Finance

Helping Your Child Establish Credit

Preparing your child for adulthood is daunting. As a parent, no matter how old your child becomes, worrying about their health and safety will always remain in the forefront. However, as they begin to mature into young adults, their financial future becomes a growing concern.  Often overlooked, and yet, equally as important as helping your child choose a career path that is right for them, is helping your child establish credit.  

Here are a few tips to help you begin building credit for
your kids.

First and foremost, begin the “money talk” with your kids
while they are young. You should begin discussing basic financial concepts like
saving (help them open a savings account) and delayed gratification when they
are in elementary school. As they get older, introduce more complex concepts,
such as insurance, investing, credit cards and borrowing, and explain what
credit really means – the building blocks of consumer credit – and why it’s so
important. As a responsible parent, you should also make sure your credit
habits provide a good example.

In addition to providing a good financial
education…foundation, the following steps will help ensure your young, adult
child is well on his or her way by the time they are flying solo.

  1. Help them
    open a checking account.
    Show your child how a checking account works as
    well as the penalties associated with them if they overdraw their account or
    bounce checks. Once they understand and are comfortable with the basics, ease
    them into a debit card. This gives them some spending independence, while
    limiting it to the balance in their checking account.

  • Have
    them get a part-time job.
    A strong work ethic is a vital part of your child
    becoming a responsible adult. Having a part-time job in high school provides them
    with a valuable life lesson – the excitement of watching their savings grow and
    the frustration of seeing it disappear, especially if it’s due to a poor
    decision. This lesson is a precursor to understanding credit. In addition, the
    income provided by a part-time job will help them when they apply for their own
    credit card.

  • Add
    them as an authorized user on your credit card.
     As long as your own credit habits are sound,
    this is a good way to help your child establish his or her own credit record.  As an authorized user, your teen will usually
    get a credit card in his or her name, tied to your account. Typically, this
    account will also go on your child’s credit record.By setting ground rules for what they can charge and how and when
    (on-time) payments will be made, you will enhance your child’s understanding of
    how credit works as well as help their credit grow.

You can also add them as an authorized user without
giving them access to the account. Without giving them the possibility…opportunity
of overspending, you can still help them grow their credit as you use the
credit card and pay it off every month.

  • Have
    your college-aged child apply for a student credit card.
    Once your late
    teen has established good financial habits and income to support a credit line (usually
    income from a part-time job is sufficient), they may be ready to apply for
    their own credit card. These cards typically have lower credit limits and
    higher interest rates than general credit cards.

  • Help
    your college-aged child apply for a secured credit card.
    This is another
    option if your young, adult child is unable to get a student credit card. A
    secured credit card requires the cardholder to put down a deposit, typically a
    few hundred dollars, which is usually the credit limit they are given. Because
    there is little risk to the bank/credit card company with this type of card,
    most people can get approved.

What Does the Federal Reserve’s Recent Rate Reduction Mean to You?

The recent interest rate reduction, from 2.5 percent to 2.25 percent, by the Federal Reserve doesn’t directly touch any of the everyday interest rates that affect Americans. This quarter-point cut, the first cut in a decade, reduced the federal funds rate, the rate banks and other financial institutions charge one another for very short-term borrowing.

Even though most Americans don’t participate in this type of
borrowing, the Fed’s move will still have consequences on the borrowing and
saving rates you encounter every day.

Interest rates on car loans, credit card balances,
mortgages, etc., and earned interest on the money you save won’t necessarily be
directly or immediately impacted. But, consumers could, likely, over time, experience
the following trickle-down effects.

Savings Account Rates

Savers have only recently benefited from higher deposit
rates – the annual percentage yield banks pay consumers on their money – with
several online banks offering over 2.5 percent. However, the recent rate cut
will most likely cause these rates to come down.  Now is the time for consumers to shop around
for short-term rates or lock in rates with a 1-, 3- or 5-year certificate of
deposit with money that doesn’t need to be readily accessible.

Mortgage Rates

According to Bankrate, the current 30-year fixed mortgage
rate is about 3.93 percent, the lowest it’s been since November 2016. Because
mortgage rates are tied to long-term rates, which move well in advance of any
rate changes by the Fed, the current low rate came on the heels of the
expectation that the Fed was going to cut rates.  Consequently, unless the Fed hints that more
rate cuts are on the horizon, mortgage rates are not expected to fall much
more.

With that said, if you borrowed money to purchase a home
late last year, when the average 30-year mortgage rate was nearly 5 percent, it
may be time to consider refinancing.

Credit Card Interest
Rates

The Fed’s recent rate reduction is good news for Americans
who carry balances on their credit cards. Because most credit cards have
variable interest rates, there is a direct correlation to the Fed’s benchmark
rate.

With the rate cut, the prime rate lowers too, and credit
card rates will likely follow. For credit cardholders, this means you should
see a reduction in your annual percentage yield or APR (the current rates on
average are as high as 17.85 percent) within a couple of billing cycles.

With almost half of all credit cardholders in the U.S.
holding balances every month, averaging approximately $1,150 in interest
yearly, this quarter-point reduction will create some savings.

Auto Loan Rates

For those of you who are planning to purchase a new vehicle,
the Fed’s rate reduction will most likely have little impact on your car
payment. However, this rate cut lowers the financing costs for car manufacturers
and dealers, which can offer a better negotiating position for the would-be car
buyer.

Student Loan Rates

While most student loans are fixed-rate federal loans,
approximately 1.4 million students in the U.S. today use private student loans.
Private loans can be fixed or have a variable rate tied to the Libor, prime or T-bill
rates. Consequently, the Fed’s rate cut means borrowers with variable rate loans
will likely pay less interest. If you have private, variable rate loans, you
should look into refinancing to possibly lock in a lower fixed rate.

However, as borrowers begin to celebrate this recent rate
cut, retirees have begun to worry. This type of rate reduction doesn’t bode
well for returns on investments preferred by those who’ve left or have
immediate plans to leave the workforce.

Typically, yields on fixed annuities, CDs, savings accounts
and bonds go down with a Fed rate cut. Long-term care premiums and pensions
will also be pinched. The impact will likely not be felt immediately. Retirees’
portfolios may not feel a hit for more than a year.

Investment professionals warn retirees not to chase returns
in the market, possibly placing more emphasis in their portfolio on investments
like equities and real estate, which might not be safe for those who have a lot
more to lose and generally can’t afford to take on much risk. With any rate
fluctuation, it’s important to work with your financial advisor or planner to
develop a portfolio that’s right for your situation.

Although the Federal Reserve’s recent rate cut can be viewed
as both a good thing and a bad thing, the same as any rate increase, the
guiding force behind the reduction is heading off a recession. With this move,
the Fed hopes to prevent the economy from weakening and forestall layoffs and
other economic damages that could adversely affect everyone.

Trade School or College?

By the end of the 1950s, the focus of education in the United States shifted from vocational and job-ready skills to preparing all high school students, through college prep courses, for college. However, today, statistics indicate that the highly coveted bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem to carry the weight it once did.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that approximately 68 percent of high school students attend college. The remaining students graduate with neither academic nor job-ready skills. But even the 68 percent aren’t fairing that well. Almost 40 percent of these students, as low as 10 percent for those in poverty, don’t complete a four-year college program, wasting a lot of time and money, and often acquiring significant student debt. Of those students who do graduate, the BLS found that about 37 percent end up with jobs they could’ve obtained with a high school degree.

In the United States, a college degree has been viewed as the pathway to success, and it still is for many. Earnings studies do show that college graduates earn more over their lifetime than high school graduates. However, these studies don’t take into account the amount of debt these students take on in pursuit of higher education (the outstanding student debt balance in the U.S. was $1.5 trillion as of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve) nor that more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In addition, these studies don’t include data on those high school students who graduated with vocational training. These graduates have gone on to well-paying, skilled jobs, creating a rosier picture for them than many of their college graduate counterparts.

The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing. This, along with the demise of vocational education in high school and retiring baby boomer, skilled trades workers, has created, and will continue to create, a significant demand for skilled labor. The skills shortage in manufacturing today has created a wealth of opportunities for high school and unemployed and underemployed graduates alike. Many of these jobs are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges.

Even with the above statistics aside, the traditional 4-year degree isn’t for everyone. People have a diverse range of skills and learning styles. Some do best in a lecture hall or classroom, studying math, biology, history and other traditional subjects, while others learn best by doing, and would thrive in a studio, workshop or shop floor.

There are still many advantages to a 4-year degree. As stated before, most college graduates will earn more money over their lifetime, especially if they continue their studies through master’s or doctoral degrees. However, the cost/benefit equation to higher education is changing every day. The education system needs to recognize this and that vocational schools can offer students with valuable skills, resulting in competitive paying jobs and a secure financial future. Students need to be exposed to the possibility of vocational training as an alternative to the college degree, helping both them and their parents see a variety of paths to a successful future.

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Workplace

Many employees have fantasized about being their own boss.
But, they typically don’t act on it because of the responsibility and/or risk associated
with owning and running a company. This doesn’t mean, however, these employees
don’t harbor the entrepreneurial traits, which if nurtured, could take the
organization to a whole new level of success.

As businesses strive for increased competitiveness, creating
an entrepreneurial culture has become an important advantage.  In today’s business environment, the term
entrepreneurial means more than just the business intelligence required to turn
an idea into an enterprise. It’s a skill or mindset embodying innovation,
creativity, calculated risk-taking and empowerment. It’s the responsibility of leaders
to identify, tap into and cultivate these traits within their organization.

Sometimes referred to as an “intrapreneur” (entrepreneurs
working within a company), these employees can be identified by the following
traits:

  1. Creativity
    – Innovation stems from creativity. This drives the company forward.
    Intrapreneurs change the status quo and notice opportunities.

  • Long-term
    focus
    – A person who is creative and innovative must also be focused,
    otherwise they will fleet from one shiny object…new idea to another. The
    intrapreneur can identify what adds value to the company and what doesn’t.

  • Team
    player
    – Naturally, teamwork is essential in a business. Yet, it’s the
    ability to realize that sometimes others have to take control that makes the
    intrapreneur standout in the company.

  • Risk-taker
    – Playing it safe in today’s world will get you nowhere. Intrapreneurs aren’t risk
    adverse.

  • Results
    oriented
    – The intrapreneur is more concerned about the results than the process.

  • Take
    responsibility
    – The intrapreneur takes ownership of his or her successes
    as well as his or her failures.

  • Adaptable
    – The business landscape is continually changing. The intrapreneur is very
    flexible to change and can quickly adapt, especially in high-pressure
    situations.

  • Planners
    – Intrapreneurs develop a plan and then work the plan.

  • Effective
    – Intrapreneurs are more interested in how effective each task or activity
    is as opposed to concentrating solely on efficiency.

Once a company leader recognizes the intrapreneurs in
his/her organization, he or she must take the next steps to cultivate these
traits.

Create an environment
of empowerment

It’s a business leader’s actions that create an environment
of empowerment. It’s his or her leadership style. Research shows that
leadership based on relationships increases the entrepreneurial spirit of the
company as opposed to task oriented leadership style. An effective leader leads
by example.

Encourage innovation

Innovation keeps a company competitive and growing. In large
companies with layers of management, the innovative spirit can often get lost.
Leaders must welcome, encourage and reward innovative thinking in the
workplace.

Welcome internal
competition

Competition amongst co-workers, if handled correctly, can
spur incentive and innovation. Healthy competition can drive co-workers to push
one another to be more productive and produce better work.

Communicate

Communication is a fundamental function of good leadership.
Leaders often get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of the business
that they forget to tell their staff where they are going – the company’s
vision and direction. Employees want to get the important information. They
also want to know that their concerns and ideas are being heard. Leaders must
continually communicate to their staff that the entrepreneurial approach is
valued, encouraged and rewarded.

When is the Right Time to Retire?

Deciding when to retire is a complex question. Many people base this decision around their birthday. The traditional age of retirement is 65 – the U.S. average is actually 63. However, there are many moving parts in this very important decision, a whole host of factors to consider – financial, physical, as well as psychological.

We’ve all had those days when we’d like to hand our boss our resignation letter and sail off into the sunset, leading the carefree life of a retiree. But, this can be a huge mistake if you’re not prepared.

Financial Considerations

  1. Your bank account: According to investment experts, not taking Social Security into account, you’ll need 25 times your annual expenses (the earlier you retire, the more you’ll need).
  2. The Market: The returns on your investments are critical during the first decade of retirement. No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the market, but if the economy is poised for a downturn, it may be wise to delay retirement. This is also the case if your portfolio has taken significant losses in the years leading up to your set retirement date. If this occurs, it may make sense to delay your retirement until your investments have had a chance to recover.
  3. Social Security Benefits: When people plan to retire in their early 60s, typically, a part of their strategy is taking their Social Security retirement benefit at 62 – the earliest claiming age. However, you must keep in mind that this strategy causes a permanent reduction (almost 30 percent) in your benefits compared to what they would be if you waited. People born after 1943 can expect an eight percent increase for each year they wait to claim benefits after full retirement age, with age 70 resulting in the maximum benefit.

    Suze Orman, American author, financial advisor, motivational speaker and television host, strongly advocates waiting until 70 to retire. “Seventy is the new retirement age – not a month or year before,” she exclaims. However, she also adds that if you have a medical condition that prevents you from working or raises the probability that you won’t live into your 80s or 90s, retiring and claiming Social Security earlier may make sense.

  1. Health Care: Recent studies by Fidelity Investments estimate that a 65-year-old couple retiring today will need between $200,000 and $400,000 to cover their health care costs during retirement – above and beyond what Medicare covers. Having additional savings, private insurance or a Medicare supplement policy is an important consideration when deciding when to retire.

Health Considerations

Working longer may better fit into your plans, especially financially, if you are in excellent health and have longevity in your family. However, this is not so if you or your spouse are in poor health. In this case, postponing retirement could mean your opportunities for doing certain things, like traveling, are gone for good. Take an honest look at your health and life expectancy and factor this into your decision about when to retire.

Psychological Considerations 

Another important factor to consider in deciding when or in some cases if you should retire is the psychological impact. You should ask yourself two important questions: 1. Will I be happier and healthier retired or working? 2. Am I psychologically prepared to retire?

Some people enjoy what they do – their jobs give them a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives – and would be lost without this or an activity or passion to replace it. Yet, other people, especially those who find their jobs stressful or unrewarding, are counting the days until retirement.

The key is preparation. Do you have hobbies or interests to fill your time? Have you realistically considered what your life will look like as a retired person?

Many people have unrealistic expectations or ideas of what their retirement lives will look like. They imagine they will take up hobbies, like golf, tennis or playing an instrument. However, being realistic means evaluating your life now…pre-retirement. What are you passionate about or actively involved in now? The probability of developing a passion for something the day after you retire is small.

Studies show that people who have meaningful, purposeful and productive lives live longer. So, the lesson for anyone contemplating retirement is to have a plan for your post-working lives.

As you can see, deciding when to retire isn’t an easy decision. But, by giving it the time and attention it deserves…having a well-thought-out plan…addressing the financial, physical and psychological considerations…you can help ensure your retirement gets off on the right foot.

File Your Income Taxes Early… Before Someone Else Does It For You

Spring is just around the corner and so is the deadline for filing your 2017 income taxes.

For those of us who haven’t filed our tax return already, this somewhat daunting, annual task is beginning to weigh more heavily on our minds. Many of us are concerned about filing our return correctly, what kind of tax refund or, in some cases, payment we can expect and whether we should do it on our own with an online service or hire an accountant.

But, as we procrastinators begin getting our tax documents together, there’s something else we should keep in mind: tax return fraud.

The IRS launched 1,117 general tax fraud investigations for the fiscal year of 2016. Although this was a decrease from the two prior years, according to IRS, it doesn’t appear that tax scams are ever going away. Unfortunately, with every measure taken by the IRS to prevent this, the schemers/scammers find ways to circumvent it.

Identity theft related tax fraud occurs when an identity thief somehow obtains your name and social security number and uses it to file a fraudulent tax return in your name. This is accomplished in many ways to include phishing emails, snooping through your trash for intact documents containing personal information, hacking into a site/entity that has your personal information, stealing or finding your wallet/purse and public WiFi monitoring.

Once the identity thief has your personal information, they can use this to file fraudulent tax returns with the IRS in order to receive credits or refunds. In most cases, these thieves have the funds distributed via a pre-loaded debit card or direct deposit. This helps them avoid the security measures relating to cashing a paper check.

When this happens, the tax return you file comes under suspicion because it is the second return filed for the same taxpayer. Unfortunately, the burden of proof now lies on you. You will need to send the IRS a Form 14039 (IRS Identity Theft Affidavit). This can be a lengthy process.  If you’re expecting a refund it will not be processed until the IRS confirms your identity, as the actual taxpayer. If you owe taxes, you can be left with resulting collection actions, audits and even aggressive tax collection through the IRS appeals process.

It can become ugly.

But, like many situations in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are several ways to minimize your risk of falling prey to these sinister scams:

  • File Early (okay, this advice is a little late for those of us who haven’t already filed. But, let’s make sure to keep this in mind next year.)

Filing early lowers the chance of someone doing it before you. This turns the tables on the identity thief, as your return will be accepted by the IRS first and their fraudulent return in your name will be denied.

  • Clear Your Email Inbox and Invest in a Shredder

Most identity theft occurs via the trash. All identity thieves need to file a false return is your legal name, date of birth and social security number.  Think of the people you may have mailed or emailed pieces of this information…a W-9 for an employer, a scanned copy of your passport to a travel agency or a completed form to your healthcare provider.

Don’t keep this information in your email in/sent box. In addition, shred any physical/hardcopy documents containing this information.

  • The IRS Will Never Call You…So, Hang Up

Scammers often call under the pretense they are the IRS and you owe money. They may sound totally legitimate, oftentimes giving you a fake badge number and even sharing knowledge that leads you to believe they really know you.

Hang up! The IRS will never call or email you. The IRS only communicates by physical (snail) mail.

  • If Your Credit Card Company or Bank Contacts You, Call Them Back on an Official Number

Identity thieves may pose as representatives from your bank or credit card company. These scammers may be trickier to catch because these types of organizations do sometimes call.

Don’t give out any personal information with inbound requests. Call the organization back using their official customer service number.

  • Don’t Sign a Blank Return 

If a friend asks you to sign a blank return and they will take care of doing your taxes…don’t do it. Sometimes scammers are found in the least expected place…your inner social circle.

  • Beware of Tax Pop-Up Shops

When hiring anyone to do your taxes, especially those “once a year” tax preparation shops, do your homework and make sure they are legitimate.

Although special attention is being given to identity fraud risks during tax season in this article, this should be a year-round concern. Monitoring your credit on a regular basis yourself or through a monitoring service is the best practice to reduce your risk of becoming the victim of an identity thief.

Being Smart with Student Loans

Today, student loans have become an inevitable part of attaining higher education.  However, not being financially savvy when taking this money can come back to haunt you long after you’ve received that coveted college diploma.

According to Forbes, in 2017, student loan debt has swelled into a $1.3 trillion crisis. Forty-four million borrowers are shouldering this financial burden, with the average 2016 graduate owing approximately $37,172.

As many families are preparing for college, excitedly completing applications, they should also be accessing the total cost…especially if they plan to borrow.

One of the most important factors of one’s higher education is becoming debt-smart. Knowing how much the money you borrow today will cost you in the future, not just in terms of the monthly payments, but also in total interest, and how this could affect your standard of living, is crucial to living the life you want.

A recent report by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center cited that student loans have the highest delinquency rates of all consumer debt products today. Most of these delinquencies are due to the fact that the graduate hasn’t been able to secure a job that pays enough to cover their basic living expenses and student loan payment.

Borrowing to pay for college isn’t a bad thing. The cost of going to college is an investment in yourself and your future, which can yield big rewards after graduation. However, the key to obtaining that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak, is making financially smart decisions today.

Look at the ROI of Your Education

Being debt-smart is about early intervention, examining all the facts prior to filling out the first college application.

One of the first and most important pieces of information to gather is the return on your investment in your education.  You should assess the cost of attending a certain school having a clear picture of what your post-graduation salary could be.

Use common sense. If you’re going to spend $100,000 on a four-year degree that will only earn you $30,000 a year after graduation, it doesn’t make good financial sense.

Target Schools that Offer Grants Over Loans

Many colleges offer all-grant programs, adhering to a loan-free policy. If you meet certain income and asset requirements, you can qualify for these programs and, consequently, won’t be saddled with student loan debt later. There are many websites that offer a list of these colleges and their requirements.

Look at Every Option to Lower the Cost 

Apply for FAFSA, student financial aid, look for scholarships, and, most importantly, talk with a financial aid counselor. Many families underestimate the value of the financial aid office.  They are a wealth of information and have many resources to help make college more affordable. All you have to do is ask.

Get a Part-time Job 

Don’t be afraid to work while going to school. For most students today, having a job isn’t a “nice-to-have,” it’s a must. In addition to generating income to offset the cost of college, a job also provides students with many of the skills employers are looking for when they interview recent graduates. 

If You Need to Borrow, Look at All the Options 

Favor federal loans over private loans. Thoroughly review loan packages, selecting the one that offers the lowest overall (term and interest rate) cost. Make sure you understand the different types of student loans (i.e. fixed and variable rate) and how they are to be repaid.

In addition, know all of the income-based repayment options. With many federal loan programs, you have the ability to lower your repayments if your post-graduate income isn’t adequate.

You should also know how to take advantage of the flexibility of the loan program. With some loan programs, for example, if you enter a public service profession, you can have your remaining loan balance forgiven after a certain amount of time. You should also know if you could consolidate loans to lower your overall interest payments.

Do the Math

There are countless free, college loan repayment calculators out there. So, before you sign on the dotted line, do the math. Determine your monthly repayments and your living expenses where you plan to live. This will give you the big financial picture, keeping you from getting in over your head as well as warding off the possibility of damaging your credit down the road.

In summary, preparation and knowledge is key to financial success. Students who are debt-smart now will be enjoying their wise decisions later.

The Power of Compounding

power of compoundingOne of the most valuable financial concepts…lessons parents can teach their children is the power of compounding.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”

So, what exactly is the power of compounding? The power of compounding refers to the fact that money that stays invested grows exponentially over time, as the returns on that money stay invested. Put simply, through the power of compounding, a small amount of money over time can grow into a substantial sum. But, it requires two things: the continual reinvestment of earnings and time.

The power of compounding is truly an investor’s best friend. Over time, as you reinvest your returns, you are continually earning a return on your return – and the longer the time frame, the greater the value. This is why it’s so important to start saving early. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the longer you have the power of compounding working for you.

To demonstrate this, let’s look at an example:

Consider two investors, Sally and Sue, who are the same age. Sally was 25 when she invested $15,000 at an interest rate of 5.5%. For simplification, let’s assume that the interest rate was compounded annually. At 50 years old, Sally will have $57,200.89 saved.

Now, let’s say that Sue invested the same amount of money at the same annually compounded interest rate. However, Sue was 35 years old when she started investing. At 50 years old, Sue will have $33,487.15 saved.

What happened? The power of compounding! By allowing Sally’s investment 10 more years to grow, she earned $23,713.74 more on her money than Sue.

Both investments start to grow slowly and then accelerate over time. However, Sally’s acceleration begins to quickly outpace Sue’s as she nears 50. Sally’s greater acceleration is not just due to the fact that she’s accumulated more interest but also because her accumulated interest is itself accruing more interest.

This amplification increases with time. In 10 more years, Sally will have nearly $100,000 saved, while Sue will only have around $60,000.

One other important fact to know about the power of compounding is that a small increase in the rate of return can produce a huge impact over time.

Example: Let’s say that Sally’s grandparents gave her a gift of $10,000 when she was born and her parents invested it in an account that returned 10% annually. By the time Sally reaches 65 years old, she would have $4.5 million. Now let’s say that the same gift/investment only returned 8% annually. Sally’s portfolio would then only grow to $1.4 million. What if the investment only returned 5%? Sally would only have a mere $227,000 at age 65.  In a nutshell, half the rate of return produces an account that’s less than one-twentieth the size.

At the end of the day…this lesson in numbers, all you need to know is that you must start early. However, if you’ve lost a lot of investing time because you’ve procrastinated, didn’t have the willpower to save, weren’t able to save or just didn’t know what you didn’t know, stop fretting and start saving today. With this said, keep one of my favorite quotes about taking action in mind: The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

 

 

How Will Rising Interest Rate Projections Affect Consumers?

finance blogAs anyone with a bank account and/or any kind of debt – a car loan, mortgage, credit card balances, etc. – can attest, the interest rates that affect us, the retail financial consumer, are driven by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions.

A Brief Finance Lesson

Most consumer interest rates are driven by the federal funds rate – the interest rate considered the central interest rate in the U.S. financial markets. This is the interest rate that major banks use when borrowing or lending funds through the central Federal Reserve banks. The fund rate is set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the policy-making arm of the Fed.

The St. Louis Federal Reserve, one of the 12 member banks of the Federal Reserve System, apportions the impact of the fed funds rate. This interest rate influences the prime rate – the rate offered to the bank’s customers with the highest credit ratings.

Since 2008, interest rates have remained historically low. For the consumer, this has been a double-edged sword – very attractive borrowing rates coupled with negligible investment rates (e.g. Savings and CD rates).

However, events of the last quarter of 2016 indicate there will be upward pressure on interest rates on the horizon, both short-term and long-term.

In the last quarter, the economy began showing signs of strength. With the election of Donald Trump, businesses seem optimistic over their growth opportunities. In addition, the stock market has soared to record highs and bond yields took their first big fall, the unemployment rate holds steady, and job growth continues as household spending slowly improves. These indicators, and stirring inflation, prompted the FOMC to hike the interest rate on December 14.

Is this the beginning of the end…of historically low interest rates, that is? Financial analysts seem to think so, and expect we will witness creeping interest rates over the coming year.

What Will this Mean for Consumer?

Low rates have been painful for retirees who seek a decent return on their emergency funds and cash investments. Consequently, an increase in the fed funds rate will improve the rate on these investments.  However, most analysts’ projections for these rates are cautious, indicating that consumers shouldn’t expect to get rich on savings account and CD rates in the near future.

The housing market has enjoyed the benefits of mortgage interest rates in the range of 3 to 5 percent since 2010. The forecast for these rates suggests that the rise in the fed funds rate, in addition to the yields on treasury bonds, will prompt higher borrowing costs for consumers. Mortgage rates have already pushed to their highest levels since July 2015.

Even an incremental increase on the interest rate of a large loan balance can cause a significant increase in monthly debt payments. Consequently, with increasing mortgage rates likely on the horizon, now may be a good time to refinance, especially if you have an adjustable rate loan, or buy, if you’re in the market. This suggestion applies to auto loans as well.

Financial analysts are also predicting that consumers will see higher interest rates on credit cards and variable rate loans, such as student loans. Typically, variable rate loans adjust once a year. But, credit card APRs can be increased any time. If you have a variable rate student loan, now may be the time to refinance into a fixed rate. There are many companies who offer fixed rate student loan refinancing and consolidation with terms ranging from 5 to 20 years. If you have credit card debt, you should set a plan in motion to pay down the balances as quickly as possible. If you have the opportunity to transfer to another card that has zero interest balance transfer for 12 months or longer, now would be a good time to accept that offer.

The investor can expect to see stocks and stock funds perform well if the interest rates are rising as a result of a growing economy. However, if inflation becomes a problem, it could have a negative effect on some stocks. Investors who own bonds can expect to see their value decrease as yields increase. But, this shouldn’t present a problem if the investor plans to hold the bond until maturity.

A Sound Strategy

 No one knows where interest rates will land in the future. But, current low rates are unlikely to continue. The FOMC expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner warranting gradual increases in the federal funds rate.

With this said, savers will benefit from the Fed Funds rate increase and should look to maximize the returns on their cash by securing the best savings rates… as long as the institution is insured by the FDIC or NCUA. Borrowers should maintain strong credit profiles. If you have credit issues, take steps to improve your credit score now to receive the best borrowing rates in the future. And if you’re in the market for credit, act sooner than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s An App for That

cardvaletToday, there’s pretty much an app for anything. There’s an app for turning the lights on in your home before you arrive and turning them off after you leave. There’s an app for measuring your daily physical activity, the calories you’ve burned as well as monitoring your vitals. There’s even an app to make purchases without ever opening your wallet. Apps are developed to entertain, provide added convenience, and even, like the one below, diminish our ever-increasing vulnerability to fraud.

CardValet®.

CardValet, an app recently developed by Fiserv, a technology solutions provider to the financial world, is a debit card management and fraud mitigation tool that enables cardholders to control when, where and how their debit cards are used. A turnkey mobile app, CardValet gives the debit cardholder significant awareness of and control over how and when their card is utilized.

This innovative financial app, increasingly promoted by more and more financial institutions, lets cardholders turn their cards on and off, set spending limits as well as monitor and receive alters on transactions.

CardValet gives debit cardholders the ability to turn their cards off immediately if their card has been lost or stolen or if they detect unauthorized transactions on their card. When the card is turned off, no withdrawals or purchases will be approved. Then, after the fraud threat is eliminated, the cardholder can turn the card back on immediately.

With CardValet, the cardholder also has the option to receive text alerts every time the card is used. These real-time alerts keep the cardholder informed when his or her card is being used or has been declined.

In addition, the app can work with the GPS system in your smartphone and geographic restrictions can be established on your debit card. These transaction controls allow your debit card to work only in specific locations or geographical areas, adding another layer of protection against fraud.

The CardValet can also help you stick to your budget. Let’s face it, the increasing use of plastic over paper has made overspending easy. With this app, you can take control of your finances by setting spending thresholds on your card. You can set spending limits for general use or specify thresholds by merchant types, such as gas, groceries or retail stores. The flexible app lets you change these parameters at anytime…you simply update your transaction controls to fit your spending needs.

The CardValet also allows you to set parental controls on your child’s card. Whether your kids are shopping at the local mall or they’re away at college, you can manage their spending. With the same convenient features that help you stick to your budget, this app lets you decide where, when and how your children can use their debit cards.

For more information concerning this app – how it can help you manage your money with greater ease and confidence than ever before, please stop by and talk with a member of our team. We’ll be happy to answer all of your questions and help you get “the app for that.”

 

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