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First Steps Towards Your First Home

First Steps Towards Your First Home

If you’ve checked home prices recently, you know that this is a rough time to be a first time house hunter!

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/


Common Financial Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Common Financial Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Finances are a challenge.

Whether you’re in your 20’s and paying off student loans or in your 40’s and trying to save for retirement, financial decisions can be complicated.

The good news? There are steps you can take to avoid mistakes and help your peace of mind when it comes to money management. Here are some of the most common financial blunders people make, and tips on how to avoid them.

Caring too much about what others think.

This may be the tough love you need to hear. No one judges what you drive. Or the watch on your wrist. Or the size of your home. And the one-in-a-million person who does? They’re probably someone with WAY bigger problems than your 2006 economy car that still gets great gas mileage.

But that fear is powerful for a reason. It’s been carefully nurtured by TV commercials and Instagram accounts with a singular goal—to make you buy things you don’t really need.

Know this—you’ll gain far more respect by attending to your own financial situation than by desperately trying to keep up appearances.

Not asking for help when you need it.

Let’s face it—mastering your finances is symbolic of becoming an adult. You’re supposed to know how to run a budget, save for retirement, and somehow have enough left over for a nice summer vacation. There’s tremendous internal pressure to act like you know what you’re doing.

But were you ever taught how money works? Did any teacher, professor, or mentor sit you down and explain the Rule of 72, the Power of Compound Interest, or the Time Value of Money? If you’re like most, the answer is no. It’s a cruel double-bind—to feel good about yourself, you must master skills no one has ever taught you.

This keeps you from asking for help. You get caught in shame, denial, and confusion. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know something that seems so basic, so essential.

But rest assured—you’re not the only one. And the right mentor or financial professional will listen to your story without judgment and seek to help you.

Procrastination.

There are few things more daunting than staring at a pile of bills, an empty bank account, or an intimidating stack of paperwork. You know what you have to do. But it doesn’t happen because you’re so overwhelmed by the task ahead. And it’s especially daunting if you’ve never been taught how money works—you don’t even know where to start!

But nothing causes financial pain quite like procrastination. That’s because it causes exponential damage. Your bills pile up. Your interest rates rise. Your savings fall drastically behind, and you must save far more to catch up.

The antidote? Break tasks down into smaller, manageable steps. Maybe that means signing up for an online budget app or working with a financial professional. It might mean automating $15 per month into an emergency fund, or cooking one dinner at home each week.

It doesn’t matter how small the task is, as long as it helps put money back in your pocket and stops the scourge of procrastination.

In conclusion, making financial mistakes is something that can happen to anyone. By knowing some of the most common financial mistakes people make and what you can do to avoid them, you’ll probably have more peace of mind when it comes to money management.


Toxic Financial Habits

Toxic Financial Habits

As well-intentioned as we might be, we sometimes get in our own way when it comes to improving our financial health.

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


Beware These Budgeting Potholes

Beware These Budgeting Potholes

So you’ve made the commitment and started your budget, but after a while something seems off.

Maybe your numbers never add up or too many expenses are coming “out of the blue”. You might also feel a sense of dread every time you make a purchase. No matter what you do, this whole budgeting thing doesn’t seem to be working.

Hang in there! Here are a few budgeting potholes that might be slowing down your financial goals and how to avoid them!

Stinginess

Budgets are supposed to help you use your money wisely. They should be a positive part of your life—they’re not supposed to make you feel like you’re constantly failing. But sometimes our passion to save money and get our financial house in order gets the better of us, and we set up budgets that are too restrictive. While coming from good intentions, an overly thrifty budget can actually make it harder to achieve your goals. An impossible to follow plan can make you feel discouraged and resentful. You might even decide that it’s not worth the hassle! Try starting with a more reasonable strategy and then build from there!

Too complex

Sometimes our budgets are just too complicated to actually be useful. Not everyone loves working with numbers, and sometimes fiddling with spreadsheets can get so overwhelming that we just want to quit. Plus, there’s plenty of room for human error! A good option is to investigate free budgeting sites or apps. All you do is punch in the correct numbers and the magic of technology will do the rest!

One time budget

Life is constantly changing. Your simple, streamlined budget might be perfect for the life of a young single professional, but will it still hold up in five years? Where will the portion of your paycheck that works down your student loans go once you’re debt free? And when will you start saving for a house?

Take some time every few months to review your budget and see what’s changed. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished and areas that need improvement. Ask yourself what your next milestones should be and if those line up with your long-term goals!

Budgeting takes work. But it shouldn’t be a burden. Cut yourself some slack, prune your process, and stay consistent. You might be surprised by the difference filling in budgeting potholes can make in your financial life!


Who Qualifies for Student Loan Forgiveness?

Who Qualifies for Student Loan Forgiveness?

Here’s every Millennial’s dream—you wake up one day to find all your student loan debt completely forgiven.

Recently, that dream became a reality for dozens of former students when the U.S. government gave $17 billion of debt relief to 725,000 borrowers.¹

Still, that hardly puts a dent in the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt collectively owed by 43 million Americans.²

So, what are the chances that your loans will be forgiven, and how do you know if you qualify?

Here are three ways to qualify for student loan forgiveness…

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Work for a qualifying non-profit or public organization? Then you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

Under this program, your remaining loan balance will be forgiven after you make 10 years’ worth of payments.³

And fortunately, it just got far easier to qualify—before recent reforms, the denial rate for the PSLF program was up to 99%.⁴

So if you’re a public servant, head over to the Federal Student Aid website and click Manage Loans.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Similar to the PSLF program, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program is available for educators. If you’ve taught in a classroom for 5 years and meet the basic qualifications, you could be eligible for up to $17,500 of debt forgiveness.⁵

But be warned—there are some highly specific qualifications. From the Federal Aid website:

“You must not have had an outstanding balance on Direct Loans or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans as of Oct. 1, 1998, or on the date that you obtained a Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan after Oct. 1, 1998.”⁶

Sound complicated? That’s because it is. As with most financial moves, meet with a debt professional or financial planner to see if you qualify.

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

If you’re totally and permanently disabled, you may be eligible for a complete discharge of your student loan debt.

You’ll need to submit proof of your disability to your loan servicer. The proof can come in many forms, such as a doctor’s letter, a Social Security Administration notice, or documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

As with everything involving bureaucracy and disability, you may quickly find yourself mired in red tape and conflicting phone numbers. That’s why it’s always wise to seek out professional help if you think you might qualify.

The sad truth is that few actually qualify for these programs. If you work in the private sector, are healthy, and face significant debt, you’ll need to find alternative strategies for moving from debt to wealth.

Still, it’s good to know that there are options out there for those who qualify. So if you think you might be eligible for one of these programs, don’t hesitate to explore your options.


¹ “Here’s who has qualified for student loan forgiveness under Biden,” Erika Giovanetti, Fox Business, Apr 26, https://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/student-loan-forgiveness-programs-biden-administration

² “Student Loan Debt Statistics: 2022,” Anna Helhoski, Ryan Lane, Nerdwallet, May 19, 2022 https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/student-loan-debt

³ “Want Student Loan Forgiveness? To Qualify, Borrowers May Need To Do This First,” Adam S. Minsky, Forbes, May 16, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamminsky/2022/05/16/want-student-loan-forgiveness-to-qualify-borrowers-may-need-to-do-this-first/?sh=6aa44a617cdb

⁴ “Want Student Loan Forgiveness?” Minsky, Forbes, 2022

⁵ “Teacher Loan Forgiveness,” Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher

⁶ “Teacher Loan Forgiveness,” Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher


Credit Score vs. Credit Report

Credit Score vs. Credit Report

Your credit score is a big deal. At the least, a low score can saddle you with high interest rates, or at the worst, prevent you from getting important loans.¹ It can even be a roadblock to renting a house or getting a job!²

But what exactly is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report? It turns out the two have a close relationship. Let’s explore what they are and how they relate to each other.

Credit Report. Your credit report is simply a record of your credit history. Let’s break that down.

Many of us carry some form of debt. It might be a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt (or all three!). Some people are really disciplined about paying down debt. Others fall on hard times or use debt to fuel frivolous spending and then aren’t able to return the borrowed money. As a result, lenders typically want to know how reliable, or credit worthy, someone is before giving out a loan.

But predicting if someone will be able to pay off a loan is tricky business. Lenders can’t look into the future, so they have to look at a potential borrower’s past regarding debt. They’re interested in late payments, defaulted loans, bankruptcies, and more, to determine if they can trust someone to pay them back. All of this information is compiled into a document that we know as a credit report.

Credit Score. All of the information from someone’s credit report gets plugged into an algorithm. It’s goal? Rate how likely they are to pay back their creditors. The number that the algorithm spits out after crunching the numbers on the credit report is the credit score. Lenders can check your score to get an idea of whether (or not) you’ll be able to pay them back.

Think of a credit report like a test and the credit score as your grade. The test contains the actual details of how you’ve performed. It’s the record of right and wrong answers that you’ve written down. The grade is just a shorthand way to evaluate your performance.

So are credit reports and credit scores the same thing? No. Are they closely related? Yes! A bulletproof credit report will lead to a higher credit score, while a report plagued by late payments will torpedo your final grade. And that number can make all the difference in your financial well-being!


¹ “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” Latoya Irby, The Balance, Mar 4, 2021, https://www.thebalance.com/side-effects-of-bad-credit-960383

² “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” Latoya Irby.


The Danger of Overestimating Your Financial Literacy

The Danger of Overestimating Your Financial Literacy

Have you overestimated your financial literacy?

It’s a precarious position—few things are more dangerous than being overconfident AND wrong. It’s a direct path to acting rashly and making big mistakes.

And when it comes to money, those mistakes can be costly.

This isn’t speculation—it’s a scientifically studied phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Put simply, it’s the tendency for unskilled people to grossly overestimate their own competence. The lower the skill level, the more likely they are to overestimate themselves.

And that plays out in personal finance time and time again.

Think about that family member with yet another hair-brained business idea. Or the NFT-slinging college student who’s certain that one of the .JPGs on his computer will be worth millions someday.

It’s the same pattern—you learn a factoid about money. “Compound Interest makes your money grow.” “Real estate can be lucrative.” “You need to start saving ASAP.”

You take that information and, instead of using it as a foundation to do more research, you use it as ammunition. Now you’re an expert! And experts don’t need to read or learn—they already know everything.

From there, it’s a slippery slope into dangerous territory.

Next thing you know, you’re swept up in businesses you don’t understand, or handing your money to “gurus” who promise get-rich-quick schemes.

It’s not always so dramatic, of course. Overestimating your financial literacy can manifest in more subtle ways—like not bothering to comparison shop for a mortgage because you’re confident you already know all there is to know about home loans.

But the end result is always the same—you make mistakes, and those mistakes cost you money.

So, how can you avoid falling into the trap of overconfidence?

The first step is to acknowledge that it’s a trap. Be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect and its impact on your personal finances.

The second step is to commit to lifelong learning. Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, meet with a professional—whatever it takes to continuously expand your knowledge.

And finally, be humble. Recognize that there’s always more to learn, even if you’re already pretty savvy when it comes to money.

If you can do those things, you’ll be on your way to financial success. And that’s something you can feel confident about.


Who Needs Life Insurance?

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Life insurance is important… or so you’ve been told.

But do you really need it? And how can you know? Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t need the family and legacy protecting power of life insurance and some specific examples of both.

Protecting your dependants. Is there anyone in your life who would suffer financially if your income were to vanish? If so, then you have dependents. And anyone with financial dependents should buy life insurance. Those are the people you’re aiming to protect with a life insurance policy.

On the other hand, if you live alone, aren’t helping anyone pay bills, and no one relies on you financially to pursue their dreams, then you still might need coverage. Let’s look at some specific examples below.

Young singles. Let’s say you’ve just graduated from college, you’ve started your first job, and you’re living in a new city. Your parents don’t need you to help support them, and you’re on your own financially. Should you get life insurance? If you have serious amounts of student or credit card debt that would get moved to your parents in the event of your passing, then it’s a consideration. You also might think about if you have saved enough in emergency funds to cover potential funeral expenses. Now would also potentially be a better time to buy a policy early while rates are low, especially if you’re considering starting a family in the near future.

Married without children. What if your family is just you and your spouse? Do either of you need life insurance? Remember, your goal is to protect the people who depend on your income. You and your spouse have built a life together that’s probably supported by both of your incomes. A life insurance policy could protect your loved one’s lifestyle if something were to happen to you. It would also help them meet lingering financial obligations like car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, even if they still have their income.

Single or married parents. Anyone with children must consider life insurance. No one relies on your income quite like your kids. It’s what clothes them and feeds them. Later on, it can empower them to pursue their educational dreams. Life insurance can help give you peace of mind that all of those needs will be protected. Even a stay-at-home parent should consider a policy. They often provide for needs like childcare and education that would be costly to replace. Life insurance is an essential line of defense for your family’s dreams and lifestyle.

Business owners. No one wants to think about what would happen to their business without them. But entrepreneurs and small business owners can use life insurance to protect their hard work. A policy can help protect your family if you took out loans to start your business and are still paying down debt. More importantly, it can help offset the losses if your family can’t operate the business without you and has to sell in poor market conditions.

Not everyone needs life insurance right now. But it’s a vital line of defense for the people you care about most and should be on everyone’s radar. The need might not be as urgent for a young, debt-free single person, but it’s still worth it to start making plans to protect your future family. Contact a financial professional today to begin the process of preparing!


Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion.¹ That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.²

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

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 Cards
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!

Auto Loans
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.

Student Loans
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.

Mortgage Debt
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.


Sources:
¹ El Issa, Erin. “2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” NerdWallet, 2018, https://nerd.me/2ht7SZg.
² “Grasping Large Numbers.” The Endowment for Human Development, 2018, https://bit.ly/1o7Yasq.
³ “Current Credit Card Interest Rates.” Bankrate, 7.11.2018, https://bit.ly/2zGcwzM.


Understanding Generation X

Understanding Generation X

Every generation over the last hundred years has witnessed rapid changes.

But few have been caught in the crossfire of change quite like Generation X. Sandwiched between two larger generations, the folks born between 1965 and 1976 have seen an iron curtain fall, two major wars, a digital revolution, a global financial crisis, and now a world-shattering pandemic. Bridging the gap between so many stages of history has fashioned their perspective and financial health. Here’s a guide to understanding Generation X!

The numbers. Generation X holds surprisingly little wealth. They account for only 16% of the nation’s wealth, while Baby Boomers hold 56%.(1) Debt is also rampant among Gen-Xers, with an average outstanding debt of $136,869.(2) That’s higher than any other generation—and has only increased over the past few years.(3) None of this seems to slow down their non-essential spending, which is also greater than their parents and children.(4) And they’re more reluctant than other generations to seek help from a financial advisor.(5)

Attitudes and anxieties. These pressures have shaped the attitudes and outlooks of Gen-Xers. They’re about as stressed as Millennials when it comes to debt, with a focus on credit cards instead of student loans.(6) But there’s more to it than just stress. Generation X is incredibly hard on itself. 41% would rate their financial health as not very good to not good at all. 43% think their finances are much worse off than their peers’, and half think they earn less.

Gen-X’s outlook on retirement doesn’t line up with previous generations. They’re not particularly prepared; pre-pandemic, they had saved about $35,000 for retirement. Many plan on cutting costs in order to save, but they’re estimated to be the first generation that’s less prepared for retirement than their parents.(7) No wonder most plan on working through their golden years!(8)

The Sandwich Effect. There are several reasons for the dire straits of many Gen-Xers. They endured the financial crisis of 2008, and before that the dot com bubble of 2000, and now they find themselves in the midst of a pandemic-fueled recession. But that’s not all. They’re currently a bridge generation. They have retiring parents to care for (Baby Boomers) and young adult children they’ve had to support (Millennials). Every generation has to contend with this sandwiching effect at some point, but it’s proven particularly difficult for the Gen-Xers.

There’s no doubt that Generation X faces particularly serious challenges. The real question is what’s next for the bridge generation? Where will they find the financial tools to achieve peace of mind for retirement?

Sources:

(1) https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/generation-x-genx.asp

(2) https://www.lendingtree.com/personal/changes-to-each-generations-debt/

(3) https://www.marketwatch.com/story/all-the-ways-gen-x-is-financially-wrecked-2019-05-15

(4) https://www.marketwatch.com/story/all-the-ways-gen-x-is-financially-wrecked-2019-05-15

(5) https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/generation-x-genx.asp

(6) https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/millennials-gen-x-money-stresses-retirement-savings-2019-10

(7) https://www.lifehealth.com/gen-x-deep-dive-financial-stress/

(8) https://www.aarp.org/money/credit-loans-debt/info-2015/gen-x-interesting-finance-facts.html#:~:text=The%20typical%20member%20of%20Generation,debt%20of%20%2488%2C313%20per%20adult.


Are You Prepared For A Rainy Day?

Are You Prepared For A Rainy Day?

It’s never a bad idea to prepare for a financial emergency.

Unexpected expenses, market fluctuations, or a sudden job loss could leave you financially vulnerable. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your bank account’s rainy days!

Know the difference between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund … but have both! <br> People often use the terms interchangeably, but there are some big differences between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund. A rainy day fund is typically designed to cover a relatively small unexpected cost, like a car repair or minor medical bills. Emergency funds are supposed to help cover expenses that might accumulate during a long period of unemployment or if you experience serious health complications. Both funds are important for preparing for your financial future—it’s never too early to start building them.

Tackle your debt now <br> Just because you can manage your debt now doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in the future. Prioritizing debt reduction, especially if you have student loans or credit card debit, can go a long way toward helping you prepare for an unexpected financial emergency. It never hurts to come up with a budget that includes paying down debt and to set a date for when you want to be debt-free!

Learn skills to bolster your employability <br> One of the worst things that can blindside you is unemployment. That’s why taking steps now to help with a potential future job search can be so important. Look into free online educational resources and classes, and investigate certifications. Those can go a long way towards diversifying your skillset (and can look great on a resume).

None of these tips will do you much good unless you get the ball rolling on them now. The best time to prepare for an emergency is before the shock and stress set in!


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Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

Should You Get Rid Of Your Credit Cards?

There’s no doubt that credit card debt is a huge financial burden for many Americans.

On average, each household that has revolving credit card debt owes $7,104 (1). It might be tempting to see those numbers and decide to throw out your credit cards entirely. After all, why hang on to a source of temptation when you could make do with cash or a debit card? However, keeping a credit card around has some serious benefits that you should consider before you decide to free yourself from plastic’s grasp.

You might have bigger debts to deal with <br> On average, credit card debt is low compared to auto loans ($27,934), student loans ($46,679), and mortgages ($192,618) (2). Simply put, you might be dealing with debts that cost you a lot more than your credit card. That leaves you with a few options. You can either start with paying down your biggest debts (a debt avalanche) or get the smaller ones out of the way and move up (a debt snowball). That means you’ll either tackle credit card debt first or wait while you deal with a mortgage payment or student loans. Figure out where to start and see where your credit card fits in!

Ditching credit cards can lower your credit score <br> Credit utilization and availability play a big role in determining your credit score (3). The less credit you use and the more you have available, the better your score will likely be. Closing down a credit card account may drastically lower the amount of credit you have available, which then could reduce your score. Even freezing your card in a block of ice can have negative effects; credit card companies will sometimes lower your available credit or just close the account if they see inactivity for too long (4). This may not be the end of the world if you have another line of credit (like a mortgage) but it’s typically better for your credit score to keep a credit card around and only use it for smaller purchases.

It’s often wiser to limit credit card usage than to ditch them entirely. Figure out which debts are costing you the most, and focus your efforts on paying them down before you cut up your cards. While you’re at it, try limiting your credit card usage to a few small monthly purchases to protect your credit score and free up some extra funds to work on your other debts.

Need help coming up with a strategy? Give me a call and we can get started on your journey toward financial freedom!

(1) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(2) Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019

(3) Latoya Irby, “Understanding Credit Utilization: How Your Usage Affects Your Credit Score,” The Balance, February 20, 2020

(4) Lance Cothern, “Will My Credit Score Go Down If A Credit Card Company Closes My Account For Non-Use?” March 2, 2020


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The starter kit for building good credit

The starter kit for building good credit

Having a good credit score is one of the most important tools you can have in your financial toolbox.

Your credit report may affect anything from how much you pay for a cell phone plan, to whether you would qualify for the mortgage you might want.

Getting and maintaining a good credit score can be advantageous. But how do you achieve a good credit report? What if you’re starting from scratch? The dilemma is like the chicken and the egg question. How can you build a positive credit report if no one will extend you credit?

Read on for some useful tips to help you get started.

Use a cosigner to take out a loan
One way to help build good credit is by taking out a loan with a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for the repayment of the loan if the borrower defaults. Many banks may be willing to give loans to people with no credit if someone with good credit acts as a cosigner on the loan to help ensure the money will be paid back.

Build credit as an authorized user
If you don’t want or need to take out a loan with a cosigner, you may want to consider building credit as an authorized user of someone else’s credit card – like a parent, close friend, or relative you trust. The credit card holder would add you as an authorized user of the card. Over time if the credit account remains in good standing, you would begin building credit.

Apply for a store credit card to build your credit
Another way to start building your credit record is to secure a store credit card. Store credit cards may be easier to qualify for than major credit cards because they usually have lower credit limits and higher interest rates. A store credit card may help you build good credit if you make the payments on time every month. Also be sure to pay the card balance off each month to avoid paying interest.

Keep student loans in good standing
If there is an upside to student loan debt, it’s that having a student loan can help build credit and may be easy to qualify for. Just keep in mind, as with any loan, to make payments on time.

Good credit takes time
Building a good credit report takes time, but we all must start somewhere. Your credit score can affect many aspects of your financial health, so it’s worth it to build and maintain a good credit report. Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Most importantly, as you begin building credit, protect it by avoiding credit card debt and making your payments on time.


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The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

It might sound like a bad monster movie title, but the return of consumer debt is a growing concern.

A recent New York Times article details the rise of consumer debt, which has reached a new peak and now exceeds the record-breaking $12.68 trillion of consumer debt we had collectively back in 2008. In 2017, after a sharp decline followed by a rise as consumer sentiment improved, we reached a new peak of $12.73 trillion.[i]

A trillion is a big number. Numbers measured in trillions (that’s 1,000 billion, or 1,000,000 million – yes, that’s correct!) can seem abstract and difficult to relate to in our own individual situations.

While big numbers can be hard to grasp, dates are easy. 2008 is when the economy crashed, due in part to an unmanageable amount of debt.

Good debt and bad debt
Mortgage debt still makes up the majority of consumer debt, currently 68% of the total.[ii] But student loans are a category on the rise, currently more than doubling their percentage of total consumer debt when compared to 2008 figures.[iii] Coupled with a healthier economy, these new levels of consumer debt may not be a strong concern yet, but the impact of debt on individual households is often more palpable than the big-picture view of economists. Debt has a way of creeping up on families.

It’s common to hear references to “good debt”, usually when discussing real estate loans. In most cases, mortgage interest is tax deductible, helping to reduce the effective interest rate. However, if a household has too much debt, none of it feels like good debt. In fact, some people pass on home ownership altogether, investing their surplus income and living in more affordable rented apartments – instead of taking on the fluctuating cost of a house and its seemingly never-ending mortgage payments.

Credit card debt
Assuming that a mortgage and an auto loan are necessary evils for your household to work, and that student loans may pay dividends in the form of higher earning power, credit card debt deserves some closer scrutiny. The average American household owes over $15,000 in credit card debt,[iv] more than a quarter of the median household income. The average interest rate for credit cards varies depending on the type of card (rewards cards can be higher). But overall, American households are paying an average of 14.87% APR for the privilege of borrowing money to spend.[v]

That level of debt requires a sizeable payment each month. Guess what the monthly credit card interest for credit card debt of $15,000 at an interest rate of 15% would be? $187.50! (That number will go down as the balance decreases.) If your monthly payment is on the lower end, your debt won’t go down very quickly though. In fact, at $200 per month paid towards credit cards, the average household would be paying off that credit card debt for nearly 19 years, with a total interest cost of almost $30,000 – all from a $15,000 starting balance! (Hint: You can find financial calculators online to help you figure out how much it really costs to borrow money.)

You may not be trillions in debt (even though it might feel like it), but the first step to getting your debt under control is often to understand what its long-term effects might be on your family’s financial health. Formulating a strategy to tackle debt and sticking to it is the key to defeating your personal debt monsters.


[i], [ii] & [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html\ [iv] & [v] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

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Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

As well-intentioned as we might be, we sometimes get in our own way when it comes to improving our financial health.

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 over $9,000 for balance-carrying households.[i] At an average interest rate of over 15%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.[ii] 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!


[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt\ [ii] https://www.fool.com/taxes/2018/04/22/how-much-does-the-average-american-pay-in-taxes.aspx

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Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

Three simple words can strike fear into the heart of any millennial:

Student.

Loan.

Debt.

The anxiety is not surprising: Members of the Class of 2017 had an average of $39,400 in student loan debt.¹

Nearly $40 grand? For that you could travel the world. Put a down payment on a house. Buy a car. Even start a new business! But instead of having the freedom to pursue their dreams, there’s a hefty financial ball and chain around millennials’ feet.

That many young people owing that much money before they even enter the workforce? It’s unbelievable!

Now just imagine adding car payments, house payments, insurance premiums, and more on top of that student debt. No wonder millennials are feeling so terrible: studies show that graduates with debt experience feelings of shame, panic, and anxiety.² Now is the time to get ahead of your debt. Not later. Not when it’s more convenient or feels less shameful. You have the potential right now to manage that debt and get out from under it.

So how do you get out from under your debt? Sometimes improving your current situation involves more than making smarter choices with the money you earn now. Getting out of that debt ditch means finding a way to make more.

There are 2 things you can monetize right now:

  • Your education
  • Your experience

Both have their own challenges. You may not have spent much time in a particular field yet, so not a lot of experience. And what if you’re working a job that has nothing to do with your major? There goes education.

Two speed bumps. One right after the other. But you can still gain momentum in the direction you want your life to go!

How? A solid financial strategy. A goal you can see. A destination for financial independence.

Debts can become overwhelming – remember that stat up there? But with a strategy in mind for the quick and consistent repaying of your loans, so much of that stress and burden could be lifted.

Contact me today. A quick phone call is all we need to help get you rolling in the direction YOU want to go.


¹ “A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2018.” Student Loan Hero, 5.1.2018, https://bit.ly/2de72OP.
² Muller, Dr. Robert T. “Crushing Debt Affects Student Mental Health.”
Psychology Today, 1.4.2018, https://bit.ly/2LKDg3w.

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Budgeting 101: Where should I start?

Budgeting 101: Where should I start?

It’s the new year so there are bound to be some new resolutions you want to stick to.

If one of them is improving your budgeting skills – or maybe just creating a budget in the first place – read on for some guidelines that may help reduce some of your expenses (including what you might call the essentials).

Start with debt and interest rates
If you have any loans in your name, rest assured there will be interest associated with those loans, unless you’ve got a really nice aunt who loaned you some money interest-free. From the borrower’s perspective, interest is simply the expense of receiving money from a creditor which you’re required to pay back over time. No one wants to pay higher interest than necessary.

In contrast to other expenses, like rent, food, or entertainment, interest itself produces absolutely no value for the borrower. The borrowed money may produce value, but the interest itself does not. For that reason, you’re going to want to pay as little interest on your loans as possible.

One strategy is to transfer credit card balances to lower APR credit cards – just beware of transfer fees. Read the fine print to make sure the new card actually carries a lower interest rate, as sometimes the rate after the introductory period may go up. If you can refinance any of your loans, like student, auto, or home, consider it. For example, there’s no reason to pay 5% if you can pay 4%. (Again, make sure you understand the terms and any fees involved.)

Slim down the essentials
This is the time when all items in your budget are going to come under consideration. Everything is on the table. For transportation, any reduction in cost you can make is going to depend on your location. If you live in a high-density urban area and you normally drive yourself or use public transit to get to work or other destinations, ask yourself if you can walk or cycle instead. These options often provide health benefits as well.

The key? Look at the essential sections of your budget and mentally run through how you obtain those essentials, like driving to the nearest grocery store or who your landlord is. Then brainstorm alternatives for paying for these items or services – anything is fair game! (For example, would your landlord reduce your rent if you help out with yard maintenance?) Finally, do a little research and analysis to see if those alternatives are cheaper (and feasible).

Eliminate non-essentials
The next step is to look at each non-essential and determine its utility to you. If you barely think about the actual purchase, you might have simply developed the routine of purchasing that item or service (think: “monthly movie subscription service you never use anymore”). In that case, the hardest part might be combing through your credit card statement and nixing the services you never use. Another example of routine, autopilot spending might be the soda you buy with your lunch. Do you really need it? Maybe not. Switching to tea or coffee that you can brew at home may be cheaper. And water is (usually) free.

Repeat this process with every non-essential. Are you really using your 10GB/mo mobile internet plan? If not, look for a lower, more cost-effective GB plan. The key here is to try to distinguish between convenience and necessity.

Don’t discount the discount
There are discounts everywhere, from loyalty programs to manufacturers’ coupons to seasonal specials. If there is an essential that burns your budget, it may be worth checking to see if you’re eligible for a government program.[i]

Some credit cards offer rewards programs, but be very careful to pay off the full amount each month to avoid accruing interest, otherwise your rewards could be negated.

Keep the big picture in mind
Sometimes it can be hard to justify the time and effort that might be involved to save $2 per day. It’s just two dollars, right? But look at the accumulated savings. Saving $2 per day for a year translates to over $700, or about $60 per month. If you choose to brew that tea instead of buying the soda, maybe you can afford the 10GB plan instead of the 1GB plan.


[i] https://www.usa.gov/benefits

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Getting a Degree of Financial Security

Getting a Degree of Financial Security

The financial advantage gap between having a college degree and just having a high school diploma is widening!

In 2015, the average college graduate earned 56% more than the average high school graduate. This is the widest gap between the two that the Economic Policy Institute has recorded since 1973!

This income difference is making saving for retirement difficult for millennials without a college degree. According to the Young Invincibles’ 2017 ‘Financial Health of Young America’ study, millennial college grads – even with roadblocks like student debt – have saved nearly $21,000 for retirement. That’s quite a lot more as compared to the amount saved by those with a high school diploma only: under $8,000.

However, a college grad may encounter a different type of retirement savings roadblock than a reduced income – student loan debt. But the numbers show that even with student loan debt, the advantages of having a college degree and a solid financial strategy outweigh the retirement saving power of not having a college degree.

Here’s an issue plaguing both groups: more than two-thirds of all millennial workers surveyed do not have a specific retirement plan in place at all.

Regardless of your level of education or your level of income, you can save for your retirement – and take steps toward your financial independence. Or maybe even finance a college education for yourself or a loved one down the road.

The first step to making the most of what you do have is meeting with a financial professional who can help put you on the path to a solid financial strategy. Contact me today. Let’s work to get your money working for you.


Sources:
USA TODAY: “Pay gap between college grads and everyone else at a record.” 1.12.2017
Young Invincibles: “Financial Health of Young America.” 2017
The Pew Charitable Trusts: “Retirement Plan Access and Participation Across Generations.” 2.15.2017

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Making Money Goals That Get You There

Making Money Goals That Get You There

Setting financial goals is like hanging a map on your wall to inspire and motivate you to accomplish your travel bucket list.

Your map might have your future adventures outlined with tacks and twine. It may be patched with pictures snipped from travel magazines. You would know every twist and turn by heart. But to get where you want to go, you still have to make a few real-life moves toward your destination.

Here are 5 tips for making money goals that may help you get closer to your financial goals:

1. Figure out what’s motivating your financial decisions. Deciding on your “why” is a great way to start moving in the right direction. Goals like saving for an early retirement, paying off your house or car, or even taking a second honeymoon in Hawaii may leap to mind. Take some time to evaluate your priorities and how they relate to each other. This may help you focus on your financial destination.

2. Control Your Money. This doesn’t mean you need to get an MBA in finance. Controlling your money may be as simple as dividing your money into designated accounts, and organizing the documents and details related to your money. Account statements, insurance policies, tax returns, wills – important papers like these need to be as well-managed as your incoming paycheck. A large part of working towards your financial destination is knowing where to find a document when you need it.

3. Track Your Money. After your money comes in, where does it go out? Track your spending habits for a month and the answer may surprise you. There are a plethora of apps to link to your bank account to see where things are actually going. Some questions to ask yourself: Are you a stress buyer, usually good with your money until it’s the only thing within your control? Or do you spend, spend, spend as soon as your paycheck hits, then transform into the most frugal individual on the planet… until the next direct deposit? Monitor your spending for a few weeks, and you may find a pattern that will be good to keep in mind (or avoid) as you trek toward your financial destination.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Credit. Building a strong credit report may assist in reaching some of your future financial goals. You can help build your good credit rating by making loan payments on time and reducing debt. If you neglect either of those, you could be denied for mortgages or loans, endure higher interest rates, and potentially difficulty getting approved for things like cell phone contracts or rental agreements which all hold you back from your financial destination. There are multiple programs that can let you know where you stand and help to keep track of your credit score.

5. Know Your Number. This is the ultimate financial destination – the amount of money you are trying to save. Retiring at age 65 is a great goal. But without an actual number to work towards, you might hit 65 and find you need to stay in the workforce to cover bills, mortgage payments, or provide help supporting your family. Paying off your car or your student loans has to happen, but if you’d like to do it on time – or maybe even pay them off sooner – you need to know a specific amount to set aside each month. And that second honeymoon to Hawaii? Even this one needs a number attached to it!

What plans do you already have for your journey to your financial destination? Do you know how much you can set aside for retirement and still have something left over for that Hawaii trip? And do you have any ideas about how to raise that credit score? Looking at where you are and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go can be easier with help. Plus, what’s a road trip without a buddy? Call me anytime!

… All right, all right you can pick the travel tunes first.


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How to Get Off of the Post-Grad Financial Roller Coaster

How to Get Off of the Post-Grad Financial Roller Coaster

Congratulations on earning a college degree!

Your hard work could result in better job prospects (including better benefits for you and your family), greater job security, a bigger income – and years of repaying student loan debt that could adversely affect your retirement savings!

Wait, what?

According to the Young Invincibles ‘Financial Health of Young America’ study, the average retirement accounts of those with a college degree and no student loan debt grew at double the rate of those with a college degree and student loan debt.

That makes sense: if you don’t have loans to pay back, you’ll potentially have more cash early on to set aside for retirement. This puts you in a better position than someone who can’t set aside the same amount because of their student loan debt.

What doesn’t make sense is that your financial future should suffer a setback right on the heels of dedicating yourself to bettering your chances. What an emotional roller coaster – working hard for years to improve your future but having to delay the benefits of your hard work because of debt!

There is a way out. A solid strategy to pay it back along with a well-thought-out plan to help finance your future. I can help you with both.

Contact me today, and together we can work on a strategy that can bring back the excitement of earning that degree!


Source:
Young Invincibles: “Financial Health of Young America.” 1.2017

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