Corinthian’s Failure Is the Government’s Failure, Too

No doubt you’ve heard the news: Corinthian Colleges has flipped the switch, leaving its 16,000 current students in the dark.

The for-profit “career college,” headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif., had been the subject of student and staff complaints, investigations by numerous state attorneys general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most recently, it was also hit with a $30 million fine by the Education Department for misleading students about their post-degree job prospects.

Jobs, however, aren’t among the affected students’ immediate concerns right now.

Like most other higher-education organizations, Corinthian’s business model is predicated on governmental largesse: specifically, the steady supply of easy-to-get student loans, grants and other aid. So when the ED cut off access to all that in 2014, students were left scrambling for alternate means of financing their studies.

The institution’s collapse, however, has left these same students with debts that will be difficult to repay now that the completion of their degrees is even less certain than it was before (for-profit-school graduation rates are roughly one third that of public four-year schools, according to a College Board policy brief).

According to the ED, these consumer-learners have two choices: They can either seek transfers to other institutions that will credit what they’ve accomplished to date or apply for a discharge of the federal student loans they’d undertaken to attend their now-defunct school.

Discharge sounds awfully appealing in a world where student loans are virtually impossible to escape, even in bankruptcy, but selecting that option would also leave them with nothing to show for their time and efforts. On the other hand, given the increasingly challenged educational-value proposition of the programs that career colleges offer, Corinthian students may have no other choice but to transfer their credits to other for-profit institutions, even though some of these also happen to be under investigation.

So it’s no wonder that when the ED urged Corinthian students to consider that course of action, consumer activists and proponents for educational policy reform were stunned by the department’s seeming about-face on the matter.

Clearly, the ED is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The “rock” is the department’s now-obvious failure of preventing schools from using abundantly available, low-cost higher-education financing and other aid to develop what amounts to specialty degree programs targeted at economically fragile segments of the student population—degrees that may neither be aligned with those that are bestowed by mainstream public and private institutions nor universally accepted at face value by employers.

The “hard place” represents the significant financial and potentially precedent-setting consequences of discharging debts that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, are undertaken by an average 83% of students at for-profit colleges versus 63% and 53% of students at private nonprofit and public institutions, respectively.

In other words, it’s all about what to do with a bunch of academic outliers who happen to owe a lot of money.

Apparently, the ED’s response is to punt that ugly ball. But does this crisis really begin and end with Corinthian? More important, are we missing an opportunity to turn this blunder into a blessing?

Many would rightly argue that lax oversight and the proliferation of low-rate financing inspired colleges and universities to build excessively, hire indiscriminately and engage in activities that not only distract from the core mission of providing quality higher education but have also led to practically unaffordable tuition prices.

The other side of that argument, however, is equally pointed: When all is said and done, the schools took the money. It’s therefore perfectly reasonable to expect their active participation in solving the problem, willingly or otherwise.

Rather than shunting these students to institutions that, arguably, have the potential to become the next Corinthians, or writing off billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer-backed loans, the ED should get to work on a plan to mainstream them into traditional two- and four-year programs at the same schools that continue to cash the government’s checks.

Certainly, it would cost less to transition students in need of remedial education than it would to discharge their average unpaid debts. Furthermore, as the decline in higher-educational enrollments persists and private nonprofit and public school administrators resist taking the long overdue steps to reduce costs and improve educational content, it’s also only a matter of time before what we see taking place in the for-profit sector begins to occur elsewhere.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Mitchell D. Weiss was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


5 Unconventional Ways to Get a Loan

Whether you’ve been rejected for credit in the past or you are just interested in alternative loan methods, it’s nice to know that there are options out there aside form dealing with big banks.

Getting rejected is never fun, and if you have bad credit, you know this all too well. Maybe you are starting or growing a business, need a loan to get out of a tight financial situation or think you have a surefire investment, but bad credit is holding you back. (You can see where you stand by checking your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Here are some ways to get a loan on your terms.

1. P2P Lending

P2P or peer-to-peer lending connects people seeking a loan with people looking to invest in others without charging high interest. In place of banks or lending institutions, often third-party intermediary websites can help manage the relationship. Your credit and loan purpose will still be evaluated, but you can get help without being indebted to the banks. Your information will become available to investors and they might ask for more information than banks do, but interest rates are likely to be lower.

2. Crowdfunding

Funding a project or business as an Average Joe or Jane has never been easier. Crowdfunding means contributors can give a little or a lot of money through donations, investments or loans through the Internet. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are just two examples of the many options for rewards-based crowdfunding, where donors give money in exchange for a piece of the company they invest in or early access to a product or service.

3. Microloans From the Government

The government offers microloans to spur small business creation and expansion. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a program that can provide up to $50,000. These funds come from local, community-based intermediary organizations. You can find where to apply at your local SBA District Office.

4. Home Equity Line or Second Mortgage

Although it involves the bank, you can use the equity you have built in your home to fund your own new business or venture. You can use the equity you have already built in your home to fund your own new business or venture. This can be risky so it’s important to think carefully about the stipulations of taking out a second mortgage. If you default on the loan, you can put your home in jeopardy and do serious damage to your credit.

5. Loan Against Retirement Plan or Insurance Policy

This is another risky option and one that financial experts discourage, but it offers the chance to access money without borrowing from the bank. If you have either, you can borrow from your retirement fund or even against your life insurance if you have a cash value policy. This is risky because if you can’t pay it back (and in some cases quickly), taking a loan from either source can leave your financial future vulnerable, so plan ahead and do your research.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


5 Ways to Save on Summer Travel

With the weather warming up and images of travel getaways looking even sweeter than before, you are probably looking forward to (or trying to figure out how to afford) getting some vacation time this summer. Even if your trip seems miles or months away, you can start figuring out how to save for it now. No matter what type of travel you have planned, take a look at these five ways you can pay less and travel more.

1. Know Your Style & Budget

Everyone travels differently, so it’s a good idea to identify what type of vacation or travel you want to have before you hit the road. Whether you are in the mood for beach time, big city exploration or extreme outdoors, it’s important to evaluate locations based on what you enjoy. Next comes creating a budget you can stick to for the place itself (staying in a hotel in the middle of New York City will likely be more expensive than camping at a national park) and your goals for your time there.

2. Research — & Let the Deal Inspire You

It’s important to schedule some research time ahead of your trip. There are tons of deals websites out there where you can find discounted prices on travel, accommodations and activities. This can be especially helpful if you know what you want to get out of the vacation (relaxation, beach time or city exploration) but aren’t tied to a specific location. Even if you can’t find a vacation package that interests you, look for coupons for certain aspects of the trip you do want. Thorough research can help you save time and money and avoid “tourist traps.”

3. Know When to Buy Airfare

Speaking of research, it’s a good idea to find out the best time to book your travel. Online resources can be great tools to finding the cheapest travel ideas. Use multiple sources to price out your travel and look for the value in non-peak travel times if you are able to schedule it. Even if you have to travel during a busy time, you can save big just by flying mid-week or buying your flight or hotel at the right time. Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons are usually best for securing discount rates and booking about eight weeks in advance seems to be the sweet spot.

4. Rent From the Owner

Think outside the hotel box. Whether you look into hostels or search Airbnb to find local hosts that will rent out their extra space or property, you can save big by avoiding the hotel. These options are often in good locations to give you an authentic experience. Many even have kitchens that can help you cut down on dining-out costs as well.

5. Maximize Rewards

Whether it is with your credit card or through a vacation and travel points program, you can save big if you take the time to understand your rewards. It’s important to make sure you are spending and using wisely along the way to help stock up for and make the most of your summer experience.

Many of us love to travel to take a break from the norm, but money can be a deterring factor. This summer, make sure you get the adventure or relaxation you crave without setting yourself back financially. You don’t want to go into debt that you could potentially be paying for months after your vacation is over. And you certainly don’t want to acquire so much debt that it has a negative impact on your credit score. If you do find yourself carrying a balance as a result of your summer fun, it can help to come up with a plan to pay it off (this credit card payoff calculator can help you do that). You may also want to get into the habit of checking your credit scores regularly so you can become more aware of how your debts affect your credit. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated every month on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


The Next Big Company to Offer Free College Tuition: Fiat Chrysler

Thousands of employees at U.S. car dealerships will have the opportunity to get a free college degree as part of a program announced today by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Strayer University. Employees at Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and Fiat dealerships across the country will have the opportunity to get associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in disciplines including business administration, accounting, education and information systems, among other things, according to a news release from FCA US.

Employees at dealerships in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee can now enroll in courses for the summer and fall terms, either online or at one of Strayer’s campuses. Strayer University is a four-year, private, for-profit institution with an enrollment of about 40,000. There are 80 campuses in 24 states, but degrees can be completed entirely online. Dealerships in those six states (FCA US’s Southeast Business Center) are the first to offer the program, but nationwide enrollment at Fiat Chrysler’s 2,630 U.S. dealers is planned for the third quarter of this year. More than 118,000 people are employed at Fiat Chrysler dealerships in the U.S.

Dealers will pay a flat fee to opt into the program, no matter how many employees take advantage of the opportunity, and workers who enroll will have the cost of their tuition, fees and books covered, said John Fox, director of dealer training at FCA US. Strayer’s website lists total tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree at $58,250.

Employees pay nothing out of pocket, Fox said, and employees are not limited in their education goals, meaning they can choose to take a single class, earn a certificate, study for a bachelor’s degree and so on. Fox said the goal is to improve retention among dealership employees, and both existing and new employees will be eligible to participate (new employees are eligible after 30 days of work).

The program is similar to the one Starbucks offers its employees. The idea is to attract and retain workers in fields that see high turnover rates, while also addressing the issue many Americans face in wanting to get postsecondary education without taking on too much student loan debt. Student loan debt is rarely dischargeable in bankruptcy, so falling behind on payments not only hurts a borrower’s credit score, it also makes recovery much more difficult. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see how student loans would impact your credit.)

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


How to Prepare for a Baby on a Tight Budget

Not sure how to prepare for a baby on a tight budget? Here are 11 ways you can save money on your impending arrival without compromising on safety!I can’t help but roll my eyes every time I hear someone lament about how expensive it is to have a baby. Yes, it can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.

Babies need a lot, but that doesn’t mean you have to go drop a few grand on all the fanciest baby gear the minute that little white stick shows a positive sign.

There’s a reason why stores like Babies R Us are so successful, because it’s so easy for them to tap into our emotions as new moms and make us think we have to have this or that to protect, snuggle, and feed our little bundle of joy.

Newsflash: You can absolutely care for your newborn without ever stepping foot into Babies R Us. Here are my tips on how to prepare for a baby on a tight budget.

Save on Maternity Clothing

The days of hiding your pregnancy under a muumuu and over-sized boxy shirts are (thankfully) over.

Pregnancy is now celebrated and shown off, and for good reason. Baby bumps are adorable, soon-to-be moms have that “glow” about them, and people love pregnant women.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I couldn’t stand to think about shopping for a bunch of new maternity clothing that I wouldn’t even be wearing in a year. I stepped foot in one store and guffawed at the prices.

I seriously wanted to buy one pair of pants and one shirt and wash them every day so I wouldn’t have to buy anymore clothing. (Luckily it didn’t come to that!)

Instead, I opted to buy regular sized knit clothing, which worked especially well since I was hugely pregnant in the dead of summer. I bought a knit skirt and a few nursing bras, and that’s all I bought new.

Shop Your Closet (I’m Not Kidding!)

I also shopped my own closet for anything that was knit and stretchy. I had several summery knit dresses that stretched perfectly over my pregnant belly — whether I was 4 months along or 9.

I even had one stranger come up and tell me how beautiful I looked when I was wearing one of my non-maternity knit dresses. (Talk about making a hormonal woman’s day!) To top it off, I can still wear those very same knit dresses and skirts today (without looking like I’m pregnant!).

Start a Baby Fund

A coworker gave me some great advice when I told him I was planning on having kids one day. He told me to start contributing to a savings account specifically for having a baby.

The fund should be used for any surprises along the way, and will stand to help as a sort of baby emergency fund to help you stick with your budget if you run into some unforeseen baby expenses. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and it didn’t need to have thousands of dollars in it.

If you start this targeted account early enough, setting aside $50 a month adds up before too long. For example, if you start saving two years before you have a baby and contribute $20 a month, you’ll have almost $1,000 to help you out come baby time.

Double Check Your Insurance

In order to avoid any unpleasant surprises to your budget, find out ahead of time what you’ll owe to the hospital once you have your baby. Many places even require your bill to be paid in full by the time you’re 7 months along with your pregnancy, before you even give birth. I wasn’t pleased when I found that out myself, but many places will allow you to set up a monthly payment plan if needed.

[bctt tweet=”11 tips on how to save #money on #baby expenses! Find out how you can save hundreds here:”]

Breastfeed If You Can

Breastfeeding is a weirdly controversial topic among moms-to-be, but if you’re aiming to save money on your newborn, breastfeeding is the way to go.

Not only does formula smell disgusting, but it’s also ridiculously expensive. Breastfeeding is free, and it’s good for your baby, so if you can handle it, it will save you a ton of money.

Accept Hand-Me-Downs Graciously

There’s a stigma attached to buying used instead of buying new for your baby, but even new stuff is covered in chemicals (yes, even new clothing), so shouldn’t that stigma be attached to buying new?

If you ask around, a lot of parents will gladly give you their old baby items to reuse because it helps them declutter, and it’s a great thing to do for the environment.

When I had my baby, there were a few moms that were more than happy to unload some of their baby stuff to me that they no longer needed.  I know we saved hundreds of dollars thanks to all of our hand-me-downs.

I’m not talking just baby clothes (of which we were given plenty), but we also received a used crib, a bath seat, toys (oh the toys!), books, shoes, and everything in between. You name it, we probably got it (for free!). We seriously could have gotten away with buying nothing for our newborn for the first few months.

Graciously accept any and all hand-me-downs, especially items that you may only use for a few months. If some of the items are things you won’t use, pay it forward by passing it along to someone else.

I’m excited to get hand-me-downs even now that my daughter is three. I am absolutely fine with letting someone else spend the money and am grateful anytime I get even one bag of hand-me-down clothing for my daughter.

I actually get excited to go home and go through it all, as if I just went shopping for all of it. But the best part is that I didn’t have to go shopping for it – I have all of my money still in my wallet.

Not All Used Cribs are Obsolete

We scored a used baby crib from a friend of ours who no longer needed it. I know there is a stigma attached to using old cribs, but as long as you check to make sure the model hasn’t been recalled, then you are good to go.

The crib we used even turned into a toddler bed as our daughter grew, which saved us even more money down the road.

Shop Yard Sales

Clearly I’m no stranger to bargains, and that includes shopping at yard sales for baby items. If you can get over your feeling about yard sales being undesirable, there are some great deals to be had, many times on new items.

We bought several sets of new-with-tags outfits for our newborn at yard sales as well as our changing table ($15) and baby swing ($35). I later found that same exact baby swing at Babies R Us for $175. (It was definitely a proud moment!)

Ditch the Changing Table

While I opted for a traditional changing table (only because I got that great deal at a yard sale), another good option is to use an old dresser and simply outfit it with a contoured changing pad on top to ensure your baby’s safety.

This way, when your baby is too old for diapers, you can continue to use the dresser and remove the changing pad on top.

Local Pop-Up Consignment Sales

The majority of our baby items came from the biannual consignment sales we have locally. I’ve seen them in other cities, too, so I’m sure you probably have a few in your area. They typically run for a week at a time in the spring and fall.

Due to low overhead and the fact they run for such a short period of time, they’re cheaper than actual consignment shops, and you can find some steals there on anything kid-related. The best deals will be found at those sales.

I like to buy clothes at these sales and then resell them when my daughter outgrows the clothing. No one has ever realized my daughter wears used clothing (except when I tell them, because I’m not ashamed of it). Your new clothes are used after the first time they hit your washing machine. Let everyone else buy new!

Items You Will Want to Buy New

You may want to splurge on new items like bottles, a breast pump, a car seat, and cloth diapers if you decide to go that route, although I have heard many a rumor of parents buying used cloth diapers on Craigslist. (No shame if you don’t use cloth diapers, though — I didn’t.)

The bottom line is, try not to go overboard with all the cute baby items. You’ll receive so many gifts, you could probably go 6 months without having to buy a stitch of clothing for your baby. People love buying baby items.

If you do have some well wishers asking what you need, be honest and tell them — whether it’s for diapers or simply gift cards. It’s better than ending up with 10 pairs of baby shoes that your baby will never wear.

What are your favorite budget friendly baby ideas? How did you save money on the cost of your baby?

This article by Robin McDaniel first appeared on Everything Finance and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Student Loan Assistance Companies Slapped by Attorney General

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If anyone in the debt relief industry didn’t see this coming, they are stone-cold blind.

Student loan assistance has become the next wave of profitable debt relief services to sell with horrible advice. In an atmosphere that is ripe for picking off consumers for these services, the companies know better and should have learned lessons from the problematic debt settlement days just passed. It is the angle Attorney General Lisa Madigan has taken in Illinois today.

Two years ago I wrote this warning for consumers. This problem has been brewing.

There is no doubt that dealing with student loans is a hot mess. Not only don’t consumers know what to do but servicers are almost twice as clueless. Examples of having to educate servicers about their own programs is not unusual. So what do consumers need? They need real help to deal with their student loan problems not just a pretend magic quick fix that is sold for $49 a month for the next twenty years. And that’s actually an approach some companies are taking.

Pile on top of that is the lackluster advice given by many student loan assistance sales people and now you’ve got the trifecta of almost having a clue. Student loan sales people are often commissioned to close the deal, not give best advice. But consumers don’t understand that basic and obvious fact.

Here is my free guide on how to address unaffordable student loans.

But the issue many student loan assistance companies are stumbling over is the exact point Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan observed in her press release today. The release says, “Often these companies employ a one-size-fits-all approach to student loan debt relief, promising complete loan forgiveness without analyzing borrowers’ individual situations to determine whether they are eligible for the programs and without explaining all the required steps borrowers must take to qualify for loan forgiveness.”

Goodness knows I’ve seen all sorts of examples of simply sloppy advice given to consumers by student loan assistance companies. One situation in particular stands out. The student loan assistance company convinced a woman she would be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgives Program which requires 120 on-time monthly payments but she was only going to be employed for the next seven years. Oops. Seems math wasn’t the strong skill of that assistance company.

Next to that horrible advice is the chronic overselling of income based repayment programs. The income driven solutions are absolutely not a one-size-fits-all bandage for student loan problems. In fact they can often make the situation worse. If you don’t believe me, read this.

Here is What Illinois Unleashed on Student Loan Assistance Companies Today

Attorney General Continues Crackdown on Scam Artists Preying on People Struggling to Repay Student Loans & Launches Student Loan Helpline for Borrower Assistance

Attorney General Lisa Madigan today filed five lawsuits against companies targeting people struggling to repay their student loan debt. The Attorney General alleged that the scam operators charge borrowers hundreds to thousands of dollars in upfront fees with the false promise that they can relieve borrowers’ debt loads or have them forgiven entirely under programs endorsed by President Obama’s administration.

Madigan’s lawsuits are her latest crackdown on a new wave of scams leveled at the growing numbers of Americans who hold student loan debt. Student loan debt levels have grown to historic proportions, now affecting nearly 40 million Americans with $1.2 trillion in outstanding debt. Scam artists have taken notice, soliciting borrowers to pay large upfront fees for so-called debt relief options and programs that do nothing to reduce their debt loads or, in many cases, are options already available to these borrowers free of charge. Madigan was the first state attorney general to file lawsuits against these new scams in July 2014.

“These scams are proof that the rate of student loan debt in this country has skyrocketed, and it has already destabilized the financial security of millions of people across the country,” Madigan said. “When people cannot make their loan payments, they don’t get to build the future that they dreamed about when they went to college. We cannot allow these scams to continue.”

Madigan filed suit today against the following companies: Consumer Financial Resources LLC, of Texas, which operated as Student Loan Resolve; Federal Student Loan Alliance LLC, based in California; Interactiv Education LLC, based in Florida, that operated as Direct Student Aid; the Chicago-based Nationwide Student Aid; and Student Consulting Group Inc., based in Georgia, that solicited consumers as University of One and Help Assist Me Default Resolution Services.

The lawsuits allege the companies advertise heavily, offering borrowers a number of options to ease their debt burden based on the companies’ alleged expertise. In reality, Madigan alleges, the companies sought to scam desperate people into paying as much as $1,250 upfront for bogus services or free services, including assistance enrolling in loan forgiveness programs for public service employees, including teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and employees of non-profit organizations. Often these companies employ a one-size-fits-all approach to student loan debt relief, promising complete loan forgiveness without analyzing borrowers’ individual situations to determine whether they are eligible for the programs and without explaining all the required steps borrowers must take to qualify for loan forgiveness.

The companies advertise that they can stop wage garnishments, prevent or remove tax liens, reduce monthly payments, or remove default status. Borrowers from around Illinois filed complaints against Interactiv Education, Consumer Financial Resources, Federal Student Loan Alliance, Nationwide Student Aid and Student Consulting Group, but none received the help promised by the companies’ advertisements.

Madigan’s lawsuits allege that the five companies are violating an Illinois law that she wrote to ban companies from charging people upfront fees for so-called debt settlement services.

The lawsuits allege the companies are in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the Credit Services Organizations Act, and the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act. In 2010, Madigan crafted and helped pass the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act to ban companies from charging upfront fees to consumers for help with debt relief. Today’s lawsuits allege the companies are not complying with the requirements of the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act and in addition are not providing any meaningful assistance to reduce consumers’ student loan debt.

In announcing the lawsuits, Madigan also announced a new helpline within her office to assist borrowers who hold student loans. Madigan’s Student Loan Helpline, 1(800) 455-2456 (TTY: 1 (800) 964-3013), will be answered by trained staff in her office who can assist borrowers understand their repayment options and how to avoid default. Callers to the helpline can also file complaints with Madigan’s Consumer Fraud Bureau if they have problems with their loans or complaints of similar student loan debt relief scams.

Information about the helpline and legitimate student loan debt relief can also be found on Madigan’s website.

Attorney General Madigan is a national leader in investigating and enforcing consumer protection violations in the higher education field. She has pursued litigation against national for-profit colleges for fraudulent marketing practices, and she is leading a multistate investigation into the student loan provider Sallie Mae, now Navient. Madigan has also testified about the role of states in higher education before the U.S. Senate, including a call for stronger protections under federal law for student loan borrowers.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Hard Rock’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Hacked

Las Vegas casinos are renowned for their stringent physical security. Security cameras and bouncers don’t necessarily discourage cyberattacks, however, and a major Vegas property disclosed this weekend that hackers had spent the past seven months stealing credit card data from its systems.

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas sent letters to an undisclosed number of consumers on Friday telling them their personal information had been compromised.

“This criminal attack was limited to credit or debit card transactions between September 3rd, 2014 and April 2nd, 2015 at restaurant, bar and retail locations at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas property, including the Culinary Dropout Restaurant,” the letter says. Information stolen includes names, card numbers and CVV verification codes, but not PIN codes.

“We sincerely apologize for this incident, regret any inconvenience it may cause you and encourage you to take advantage of the product outlined herein,” said the letter, signed by Jody Lake, Chief Operating Officer of the casino.

The offer Lake references is one year of fraud resolution and identity protection through a service provided by credit bureau Experian.

The Hard Rock is not the first Vegas casino to announce it’s been hacked recently. Last year, the Sands Corporation suffered a crippling cyberattack that saw hackers destroy some data and post personal employee information, including Social Security numbers, on the Sands website. No customer information was impacted by the attack, the company said at the time. Earlier this year, U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper accused the Iranian government of involvement in the hacks.

The Hard Rock hackers’ motivation appears to be different. Still, it serves as a fresh reminder that every corporation — even those that are among the most security sensitive — can be a target.

If you think your credit or debt card information has been stolen, it’s important to notify your financial institution immediately, and to check your statements for fraudulent transactions. Checking your credit reports can also help you spot signs of fraud – like higher credit card balances if a thief has gotten a hold of an existing account, or a new account you didn’t open. Monitoring your credit scores over time can help you see trends, and if there are any big, unexpected changes, you should look at your credit reports and financial statements for more details. You’re entitled to a free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. And there are many ways to get your credit scores for free, including Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Bob Sullivan was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What Was the First Social Security Number?

On Dec. 1, 1936, newspapers across the United States ran stories about John David Sweeney, Jr., the first person to receive a Social Security number. Ironically, Sweeney died before he received any Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration‘s history website.

Sweeney was the face and name the media got to put on Social Security numbers, but he wasn’t officially the first number recipient. Determining that person wasn’t really possible, given that thousands of post offices started distributing them in November 1936. The Social Security Administration composed a timeline of what happened in the days leading up to the news about Sweeney, but it isn’t terribly specific. Here’s how it’s laid out on their website:

It started with a lot of paperwork. More than 45,000 post offices were supposed to start sending forms to local employers on Nov. 16, 1936, asking how many people they employed. Once those forms were returned, the post office sent the employers a form for each employee to fill out — that process was supposed to start Nov. 24. Once individuals returned their forms to the post office, either by hand or in the mail, a number was assigned to and a card was produced for them. Only 1,074 post offices were designated as “typing centers,” where the cards were physically made. Once the numbers and cards had been created, that information went to the Social Security Administration headquarters in Baltimore.

Apparently, some of this happened before those designated dates, and because of the volume of numbers being assigned simultaneously, there’s no way to know who received the first Social Security number. Sweeney — a 23-year-old resident of New Rochelle, New York — got the notoriety of having the first Social Security number and card because an official at the Social Security Administration headquarters picked his paperwork off the top of a stack and declared it so. As for what the digits of this first Social Security number were, the SSA didn’t get into details, just saying that it wasn’t “1,” a single number or the lowest number.

According to the SSA’s article on this moment in history, Sweeney died at age 61 of a heart attack, and even though he never saw the benefits, his wife did. Until she died in 1982, Sweeney’s wife received Social Security benefits he had accrued.

These days, Social Security numbers tend to come up in the media as a part of bad news: identity theft. The Social Security number is an identity thief’s holy grail, and once a victim’s number has been exposed, he or she is forever at risk of experiencing the fraud. Checking your credit report regularly can be one way to detect fraud in terms of new financial accounts. You can get your credit reports for free every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get your free credit report summary, updated every month, on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


7 Tips for Moving Back Home

With crippling student loan payments and a bleak (yet improving!) job market, the boomerang effect is stronger than ever. In fact, a Pew Research Center study reveals that 36% of young adults between age 18 and 31 in the United States moved back home to live with their parents in 2012. That’s the highest percentage in at least 40 years. While few young adults look forward to moving back with their parents or guardians after the independence of college, there are several ways to make the most out of moving back home.

1. Act Like an Adult

Returning to your parents’ house can be difficult since you were likely a child last time you lived there. Since you want to be treated like an adult, it’s important to act like one. Some ways to do that can be to do your own laundry, cook your own meals (or even meals for the whole family), clean up around the house and realize that your parents have their own plans and life without you. Show your parents you are not the high school student who last lived with them.

2. Chip In

Whether it’s paying a small amount of rent, buying groceries, cleaning, helping with computers or doing fix-it projects around the house, it’s a good idea to find ways that you can contribute.

3. Set an End Date

You probably don’t want to live with your parents forever, and one way to make sure you don’t is by creating a deadline. Before you make your way back home, try setting up a long-term plan that includes a time limit for yourself, whether it is one month or one year. This will help your parents prepare accordingly (financially, emotionally and personally) and help motivate you to work harder to reach the goal of moving out on your own.

4. Be Honest & Create Guidelines

It’s important to make sure you and your parents have reasonable expectations about your living situation. This includes when it comes to privacy, shared space and even visitors. It can be a good idea to address these issues early on — about sleeping hours, overnight guests, which meals or activities will be done together, and what time will be devoted to personal projects.

5. Emphasize Your Efforts

While the job market might be tough or life on your own is too much for you right away, show your parents that you are doing everything you can to get on your feet. This may mean taking a job that doesn’t exactly match your degree, picking up a side hustle or even just trying out more adult responsibilities.

6. Keep a Social Life

Just because you are living back home doesn’t mean you need to put your life on pause. Continue to hang out with friends, date, explore new things and do your best to stay happy. It’s important to keep support networks aside from your parents so you don’t start to feel isolated.

7. Be Appreciative

Last but certainly not least, remember that your parents are doing you a favor. Say thank you for all they do for you and be considerate because no matter how old you are, you are still their child.

It may seem unthinkable after your college years, but you can enjoy yourself while moving back in with your parents. Follow these tips, adjust your attitude, maintain some independence and save up as much as you can while getting closer to living on your own again.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by AJ Smith was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


4 Reward Credit Cards That Were Too Good to Last

Once of the biggest allures in life is scarcity, as we all want what we can’t get. In the extremely competitive world of credit cards, there have been banks that have gone a bit too far, and offered products with rewards that were so generous as to be unsustainable. In other cases, there have been some great credit card offers that never quite gained traction and were pulled from the market.

Here are four of the best credit cards that you can’t get, as well as some pretty good alternatives.

Charles Schwab Bank Visa 

In December of 2008, the Charles Schwab investing company introduced a credit card with an unprecedented rate of return. Cardholders receive 2% cash back on all purchases with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. Despite, or perhaps because of, its popularity, the card stopped accepting new applicants in early 2010.

But thankfully, there isn’t much need to mourn its loss. Last year, Citi introduced its Double Cash card that offers the same rate of return. Cardholders receive 2% cash back on all purchases; 1% cash back at the time of the transaction, and another 1% back when payment is made. In addition, new applicants also receive 15 months of 0% APR financing on both new purchases and balance transfers, with a 3% balance transfer fee. There is no annual fee for this card, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Old Blue from American Express

There is a card called Blue from American Express that is currently offered, but it’s a rather ordinary card that offers one point per dollar spent, and not much else. However, there used to be an extraordinary card offered by the same name, that some now refer to as “Old Blue.” This previous card offered 1% cash back on all purchases, until cardholders reached $6,500 in annual spending. After that, cardholders then received an amazing 5% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, gas stations and some drugstores. At those rates of return, credit card rewards experts became very enthusiastic about using their card to earn as much cash back as possible, and American Express later limited the 5% rewards to cardholders’ first $50,000 spent in a year. Nevertheless, legend has it that you may still be able to apply for the Old Blue card if you know where to look. Instead, American Express offers its Blue Cash Preferred, which offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year at U.S. grocery stores. There is a $75 annual fee for this card.

United Airlines MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card from Chase

Aside from being the only card that has the word Plus appear twice in its name, this card had a lot of things going for it. Cardholders receive access to the United Club and Star Alliance airport lounges, and receive their first and second bags checked for free for themselves and one other traveling companion. Customers also receive Premier Access travel services, which include priority check-in, security lanes (where available), boarding and baggage handling. But what really sets this card apart is the ability to earn 1,000 Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) for each $5,000 spent, allowing cardholders to earn elite status much more quickly.

But because this card was originally offered as a Continental Airlines card, a company that has since been acquired by United, this card is not available to new applicants, although existing cardholders continue to enjoy its benefits. As an alternative, new applicants can apply for the United Club card from Chase, which offers many of the same benefits, but no PQMs. There is a $395 annual fee for the United Club card.

JP Morgan Select from Chase

This was a very high-end card, but with an affordable price tag. Cardholders earned double points on many travel expenses, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. It was also one of the first cards offered in the United States with an EMV smart chip. Other benefits include all sorts of travel insurance and purchase protection policies, as well as no foreign transaction fees. There was a $95 annual fee for this card.

In retrospect, it’s obvious why this card is no longer offered, as Chase’s current Sapphire Preferred card now has almost identical terms — including double rewards for travel purchases, the $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Before you apply for a credit card, it’s important to do your homework — which you can start by getting your credit score so you know where you stand. Once you know what range your credit score is in — good, fair, poor, excellent — you can narrow your search to cards that require a level of credit that matches yours, and which you’re more likely to get approved for if you apply. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, and they’re updated monthly.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This article by Jason Steele was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.