Small Talk Among Fools

The watercooler chit-chat is a little different here at The Motley Fool than at most offices. On my way to grab a cup of coffee, three co-workers with a few pressing money questions unknowingly bailed me out of a case of writer's block.

Co-worker No. 1: I've got a low credit score -- due mostly to lack of use of credit. One of the black marks is for a late payment a few years ago on my Amex card that I hardly ever use any more. Should I just close the account?

A: Actually, since that's the oldest account on your credit report, it behooves you to keep it open, even if you don't use it frequently. Punctually paying your bills weighs heavily in your total credit score (about 35%). But length of your credit history is also a sizeable factor (15%). So keep that old account open, and occasionally use it (responsibly!) to show what a good card-carrying citizen you are. (Here's more on how your credit report card is calculated.)

Co-worker No. 2: I'm taking as many deductions as I can for work-related expenses and using the money the company gives (after-tax) for other work expenses. What else can I do to save some dough?

A: Use that medical flex spending account! It's a great benefit that allows you to put away pre-tax dollars with every paycheck to pay for everything from child care to contact lenses to visits to the chiropractor. The enrollment period is coming up, so go bug the head of HR. Remember, this is one of those use-it-or-lose-it propositions. (Unused amounts do not roll over into the next year.) So, take a moment to calculate what you actually spend on allowed expenses, and that way you don't end up having to buy four extra pairs of glasses at the end of the year.

Co-worker No. 3: Hey, when do I get the cash back from my Fool credit card?

A: What? You haven't already earmarked the dough for a shopping spree? At the bottom of each Motley Fool Visa statement there's a scorecard of the rewards you've accrued. If you went with the cash-back option, MBNA automatically will cut you a check for your reward one year after you sign up. So, patience, grasshopper. For those who went for other rewards points, you can redeem them at any time (with some limitations).

Oh, by the way, thanks for providing fodder before today's deadline. And pass the creamer, please.

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