Feature

What the experts say

Money mistakes to avoid; Cleaning up your credit report; Tax refunds for retirement

Money mistakes to avoid
There are a few boneheaded financial moves that should be avoided at all costs, said Brett Arends in The Wall Street Journal. Do not dip into your retirement savings to send your kids to college, for instance. “Admittedly, a degree has become a protection racket—you can’t get a job without one.” But consider a public university instead of a “country-club college.” And loyalty to your employer should never extend to owning a lot of stock in the company. If it goes under, “you can lose your job and your savings—all in one fell swoop.” Finally, don’t take Social Security too early. An employee earning $50,000 a year who starts claiming Social Security at age 62 typically receives about $1,000 a month. Just by holding on until the age of 70, “that amount would double.”

Cleaning up your credit report
It’s time to get a credit report checkup, said Russ Wiles in the Phoenix Arizona Republic. “Of the 200 million or so Americans with active credit files, only about one fifth make the effort to obtain their reports in a given year,” even though credit reports routinely contain errors. Start by getting recent copies of reports from all three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—via AnnualCreditReport.com. If you spot an error, write a dispute letter to the credit bureau. The credit-reporting agency then has 30 days to respond and correct your credit report. Remember that there isn’t just one type of credit score, and the scoring process can vary. As credit agencies have seen more and more borrowers with adequate means simply walk away from mortgages when they’re underwater, they now monitor not only borrowers’ ability to cover a loan but also their “willingness to pay.”

Tax refunds for retirement
“A decent tax refund can be more than a quick fix to household finances,” said Jeff Reeves in USA Today. Now that the check from Uncle Sam is on its way, consider putting it toward retirement. You can’t deposit a tax refund straight into a 401(k), but you can use it to “provide a great springboard to retirement savings.” You can spend it on living expenses and ask your benefits coordinator at work to “have the same sum shunted directly into your 401(k) plan.” It might mean extra paperwork, but it can help you maximize your retirement savings with minimal financial pain.

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