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This Week In Your Wallet: Fall Weather

Jean Chatzky  |  October 8, 2019

With October in full swing, those of us on the East Coast at least are finally starting to feel the fall weather creeping through the humidity. But even if those lower temperatures haven’t captured your interest, here’s something we should all be paying attention to — Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Take this opportunity to check in with your accounts, to change your passwords if need be (or start using a password manager if you haven’t already) and to make sure you’re taking every step you can to keep those hackers out of your Instagram account. (Here’s mine, BTW, and here’s HerMoney’s.) No one wants to start their feed over.

We’re Waiving (Fees) But Not Enough

How do you feel when that annual fee your credit card slips onto your bill once a year? How about the late payment fee — or balance transfer fee? You’d like to ditch ‘em, right? New research from WalletHub shows it’s possible. Of the 46% who asked to have a late payment fee waived, 41% were successful. Of the 26% who asked to have an annual fee waived, 17% were successful. And of the 10% who asked to have a balance transfer fee waived, 7% were successful.

The keys to succeeding? First and foremost, asking. The reluctance to speak up is likely one big reason men were twice as likely to get annual fee waivers as women.  And second, don’t be persnickety, presumptuous or downright rude — be polite. More than 60% of survey respondents said that was the key to getting what you want.  “Minding your manners goes a long way when dealing with people who are getting yelled at all day,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of WalletHub. The survey found that one in five people have yelled at customer service reps and one in 10 have cursed them out. Only 2% of survey respondents said screaming and yelling was key to their success.

A Matter of Balance

And while we’re on the topic of your credit cards, let’s dispel an oft-held myth. You do not have to carry a small balance on the cards in your wallet in order to maintain a high credit score, explains Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. Singletary (who explained the magic behind her 850 credit score on the HerMoney podcast recently) explains that a big part of your FICO (or other credit) score is determined by two factors — your payment history and your credit utilization, or how much you owe compared with your credit limits. The latter flies right in the face of the argument that you should carry a balance — owing money means higher credit utilization, and higher utilization means a lower score. (Singletary chalks her perfect score up to the fact that she kept her utilization below 10% in the time right before she checked it.) That perfect score, by the way, shouldn’t be at the top of your to-achieve list. You can still be considered an “excellent” card-user if your score is in the high 700s or above. You’re not typically going to get a better deal on interest by getting by getting the equivalent of an A++. Bragging rights, maybe. Mo’ money? No.

The Meaning of The Middle

What does it mean to be middle class? That’s the question posed by New York Times reporters Tara Siegel Bernard and Karl Russell over the weekend. The answer is, the middle exists in a very wide range from struggling to make it from one paycheck to the next, to being able to live comfortably and save consistently. About half of US adults are considered middle class, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, which defines middle class as “having an annual household income from about two-thirds to double the national median, which translates to roughly $48,000 to $145,000 for a family of three (in 2018 dollars).”  As I said, a wide range, with those on the lower end of the salary spectrum suffering from the rising prices of housing, health care, and education during a time of lower job security and minimal salary growth. The Times looked at four families — from Wisconsin, Utah, California and Iowa to shine a light on how being middle class manifests for families across America.  Personally, I couldn’t put it down.

FAFSA: Heads Up

Finally, just a heads up for those of you with kids headed to (or back to) college. The FAFSA — Free Application for Federal Student Aid — went live last Tuesday for the upcoming school year.

Have a great week!

Jean


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