A Goal Based Approach To Debt Management

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Good debt management advice is hard to come by.

Traditional financial wisdom states that certain debts, such as mortgage and student loans are good debts, while most other debts such as credit card debt, car loans, etc… are bad debts.

On the other hand, many Personal Finance bloggers express the opinion that ALL debt is essentially bad, to be paid down as quickly as possible, sometimes even at the cost of establishing a sustainable savings plan for the household.

So what is the truth?

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Subscriber Swap Saturday – Interview With No Debt Plan

no-debt-plan

No Debt Plan is about getting and staying out of debt with a plan. Kevin, the author, is passionate about budgeting, saving for the future, and using goals to reach financial freedom. You can subscribe to his blog by RSS or email.

This interview is part of a new feature he’s developed called Subscriber Swap Saturday. The basic idea is to get the subscribers of one blog to subscribe to the other blog for at least a week, just to try it out. After a week if you don’t find that blogger’s content enticing, drop it. The hope is that over time you will find several writers that you weren’t familiar with who provide meaningful content to you. You can read more about Subscriber Swap Saturday at his get out of debt blog, as well as his interview with me

What’s No Debt Plan all about?

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Credit Cards Don’t Suck, You Suck!

I wrote last time about how credit cards suck.

While that may be true at times, it may be more the truth that you suck!

Sounds harsh I know.  But a lot of people who have credit card problems need to take a deep breath and look at themselves.

Let’s look at some reasons you say credit cards suck but really you suck:

Late Fees Suck

They sure do!  That’s why they are there.  It’s meant to punish you for being late and hopefully you remember the next time to get your payment in on time.  If there weren’t late fees then everyone would pay late.  If you pay late once it’s an accident and you can ask your credit card company to remove the charge.  If you’re late more often then it’s all your fault and you have to look at your bill/pay system.  You know you can ask to have your due date changed, don’t you?

They Trick You on Rates

Look, they may put the details in small print but the details are still there.  If you didn’t read through them then that’s your fault.  Read the details and ask questions!

The Minimums Are So Low I Can’t Get My Balance Paid

credit card on computer keyboard

Are credit cards really to blame or is it your fault?

Every now and then we need a little help with our finances.  Something come up this month?  You can pay the minimum.  But if you make it a habit to pay the minimum and you can’t afford more then you have to look at your spending habits and your finances.  It’s not the credit card company’s fault you find yourself unable to pay more.

The Interest Rates Are Too High

Why are they high?  Probably because you don’t have good credit and you are a risk.  The credit card is giving you money remember?  It’s like an instant loan.  You know what it would take to go to a bank to get a personal loan just to buy a new sweater?  Very inconvenient!  That’s why the credit card company can charge you their rate.  If you don’t like the high rate then start paying off your credit card balance and make sure your payments are on time.  Then call them up and ask them to lower the rate.  And here’s something else – If you pay your balance on time every month then it doesn’t matter what the rate is because you won’t have to pay interest!

It’s Too Easy to Spend

C’mon!  Seriously?!?  Have some self control.  Take a look at why you think you need to use a credit card so often.  Why are you spending so much?  You can’t blame the credit card company because you can’t control yourself.

Stop blaming credit card companies!

No one told you to get a credit card.  OK, maybe it helps to have one to build up a credit history but it’s not their fault if you abuse the card.  Take control of you situation and start to do something about it!

What do you think?  Is it the spender who sucks?

12 Things Every Teenager Needs To Know About Money (And How To Teach Them)

There Is More Free Money Than You Realize For College

Before Cell Phones - A Quieter Life

This is a guest post from Grant Baldwin, the author of Reality Check, a book about helping students transition into the real world. His new website, BrokePiggy.com, answers questions from teenagers about personal finance, savings, and all things money.

BREAKING NEWS…THIS JUST IN…SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT….

College Is Expensive.

Ok, so I figured you already knew that. I think most of us would probably agree that college is a solid investment that has the potential to pay big returns in the future, but like we already established…

College Is Expensive.

Statistics say that approximately two-thirds of college students have some education debt and that the average student loan debt is around $21,000. The inaccurate perception is that student loan debt is okay, because you are investing in education. But if you graduate from college with several thousand dollars in student loan debt and no way to pay it off, that’s a bad start to the real world.

So how do you graduate with as little debt as possible, or even better, no debt at all?

• FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) – This is the single largest source of financial aid available, so you definitely want to fill this form out. The government will use this form to determine your eligibility for things like Pell grants and even some work-study programs.

• Scholarships – This is a numbers game. The more you apply for, the better your chances are of getting some. Think of it this way: if it takes you an hour to apply, and you get a $500 scholarship as a result, that’s a pretty good payday considering how little time you put into it. Last time I checked, McDonald’s wasn’t paying $500 per hour!

• Community College – I highly recommend getting some of your general education classes taken care of at a local community college. You will almost always find it to be much less expensive, and the classes can often transfer to a “better” school that you are interested in attending later.

• Work-Study Programs – Many schools offer the opportunity to have a part-time job on campus to help contribute towards the cost of your education. Check with the financial aid office of the school you’re interested in to see what opportunities are available.

• AP & CLEP Tests – These are two great ways to not only save money but to earn college credit while still in high school. AP (Advanced Placement) and CLEP (College Level Examination Program) are programs that allow you the opportunity to receive college credit for what you already know by earning qualifying scores on various tests.

• Live At Home – Living on your own isn’t cheap. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to leave the nest, spread your wings and fly, the airfare is expensive. You can save literally thousands of dollars by postponing your departure for a little longer.

Can you add any other ideas?

This series “12 Things Every Teenager Needs To Know About Money (And How To Teach Them)” is a community blog experience.  This post is only one of the 12 points in the series so to view the other 11, please visit the list of links below.

  • Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees @ Bargaineering
  • Two Words: Compound Interest @ PoorerThanYou
  • Delay Gratification To Succeed @ GatherLittleByLittle
  • Living On A Budget Isn’t An Option @ TotalCandor
  • Credit Cards Will Steal Your Lunch Money @ Prime Time Money
  • Should You Earn A College Degree? @ TheDigeratiLife
  • Spend Money Based On Needs Not Wants @ MoneyNing
  • Living On Your Own Isn’t Cheap @ Studenomics
  • Taxes Are A Necessary Evil In Life @ MoneySmartLife
  • Do What You Love, Love What You Do @ GenXFinance
  • Don’t Be A Tightwad: Give Generously @ CashMoneyLife
  • This is a guest post from Grant Baldwin, the author of Reality Check, a book about helping students transition into the real world. His new website, BrokePiggy.com, answers questions from teenagers about personal finance, savings, and all things money.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

    Personal Finance In One Simple Equation

    We’ve heard it all before haven’t we?

    The simple way to build wealth is to spend less than you earn.  Let me demonstrate this as a simple equation:

    Spending < Earnings = Savings

    That’s it in a nutshell.

    Take what you earn.  Now look at what you spend.  If what you spend is less than what you earn then what is left over is savings.  Let that grow and invest it properly and you will build wealth.   You only need two numbers to figure out that math!

    Let’s use dollar figures.  You earn $3000 a month.  If you spend $2999 you have a dollar left over for savings.  What’s a dollar you ask?  In today’s economic climate one dollar of savings will put you in better shape than corporate giants like Lehman Brothers, which is declaring bankruptcy, Enron, Worldcom, or Merrill Lynch, which was bought by Bank of America.  And that dollar will have friends joining it every month as long as your spending is less than your earnings.

    Now imagine if you could increase that savings amount either by spending less or earning more?  The savings will build up faster!

    Let’s change the equation slightly now:

    Spending > Earnings = Debt

    Spend more than you earn and you are in debt.  You have to be.  Where else could the money come from unless it’s borrowed?

    Back to the numbers…  You still earn $3000 a month but now you spend $3001.  You’re in debt.  Where do you get that extra dollar to get out of debt?  Maybe you borrow it from a friend?  Maybe you put it on a credit card (another name for debt)?   Either way it won’t materialize from out of nowhere.

    And what happens the next month? 

    Either you lower your spending by a dollar (assuming no interest) or you increase your earnings so you can pay back the debt.  If you don’t then your debt increases!  Just like our savings example that debt will keep growing until you find a way to pay it off.  If you let it grow too long then you get to be in the same boat as some financial institutions as you either have to declare bankruptcy or find someone to bail you out (and really if someone bails you out you will probably still be in some sort of debt).

    As complex as personal finance can be sometimes it still boils down to a simple equation.  Plug in your spending and earnings. 

    Too often we over-complicate the ideas that make up personal finance.  In reality the concepts are pretty simple, aren’t they.  Sure, you can go nuts poring over the different ways you can invest your money but the simple concept is clear — spend less than you earn and you can save.  That savings can help you build wealth.

    Are you saving or in debt?

    The Financial Roller Coaster Continues For Lynch, Lehman, And AIG

    Threatening

    Crazy news this Monday morning! So here’s the scorecard:

    Merrill Lynch will be bought by Bank of America. According to Bloomberg.com, BofA will buy Merrill for $29 a share a 70% premium on it’s 9/12 price but considerably lower than it’s 2007 high of $97.53.  What caused this buyout to happen?  Bad mortgages! According to the NY Times Merrill Lynch has lost over $45 Billion in mortgage investments.  The iconic bull from their logo will now be running through the halls of Bank of America!  Is Bank of America slowly becoming the Google of banking?

    Not so good news for Lehman Brothers which is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The firm was unable to find a buyer and as a result needs to protect itself until a sale can happen.  Lehman almost worked out a deal with Bank of America but BofA bailed someone else out instead.  Lehman Brothers’ problems stem from $60 Billion in “soured real estate holdings” according to the Associated Press.

    And since two isn’t enough, AIG is seeking a $40 Billion loan from the Fed in hopes to prevent a downgrade of it’s credit rating.  AIG recently reported a quarterly loss of $5 Billion as a result of mortgage-related investments (see a pattern here?).  According to MarketWatch if AIG’s credit rating goes down it will be difficult for them to sell new products which would prevent them from raising new capital.

    What does all of this mean? 

    Well it’s going to be an interesting day in the stock market.  And by interesting I’m thinking not so good.  The International Herald Tribune is already reporting drops in the World markets.

    As more financial firms reach critical mass it will become more difficult for other firms to get loans.  This could potentially be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on the whole recession question.  When firms can’t get more capital they can’t invest more in their businesses which slows their production.  If productions slows enough to become negative then we’re in a recession.

    For us, the little people, I think it’s going to become more difficult to get a mortgage, at least in the short run.  Banks are going to be more skittish about giving away cheap loans.  I’m sure this isn’t the end of the situation either.  Hopefully though, the end result will be new policies at banks to prevent a housing crisis like this from happening again.  Banks aren’t the only ones to blame though.  The Fed has a hand in this as well as low Fed rates have made cheap money available for some time now.  And of course some blame has to go out to realtors and housing consumers for bad mortgages as well.  (Check out the take on the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailout at My Two Dollars).

    Buckle yourself in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

    Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

    Goals Are Great Motivators

    Marathon de New York : Verrazano Bridge

    Goals can be great motivators to help you achieve! I find that when I have a specific goal it’s much easier to focus on what I want to accomplish.  For example: For me to save money is one thing but when I have something specific to save for I find that I can save up much quicker.  When I was younger I wanted a new stereo (the hand-me-down I was given still had an 8-track in it).  I made a goal of saving up for a new stereo.  When I sacrificed some expense for savings I knew i was to help me get that stereo.  When I worked extra hours in the supermarket I knew it was for the stereo.  In no time I had enough to go out and buy a new stereo, equipped with not one but two tape decks! (Have I dated myself or what?)

    Let me give you some other goals I’ve set for myself and accomplished:

    Ran the NYC Marathon – In 2005 I decided I wanted to run the NYC Marathon.  I knew I needed time to train and run enough races (you have to run 9 NYC RoadRunner races for guaranteed entree).  In 2006 I mapped out what races I would run to qualify for the next year’s race.  It was tough to keep up but I ran and finished all nine races for entry.  In 2007 I started a training program to get me in shape for the marathon.  In June I started my longs runs every weekend to get me ready for the distance.  The first Sunday last November I woke up at the crack of dawn and hopped on the Staten Island ferry to get to the start of the marathon.  Later that afternoon I would be able to call myself a marathon runner.  I don’t think I ever would have run the distance without a specific goal of running the marathon.

    Paid off my credit cards – Some years ago I finally got fed up with how much I was paying monthly in interest for my credit cards.  I resolved to pay them off.  It started slowly but bit by bit I started to gain ground.  After an incident that led me to move back with the ‘rents I was able to turbo charge my payments and finish off my credit card debt.  I haven’t had more than a month’s charges since then (I pay my cards off in full every month).  Without resolving to pay off my credit cards once and for all I would still be idling along with minimum payments and a ton of debt piling up.

    Started a personal finance blog/site – In October of 2007 I had discovered blogging via Zen Habits then Get Rich Slowly.  I was already itching to find something productive to do with my time and had healthy interest in personal finance.  I set a goal of starting up my own blog and making it successful.  I’m still in the middle of this goal but I feel like what I’ve done so far has been a success, especially when I look back at my first month of original posts on my Blogger site.  Without my goal I might be surfing fantasy baseball sites instead of writing this article.

    Build up our savings – My wife and I wanted to make sure we had enough in savings for any emergency and then some.  Rather than hope to put some money away with what was left over at the end of every month we calculated a specific amount we could afford to do without and set up our ING savings to automatically withdraw money from our checking every week.  We have since achieved our emergency savings goal and exceeded it.  If we didn’t create a specific plan our savings would be considerably less and we’d be scratching our heads wondering where our money went.

    The lesson here is that I was motivated to accomplish different things because I set a goal to achieve!  Having a goal in mind keeps my mind focused.  Without a goal set I would have just floated along in many cases.  My savings would be lower, my credit card debt still existing, my running much less, this site just a thought…

    One way to accomplish a goal is to make it SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. (Thanks to Cash Money Life for turning me onto that concept.)

    I also like to think in terms of short and long term goals. For example – The goal of saving up for a down payment on a home, while an admirable goal, may seem a bit too big to ever accomplish.  That could be a long-term goal.  To make it more achievable you can create a short-term goal of saving X dollars a month towards a down payment.  This way you see your small goals achieved which helps build up the confidence to achieve your bigger goal.

    Check out this article on the science of setting goals.  When you set a goal you are actively engaging your brain to help you with your goal!

    What goals have you accomplished?  What are your current goals and how will you achieve them?

    Sign up with ING Direct and get a $25 bonus –  Free From Broke.

    photo credit: Martineric