5 unexpected ways life insurance protects your loved ones

(BPT) – More than half of Americans who own life insurance say they purchased it primarily to cover final expenses if something happens to them, according to the 2016 Life Insurance Barometer study. Yet one in four also say they don’t think they have enough life insurance — and the mistaken assumption that life insurance is just for paying final expenses could explain why so many are underinsured.

While survivors certainly can use life insurance benefits to pay final costs, or to help replace lost income, life insurance proceeds can also fund other important financial objectives. Many of those goals cost far more than covering end-of-life expenses.

Here are five financial goals that life insurance can help fund for your loved ones after you’re gone:

Raising children

Raising a child born in 2015 to age 17 will cost a family more than $284,570 for basics like food, shelter and other necessities, according to the USDA and data from its Consumer Expenditures Survey. That figure does not include college tuition. Costs for special needs children can be even higher.

“Life is hard enough when you lose someone you care about, and financial stuff doesn’t make it any easier,” says Ryan McNany, whose mother, Mickey, passed away from colon cancer. McNany’s daughter, Mary, has Down syndrome, and had a special relationship with her grandmother. Their story is featured in Prudential Life Insurance’s Masterpiece of Love video series.

“Mom didn’t have a lot of life insurance, but what a gift to be able to have some insurance to help ease the burden,” McNany says. “I’m grateful that Mom had a little bit.”

College education

A four-year college degree can cost more than $100,000 for tuition only, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Factor in food, books, housing, transportation and other expenses and it’s easy to understand why the Institute for College Access and Success says that seven in 10 college seniors graduate with more than $30,000 in student loan debt.

Life insurance proceeds can help fund college educations, even if college is many years in the future for the child. Beneficiaries can invest life insurance payouts in tax-advantaged college savings accounts to ensure funds will be available when the child is ready for college.

Retirement income

The average cost of retirement is more than $780,000, the Motley Fool reports. Retirees with health issues, disabilities or high standards of living may need even more. According to the National Council on Aging, money challenges are common among retirees; 2.9 million senior households suffer from food insecurity, more than a third still owe money on a mortgage, and more than 61 percent have some form of debt.

Life insurance proceeds can pay off mortgages and other commitments to allow senior survivors to live debt-free, and can be invested in tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles to help ensure retirement income.

Business continuity

After receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Dawn Fitch knew she needed to protect the future of her bath products company. Fitch had lost her own father, a lifelong entrepreneur, after a lengthy illness. She knew firsthand the impact such a loss can have on a business’s ability to continue operating and supporting surviving family members.

“People have invested time, money, energy into this business and into me, so I feel a responsibility to make it work,” says Fitch, whose story is featured in Masterpiece of Love. “I need to really make sure that this business, if I’m not here or if I can’t do anything, can run independent of me. Life insurance is peace of mind, and life insurance will help me take care of my family if I’m not here.”

Leaving a legacy

When he was just 10 years old, Hal Williams lost his father to a heart attack. “My mother was still working and my father’s little bit of life insurance helped keep food on the table, a roof over our heads and us going,” recalls the host of the Masterpieces of Love series. “When I had my own family, having plenty of life insurance for all of us was of singular importance.”

Williams’ loss of his father at such an early age, and the security life insurance helped bring his family, inspired his role in the video series.

Life insurance benefits can leave a legacy for survivors, whether it’s helping provide basic financial security, pay for college, start a business or fulfill a dream. To learn more about life insurance and to view more inspiring stories, visit https://www.prudential.com/thedrisin.

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How to lower your monthly mortgage payment

(BPT) – Owning your own home comes with many advantages, including escaping rising rents and the personal and financial stability associated with homeownership. Fortunately, millions of Americans, with less than 20 percent down, have been able to buy a home sooner thanks to mortgage insurance (MI). If you don’t put down 20 percent of the mortgage cost, you will likely be required to purchase MI, which enables low-down-payment borrowers to qualify for home financing from lenders.

While homeownership has many benefits and continues to be part of the American Dream, it is not without costs. Several surveys have found that the majority of first-time homebuyers — over 80 percent according to one study — put less than 20 percent down. For these borrowers, there is usually the added expense of MI, which may give some of these borrowers pause.

But there is good news: the monthly private mortgage insurance premiums do not last forever on most conventional loans. And when private MI (PMI) cancels, homeowners will have more cash in their pockets each month — money that is available for home improvements or other goals. It is important to understand, however, that not all MI is the same, and not all MI can be canceled.

There are numerous low-down-payment mortgage options available that include MI. The two most common are: (1) home loans backed 100 percent by the government through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that include both an upfront and annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP); and (2) conventional loans, which are typically backed at least in part by private sources of capital, such as private MI. The key difference is that one form can be canceled (PMI) while the other (FHA) typically cannot be canceled.

An FHA loan can be obtained with a down payment as low as 3.5 percent. However, be aware that you will typically have to pay a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) of 1.75 percent of the total loan amount at closing or have it financed into the mortgage. In addition to your regular monthly mortgage payments on your FHA loan, you will also pay a fixed monthly MIP fee for the life of the loan. This means you could pay hundreds of dollars extra every month — thousands over the life of the loan — until you pay off the entirety of the loan.

If you obtain a conventional loan with PMI, you can put as little as 3 percent down. Like an FHA loan, PMI fees are generally factored into your monthly mortgage payment. However, PMI can often be canceled once you have established 20 percent equity in the home and/or the principal balance of the mortgage is scheduled to reach 78 percent of the home’s original value. This means that the rest of your mortgage payments will not include any extra fees, so that your payments go down in time, saving you money each month. What you save in the long run can then be put toward expenses like home renovations, which can further increase your home’s value.

MI is a good thing because it bridges the divide between a low down payment and mortgage approval. But not all MI is created equal. If you want to buy a home but still save in the long run, PMI might be the right option for you. Check out lowdownpaymentfacts.org to learn more.

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Keeping up with the digital natives [Video]

(BPT) – The Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report explores timely mobile trends and forward-looking consumer behaviors that increasingly impact our everyday lives. The report includes the youngest generation — Generation Z — to better understand the future of mobile and the next era of banking. Head of Digital Banking Michelle Moore highlights key findings in this video.

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Traveling soon? Tips to stay sharp and avoid fraud

(BPT) – If your suitcase is full, don’t worry — protecting yourself from fraud doesn’t mean more packing.

But it does mean you should prepare for the challenge of keeping your personal info safe. According to an Experian(R) survey, 20 percent of respondents had sensitive information like credit or debit cards, personal identification or smartphones stolen while on vacation. “As you travel, your exposure to risk can expand,” says Chip Kohlweiler, vice president of security at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Before you head out, ensure your financial institution is up to date with your contact information. This will minimize disruptions in service, and you can leverage travel notifications and card freeze/unfreeze features,” he adds.

Fraudsters are waiting for you to slip into cruise control, so being alert can save you stress — and money. But when do you need to be on your toes and when can you kick back and relax? Let’s walk through a few travel checkpoints so you know where threats are lurking.

Travel planning

Window shopping for your perfect trip can ignite wanderlust. But keep your wits as you browse through destinations and travel offers online. You’ll want to be extra careful, especially if you plan to make a payment or provide personal information for bookings.

You’re probably using a phone, computer, tablet or combination of these to do your planning. Regardless of what device you’re on, you can use your travel savvy to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

Watch out for:

* Offers for “free” trips, or travel prices that are too good to be true

* Fake travel websites

* Hidden costs in package deals — read the fine print!

* Requests for personal information

As with any online purchase, check the URL of the site you’re on. If you’re looking at a web page but the URL doesn’t match the site you had in mind, you could be looking at a fake site being run by a fraudster.

If your site checks out, read the fine print and know exactly what you’re signing up for before you enter any payment or personal info. Don’t hesitate to call and confirm any of the information you see. If the company or individual doesn’t offer a phone number, it’s probably not legit.

When it comes to calling, you should be doing the dialing. It’s illegal for companies to call you with an automated message if you haven’t given them written permission to do so. The voice recording that offers you a prize in exchange for your credit card could be trying to scam you.

While you’re traveling

You dodged the traps and booked your travel with ease. But the fraudsters haven’t called it quits, and neither should you. There are a few hot spots where you should stay alert, including:

* Airports

* Hotel lobbies

* Public hangouts (like coffee shops or popular tourist hubs)

Pickpocketing — one of the oldest scams in the book — is popular in these busy atmospheres. Avoid distractions that take your focus away from your belongings. Remember, your personal space is exactly that — personal!

Protecting your digital information is just as important as your physical space. High-traffic areas may offer public Wi-Fi. These networks are an easy access point for cybercriminals. Some fraudsters even create their own hot spots and name them based on the location.

“The last thing you should do is access your bank account or any sensitive account on a public network,” says Kohlweiler. Data on your phone becomes available to a criminal when you connect to these public networks. Your best course of action is to keep your phone or tablet stowed away until you can jump on a password-protected network, like in your hotel room.

Partner with a sidekick

The good news is you’re not in this alone. There are services and resources out there to make fraud protection easier. For instance, as a Navy Federal member, you can call or go online to set up a travel notification. You can also request account info via text. Tools like these can put you one step ahead of the criminals. If you are a victim of fraud, we have a team dedicated to resolving these issues, too.

When you return home, be sure to get in touch with a representative to check in. It never hurts to have two sets of eyes reviewing your account after a big trip.

If you’re planning to travel, do your research and remember to pack your fraud protections. And make security tools, like the ones available through Navy Federal, your travel buddy.

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Debunking home ownership myths for millennials

(BPT) – We’ve all been told, that owning a home is part of the American dream. It’s the biggest and most rewarding investment many people will make in their lives. Instead of paying rent every month and having nothing to show for it, paying a monthly mortgage builds equity and wealth.

While most know the benefits of owning a home, for many millennials and young people, it can seem like a distant prospect. In fact, while 52 percent of millennials say they no longer want to pay rent, only 18 percent think they can afford a new home, according to a recent survey conducted by loanDepot.

What is the source of this disparity? There are many reasons, but part of the problem is a vast majority of young people think there is only one way to buy a home, or that certain strict criteria has to be met to qualify for a loan.

There are many myths surrounding home ownership. Let’s break some of them down.

Misconceptions about the down payment

Many believe a down payment is the biggest obstacle that stands between them and home ownership. The accepted wisdom is that 20 percent of the home’s value is needed to make the down payment. This can be a rather substantial sum. Of those surveyed, 63 percent of people think they can’t afford a down payment; 43 percent believe poor credit history would prevent them from entering the housing market and 38 percent worry that too much existing debt would prevent them from doing so.

The truth is, a down payment can be as little as 10, 5, or even 3 percent. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to access these loan options. Rather than simply doing an online search, you should take a few minutes to explore your options and talk to a loan expert at loanDepot to fully explore what kinds of mortgages are available.

Student loans don’t have to be a barrier

One of the biggest sources of financial stress for millennials is the amount of student debt they carry. The effects of this debt can be paralyzing, and many believe they first need to pay off their loans before they can even think about owning a home.

The good news is that Fannie Mae recently announced several policy changes designed to help those with student debt qualify for home loans. Other lenders, like loanDepot, have special programs designed to help those with specific types of student loans, or even 40-year mortgage loan programs that have a 10-year interest-only initial repayment period, which can help borrowers tackle their student loan debt while they make lower mortgage payments.

Streamline the process with technology

So where do you start? How can home seekers find the loan that’s right for them?

Many millennials think getting a mortgage is a complicated maze. But with loanDepot’s proprietary digital lending platform, future homeowners have access to a web-based consumer portal that provides a fully digital mortgage loan application experience. With these features, as well as access to licensed loan consultants in 180+ retail locations, homebuyers have the ability to explore options they may have never thought existed, and to find the home loan that fits their budget to buy the home of their dreams.

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New ways to comparison shop for health care

(BPT) – As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible to all Americans.

This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable — laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.

More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: nearly one third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.

These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.

There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.

These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.

As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.

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Credit union or bank: What’s right for you?

(BPT) – The banking and credit union worlds are as much the same as they are different. Both are eager to earn your business and to provide you with loans, mortgages, savings and checking accounts. With that said, there are some significant differences between the two financial institutions. In today’s world, with cutthroat competition for your money, it’s worth understanding the advantages of both, and perhaps making a switch to one or the other to put yourself in a better financial position.

Credit union and banks: The differences

The primary difference between a credit union and a bank is that a credit union is a not-for-profit cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members or customers. Profits made by credit unions are returned back to members in the form of reduced fees, higher savings rates and lower loan rates. A bank, on the other hand, is for-profit, owned by shareholders and focused on its stock value.

Joining a credit union is fairly simple, and membership is inexpensive — typically a one-time fee of between $5 and $25. Depending on where you live, many credit unions serve a geographic area, such as a state or metropolitan area, and are open to anyone who lives in that area. Some credit unions are employer-sponsored, so that anyone (including family members) who works for that organization can join.

There is no membership fee to “join” a bank. All you need to provide is some money to open a checking or savings account, a government-issued ID card, and some personal information (address, Social Security number, etc.).

Credit union advantages

Credit unions, by and large, are able to provide better rates to their members. Unlike a for-profit bank, credit unions return their “profits” to members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher interest on deposits and more personalized services. Other advantages of a credit union are that they tend to have lower fees on checks, withdrawals and electronic transactions, and many offer checking accounts with no minimum balance and without a monthly service charge. Finally, because credit unions are smaller and have a focus on member service, they may be more flexible when it comes to working with someone with financial challenges.

Bank advantages

Banks, because of their size and scale, tend to offer more financial products than credit unions. For example, a credit union may have two or three different types of checking and savings accounts, whereas a bank may have dozens to choose from. Depending on where you live, banks will most likely have more locations for convenient access and more advanced online and mobile banking capabilities. Because of their geographic reach and wider range of offerings, a large bank could be a better fit for someone who wants specialized financial products (annuities, trusts) and needs access to nationwide locations.

Credit unions catching up

Depending on where you live, you may have numerous options for selecting a credit union. Some credit unions may have only one location and offer basic financial services like auto loans, checking and savings accounts. Other credit unions may have a large footprint in a market or state and offer the breadth of services you’d find in a bank. Most offer free, nationwide ATM access, and since many credit unions belong to cooperatives, members can access accounts across the country through other credit union branches. Bellco, for example, offers a full range of financial products and services, including mortgages, auto loans and checking accounts. Today, Bellco has more than 300,000 members who benefit from the advantages of a credit union, including lower interest rates on loans, higher yields on savings and access to thousands of ATMs nationwide.

Choosing a bank or credit union

Depending on where you live — urban vs. suburban vs. rural — your banking and credit union options will vary considerably. If you are in an area that offers both, there are several features to weigh and consider:

Services: Compare the basic banking services and access to specialized financial products, including advanced online services and mobile banking.

Rates and incentives: Look at the current rates, fees, and incentives — as well as overall benefits to being a customer or a member of the bank or credit union. Are there good reasons for joining one over the other?

Location: Evaluate options to access your accounts, whether it’s branch locations or ATMs or mobile banking services, and decide whether a national footprint is a requirement for your banking.

Finally, it’s important to note that both banks and credit unions insure your money up to $250,000 per person, across a group of accounts (checking, savings, and CDs would be considered one group). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures banks, and credit unions are backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

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Shop for health care with these websites and apps

(BPT) – As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible.

This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable — laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.

More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: Nearly one-third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.

These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.

There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.

These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.

As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.

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How to make sure your financial advisor is working in your best interest

(BPT) – Let’s face it: finances can be complicated. Whether opening a new investment account, saving for your child’s college fund or rolling over a 401(k), sometimes you need professional financial help.

But who to turn to? A financial advisor can be a great resource for professional guidance so that you’re not making critical investment decisions on your own, but did you know that not all financial advisors are equal? Some financial advisors may be little more than salespeople trying to sell you investment products that may or may not be in your best interest, but earn them a hefty commission.

If you’re looking for an advisor who truly has your back, you need to work with what is called a “fiduciary.” As a fiduciary, your advisor is legally required to place your interests ahead of their own.

It can be difficult to know who to trust — especially when advisors misrepresent their services with carefully crafted wording that gives the appearance of being a fiduciary, even when they are not. According to a recent survey from Financial Engines, America’s largest independent investment advisor, 53 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that financial advisors are already legally required to put their clients’ best interest first. Only 50 percent of investors who work with a financial advisor are certain that their advisor is a fiduciary, while 38 percent don’t know if their advisor is a fiduciary or not.

Most investors aren’t aware of how their advisors get paid and that advisors may not always be acting in their client’s sole best interest. For example, some advisors may recommend clients invest in funds or services that provide the advisor with a commission. Sometimes doing so is mutually beneficial for both the investor and the advisor. But other times, the investor may end up with higher or unnecessary fees and it’s the advisor who comes out on top.

So how can you tell if a potential or current advisor is a fiduciary? Here are a few key questions to ask before making a decision to work with them:

* Are you a fiduciary? A direct question deserves a direct answer. Pay attention to how the advisor responds. If your advisor has told you that he or she is acting as a fiduciary, ask them to show that to you in writing.

* Do you receive any type of compensation in addition to what I’m paying you? Some advisors receive commissions or other product-based compensation when they steer clients into particular investment products (including mutual funds, annuities and variable annuities). This is a clear conflict of interest and can indicate that the advisor is not, in fact, a fiduciary. Make sure your advisor is providing unbiased advice and not simply selling you investment products.

* Are you “dual-registered”? Some advisors are registered as both investment advisors and broker-dealers. Often, a broker-dealer is acting in the role of a salesperson. If your advisor is also a broker-dealer, make sure you understand which hat they are wearing when providing advice to you.

* Have you ever been cited by a professional or regulatory body for disciplinary reasons? To be extra sure, you can look up the advisor’s records on FINRA’s BrokerCheck to find out if they have any complaints — especially complaints related to providing financial and advisory services.

As your finances become more complex, you may consider getting help from a financial professional. Make sure your advisor is required to act in your best interest as a fiduciary before you trust them with your hard-earned money. By asking the right questions, you can confidently navigate the process and choose an advisor who is right for you.

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Crunching dollars and planning weddings: How to financially plan for the big day

(BPT) – Attending most weddings, with the exception of your creepy uncle’s third marriage, is great. You eat free food, get to dance to music and leave without having to take part in the cleanup or the costs.

It gets a little different when you’re the one footing the bill. Then you’re confronted with 127 different invitation styles, a guest list that keeps growing and awkward phone calls to cousins to tell them they can’t bring their bratty 7-year old twins.

Falling in love might have been easy and making the decision to spend the rest of your life together was probably a no-brainer. However, celebrating your love and funneling all that joy into one beautiful ceremony and one memorable party is where things get a little more complicated.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models and educating consumers on credit, VantageScore Solutions shares how important it is for couples to agree on how to manage their finances.

So let’s get into it and look at some of the financial topics you and your partner should go over.

Paying for your wedding

No doubt how to pay for your dream wedding will be one of the first conversations you’ll have with your loved one. Some people have months, sometimes even more than a year to plan and save up for the big day. Other times you may need to make a deposit or pay for something upfront and you might not have the cash to do it.

This is when you reach for your credit card.

Even if you don’t plan to use a credit card, it’s more than likely you’ll have to put some things on credit. This might include just about anything you purchase online, from the cute decorations you find on Etsy or novelty gifts you find on Amazon. In addition, many venues require you to have a credit card on file.

The point is, it’s likely that at some point you’ll use credit to pay for your wedding. When you do this, both you and your partner need to be aware of the potential perils of racking up debt. Provided you can responsibly manage the debt and have a plan to do so, your credit score won’t decline, which can lead to more purchasing opportunities in the future.

But first, you need to talk about credit with your partner.

The talk

Talking about credit might not exactly be a champagne and strawberries moment, but it is probably one of the most important discussions you can have.

Because it might be hard to get started on this topic, many couples find it’s easier to start by taking The Credit Score Quiz. This 12-question quiz is easy to take and can do a lot to reveal the knowledge gaps you and your partner may need to fill.

While the quiz is a great way to get started, resources like The Score, a monthly newsletter from VantageScore Solutions that covers all things credit, can help you continue on your conversation and guide you on your journey.

So while you’re debating what shade of off-white is right for your invitations, take the time to talk and use these credit-related resources. After the big day has come and gone, you’ll be glad that together, both of you were smart about your finances.

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