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    Briefly Noted

    Mistakes That Block the Road to Retirement

    Effective retirement planning is the result of making good decisions, but also avoiding common mistakes.

    The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) offers this list of costly retirement savings mistakes that should be avoided:

    • Not starting to save early enough.
    • Poor asset allocation.
    • Underestimating your life expectancy: To be on the safe side, CPAs generally recommend that you calculate your financial needs based on the assumption that either you or your spouse will live into your 90s.
    • Misjudging your ability to continue working: Plan as if your working years won’t continue indefinitely.
    • Not rolling over retirement savings after a job change.
    • Borrowing against retirement funds.
    • Focusing too much on short-term fluctuations in your nest egg.

    Not-So-Free Credit Report Sites

    Web sites aggressively advertising “free” credit reports are charging consumers for services they are unlikely to need, while drawing attention away from the site created by law to provide consumers with free credit data every year, says a Consumer Reports WebWatch study.

    The study analyzes 58 offers made on 24 sites, almost all of which advertise “free” credit reports and scores. Most make the offer in conjunction with the purchase of “credit monitoring” services (which are supposed to notify consumers of changes to their credit reports) or credit scores (which use mathematical formulas to predict consumer creditworthiness based on credit data). Credit monitoring services cost as much as $160 per year on these sites; credit scores can cost as much as $75.

    The Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003 (FACTA) entitles consumers to obtain, once a year, a free copy of their credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The site set up to deliver those reports is www.annualcreditreport.com.

    The report notes that the proliferation of Web sites offering “free” credit reports may confuse consumers. Some of those sites even appear to disparage the information on offer from AnnualCreditReport.com. Of the 24 sites analyzed, nine were owned by or closely connected to TransUnion and eight were owned by or otherwise closely connected to Experian, the largest advertiser on the Web.

    When You Can’t Take It All: Tips for Evacuating

    In the event of a sudden emergency, you may have just minutes to gather your family and important papers and get out of your house, possibly for good. Taking the time to map out an evacuation plan ahead of time will ensure that when a fire, a hurricane or a flood threatens, you will know how to respond quickly, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

    The I.I.I. suggests a five-step plan to get your and your family on the road to safety:

    1) Plan your evacuation route: Map out a primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Ask an out-of-town friend or family member to act as a contact person in case your family is separated during the evacuation and make sure that everyone (especially children) has the necessary contact information. Identify a specific place to meet in case your family members are forced to flee separately.

    2) Create a home inventory of personal property: This will help you ensure you have purchased enough insurance, it will help speed the claims process, and it will help substantiate losses for income tax purposes.

    3) Organize important items to take: Medicines, prescriptions and toiletries; clothing for at least three days; blankets and toys; flashlight and battery-powered radio; computer hard drive or laptop; cash (as ATMs may not be working).

    4) Pet planning: Identify pet-friendly hotels and motels outside the immediate area; prepare an emergency kit including collars and leashes, a three-day supply of food, bowls, litter boxes, and a week’s supply of medications. Make sure your pets wear collars with current licenses, rabies tags, and identification tags that include information on where you will be staying during the emergency.

    5) Gather important financial documents: Keep important financial documents in a safe place that you can access easily. In the event of an evacuation, take important documents with you in a secure, waterproof container.

    The institute also suggests you take the 10-minute challenge: Give yourself just 10 minutes to get your family and belongings into the car and on the road to safety. For more information about disaster-preparedness, go to the I.I.I. Web site at www.iii.org. Source: The Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit group supported by the insurance industry.