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09/08/2014 09:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

4 Subtle Signs Your Finances Are In Trouble

Jamie Grill via Getty Images

By Kate Rockwood

What are the money whispers that could signal long-term financial trouble?

You Shop With a Reusable Bag
People who skip paper or plastic at the grocery store and bring their own reusable bag are more likely to buy organic items. No big surprise there. But researchers at Harvard Business School recently found that bringing a reusable bag also makes you more likely to purchase pricey indulgences like ice cream and cookies. See your grocery bill creeping up? That cloth tote may be partially to blame.

You're Part of the 39 Percent
Sure, six months of emergency savings is the gold standard for financial security, but so few of us have attained this lofty goal that it's almost easy to dismiss it. Here's a sobering reality check: 39 percent of people could not pony up two grand if an unexpected need arose in the next month, according to a survey by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). That means many of us are financially fragile. If the transmission on your car broke or you needed emergency dental work, you'd kick-start a cascade of debt and borrowing that could take months -- even years -- to dig yourself out of.

You Know Your FICO Score
Knowing your credit score is being financially responsible, right? One in four adults who don't review their credit report annually think a credit score is enough. But it's not. Potential employers, landlords, insurers and lenders all review these detailed reports on how you pay your bills when assessing applications -- meaning an error could cost you big in the long term, from not being offered that better-paying gig to being saddled with a higher interest rate on a loan. More motivation to do an annual review: A Federal Trade Commission study found that one in four credit reports contained an error.

You Borrow from the Wrong Place
Nearly one-third of people have used nonbank borrowing methods, such as payday loans, tax-refund advance services and pawn shops, in the past five years. These methods may be quick and convenient -- there are now more payday loan centers than McDonald's in the U.S. -- but "this is a particularly troubling issue among younger Americans, who have a lack of credit and a lack of assets," says Gary Motolla, research director of FINRA's Investor Education Foundation, because they deliver a one-two punch: Interest rates tend to be higher than those at banks, credit unions or credit cards; and, even if you pay on time, using these alternative loans does nothing to build your credit score.

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BEFORE YOU GO

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