Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 9 housing and mortgage trends to watch for in 2019. Also in the news: Your easiest New Year’s resolution, a DNA test sends a family of 5 on a journey of a lifetime, and how often your credit score is updated.

9 Housing and Mortgage Trends to Watch for in 2019
What to expect next year.

Your Easiest New Year’s Resolution: Make Your Savings Grow Faster
This is a resolution you should keep.

DNA Test Sends Family of 5 on Journey Around the World
One family’s journey of a lifetime.

How Often Your Credit Score Is Updated
Timing is everything.

At What Age Can You Ignore Your Credit Score?

At some point, you’ll buy your last car and refinance your last mortgage. Surely then you can stop worrying about your credit scores.

Well, not really, although there are situations when credit scores shouldn’t be anyone’s main concern.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why credit scores still matter, even when you don’t plan to borrow money.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Should you pay off your mortgage before you retire? Also in the news: New UltraFICO score could boost credit access for consumers, a cheapskate’s guide to shopping for credit cards, and 7 year-end tax planning strategies for small business owners.

Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage Before You Retire?
Or is it better to wait?

New UltraFICO Score Could Boost Credit Access for Consumers
Big changes are coming.

A Cheapskate’s Guide to Shopping for Credit Cards
Finding a card to match your careful spending.

7 year-end tax planning strategies for small business owners
Tax season is right around the corner.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to get a sales price when there isn’t a sale. Also in the news: What to buy and skip in September, why your kid’s after-school job may mean tax homework for you, and why your credit card debt is worse than your mortgage debt.

4 Ways to Get a Sale Price When There Isn’t a Sale
It can be as simple as just asking for one.

What to Buy (and Skip) in September
Skip the televisions.

Your Kid’s After-School Job May Mean Tax Homework for You
When to file a return.

Your Credit Card Debt Is Worse Than Your Mortgage Debt
The difference between good and bad debt.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why traditional credit scores still matter. Also in the news: Staying ahead of travel scams, banks still playing with financial fire, and the benefits to maxing out your retirement contributions early in the year.

Newfangled Data Aside, Credit Scores Still Matter
Those 3 numbers still reign supreme.

Stay a Step Ahead of Travel Scams
Traveling safely.

After ’08 Meltdown, Banks Still Play With Financial Fire
And we’re the ones who get burned.

Should You Max Out Your Retirement Contributions Early in the Year?
A new study shows interesting results.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 credit score myths you should stop believing. Also in the news: Vinyl siding costs and how to keep them down, 6 big ways credit can affect your life, and 1 in 3 parents will help their kids pay off student loans.

3 Credit Score Myths You Should Stop Believing
It’s all about the numbers.

Vinyl Siding Costs and How to Bring Savings Home
How to keep costs down.

6 Big Ways Your Credit Can Affect Your Life
From buying a home to getting a new job.

1 in 3 parents will help their kids pay off student loans
And it could impact their retirement.

Why traditional credit scores still matter

Researchers and startups say all kinds of weird data can predict your creditworthiness. What kind of smartphone you have, who your friends are and how you answer survey questions may foretell how likely you are to pay back a loan.

Don’t expect this alternative data to displace the three-digit number most lenders use, however. Credit scores still matter — a lot.

Lenders use credit scores to decide whether you get loans and credit cards, plus the rates you pay. Scores are also used to determine which apartments you can rent, which cell phone plans you can get and, in most states, how much you pay for auto and homeowners insurance.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why traditional, three-digit credit scores still matter.

Q&A: How to find credit scores

Dear Liz: How do you go about checking your credit scores? I’m a recent widow and have no idea how to do these things.

Answer: Checking your credit scores can help you monitor your credit and give you a general idea of how lenders view your creditworthiness. Many banks and credit cards offer free scores to their customers, so that’s the first place you should look.

Otherwise, Discover and Freecreditscore.com, a service of credit bureau Experian, offer free FICO credit scores to anyone. FICO is the leading credit score, although the score you see may not be the same one a lender uses.

There are different versions of the FICO for different industries (credit cards, auto lending, mortgages) and different generations of each formula. Some lenders use the latest version, FICO 9, while most use some version of FICO 8. Mortgage lenders tend to use even older versions.

Also, credit scores change because the information in your credit bureau reports, on which the scores are based, changes constantly. A higher or lower balance on a single credit card can cause your scores to swing significantly.

Another type of score is the VantageScore, a FICO rival that’s used by fewer lenders but commonly offered for free on personal finance sites including Credit Karma, Mint and NerdWallet. CapitalOne also offers free VantageScores to anyone, not just its customers.

It’s best to use the same type of score from the same credit bureau if you want to monitor your credit over time. It’s not very helpful to view a FICO 8 from Experian one month and try to compare it the next month with a FICO Bankcard Score 5 from Equifax or a VantageScore 3 from TransUnion.

The data used in the scores, their formulas and even the scoring ranges may be different. Most credit scores are on a 300-to-850 scale but some industry-specific scores are on a 250-to-900 scale.

Keep in mind that getting a free score means handing over information about yourself, including your Social Security number, and typically means the provider will try to market other products or services to you.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to make saving for retirement easier. Also in the news: How to talk to a robo-advisor, switching from a debit card to a credit card, and why homebuyers with lower credit scores can pay thousands in extra mortgage costs.

Make Saving for Retirement Easier — Invest Some Fun
Taking the sting out of saving.

How to Talk to a Robo-Advisor
Getting the most from this innovative service.

How (and Why) I Persuaded My Husband to Switch to a Credit Card
Playing the rewards game.

Study: Homebuyers with lower credit scores pay extra $21,000 in mortgage costs
Work on your credit score before buying.

Q&A: Does a credit freeze hurt your credit scores?

Dear Liz: I implemented a credit freeze a few months ago. I’m wondering if that could prevent me from having credit scores. I understand that if you don’t use credit, your credit scores can basically go away. I don’t have any loans or a house payment. I do have a few credit cards, used often and paid in full monthly.

Am I at risk of my credit fading away because of neglect with the freeze in place?

Answer: You’ll continue to have credit scores as long as you keep using credit accounts that are reported to the major credit bureaus. The people who are at risk of having their credit die of neglect are the ones who stop using credit.

About 7 million people are considered “credit retired,” which means they no longer actively use credit enough to generate credit scores, according to credit scoring company FICO. Their histories are free from charge-offs and other negative marks that might indicate their lack of credit is involuntary, says Ethan Dornhelm, FICO’s vice president for scores and predictive analytics.

Being credit retired can be costly. People may be shut out of loans they want in the future, or may have to pay higher interest rates. A lack of scores could lead to higher insurance premiums, cellphone costs and utility deposits.

Keeping your credit scores alive is relatively easy — using a single credit card is enough. There’s no need to carry debt or pay interest. Just continue using the card lightly but regularly, and pay it off in full every month.

Your credit freezes will prevent new lenders from seeing your scores and opening new accounts in your name unless you thaw the freezes. Companies where you already have an account, however, will be able to see your reports and scores.