6 Best Ways to Establish Credit When You’re ‘Credit Invisible’

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If you have no credit or insufficient credit to generate a credit score, you could be one of the 45 million adults in America the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports as “credit invisible.”

To figure out how to help the credit invisible, the CFPB announced today that it’s “launched an inquiry into ways to expand access to credit.”

Here’s what this mean for consumers looking to establish credit, and how they can overcome the challenges of being credit invisible today.

45 million have no credit or lack credit history

According to the CFPB, 45 million consumers’ financial options are limited by no credit or a thin credit file. What’s more:

  • 26 million American adults have no credit history with any of the three major credit agencies
  • 19 million have a credit history, but their reports do not include enough data to generate a credit score

But the CFPB is interested in changing that with its new inquiry into alternative credit reporting.

“Alternative data from unconventional sources may help consumers who are stuck outside the system build a credit history to access mainstream credit sources,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement.

“We want to learn more about whether this non-traditional approach can offer opportunities to millions of Americans who are credit invisible and how to minimize any risks in how this information is used,” Cordray added.

No credit score, no dice

Building credit is essential for consumers, and having good credit is even more important. It can help you rent an apartment, purchase a car or home, and potentially even affect your job opportunities

If you’re a borrower, your credit score is compiled by national credit reporting agencies (NCRAs). The main three in the U.S. are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

These agencies have formulas that analyze your borrowing habits to determine the risk level of lending to you. From there, lenders apply their own formulas based on the type of credit you’re applying for, and so on.

But if you’ve never been a borrower, there’s nothing to analyze. And without a credit score, getting access to certain financial products everyone else takes for granted can be nearly impossible for you.

Who is likely to be credit invisible?

So who are the credit invisible? The CFPB states that they are more likely to be Black or Hispanic, or live in low-income areas. Recent immigrants, young adults just starting out and widows or divorcees who relied on their former spouse’s credit are also more likely to be credit invisible.

What’s more, if low income is a barrier to financial products used to build credit, the issue is worsened by the fact that you can’t build credit without these products.

According to a 2015 CFPB report, “If lower-income consumers have a more difficult time qualifying for traditional credit and, as a result, rely on non-traditional sources like payday or auto-title lenders, then this will exacerbate the differences by income as these non-traditional sources of credit generally do not report information to the NCRAs.“

Consequently, low-income earners may be forced to rely on alternative credit products to borrow. Yet, these products often come at a higher cost and don’t help them establish credit successfully.

What happens if you’re credit invisible?

Being credit invisible isn’t a problem if you’re never going to need credit. But that’s just not a reality for most of us.

And if having low-income is part of the reason you can’t access the financial products that will help you build credit, then it’s unlikely that you’ll have the cash to pay for everything you need.

Even for a high-income earner, buying a home or car in cash can be quite a stretch.

Therefore, low-income earners have to seek out other methods to finance things they need or want. And these other methods don’t come cheap.

How to establish credit for the first time

People with no credit score suffer on two fronts.

  1. They have a harder time obtaining credit at fair interest rates.
  2. They have a harder time building credit since they can’t get the products that report payments back to NCRAs.

There is a way to break out of this vicious cycle. However, it will take six months to one year or more to achieve. But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll master how to establish credit once and for all.

1. Open a bank account

Bank accounts may not get reported to NCRAs, so opening an account won’t directly help you go from no credit score to robust credit history.

However, as mentioned above, opening a bank account will help you establish a relationship with a bank or credit union. And once you do that, you have a better chance of obtaining products from them that will help you build your credit, such as a loan or credit card.

2. Obtain a secured credit card

If you need to get a credit card with no credit, then consider getting a secured credit card.

Secured credit cards require a deposit, the amount of which determines your credit limit. Some allow you to spend more than your deposit, but not all.

Since borrowers have to put money down to get a secured credit card, these cards aren’t the best tool for financial emergencies. However, they are a great tool for establishing credit.

Payments to secured credit cards are reported to NCRAs. So if you obtain one and use it to make small purchases each month, all the while paying it off by your due date, then you’ll start building a credit score.

3. Make all of your payments on time

No matter what type of payments you have, make them on time.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about payments for your secured credit card, medical bills, or electricity. All of these can get reported to NCRAs if you’re late or, worse, in default.

Having no credit score is one thing; having a credit history showing accounts in collections is another. And it’s a lot harder to recover from.

Keep in mind that lenders can start reporting late payments to NCRAs in as little as 30 days. So no matter what you do, make it a priority to make all of your payments on time.

And, most importantly, never let an account fall into collections (yes, that includes things as small as library fines). If you’re experiencing financial troubles you know you can’t fix, start talking to your lenders or servicers now to see if you can work out a revised payment plan of some kind.

4. Keep your accounts open

Whether it’s a bank account, a secured credit card, or even a traditional credit card, keeping accounts open can help you establish a credit history.

Essentially, the longer an account is open (with a positive payment history), the better it is for your credit score.

5. Understand your credit score factors

If you want to know how to establish credit, you first need to know how credit scores are calculated.

Everyone who has a credit score has more than one. That’s because there are several types of credit scores, NCRAs, and algorithms that lenders use to determine a score.

That said, the factors that determine your credit score don’t vary all that much. While myFICO lists these factors below, they’re the same as VantageScore, just with different wording:

  • Payments history
  • Amounts owed
  • Length of credit history
  • Credit mix
  • New credit

Payments history refers to whether or not you made payments on time. This is the most important factor, which is why you don’t want to fall behind on any payments.

Amounts owed refers to how much you owe on a balance in relation to your current credit limit (otherwise known as your credit utilization). This is also an important component of your score.

Length of credit history is self-explanatory, so just remember that a longer positive history is always better.

Finally, credit mix and new credit are at the bottom of the list. This is not something to worry too much about if you’re a new borrower. These two factors refer to having more than one type of credit and not applying for too much credit, respectively.

6. Use alternative credit building tools

There are also other credit building tools out there that aren’t traditional credit cards or secured cards.

For example, if you’re a renter looking to build credit then you should look into using alternative credit reporting services like RentalKharma. They verify that your rent has been paid, then report it to TransUnion for inclusion on your credit report.

Essentially, Rental Kharma works with your current landlord and reports on time and late rent payments to TransUnion.

You can also look into credit builder loans offered by servicers like Self Lender. These types of loans, also called “savings-secured installment loans” or “CD-secured installment loans,” allow you to create a payment history that’s reported to the credit bureaus.

After a year of payments with a credit builder loan, you can have a well-established credit history to work with.

Beware these products marketed to the credit invisible

It’s an unfortunate catch-22 that those with low incomes are stuck with more expensive borrowing methods. And the reason this happens is because credit scoring is all about risk.

If a lender can’t determine the level or risk in lending to you, they’re going to charge you significantly more interest. This interest is more or less an insurance policy for them. So if you default on your payments, at least they earned a lot from you in interest on the payment you have made.

On the flip side, if you have a high credit score, then lenders will believe that you’re not likely to default.

In that case, they want to compete for your business and will offer you credit at lower interest rates. This is something they feel safe doing because they feel they can assume that you’ll eventually pay them off.

Here a few of the most popular types of products being marketed to credit invisibles.

1. Payday loans

Payday loans are short-term loans that enable you to borrow against a post-dated check. That means you pay back the lender when you get paid your future paycheck.

However, most people already have their next paycheck earmarked for other things. So it can put you in a bind later when you realize you can’t devote your entire next paycheck to the payday loan you just took out.

Therefore, if your current income isn’t enough to pay your bills and you use a payday loan to get by for two weeks, then you’re only going to need more money when two weeks are up.

And if you get another payday loan, you have to pay back more than you borrowed yet again. Ultimately, you could end up in a vicious borrowing cycle.

In fact, a 2014 report by the CFPB found that “80% of payday loans are rolled over or followed by another loan within 14 days,” and that “monthly borrowers are disproportionately likely to stay in debt for 11 months or longer.”

So for a quick fix, some borrowers may find themselves in debt for nearly a year. Even worse, when annualized, the fees on these loans can go up to triple-digits in interest. This blows even the highest of credit card interest rates out of the water.

Short-term loans aren’t just being offered at brick and mortars anymore, either. Now high-interest short-term loans can be found online, making it that much easier to ensnare borrowers who think they have no credit options.

Nearly everyone goes through a time of financial need. But having to turn to these loans can create a much more difficult financial road ahead. Borrowers should do whatever they can to find other options when they’re in need of a loan.

2. Rent-to-own products

Although the idea of rent-to-own sounds great, the costs can be far more than other credit options.

And while there’s a wide range of rent-to-own products you can buy (from a television to a home), these products don’t come cheap. Nor are they always regulated.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “most rent-to-own transactions are not regulated by federal lending and leasing laws that set disclosures and certain consumer protections, although some lease-purchase plans could be covered depending on the arrangement.”

What kind of disclosures should you be worried about? Fees. Lots and lots of fees. Things like processing fees, delivery and pick-up fees, installation fees, damage fees, late payment fees, and more.

And even if you can avoid all fees, purchasing through rent-to-own schemes will likely cost you more in the end than other financing options. Here’s an example from the FTC to illustrate the difference in costs:

“A $612 laptop computer may be offered at $38.99 a week for 48 weeks, for a total of $1,872, excluding sales tax and other charges. That’s the same as buying the laptop at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and financing it at an interest rate over 300%.”

3. Rent-to-own homes

Rent-to-own programs for homes can be just as dangerous, as highlighted in The New York Times during their study of one such company, Vision Property Management:

“An examination by The New York Times of contracts and court filings, as well as interviews with housing lawyers and more than a dozen of Vision’s customers across the country, found that these deals are risky, lack consumer protections and may not be enforceable in some states.”

What’s so risky about these deals? For one, placing borrowers in homes that needed renovations beyond what a budget-strapped borrower can handle:

“Most tenants walk away with nothing, having sunk money for rent and repairs into homes they had once hoped to own. Others faced surprised evictions, having signed a contract that did not disclose what repairs were needed, yet set a deadline for making sure the home was up to a local housing code.”

Our own study on rent-to-own homes showed other issues with these schemes, too.

These included higher than average rental increases, purchase price increases, and no guarantee of financing. So you could end up paying more the whole time you’re renting, only to find out that you can’t get approved to buy anyway.

A borrower hoping to own a home might be better off with traditional renting while saving for a down payment and building credit.

4. Prepaid debit cards

The prepaid debit card isn’t a tool for borrowers, but it is marketed to the credit invisible. This product is sold as a way to build credit and to “bank” without a bank. Yet in both cases, it’s not the best option.

Just like every other product mentioned so far, prepaid debit cards aren’t as regulated as other financial products. But where they really get you is the fees.

As highlighted by Time in 2013, you could end up paying an activation fee, monthly fee, point-of-sale fee, customer service fee, even an inactivity fee. You won’t necessarily get hit by all of these, though, as the fees vary per card.

Here’s the thing: if a borrower is seeking a prepaid card to avoid paying a monthly fee for a bank account, they’re probably going to pay that price and then some for a prepaid debit card.

On top of that, a fee paid for a bank account opens the door to a relationship with that bank account. That’s an opportunity you’d miss if you choose to go with a prepaid debit card instead.

If someone is struggling to build credit, then building a relationship with a bank or credit union is a great first step. Opening an account and keeping it in the positive can help consumers obtain credit from their bank later.

Remember, it’s all about risk. If a bank has already seen that you’ve shown positive history with them on the deposit side, they might be more willing to lend to you on the credit side.

You can become credit visible

So what’s there to do if you’re credit invisible or unscorable?

Take steps to establish your credit now. Avoid predatory lending (like the products mentioned above) as much as you’re feasibly able to. And keep on working to build your credit history.

Whether you’re building credit for the first time or trying to repair less than perfect credit, it’s a process. But it’s one you can succeed at if you’re determined to do so. So don’t give up hope – follow these steps and you can become credit visible in no time.

Elyssa Kirkham contributed to the reporting of this article.

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LenderAPR RangeLoan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Fixed rates from 5.990% APR to 16.990% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.74% APR to 14.70% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of March 18, 2019 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 5.72% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 2.49% plus 4.28% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
  2. To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull.
    See Consumer Licenses.
  3. Minimum Credit Score: Not all applicants who meet SoFi’s minimum credit score requirements are approved for a personal loan. In addition to meeting SoFi’s minimum eligibility criteria, applicants must also meet other credit and underwriting requirements to qualify.
  4. SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.
  5. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Payoff.

Payoff Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

3 Important Disclosures for FreedomPlus.

FreedomPlus Disclosures

  1. All loans available through FreedomPlus.com are made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. All loan and rate terms are subject to eligibility restrictions, application review, credit score, loan amount, loan term, lender approval, and credit usage and history. Eligibility for a loan is not guaranteed. Loans are not available to residents of all states – please call a FreedomPlus representative for further details. The following limitations, in addition to others, shall apply: FreedomPlus does not arrange loans in: (i) Arizona under $10,500; (ii) Massachusetts under $6,500, (iii) Ohio under $5,500, and (iv) Georgia under $3,500. Repayment periods range from 24 to 60 months. The range of APRs on loans made available through FreedomPlus is 5.99% to a maximum of 29.99%. APR. The APR calculation includes all applicable fees, including the loan origination fee. For Example, a four year $20,000 loan with an interest rate of 15.49% and corresponding APR of 18.34% would have an estimated monthly payment of $561.60 and a total cost payable of $7,948.13. To qualify for a 5.99% APR loan, a borrower will need excellent credit on a loan for an amount less than $12,000.00, and with a term equal to 24 months. Adding a co-borrower with sufficient income; using at least eighty-five percent (85%) of the loan proceeds to directly pay off qualifying existing debt; or showing proof of sufficient retirement savings, could help you also qualify for the lowest rate available.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate DisclosureFixed interest rates from 6.79% – 20.89% (6.79% – 20.89% APR) based on applicable terms. Lowest rates range from 5.99%-18.99% (5.99%-18.99% APR), are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

5 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

  • Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 6% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon LendingPoint’s final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. LendingPoint makes loan offers from $2,000 to $25,000, at rates ranging from a low of 9.99% APR to a high of 35.99% APR, with terms from 24 to 48 months. The loan offer(s) shown reflect a 28 day payment cycle which is being offered as a courtesy as many of our customers are paid on a biweekly schedule and thus this may better align the loan payment dates with your actual income receipt schedule.

6 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

All loans made by WebBank, Member FDIC. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, and credit usage & history. The APR ranges from 6.95% to 35.89%*. The origination fee ranges from 1% to 6% of the original principal balance and is deducted from your loan proceeds. For example, you could receive a loan of $6,000 with an interest rate of 7.99% and a 5.00% origination fee of $300 for an APR of 11.51%. In this example, you will receive $5,700 and will make 36 monthly payments of $187.99. The total amount repayable will be $6,767.64. Your APR will be determined based on your credit at the time of application. The average origination fee is 5.49% as of Q1 2017. In Georgia, the minimum loan amount is $3,025. In Massachusetts, the minimum loan amount is $6,025 if your APR is greater than 12%. There is no down payment and there is never a prepayment penalty. Closing of your loan is contingent upon your agreement of all the required agreements and disclosures on the www.lendingclub.com website. All loans via LendingClub have a minimum repayment term of 36 months. Borrower must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or be in the United States on a valid long term visa and at least 18 years old. Valid bank account and Social Security number are required. Equal Housing Lender. All loans are subject to credit approval. LendingClub’s physical address is: LendingClub, 71 Stevenson Street, Suite 1000, San Francisco, CA 94105.

†Per reviews collected and authenticated by Bazaarvoice in compliance with the Bazaarvoice Authentication Requirements, supported by anti-fraud technology and human analysis. All reviews can be reviewed at reviews.lendingclub.com

**Based on approximately 60% of borrowers who received offers through LendingClub’s marketing partners between January 1, 2018 to July 20,2018. The time it will take to fund your loan may vary.

7 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Earnest does not lend in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island.

8 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

* The actual rate and loan amount that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination and other factors. Funds are generally deposited via ACH for delivery next business day if approved by 4:30pm CT Monday-Friday. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

** Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33

* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

* Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification and review process. You may be asked to provide additional documents to enable us to verify your income and your identity. This rate includes an Autopay APR reduction of 0.5%. By enrolling in Autopay your payments will be automatically deducted from you bank account. Selecting Autopay is optional. Annual Percentage Rate is inclusive of a loan origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC. Please refer to Upgrade’s Terms of Use and Borrower Agreement for all terms, conditions and requirements.

** Accept your loan offer and your funds will be sent to your bank via ACH within one (1) business day of clearing necessary verifications. Availability of the funds is dependent on how quickly your bank processes this transaction. From the time of approval, funds should be available within four (4) business days.

5.74% – 16.99%1$5,000 - $100,000

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7.54% – 35.99%$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upstart

7.99% – 35.89%*$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upgrade

5.99% – 24.99%2$5,000 - $35,000

Visit Payoff

5.99% – 29.99%3$7,500 - $40,000

Visit FreedomPlus

6.79% – 20.89%4$5,000 - $50,000

Visit Citizens

9.99% – 35.99%5$2,000 - $25,000

Visit LendingPoint

6.95% – 35.89%6$1,000 - $40,000

Visit LendingClub

6.99% – 18.24%7$5,000 - $75,000

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9.95% – 35.99%8$2,000 - $35,000

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.