Monthly Archives: June 2017

Ways to Stunt a Child’s Financial Growth

Financial knowledge isn’t built into our DNA. It has to be learned. Unlike long division and gymnastics, personal finance is not properly covered in school (if covered at all). So it falls upon parents to impart financial knowledge to their children. Unfortunately it’s easy to slip up and make mistakes. In this article, we’ll look at five ways you may be stunting your child’s financial growth.

The Vow of Silence

A lot of funding has been put into researching why kids fall into particular traps. Teen pregnancy, drug use, underage drinking and many other early problems have been traced back to a lack of communication – hence, the “if you’re not teaching your kids about ____, then who is?” campaigns. A lack of financial education doesn’t seem as serious as a drug addiction, but its long-term consequences are quite severe. Remaining mum on financial matters sends the message that either money is not important, or it’s something to fear and never mention. Neither of these are lessons that help with the financial realities children will face as they grow up.

If you’re not willing to teach good financial habits to your children, the school system and the media are the main information sources by default. If you need motivation to take your child’s financial guidance upon yourself, watch TV with your child and consciously try to spot the image of personal finance they might be getting from both the shows and the commercials they see – it is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Fair-Weather Finance

Ranking second only to remaining silent about financial matters is the tendency for people only to talk about them when things are going well. Personal finance and the financial world as a whole is not a Disney movie where cats and birds break out in spontaneous songs of joy – it is fraught with problems. It’s far better to be honest about problems – late bills, flat stocks, bad decisions, etc. – and engage the family in solving them. Looking at financial matters as a problem-solving exercise for the family will also lessen the stress traditionally felt by people trying to “keep the household budget (or portfolio)” all by themselves. It will also teach your child to approach financial problems as just that – problems. Problems can be challenging, but there are always solutions if you’re creatively searching for them.

One of the greatest investing minds of all time, Benjamin Graham, was introduced to the world of stocks and bonds through a mistake in his family’s finances. Graham’s widowed mother put a significant portion of the family’s savings into U.S. Steel at its overvalued peak. Graham charted the stocks decline, and that of his family’s wealth, from the quotes in the newspaper. The poor performance of the stock compounded the family’s woes and Graham spent many of his formative years in a struggle against poverty. This experience turned him from the common belief in investing in blue chips for the long-term and eventually led to his formulation of value investing summed up in his book “The Intelligent Investor.”

The Money Tree

“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” is one of those clichés that has somehow grafted itself to the national consciousness. Although we often have this gem ready when asked for cash, our actions often contradict it. Many people are inconsistent when they hand over cash to their children, whether in the form of earned allowance or a simple gift.

Wanting to give money to your kids is natural, you want them to enjoy childhood and not feel that anything was withheld, but easy money policies can be as damaging to families as they are to world economies. Learning to earn money via an allowance given over for extra chores is a good way to introduce your child to how money is traditionally made. Small gifts of cash are also is fine as long as it’s framed correctly – again, communication is key.

The easiest way to send a consistent message is to write out ground rules such as, “I will only pay an allowance on work beyond regular responsibilities like a clean room” or “I will never buy something on short notice in a store. Any purchases have to be talked about before going in.” You can then sit down and discuss the rules with your children and adapt them as necessary.

Birds and Bees Before Stocks and Bonds

At what age are children ready for investing? The sooner, the better – as with investing itself. Although stocks and bonds seem daunting when you look at the pages of stock quotes or the calculations behind operating cash flow and profit margins, the basic concepts can be presented simply. Children pick up on branding quite early and the concept of one company,

Walt Disney Company DIS 101.99 + 0.63% ), making products ranging from movies, magazines, books, video games, toys, and apparel isn’t hard to grasp. Remember to try to cover all types of investments, real estate, business ownership, collectibles and so on. Although you may prefer bond investing, there’s no guarantee your child will gravitate to that versus something like business ownership. You don’t have to be an authority on every type of investment; eventually, your child will begin to seek out information on his or her own. Your job is to catch their interest and encourage them along.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

While attempting to teach positive financial lessons to your children is laudable, the message will be drowned out if you don’t practice good financial habits yourself. In many ways, the best thing you can do to help your child financially is to help yourself. Fixing your own financial weakness puts you in a better state to teach your kids about finances, and it will certainly lend authority to your words because you’ll be practicing what you preach.

The Bottom Line

Until a nationwide financial literacy course is instituted, you are the only teacher your child will have in the area of personal finance. It’s a big responsibility, but you can make it easier by communicating with your child, reinforcing good habits and following your own advice. In the era of boomerang kids, seeing your child grow into a financially independent adult is as much a financial victory as a moral one.

The Beauty of Budgeting

Can you name a Fortune 500 company that doesn’t have a budget? Don’t spend too much time thinking about it – there aren’t any. Successful businesses around the world have one thing in common: they budget their money. And they do it because it works.

But although making money and making a budget appear to go hand-in-hand, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only one in three Americans prepared a detailed written or computerized household budget. Things may be improving somewhat: A Bankrate.com survey in 2015 found a much higher number said they budgeted (36% on paper and 26% on a computer or smartphone app). On the other hand, another 18% didn’t budget and a matching number answered “yes” to keeping the information “all in your head.”

If you’re one of the non-budgeters (or sketchy budgeters), we’ll show you how to get a better idea of how you spend your money by putting together – and sticking to – a personal budget.

Part of America’s aversion to budgeting may be rooted in language. The word “budget” – much like the word “diet” – has negative connotations. Budgets and diets are viewed as restrictive reminders of things we cannot have. This is linguistic nonsense. A budget and a diet are both tools. If the tools are used properly, they lead to a desired outcome. Nobody dislikes the word “shovel,” even though the use of the shovel requires effort. People use a shovel to dig a hole; they use a diet to develop a healthy body; and they use a budget to develop a fiscally responsible lifestyle. If it makes you feel better about the process, drop the word “budget” and call it a “spending plan.” Instead of viewing the plan as restrictive, think about the things it allows you to buy. After all, a budget is nothing more than a plan for how you will spend your money.

Start with Your Bills

Many people complain that they can’t create a budget because they don’t know exactly how much money they will earn in a given week. While it is true that workers earning an hourly wage or working on commission might not get the exact same dollar figure in each paycheck, the amount that you earn has much less to do with the basics of budgeting than the amount you spend. Instead of focusing on whether you earn enough each month, focus on your monthly spending. The question is simple: where does your money go?

 

Student Loan Forgiveness: How Does it Work?

For decades, educators have encouraged young people to get increasingly expensive post-secondary degrees that provide arguably decreasing real returns in the labor market, and to take out large subsidized loans, regardless of their career choices.

In 2016, the average college graduate borrowed between $26,450 and $31,200. Fortunately, some borrowers may find relief. There are many programs in place, some old and some new, through which debt forgiveness is possible, and we should expect more programs to surface in the near future, as untenable student debt burdens become a larger political topic.

Using Debt Forgiveness

Debt forgiveness programs are exactly what they sound like. In a student loan forgiveness program, qualifying borrowers may have some or all of their public student debt forgiven, either immediately or over a period of time. Unfortunately, none of these programs forgive private loans. The only known methods of discharging or removing private loan amounts is through bankruptcy or a one-off restructuring with the borrower’s private lender.

Currently, there are four major programs and several other minor programs that might cancel or significantly reduce your federal student loan balance. The major ones are Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Perkins loan cancellation, income-based repayment and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. The catch is these may not apply if the debtor is in default status, meaning the loan has gone unpaid for more than nine months.

Each plan has very strict requirements which must be met before student loans may be forgiven. Many require annual submission of official paperwork to student loan servicers, and any missteps might disqualify an otherwise eligible borrower. If you are considering or currently in the process of trying to have your loans forgiven, it is crucial that you understand the necessary steps and follow them diligently.

Most Common Loan Forgiveness Options

Depending on the state in which you reside, there may be occupation-based forgiveness programs available. These are typically designed for doctors, attorneys or other professionals who pay above-average amounts for advanced degrees. Borrowers who used Perkins loans may actually have their entire debt forgiven after just five years. This mostly depends on your occupation, especially for those who serve full-time in a public or non-profit school. This program is used to entice teachers to work in low-income schools and in states where there are shortages of qualified teachers in a given field. Potential specialties range from speech pathologists and preschool teachers to high school math and science teachers.

Nationwide, however, the most common are the Public Service and Teacher Loan Forgiveness plans. Full-time public servants can have their entire federal loan balances forgiven within 10 years. Teachers at qualifying low-income schools may receive partial forgiveness ranging between $5,000 and $17,500, excluding those who only have PLUS loans.

Obama Student Loan Forgiveness

There is a fifth option, popularly referred to as the Obama Student Loan Forgiveness Plan, which came into existence after the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. It might be identified more correctly as a debt restructuring program with possible forgiveness in the future.

Borrowers who qualify may consolidate all of their federal student loans into one single loan, at which point the borrower may choose from five different repayment options. These options — standard, graduated, income-contingent, income-based and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) — offer a wide range of attractive reconstructions.

The graduated repayment plan, for example, allows the borrower to make lower-than-standard payments at first, and every two years, the monthly payment amount increases. This is designed to spread more of the loan amount into the future, when the borrower would ostensibly earn a higher income. The PAYE plan typically offers the lowest monthly payment, including payments as low as $0, though many borrowers have a difficult time qualifying for these plans.

Those enrolled in the income-contingent, income-based or PAYE plans must pay their loans during a term lasting between 20 to 25 years. If, at the end of the term, the borrower still has an outstanding balance, such a balance could be forgiven. Anyone who makes payments in one of these three plans and who also works in the public sector can count his or her Obama Loan Forgiveness payments as qualifying payments for their Public Service or Teacher forgiveness programs.

Total & Permanent Disability Discharge

The Department of Education (DoE) also offers relief to those who have significant physical or mental impairments and are unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity,” which is the official government term for a real job. Those individuals interested in applying for permanent disability status must work through the DoE process to prove their disability. To prove that you have a disability, you need a letter from a qualified physician and other required supporting documentation. Applications typically take between three and six months before a decision is rendered. If your application is accepted, you’re unable to apply for any other student loans until you receive another letter that deems you able to engage in gainful activity.

Should You Pay in Cash?

Articles and books on personal finance generally pack in as many tips as possible in an effort to make at least a couple essential ones stick. This shotgun approach is worth it if it helps readers learn to pay themselves first, spend less than they make, and so on, but saying too much sometimes means explaining too little.

In this article we’ll focus on just one technique to improve your finances, by taking a close at how making purchases with cash can contribute to your ability to budget, save and invest.

A Plastic Paradise

With the proliferation of plastic alternatives to hard currency, some people consider carrying cash a throwback.

To be fair, plastic is much sexier than a piece of colored paper with a dead president staring vaguely into the distance. Some banks even allow you to customize the graphics that appear on the credit card/debit card or choose from a range of designs and colors the company is marketing.

There is also the security advantage with debit and credit cards. Debit cards are protected by your personal identification number (PIN) and credit cards by your signature (and for some cards, a PIN number too). Cash is only protected by your ability to defend it should someone else want to take it from you.

Moreover, cards are as widely accepted as cash – with the exception of a few mom and pop shops. And yet, from a personal finance view, cash is almost always the better choice for making a purchase. Here’s why:

Overpaying

One of the drawbacks of credit and debit cards is that they encourage you to spend more than you intend to by giving you easy access to more capital. With cash, spending more than you intended requires going to a bank or ATM to get more and then going back to the store to complete the purchase. While some businesses have in-store ATMs, all charge fees, in addition to whatever fees your bank charges. For most people, these factors will cause them to reconsider whether their budgets can handle any extra strain.

Generally speaking, only carrying the cash you are prepared to pay for a given product will prevent you from buying the next level up and paying for features you don’t need. This works for small-scale purchases, but buying a computer or a car can involve large amounts of cash that probably shouldn’t be carried around. If a check can’t be used, a debit card is better than a credit card because you are spending money you have rather than money you don’t.

Over-Shopping

Just as cards encourage overpaying for one item, they also allow you to buy more items than you mean to. Stores are set up to make products appealing in order to persuade shoppers to buy more. Sometimes a shopping list isn’t enough to protect you from impulse buys.

According to the article “Cards Encourage You to Overspend” on Soundmoneytips.com, people will spend more with a credit card compared to cash. In fact, a Dunn & Bradstreet study found that people spend 12% to 18% more when using credit cards than when using cash. And McDonald’s found that the average transaction rose from $4.50 to $7 when customers used plastic instead of cash.

So what can you do to avoid this? Only carrying enough cash to buy the things on your list can limit the damage. This is the best way to keep shopping within your budget. If you are motivated, you will find discounts or cheaper alternatives to your regular brands to make that cash go further and maybe earn yourself a luxury item.

Cash Vs. Credit Cards

Cash, for the purposes of this article, is strictly limited to money you have already earned and is sitting there for you to use. Using your Visa to take a cash advance and then carrying the cash with you will not solve the essential problem of using high-interest debt to cover your expenses.

Cash has one very clear advantage over using a credit card: If you buy something on your credit card and end up carrying a balance, or only make the minimum payment each month, you will incur interest at a rate of 15% or more of your purchase (which can have you paying $15 or more for every $100 you spend). If you save up enough cash for the same purchase, you are giving yourself the equivalent of a 15% discount by not using your card. Before you even sign up for a card, make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Cash Vs. Debit Cards

If this article were only dealing with cash as a better alternative to credit cards, no one would dispute it. In contrast, debit cards seem to enjoy a protected status despite the overkill on ATM fees and foreign ATM fees. Forgetting the fees, a debit card’s main failure is that is trivializes purchases. Being a square of plastic, it is hard to tell how much of your money is flowing through your debit card.

For most people it becomes a matter of $2 here, $6 there, another $4 over here and so on until they give up keeping track of how much has been spent in a day – let alone a month. Then it’s a shock to their systems when the monthly statement comes and it’s far too late to do any good. With cash, you can see the damage as it is done and hopefully curtail your spending before it gets out of control.

The Bottom Line

Using a credit or debit card offers more security than cash in most cases. For large purchases, carrying cash is often not an option and writing a check or getting a bank draft may be more trouble than it is worth for some. Furthermore, if a debit card is used responsibly, it is an ideal replacement for cash. A credit card can also be a convenient tool, but it’s only a fair substitute for cash when the balance is paid in full at the end of each month. Otherwise, your ultimate reward for paying with your credit card will be paying off an even bigger debt.