Student Loan Update – April 2017

higher-education

When I graduated in May of 2017, I chose not to think about my student loans. It was a hot humid day but people traveled from different states to come see me complete another milestone. I was juggling full time work and a part time MBA program right when my husband was settling into a new job. I had a lot to be thankful for and a number of people were proud of me. The Department of Education was going to grant me 10 years starting in December 2015 to agonize over student loans but I was never going to get another graduation day.

I picked up my diploma after the ceremony and I sat in the front seat of my husband’s car running my fingers on it back and forth as my parents sat in the back. I was pretty impressed with myself. Not in a gloating kind of way but more so in a “I actually did it…” Almost as if I couldn’t believe it.

The next day, things went back to normal and I decided that the honeymoon period with the diploma was over. Real world responsibilities required me to know what my balance was and what my monthly payments were projected to be. It was nothing that I could not afford but it was painful. Over $350 a month a and $40k+ balance. I could get a whole new car with that! I devised an aggressive pay down plan as follows:

  1. Start paying immediately rather than waiting for the grace period
  2. Apply all raises to the monthly payment and all bonuses to the balance
  3. Apply all tax refunds if any to the balance

3 simple steps. The toughest part was the discipline of not eating out as much as we would have liked and not splurging at the mall. However, 23 months later, that plan has worked so well that I am dancing for joy.

Capture

In case you are having trouble reading the small font, this says:

Current balance $11,641.17 & Due date 7/18/2020

While there are no guarantees, these numbers indicate that I am likely on track to finish paying the debt off by the end of the year if all goes as planned. That will be 8 years ahead of schedule. This is more than I could ever hope to achieve. When I said I was determined to pay and save myself an astronomical amount of money in interest, I was not joking.

I am grateful for the discipline I have that allows me to focus on long term independence goals rather than instant gratification. I’m also thankful that I have a supportive husband who understands my goals and can see my vision for our family. Some people would have valued the high life over a debt free life and it could have been a source of friction. Instead, he trusts my judgement and is happy delaying a little bit of gratification in favor of peace of mind.

Dear DOE, thank you but no thank you. I will decline your offer to take a 3-year hiatus from my obligation. You’re going to collect these payments and you’re going to like it. But better yet, you will set me free.

 

Advertisements

Savers Rejoice!

federal-reserve-seal

Your time has come. After nearly a decade, long suffering frugal people are on track to be rolling in the though again. Not exactly, but pretty much. Sorta… Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Federal Reserve raised interest rate by another 0.25%. Just to be clear, the FRB does not set interest rates. However, their rates drive consumer rates because Fed rates are often used as a benchmark for overall market interest rates. Although rates on deposit accounts are not going to go up as quickly as borrowing rates, us savers are one step closer to escaping the 0% interest rate of money market accounts.

In case you were thinking that 0.25% is small, I’m going to put this in perspective for you. The first rate hike since 2007 was in 2015. The next one was in 2016 and this hike is following 3 months later. This could potentially be setting the ground work for 2 more rate increases this year. The interval between hikes is shortening.

For those of you who are still borrowing, especially those who still have ARM on their balance sheet, be careful to not get caught with your pants down…

Debt vs. Savings: What to Prioritize

playing-with-the-building-blocks-of-the-cloud-getting-iaas-right

Two of the building blocks of personal finance are saving money and paying off debt. Everything flows from these two principles. You can’t invest, start a business or retire if you are not saving and/or you are crippled by a mountain of debt. In an ideal world, we’d be maxing out our 401k and crushing our debt, getting ever closer to eliminating them every month. Alas, we live in the real world with tons of responsibility and a finite amount of money to work with. So how do we prioritize?

While the exact answer might vary from person to person depending on their respective situation, the steps we use to reach the appropriate conclusion are the same. To make it easier, I will eliminate the variables in a hypothetical situation by using myself as an example.

Currently, I have 3 savings account: one is a CD where I get the best return I’m going to get in this interest environment. It pays me 1.25%. The other one is a money market account that pays 0.05%. It’s not as lucrative as the CD but my money is accessible with few penalties. However, money markets have an important restriction. While you can deposit money any time you want, they cap how many times per month you can withdraw before you incur a fee. It’s a fantastic tool that forces you to keep your hand out of the honeypot. But life happens and we sometimes need to access money more often than we want to. That’s where my regular savings account comes in. Hold on to your hat folks, this return might blow you away: 0.01%. I’ll try not to spend it all in one place. If you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, be patient…

The debt that is currently the biggest thorn in my side is my student loan debt. As much as I would love to keep fattening up my savings, the interest rate on that debt is 5.16%. That means, for every hundred dollar I chose to add to my savings (let’s assume we’re talking about the CD since it offers the best rate) over paying off my student loans, I am getting a return of 1.25% that is costing me 5.16%. That puts me in a whole of close to 4% annually on that $100. Of course, student loan interest is tax deductible if you itemize (which I do), but you don’t get all of it back. The IRS caps it at $2,500 gradually decreasing it as your income goes up until it disappears. So we’re talking a saving of 1% to maybe 2%, and I’m being generous, which will then net you a negative return of almost 2% and we aren’t adjusting for inflation.

So what do I prioritize?

  1. Having an emergency fund: This buys you peace of mind and keeps you from falling into debt when tragedy strikes. How much you need depends on your particular situation. But I recommend a minimum of 6 months.
  2. Saving for retirement: The most important part of saving and investing for retirement is time. The longer you save, the more time that compound interest has to work in your favor. Also, the more time you have to recover from dips in the market.
  3. Paying off high interest debt: My student loan debt at over 5% is in stark contrast with this loan I took out for an energy efficient central AC which is a 0% loan. I am in no rush to pay that off. If they want to extend it 10 more years, I’ll take it! However, I am very aggressive with my student loan debt where I send every extra unexpected funds to Nelnet. Whether it’s a raise, a bonus or a tax return check, it goes towards my student loans. I have paid off over $23,000 in the past 18 months and I have no plans of slowing down until it’s gone.

While your situation might be different, for me, this is the least expensive and most sensible order in which I can allocate my funds. If I do anything else, I am not maximizing all of my dollars. Have you taken the time to consider if your debt repayment plan and your savings strategy are optimized?

The 7-Step Guide to Healing Your Credit

score

Before you read this post, I encourage you to take a look at the previous blog that talks about what makes up a credit score. You will have a better understanding of how the steps that I am recommending will impact your score every step of the way.

Welcome back! Now that you know what makes up a credit score, I hope you’re ready to fix yours.

A capitalist society is a consumer driven society. Few people are as consumption driven as Americans. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t patient enough to wait until we can afford the luxuries of life before we decide to indulge. As a result, we overextend ourselves, borrowing our lives away to keep up with the Jones’. However, as various entities we do business with begin to put increasing value on credit history, we are starting to wake up to the fact that things need to change.

But before they change, we must right the wrongs of the past. So it is no surprise that credit repair has become big business. The other fact about the credit repair industry is that they are preying on low-income consumers. What if I told you that with a little bit of guidance, patience and a whole lot of discipline you could repair your own credit score for free? Well you can and I will outline all the steps below.

The following list is a guide for how you can repair your credit or keep your credit score high if you already have good credit.

  1. Pay on time – Pay all of your bills on time, every time. Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast can all send you to collection and ruin your credit. While you want to prioritize things like your mortgage so you aren’t homeless, don’t think there is a company out there that you owe money to that doesn’t have the ability to report you to all 3 credit bureaus.
  2. Pay down your balances aggressively – Your outstanding debt balance, especially on revolving lines of credit (i.e. credit cards) negatively impact your debt usage ratio (how much of your available credit line that you are using). Therefore, your score will benefit  greatly from you paying off your balance due and not just the minimum payment.
  3. Do not apply for credit – If you read the previous article that I linked above, you will know that hard inquiries (shopping for credit vs. “soft” inquiries marketing/promotional inquiries) on your report adversely affect your score. Additionally, those inquiries remain on your report for about 2 years.
  4. Pay, don’t shift– Do not move your debt around. I know someone who spent nearly 3 years moving their credit card balances to 0% interest promotional cards until she was no longer getting those offers. This does not eliminate your debt. It just helps you avoid interest for a period of time while you’re paying a balance transfer fee as a percentage of your owed amount. It is costing you money to still carry the debt. Ignore those promotional offers as they only benefit the company that you’re moving to, while you continue to be in debt and your score continues to suffer.
  5. Don’t close good accounts – If you have accounts in good standing with little or no balances, especially if they are aged, keep them open. They help establish your history and offset negative information on your credit. However, you have to be able to resist the urge of using the card or credit line. You are NOT required to use your account to have good credit.
  6. Be patient – Time heals all wounds. Inquiry “wounds” 2 years. Delinquency “wounds” 7 years. Bankruptcy “wounds” 10 years. As you work your tail off to show improve the data that shows up on your credit report going forward, there is not much you can do about ACCURATE adverse information. However, all information, good or bad goes away eventually. This is why it is important to remain consistent once you decide to make a change. Once the bad information falls off, you want to make sure that new bad information doesn’t rear its ugly head as it has a 7 year shelf-life.
  7. Fight – Remember how I said you can’t do anything about accurate information? That is not the case for incorrect information. If someone has the same name as you, or their social security number is 1 digit off from yours, or if you were the victim of identity theft, you don’t have to be punished for an error or a thief. The law says that you have the right to fix errors on your credit report and you should absolutely exercise that right.

These are all steps you can take on your own, for free. I hope you find the information useful and that the credit repair business has just lost another customer.

Path to a Million: 2016 Q4 – Results

8

In this post I talk about why I wanted to make my net worth public. Here are the actual numbers and below I’ll discuss what they all represent. Since this is the first time I am posting this, I will give some background information below. Going forward, I will only be posting the statement of net worth and referring to this post for the details.

 

q4-nw

On the asset side

Liquid assets represent cash and investments that can be easily accessed in the event of an emergency.

Personal property includes things that have been appraised but aren’t real property and aren’t easily accessible. That includes jewelry, furniture, etc.

Real estate is pretty self-explanatory.

 

On the Liability side

Both the HELOC and the Consumer loans seem like “too good to be true” deals, however they are state and federal subsidized loans for energy efficient improvements on our primary residence. The HELOC is for the solar panels and the consumer loan is for energy efficient central AC.

The student loans are what they are. But if you want to know how determined I am to pay them off, I graduated with over $45,000 in 2015, and I’ve paid down over $10,000 in principal payments this year alone. So I don’t anticipate it will be weighing around my neck much longer.

2 of the 3 mortgage loans are on rental properties which are cash flowing well and do not require us to pay anything out of pocket.

I do not have, nor have I ever had credit card debt.

Net Worth

Pretty self-explanatory as well. It’s the difference between what I have and what I owe. While most of my NW is tied up in real estate, a significant portion of the real estate is income generating. By no means am I living in a $1 MM house. My goal is to increase my net worth by $75,000 by this time next year. While a good portion of that gain will be through eliminating my student loans, I think there will be several other income generating, savings and investment opportunities in the new year. Paying off the student loans alone will make a significant difference. Those $300 that are currently being eaten away by the loans, can be funneled to other projects and create a snow ball effect both in savings and in investments.

Nothing happens by luck. It takes faith, hard work and discipline. I am making a plan preparing for a prosperous 2017. I look forward to checking in for the first quarter.

 

The Difference between winning and losing

Will you be crafty or will you complain? Which one you decide to do could very well be the determining factor between whether you win or lose.

The presidential campaign exposed the underbelly of  hatred and division that runs deep in this country. Some of us in the real world always knew they existed. Others were in denial and some might have known but tend to not concern themselves with things that don’t negatively impact them. But the election is over, now what? Whether you candidate won or lost, you have to get up and show up. Life goes on.

We still have to live with each other, but nost importantly, we still have to live in this country (unless you’re one of those people who caused the Canada immigration website to crash). Which means we need to find a way to make this upcoming economy work for us. If you are starting now, you are very late in the game. Not too late, but late enough to be severely delayed and you can’t afford any more lost time. That is why foresight is important. There is no such thing as certainty. Many people are afraid of what is to come and some of that fear comes from a lack of preparation. My goal is to write about adequate preparation extensively as a guide to positioning ourselves in a way to become one of those people for whom the economy is supposed to work.

I will do so by continuing to cover debt management, advanced savings initiatives, investment opportunities, adequate budgeting, and wealth-building through passive income.

This will not improve your mental health, heal our country, or eliminate bigotry, but it will at least give you the resources you need to become more financially secure.

You can complain or you can plan. I choose to be crafty so I will take control of my future like I’ve been doing since college. Will you join me?

October Budget Buster

img_4486

What a disastrous month it has been for my budget. I’m usually not so doom and gloom, but my goodness! Our finances need a break.

Despite some non-recurring, high expenses in September, we finished the month really strongly in the black and earning $2,500 more than we spent. We had an out of state wedding which meant lodging, eating out, gas, tolls, a gift, hair & make-up, on top of getting a new dress. Therefore, despite going over budget, I consider September to be a success because we had some serious expenses to contend with. But the glow did not last long as October came in swinging, taking names, kicking ass and stealing my lunch money.

October is both my and my mom’s birthday month (we are 2 days apart). However, gifts and 2 birthday steak dinners in 1 week aren’t enough to set us back. We are fortunate enough to have multiple sources of income. However, this particular month of October 2016, also happens to be when my husband’s younger brother was getting married. And that’s right: out of state. Since it’s his brother, my husband was also a groomsman, meaning that we had to spring for a tux despite the perfectly well-tailored and expensive suits he has hanging in his closet. I remember when I got the call from the groom saying: “we are on our way to pick up the tuxes and the store manager said he hasn’t paid yet. He’s not picking up his phone.” Sure, here’s my credit card number.

Then there was the hotel. 2 days.

The gift.

We had to eat and put gas in the car.

Do you have anxiety yet? Well, it gets worse.

We go home after the wedding to find out skylight shades in the great room broke. It was just hanging there, swinging. My husband is very bright and pretty handy, but given that the ceiling is 10+ feet tall, I wasn’t going to risk an injury to save some money, so we called a company. The quote? $2,000.

I just checked my budget app and not only did we run over budget, we spent $600 more this month than we made.

I’m ready for this month to be over. There’s way too much month left at the end of my money.

(Jokes aside, this shows the importance of having a solid cushion, both month to month from an income perspective, and a savings point of view. If a month like this happened to anyone living paycheck to paycheck, it could have been a catalyst for getting into debt or the final straw that breaks the debt camel’s back. At least one would hope that people on the brink of financial disaster would be less frivolous with their money, carpooling to the wedding and crashing with acquaintances rather than paying for a hotel. But they didn’t get that way by being mindful of money so maybe my statement still stands. In any case, for me this is a frustrating stumble that will make me even more motivated to tighten up for the 2 months left in the year. But it is by no means going to unravel my year since this situation is the exception for us rather than the norm. I look forward to making a positive year-end update!)