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Should you start a business on zero percent credit?

Should you start a business on zero percent credit?

Published 5/22/13

Should you start a business on zero percent credit? By Peter Andrew

I'm not what you'd call a natural entrepreneur. In fact, every venture I've ever tried to set up has turned to dust. But a few years ago, I inherited a small sum of money, and couldn't find anywhere to put it where it would earn a reasonable, relatively risk-free return. So I once again considered setting up my very own micro-enterprise: I planned to buy a cheap, run-down home, do it up, and then flip it before starting the process all over again.

A number of questions arose: Would my meager windfall be enough to fund such an operation? If not, where should I obtain working capital, especially as my bank and I are barely on speaking terms? Should I be ready to let credit cards take some of the strain?

Zero percent credit cards as seed capital

Given my track record, it's probably just as well I left the money in something my bank, without any trace of irony, calls a high-interest savings account. But should I have gathered some nerve and taken the plunge, having first applied for a clutch of zero percent credit cards? Maybe.

The idea of using the interest-free introductory period that many cards offer to fund a start-up business sounds attractive, and there are plenty of stories online about entrepreneurs who used plastic to get their companies off the ground.

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What is a chip-and-PIN credit card?

Published 5/7/13

What is a chip-and-PIN credit card? By Justin Boyle

At first glance, your U.S. credit card may seem ideal for traveling abroad. You can just bring your foreign-fee-free card on your next overseas trip and cross borders without having to worry about losing spending power to unfavorable exchange rates, right?

As many world travelers have found, it isn't always that easy.

The rise of chip-and-PIN cards

In 2004, card issuers in many parts of the world started changing their credit card format. The old signature-verified model began falling by the wayside in these places in favor of EMV smart chip cards, commonly referred to as chip-and-PIN cards.

Increased security is cited as the primary advantage of a switch to chip-and-PIN cards, which feature two authentication methods: the traditional magnetic stripe, as well as an encrypted microprocessor that broadcasts payment information to the card reader. Experts in India, where the national reserve bank has mandated a switch to EMV cards for international transactions, say that the chips are practically impossible for fraudsters to decode.

But after much of Europe switched to EMV technology, travelers from the U.S. began to fall victim to the incompatibility of their U.S. credit cards in some places.

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Should optimists avoid credit cards?

Published 4/26/13

Should optimists avoid credit cards? By Peter Andrew

I like optimists. Who doesn't? Optimism is one of America's defining national characteristics, and was an essential part of this country's rise to greatness. But some academic studies suggest that people with too rosy an outlook can get themselves into trouble, especially financially, and can-do can quickly turn into couldn't-do.

The trouble with optimism

Of course, it's not just Americans who can find their optimism tipping over into overconfidence or even self-delusion. Last year, Australian researchers uncovered similar traits in their compatriots. Unusually optimistic subjects in their trials tended to work fewer hours, have shorter planning horizons and fail to clear their credit card balances in full each month.

But there's plenty of that here too. A 2005 Duke University study, Optimism and Economic Choice, found a similar correlation in the U.S. And another, published in the Journal of Economic Psychology in 2007, indicated that the overoptimistic often make poor choices when choosing a new credit card.

For example, those who usually roll forward significant balances might seek out the best credit card reward programs when their rational, optimal choice would have been finding the lowest APRs. Presumably, they kidded themselves that their lives would change: Their income would grow, they'd win the lottery, or they'd magically alter their patterns of behavior and start zeroing their balances each month.

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3 tips for negotiating better credit card terms

Published 4/8/13

3 tips for negotiating better credit card terms By Justin Boyle

A friend of mine recently sat me down and told me that she was in a dismal, one-sided relationship with her credit provider. She had been a responsible customer, never missing a payment and never maxing out her limit, but the terms of her contract hadn't changed since college and she didn't feel like she could talk to them about it.

Luckily for her (and for all of us), not only is it possible to reason with credit companies, but there are proven pathways to the raised limit or lowered rate that you know you've earned. By arming yourself with a few key pieces of information, you can gently but firmly encourage your issuer to hear what you have to say.

1. Know who to talk to

First of all, most companies put customers through an automated phone tree for routine services. You're not going to get anywhere presenting your reasoned negotiations to the robot that answers your call, so get out of the tree as soon as you can (this is often achieved by mashing the 0 key until you're asked to hold for an operator).

Even when you get a human voice on the phone, you're still not all the way to your destination.

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Can your credit card make you a wiser spender?

Published 3/15/13

Can your credit card make you a wiser spender? By Tim Sullivan

Credit cards have made it easier to spend money today than any time in the past. Before credit cards, you had to go to the bank and fill out a withdrawal slip whenever you needed easily spent funds. But now we have our money available to us 24 hours a day, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Imagine making a few bad financial decisions while out on a Saturday night. Back in the day, if you spent all your money on Saturday, you wouldn't have it on Sunday. The banks were closed on Sunday, so unless you could find a place that would accept a check, football would be accompanied by whatever was in the fridge instead of a pizza delivery.

These days, with the easily available funds offered by credit cards, you can continue your spending unabated throughout the weekend. Because of this, many personal finance experts (and others) feel that credit cards are a saver's worst enemy.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Ease of spending doesn't have to come with lack of consciousness. Credit cards can make you a smarter spender as well. By keeping a close eye on your credit card records, you can use your card to improve your spending habits and realize more of your financial goals.

A helpful record

Unless you are saving every receipt and keeping a watchful eye on your budget, having cash in your wallet can lead to untracked spending.

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Spring cleaning for your wallet

Published 3/8/13  (Modified 3/14/13)

Spring cleaning for your wallet By Justin Boyle

The spring equinox is approaching, and thousands of people are getting ready to rid themselves of clutter that has piled up over the previous year. While everyone's getting their houses in order, take the time to open the dusty door on the storehouse of your personal finance and credit habits. It might be time for spring cleaning in there too.

The beginning of spring is a great time to check your life for pockets of stagnant energy, like the corners of the garage or the back of your closet, and clean them out so that new and good things can take over. Spring is the season of new growth, after all, and new growth tends to thrive when old and needless things are removed from its surroundings.

Some of us approach our credit cards and personal finance habits in the same way we approach the clutter under the bed: If we don't look at the mess, it isn't there. Take a cue from the closet-cleaners and garage-salers this season and see if you can't vacuum some stagnant energy out of your wallet. Here are four tips for getting started:

1. Consider consolidation

I know from personal experience that it can be hard to keep track of multiple credit bills each month. If you can find a zero- or low-interest balance transfer credit card offer with a high enough limit to shoulder the lion's share of what you owe on credit, it might be prudent to shift your smaller balances over.

As far as what to do with the cards whose balances you empty, take a look at tip number two.

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