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4 money musts for women in their 30s and 40s

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4 money musts for women in their 30s and 40s

So many huge life changes and adventures can happen to a woman in her 30s and 40s -- getting married, raising a family, hitting the gas pedal on her career.

Whichever road you're on, good credit can help take you to where you want to go and get you there sooner.

Here are four ways to keep your credit in good shape as you navigate your 30s and 40s.

1. Maintain healthy credit

Building and maintaining a healthy credit record and credit score is essential to success.

"The name of the game in your 30s and 40s is to maintain healthy credit," says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations for National Foundation for Credit Counseling, where almost 65 percent of the clients are women.

That means making payments on time, keeping credit utilization low, and limiting the number of accounts you have open at one time, McClary recommends.

"Healthy credit means financial freedom, and maintaining a healthy credit record means you're going to be rewarded by paying less for what you borrow," he says.

Everyone from insurance companies to employers may look at your credit record, so having healthy credit is a boon for many aspects of a woman's life.

2. Keep feeding the emergency fund

Reach for your emergency savings not your credit cards, when an unexpected expense pops up.

"By the time you are in your 30s and 40s, you've got to have an emergency fund in place," says Beverly Harzog, author of "The Debt Escape Plan."

Harzog says the lack of an emergency fund might result in credit card debt if you don't have enough money in the bank to handle unexpected expenses.

How much should you set aside?

"In your emergency fund, you should be able to go six months with the money you have in that account," Harzog says. "Even if you have an emergency fund that takes you one month, that's a start."

Freaking out because your emergency fund is low or nonexistent?

"Even if it's just a small amount, keep putting money in an emergency fund, every week, every month if you can," Harzog recommends. "Don't think any amount is too small. Make it a priority so it helps you stay out of debt."

3. Stay out of credit card debt

Don't let credit card debt keep you from reaching your financial goals.

"Credit card debt is toxic debt and you want to do away with that as soon as you can," Harzog says. "With credit cards, you are just throwing away money on interest. You're paying so much more. Compound interest gets ugly in a hurry."

So if you have credit card debt, pick a strategy for paying off debt and stick to it until your debt drops to zero.

One strategy is to pay off the smallest balance first and then move on to the next smallest balance. Another strategy is to pay off the credit card account with the highest interest rate, and then move on to the account with the next highest interest rate until your debt is gone.

Harzog also recommends a third strategy, paying off the account with the smallest balance first and then moving on to the account with the highest interest rate.

"You get a quick burst of adrenaline of paying off one and then go to the one with highest interest rate because it will save you the most money," Harzog says.

4. Keep a close eye on your credit

Get in the habit of consistently monitoring your credit report and credit score.

"It's absolutely imperative to check the credit history to see what's on it," says Ginita Wall, co-founder of Women's Institute for Financial Education. "Check it regularly."

Wall knows of a woman in her 40s who was turned down for a mortgage because of a delinquent account on her credit report that she didn't know she had.

"It was only $15," Walls says. "She could have cleaned it up a lot earlier."

An increasing number of websites, including WisePiggy.com, provide your free credit score.

At AnnualCreditReport.com, you can check your credit report and review your credit history with each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for free once a year. This is the only website authorized under federal law to provide free credit reports.

Instead of pulling all three credit reports at once, Wall recommends checking your credit report every four months from a different credit reporting bureau.

"That way you're really staying on top of things," Wall says.