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Welcome To The Insighter!

Explore the latest happenings at Kirtland FCU and learn about important topics from around the financial world. Here’s your insight!
To learn about retirements, investments and financial planning, check out Invested now.

All Posts > Personal Finance

Personal Finance

You probably won’t be deciding where in your community the schools or shopping centers will be built. Similarly, you likely can’t exert power over whether or not your neighbors maintain their home or beautify their lot. In short, you can’t always control the external factors that determine your home’s value. But you can control the general attractiveness of your own home.

Home improvement projects can be a tremendous tool for increasing the value of your home. However, given the size and relative complexity of these projects, it is very easy for the cost to quickly spiral out of control. That’s why it’s so important to establish a budget for the project before it begins and to do everything you can to adhere to that plan.

Here are some constructive tips for building the best possible home improvement budget.
 

Know your own budget first

No home improvement project should ever be embarked upon without first gaining an understanding of how it will impact your month-to-month finances. Ideally, you would identify a particular home improvement job as a goal several months in advance and create a saving account – separate from emergency, college or retirement savings – to earmark money for the project. If you are planning on financing the work either through a credit card, personal loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC), be aware what your monthly payments will be and how that impacts your monthly bottom line.
 

Mind your p’s: practical and pragmatic

It’s important when picking your home improvement projects to focus on what will be most attractive to the general population of home buyers. You may love the idea of a nook to store your 180-gallon fish tanks, but to a potential future buyer that addition may make the house look lopsided and unwieldy. Many times the improvements that will help your home sell quickly and for top dollar later are pretty unglamorous today. A new water heater or fixed roof may seem pretty mundane now, but it can make a huge difference in how secure a future buyer feels about the property in the future. Even if you are just fixing the place up for yourself, try to always prioritize safety and efficiency over aesthetics when choosing which projects you will fund. Many websites offer national cost-vs.-value averages for different projects, so take advantage of this information in deciding which jobs to prioritize.
 

Know exactly what you want

Trying to figure out what a “kitchen remodel” will cost you is only going to provide you with a very wide and ultimately counterproductive idea of what you can expect to pay. For bigger jobs like this, break them down into each item that will be replaced or refurbished. Using the kitchen example again, research what kind of countertops, flooring, cabinets, etc. you want so you can either communicate effectively with a contractor or know what you can expect to pay for materials you source on your own.
 

Let the competition begin!

To figure out if what you have saved or are planning to finance for your project matches what it will actually cost, your best option is to get bids from contractors who specialize in remodeling or in the particular project you are interested in. Even if you are planning on doing the project yourself, it can be extremely educational to see what a professional estimates for materials, labor, permits, cleanup, etc. Demand that the estimate be as detailed as possible. And don’t stop at just one. Not only are potential contractors competing against the possibility of you doing the project yourself, they are also competing against other professionals out there. Use this to your advantage to come up with a number that fits within your budgeted amount.
 

Understand overage

Know that whether you do the job yourself or hire a contractor to do the work, you are almost always going to run into some aspect of the project that pushes the cost beyond initial estimates. Count on your costs ending up anywhere from 10-25% above initial estimates. If this goes beyond what your budget has shown you can afford, it’s wise to wait until you can bulk up your earmarked amount a bit or scale back the scope of your current project.
 

Unearth savings

If you hire a professional to do your home improvement, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave the sourcing of materials up to them. Consider hiring a contractor who will let you shop for supplies on your own. This will allow you to comparison shop more vigorously than a contractor might have time to. It can also open up the possibility of getting high quality supplies at a deep discount from a nonprofit like a Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet. If you are going with a big box home improvement store, be sure to ask about upcoming sales. Lastly, if you are using a contractor and can wait a bit, try to do your home improvement project in winter when builders are more desperate for work and will in many cases drop their bids.

As mentioned above, home improvements are one of the few things you can control about the value of your home. So be sure to do just that and TAKE CONTROL of the process rather than letting it become series of money pits. As long as you create a plan ahead of time and do your best to stick with it, you can have a rewarding process and a more desirable property.
 

Smart Tips

Nine ways to avoid home improvement budget killers
  1. Don’t add “while we’re at it” jobs that weren’t a part of the original budget/plan.
  2. Stay away from cheap materials or corner-cutting measures that will just mean paying more later.
  3. If you are doing the work yourself, learn the entire process before you start instead of using a “learn as you go approach.”Let your contractor know you aren’t interested in the top-end, luxury versions of goods and materials.
  4. Check service ratings websites before hiring your contractor.
  5. If you are doing some pre-home sale upgrades, give yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to pay for rush work or overtime.
  6. Consider refurbishing certain items instead of tearing them out and replacing them.
  7. Exercise your creative abilities and look for ways to use materials found at architectural salvage stores.
  8. To avoid paying to store in a locker any work-blocking household items, have a plan ahead of time for housing in-the-way furniture during the project.
  9. Ask your contractor – you don’t want to miss out on potential savings because you failed to communicate.


Recommended Reading

Home Remodeling – What You Don’t Know and How It Really Works, Familia Publishing, 2012
Working with a contractor on a home improvement job can feel like talking to a doctor about your options for a medical condition. There’s some terminology you’re not 100% sure about, your options can seem unclear and there’s always concern about what it’s going to cost you. In fact, unless you’ve worked in construction in the past, it may be pretty difficult for you to understand the perspective or motives of your contractor at various points in the process.

What makes this e-book so valuable is that it helps you to understand the work process from the contractor’s point of view. Often times, homeowners shoot themselves in the foot with remodeling projects because they can’t differentiate between legitimate requests from the contractor and unnecessary ones. To avoid costly mistakes, you need to arm yourself with information.

In well-organized, easy to understand language, this book will help you manage otherwise gnarly tasks, like:
  • Grasping what the entirety of the project will require
  • Researching ahead of time what permits will be needed
  • Setting up a remodeling plan
  • Hiring the right contractor for your job
  • Arranging payments to the contractor
  • Understanding insurance requirements
  • Protecting yourself legally
  • Writing the contract
  • Making better in-project decisions
  • Not get railroaded
  • Maybe even enjoying the process!
You won’t find too many other books that give you such a thorough breakdown of navigating a financial process in such clear and concise language. With this book you can truly feel like you are on equal footing when talking a contractor.

Read more from Balance Pro Financial, just for Kirtland FCU members!

 

Personal Finance
The holidays are spending season for most Americans, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that for the most part. In 2019, the average gift-buyer in the United States spend just under $1,000 for gifts, decorations, food, travel and other holiday expenses, according to The Ascent research. Considering that in 2020 the average shopper planned to spend $998 on holiday purchases, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the pandemic hasn’t dampened holiday buying behaviors.

If you packed that spending onto a credit card (or several), the first priority in 2021 may be managing that debt. One tool for managing debts is consolidation—combining several debts into one balance with one monthly payment. This won’t lower your debt necessarily but having one payment instead of several could help you manage it.

There are many options out there for debt consolidation. Two of the most popular, balance transfer and a personal loan, both have benefits and considerations. Which is right for you? Well, let’s take a look.
 

What Is A Balance Transfer?

A balance transfer is the transferring of debt from one credit card to another, usually with a promotional rate on that transferred balance.

Some cards will offer a 0% rate on the transferred balance for a certain period of time. If you pay off the debt in that time, you will incur no further interest charges. However, if you aren’t planning on paying off the balance during the promotional period, the regular interest rate may make the switch less attractive. Additionally, it’s not unusual for cards to charge a balance transfer fee—up to 5% of the transferred balance in some cases—or carry an annual fee.

Kirtland FCU’s Independence Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and if you transfer the balance by March 31, you’ll pay an interest rate as low as 2.99% APR* on the transferred balance.


Learn More!
 

Is a Personal Loan Better?

It depends on a lot of factors. One of the key features of a personal loan is the interest rate. There is no introductory period and, according to CreditKarma.com, rates range between 5.99% and 35.99% APR* on average. Some personal loans will require an origination fee as well.

If the rate on your personal loan is lower than you can get on a credit card and you aren’t able to pay off the balance before the promotional period ends and a significantly higher rate kicks in, it’s worth exploring your options. 
Here’s a quick comparison at the difference in the two options (source: CreditKarma.com).
 
  Balance Transfer Credit Cards Personal Loans (Installment Unsecured)
Fees Balance transfer fee of 0%, 3% or 5% of the amount transferred Origination fee of 0% to 8% of the loan amount
Credit limit or loan amount $300 to $15,000+ $1,000 to $100,000
Interest rate Potential introductory balance transfer APR during a set period of time, then a regular balance transfer APR that’s variable and subject to change as the prime rate changes 5.99% to 35.99% APR

See current Kirtland FCU rates.


A balance transfer is a great way to lower the number of payments you have each month and reduce the amount of interest you’re paying on those high-balance credit cards.
Ready to take advantage of Kirtland FCU’s balance transfer with the Independence Credit Card? Get started today!
 
*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Annual percentage rate and balance transfer rate is based on credit history and other factors. If you do not qualify for the type of card for which you have applied, you may be offered credit under different terms and conditions. The special balance transfer promotion is valid on transferred balances conducted between January 15, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Balances transferred to your credit card by March 31, 2021, will remain at the introductory promotional rate until your December 2021 statement cycle. On your January 2022 statement, all remaining balances will convert to your current Annual Percentage Rate. APRs for purchases and cash advances may vary. Balance transfers cannot be used to pay off existing Kirtland FCU loans or credit cards. For more information on balance transfer, please call 1.800.880.5328. Information accurate as January 15, 2021 and is subject to change. Membership eligibility required.

Personal Finance
Many of us have experienced it—that awful feeling when the bills are coming in and the money, well, isn’t. 2020 has forced increasing numbers of New Mexicans to deal with a job loss, reduced hours, a struggling business, childcare issues or a medical crisis, squeezing finances beyond their limit. But what you do before and at the very beginning of that hardship can have a big impact on how quickly you’ll recover.
 
Vaughn Simmons, Vice-President of Account Resolutions, has important tips and information for members who may be experiencing a financial crisis.
 

You have options. You have more options the earlier you act.

Simmons says if you can do one thing in the face of a pending financial challenge, you MUST call your financial institution as soon as you realize there is a hardship.

“Our main objective is to work with our members who are experiencing financial difficulty. We have options to help,” he said. “The sooner, the better. The earlier you let us know, the more we’ll be able to assist you.”

The biggest mistake members make is not calling before the missed payment, said Simmons. Options include payment plans, shifting due dates, as well as government and Kirtland FCU hardship programs. But some can only be implemented if the member makes contact with Kirtland FCU ahead of a missed payment. Once payments are missed, the situation becomes more complicated and costly for the member. Interest continues to accrue on loans, and late fees will accumulate.
 

The 2020 Financial Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic devastation has hit New Mexico families particularly hard. In March 2020, Kirtland FCU experienced a major surge in call volume from members experiencing financial hardships. The Kirtland FCU Account Resolution team has worked feverishly to aid these members and their families with a variety of relief programs.

“The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides some programs, and we (Kirtland FCU) also have special programs we’ve created to help these members in 2020,” said Simmons. “We’ve helped hundreds of members so far, and the crisis isn’t over.”

For those experiencing hardships, Kirtland FCU also offers debt and budget counseling services through Balance Pro, and Simmons’ team can also put members in contact with debt relief services if that’s what they decide is needed after speaking with the Account Resolution representatives.

Managing Debt

If you’ve accumulated a lot of debt or are trying to work through a financial hardship, there are a few tools you can use to reduce that debt. Consider rolling high-interest rate balances over to a lower interest loan or credit card with a balance transfer. Kirtland FCU offers balance transfers with no fees and amazing rates.

Avoid turning to sky-high interest rate options such as payday loans—these may alleviate short term challenges, but with rates that can top 400%, they cause more problems in the long run.

Whatever your situation, Simmons wants to make it clear that his team has one task: to take care of members.

“Financial issues cause so much stress,” said Simmons. “We don’t want members to have to worry about losing a car or a home in addition to everything else they are dealing with. We want to bring peace of mind to our members, and we work hard to find solutions together. But we can’t help if you don’t call.

Worried about an upcoming loan payment? To reach the Account Resolutions team, call 1-800-880-5328.

And remember: the earlier you call, the more options you’ll have.


Personal Finance

It’s challenging enough to make a paycheck last when it comes on a regular basis – but what happens when you have to take mandatory time-off or a reduction in hours, or are paid for some months out of the year but not others? With planning and a careful look at your finances, you can survive the times when the checks are on hold but the expenses march on.

What to do today
Not having enough money to pay for life’s necessities can be pretty scary, but there are a few things you can do to get you through this time with minimal hardship.

Your first task is to take a look at your monthly expenses and prioritize them. Decide what you need to pay for and what you can, at least for now, let go. Housing, food, transportation, and insurance should take top priority. Dining out, clothes, and entertainment may need to be sacrificed for the time being. Remember, this isn’t forever, when the cash is flowing again, they can be resumed.

For those items you need, you may be able to pay less than you’re currently paying by downgrading. A smartphone with an unlimited data plan, for example, costs a lot more than a pre-paid basic phone plan. And if you can reduce daily driving by working from home, carpooling, or shopping once every couple weeks rather than every day, you can reduce your gas bill. Shop around for a better rate on your insurance to reduce monthly bills, and consider how your home lifestyle affects your utility bills. Can you shut off lights more regularly, lower the thermostat, and avoid running laundry or the dishwasher unless it’s full? Every little bit helps.

When shopping, consider every purchase. Ask yourself if you really need it, and if you do, can it wait a while, or can you get it for less somewhere else. Getting in the habit of asking yourself these questions will help you become a savvy shopper in both good and bad times. This will also help you avoid relying on credit cards during this difficult period. It might be hard, but you will be so much happier when that next paycheck comes in and it is not promised to high- interest debt.

If you have credit card payments, and you simply don’t have the money, contact your creditors immediately. You may be eligible for special programs that will keep your accounts in good standing. Waiting until you are behind will not only increase your balance because of hiked up interest rates and fees, but will damage your credit as well.
  • If you really need to scare up some funds, consider every option:
  • Sell assets, from a garage sale to unloading securities (just beware capital gains taxes for next year).
  • Obtain temporary employment elsewhere.
  • If you have children who work, ask them to contribute to the household budget.
  • Make and sell things if you have a creative streak.
  • Ask a friend or family member for a loan. Chances are they won’t charge any or much interest, but be careful – these sorts of arrangements have damaged many a relationship.
  • Borrow from your retirement account or cash value life insurance plan. Be aware, though, that you are borrowing from an asset accumulated for a specific purpose. These come with their own set of problems if you can’t pay them back.

There are other sources of funds available, but beware: they may not be in your best interest in the long run.
  • Credit card cash advances – There is often an origination fee to take out cash from a credit card, and interest not only begins to accumulate immediately, but is often higher than for purchases.
  • Home equity loans or lines of credit – The equity in your home might be money that is readily available for you to borrow, however, if you can’t repay the loan, you put your home in danger of foreclosure.
  • Car note loans – These loans work by a borrower exchanging the title and set of keys for a loan based on the vehicle’s value. Interest rates range from 30 to 120 percent, and if a single payment is missed, the car can be repossessed.
  • High interest unsecured loans – Usually lent in increments of $5,000 or $10,000, interest rates for this new breed of high-risk, unsecured loans can be as much as 47 percent.
  • Payday loans – Borrowing against future income can seem like a great short-term solution, but with average annual interest rates ranging from 390% to 871%, payday loans are no bargain.
  
Planning for Next Time
So what do you do to prevent a scramble for cash next time around? Sometimes, as many Americans are experiencing right now, a reduction in income is unplanned due to lay-offs or other events that prevent work. If you do have a heads up you’ll be facing reductions, mark the date on your calendar, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
  
Either way, the money you get today will have to be stretched to cover those times when there will be nothing (or less than normal) coming in. Resist the urge to spend it all each month. Develop a detailed budget to know what your monthly expenses are, and then prorate your income:
  
Example: Your monthly expenses total $2,000. You don’t get paid for two months out of the year, so will have to have $4,000 ($2,000 x 2 = $4,000) set aside for those non-income earning months. For each of the ten months that you do receive a paycheck, you’ll have to set aside $400 ($4,000/10 = $400) to cover the time you won’t get paid.
  
Once you know how much you will need to sock away, have the sum deducted monthly from your checking account and automatically deposited into a savings account.

Since you know you will be needing at least some of the money in a relatively short time frame, make sure you have the portion you need in an account that is easily accessible and penalty free (such as a savings account or money market account.)

Careful planning is the key to surviving a time when a paycheck is less than normal or intermittent. By doing so, you’ll avoid that dreadful feeling when the lean times are on your doorstep – and your account is bare.

For unplanned reduction in income, having a robust savings and a low amount of debt will serve you well. Add a portion of your income to a savings account each paycheck, and pay it as if it were another bill coming due. Also, resist opening new credit cards, maxing out existing credit, and taking new loans if it can be avoided. If you do make a large purchase, such as a car or mortgage, you may have the opportunity to purchase insurance that would cover you in the event of a job loss.

Plan while you can. Cut where you need to. And you have a better chance of coming out of your financial triage with a healthy outlook.

Credit Personal Finance


Six ways to improve your credit score real quick

If you find that your credit card and loans are not getting approved then you need to make sure that you improve your credit score if the reason for rejection is a low credit score. Credit score is the first thing that is checked when a financial institution approves a loan for a new car, land, new home or even a personal loan. In case you want to improve your credit score, it is not going to happen overnight. Improving the credit score is a long process which involves a lot of smart work from your end. Experienced Bankruptcy and Debt Relief Lawyer Mr. Brian Linnekens share some important tips which will help you to improve your credit score quickly and start afresh in terms of your credit health.

Study your dispute errors–
When you start working to improve your credit score, your first step is to study your dispute credit errors. You need to ask for a copy of your credit report from credit bureaus, be sure to look it over for errors. After knowing your credit errors you need to clear them. Seek help from professionals who will work with you on your dispute and help you correct the errors on your credit report.

Credit score generally look like this:
  • Excellent Credit Score – 750+
  • Good Credit Score – 700-749
  • Fair Credit Score – 650-699
  • Poor Credit Score – 600-649
  • Bad Credit Score – below 600

Don’t close your old credit accounts –
It is important to know, don’t close your old credit accounts even if you don’t use them anymore. If you already have credit cards, it will help you to improve your credit score. Try to pay your debts so that your score can be improved.

Get a new credit card –
If you want an improvement in your credit score try and get a new credit card. After getting a new card, if you are planning for a major purchase with your card go for it however make sure that you pay your bills on time. If you pay your bills and loan timely it will help you to increase your credit score.

Don’t make old mistakes and pay bills on time –
Do not make the same mistakes when you start new. Try not to be days past due the due date of clearing your credit card, loan or mortgage installment. Your small mistakes can damage your credit and hurt your credit score. So it is important to pay your loans and bills timely.

Contact an experienced Debt Relief Lawyer –
If you’re trying everything to improve your credit score but you still are not able to improve and you don’t know the way to improve your credit score then you need to consider consulting an experienced debt relief lawyer. A debt relief lawyer will provide you the best advice which is will help you improve your credit score.

Make a plan to improve your credit score –
Planning to do anything is pertinent. You need to plan to improve your credit score. To improve your credit score make a plan, ideally after consulting your debt relief attorney. Your plan needs to involve paying your debts and not closing your unused credit cards because this is a quick fix strategy to improve your credit score.

Personal Finance

“Just write it off.”

“Go ahead and deduct it.”

“I think there’s a tax credit for that.”

Although you might have heard or even uttered one of the sentences above, have you ever wondered or sought to understand its true meaning? While both tax deductions and tax credits can save you a significant amount of money on your taxes, they work in significantly different ways.

What is a Tax Deduction?
A tax deduction is a result of a tax-deductible expense or exemption which reduces your taxable income. A common tax deduction on your federal income tax return is the standard deduction. An example of how this works: If your income was $50,000 your standard deduction (if single or married filing separately) would reduce your taxable income by the 2018 standard deduction of $12,000 so your taxable income would now be $38,000.

What is a Tax Credit?
Unlike tax deductions, tax credits are subtracted from your tax liability (not taxable income). A common tax credit is the child tax credit. If you have a qualifying child, you can take a credit of up to $2,000 per child against your tax liability in 2018. If besides the child tax credit, you would otherwise have a total federal income tax liability of $3,500, child tax credit for one child would reduce that tax liability to $1,500.

Is a Tax Deduction Better Than a Tax Credit? Is a Tax Credit Better Than a Tax Deduction?
If you were ever faced with a hypothetical choice between a $100 tax deduction and a $100 tax credit, you would want the credit. Unlike a tax deduction, a $100 tax credit reduces your tax dollar-for-dollar ($100). On the other hand, a tax deduction reduces your taxable income by $100. The resulting amount of tax you save depends on your marginal tax bracket (in everyday language: your tax bracket). If you are in the 24% tax bracket in 2018, a $100 tax deduction reduces your taxes by $24.

Just about everyone qualifies for the standard deduction. Although based on your filing status (e.g., single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or head of household), all people with the same filing status receive the same standard deduction amount (the only exceptions are for the elderly, disabled, or blind – they receive a somewhat higher standard deduction).

By contrast, itemized deductions are numerous and their amounts vary by individual. Common itemized deductions include:
  • Certain medical and dental expenses above 7.5% of your adjusted gross income
  • State income taxes
  • State sales and local tax
  • Property taxes
  • Charitable contributions
  • Mortgage interest
There’s a bit of a hitch with itemized deductions, however. You can only benefit from itemized deductions to the extent they exceed your standard deduction ($12,000 if you are single and $24,000 if married filing jointly in 2018). Said another way, each taxpayer is permitted to take the higher of their standard or itemized deductions – but not both.

Say you are married and filing jointly. In such a case, your standard deduction is $24,000. Let’s further say the total of your itemized deductions is $25,000. Since your itemized deductions exceed your standard deduction by $1000, you take the itemized deduction. That’s why it pays to remember additional deductible expenses that may bump you up over the standard deduction and leave you open to additional tax deductions, like charitable contributions.

On the other hand, had your itemized deductions totaled any amount less than the standard deduction you qualify for, you wouldn't bother taking the itemized deduction – you’d just take the standard.

Whether an expense qualifies for an income tax deduction or tax credit, be sure to take maximum advantage – both lower the taxes you’ll pay. Don’t worry about trying to figure out which ones you should take or if you should itemize or take the standard deduction. TurboTax will ask you simple questions about you and give you the tax deductions and credits you are eligible for based on your answers. TurboTax will also choose the option (standard deduction or itemized deductions) that you are eligible for and gives you the biggest tax refund.

If you still have questions, you can connect live via one-way video to a TurboTax Live CPA or Enrolled Agent to get your tax questions answered. A TurboTax Live CPA can even review, sign, and file your tax return.

When are you filing your taxes? Have you taken advantage of any tax deductions or credits yet?

All Kirtland FCU members get special discounts with TurboTax products, just for being members.

GET STARTED TODAY!
 

Credit Personal Finance


A $2,000 balance on your credit card—how did that happen? (Oh yes, dinner at Chez Fifi, new tires, school clothes for the kids…) Thankfully the minimum payment is only $35. You can afford that!

Stop! Before you write that check or make the payment online, consider this: if you make only the requested payments on that debt, your toddler will be entering high school before the balance is zero. At an annual percentage rate of 17.00% APR (the current average according to Creditcards.com), it would take almost 10 years to pay off, with an ultimate payout of a whopping $4,125.

Instead, disregard the requested payment on your statement and use the “consistent payment method” steps.
  1. Determine a realistic and fixed amount you can pay each month.
  2. Declare a moratorium on using the card until the balance is repaid.
  3. Pay more when you can—but never pay less than your preset amount.
If you can manage $80 every month, you will repay the debt in less than 3 years with a final payout of $2,486. Increase the payment to $100 and the payoff time drops to 2 years with a final payout of $2,368.

Also, consider a balance transfer to a lower interest rate credit card like the Independence Credit Card from Kirtland FCU. The Independence Credit Card offers low rates and no balance transfer or annual fees. 


SEE HOW MUCH YOU COULD SAVE

 
*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Rates effective the first of each month and are subject to change at any time without notice. Annual percentage rate is based on credit history and other factors. The Kirtland FCU Visa Platinum Credit Card has a variable interest rate which is indexed to the Prime Rate and tiered based on credit-worthiness criteria.
 

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