In these worry-ridden times, it's easy to fret about statistically improbable events: hurricanes, nuclear meltdowns, or even asteroid strikes. But these unlikely possibilities often distract us from very real -- and far more likely -- catastrophes that may be lying in wait for us. Luckily, just like buying flood insurance can help protect you if Mother Nature turns wrathful, a little advance preparation can make the following potential disasters far less painful.
Losing a job
With national unemployment hovering around 10%, the prospect of losing a job is even less far-fetched than it used to be. To spare yourself from prospective pink-slip pain, you need an emergency fund stocked with several months' worth of living expenses. If it's relatively easy for you to get a new job, you might only need three months' worth. If it's hard, you might want nine months' worth, or more. The money should cover your mortgage or rent payments, food, insurance, gas, and so on. Park that money where it's relatively safe and easy to access; the stock market is too volatile for short-term money, but savings accounts or short-term CDs are good choices.
Losing out on a good interest rate
These days, your credit score isn't just used to determine the interest rates you're offered when buying a home or car. Insurance companies, prospective employers, landlords, and sometimes even car rental companies all take a peek at your score, too. The better your score, the easier life will be.
Once a year, at AnnualCreditReport.com, you can get a free copy of your credit report from the three main credit bureaus, and check it for errors that you can fix to up your score. You can improve your score by paying your bills on time, paying down your debt, and not owing more than 30% of the limit on any card. Don't assume that building a strong credit score is all common sense, though. It's good to not have too many credit card accounts, but closing your oldest ones can also cost you score points.
If you plan to borrow big bucks in the near future, it's especially important to tend to your credit score now.
Needing long-term care
About 70% of those aged 65 or older will require some long-term care at some point in their life. Unfortunately, few are prepared for the cost. A day in a private nursing home averages around $220, which amounts to nearly $80,000 per year. The typical stay is about two and a half years, costing $200,000, on average. Receiving care at home can be similarly costly.
If you've got a generous nest eggs, you can probably cover those expenses. If you're at the low end of the wealth ladder, you might qualify for long-term care via Medicaid. But if you're stuck in the middle, you might want to consider long-term care insurance. It's not cheap, since the odds that you'll need it are fairly high. But the earlier you buy into it -- preferably while you're still in your 50s -- the better deal you'll get.
Not being able to retire
These days, many people gamble with their retirements, counting on Social Security and perhaps some haphazard savings to carry them through. But according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 54% of American workers have socked away less than $25,000 for their retirement, and a whopping 27% have less than $1,000. These folks are setting themselves up for trouble. They may never have enough on which to retire comfortably, yet they probably won't be able to work for their whole lives.
We all deserve a comfortable retirement, but with pensions a relative rarity now, we need to take more responsibility for our financial futures. Sit down and estimate how much you'll need to retire on, and draw up a plan for how to get there. Consult a professional if you need to. Make the most of IRAs and your 401(k) at work, and don't assume that saving 10% of your income will be enough. A few strong dividend payers in your portfolio can also help juice up your returns.
If looking at your financial situation makes you want to cry, take heart -- there's probably still time to fix things. Even working just a few more years can plump up your nest egg considerably.
So before you worry about an asteroid hitting earth or a nuclear meltdown, make sure you've protected yourself from much more likely disasters. Many of these events are only catastrophic for the unprepared.
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