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This Week In Your Wallet: Happy (Almost) Valentine’s Day

The week leading up to Valentine’s Day can bring to the surface the volatility in some romantic relationships — as well as, apparently, the markets. As of Monday, the stock market was officially in correction territory (correction being a technical term for a decline of 10 percent or more — at 20 percent, a bear market has officially begun).

To this, experts are saying: It’s about time. Overall, the markets have been on the up-and-up since 2009. We haven’t experienced a correction since the one beginning in summer 2015. In other words: This is normal.

“Based on the historical record, ‘normal’ in the stock market includes unsettling conditions of the kind we have been experiencing lately,” writes Jeff Sommer in The New York Times. “That is not a declaration that the market is in deep trouble. Far from it. I don’t know where stocks are heading in the weeks ahead, but I assume, based on history, that they will eventually rise.”

I agree with him, which is why I haven’t (and won’t) make any moves in my portfolio based on what I see on financial news. Instead, I’ll keep contributing, every month, to the retirement stash I’ve been building for years. Experts maintain that over the long term, stocks can yield a 6 to 7 percent annual return. But that caveat — over the long term — is important. It’s a good idea to mentally prepare for the possibility that money in the markets can lose value in the short-term. Our current bull market will eventually become a bear market, and then, over time, the cycle will start all over again. We can’t control the market’s dips, so it’s important to focus on what we can control: saving enough, making the most of retirement plan matching dollars and rebalancing our portfolios to keep our investment mix in line with future goals. And if you’re feeling antsy about your money moves (or your relationship)? An hour or two in the company of a financial advisor (or therapist) can work wonders. (And make sure to listen to our special episode of HerMoney Podcast tomorrow, featuring positive psychology experts Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski, who wrote “Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.”)

Who Wants To Be A 401(k) Millionaire?

And just to reinforce the point that we’ve been in this bull market for a very long time: Some people are sharing their 401(k) balances on social media — especially if they’ve become “401(k) millionaires.” If you’re wondering when you can look forward to reaching that milestone? The Financial Samurai blog offers a timeline depending on your asset allocation (and assuming the average annual return of each portfolio composition since 1926). For example, if you start with $0, max out your annual 401(k) savings from now on (contribution limits are $18,500 for 2018) and set your equity allocation at 100 percent, you could reach “millionaire status” in just 18 years. If you go with 60 percent equity and 40 percent fixed income, the blog calculates it’ll likely take about 20.5 years. And if you choose 100 percent cash, that might look more like 44 years. Of course, it’s a luxury to be able to max out your 401(k), so this is assuming significant savings. But putting away something is always better than nothing at all when it comes to reaching your future goals.

Equifax (Again)

It looks like we won’t be finished talking about Equifax anytime soon. Five months after the consumer credit reporting agency said a breach compromised the personal information of 145.5 million consumers (names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses), it turns out even more information might have been vulnerable to fraudsters. Tax identification numbers, driver’s license information and email addresses might have been accessed as well, reports The Wall Street Journal. If you haven’t frozen your credit reports at all three major bureaus yet, I recommend doing so now (as in when-you’re-finished-reading-this now). Here’s my step-by-step walk-through.

Perhaps because the beleaguered company needed to do something to save face with consumers, Equifax recently launched a service called “Lock & Alert,” which it says is free for life and available to anyone over 18. This is a credit lock, which is different — and not as strong — as a credit freeze. On the plus side, it’s straightforward and offers similar security to a freeze. Plus, it’s free. (Freezes typically cost $5 to $10 any time you place or lift them at a credit bureau, although Equifax is offering free credit freezes through June 30.) The downside: The lock service allows Equifax to share your data for marketing purposes (like financial companies that might want to sell you something). It also offers fewer consumer protections than a credit freeze. Case in point: In many states, you can go to court if something goes wrong under a credit freeze, but provisions of the Equifax Lock & Alert contract “disclaim all liability.” Finally, know that if you lock or freeze your report with Equifax, you’ll still need to instate a lock or freeze individually at the other big bureaus (Experian and TransUnion) if you want your credit reports safer across the board. A credit lock is generally only a better idea if you’re not willing to pay for a freeze — and it’s important to read the fine print. Consumer Reports has the pros and cons of Equifax’s Lock & Alert service here, and NBC News reported on some of the privacy concerns.

It’s HQ Time

Last week, I was sitting at a table, working away with my team — and they noticed that a few minutes after 3:00 p.m., I was more absorbed than usual in my phone. Busted! Yes, I’ve been playing HQ… and not winning, by the way (I’ve gotten as far as question 9). The 12-question live trivia game usually happens twice a day and sometimes draws more than one million players at a time, offering a lottery-esque cash prize pot that’s split among each game’s winners. (The more winners, the smaller the pot. Last night’s winners won about $4.50 each — and bragging rights.)

MONEY has six tips for winning the game from a winner himself. Among his tips for bringing home the gold? Don’t overthink the first three questions — they’re usually completely free of tricks. He also says that if a question asks about amounts, the correct answer is almost never the middle one. And if a question late in the game seems too easy, it’s probably a trick — consider going with the answer that seems most difficult (or that you’ve never heard of before).

Have a great week,


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