said Dr. Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital. “It has been seven years since home price growth continued throughout winter. This is very strong evidence of the start to a new leg of the recovery, one that should give further confidence to consumers and lenders alike that the recovery is real. As buyers become more confident the recovery is sustainable, this sentiment should grow to create a positive feedback loop.” It even appears that prices will still go higher. Here are a few reasons this may be the case:

  • The inventory of homes available for sale has fallen to the lowest amount in 20 years.
  • Since 2008, Homebuilders are not adding as many newly constructed homes to the market. Rising costs of building materials and labor are causing builder confidence to be low. “Many builders are expressing frustration over being unable to respond to the rising demand for new homes due to difficulties in obtaining construction credit, overly restrictive mortgage lending rules and construction costs that are increasing at a faster pace than appraised values,” said Rick Judson, NAHB chairman and a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “While sales conditions are generally improving, these challenges are holding back new building and job creation.”
  • Banks are selling fewer foreclosures. “Although the overall national foreclosure trend continues to head lower, late-blooming foreclosures are bolting higher in some local markets where aggressive foreclosure prevention efforts in previous years are wearing off,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Meanwhile, more recent foreclosure prevention efforts in other states have drastically increased the average time to foreclose, which could result in a similar outbreak of delayed foreclosures down the road in those states.”
  • Investors have purchased many available homes, converting them to rental properties.
  • Borrowers aren’t willing or able to sell at such low prices.
  • Tighter Lending standards mean that sellers are afraid they will not qualify for a new loan.
  • Demand has increased dramatically due to first-time homebuyers. Rising rents and falling interest rates make monthly payments less than what it costs to rent. Also, the demand is currently higher than the available supply.
    Low interest rates allowing qualified buyers to borrow more money. Today’s historically low interest rates have given American homeowners a significant boost to their purchasing power. In the pre-bubble period from 1985 through 1999, when rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage ranged between six percent and 13 percent, Americans spent 19.9 percent of their median monthly incomes, on average, on mortgage payments for a typical, median-priced home, according to Zillow. At the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, with mortgage rates in the 3 to 4 percent range, U.S. homeowners paid 12.6 percent of their monthly income on mortgage payments, down 36.9 percent from historic, pre-bubble norms, according to Zillow.

Prices may be rising quickly but tight credit standards are keeping everything in check. The housing market is healing but could potentially be in for more instability until more people purchase homes in which they want to live.

~~Stacie Shelton is a member of the Marketing Team at Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

Advertisements

7 Steps to Protect Your Finances During a Divorce

We all hope it never happens to us. The “D” word.  Divorce.

It’s a sad fact that lots of marriages end in divorce, and sometimes the relationship is contentious and hostile. If you are facing divorce, protect yourself and your finances with these simple tips:

1.  Keep detailed records.  The first step is to commit to making certain that all financial arrangements and obligations are well-documented.  If you end up having problems with a creditor for a debt that is not your responsibility, documentation can help clear the issue up faster and with less effort.

2. Dissolve every joint account.   This is one of the biggest mistakes that divorcing couples make. One person will keep a joint account, and the other person finds out months or years later that the account has been paid late or sent to collection. Be aware that divorce decrees do not supersede contracts. In other words, if you and your ex split certain debts in the divorce, but your name is still on the debt, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PAYMENT OF THAT DEBT.  This is a biggie, and can completely tank your credit score and ruin your finances.

Remove your spouse’s name on any accounts that you plan to keep (such as your car, etc). Move the utilities and any other bills into one name. If you share joint credit cards, divvy up the balance and open a credit card in just your name, and transfer the balance over to the new account. BE SURE all joint credit cards are closed.

3.  Sell the house if possible. The best idea is to sell the house and split any profits. It is imperative to not walk away from your house with your name still on the mortgage.  If selling the house is not an option, the person who ends up with the house needs to refinance it in his/her name alone as quickly as possible.

4.  Divide all assets. Split all cash, property, and any other assets during the divorce. Do not share assets with an ex.

5.  Be on guard online.  An ex can do some real damage when armed with passwords to bank and credit card accounts. The first action should be password protecting your computer and your cell phone (this will ensure your ex does not add a sneaky spyware).  Change ALL of your passwords on all of your accounts to something your soon to be ex would not know. Do not use birthdays, anniversaries, mother’s name, dog’s name, or anything else that your former beloved would be able to figure out.  Phrases like “bobpleasedie” or “lovereallystinks” probably aren’t good ideas, either.  A long password (10 characters or more) with letters in upper and lower case and numbers is the best option.

6.  Check your credit report. This is a good all-round rule for everyone. However, it’s especially important after going through a divorce.  Pull a credit report every 3-4 months, and scour it to make certain all joint accounts are closed and that there are no accounts you do not recognize. Follow up on any errors and get them cleared up immediately.

7.  Change your will and life insurance beneficiaries.  When moving on after a divorce, make certain to review all important documents, and implement changes where necessary. Remove the ex’s name from your will and any insurance policies in which he/she is named.

Divorce is never a fun endeavor. However, by being educated about the financial facts and following these simple tips, you can make it much easier to move forward and avoid the financial pitfalls that many people fall into when ending a marriage.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company.  Data Facts provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

Identity Theft: The Newest Open Door to Thieves

ID theft continues to be a rampant and expensive crime in the U.S.  Purse-snatching, dumpster diving, and mail stealing are all ways that criminals steal your identity. These thieves can then use your credit cards, social security number, and other personal information to rack up charges, open new accounts, and even apply for jobs!

Identity theft and ways to combat it have been topics of many tv and printed articles. You have probably viewed or read some of these tips and even implemented a few of them into your habits. So you are protected, right?

Uh, probably not.

Unfortunately, these crooks are very creative, and constantly scheming up new ways to steal pieces of information about your identity. So, while you may have a locking mailbox, a shredder you use faithfully, and guard your social security number as closely as you would your little sister, you could be overlooking one thing: your cell phone.

In today’s “smart phone world” a person can manage their entire lives. Paying bills, banking, stock trading, and online shopping can all be conducted over your nifty little phone. This makes your phone a goldmine to identity thieves.

Ways the thieves can steal it:

 They steal your phone. Cell phones are evolving constantly, and the amount of storage available on them is growing by leaps and bounds. By stealing your phone, criminals can access your credit card numbers, banking applications, and email accounts. This can supply them with a plethora of information that they can use to steal your identity.

They tap into your Bluetooth connection: Thieves can access your Bluetooth connection, and connect their device with yours, pilfering pieces of information that are not secure on your cell phone.

They can eavesdrop on you. A crook with access to your phone can download software that allows them to listen to your phone conversations. From there, they can extract any information you talk about on your cell phone, and use this to gain access to your accounts, credit cards, etc.

They buy it from you: There are unscrupulous people cruising the internet for used cell phones on sites like Craigslist and Ebay. Their goal is to buy a cell phone that has not been completely cleared of important, sensitive information that they can use to steal your identity.

When it comes to Identity Theft, ignorance is definitely NOT bliss.  Being aware of these sneaky ways to steal your identity can put you in a better position to protect yourself. Here are some ways to make sure you are not vulnerable.

1: Lock down your cell phone with a strong password. Utilizing a number/letter password is the first step toward securing your phone from intruders. Make sure the password is not easily guessable, and set your phone to auto lock.

2: Don’t auto-save your banking passwords. Any applications that deal with sensitive information need to also have a strong password, and take the few extra seconds to type it in every time you access the app.

3: Always turn your Bluetooth off if you are not using it. This can greatly minimize an identity thieves’ ability to hack your phone.

4: Don’t leave it laying around. Keep your cell phone with you when you are out and about, and out of sight at work. This will guard against a person being able to download software that can tap into your conversations and emails.

5. Erase it before selling. When it’s time to get rid of your old phone, make certain all sensitive information is completely removed from the device.

Identity theft is largely a crime of opportunity. By decreasing your cell phone’s exposure to criminals’ access, you can effectively guard against becoming another statistic.

 

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.

The Truth About Closing Credit Cards

If you have read anything about how to get and keep a high credit score, you have probably seen this advice: never close your credit cards. This advice is true and good. Sort of.

The 2 parts of valid reasoning behind the idea of not closing any credit cards are:

1: Closing a credit card will decrease your debt utilization ratio. A whopping 30% of your credit score is calculated from your Amounts Owed. Your debt utilization ratio (your total revolving debt divided by your total credit limit) needs to be as low as possible in order to reap the maximum credit score. Closing a credit card takes away some of your total credit limit, which can raise this ratio, and lower your credit score.

2. Closing a credit card will impact your length of credit history. It’s a fact that the credit scoring model looks at how long a person has had credit established; the longer, the better. Closing a credit card you have had for many years may cause your length of credit history to decrease, which can result in a lower score.

So, there are valid reasons to not close your credit cards.

ADVICE: Never close a card that has a balance, your only credit card, or your oldest credit card!

But what if you have a ton of cards, are aiming to streamline your finances, and want to close some of them? Which ones can you close that will have minimal impact to your credit score?

If you have made the decision to close some of your credit cards, choose these (in this order):

Your newest card. The last credit card opened needs to be the first one to go. This card is not helping you very much with your length of credit history, so closing it should not have much impact on your credit score.

Your card with a zero balance. If you never use a particular piece of plastic, it is probably not figured into your credit score (credit lines must be used at least every 6 months in order to be factored into your credit score). Closing a card you never, ever use should have no impact on your credit score.

Your card with the worst terms. Big annual fees, high interest rates, and no perks give you no incentive to keep a card active.

You card with the lowest limit. A low limit credit card is probably having little effect on your debt utilization ratio. Closing low limit plastic can help limit your number of cards without great danger of credit score damage.

Closing credit cards doesn’t have to kill your credit score, just make sure you are choosing wisely.

Other points to remember are:

Always look at your debt utilization ratio before closing a credit card. If your ratio is going to be over 30%, don’t do it.

Always keep at least one credit card open and active, and pay the bill on time. This will give you points for managing credit wisely.

Always keep your oldest credit card open and active.

Take these tips to heart to ensure that whittling down your lines of credit has minimal impact on your credit score.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product and banking solutions to lenders nationwide

Why a Strong Password is Your Best Friend

Your best friend would always protect you and never let you down. The same should be said of your passwords.
In today’s world, the average person needs 28 passwords. You need passwords for your bank, email, social network, bills, and any online ordering accounts. THEN you really rack up the passwords for different logins at work. It can get mind boggling to remember all the passwords that you use in a day’s time.
It’s tempting to use the same password for all the sites and accounts that you must access. HOWEVER, this is setting you up to have your password STOLEN. And the consequences of having your only password hacked can be disastrous.
Think about just how much a password protects.
Online banking and brokerage accounts: your password stands between your money and a thief!
Email accounts: your password protects your emails from being hacked. If you have online bills and bank statement, the thief could gain access to your account information.
Online shopping: Your credit card number and other personal information are guarded by your password.
And these are only your Personal Accounts!
Here are some very important tips to utilize in the creation of your passwords.
1. Throw your password loyalty out the window: Studies show that 1/3 of Americans who use a computer use the same password for every site. If a thief gets your password and hacks into your email, he can then access any accounts that he finds. He could literally clean you out and rack up massive debt within a very short period of time. Using only 1 password for all of your accounts hands the thief an open invitation to all of your accounts and information.
2. Easier isn’t better. A good portion of people actually use their birth date, their kids’ names, or even 12345 as their passwords. These types of passwords take hackers only seconds to crack. Easy passwords leave your accounts open and waiting for thieves to take advantage. You may as well leave your money laying on the front porch.
3. Keep it in the noggin. Even if people have more than one password, they often write them down and leave them by the computer, under their keyboard, in their calendar, or store them in their smartphones. This basically gift wraps them for a thief. Once he scores the password list, its bye bye money and hello fraudulent charges.
4. Mix it up. Passwords that only contain letters are easy to observe or guess, especially if they are only lower case.
5. Get long-winded. Never use a password that is under 8 characters. A short password is more easily observed and guessed than a longer one.
6. Remember you didn’t marry it. Keeping the same password month after month allows a hacker all the time he needs to crack it.
The CONSEQUENCES of having your password hacked are too high to not take immediate action. Here’s what to do:
1: Make a list of all your emails, accounts, banks, and shopping websites that require you to have a password.
2: Make sure your main email address has a password different from any other account.
3: For the remainder of your accounts, have a minimum of 4  hard to crack but easy for you to remember passwords
4: Change your passwords every 3 months.
5. Don’t write the passwords down anywhere. If you are afraid you will forget them, scribble a hint that only you could decipher, and keep it in a safe place. (Do not store this in your wallet or near your computer).
Let’s create a good password.
A. Think of a word that is easy for you to remember, but is not closely tied to you personally (ie: not your spouse, child, or dog’s name). We will use Teague (the name of my Kindergarten teacher)
B. Add a capital letter in the middle of the word. We will use the G. So now we have TeaGue.
C. Randomly choose 3 numbers. Do NOT use the last 4 digits of your social, your birthdate, or your anniversary. We will use 206 (the date of the last Superbowl). Your weight is another easy to remember number.
D. Now choose a character. I will choose ! since I’m trying to make a point.
RESULT: one of my new passwords is TeaGue!206. This will be easy for me to remember, but difficult to guess. My hint to myself would be: Kindergarden!superbowl.

Passwords are the gateway to your money, credit cards, and personal information. Strong passwords, like best friends, keep your secrets secure.  Utilize these tips to make sure you will not become just another identity theft statistic.

~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 22 year old Memphis-based company that provides mortgage product solutions to lenders nationwide.