Financial RelapsesFull Article
Oops. You did it again.
Maybe you used the credit card to buy something you didn’t really need, even though you’ve sworn it off time and time again.
Maybe you found yourself clicking checkout, even though you promised to stop online shopping.
Or maybe you just found yourself discouraged by the number in your bank account… again.
Either way, you’ve had a financial relapse—you did something to set back progress with your goals, even though you knew better.
It sucks. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and quit.
But here’s the truth—it’s part of the process.
Research suggests that there are six steps to changing behavior…
Pre-contemplation » Contemplation » Preparation » Action » Maintenance » Relapse
Why is relapse the final step? Because it’s an opportunity. It reveals the limitations in your strategy, unnoticed behavior triggers, and above all, new areas for growth.
This is good to acknowledge, but it’s a far cry from how relapses make you feel. They feel like proof positive that you’ll never change, that you didn’t change. You fell back into your old behaviors.
But nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that relapses merely point you to deeper truths about yourself… and what you’re capable of.
So next time you feel down about a hard-to-break financial habit, give yourself some grace. Examine what happened, and integrate what you learn into your strategy.
Consider meeting with a financial professional to chat things through. They can help you process what happened, refocus on your goals, and create a strategy to prevent future relapses.
And if you feel like you’re stuck in harmful financial habits that you can’t break, book a meeting with a licensed and qualified mental health professional. They can help you identify patterns, understand their origins, and develop steps for change.
¹ “Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model for Social Workers,” Yeshiva University, May 11, 2021, https://online.yu.edu/wurzweiler/blog/prochaska-and-diclementes-stages-of-change-model-for-social-workers
Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges, too.
In fact, money conflicts are behind 41% of divorces.¹ The age-old adage that love trumps wealth may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.
These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.
1. Set a goal for debt-free living. Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.
2. Talk about money matters. Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.
3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account. As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.
With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)
¹ “10 Most Common Reasons for Divorce,” Shellie R. Warren, Marriage.com, Jul 14, 2021, https://www.marriage.com/advice/divorce/10-most-common-reasons-for-divorce/.
Online banking is normal these days.
Most major banks have apps or websites that allow you to transfer funds and manage your account without ever going into a branch. But what about the new generation of online-only banks that seem to be popping up? Can you be a reliable bank without brick and mortar locations? Let’s explore the world of online banks and some pros and cons.
How do online banks work?
Online banks and physical banks have a lot in common. They’re both places that store and protect your money. They both loan out your money for a profit. So what’s the big difference?
For one thing, banks with brick and mortar locations have high overhead. They may pay rent on properties, maintain buildings, hire managers to operate locations, and pay tellers to serve customers. Online banks typically have drastically lower upkeep costs. Sure, you need to pay developers to keep the system running smoothly and securely, but it’s generally much lower compared to the costs of maintaining physical locations.
So what do those differences mean for you, the consumer? Banks with physical locations will pass on their location upkeep expenses to you, the customer. That means they’re more likely to charge you for opening an account, give you as little interest as possible, and crank up rates on loans for houses and cars.
Online banks aren’t weighed down by those physical locations. They have fewer expenses and don’t have to charge you as much to make ends meet.¹ That means you might get significantly higher interest rates on your savings accounts. They also tend to lean less on fees than traditional banks.²
But there are some drawbacks to using an online bank. You might find withdrawing cash without paying ATM fees more difficult than before.³ Depositing cash might also take some more leg work and research.⁴ Customer service can’t be handled in person so problems must be solved via phone or online chat. Plus, safety deposit boxes are harder to come by with an online bank. In short, many of the old school conveniences just aren’t provided by the new generation of online banks.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons before pulling the trigger and opening an account with an online bank. Trying to make more with your savings account? You may want to investigate banking online. But if you’re on a strict cash diet to avoid excessive spending, a traditional bank might have some classic services that will come in handy. Talk with a licensed financial professional before you make the decision.
¹ “What Is Online Banking? Definition, Pros and Cons,” Amber Murakami-Fester, Nerdwallet, Mar 25, 2021 https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/banking/pros-cons-online-only-banking
² What Is Online Banking?” Murakami-Fester, Mar 25, 2021
³ What Is Online Banking?” Murakami-Fester, Mar 25, 2021
⁴ What Is Online Banking?” Murakami-Fester, Mar 25, 2021
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!
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!
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!
Here’s every millennial’s dream—you wake up one day to find all your student loan debt completely forgiven.
And 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 Not bad!
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 rates 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 head over to Manage Loans.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Similarly 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
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 Affair.
As with everything involving bureaucracy and disability, you can 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
Inflation. Tumbling market values. Supply chain catastrophe. Wars and rumors of war. Pandemics.
They’ve all been plastered on headlines and social media feeds for the last two years. And there’s no sign of it stopping.
Worst of all, as individuals and as businesses, we can’t control the economy.
But what we can control is how we respond to it.
In times of economic volatility, the key is to stay focused on your long-term goals, and make sure your actions align with them.
Here are a few tips on how to navigate economic volatility…
1. Check your emotions. Fear is the natural response to economic volatility. What will happen to your job? What will happen to your business? What will happen to your retirement savings?
Know this—one of the worst mistakes you can make is acting on those fears. Volatility creates opportunity. Don’t lose out on potential because of headlines you read. Instead, assess your situation, what you stand to lose, and opportunities you might have.
2. Stay focused on your goals. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day noise of the news. But if you want to help your sanity—and make sound financial decisions—it’s important to keep things in perspective.
How far are you from retirement? What kind of lifestyle do you want in retirement? What’s your strategy for protecting against long-term losses?
If your goals are in line with your current reality, take a deep breath and ride out the storm. If not, it’s time to reevaluate where things stand and make adjustments as necessary.
3. Review your budget and financial plan. Once you’ve gotten past the initial emotional reaction, it’s time to take a clear-eyed look at your budget and finances.
There are two critical components to examine here—your emergency fund and your debt.
If you have an adequate emergency fund in place, keep it intact. Resist the temptation to tap into your savings to cover short-term losses. You’ll need your emergency fund for more volatile times ahead.
As for debt, make sure you’re not overextending yourself with credit cards and loans that only make sense when the economy is booming. If you lose your job in a downturn, the last thing you want is a bunch of high-interest debt to worry about.
4. Meet with your financial professional. It’s simple—a financial professional can stop rash financial decision making in its tracks.
That’s because volatile times can bring out the emotions. And when emotions are involved, it’s tough to make sound decisions.
A financial professional can help you see the big picture, keep things in perspective, and develop a plan that will help you stay on track—no matter what the economy throws your way.
While economic volatility can be frightening and chaotic, it’s important to stay focused on your long-term goals. Having the right mindset and guidance can help you navigate a crisis with confidence.
Your credit score is a big deal.
A low score can saddle you with anything from high interest rates, difficulty scoring important loans, or poor employability!¹
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.
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.
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,” Daniel Kurt, Investopedia, Jun 11, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/the-side-effects-of-bad-credit-4769783
What you’ve heard is true—used cars really are getting more expensive.
And it’s not just a few dollar price hike. Used cars saw a 66%-110% price increase from December 2019 to December 2021.¹ For comparison, overall prices have increased ‘only’ 12% from 2019 to 2022.²
Why? Like almost everything over the last two years, it all comes back to the Pandemic.
Here’s the story…
New cars need microchips. That’s where all the computerized magic happens that consumers have come to expect when they drive out the dealership.
But chip manufacturers were hit right between the eyes by the pandemic. They faced extensive lockdowns, followed by surging demand once the economy began to recover. Factories were simply unable to produce new cars. Consumers needed alternatives. So they started buying used cars, en masse.
Demand shot up. Supply went down. And as a result, prices for used cars have soared.
Fortunately, there may be relief on the horizon. If chip manufacturers reopen and new cars hit the market, used car prices should start to trend downward. J.D. Powers estimates the market will stabilize in late 2022 or early 2023.³ Morningstar puts the date in 2023.⁴
But whether those predictions become reality remains to be seen. For now, if you’re in the market for a used car, expect to pay more than you would have just a few years ago.
¹ “When Will Used-Car Prices Drop? 3 Things Car Shoppers Should Know,” Jane Ulitskaya, Cars.com, Feb 3, 2022, https://www.cars.com/articles/when-will-used-car-prices-drop-3-things-car-shoppers-should-know-446525/
² “$1 in 2019 is worth $1.12 today,” in2013dollars.com, https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/2019?amount=1#:~:text=Core%20inflation%20averaged%203.02%25%20per,2022%2C%20a%20difference%20of%20%240.09
³ “When Will Used-Car Prices Drop? 3 Things Car Shoppers Should Know,” Ulitskaya, Cars.com
⁴ “Used car prices continue to surge. Here’s why — and when they could come back down,” Mike Stunson, Miami Herald, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article257060717.html#storylink=cpy
Your mind is incredible. But it’s not perfect. It makes mistakes. And those mistakes can wreak havoc on your finances.
This isn’t to talk bad about your brain—it’s like a supercomputer that’s constantly trying to make sense of the world and keep you safe. The trouble is, sometimes it does this by coming up with shortcuts, or rules of thumb, that lead to errors.
These mistakes are sometimes called mind traps. They derail your train of thought and lead you astray. And they can have a big impact on your money.
Here are some of the most common money mind traps, and how you can avoid them!
1. All or nothing thinking.
This is a classic example of the great being an enemy of the good. Unless you can go all out on saving and building wealth, you’ll do nothing. Go big or go home, right?
It’s an obviously flawed line of thinking. Saving a little is always better than saving nothing. But it’s still very, very powerful. Why? It might be because of anxious or perfectionist tendencies. Anything short of perfection seems like failure. And that sense of failure is so uncomfortable that it seems safer to not even start.
But here’s the truth—you’ll never go big unless you start small. Waiting for the stars to align, or even to get all your ducks in a row, will result in permanent inaction.
The solution? Start small. Save $20 per month. Read one blog article about money. Follow just one money influencer. You might be surprised by the difference that even just a little move can make!
2. Magical thinking.
For example: “I’ll start saving when I get a raise.” Spoiler—you won’t.
Why? Because you didn’t start saving after your last raise. What would make this new one any different?
This is magical thinking. This time will be different, even if you do nothing different. It’s the hope that circumstances will change on their own, and with them, your behavior.
The solution is to be proactive. If you want to save more money, you have to take action. That might mean setting up a budget, or automated transfers into savings. It might mean looking for ways to make more money. But whatever it is, do it now. If the present you won’t do it, neither will the future you.
3. Catastrophizing & personalizing.
Have you ever opened your bank account and thought “This is the end of the world?” It’s happened to everyone at least once. Suddenly, you realize you’re far closer to zero than you realized. Worst of al, you’re not sure why.
To be clear, that’s NOT the end of the world. There could be plenty of good reasons for why you’ve spent more this month, and there are plenty of ways to get your financial house back in order.
But that’s not how it feels. It feels like defcon 3. Surely this means that you’ll default on the mortgage, lose the car, and ruin your future.
And that catastrophizing almost always leads to personalization. You start blaming yourself. How could you let this happen again? What’s wrong with you? Those negative voices are off to races, and it can feel impossible to get them back. And it’s all because you’re looking at your bank balance.
The solution is to step back, take a breath, and remember that this is just a number. It does not define you. Sure, you need to take responsibility for your actions. But follow your train of thought. Where are you making mental leaps? What are you assuming? If you can catch yourself in the moment, it’s a lot easier to calm those anxious thoughts before they get out of control.
In conclusion, mind traps are dangerous because they’re so believable. They seem like rational thoughts, but they’re really just mental shortcuts that often lead to costly errors.
The good news is, once you’re aware of them, you can start to catch yourself in the act. And with practice, it gets easier and easier. So next time you find yourself thinking you have to go big or go home, or that your finances will magically fix themselves, or that you’re a failure, take a moment. Write down your thoughts. And then ask yourself—is this really true? Or is it just a mind trap?
Money is symbolic.
Sure, it’s a store of value and a medium of exchange. But above all, it’s a symbol. It’s how people evaluate if they’re succeeding or failing.
What is a symbol? It’s a visible representation of something that’s invisible.
Think about it—can you see success? Not really. It’s an abstract idea.
But what do you see when you imagine a successful person? Cars, houses, clothes, and zeros in a bank account.
Those are the symbols of success. And make no mistake—money is the central symbol of success.
How do you feel when your bank looks full? Awesome! You get a quick rush, and your step’s just a touch lighter.
But what about when you’re in debt or when you can’t make ends meet? Not so great. You feel stressed and anxious, like you’re not good enough.
That’s because money is a visible representation of your success or failure. It’s a way to keep score.
You see that loaded bank account, and you think “Everything looks good! I’ve really got my act together.”
You see an empty bank account, and you think “What have I been doing? I’ve really messed up my finances.”
Here’s the sticking point—the symbolic nature of money is great for motivation. It’s terrible for guiding decisions.
Why? Because it can easily lead you to making moves that give you the appearance of wealth without being wealthy. You start buying things far beyond your budget to symbolize wealth you don’t actually have. It’s the fast-track to living paycheck-to-paycheck.
But as motivation? That’s where its power lies. Think about that bump you get when you see your net worth climb. Use that feeling as fuel to keep pushing when you hit roadblocks and obstacles.
So what does money mean to you? Is it a scorecard? A way to motivate yourself? Or something else entirely?
How you answer that question will determine whether money is a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon in your life.
What gets you more motivated—the reward or the process?
That’s the question that divides intrinsic motivation from extrinsic motivation. And learning the difference could salvage your career from disaster.
Why? Because different motivation types are useful in different circumstances.
Intrinsic motivation is process focused. It comes from the sense of satisfaction from a job well done. It’s why you keep coming back to hobbies you love, or why you’re compelled to work on that project even when it’s not required. You do it for the love of the game.
Extrinsic motivation is reward focused. It comes from the anticipation or acquisition of something tangible, like a trophy, a raise, praise, or a bonus. It’s the reason you put up with a high paying job you hate, or why you grind out those extra reps at the gym. You do it for the payoff.
Intrinsic motivation is internal, while extrinsic motivation is external.
Here’s the strategic difference—intrinsic motivation is powerful long-term, extrinsic motivation is powerful short-term.
Think about it. How long can you really tolerate that awful job? Eventually, it’ll wear you down, no matter the pay. It will tax your mental health, your relationships, and your quality of life. Trying to leverage reward motivation over the long-term is a recipe for burnout.
That being said, it’s excellent if you need a burst of energy. “Just a few more months, and then I’ll be debt free. I can make it.” Extrinsic motivation is often what we rely on to push through short-term challenges.
By contrast, intrinsic motivation can provide powerful groundwork for planning long-term goals. What are the hobbies and activities you find inherently rewarding? Are they career oriented? Family focused? That’s where you should focus your long-term energy.
We’re using debit cards to pay for expenses more often now, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon.¹
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 Steele, Jason. “Debit card statistics.” creditcards.com, June 25, 2021 https://bit.ly/2JB9cGE.
² “Does Using a Credit Card Make You Spend More Money?.” Kiviat, Barbara. Nerdwallet, Jul 27, 2020, https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/credit-cards/credit-cards-make-you-spend-more
Credit cards aren’t free money — that should go without saying, but millions of Americans don’t seem to have received that memo.
Americans now owe a record $820 billion in credit card debt.¹ If you’re not careful, credit card debt could hurt your credit score, wipe out your savings, and completely alter your personal financial landscape.
Before you apply for that next piece of plastic, here’s what you need to watch out for.
Low interest rates. Credit card companies spend a lot of money on marketing to try to get you hooked on an offer. Often you hear or read that a company will tout an offer with a low or zero percent APR (Annual Percentage Rate). This is called a “teaser rate.”
Sounds amazing, right? But here’s the problem: This is a feature that may only last for 6–12 months. Ask yourself if the real interest rate will be worth it. Credit card companies make a profit via credit card interest. If they were to offer zero percent interest indefinitely, then they wouldn’t make any money.
Make sure you read the fine print to determine whether the card’s interest rate will be affordable after the teaser rate period expires.
Fixed vs. variable interest rates. Credit cards operate on either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate. A fixed interest rate will generally stay the same from month to month. A variable interest rate, by contrast, is tied to an index (fancy word for interest rate) that moves with the economy. Normally the interest rate is set to be a few percentage points higher than the index.
The big difference here is that while a fixed rate may change, the credit card company is required to inform its customers when this happens. While a variable APR may start out with a lower interest rate, it’s not uncommon for these rates to fluctuate.
Low interest rates are usually reserved for individuals who have great credit with a long credit history. So, if you’ve never owned a credit card (or you are recovering from a negative credit history) this could be a red flag.
Of course, you could avoid these pitfalls altogether if you pay off your credit card balance before the statement date. Whatever the interest rate, be sure you’re applying for a credit card that’s affordable for you to pay off if you miss the payoff due date.
High credit limits. While large lines of credit are usually reserved for those with a good credit history, a new cardholder might still receive an offer for up to a $10,000 credit limit.
If this happens to you, beware. While it may seem like the offer conveys a great deal of trust in your ability to pay your bill, be honest with yourself. You may not be able to recover from the staggering size of your credit card debt if you can’t pay off your balance each month.
If you already have a card with a limit that feels too high, it may be in your interest to request that the company lower your card’s limit.
Late fees. So you’re late paying your credit card bill. Late payments not only have the potential to hurt your credit score, but some credit cards may also assess a penalty APR if you haven’t paid your bill on time.
Penalty APRs are incredibly high, usually topping out at 29.99%.² The solution here is simple: pay your bill on time or you might find self paying ridiculous interest rates!
Balance transfer fees. It’s not uncommon for a cardholder to transfer one card’s balance to another card, otherwise known as a balance transfer. This can be an effective way to pay off your debt while sidestepping interest, but only if you do so before the card’s effective rate kicks in. And, even if a card offers zero interest on balance transfers, you still may have to pay a fee for doing so.
Whatever type of credit card you choose, the only person responsible for its pros and cons is you. But if you’re thrifty and pay attention to the bottom line, you can help make that credit card work for your credit score and not against it.
¹ “Key Figures Behind America’s Consumer Debt,” Bill Fay, Debt.org, May 13, 2021, https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/
² “What is a penalty APR and why should you care?” Lance Cothern, CPA, Credit Karma, Apr 6, 2021, https://www.creditkarma.com/credit-cards/i/penalty-apr-late-payment
How do you handle job stress?
Sticking to a solid workflow? Meditation? A stress ball in each hand?
Whichever way you choose to lessen the stress that 80% of American workers experience, there’s another stress-relieving tactic that could make a huge difference:¹
Relieving financial stress.
Studies have found that money woes can cost workers over 2 weeks in productivity a year!² And this time can be lost even when you’re still showing up for work.
In short, you’re physically present at a job, but you’re working while ill or mentally disengaged from tasks. It can be caused by stress, worry, or other issues – which, as you can imagine, may deal a significant blow to work productivity.
So what’s the good news?
If you’re constantly worried and stressed about financing unexpected life events, saving for retirement, or funding a college education for yourself or a loved one, there are financial strategies that can help you – wherever you are on your financial journey.
Most people don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. Think of a well-thought out financial strategy as a stress ball for your bank account!
Contact me today, and together we’ll work on an financial strategy that fits you and your dreams – and can help you get back to work with significantly less financial stress.
¹ “Workplace Stress,” American Institute of Stress, https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress.
² “The Real Costs of Employee Financial Stress—and How Employers Can Help,” Greystone Consulting, https://graystone.morganstanley.com/the-parks-group/articles/graystone/thought-leadership/financially-stressed-employees
We all know credit cards charge interest if you carry a balance. But how are interest charges actually calculated?
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
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 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.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for Americans without emergency funds.
It proved that every family needs a financial safety to cover months of unemployment, illness, or lockdowns. Without it, there’s danger of turning to debt to make ends meet!
If you’re new to saving, you’ve come to the right place! Here are four tips for building your emergency fund
1. Know where to keep your emergency fund Keeping money in the cookie jar might not be the best plan. Mattresses don’t really work so well either. But you also don’t want your emergency fund “co-mingled” with the money in your normal checking or savings account. The goal is to keep your emergency fund separate, clearly defined, and easily accessible. Setting up a designated, high-yield savings account is a good option that can provide quick access to your money while keeping it separate from your main bank accounts.
2. Set a monthly goal for savings Set a monthly goal for your emergency fund savings, but also make sure you keep your savings goal realistic. If you choose an overly ambitious goal, you may be less likely to reach that goal consistently, which might make the process of building your emergency fund a frustrating experience. (Your emergency fund is supposed to help reduce stress, not increase it!) It’s okay to start by putting aside a small amount until you have a better understanding of how much you can really “afford” to save each month. Also, once you have your high-yield savings account set up, you can automatically transfer funds to your savings account every time you get paid. One less thing to worry about!
3. Spare change can add up quickly The convenience of debit and credit cards means that we use less cash these days – but if and when you do pay with cash, take the change and put it aside. When you have enough change to be meaningful, maybe $20 to $30, deposit that into your emergency fund. If most of your transactions are digital, use mobile apps to set rules to automate your savings.
4. Get to know your budget Making and keeping a budget may not always be the most enjoyable pastime. But once you get it set up and stick to it for a few months, you’ll get some insight into where your money is going, and how better to keep a handle on it! Hopefully that will motivate you to keep going, and keep working towards your larger goals. When you first get started, dig out your bank statements and write down recurring expenses, or types of expenses that occur frequently. Odds are pretty good that you’ll find some expenses that aren’t strictly necessary. Look for ways to moderate your spending on frills without taking all the fun out of life. By moderating your expenses and eliminating the truly wasteful indulgences, you’ll probably find money to spare each month and you’ll be well on your way to building your emergency fund.
So you’re ready to start budgeting. Congratulations! It’s a big step towards building wealth.
If you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to discover all the steps you need to build a budget.
Know Your Balance Sheet. Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.
You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.
Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.
Break Everything Down To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)
If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.
What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.
Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.
Set Realistic Goals and Readjust. Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.
Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer.
After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.
Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund. Keep filling your emergency fund until it can cover 3 to 6 months of income.
If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing into other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.
Commit To It. Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Numbers never lie, and when it comes to statistics on financial literacy, the results are staggering.
In 2020, financial illiteracy cost Americans $415 billion.¹ That’s $1,634 per adult. What difference would $1,600 make for your financial situation?
But what is financial literacy? How do you know if you’re financially literate? It’s much more than simply knowing the contents of your bank account, setting a budget, and checking in a couple times a month. Here’s a simple definition: “Financial literacy is the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing.”²
Making responsible financial decisions based on knowledge and research are the foundation of understanding your finances and how to manage them. When it comes to financial literacy, you can’t afford not to be knowledgeable.
So whether you’re a master of your money or your money masters you, anyone can benefit from becoming more financially literate. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
Consider How You Think About Money. Everyone has ideas about financial management. Though we may not realize it, we often learn and absorb financial habits and mentalities about money before we’re even aware of what money is. Our ideas about money are shaped by how we grow up, where we grow up, and how our parents or guardians manage their finances. Regardless of whether you grew up rich, poor, or somewhere in between, checking in with yourself about how you think about money is the first step to becoming financially literate.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Am I saving anything for the future?
- Is all debt bad?
- Do I use credit cards to pay for most, if not all, of my purchases?
Monitor Your Spending Habits. This part of the process can be painful if you’re not used to tracking where your money goes. There can be a certain level of shame associated with spending habits, especially if you’ve collected some debt. But it’s important to understand that money is an intensely personal subject, and that if you’re working to improve your financial literacy, there is no reason to feel ashamed!
Taking a long, hard look at your spending habits is a vital step toward controlling your finances. Becoming aware of how you spend, how much you spend, and what you spend your money on will help you understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and what you need to change. Categorizing your budget into things you need, things you want, and things you have to save up for is a great place to start.
Commit to a Lifestyle of Learning. Becoming financially literate doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting to make some changes. There isn’t one book, one website, or one seminar you can attend that will give you all the keys to financial literacy. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Similar to transforming unhealthy eating habits into healthy ones, becoming financially literate happens over time. As you learn more, tweak parts of your financial routine that aren’t working for you, and gain more experience managing your money, you’ll improve your financial literacy. Commit to learning how to handle your finances, and continuously look for ways you can educate yourself and grow. It’s a lifelong process!
¹ “Survey Results: Deficits in Financial Literacy Cost Americans $415 Billion in 2020,” PR Newswire, Jan 7, 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-results-deficits-in-financial-literacy-cost-americans-415-billion-in-2020-301201971.html
² “Financial Literacy,” Jason Fernando, Investopedia, Sep 10, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/financial-literacy.asp
Most people think that buying a home in a neighborhood with an HOA is the only way to access certain amenities and services.
But everyone’s heard their share of HOA horror stories. Nitpicking neighbors, outrageous fees, and dysfunctional meetings are just a few of the woes that an HOA can bring your way.
So, should you join an HOA, or stay away? Here are a few factors to consider if you’re currently on the market for a new home and not sure if an HOA is a green or red flag.
When it comes to HOAs, there are pros and cons to both being in one and not being in one. Here are some of the pros of being in an HOA…
You have access to amenities that you may not have otherwise. This can include things like a pool, a clubhouse, or even just a nicer street.
Rules and regulations of the HOA can help keep your neighborhood looking nice and boost the value of your home—single family homes under HOAs sell for 4% more than the market average.¹
HOAs can often enforce rules more effectively than individual homeowners. That can be helpful if you have a problem with neighbors who are damaging property values.
HOAs can have substantial value. One survey found that for every dollar of fees, an HOA brought $1.19 of benefit.²
But HOAs aren’t all flowers and sunshine. Here are some of the cons of being in an HOA…
HOA fees can be expensive. Yearly fees range from $1,000 to $10,000, which can put certain homes out of your price range.
HOAs can nitpick trivial things, like the color of your house or the kind of plants you put in your yard. There are few things worse than having someone else tell you how to decorate the home you’re making mortgage payments for.
HOAs can be toxic. Like all organizations, HOAs are subject to corruption. Board members can be aggressive and narrow minded, chairman can become tyrants, and neighbors can be selfish. And rest assured, there’s almost nothing worse than getting stuck with a toxic HOA.
HOAs can be useless. There’s nothing worse than an organization that demands money and then doesn’t do anything. In some cases, HOAs fail to enforce rules or regulations, making them little more than a money-sucking black hole.
The key takeaway is that a healthy HOA can be a benefit, while a toxic HOA is a massive liability.
How can you tell the difference between the two? First, check out the quality of the other homes. Are they well maintained? Or falling apart.
Second, review the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R). These are the rules and regulations you’ll have to follow if you move into the neighborhood. If you see anything outrageous or suspicious, ask about them.
Finally, talk to your potential neighbors. Are they happy with the HOA? If not, why? Their answers may be trivial—or they may reveal significant red flags.
In conclusion, HOAs can be a great way to maintain property values and improve your quality of life. But they can also be expensive, time consuming, and even toxic. So do your homework before you buy a home in an HOA neighborhood, or you may regret it later.
“HOA Pros and Cons for Homebuyers: Rules, Fees, and Perfect Lawns,” Valerie Kalfrin, HomeLight, Dec 23, 2019, https://www.homelight.com/blog/buyer-hoa-pros-and-cons/