At the least, a low score can saddle you with high interest rates, or at the worst, prevent you from getting important loans.(1) It can even be a roadblock to renting a house or getting a job!(2)
But what exactly is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report? It turns out the two have a close relationship. Let’s explore what they are and how they relate to each other.
Your credit report is simply a record of your credit history. Let’s break that down.
Many of us carry some form of debt. It might be a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt (or all three!). Some people are really disciplined about paying down debt. Others fall on hard times or use debt to fuel frivolous spending and then aren’t able to return the borrowed money. As a result, lenders typically want to know how reliable, or credit worthy, someone is before giving out a loan.
But predicting if someone will be able to pay off a loan is tricky business. Lenders can’t look into the future, so they have to look at a potential borrower’s past regarding debt. They’re interested in late payments, defaulted loans, bankruptcies, and more, to determine if they can trust someone to pay them back. All of this information is compiled into a document that we know as a credit report.
All of the information from someone’s credit report gets plugged into an algorithm. It’s goal? Rate how likely they are to pay back their creditors. The number that the algorithm spits out after crunching the numbers on the credit report is the credit score. Lenders can check your score to get an idea of whether (or not) you’ll be able to pay them back.
Think of a credit report like a test and the credit score as your grade. The test contains the actual details of how you’ve performed. It’s the record of right and wrong answers that you’ve written down. The grade is just a shorthand way to evaluate your performance.
So are credit reports and credit scores the same thing? No. Are they closely related? Yes! A bulletproof credit report will lead to a higher credit score, while a report plagued by late payments will torpedo your final grade. And that number can make all the difference in your financial well-being!
1) Latoya Irby, “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” The Balance, April 5, 2020.
2) Latoya Irby, “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” The Balance, April 5, 2020.
In fact, most people throughout history have had zero outside financial protection in case of an untimely death. So why did life insurance appear? Let’s start by defining what it is.
What is life insurance?
Life insurance is essentially an agreement where people pay a company a premium on a policy that will provide a financial benefit in the case of an untimely death (or if other circumstances occur that are defined in the policy). Let’s say you have a spouse and a few kids. You know that if something were to happen to you it would leave them in a serious financial bind; being down an income could mean moving to a worse neighborhood, serious lifestyle changes, debt, and so on. An appropriate life insurance benefit Life insurance is worth considering if anyone in your life depends on you financially.
Roman soldiers: pioneers of life insurance
So where did the idea of life insurance come from? The first known example of life insurance was in a powerful organization with a high turnover rate: the Roman Army. Burials were culturally significant to Romans but expensive, which was bad news for poor soldiers constantly waging wars across ancient Europe. In response, they started burial clubs. Members of these clubs would cover funeral costs for their fallen comrades. It wasn’t much compared to the complexity of modern life insurance, but it at least provided a basic honor to soldiers and their families in the case of a tragic death.
Coffee Houses and Churches Not much is known about insurance in general after the fall of the Roman Empire. However, another high-risk field sparked its rebirth during Europe’s colonial era in the late 1680s. Merchants, sea captains, and sailors all worked high risk jobs; pirates, storms, and disease were serious threats to shipments and crews. What we think of as insurance was born to protect the pockets of investors in the case of a maritime catastrophe.
The first life insurance company opened in London just a few years later in 1706. The Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office was founded by William Talbot and required members to pay an annual fee. In 1759, American Presbyterian ministers created an organization to protect families of deceased pastors, with the Episcopalians following suit a few years later.
Something like modern life insurance was beginning to appear. But the next two centuries saw massive economic and social changes that permanently affected the insurance industry. We’ll explore those in part II!
Different spending habits and conflicting money management values are sometimes sources of tension between partners. Finances are the number one cause of arguments within relationships. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce.
With bills to pay, emergency expenses, and a child’s college tuition and retirement on the horizon, many couples find their finances are stretched as they seek solutions to cover the cost of everyday life. The following 5 tips may help you and your spouse gain control of your finances.
1. Set Goals
The goal-setting phase allows a couple to talk openly about their financial history, current obligations, and future objectives. Gauging your spouse’s retirement preferences can often be a challenging obstacle before establishing a financial strategy.
2. Identify Risky Spending
Overspending and making frivolous purchases may damage your financial future. Discussing mistakes respectfully on both sides of the relationship can help prevent poor decisions in the future. If an expense proves to be a blunder, own up to the fact and move on.
Review the household “record of accounts” (that is, your budget) and your current financial landscape before adjusting your strategy. This may help protect your family from further problems that might delay the timeframe you want to retire.
3. Pay off Bills
Be fair. If—or when—your spouse admits to overspending, try not to blow up. We live in a consumerist society designed to push our buttons and trick us into spending. Even worse, it’s a pattern that can be difficult to break because it’s a very socially acceptable addiction.
Instead of exploding, ask them open-ended questions about their spending habits. The key here is working towards a compromise in a way that doesn’t villainize your partner but also protects your financial future together.
4. Periodic Review
Due to the dynamics of financial decision-making between spouses, it’s clear that periodic review has a benefit. Changes in income, lifestyle, and family or business obligations can alter a couple’s financial goals for retirement. Try to meet at least once a month (maybe over a cup of coffee) to review your finances and update your budget.
5. Don’t forget to have some fun!
The goal of getting in control of your finances is not to make life miserable. Sure, you might need to cut back on frivolous spending in the present to have more in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. Set aside a little each month for a movie night or dinner with friends. You actually might discover that things like budgeting free up cash!
Building a financially sound relationship takes time. It takes a willingness to listen, to compromise, to take responsibility, and to prepare. Sometimes it might take some experience as well. Contact a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you and your loved one come up with a strategy to build your future together.
Americans now owe a record $1.04 trillion in credit card debt.¹ If you’re not careful, credit card debt could hurt your credit score, wipe out your savings, and completely alter your personal financial landscape.
So: debt, debit, both, or neither? Before you apply for that next piece of plastic, here’s what you need to watch out for.
Low interest rates
Credit card companies spend a lot of money on marketing to try to get you hooked on an offer. Often you hear or read that a company will tout an offer with a low or zero percent APR (Annual Percentage Rate). This is called a “teaser rate.”
Sounds amazing, right? But here’s the problem: This is a feature that may only last for 6–12 months. Ask yourself if the real interest rate will be worth it. Credit card companies make a profit via credit card interest. If they were to offer zero percent interest indefinitely, then they wouldn’t make any money.
Make sure you read the fine print to determine whether the card’s interest rate will be affordable after the teaser rate period expires.
Fixed vs. variable interest rates
Credit cards will operate on either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate.² A fixed interest rate will generally stay the same from month to month. A variable interest rate, by contrast, is tied to an index (fancy word for interest rate) that moves with the economy. Normally the interest rate is set to be a few percentage points higher than the index.
The big difference here is that while a fixed rate may change, the credit card company is required to inform its customers when this happens. While a variable APR may start out with a lower interest rate, it’s not uncommon for these rates to fluctuate. What’s more, the credit card company isn’t required to tell you about a variable rate change at all!³
Low interest rates are usually reserved for individuals who have great credit with a long credit history. So, if you’ve never owned a credit card (or you are recovering from a negative credit history) this could be a red flag.
Of course, you could avoid these pitfalls altogether if you pay off your credit card balance before the statement date. Whatever the interest rate, be sure you’re applying for a credit card that’s affordable for you to pay off if you miss the payoff due date.
High credit limits
While large lines of credit are usually reserved for those with a good credit history, a new cardholder might still receive an offer for up to a $10,000 credit limit.
If this happens to you, beware. While it may seem like the offer conveys a great deal of trust in your ability to pay your bill, be honest with yourself. You may not be able to recover from the staggering size of your credit card debt if you can’t pay off your balance each month.
If you already have a card with a limit that feels too high, it may be in your interest to request that the company lower your card’s limit.
So you’re late paying your credit card bill. Late payments not only have the potential to hurt your credit score, but some credit cards may also assess a penalty APR if you haven’t paid your bill on time.
Penalty APRs are incredibly high, usually topping out at 29.99%.⁴ The solution here is simple: pay your bill on time or you might find self paying ridiculous interest rates!
Balance transfer fees
It’s not uncommon for a cardholder to transfer one card’s balance to another card, otherwise known as a balance transfer. This can be an effective way to pay off your debt while sidestepping interest, but only if you do so before the card’s effective rate kicks in. And, even if a card offers zero interest on balance transfers, you still may have to pay a fee for doing so.
Whatever type of credit card you choose, the only person responsible for its pros and cons is you. But if you’re thrifty and pay attention to the bottom line, you can help make that credit card work for your credit score and not against it.
¹ Samuel Stebbins “Where credit card debt is the worst in the US: States with the highest average balances,” USA Today (March 7 2019, updated April 26, 2019)
² Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Interest Rates: Fixed vs. Variable Rates,” The Balance (May 20, 2019)
³ Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Interest Rates: Fixed vs. Variable Rates,” The Balance (May 20, 2019)
⁴ Latoya Irby, “Credit Card Default And Penalty Rates Explained,” (August 12, 2019)
Having your emergency fund at the ready would be ideal to cover your conundrum, but what if your emergency fund has been depleted, or you can’t or don’t want to use a credit card or line of credit to get through a crisis?
There are other options out there – a cash advance or a payday loan.
But beware – these options pose some serious caveats. Both carry high interest rates and both are aimed at those who are in desperate need of money on short notice. So before you commit to one of these options, let’s pause and take a close look at why you might be tempted to use them, and how they compare to other credit products, like credit cards or traditional loans.
The Cash Advance
If you already have a credit card, you may have noticed the cash advance rate associated with that card. Many credit cards offer a cash advance option – you would go to an ATM and retrieve cash, and the amount would be added to your credit card’s balance. However, there is usually no grace period for cash advances.[i] Interest would begin to accrue immediately.
Furthermore, the interest rate on a cash advance may often be higher than the interest rate on credit purchases made with the same card. For example, if you buy a $25 dinner on credit, you may pay 15% interest on that purchase (if you don’t pay it off before the grace period has expired). On the other hand, if you take a cash advance of $25 with the same card, you may pay 25% interest, and that interest will start right away, not after a 21-day grace period. Check your own credit card terms so you’re aware of the actual interest you would be charged in each situation.
The Payday Loan
Many people who don’t have a credit history (or who have a poor credit rating) may find it difficult to obtain funds on credit, so they may turn to payday lenders. They usually only have to meet a few certain minimum requirements, like being of legal age, showing proof of employment, etc.[ii] Unfortunately, the annualized interest rates on payday loans are notoriously high, commonly reaching hundreds of percentage points.[iii]
A single loan at 10% over two weeks may seem minimal. For example, you might take a $300 loan and have to pay back $330 at your next paycheck. Cheap, right? Definitely not! If you annualize that rate, which is helpful to compare rates on different products, you get 250% interest. The same $300 charged to a 20% APR credit card would cost you $2.30 in interest over that same two week period (and that assumes you have no grace period).
Why People Use Payday Loans
Using a cash advance in place of purchasing on credit can be hard to justify in a world where almost every merchant accepts credit cards. However, if a particular merchant only accepts cash, you may be forced to take out a cash advance. Of course, if you can pay off the advance within a day or two and there is a fee for using a credit card (but not cash), you might actually save a little bit by paying in cash with funds from a cash advance.
Taking a payday loan, while extremely expensive, has an obvious reason: the applicant cannot obtain loans in any other way and has an immediate need for funds. The unfortunate reality is that being “credit invisible” can be extremely expensive, and those who are invisible or at risk of becoming invisible should start cautiously building their credit profiles, either with traditional credit cards or a secured card[iv], if your circumstances call for it. (As always, be aware of fees and interest rates charged with the card you choose.) Even more important is to start building an emergency fund. Then, if an emergency does arise, payday loans can be avoided.
If you’ve just used up your emergency fund to cover your last catastrophe, then what if a new surprise arrives before you’ve replenished your savings?
Using a credit card can be an expensive option, so you might be leery of adding debt with a high interest rate. However, you can’t let the ship sink either. What can you do?
A personal loan is an alternative in a cash-crunch crisis, but you’ll need to know a bit about how it works before signing on the bottom line.
A personal loan is an unsecured loan. The loan rate and approval are based on your credit history and the amount borrowed. Much like a credit card account, you don’t have to put up a car or house as collateral on the loan. But one area where a personal loan differs from a credit card is that it’s not a revolving line of credit. Your loan is funded in a lump sum and once you pay down the balance you won’t be able to access more credit from that loan. Your loan will be closed once you’ve paid off the balance.
The payment terms for a personal loan can be a short duration. Typically, loan terms range between 2-7 years.[i] If the loan amount is relatively large, this can mean large payments as well, without the flexibility you have with a credit card in regard to choosing your monthly payment amount.
An advantage over using a personal loan instead of a credit card is that interest rates for personal loans can be lower than you might find with credit cards. But many personal loans are plagued by fees, which can range from application fees to closing fees. These can add a significant cost to the loan even if the interest rate looks attractive. It’s important to shop around to compare the full cost of the loan if you choose to use a personal loan to navigate a cash crunch. You also might find that some fees (but not all) can be negotiated. (Hint: This may be true with certain credit cards as well.)
Before you borrow, make sure you understand the interest rate for the loan. Personal loans can be fixed rate or the rate might be variable. In that case, low rates can turn into high rates if interest rates continue to rise.
It’s also important to know the difference between a personal loan and a payday loan. Consider yourself warned – payday loans are a different type of loan, and may be an extremely expensive way to borrow. The Federal Trade Commission recommends you explore alternatives.[ii]
So if you need a personal loan to cover an emergency, your bank or credit union might be a good place to start your search.
Life insurance companies are more willing to offer lower premium life insurance policies to young, healthy people who will likely not need the death benefit payout of their policy for a while. (Keep in mind that exceptions for pre-existing medical conditions or certain careers exist – think “skydiving instructor”. But in many cases, the odds are more in your favor for lower premiums than you might guess.)
At this point you might be thinking, “Well, I am young and healthy, so why do I need to add another expense into my budget for something I might not need for a long time?”
Unlike a financial goal of saving up for a downpayment on your first house, waiting for “the right moment” to get life insurance – perhaps when you feel like you’re prepared enough – is less beneficial. A huge part of that is due to getting older. As your body ages, things can start to go wrong – unexpectedly and occasionally chronically. Ask any 35-year-old who just threw out their back for the first time and is now Googling every posture-perfecting stretch and cushy mattress to prevent it from happening again.
With age-related health issues in mind, remember that the premium you pay at 22 may be very different than the premium you’ll pay at 32. Most people hit several physical peaks in that 10 year window:¹
If you’re feeling your mortality after reading those numbers, don’t worry! You’re probably not going to go to pieces like fine china hitting a cement floor on your 30th birthday. But there is one certainty as you age: your premium will rise an average of 8-10% on each birthday.² Combine that with an issue like the sudden chronic back problems from throwing your back out that one time (one time!), and your premium will likely reflect both the age increase and a pre-existing condition.
If you experience certain types of illness or injury prior to getting life insurance, it often goes in the books as a pre-existing condition, which will cause a premium to go up. Remember: the less likely a person is going to need their life insurance payout, the lower the premium will likely be. Possible scenarios like the recurrence of cancer or a sudden inability to work due to re-injury are red flags for insurance companies because it increases the likelihood that a policyholder will need their policy’s payout.
A person’s age, unique medical history, and financial goals will all factor into the process of finding the right coverage and determining the rate. So taking advantage of your youth and good health now without bringing an age-borne illness or injury to the table could be beneficial for your journey to financial independence.
Your credit history can have an impact on your eligibility for rental leases, raise (or lower) your auto insurance rates, or even affect your eligibility for certain jobs (although in many cases the authorized credit reports available to third parties don’t contain your credit score if you aren’t requesting credit). Because credit history affects so many aspects of financial life, it’s important to begin building a solid credit history as early as possible.
So, where do you start?
Apply for a store credit card.
Store credit cards are a common starting point for teens and young adults, as it often can be easier to get approved for a store card than for a major credit card. As a caveat though, store card interest rates are often higher than for a standard credit card. Credit limits are also typically low – but that might not be a bad thing when you’re just getting started building your credit. A lower limit helps ensure you’ll be able to keep up with payments. Because you’re trying to build a positive history and because interest rates are often higher with a store card, it’s important to pay on time – or ideally, to pay the entire balance when you receive the statement.
Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.
Another common way to begin building credit is to become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Ultimately, the credit card account isn’t yours, so your parents would be responsible for paying the balance. (Because of this, your credit score won’t benefit as much as if you are approved for a credit card in your own name.) Another thing to keep in mind is that some credit card providers don’t report authorized users’ activity to credit bureaus.* Additionally, even if you’re only an authorized user, any missed or late payments on the card can affect your credit history negatively.
Are secured cards useful to build credit?
A secured credit card is another way to begin building credit. To secure the card, you make an initial deposit. The amount of that deposit is your credit line. If you miss a payment, the bank uses your collateral – the deposit – to pay the balance. Don’t let that make you too comfortable though. Your goal is to build a positive credit history, so if you miss payments – even though you have a prepaid deposit to fall back on – you’re still going to get a ding on your credit history. Instead, it’s best to use a small amount of your available credit each month and to pay in full when you get the statement. This will help you look like a credit superstar due to your consistently timely payments and low credit utilization.
As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit – but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive.
“Does Being an Authorized User Help You Build Credit?” Discover, 2018, https://discvr.co/2lAzSgt.
In some cases, the warnings might have been heeded but in other cases, we may have learned the cost of credit the hard way.
Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a costly thing – and sometimes even a risky thing. The interest from credit card balances can be like a ball and chain that might never seem to go away. And your financial strategy for the future may seem like a distant horizon that’s always out of reach.
It is possible to live without credit cards if you choose to do so, but it can take discipline if you’ve developed the credit habit.
It’s budgeting time
Here’s some tough love. If you don’t have one already, you should hunker down and create a budget. In the beginning it doesn’t have to be complicated. First just try to determine how much you’re spending on food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials. Next, consider what you’re spending on the non-essentials – be honest with yourself!
In making a budget, you should become acutely aware of your spending habits and you’ll give yourself a chance to think about what your priorities really are. Is it really more important to spend $5-6 per day on coffee at the corner shop, or would you rather put that money towards some new clothes?
Try to set up a budget that has as strict allowances as you can handle for non-essential purchases until you can get your existing balances under control. Always keep in mind that an item you bought with credit “because it was on sale” might not end up being such a great deal if you have to pay interest on it for months (or even years).
Hide the plastic
Part of the reason we use credit cards is because they are right there in our wallets or automatically stored on our favorite shopping websites, making them easy to use. (That’s the point, right?) Fortunately, this is also easy to help fix. Put your credit cards away in a safe place at home and save them for a real emergency. Don’t save them on websites you use.
Don’t worry about actually canceling them or cutting them up. Unless there’s an annual fee for owning the card, canceling the card might not help you financially or help boost your credit score.[i]
Pay down your credit card debt
When you’re working on your budget, decide how much extra money you can afford to pay toward your credit card balances. If you just pay the minimum payment, even small balances may not get paid off for years. Try to prioritize extra payments to help the balances go down and eventually get paid off.
Save for things you want to purchase
Make some room in your budget for some of the purchases you used to make with a credit card. If an item you’re eyeing costs $100, ask yourself if you can save $50 per month and purchase it in two months rather than immediately. Also, consider using the 30-day rule. If you see something you want – or even something you think you’ll need – wait 30 days. If the 30 days go by and you still need or want it, make sure it makes sense within your budget.
Save one card for occasional use
Having a solid credit history is important, so once your credit balances are under control, you may want to use one card in a disciplined way within your budget. In this case, you would just use the card for routine expenses that you are able to pay off in full at the end of the month.
Living without credit cards completely, or at least for the most part, is possible. Sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and having a solid savings strategy for the future will help make your discipline worth it!
However, there is a sizeable portion of the United States population, numbering in the tens of millions of individuals[i], who either have no credit history, credit history that’s too limited to provide a score, or credit history that’s too old to provide a score. These people may be rejected by lenders simply because they can’t prove their creditworthiness.
A large segment of these citizens are either just becoming adults and have yet to build a score, have little access to today’s modern financial system, or are from older generations who no longer need loans and thus their history has become “stale” or too old for scoring purposes. New immigrants who have no credit history in the United States also face this issue. The invisibles tend to cluster in dense urban centers or in small, rural towns, and, according to the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s report, lack of internet access seems to have a stronger correlation to credit invisibility than access to a physical bank branch.[ii]
The detriment of credit invisibility
It might seem better to always cover your bills with cash and simply save up for whatever items you wish to purchase. And this is generally a sound practice. However, if doing this leads to credit invisibility, it may have a detrimental effect on your financial life.
Most people – even if they have enough money on hand to cover normal bills and the occasional emergency – might someday want to purchase a home, start a business, or need a new car. It’s not usual that someone could pay for these high-dollar items with cash. Entering a loan agreement for any of these situations may be something you choose to do if the benefits seem to outweigh the costs, and if you have a solid strategy in place to repay the loan. If you can’t prove your creditworthiness, it might be more difficult to secure a loan for these things.
How to avoid being credit invisible
If you are credit invisible because you have little to no assets and lenders refuse to open accounts for you, one possibility is obtaining a secured credit card.[iii] The cardholder deposits cash and the deposit amount is usually the credit limit. The issuer has zero liability against your non-repayment, because they already have the money. Using a secured card and paying the balance back on time helps you build a credit history if you have none.
Once you’ve started to build a history, you may be able to apply for a “real” credit card. At that point, you’ll want to be cautious with your spending (according to a budget, of course) and always make sure to pay your bill on time, especially in full whenever possible so you can avoid interest. Then you should be on your way to establishing a solid credit history, which may help you with other milestones in life, like buying a home, replacing an old car, or even starting a new business venture with a friend.
So if you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt (go you!), you may be thinking you should close out your credit cards. However, you need to know that doing that may have several effects, some of which may not be what you’d expect.
There are times when canceling a card may be the best answer:
A card charges an annual fee
If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a certain credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use it often or have other options available.
You can’t control your spending
If “retail therapy” is impacting your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying on credit.
Then there are times when closing a credit card may not make much difference, or could even hurt your score:
Lingering effects: The good and the bad
Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay on your report for 10 years. In either case, canceling your credit card now will reduce the credit you have available, but the history – good or bad – will remain on your credit report for up to a decade.
The benefits of old credit
Did you know that one aspect factored in to your credit score is the age of your accounts? Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can actually leave a dent in your score, and we know that canceling the card won’t erase any negative history less than 7 years old. So it may be best to keep the older credit account open as long as there are no costs to the card. Another point to consider is that the effects of canceling an older account may be magnified when you’re younger and haven’t yet established a long enough credit history.
Credit utilization affects your credit score
Lenders and credit bureaus not only look at your repayment history, they also look at your credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower usage can help your credit score while high utilization can work against you.
For example, if you have $20,000 in credit available and $10,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you close a credit card that has a credit limit of $5,000, your available credit drops to $15,000 but your credit utilization jumps to 67 percent if the credit card balances remain unchanged. Going on a credit card canceling rampage may actually have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.
If unnecessary spending is out of control or if there is a cost to having a particular credit card, it may be best to cancel the card. In other cases, however, it’s often better to use credit cards occasionally, and make sure to pay them off as quickly as possible.
Keeping your credit in tip top shape may actually help save you money in some cases. With that in mind, how do you know if it’s a good idea to open a new credit card or to close some credit card accounts? Let’s find out!
Opening Credit Card Accounts
Opening a new credit card isn’t necessarily detrimental to your credit score in the long term, although there may be some potential negatives in the short term. As you might expect, opening a new credit card account will place a new inquiry on your credit report, which could cause a drop in your credit score. Any negative effect due to the inquiry is often temporary, but the long-term effect depends on how you use the account after that (not making minimum payments, carrying a high balance, etc.).
Opening a new credit card account can affect your credit rating in two other ways. The average age of your credit accounts can be lowered since you’ve added a credit account that’s brand new (i.e., the older the account, the better it is for your score). On the plus side, opening a new credit card account can reduce your credit utilization. For example, if you had $5000 in available credit with $2500 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50%. Adding another card with $2500 in available credit with the same balance total of $2500 drops your credit utilization to 33%. A lower credit utilization can help your score.
Closing Credit Card Accounts
Closing a credit card account can also affect your credit score, largely due to some of the same considerations for opening new credit card accounts. Generally speaking, closing a credit card account likely won’t help boost your credit score, and doing so could possibly lower your credit score for the same reasons above (lowering the average age of your accounts, increasing your credit utilization, etc.).
First, the positive reasons to close the account: This might be obvious, but closing a credit card account will prevent you from using it. If discipline has been a challenge, instead of closing the account, you might consider simply cutting up the card or placing it in a lockbox.
Second, the negative reasons to close the account: Closing a credit card account when you have outstanding balances on other credit card accounts will raise your credit utilization. A higher credit utilization can cause your credit rating to fall. You’ll also want to consider the average age of all of your accounts, which can play a big role in your credit score. A longer history is better. Closing a credit account that was established long ago can impact your credit score negatively by lowering your average account age.
Fair Isaac, the company responsible for assigning FICO scores, recommends not closing credit card accounts if your goal is to raise or preserve your credit score.[i]
Would opening or closing a bank account have any effect on my score?\ Closing a bank account has no effect on your credit rating and normally doesn’t appear on your credit report at all. When you open a bank account, however, your bank may perform a credit inquiry, particularly if you apply for overdraft protection. A hard inquiry (such as an overdraft protection application) can cause a temporary drop in your credit score. Soft inquiries – which are also common for banks – will appear on your credit report but do not affect your credit rating. Banks may also check your report from ChexSystems[ii], a company that reports on consumer bank accounts, including overdraft history and any unresolved balances on closed accounts.[iii]
As the old saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm.” But not everyone is an early riser, and getting up earlier than usual can throw off a night owl’s whole day.
But there are a couple of things that, if started early in life (and with copious amounts of caffeine, if you’re starting early in the day, too), could benefit you greatly later in life. For example, learning a second language.
The optimal age range for learning a second language is still up for debate among experts, but the consensus seems to be “the younger you start, the better.” It’s a good idea to start early – giving your brain an ample amount of time to develop the many agreed upon benefits of being bilingual that don’t show up until later in life:
Imagine combining that increased brain power with a comfortable retirement – an important goal to start working towards early in life!
1. Less to put away each month
Let’s say you’re 40 years old with little to no savings for retirement, but you’d like to have $1,000,000 when you retire at age 65. Twenty-five years may seem like plenty of time to achieve this goal, so how much would you need to put away each month to make that happen?
If you were stuffing money into your mattress (i.e., saving with no interest rate or rate of return), you would need to cram at least $3,333.33 in between the layers of memory foam every month. How about if you waited until you were 50 to start? Then you’d need to tuck no less than $5,555.55 around the coils. Every. Single. Month.
A savings plan that aggressive is simply not feasible for a majority of Americans: 78% of American full-time workers are just getting by, living paycheck-to-paycheck. So it makes sense that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the less you’ll need to put away each month. And the less you need to put away each month, the less stress will be put on your monthly budget – and the higher your potential to have a well-funded retirement when the time comes.
But what if you could start saving earlier and apply an interest rate? This is where the second advantage comes in…
2. Power of compounding
The earlier you start saving for retirement, the longer amount of time your money has to grow and build on itself. A useful shortcut to figuring out how long it would take money in an account to double is the Rule of 72.
Never heard of it? Here’s how it works: Take the number 72 and divide it by the annual interest rate. Assuming the interest rate is compounding annually, the answer is approximately how many years it will take for money in an account to double.
For example, applying the Rule of 72 to $10,000 in an account at a 4% interest rate would look like this:
72 ÷ 4 = 18
That means it would take approximately 18 years for $10,000 to grow to $20,000 ($20,258 to be exact).
This formula really shows the value of a higher interest rate, doesn’t it? Also keep in mind that this is just a mathematical concept. Interest rates will fluctuate over time, so the period in which money can double cannot be determined with certainty. Additionally, this hypothetical example does not reflect any taxes, expenses, or fees associated with any specific product. If these costs were reflected the amounts shown would be lower and the time to double would be longer.
Getting a higher interest rate and combining it with the third advantage below? You’d be on a roll…
3. Lower life insurance premiums
A well-tailored life insurance policy may help protect retirement savings. This is particularly important if you’re outlived by your spouse as he or she approaches their retirement years.
End-of-life costs can deal a serious blow to retirement savings. If you don’t have a strategy in place to help cover funeral expenses and the loss of income, the money your spouse might need may have to come out of your retirement savings.
One reason many people don’t consider life insurance as a method of protecting their retirement is that they think a policy would cost too much.
How much do you think a $250,000 term life insurance policy would cost for a healthy 30-year-old?*
Less than $20 per month. That’s a cost that would easily fit into most budgets!
You may still need a little caffeine for the extra kick to get an early start on powering up your brain (or your retirement savings), but sacrificing a few brand-name cups of coffee per month could finance a well-tailored life insurance policy that has the potential to protect your retirement savings.
Contact me today, and together we can work on your financial strategy for retirement, including what kind of life insurance policy would best fit you and your needs. As for your journey to the brain-boosting benefits of being bilingual – just like with retirement, it’s never too late to start. And I’ll be here to cheer you on every step of the way!
*Example Quote: $250,000 for 20-year term life policy coverage for 30 year old male, non-smoker with preferred health. Life insurance premiums are based on a number of factors including the existence of both general and specific health concerns, such as sex, health, age, tobacco use and family history.
Be Brain Fit: “The Brain Benefits of Learning a Second Language.”
Mercola: “The Brain Benefits of Being Bilingual.” 1.14.2016
USA TODAY: “Can’t keep up – More Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck.” 8.24.2017
Here’s an historical fact that’s easy to remember. Millennials are the largest generation in the US. Ever. Even larger than the Baby Boomers. Those born between the years 1980 to 2000 number over 92M.¹ These numbers dwarf the generation before them: Generation X at 61M.
When you’re talking about nearly a third of the population of North America, it would seem that anything related to this group is going to have an effect on the rest of the population and the future.
Here are a few examples:
It’s interesting to speculate and predict what may occur in the future, but what effects are happening now? Well, for one, if you’re a Millennial, you may have noticed that companies have been shifting aggressively to meet your needs.² Simply put, if a company doesn’t have a website or an app that a Millennial can dig into, it’s probably not a company you’ll be investing any time or money in. This may be a driving force behind the technological advancements companies have made in the last decade – Millennials need, want, and use technology. All. The. Time. This means that whatever matters to you as a Millennial, companies may have no choice but to listen, take note, and innovate.
If you’re either in business for yourself or work for a company that’s planning to stay viable for the next 20-30 years, it might be a good idea to pay attention to the habits and interests of this massive group (if you’re not already). The Baby Boomers are already well into retirement, and the next wave of retirees will be Generation X, which will leave the Millennials as the majority of the workforce. There will come a time when this group will control most of the wealth in Canada and the US. This means that if you’re not offering what they need or want now, then there’s a chance that one day your product or service may not be needed or wanted by anyone. Perhaps it’s time to consider how your business can adapt and evolve.
Ultimately, this shift toward Millennials and what they’re looking for is an exciting time to gauge where our society will be moving in the next few decades, and what it’s going to mean for the financial industry.
¹ “Millennials: Coming of Age.” Goldman Sachs, 2018, http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/millennials/.
² Ehlers, Kelly. “May We Have Your Attention: Marketing To Millennials.” Forbes, 6.27.2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2017/06/27/may-we-have-your-attention-marketing-to-millennials/#409e42331d2f.
After a frenzied dash around your house – one sock on, a toothbrush hanging out of your mouth, and your kid asking why there’s a can of tuna in his lunchbox – you kiss the family goodbye and finally dive behind the wheel of your car.
The GPS says 20 minutes to your office. Problem is you need to be there in 15. It may seem like a good idea to go over the speed limit to get to work on time. (But just a little.) Say, maybe only 10 miles per hour over. But in reality, speeding doesn’t actually get you where you want to go all that much faster.
Take this scenario for example: Say there are 60 miles between you and your destination.
That’s only 12 minutes saved. And factoring in how quickly heavy traffic can negate any time you might gain or how going faster burns more fuel, speeding isn’t really helping is it? In fact, it’s costing you. And if any of the consequences of speeding earn you a citation, those will cost you when applying for life insurance. (More importantly, I wouldn’t want you to put yourself or others at risk by not abiding by posted speed limits.)
You might not be aware of this, but during the life insurance underwriting process, the underwriter takes everything on your Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) into account.
Just like looking at your health history, occupation, and personal hobbies, an underwriter will examine your driving record as a factor in determining how risky you will be to insure. Even some violations that you might consider to be minor can have drastic consequences for your life insurance application. Any indication of reckless or risky behavior can be a red flag to an underwriter. The more negative activity on your driving record, the worse your insurance classification will be. (And the higher your life insurance rate will likely be.)
Another thing to keep in mind: time plays an important role for your driving history. Depending on your state, an MVR can feature violations that are 5-7 years old. Some violations will seat you in a lower classification for anywhere from 3-5 years after the fact. So if you’ve changed your ways (and made a personal pledge never to hit that snooze button and speed into the office parking lot again), some insurance companies may take that into account. But finding which one will give the most grace as time passes is key to a potentially lower life insurance rate.
No matter what your driving record looks like, working with me gives you access to numerous providers and life insurance policies, upping your chances for approval and a more affordable rate. It’s not a guarantee for success, but working together is one way to slow down and work on your options for a life insurance policy that will help protect you and your loved ones.
… You’ll need help to meet your higher life insurance rate if you’re planning on lighting up a cigarette.
Health details and everyday habits that may seem small or insignificant can have a massive effect on your life insurance rate. You may have heard something about the underwriting process. The purpose of the underwriting process is to determine how risky a person will be to insure. And the riskier someone is to insure, the higher their rate is likely to be. That risk is calculated by how soon an insurer estimates an applicant will need the full payout of their life insurance policy.
Some factors that influence risk (like age and gender) are out of your control. But did you know that your habits can also send your life insurance rate up?
Here are 3 poor health habits that an underwriter will definitely uncover and will definitely affect your life insurance rate:
If you smoke cigarettes, expect a higher life insurance rate. Period. Even products like nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges can earn a life insurance applicant “smoker” status (depending on the provider). At this point, are there really any lingering questions about how cigarettes affect your overall health and projected longevity? Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals and at least 70 known carcinogens.
A bit of good news? The longer it’s been since you quit smoking, the better things might look for you from an underwriting standpoint. For instance, some underwriters are only required to look back into your history as far as 12 months, so if you have quit cigarettes for a year, you may end up with a better classification – and a better classification potentially means a better life insurance rate.
2. Being Too Overweight
An underwriter will also assess your height-to-weight ratio. Your unique ratio will classify you according to a certain rate. Being overweight or obese increases health risks like stroke, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure, among others. So the more overweight you are, the riskier you are to insure. And what does that mean? You guessed it: your chances of a higher rate are significantly increased.
3. Drinking A LOT of Alcohol
Did reading about this poor health habit throw you off? After all, a few drinks isn’t that bad, right? Well, “a few drinks,” no, but drinking in excess can start to have adverse effects on your overall health. Excessive or “binge” drinking would be 5+ alcoholic drinks for men and 4+ alcoholic drinks for women at the same occasion or within a couple of hours of each other on at least 1 day in the past month. Chronic excessive drinking brings these common health risks: liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, brain damage, and more.
How will an underwriter know if you’re drinking to excess? They’ll give you a questionnaire, you’ll be subject to a medical exam, and they’ll see your driving record. So If there is any evidence of drinking excessively and getting behind the wheel of a car, consider your life insurance rates raised.
Kicking these 3 habits can have great effect on your personal health and on your life insurance rate! With a little effort, time, and preparation, you can put yourself in a better position for a potentially more affordable rate. But don’t wait to get started! Remember: when you apply for life insurance, you may not get full credit for changes to these 3 poor health habits made in the 12 months prior to your application..
Every insurer’s rates are going to be a little bit different, and that’s why you have an advantage by working with me. We’ll shop around for the policy and rate that’s tailored to your unique needs.
So if you’ve been waiting for a sign to stop smoking, quit eating too much junk food, or cut back on drinking, consider this it!
American Cancer Society: “Harmful Chemicals in Tobacco Products.” 4.5.2017
Center for Disease Control: “The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity.” 6.5.2015
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Drinking Levels Defined.”
Medical News Today: “10 health risks of chronic heavy drinking.” 12.8.2015
Two big things to keep in mind:
1) None of these are likely to happen to you. (The odds of winning the lottery alone are 175 million to 1! Being killed by a shark: 3.7 million to 1. Getting struck by lightning: 960,000 to 1.)
2) Occasionally playing in the rain, swimming in the ocean, or buying a lotto ticket won’t affect your life insurance rate.
Bungee jumping and kayaking and skydiving – Oh my! These 3 are a different story when it comes to determining your life insurance rate!
When you apply for a life insurance policy, the underwriting process involves reviewing a variety of different factors about you – your age, gender, family health history, lifestyle, etc. The underwriters need to help your potential insurer determine what kind of risk you pose to the insurance company.
What are insurance companies looking for? Ideally, someone who is young, healthy, and will not likely need their policy payout soon. These are the individuals who typically enjoy the lowest insurance rates. However, it’s important to note that no matter your age or how healthy you are, if you engage in some risky hobbies, they have the potential to bungee you right out of the easy-to-insure category.
Let’s take a look at skydiving, for instance. You voluntarily:
And we’re not even addressing the part where you trust the giant piece of folded up cloth to deploy correctly and carry you safely to the ground! This is textbook risky. (And certainly just one way to look at skydiving – most insurers don’t care that this might be a big check mark on your bucket list.)
When you raise your odds of being in harm’s way, you raise your life insurance rate – and sometimes your inability to be approved for a policy at all. In 2016, 1 in 153,557 skydiving jumps resulted in a fatality in the US. While these odds are not as likely as the odds of getting your cheek pinched by Great Aunt Gladys at Thanksgiving or seeing a brand new Porsche taking up two parking spaces at the mall on Black Friday, it’s a lot more likely than your lottery odds, to be sure.
And willingly leaping out of a plane is going to raise a red flag for any insurer.
Some other risky hobbies that may have an impact on your life insurance rate or policy approval:
If you enjoy living a bit more adventurously than most, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get life insurance to protect your future and your loved ones. Working with me gives you an advantage: you’ll have multiple products and insurers to work with. This isn’t a guarantee for success, but we can embark on this journey together and explore your options. Finding a life insurance policy that suits your lifestyle isn’t an impossible task, but you should take that leap sometime soon. Why not start today? (Parachute optional!)
The Balance: “What Are the Odds of Winning the Lottery?” 11.7.2017
NBC News: “Great White Hype – What Are the Odds of Being Killed by a Shark?” 6.25.2017
CBS: “Odds of winning Powerball jackpot less than being hit by lightning — twice.” 1.12.2016
HowStuffWorks: “How Skydiving Works.” 2017
USPA: “Who Skydives?” 4.2017
Individuals with a pre-existing condition, or a medical condition that existed before insurance coverage begins, may have a hard time wrapping their heads around that. After all, life insurance rates are determined in large part by overall health and life expectancy – the healthier you are, the longer you are assumed to live, and the longer you are assumed to live, the easier you are to insure. It’s easy to assume that having a pre-existing condition could mean financing a very expensive policy – or worse, could mean a giant, red “DENIED” stamp on the application.
But these 2 scenarios aren’t the only possible outcomes! A person’s unique medical history, the type of coverage they’re seeking, and the financial goals they set for themselves will all factor into the process of finding the right coverage and determining the rate.
If you have a pre-existing condition, I’m here to help!
The advantage of working with me? You are not confined to the offerings of a single insurance provider with potentially limited policies or rates. When you work with me, there are multiple possible solutions, providers, and policies that you may be able to choose from. This isn’t a guarantee for success, but I’m willing to help and to walk down this road with you. Give me a call today, and together we can explore your options.
It can be found in the title of this article. The best time to start teaching your children about financial decisions is when they’re children! Adults don’t typically take advice well from other adults (especially when they’re your parents and you’re trying to prove to them how smart and independent you are).
Heed this advice: Involve your kids in your family’s financial decisions and challenge them with game-like scenarios from as early as their grade school years.
Starting your kids’ education young can help give them a respect for money, remove financial mysteries, and establish deep-rooted beliefs about saving money, being cautious regarding risk, and avoiding debt.
1. Co-signing a loan
The Mistake: ‘I’m in a good financial position now. I want to be helpful. They said they’ll get me off the loan in 6 months or so.’
The Realities: If the person you’re co-signing for defaults on their payments, you’re required to make their payments, which can turn a good financial situation bad, fast. Also, lenders are not incentivized to remove co-signers – they’re motivated to lower risk (hence having a co-signer in the first place). This can make it hard to get your name off a loan, regardless of promises or good intentions. Keep in mind that if a family member or friend has a rough credit history – or no credit history – that requires them to have a co-signer, what might that tell you about the wisdom of being their co-signer? And finally, a co-signing situation that goes bad may ruin your credit reputation, and more tragically, may ruin your relationship.
The Lesson: ‘Never, ever, EVER, co-sign a loan.’
2. Taking on a mortgage payment that pushes the budget
The Mistake: ‘It’s our dream house. If we really budget tight and cut back here and there, we can afford it. The bank said we’re pre-approved…We’ll be sooo happy!’
The Realities: A house is one of the biggest purchases couples will ever make. Though emotion and excitement are impossible to remove from the decision, they should not be the driving forces. Just because you can afford the mortgage at the moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in 5 or 10 years. Situations can change. What would happen if either partner lost their job for any length of time? Would you have to tap into savings? Also, many buyers dramatically underestimate the ongoing expenses tied to maintenance and additional services needed when owning a home. It’s a general rule of thumb that home owners will have to spend about 1% of the total cost of the home every year in upkeep. That means a $250,000 home would require an annual maintenance investment of $2,500 in the property. Will you resent the budgetary restrictions of the monthly mortgage payments once the novelty of your new house wears off?
The Lesson: ‘Never take on a mortgage payment that’s more than 25% of your income. Some say 30%, but 25% or less may be a safer financial position.’
3. Financing for a new car loan
The Mistake: ‘Used cars are unreliable. A new car will work great for a long time. I need a car to get to work and the bank was willing to work with me to lower the payments. After test driving it, I just have to have it.’
The Realities: First of all, no one ‘has to have’ a new car they need to finance. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘a new car starts losing its value the moment you drive it off the lot.’ Well, it’s true. According to CARFAX, a car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive away from the dealership and another 10% by the end of the first year. That’s 20% of value lost in 12 months. After 5 years, that new car will have lost 60% of its value. Poof! The value that remains constant is your monthly payment, which can feel like a ball and chain once that new car smell fades.
The Lesson: ‘Buy a used car you can easily afford and get excited about. Then one day when you have saved enough money, you might be able to buy your dream car with cash.’
4. Financial retail purchases
The Mistake: ‘Our refrigerator is old and gross – we need a new one with a touch screen – the guy at the store said it will save us hundreds every year. It’s zero down – ZERO DOWN!’
The Realities: Many of these ‘buy on credit, zero down’ offers from appliance stores and other retail outlets count on naive shoppers fueled by the need for instant gratification. ‘Zero down, no payments until after the first year’ sounds good, but accrued or waived interest may often bite back in the end. Credit agreements can include stipulations that if a single payment is missed, the card holder can be required to pay interest dating back to the original purchase date! Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards may be enticing to shoppers who are offered an immediate 10% off their first purchase when they sign up. They might think, ‘I’ll use it to establish credit.’ But that store card can have a high interest rate. Best to think of these cards as putting a tiny little ticking time bomb in your wallet or purse.
The Lesson: ‘Don’t buy on credit what you think you can afford. If you want a ‘smart fridge,’ consider saving up and paying for it in cash. Make your mortgage and car payments on time, every time, if you want to help build your credit.’
5. Going into business with a friend
The Mistake: ‘Why work for a paycheck with people I don’t know? Why not start a business with a friend so I can have fun every day with people I like building something meaningful?’
The Realities: “This trap actually can sound really good at first glance. The truth is, starting a business with a friend can work. Many great companies have been started by two or more chums with a shared vision and an effective combination of skills. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:
The Lesson: ‘Understand that the money, pressures, successes, and failures of business have ruined many great friendships. Consider going into business individually and working together as partners, rather than co-owners.’
6. Signing up for a credit card
The Mistake: ‘I need to build credit and this particular card offers great points and a low annual fee! It will only be used in case of emergency.’
The Reality: There are other ways to establish credit, like paying your rent and car loan payments on time. The average American household carries a credit card balance averaging over $16,000, and the average Canadian owes $22,081 in consumer debt. Credit cards can lead to debt that may take years (or decades) to pay off, especially for young people who are inexperienced with budgeting and managing money. The point programs of credit cards are enticing – kind of like when your grocer congratulates you for saving five bucks for using your VIP shopper card. So how exactly did you save money by spending money?
The Lesson: ‘Learn to discipline yourself to save for things you want to buy and then pay for them with cash. Focus on paying off debt – like student loans and car loans – not going further into the hole. And when you have to get a credit card, make sure to pay it off every month, and look for cards with rewards points. They are, in essence, paying you! But be sure to keep Lesson 5 in mind!’
The Balance: “How Much Should You Budget for Home Maintenance and Repairs.” 4.4.2017
CARFAX: “Car Depreciation: 5 Things to Consider.” 5.18.2017
MysteryMoneyMan: “5 of the Most Dangerous Financial Commitments You Can Make.” 1.16.2017
NerdWallet: “2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” 2016
CBC News: “Canadians’ average debt load now up to $22,081, 3.6% rise since last year.” 12.16.2016