Category Archives: Credit

Are Banks Lending Money to Small Business?

There is a misconception that was especially popular during the banking crisis of the last several years and that continues today at some level. As a small business lender, I often get asked if banks are lending money to small business. The misconception being that banks–including community banks–are just sitting on their hands and are unwilling to invest any loan dollars into small business growth. The reality is very different, at least at the community bank level. The FDIC recently released a report that stated while community banks only have a small percentage–14%–of industry assets on their books, they account for 46% of all small loans originated to businesses and farms in the United States. I would argue this fantastic percentage of small business loans from community banks is the result of community banks being invested in their communities, leadership and decision makers who live and work in the areas they serve, and community bankers who are invested in seeing small businesses in their towns and cities succeed. First National Bank has seen great small business loan growth in the last 18 months, and I know other area community banks have made a similar commitment to finding and helping creditworthy small business owners grow and thrive.

This is Good Karma

Of all the confusing topics in personal finance, credit scores (a number that represents the cumulative health of your credit) and credit reports (the report that compiles your personal credit history) have to be near the top of the list. Not only are there three different credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) that each report information a little differently, but each bureau also calculates a FICO score that is likely different for each of the bureaus.

Your FICO score is called a FICO score because it is calculated using software from Fair Isaac and Company. This model is the predominant scoring method in the industry at the moment and many banks use a version of FICO to make lending decisions. However, since each bureau may collect a different combination of credit information, and because they each have their own formula for how to calculate the score, the three scores are rarely the same.

In addition, each bureau calls its FICO score something different: Equifax uses the Beacon score, Transunion calls theirs an Empirica score, and Experian simply calls their score the Experian/Fair Isaac Risk Model.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the three bureaus don’t appreciate the stranglehold Fair Isaac has on the industry so they each have their own proprietary scores and in 2006 they collaborated to create a score called the VantageScore to compete with the FICO.

Finally, the bureaus want you to pay for their scores. These scores can vary significantly, it may be difficult to really gauge the health of one’s credit, and the score you pay for may not even be the score a bank uses to determine creditworthiness.

So, what’s the good news?

One of these bureaus has finally decided to create a FREE tool consumers can use to monitor and track their credit history and score over time. creditkarma.com is a service that tracks your score and credit report changes for free. The site provides daily updates to your TransRisk score (Transunion’s proprietary model), VantageScore, and Auto Insurance Score (score used by insurance companies to gauge one’s insurance risk).

I highly recommend checking out this website. Not only do they provide free score updates, but they also show changes in balances, risk ratings, and other alerts so it becomes much easier to understand how a credit score moves over time. And even though there are a myriad of different scores out there, consistently tracking one score can be useful and can also be very helpful when determining the best time to apply for a new loan. I use their free App on my iPhone and also access their website from my desktop.

Considering how difficult credit can be to manage, it is refreshing to see Transunion create a service that makes the whole process easier.

CEP and OCAP: Acronyms that stand for small business

Community Banks and small business tend to give government a hard time for often making it more difficult for small businesses to be profitable and grow. So when a government program comes along that effectively encourages small business growth, it is worth noting.

In this case, the State of Ohio has developed several lending programs after receiving more than $55 million from the US Treasury for the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). This initiative was designed to encourage lending to small businesses. The two programs mentioned above are the Collateral Enhancement Program (CEP) and Ohio Capital Access Program (OCAP). Both programs help mitigate risk for Banks who are working to put together loan packages for small businesses that may be creditworthy but lack a traditional down payment or do not have adequate collateral. Typically government programs (i.e. the Small Business Administration) have funds available but the requirements and/or underwriting are often prohibitive and difficult to navigate. These state programs, on the other hand, are easy for banks to use and the State wants these funds to be distributed to small businesses that need them.

Check with your local community bank to see if they participate in these programs or visit the State website to see a list of participating banks. The website also lists eligibility requirements and explains more about program details.

As of 11/1/2012 the State has awarded $3.452 million of the $33 million available in the program. Your community bank’s small business lender should be knowledgeable about these programs and can help you explore your options. This is one instance where community banks, small business, and state government can work together to create jobs and improve communities.

What’s my Credit Score?

According to a recent report by Smartcredit.com, only 4% of people access their free credit each year. The government originally started requiring the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Transunion, and Experian—to provide a free annual report every year to encourage credit education, reduce fraud and identity theft among consumers. Given the 4% utilization rate, it appears the effort may not be working according to plan. However, credit monitoring is big business as more and more players are entering the market for your financial management dollars. Here are five things to consider regarding personal credit management and your free report:

1. Annualcreditreport.com is the ONLY government sponsored site that offers a free annual report from each of the three credit bureaus. There are countless copycats and plenty of other legitimate providers, but make sure you know what kind of site you’re visiting before you invest money with a credit monitoring service.

2. This site (annualcreditreport.com) allows users to choose the method and timing of report orders. The reports can be ordered at the same time or staggered over the course of the year: user option. Also, the credit history report is free, BUT it does cost to get a FICO score as part of the order.

3. Once you order a report from one of the bureaus, it’s not free again for a full year.

4. Since the report is designed to promote awareness, it makes sense to use the report to familiarize yourself with the content of your report. If there are errors or fraudulent information on your history, there are ways to dispute the information and get the report corrected. It’s important to dispute the information immediately so when good credit matters—loan, insurance, and job application to name a few—your record will be correct and accurately reflect your history.

5. As identity theft and security breaches of personal information become more common, it is essential to protect identity and monitor fraudulent activity. All three of the main bureaus, and many other quality credit monitoring providers, offer ongoing protection in various forms. It would be very wise to use annualcreditreport.com as an introduction to your credit, and then find a service to help you monitor your credit and personal information moving forward. It is much easier to plan ahead and purchase protection than it is to try to pick up the pieces after you’ve been victimized by identity theft.

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