When it comes to credit offers, the writing is always on the wall. By law, it has to be. The problem is, sometimes the writing can be as cryptic as clues in a Hollywood crime thriller.

Chances are, if you are like most Americans, you know what I'm talking about. Credit offers slide through our mail slots and pop up on our computer screens everyday. And it doesn't matter if we have poor credit, good credit or excellent credit, the advertisements are usually littered with the same enticing catch-phrases for everyone: preapproved, prequalified, zero APR, up to, as low as, no annual fee, no interest and no payments, low money down, free rewards program, cash back, and so forth. The list goes on and on.

You are probably also familiar with footnotes and asterisk symbolswhat direct mail pieces call the IMPORTANT DETAILS." They are usually relegated to the back of offers or hyperlinks and are almost too small to read. However, these details, if you take the time to read them and know what to look for, can be the difference between wasted money and financial freedom.

Rating offers: Revealing the real value of promotions

With spring upon us, you can expect to begin receiving more direct mail loan and credit offers. Why? Because according to the Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders, Americans spent an estimated $238 billion in 2006 on updating our houses and sprucing up our yards, and home improvement, credit card companies and banks are eager to grab a piece of the pie.

This deluge of what many would call junk mail can be overwhelming. However, if you're looking to borrow money to finance your home improvement project, these competing offers can help you secure the best rates and terms available, provided you know what to look for. Here are a few helpful hints:

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