Liz’s Blog Category
- How to take advantage of dropping airfares
- How to plan financially for travel and take advantage of discounts
- Good apps and Web sites to use
- When to consider home swaps or rentals instead of a hotel
- How to handle travel setbacks and emergencies
And much, much more.
FT Press is offering half off (and free shipping!) on a selection of finance and investing titles through May 16. In addition to two of mine, “Deal with Your Debt” and “Your Credit Score,” the titles include Gail MarksJarvis’ excellent “Saving for Retirement” and Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s “The College Solution,” a must-read for any parent who wants his or her kids to go to college. To order, use the link above and enter coupon code FTPF at checkout.
I’d like to thank FT Press for organizing this promotion as well as yesterday’s Tweetchat, and thanks also to the other personal finance bloggers who took part:
- MP Dunleavey formerly of MSN Money and Daily Worth
- Gary Foreman of The Dollar Stretcher
- Donna Freedman of MSN Money and Surviving and Thriving
- Mary Hunt of Debt Proof Living
- J.D. Roth, founder of Get Rich Slowly and More Than Money
- Steve Rhode, the Get Out of Debt Guy
You can check out the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #FTPersonalFinance or visit our Tweetchat room.
Experian stopped offering FICO scores to consumers a few years ago, even though it continued to sell the scores to lenders. This refusal made it tough for consumers to know what rates they should expect from mortgage lenders, which typically take the middle of your three FICO scores (one from each bureau). You could still get your TransUnion and Equifax FICOs from MyFico.com, but not your Experian FICO.
That’s apparently about to change. Buried in a press release today was an announcement that Experian will once again “make FICO Scores available to consumers through myFICO.com and through third parties.”
Great Auntie M. was a lovely older woman, and she was besotted with her cat. Great Auntie M. once told me that if she died first, she wanted the cat euthanized since he “couldn’t possibly live” without her.
Just as Great Auntie M. misunderstood the fundamental nature of cats, so many people misunderstand the fundamental nature of credit scores. There are more than a few parallels between the two, so let me explain:
They’re finicky. Your cat may turn up its nose as its food bowl, or kick litter out of a box that’s not perfectly clean. Credit scores are similarly fussy about certain things: paying bills on time, not using too much of your available credit limits, not applying for new credit too often.
They hold grudges. When my husband moved in with his sister years ago, her cat was not amused by the presence of a new person. The cat expressed himself by depositing a single turd in the exact middle of hubby’s bed. One of our own cats once stalked up behind her brother, lifted up her paw like a prizefighter and smashed his head with it. There was no immediate provocation to this act of vengeance, so we can only speculate what he did earlier to tick her off. Credit scores don’t quickly forgive infractions, either, especially big ones. A single skipped payment can affect your scores for up to three years, a foreclosure for up to seven years, a bankruptcy for up to 10 years. (The impact decreases over time if you use credit responsibly, but it can still persist.)
They have their own agenda. Cats can be cuddly, playful, affectionate. (I have one sitting on my lap right now, monitoring my typing.) But cats typically are independent. They can withdraw affection in an instant, stalk away and regard you with indifference. Cats feel no obligation to oblige, conform or bend to the will of another. They are, in other words, the polar opposite of the dog now sleeping at my feet, a desperate-to-please golden retriever whose primary need is reassurance that yes, he is still part of the pack.
Like cats, credit scoring formulas don’t particularly care what you think. Credit scores were constructed for lenders, not consumers. In fact, originally you were never supposed to know that credit scores even existed, let alone what yours were. Credit scores have their own, internal logic that they follow, regardless of its impact on you.
Here’s another similarity: credit scores, like cats, can reward you if you figure out what they like and don’t like. With both, the effort is worthwhile.
I’ll be joined by some of my favorite bloggers: J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly, Donna Freedman of Surviving and Thriving, Mary Hunt of Debt Proof Living, MP Dunleavey formerly of Daily Worth, Steve Rhode, the Get Out of Debt Guy, and Gary Foreman of the Dollar Stretcher.
We’ll tweet about credit scores, saving for retirement, paying off debt, saving for college and more. To tune in, use the hashtag #FTPersonalFinance and click over to our Twitter Chat Room to track the conversation.
You can subject questions in advance to @FTPress or by email email@example.com. A few questioners will be picked at random to receive a free copy of my book Deal with Your Debt. Everybody who participates can receive 50% off FT Press’ personal finance titles.
So join us Thursday!
My column today, “10 dog breeds that rile insurers up,” discusses how your pet’s breed could cause some companies to deny coverage or charge you more.
The breeds include various types of terriers commonly called “pit bulls,” as well as Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Huskies, Cane Corso and Mastiffs.
These so-called “breed lists” aren’t used by all insurers and tend to change as the types of dogs involved in attacks change (something that’s often related to breed popularity). There’s a reason that “nippy” dogs such as Chihuahuas and dachshunds aren’t on these lists: although they may be more likely to bite, they can’t do the damage that a bigger breed can. The average insurance claim for a dog bite is nearly $30,000, which implies a whole lot of pain.
If you own a dog that’s on an insurer’s breed list, or if you simply want to avoid expensive lawsuits and the possibility of harming others, there are plenty of ways to reduce your liability to dog bite claims. Among them:
Shop around. Every insurer has different criteria, so getting quotes from a number of different companies can help dog owners find coverage. An insurance broker who is knowledgeable about various insurers’ policies can help with the search. Larger insurers may be more accommodating than smaller ones. For example: State Farm, the largest homeowners insurance company, says it does not discriminate by breed but does require dog owners to answer questions about their animals’ history and behavior.
Spay and neuter. Sexually intact dogs are more likely to bite than spayed or neutered animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mind your kids. Don’t leave infants or young children alone with any dog, the CDC advises. Teach children not to approach unfamiliar dogs and to remain still if approached by dogs they don’t know, or to roll up into a ball and stay motionless if knocked down by a dog. (If an unfamiliar dog is leashed and with its owner, make sure your child asks the owner first if the dog is friendly and if it’s okay to approach. Your child should know to let the dog sniff first before petting.) Kids should be taught not to disturb dogs that are eating, sleeping or tending puppies. Most dog bites occur “during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs,” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, so be vigilant about how your child behaves with dogs. Don’t let a child or anyone else tease or threaten a dog.
Don’t encourage aggression. Wrestling or even tug-of-war can trigger aggressive behavior in your pet. Dogs that have already demonstrated such behavior (lunging, biting) “are inappropriate in households with children,” the CDC notes. Yes, such dogs can be trained, but the risk to your kids is too high.
Socialize and train your dog. The CDC recommends teaching all dogs “submissive behaviors,” such as rolling over to expose their belly and giving up food without growling. Training can help with these behaviors and others that can make dog ownership easier. Shelters and pet stores are two places to look for low-cost training. Use a leash in public so you can control your dog, the AVMA advises.
Dog bites are no joke. They send some 800,000 Americans every year to emergency rooms and other medical providers for treatment, according to the AVMA. Half of those victims are children, since kids are much more likely to be seriously injured if bit. (I was going to include a photo of what a dog bite did to a young girl’s arm, but decided it was just too graphic.) Senior citizens are the next most common victims.
So do the right thing. Your dog–and your neighbors–are counting on you to be a responsible owner.
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 82.
Except that she died twenty years ago of colon cancer. She loved life and she should have had more of it.
I write about this for two reasons. First, to enlist you in my effort to get everybody screened. Colonoscopies aren’t fun, but they can save your life. Catch it early, and colon cancer is a non-issue. Procrastinate, and it can kill you. The AMA recommends you get your first colonoscopy at 50, or 40 if you have a family history of the disease. You’re not off the hook if you’re younger: start bugging your parents, your aunts and uncles, your older siblings to schedule their screenings. A little nagging can save a life.
The second is to remind you to do the things you love, go the places you want to go, take the chances you’re afraid to take. Don’t put this stuff off indefinitely. Although plenty of people are live-for-today grasshoppers, I suspect more than a few of you are careful ants, focused diligently on the future.
I once heard from a man who wanted to take his 11-year-old on a trip to Europe. But he also felt he should start paying down his mortgage, as he was on track with his retirement savings and that seemed to be the next logical goal. Go, I told him, while she still wants to spend time with you. She’ll be off on her own soon enough, and the mortgage will still be there for you to tackle.
Delayed gratification is good and necessary if you want a sound financial foundation–and if you want to retire someday. But also don’t forget that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Think about what you would regret not doing, not saying, not being if today were your last day. It may not be, probably won’t be, but your life will be richer for living as if it might.
You might think breaking into a corporate database would be hard. Not so. A recent report from the Verizon RISK Team found the vast majority of incidents required minimal skills and took place in a few hours. Unfortunately, those breaches often weren’t discovered for months or even years–and it typically wasn’t the company but rather a third party that discovered a breach.
From a Credit.com post on the study:
While one in 10 were so easy the average Internet user could have caused them, another 68 percent were the result of hacking attacks using the most basic methods, requiring relatively few resources to complete. Only one breach suffered in all of 2012 required “advanced skills, significant customizations, and/or extensive resources” to complete.
That is likewise reflected in the amount of time it took to cause most data breaches, the report said. Altogether, 84 percent took hours or even minutes to perpetrate, while these incidents typically took months or even years to discover. Nearly two-thirds of all breaches took at least that long, up from just 56 percent the year before, proving that it’s actually becoming more difficult to spot breaches, as well as contain them. While most were remediated in hours or days, nearly a quarter took months.
The take-away from this is that companies aren’t doing nearly enough to protect the information they collect about you. And the sad truth is that you have little control over what goes into these databases. You can do your best to protect your identity, and still have your information breached.
You should still take steps to reduce your exposure, steps like not giving your Social Security number to companies that don’t need it and refusing to give businesses permission to share your information. You should use tough-to-hack passwords and stop sharing secrets on social media. You also should monitor your credit reports and financial accounts.
Until companies get serious about protecting your data, though, you’re still a target for identity theft.
We recently lost my wonderful mother-in-law to complications from a stroke following a diagnosis of cancer. As we prepare for her memorial service, I’ve been thinking about what a blessing it’s been to be able to help care for parents in their final days—and to do so without having to worry excessively about expensive plane tickets, time off work and other potential financial burdens.
If you have parents who are elderly or in poor health, consider opening a savings account dedicated to making their lives, and yours, a little easier. That fund can pay for:
Getting there. In the five years my mom battled cancer, I spent a small fortune on plane tickets getting from my home (which was then in Anchorage) to hers in Washington state. Sometimes, these were pretty routine visits where I could plan ahead and score reasonable fares. Other times, I’d get the call that there was a crisis and that I needed to get there fast, grabbing whatever seat I could. Because I didn’t carry credit card debt and had a fat emergency fund, I was able to buy airfares without triggering a financial crisis.
Some other tips: Sometimes reward seats open up at the last minute, so if you have frequent flyer miles you can use, check out that option. If you’re within driving distance, consider buying a $50 or $100 gas card and setting that aside for use in emergencies.
Being there. About three years into her fight, Mom had a serious setback. Dad was providing most of her care and he was overwhelmed. I was able to take a two-month unpaid leave from work to help out—again, thanks to my emergency fund and to the flexibility of my employer, which held my job for me. (This was before the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows covered employees to take unpaid, job-protected leaves to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.) Two months with no paychecks took a serious bite out of that savings account, but I’ll never regret the cost. I was able to take another month off a couple of years later, at the end of her life, and was again so grateful to be able to be there.
Getting help. A few years ago, my father had a massive stroke while visiting a relative in Florida. We couldn’t fly him home, since he was too ill to travel. To help us manage his care long distance, we hired a geriatric care manager who was worth her weight in gold. She not only translated the medical-ese that baffled us, but helped us find a good nursing home for him and a friendly companion who could keep him company in between my frequent visits. Families are often left on their own to figure out how to care for an incapacitated relative, and she hooked us up with resources we might never have found otherwise. None of this was cheap—we spent about $10,000 on the care manager alone over four months—but she dramatically shortened our learning curve and ensured my dad got good care at the end of his life. Whenever friends are dealing with an ill or declining parent and don’t live nearby, I encourage them to hire a geriatric care manager to help them assess the situation and find solutions. A session with a care manager can even help when you live locally, since these folks live and breathe elder care, which is a new world to most of the rest of us.
It’s impossible to know in advance how much money you might need, but anything you can set aside will help ease the financial burden when the time comes to help your folks.