Like many others, you may have found yourself setting various goals that you want to achieve in 2021. For a lot of people, those goals tend to be oriented towards personal health. There’s more to health than just your physical health though. There’s the mental component, of course, but there’s also personal financial health. One of the things you can do to boost your financial health is to increase your credit score.
Raise Your Credit Limit
If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you had a higher credit limit, increasing your credit score can be the answer. Having a higher credit limit gives you more resources you can use if the need arises. Additionally, you have more wiggle room in your credit utilization with a higher credit limit. Your credit utilization is one of the five things that are used to determine your credit score. The general recommendation is tokeep your credit utilization below 30%. With a higher credit limit, you have a greater degree of flexibility in how much you can spend while still keeping your credit utilization low. This, in turn, helps improve your credit score.
Qualify for Financing
When you have a higher credit score, lenders will perceive you to be capable of making smart financial decisions and good at managing money. Therefore, they are more comfortable with lending you more of their money. This is especially useful if you find yourself in need of a personal loan. There are many reasons why you might need a loan in an emergency. With a better credit score, you have a better chance of qualifying for the financing you need to cover emergency expenses.
Reducing Your Interest Rate
Nothing is free in life, especially when it comes to money. The interest that comes with loans and credit cards is the price you pay for borrowing money. It’s how those you borrow from make a profit. The interest rate you have to pay is impacted by your credit score. The better your credit score, the less of a risk you are perceived to be as a borrower, and the lower your interest rate is likely to be. If your credit score is low, your perceived risk is higher, and you’re more likely to be charged a higher interest rate. It’s an attempt by the business to make sure they can recoup as much of their money as possible, should youdefault on the loan.
Increasing your credit score is an incredibly worthwhile goal that you should make a priority in 2021. Doing so can raise your credit limit, allow you to qualify for financing, and can land you a lower interest rate when you borrow money. It’s not going to be an overnight change and will take time and effort, but the benefits of having a high credit score are worth the work.
More people are concerned about their financial future: 4 steps to protect yours
(BPT) - Finances are consistently a top concern for many Americans, with “saving money” a top-10 most common New Year’s resolution. This year, Americans are more concerned than ever before due to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
USE Credit Union reported that more than 75% of non-transactional calls received since the start of the pandemic were from members concerned about their financial future, citing economic hardship as the primary reason for concern. The economy and job market remain in a state of constant flux, which is causing many families to worry about their ability to pay an unexpected bill, continue to pay off student loans, mortgages or credit card debt, or save money for the future.
“Saving money is more than just putting spare change into a coffee can, or simply ordering takeout less often,” said Jeff Schroeder, vice president and chief product officer at Mercury Insurance. “Sure, those things can add up over time, but people may find that their greatest savings can come from taking a look at the necessary expenses they pay for every month, such as insurance.”
Schroeder recommends these four tips to help protect your finances in the coming year:
1) Check your auto insurance coverages. There’s no reason to pay for more coverage than you need, but being underinsured can leave you exposed. “The cost of repairs after a collision has grown in recent years, as a result of more crossovers and SUVs on the road, and more technologically advanced vehicles,” said Schroeder. “Beyond paying for more expensive repairs if your insurance doesn’t cover it, if you’re underinsured, you may also be responsible for paying out of pocket for medical bills, which could potentially devastate savings for a down payment on a house, your child’s college tuition or a future vacation. It’s vitally important to make sure you have the right amount of auto insurance coverage to protect against unforeseen events.”
2) Know what your homeowners insurance covers. First and foremost, be sure to read your policy so you’re clear about what it does and doesn’t cover. It’s a good idea to check in with your insurance agent each year to ensure you have adequate coverage, especially if you’ve made renovations, own collectible or valuable items, or live in an area that’s prone to flooding or earthquakes, as standard homeowners insurance policies typically don’t cover these situations. Also, maintain a home inventory to make sure to have an accurate record of your belongings and property.
3) Be aware of potential gaps in coverage. A standard homeowners insurance policy often doesn’t cover mechanical failures to your home’s appliances, HVAC or other essential systems, nor does it cover a break to service lines on your property that supply your home with electricity, gas or sewer functions. In either of these scenarios, this means you would be responsible for writing a big check to a repair company or having to purchase a pricy replacement. However, adding home systems protection and service line protection endorsements can help provide coverage for costly repairs and replacements, saving money and your peace of mind. Pennies spent now can save you thousands of dollars later.
4) Regularly shop for the best coverage and price. Insurance prices can vary significantly from company to company, so it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to see if you’re getting a good deal. Shop around at least once a year — making sure to look for the exact same coverage limits — to see if you can find a more affordable rate.
“Often, regional insurers like Mercury Insurance are more attuned to their policyholders' needs and can offer better rates,” Schroeder added.
The most effective way to make sure your finances are minimally impacted by insurance costs this year is to speak to an independent insurance agent. They can help make sure you have the proper amount and type of coverage to keep yourself, your family and property protected.
Tips to help make the most of your health plan in 2021
(BPT) - Last year was a difficult year as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our country, impacting families and communities nationwide. The health challenges of the pandemic also provided a crucial reminder about the importance of health care.
For many Americans, new health plan benefits began in January. If this is your situation, now is the perfect time to learn how to maximize this year’s health benefits, which may help improve your health — and possibly save money too.
Ann Marie O’Brien, R.N., national director of health strategies at UnitedHealthcare, provides the following tips to help you take charge of your health and get the most out of your plan in 2021:
Becoming familiar with your new health plan — especially at the start of a new year — is one way to help you be proactive when it comes to your health. For more health and wellness information, visit UHC.com.
Tax season 2020 will look different: Here's how to prepare
(BPT) - It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tumultuous year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans found themselves out of work — at least temporarily — and received unemployment benefits. Others may have experienced employment changes, like working from home or taking on multiple jobs. All of these factors will have even more of an impact come time to file income taxes on tax day, April 15, 2021.
“For many, the 2020 tax season will likely look different,” says Mark Steber, Chief Tax Information Officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services. “The pandemic brought unexpected, overwhelming changes.”
To help you prepare and get the maximum tax refund you deserve, Steber offers the following tax tips.
1. Understand how unemployment benefits work
If you received unemployment benefits this year, it may have been for the first time. Make sure you’re aware of how they affect your taxes.
Unemployment benefits are taxable and must be reported to the IRS on your tax return. Taxable benefits also include any special compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this year. That means if you did not withhold enough taxes from your unemployment benefits, you could see a big tax bill or a much smaller tax refund than you normally receive.
Unemployment benefits can affect tax credits. Unemployment is considered unearned income, so it won’t count toward certain credits. For example, you must have earned income to qualify for the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Additionally, your adjusted gross income must be below certain levels to get certain credits.
2. Set money aside to cover unexpected taxes
If you received unemployment benefits and did not withhold any federal or state income tax, you’ll need to pay tax on that money. To prepare, consider setting money aside now to cover those taxes on your 2020 return and brace yourself for a much smaller refund or no refund at all this tax season.
3. Take advantage of possible deductions
Every taxpayer will get a charitable donation deduction for 2020. Make a list of any IRS-approved donations you made this year and locate any receipts. Whether itemizing or taking the standard deduction, under the CARES Act, all taxpayers are eligible to deduct up to $300 worth of monetary donations to qualified organizations.
And while many Americans have been working at home for months, a home office deduction is not guaranteed. The home office deduction is only available to those who are self-employed.
4. Consider major life changes
Life goes on, even during a pandemic, and life changes can bring sizeable tax implications. Some changes that cause the biggest impact include getting married or divorced, having a baby or adopting a child, buying or selling property, retiring, or starting a business. If you experienced any of these events in 2020, know that your return will look different.
5. Keep track of important documents
Even if your taxes won’t be affected by unemployment, make sure you gather all your documents, such as W-2 forms and 1099s for interest dividends and even retirement distributions. Remember to include the Notice 1444 you received with your stimulus check for your 2020 tax records. Collect your charitable contribution totals, mortgage interest, property taxes you’ve paid, and any additional state and local income taxes paid for the year. If you were furloughed and able to pick up a temporary job, gather your W-2s for each job you worked. If you worked a side gig, make sure to keep a record of your income, the miles you drove, and any additional expenses. And if you’re not filing single, be on the lookout for family members that may have been impacted to make your tax return more complicated.
No matter your 2020 situation, follow these tips to prepare for any unexpected tax implications. For more information and help during the 2020 tax season, visit jacksonhewitt.com.
Most Americans say they're optimistic about a brighter financial future in 2021
(BPT) - As we enter 2021, here’s one more essential item to put on your list in addition to canned goods and masks: a financial checkup. According to Fidelity Investments’ 2021 New Year Financial Resolutions Study, more than two-thirds of Americans experienced financial setbacks in 2020, often from the loss of a job or household income or another emergency expense. Even those lucky enough to maintain their income still may have had to tap savings to help others, as nearly one in five attribute their financial setback to providing “unexpected financial assistance to family members or friends.” Despite this, many Americans remain optimistic and determined to make their money work harder in the New Year, with 72% confident they’ll be in a better financial position in 2021.
“Americans are clearly ready to leave 2020 behind and start 2021 off on the right foot, including when it comes to their finances,” said Stacey Watson, senior vice president with oversight for Life Event Planning at Fidelity Investments. “This year’s top financial resolutions are consistent with what we’ve seen in the past, however, what makes 2021 unique is how people will achieve them, given the financial pressures and major life events many continue to experience throughout the pandemic.”
This year, 65% of Americans are considering a financial resolution for 2021, which is down marginally from last year (67%), but still quite strong given the headwinds experienced by so many families. Younger generations appear to be more committed to actively improving their finances in the new year, with 78% of all Gen Z and Millennial respondents considering a financial resolution compared to 59% of all Gen X and Boomers.
“Younger generations are building up their careers, families and finances, so it makes sense they have important financial resolutions to make. Still, Gen-X-ers and Boomers also experienced significant financial challenges in 2020 and may want to consider making some resolutions of their own to build a stronger financial future particularly when it comes to retirement readiness,” continued Watson.
Making a resolution, and checking it twice
Resolutions are an important start, but the key is to keep good financial routines going strong well beyond January — and ultimately have them become life-long habits. The study reveals the key to a successful resolution is the good feeling of making progress and setting clear and specific financial goals. Having someone to help keep you on track and hold you accountable also plays a role, as nearly one-in-five indicated this was a major reason they were able to stick to a financial resolution last year. In fact, more than three-quarters (77%) of people working with a financial professional were able to stick to their financial resolution in 2020, compared to just half (50%) of those who did not work with one.
Putting 2020 in the rearview
To help build a better financial future, consider these three things you can do to move forward:
To get more tips for making and keeping your financial resolutions, visit Fidelity.com.
This study presents the findings of a national online survey, consisting of 3,011 adults, 18 years of age and older. The generations are defined as: Baby Boomers (ages 56-74), Gen X (ages 40-55), millennials (ages24-39), and Gen Z (ages 18-23; although this generation has a wider range, we only surveyed adults for the purposes of this survey). Interviewing for this CARAVAN® Survey was conducted October 14-21, 2020 by Engine Insights, which is not affiliated with Fidelity Investments. The results of this survey may not be representative of all adults meeting the same criteria as those surveyed for this study. Margin of error is +/- 1.79% at the 95% confidence level. Smaller subgroups will have larger error margins.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917
The sun is setting on swiping at the pump
(BPT) - Among its downfalls, 2020 was a fraud-heavy year. However, there is one type of fraud that can be thwarted in 2021: pay-at-the-pump fraud using cloned payment cards, also known as counterfeit fraud. This happens when cybercriminals skim cards and steal payment card data at fuel pumps or buy them from the dark web, print them onto counterfeit payment cards, and use them at older fuel pumps that do not have an EMV® chip or contactless card reader.
And pay-at-the-pump fraud is rampant. Analysis from Mercator Advisory Group and Transaction Network Services shows that fraud losses on automatic fuel dispensers (AFDs) this year is estimated to be $17,315 per site.
This type of fraud is prevalent because most gas stations still use outdated fuel pumps with point of sale (POS) systems that read the magnetic stripe on the back of a card instead of POS systems that use more secure chip and contactless card readers.
It is time for station owners to upgrade their fuel pumps to protect themselves and their customers.
Upgrading these fuel pumps has been a long time coming. Awareness about the intent to shift to chip cards for secure payments started in 2011 and the date for fraud liability to shift from financial institutions to fuel merchants has been pushed back multiple times since then.
Visa is trying to stop fraudsters from taking advantage of consumers and merchants this way, and is encouraging fuel merchants to upgrade to EMV chip card and contactless readers at the pump — the most efficient way to prevent criminals from successfully using counterfeit payment cards — before the liability shift date of April 17, 2021.
“In addition to consumers having an extra layer of protection, these upgrades benefit gas station owners by removing fraud dollars that impact their bottom line,” said Julie Creevy Scharff, vice president of consumer products at Visa. ”Based on Visa data, counterfeit fraud dollars decreased 87 percent among chip-enabled non-fuel merchants in the U.S. in March 2020 compared to September 2015, when the liability shift occurred for that community.”
Visa believes a similar reduction in counterfeit fraud perpetrated at fuel pumps can be experienced by fuel merchants if they embrace chip card and contactless card readers at the pump.
Fortunately, there is still time to upgrade. Merchants should contact their payment or fuel pump provider so consumers can take advantage of a chip card reader with their chip card or use contactless payment when they fuel up.
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