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Having a great credit score will not only save you thousands of dollars on interest over time, but it also gives you the flexibility to be creative on how you achieve your financial goals. The great news about credit is that anything you do can be undone over time, you just have to commit the time and energy to fix it.

If you have gotten into trouble with credit or you are still working on building your credit profile for a buying a home or purchasing a car, here are the top 10 ways to improve your credit score.

1. Pay your bills on time

This sounds like a really basic tip, however, it's one of the most important you can follow to maintain a strong credit score. On-time payments is one of the first things lenders look at when determining if they should lend you more money. If your record shows that you are good and consistent at making payments, then lenders are more likely to provide more. Delinquent payments and collections will always have a negative impact on your credit score.

2. Keep an eye on your credit utilization

Credit utilization is the amount of debt you have on your card over your available credit. If you have a card with a $1,000 credit limit, and you have $300 on the card, then your utilization rate is 30%. It is tempting to spend all of the credit you are allowed, but, just because a lender says you can borrow up to $1,000, does not mean that they actually want you to do so. Instead, you should keep your utilization rates between 30% and 50% as a general rule of thumb.

3. Apply for more credit

If you have a number of lenders willing to offer you credit, then chances are, you're a good bet for other lenders. Even if you don't need the credit, it can help your score and your overall utilization rate as other cards will increase your total credit available.

4. Diversify your types of credit

I met with a client recently who had no debt, no car payment and no mortgage and when we pulled her credit score, we were shocked that it was not higher. This client was penalized for only having one source of credit, which were her credit cards. Mortgages, car loans or home equity loans could help you diversify your types of credit.

5. Keep cards open

It is tempting to close cards that you are not using; however, those cards are actually quietly helping you improve your credit. If you are not using the card, then your utilization will be 0%, which is a great number. In addition, the card helps maintain your credit history, which is another component of your credit score. I had a client recently close an old account of hers and her score dropped over 50 points because her credit history was shortened based on the closing of the older account.

6. Check your score frequently

You can get your full credit report every year for free, however, there are other free sites you can check to get a good indication of your score, including outstanding accounts throughout the year. I like using Credit Karma, but Credit Sesame or Credit.com also provide free tools.

When you regularly monitor your score, you want to make sure that you are familiar with all of the accounts that are listed under your social security number. This is especially important for student loan monitoring as you can have more than 10 loans reported under your social security number, and if you lost track of any of those and missed payments, that would have a dramatic impact on your score.

7. Avoid store cards if possible

I believe that store credit cards, like those for Macys or J.Crew or Kohls are some of the worst cards you can apply for. They typically do not offer high credit limits, which don't help your overall credit available, but more importantly, it tells a lender that you like to shop because the only location you can utilize the card is in the retail store. You can't use the card for food or fuel.

Store cards also entice you to overspend because they typically offer 10% off entire purchases at the time of opening, which makes you feel as though you are getting a deal, but you should probably not spend the money anyway, which now makes the purchase 90% expensive.

8. Consider a secured card

If you have had credit troubles in the past and need to rebuild your credit, a secured credit card is a great way to get back on track, especially if the card provider allows you to convert to an unsecured card after a period of time. I consider the secured card like the learner's permit of the credit card world.

If you can prove that you are responsible and follow the rules of proper credit management, then one day you will be allowed to manage your account on your own without a cash secured safety net.

9. Apply for credit as soon as possible

Your credit history is an important part of your overall credit score so the sooner you apply for cards, the better. I opened my first card when I was a freshman in college so lenders can see that I have been a responsible user for almost two decades now. The sooner you start building your history, the faster your credit score will improve.

10.  Hide your card

At the end of the day, if you're struggling with maintaining good credit practices, don't be afraid to hide your credit card and pretend as though it doesn't exist. This will prevent you from increasing your credit utilization, and it will force you to focus on your spending as you will have to convert to a cash diet.

When I see clients start to get into credit card troubles, we discuss implementing this strategy. Sometimes the best bet to improve your credit is to not use it at all.

Originally posted on Financial Gym.

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Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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With the many blessings of multiple kids, comes the challenge of needing even more gear—gear that's guaranteed to go the extra mile. With storage space already at a premium, you can probably get away with some new baby clothes. But multiplying the number of strollers in the garage? That's not going to fly.

But with the new Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, "less is more" is truly the answer to your problems.

1. It has every seat arrangement you could need

Strollers can be complex enough when you only need one seat. Add in another baby and shopping for a perfect fit can feel like enough to make you spend the next few years at home. But, with the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller, you don't have to know exactly how your kids will want to sit for the rest of time. It offers 23 modes, making for clever convertibility, for whichever way your family may grow. Simply add to DEMI grow as you need.

2. You’re spared the stroller wrestling match

When you're toting around two kids, the last thing you need is an uncooperative stroller. With the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you can do a remarkable number of things with just a touch (or less than that if you're really creative). From a one-hand adjustable calf support, to one-touch brake to easy folding it up, you don't need to call backup just to get back into the car from your outing.

Bonus: The no-rethread harness on the compatible Nuna PIPA™ series car seats enables you to easily raise or lower the straps without the headache of unhooking and rerouting them each time your baby goes through a growth spurt.

3. It ensures comfort—no matter who is sitting where

Not only are there 23 different modes, but each seat is made to feel like the "best" one. With options to recline, kick up their feet and keep the sun out of their eyes with UPF 50+ canopies, you won't have to referee the "but I want to sit there" battle. (Moms of toddlers, you'll know why this is such an important detail.)

4. It’s designed for year-round adventures

For any mama who has been struck with fear from the sight of a bumpy sidewalk, worry no more. With ultra-tough, foam-filled tires and custom dual suspension, the Nuna DEMI™ grow stroller is designed to tackle just about any terrain all while keeping your little ones comfy in their seats. The seats themselves were also designed for maximum comfort, no matter the temperature: With an all-season seat, the padded exterior can easily be removed to expose the breathable mesh lining when you're out and about on hot days.

5. You don’t have to predict the future of your family

When researching and buying a new stroller, it can feel like you need to have exact plans for the future of your family mapped out.

But with the Nuna DEMI™ grow, you don't need to worry about all those plans right now. Whether you just need one seat, two seats, bassinet or car seats, this single stroller has you covered and grows as you need it.

That way, you can worry less about predicting your family's future—and enjoy exactly where it is today even more.

This article was sponsored by Nuna. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Finding the person you want to spend your life with is never easy, but when you're a parent, there's an extra layer of consideration. You're not just choosing the person you will spend lazy Sundays (and hurried weekday mornings) with—you're choosing the person your children will spend them with, too.

And when that person has children of their own, things get even more complicated. Blending two families isn't easy, but it can be beautiful, as Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez prove.

Each half of this power couple has two children each, and they're doing their best to make their relationship work not just for each other, but for those four children, too.

"We love each other and we love our life together," Lopez recently told People. "I was so loving to his kids and he was so loving and accepting of mine, and they embraced each other right away. [It was] 'I get a new bonus brother and sisters to hang out with all the time and it's nice.'"

A Rod agrees, telling People: "Our kids have become best friends and that keeps us both grounded and appreciative."

Here are five ways J Lo and A-Rod are totally #parentinggoals when it comes to balancing the needs of their blended family.

1.They bring the kids together

Lopez and Rodriguez each spend time with their own children, but they also bring all four kids (Lopez shares 10-year-old twins Maximilian and Emme with her ex, Marc Anthony, and Rodriguez shares daughters Ella, 10, and Natasha, 13, with his ex, Cynthia Scurtis) together for fun family outings, like ice cream dates and basketball games.

Research indicates that about 14% of kids in step families don't feel like they belong in their family, and report that their family doesn't have fun together. By bringing the kids together for fun family times, Lopez and Rodriguez are encouraging a sense of family belonging outside the relationship they have with each of the kids individually. Studies suggest an adolescents' sense of family belonging is linked to their overall well-being. So this ice cream date is actually healthy, in a way.

​2. They consider their children's other parents family, too

If their Instagrams are any indication, Rodriguez and Lopez have a great time hanging out with their blended family, but they understand that their children have other family members, too, and they don't mind hanging out with them.

A recent Instagram post proves Rodriguez considers Marc Anthony #famila, and that's how it should be.

Studies show supportive communication between a parent and their ex-partner's new partner is good for the family as a whole. Likewise, when the relationship between a parent and a stepparent is antagonistic, relationships beyond their own stuffer. It's truly better if a parent's co-parent and their current partner can hang.

3. They’re a united front with their co-parents

Rodriguez considers J Lo's ex family, and he also doesn't forget that (despite legal disagreements) his ex-wife plays a big role in his daughter's lives. So he celebrates their big co-parenting moments, like parent-teacher night.

Lopez, too, celebrates the times she and Anthony get together for their twins' big moments, recently telling Kelly Rippa the two are now in a really great place, and basically best friends. "The kids get to spend time with the two of us more together and see us working together," she said."It's just good for the whole family," says Lopez.

4. They make time for each other without the kids

Having all four kids together at once looks like fun, but hanging out with three 10-year-olds and a teen also sounds like it could be a little exhausting. That's why the couple takes time to unwind, without the kids, when they can.

As J Lo wrote in a recent Instagram post, "it's the lil quiet moments that matter the most."

5. They're doing it their way

Back in April Lopez was asked whether or not she and A Rod would be getting married soon (thanks to a Spanish language single "El Anillo," which is Spanish for "The Ring"), she told People, she's not in any rush, despite the song.

"I've done that before. I'm a little bit more grown up now, and I like to let things take their natural course," she said. "I know people are going to say that… we are really kind of good for each other and are really having the best time, and our kids love each other and all that."

[A version of this story was originally published July 12, 2018.]

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If you use U by Kotex tampons, you should check your box before your next period, mama.

Regular absorbency U by Kotex Sleek Tampons are being recalled throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the FDA, defective tampons have been coming apart when people tried to remove them, "in some cases causing users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body."

The FDA notes that there have also been a "small number of reports of infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury, and other symptoms."

In a statement on its website, U by Kotex explains that the recall is specific to the U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, Regular Absorbency only. The Super Absorbency or Super Plus Absorbency tampons are not part of the recall.

The recall is for specific lots of the Regular Absorbency tampons manufactured between October 7, 2016 and October 16, 2018.

The lot numbers start with NN (or XM, for small, 3 count packages) and can be found near the barcode on the bottom of the box.

To check if your tampons are part of the recall, type your lot number into this form on the U by Kotex site.


The FDA says if you've used the tampons and are experiencing the following you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • vaginal injury (pain, bleeding, or discomfort)
  • vaginal irritation (itching or swelling)
  • urogenital infections (bladder and/or vaginal bacterial and/or yeast infections)
  • hot flashes
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea or vomiting

If you have a package of the recalled tampons you should not use them and should call Kotex's parent company, Kimberly-Clark at 1-888-255-3499. On its website U by Kotex asks consumers not to return the tampons to stores.

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I grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air so pretty much anytime Will Smith pops up on my Facebook feed, I click. (Also, I happen to live near West Philadelphia, so you know, there's a lot of theme song singing. My husband finds me hysterical.)

Anyway...

The last time I clicked on a Will Smith video, he was telling a story about when he went skydiving. He had made the decision to go with his friends, and then spent the whole night and morning leading up to it terrified, envisioning all the things that could go wrong.

When he was finally up in the plane, the guide explained that they would jump on the count of three. "One… two…" except they push you out on "two" because everyone throws their arms out and stops themselves at "three." So before he knew it, he was flying.

And he found it to be absolutely amazing.

He said, "The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It's bliss. The lesson for me was, why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? You're nowhere even near the airplane. Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day… the best things in life [are] on the other side of [fear]."

Motherhood is skydiving.

If someone came up to you one day and said, "Hey. I have this job for you. You are going to grow a human in your body, kind of like it's an alien. And then that human is going to come out of your body—and that process is really intense. And then the human will be really helpless and you will have to turn it into a fully functioning adult with an important place in this world. Okay… go!"

You'd smile politely and walk run away as fast as you could.

Because if you think about it, the idea of doing all of that—motherhoodis pretty terrifying. The amount of responsibility and work is sort of incomprehensible.

The grand scheme of motherhood is scary.

The thing is, though, that the grand scheme of motherhood is actually made up of millions of tiny moments in which you will be a total boss.

Whether it's a jump-out-of-the-plane moment, or a get-the-toddler-out-of-the-car-seat moment, you will face it with bravery.

Remember, being brave isn't the absence of fear, it's being afraid and doing it anyway.

Being brave is taking a pregnancy test—and seeing that it's positive. Or seeing that it's negative, again.

Being brave is waiting for the adoption agency to call you and tell you that she's here.

Being brave is watching your body change in a hundred ways, and lovingly rubbing your belly as it does.

Being brave is giving your body over to the process of bringing your baby into the world—yes, even if you cry, or complain, or cry and complain. You're still brave. Promise.

Being brave is bringing that baby home for the first time. Oh, so much bravery needed for that one.

Being brave is giving that first bath, going to that first pediatrician visit, spending that first full day at home, alone, with the baby,

Being brave is your first day back at work—or making the phone call to tell them you won't actually be coming back at all.

Being brave is ignoring all the noise around you, and parenting your child the way you know is best for your family.

Being brave is letting go of her hands when she takes her first steps.

Being brave is sitting next to her and smiling when you're in the emergency room for croup—and then sobbing when you get home.

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of school—and going home without her.

Being brave is saying "yes" to her first sleepover and "no" to her first car.

Being brave is hugging her the first time her heart breaks, when your heart might possibly hurt even more than hers does.

Being brave is listening quietly when she tells you she plans to "travel the world."

Being brave is bringing her to her first day of college—and going home without her.

Being brave is watching her commit her life to another person, who is not you.

Being brave is watching her become a mother.

And one day, sweet, brave mama, you'll look back and realize that you just jumped out of an airplane—you raised a child.

All of the things that seemed terrifyingly impossible—you just…do them. One at a time. You will wake up every day a little bit braver than the day before. And before you know it, you can look back on any aspect of motherhood and realize that little by little, you just increased your flying altitude.

Things that was seemed daunting are handled with ease. Ideas that once seemed impossible have become your reality one thousand times over.

So yes, motherhood is incredibly scary. But you are incredibly brave.

One... two... jump!

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Here at Motherly, we're all in on pregnant mamas. We love all things pregnancy science: from how a woman's body absorbs her baby's cells, and the effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss. We fawn over the latest + greatest in baby names. And we adore a good celeb baby bump picture.

So we're thrilled for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, royal newlyweds expecting their first child together in the Spring of 2019.

And recently, when the Duchess presented a British Fashion Award to the designer behind her wedding dress (Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller) we were not thrilled when headlines suggested Markle "showing off" her bump by cradling it during the awards show.

Here's the deal: When media outlets make note of a pregnant woman whose bump is visible, they often report that the woman is out "flaunting" her belly.

PSA: Pregnant women do not "flaunt" their bodies.

They aren't "showing off their baby bumps."

They're not "taking their bellies out for a day on the town."

They're simply women who are pregnant, going about their daily lives.

This might seem like a small point, quibbling about particular words about pregnancy.

But in reality, acting like pregnant women are "flaunting" their bellies reflects a society that sees pregnancy as a sideshow, rather than a natural part of womanhood. It makes pregnant women feel like weirdos, rather than integral bearers of the future of humanity. It tells women, yet again, that their changing bodies are up for public critique. And it implies to women that the natural changes in their bodies are strange, rather than a normal evolution in life.

So yes, Meghan's baby bump is visible. How exciting for her!

She's not 'flaunting it,' proud mama-to-be though she is.

Meghan Markle is simply rocking her life as a modern woman (and royal), and pregnancy looks amazing on her.

[A version of this story was originally published October 24, 2018]

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