The chilly autumn winds are reminding me that it’s time to dig through my bag of personal finance tips and treats to help you avoid creepy money problems.
Fraud, pandemic style. Costume parties aren’t the only places where alternative identities lurk. Scammers disguised as you can steal your identity and open new accounts in your name before they can say “Boo!” According to TransUnion’s Global Consumer Pulse Study, one in three consumers worldwide has been the target of digital fraud since the start of the pandemic.
How can you protect yourself?
- Check your credit report at least quarterly.
- Protect your personal data, usernames and passwords by shredding or storing information securely.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi to access online accounts or sites.
- Monitor your accounts vigilantly.
While you probably don’t monitor your long-term investments on a daily basis, you may need to take a vigilant approach with your bank and credit accounts. If you notice any discrepancies, notify your financial institution.
Credit card debt. Americans have started taking on credit card debt again. Earlier in the pandemic, revolving debt was down, but this summer the Federal Reserve reported a 6.7% increase in this type of debt compared to the same period last year. And at $ 956 billion, revolving debt looks set to return to the $ 1,000 billion mark reached in 2017. Don’t fall into this dangerous trap. Make a plan to eliminate your debt and get help if you need it.
Auto loans. After encountering a dozen ghosts and ghouls on Halloween, you may become oblivious to the spectacle. This is what I think about the duration of auto loans. They seem to lie down. Experian’s State of the Auto Finance Market (Q2 2021) puts the average term of new car loans at just over 69 months, or nearly six years. If you can’t afford the car you want with a loan of 60 months or less, look for a more affordable option.
Wages are increasing. It’s like reaching into your goody bag – especially as we bounce back from the pandemic – and finding all of your favorite goodies. In July, the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s Wage Growth Tracker estimated wage growth for people aged 16 to 24 at 8.3% year-on-year; for 25-54 year olds it was 3.7%. While a higher salary can mean a better lifestyle, it can also help you pay off debt, save, and invest for the future.
The savings rate is approaching 10%. Americans saved 9.6% of their disposable income in July, according to a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s significantly lower than some of the skyrocketing savings numbers we’ve seen last year, but still in line with the 10% the USAA recommends people retire early in their careers. I still think it falls under the “treat” category. Under the Army’s mixed pension system, participants will need to put at least 5% into the savings plan to receive the maximum government contribution. So while 5% shouldn’t be your goal, it should be the minimum if you are in the BRS.
Rising credit scores. In its 2021 credit report, Experian reported that the average VantageScore rose to 695, the highest point in 13 years.
According to nerdwallet.com, this is at the bottom of what is generally considered a “good credit score” by most lenders.
It’s a good trend though, despite the challenges of the pandemic. But don’t let him fall asleep in a false sense of security. Just because you can borrow doesn’t mean you should. After carefully reviewing your finances, make your borrowing decisions in the context of what you know makes sense, not what a financial institution offers.
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