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Managing debt by expanding your assets

Previous articles have discussed various aspects of debt management, including changing one’s approach to debt. Those changes can included reducing the total amount of debt, reducing the number of debts, looking at different financing options, and understanding the difference between a positive debt that leads to long term positive financial results, and negative debt that only produces expensed and creates no benefits.

One of the golden rules of debt is related to the last distinction of a positive or a negative debt. A positive debt incudes debt that is finances an asset that produces income that exceeds the costs of debt service and the other costs associated with that asset. An investment in an apartment building that produces a positive cash flow each month is an example of a positive debt.

Another kind of positive debt would include an educational loan that allows someone to find employment that produces a higher income, even after taking the educational debt payment into account. These very same debts could become a negative debt if the investment has a negative cash flow or if the educational loan doesn’t lead to a job or a pay raise.

While managing or reducing debt can be a primary financial goal, sustainable financial stability is much more likely to happen when you have assets working for you. Your assets can range from cash in a savings account or other low-risk paper asset, or a business or real estate investment that provides a positive cash flow every month.

If you don’t have any assets at all, it is probably smartest to start with a low risk asset like a savings account or precious metals. If you are going to use some kind of paper asset, it may be best to put it into an account that is not easily accessed to keep you from being tempted to spend it quickly.

Precious metals may fit into this kind of strategy, since you can’t just take a silver bar or a gold coin 1 oz gold american eagle to the store and use it like a common currency. You have to first take it to a coin dealer and exchange it for regular money before you can spend it. Gold and silver have an additional advantage as it can be used as a hedge against currency fluctuations and inflation.

Even if your debts are far larger than your assets, having even a tiny amount of assets to your name could do wonders to make you feel better about your financial situation and your prospects for the future.

Savings stop as the economy slows

Since the global economic recession of 2008 began, life has been difficult for the everyday American. The cost of living has increased and it has become tough to manage competing priorities.

Wage freezes, unemployment levels of 9.1%, a struggling real estate market and an increase in day-to-day living expenses have all combined to make it harder to survive, let alone prosper!

Yet most Americans do not have a safety net to help overcome these financially tough times. Statistics suggest that one in four citizens do not have any savings at all.

This is a worrying situation, as a lack of savings means there is no emergency fund for when the going gets tough. A range of financial products can help with savings, such as those offered by short-term loan companies.

The recommended amount of savings suggested by industry experts is the figure you would need to cover a minimum of six months without an income. Yet only around 25% of all Americans have such financial security and these tend to be higher wage earners in the 50-60 years age bracket.

In today’s economic climate, it can on the surface seem hard, if not impossible, to find the money to save. Many households are experiencing increasing levels of debt instead.

According to published statistics, Americans have just under £118,000 dollars of debt per household. The combined personal debt of all Americans reaches a staggering $2 trillion dollars.

Savings are essentially an emergency fund for when the unthinkable happens. We all like to imagine we live in a certain world, but illness and unemployment can affect anyone.

Warnings and forecasts of a ‘double dip’ recession are hopefully nothing more than a worst case scenario, but those with savings have a greater piece of mind.

How would you cope in such challenging circumstances? For many people, that can be a frightening thought. However, it does not have to be, because you can easily take action to create a safety net.

Take a long, hard look at your income and outgoings. What could you honestly live without each month? A treat meal or night on the town, or perhaps the latest gadget or game?

If you can save even a small amount each month, the dollars will quickly add up. $50 dollars per month multiplied by twelve months is $600 dollars per year to invest.

It may not sound much but once you start saving, you will find that the great feelings it creates become addictive! Soon you will be happily contributing more each month to your emergency fund.

After all, this is the basis of the American Dream, to rise up against adversity and carve out your own road to freedom and success.

There is no greater freedom than financial freedom that comes from you yourself making the effort necessary, as the odds of winning the lottery are narrower than getting struck by lightning!

People who create better financial circumstances for themselves and their families gain much more than an emergency money fund. They gain a peace of mind and feeling of accomplishment too. Create your destiny now.

Problem 3: Not Looking at All Sides of a Problem

This problem is usually having a point of view on an investment situation where you may have taken someone else’s word on it or never really given the question serious thought. One common financial example of this the use of a financial advisor to assist you in buying and selling stocks, mutual funds, or other investments. Whenever I consider that advice from this kind of source, I ask several questions about the source of the advice. Some basic ones may include the following:

– Does this advisor have anything to gain or lose by my decision?

– Is this advice based on the advisors own expertise or on someone else’s?

– Is this person following their on advice on that issue?

– Is the advice based on a fair analysis or a biased analysis?

– Is it to my advantage to even consider taking this advice?

– If the advisor makes any performance claim, can the claim be backed up?

– Does the advice make sense?

– After further investigation and research on my part, does the advice still make sense?

– Does not following the advice make better sense?

The current rash of mortgage problems in the US, issues like short sales because of underwater mortgages and foreclosures, is one example of this kind of decision problem in action. Many people got into this situation because they didn’t think about the consequences of taking out a home equity loan to buy expensive toys, or the possible negative consequences of an adjustable rate loan.

There are many more questions that one can ask, but the basic point is that every decision can be looked at in more than one way. It is to your advantage to ask a few questions and do at least a little work to understand what may be behind a piece of advice.

Next Lesson: Being Overconfident In Your Predictions

Faxless Payday Loan: Helping Hand or Quick Sand?

Helping HandWhen we talk about loans in any forms, they are always related to debts.

Taking loans can offer you two things: good debts and bad debts – good debts put money in your pocket, bad debts lose money from your pocket.

Your financial needs, situation and knowledge play important roles in making the loan bad debt or good debt.

Loans come in many flavours – One of the most talk about, in my opinion, is payday loans. Why is that?

Faxless payday loan – offering you financial solution, fast – a bit too fast to handle

Payday loan is a small amount, short-term loan that is intended to cover borrower’s financial need until his/her next paycheck received.

With the advent of the Internet, payday loans are becoming more and more accessible. The term “faxless payday loan” refers to payday loan which application is processed online, thanks to the Internet.

While in essence payday loan aims to help people regardless of their credit score, many accuse payday loan as the culprit that drown many people deeper in debt.

Not quite.

In my opinion, people inherit a common weakness. They want more for less, and they want it fast.

People are always looking for fast and instant remedies for their problems, including financial problems. Just like everything in life, such as fast food, instant means immediate gratification first and quality second.

Payday loan offers fast solution. Faxless payday loan even does things faster, due to online application processing and instant approval. The drawback, as always, is the sky-high interest rate.

Those bring interesting relationship: No matter how negative the reputation of payday loan is, it seems that more and more people need payday loan these days, and payday loan providers are thriving these days. Some sort of love-hate relationship between lenders and borrowers.

Reality check: Stop blaming payday loans – have you ever look things from the eye of payday loan providers?

I am appalled to know people are blaming payday loan. Although I’m not offering any payday loans or similar things and not involving in one either, I think there are too much bad apples thrown at lenders, accusing them as scammers.

Have you ever thought that it is borrower’s responsibility to keep him/her-self well-informed regarding what type of loans he/she is about to take? It is borrower’s responsibility to know what question to ask and when to take payday loans.

Many payday loan providers I know are trying hard to offer a solution. They bear huge risks – they lend to borrowers with no regard of their credit scores. That is why payday loans charge huge interest rate: to supplement the high risks of lending to borrowers with bad credit ratings.

The right borrowers do regard payday loans as the life-savers. do help people – the right one and the well-informed one, that is – getting out of debt.

How to use payday loan to your benefit

First thing first – learn everything you can about payday loan. It is your responsibility to learn about payday loan, about the providers, and about what to expect and when.

Always plan everything – You need to know how much will you get from the lenders, the amount of the interest you owe to the lenders, and most importantly, how the short-term loans can help you getting out of debt, and for how long. You can actually ask the payday loan providers to provide you with a calculation on how much would you pay in the end of the loan period.

If the plan looks positive, go for it. If not, run away from it.

One, last advice: Never, ever take any form of loans without the right knowledge about the loans. That only makes payday loan quick sand, not helping hands.

Image by toolfan.hess.

Government Grants to Pay-Off Your Credit Card Debt: Blessings in Disguise

National Debt CountIf you are hoping for a miracle in clearing your credit card debts, you will probably wasting your time.

But if you are diligent enough in looking for information in the right places, you might found something that could be very well your small miracle.

One of the small miracles in today’s recession is Federal grants for credit card debt.

What is Federal grants for credit card debt?

In essence, the Federal grants for credit card debt is Government grants that allow you to pay off all your credit card debts, should you meet the criteria and requirements.

The main purposes of this grant are:

  • To stop you from drowning deeper into debt by taking new loans to pay off your previously taken loans.
  • To help you sustain your credit ratings and reputation.

The best thing of Federal grants is obvious – It doesn’t require to be paid back.

However, there are certain criteria and requirements to be met to be eligible – the first and foremost criteria, you have to be a US citizen, as this grants only apply in the United States.

Federal grants can have tax implications so consult your tax preparer before you file the 1040EZ.

First of all, you need to know how to apply for one.

How to get Federal grants for credit card debt

In general, the requirements to apply for the grants are as follow:

  1. Find the right Government Agencies and seek the information about the Government grants and funding programs – You can find such information from these Government’s sites: CFDA.gov and Grants.gov.
  2. Have the needed information ready: proof of income, your loan monthly payments information, and your total amount of loan taken.
  3. Along with the information the Government Agencies gather about your financial status, your application is then assessed to determine whether you qualify or not.
  4. You will be informed regarding your eligibility, and if you are judged to be eligible, your debt will be cleared as the government pays off the debt on your behalf.

Beware of scams

Just like anything that involves money, there are some organisations and companies that claim to help you getting the grant you’ve always wanted. They are too smart to know that, these days, people are often acting irrationally to get out of debt as soon as possible, by any means.

You homework is to keep your head cool and rational, while focusing your effort to find the right information. Again, the good places to start are these Government’s sites: CFDA.gov and Grants.gov.

Hopefully this post will help you with an opportunity to have a fresh start and build your personal finance the right way.

Image by Kevin Krejci.

New Year, New Hope: Plan Your Finance to Yield the Best Return

Finance InstitutionForget what some people said about how bleak the year 2009 is. The truth is, all we need right now is financial planning.

The premise – plan your finance well, and it will deliver you from financial woes that hit many who unprepared in 2007 and 2008.

The significance of financial planning in 2009

Financial planning has always been important.

Unfortunately, not all people believe the fact, until they were hit by financial problems. ‘Thanks’ to recession, the financial problems are magnified – due to the recession, financial planning has never been this important in the history of the mankind!

Particularly in 2009, financial planning is probably your most important task to do, either for your business finances or personal finances.

Creating a form of safety net or save haven for your money and finance will not only help you survive the recession, but also triumph over it.

Even better, you need to find a way to utilise all financial knowledge and tools you have to yield the best return for every penny or cent you have.

Here’s several plan ‘items’ you should consider thinking about.

Plan #1: Saving and deposit account – forget about it! Says hello to precious metals

As we know, banking and financial institutions are one of the hardest hit in today’s recession. In the US, the Fed squeezes record-amount of fund to keep those institutions afloat. Why? One of their fear: People rush to close their accounts.

However, in my opinion, that’s what you suppose to do – forget your saving and deposit account.

I’m not suggesting you to close your saving and deposit accounts – they are important parts in diversification. What I’m suggesting you is NOT to put too much money in them.

With the rising inflation in every part of the world, your saving and deposit accounts interest rates are becoming more and more insignificant.

You need to get back to what all the money in the world should base upon – gold and the other precious metals. Although the price of the metals are sky high, they are one of the safest investment forms today.

Plan #2: Utilise your credit cards better

Unlike most financial planners suggest, I suggest you not to cut your credit cards.

Instead, I recommend you to consolidate your credit cards – transfer your existing credit cards to lower APR ones or to credit card issuers that offer the most perks and rewards.

How to know which ones you should transfer balance to or apply for, invest some time to browse the Net for reviews and recommendations on credit cards issuer. Credit card sites offer alternatives you can consider, including which credit cards are good for what purposes.

My favourite credit cards story is that of my colleague’s – he shop for his business needs with his business credit cards. With tens of thousands dollar month after month business spending made on his credit cards, he is enabled to vacationing regularly and staying in luxury hotels, courtesy of his business credit card issuers – a win-win situation for credit card issuers and holders.

Plan #3: Cut bad debts, utilise good debts

When I say ‘utilise your credit card better’ in plan #2 above, I think credit cards as your ‘bridging’ in your financial planning. That being said, avoid using credit cards for loan purposes, as the interest rates are high.

Instead, cut any debts related to credit cards. In fact, cut any debts that are aimed to people with low credit scores, such as payday loan. Not that payday loan is not useful – it does in certain circumstances – but you should consider a lower interest loans that brings positive cash flow to your pocket.

Happy holiday and happy planning!

You need a break somehow, and be prepared for the coming 2009. Remember the butterfly effect I mentioned in my previous articles – what you do and think about your finances will affect your community – being positive is contagious, and it will eventually end the recession somehow.

I wish you have a happy holiday and happy planning!

Image by Zach Alexander.

Why US is Consumer Debt Ridden?

US is well known as one of the biggest creditors, as well as debtors in the world.

Although US helps funding other countries, especially developing countries, it own people is debt ridden.

Why such a contrast? In my opinion, culture and opportunities are the main culprit.

Taking consumer debts, especially with the ever-present of very interesting credit cards offer has been a trend, if not a culture in every American life.

Credit card, a major part of the cashless society movement, offers convenience to its holder. It’s unbelievable today if we know someone without having at least one plastic in one’s wallet.

Nothing wrong with the credit card – it’s the holder that cause the problems

Credit cards are basically useful and convenient. You don’t have to carry cash with you, bringing convenience in your daily life, as well as minimising the risk of, say, pick pocketing.

With low interest cards being offered these days, with additional perks, such as 0 APR or interest free period for a limited time, consumers are attracted to sign for one.

No matter how much information on credit cards benefit available, the debt-ridden US today is suffering simply due to the nature of human being – spend what they see, and spend even more what they don’t see.

For example, if you had a $100 in your wallet, you have the tendency to spend it recklessly when you go to the supermarket. This ‘genetic’ problem is amplified by the availability of credit cards. Suppose you were given a limit, say $500. You will always have the tendency to spend more than you should, because you don’t ‘see’ the money you have in your pocket. This is amplified by the sense of ‘you-can-pay-the-bill-later’.

Credit cards can actually deliver you from debt

Here’s a good news for responsible and well informed credit card holders – you can actually clear your debt with the help of credit cards, as well as helping you raise your credit score.

Clearing debts – Using credit cards smart and cautiously will allow you to have 30-day interest free loan. The key is to pay your bills before it’s due, and pay them in full.

Raising credit score – Choose reputable credit card issuers, and use your plastics as usual. The key is never pays your bills late. Do this regularly will give you a ‘shining’ report.

Choose your credit cards wisely, and they will help you in your personal finance.

Keeping up with the Jones…. In Reverse

We know that humans are a competitive species. In this blog, my fellow writers have brought up the concept of “status” and its perils.

So, we know it exists. The question we have to ask ourselves is how we can use this to our advantage.

Can we? It seems a big stretch, but perhaps we can be just as competitive about getting our finances in order as we were about messing our finances. Well, there is a school of thought on that. It’s called Debt Club.

If you’re thinking of the rules of Fight Club, I did that too when I first heard of the concept, but it’s quite different. While the rational and reasoning behind it can be explained in a number of different ways, social competition is essentially a cooperative effort for us to ruin ourselves. If we can work together to get in trouble, we should be equally capable of working together to get out of it.

I find the concept of debt club to be a fantastic one. Yes, there is a cooperative aspect, but as I mentioned earlier, this does allow you to tap into that competitive nature and use it for good purposes.

Remember, when we talk about how our brain works in this blog, we want you to be able to use that information to your advantage. Sometimes, your brain and your way of thinking can be an obstacle to financial security, so you need to figure out how to use how you think to your advantage.

Scapegoating the Credit Card Industry

While the review itself is on the later side, I’m happy at this review I found for the movie “Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders” because it deals with an important aspect of psychology and finances.

For those of you who don’t know, MaxedOut is one of the many documentaries that came out over the last few years. If you’re interested in reading the review, you can click here to see it.

By the use of “predatory lenders” in the title, it’s pretty clear that MaxedOut describes the darker side of the credit card industry. Now, up front, I want to honestly say that I haven’t seen this movie, it just provides a wonderful introduction to my concept.

Having worked in the financial industry, I’ve seen from experience that customers often blame the industry for their problems. I’ll be the first to say, banks, credit card companies and check cashing stores are industries that can often maximize their profit at the expense of their customers. However, I don’t think that they are the biggest problem. I think our fundamental failing as a society is the lack of basic financial education that we provide. The biggest issue with scapegoating a particular financial industry is that we then avoid attacking the real problem.

Essentially, what we’re doing when we create negative stereotypes of financial institutions is undergoing the “Texas sharpshooter fallacy” (Texas sharpshooter fallacy — the fallacy of selecting or adjusting a hypothesis after the data is collected, making it impossible to test the hypothesis fairly.). We make our judgments on these industries based on the fact that people have bad experiences with them.

The other issue we encounter is a vast social ignorance when it comes to the damages that can be caused by something as simple as a credit card. We require licenses to drive cars and training to operate heavy machinery, but on the scale of human suffering, that small piece of plastic is just as dangerous and can ruin lives just as easily. For as long as there has been money, there have been people who didn’t handle it well. This isn’t new. However, as we’ve made the monetary system more complex we haven’t taught people how to properly use it.

Feel free to watch MaxedOut. I’m a big fan of documentaries myself and might look it up. There are indeed some genuine tragedies in the credit card industry. People down on their luck with no where to turn, who were brought there through no fault of their own will always exist, and they should be helped as much as possible. However, a great number of people with credit problems are people who make mistakes that eventually snowballed on them, or are just victims of poor choices.

The Neurobiology of McMansions

How Our Brain Structures Led to the Housing Crisis

McMansions.

That is the derogatory term that arose the last few years for the large cookie-cutter suburban subdivisions that seem to have sprung up everywhere. You may have driven through these subdivisions and, much like me, wondered where so many people found so much money. I know what I make. I know I’m in the top 5% or so of income earners. So why don’t I have a top 5% McMansion?

In retrospect, it has become obvious that many of these people could not afford what they bought. This leads to the question of why they bought houses that pushed the limits of what they could pay. Blame it on their brains.

It is a sad but true statement about the human race that we don’t care about absolute wealth. We care about relative wealth – how much wealth we have compared to other people. We don’t want a higher standard of living if everyone else has it too. Some books would say it is all a result of an elaborate mating game. Women and men, in an ever more intense race to impress each other, attempt to make it look as though their income and success are much higher than they really are. But it goes deeper than that. The problem with the housing market can be blamed on the ventral striatum.

Last year, the neuroeconomics lab at Bonn released the results of a study or reward that involved scanning the brains of participants. What they found was not just that brains responded well to a reward. They found that brains responded even stronger to a reward that was better than the reward given to others. The experiment involved pairs of male volunteers competing for prizes on the same task. The BBC article about the research explains it well.

Both “players” were asked to estimate the number of dots appearing on a screen. Providing the right answer earned a real financial reward between 30 (£22) and 120 (£86) euros. Each of the participants was told how their partners had performed and how much they were paid. Using magnetic resonance tomographs, the researchers examined the volunteers’ blood circulation throughout the activities. High blood flow indicated that the nerve cells in the respective part of the brain were particularly active.

Neuroscientist Dr Bernd Weber explains: “One area in particular, the ventral striatum, is the region where part of what we call the ‘reward system’ is located. In this area, we observed an activation when the player completed his task correctly.”
A wrong answer, and no payment, resulted in a reduction in blood flow to the “reward region”. But the area “lit up” when volunteers earned money, and interestingly showed far more activity if a player received more than his partner.

This indicated that stimulation of the reward centre was not merely linked to individual success, but to the success of others.

You may have heard about “keeping up with the Joneses.” This research shows that it isn’t just something that affects a few of the more shallow among us. It is a real human need with a deeply rooted anatomical cause.

So back to the McMansions… what is a man to do… let all of his friends have the bigger, nicer, newer house? It seems that the drive of the ventral striatum outweighed the rational thought process for many people. All the while, lenders and investors, whose ventral striatums were firing like crazy as they tried to rack up larger earnings and returns, respectively, played along to satisfy that same deep seated need to be better than the next guy. The irony, or perhaps the karma, is that most of them ended up looking worse.