Debt: What’s Your Story and How Do You Feel About It?

a view of a mans back pocket with several credit cards exposed

Debt: What’s Your Story and How Do You Feel About It?

By Mike Desepoli, Heritage

In a recent study, half of Americans said their debt and expenses is equal to or greater than their income. 1 Revolving credit, particularly credit cards, is an increasingly significant part of the equation. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Household Debt and Credit report data, Americans’ total credit card debt hit $905 billion in 2017 – an increase of 8% from the previous year. 2

The phrase “credit card debt” usually triggers red flags when we’re talking about long-term financial planning. And in fact, the average US household now carries $15,654 on their cards, and pays $904 annually in interest. 2 But debt, in and of itself, isn’t good or bad. Instead of making a value judgement about how you use debt, when working with clients we like to understand:

  • What is your debt story?
  • What are your attitudes about debt?
  • Why do you feel the way you do?
  • How are your debt levels affecting the Return on Life your money provides?

Having a deeper understanding of the above helps us do a better job positioning your money to work more effectively for you.

What’s the big picture?

Our current high debt levels reflect a previous generation of low interest rates, an active housing market, a robust credit market, and relative peace and prosperity. This meant more consumers with more plastic and more loans. Again, debt is not bad in and of itself, especially in a healthy economy. But from 2007-2009, many highly-leveraged people and companies were vulnerable to foreclosure and bankruptcy during the Great Recession.

People who were born between the Great Depression and World War II grew up in the daily realities of war and lean markets. Unsurprisingly, this group tends to avoid using credit cards when they can. Instead, they rely on the cash in their hands and the checkbooks they balance with pen and paper.

That credit-aversion seems to have skipped the Boomer generation, who, generally speaking, happily used credit cards and home-equity loans.

The current generation of young workers—Millennials—seem to be warier about carrying debt than their parents were.

Young people are entering the workforce at a time when household income is struggling to keep pace with the cost of living. They believe taking on debt would only widen that gap. In particular, the costs of medical care, housing, and food continue to grow faster than income. 2

Many underemployed Millennials are living at home into their late-20s, so they aren’t using credit cards to finance luxury items or buy first homes. Even for millennials who do find good jobs after college, many start their adult lives in the red because of student loans. As of September 2017, the average US household had $46,597 in student loan debt. 2

Millennials are less enthusiastic about investing in the markets. Growing up during the Great Recession shook their faith in the economy. Growing up in the shadow of 9/11 and terrorism, they’ve only known a world unsettled by global unrest.

Millennials are also a more conscientious consumer group than their parents were. They want to spend their time, and their money, on things that help to make the world a better place. They consider personal fiscal responsibility to be part of a greater good.

What’s your story?

While looking at big picture debt trends is useful for predicting where the economy is headed, your Life-Centered Plan is about you. Now would be a great time to take a minute to consider:

  • How do you feel about debt?
  • Why do you think that you feel the way you do?
  • Are you comfortable with your current level of debt?
  • Is your current level of debt causing any problems with one of your loved ones?
  • Do you pay off your credit card balances in full every month?
  • How do your attitudes about debt align or differ with those of your parents? Why do you think that is?

We encourage you to reach out to us and we can take a closer look at your financial situation and help you get on a more comfortable path. Together, we can create a financial plan that will improve your Return on Life.

 

Sources
  1. Half of Americans are spending their entire paycheck (or more) http://money.cnn.com/2017/06/27/pf/expenses/index.html
  2. Nerdwallet’s 2017 American Household Credit Card Debt Study https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

Does Your Desire to Save Match Your Reality? – #AskTheAdvisor

a man thinks about spending money but considers his savings plan

Savings: Does Your Desire to Save Match Your Reality?

Mike Desepoli, Heritage Financial Advisory Group

“The only money that’s really yours is the money you spend.

Everything else goes to somebody else.”

-Teddy Chafolious

That piggy bank we remember from childhood wasn’t just a place to store our birthday money and spare change: it was a lesson, a way our parents encouraged us to get into the habit of saving. Many parents even go so far as to deposit half of any monetary gifts their children receive directly into a savings account, just to drive the point home. Adults who took that lesson to heart might set up automatic deposits into long-term savings or retirement accounts from their paychecks every month – a modern mechanism for implementing this age-old lesson.

But the quote from Teddy Chafolious raises an important point: What are we saving FOR? Many new investors come to their financial advisors with a number in mind: “I want to save $1 million before I retire.” There’s even something of a fad among millennials who work as hard as they can, save as much as they can, and try to retire before age 50.

But why? After all, “you can’t take it with you.”

It’s important to have financial goals, and committing to a regular savings plan is good first step towards achieving them. But if you treat your long-term financial planning as just a series of targets to hit, or numbers you have to drive up as much as possible, your return on investment is going to be a lot higher than your Return on Life – the feelings of happiness and fulfillment that your financial planning should provide you.

How much are Americans saving?

According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans today are saving a lot less than they have in years past. Personal savings in the United States averaged 8.29 percent from 1959 until 2017. The rate for 2017 is hovering around 3 percent. Experts tie this historically low savings rate to increased household spending, which continues to outpace wage increases, and high levels of revolving debt, like credit cards.

Figures like these drive many people to the opposite end of the spectrum: they save as much as they possibly can, especially if they’re nearing retirement.

Finding balance.

We tend to think that the person saving more is doing a better job of managing his or her money than the person saving too little. But neither extreme is going to maximize your Return on Life. Spend too much enjoying the now, and you might end up having to work much longer than you want to – maybe even all the way through retirement. Save too much too early, and you and your family might miss out on the experiences that you deserve to enjoy with your hard-earned money: big family vacations, a new home, creature comforts, entertainment and culture that will enrich all of your lives.

Worse, new retirees who have spent their lives stuck in “savings mode” often have trouble transitioning to the reward mentality that should provide for a meaningful retirement. These retirees worry so much about running out of money that they often neglect their own wants and needs, to their emotional and physical detriment.

Reality check.

So how do you find that balance between enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow?

First, ask yourself if your rate of savings is in line with your reality. Are you saving so much that you’re not enjoying life as much as you could be? Or are you hovering around that 3 percent savings figure, telling yourself that you’re putting enough money away when you know, deep down, that you’re not?

Next, make an appointment with your Advisor to talk about your financial goals, and your vision for a dream retirement. Work together to find that saving/spending balance that’s going to align your savings with your reality, and hopefully, your goals and dreams. Find that sweet spot, and your money won’t just be numbers on a balance sheet. It will be yours. Don’t have an advisor? Here is a helpful article to show you what to look for.

 

5 Steps to Raise Your Credit

workers trying to build credit

5 steps to raise your credit score

by Mike Desepoli

If you need to boost your credit score, it won’t happen overnight.

Credit scores take into account years of past behavior you can find on your credit report, and not just your present actions.

But there are some steps you can take now to start on the path to better credit.

1. Watch those credit card balances

One major factor in your credit score is how much revolving credit you have versus how much you’re actually using. The smaller that percentage is, the better it is for your credit rating.

The optimum: 30 percent or lower.

To boost your score, “pay down your balances, and keep those balances low,” says Pamela Banks, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union.

If you have multiple credit card balances, consolidating them with a personal loan could help your score.

What you might not know: Even if you pay balances in full every month, you still could have a higher utilization ratio than you’d expect. That’s because some issuers use the balance on your statement as the one reported to the bureau. Even if you’re paying balances in full every month, your credit score will still weigh your monthly balances.

One strategy: See if the credit card issuer will accept multiple payments throughout the month.

2. Eliminate credit card balances

“A good way to improve your credit score is to eliminate nuisance balances,” says John Ulzheimer, a nationally recognized credit expert formerly of FICO and Equifax. Those are the small balances you have on a number of credit cards.

The reason this strategy can boost your score: One of the items your score considers is just how many of your cards have balances, Ulzheimer says. That’s why charging $50 on one card and $30 on another instead of using the same card (preferably one with a good interest rate) can hurt your credit score.

The solution to improve your credit score is to gather up all those credit cards with small balances and pay them off, Ulzheimer says. Then select one or two go-to cards that you can use for everything.

“That way, you’re not polluting your credit report with a lot of balances,” he says.

3. Leave old debt on your report

Some people erroneously believe that old debt on their credit report is bad.

The minute they get their home or car paid off, they’re on the phone trying to get it removed from their credit report.

Negative items are bad for your credit score, and most of them will disappear from your report after seven years. However, “arguing to get old accounts off your credit report just because they’re paid is a bad idea,” Ulzheimer says.

Good debt — debt that you’ve handled well and paid as agreed — is good for your credit. The longer your history of good debt is, the better it is for your score.

One of the ways to improve your credit score: Leave old debt and good accounts on as long as possible. This is also a good reason not to close old accounts where you’ve had a solid repayment record.

Trying to get rid of old good debt “is like making straight A’s in high school and trying to expunge the record 20 years later,” Ulzheimer says. “You never want that stuff to come off your history.”

4. Pay bills on time

If you’re planning a major purchase (like a home or a car), you might be scrambling to assemble one big chunk of cash.

While you’re juggling bills, you don’t want to start paying bills late. Even if you’re sitting on a pile of savings, a drop in your score could scuttle that dream deal.

One of the biggest ingredients in a good credit score is simply month after month of plain-vanilla, on-time payments.

“Credit scores are determined by what’s in your credit report,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action. If you’re bad about paying your bills — or paying them on time — it damages your credit and hurts your credit score, she says.

That can even extend to items that aren’t normally associated with credit reporting, such as library books, she says. That’s because even if the original “creditor,” such as the library, doesn’t report to the bureaus, they may eventually call in a collections agency for an unpaid bill. That agency could very well list the item on your credit report.

5. Don’t hint at risk

Sometimes, one of the best ways to improve your credit score is to not do something that could sink it.

Two of the biggies are missing payments and suddenly paying less (or charging more) than you normally do, says Dave Jones, retired president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.

Other changes that could scare your card issuer (but not necessarily hurt your credit score): taking cash advances or even using your cards at businesses that could indicate current or future money stress, such as a pawnshop or a divorce attorney, he says.

For more on this topic check out #AskTheAdvisor 61: 5 Ways to Build Your Credit