Thursday, October 27, 2011

Still Clueless

Baby Me - January 1956
Today’s my birthday and I’m 56 years old; well into middle age. Yet I am still trying to figure out a lot about this wonderful life. I can’t say that I spend much time wondering about the MEANING OF LIFE, but I do think about what’s important and what’s not. I look for opportunities to be a better me.

This blog is a means to explore my experiences and feelings and reach out to friends and acquaintances. Writing has always been rewarding for me, and it’s great to be able to write when there are no rules (or grades). Friends who have encouraged me have provided motivation that has sometimes been much needed. Comments and reactions are always welcome – in fact I wish I heard from you more often.

This is what I know and believe so far: My husband is the best life companion I can imagine, and I look forward to many more adventures for us to share. My family is always close to my heart, even when we are miles apart. Friends are definitely the spice of life – and I like lots of flavor! We only get one body this go-around, so we have to listen to it and take care of it. Fun isn’t trivial – it’s a celebration of life. Kindness elevates our humanity. Faith picks us up when we stumble, pats us on the butt, and keeps us going.

Where I still feel a bit clueless is whether I am fulfilling my purpose in this world. What was planned for that na├»ve, vulnerable babe born on this day in 1955? How much am I still meant to do that hasn’t occurred to me yet? I wish I knew. In the meantime, I’m facing life with open arms and a loving heart.

Happy Day!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Give Yourself Credit

I’m not sure exactly how my credit got screwed up, but somehow Experian included dozens of negative items on my credit report that did not belong to me. We discovered this when we refinanced our condo about a year and a half ago. Not wanting to delay the refinancing, we moved forward using only Ron’s credit, figuring we would clear up my issues later.

Time moved on, and I kept delaying the resolution to my credit issues. We don’t rely much on credit these days, so it hasn’t really caused a problem. Besides, when I researched how to resolve the issues, the process seemed so onerous. Supposedly I had to write a letter listing all the disputed items and explaining how they weren’t mine. The whole thing made me angry, so I stuck my head in the sand and tried to ignore it. But it kept niggling at the back of my consciousness as something that needed to be resolved.

We all need to work to maintain our good credit. It can too easily be adversely affected by our own laziness, rough spots in our financial life, mistakes on the part of credit bureaus or other individuals, or by identity theft. Once damaged, your credit can take months or even years to repair. Bad credit can keep you from obtaining a needed line of credit, a loan, a good interest rate on an approved loan, or even a job. If you rely on your spouse or partner’s credit, you must consider the situation you would be in if something happened to them and you were left on your own.

After giving myself the lecture above, I printed my free annual credit reports so I could reassess the situation and finally tackle the problem. Here’s what I learned in the process that may be helpful to you if you have never done this before:

1. Annualcreditreport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit reports that are yours by law. There are other sites that will try to lure you to get “free” credit reports but try to confuse you and trick you into purchasing other services.

2. Once a year, you are entitled to get a free report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You need to check all three every year, as their results can differ. (My Experian report was awash with faulty information that did not appear on the other two reports.)

3. I went on Experian’s website to submit disputes to bad information. I didn’t get very far before I got error messages that directed me to call their 800 number for assistance. After a little VRU Hell, I got to a real person. When I described my issues, I was directed to a specialist, and we really started to get somewhere.

4. My report included negative information owned by people with other names and social security numbers! There was even a judgment against one by a civil court in Ohio. This person (or people) defaulted on tens of thousands of dollars of credit and bills. The specialist was pretty quick to recognize that this wasn’t consistent with my personal information, and started flagging the 50+ negative items for deletion from my credit report. She said, “Wow, this is really going to make a difference in your credit score.” Ya’ think? She told me that it would take a few days for the report to be reissued, and the link to login would be sent to me via email. For the next 90 days, my report has a fraud alert applied to protect me from the addition of new inconsistencies. This process took about a half hour on the phone, which I thought was pretty efficient for what we accomplished.

5. It may take a few months before my credit score catches up with my new, clean report. I’ll pay $7.95 to obtain the score, which is not included with a free credit report.

Going forward, I’m marking my calendar to ensure that I obtain my free credit reports every year. My financial advisor’s assistant had a good suggestion – obtain two of the reports every January, and “save” the third in case you need to check your credit later in the year.

It feels good to have resolved this issue. If you haven’t faced this foggy unknown, take charge, protect your financial health and give yourself credit.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Pleasure of Your Company

One of the most rewarding things about retirement is that I have more time to interact with my friends in a meaningful way. One of the biggest and most welcome surprises is that I am still making friends. All told, the warmth of my friendships bathes me in happiness and comfort.

This week, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the company of several good friends and long distance encounters with others:

• I spent almost an hour on the phone Sunday with one of my very closest friends and confidantes. We live in different cities now, I miss him, and I treasure our weekly phone calls.
• One of our neighbors has become a close friend. Sunday evening, we chatted with him for about an hour after our condo association meeting, and promised to keep an eye on his place and collect his mail while he is out of town this week. It’s good to have a trusted friend so nearby. (Ron calls him my texting buddy, since that’s often how we keep tabs on each other.)
• Earlier this week, a friend from college sent me an out-of-the-blue message telling me what it means to her that we have reconnected online. It was a heartwarming surprise that made my day.
• Last night we went to dinner and the theatre with friends in Chicago. Over dinner, we caught up on each other’s doings, and then shared a wonderful experience enjoying the play together. We’re already talking about planning a get together during the holidays.
• My new friends in Arizona are a true blessing. I look forward to the day we are full-time residents at Talking Rock Ranch, so we can enjoy that sense of community full-time.

Even surprise acquaintances can offer bright spots to your day. Ron and I golfed with a man two days in a row this week that we met at the starting tee. We discovered that we not only have a friend in common, but also several mutual interests – the symphony, theatre, and golf. Our golf experience was greatly enhanced this week by our conversations with Bob.

Keep expanding your circle of friends. It adds a richness to life at any stage, but may be particularly important to your health and happiness during retirement.

I just downloaded a book to my Kindle - Vital Friends by Tom Rath.  It features results from Gallup studies on friendship, explores how friendships contribute to health and happiness, and even explains how having strong friendships can improve engagement and productivity at work.  I hope it’s an interesting read.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Deciding Where to Settle Down for Retirement

A treasured friend of mine recently sent me an email looking for my opinions about his list of possible retirement locales. He is a successful surgeon who is having trouble imagining his life after retirement. The request he sent, punctuated by, “C’mon Runaway Boomer, don’t let me down!” not only made me laugh, but got me thinking about how to approach the big decision about where to retire in a systematic fashion.

It’s very important to try to visualize how you want life to unfold once you are free from a career that absorbs most of your time and energy. What are the things you would do more of, if you only had time? Many look forward to having the freedom to spend more time socializing with friends and family. Others dream of travel and exploration. For some, it will be a time for more physical action and creativity. You may have thoughts about pursuing a second career, or volunteering in your community. This visualization step requires some pleasant introspection over a period of time.

Picking a geographic location can be complicated. First, consider that you may not need or want to move at all! If you already have a great social situation and the support of friends and family nearby, do you really want to start over in a new place? Or does your soul yearn for the beauty of the mountains or beach and a new beginning? Here are some practical suggestions for going about narrowing down your list of possible locations:

• Start taking short vacations (even 3-4 days) to check out places that you think you might be interested in. Make an appointment with a realtor to take you around, so you can get a feel for housing and neighborhoods available.
• Pick up magazines like "Where to Retire" or “Money”. They do nice profiles of towns and highlight different aspects for consideration, like cost of living, healthcare, taxes, etc.
• You can think about your post-working life in phases. If you decide to buy somewhere, it doesn't have to be forever – it may merely be your next chapter.
• See if you can narrow your options a bit... Mountains, desert, coastal, urban? All have their own beauty, but are all very different.
• Make a list of what you definitely want in a home... Single family or condo, # of bedrooms/baths, view, fireplace, garage, porch or patio, single level or 2-story, etc. This will help you when you work with a realtor, and also help you visualize how you want to live.
• Browse home sales websites for different locales so you can get an idea of what is available and see what places look like.
• Go visit friends in different areas so they can introduce you to what it's like to really live somewhere.
• Look at official websites of cities and town. Email requests for visitor and/or relocation guides. Most places offer them for free.

One more important thought… Be open to surprises changing your plan. My husband and I visited Prescott, Arizona a year and a half ago because it kept popping up on lists of good places to retire. It was love at first sight, and we bought a home in Talking Rock Ranch (SURPRISE: two years earlier than planned), on a golf course (SURPRISE: we had never discussed this before), and making scores of lovely friends (SURPRISE: an amazing bonus to buying into a community). We are having the time of our lives.

Enjoy your decision-making process. It’s a luxury to have the freedom to create your own grand plan.