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$100 Homes

Last night 20/20 featured an interesting segment on homes in foreclosure. They interviewed some urban pioneers in Michigan who are rebuilding an entire neighborhood one house at a time. The homes sold for $100-$500. They were in terrible shape. Most of them were either burned and partially destroyed. While it will probably take 10’s of thousands to repair them and the area is awful the pioneers were doing something very interesting. They were building a community. Instead of trying to go it alone they found other people that wanted to renovate this area. One by one they began attracting friends and family to come join them in their quest to rebuild this area.

I have no doubt that in ten years this will be some cool, hip part of Detroit that everyone wants to visit. An interesting example of creativity during a tough patch in our economy.

VA or Military Home Loans

The LA Times recently featured a story on VA Loan Benefits. For military members coming home and looking to purchase a home there are some tremendous benefits. Without putting up any of their own money veterans can borrow up to 417k with a GI loan. The limits increase in other areas such as California and Colorado where home prices are higher than the rest of the nation. There are some pretty specific items you need in order to qualify

You Are Eligible For A VA Home Loan If:

  • You have had 90 days or more of active duty service during wartime
  • You have had 181 days or more of active duty service during peacetime
  • You were discharged for circumstances that were not dishonorable
  • You are currently active duty personnel and you meet the above service requirements
  • You are the surviving spouse of a Veteran who died during service or because of service-related injuries and you have not remarried.

You will also need to show work history and ability to make payments for the loan you are applying for. Lastly, there are three other reasons these loans are good for veterans.

No PMI Insurance is required.

VA Loans require no money down and you will see no penalty rates

VA Loans have lower rates than conventional loans.

Given the current economic environment this is a great option for those who have dutifully served our country.

Mentally Tough

After reading about the Navy Seals in Newsweek a week ago, I learned a little bit more from the DVD released from the History Channel called the Brain. What was interesting was the segment about how the Navy was actually able to increase the pass rate of Navy Seals by employing some new mental toughness techniques. Prior to the new techniques the pass rate was 25%. After the change the pass rate climbed as high as 33%.

They found that in dealing with fear and stressful situations there are two important parts of the brain. The amigdala and the frontal lobes. The amigdala is the primal part that process information quickly and starts immediately getting other parts of the body involved. The frontal lobes involve higher reasoning, but take longer to use. Essentially, when seals in training are confronted with a situation in the first impulse is for the amigdala to take over, but in order to succeed they need to use the other parts of their brain to execute their given task.

They outlined 4 steps used to create mental toughness and help trainees succeed. I think you will find that you can use these same techniques to help you achieve other goals for yourself. Basically, what they found is that the brain is very complex and lots of different signals are traveling all over the place. By using these techniques the recruits were better able to accomplish their goals.

1. Have a clear goal – It seems kind of obvious, but what the more successful trainees did was take it a step further and break down their large picture goals into very small and specific goals. For example, one former seal talked about his goal in the morning was to make it to breakfast and then his goal was to make it to lunch.

2. Mental Rehearsal – The candidates were instructed to rehearse in their minds the steps they needed to take over and over again.

3. Self Talk – I’ve never recorded this for myself, but apparently you can say like 300+ words a minute to yourself. This has a profound impact on your minds ability to reason and solve problems.

4. Mood regulation – This is the ability to quiet some of those hormones and other chemicals that start to go running around. They found one of the best techniques was to use controlled breathing. Slowly exhaling could help reverse these trends.

Break up with Your Money

By Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

As we face an economic downturn unlike most of us have ever seen, what I call “breaking up” with your money can be an important step for your financial well-being, for your relationship, and for your sanity. We never know what the future may hold – things may start to get a lot better, or they may get worse – but creating healthy relationships with your finances and budget is something that will pay off no matter what type of financial situation we face as a nation or you face as an individual or couple.

The first step is to realize the areas in your relationship where money has “intruded” to create what i call a triangle. I discuss these areas in more detail in my book, Financial Infidelity, but here are some possible triangles, and how you can break up these patterns!

1. Family/Money/Relationship: Family legacies of money behaviors are not always contained in our subconscious minds – they can be very real! Demands of extended family members for financial support can be one way in which money can encroach and put a strain on a couples finances AND on their relationship.
2. Children/Money/Relationship: Nearly 70% of couples experience relationship stress after having kids. When a couple becomes contentious over spending on their children, the couple’s relationship can suffer – as can the family’s relationship.
3. Spending (or saving)/Money/Relationship: This can be a case of “opposites attract” in the extreme: the relationship then becomes at risk for damaging power struggles, sneaky “pay back,” and other deceit.

Hiding or denying the role money has in your life and in your relationship – as in any of the scenarios above, or other scenarios – has a toxic affect on a relationship. These types of “triangle” behaviors negatively influences your relationship with your partner. You may not think of it as cheating, but if you continue in this type of lop-sided relationship, it will take a toll. Attachment to your money can often ruin chances for you and your partner to build an intimate relationship.

Learning to prioritize the role of money in your relationship is an important step toward a healthy dynamic between your, your partner, and your money. I’ve come up with several ways to do this – here is one such exercise:

Withdrawals and Deposits:

Day 1: pretend you have suddenly been forced into bankruptcy. You are poor and have nothing – no money, no investments. Take your negative fantasies into the extreme – imagine yourself selling everything you have, being free of all your material goods.

Day 2: Visualize yourself with plenty of money, and all that entails. You are comfortable and able to do the things that are truly important to you.

Day 3 – and forever after: be consciously grateful. Each day, count the things you are grateful for.

Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil has been an internationally acclaimed relationship therapist for thirty years. New York magazine named her one of the city’s top therapists and Psychology Today named her one of America’s best therapists. Her most recent book, Financial Infidelity, is available on Amazon.

Franchising in Response to Unemployment

Several years ago I found myself unemployed for the first time in my 30+ year career. After the initial panic and rearranging of finances so that day to day expenses could be met, my partner and I started talking about options and decided that we would look into franchising. Franchising offered the promise of “being your own boss”, “90% of franchises are successful”, “building for retirement”, and “doing something fun”.

Being my own boss was definitely attractive since I tend to have definite ideas of how things should be run. I was also still on the rebound from the shock of unemployment. Little did I understand at the time, what being your own boss really means. You’ve got it all… the good, bad, and the ugly. There is also the mind switch from working in the business to working on the business. Give this some thought if you are thinking about starting your own business whether it is a franchise or an entrepreneurial venture.

As for the “90% of franchises are successful”, that may be true overall or may have been true in the past, but I would now take this with a grain of salt as opposed to “with statistics like those, how could we possibly be in the bottom 10%?” A franchise is a great way to get a head start on your business, but it is not a sure thing. You must be willing to follow the franchisor’s formula as closely as possible to help ensure your success. Looking at success rates within your prospective market niche is also a must.

As we looked into franchise options the next hurdle was choosing a business. The internet was a logical place to start and we did take a serious look at a fitness offering. Being on a successful fitness program at the time, this seemed a logical fit for the “fun” portion of the equation. It also appeared to be a real growth industry at the time. We met with the regional manager, went over the “Uniform Offering Circular” and met with a couple of franchisees.

At the same time, we got hooked up with a franchise consultant through FranChoice. This was probably one of the best moves we made during the process. The consultant talked to us about our backgrounds, work style, financials, etc. and then presented several options for franchises. He also told us about a program through Guidant Financial whereby I could parlay 401(k) funds into capital for the business venture. Shortly after starting our discussions with the consultant, we found a red flag with the fitness franchise… no “Discovery Day”! This is like a day long interview at the franchise corporate headquarters with the executives of the franchise. If a franchise doesn’t offer “discovery day”, be very suspicious.

We worked with our franchise consultant and went through the process of discussing our lifestyle, what we wanted out of the business, etc. He provided several concepts that may have worked out better than the one we chose, but rather than really look at the business, we looked with our hearts and emotions.

After doing a phone interview and a “Discovery Day” visit, we were off and running with a commitment for one location under our belts and an option for a second location. Little did we know what a ride we were in for.

Franchising can be a viable option when you find yourself unemployed, but several lessons learned need to be remembered:

  • You need to think about working on the business as opposed to working in the business
  • Find out the real success metrics for the business you are considering – not just revenue per day
  • Understand what kind of employees you will have in your chosen business
  • Choose with your reason and not your emotions
  • Think about your investment risk and how your market niche is performing

Stress and Money

This past week Newsweek had a series of articles related to stress and how different people cope. Given the latest economic climate it is easy to see how many of us could feel stressed out and overwhelmed by the situations we find ourselves in. The most interesting article was written by Ben Sherwood who followed the work of Dr. Andy Morgan from the Yale Medical School. Morgan went to Fort Bragg to study the Army’s elite Airborne. He measured different factors to see if he could determine who would be successful and who wouldn’t.

Interestingly, he found that those who managed their stress better tended to graduate higher in their class as well as complete their given programs. However, it wasn’t quite as simple as you might think. He actually found that the elite soldiers were completely wired differently. These soldiers gave off more NPY ( Neuropeptide Y) in their bodies. This chemical helps to regulate blood pressure, appetite, learning and memory.

In one test would be soldiers are tied with their hands behind their back and legs together. They are then thrown in a pool. Those with higher levels of NPY tend to do better. Instead of fighting the water they tended to remain calm, fall to the bottom and then push off the bottom for air.

What I find interesting about the results of the study is that managing stress for the rest of us can actually be more difficult and we may have to take active steps to calm ourselves to reduce stress and make correct decisions. Most of us know that emotions can get in the way of making proper financial decisions. Emotions make us sell assets when we are scared instead of holding on for better market conditions. They make us buy snake oil that won’t really help us.

Sherwood has created a website called thesurvivorsclub.org for the rest of us to learn how survivors are different and how we can try to emulate them.

Everybody Be Cool This is a Robbery!

I completely laughed hysterically when I heard Tim Roth say those words in Pulp Fiction, but in real life it’s not quite as funny. Despite the increasing options for banking online there are still times a visit to a physical bank or ATM is required. Interestingly, as much as technology in Internet banking has developed so have the modern day physical security measures as well.

Companies like ADT Security have been investing in cutting edge security technology for physical bank security systems. I used to think that ADT specialized in high level home security, but they have a number of high tech tools for financial institutions. Banks are starting to use some of the biometric systems such as iris, smart card and fingerprint readers.

They’ve also started integrating alarm verification, interactive video and live remote video monitoring.

While it seems like bank robberies are something out of the old west a quick search on Google news reveals that they continue to happen every day. It is one of those things that everyone always thinks happens to someone else. It is always nice to see the company providing the security system to my local bank. If it is a company like ADT I know my bank has chosen well and has the right technology to keep me and my money safe.

Loan Fraud – What to Look for

I’ll never forget the first spam I received involving an African prince who would send me oodles of money. Unfortunately, these types of loans continue to proliferate the Internet and take advantage of people. The trend has only gotten worse as people are more desperate in these hard economic times. They prey on people desperate to get student loans and other types of financing. The most common type of fraud is called an advance fee loan scams. In this situation the person is told that they have been guaranteed a unsecured loan for a large sum of money. They simply need to pay the processing fee.

Here are a few of the signs that the company may not be legitimate.

  • A lender who isn’t interested in your credit history
  • Fees that are not disclosed clearly or prominently
  • A loan that is offered by phone
  • A lender who is not registered in your state

Do business with licensed companies. Ask your state banking or finance department about the licensing requirements for lenders and loan brokers, and find out if the company has complied.

If you are the victim of a fraudulant crime you can visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. This site helps people who have been victimized by credit card theft. It helps the government to aggregate data and ultimately apprehend those responsible for the fraudulant crimes.

Countering the Desire to Buy

Have you ever just had to have something? You’re not even sure why, but before you could say Visa you had made the purchase and then a week later you don’t even use or remember why you bought the darn thing anyway? Typically this is because a very clever marketer has tapped into your seedling desire and created a emotional state that made you want to buy. Think of those yummy pizza ads that made you order over the phone even though you aren’t hungry or buy one of those darn snuggies for $20 over the phone. Perhaps learning more about the tactics behind this marketing can help you resist future assaults on your buying psyche.

Unless you’re an Internet marketer you’ve probably never heard of Frank Kern. He is an Internet marketing master. He has put together legendary marketing sales copy that is responsible for bringing in tens of millions of dollars with his slick tongue. People pay this guy large sums of money in the form of royalties to help promote their products. I was recently listening to one of his free videos where he was dispelling some of his wisdom. The purpose of the video was to help those selling items to sell more and think about buyer psychology, but it can also be useful to stop and pause to think before you buy.

Typically marketers try to tap into a seedling desire. A seedling desire is someone that has a small interest in a given subject. They want to then turn that small desire into a full blown emotional buying state.

Remember we buy emotionally and we justify logically after the fact. Any given copy or ad is trying to tap into your emotional state to present you with a future pleasure or way to avoid pain. In some cases it can be absolutely justified. There really are great products that can change your live. My DVR is living proof of that, but there are other things we don’t need.

One of things I have found useful is to actually wait one day and sleep on it. Sleep has a way of resetting our emotional state and changing how we feel. It is amazing how many times I’ve woken up the next day and the emotional state has passed.

Send a comment and let us know how you let the emotional state pass.

Compare Rates in Australia

One of my favorite financial sites is bankrate.com. When I was looking for a mortgage I scoured that site on a daily basis watching rates change and thinking about who I would place my mortgage with. Interestingly for me it wasn’t all about the best rate. I also wanted someone who wouldn’t sell my mortgage and who had an office close by. I was able to find it and get a decent rate easily. I am amazed at the difference between the advertised rate and the rate you end up with though.

Even though bankrate is the 800 lb gorilla in the market there are a growing list of sites specializing in financial niches as well.

Anyway, there is a new site that seeks to help Australians with their rates as well. The site is called GoodWithMoney. They compare traditional items like credit cards and cheap loans, but what I also found interesting is that you can compare rates on items like insurance and broadband services. They have most of the major items that you need for your financial being on their site specifically geared to those living in Australia. They also have a section dedicated to financial Australian news.

If you have any other interesting sites that help to compare rates for a given niche let us know in a comment.

Pay Day Loans – Legislating Rates

The payday loan industry is enormous at over 85 billion dollars. In 2008 the state of Ohio passed legislation limiting the interest rate to 28% for businesses offering payday advance loans. This puts the interest rate at close to the same rate as a credit card. The state supported this bill by 64%. Proponents of the bill noted that payday loans cause the poor to get caught in a vicious cycle of debt that they cannot escape.

The interest rates on these types of loans ranges from 300% -600%. It is also important to understand the amount of risk involved with this type of transaction for the person lending the money. Given the size of the industry it would seem that there is plenty of profit motive to enter the market and that someone would lend at a lower percentage to pick up more business. However, the only thing to factor in must be the size of risk involved. More innovative online pay day lenders such as those that offer no fax payday loan have actually decided to stop lending in Ohio due to the new legislation.

This limits choice for Ohioans and others in States that limit pay day interest rates. Some have suggested that state level assistance programs may be necessary in the absence of this form of credit.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Does the new legislation protect those who would otherwise be taken advantage of or is this a necessary service that people depend on that will no longer be an option?

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