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Mortgage Rates Thursday, March 30: Mostly Improved

Mortgage rates today for 30-year fixed home loans were slightly lower, while 15-year fixed rates ticked higher and 5/1 ARMs improved a fraction, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders Thursday morning.

After weeks of volatility, home loan rates are generally where they ended the month of February, according to the NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index.

MORTGAGE RATES TODAY, THURSDAY, MARCH 30:

(Change from 3/29) 30-year fixed: 4.31% APR (-0.02) 15-year fixed: 3.71% APR (+0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.85% APR (-0.01)

Get personalized mortgage rates

 

» MORE: How much home can you afford?

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published annual percentage rate with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. APR quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

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Having a Baby? Don’t Skip Life Insurance Because of Cost

Buying life insurance might not be a top priority for many new parents, with the demands of caring for a tiny human on their minds. But a new study suggests expectant parents could be skipping coverage on themselves for the wrong reasons.

When a parent dies without life insurance, the family’s grief is compounded by the costs they have to absorb. The median price of a funeral, viewing and burial is around $7,000, according to the latest figures from the National Funeral Director’s Association. Life insurance payouts can cover that — and far more, including household bills that the deceased would have paid and college tuition savings.

“Parents don’t think about something unexpected happening to them,” says Marvin H. Feldman, president and CEO of Life Happens, an insurance industry organization. “Further, new parents, and many people in general, do not purchase life insurance because they overestimate the price of coverage.”

Three in 10 Americans expecting a child or planning to have one within the next three years think life insurance is one of the biggest costs of raising a baby during its first year of life, according to a Harris poll commissioned by NerdWallet. But a related analysis shows this isn’t the case: Healthy parents can buy generous coverage for just a little more than the cost of a year’s worth of diapers.

Parent cost expectations vs. reality

In the poll, people expecting a baby or planning to have one within the next three years were asked to identify the biggest expenses in baby’s first year. Thirty percent guessed that life insurance would be one of the biggest expenses, 37% cited child care and 50% included diapering items.

However, two healthy 30-year-olds could each purchase a $1 million, 20-year term life insurance policy for a combined annual premium of $762, according to the NerdWallet analysis of a baby’s first-year costs. A year’s worth of diapers and wipes cost slightly less, at $743, but child care was the most expensive category, estimated at more than $8,000.

This misconception about the price of life insurance isn’t surprising to Feldman. Sixty-four percent of respondents to his organization’s 2016 Insurance Barometer study said they hadn’t bought life insurance because of presumed costs. But when asked to estimate the price of a policy, the median guess was more than twice the actual expense.

Here are the facts on life insurance:

  • You don’t have to spend a fortune. To save on the policy quoted above, choose a $500,000 payout. It would still likely be enough to cover many of the costs of raising a child for several years and college tuition.
  • Term life insurance gets more expensive as you age and develop health conditions. The younger and healthier you are, the less you’ll spend on life insurance. And your rate won’t increase during the length of most term policies, so buying when you’re younger locks in the low rate.

Life insurance is an optional purchase, to be sure. But assuming you won’t need it could be a mistake.

Your child needs clothing, food and shelter before you should consider a policy — but once you’ve taken care of the necessities of your baby checklist, don’t write off this purchase without being fully informed.

View the complete results and methodology of the NerdWallet study and Harris poll.

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: elizabeth@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

How to Fix the Big Things You Hate About Your Credit Cards

Credit cards may be in the wallets of most Americans, but not everyone is happy with their travel companion.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its monthly snapshot of consumer complaints in the financial services industry this week. The report, which regularly focuses on a different financial product to highlight consumer complaint trends, focused on credit cards and what irks consumers about their plastic friends (or foes, depending on how you view it).

Credit cards represent only about 10% of total complaints to the CFPB, a small amount considering how prevalent the cards are in Americans’ daily routine. That puts them in fourth for the most complained-about financial products, behind debt collection, credit reporting and mortgages.

Here are four of the major credit card complaints that surfaced in the bureau’s review.

1. Disputes Over Fraudulent Charges

Billing disputes were number one on the CFPB’s top credit card complaint list. Of the nearly 100,000 complaints the CFPB analyzed, 17% were over billing disputes. Credit cards often offer purchase protections and chargebacks — tools consumers can use to combat faulty merchandise or high prices — and these tools are rarely offered by debit cards and never offered by cash. But fraud seems to be the source of most complaints, as consumers finding fraudulent charges cite trouble removing or getting re-billed for them.

How to Avoid It: The best way to keep yourself from having to dispute fraudulent charges is to keep your credit card information as safe as possible from fraudsters. Never share your credit card with shady sites that don’t have a “lock” symbol or https:// when taking your data. And even though it’s convenient, avoid letting shopping websites “remember” your credit card info for next time. While some of those sites have excellent security, data breaches are becoming more and more common and credit card info is a literal gold mine for a hacker. (To keep an eye out for signs of identity theft, you can view your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

2. Rewards Program Murkiness

If you’ve ever owned a rewards credit card, you know that to make the most of your card’s program, you need to read up on all the details (and those details do change). The CFPB found that confusion over how a credit card rewards program works was sometimes attributed to differences between what consumers encountered online and what they were told by customer service representatives over the phone.

How to Avoid It: The CARD Act of 2009 did a lot to make credit cards more consumer-friendly, but little regulation pertained to rewards programs specifically and business credit cards were not included at all in the act’s purview. That means you need to be a careful shopper, as you should be with all financial products — mortgages, business loans, you name it. Before you sign up for a rewards credit card, read the rewards terms carefully — they are often in a separate piece of paperwork from the APR and fee disclosures.

3. Being a Victim of Fraud/Identity Theft

Identity theft/fraud/embezzlement as a category came in third on the CFPB’s list at 10% of all credit card complaints. Many complaints pertained to account activity that the cardholder didn’t initiate, the report said. It points back to that top complaint of fraudulent charges as well — fraud is a problem for consumers as well as credit card issuers too.

How to Avoid It: In addition to keeping your credit card information safe (see tip #1), keep your identifying information safe. To open a new credit card in your name, a fraudster would need to have access to your Social Security number, name, address and other details. Protect that info and you limit your chance of getting got. And because “embezzlement” is included in this category as well, business owners should be sure to have a policy in place if they’re extending a company credit card to an employee. The rules should be clear so you don’t have to go through the painful process of disputing charges with your issuer.

4. Trouble Closing/Canceling an Account

Even though closing a credit card can do some credit score damage, it doesn’t stop consumers who want to avoid the temptation of spending too much or just have too many cards to manage. Roughly 7% of the CFPB’s credit card complaints pertained to consumers struggling to close accounts.

How to Avoid It: Call your issuer directly (you normally have a number on the back of your credit card) and ask to close the account. Be ready though — you’ll most likely be transferred to a department that is specifically going to try to keep you as a customer, perhaps offering a lower APR or a waived annual fee for that year. (Some consumers use this as a tactic to get a better credit card, in fact.) If you’re adamant on closing the card, just stick with your plan and make sure to monitor your email or mail for your last statement. You don’t want to miss the last payment on your card and put a black mark on your credit report just because you thought the card was closed. A credit card with a positive payment history, even though it’s closed, can still help your credit score. But missing a payment will definitely hurt it, and if you have a business credit card, it could impact not just your personal credit, but your business credit scores as well. You can find a full explainer on canceling credit cards right here.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

17 Ways to Save at Lowe's

Whether you’re finishing your basement, fixing a leaky bathroom faucet or trying your hand at built-in bookshelves for your family room, Lowe’s is your one-stop-shop for all things home improvement related. While it can be super-easy to spend a ton of cash there, it’s also just as easy to save. Here’s how.

1. Wait for Things to Go on Sale

If you can, it pays to wait for the bigger items you need to go on sale at the home repair superstore … because they inevitably will. Beginning of the year sales, for example, included up to 40% on bathroom essentials like toilets and sink basins, as well as up to 40% off select custom kitchen cabinets when you spent $3,500 or more.

2. Apply for a Lowe’s Credit Card

If you’ll be shopping here enough and you can pay the credit card off on time (the APR is a variable 26.99%, so this strategy only really works if you can absolutely pay your bill on time), apply for the Lowe’s credit card. New cardholders can pick from between 5% off items every day or six months of special financing with a $299 minimum purchase. Just be sure your credit can handle an inquiry before you apply. You can see where you stand by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Like to shop around? We’ve got some picks for the best credit cards for shopping here.

3. Shop Their Exclusive One-Day Deals

Be sure to check the site for Lowe’s one-day only deals, which are good for that day only and while supplies last.

4. Peruse Their Shop Savings Section

Lowe’s adds new discounted items every week to their Savings section, and deals generally last for a couple days or, even, up to a few months.

5. Check Out Their Weekly Ad

Search through your local paper or check online for the Lowe’s Weekly Ad for savings on items that generally last through that week only.

6. Take a Look at Clearance Items

Use the clearance section of the site to find even more discounts on items like cleaning supplies, flooring, home décor and more. Some items are up to 75% off, but the deals generally expire, so check back frequently for what you need.

7. Submit for a Rebate

Many Lowe’s products come with rebate offers, especially if they’re energy-efficient products. The store makes it easy to find out which products will save you a little cash — just check out the current rebates section on the site and submit an online application if your product applies. You can check the status of your rebates there, too.

8. Sign Up for Their Email Newsletter

Submit your email for the Lowe’s newsletter to get the weekly ad, exclusive offers and promotions, sneak peaks of upcoming events and more, directly to your inbox.

9. Join Their Garden Club

Sign up for Lowe’s Garden Club and you’ll receive an email every week with special promotions and offers, as well as gardening plans, advice and more.

10. Never Miss a Sale When You Follow Lowe’s on Social Media

Catch all the current deals and promotions by following the brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

11. Get a Price Match

Lowe’s guarantees everyday competitive pricing. As such, if you find a competitor offering a lower price on an identical item, bring in the competitor’s current ad and Lowe’s will beat their price by 10%. If a competitor is offering a percent off discount, they’ll match the final net price the competitor is offering.

12. Use Online Price Protection

If you’re already in the store, be sure to check online to see if the item you want is cheaper there before heading to the checkout line. You can shop for your Lowe’s products online to receive the lower of the online store price or the price at your local Lowe’s store. Or, select “store pickup” to order your items online and pick them up in your local store later, thus avoiding the shipping fee —unless you have $49 or more in items, in which case shipping is free.

13. Ask for a Military Discount

If you currently serve in the armed services or are a retired veteran, you and your immediate family receive a 10% discount. Check here for the stipulations.

14. Load Up on Free Services

While it’s not an immediate way to save, taking advantage of all the workshops and personalized services offered at Lowe’s is a great way to ensure you do your project right, which will save you time and money in the long run. Check out a full list of in-store services, including workshops, clinics and other services, on Lowe’s website.

15. Buy Gift Cards at a Discount

Shop sites like Gift Card Granny to purchase Lowe’s gift cards at a discounted price.

16. Install a Coupon Aggregator on Your Computer

Never miss another online coupon or savings offer when you install a coupon aggregate collector, like Honey, on your computer. The search engine will automatically look for discounts at your time of online checkout and could score you even more in savings.

17. Ask When a Sidewalk Sale Is Happening

A couple times a year you’ll notice that Lowe’s has a ton of items out on the sidewalk. These items are often on sale big-time, and their sidewalk sale happens a couple times a year, so be sure you don’t miss it.

Making home improvements this year? We’ve also got some ways to save at Home Depot here.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This Is Not Your Father's 401K: The Retirement Product You Should Know About

Chances are you’re like most Americans and, regardless of your age, you aren’t saving enough for retirement, if you’re actually saving anything at all.

Nearly 40 million U.S. households (45%) have no retirement assets, according to a recent report by the National Institute on Retirement Security, and half of those households are headed by someone aged between 45 and 65. In fact, savings rates are so bad that many Americans are dying with an average of $62,000 in debt.

Even if you are saving enough for retirement, you might still wonder if that money will last your entire lifetime. Defined contribution plans like 401Ks are great at helping employees save for retirement, but they provide no guarantee of income as pensions do. On top of that, most 401Ks are self-directed, meaning those who do a poor job handling their investments could end up with significantly less money than they need in retirement.

But what if you could guarantee yourself income for life, just like ubiquitous company pension plans used to provide (and government pension plans still do)?

Well, you can. Here’s how.

Back in 2014, the Treasury Department started an initiative focused on “putting the pension back” into 401K retirement savings. (Need to brush up on retirement lingo? Here’s a handy guide.) Through loosened restrictions and some tax-law changes, the Treasury made it easier to convert funds from retirement savings into plans known as longevity income annuities, or LIAs, that provide guaranteed lifetime income.

Income for Life

LIAs are deferred annuities and, while they’ve been for a while, they’ve only recently become a part of mainstream retirement planning. The Treasury initiative could even cause them to become an integral part of 401K target funds. Here’s how they work: Say you have $100,000 in retirement savings. At age 65, you use $10,000 of that money to purchase an LIA. “Even in the current low-interest-rate environment, a deferred single-life annuity purchased at age 65 for a male costing $10,000 can generate an annual benefit flow from age 85 onward of $4,830 ($3,866 for a female) per year for life,” a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper concluded.

It’s easy to see how helpful this kind of guaranteed income could be, particularly given larger investment amounts. Of course, it’s a hedge that you’ll live long enough to take advantage of those funds, but some programs provide for reimbursement should you die before accessing all of your money. More on that in a minute.

According to Olivia S. Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the working paper mentioned above, LIAs are available to investors but are not yet tied to defined-contribution plans.

“There has been discussion about including them in the target-date suite of funds, and some employers are actively looking for options,” she said in an email. “Relatively few insurers have them available as yet.”

“One reason annuities or lifetime income streams are not a standard feature of 401K plans is that many people don’t understand these products,” she wrote in an article for Forbes. “For instance, some older individuals tend to underestimate their chances of living a long time, so they don’t take proper precautions against outliving their assets. Others don’t understand financial concepts, and so they’re reluctant to take unfamiliar financial decisions. After all, retirement is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event!”

Just because they aren’t directly tied to defined-contribution plans just yet doesn’t mean LIAs aren’t easily accessed. AARP, for example, has been offering its Lifetime Income Program through New York Life since 2006. AARP’s plan has a cash refund feature so, as we mentioned earlier, if you die before your payments equal your annuity purchase price, your beneficiary will be paid the difference.

Is an LIA Right for Me?

As with most financial tools, some people will benefit from an LIA more than others. “People in poor health might not want to elect deferred annuities, particularly if they have a poor survival prognosis,” Mitchell said. “Some very wealthy people will not need the LIA as they can self-insure against outliving their assets. Retirees with a (well-funded) defined benefit pension probably don’t need additional annuitization. And people with a very small nest egg might not find it worthwhile to annuitize, say, $10,000. But much of the middle class could benefit.”

In considering LIA plans, Mitchell recommends asking how highly rated the insurer is who provides it. She also suggests knowing how well the state insurance guarantee fund is being run and the maximum amount you’d recover should the insurer go bankrupt. (As you’re planning your retirement, you should also make sure you have a full picture of your finances, including your credit. You can get a free snapshot of your credit report on Credit.com.)

So how much should you consider putting into an LIA? “Older individuals would optimally commit 8% to 15% of their plan balances at age 65 to a LIA, which begins payouts at age 85,” Mitchell, et al, wrote in their working paper.

As for timing, it doesn’t really make sense for someone who isn’t at or near retirement age to purchase an LIA. For one thing, you can’t access your retirement funds without penalty until age 60.

“It makes sense to decide how much to devote to the LIA in your mid-60s, since that gives 20 years over which the annuity value can build up,” so you can begin taking payments at age 85, Mitchell said.

Of course, there are a variety of annuity products to suit different personal needs, such as earlier payout options, so it’s a good idea to speak with a financial professional who can help you decide what product might be best for your financial situation.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Is a 50-Year Mortgage a Good Move?

Are you looking to afford a new mortgage? A 50-year mortgage may be an option, but here are some things to consider when looking at a long mortgage term.

These loans are not bought and sold by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. They are smaller banks and portfolio lenders that offer unique financing and, as a result, will charge an additional premium. You can expect your interest rate and fees to be above market. By above market, we mean at least three quarters of a discount point higher in rate than the Freddie Mac mortgage market survey. This type of loan effectively is an interest-only mortgage that is similar to the interest on the loans that were available before the financial crisis.

The 50-year mortgage is pretty much what it sounds like — your loan is amortized over 50 years, similar to the way a 30-year, fixed mortgage is amortized over 30 years. At the end of the loan term, the loan is paid in full. A 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage typically translates to paying double the amount of money you originally borrowed. With a 50-year mortgage you will pay almost four times the amount of interest on the amount originally borrowed. Yes, such a loan term would be incredibly expensive — the cost of having a lower monthly mortgage payment.

Are You Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?

If you are comparing a 30-year mortgage to a 50-year mortgage, you might be trying to purchase more than you can handle — not a prudent move if you’re trying to take on something affordable. While the mortgage payment might be affordable, it would also be an incredibly expensive financing vehicle. For all intents and purposes, this is practically an interest-only mortgage

Interest-only loans can be beneficial for a consumer who has big liquidity in the bank, excellent credit and is otherwise sophisticated in mortgage finance, while looking for cash flow. (Don’t know where your credit stands? You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.) For everyone else, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is substantially less expensive than its 50-year counterpart.

If you were thinking about this type of financing, you may want to reconsider and speak with a professional — someone who can guide you on what type of income may be needed to qualify for the purchase of a home.

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

How to Enjoy Your Vacation Without Getting Scammed

Spring has begun, which means open season on travelers who aren’t well-versed in the various scams waiting for them on the seamier side of paradise. While the scams abound, being forewarned is forearmed.

Here are some typical scams that can ruin your vacation, drawn from my book Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Filled with Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves.

1. Asocial Media?

One seldom publicized use of social media (at least in crime circles) involves monitoring posted photographs for clues about where you live and what you have that’s worth stealing. In addition to providing a visual inventory, photographs can contain hidden information called geotags that allow a thief to pinpoint the location of your home. If you post pictures while you’re on vacation, you might as well display a flashing neon sign saying, “Rob me.” Rather than sharing your adventure in real time, it is far safer to relive the memories with everyone you know when you return. If you simply can’t resist the urge, at the very least tighten your privacy settings so that you strictly limit who can see these posts.

2. Ticket Scams

You receive a letter informing you that you have a chance to cash in on a big win: free airline tickets. There have been several attempts to contact you about the tickets (you won them through a sweepstakes you have never heard of, in which you were automatically enrolled), and you’re going to lose them if you don’t contact the travel agency or cruise line immediately. The letter provides a toll-free number to call. You call it and there are … well, certain requirements (like providing a credit card or Social Security number). Meeting those obligations will cost you far more than the alleged free tickets. (Fallen for this one? Be sure to check your credit for warning signs of identity theft. You can view two of your credit scores for free, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)

3. Hotel Front Desk Scam

Your plane gets in late, you can’t get a taxi and by the time you arrive at your hotel all you want to do is take a shower and go to bed. About an hour after checking in, the phone in your room rings. It’s the front desk calling to tell you that the credit card you gave them was declined. “Can you please read me your credit card number again? Or, if you would prefer, you can give me another credit card.” If this happens, in lieu of readily handing over your digits, take a trip to hotel lobby to confirm whether there is an actual issue.,

4. Hotel Pizza Scam

When you check into your hotel, you see flyers in the lobby or under your door for a pizza joint. It’s late and you’re starving, so you call the number on the flyer. Someone answers exactly the way you expect they will. You place your order. They ask for your credit card number, which you immediately provide because your mind is on the pie and not your personally identifiable information. Several hours later, you’re still waiting. And starving. Unfortunately, the only one getting fed is the thief — and your credit card is for dinner.

5. Vacation Rental Scam

A thief finds a rental property online and uses the details to create his own website and listing. They’ll even have bogus five-star reviews from fake renters, and it will be particularly affordable, possibly due to a one-day-only internet sale. You book the listing and pay either by credit card or wire transfer, and you get ready to pack your bags.

Here’s the problem: When the time comes and you show up for your vacation, that’s not your condo. It’s not just a matter of bait and switch, where the gorgeous property on the website doesn’t exactly live up to reality. In this case, the property is very real and even very beautiful … but you didn’t rent it. There may even be another family staying in it that week. You now find yourself on vacation with nowhere to sleep, and your scammer is nowhere to be found.

If the person can’t answer questions accurately — or takes too long to answer, which indicates that they’re also doing an online search —that could be a red flag. It is possible that the rental agent is located in another city, but someone in his or her offices should have at least laid eyes on the property and be able give you an idea of the answers.

Tip: Whenever you’re booking a rental property — for any reason, not just a beach getaway — there’s a sneaky little trick you can use to verify the authenticity of the listing and the property. Instead of emailing, call the person on the phone, but first do an online search for other businesses in the area surrounding the property, then ask the listing agent some specific questions that you’ve already figured out the answers to. How far is it to the nearest beach access? Where is the nearest restaurant with a kids’ menu? How far are we from an emergency room in case someone in our group gets hurt?

6. Skimmers

Keypad overlay devices, ATM skimmers (you can see one in action here) with a pinhole camera — there are many versions. Sometimes skimmers and the hardware associated with them can be spotted (if you know what you’re looking for and it’s one of the skimmers you can detect, for instance, by banging on the ATM machine or trying to shake the user-interface module), but often it’s impossible to detect a skimmer scam. When you’re out having fun, by definition you are distracted and understandably off guard. Try to remember that even in the midst of the time of your life there are bad guys out there intent on a major buzzkill. And monitor your bank statements carefully so you spot any fraud that may have occurred.

7. Wi-Fi Scams

Not all Wi-Fi is created equal, and it’s not all secure. If you’re not sure about a Wi-Fi connection, be careful about what you do online. Do your banking and bill paying on your secure home network, and let your time off truly be downtime so that you don’t end up having a downer of a vacation. You can go here to learn more tips for better internet safety.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Your Money Cheat Sheet

The best financial advice tends to apply to pretty much everyone. You don’t need a spreadsheet of pros and cons and complex scenarios. What you need is a rule of thumb.

There’s no shame in using one-size-fits-all advice. A study of West Point cadets, for example, found teaching rules of thumb was at least as effective as standard personal finance training in increasing students’ knowledge and confidence as well as their willingness to take financial risks. Researchers found money rules of thumb were more effective than teaching accounting principles to small-business owners in the Dominican Republic.

Here are a dozen shamelessly simple money rules of thumb I’ve collected over the years. (These address how you borrow and save. If you just want to know how you’re doing with money, we’ve got a quick way to score your financial health, too.)

1. Build up emergency savings

You need to be able to get your hands on cash or credit equal to three months’ worth of expenses. The classic emergency fund advice — that you need three to six months of expenses saved — is great, but it can take years to save that much and you have other more important priorities (see “retirement,” below). While you build up your cash stash, make sure you have a Plan B for a true emergency. That could be money in a Roth IRA (you can pull out your contributions at any time without paying taxes or penalties), space on your credit cards or an unused home equity line of credit.

2. Save 15% for retirement…

If you got a late start or want to retire early, you may need to save more. Run the numbers on your retirement plan. For most people, 15% including any company match is a good place to start. Even if you can’t save as much as you should, start somewhere and kick up your savings rate regularly. Retirement should be your top financial priority. You can’t get back lost company matches, lost tax breaks and the lost years when your money isn’t earning tax-deferred returns.

3. …and don’t touch that money

Leave retirement money for retirement. When your retirement fund is small, you may feel like spending it doesn’t really matter. It does. Taxes and penalties will cost you at least 25% and likely more of what you withdraw. Plus, every $1 you take out costs you $10 to $20 in lost future retirement income. Once your retirement fund is larger, it may be easy to convince yourself there are good reasons to borrow or withdraw the money. There really aren’t. Leave the money alone so it’s there when you need it. (See “How to Write a Retirement Plan.”)

4. Save for college

Get in the habit of putting at least $25 a month aside for college soon as your child is born. Even small contributions to a 529 college savings plan can add up over time — perhaps the difference between choosing the best school and choosing a school based on its financial aid package. (But if you have to choose, retirement saving is more important. Your kids can always get student loans, but as you’ve probably heard, no one will lend you money for retirement.)

5. Plan and manage your student loans

Your total borrowing shouldn’t exceed what you expect to make your first year out of school. At today’s interest rates, this will ensure that you can pay off what you owe within 10 years while keeping payments below 10% of your income, which is considered an affordable repayment rate. What if you didn’t limit your borrowing and are now struggling? You have options. (See “Find the Best Student Loan Repayment Plan.”)

6. Cars: Buy used and drive it for 10 years

New cars are lovely, but they’re expensive and lose an astonishing amount of value in their first two years. Let someone else pay for that depreciation and take advantage of the fact that today’s better-built cars can run well for at least a decade if properly maintained. You can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over your driving lifetime this way. (See “How to Buy a Used Car.”)

7. Car loans: Use the 20/4/10 rule

Ideally, you wouldn’t borrow money to buy an asset that loses value, but you may not always be able to pay cash for a car. If you can’t, protect yourself from overspending by putting 20% down, limiting the loan to four years and capping your monthly payment at no more than 10% of your gross income. A big down payment keeps you from being “underwater,” or owing more on the car than it’s worth, as soon as you drive off the lot. Limiting the length of the loan helps you build equity faster and reduces the overall interest you pay. Finally, capping the size of the payments prevents your car from eating your budget. (See “How to Build a Budget.”)

8. Make credit cards work for you

If you carry a balance, look for a low-rate card so you can pay off your debt faster and don’t mess with rewards cards right now. If you pay in full each month (as you should), find a rewards card that returns at least 1.5% of what you spend. You should regularly review your rewards programs to make sure you’re getting enough value from them. The programs can change, as can your spending and the way you use rewards. (For a “lazy optimizer” approach, check out “Sean Talks Credit: How I Maximize My Rewards with Only a Few Credit Cards.”)

9. Square away your insurance

Cover yourself for catastrophic expenses, not the stuff you can pay out of pocket. Insurance should protect you against the big things — unexpected expenses that could wipe you out financially, such as your home burning down or a car accident that triggers a lawsuit. You want high limits on your policies — and high deductibles, too. Small claims don’t make financial sense in the long run. You may gain some small insurance payments, but you risk a rate increase that could more than cancel out your gains.

10. Choose a reasonable mortgage amount

If you can’t afford the payment on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, you can’t afford the house. You may be able to save money by using another kind of mortgage, such as a hybrid loan that offers a lower initial rate. But if you’re using an alternative loan because that’s the only way you can buy the home you want, you may have set your sights too high. A budget-busting mortgage puts you at risk of spiraling into ever-deeper debt, especially when you add in all the other costs of homeownership. (Read “The Huge, Hidden Costs of Owning a Home.”)

11. Choose the right mortgage rate

Fix the rate for at least as long as you plan to be in the home. Plans can change, obviously, but you don’t want a big payment jump to force you out of a home you hoped to live in for years to come. If you’re pretty sure you’ll be moving in five years, a five-year hybrid could be a good option. If you think you may stay for 10 years or more, though, consider opting for the certainty of a 30-year fixed rate. (Compare rates on different types of mortgages.)

12. Back-burner those mortgage prepayments

You have better things to do with your money than prepay a low-rate, potentially tax-deductible mortgage. Shaving years off your mortgage and saving money on interest sounds great. But before you consider making extra payments to reduce your mortgage principal, make sure more important priorities are covered. You should be saving enough for retirement. You should have paid off all other debt, since most other loans have higher rates and the interest isn’t deductible. It would be smart to have that emergency fund built up as well and to be adequately insured. If you’ve covered all of those bases and still want to pay down your mortgage, have at it.

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet, a personal finance website, and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email:lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

Updated March 30, 2017.

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