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Avoid the naughty list: Don't let the holidays ruin your credit
(StatePoint) Looking for the “perfect gifts,” paired with enticing retail discounts and deals, can pressure holiday shoppers to spend more than they can afford. As a result, consumers may max out credit card limits or miss payments, negatively affecting credit scores. In addition, store credit cards may offer instant discounts that are tempting at the register -- but that new application could decrease your credit score.
     Not having enough money for presents and the strain holiday shopping puts on their finances are big causes of anxiety for many consumers, according to a recent Experian survey. However, many of these same consumers seem to be on the right track: in the survey, respondents listed several smart financial resolutions, including 28 percent who want to improve their credit scores, while almost 50 percent said saving more was a New Year’s resolution.
     But understanding how your credit score is calculated is critical. With this mind, here are some key factors:
• Payment history: Accounting for roughly a third of your credit score, paying loans on time is crucial; too many late payments can decrease your score.
• Balance: You never want your credit card balance to be higher than 30 percent of your credit limit -- on a single card and across all of them. Keep balances low to keep your score high.
• Credit history: Those who’ve never used credit before will likely have a low score, or no score at all, while credit accounts that have been active for a long time reflect positively on your score, as does a healthy mix of accounts, such as having a mortgage, a few credit cards and auto loans.
• Staying out of hot water: Many people believe that financial transactions like rent, utility and telecommunications payments impact credit scores, but in fact, these are not factored in by many scoring companies. However, if you don’t pay bills and they get turned over to a collection agency, this could affect your credit score. Severely delinquent accounts are often reported to the credit bureaus.
     “While it’s fun to give to others during the holidays, make sure to give yourself the gift of not getting into debt,” says Rod Griffin, director of Public Education at Experian. “Stick to a shopping budget. Only use credit cards for an amount you can pay off and pay the bill in full on time. You’ll lose your cheer quickly after the New Year if you face a mountain of debt.”
     A positive credit profile and history of using credit smartly can open up financial opportunities, like getting a car loan or home mortgage. There are clear benefits to building your credit file, but if you don’t build it responsibly those gains won’t be felt. To plan for the holidays and 2019, visit experian.com/education for information about credit scores, as well as personal finance tips.
     “Credit is a tool to be used wisely,” adds Griffin. “If you check your credit score regularly and make strategic decisions on when and how much credit to use in the short-term, it will benefit you when you absolutely need credit to make a large purchase or for an emergency expense.”

Is your retirement income protected? Nine questions to ask
(StatePoint) When it comes to retirement planning, anxiety comes with the territory. Will you be able to maintain your lifestyle in retirement? Will you have enough to cover your monthly bills without depleting your savings? Are you at risk of outliving your money? While such concerns are common among Americans approaching retirement, protecting part of the money that you’ve saved to ensure monthly income for life can make a difference in your confidence about the future, suggests a new study.
     A new survey by the Alliance for Lifetime Income looked at the emotional and physical well-being of Gen X and Baby Boomer households and compared those with some form of protected lifetime income, such as an annuity and/or pension, to those that were unprotected and relying solely on savings and Social Security.
  Eighty-eight percent of protected households say they are confident that their retirement money will help them achieve their lifestyle goals, while only sixty-three percent of unprotected households feel confident.
     “The American retirement discussion has traditionally focused on accumulating assets rather than how to turn some of those savings into a guaranteed monthly income that will last as long as you do,” says Colin Devine, educational advisor at the Alliance for Lifetime Income. “People don’t realize that Social Security is estimated to replace only about 40 percent of the average person’s income, which leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to outliving their hard-earned savings.”
     To get confident about your financial plan for retirement, Devine says that you should understand all your options for protecting a portion of your retirement income from the impact of market volatility and longer lifespans. 
     The Alliance outlines nine key questions that you should ask your financial advisor to make sure that you’re on track to having the lifetime income you can count on for the retirement you want:
1. Why is protected monthly income in retirement important?
2. How much protected monthly income will I need in retirement?
3. What if my expected monthly income is less than what I need to last my lifetime?
4. What is an annuity?
5. Are there costs associated with guaranteed protected income?
6. What if I need access to my money in an annuity?
7. Can annuities help protect me from investment losses?
8. How do I know that my protected income is safe?
9. Are there other strategies for protected monthly income?
     “Discussing these topics with your financial advisor can help you become better informed about your income planning options, putting you one step closer to creating a financial plan that delivers what you need to live the life you want in retirement,” says Devine.
     Visit www.RetireYourRisk.org for more information on how to create and protect your retirement income.
     Don’t succumb to anxiety about your financial future. With the right knowledge, you can help ensure a comfortable retirement.