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Help! A Payday Debt Collector Says I Owe them Money, But It's Not On My Credit Report

Yes, there’s such a thing as phantom debt collectors. And, yes, you can get contacted about a payday loan debt you simply don’t owe. Just ask intrepid consumer reporter Bob Sullivan, who received his very own debt collection note after simply reaching out to a payday loan company (and alleged phantom debt collector) for a story.

But if you have taken out a payday loan before and you’re genuinely confused about whether you completely addressed that debt, we have a bit of bad news: you can’t simply take the debt’s absence from your credit report as a sign you don’t have to pay.

For starters, payday lenders don’t typically report to major credit bureaus, like Experian, according to the bureau’s Director of Public Education, Rod Griffin.

In other words, there’s a chance the original loan never made it onto the traditional credit reports you can get for free each year via AnnualCreditReport.com. But that doesn’t mean you don’t owe the purported balance.

“Any debt you enter into contractually you are obligated to repay, even if it doesn’t appear in a credit report,” Griffin said, and ignoring a legitimate debt could have serious consequences.

“If you do not fulfill the terms of the contract, the payday lending company could send the unpaid amount to a collection agency, that could then report the debt to a credit reporting company,” he said. “Another possibility is that the payday lender could file a civil lawsuit to recover the debt. A judgment resulting from a civil lawsuit could also appear in a credit report.”

Something else to note: not all debt collectors report to the credit bureaus either. In fact, it’s not unheard of for some agencies to try to collect on the debt before taking that type of adverse action in an effort to get a debtor to pay. So, again, it’s totally possible for a legitimate debt collection account to simply not appear on your credit file as soon as you start getting calls.

So What’s a Confused Consumer to Do?

Whether you’re sure you owe or not, it’s important to ask whoever is contacting you for written verification of the debt they allege you owe. In fact, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that collectors provide this notice listing the amount of money and the name of the original creditor within five days of contact. Tip-offs that you are dealing with a debt collection scammer include their refusal to provide this type or verification, threats of arrest and a request for payment via less traceable methods, like a wire transfer or prepaid card.

If you discover the debt is legitimate, it still pays to know your rights. Yes, collectors can try to get you to pay money you do owe, but there are restrictions on how they can go about this. For instance, they can’t call too early, too late, use abusive language or make dire threats. (You can learn more about your debt collection rights here.) You can always contact a consumer attorney if you think a debt collector may be stepping over the line.

Settling Debts

Remember, if you do, in fact, owe what they say, it may be a good idea to try to work out a payment plan before the collector pursues further action, like a lawsuit. 

Collection accounts that do appear on your credit report will affect your credit — and unpaid collections can do more damage than paid ones. (You can see how collection accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Tips for negotiating with collectors or creditors include explaining clearly what you can afford, taking written notes whenever you talk to a collector and getting written confirmation once you agree to a plan.

If a collection account that you don’t owe makes its way onto your credit report, you can dispute its appearance with the major reporting agencies.

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Want a Great Credit Score? Here's a Trick You Might Want to Try

Building good credit can be annoyingly tedious in that it can take years to get right — and it only takes one wrong move to destroy. Other than doing everything you can to avoid a huge blow to your credit, like a late payment or debt collection account, the best way to build a good credit score is wait for all your good behavior, like making on-time loan payments, to add up to a long, healthy credit history.

For those of you who aren’t so patient, there are some things you can do for short-term results. Here’s how your credit card can be the key to rapid change in your credit score.

How Credit Cards Affect Your Credit

One of the biggest factors in determining credit scores is something called your credit utilization rate (how much of your available credit you’re using). To have a good credit score, credit scoring companies recommend you keep the amount of debt you owe collectively and on individual cards below 30%, or even under 10%, of your credit limits if you can.

But really, the ideal credit utilization rate is 0%, according to a recent post from credit scoring company VantageScore. Of course, if you don’t use your credit cards, you can achieve that 0% utilization rate, but you also run the risk of your credit card issuer closing your account because of inactivity. Don’t be discouraged: There’s a way around that.

The Trick: How to Keep Your Credit Utilization Rate at Zero

Your credit card issuers may not tell you exactly when they report your account activity to the credit bureaus, but VantageScore says “credit card issuers generally report your statement balance to the credit reporting companies.” If that’s the case, you would need your statement balance on each credit card to be $0 to have the lowest-possible credit utilization rate. To do that, you would need to make your credit card payments before your statement closing date.

If you can pay your credit card bills in full by the due date, that might not be such a tall order. (You can find your statement closing date listed on your statement or on your credit card account summary.) By paying your credit card before the statement closing date as opposed to its due date, your statement balance should be reported as $0.

“[A] zero balance on your statement should soon equate to a zero balance on your credit reports, which is fantastic for your credit scores,” VantageScore says on its website.

Just make sure you can afford to employ a trick like this. Pay close attention to your credit card spending, your bank account balances and the timing of any other bills you need to pay. The last thing you want is to pay your credit card bill early for the sake of boosting your credit score only to leave you without enough money for a monthly loan payment, which could trigger late fees and a late-payment mark on your credit report. You can see how managing your credit card payments and other credit accounts affects your credit standing by getting a free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

3 Credit Cards That Can Help You Buy an Engagement Ring

If you’re ready to make a big commitment to your partner, you may be considering doing so with a shiny ring in hand. While this is exciting, there’s a lot to consider.

Ideally, you’ve been thinking about this for a while and have set aside some funds so you can pay for the ring in full. Not only would this mean you’re paying with money you truly have, but it would mean you’d also avoid interest fees or going into debt. However, this ideal isn’t always the reality, so it’s important to consider your other options before meeting with a jeweler.

Think about what it is you want in a ring and then shop around at different stores to get an idea of the prices. You may also want to inquire about what each store offers in terms of store credit cards or other financing options, because some of these may be competitive with what you’d find on regular cards.

If you do decide to go with a major credit card to buy your engagement ring, here are some options. (Before applying for any of these, it’s a good idea to know where your credit stands, as it will be reviewed as part of the application process. You can see a snapshot of your credit reports for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

1. Citi Simplicity

The City Simplicity credit card offers an introductory 0% annual percentage for the first 21 months, giving you almost two years to pay off the ring without racking up any interest charges. The card comes with no late fees or annual fees. If this is the card you choose, it’s a good idea to make sure the ring is paid off before those 21 months are up, or else you’ll be hit with a variable 13.24% — 23.24% APR, depending on your creditworthiness.

2. Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card not only allows you to have interest-free payments for the first 15 months, but it also rewards you for your spending. You’ll earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months after opening your account and 1.5% cash back on every purchase. There is no annual fee associated with this card and your rewards never expire, as long as you keep your account open. Remember: the APR will increase to 14.24% – 23.24% (based on creditworthiness) after the introductory period ends.

3. Discover it Chrome

With the Discover it Chrome credit card, you’ll receive 1% on all purchases, except at gas stations and restaurants, where you’ll earn 2% back on up to $1,000 combined purchases every quarter. Plus, the card matches the cash rewards you’ve earned the first year of having it. The Discover it Chrome card comes with no annual fee and a 0% introductory APR for 12 months (increases to 11.24% — 23.24% variable APR, based on creditworthiness after this time).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Thursday is National Coffee Day. Here's Where to Get Cheap or Free Joe

What’s better than a delicious, hot cup of coffee in the morning? How ’bout a free cup of delicious, hot coffee?

Thursday is National Coffee Day, and that means you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting a free or discounted cuppa joe at your favorite local coffee house. Here are some of the places we’ve confirmed that are offering specials to celebrate all things coffee, but not all companies had announced at the time of this writing. So, by all means, give your local coffee shop a call and see what kind of specials they might be offering.

Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme stores around the country are doing customers a solid this Thursday, offering not just a free, small cup of coffee, but also a glazed glob of doughnut deliciousness to go along with it. And no, there’s no purchase required to get your caffeine and sugar fix. If that can’t make your Thursday feel like Friday Eve, it might be best to just spend the day in bed.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts is celebrating not only National Coffee Day, but also its 66th year of being in business by offering guests a medium-sized cup of hot coffee for just 66 cents.

Starbucks

Starbucks isn’t giving away free coffee drinks this year. The company is instead helping to secure the future for coffee farmers in need by donating a coffee tree for every brewed cup of México Chiapas coffee purchased on Thursday.

McDonald’s

Likewise, McDonald’s hasn’t made an announcement of any free or discounted coffee being available, but McDonald’s restaurants in the Philadelphia area will be donating 100% of Thursday’s proceeds for drip coffee sales to Covenant House Pennsylvania and Covenant House New Jersey, the region’s largest shelter specializing in serving homeless youth.

Boyer’s Coffee

This Denver favorite is throwing a party in celebration of National Coffee Day, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The store will feature free coffee stations, 50% off specialty beverages, lunchtime food trucks, contests, music and more.

Remember, on days other than this Thursday, if you want to save money on everyday essentials like coffee, it’s a good idea to brew it yourself at home. The savings can add up to a substantial sum that you could put into a retirement account or emergency fund, or even use to pay down debt. Doing so can really improve your credit standing. You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by tracking your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

14 Amazon Shopping Hacks

Almost everyone knows what Amazon is, even if they don’t shop online. The company has achieved enviable brand recognition and become the go-to site for online shoppers. If you are an Amazon shopper, you may think you know all there is to know about the site, but there are many lesser-known tips, tricks and benefits of which you may not be aware.

Since I mention Amazon Prime several times throughout this piece, I wanted to note that, for the uninitiated, Amazon Prime is an annual membership that, for $99 per year ($49 for students), grants members free unlimited two-day shipping, music and video streaming, among other things. Now, let’s get into what you may not know.

1. Cash in Those Gift Cards

You probably have Visa or MasterCard gift cards laying around with balances too low to shop with. Instead of leaving them in a drawer, transfer the balances (50 cents or above) to Amazon. It’s a wee bit tricky, but here’s how to do it: Proceed as if you were buying an Amazon gift card (or click on “Reload Your Balance”), choose “enter amount” instead of clicking on one of the set quantity boxes, and enter the gift card account number as the payment method. Bingo — you now have Amazon credit to shop with.

2. Choose No-Rush Shipping

If you’re a Prime member who doesn’t need your order lickety-split, forgo the free two-day shipping to score a credit toward a free digital download. You can rack up those credits and get that album you’ve had your eye on — free.

3. Don’t Ignore Warehouse Deals …

If you turn up your nose at the open-box and pre-owned items in Amazon’s Warehouse Deals section, you may be missing out on a great bargain. The discounts can be substantial, and you have 30 days to decide whether what you’ve received is a keeper.

4. … or Amazon’s Outlet

The Outlet is kind of like the clearance rack in your favorite store. It’s hit or miss, but these are items that Amazon is trying to clear out, so the discounts can be great (from 20% to 80%).

5. Enroll in Prime Student

If you’re in school, enjoy free two-day shipping for six months through the Prime Student program. If you want all the other benefits that come with Prime, you can then snag a Prime membership for 50% off after a six-month trial period.

6. Give to Charity

Why not give back while you shop? Courtesy of AmazonSmile, 0.5% of eligible Amazon Prime purchases can be donated to the participating charity or school of your choice.

7. Fill ‘Er Up

If you are not a Prime member, sometimes it’s a challenge to get your order to that $35 free shipping threshold without going way over. The Filler Item finder provides low-cost suggestions to help you get there.

8. Hold Onto Damaged Merchandise

If something you’ve ordered arrives in less-than-perfect condition, Amazon will replace it through their Online Returns Center and may not require you to send it back, especially if it’s inexpensive. And if the item is salvageable, you’ve scored! Let’s say you receive a bottle of household cleaner with a faulty pump. You can just hang on to it and switch the pump once you’ve finished the replacement.

9. Join Amazon Family 

Expecting moms and parents who are also Amazon Prime members can get 20% off Subscribe & Save diapers with the Amazon Family program. There’s also a 15% discount on all baby registry gifts within 60 days of your due date.

10. Take Advantage of Late Deliveries

You usually get your packages on time with your Prime Membership, but if there’s a time that you don’t, let them know. It’s very likely they will offer you something, like a credit to your account or an extension of your Prime membership.

11. Try Subscribe & Save

Subscribe & Save users can receive up to 15% off their items and free shipping. I use Subscribe & Save for my toilet paper, paper towels and a few different vitamins, and the price is definitely right. Before subscribing, do your homework and compare prices with your price club and grocery/drug stores. I like how you can specify when you want items to ship, so your essentials arrive right when you need them. One less thing to think about!

12. Use Promo Codes & Coupons

Amazon does promo codes and coupons too. If you’re shopping for groceries on Amazon, be on the lookout for coupons and codes that can be applied to your purchase. They are typically on the main product page, and once you’ve clicked on them, they will appear in your cart.

13. Save an Extra 5%

You may not feel like you need another credit card — and you may not — but with the Amazon Store Card, Prime Members can get 5% back on all purchases. Like other store cards, the annual percentage rate (APR) is not fabulous, so if you go for this card, plan to pay it off every month. Otherwise, the 5% reward will be meaningless. (Not sure whether you can qualify for the credit card? You can view a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

14. Watch for Lower Prices

You may have noticed that Amazon has pretty fluid pricing. If you see that something you purchased sold by Amazon LLC has dropped in price, Amazon will usually honor the lower price by giving you a credit or gift card. Live chat seems to be a reliable way to get this done. A good way to keep track of Amazon pricing in general is with CamelCamelCamel price tracker.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

How to Fight With Your Boss Without Losing Your Job

No matter how great things are going at work, there may come a time when you and your boss disagree and tempers start to flare. How you handle the situation could greatly impact your future with your employer or even your long-term career prospects.

While you may want to get exceptionally angry at your boss, that’s not the recommended course of action. If you’re angry with your boss, remember to use your words (carefully). When you and your boss are engaged in a heated discussion, tread cautiously. Here are some tips on how to constructively fight with your boss.

1. Don’t Turn Into the Hulk

Now is not the time to turn over chairs and throw desk ornaments across the room. If there was ever a time to stay cool, calm and collected, it’s right now. Keep your temper in check and try your best to calmly discuss things. A shouting match will only escalate the argument. And if things get really out of hand, you run the risk of not only getting written up for being disruptive but also being escorted off the premises by security — meaning you can probably say buh-bye to your job at that point.

The key here is not to suppress your anger, but work through it. Donald Gibson, co-author of Managing Anger in the Workplace, said that while it is OK to express anger, it is best to do so in a respectful way.

“The key to managing anger is creating conditions in which anger can be expressed appropriately and productively … anger can be a source of important data that should be recognized, processed and acted upon. When effectively managed, anger can produce many positive results,” Gibson said in his book.

2. Watch Your Words

In your head, you might be calling your boss every nasty name you can think of, but don’t verbalize these thoughts. Name-calling is a no-no. Also be careful not to start screaming; you won’t get your point across by raising your voice. While you may want to defend yourself and argue your case, it’s important to stay clear-headed. Leadership expert Annie McKee said it can be tempting to give into the urge to aggressively defend your case during a fight with someone more powerful, but it’s important to remember who you’re communicating with and the impact your actions could have on your career.

“It’s tiresome, really, but we can’t help ourselves. It feels like a fight to the death. That’s because fighting with a powerful person — like a boss — sparks a deep, primal response: fear. After all, these people hold our lives in their hands — the keys to our futures, not to mention our daily bread,” McKee said in her Harvard Business Review column.

3. Don’t Play the Blame Game

When things start to get heated, resist the urge to blame. This will make your boss more defensive and might cause him to shut down your discussion prematurely. You can steer clear of appearing to blame by starting your sentences with “I” instead of “you.” Using “you” statements can make your boss feel like they’re being attacked, and they are more likely to fight back even harder.

4. Document the Fight

Become an expert note-taker. Your ability to clearly document what happened between you and your supervisor could save your job if human resources gets involved (and they probably will). Depending on what you and your supervisor were arguing about, it will be important to document exactly what took place. Take a moment to write down the issue you were discussing and what each of you said. If your boss became physically or verbally abusive, document that as well.

5. Have an Exit Strategy Ready

No matter how well you follow all the “rules” for fighting fairly, you could still get fired. Some supervisors don’t like to be challenged, so if you happen to get under their skin, you could be sent home packing. It’s unfair, but it’s a reality you’ll need to be prepared for, McKee said in her column.

Conflict with one’s boss usually backfires. That’s because our many cultures place huge value in the official hierarchy: The higher you are, the more ‘right’ you are assumed to be —especially by people even higher up. It is a self-perpetuating system that respects and rewards people by virtue of their level in the organization, not their behavior. This means that you can lose a battle with your boss — in his eyes and others’ — even before you start. So, if you must fight, be sure you have a strategy to protect yourself from the fallout.

If you notice emotions are still running high and your boss is acting cold toward you in the days and weeks after your argument, it might be time to look for another job. Chances are, when it comes down to the two of you, upper management is more likely to take your boss’s side. So dust off that resume, talk to your network and make your job hunt a priority.

(Editor’s Note: Some employers look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process, so it’s a good idea to take a look at yours before you apply. You can see your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Major Title Loan Lender TMX Finance to Pay $9M for Misleading Customers

One of the nation’s largest title loan firms was fined $9 million for misleading consumers about their cost of borrowing, federal regulators said Monday.

TMX Finance, the parent company of TitleMax, allegedly tricked borrowers into taking out longer-term, more expensive loans, and also used illegal debt collection tactics, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The firm was ordered to stop the illegal tactics.

TMX, in a statement, said it settled the case without admitting wrongdoing.

Title loans are similar to payday loans, advertised as short-term instruments to help consumers who find themselves in a cash crunch. With title loans, borrowers use their cars as collateral for the loans. They risk losing their cars if the loans aren’t repaid on time.

According to the CFPB, some TitleMax borrowers were steered into longer-term payback plans for their short-term loans, requiring several loan renewals and significantly increasing the costs of borrowing. TMX Finance employees also conducted “field visits” to consumers’ workplaces, despite knowing such visits were not permitted; the tactics were used starting on July 21, 2011, the CFPB said.

TMX Finance, which is based in Savannah, Georgia, is one of the country’s largest auto title lenders, with more than 1,300 storefronts in 18 states.

“TMX Finance lured consumers into more expensive loans with information that hid the true costs of the deal,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “They then followed up with intrusive visits to homes and workplaces that put consumers’ personal information at risk. Today we are making it clear that these actions were unacceptable and illegal.”

No Customer Refunds

In a press release, TMX Finance noted it was not forced to refund any consumers as part of the agreement, “unlike consent orders that the CFPB has previously entered into with other companies within the emergency credit space.”

“This resolution of the CFPB’s investigation addresses and mitigates the CFPB’s identified concerns while allowing us to continue meeting the urgent financial needs of our customers. Many of our customers have nowhere else to turn when they suffer from short-term financial setbacks like medical emergencies or home repairs, and we are committed to remaining a reliable source of credit for them when the need arises,” said Otto Bielss, President of the TMX Finance Family of Companies. “We continue to focus on enhancing and strengthening our compliance program to support responsible lending practices and our compliance with applicable state and federal consumer lending and consumer protection laws.”

According to the consent order made public Monday by the CFPB, borrowers seeking 30-day title loans were shown a “Payback Guide” that offered repayment terms lasting from two to 24 months. The guides were similar to installment loan amortization schedules. Employees “were trained to focus consumers’ attention on the amount of the potential monthly payment, and the sales pitch does not include any discussion of the total cost of the transaction,” the CFPB said.

“The payback guide and sales pitch … materially interfere with the consumer’s ability to understand that the consumer is receiving a 30-day transaction … and that renewing the transaction over an extended period would substantially affect the overall cost of the transaction,” the consent order says.

TitleMax said that since 2015, the firm has discontinued in-person collection activities at homes and places of employment. The company said it will discontinue use of its payback guide now.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been examining title loans more closely during the past 12 months. In May, the bureau released a report showing that title loans were very risky for car owners. After examining 3.5 million title loans made to 400,000 consumers (many are repeat customers), the CFPB found that one in five borrowers had their car seized by lenders.

Then in June, the bureau released proposed new rules to regulate short-term lending, including payday loans and title loans. The rules, for example, would require lenders to review borrowers’ ability to repay the loans.

Looking for Alternative Sources of Cash

If you ever find yourself strapped for cash, it’s good to keep in mind these smart alternatives to payday loans (and title loans). But if a payday loan or title loan seem like your only options, it’s a good idea to work on improving your traditional credit scores so you can secure more affordable financing. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing  your free credit report summary, along with two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

In general, you can fix your credit by disputing any errors on your credit report, identifying credit score killers and coming up with a game plan to address those issues.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

5 Insider Tips for Finding Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance

Years from now most baby boomers will need help with the daily stuff of life, like dressing, bathing, eating or remembering to take medication.

Regular health insurance, including Medicare, doesn’t pay for help with these “custodial care” tasks, except in limited circumstances. Long-term care insurance does.

Yet faced with the coverage costs, many long-term care insurance shoppers get sticker shock and give up. Here’s how to keep the price affordable.

1.Buy sooner rather than later

“The key to long-term care insurance is to apply early while it’s inexpensive,” says Kevin M. Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

You can buy long-term care insurance up to age 75 from most companies, but you’ll pay more at older ages and if you have health conditions.

Among 65-year-old applicants, 28% will be denied because of their health, Lynch says.

The ideal age to start shopping? “I think 50 is the magic number,” says Deb Newman, president of Newman Long Term Care, an independent insurance agency in Richfield, Minnesota.

Don’t give up if you’ve passed the half-century mark. Apply at least 60 days before your next birthday to get a price based on your current age, advises Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance.

2. Work with an independent agent

Prices vary by insurer for the same amount of coverage. Work with an agent who can sell — not just quote — policies from different carriers, Slome says. A good agent will know which companies will likely accept you for coverage based on your health and give you the lowest price.

Get price comparisons even if you’re offered the opportunity to buy long-term care insurance through a group, such as your employer. If you’re healthy, you might find a better deal on your own.

3. Start with a budget

Decide what you’re comfortable spending for coverage, and ask the insurance agent for quotes that fit your budget, advises Brian Gordon, president of Maga Ltd., an independent long-term care insurance agency in Riverwoods, Illinois. Gordon discourages people from buying a policy if they’ll struggle to pay the premium.

Work with a financial advisor to review other options if you can’t qualify or pay for long-term care insurance. Medicaid, the federal and state insurance program for people with low incomes, will pay for nursing home care, but to qualify, you have to spend down most of your money first.

4. Plan realistically

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 70% of today’s 65-year-olds eventually will need long-term care, and 20% will need it for longer than five years. But few folks want to think about that.

“First of all what pops into people’s minds is the dreaded nursing home,” Newman says. Yet 80% of elderly people who receive long-term care live at home, according to a 2013 Congressional Budget Office report. About 18% live in nursing homes and other care facilities, and 2% live in residential senior communities that offer some support but not round-the-clock supervision.

Newman encourages clients to buy enough coverage to pay for home health care for a few years. The average annual cost of a full-time home health aide is $46,332, compared with $82,125 for a semi-private nursing home room, according to the Genworth 2016 Cost of Care Survey.

Most long-term care insurance policies reimburse you for care at home or in assisted living or a nursing home. So if you buy enough to pay for home health care but instead go to a nursing home, the policy will pay at least some of the nursing home costs.

Look at costs of care in your area to estimate how much coverage to buy, Lynch advises.

5. Go for a simple vs. souped-up policy

Ask for quotes for good, better and best coverage from each company to see costs at different levels, Slome says.

Avoid adding features, called riders, that you don’t need. “Keep it a good, simple, long-term care policy without all the bells and whistles,” Gordon says.

An example is a “restoration of benefits” rider: If you need long-term care but then get better, the benefits you used are restored for a later date. But Gordon says once people start to need long-term care, they usually continue to need it.

An inflation protection rider allows your benefits to grow to keep up with inflation. Reducing the inflation protection, from, say, 3% to 1% will drop the policy price. If you’re older, say 70 instead of 55, you may be able to get by with less inflation protection, Lynch says.

A final thought

Avoid an all-or-nothing approach when buying long-term care insurance.

“Sometimes people look to insuring 100% of the cost of the care,” Gordon says. Instead, think about the costs you can handle and what you want to insure. “Don’t buy more than what you need.”

Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmarquand@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

4 Simple Money-Saving Tips for Couples

By Kurt Smith

Learn more about Kurt on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Having the same goals as your partner is important, whether they involve your careers, family or finances. To achieve those goals and live in harmony, it helps to be on the same track, working together toward the same things.

If one partner has the goal of getting out of debt while the other is constantly spending, there’s bound to be friction. It’s important to discuss these differences and make a plan to address any issues as a couple. Remind yourselves that you’re a team and better off when working together.

Having some extra cash on hand will help you work toward goals such as paying off student loans, saving up for a wedding or a down payment on a house, or starting a family. Here are four simple ways couples can start saving money today:

1. Rethink date night

How often do the two of you have a date night? Some couples have a weekly date night where they go out to a fancy restaurant, order drinks and then do an activity afterward, like a movie or bowling. An evening like that can quickly add up to more than $100.

If you want to save money together, you may have to change what you do together. Keep date night a tradition, but decide on a spending limit that supports your goals and then get creative. You can have a “no technology night” where your turn off all devices, or a Netflix marathon, or cook up some food and play board games at your kitchen table. Whatever you do, make date night about spending time together and connecting with one another, not about paying an expensive bill.

2. Declare a ‘no dining out’ month

The money you spend eating out adds up quickly. Even fast food, lattes and vending machine snacks can slowly empty your pockets. You can make simple, homemade meals for a fraction of what you’d spend going out to eat. Choose one month and commit to making all your meals at home, including brown bagging your lunch for work. Then, fight the temptation to stop at the drive through or grab a sandwich at the office deli. You’ll have saved a substantial amount of money by the end of the month.

3. Forgo gifts for a while

While you’re looking to reach specific financial goals, make a pact that you won’t buy each other lavish birthday, anniversary or holiday presents. Couples often spend hundreds of dollars on these special occasion gifts. By putting that amount into a savings account toward your financial goals, you’re both still receiving a gift. You can celebrate the occasion with a card and handwritten note reminding each other of what you’re saving for together, and then enjoy an intimate evening at home. If that doesn’t feel like enough, you can always be creative and make something for your partner out of inexpensive materials.

4. Plan a staycation

Instead of planning your annual getaway, consider having a staycation this year. You and your partner can take the same week off from work and do fun things around town together. Rent a movie and watch it in the middle of the day, have an at-home wine tasting adventure, go for a hike or to the beach, pack a picnic and have a day at the park. There are likely many activities you can do that are close to home and inexpensive. Keep your savings goal in mind and let vacations be relaxing and rejuvenating, instead of draining your bank account.

Track your savings

As you follow these suggestions, keep a log on the kitchen counter that you use to write down how much you saved on a purchase that was reduced or forgone. Keeping a running tally of your savings can be exciting as you watch them grow and bring you closer to your goals.

Of course it’s fun to splurge and do new things or go to fancy meals together. But the most important part of your relationship is that you’re spending quality time together, and you don’t have to spend money for that to be enjoyable and meaningful. When you set financial goals, it’s good to have a plan in place for how you’ll reach them. Making sacrifices and staying the course together can make your relationship stronger and improve your financial position at the same time.

Kurt Smith is a financial and relationship counselor at Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching.

This article also appears on Nasdaq

The Gender Wage Gap Won't Close Until 2152

Equal pay for women? Not in this lifetime.

According to a new report from the American Association of University Women (AAUA), the pay gap may have narrowed considerably in the past 100 years, but it will still take another 136 to do away with it entirely.

In 2015, women working full-time in the U.S. were typically paid just 80% of what men were, creating a sizable 20% wage gap on average, AAUA said. Since 1960, that gap has narrowed thanks to women’s progress in education and their growing participation in the workforce. But in recent years, women’s progress has stalled, and if things continue to progress at this slower rate, “women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152,” AAUA warned. Here’s what that could mean for your money.

The Financial Effects of the Pay Gap 

As the AAUA pointed out, an average 20% pay gap affects women’s finances in myriad ways. For starters, it contributes directly to their poverty, which could be seen as recently as 2015, when 14% of women between the ages of 14 and 64 were living below the federal poverty level, compared with 11% of men, AAUA said. For those ages 65 and older, 10% of women were living in poverty, compared to 7% of men.

The damage persists well after a woman has left the workforce, AAUA said. When women retire, “they receive less income from Social Security, pensions and other sources than do retired men,” and other benefits such as disability and life insurance are smaller, since they’re typically based on earnings.

Broken down by demographic, the pay gap disproportionately affects women of color more than non-Hispanic white women and women of Asian heritage, AAUA said. And though the earnings and pay gap do vary according to a woman’s unique situation, they “persist across educational levels and [are] worse for African American and Hispanic women, even among college graduates,” AAUA said. The implication for student loan debt is concerning, since women working full-time in 2012 had a tougher time paying off their loans, on average, than men who were working full-time.

A Matter of Choice 

Personal choice also plays a key role in the pay gap. “In 2015,” AAUA said, “the U.S. civilian workforce included nearly 149 million full- and part-time employed workers; 53% were men, and 47% were women … But women and men tend to work in different jobs.” There are more women in education, office, health care and administrative support roles, AAUA said, while men are “disproportionally represented” in production, transportation, maintenance and repair roles. This means segregation is a factor, especially since the jobs associated with men tend to pay more than those occupied by women, despite requiring similar levels of skill.

While gender segregation has decreased in the past 40 years, AAUA said, women in male-dominated jobs still face other obstacles like being paid higher salaries and breaking into a historically male field in the first place. There is also the issue of parenting, which can require taking time off work or cutting back hours, which puts women with children in a tough spot. The so-called “motherhood penalty,” which goes beyond actual time taken out of the workforce, can hinder a woman’s chances of landing full-time employment.

Beyond these factors, some employers are just plain biased, and a woman’s choice of college major, occupation, work hours and time out of the workforce may have nothing to do with her odds of securing fair pay, the report said. Women are less likely to land leadership roles, AAUA said, and, of course, “gender bias also factors into how our society values some jobs over others.”

So What Can You Do? 

With all these factors in mind, how can modern-day women protect their finances? The odds certainly seem stacked against it, given the factors above. But there are ways to counter the problem. A budget can help you stay on top of your day-to-day finances without going into debt, while putting aside whatever you can afford can beef up your savings for the long term. It also helps to know where your credit stands, as this can give you a glimpse into the health of your finances. (You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every two weeks, as part of your credit snapshot on Credit.com.)

 

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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