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Don’t Forget About Credit When Planning for Retirement

As you plan for retirement, you might not give credit a second thought, especially if your plan includes paying off your mortgage and other debts, and relying more on cash than credit. But retirement could last many years, and your need for credit doesn’t necessarily disappear on your last day of work. At some point you may want to buy a second home, move to a retirement community, take out a home equity loan, or buy a vehicle; it’s also possible you will face an unexpected expense. Keeping your credit healthy may help you qualify for a lower interest rate or better terms on a loan or credit card, or if a credit check is involved, even help you land a part-time job or obtain a better deal on auto insurance.

When it comes to getting credit, it’s not growing older that matters — lenders can’t deny a credit application based solely on age. The factors that affect your ability to get credit are the same as for younger people and include your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and your credit score.

Lenders use your DTI to measure your ability to repay money you borrow. This ratio is calculated by totaling your monthly debt payments then dividing that figure by your gross monthly income. For example, if your retirement income totals $6,000 and your debt payments total $2,000, your DTI is 33%. What’s considered a good DTI will vary, depending on lender requirements and loan type, but lenders generally look for a DTI of 43% or less.1

If there’s a reasonable chance you’ll be applying for credit after you retire, consider what your DTI might be as you evaluate your retirement income needs or decide which debts to pay off. And think carefully about taking on new debt obligations, including co-signing a loan for a family member.

Another major factor lenders consider is your credit score. Retirement doesn’t automatically affect your score, because credit reports only reflect your history of borrowing and repaying money, not your employment status or your salary. The three things that count the most toward your score are your payment history, the amount you owe on credit cards (including the percentage of available credit you’re using), and the length of your credit history.2 So continue to make credit card or loan payments on time (consider setting up autopay or reminders), aim to use no more than 10% to 30% of your credit limits, and consider the possible negative impact of closing accounts that you’ve had for years but no longer use.

Another way to help keep your credit healthy throughout retirement is to check your credit report regularly to spot errors or fraudulent transactions. You can order free copies of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at the official site

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