Your credit report—get it free and regularly

Credit ReportYou probably know that the information contained in your credit report is critically important. And you probably also know that you are entitled to a free copy of your report. Here’s how to get a copy, and what you need to know about the process.

The US government says that citizens can request a free credit report from each of the “big three” credit reporting companies once a year. That means that you can get up to three free credit reports every 12 months, one each from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It is a good idea to make sure you get your copy from these companies.

A credit report includes information about where you live and how good you are (or have been) in paying your bills. It also reports on legal actions such as bankruptcy or lawsuits against you. Banks and other creditors rely on this information when making a decision about offering you credit.

You can order your free credit report from each of the three reporting companies via one website, Or you can call 1-877-322-8228, toll-free, and order that way. You can also simply mail your request (after you download the form and fill it out).

You will need to supply your full name, social security number and date of birth. This may be the only time you should enter that information on a web page! Be absolutely certain that the web address in your browser includes the ‘https’ prefix; it should be If the “https” isn’t there, or the last part of the web site isn’t “” close your browser and try again. Or simply call that toll-free number.

Other considerations

If you are requesting your credit report online, via your computer browser, you should get your credit report immediately. Otherwise it may take several days, perhaps as much as 2 weeks, to get the report.

If you find errors in your credit report, you should promptly contact the reporting company and let them know. (Some media reports suggest this process is a difficult one, but credit reporting companies refute this claim by saying most credit reports are accurate because of a good system of collection and correction.) This notification should be in writing, and should be specific. You should also notify the party reporting the inaccuracy. More details about this process are on the FTC’s consumer protection website.

Get more detailed information.

Your credit report is an important indicator of your personal economic condition. Be informed about what it says, and make sure you manage it well.

More information about credit reports, including details not included in this post can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s web page “Free Credit Reports”.

Money Problems Got You Down? Channel that feeling.

This time of year a lot of people are looking at their credit card statements and their bank balance, and wishing, “Oh if only I did a better job of managing my money!” And by “a lot of people” we mean just about everybody under the age of 50. We’ve all been there. Some have even solved the problem, and in the spirit of helping everybody manage their money better, Peoples Bank will post some tips and links in a new series called “Money Tips”. None of it will be “new light”. But perhaps it will come at the right time for you and your family. We promise to have most of the big concepts posted before you start spending money again in the last few months of the year.

Remember the pain

Pain is one of those things that is usually temporary; the effect can last, but the feeling of pain fades quickly. In any other case that would be a good thing. But remembering the pain due to poor money management (emotional and otherwise) will help you avoid money management problems in the future. And help you get ahead of the current ones.

For example, if you get a threatening call from the Landlord because you’re late paying the rent, recall that you have that problem because perhaps you didn’t think to:

  • brew your own coffee rather than pay $4 for all those “special brews” at the cafe,
  • say no to that “upgrade offer” of $200/month TV service for 100 channels of nothing worth watching,
  • spend $40 on jeans at Walmart instead of the $100 slacks from the mall that require dry-cleaning,
  • learn how to cook decent meals and pack a lunch rather than spend several hundred dollars at restaurants this month, and/or
  • split the check.

When you think about it, you can beat every one of those pain-points, today. Starting now.

Very often people spend money on temporary things, such as meals, fashion and entertainment that just do not last long enough to be worth it. A car payment is one thing, the same amount of money spent on eating out and going to movies and concerts is quite another. Especially if you can’t afford a car because of all that money that’s just a mist of a memory now. Do you agree?

If you don’t have a lot of money, it is far better to carefully – thoughtfully – spend it on things that will serve you long-term. Spending money on things that add real, lasting value is a big part of sound financial health.

So, here’s the practical tip: Reflect on all the things you spent money on over the last several months that you don’t have the use of right now. Does it hurt to think about? Good. Channel that feeling of pain and don’t let it happen again, this month or the month after. You’ll feel better then. You may even be able to pay the credit card amount due plus some and have money left over, which is one of most pain-free things anybody can do.

We hope this helps to stir up what may be a missing resolve to be good at managing your money. Stay tuned to this blog for more money tips from the bank that loves you best, Peoples Bank. And if you want to get more information faster, from a money expert, check out The Rules of Money by Richard Templar.

Expect the unexpected—organize for a sudden death or disaster

expected the unexpectedSome people thrive in chaos. The more paper and bank statements strewn on tables, chairs and inbox trays the better. While that may be OK for you now, it is no way to leave your financial matters or estate papers to those who have to make sense out of it well enough to care for your needs should you become unexpectedly incapacitated. It is especially hard for loved ones who can’t see through the grief and pain of your loss to see how to endure and survive the sudden change.

Expect the unexpected. Try to avoid adding trouble and frustration to the grief such an event causes. Bring some proper order to the important paperwork. Here are some specific suggestions that will help:

  • Put some money in a rainy day fund. How would important expenses be paid in a timely manner if you die or become suddenly incapacitated? An account with sufficient liquidity should be in place.
  • Get all the important documents in one place, and leave a note (where it will found) about where they are.
  • Think about consolidating accounts. Is it still necessary to have multiple checking and/or credit card accounts? If not, a simple financial account structure may be helpful to the family members who have to figure things out and settle your affairs.
  • Make sure your insurance coverage is sufficient.
  • Make it easy for heirs to access your valuables. The beneficiaries and co-owners of safe-deposit boxes should be up-to-date, and they should know who they are.

Lawyers will tell you that there is no horror story greater than when there is no plan for death or disaster. Make an enduring legacy for yourself by making the transition a success story. Expect the unexpected and have a good (and easy-to-execute) plan.

A lot could be written to expound on this post, but we’ll leave that to the experts. The idea for this post came from a web page on the FDIC’s website, “Expect the Unexpected: Plan for Death or Disaster”. We encourage you to read that page and hope that it is as helpful to you as it was to us.

Social Security Claiming Strategies for Married Couples

Social Security Claiming Strategies for Married CouplesDeciding when to begin receiving Social Security benefits is a major financial issue for anyone approaching retirement because the age at which you apply for benefits will affect the amount you’ll receive. If you’re married, this decision can be especially complicated because you and your spouse will need to plan together, taking into account the Social Security benefits you may each be entitled to. For example, married couples may qualify for retirement benefits based on their own earnings records, and/or for spousal benefits based on their spouse’s earnings record. In addition, a surviving spouse may qualify for widow or widower’s benefits based on what his or her spouse was receiving.

Fortunately, there are a couple of planning opportunities available that you may be able to use to boost both your Social Security retirement income and income for your surviving spouse. Both can be used in a variety of scenarios, but here’s how they generally work.

Every situation is unique, so these strategies may not be appropriate for all couples. When deciding when to apply for Social Security benefits, make sure to consider a number of scenarios that take into account factors such as both spouses’ ages, estimated benefit entitlements, and life expectancies.


File and suspend

Generally, a husband or wife is entitled to receive the higher of his or her own Social Security retirement benefit (a worker’s benefit) or as much as 50% of what his or her spouse is entitled to receive at full retirement age (a spousal benefit). But here’s the catch: under Social Security rules, a husband or wife who is eligible to file for spousal benefits based on his or her spouse’s record cannot do so until his or her spouse begins collecting retirement benefits. However, there is an exception–someone who has reached full retirement age but who doesn’t want to begin collecting retirement benefits right away may choose to file an application for retirement benefits, then immediately request to have those benefits suspended, so that his or her eligible spouse can file for spousal benefits.

The file-and-suspend strategy is most commonly used when one spouse has much lower lifetime earnings, and thus will receive a higher retirement benefit based on his or her spouse’s earnings record than on his or her own earnings record. Using this strategy can potentially boost retirement income in three ways.

  1. The spouse with higher earnings who has suspended benefits can accrue delayed retirement credits at a rate of 8% per year (the rate for anyone born in 1943 or later) up until age 70, thereby increasing his or her retirement benefit by as much as 32%.
  2. The spouse with lower earnings can immediately claim a higher (spousal) benefit.
  3. Any survivor’s benefit available to the lower-earning spouse will also increase because a surviving spouse generally receives a benefit equal to 100% of the monthly retirement benefit the other spouse was receiving (or was entitled to receive) at the time of his or her death.

Here’s a hypothetical example. Leslie is about to reach her full retirement age of 66, but she wants to postpone filing for Social Security benefits so that she can increase her monthly retirement benefit from $2,000 at full retirement age to $2,640 at age 70 (32% more). However, her husband Lou (who has had substantially lower lifetime earnings) wants to retire in a few months at his full retirement age (also 66). He will be eligible for a higher monthly spousal benefit based on Leslie’s work record than on his own–$1,000 vs. $700. So that Lou can receive the higher spousal benefit as soon as he retires, Leslie files an application for benefits, but then immediately suspends it. Leslie can then earn delayed retirement credits, resulting in a higher retirement benefit for her at age 70 and a higher widower’s benefit for Lou in the event of her death.

File for one benefit, then the other

Another strategy that can be used to increase household income for retirees is to have one spouse file for spousal benefits first, then switch to his or her own higher retirement benefit later.

mature coupleOnce a spouse reaches full retirement age and is eligible for a spousal benefit based on his or her spouse’s earnings record and a retirement benefit based on his or her own earnings record, he or she can choose to file a restricted application for spousal benefits, then delay applying for retirement benefits on his or her own earnings record (up until age 70) in order to earn delayed retirement credits. This may help to maximize survivor’s income as well as retirement income, because the surviving spouse will be eligible for the greater of his or her own benefit or 100% of the spouse’s benefit.

This strategy can be used in a variety of scenarios, but here’s one hypothetical example that illustrates how it might be used when both spouses have substantial earnings but don’t want to postpone applying for benefits altogether. Liz files for her Social Security retirement benefit of $2,400 per month at age 66 (based on her own earnings record), but her husband Tim wants to wait until age 70 to file. At age 66 (his full retirement age) Tim applies for spousal benefits based on Liz’s earnings record (Liz has already filed for benefits) and receives 50% of Liz’s benefit amount ($1,200 per month). He then delays applying for benefits based on his own earnings record ($2,100 per month at full retirement age) so that he can earn delayed retirement credits. At age 70, Tim switches from collecting a spousal benefit to his own larger worker’s retirement benefit of $2,772 per month (32% higher than at age 66). This not only increases Liz and Tim’s household income but also enables Liz to receive a larger survivor’s benefit in the event of Tim’s death.

Things to keep in mind

  • Deciding when to begin receiving Social Security benefits is a complicated decision. You’ll need to consider a number of scenarios, and take into account factors such as both spouses’ ages, estimated benefit entitlements, and life expectancies. A Social Security representative can’t give you advice, but can help explain your options.
  • Using the file-and-suspend strategy may not be advantageous when one spouse is in poor health or when Social Security income is needed as soon as possible.
  • Delaying Social Security income may have tax consequences–consult a tax professional.
  • Spousal or survivor’s benefits are generally reduced by a certain percentage if received before full retirement age.

For more information about your options and the benefit application process, contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 or visit


Contact our Peoples Investment Services, Inc. representative at 828-464-5620 or 

This information, developed by an independent third party, has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. The material is general in nature. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not provide advice on tax, legal or mortgage issues. These matters should be discussed with the appropriate professional.

Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC, an independent broker/dealer, and are not insured by FDIC, NCUA or any other government agency, are not deposits or obligations of the financial institution, are not guaranteed by the financial institution, and are subject to risks, including the possible loss of principal.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015