In some cases, the warnings might have been heeded but in other cases, we may have learned the cost of credit the hard way.
Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a costly thing – and sometimes even a risky thing. The interest from credit card balances can be like a ball and chain that might never seem to go away. And your financial strategy for the future may seem like a distant horizon that’s always out of reach.
It is possible to live without credit cards if you choose to do so, but it can take discipline if you’ve developed the credit habit.
It’s budgeting time. Here’s some tough love. If you don’t have one already, you should hunker down and create a budget. In the beginning it doesn’t have to be complicated. First just try to determine how much you’re spending on food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials. Next, consider what you’re spending on the non-essentials – be honest with yourself!
In making a budget, you should become acutely aware of your spending habits and you’ll give yourself a chance to think about what your priorities really are. Is it really more important to spend $5-6 per day on coffee at the corner shop, or would you rather put that money towards some new clothes?
Try to set up a budget that has as strict allowances as you can handle for non-essential purchases until you can get your existing balances under control. Always keep in mind that an item you bought with credit “because it was on sale” might not end up being such a great deal if you have to pay interest on it for months (or even years).
Hide the plastic. Part of the reason we use credit cards is because they are right there in our wallets or automatically stored on our favorite shopping websites, making them easy to use. (That’s the point, right?) Fortunately, this is also easy to help fix. Put your credit cards away in a safe place at home and save them for a real emergency. Don’t save them on websites you use.
Don’t worry about actually canceling them or cutting them up. Unless there’s an annual fee for owning the card, canceling the card might not help you financially or help boost your credit score.¹
Pay down your credit card debt. When you’re working on your budget, decide how much extra money you can afford to pay toward your credit card balances. If you just pay the minimum payment, even small balances may not get paid off for years. Try to prioritize extra payments to help the balances go down and eventually get paid off.
Save for things you want to purchase. Make some room in your budget for some of the purchases you used to make with a credit card. If an item you’re eyeing costs $100, ask yourself if you can save $50 per month and purchase it in two months rather than immediately. Also, consider using the 30-day rule. If you see something you want – or even something you think you’ll need – wait 30 days. If the 30 days go by and you still need or want it, make sure it makes sense within your budget.
Save one card for occasional use. Having a solid credit history is important, so once your credit balances are under control, you may want to use one card in a disciplined way within your budget. In this case, you would just use the card for routine expenses that you are able to pay off in full at the end of the month.
Living without credit cards completely, or at least for the most part, is possible. Sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and having a solid savings strategy for the future will help make your discipline worth it!
¹ “How to repair your credit and improve your FICO® Scores,” myFico, https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/improve-your-credit-score
Much like physical health, financial health can be affected by binging, carelessness, or simply not knowing what can cause harm. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – as with physical health, it’s possible to reverse the downward trend if you can break your harmful habits.
Not budgeting A household without a budget is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and – sooner or later – it might sink or run aground in shallow waters. Small expenses and indulgences can add up to big money over the course of a month or a year.
In nearly every household, it might be possible to find some extra money just by cutting back on non-essential spending. A budget is your way of telling yourself that you may be able to have nice things if you’re disciplined about your finances.
Frequent use of credit cards. Credit cards always seem to get picked on when discussing personal finances, and often, they deserve the flack they get. Not having a budget can be a common reason for using credit, contributing to an average credit card debt of $6,913 for balance-carrying households.¹ At an average interest rate of over 16%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.²
The good news is that with a little discipline, you can start to pay down your credit card debt and help reduce your interest expense.
Mum’s the word. No matter how much income you have, money can be a stressful topic in families. This can lead to one of two potentially harmful habits.
First, talking about the family finances is often simply avoided. Conversations about kids and work and what movie you want to watch happen, but conversations about money can get swept under the rug.
Are you a “saver” and your partner a “spender”? Is it the opposite? Maybe you’re both spenders or both savers. Talking (and listening) about yourself and your significant other’s tendencies can be insightful and help avoid conflicts about your finances.
If you’re like most households, having an occasional chat about the budget may help keep your family on track with your goals – or help you identify new goals – or maybe set some goals if you don’t have any.
Second, financial matters can be confusing – which may cause stress – especially once you get past the basics. This may tempt you to ignore the subject or to think “I’ll get around to it one day”.
But getting a budget and a financial strategy in place sooner rather than later may actually help you reduce stress. Think of it as “That’s one thing off my mind now!”
Taking the time to understand your money situation and getting a budget in place is the first step to put your financial house in order. As you learn more and apply changes – even small ones – you might see your efforts start to make a difference!
¹ “2020 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Erin El Issa, Nerdwallet, Jan 12, 2021 https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
² “2020 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Erin El Issa
On one hand you may have some debt you’d like to knock out, or you might feel like you should divert the money into your emergency savings or retirement fund.
They’re both solid choices, but which is better? That depends largely on your interest rates.
High Interest Rate. The sooner you eliminate high interest rate debt, the better. Credit cards and personal loans can swiftly spiral out into crushing financial burdens. Even the highest income gets stretched thin if the interest rate is too high!
So if you fall into some extra cash and you’re faced with high interest debt, consider the peace of mind debt freedom would bring. It may be far more valuable than some zeros in a retirement account.
Low Interest Rate. On the other hand, sometimes interest rates are low enough to warrant building up an emergency savings fund instead of paying down existing debt. An example is if you have a long-term, fixed-rate loan, like a mortgage.
The idea is that money borrowed for emergencies, rather than non-emergencies, will be expensive, because emergency borrowing may have no collateral and probably very high interest rates (like payday loans or credit cards).
So it might be better to divert your new-found funds to a savings account, even if you aren’t reducing your interest burden, because the alternative during an emergency might mean paying 20%+ rather than 0% on your own money (or 3-5% if you consider the interest you pay on the current loan).
Raw Dollar Amounts. Relatively large loans might have low interest rates, but the actual total interest amount you’ll pay over time might be quite a sum. In that case, it might be better to gradually divert some of your bonus money to an emergency account while simultaneously starting to pay down debt to reduce your interest. A good rule of thumb is that if debt repayments comprise a big percentage of your income, pay down the debt, even if the interest rate is low.
The Best for You. While it’s always important to reduce debt as fast as possible to help achieve financial independence, it’s also important to have some money set aside for use in emergencies.
If you do receive an unexpected windfall, it will be worth it to take a little time to think about a strategy for how it can best be used for the maximum long term benefit for you and your family.
You haven’t spent that much money this month. There should be plenty left over to cover this, right?
Before long, the bank has sent you the alert—your account is in the red. You’ve overdrafted. Now you’ll almost certainly face two consequences…
1. Overdraft fees. The bank’s favorite way to slap you on the wrist for overspending. These are, on average, $33.58 per overdraft as of 2021.¹
2. Interest. The only reason you can keep purchasing once you’re in the negative is because the bank loans you money. And with every loan comes interest.
It may not seem significant, but these add up. In 2020, Americans spent 12.4 billion in fees alone.²
Here are some strategies to help your bank account stay above water…
Don’t activate overdraft coverage. This way, purchases that push your bank account past zero will be denied. Overdrafting becomes impossible. There are, however, two serious drawbacks…
You may feel silly if you try to make a purchase and it doesn’t go through. You may need to make a legitimate emergency purchase that exceeds the amount in your account.
Fortunately, there are other strategies at your disposal.
Link a savings account. If you have an emergency fund, you can link it directly to your spending account. That way, if you overdraft, your emergency fund will automatically make up the difference.
This works well for covering emergency expenses. But if your regular spending overdrafts your account, you may squander your emergency fund on non-emergencies.
Budget better. Consistent overdrafting may mean that you have a spending problem. If that’s the case, the time has come to cut back. Set up a budget that keeps your spending above water each month. That way, you won’t come close to the dangers of overdraft.
It all comes down to why you’re overdrafting. If you overdraft on occasion because of emergencies, simply link your emergency fund to cover the difference. But if it’s the symptom of a deeper issue, it may be time to seek help.
¹ “Overdraft fees hit another record high this year—here’s how to avoid them,” Alicia Adamczyk, CNBC, Oct 20, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/20/overdraft-fees-hit-another-record-highheres-how-to-avoid-them.html
² “Banks Charged Low-Income Americans Billions In Overdraft Fees In 2020,” Kelly Anne Smith, Forbes, Apr 21, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/how-to-prevent-overdraft-fees/
In an era of less social contact, debit cards are convenient. Just swipe and go. Even more so for their mobile phone equivalents: Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. We like fast, we like easy, and we like a good sale.
But are we actually spending more by not using cash like we did in the good old days?
Studies say yes. We spend more when using plastic – and that’s true of both credit card spending and debit card spending.² Money is more easily spent with cards because you don’t “feel” it immediately. An extra $2 here, another $10 there… It adds up.
The phenomenon of reduced spending when paying with cash is a psychological “pain of payment.” Opening up your wallet at the register for a $20.00 purchase but only seeing a $10 bill in there – ouch! Maybe you’ll put back a couple of those $5 DVDs you just had to have 5 minutes ago.
When using plastic, the reality of the expense doesn’t sink in until the statement arrives. And even then it may not carry the same weight. After all, you only need to make the minimum payment, right? With cash, we’re more cautious – and that’s not a bad thing.
Try an experiment for a week: pay only with cash. When you pay with cash, the expense feels real – even when it might be relatively small. Hopefully, you’ll get a sense that you’re parting with something of value in exchange for something else. You might start to ask yourself things like “Do I need this new comforter set that’s on sale – a really good sale – or, do I just want this new comforter set because it’s really cute (and it’s on sale)?” You might find yourself paying more attention to how much things cost when making purchases, and weighing that against your budget.
If you find that you have money left over at the end of the week (and you probably will because who likes to see nothing when they open their wallet), put the cash aside in an envelope and give it a label. You can call it anything you want, like “Movie Night,” for example.
As the weeks go on, you’re likely to amass a respectable amount of cash in your “rewards” fund. You might even be dreaming about what to do with that money now. You can buy something special. You can save it. The choice is yours. Well done on saving your hard-earned cash.
¹ “Debit Spending Is On The Rise, But Is It Here To Stay?” Visa Navigate, Apr 2021, https://navigate.visa.com/na/spending-insights/why-debit-spending-is-on-the-rise/
² “MIT study: Paying with credit cards activates your brain to create ‘purchase cravings’ for more spending,” Cory Stieg, CNBC, Mar 13, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/13/credit-cards-activate-brain-reward-network-create-cravings.html
Your credit history can have an impact on your eligibility for rental leases, raise (or lower) your auto insurance rates, or even affect your eligibility for certain jobs (although in many cases the authorized credit reports available to third parties don’t contain your credit score if you aren’t requesting credit). Because credit history affects so many aspects of financial life, it’s important to begin building a solid credit history as early as possible.
So, where do you start?
Apply for a store credit card.
Store credit cards are a common starting point for teens and young adults, as it often can be easier to get approved for a store card than for a major credit card. As a caveat though, store card interest rates are often higher than for a standard credit card. Credit limits are also typically low – but that might not be a bad thing when you’re just getting started building your credit. A lower limit helps ensure you’ll be able to keep up with payments. Because you’re trying to build a positive history and because interest rates are often higher with a store card, it’s important to pay on time – or ideally, to pay the entire balance when you receive the statement.
Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.
Another common way to begin building credit is to become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Ultimately, the credit card account isn’t yours, so your parents would be responsible for paying the balance. (Because of this, your credit score won’t benefit as much as if you are approved for a credit card in your own name.) Another thing to keep in mind is that some credit card providers don’t report authorized users’ activity to credit bureaus.* Additionally, even if you’re only an authorized user, any missed or late payments on the card can affect your credit history negatively.
Are secured cards useful to build credit?
A secured credit card is another way to begin building credit. To secure the card, you make an initial deposit. The amount of that deposit is your credit line. If you miss a payment, the bank uses your collateral – the deposit – to pay the balance. Don’t let that make you too comfortable though. Your goal is to build a positive credit history, so if you miss payments – even though you have a prepaid deposit to fall back on – you’re still going to get a ding on your credit history. Instead, it’s best to use a small amount of your available credit each month and to pay in full when you get the statement. This will help you look like a credit superstar due to your consistently timely payments and low credit utilization.
As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit – but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive.
“Will Authorized User Status Help You Build Credit?” NerdWallet, Sep 24, 2021, https://discvr.co/2lAzSgt.
The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for extra spending on daydream items. However, occasionally families may come into an inheritance, you might receive a big bonus at work, or benefit from some other sort of windfall.
If you ever inherit a chunk of money (or large asset) or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take. Unfortunately for many, though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear quickly with nothing to show for it, if you don’t have a strategy in place to handle it.
If you do receive some sort of large bonus – congratulations! But take a deep breath and consider these situations first – before you call your travel agent.
Taxes or Other Expenses. If you get a large sum of money unexpectedly, the first thing you might want to do is pull out your bucket list and see what you can check off first. But before you start spending, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or financial advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability as well.
If you suddenly own a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing that you may not have considered is how much it will cost to hang on to them. If you want to keep them, you’ll need to cover maintenance, insurance, and you may even need to fulfill loan payments if they aren’t paid off yet.
Pay Down Debt. If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:
Fund Your Emergency Account. Before you buy that red convertible, put aside some money for a rainy day. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.
Save for Retirement. Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.
Fund That College Fund. If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to save all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.
Treat Yourself. NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!
This post is not so much about a list of pros and cons as it is about one big pro and one big con concerning simple interest accounts. There are many fine-tooth details you could get into when looking for the best ways to use your money. But when you’re just beginning your journey to financial independence, the big YES and NO below are important to keep in mind. In a nutshell, interest will either cost you money or earn you money. Here’s how…
The Pro of Simple Interest: Paying Back Money
Credit cards, mortgages, car loans, student debt – odds are that you’re familiar with at least one of these loans at this point. When you take out a loan, look for one that lets you pay back your principal amount with simple interest. This means that the overall amount you’ll owe will be interest calculated against the principal, or initial amount, that was loaned to you. And the principle decreases as you pay back the loan. So the sooner you pay off your loan, you’re actually lowering the amount of money in interest that you’re required to pay back as part of your loan agreement.
The Con of Simple Interest: Growing Money
When you want to grow your money, an account based on simple interest is not the way to go. Setting your money aside in an account with compound interest shows infinitely better results for growing your money.
For example, if you wanted to grow $10,000 for 10 years in an account at 3% simple interest, the first few years would look like this:
In a simple interest account, the 3% interest you’ll earn is a fixed sum taken from the principal amount added to the account. And this is the amount that is added annually. After a full 10 years, the amount in the account would be $13,000. Not very impressive.
But what if you put your money in an account that was less “simple”?
If you take the same $10,000 and grow it in an account for 10 years at a 3% rate of interest that compounds, you can see the difference beginning to show in the first few years:
At the end of 10 years, this type of account will have earned more than the simple interest account, without you having to do any extra work! And that’s not even considering adding regular contributions to the account over the years! Just imagine the possibilities if you can get a higher interest rate and combine that with a solid financial plan for your future.
One final thought: Simple isn’t always the way to go, and that can be a good thing.
Let’s explore some situations where using your credit card makes sense…and what pitfalls to avoid.
You’re strategically leveraging rewards. It’s perfectly possible to reap the benefits of cash back rewards without going into debt to earn them. How? Try using your credit card just for everyday purchases like gas and groceries. If you don’t overspend, you’re essentially getting paid for using your card.
But that’s the trick. Those rewards can make it tempting to buy things you don’t need. It’s easy to justify excess purchases if you’re earning those extra points! But in the long-term, the rewards won’t outweigh the costs and risks of overusing a credit card. So if you think you can thread the needle of responsibly using a credit card to leverage points without overspending, go for it!
You’re making significant online purchases. The simple fact is that there are serious rewards—and protections—when you use your card for online purchases. This is especially true for travel. Some cards offer specific rewards for booking hotels or plane tickets that you should certainly take advantage of. There are also some protections for online purchases that credit cards offer. Once again, don’t plan a fancy vacation just to take advantage of rewards. But if you need to travel, you might as well get any benefits coming to you!
Wisely using credit cards is a matter of self-control. If you can take advantage of rewards and protections without overspending, good for you! For others, however, it may be wise to avoid cards altogether while they pay down their debt.
Not sure which strategy is best for you? Contact a licensed and qualified financial professional. They can help evaluate your situation and make a recommendation.
Do you ever feel like no matter how much money you make, it never seems like enough? You’re not alone. A recent survey found that more than half of middle-income families didn’t have three months of expenses saved.¹ Debt and spending can be out of control for many reasons—the economy, our upbringing, or even because we’re hardwired to want more. This article explores three bad habits that may be hurting your financial situation. You might be surprised by what they are!
Treating credit cards like free money. When you’re tempted to buy something and don’t have the cash, it’s easy to just use credit. But instant gratification can have serious consequences. Little by little, you may find yourself racking up more and more debt. Paying your monthly credit card bill can start requiring all of your cash flow… and maybe more. Yikes.
The solution? Limit your credit card usage as much as possible. Make a habit of only using your credit card for certain low-dollar items, like gas. If you can’t buy your impulse purchase in cash, go home!
Trying to buy happiness. It’s tempting to think that you’re going to be happy if you buy one thing or another. But what happens when the newness wears off? Suddenly, you have a closet full of clothes and shoes that really aren’t making you any happier! The same is true of houses, cars, gadgets, anything you can think of. Buying things to keep up appearances or just because you think they’ll make you fulfilled is a recipe for overspending on things that, ultimately, don’t matter.
The key is to find happiness beyond your material possessions. That’s no small task, and there’s no set road map for it. But it’s absolutely critical to find a source of meaning that isn’t tied to stuff and things. You could be happier—and more financially stable—for it.
Ignoring your financial situation. Let’s face it—finances can be scary! Overwhelming debt, paying for college, and feeling out of your depth are uncomfortable emotions. And ignoring and denying uncomfortable feelings is often a first line of defense.
But it’s a dangerous game. Ignoring what the numbers tell you can lead you deeper and deeper into financial instability. You could be setting up a much harder path for yourself in the future than if you tackled your financial situation now.
Tackling your financial fears isn’t always easy. It might require serious soul searching. Just know these three things…
Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Once you can admit that your finances need help, you’re ready to start making positive changes.
Seeking help is always wise. Whether it’s a friend, spouse, qualified counselor, or financial professional, enlisting help can give you the courage you need to face your fears.
You can do this! It might not feel like it, but you have what it takes to confront this challenge… and win! Don’t lose hope, and start moving forward.
Managing your money wisely requires more than knowing different techniques and strategies. It takes maturity. The more you invest in making improvements to your life overall, the better emotionally equipped you’ll be to navigate the world of personal finances.
¹ “A year after COVID, personal finances are not so grim for millions of Americans,” Jessica Menton, USA TODAY, Apr 9, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/money/2021/04/09/irs-stimulus-check-2021-third-covid-payment-unemployment-benefits/7015277002/
And that’s normally when your emergency fund would kick in. But what if you don’t have an emergency fund? Or what if there isn’t enough money in it to cover your current catastrophe? If you find yourself in this situation, you might consider applying for a personal loan to close the gap—but should you?
The simple answer? Probably not.
Starting with the basics—what is a personal loan? A personal loan is an unsecured debt that allows people or companies in need of money to borrow funds from lenders for any reason including but not limited to…
- Home improvements - Medical expenses - Debt consolidation
These loans are often set up for a short period of time with fixed monthly payments.
There are pros and cons to any form of debt. Personal loans are no different—they have their own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Personal loans can offer lower interest rates than credit cards, which can help you save money on interest payments. That can make them useful for consolidating other high interest rate loans.
However, personal loans can come with higher fees and significant interest rates. And for most financial emergencies, personal loans simply aren’t your best option. For instance, if you’re struggling with medical debt, you should first consider negotiating with your doctor’s office for more favorable payment terms first.
It’s not advisable to use a personal loan to make a large purchase, like a new TV, either. If you’re using the money for anything other than a last resort for emergencies or debt consolidation, it’s probably not worth it and could end up costing you more in interest payments down the road.
In conclusion, personal loans can be useful in specific circumstances or if you’re at the end of your financial rope. But they shouldn’t be your first option. Making sure you’ve got a sufficient emergency fund in place, a well-thought-out budget, and a solid savings strategy set up as soon as possible may help avoid the need for a loan and create more debt.
The internet has made it possible for someone to steal personal information and commit credit card fraud from the comfort of their own home. Being a victim of credit card fraud can seriously impact your financial well-being by decreasing your credit score and sinking you deep into debt. Repairing the damage can be stressful and time-consuming. Take a look at some tips on how you can fend off credit card fraud and stay safe online.
Don’t give your credit card number to anyone who calls you on the phone. Hang up and call their customer service line directly. Unless you can verify that you’re speaking with a legitimate institution, keep your card information to yourself. The same is true for emails, sketchy websites and landing pages, and social media posts.
Avoid sensitive accounts on public Wi-Fi. If you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, it’s possible that someone could be eavesdropping on your information. That’s because public internet is relatively insecure—hackers have far easier access to your passwords and account information in a coffee shop than in your workplace. It’s always safer to check your bank accounts on a private Wi-Fi connection that’s password-protected.
Review transactions often, if not daily. Make it a habit to check your credit card account regularly to ensure all charges are accurate. If you notice any suspicious activity, whether it’s a store you’re not familiar with or a charge from a location in another state, contact your credit card customer service immediately.
Separate your cards from your wallet. If a thief nabs your purse or wallet, will they have access to your credit cards? Consider buying a separate wallet to carry your credit and debit cards. It’s a simple step that might protect your bank account from pickpockets and muggers. (Hint: Consider using a minimalist wallet for your cards. Carrying two bulky wallets would just be inconvenient!)
In conclusion, there are many ways to avoid credit card fraud. Try following the tips in this article, and stay vigilant about your account information.
“What Are Your Odds of Getting Your Identity Stolen?,” Eugene Bekker, IdentityForce, Apr 15, 2021, https://rb.gy/tdft4g
You’re tired of feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of credit card balances and student loans. The good news is that there are options available to help you break free from this cycle!
One option is debt consolidation. It involves taking out one large loan (typically through a bank) to pay off all your other smaller debts.
Let’s discuss how debt consolidation works, who may benefit from it most, and what you need to know before making a decision about whether or not this option is right for you.
Debt consolidation is a way to combine some or all of your debt into one loan. This can make a significant difference in your debt reduction by…
Let’s consider an example. Let’s say you have two debts, one that’s $3,000 at 10% interest and another that’s $5,000 at 15% interest. If the term of both loans is 5 years, you would pay almost $3,000 in interest! Consolidating your debt into one loan that’s $8,000 at 7% would almost halve your interest payments.
There are several types of loans that this process can deal with, including home equity loans or car loans. It’s also possible to use a new credit card with a promotional interest rate and high credit limit to pay down your other debts (use this method with caution). Debt management programs sometimes offer debt consolidation for unsecured debt like credit cards and medical debt. Just know that you may not qualify for these types of loans if it’s too soon after filing bankruptcy or if you have a low credit score.
But debt consolidation may not always be your best option, especially if you can’t secure a lower interest rate or the term of the loan is significantly longer than your current loans. It’s best to collaborate with a financial professional who can help you assess your situation and create the right debt-busting strategy!
These mistakes are often avoidable. But a parent who has the best intentions and lacks the knowledge needed to properly manage their finances may not recognize these errors until the damage has been done.
Here are 5 common financial mistakes every parent should be aware of!
1. Not saving for their children’s education. You know the numbers—it seems higher education is growing more and more expensive every year. So the time to start financially preparing for your child’s university years is today. Meet with a financial professional to discuss how you can pay for college without resorting to student loans!
2. Not saving for retirement. Skimping on your long-term savings might be tempting, especially if your budget feels stretched to the breaking point by the basic expenses of providing for your family!
But saving can support your long-term financial position. It gives you a shot to pay for your own retirement, it can reduce the impact of long-term care on your family, and it might even create a financial legacy to leave to your children.
3. Spending too much on credit cards. It’s not just parents. Many Americans overuse their credit cards. But it can be a little too easy to do for parents on tight budgets. Don’t have enough in cash to buy your child a new toy? Just put it on the card!
Unfortunately, credit cards can become a significant drain on your cash flow. And the less available cash you have on hand, the less you’ll be able to save for your other financial goals!
4. Buying a house they can’t afford. Make no mistake—your family needs space. You need space! Just make sure that the house you buy is actually within your budget. Mortgage payments can chip away at your cash flow and reduce your wealth building and education funding power. And don’t forget to factor in the cost of house maintenance before you move in.
5. Buying things they don’t need to impress other parents. You love your kids and want the best for them. That’s what makes you a great parent!
But be mindful of why you buy things for your family. Are you providing for your kids? Or are you simply trying to impress your friends and neighbors? Take care that you put the wellbeing of your family first, not the opinions of others.
If you need help navigating your financial responsibilities, contact me! We can discuss strategies that might give your family the upper hand they need to thrive.
That’s why it’s crucial to learn how credit cards work before deciding whether or not to get one. Here are three important truths that everyone should know about credit cards.
Credit cards are NOT free money. You read that correctly. Every time you make a purchase with your credit card, you’re actually borrowing money. Lenders want you to pay that money back—and then some. Using your card for purchases outside of your budget or to buy expensive toys beyond your means can result in a stunning level of debt. But that’s not all…
Credit card debt can take years to eliminate. Credit cards are notorious for high interest rates, averaging 16.43% in the third quarter of 2020.¹ That makes paying down credit card debt especially difficult. In fact, it might take years to pay off some cards if you made the minimum payments alone. Limiting your usage and paying your bill on time every month is an absolute must if you’re going to use a credit card.
Credit cards can be a great way to build credit. But credit cards aren’t all bad! Consistently paying your bill on time and limiting your credit usage can indicate to future lenders that you ll be trustworthy with a loan. They may offer you more favorable interest rates and terms if you have a great credit score!
Credit card usage has the potential to make or break your financial wellness. Recognizing the risks—and benefits—that easily accessible credit can bring should inspire you to navigate your finances with care and intention.
¹ “What Is a Good APR for a Credit Card?,” Melissa Lambarena, Nerdwallet, Mar 4, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/credit-cards/what-is-a-good-apr-for-a-credit-card
It may not be as daunting as you might think. In fact, there are simple steps you can take today that can help position you to retire with the wealth you desire.
Pay yourself first. It’s simple—schedule a recurring transfer to your retirement savings account when you get your paycheck. This transforms building wealth for your future into an effortless process that occurs without your even thinking about it.
Save your bonuses. Unexpected windfalls are exciting! But don’t forget to pause for a moment before you take off for the Bahamas. If you hadn’t gotten that bonus, would your life and your current financial strategy still be the same as it was last week? Consider putting (most of) that extra money away for later, and using a fraction of it for fun!
Reduce your debt. Credit cards and any high interest loans are the first priority when retiring debt—so that you can retire too someday! Do you really know how much you’re paying in interest each month? (Once you know this number, you can’t “unknow” it.) But take heart! Use this as a powerful incentive to pay those balances off as quickly as you can.
Every month you chip away at your debt, you’ll owe less and pay less in interest. (You’ll feel better too.) And you know what to do with the leftover money since you knocked out that debt. Hint: Save it.
But keep this in mind—life is about balance. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while. Just make sure to pay yourself first now, so you can REALLY treat yourself later in retirement.
2020 witnessed home prices soar by 15% to average more than $320,000–a prohibitive price for many seeking to buy their first house.¹
But even if you aren’t ready to buy a house today, there are steps you can take now that may better position you to become a homeowner in the future!
Build your emergency fund. An emergency fund is a critical line of financial defense that can help lay the foundation for buying a house. That’s because an emergency fund provides a cash cushion while you prepare to purchase your home and then begin paying off your mortgage. The unexpected expenses of homeownership can be far less detrimental to your long-term goals when you have a dedicated fund specifically designed to cover emergencies!
Increase your credit score. An excellent credit score is imperative for first time home buyers for two reasons…
First, actions that increase your credit score–debt management and paying your bills on time–can help create a solid financial foundation as you shoulder the responsibility of servicing a mortgage.
Second, lenders typically offer more favorable loan terms to people with high credit scores. That can result in more cash flow over the life of your mortgage. A recent survey discovered that mortgage holders with very good credit scores save more than $40,000 over the lifetime of their loan!²
Take steps to boost your credit score before you start house hunting. Automate your bill payments so they’re always on time, and begin reducing the balances on your credit cards, student loans, and auto loans!
Start saving for your down payment ASAP. Aim to have a down payment of at least 20% of your future home’s value saved before the home buying process begins.
Why? Because paying more up front and borrowing less to buy your home reduces the interest you’ll owe over the long-term. A substantial down payment might also lower the price of closing costs and negate your need to buy private mortgage insurance. Usually, the higher your down payment, the better!
The time to lay the groundwork for buying your first house is now. Build an emergency fund, increase your credit score, and save enough for a significant down payment. Then, search for a house that meets your needs and won’t break the bank!
¹ “U.S. home prices hit a record high in 2020. Is home buying still affordable?,” Peter Miller, The Mortgage Reports, Oct 13, 2020, https://themortgagereports.com/70539/record-high-prices-record-low-mortgage-rates-during-covid#:~:text=Home%20values%20and%20sales%20prices,on%20record%2C%E2%80%9D%20says%20Redfin.
² “Raising a ‘Fair’ Credit Score to ‘Very Good’ Could Save Over $56,000,” Kali McFadden, LendingTree, Jan 7, 2020, https://www.lendingtree.com/personal/study-raising-credit-score-saves-money/
It can be enlightening to see how rates are applied. Hopefully, it motivates you to pay off those cards as quickly as possible!
What is APR? At the core of understanding how finance charges are calculated is the APR, short for Annual Percentage Rate. Most credit cards now use a variable rate, which means the interest rate can adjust with the prime rate, which is the lowest interest rate available (for any entity that is not a bank) to borrow money. Banks use the prime rate for their best customers to provide funds for mortgages, loans, and credit cards.¹ Credit card companies charge a higher rate than prime, but their rate often moves in tandem with the prime rate. As of the second quarter of 2020, the average credit card interest rate on existing accounts was 14.58%.²
While the Annual Percentage Rate is a yearly rate, as its name suggests, the interest on credit card balances is calculated monthly based on an average daily balance. You may also have multiple APRs on the same account, with a separate APR for balance transfers, cash advances, and late balances.
Periodic Interest Rate. The APR is used to calculate the Periodic Interest Rate, which is a daily rate. 15% divided by 365 days in a year = 0.00041095 (the periodic rate), for example.
Average Daily Balance. If you use your credit card regularly, the balance will change with each purchase. So if credit card companies charged interest based on the balance on a given date, it would be easy to minimize the interest charges by timing your payment. This isn’t the case, however—unless you pay in full—because the interest will be based on the average daily balance for the entire billing cycle.
Let’s look at some round numbers and a 30-day billing cycle as an example.
Day 1: Balance $1,000 Day 10: Purchase $500, Balance $1,500 Day 20: Purchase $200, Balance $1,700 Day 28: Payment $700, Balance $1,000
To calculate the average daily balance, you would need to determine how many days you had at each balance.
$1,000 x 9 days $1,500 x 10 days $1,700 x 8 days $1,000 x 3 days
Some of the multiplied numbers below might look alarming, but after we divide by the number of days in the billing cycle (30), we’ll have the average daily balance. ($9,000 + $15,000 + $13,600 + $3,000)/30 = $1,353.33 (the average daily balance)
Here’s an eye-opener: If the $1,000 ending balance isn’t paid in full, interest is charged on the $1353.33, not $1,000.
We’ll also assume an interest rate of 15%, which gives a periodic (daily) rate of 0.00041095.
$1,353.33 x (0.00041095 x 30) = $16.68 finance charge
$16.68 may not sound like a lot of money, but this example is a small fraction of the average household credit card debt, which is $8,645 for households that carry balances as of 2019.³ At 15% interest, average households with balances are paying $1,297 per year in interest. Wow! What could you do with that $1,297 that could have been saved?
That was a lot of math, but it’s important to know why you’re paying what you might be paying in interest charges. Hopefully this knowledge will help you minimize future interest buildup!
Did you know?
When you make a payment, the payment is applied to interest first, with any remainder applied to the balance. This is why it can take so long to pay down a credit card, particularly a high-interest credit card. In effect, you can end up paying for the same purchase several times over due to how little is applied to the balance if you are just making minimum payments.
¹ “Prime Rate,” James Chen, Investopedia, Jun 30, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/primerate.asp
² “What Is the Average Credit Card Interest Rate?,” Adam McCann, WalletHub, Oct 12, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/average-credit-card-interest-rate/50841/
³ “Credit Card Debt Study,” Alina Comoreanu, WalletHub, Sep 9, 2020, https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/credit-card-debt-study/24400
Americans spend about 34% of their income on servicing their mortgages, car loans, and, of course, credit cards.¹
Assuming a household income of $68,703, that translates to roughly $23,359 going down the drain each and every year.²
Obviously, converting that money from debt maintenance to wealth building would be a dream come true for most Americans. But there’s more at stake here than retirement strategies.
The true cost of debt is your peace of mind.
Take the example from above. A third of your income is going towards debt and the rest is split up between everyday living and transportation expenses. You feel you can make ends meet as long as the money keeps coming in.
But what happens if a recession causes massive layoffs? Or if a pandemic shuts down the economy for months?
The sad fact is that the hamster wheel of debt prevents a huge chunk of Americans from saving enough to cover even a brief window of unemployment, let alone a shutdown!
That lack of financial security can have serious repercussions, including bankruptcy. And feeling like you’re always one unexpected emergency away from a financial crisis can result in a myriad of mental health issues. Numerous studies have shown that high levels of debt increase anxiety, depression, anger, and even divorce.³
Conquering debt isn’t about changing numbers on a page. It’s about reclaiming your peace. It’s about securing financial stability for you and your family. Your income is a powerful tool if you can protect it from lenders.
If you’re stressed about debt and seeking some relief, let me know. We can review your situation together and come up with a game plan that will recover the financial security that’s rightfully yours.
¹ “Study: Americans Spend One-Third of Their Income on Debt,” Maurie Backman, The Ascent, Mar 6, 2020, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/credit-cards/articles/study-americans-spend-one-third-of-their-income-on-debt/#:~:text=And%20recent%20data%20from%20Northwestern,feel%20guilty%20about%20their%20predicament
² “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019,” Jessica Semega, Melissa Kollar, Emily A. Shrider, and John Creamer, United States Census Bureau, Sept 15, 2020, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html#:~:text=Median%20household%20income%20was%20%2468%2C703,and%20Table%20A%2D1)
³ “The Emotional Effects of Debt,” Kristen Kuchar, The Simple Dollar, Oct 28, 2019, https://www.thesimpledollar.com/credit/manage-debt/the-emotional-effects-of-debt/#:~:text=In%20that%20study%2C%20Gathergood%20found,including%20depression%20and%20severe%20anxiety.&text=The%20study%20also%20reported%20that,stress%20also%20report%20severe%20anxiety.
Here’s the breakdown:
Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.
Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!
Credit card interest rates now average over 17%, and interest rates are on the rise.³ For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future!
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.
In many cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.
When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.