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Credit Score vs. Credit Report

Credit Score vs. Credit Report

Your credit score is a big deal.

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.

Credit Report

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.

Credit Score
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.


Should I Buy Or Rent?

Should I Buy Or Rent?

Home ownership is a big part of the “American Dream”.

But sometimes it might seem more convenient (or economical) to rent rather than buy. Here are two things to consider if you’re looking to buy a house instead of renting.

How long will you live in the house?
When you own a home, the hope is generally that it will increase in value and that you would be able to sell it for more than you bought it. The best way to do that is to plan to stay in your house for the long haul. So if you’re looking to remain in an area for a while and put down roots, buying a house is a strong consideration.

But let’s face it, not everyone is in that position. Maybe you’re young and hopping from opportunity to opportunity. Perhaps your job requires you to travel frequently or change locations. You might just prefer discovering new, exciting places and not being tied down. Unless you plan on renting out your property, it may not make sense for you to buy. Renting might give you more flexibility to move about as you please!

Can you afford to buy a house?
So you want to settle down in a city or a certain neighborhood for the foreseeable future. Does that automatically mean you should buy a house?

Well, maybe not.

You simply may not be able to afford a house right now. Do you have significant debt in student loans or a car? Have you been able to save up enough for closing costs and a down payment? Mortgages might be cheaper than rent at certain times, but that might flip-flop before too long. Are you ready to maintain your house or pay for unexpected damages? These are all questions to ask before you decide to become a homeowner.

Still weighing your homeownership options? Let’s talk. We can review your situation and see if now is your time to buy!


Financial Strategy - The Importance of Having One

Financial Strategy - The Importance of Having One

A financial strategy is many things.

It’s not just a budget. In fact, a solid financial strategy is not entirely based on numbers at all. Rather, it’s a roadmap for your family’s financial future. It’s a journey on which you’ll need to consider daily needs as well as big-picture items. Having a strategy makes it possible to set aside money now for future goals, and help ensure your family is both comfortable in the present and prepared in the future.

Financial Strategy, Big Picture
A good financial strategy covers pretty much everything related to your family’s finances. In addition to a snapshot of your current income, assets, and debt, a strategy should include your savings and goals, a time frame for paying down debt, retirement savings targets, ways to cover taxes and insurance, and in all likelihood some form of end-of-life preparations. How much of your strategy is devoted to each will depend on your age, marital or family status, whether you own your home, and other factors.

Financial Preparation, Financial Independence
How do these items factor into your daily budget? Well, having a financial strategy doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to an oppressive budget. In fact, it may actually provide you with more “freedom” to spend. If you’re allocating the right amount of money each month toward both regular and retirement savings, and staying aware of how much you have to spend in any given time frame, you may find you have less daily stress over your dollars and feel better about buying the things you need (and some of the things you want).

Remember Your Goals
It can also be helpful to keep the purpose of your hard-earned money in mind. For example, a basic financial strategy may include the amount of savings you need each month to retire at a certain age, but with your family’s lifestyle and circumstances in mind. It might be a little easier to skip dinner out and cook at home instead when you know the reward may eventually be a dinner out in Paris!

Always Meet with a Financial Professional
There are many schools of thought as to the best ways to save and invest. Some financial professionals may recommend paying off all debt (except your home mortgage) before saving anything. Others recommend that clients pay off debt while simultaneously saving for retirement, devoting a certain percentage of income to each until the debt is gone and retirement savings can be increased. If you’re just getting started, meet with a qualified and licensed financial professional who can help you figure out which option is for you.


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Big Financial Rocks First

Big Financial Rocks First

A teacher walked into her classroom with a clear jar, a bag of rocks, a bucket of sand, and a glass of water. She placed all the large rocks carefully into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks emptying the entire bucket into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her student’s surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.

“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.

One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”

The teacher smiled and shook her head.

“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”

This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.

Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important –but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.

Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.

What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals - and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.


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Do I Need Life Insurance?

Do I Need Life Insurance?

It might be uncomfortable to think about the need for life insurance, but it’s an important part of your family’s financial strategy.

It helps protect your family during the grieving process, gives them time to figure out their next steps, and can provide income to cover normal bills, your mortgage, and other unforeseen expenses.

Here are some guidelines to help you figure out how much is enough to help keep your family’s future safe.

Who needs life insurance?
A good rule of thumb is that you should get life insurance if you have financial dependents. That can range from children to spouses to retired parents. It’s worth remembering that you might provide financial support to loved ones in unexpected ways. A stay-at-home parent, for instance, may cover childcare or education costs. Be sure to take careful consideration when deciding who should get coverage!

What does life insurance cover?
Life insurance can be used to cover a variety of unexpected expenses. Funeral costs or debts can potentially be financial and emotional strains, as can the loss of a steady income and employer-provided benefits. Think of life insurance as a buffer in these situations. It can give you a line of defense from financial concerns while you process your loss and plan for the future.

How much life insurance do you need?
Everyone’s situation is different, so consider who would be financially impacted in your absence and what their needs would be.

If you’re single with no children, you may only need enough insurance to cover funeral costs and pay off any debts.

If you’re married with children, consider how long it might take your spouse to get back on their feet and be able to support your family, how much childcare and living expenses might be, and how much your children would need to attend college and start a life of their own. A rule of thumb is to purchase 10 times as much life insurance as income you would make in a year. For instance, you would probably buy a $500,000 life insurance policy if you make $50,000 a year. (Note: Be sure to talk with a qualified and licensed life insurance professional before you make any decisions.)

An older person with no kids at home may want to leave behind an inheritance for their children and grandchildren, or ensure that their spouse is cared for in their golden years.

A business owner will need a solid strategy for what would happen to the business in the event of their death, as well as enough life insurance to help ensure that employees are paid and the business can either be transferred or closed with costs covered.

Life insurance may not be anyone’s favorite topic, but it can be a lifeline to your family in the event that you are taken from them too soon. With a well thought out life insurance policy for you and your situation, you can rest knowing that your family’s future has been prepared for.


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Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

There’s no doubt that credit card debt is a huge financial burden for many Americans.

On average, each household that has revolving credit card debt owes $7,104 (1). It might be tempting to see those numbers and decide to throw out your credit cards entirely. After all, why hang on to a source of temptation when you could make do with cash or a debit card? However, keeping a credit card around has some serious benefits that you should consider before you decide to free yourself from plastic’s grasp.

You might have bigger debts to deal with
On average, credit card debt is low compared to auto loans ($27,934), student loans ($46,679), and mortgages ($192,618) (2). Simply put, you might be dealing with debts that cost you a lot more than your credit card. That leaves you with a few options. You can either start with paying down your biggest debts (a debt avalanche) or get the smaller ones out of the way and move up (a debt snowball). That means you’ll either tackle credit card debt first or wait while you deal with a mortgage payment or student loans. Figure out where to start and see where your credit card fits in!

Ditching credit cards can lower your credit score
Credit utilization and availability play a big role in determining your credit score (3). The less credit you use and the more you have available, the better your score will likely be. Closing down a credit card account may drastically lower the amount of credit you have available, which then could reduce your score. Even freezing your card in a block of ice can have negative effects; credit card companies will sometimes lower your available credit or just close the account if they see inactivity for too long (4). This may not be the end of the world if you have another line of credit (like a mortgage) but it’s typically better for your credit score to keep a credit card around and only use it for smaller purchases.

It’s often wiser to limit credit card usage than to ditch them entirely. Figure out which debts are costing you the most, and focus your efforts on paying them down before you cut up your cards. While you’re at it, try limiting your credit card usage to a few small monthly purchases to protect your credit score and free up some extra funds to work on your other debts.

Need help coming up with a strategy? Give me a call and we can get started on your journey toward financial freedom!

(1) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(2) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(3) Latoya Irby, “Understanding Credit Utilization: How Your Usage Affects Your Credit Score,” The Balance, February 20, 2020

(4) Lance Cothern, “Will My Credit Score Go Down If A Credit Card Company Closes My Account For Non-Use?” March 2, 2020


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4 Ways to Get out of Debt

4 Ways to Get out of Debt

Dealing with debt can be scary.

Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:

Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.

Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.

Debt Consolidation
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.

Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.


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The starter kit for building good credit

The starter kit for building good credit

Having a good credit score is one of the most important tools you can have in your financial toolbox.

Your credit report may affect anything from how much you pay for a cell phone plan, to whether you would qualify for the mortgage you might want.

Getting and maintaining a good credit score can be advantageous. But how do you achieve a good credit report? What if you’re starting from scratch? The dilemma is like the chicken and the egg question. How can you build a positive credit report if no one will extend you credit?

Read on for some useful tips to help you get started.

Use a cosigner to take out a loan
One way to help build good credit is by taking out a loan with a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for the repayment of the loan if the borrower defaults. Many banks may be willing to give loans to people with no credit if someone with good credit acts as a cosigner on the loan to help ensure the money will be paid back.

Build credit as an authorized user
If you don’t want or need to take out a loan with a cosigner, you may want to consider building credit as an authorized user of someone else’s credit card – like a parent, close friend, or relative you trust. The credit card holder would add you as an authorized user of the card. Over time if the credit account remains in good standing, you would begin building credit.

Apply for a store credit card to build your credit
Another way to start building your credit record is to secure a store credit card. Store credit cards may be easier to qualify for than major credit cards because they usually have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. A store credit card may help you build good credit if you make the payments on time every month. Also be sure to pay the card balance off each month to avoid paying interest.

Keep student loans in good standing
If there is an upside to student loan debt, it’s that having a student loan can help build credit and may be easy to qualify for. Just keep in mind, as with any loan, to make payments on time.

Good credit takes time
Building a good credit report takes time, but we all must start somewhere. Your credit score can affect many aspects of your financial health, so it’s worth it to build and maintain a good credit report. Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Most importantly, as you begin building credit, protect it by avoiding credit card debt and making your payments on time.


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The Challenge Of Losing Your Income

The Challenge Of Losing Your Income

You’ve already got a lot to deal with. Why buy life insurance at all?

It all comes down to protection. The idea of protecting things like your car or house are pretty common. Even if car insurance weren’t mandatory in most states or provinces, buying it would probably be a good idea. You’d want to make sure you could cover any damages from an accident – especially if you’re at fault. And protecting your investment in your home from the unexpected like an earthquake, fire, flood, theft, etc. is a bit of a no-brainer.

One of the most important things to protect before all others? Your ability to earn an income. Your income enables you to not only buy your car and your house but also the insurance to protect those things. If you were to lose your income, then those things could also be lost if you can’t afford them any longer.

Getting laid off or fired could be a cause of lost income. In that case, you still have the ability to work, which means finding a new job is possible. But in the event of a disability, critical illness, or premature death of a breadwinner? Those situations are a bit tougher to bounce back from – especially that last one.

Before becoming financially independent, a financial situation may typically be less secure, meaning you might have more financial responsibility than wealth. For example, if you don’t have a lump sum of cash to buy a house, you’d need to finance the purchase over a longer period of time via a mortgage. This creates a responsibility to continue making the mortgage payments in full and on time. Losing your income would be devastating since it could affect your payments – and when mortgage payments can’t be made, you might lose your home.

What all of this means: Your ability to earn an income should also be protected. Getting the right type and the right amount of insurance can seem complicated, especially if you’re considering all the different kinds you may need. That’s where speaking with a financial professional might come in handy. If you’re looking to protect the most important aspect of your financial situation (namely, your ability to earn income) and you’d like to see your options, let’s talk. It would be my pleasure to help you get a better understanding of your options.


Any guarantees associated with a life insurance policy are subject to the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

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The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

It might sound like a bad monster movie title, but the return of consumer debt is a growing concern.

A recent New York Times article details the rise of consumer debt, which has reached a new peak and now exceeds the record-breaking $12.68 trillion of consumer debt we had collectively back in 2008. In 2017, after a sharp decline followed by a rise as consumer sentiment improved, we reached a new peak of $12.73 trillion.[i]

A trillion is a big number. Numbers measured in trillions (that’s 1,000 billion, or 1,000,000 million – yes, that’s correct!) can seem abstract and difficult to relate to in our own individual situations.

While big numbers can be hard to grasp, dates are easy. 2008 is when the economy crashed, due in part to an unmanageable amount of debt.

Good debt and bad debt
Mortgage debt still makes up the majority of consumer debt, currently 68% of the total.[ii] But student loans are a category on the rise, currently more than doubling their percentage of total consumer debt when compared to 2008 figures.[iii] Coupled with a healthier economy, these new levels of consumer debt may not be a strong concern yet, but the impact of debt on individual households is often more palpable than the big-picture view of economists. Debt has a way of creeping up on families.

It’s common to hear references to “good debt”, usually when discussing real estate loans. In most cases, mortgage interest is tax deductible, helping to reduce the effective interest rate. However, if a household has too much debt, none of it feels like good debt. In fact, some people pass on home ownership altogether, investing their surplus income and living in more affordable rented apartments – instead of taking on the fluctuating cost of a house and its seemingly never-ending mortgage payments.

Credit card debt
Assuming that a mortgage and an auto loan are necessary evils for your household to work, and that student loans may pay dividends in the form of higher earning power, credit card debt deserves some closer scrutiny. The average American household owes over $15,000 in credit card debt,[iv] more than a quarter of the median household income. The average interest rate for credit cards varies depending on the type of card (rewards cards can be higher). But overall, American households are paying an average of 14.87% APR for the privilege of borrowing money to spend.[v]

That level of debt requires a sizeable payment each month. Guess what the monthly credit card interest for credit card debt of $15,000 at an interest rate of 15% would be? $187.50! (That number will go down as the balance decreases.) If your monthly payment is on the lower end, your debt won’t go down very quickly though. In fact, at $200 per month paid towards credit cards, the average household would be paying off that credit card debt for nearly 19 years, with a total interest cost of almost $30,000 – all from a $15,000 starting balance! (Hint: You can find financial calculators online to help you figure out how much it really costs to borrow money.)

You may not be trillions in debt (even though it might feel like it), but the first step to getting your debt under control is often to understand what its long-term effects might be on your family’s financial health. Formulating a strategy to tackle debt and sticking to it is the key to defeating your personal debt monsters.


[i], [ii] & [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html
[iv] & [v] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

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Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion.¹ That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.²

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average over 17%, and interest rates are on the rise.³ For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future!

Auto Loans
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.

Student Loans
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In many cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.

When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.


Sources:
¹ El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet, 2018, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg.
² “Grasping Large Numbers.” The Endowment for Human Development, 2018, https://bit.ly/1o7Yasq.
³ “Current Credit Card Interest Rates.” Bankrate, 7.11.2018, https://bit.ly/2zGcwzM.

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Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

It’s no secret that making purchases on credit cards will result in paying more for those items over time if you’re paying interest charges from month-to-month.

Despite this well-known fact, credit card debt is at an all-time high, rising another 3% this past year.¹ The average American now owes over $6,300 in credit card debt. For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household.² Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.

The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.

Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.

Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.

Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.

Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.

Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.

Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!


Sources:
¹ Sullivan, Bob. “State of Credit: 2017.” Experian, 1.11.2018, https://bit.ly/2mrjH58.
² El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet, 2017, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg.

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Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges, too.

In fact, money matters are the leading cause of arguments in modern relationships.* The age-old adage that love trumps wealth may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.

These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.

1. Set a goal for debt-free living.
Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.

2. Talk about money matters.
Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.

3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account.
As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.

With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)


Source:
Huckabee, Tyler. “Why Do People In Relationships Fight About Money So Much?” Relevant, 1.3.2018, https://bit.ly/2xiflG9.

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Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

These days, most families are two-income households.

That describes 61.9% of U.S. families as of 2017.¹ If that describes your family (and the odds are good), do you have a strategy in place to cover your financial obligations with just one income if you or your spouse were to unexpectedly pass away?

Wow. That’s a real conversation-opener, isn’t it? It’s not easy to think about what might happen if one income suddenly disappeared. (It might seem like more fun to have a root canal than to think about that.) But having the right coverage “just in case” is worth considering. It’ll give you some reassurance and let you get back to the fun stuff… like not thinking about having a root canal.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Term insurance and how it may help with your family’s financial obligations, read on…

Some Basics about Term Insurance
Many of life’s financial commitments have a set end date. Mortgages are 15 to 30 years. Kids grow up and (eventually) start providing for themselves. Term life insurance may be a great option since you can choose a coverage length that lines up with the length of your ongoing financial commitments. Ideally, the term of the policy will end around the same time those large financial obligations are paid off. Term policies also may be a good choice because in many cases, they may be the most economical solution for getting the protection a family needs.

As great as term policies can be, here are a couple of things to keep in mind: a term policy won’t help cover financial commitments if you or your spouse simply lose your job. And term policies have a set (level) premium during the length of the initial period. Generally, term policies can be continued after the term expires, but at a much higher rate.

The following are some situations where a Term policy may help.

Pay Final Expenses
Funeral and burial costs can be upwards of $10,000.² However, many families might not have that amount handy in available cash. Covering basic final expenses can be a real burden, especially if the death of a spouse comes out of the blue. If one income is suddenly gone, it could mean the surviving spouse would need to use credit or liquidate assets to cover final expenses. As you would probably agree, neither of these are attractive options. A term life insurance policy can cover final expenses, leaving one less worry for your family.

Pay Off Debt
The average household in the U.S. is carrying nearly $140,000 in debt.³ For households with a large mortgage balance, the debt figures could be much higher. Couple that with a median household income of under $60,000,⁴ and it’s clear that many families would be in trouble if one income is lost.

Term life insurance can be closely matched to the length of your mortgage, which helps to ensure that your family won’t lose their home at an already difficult time.

But what about car payments, credit card balances, and other debt? These other debt obligations that your family is currently meeting with either one or two incomes can be put to bed with a well-planned term life policy.

Income Protection
Even if you’ve planned for final expenses and purchased enough life insurance coverage to pay off your household debt, life can present many other costs of just… living. If you pass unexpectedly, the bills will keep rolling in for anyone you leave behind – especially if you have young children. Those day-to-day living costs and unexpected expenses can seem to multiply in ways that defy mathematical concepts. (You know – like that school field trip to the aquarium that no one mentioned until the night before.) The death benefit of a term life insurance policy may help, for a time, fill in the income gap created by the unfortunate passing of a breadwinner.

But Wait, There’s More… There are term life insurance policies available that can provide other benefits as well, including living benefits that may help keep medical expenses from wreaking havoc on your family’s financial plan if you become critically ill. One note about the living benefits policies, though: If the critical and chronic illness features are used, the face value of the policy is reduced. It’s important to consider whether a reduction in the death benefit would be a good alternative to using savings planned for other purposes.

In some cases, policies with built-in living benefits may cost more than a standard term policy but may still cost less than permanent insurance policies! And because a term policy is in force only during the years when your family needs the most protection, premiums can be lower than for other types of life insurance.

Term life insurance can provide income protection to help keep your family’s financial situation solid, and help things stay as “normal” as they can be after a loss.


Sources:
¹ United States Department of Labor. “Employment Characteristics of Families Summary.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.19.2018, https://bit.ly/2kSHDvm.
² “Funeral Costs: How Much Does an Average Funeral Cost?” Parting, 9.14.2017, https://bit.ly/2isoHUC.
³ Sun, Leo. “A Foolish Take: Here’s how much debt the average U.S. household owes.” USA Today, 11.18.2017, https://usat.ly/2hJ7lah.
⁴ Loudenback, Tanza. “Middle-class Americans made more money last year than ever before.” Business Insider, 9.12.2017, https://read.bi/2f3ey3F.

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Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

First of all, what is insurable interest?

It’s simply the stake you have in something that is being insured – and that the amount of insurance coverage for whatever is being insured is not more than your potential loss.

To say things could become a bit awkward might be an understatement if your insurable interest isn’t considered before you’re deep into the planning phase of a project or before you’ve signed some papers, like a title or a loan.

It’s better for your sanity to understand insurable interest beforehand. Where the issue of insurable interest often arises is in auto insurance. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have a car that’s worth $5,000. $5,000 is the maximum amount of money you would lose if the car is stolen or damaged – and $5,000 would be the most you could insure the car for. $5,000 is your insurable interest.

In the above example, you own the car, so you have an insurable interest in it. By the same token, you can’t insure your neighbor’s car. If your neighbor’s car was stolen or damaged, you wouldn’t suffer any financial loss because it wasn’t your car.

Here’s where it might get a little tricky and why it’s important to understand insurable interest. Let’s say you have a young driver in the house, a teenager, and it’s time for him to get mobile. He’s been saving up his lawn-mowing money for two years and finally bought the (used) car of his dreams.

You might have considered adding your son’s car to your auto policy to save money – you’ve heard how much it can cost for a teen driver to buy their own policy. Sounds like a good plan, right? However, the problem with this strategy is that you don’t have an insurable interest in your son’s car. He bought it, and it’s registered to him.

You might find an insurance sales rep who will write the policy. But there’s a risk the policy won’t make it through underwriting and – more importantly – if there’s a claim with that car, the claim might not be covered because you didn’t have an insurable interest in it. If you want to put that car on your auto insurance policy, the car needs to be registered to the named insured on the policy – you.

Insurable Interest And Lenders
If you have a mortgage or an auto loan, your lender is probably listed on your policy. Both you and the lender have an insurable interest in the house or the car. Over time, as the loan is paid down, you’ll have a greater insurable interest and the lender’s insurable interest will become smaller. (Hint: When your loan is paid off, ask your agent to remove the lender from the policy to avoid any confusion or delays if you have a claim someday.)

Does Ownership Create Insurable Interest?
Good question. It might seem like ownership and insurable interest are equivalent – they often occur simultaneously. But there are times when you can have an insurable interest in something without being an owner.

Life insurance is a great example of having an insurable interest without ownership. You can’t own a person – but if a person dies, you may experience a financial loss. However, just as you can’t insure your neighbor’s car, you can’t purchase a life insurance policy on your neighbor, either. You’d have to be able to demonstrate your potential loss if your neighbor passed away. And no it doesn’t count if they never returned those hedge clippers they borrowed from you last spring.

So now you know all about insurable interest. While insurable interest requirements may seem inconvenient at times, the rules are there to protect you and to help keep rates lower for everyone. Without insurable interest requirements, the door is open to fraud, speculation, or even malicious behavior. A little inconvenience seems like a much better option.


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What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how* do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.


Source:
Martin, Emmie. “Here’s how much money the average middle-aged American could save each month.” CNBC*, 11.8.2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/08/how-much-money-the-average-middle-aged-american-could-save-each-month.html.

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4 Reasons Why Life Insurance From Work May Not Be Enough

4 Reasons Why Life Insurance From Work May Not Be Enough

In some industries, the competition for good employees is as big a battle as the competition for customers.

As part of a benefits package to attract and keep talented people, many employers offer life insurance coverage. If it’s free – as the life policy often is – there’s really no reason not to take the benefit. Free is (usually) good. But free can be costly if it prevents you from seeing the big picture.

Here are a few important reasons why a life insurance policy offered through your employer shouldn’t be the only safety net you have for your family.

1. The Coverage Amount Probably Isn’t Enough.
Life insurance can serve many purposes, but two of the main reasons people buy life insurance are to pay for final expenses and to provide income replacement.

Let’s say you make around $50,000 per year. Maybe it’s less, maybe it’s more, but we tend to spend according to our income (or higher) so higher incomes usually mean higher mortgages, higher car payments, etc. It’s all relative.

In many cases, group life insurance policies offered through employers are limited to 1 or 2 years of salary (usually rounded to the nearest $1,000), as a death benefit. (The term “death benefit” is just another name for the coverage amount.)

In this example, a group life policy through an employer may only pay a $50,000 death benefit, of which $10,000 to $15,000 could go toward burial expenses. That leaves $35,000 to $40,000 to meet the needs of your spouse and family – who will probably still have a mortgage, car payment, loans, and everyday living expenses. But they’ll have one less income to cover these. If your family is relying solely on the death benefit from an employer policy, there may not be enough left over to support your loved ones.

2. A Group Life Policy Has Limited Usefulness.
The policy offered through an employer is usually a term life insurance policy for a relatively low amount. One thing to keep in mind is that the group term policy doesn’t build cash value like other types of life policies can. This makes it an ineffective way to transfer wealth to heirs because of its limited value.

Again, and to be fair, if the group policy is free, the price is right. The good news is that you can buy additional policies to help ensure your family isn’t put into an impossible situation at an already difficult time.

3. You Don’t Own The Life insurance Policy.
Because your employer owns the policy, you have no say in the type of policy or the coverage amount. In some cases, you might be able to buy supplemental insurance through the group plan, but there might be limitations on choices.

Consider building a coverage strategy with policies you own that can be tailored to your specific needs. Keep the group policy as “supplemental” coverage.

4. If You Change Jobs, You Lose Your Coverage.
This is actually even worse than it sounds. The obvious problem is that if you leave your job, are fired, or are laid off, the employer-provided life insurance coverage will be gone. Your new employer may or may not offer a group life policy as a benefit.

The other issue is less obvious.

Life insurance gets more expensive as we get older and, as perfectly imperfect humans, we tend to develop health conditions as we age that can lead to more expensive policies or even make us uninsurable. If you’re lulled into a false sense of security by an employer group policy, you might not buy proper coverage when you’re younger, when coverage might be less expensive and easier to get.

As with most things, it’s best to look at the big picture with life insurance. A group life policy offered through an employer isn’t a bad thing – and at no cost to the employee, the price is certainly attractive. But it probably isn’t enough coverage for most families. Think of a group policy as extra coverage. Then we can work together to design a more comprehensive life insurance strategy for your family that will help meet their needs and yours.


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Ways to pay off your mortgage faster

Ways to pay off your mortgage faster

It’s paradoxical how owning a home might make you feel more secure.

But it may also be a constant source of worry, particularly if you still have a hefty mortgage payment each month. For some, having a mortgage is simply a part of life. But for others, it can be an encumbrance, especially once you realize that your interest expense might cost as much as the home itself over the course of a 30-year loan.

Whether your goal is becoming mortgage-free or you just don’t want to pay interest to your lender for any longer than necessary, there are some effective ways you can pay off your mortgage faster.

Make bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments
Many of us get paid weekly or bi-weekly (meaning every two weeks). A standard mortgage has twelve monthly payments. While we tend to think of a month as having four weeks, there are actually around 4.25 weeks in a month. This seemingly small discrepancy in time can work to your advantage, if you switch to making bi-weekly mortgage payments instead of monthly mortgage payments. At the end of the year, you’ll find that you’ve made thirteen mortgage payments instead of just twelve.

Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, switching to bi-weekly mortgage payments may shave some time off the length of your mortgage, depending on your mortgage balance and interest rate. You may potentially save thousands of dollars in interest expense as well.[i]

Make an extra payment each year
Some lenders may charge extra fees for customized payment plans or may not provide an easy way to make biweekly payments. In this case, you can simply make one extra payment each year by putting aside money in a dedicated account. If your mortgage payment is $2,000, you could fund your account with $40 per week, or $80 every two weeks, to save for an extra payment each year. If you use this method, your savings won’t be as dramatic as the savings you might see by making bi-weekly payments because the extra payments don’t reach your mortgage balance as frequently. If you have any spare cash, you might consider raising the amount that you save each week.

Round up your payments
Mortgage payments are almost never round numbers. Yours might look like $2,147.63, for example. Consider rounding up your payment to $2,175, $2,200, or even $2.500. Choose an amount that won’t break the bank but can put a dent in the balance over time. Depending on how much you round up your payment, this method may shave some time off your mortgage and potentially save you money in interest expense.

The key is consistency. Making one extra mortgage payment and then never making any extra payments again won’t make much difference, but sending a little extra with every payment may help make you mortgage-free a little faster.

Pro tip: Before you make any drastic moves to pay off your mortgage, first be sure that your emergency fund is well established, that your high-interest credit cards are paid off, and that you’re contributing enough toward your retirement accounts. The average rate of return on some types of accounts may be higher than the savings you might realize on mortgage interest. It’s possible that any extra money is more wisely put away elsewhere.


[i] https://www.mortgagecalculator.org/calculators/standard-vs-bi-weekly-calculator.php#top

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4 fundamental home buying guidelines

4 fundamental home buying guidelines

Over the course of a 30-year mortgage term, a humble home may save you thousands of dollars as opposed to a more opulent one.

Even if you abide in a smaller house than you might have envisioned as a kid, it could still provide wonderful memories while offering a haven for your family.

Home ownership can be a desirable goal, but it may become a burden, however, if the home makes you “house poor”. Imagine if every spare penny had to go toward your mortgage or upkeep of your home with nothing left over. That’s the definition of things owning you instead of you owning things. Thankfully, there’s a different way.

If you’re in the market for a new home, there are four areas to consider before you start your serious search.

Save first
You might discover there are lots of ways you could buy a house with almost no money down. However, resist the temptation of low-down-payment loans. In what could be a still-volatile housing market, you would not want to run the risk of finding yourself in a negative equity position, which means you would owe more than your house is worth. You also may pay more for Private Mortgage Insurance, which is required for home loans with less than 20% down. Before you make your move, try to save up for the 20% down payment as well as any additional amounts to help cover closing costs. You’ll also want to have an emergency fund stashed away before you buy.

Think smaller
If you don’t need a “big” house, consider buying a smaller home. Everything in smaller homes may be less expensive to replace or maintain because there’s simply less square footage involved. (The purchase price could be lower as well.)

Keep your budget under 25%
The loan officer for your mortgage might say “yes” to an amount that would cause your monthly payments to be more than 25% of your take-home pay, but that doesn’t mean those payments will fit your budget. Leaving yourself some extra margin may help you navigate life’s surprises and may give you the freedom to save more, provide more for your kids’ college, or even plan that trip you’ve always wanted to take. Bear in mind that mortgage payments may include other fees, which may increase your final monthly payment amount significantly. A 30-year mortgage may provide flexibility

When you’re focused on how much you’re borrowing, a 15-year mortgage that pays down the debt faster may be tempting. Consider a 30-year loan, though. The potential flexibility of not being obligated to a possible higher monthly payment with a 15-year loan may come in handy when those unexpected emergencies happen.

All in all, it’s worth considering your long-term outlook before you even begin your new home search.


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When is it ok to use a credit card?

When is it ok to use a credit card?

Some could say “never!” but there might be situations in which using a credit card may be the option you want to go with.

Many families use credit with good intentions – and then life happens – surprise expenses or a change in income leave them struggling to get ahead of growing debt. To be fair, there may be times to use credit and times to avoid using credit.

Purchasing big-ticket items
A big-screen TV or a laptop purchased with a credit card may have additional warranty protection through your credit card company. Features and promotions vary by card, however, so be sure to know the details before you buy. If your credit card offers reward points or airline miles, big-ticket items may be a faster way to earn points than making small purchases over time. Just be sure to have a plan to pay off the balance.

Travel and car rental
For many families, these two items go hand in hand. Credit cards sometimes offer additional insurance protection for your luggage or for the trip itself. Your credit card company may offer some additional protection for car rentals. You might score some extra airline miles or reward points in this category as well because the numbers can add up quickly.

Online shopping
Credit card and debit card numbers are being stolen all the time. Online merchants can have a breach and not even be aware that your credit card info is out in the wild. The advantage of using a credit card as opposed to a debit card is time. You’ll have more time to dispute charges that aren’t yours. If your debit card gets into the wrong hands, someone might be quickly spending your mortgage money, food and gas money, or college tuition for your kids. Credit cards may be a better choice to use online because the effects of fraud don’t have an immediate impact on your bank balance.

Legitimate emergencies
Life happens and sometimes we don’t have enough readily available cash to pay for emergencies. Life’s emergencies can range from broken appliances to broken cars to broken bones and in these cases, you may not have any other viable options for payment.

Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you plan carefully, you may reap several types of benefits from using credit cards and still avoid paying interest. You’ll have to pay off the balance right away to avoid finance charges, though. So, always think twice before you charge once.

Some credit cards offer consumer benefits, like extended warranties, extra insurance, or even rewards. There are some situations in which using a credit card may come in handy.


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