Financing A Home: Improving Your Credit Score

Today there are many homes for sale with low prices and low interest rates. Housing is more affordable now than it has been in many years. Considering the current market, why isn’t everyone snapping up homes? The truth is, many first time home buyers are jumping into the market and getting in on this affordable housing opportunity. Real estate investors are also very active as they see this unique opportunity to build their wealth. The unfortunate reality for everyone right now is that even though homes are more affordable now than in many years, lenders are very picky about who gets a loan and who does not. And your credit score is one of the primary indicators of whether or not you will get approved for a loan and what your interest rate will be.Just a few years ago a borrower with a credit score as low as 500 could buy a home. Today that score needs to be a minimum of 620 to 640. And to qualify for the best interest rates you better have a credit score in the 700′s. No matter what your credit score is, you should know it. If it is not close to 750 you should resolve to get there and here are some easy tips to help improve your credit score.Let’s take a look at what information on our credit report determines your score, then we will give suggestions on how to improve in each of those areas35% or your credit score is attributed to your payment history which not only includes actual payments to your creditors, but it includes things such as collections, judgments and tax liens. With this in mind you always want to make sure you make your car, credit card and loan payments on time. Many lenders also require verification of rental payment history, so you will want to make sure you pay your rent on time as well. By the way, a payment is considered on time if it is paid within 30 days of the due date. If you have collections, judgments or tax liens on your credit, you will have to provide proof that these were paid. If there are unpaid collections you can in many cases negotiate a settlement for less than what is owed. From a credit scoring standpoint this is almost as good as paying in full as long as it is reported as satisfied in full on the credit report.In addition, you can make a payment arrangement for tax liens and after 12 months get those rated for your credit report which will help. Judgments are required to be paid in full at the close of a loan, and you will need to get it paid and the credit report updated in order to improve your credit score. In many cases with a history of late payments we have to say, time heals all wounds. In other words, it may just take a year or so of making your payments on time to get the credit score you need. If you have items on your credit report that are incorrect, then you can dispute those items to get them corrected with the credit bureau.30% of your credit score is attributed to how much you owe on your credit card as a percentage of total credit limit. Let me give you an example: If you have one credit card with a $1,000 limit and you owe $750 on this card, your percentage of credit usage is 75% and your available credit is 25%. The lower the usage percentage the higher your credit score will be (all other factors being equal). There are 3 ways to improve this number. You can accomplish this by paying your credit card down as soon as possible. You can request an increase in the credit card limit. And you can also open up new cards. For the last two, you will need to exercise some caution however.When you request an increase in your credit card, you should ask your credit card company if they can do this based on the merits of your payment history with them. If not they will create a credit inquiry which can lower your score just a little bit. In my opinion it would probably still be worth the credit inquiry deduction from your credit to get your credit limit increased. I believe that in most cases you would have a net gain in credit score, but there have been times when I’ve seen it drop at least in the short term. By the way, do not increase the balance on your credit card when your limit goes up or you will have just undone the improvement, but now you owe more money and still have a low credit score. Similarly, when you open up a new credit card, you end up having a couple of strikes against you which is the credit inquiry and the new credit account. More about both of these in a moment.15% of your credit score is attributed to your length of credit history. So Let’s have another example: Let’s say you have 2 credit cards. You have had one of the credit cards for 5 years and the other card for 3 years. So on average your credit cards are 4 years old, and so your credit score will reflect this 4 year average length. Now if you open a new card, you reduce your average down to about 2.7 years from 4 years. So initially at least this can have the effect of lowering your average length of credit and reduce your credit score accordingly. That is one of the reasons that opening new credit is not a quick fix for bumping your credit score up. However lets take a look at it a year from now. In one year from opening the new credit card your average length would be at 3.6 so if this is part of a longer term strategy then it would probably be a good strategy to follow.10% of your credit score is attributed to new credit, so once again you can see that opening a new credit account not only lowers your average length of credit, but it also counts against you on a stand alone basis as well. This is also why an inquiry affects your credit score as well. When there are inquiries, it is “assumed” by the system that you are acquiring new credit whether you are or not. For example, if you had your car at the dealership to be fixed and while you were waiting you were taking a look at a new car and ended up making an offer which the dealership knows you will be financing, they will make sure to run your credit (with your permission of course). So even though you end up not buying the new car, the credit inquiry is on your credit report and will slightly lower your credit score. By the way, all inquiries reported in a 30 day period from similar companies will be treated as one credit inquiry. So if you are going to be buying a car or shopping for a mortgage, try to get all of the inquiries put in within 30 days to lessen the effect of multiple inquiries.The last 10% of your credit score is attributed to the types of credit used, or what we call credit mix. It is good to have both credit cards, car loans, mortgages and installment loans on your credit report. For most people it will take time to accomplish all of these, but beware that someone who always uses high interest rate, high risk lenders will have lower credit scores as well. I cannot mention them by name of course, but it is the lenders who would be considered a finance company, and makes high interest rate and unsecured loans for household goods that will decrease your credit score. Now it is not bad to have an account with this type of company. Many of them work with stores to offer no interest, no payments for 90 days or longer. As long as you are not using them with regularity. Once established you should be able to qualify for reasonable rate credit cards or even an installment loan at a bank or credit union with a competitive rate as well. So bear in mind as you build your credit and credit score that these factors all contribute to your overall score.A couple of other thoughts for you. Many folks ask me what this or that will do to your credit score and unfortunately no one can tell you exactly as credit scoring is somewhat like Kentucky Fried Chickens secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. It is a closely guarded, highly sophisticated set of algorithms that combines all the above stated factors and reduces them down to a simple 3 digit number that is supposed to represent your likelihood of paying back the loan or credit card you are applying for. You may want to connect with a lender who can assist with guiding you through the process of improving your credit score. There are also a large number of companies who will, for a price, work on your credit score for you. There are no guarantees with these services and in addition, they are usually fairly expensive and many of them are just plain rip offs, so you would need to approach this avenue with a great deal of caution.Finally, as a consumer of credit services and possibly as someone who want so purchase a home, you should make it a priority to take control of your finances and your credit score and find out what your credit score is and work hard to bring it up or maintain it.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

S&P 500 Biotech Giant Vertex Leads 5 Stocks Showing Strength

Your stocks to watch for the week ahead are Cheniere Energy (LNG), S&P 500 biotech giant Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX), Cardinal Health (CAH), Steel Dynamics (STLD) and Genuine Parts (GPC).

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While the market remains in correction, with analysts and investors wary of an economic downturn, these five stocks are worth adding to watchlists. S&P 500 medical giants Vertex and Cardinal Health have been holding up, as health-care related plays tend to do well in down markets.

Steel Dynamics and Genuine Parts are both coming off strong earnings as both the steel and auto parts industries report optimistic outlooks. Meanwhile, Cheniere Energy saw sales boom in the second quarter as demand in Europe for natural gas continues to grow.

Major indexes have been making rally attempts with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 testing weekly support on Friday. With market uncertainty, investors should be ready for follow-through day breakouts and keep an eye on these stocks.

Cheniere Energy, Cardinal Health and VRTX stock are all on IBD Leaderboard.

Cheniere Energy Stock
LNG shares rose 1.1% to 175.79 during Friday’s market trading. On the week, the stock advanced 3.1%, not from highs, bouncing from its 21-day and 10-week lines earlier in the week.

Cheniere Energy has been consolidating since mid-September, but needs another week to forge a proper base, with a potential 182.72 buy point formed on Aug. 10.

Houston-based Cheniere Energy was IBD Stock Of The Day on Thursday, as the largest U.S. producer of liquefied natural gas eyes strong demand in Europe.

Even though natural gas prices are plunging in the U.S. and Europe, investors still see strong LNG demand for Cheniere and others.

The U.K. government confirmed last week that it is in talks for an LNG purchase agreement with a number of companies, including Cheniere.

In the first half of 2021, less than 40% of Cheniere’s cargoes of LNG landed in Europe. That jumped to more than 70% through this year’s second quarter, even as the company ramped up new export capacity. The urgency of Europe’s natural gas shortage only intensified last month. That is when an explosion disabled the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia that had once supplied 40% of the European Union’s natural gas.

In Q2, sales increased 165% to $8 billion and LNG earned $2.90 per share, up from a net loss of $1.30 per share in Q2 2021. The company will report Q3 earnings Nov. 3, with investors seeing booming profits for the next few quarters.

Cheniere Energy has a Composite Rating of 84. It has a 98 Relative Strength Rating, an exclusive IBD Stock Checkup gauge for share price movement with a 1 to 99 score. The rating shows how a stock’s performance over the last 52 weeks holds up against all the other stocks in IBD’s database. The EPS rating is 41.

Vertex Stock
VRTX stock jumped 3.4% to 300 on Friday, rebounding from a test of its 50-day moving average. Shares climbed 2.2% for the week. Vertex stock has formed a tight flat base with an official buy point of 306.05, according to MarketSmith analysis.

The stock has remained consistent over recent weeks, while the relative strength line has trended higher. The RS line tracks a stock’s performance vs. the S&P 500 index.

Vertex Q3 earnings are on due Oct. 27. Analysts see EPS edging up 1% to $3.61 per share with sales increasing 16% to $2.2 billion, according to FactSet.

The Boston-based global biotech company dominates the cystic fibrosis treatment market. Vertex also has other products in late-stage clinical development that target sickle cell disease, Type 1 diabetes and certain genetically caused kidney diseases. That includes a gene-editing partnership with Crispr Therapeutics (CRSP).

In early August, Vertex reported better-than-expected second-quarter results and raised full-year sales targets.

S&P 500 stock Vertex ranks second in the Medical-Biomed/Biotech industry group. VRTX has a 99 Composite Rating. Its Relative Strength Rating is 94 and its EPS Rating is 99.

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Cardinal Health Stock
CAH stock advanced 3.2% to 73.03 Friday, clearing a 71.22 buy point from a shallow cup-with-handle base and hitting a record high. But volume was light on the breakout. CAH stock leapt 7.3% for the week.

Cardinal Health stock’s relative strength line has also been trending up for months.

The cup-with-handle base is part of a base-on-base pattern, forming just above a cup base cleared on Aug. 11.

Cardinal Health, based in Dublin, Ohio, offers a wide assortment of health care services and medical supplies to hospitals, labs, pharmacies and long-term care facilities. The company reports that it serves around 90% of hospitals and 60,000 pharmacies in the U.S.

S&P 500 stock Cardinal Health will report Q1 2023 earnings on Nov. 4. Analysts forecast earnings falling 26% to 96 cents per share. Sales are expected to increase 10% to $48.3 billion, according to FactSet.

Cardinal Health stock ranks first in the Medical-Wholesale Drug/Supplies industry group, ahead of McKesson (MCK), which is also showing positive action. CAH stock has a 94 Composite Rating out of 99. It has a 97 Relative Strength Rating and an EPS rating of 73.

Steel Dynamics Stock
STLD shares shot up 8.5% to 92.92 on Friday and soared 19% on the week, coming off a Steel Dynamics earnings beat Wednesday night.

Shares blasted above an 88.72 consolidation buy point Friday after clearing a trendline Thursday. STLD stock is 17% above its 50-day line, definitely extended from that key average.

Steel Dynamics’ latest consolidation could be seen as part of a larger base going back six months.

Steel Dynamics topped Q3 earnings views with EPS rising 10% to $5.46 while revenue grew 11% to $5.65 billion. The steel producer’s outlook is optimistic despite weaker flat rolled steel pricing. STLD reports its order activity and backlogs remain solid.

The Fort Wayne, Indiana-based company is among the largest producers of carbon steel products in the U.S. It engages in metal recycling operations along with steel fabrication and produces myriad steel products.

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STLD stock ranks first in the Steel-Producers industry group. STLD stock has a 96 Composite Rating out of 99. It has a 90 Relative Strength Rating, an exclusive IBD Stock Checkup gauge for share-price movement that tops at 99. The rating shows how a stock’s performance over the last 52 weeks holds up against all the other stocks in IBD’s database. The EPS rating is 98.

Genuine Parts Stock
GPC stock gained 2.8% to 162.35 Friday after the company topped earnings views with its Q3 results on Thursday. For the week GPC advanced 5.1% as the stock held its 50-day line and is in a flat base.

GPC has an official 165.09 flat-base buy point after a three-week rally, according to MarketSmith analysis.

The relative strength line for Genuine Parts stock has rallied sharply to highs over the past several months.

On Thursday, the Atlanta-based auto parts company raised its full-year guidance on growth across its automotive and industrial sales.

Genuine Parts earnings per share advanced 19% to $2.23 and revenue grew 18% to $5.675 billion in Q3. GPC’s full-year guidance is now calling for EPS of $8.05-$8.15, up from $7.80-$7.95. The company now forecasts revenue growth of 15%-16%, up from the earlier 12%-14%.

During the Covid pandemic, supply chain constraints caused a major upheaval in the auto industry, sending prices for new and used cars to record levels. This has made consumers more likely to hang on to their existing vehicles for longer, driving mileage higher and boosting demand for auto replacement parts.

Fellow auto stocks O’Reilly Auto Parts (ORLY) and AutoZone (AZO) have also rallied near buy points amid the struggling market. O’Reilly reports on Oct. 26.

IBD ranks Genuine Parts first in the Retail/Wholesale-Auto Parts industry group. GPC stock has a 96 Composite Rating. Its Relative Strength Rating is 94 and it has an EPS Rating of 89.