Posts belonging to Category Financial Tools



The Best Recovery for a Financial Hangover – Part 2 of 4

Changing the Way We Save

Although pre-recession Americans spent or consumed much of what they earned, the recession did provide a teachable moment.

In the 1980’s, Americans averaged saving 10 percent to 11 percent of their disposable income. By 2007 the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that figure dropped to a low of 1.7 percent. Only in 2009, in the midst of a recession that had Americans worrying about their jobs and futures, did the savings rate increase, but only to 5 percent.

It’s a start, but that rate is still less than half of what it was a quarter century ago. And it’s leaving a majority of Americans unprepared for retirement and emergencies.

“Americans are significantly ‘under saved’ as they near their retirement years,” Neiser says. “They’ll need at least 50 percent to70 percent of their pre-retirement income to live comfortably in retirement, and most aren’t even close to having the financial cushion to do that.”

In 2009, only 13 percent of workers questioned in the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) annual Retirement Confidence Survey said they felt very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. That’s the lowest percentage since EBRI first asked the question in 1993 and a 50 percent decline in confidence since 2007.

 

The recession also taught us the need for having an emergency savings for our financial and psychological well-being. Having a cash nest egg can help consumers better weather the recession, and in the future, it will enable them to avoid accruing debt when unexpected expenses occur. According to the Consumer Federation of America, those with an emergency savings of more than $500 are less likely to worry, lose sleep, suffer poor health and decrease productivity at work than those who have saved less.

“It is the perfect time for individuals to take a hard look at their finances, spending a little less and saving more,” says Beck.

Up Next: Tackling the Little Things

The Best Recovery for a Financial Hangover – Part 1 of 4

The Best Recovery for a Financial Hangover

Resolutions Can Provide Rebound in 2010

For most Americans, the New Year is a time for resolutions. Resolving to become a better person is admirable. But as we emerge from the recession, from which some of us are still reeling, it's time for changes in financial habits that are permanent and have more staying power than the average beginning-of-the-year promises.

Before the recession, spending and consumption were the way of life in America. But during more recent, leaner times, we have been forced to face the damage done by unabashed spending and financing "the good life" with high-interest credit cards. And the damage remains.

“During this recession, all of us learned something about credit, debt and how and for what reason we spend money,” says National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) president and CEO, Ted Beck. “It would be a shame if we go back to our old ways of accumulating mountains of debt and saving little if any for our futures as things get better.”

As the economy continues to rebound in 2010, it may be tempting for Americans to ebb into the bad habits that led so many of them into financial trouble. That’s why in 2010, it’s important to evaluate your financial life and take steps to be better prepared should the economy once again fall flat.

Managing Debt

First things first, 2010 will mean significant changes in the way credit cards are provided by banks and accessed by consumers.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 gives consumers more control over their relationships with credit card providers. As part of the CARD Act, back in August, credit card companies were required to provide consumers with 45 days’ notice before increasing rates or changing any significant terms of the credit agreement and to mail statements at least 21 days before payment is due.

These changes will help Americans to start paying off their average $8,000 in credit card debt, or $5,612 per card, according to the credit-reporting agency, TransUnion. However, more diligence on the behalf of consumers is necessary to get the most out of the legislative changes.

"[The CARD Act legislation] will level the playing field between the credit card companies and the consumer to have a real fair shot at planning and taking action on their personal finances,” says Brent Neiser, CFP®, and NEFE director of Strategic Programs and Alliances. “Consumers will have to be proactive though to get the full benefits of the CARD legislation. This means being diligent with reading and fully understanding all correspondence that is sent from your financial institution.”

On February 22, new rules will kick in including: a ban on retroactive rate increases on existing balances, except in cases of severe default; better disclosure in credit card terms so consumers can easily understand the contract and avoid unnecessary costs; and protections for college students and marketing done on campuses. For more information, visit here.

Next up: Changing the Way We Save

Seven New Years Financial Resolutions for 2010

This is a guest post from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a non-profit dedicated to improving the financial literacy of all Americans.

Control spending: If you spend less you'll have more money available to pay down debt and save for the future. Write down your expenses for a month to see where your money is going. You might be surprised by how easy it is to find places to scale back.

Create a debt repayment plan: If you carry credit card debt, write down everything you owe and make a plan to pay it off. Start with small items you can act on right away–it will make tackling the bigger debt easier. Also, try buying with cash only. It’s a sure-fire way to prevent increases in your credit card debt.

Set up auto-savings plans: Arrange with your bank or another financial institution to have a set amount deducted from your checking account to a savings account each pay period. Of the Americans who have been able to contribute to emergency savings funds, automatic withdrawal is the most popular method, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

Boost retirement savings: If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, increase your contributions. If you don't have an employer plan, open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and arrange for contributions to be made automatically from your checking or savings account.

Create a long-term plan: Write a list of your long-term goals, such as buying a home or saving for college or retirement. Visit the Life Events section of Smart About Money for concrete tips on accomplishing those goals.

Protect Yourself: Be prepared for the unexpected by making sure you, your family, your assets and investments are insured and fully covered. If you do not have a will, make 2010 the year you establish a life plan.

Find a financial buddy: Share your financial resolutions with a friend, colleague, or family member, and you’ll be more likely to keep them. Find someone else who wants to turn around their debt or cut their spending, and establish a mutual support system.

NEFE operates the site Smart About Money and have developed a series of articles filled with tips to help you make 2010 the year of financial freedom.  You can also find Economic Survival Tips, worksheets and articles focused on financial education related to housing, spending, credit and job change. Follow NEFE on Twitter at @nefe_org.

New Money Hacks Store

I just added a new store to the Money Hacks site. I know, I'm a little late to the party, but that's my MO! 🙂

It's hosted by Amazon and it's filled with hundreds of personal finance books from authors like Jim Cramer, Andrew Tobias, George Soros, Peter Lynch, and Jim Rogers.

Check it out. There's still time to order before Christmas (I can say that, right)!

Be Careful with Credit During the Holiday Season

Only 43% of consumers will cut back on holiday spending this year, compared to 55% in 2008, according to a Consumer Federation of America survey. While increased consumer optimism spells good news for retailers, for Americans planning to “stretch” the budget, the New Year could bring falling credit scores, and with it, serious consequences.

Here are some fail-safe tips from FICO Credit Guru Shon Dellinger to help enthusiastic shoppers stay financially sound:

1. Be Smart with Credit. Using a credit card is ok – experts agree having 3-5 credit cards helps your credit, if used responsibly. But carrying a balance on your credit card leaves you (1) stuck paying interest that could cost you, in some cases, double or triple the cost of those gifts in the long run and (2) with a much lower credit score, which could jack up interest rates on your credit cards and jeopardize your chance of getting lines of credit elsewhere (buying a house, a car, etc.). Services like FICO Score Watch combat this by providing emails or texts alerting you to any changes in your FICO score (either positive or negative), and notifying you when you’ve qualified for a better interest rate. A credit score increase of 30 points will save the average consumer $105 per year.

For more information on FICO Score Watch, go to: www.myfico.com/Products/ScoreWatch/Description.aspx.

2. Resist “Short Savings.” The salesperson at your favorite department store offers you an instant 20% savings just for opening up a credit card in their name. While that $20 seems tempting at the time, it can quickly put you in debt if you’re not careful. The temptation of the deal is also one reason why the average consumer has a total of 13 credit cards. Opening new lines of credit can also hurt your credit score, so make sure the card meets your overall needs and not just your desire for quick savings.

3. Don’t Wait Till April! Many holiday shoppers use their Tax refund to pay off credit card balances left over from the holidays, which can be incredibly expensive, not to mention detrimental to your credit standing. A credit card balance of $500 dollars from January until April will cost you $237 dollars based on today’s average credit card interest rate.

4. Get Info on Your Credit. Go to the myFICO Forums, where you can connect with thousands of other people all in your same boat. Don’t wait til after the holidays, when the damage is done. FICO is offering 30% off all products on its web site if you enter the discount code MYFICO HOLIDAY.