Tag Archives: debt

Beware of the Newest Credit Card Game

ABC’s Good Morning America aired an interesting segment today about credit card companies that are looking at the places people shop to determine credibility.  So for example, if the credit card company’s data shows that a high percentage of people who shop at XYZ Store don’t pay their bills on time, some companies are using this as a reason to significantly cut customer’s credit limits without warning. 

The subject of the segment was a man named Kevin Johnson, a 29 year old who owns a PR Firm in Atlanta and has stellar credit (a 764 FICO score).  He had been a loyal American Express user when he received a letter saying his credit limit was lowered from $10,800 to $3,800.  Ken says he rarely kept any balances on his credit cards and has always paid on time.

This new twist is called “behavioral analysis” or “behavioral scoring” and it seems quite unfair.  Apparently this is just another way for credit card companies to assess their risk during the recession.  It’s a bit strange to me, especially for those who are trying to save money by shopping at a discount store or for those who have always been loyal paying customers. 

The other weird part of the story is that American Express received more than $3 billion in taxpayer money from the “Troubled Assets Relief Program,” yet they are choosing to cut off great customers like Kevin Johnson.  It is the Kevin Johnsons of the world who are paying the taxes to fund thse bailout programs…

I guess the moral of the story is that in a battle between a single consumer and a huge credit card company, the credit card company is going to win.  During times like these, we as consumers need to remember that we can’t count on using our credit card company’s money to get by.  They have the right to revoke our privileges at any time.

Read the whole story here for more details.

America Needs Financial Education

As you know, I’m very passionate about helping others become financially savvy. I have a strong belief2125697998_b053ac13e1_m1 that having a good relationship with money positively affects every area of a person’s life. I was doing some research last night for a financial education program I’m working on with FELA and found an article that gave some interesting facts worth sharing.

• Fewer than 10 states require a unit of structured personal finance education in public schools.
• High school students who aren’t exposed to financial education by the time they graduate will rarely receive it in college either. http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0212/p13s01-legn.html
• Many colleges are starting voluntary series of weekend and evening seminars, or “boot camps” but the programs are very rarely required courses.
• According to student loan company Nellie Mae, the lack of financial education carries over into adult hood and leaves one in ten students with more than $7,000 in credit card debt before they graduate college.

 •Many parents choose never to bring up money to their children. Perhaps because they are insecure about it themselves. Therefore many Americans grow up without having established good habits.

• Those who need financial education programs the most, are the least likely to seek them out due to intimidation, or a perception that the programs are too expensive/require too much time. http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/ideasatwork/feature/34369/Discounting+financial+literacy

In my opinion, our current economic situation begs the question: where were our financial literacy programs when we needed them the most?
I feel that America is paying the price for being greedy, which is only enhanced by the large number of people who are not financially literate.

1365752197_2b5b9e4b92_mI saw the lack of financial education first hand when selling sub-prime mortgages to clients of all socio-economic backgrounds at my first job out of college (more thoughts on this odd adventure here). It was disturbing to me how little my clients knew about a simple mortgage refinance, or that they were being charged interest upon interest daily on their pile of credit card debt.

Oddly enough, my experience would suggest formal education has no relationship to financial literacy, as it was often the clients with several degrees that struggled with their finances the most.

The economy is in shambles. People can no longer afford their homes. Americans are drowning in credit card debt. Most twentysomethings are stuck with heaps of student loans and can barely make ends meet. Many baby boomers just realized they haven’t saved nearly enough for retirement.

How could this crisis have been helped by simply integrating financial education into schools, colleges and even businesses from day 1?

Perhaps if American’s had been exposed to personal finance early on, they would’ve considered buying more conservative homes and cars, saving a little more for retirement, or not spending their money aimlessly just to promote the image of having achieved “The American Dream.”

As I always say, we had it coming to us. The economic meltdown is no surprise especially considering most Americans entered adulthood with no preparation or tools of how to combat the inevitable challenges that they would face. I hope that financial education becomes a top priority for America from here on out. At least then we’d have a chance of making the next generation a bit better than ours

Do You Understand The Time Value of Money?

The phrase “time is money” is not just used in terms of a powerful career person talking to his or her subordinates. “Time is Money” is actually a mathematically proven statement that explains the value of money now versus its value in the future. The reason is simple: A dollar that you receive today can be invested so that you can have more than a dollar at some point in the future. Therefore $1 today, is worth more than $1 received tomorrow.

Perhaps you’ve heard the famous lottery debate: would you take the $100,000 now or in 5 years? Let’s just keep it VERY simple for now and review the basics of this concept. Once you understand it, I hope you will see how valuable putting your extra cash in an interest bearing account or investment is. I also hope you can apply the principle of TMV in your daily life.

For some of you this is a review. If you weren’t a business major, this may seem a bit foreign. Either way, it is very important stuff to understand because everyone has and needs to learn to deal with money.

Example 1

You have an extra $1,000 sitting in your checking account that you never touch. If you moved that $1,000 into an account that earned 5% interest and didn’t touch it for 3 years, how much would you have after 3 years?

Present Value of your money is: $1,000

Value at the end of year 1: $1,000 * (1.05)= $1,050
Value at the end of year 2: $1,000 * (1.05)^2=$1,102.50
Value at the end of year 3: $1,000 * (1.05)^3= $1,157.63

Future Value of your money after 3 years: $1,157.62

Example 2

You want to pay off your $5,000 student loan in 3 years.  Assuming the loan accumulates no interest, how much would you need today in order to have $5,000 at the end of 3 years at 5%?

To answer this question, we need to flip the equation. Therefore, $5,000 is the Future Value of your money, we need to solve for the Present Value.

So if, FV= PV * (1 + i)^n

Then, PV= FV/ (1 + i)^n

(n=period, in this case years; i= interest rate)

PV= $5,000/ (1.05)^3
= $4,319.19

So you will need to start with $4,319.18 today to grow your account to $5,000 at 5% after 3 years.

Example 3

How does saving $150 per month at 6% look after 5, 10, 20 and 30 years?

5 years: $10,466
10 years: $24,582
20 years: $69,306
30 years: $150,677

Plug in your own example using this calculator.  Here’s how to fill in the calculator for this type of scenario:

PV= 0 (you start with nothing)
FV= leave blank (because this is what we are solving for)
Rate= interest rate
Periods= # of years you want to save*12 (i.e. period for 5 years is 60, or 5*12)
Drop Down Menu, select monthly (you will be contributing to this account each month).   Then click FV to solve for Future Value.

The Rule of 72

The Rule of 72 is a popular way to quickly calculate how long it will take to double your money. It’s quite simple. All you do is take 72 and divide the interest rate you are getting, to find out how many years it takes to double your money.

So if you are earning 9% on your investment, 72/9=8 years

If you are earning 8% on your investment, 72/8= 9 years

In today’s economy, if you are earning 3% on your investment, 72/3= 24 years

If you have other scenarios that you’d like me to teach you to solve, send ‘em over.  I’m happy to help!

9 Ways to Make ’09 Divine!

1. Make managing your debt a top priority. The economy is experiencing turbulence. Eliminating debt is key. Enough said.
2. Decide what you are working toward in your career. If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there? Design your personal “road map” and figure out some milestones you’d like to get to along your journey, even if you don’t know your final destination.

3. Pursue a hobby that you love just for fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if taking an art class, starting a book club, joining a sports league or training for a marathon led you to discover some very important things about yourself. Moreover, it is very likely that this passion will lead you to meet some great people2734320482_7109f98c97_m and put you in line for the next chapter of your career.
4. Read daily.
With Blackberries, blogs, Google reader, twitter, and online newspaper articles there is no excuse not to read a few articles and learn something each day. We live in a fast paced world, don’t get left behind.
5. Start/build your emergency fund. According to the Consumer Federation of America, the average amount of unexpected expenses in a given year is $2,000. Cars break down, medical bills will come, and things in your house will inevitably need to be repaired. Rather than pay interest upon interest by charging these expenses to your credit card, be prepared so that these occurrences will be slight inconveniences rather than a disaster.
6. Check your FICO score. This is especially important if you are searching for a new job. Many companies will run your credit and take it into consideration before hiring you for a position. If you have excessive debt or have a history of late payments you may be frowned upon by future employers. You should also check your FICO score to make sure you are not a victim of Identity Theft. If your credit score has increased significantly, you may be eligible for lower rates on your car loan, credit cards or even mortgage. Get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.
7. Clean out your desk and office. Get all the clutter out so you can stop wasting time trying to find that one file or paper. De-cluttering should make you feel less stressed and more productive at work.
8. Commit to 15 minutes of fitness each day. This is one of my Mom’s New Years Resolutions that I think is great. The idea behind it is that you will do some form of physical activity each day. By telling yourself you only have to do 15 minutes, you are likely to get hooked and exercise more and more. You will also get into the habit of exercising each day, even when you don’t want to.

My favorite habit of Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Sharpen The Saw.” Usually when people think of burn out, they assume they need to take a break. The truth is, when you pick up the dull saw after a break, the saw is still dull. You’d be surprised how much a work out can do to sharpen your mind, motivation, work ethic and relationships.

9. Write down what you want in 2009. Don’t be shy. It is said that you will not achieve your goals until they are written down. Also, if you believe in The Law of Attraction you know that it is important to “put it out there”: write down every thing you want, read it daily, talk about what you want with friends and family and think about it. Before you know it those things will become a reality for you.

Financial Makeover Week 1: Getting Started and The Truth About Minimum Payments

This is the part where you get on the scale and face that scary number.

779063639_de702c6d6e_mThis is also the part of the makeover where you learn Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

This week your job is to gather all of your credit card statements. Then, on a spreadsheet or in a notebook (whichever you will not avoid) write down each account’s balance as of December 31, 2008. Here is a simple example representing “Sally Simple’s” credit card debt:

Macy’s $500 22%

WaMu $2.000 16%

Chase $4,000 12%

Sally has $6,500 in credit card debt. Where should she begin paying this down?

Good News: If you are only paying the minimum payments each month, then you are building your credit score by consistently paying on time.

Bad News: If you are only paying minimum payments each month, you may be stuck with your debt for over 20 years if you keep this pattern going.

Now Sally has Two Choices:

1. Sally can focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first, as mathematically this will save her the most money in the long run.

2. She may want to consider paying off the card with the lowest balance first so she can see her progress and stay motivated.

The Math Behind Your Minimum Payment

For this example we will use Sally’s Chase card, which has an interest rate of 12% and a balance of $4,000.

If Sally pays only the minimum payment on her credit card each month, it will take her over 23 years to pay her card off and she would end up paying Chase $3,696.57 in INTEREST.

If Sally decided to pay a consistent $100 per month (which in this example happens to be only $20 more than the initial minimum payment), it will take her just over 4 years and cost her $1,133.87 in interest to reach a zero balance.

These numbers assume Sally never charges another thing on thing on this card again. If she kept on swiping away, these numbers would look much worse.

So my major lessons about high interest credit cards and minimum payments are:

1. Decide what you can afford to pay in fixed payments each month and pay without fail.
• Even when the balance starts going down, keep paying this payment so you chip away at the principal rather than drowning yourself in interest only payments.

2. If you are truly dedicated to getting out of debt, stop using your credit cards if at all possible. Otherwise, this plan really doesn’t work. This may mean cutting up all but 1 or 2 cards in case of an emergency.

3. Play with this calculator to understand the real cost of charging an unexpected emergency on your credit card.

10 Things You Should Know About Credit Cards


1. Credit Card companies have the right to change your rate at any time. All they need to do is provide 15 days notice. The company hopes you will discard the notice thinking it’s junk mail, never notice and make them rich.

2. Cards with 0% interest rates are not what they seem. Cards with too-good-to-be-true introductory rates usually last for 6 months to a year at most. When the intro period ends, you will often be charged “back interest” from the first day you opened the card.

3. Many 0% cards are only 0% for balance transfers, not for new purchases. Initiating a balance transfer will probably cost you about 3% of the balance.

4. If you are even one day late in paying ANY of your bills, many credit card companies reserve the right to give you a default rate of as much as 39% in some states. This new trick is totally legal and is called The Universal Default Clause. Read more about it here.

5. Perks like cash back, points and airline miles do not work in your favor. By the time you’ve earned anything even slightly worthwhile, you will have already paid thousands of dollars in interest.

6. After your introductory “teaser” rate ends and you’ve racked up a huge balance that you initially thought you could pay off, the rate is now sky high and even more difficult for you to pay off.

7. Credit Card companies frequently use the old “bait and switch” technique: they will attempt to trick consumers into getting their card by offering 0% (or some other low rate) then send the actual card and agreement in the mail at a much higher rate hoping you won’t notice.

8. Your minimum payment is almost all interest. Therefore, your minimum payment is designed so that you will never completely pay the card off. Check your next credit card statement and compare the monthly finance charge to the minimum payment for proof.

9. If you don’t have established credit, you will probably get stuck with a card with a very small limit, a very high interest rate, an initial administration cost and annual fee. Your card will often divide these costs over 12 months so that even if you aren’t using your credit card, you will owe the credit card company something. Another excuse for them to say you are late and slap you with more fees.

10. You have the right to demand changes to your credit card terms. You can try to negotiate a lower APR, a longer grace period or smaller annual fee. If they do not agree, tell them that you would rather not do business with them anymore and would rather take a competitor’s better offer. Chances are they’d rather hang on to you as a customer and will grant your requests.

The Start of Your 2009 Financial Makeover

As another new year approaches, many of us are reflecting on 2008’s accomplishments. We are also reflecting on things that we would like to change in 2009. For most American’s this consists of making the same New Years Resolutions year after year, most of which will be abandoned by March.

According to www.usa.gov, the top five new years resolutions are:

1. Lose Weight
2. Manage Debt
3. Save Money
4. Get a Better Job
5. Get Fit

I would say all five of these resolutions sound pretty appealing to me and probably to most other twentysomething-aged women I know. Because I’m a huge advocate of setting realistic goals and sticking to them each year, I’ve decided to start a series to help Career Girls readers break these vague goals down into bite sized pieces.

The first series will be about managing debt and saving money.

Now let me put out a disclaimer. I’ve always had a huge fascination with Personal Finance and money. This is why I studied Finance in college and am pursuing my CFP in 2009. BUT, I must admit that part of my interest is rooted in the fact that I have not always been the most responsible lady with my money.

Sort of like the overweight girl who says she knows that eating crap food every day is wrong and working out is right, I know that spending too much and saving too little is wrong. Yet somehow our emotions, desired lifestyle or temptations get the best of us and we do not listen to the logical black and white of what is right and wrong.

Rather than sitting here and telling you things you already know that will never help you change your habits and behavior, I’m going to take it a step further and give you real tools and facts, along with some emotional boosts to get you in better financial shape in 2009. I promise to be honest and real and follow my own advice.

I think that facing our financial situation is sometimes the hardest part of getting started, especially since we are women. Many women have the idea that a prince will come and take all their money problems away. Others have grown up in families that did not discuss money, and now that they are in the real world they have no clue what to do so they keep spending more than they earn and hoping that things will eventually work out.

I know I’ve probably lost a handful of readers by this point in the post, but for those who wish for more freedom, confidence and power in life it really does start with getting your finances in order and understanding how this whole money thing works.

So let’s get to it! That way in a year from now, we can have less debt, more savings, and sleep better at night knowing we are on the right track to achieve our life goals.