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September 28, 2020

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Tap the Brakes! Life Insurance and Your Driving Record

September 14, 2020

Tap the Brakes! Life Insurance and Your Driving Record

Oh boy. It happened again: You hit the snooze button one too many times.

After a frenzied dash around your home – one sock on, a toothbrush hanging out of your mouth, and one kid asking why there’s a can of tuna in his lunchbox – you kiss the family goodbye and finally half-dive behind the wheel of your car.

It may seem like the only way to get to work on time is to go just a little over the speed limit. But just a little. Say, maybe 10 miles per hour over. But speeding doesn’t actually get you where you want to go that much faster.

Take this scenario for example: Say there are 100 miles between you and your destination.

  • At the 65 mph speed limit, it would take 92 minutes.
  • At 75 mph (speeding), it would take 80 minutes.

That’s only 12 minutes saved! And factoring in how quickly traffic can negate all time gained or how going faster burns more of your fuel, speeding isn’t really helping. In fact, it’s costing you. And if any of the consequences of speeding earn you a citation, those will definitely cost you when applying for life insurance.

During the life insurance underwriting process, the underwriter will take everything on your Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) into account.

  • Accident reports
  • Traffic citations
  • DUI convictions
  • Vehicular crimes
  • Driving record points

Just like looking at your health history, occupation, and risky hobbies, an underwriter looks at your driving record to determine how risky you will be to insure. Even some violations that you’d consider to be minor can have drastic consequences for your life insurance application. Any indication of reckless and risky behavior is 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 important thing to keep in mind: time plays an important role for your driving history. Depending on which state you live in, an MVR can feature violations from 5-7 years ago. 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 to never 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 an advantage: you have 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 protect you and your loved ones.

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Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

August 26, 2020

Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

You’re probably aware that your credit score is usually accessed when you apply for new credit, such as a credit card or an auto loan.

But you may not know it might also be requested by landlords, employers, and even romantic partners.[i]

So what are your credit score and report, what are the factors that determine them, and why do so many diverse parties request to see them?

What is a credit score and what is a credit report?
Your credit score is simply a number that encapsulates your ability to repay debt. It isn’t the only way interested parties can assess your creditworthiness, but it’s certainly often used as a preliminary factor. Having a higher score may lead to lower interest rates, more successful credit applications, and possibly more trust in general.

Your credit report is much more comprehensive and shows your outstanding debts, how well you pay them, the age of the accounts, and so forth. A single bad account on your credit report might damage your score, but your counterparty may be willing to work with you if you can show a strong history with your other accounts – and can justify the problem account.

What constitutes your credit score?
Credit reports are maintained by the three main credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. A credit score is generated by FICO, VantageScore, and some financial institutions may have their own proprietary algorithms to determine their own scores.

In general, scores are determined by the variously-weighted categories of payment history, the amount owed (credit utilization), the age of the accounts, how much new credit you’ve requested recently, and the types of accounts (revolving, mortgage, student loans, etc.).[ii] Of course proprietary scores may take many other factors into consideration.

Who wants to see your credit score?
Lenders may screen you based on your credit score, then use other factors to determine if they’ll give you a loan. Instant-approval lenders, like credit card companies, may just use your credit score to determine your creditworthiness. For large, long-term loans, like mortgages, you can expect to have to turn over your credit report as well.

Landlords may ask for a report, but might also request your credit score as well. They have the obvious financial interest in relying on you to pay your rent from month to month, but they also may have in mind that if you’re responsible with your money, perhaps you’ll also be responsible to take care of your rented living quarters.

Employers may ask to see your credit report. They may make hiring decisions based on the report, but some states have disallowed the practice.[iii] The chance that financial hardship may prompt employee theft is one reason they may ask, as well as wanting to see your consistency in paying debts over time, which may correlate with your punctuality and persistence at work.

How to improve your score
Those with poor credit may want to improve their credit history, which may in turn improve their credit scores. Payment history makes up 35% of the FICO scoring factors, and this will take time to improve. However, 30% of the score is determined by how much you owe, which can quickly be improved by paying down your debt. The 15% determinant that is credit age can, of course, only improve with time, but the 10% of your score attributed to new requests and 10% to types of credit can be managed in a short timeframe, too; try to avoid applying for a lot of new credit and, when you do, try to get different types of credit.[iv]

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The Stock Market Crash of 1929

July 15, 2020

The Stock Market Crash of 1929

What comes to mind when you think of The Great Depression?

Maybe images of long unemployment lines and dusty farmers.

But it all started with a massive stock market crash. Here’s a quick history of the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

The Roaring Twenties
The decade leading up to the Great Depression is referred to as the Roaring Twenties. The First World War had just ended and Europe was in shambles. But the United States was poised to become an economic powerhouse. The U.S. economy was exploding in the years before the war and, unlike Europe, had escaped the conflict relatively unscathed. It didn’t take long for the U.S. economy and culture to kick into overdrive.

During the 1920s was the birth of consumer and mass culture. Women now had access to white collar jobs. That meant more money for the family and more freedom to live and dress how they wanted. Affordable cars, courtesy of Henry Ford, meant families could travel and vacation in places that were never before possible. Radios and phonographs meant that popular music (a.k.a., jazz) could reach a wider audience and make big money for artists.

The Big Bubble
But people weren’t content to just spend their money on Model-Ts and the latest Louis Armstrong record. They were buying stocks. And when they ran out of money to invest, they borrowed more. Banks were eager to lend out money to a new generation of investors with stable incomes. One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

By the end of the decade, the American economy was booming. But underneath the surface was a tangle of high debt and wild speculation that the economy would keep on expanding. In reality, the only direction things could go was down.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929
The stock market set a record high in August 1929. Then it began to moderately decline in September. But by the middle of October, a modest slump became a total free fall. Spooked by the cooling market, investors started selling their shares in the millions. The technology of the time was overwhelmed trying to calculate how much was being sold. The massive bubble that had expanded during the roaring twenties was collapsing.

But the catastrophe didn’t end in the stock market. The public panicked. Droves of people started withdrawing money from banks as quickly as they could. But those banks had used that capital to invest in the market. Huge amounts of wealth were wiped out.

Aftermath
This upheaval caused the U.S. economy to take a nosedive. By 1932, stocks were worth only 20% of their 1929 peak.(1) Half of America’s banks were belly up, and nearly 30% of the population was unemployed.(2) Economies around the world were deeply shaken by the collapse of the U.S. market, making the Great Depression a global phenomenon. It would take the massive economic mobilization of World War II to resurrect the U.S. economy.

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Read this before you walk down the aisle

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Don’t let financial trouble ruin your future wedded bliss.

Most newlyweds have a lot to get used to. You may be living together for the first time, spending a lot of time with your new in-laws, and dealing with dual finances. Financial troubles can plague even the most compatible pairs, so read on for some tips on how to get your newlywed finances off to the best possible start.

Talk it out If you haven’t done this already, the time is ripe for a heart to heart talk about what your financial picture is going to look like. This is the time to lay it all out. Not only should you and your fiancé discuss your upcoming combined financial situation, but it can be beneficial to take a deep dive into your past too. Our financial histories and backgrounds can influence current spending and saving habits. Take some time to get to know one another’s history and perspective when it comes to how they think about money, debt, budgeting, etc.

Newlyweds need a budget Everyone needs a budget, but a budget can be particularly helpful for newlyweds. A reasonable, working household budget can go a long way in helping ease financial stress and overcoming challenges. Money differences can be a big cause of marital strife, but a solid, mutually-agreed-upon budget can help avoid potential arguments. A budget will help you manage student loans or new household expenses that must be dealt with. Come up with a budget together and make sure it’s something you both can stick with.

Create financial goals Financial goal setting can actually be fun. True, some goals may not seem all that exciting – like paying off credit cards or student loans. But formulating financial goals is important.

Financial goal setting should start with a conversation with your new fiancé. This is the time to think about your future as a married couple and work out a financial strategy to help make your financial dreams a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house, you’ll need to prepare for that. A good start is to minimize debt and start saving for a down payment.

Maybe you two want to start a business. In that case, your financial goals may include raising capital, establishing business credit, or qualifying for a small business loan.

Face your debt head on
It’s not unusual for individuals to start married life facing new debt that came along with their partner – possibly student loans or personal credit card debt. You may also have combined debt if you’re planning on financing your wedding. Maybe you’re going to take your dream honeymoon and put it on a credit card.

Create a strategy to pay off your debt and stick to it. There are two common ways to tackle it – begin with the highest interest rate debt, or begin with the smallest balance. There are many good strategies – the key is to develop one and put it into action.

Invest for the future Part of your financial strategy should include preparing for retirement, even though it might seem light years away now. Make sure you work a retirement strategy into your other financial goals. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement accounts and earmark savings for retirement.

Purchase life insurance Life insurance is essential to help ensure your new spouse will be taken care of should you die prematurely. Even though many married couples today are dual earners, there is still a need for life insurance. Ask yourself if your new spouse could afford to pay their living expenses if something happened to you. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to help cover things like funeral costs, medical expenses, or replacement income for your spouse.

Newlywed finances can be fun Newlywed life is fun and exciting, and finances can be too. Talk deeply and often about finances with your fiancé. Share your dreams and goals so you can create financial habits together that will help you realize them. Here’s to you and many years of wedded bliss!

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What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

June 8, 2020

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Debts

Movies make defaulting on debt look scary.

Broken glass, bloody noses, and shouts of “Where’s my money!” come flooding to mind when we think of those poor souls in films who can’t pay back the down-and-dirty street lender. But what happens if we’re late on a mortgage payment or our credit card bill? It turns out there are several steps that creditors typically go through to get their money (and none of them involve baseball bats!).

Debt collectors
Debt that doesn’t get paid within 60 days typically gets handed over to a debt collection agency. These companies will attempt to entice you into coughing up what you owe. They’ll then hand that cash over to whoever hired them, keeping a portion for themselves. Remember, debt collectors can’t drain your account directly. Instead, you’ll receive calls and notifications and reminders to pay up. This can occur until up to 180 days after you fail to make a payment.

Credit score hit
Lenders want to know if you’ll be able to pay back money that they loan you. They look at your credit report (a history of your debt payments) to determine if they can trust you. The information in that report gets crunched by an algorithm to produce a credit score. It’s a shorthand way for lenders to evaluate your creditworthiness and decide if they want to loan you money.

Failure to pay your debts can end up on your credit report. Consistently missing payments and not paying for days and months can seriously affect your credit score. That means creditors can deny you loans or crank up your interest rate. Yikes.

Lawsuits
But what happens if you don’t pay when the debt collectors come around? After about 180 days your debt will be considered charged-off, meaning it’s not likely to be paid.(1) This presents creditors with a few different options. Sometimes, they’ll decide that the debt just isn’t worth it, cancel the collection effort, and move on. Collectors could also negotiate, settle for a smaller portion of the debt, and call it done. But creditors could also take the debtor to court and legally attempt to recover the money they’re owed.

A great practice is to not rack up debt at all. A good practice is to take on debt only in rare circumstances. But the best practice is to make sure you pay off any debt you owe on time!

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What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

June 1, 2020

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

Americans owe over $900 billion in credit card debt, and credit card interest rates are on the rise again – now over 15%.

If you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt, you may decide to just close all your credit cards. However, some of the consequences may not be what you’d expect.

Lingering Effects: The Good and the Bad
Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your credit report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay 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 years to come.

Times when cancelling a card may be your best bet:

  • A card charges an annual fee. If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use the card often or have other options available.
  • Uncontrolled spending. If “retail therapy” is impeding your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying with credit by cutting up those cards.

When You Might Want to Hang Onto a Credit Card:
You may not have known that one aspect your credit score is the age of your accounts. Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can leave a dent in your credit score. And canceling the card won’t erase any negative history, so it may be best to hang on to the older credit account as long as there are no costs to the card. Also, the effects of canceling an older account may be larger when you’re younger than if you have a long credit history.

Credit Utilization Affects Your Credit Score
Lenders and credit bureaus also look at credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower percentages help your credit score, but 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). If you’re carrying high balances, going on a credit card cancelling rampage can have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.

To sum it all up, if unnecessary spending is out of control or 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 just use credit cards occasionally, or if you have an emergency.

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New Money

May 20, 2020

New Money

Last time we looked at old money.

We saw that it’s built on a very specific set of values and exists in very specific places. But what about so-called new money?

The new money story
New money is characterized by a story. It begins at nothing, or next to nothing, and builds a fortune through hard work, grit, and determination. These rags-to-riches tales have been around for a while, but they’ve gripped the American imagination, especially since the last half of the 19th century. Andrew Carnegie and Steve Jobs are the classic examples of new money narratives, both men coming from immigrant families and amassing huge fortunes for themselves to change the world.

New money values
Building a fortune from scratch relies on a different mindset than managing a pre-existing legacy. Risk taking and innovation are often encouraged and even flaunted by the new money class. It’s a forward-thinking, even progressive, attitude that’s always looking for the next way to make another dollar.

The openness of new money
Progressivism and hustle are the hallmarks of new money. That’s resulted in new money existing in a unique world. New money tends to be found in the hotspots of entertainment or technology. That means movie studios attracting actors look for a break or technical schools swarming with students trying to build a digital future. The new money ethos has also resulted in very specific spending patterns that are more public. Highly visible charities, brash social media presences, and expensive toys and gadgets are all part of the package. But so is an interest in looking like an everyman. Fashion choices tend to be simple, most classically t-shirts or turtlenecks. It’s a far cry from the aloof elegance of old money!

Blurry borders between old and new
The lines between old and new money get complicated in how life plays out. Plenty of tech fortunes have been squandered over the last 30 years, while others have quietly decided to manage their wealth in obscurity. Plus, there’s no shortage of American aristocracy looking to flex on social media!

The biggest key is that old money and new money are built on values and mindsets. You can manage wealth earned from a mobile game like an oil tycoon from a long lost era and secure a legacy for your kids. Or you can forsake your family’s business of 200 years and forge your own path with hard work and grit. It’s up to you how you manage your specific circumstance!

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Old Money

May 18, 2020

Old Money

What do you see when you think of a rich person?

Probably a big house with huge glass windows, a fancy electric sports car, and a latest-fashion outfit. But wealth doesn’t always look the same. Folks from families that have been rich for generations tend to act and present in different ways than an entrepreneur who stumbled on a billion dollar idea. But there’s more to it than wearing a suit or turtleneck. Let’s start by focusing on old money.

Old money, then and now
The concept of old money vs. new money originated in the early 20th-century as a way of discussing moguls like J.D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. These were men from poor backgrounds who essentially invested their way to the top, much to the chagrin of wealthy elites who could trace their fortunes to before the American Revolution. But most of us today would consider the Rockefellers and Carnegies to be textbook old money. So why have these families been assimilated into the upper upper class?

The old money mindset
Not every family that makes a fortune is able to keep it. Old money is built on careful planning, self-discipline, and intentional parenting with the goal of preserving a legacy and passing wealth from generation to generation. It’s a long-term approach with a conservative set of values. Plenty of people have built massive fortunes overnight throughout history. But not everyone is able to adopt a new set of values and blend in with the upper class of their time

Old money enclaves
Old money exists in a very specific world. It tends to vacation in specific places, live in specific neighborhoods, and send its children to specific schools in the Northeast. The world of old money is governed, and in many ways preserved, by rules and expectations designed to keep wealth inside the family. These aren’t people you’ll see flashing watches and cars on YouTube videos!

But what about new money? Check out my article on Wednesday to learn more about what sets these two classes apart.

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When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

May 11, 2020

When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

We all know about government bailouts.

They’ve been around for a while. But did you know that the government was once bailed out by Wall Street?

Gold Runs
Dollars used to represent actual gold in the treasury—what we call the “gold standard”. Dollars had value because they could be traded in for gold. But here’s the catch; the US didn’t have gold to match every dollar floating around the economy. If everyone suddenly decided to trade in their dollars for gold, the government would eventually run out and have to start turning people away. Faith in the US economy would collapse.

This nightmare situation was called a gold run, and it was pretty common in the 19th century. But the Panic of 1893 was especially bad. European investors, startled by collapsing investments in South America, started what became a huge gold run on the U.S. Treasury, pulling out millions of dollars. People quickly started pulling their money out of banks, trying to secure as much of their cash as possible. The economy was in total meltdown.

J.P. Morgan Enters the Scene
Business mogul J.P. Morgan had enough powerful connections to realize that the U.S. Treasury was in deep trouble. Morgan wasn’t the wealthiest man in the world; his fortune of $120 million ($1.39 billion in 2020) was pocket change compared to the net worth of John D. Rockefeller, who would be worth about $340 billion today (1 & 2). But Morgan had influence and connections, and he was committed to bailing out the government.

However, there was a problem. Morgan and the gold standard were both unpopular. Grover Cleveland, president at the time, wasn’t excited about aligning himself with either to save the economy. Fortunately, Morgan had a trump card; he knew from inside sources that the government was almost literally within hours of defaulting. And he had done his research. An obscure statute from the Civil War allowed for the government to sell Morgan bonds while he gave them enough gold to avoid going broke. Cleveland knew he was picking his poison. He would either look like a Wall Street pawn or let his country go broke. But he eventually gave Morgan the bonds and accepted the gold.

The aftermath
It worked. The economy restabilized and the country was solvent. Cleveland lost his next election. Morgan continued to prosper. But the days of Wall Street bailouts were numbered. Business owners decided after a panic in 1913 that the government should be the one to fix economic downturns. And the Fed has been bailing out Wall Street ever since!

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Where Did Banks Come From?

May 4, 2020

Where Did Banks Come From?

Banks are so common that we never really question where they came from.

But banks actually have come a long way since they first got started. Here’s a quick lesson on the origins of banks!

The First Banks
Coins first came on the scene as a way to pay for goods or services around the 5th or 6th century BC. But there was a problem; where do you store huge troves of them? Homes were vulnerable to robbery. So people started trusting temples with their cash. They were everything you would want—accessible but still secure, temples were the perfect balance of public and prestigious. Eventually, temples started loaning out money in addition to protecting it.

Eventually, the Romans created distinct banking institutions. These were large-scale enterprises that developed enormous power; they could confiscate land from nobles if they weren’t paying back their obligations. Some of these institutions even outlasted the empire after it fell.

Medieval Banks
The Middle Ages were an odd time for banking. The Catholic Church developed strict rules about usury; lending money for profit was seen as decidedly unchristian. In a somewhat dark twist, small-time money lenders were often heavily regulated as the Church started employing private merchant bankers to fund its various exploits.

These bankers had one problem; they failed a lot. The Middle Ages were violent and kings often turned to papal bankers for war time loans. It wasn’t uncommon for rulers to default on these loans either due to defeat or costly victories, bankrupting lenders.

Goldsmiths and Endless War
This only got worse as wars became intercontinental during the Age of Discovery. The English in particular found themselves in constant war with both Spain and France and started looking for innovative ways of funding their conquests. Private citizens in England had started taking their money to goldsmiths for safekeeping. Goldsmiths often had huge vaults, meaning they could easily protect cash for a fee. They also started issuing notes that allowed customers to withdraw money as they needed.

The crown was not so lucky. The credit of England was so bad that by the end of the 1600s they couldn’t borrow enough money to build a navy. Merchants came together to form a centralized lending institution to raise money and make loans on behalf of the government. They started issuing bonds and banknotes to customers and essentially became one of the first centralized banks in the world.

Banking would evolve by leaps and bounds as the industrial revolution transformed European economies in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the foundations of modern banking had already been set to fuel the massive technological changes of the next few centuries.

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A Brief Guide To Tariffs

April 27, 2020

A Brief Guide To Tariffs

Tariffs have become a hot button issue over the past few years.

But what exactly are they? And what kind of impact do they have on the economy? Here’s a brief guide to all things tariff!

Quick definition and brief history
A tariff is a tax on imports and exports between states. Let’s say you make pottery and sell it on the internet. You start getting lots of orders from Belgium, so you need to ship bowls and vases across the pond. You have to bump up prices a bit to cover the transportation costs, but your products do well.

But then Belgium decides to impose a tariff on imported pottery. Suddenly, you have to pay a 10% tax to get anything into the country. So what can you do? Increasing your prices to cover the tax will probably make your pottery too expensive and it won’t sell. As long as that tariff is in place, it might make more sense to sell locally or find another country without the tariff.

Who do tariffs benefit?
Why would a country want to impose a tariff? It doesn’t necessarily make the government more money. People can find other markets where they don’t have to pay an entrance fee. And besides, untaxed or free trade normally produces more jobs in poorer countries and gets cheap products into richer ones.

Unfortunately, not everyone wins in free trade. What if your pottery was so amazing and so much cheaper than local pottery that you started putting Belgian potters out of business? Sure, you would probably create tons of jobs in your own country and Belgium would be flooded with superior plates and mugs, but thousands of Belgians would be out of work. And they wouldn’t be happy and they might take out that anger at the ballot box. A tariff on imported pottery would be a way for Belgium to protect a section of their economy (and voters) from financial ruin.

Imposing tariffs, like any economic policy, are a mixed bag. They’ve been out of style for a long time, but globalization and changes in the world economy have made them more appealing to workers competing with (and potentially losing to) cheap foreign labor. Only time will tell if their comeback is for good or just a flash in the pan!

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A Brief History of Credit Cards

March 4, 2020

A Brief History of Credit Cards

We’re all familiar with credit cards.

You probably have a few in your wallet! But did you know that they’re actually fairly modern inventions with an interesting, and surprisingly controversial, backstory. This is a brief history of credit cards!

Credit before cards
The concept of credit is actually thousands of years old. It dates back to the time of the first recorded laws, if not further. But the practice of credit fell on hard times following the fall of the Roman Empire; the Church opposed lending someone money and then adding on interest when they pay it back. But the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of a huge resource filled continent, saw a revolution in Western banking and investing. Businesses started collaborating to find out which borrowers were reliable and which ones couldn’t pay their debts.

The birth of charge cards
It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to loan money to customers. General Motors, for instance, started offering credit in 1919 to car buyers who couldn’t pay up front with cash (1). Merchants with more regular customers, like department stores, started handing out credit tokens that would allow purchases to be made on credit.

But things changed in 1949 when New York businessman Frank McNamara realized he didn’t have his wallet at a restaurant when it came time to pay the check. Luckily his wife was there to rescue him. He and his business partner, Ralph Schneider, then came up with the idea of a card that would allow users to dine around New York on credit. It wasn’t a full-blown credit card; it had to be paid off in full at the end of each month, making it a “charge” card. But it was a hit. By 1951, the Diners Club Card was being used by 10,000 people (2)!

“Giving sugar to diabetics”
Big banks were quick to realize that they could make a pretty penny if they started offering easily accessible credit to the masses. In 1958, Bank of America released its own credit cards. Debt from one month was carried over to the next month, meaning consumers could carry revolving credit card debt for as long as they pleased. Magnetic strips—invented in the early 60s—were added to the plastic cards and used to store transaction information at special payment terminals.

But banks had a problem; they had to make sure that the cards were actually accepted by stores. Otherwise, why bother using your brand new credit card? But stores would only accept the cards if enough people actually had them. A mass mailing campaign began, with banks sending out millions of cards to families across the nation. It worked, and soon credit cards became increasingly normalized.

Not everyone was pleased. There were huge issues with cards being stolen out of mailboxes and used to rack up debt. Furthermore, some were uncomfortable with popular access to massive amounts of credit. The President’s assistant at the time described it as “giving sugar to diabetics (3).” Regulations were introduced throughout the 70s to reduce some of the excesses of credit card distribution and protect consumers.

Conclusion
But despite the backlash, credit cards had arrived on the scene for good. Banks united to strengthen their network in 1970, forming the group that would eventually become Visa. Interbank Card Association (i.e., MasterCard) formed in 1966 and then introduced a vast computer network in 1973, connecting consumers with merchants in unprecedented ways.

Today, credit cards are everywhere. In 2017, 40.8 billion credit transactions were made, totalling 3.6 trillion dollars (4). The technology of consumer credit has continued to evolve too. The magnetic strips of the 60s and 70s have given way to chips, and now cards are slowly being replaced by phones and digital watches. What started as a way of paying for dinner if you forgot your wallet has become an international and digital phenomenon that’s changed the lives of millions of consumers.

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A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

February 19, 2020

A Brief History of Stock Exchanges

Stock markets didn’t exist four hundred years ago.

Wealth was highly concentrated in the hands of monarchs, lords, and elite merchants, and trade was risky at best. Raising money for an expedition (or war) meant either asking for a loan, collecting taxes, or both.

A Whole New World
But something changed for Europeans in the 1400s. The Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (now Istanbul) and effectively cut off trade routes that had always brought in goods and big profits from China. Things that were previously thought impossible suddenly sounded like worthwhile possibilities. One thing led to another and before long a fellow named Christopher Columbus had introduced Europeans to a massive continent rich in resources. Major powers like Spain, Portugal, France, and England started to seriously invest in getting as much out of this “New World” as they could!

Disease, Famine, and Risk Reduction
“What does any of this have to do with trading stocks?” you might ask. Well, imagine that you’re living in 16th century Europe and you decide you’ve had it with all this groveling and servitude and poverty and want to make some cash. The New World is your best option to make it big; land is easy to come by and there are plenty of new resources like tobacco to grow and sell. There’s just one problem: it’s insanely risky. Between disease, famine, and bad weather, there’s a good chance you’ll either die or lose everything in the attempt. So what can you do?

Traders realized that they could reduce how much they risked on an expedition if they got multiple people to chip in. Everybody would get a portion of the profits if everything went well, and if not, any losses would get spread out. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that selling small portions or “shares” of trading voyages was a great way to raise cash that didn’t require levying taxes or stumbling on massive gold deposits.

The First Coporation
At first, shares were only good for a single voyage. But the Dutch East India Company changed all of that in 1602. The Dutch government decided they wanted to dominate trade with Asia, and they looked to the public for funding. Shares were priced so that most merchants could buy in, and the promise of government backing and continuing profits convinced hundreds to purchase the stock. It worked. The Dutch East India company became one of the first truly transnational corporations in history and essentially became its own state, flooding the Dutch people with valuable resources and prosperity.

Everyone took note of the Dutch model and decided to imitate it. Publicly traded companies started to pop up across Europe, with stock exchanges becoming a place where anyone with the means could buy and sell shares of different corporations. It was a huge step away from the older model of raising capital and created a new kind of institution, one that continues to dominate the world of business to this day.

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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

February 10, 2020

Now’s the Time for Future Planning

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a million dollars for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out friends and neighbors for a little spending money is extremely different from the adult reality of giving money to both the state and federal government and/or retiring. Years ago, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. As the years go by, finances can get more complicated. Knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is a question that’s better asked sooner rather than later.

When author of Financially Fearless Alexa von Tobel was asked what she wishes she’d known about money in her 20s, her answer was pretty interesting:

Not having a financial plan is a plan — just a really bad one! Given what I see as a general lack of personal-finance education, it can be all too easy to wing it with your money… I was lucky enough to learn this lesson while still in my 20s, so I had time to put a financial plan into place for myself.

A strategy for your money is essential, starting early is better, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going. No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of yourself is going to drift your way from Easter Island, chock-full of all the answers about your money. But sitting down with me is a great place to start. Contact me anytime.

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6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

Your first lesson isn’t actually one of the six.

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.

Here are 6 critical financially-related lessons EVERY parent should foster in the minds of their kids:

1. Co-signing a loan

The Trap: ‘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 Trap: ‘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 an accepted 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 Trap: ‘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 Trap: ‘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 often may bite back in the end. Accepting an offer can require a full rate of interest to be paid dating back to the day of the purchase if a single payment is missed. Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards can 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,’ save up and pay 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 Trap: ‘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. The danger can center around maturity. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both financially and relationally. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:

  • Lose whatever money is contributed as start-up capital
  • Agree at the outset how arguments will be resolved
  • Not always talk business around friends and family
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Sign a well-thought-out, legally sound operating agreement

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 Trap: ‘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 dollars. 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.’

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Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

November 19, 2018

Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

When you apply to purchase a life insurance policy, you may be asked to submit to a life insurance medical exam.

The insurance company requests this exam to determine your risk for certain medical conditions. They may also test for drugs in your system, including nicotine.

Depending on the insurance company, the medical exam may include blood work, a urinalysis, physical examination, and maybe even an EKG.

Also, in case you were wondering, many insurers will pay for the exam when you’re seeking a whole or term life insurance policy.

What you can expect during a life insurance medical exam
After you submit your application for life insurance, a third party company will contact you to schedule your exam. These companies are hired by the life insurance carrier to conduct exams on their behalf. They may come to your home or have you visit a medical facility.

You may be asked to refrain from having anything to eat or drink for at least 12 hours prior to your exam.

The exam typically takes less than 30 minutes and may consist of:

  • Taking your height and weight
  • Questions about your health as stated on your application
  • A blood draw
  • Urine sample

When your test is complete, and your results are ready, the company furnishes your results to the insurance carrier. You may also request a copy.

What does a life insurance medical exam test for?
A life insurance medical exam investigates three major areas:

  • Confirming the information you provided on your application
  • The condition of your health
  • Illicit drug use

The exam may test for diseases such as HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. It also may identify indicators of heart disease such as a high cholesterol level. The test results may also point out kidney disease or diabetes.

How to prepare for your life insurance medical exam
Be honest: It’s important to complete your application completely and honestly. If the insurance carrier finds a misrepresentation on your application, they can deny coverage. Keep in mind, the application may ask about your lifestyle and if you regularly participate in dangerous activities, such as skydiving. You may also be asked about driving history and speeding tickets.
Eat a healthy diet: Be mindful of your diet in the days and weeks leading up to your exam. Lower your sodium intake as well as your consumption of fatty or sugary foods. Salt, sugar, and fat may elevate your blood pressure and cholesterol, so it may be best to avoid them to help get the best results. Shed a few pounds: If you’re above a healthy weight for your height, try to shed some pounds before the exam. If you’re overweight, your insurance carrier may charge a higher premium on your policy. It’s best to be as close to your healthy weight as possible.
Abstain from alcohol: Refrain from drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours before your exam. This will help ensure you don’t have a high blood alcohol level.
Drink plenty of water: Hydrating properly helps to flush toxins out of your system, and it may also make the exam more comfortable. You’ll have an easier time producing a urine sample and your veins will be easier to reach for a blood draw.

Dress lightly and practice good posture: Clothing can increase your weight by a few pounds, so dress lightly. Especially if you are approaching an unhealthy weight, your clothing may push you into a higher weight class. Also, stand tall so you are measured at full height.

Keep calm and…
Undergoing a life insurance medical exam can make even the healthiest person a little nervous. Stay calm and complete the application as honestly as you can.

Hint: If you can’t pass a life insurance medical exam, consider a guaranteed issue life insurance policy.

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This article is for informational purposes only. You should discuss your exam criteria with a qualified financial professional.

Understanding compounding in investments

November 5, 2018

Understanding compounding in investments

Successful investors like Warren Buffett didn’t just hit a home run on a stock pick.

Warren Buffett hit lots of home runs, but compounding turned those home runs into history-making investment achievements.

Compounding doesn’t have to be a big mystery. It just means that the annual increase is added to the previous year’s balance, which, on average, gives each year a larger base for the next year’s increase. The concept of compounding applies to any interest-bearing savings or investments or to average percentage gains.

Here’s a quick example:

Starting investment: $10,000 Interest rate: 7%

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 1.32.35 PM

The rule of 7 & 10
There’s a reason a 7 percent return was chosen for this example. You can see that the total interest return over 10 years is about double the original investment. This is an example of the “Rule of 7 & 10”, which says that money doubles in 10 years at 7 percent return and that it doubles in 7 years at 10 percent interest. It’s not an exact rule, but it’s close enough so you can quickly estimate without a spreadsheet or calculator.

The simple interest example above only begins to show the power of compounding. It doesn’t include any additional investments after year one. In investing, compounding can come from more places than one, particularly if the stocks you own pay dividends. (A dividend is a share of the profit that is distributed to shareholders.)

Compounding in investing
Investing in stocks or mutual funds may provide an average annual return in line with the simple interest example, assuming investments are well diversified to mimic the broad market performance. For example, the S&P 500 return over the past 10 years is just over 7 percent annualized.[i] When you adjust for dividends, the annualized return is close to 10 percent. If those numbers sound familiar – like the rule of 7 & 10 – it’s a coincidence, but the past 10 years of S&P returns are very close to historical averages. Knowing what we now know, it’s easy to figure out that $10,000 will double in 7 years, assuming that market performance is aligned with historical averages. In reality, market performance may be higher or lower than past averages – but over a longer time line, short term peaks and valleys usually blend into an overall trend in direction.

If you’re concerned that you don’t know as much about investing as Warren Buffett, don’t think you need to be an oracle to be a successful investor. Many times, the best stock to pick for individual investors may be no stock at all. There are a myriad of investment options from which to choose without buying stocks directly. Talk to your financial professional about what choices may be available for you.

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[i] https://dqydj.com/sp-500-return-calculator/

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

Inflation Over Time and What it Means for Retirement

September 24, 2018

Inflation Over Time and What it Means for Retirement

You may have thought that inflation is always bad, but did you know that sometimes it can be good?

Inflation is simply the difference in prices from one year to the next over time. It’s calculated as a percentage and it goes through cycles:

  • Two percent inflation is actually seen as economic growth and is considered “healthy” inflation.
  • As inflation expands beyond three percent it creates a peak and financial bubbles can form.
  • If the percentage falls below two percent, inflation may be seen as negative and recessions can develop.
  • Finally, there is a trough preceding another cycle expansion.

(If you want to geek out about inflation rates, check out a history from 1929 to 2020 at https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-inflation-rate-history-by-year-and-forecast-3306093.)

Good or bad, inflation should be a concern for everyone in the United States. The economy affects us all, but it can be particularly troubling for seniors living in retirement, or who are about to enter retirement. This is because retirement is usually based on a fixed income budget. Inflation can decrease the purchasing power of retirees, especially for goods and services that increase with inflation.

Here are some tips to protect your retirement income from the effects of inflation over time:

Maximize Your Social Security
Social security benefits have a cost of living/inflation increase built into the disbursement. So, as inflation goes up and the cost of living rises, so too does your social security.

This can be beneficial while you’re on a fixed retirement income. Because this is the only retirement investment with this feature, try to maximize your social security earnings by working until age 70 if you can.

Select Investments that May Grow When Inflation Rises
While living expenses such as gas, groceries, and utilities might rise with inflation, some investments may offer better returns as inflation rises. This is another reason a diverse retirement portfolio might be beneficial.

Minimize Expenses to Combat Rising Inflation
While none of us can affect the inflation rate itself, we can all work to minimize our expenses during our retirement years. Maximizing your income and minimizing your expenses is the name of the game when you’re living on a fixed budget.

Minimizing housing costs is a strategy to deal with inflation and rising prices. Downsize your home if possible. Perhaps investing in a renewable energy source may help save money on energy expenses. A simple kitchen garden can save you money on groceries – a budget item that can take a big hit from inflation.

The Ebb and Flow of Inflation Over Time
Over time, inflation waxes and wanes. A little planning, diversified investments, and consistent frugality may help you sail through inflation increases during your retirement years.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing, talk with a financial professional to discuss your options.

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Matters of Age

July 9, 2018

Matters of Age

The younger you are, the less expensive your life insurance may be.

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:

  • 25 – Peak muscle strength
  • 28 – Peak ability to run a marathon
  • 30 – Peak bone mass production

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. 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.

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How to Build Credit When You’re Young

June 25, 2018

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

Your credit score can affect a lot more than just your interest rates or credit limits.

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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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