Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cost of Interest

Perhaps you have been thinking about my challenge to you yesterday to come up with financial goals for 2009. Part of you may be thinking that sounds like a great idea to eliminate your debt fast. But, you may also be thinking that it's kind of nice to only be paying your minimum monthly payments. In fact, you may be getting along just fine by doing so. When you look at your monthly cashflow situation, you can eat out, buy new clothes, and you still have money left over at the end of the month.

Well, consider how much more money you would have each month if you weren't making payments to the credit card companies and toward your student loans. Don't just think about the interest you pay each month, but the entire amount of your payments. Once you pay your debts off, you will free up a lot of cash for savings, investing, college funds, etc.

If you want a clearer idea of what the interest is costing you, please check out the two links below. Input your information and it will give you some startling results.

Cost of paying minimum payments
What will it take to pay off your balance

Say you have a credit card with a $5000 balance, with an 18% interest rate. It will take you 26 years to pay off that card if you only pay the minimum amount due. You will also end up paying over $7100 in interest over that time. And this is assuming you never use the card again in your life.

After you find out how much you will pay in interest, consider what you can do with that money if you invest it. What a difference!

My intention is not to end the year with depressing information, but to motivate you for the exciting days ahead.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?

If you are familiar with Dave Ramsey, you know what I’m talking about. Are you sick and tired of monthly credit card bills? A mortgage that you feel you are making no progress on? Student loans? Constantly monitoring your checking account balance so you don’t overdraw? Do you feel guilty spending $100 at the grocery store even though the food you buy is actually healthy for you? I will be honest here. I have felt all of these things at one point or another, and I’ve had enough!

My wife and I have made the decision that 2009 will be a memorable year in our lives. We are making it our goal to eliminate all of our debt (except our mortgage) this year.

Are you capable of the same?

Maybe you just got married and still have to pay off the wedding. Or, you overspent this Christmas (and the last 5 Christmas’) and the bills are going to be coming in soon. Are you looking to finally rid yourself of your student loans and begin having a positive monthly cash flow? Minimum payments are no longer the answer. It’s time to get your hands dirty and eliminate this debt. If the borrower is a slave to the lender, then 2009 will truly be a year of freedom.

As my wife and I take on this adventure, I will be sure to keep you up-to-date with not only our personal progress, but with the process as well. This isn’t something you can do without a well-devised plan. My challenge to you over these next two days is to assess your own financial situation. Talk it over with your spouse or significant other. You will only achieve your goal if everyone in the household is involved. This means the kids, too, if they are in the picture.

Get motivated, and come up with financial goals for 2009. I’m excited, and I hope you are too!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Be Smarter than the Average Bear

I have talked in the past about how incredible it is that the malls and restaurants are packed during these "hard economic times". I was struck with this realization again yesterday, but in a new way. In the past, I was wondering if the economy was really as bad as the media was making it out to be. I have since been convinced that we truly are in a recession and things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

As I was looking for a parking spot at [the looks-like-it's-December-23rd-packed-full] Best Buy last night, I was amazed once again at all of the money being spent on so-so food and soon-to-be out of date gadgets. I understand there are some crazy steals out there, and they are very hard to pass up. But if you don't have the money, (or don't really need the item to begin with) just say "no"! A penny saved, is a penny earned, right?

My biggest concern is that people are aware of the hard times we are in, yet they choose to spend their money carelessly anyway. Where does this end? Are we, as the American people hoping to get into so much debt that we also qualify for a government bailout?

Supposedly, the average American is behind in mortgage payments and up to his eyeballs in consumer debt. Even if this is not the case, and everyone out shopping this weekend is current with their monthly payments, will this continue to be the case in the coming months? Why spend that Christmas bonus when the clouds are predicting a rainy day to come?

Now is the time to make decisions about how your money will be spent - while you are at home with a clear mind. Don't wait until you are in the middle of Macy's contemplating the 70% off sale.

My wife and I have recently made the decision to make a drastic change in our spending habits, which I am excited to share about in the days to come. I hope there are others of you out there who have already made these hard decisions or are also wanting to make this change. The only way we are going to survive these times is to make wiser decisions than those who are spending their money rampantly. It can be done! I look forward to the discussions that will take place here in 2009.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford!

I'm sure you've noticed all of the deep discounts in the stores. But take this into account.

Sometimes things can be confusing when they are put into the simplest of terms. Hopefully, we as Americans can let this one sink in...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

This has been an exciting year for my wife and me. With the launch of our wedding planning studio and expansion of my concessions business, it has been a busy one to say the least. In this coming year, I have both some new business goals and personal goals that I am excited to share in the near future.

May you and yours enjoy this season and always remember the reason for which we celebrate.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Visual Aide

This is worth a couple laughs. As a followup to my advice yesterday to sell things on eBay, Dwight, from The Office, has the same idea...Check it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Extra Holiday Cash

So I said I would give my own suggestions for making some extra cash in hard times. This was in response to the ridiculous article I read in Travel & Leisure. Running a seasonal business, my mind is trained to think outside the box on how to produce additional revenue streams. Here are a few ideas...please feel free to suggest your own in the comments section.

1. eBay, eBay, eBay. A marketplace to the world. Search your basement for things you can get rid of. I recently pulled out the Handspring Visors my wife and I had in high school. (Trust me, they were cool back then!) I can't say they will bring a lot in an auction, but the longer I wait, the less value they will have. After you sell off your extra possessions, think about other things that would sell on eBay. Last year, there were some very popular Sports Illustrated Magazines featuring Brett Favre. These were in high demand in Wisconsin at the time, and I took advantage of that. As I found them on the magazine rack, I bought them all and sold them on eBay. It sounds pretty crazy, but I made a mortgage payment in the process. What's in high demand right now, and in your specific area? Nintendo Wii or Wii Fit? The latest Barbie? Think about it.

2. Deliver pizzas. For you Dave Ramsey fans out there, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The holidays are a perfect time to pick up this short-term or maybe long-term position. If you work a 9 to 5 this will work out even better. You might argue that you won't have any time for your spouse if you take on this extra job. The two of you can do this together! While this isn't the most practical method, at least you can spend this time with each other. Play some podcasts of Dave Ramsey in the car while you're at it.

3. This falls close in line with number one, but consider how popular Craigslist is. For those bulkier items or even pieces of furniture, offer them for sale in your local community. You don't have to worry about listing fees or shipping. They can pick them up right away and you'll have cash in your pocket.

4. On the flip side of selling stuff on eBay and Craigslist, think about all the things you can purchase on these sites. I challenge you to take inventory of everything you purchase in a two-week period and then search for those items on eBay. You will be amazed at the savings. You will certainly have to think ahead on some purchases, but it won't take long to get into the habit. An example I have of this are my Gillette razor cartridges. At Target they sell for $15.50 for a 5-pack. I can get them on eBay for under $1 a piece. Considering they last me less than a week, this adds up fast.

I will leave you with these four ideas for now and add more in the future. The opportunities are out there. But it won't always be a breeze. As I like to say, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It's simple to talk about doing one of these things, but go ahead and take action. Your work will pay off in the end.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Bailout

With all the talk of the auto bailout and every other industry trying to get their hand in the pot, it looks like Santa Claus is in the same predicament...

Check this article out: U.S. Says It Will Bail Out Christmas

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

A few things I am thankful for...

An all-loving, all-powerful Creator, God

A beautiful wife who inspires me to reach further than I could do on my own

My friends near and far who I wish I could see more often

This country which was founded on solid, biblical principles

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy your time with family and friends.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Need cash now?

I was reading the latest issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine today and came across an article that discusses "A Dozen Timely Ideas on How to Pay Unexpected Bills and Weather Tough Times". I must say, I was actually excited (in an extremely nerdy way) to read the article and was hoping to read about something I never thought of. After all, it is my slower time of year and extra cash is always a good thing.

To my extreme disappointment, the article was full of unwise and impractical solutions. Six of the twelve "ideas" involved borrowing money in some way. What a novel idea--If you need some extra cash to pay your bills, ask your friends and family. Or better yet, idea #10--Borrow From Strangers. They then went on to describe a kid who mass emailed 10,000 people (illegal) and asked them to each donate $2.50 for his college tuition.

Other ideas involved taking money out of your retirement funds (which you can do, but for a penalty) and selling your investments (horrible time for that). And the worst idea of them all--Cash Convenience Checks. You are setting yourself up for disaster by using one of those blank checks that come with your credit card statement. The interest rate is usually very high and there is typically a fee you need to pay just for the convenience (around 3%-4%). And in some cases, when you pay credit card company back, your payment will be applied to your normal credit card purchases first, then toward the convenience check.

Number 12 on the list was "Sell Your Stuff". Finally, something that makes sense. I'm pretty sure I would donate plasma before doing anything else on the list. This article got me thinking and I will be working on my own list of things you can do to make some extra cash for the holidays or just to help make ends meet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You're going to charge me to pay you?!

Have you every tried to pay for something with a credit card only to find out that you were going to be charged a "small" fee to do so? Or maybe there was a minimum purchase requirement and you were forced to purchase something else only to "qualify" to use plastic? Well, I'm sorry to say you have been taken advantage of.

Terrica, of Fabuluxe Events in Georgia, has a great post today that goes into detail about the terms that merchants agree to when they allow credit card purchases. Be sure to read this information so that if you are ever confronted with this situation you can make a knowledgeable and sound argument.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Smart Couples Finish Rich

I would like to recommend a great book for those couples who are ready to do what it takes to get out of debt and do what it takes to have a bright financial future. Smart Couples Finish Rich, by David Bach, helps couples learn how to work together with common goals. Bach shares practical ways to save today and how to build those savings into future wealth. You'll love the simplicity of "The Latte Factor" and you'll be intrigued by the chapter entitled "Increase Your Income by 10 Percent in Nine Weeks".

This isn't just for people who own their own businesses. In fact, if you receive a weekly or bi-weekly paycheck, it should be even easier for you to budget your dollars and start putting away savings today.

Go on and take the challenge. Your patience and determination will be well worth it. If not for yourself, do it for your kids and future generations.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Black Friday Already?

This infamous day will be upon us shortly. In fact, some stores have already begun their deep-discounted holiday sales. Of course, one way to find out about all of the sales is to wait until Thanksgiving for the six-inch paper with all of the ads. Or, you can check this site out and get a heads up on your holiday "deals and steals". (I use that term jokingly because I think it is so corny. Add to that "tips and tricks".)

The argument is out there that it is wise to start your Christmas shopping early because it spreads the expenses out over a longer amount of time. This is more psychological than anything, but whatever works.

For me, I try to get all my shopping done early so I can actually enjoy the season without the stress of overrun malls and picked over merchandise. Maybe you feel it is too early for Christmas shopping and you can't get in the mood. If that is the case, turn on one of your local radio stations that is already playing Christmas music and get a peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks and you'll be ready to go.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


No one can deny that history was indeed made yesterday. Whether you woke up today with a fresh bounce in your step or a new fear in your heart, it is clear that our country will face significant change over the next years. As new issues come up and proposals are made, I will do my best to explain them to you, my readers, and how they will effect your lives.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Perks

Well, tomorrow is Election Day. If you are still undecided about who you will vote for, contact me, and I would be happy to talk things through with you.

In case you haven't heard, there are a few establishments celebrating Election Day tomorrow and they would like to reward you for performing your civic duty.

Stop by Starbucks anytime tomorrow and get a free tall cup of brew just for saying you voted.

Ben & Jerry's is giving away a free scoop of ice cream.

Pick up a free star-shaped doughnut at Krispy Kreme...but don't forget your "I Voted" sticker.

There are also a lot of local restaurants taking on the same idea. Take advantage of one or all.

Happy Voting!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life Insurance

Perhaps this is a topic that newlywed couples are afraid to talk about. But I urge you to start the conversation today...

It can be awkward to talk about death, but I will do my best to explain life insurance in the most general terms.

If you have a life insurance policy in place when you die, the benefactor (spouse, children, parents, siblings - it's your choice) will receive a sum of money equal to that which was agreed upon when the policy was put into place.

Like any kind of insurance, the cost of this type of policy depends on some determining factors.

There are two basic kinds of life insurance. I will explain the first, Term Life Insurance, in more detail as it is the choice I highly recommend to anyone.

If I have a 20 year term life policy for $500,000, and I die within 20 years, my wife will receive a check for $500,000. The determining factors I mentioned are the length of the term (usually 15, 20, or 30 years) and the amount the policy pays out.

For a young couple with no kids, I recommend getting a policy that pays 5 to 10 times the annual salary for the breadwinner, and at least enough to cover funeral costs and grieving time for the other spouse. After kids enter the scene, especially if one spouse is at home, I would increase the breadwinner's policy to at least 10 times the salary. For the spouse at home, consider the costs of a nanny or not working for a few years.

Obviously, the younger and healthier you are, the cheaper it will be for you to obtain this kind of insurance. I should mention that at the end of the designated term, any money you paid in is gone. But this is no reason to be upset considering you are still alive and well.

There is a second type of life insurance category called Investment Policies (whole life, universal life, variable life) where you pay into it on the same regular basis, but the premium will be higher. The premiums are invested by the insurance company and you can even take out a loan against the cash value of the policy. People see this as an investment opportunity, but I disagree. The increased premiums are not worth the high-risk investment.

With Term Life the premiums are fixed (and cheaper) and you can invest the extra money you would have paid into an Investment Policy into something more stable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baby Bills

My wife, Monica, and I have noticed a good number of couples we know are either new parents, almost new parents, or thinking of becoming so.

Some dear friends of ours recently had their first child and we were discussing with them the costs associated with having a newborn. A good portion of their doctor visits and hospital bills were covered through their employer's health insurance plan. But, not everyone enjoys the benefits of a quality health insurance plan, so it might be a good idea to know what expenses to expect if you find you are with child.

Because my wife and I both have our own businesses, we purchased a health insurance plan from an independent insurance agent who compares lots of different plans and helps us find the best fit. We have a high deductible insurance plan (aka disaster relief only insurance) because we are both young and in good health and don't have any children that may need to visit the doctor many times a year.

When we signed up for this plan we had the option of adding maternity coverage that would pay for the costs incurred during pregnancy up to a certain amount. This "certain amount" would increase every year, but ultimately doesn't add up to much more than the premiums we would pay for the coverage. Therefore, if you find yourself in this situation, it makes sense to start putting money away now, so that you will have it when you need it.

I got some information from my insurance agent, Jim, with The House of Insurance. (If you live in the Milwaukee area and are looking for any kind of insurance, do give him a call.)

For a natural birth with no complications you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $9,000. A cesarean can cost up to $12,000. Don't forget about general expenses as well (doing up a baby room, clothes, food, toys, car seat, etc.). Also, think about any time away from work the husband or wife will experience. All of these little things can certainly add up.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What suffering economy?

I don't have a lot of time to post today, but I do want to make note of an observation I have made over the last couple weeks. Things are supposedly doing terrible in regards to our economy. The stock market is way down, foreclosures are through the roof, and personal debt is as high as ever. But drive by your local mall and you will see a full parking lot. The restaurants are full of people. Is everyone in denial? Maybe people haven't felt the effects yet?

Granted, every store in the mall right now is having some sort of sale. And don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter or anything like that -- just amazed. I was one of those people this weekend at the mall and out to dinner. I wonder what it will actually take for people as a whole to start cutting back on personal spending and dining out. I don't think we'll be able to plow through this recession without cutting back on at least some of life's luxuries.

What do you think? What have you cut back on in recent days?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cost to Drive

I came across this website today that calculates the cost (of fuel) to drive from one point to another. Enter the start and finish addresses and your car model and it calculates it all for you based on the distance travelled, fuel efficiency of your car, and the average price of gas in your area. It isn't exact, but it's close enough to possibly give you a new perspective on travelling across town to enjoy your favorite barbecue joint...

...then again, maybe not!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Excuse to Drink Starbucks

I cannot say I am addicted to coffee or ever need a Starbucks "fix". But I do enjoy a caramel macchiato every once in a while and I definitely fall for the overall atmosphere of the place.

What's more is I don't feel guilty about spending the extra $3.50 because of my Starbucks Duetto Card. It's both a Visa card and Starbucks card in one. 1% of all purchases is loaded onto the "Starbucks side" of the card. If this isn't enough of an incentive, you automatically receive $25 loaded onto the card after your first Visa purchase.

I only recommend this, of course, to someone who plans on paying off the bill every month. I certainly don't condone a credit card bill that rolls over each month. So please, use with caution.

There are obviously other credit cards with cash-back and other perks available. This just happens to be one that works with my lifestyle.

Do any readers use this card or use other credit cards with points or cash-back? Please share.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yahoo Finance

As I have been talking about the stock market over the last few days, you may have had some questions about how the stock market works or wondered about some terms that were used. Please feel free to post your questions and I would be happy to answer them.

Another great resource for digging deeper is Yahoo Finance. On the top, you will see the tab "Investing". When that drops down click on "Education". There they go over a lot of basics and even further if you wish. The "Personal Finance" tab also gives a lot of good advice.

This is also a great website if you are interested in tracking specific stocks or reading articles about the financial markets.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Economic Downturn: Part III

The most talked-about topic over these last few weeks has been the 700 billion dollar bailout/rescue plan that was proposed by the President and passed by Congress. I must admit, I have been dreading this post because I have yet to make clear sense of it in my own mind. Even my dad, to whom I look at times to glean economic and financial wisdom, said "Good luck with that one".

The first question is, what is the need for the bailout/rescue plan? What would happen if no plan were put into place?

I should preface with the fact that the amount of money a bank is able to loan out is regulated by the Federal Reserve System (The Federal Reserve System, or The Fed, is the central banking system of The United States, headquartered in Washington, D.C.) based on the amount of cash and the value of assets owned by that bank. As I mentioned in previous posts, the value of investments held by large investment banks has fallen dramatically, largely due to foreclosures and declining home values. Therefore, banks are not able to loan out as much money as they try to balance their assets to loan ratio. When banks become more strict in their lending policies, it becomes more difficult for someone to purchase a car, get a home loan, or receive a small business loan. You can imagine how this effects the auto industry and home construction industry. But this also keeps new businesses from starting or expanding, resulting in fewer jobs being available and so on.

Add to this the general fear that people had about the future of the economy. People were wanting to pull a lot of cash out of their bank accounts just for safe keeping. Cash is an asset for banks, and when their cash levels decline, it only worsens their lending ability. This is why one of the first things done by the Federal Reserve was to increase the Federal Deposit Insurance Company's (FDIC) limit on insured cash at a single bank from $100,000 to $250,000. (Basically, what it means to be FDIC insured is when you have a savings or checking account, and the bank is shut down or collapses, you are guaranteed to receive your cash up to the FDIC insured limit.)

Without the proposal of some sort of market protection plan, the financial markets' rapid decline mixed with increased fear would have sent our country straight back to 1929.

That brings us to the second question: What do we do now, and/or how should this $700 billion dollars be spent? That question is why I have taken two days to write this post. I have been reading opinions and recommendations from all sides and have yet to form a solid argument. Generally speaking, it has been determined that the majority of these funds will be used to buy up bad mortgages. The government will hold on to the rights of these properties until the values of the homes increase and they can be sold [ideally] at a profit. But how all of this will be played out is yet to be determined.

Phew! I think tomorrow's post will be a little lighter.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Economic Downturn: Part II

Following the government rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in early September was the collapse of some of our largest investment banks in the country. On September 15th, Lehman Brothers, a global financial services firm, filed for bankruptcy. This was the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. The biggest factor contributing to Lehman Brothers' collapse was the increasing number of failed home loans that I discussed in yesterday's post. Because of the incredible size of this company and the large effects it had in the financial market, stock prices fell dramatically on that Monday morning. Not only the stock price of Lehman Brothers, but a lot of other financial firms as well. If Lehman Brothers went under, who could be next?

And because the stock market's ups and downs are largely determined by the optimism or pessimism of where the economy is headed, the entire market took a huge hit that day and the days to follow. Every morning for two weeks I was looking at the paper to see which bank might be the next to go.

One financial firm that was suffering was AIG, one of the largest insurance companies in the world. You might ask how an insurance company is involved in mortgages and investments. Good question. In order for an insurance company to maximize its profits, (besides mailing you little pamphlets on how to be a safer driver) they invest the money they receive from their insured clients in many different ways - mortgages being one of them. Apparently, AIG could not find private funding to help them through their hard times, so the government loaned them up to 85 billion dollars for an 80% stake in the business. This is why you, as a taxpayer, now own an insurance company, and why it should bother you that a lot of wasteful spending is going on within the business.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for private business and for the right of those businesses to pay their employees any salary they choose. But if you don't play by the rules, you're going to get kicked out of the game.

Next time, I will talk about the 700 billion dollar proposed rescue plan and what that means for us as taxpayers and citizens.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What's going on?!

In light of the recent economic downturn, I felt it necessary to return to this blog and help out those who are seeking to make the most of these times. More so, I was encouraged today when I found out that a gentleman I had just met yesterday has been following The Dave Ramsey plan with his wife--all because of this blog.

Some may be wondering how our country has gotten into this situation, why the stock market keeps falling, who is Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and how will one be effected by all of this if he does not own a single share of stock.

Let's start with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Say I have some money that I want to invest, while at the same time, you are looking to buy a house. I know you, you have a decent job, and you seem relatively trustworthy. I decide to loan you $150,000 at the going interest rate. You make a payment to me every month, and we are both happy. As you probably know, with every investment comes risk. I am taking on the risk that you might not make your monthly payments. Maybe you lose your job or come down with a fatal illness. In order to reduce my risk as an investor, it would make more sense for me to invest in 10 homes instead of one. If one home defaults, it isn't the end of the world.

Essentially, this is what Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae do. They are both government sponsored enterprises which mean they were charted by the government, but are actually privately owned. A mortgage company will sell its signed mortgages to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, who will then package them together (say 100 of them), and then sell them to investors in the secondary market. They refer to these investments as "mortgage-backed securities" because they are worth the values of the homes they represent.

Naturally, some of the mortgages in the pool of 100 will default, or at least be behind in their mortgage payments. But, the decline of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae started when more and more people fell behind in their payments than usual and foreclosures became much more common. Add to this the decline of home values. For so long, home values were on the rise. $150,000 was paid for a home that is now worth only $125,000.

For a while, interest rates were so low that everyone was buying a new home (or 2 or 3). There were also mortgages put into place that start the home buyer at a low interest rate, only to increase that rate to 8 or 10 percent after three years. (These are referred to as Adjustable Rate Mortgages, or ARMs) And on top of that, government policies were put into place that made it possible for people to buy a home with little to no money down for a deposit.

Unfortunately, this was all spotted too late in the game. The government paid a large sum of money to help Freddie and Fannie during this time. If the government did not do this, a snowball effect would have occurred, and the entire financial system would probably have tanked by now.

I just hope we have all learned our lesson on this one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

IRA - Traditional...Roth...what is this about?

You may have heard me mention the term IRA in some of my past posts. Even if you don't know what it means, you have probably determined that it is 1. a good way to invest your money for the future and 2. something you don't want to think about until ten years from now. Let me explain it to you and hopefully next time you hear someone talking about it you will be able to chime in intelligently.

IRA - Individual Retirement Account

The government has setup this retirement savings program to encourage people to save for retirement before it is too late.

This year, if you are age 49 or below, you can contribute up to $5000 of your own money into your IRA account (up to $6000 if you are 50 or above). This account can be set up with most any financial institution. Each year, the maximum amount that can be deposited into your account increases due to inflation. Once you put money into your IRA you cannot withdraw the funds until you reach the age of 59 1/2. There are a couple circumstances where you can withdraw earlier than that (if you become disabled or want to contribute up to $10,000 toward a residence), otherwise you will face an early withdrawal penalty.

The advantage for a traditional IRA is that any money you pay into your account is tax-deductable. If you put in $5000, you will only pay income tax on your annual income minus the $5000. Once you put the money into your IRA, it is up to you on how you want to invest it. You can use it to purchase specific stocks, mutual funds, or other investments. Once you begin withdrawing your funds after the age of 59 1/2, you will then be required to pay taxes on those funds.

The Roth IRA is different in that you put money into the account that you have already paid income taxes on. You can still make your own decisions on how you want to invest your money until you begin withdrawing the funds. The advantage of the Roth IRA is that you don't need to pay any taxes on your profits when you retire.

The best way to determine whether you should do a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA is to consider the tax bracket you are in now compared with the tax bracket you see yourself being in when you retire. The more money you make, the higher your tax bracket will be. And most people intend to make more money in the future than they do today. That said, the Roth IRA is becoming a more popular choice, especially among younger people.

If you are wondering why you would want to put this money into an account you can't access for decades, think about how it would work if you just put your money into a regular investment account. If you invest your money in a basic money market account (non IRA) you will have to pay income tax on your profits every time you sell a stock or mutual fund. Over the course of many years, all of the money paid to the IRS would have added up to a lot if you were able to reinvest it.

It takes a lot of discipline to save an extra couple thousand dollars every year, but if you can do so, and make that money work for you, you will be happy in the end.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm out of debt! what?

I received an email from a reader last week and I would like to respond to some questions she had. So often these days, the only kind of financial advice you see deals with getting out of debt. But what about those of you who have worked hard to save your money and have not spent more than you have in your bank account?

Dave Ramsey is a financial guru who has excellent advice concerning getting out of debt and saving for a brighter future. You'll find a link to his website here at The Dollar Dance. Check it out and listen to his radio show. Listen to him for just one week and your whole mindset of money will completely change.

Whether you have debt or not, one of the first things you want to do is set some money aside as an emergency backup. It is most often the unexpected and unfortunate circumstances that put us behind financially. Take note though, groceries and an oil change are not emergencies. Any expenses you expect, even potential car repairs, should be built into your budget. Some things that do qualify as emergencies would be an unexpected medical operation, a deductible from a car accident or an unfortunate death in the family.

After this is established, (assuming all debt is paid off) start contributing money toward a down payment on a house, or your kids' college funds. Also, it's never too early to start saving for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) program, take advantage of the matched contributions. A Roth IRA account is also a very good way to set aside savings every year.

I realize I just threw out a lot of terms and have certainly brought up more questions. Over my next few posts I will go over each of these things starting with setting up a budget. Until then, start listening to Dave and keep the questions coming!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Together or not Together

I would like to respond to the blog I linked to the other day entitled, “Get Your Act Together, Sisters!”

I want to first address the question regarding the effects marriage has on one’s credit score. I won’t go into detail today about what factors go into calculating a credit score, but you should know that your credit report is tied to your social security number. Even after marriage, each spouse has their own credit score. There is no “average score” or anything like that. The financial decisions each of you have made up until marriage are completely separate. Now, after you say “I do,” things can start to change once you open accounts together.

I highly advocate joint checking and savings accounts (for married couples) for a few reasons:

1. It forces communication between the two of you and provides accountability.
2. It gives you a common goal together as you work to improve your financial situation.
3. It serves as a reminder that the two of you have become one and are committed to a lifetime together.

I would also argue that financial management is just plain easier with fewer accounts to manage, especially if one person is doing the majority of the banking.

Now for a more controversial topic…

I think it is most wise for an engaged couple to keep their finances separate until marriage. I realize an engagement is a huge commitment, but it is not a binding one before God or the state.

One of the main reasons I advocate this is that it forces both of you to live within your means. If one of you can’t afford to pay rent on your own, maybe you should be looking for a cheaper apartment. If you’re struggling to make your own car payments, perhaps you should sell the car. If both of you are living within your means, you should be able to survive independently through your engagement. Then, after you are married, you will see a financial benefit and will be in a much better position to contribute to your savings.

Maybe you are thinking, “What’s the difference? We’ll be married in less than a year anyway.”

Well, it doesn’t make much sense to have the benefits of marriage without the commitment of marriage.

Please comment with any ideas or questions you may have!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who controls the money?


I read a blog post today regarding finances within the marriage (and engagement, as well). I will post my thoughts on the topic in the days to come. But for now, I would like you all to read it and get a head start on the topic. And also, PLEASE email any questions you have on the topic. It will give me a better idea of what my readers are looking for.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Blog Post: Get your act together Sisters

Sunday, February 10, 2008

High Yield Savings Account Part II

Hello All,

Sorry I did not post yesterday. I'm a partner in a concessions stand and we had a big event this weekend. Sales were I guess I'm not that sorry ;)

I have found the top four high yield savings account offerings. (If you find something that I missed, please let me know.)

1. 4.40%
2. 3.55%
3. 3.50% *Includes free checks and ATM card
4. 3.40%

Etrade seems like an obvious winner, especially if you are already looking for a place to trade stocks and mutual funds online. The free checks and ATM card with Capital One are also a very nice bonus. Don't forget that these are introductory rates and will most likely go down a bit after the first couple months.

Ultimately though, the interest rates are determined by the Federal Reserve. The government is currently trying to boost the economy in order to get out of the slump we have been in. They have lowered interest rates, which has given consumers less reason to save their money, and more reason to spend it (by means of lower loan rates) on houses, cars, and the like. I can explain this more at a later date, and how it effects the decisions you make regarding your life and money.

Hope this helps!

Friday, February 8, 2008

What to do with cash savings

You’ve always been told that you should save your money, put it in the bank, and earn interest. That’s how you will become rich – compound interest. It sounds like a wonderful (even inspiring) plan until you get your bank statement in the mail and realize you are earning only 0.10%. But don’t worry, as soon as your account reaches $10,000, you will earn a whopping 0.80%. Even at that rate, your interest earned will equate to just $80 a year.

There must be some mistake here. Inflation is reported to be around 3% and the banks are offering a mere tenth of one percent!

Say hello to High Yield Savings Accounts.

High Yield Savings Accounts offer a much higher rate of return and are typically done through online banks. I have a high yield account with Capital One. My last statement shows it is paying an annual percentage rate of 4.41%. That is down slightly from the introductory rate of 5%.

How are online banks able to offer such a high rate of return when brick and mortar banks do not?

It mostly has to do with overhead costs. Online banks don’t have to keep up with building maintenance, landscaping, and staffing hundreds of locations. Plus, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you signed up for a credit card or two ;)

If the high interest rate is the obvious advantage, what are the disadvantages?

You will have to get over your fear of online banking.
It takes about three days to transfer money from your High Yield Savings account to your original account.

I recommend keeping just enough cash in your checking account to cover bills, expenses, entertainment, et cetera, and then put the rest in your high yield savings.

Check back tomorrow for current rates from the most popular online banks. I’ll do a little research in the meantime…

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Quicken Financial Software

One of the best things I have done to keep a good handle on our finances was to purchase Quicken Financial Software. If you currently do online banking with your bills, bank cards, and credit cards, you will find it is very simple to use. Some of the advantages to the software include:

Automatic uploading of all transactions in your online accounts

A budgeting feature that will not only help you form one but also keep to your goals

Customizable categories that help you keep track of spending in areas like groceries, dining out, fuel, and entertainment

You can also keep track of assets (investments or your house, for example) and liabilities (loans or credit card debt), and ultimately keep track of your net worth.

There is nothing more valuable in financial planning than being able to see exactly where every dollar is going. At the end of a week, month, or year, you can see what you spent in each category and make adjustments to your budget if necessary.

Quicken also has a section that helps you determine what you need to save today in order to achieve specific long-term goals.

The Starter Edition is only $30 and is perfect for the couple who wants to get organized and be in control of their finances.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Dollar Dance

Whether you had one of these at your wedding reception or not, I don't really care. There are many other blogs that will debate the etiquette and/or audacity of them.

I am here to discuss the post-nuptial dollar dance. The wedding is over and the honeymoon bliss is a fading memory. Two bank accounts have now become one. In this blog I will talk about the many different questions and issues that arise not only for new marriage relationships, but for anyone who wants to do it right.

It's time I put my finance major and love of this topic to use. As we go, please email me any questions you would like me to answer regarding banking, investing, credit, budgeting, and the like.

The purpose of this blog is to stop dancing around the subject of money and to start making educated decisions that will lead to a brighter, more financially independent future.

Let's go!