You’re more than a number. But when it comes time to getting a loan, it may not feel like it.
Your credit score is a numeric representation of your creditworthiness. Lenders use it to determine whether to loan you money for a major purchase or approve you for a new line of credit. It takes into consideration a variety of factors, including whether you pay your bills on time, the amount of credit you’re using, and how long you’ve been using credit.
There are a number of different scoring models, but the two major ones are the FICO Score and the VantageScore. Ninety of the top 100 largest financial institutions in the United States use the FICO Score to make credit decisions. FICO Scores fall into the following ranges:
- 800–850: Exceptional
- 740–799: Very Good
- 670–739: Good
- 580–669: Fair
- 300–579: Poor
The higher your score, the lower the interest rate on your loan will be. Generally speaking, if your score is 760 or above, you’ll get the best rates. This can make a difference of hundreds of dollars a month and tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. For example, someone with a FICO score of 620 could pay over $200 more each month for a $216,000 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage than someone with a score of 760.
So what do you do if your score is on the lower end of the scale? Fortunately, it is possible to improve your credit score, although it takes time and patience. Here are three things you can start doing today to help boost your score:
- Pay your bills on time. Considering payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO Score, paying your bills on time is one of the most important things you can do if you want to improve your credit score. After all, if lenders don’t think you’ll pay them back, they aren’t going to loan you the money in the first place. If you tend to be on the forgetful side, don’t panic: Set up payment reminders or, even better, automatic payments.
- Keep your balances low. The amount you owe on your current accounts determines 30% of your FICO Score. Lenders figure that if you owe too much money to creditors, you may have trouble making your payments and are at risk of defaulting on your loans. They look carefully at your credit utilization ratio, or the amount you owe versus the amount of credit you have available. Because revolving debt such as credit cards carry more weight than installment debt such as mortgages, it’s important to keep your credit card balances as low as possible.
- Make more than one payment a month. Even if you pay off your credit cards in full each month, you may want to consider making payments throughout the month instead of waiting until the end of your payment cycle. Your credit score is a snapshot in time; if it is calculated right after you pay off your balance, your credit utilization ratio will probably look great, but if it is calculated right after you make a big purchase like a new couch, it might look too high. Making multiple payments a month will ensure your balances remain low and you won’t look like a risky bet to lenders.
Just like any other important financial documents, your loan agreements should be stored in a secure place. When you upload them to InsureYouKnow.org, you and your loved ones will be able to access them should the need arise. It’s just one part of maintaining a fiscally responsible lifestyle.
Let’s face it: Insurance is confusing. And we’re not just talking about figuring out how to file a claim. With all the different types of insurance out there, it’s hard to determine what insurance you need in the first place.
While your particular needs will vary depending on your unique circumstances, here are four types of insurance you definitely should have:
- Health insurance. The federal tax penalty for not having health insurance will go away in 2019, but that was never the main reason you needed it. With medical costs continuing to rise, health insurance is an absolute must-have. Even if you are young and healthy, you never know when you might get in an accident; an unexpected hospital visit can easily cost you thousands of dollars. Luckily, your job may be able to help you get coverage. According to the most recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of Americans (56 percent) receive health insurance through their employer. Only 8.8 percent of Americans have no health insurance at all.
- Car insurance. If you have a car, you’re already very familiar with car insurance. Even if you’ve been fortunate enough to never use it, you better be paying for it considering it’s required by law (unless you live in New Hampshire or Virginia, where it isn’t required but most drivers have it). The Insurance Information Institute has found that the average loss per claim is more than $5,500, so this is one type of insurance that can pay off quickly. Tip: Don’t file a claim for a minor incident. While you might think you should considering the amount of money you’ve paid for your policy over the years, your insurance company may raise your rates in the future.
- Homeowners/renters insurance. If you own your home, having homeowners insurance is a no-brainer, and not just because you can’t get a mortgage without it. Your house is probably your single most valuable asset, and you want to protect it. Homeowners insurance will help cover your losses in the event of a fire, burglary, or other event (you may need to purchase a separate policy if you live in an area prone to floods or earthquakes). If you’re a renter, you still need insurance of your own so you can replace your personal belongings in the event of a disaster.
- Life insurance. Life insurance is more of a benefit for your loved ones than for yourself; if you should die, this will help protect them. Ask yourself: What would happen to your family if you died tomorrow? Would they still be able to pay the bills? Even if you’re single, someone will have to pay for your funeral and sort through your estate. Many experts recommend you buy a policy equal to 10 times your salary. Of course, your particular situation may require more or less. If you have no children, for example you won’t need as much as someone with three kids, and if you’re a stay-at-home parent with no income, you still need life insurance to help your partner cover childcare costs should the worst occur.
Once these four policies are in place, you might want to look into other types of insurance that could be beneficial to you, such as disability insurance and long-term care insurance. No matter what you end up with, you’ll want to store all the related paperwork on InsureYouKnow.org. Dealing with a disaster is stressful enough; the last thing you and your loved ones will want to do is dig through piles of papers to find the appropriate policy.
Ah, January 1: a day of fresh starts, new beginnings, and big dreams. According to Fidelity’s Tenth Annual New Year Financial Resolutions Study, 32 percent of survey respondents are considering making a financial resolution for the year ahead. The top three financial resolutions are to save more (48 percent), pay down debt (29 percent) and spend less (15 percent).
While those are great resolutions, they also are broad and lack detail. How much do you want to save? Which debts will you pay down first? How exactly will you spend less? Without a firm plan in mind, these resolutions easily may be forgotten by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to set specific, measurable, and achievable goals. In other words, you want to create a detailed plan with milestones that can be met. That way you will see the progress you’re making throughout the year and maintain the motivation to keep going.
With that in mind, here are a few smart money moves you can make in the coming year.
- Check your credit report. This one should be a no-brainer, but many people put it off until trouble arises. Don’t wait until you’re ready to apply for a car loan or home mortgage; get your free copy of your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com months in advance so you can address any discrepancies. You can request a free copy of your report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies. Keep in mind that you can order the three reports one at a time, allowing you to check your report multiple times throughout the year. Once you get your copy, review it and make sure all the information is accurate and up-to-date.
- Make sure your insurance meets your needs. How much life insurance do you need? Do you need disability insurance? What about long-term care insurance? These aren’t easy questions to answer, and the answers generally depend on your individual situation. While determining the type and amount of insurance you need can be overwhelming, it’s a vital part of protecting you and your family. Generally speaking, it’s easier to pay a little bit each month in premiums than to come up with a large sum in the event of an emergency.
- Get the best credit card for you. Whether you use your credit card only for major purchases or put everything on it and pay it off each month, it’s important to make sure the card in your wallet is the best one for your needs. If you have to carry a balance sometimes, you want to make sure you use a card with the lowest rate possible; if you travel a lot, you’ll want to look for a card that’ll make your vacations a little more affordable. Sites like NerdWallet and WalletHub can help you find the credit card that best meets your lifestyle.
- Fully fund your emergency fund. Make this the year you build your emergency fund to the recommended six to eight months of living expenses. It sounds difficult, but remember, we’re talking about your monthly expenses, not your monthly salary. Calculate the amount based on your true necessities: mortgage/rent, utilities, food, insurance, and the like. If it helps keep you going, break this goal down into smaller milestones you can meet throughout the year, and celebrate each accomplishment along the way.
- Put all your financial documents in one safe place. Last but not least, take the time to gather together all your important financial documents and store them in a secure place. InsureYouKnow.org is the ideal location. Think of it as an easy-to-use electronic safe deposit box; you upload your documents, and only you and anyone you share your password with can access them. Thanks to Amazon’s cloud encryption, you can rest easy knowing your documents are safe and easy to access whenever and wherever they’re needed.
Experts agree: Everyone should have an emergency fund with enough money to cover six to eight months of living expenses. This is money you set aside in case of a major life-changing event, such as a job loss.
If you haven’t saved up the recommended amount, you aren’t alone. A recent survey from Bankrate found that only 29 percent of Americans have saved six months’ worth of expenses. Another 23 percent have saved nothing at all.
While those statistics may make you feel better about your own situation, you don’t want to get complacent. If you lost your job tomorrow, would you be able to make rent next month? If you had a major medical emergency and couldn’t work for three months, could you afford groceries?
If you answered “No” to those questions, it’s time to build that emergency fund—quickly. Here are a few ways to get started.
- Slow your spending. It goes without saying that the first thing you should do is to take a good, hard look at your budget and determine where you can cut back. One of the first items on the chopping block is always cable and other forms of entertainment. You don’t have to deprive yourself, but do you really need both Netflix and Amazon Prime? Other easy places to cut include gym memberships, subscriptions and eating out.
- Sell your stuff. If you have a lot of unused items in your house, this is a good time to clear out space and get a little extra cash at the same time. You can sell the clothes your kids have outgrown at a garage sale. You can find those collectible toys gathering dust in the attic and post them on eBay. You can take that bread maker you’ve used twice and list it on Craigslist. Just be sure to stay safe when selling items online.
- Get a part-time job. Assuming you have the time, you may want to look into getting a part-time job while you build up your reserves. You don’t have to relive your teenage days and work the drive-thru at the fast food restaurant down the joint, but you may be able to pick up some hours at the local bookstore. If you’re a fitness fanatic, perhaps you could work the front desk at your gym or teach some group classes. If you have a reliable vehicle, you could get earn a little extra money as a rideshare driver.
- Bill yourself. Sometimes you just need to change your mindset. Consider your emergency fund to be a monthly bill, and make sure you pay that bill just like you would any other. You can set the amount and due date and make it a part of your monthly budget. Even better, set it up as an automatic payment so you don’t even have to think about it. Alternatively, you could vow to transfer a set amount of cash—say $20—into your savings account every Friday. It may seem like a small step, but it all adds up.
- Save any bonus money. If you get a bonus at work or a tax refund, put that money in your savings account immediately. You may be tempted to spend it, but try to think about the long-term benefits. The same goes for a raise: Instead of budgeting that extra 2–3 percent into your regular spending, move the amount over to savings. You’re already getting by without it, after all, so you won’t even miss it.
After you’ve got a good chunk of change set aside, you might want to look into moving it to a high-yield savings account. You don’t want to invest it because you want it to be readily available, but you don’t want it sitting in an account earning next to nothing in interest either. Be sure to store your bank’s information along with your other important documents on InsureYouKnow.org so you and your loved ones know how to access the money if and when you need it.
No one likes to think about growing old. In fact, many people pretend that it’s never going to happen. But instead of fearing the inevitable, it’s better to plan for it.
In addition to starting to save for retirement at an early age, it’s important to think about what you’re going to do if your health starts to decline. According to AARP, by the time you hit 65, chances are 50-50 that you’ll need long-term care (LTC) due to chronic illnesses, disabilities or other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. And it’s not cheap; if you pay for it yourself, you’re looking at an average annual cost of $140,000.
LTC insurance can help. LTC insurance is different from health insurance, which you’ll still need. It helps cover costs that your regular health insurance won’t, such as help with daily activities like bathing, getting dressed and eating. These services may be provided in your home or at a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Unfortunately, LTC insurance is cost-prohibitive for many due to poor planning on the part of insurance companies. When these policies were first introduced, insurers greatly underestimated the amount they would pay out in claims. People were living longer, but they weren’t necessarily staying healthier, so insurers were paying for care longer than they had anticipated. In addition, insurers thought people would prefer to receive care in their homes, but many opted to move into more expensive assisted-living facilities.
As a result, many insurers stopped offering LTC insurance. In 2000, 125 companies were selling standalone LTC policies; by 2014, only 12 companies were. Those that still do sell them have raised their premiums drastically. For example, earlier this year, Mass Mutual announced it was raising premiums on existing policies by 77 percent. Today, premiums average $2,700 a year.
There are options you can consider if you can’t afford LTC insurance. Maybe relatives can help with your care. Maybe you can pull some equity from your home. Maybe you can build up your savings even more and plan on paying for future LTC out of pocket.
But if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or simply believe LTC insurance would bring you more peace of mind, it may still be your best bet. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you start looking for a policy:
- Begin your search in your 50s or early 60s at the latest. Prices rise sharply as you age. You can pay 10 percent more for a policy when you buy it at age 65 rather than at 64. Keep in mind that you won’t qualify for coverage if you wait until you actually need care because then you will be considered as having a preexisting condition.
- Shop around. Like with any other major purchase, it’s important to do your homework and research your options. If the process sounds daunting, you might want to consider getting assistance from an insurance agent or broker.
- Look into group rates. Premiums may be more affordable if you qualify for a group rate through an employer-sponsored plan or plan offered by a professional organization you belong to. Before you sign up, be sure to read the fine print and find out if you can keep the policy if you leave the organization.
- Consider a joint policy. You may get a better rate by purchasing a single policy that covers you and your spouse or another family member. The discount is typically 30 percent off the price of separate policies. If you’re interested in going this route, you’ll want to find out what the maximum benefit is for everyone under the policy and consider whether that will be enough for both of you.
If you do purchase an LTC insurance policy, be sure to keep all related paperwork safely stored on InsureYouKnow.org along with all your other important documents. It’s the best way to make sure you can find them quickly and easily should the need arise.