Grow Up Rich

Friday, May 26, 2006

Credit Counseling and Credit Consolidation

Almost anytime you turn on the TV or check out your inbox these days you are inundated with advertisements for credit counseling or credit consolidation. Recently bankruptcy laws changed in a way that made it much more difficult to file chapter 11 or 13, and that has lead to an increase in people looking for other ways to manage their debt. Credit Repair and Consolidation companies are circling the waters like sharks.

These companies offer to lower your payments and improve your credit score, often times at no cost to you. Does it sound too good to be true? Probably because it is. These companies are not offering long term solutions, just short term cover ups that hurt your future and put money in their pockets. As the old saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig; but it's still a pig.

If you're in trouble with your credit, it's because you've outspent what you have earned: plain and simple. Now that's nothing to judge yourself about, but it is something to accept and learn to control.

Since you got into the situation by over indulging wouldn't it be unlikely then that you could fix the situation with no work and no penalty? That's like eating a whole chocolate cake and believing that you could burn off the calories by sleeping. The truth is that fixing your credit takes work and time, but that's not what people want to hear so the allure of the "quick credit fix" is strong. Let's take a look at some of the misleading statements these companies make:

We will provide you a free credit analysis and plan
Credit Repair companies offer you this free "analysis", which is in fact not an analysis at all, but often it is just them pulling your credit report (something you can do for yourself free). The problem is that you still wont understand the report or know how to fix it, here is where the scam kicks in. Now that they have the report they offer to sell you a "class" or "plan" that will then walk you through how to repair the issues on your credit. These "classes" often cost upwards of $500...Hardly a way to start solving you problems overspending.

We are a not-for-profit company
This statement is almost always true about the company sending you the offer. The company you call for your analysis then refers you to a company to "fix" the problem or sell you their products (classes or plans). You guessed it, the second company is for profit and is owned by the same people as the first company. This line is just a simple bait and switch tactic.

We will lower your monthly payment at no cost to you
This is another statement that is not entirely's just not the whole picture either. What credit consolidation companies do is lower your monthly payments or total amount due with your creditors. They can do this one of two ways:

1. The most common way that these companies "help" you is by negotiating with your creditors on your behalf. What this really means is they get your bill collectors to agree to take less than the full amount you owe them and close their case with you. The problem with this set up is that this "negotiation" is marked permanently on your credit report and is sometimes as costly to your rating as non payment or a bankruptcy. It isn't solving the long term problem, it's just making it feel better temporarily. In the long run it will erode your credit which may cost you significantly more money.

2. Credit consolidation companies may also offer you or find you a loan for the same total amount, but a lower monthly payment. This way your creditors are paid off and you end up with a new "consolidated" loan payable to someone else. The trouble here is that you may have a lower monthly payment, but may owe that payment for many more months. For example, you may have owed a total of $500 a month that would take you 53 months to pay off, for a total amount paid of $26,500. A consolidation loan may be able to lower your payments by half (a line they often use) but if you have to make payments for 120 months you would still pay $30,000!!!

Consolidation also leaves another major problem: once the loan is "consolidated" many people go back to using their credit cars and overspending again. Because they only addressed the symptom (not the illness) they end up owing more than ever!

The Real Solution
The good news is that everything any legal "credit counselor" can do for a fee, you can do for yourself. Also, the only way to really solve the problem is to stop the cause: overspending, which requires us to learn about how the system works.

Over the next few columns we will walk through the process of reading a credit report and dealing with improving your score. We will also cover bankruptcy laws, refinancing plans and some solutions for any of you who really can't keep up with the bills.

As always I'm here to help, so I'd be happy to discuss these situations with any of you and even help build you a personalized plan. Until then...keep the emails, comments and questions coming.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Word About Credit

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several emails sent in from people wondering if credit counseling or credit consolidation was a good idea. I figured that the time has probably come to write a short column on the ins and outs of how credit works.

Before we discuss the concept of credit counseling it's important that we set the record straight about credit scores and credit reports first. Today's column will be a quick overview about credit, and tomorrow we will begin to discuss what to do if you are in trouble when it comes to your credit.

It it true that your credit is incredibly important. Financial institutions use your credit score not only to determine whether or not to extend you credit (a home or car loan, a credit card, the right to rent an apartment, etc.) but also to determine what interest rate and what terms to use when extending you that credit.

Your credit score is a number designed to represent how responsible you've been in the past when extended credit. If you make payments on time, the score goes up, if you don't make payments the score goes down and so on. There are over 30 variables used to formulate a credit score, and some of them are very difficult to understand. This is a fact that credit "counselors" and credit "consolidators" prey on every day.

The higher (or better) your credit score, the better the deal that you will get from companies you want to get credit with. If your score is too low, however, you will find that people will not extend you credit at any price, which can make it very complicated to find a place to live and pay your bills.

There are three main companies that provide credit scores or ratings: Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. These companies calculate your credit score based on data sent to them by the companies that have extended you credit in the past. All three agencies use very similar calculations to determine your score (sometimes this score is referred to as your Fico, Empirica or Beacon).

Let's say you have a car loan through GMAC. Each time you pay that loan GMAC sends that data to the 3 main credit reporting agencies, if the data is positive your score will move upwards and if the data is negative then your score will drop.

This system creates the first major area of confusion for credit scores, because it is not uncommon for companies to make mistakes when sending data to the reporting agencies or for the reporting agencies to make mistakes when processing that data. Keeping track of your credit to make sure the data is accurate is very important to maintaining your credit score.

Many people have serious problems with their credit score (which causes many credit payments to go up and costs you money), but because the data on credit is unreliable and the calculations used to determine your score are difficult and not public knowledge most people do not know where to begin to solve their credit problems. As a result, the average person who runs into credit problems allows their credit to get worse over time rather than understanding and improving the situation.

The good news is that understanding and improving your credit is not as difficult as it seems. And with just a little bit of research and a little bit of help you can begin to make instant improvement in your credit score without taking any major action.

In tomorrow's column we will discuss the first topic on credit repair: credit counseling and consolidating, and why these ideas are unwise for anyone who isn't in an absolutely dire situation. We will go over the scams and pitfalls that exist out there in the world and compare them with free and easy ways to make the same progress in your personal credit.

From your emails thus far it is obvious that there are many questions and many personal situations to discuss on this topic, so please keep sending in emails and comments so I can address them all.

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How Do I Save When I'm Always Out of Money pt. III

Over the past week we've discussed the first two rules for kick starting a new savings program. The rules are:

1. Only change one thing at first.
2. Make a change that gives you pride or enjoyment.

Today it's time to discuss our final, and arguably most important rule:

3. Make the impact of your change visible.

How many times have you made a new years resolution and broken it?

How many times have you started a diet and then cheated or gained back all of the weight?

You see, the toughest part of any major change in life is sticking to the program. Studies show that people tend to give up and quit on life changes before they become a habit and the most common reason is because people feel like they have stopped making progress.

Take a diet for example. Nearly everyone does well the first week, and as the pounds begin to drop off your commitment to the diet grows, the problem is that you can't keep losing weight at the same rate forever. At a certain point the body plateaus and the weight begins to come off slower (or not at all). As soon as the results start going away people tend to quit or cheat. They figure "I'm not losing weight anymore anyhow, so why diet?".

What most people never find out, however, is that if you kept dieting you'd break through that plateau and have another round of weight loss. Every change in life has slow downs and failures on the road to success, so if you quit when it gets tough, you'll never see any change through to the end!

Well money works in the exact same way. When you start saving it feels great, because it's probably something you've never been able to do before. Over time, however, we get impatient. Our money doesn't seem to be growing fast enough, or it doesn't seem like we're saving enough to reach our wealth goals. This is when we're likely to quit.

As we've discussed on this blog before, the most powerful wealth-weapon is time. Letting your money grow is like pushing a snowball down a hill, it isn't impressive at first. If you're watching the snowball from the top of the hill all you would see was a small snowball rolling slowly out of sight. But if you were watching at the bottom of the hill you'd see a huge fast moving snowball flying towards you.

To stick to our savings plan we have to give ourselves a constant reminder that our snowball (our savings) is going to be fast-moving and huge someday! The best way to do that is to constantly keep a visual reminder of your progress.

Graph Your Progress
When you start your savings plan, create a simple graph (in Microsoft excel it's easy) that charts the amount in your savings account. Every week, make your latest deposit (no matter how small) and update your chart. Print the chart out and put it in all of the important places in your life (your desk, your office, on your refridgerator, etc.) . This way, when you're feeling down you'll have an instant way to see that even if it feels slow you really are making progress.

Graphing your savings helps in another way too. When you do have a setback (if you dip into your savings) it will show up on your graph and motivate you to get back with the program instead of quitting.

Before you know it, updating and printing out your chart will become a sort of wealth building ritual for you, a time each week to positively reinforce your savings goals and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

A simple wealth chart may look like this:

It may seem like a simple idea, and that's because simple ideas are the easiest to stick to! Remember, our goal by making our progress visible is to stack the deck in our favor and prevent ourselves from quitting.

Of course, a graph isn't the only way to make savings progress visible you could try one of many other ideas like:

-Writing a goal contract with yourself and displaying it
-Buying a calendar and writing your account balance in it first thing each day
-Creating a symbol you "fill in" like a thermometer or a piggy bank. Every time you add to your savings you can color in your symbol until you reach your goal.

The ideas are endless, so just make sure that you choose something that is motivational to you. So what are you waiting for? I know several of you have started saving already, since you've discussed it in your emails. I'd love for you all to start posting your successes and issues in the comments section so we can all help motivate each other.

Remember, your dream lifestyle and wealth goals for tomorrow only start with a small change today!

Until next time.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

How Do I Save When I'm Always Out of Money pt. II

A couple of days ago we began discussing how to save. The emails came in from many of you had a hard time believing that saving is possible when you feel as though you don't have enough money to make ends meet as is.

In that previous column we discussed the three rules to help guarantee success when beginning a new savings program, which were:

1. Only change one thing at first.
2. Make a change that gives you pride or enjoyment.
3. Make the impact of your change visible.

Today we're going to cover the second of those rules.

Make a change that gives you pride or enjoyment.
As we have discussed before, the hardest part of making any change in life is sticking to it. Rule number two may seem overly simple, but is absolutely important if you're going to stack the deck in your favor and stick to your savings plan.

We've all had personal experiences in life that prove the fact that we are more likely to keep doing something if it gives us a sense of pride or enjoyment, but it's interesting how often we forget to use that as a strategy to guarantee success.

Once you've decided to make a single change to begin saving it's time to come up with your own strategy. Your goal should be to choose the most fulfilling way to reduce your spending that will also be the easiest to stick to. Take a look at the last column on cost reducing ideas and see if anything sticks out to you as more personal than just the savings goes.

For example, if you believe strongly in the environment then choosing carpooling to work as a cost savings might be a great idea for you. If you were to carpool with just one other person every day (taking turns with who drives) the average American would save over $75 a month on gasoline! Invested over 25 years that money would turn into over $77, 000!

On top of that great kick start to your wealth building efforts you would also feel good about your choice because it is better for the environment. This way, on days that your savings seemed to be moving too slow to matter, you could still think about the good you were doing for the world. On day's where it seemed that one person carpooling couldn't help the environment enough to be worth it, you'd have a heap of money put away that still made it worth your while. By giving yourself multiple reasons to stick with your program you will be much less likely to quit when you're having a bad day.

Of course you don't have to be an environmentalist to make multiple benefits work for your savings plan. You can choose any number of cost savings changes that could benefit your life in other ways, depending on what's important to you.

-If making time for friends is important to you, having a pot luck every month could be a great double benefit.
-If you're trying to get in better shape, walking to work once a week might be the choice for you.
-If you've always wanted to spend more time learning, a monthly trip to the library (instead of the magazine rack) might be just the kick you need.

No matter what your life is like, with a little creativity each of us can find a way to make cutting costs about more than just savings. Once you've done that, you've taken a significant step towards growing rich!

Next time we'll discuss how to make the impact of your life changes visible to give you extra incentive to stay on track.

thanks for reading...and as always please keep sending comments and emails. That way you can make sure that the blog gets you the information you need to build your personal wealth.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

50 Cost Cutting Ideas

1. Car pool to work
2. Get a library Card instead of buying books and Magazines
3. Brown bag your lunch to work once a week
4. Ask retail stores where you shop about "friends and family" days
5. Use real plates and silverware instead of paper or plastic
6. Cancel channels you don't watch on your cable bill
7. Open a checking account with no fees
8. Instead of going out with your friends have a pot luck once a month
9. Turn all your lights of when you leave home
10. Buy all pet food and treats in bulk
11. Have soup or mac and cheese night once a week
12. Use a bagless vacuum
13. Get a "wireless router" and share one internet bill with a couple neighbors
14. Buy 2 liter soda instead of cans
15. Go to restaurants that let you bring your own wine
16. Pay your bills online (saves a lot of postage in a year)
17. Renegotiate the rate plan on your cell phone
18. Buy all of your toilettries in bulk
19. Get your kids a popcorn popper instead of buying microwave popcorn
20. Go to the movies at "bargain matinee" time
21. Take your coffe to work instead of buying it
22. Send your old clothing to a consignment shop instead of a thirft store
23. When shopping, make a list before you go and buy nothing else
24. Lower your home temp 2 degrees in winter and raise it 2 degrees in summer
25. Join "frequent diner" programs at restaurants you eat at often
26. Visit museums/zoos/acquariums on "free days"
27. Use lunch boxes instead of paper bags for your kids
28. Buy "previously viewed" movies and video games
29. Buy generic over the counter medecines
30. Cancel your gym membership and go on a walk every day
31. Buy drink mixes (kool aid or crystal light) instead of box drinks
32. Have an accountant look at your last 5 years of taxes for overpayments
33. Check the weather report for rain before you water
34. Make sure you have good tire pressure (can save 10% on gas mileage)
35. Buy used sporting equipment instead of new
36. Buy music online instead of at the store.
37. Plant a window herb garden instead of buying spices/herbs
38. Take public transportation more often
39. Compare all of your insurance rates with competitors online
40. Use only a cell phone and cancel your land line
41. Find local groups to sponsor your children's teams including league costs
42. Find low cost dinner recipes that look expensive online
43. For big ticket items, purchase floor models or discontinued models
44. When you order in always ask for "free delivery" they'll waive the charge
45. Negotiate your credit card interest rates and annual fees
46. Do your own manicure.
47. Only wash clothes and dishes when the machines are full
48. Buy your cleaning supplies in bulk
49. Find restaurants with "prixe fixe" meals (like a value meal)
50. When shopping, never be afraid to ask for a discount. The worst thing they can tell you is no, but you will be surprised how often you'll hear yes!

How Do I Save When I'm Always Out of Money?

Since the launch of this blog nearly all of the emails I've received have asked the same question: how can I start saving when I don't have enough money as is?

If you're reading this blog and wondering the same thing yourself then take heart...every single person who has walked the road from financial disaster to financial stability has asked the very same question. At one point or another we have all felt like we could barely make ends meet and that there was nothing we could do to save...So what's the trick?

There are really only two ways to begin saving: either you find a way to earn more money or you cut out an expense you already have. For this column we're only going to talk about finding a way to cut expenses because it can have an impact on your life starting today (though we will cover increasing your income in upcoming entries).

When it comes to reducing expenses I've found that there are three rules to get you off on the right foot:

1. Only change one thing at first.
2. Make a change that gives you pride or enjoyment.
3. Make the impact of your change visible.

For the next three columns we're going to go over one of these golden rules at a time. Today we'll cover...

Only change one thing

If you're anything like me, once you decide you want something, you expect the change to come overnight. Unfortunately nothing good comes easy, so when you're planning any sort of life change it's best to set yourself up to succeed.

Think of it like starting a diet. If you tried to only cut down on sweets you'd probably be successful; because while it would certainly be a change it is simple enough to focus on and not too drastic.

However, if you decided to give up all sweets, never eat meat again and exercise 7 times a week from the first day of your diet: you would almost undoubtedly fail. That kind of change is just too much for anyone to handle at once.

Well money works in the exact same way. The patterns you have established with your money have been ingrained in you your whole life, and it is unreasonable to expect them to change instantly. With that knowledge you need to set out on your journey with a guaranteed way to succeed.

Now that you're ready to commit to a change your goal should be to pick one expense you can reduce and focus on that. It may be as simple as deciding to make coffee at home in the morning instead of buying one, or carpooling to get to work. Once you decide what you plan on changing, stick to just that until it becomes a habit and no longer feels like you're giving something up. Then and only then is it time to think about making another reduction in your expenses.

You might be asking, if I move that slow then how can I ever expect to accumulate wealth?

Let's take a look at one of the ideas above to see how it could impact our long term wealth. Let's say you chose to make coffee at home and bring it to work with you just once a week instead of picking up a starbucks. Now making a pot of coffee at home costs about 27 cents, while a large latte at starbucks costs about $4.75...that's a once a week savings of $4.48.

It sure doesn't sound like a lot, but did you know that over 25 years, if you gave up starbucks once a week and invested that money instead you would end up with over $20,000!! If you buy a coffee every day instead of once a week, your savings would add up to over $100,000 before you retire. Remember, at retirement, because you invested that $100,000 it's now earning you interest of about $8,500 a year for the rest of your life...and all from giving up just a little cup of coffee.

The point is that little changes add up to big differences, and by focusing on just one small change at a time you can improve your future without making your present unbearable.

Check back in a short while to see 50 easy ideas of places you can reduce your expenses today. And please leave a comment or email if you have other suggestions on areas to save. Remember we're in this together and each of us needs all the help and support we can get!

Thanks for reading and see you next time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Advice About Money Market Accounts

Today's column is designed to help you pick the right Money Market Account to help you start saving!

In the last post we talked about the questions that you should ask about an account before choosing one, they were:

1. What is the interest rate?
2. Is there a minimum deposit to open?
3. Is it FDIC insured?

To keep things simple today, all of the money markets we will be discussing have a $1 minimum deposit and all of the banks are FDIC insured. So today all we need to discuss are the savings rates and the pros and cons of each account.

HSBC Direct currently has a money market available that is paying 4.5% APR*. This is an incredibly competitive rate in today's market. HSBC is a large bank, with more than $300 Billion in assets* today, so you are trusting your money to a large and stable firm.

The Pros - HSBC offers several good benefits such as: deposits can be made at any HSBC ATMs and the fact that if you do your regular banking at HSBC the online account can be linked to your other accounts. Additionally there are no fees for the online money market.

The Cons - HSBC is newer than some other vendors for online accounts and has not always been a leader when it comes to high interest rates. This means that they may only offer that high rate for a limited time and you would need to keep an eye on things to make sure you were getting the best deal.

The online interface is also a little glitchy and not the easiest to use if you aren't good with technology. Also, while deposits into ATMs are very convenient, HSBC only has ATMs in a dozen or so states, so if this is a big plus for you, make sure you check to see if they're in your home state today.

ING Direct
ING Direct is currently offering a money market that pays 4.15% interest. This rate is not the highest in the marketplace, but it is definitely still among the best out there. ING was a pioneer in the online banking industry so they do not need to offer the highest rates as they already have many customers. ING is also the largest company of the banks we're discussing today with hundreds of billions under management and is a very stable choice.

The Pros- ING is always in the top tier of interest rates, so while they may not always be the highest you do not need to watch and ensure that it isn't a promotional rate that goes away.

ING also offers a $25 bonus for opening an account if you have a referral code. When you refer someone to ING who opens an account you will also get an additional $10, up to $250 a year. If you are thinking of opening an ING account and do not have a friend or family member who has one (because then they'd get the $10 bonus) feel free to email me and I'll send you a code so you can get the $25 bonus.

ING also frequently runs special offers where new money deposited earns even more interest for a set amount of time (recently new deposits during the winter months earned 4.75%, the highest of the large banks). These bonus offers come automatically and are a great way to earn even more!

Finally on the pro side, ING has a great site for kids (called orange kids) that has lots of great information about learning how money works early. If you are young yourself, or are investing with your children to help teach them, ING is a great option.

The Cons - Sometimes the ING site is a bit slow, which can be frustrating if you have a busy schedule, but the interface is very easy to use. ING also does not currently offer ATM deposits and requires a checking account (which can be at your current bank) to transfer your deposits from.

Emigrant Direct
Emigrant direct is currently offering money market accounts at 4.5% interest. This is a great rate, but the bank is the smallest that we're discussing today with slightly less than $11Billion under management.

The Pros- A great rate...And Emigrant seems to be making a strong push to consistently be the rate leader in the marketplace. Each times rates go up with competitors, Emigrant is very quick to match.

The interface on this site is also quite easy to use.

The Cons- Emigrant doesn't offer many additional products (like CDs, Mortgages, etc.) like some of the others, so you would most likely just use this bank for your money market. Like ING it requires a checking account to shuttle money back and forth.

The Best Bet
Even though it has the lower interest rate I would suggest opening your first account with INGdirect. Why? Because the interface is easy and you get $25 dollars free to begin. With only a .35% interest rate difference between ING and the others we've discussed you'd need to start out with more than $7,000 in the account to earn more than that extra $25 in the first year. Besides, the referral bonuses at $10 give you even more opportunity.

If you do have more than $7,000 that you're looking to invest today I would recommend putting a small amount in ING (maybe $500) and the rest in one of the other choices. This way you would get the best of both worlds (the free money and the high interest rate). If your situation is more complex than that, feel free to send in an email and get some personal advice. Together we'll get you on the path to becoming rich.

Most of our questions via email so far are about how to start saving, meaning where to actually get the money when so many of us feel like we don't have enough. The next few columns will be all about ways to sock away cash without changing your lifestyle or giving up things that you'll miss. Please keep sending in your questions and comments so we can get the information you need to become rich out to you!

Until next time...


APR - Stands for Annual Percentage Rate, this is the number that represents how much interest you would make on your money. A 4.5%APR would pay you 4.5% on your money each year, so if you had $100 invested you would make $4.50 in interest in year 1.

Assets - An asset is something you own worth money, like cash, property, stock or a business. Anything with a positive cash value counts as an asset.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How Do I Pick the Right Savings Account?

So you’ve decided to commit to a savings plan, great! Now how do you figure out what kind of an account to open when there are so many different choices?

-Local Banks
-Credit Unions
-Online Banks
-Brick and Mortar* Banks with Online Accounts

It’s almost too much to choose from! Well today’s entry is designed to help you make a good choice. There are 3 man questions you need to consider when choosing a bank account and they are in order:

-What is the interest rate that the account pays?
-Is there a minimum deposit required?
-Is the bank FDIC* insured?

Because we’re talking about long term savings today, the best kind of an account is a Money Market Account. Money Market accounts pay the highest rate of interest* on the money you deposit (so you will earn the most!). Today many of these accounts pay as much as 4.75% interest annually. Interest rates on regular savings and checking accounts are much lower, generally in the ballpark of .5-1.5%. Storing your money in a regular (non-money market account) can cost you thousands of dollars in interest over a lifetime. So now we’ve decided, a Money Market account is the best for long term cash savings.

Next we want to find an account that doesn’t have a minimum investment. Lots of the higher paying Money Market accounts require you to have $5,000 or even $10,000 just to open the account. Since not many of us have that kind of money when we’re starting out, let’s take that option off of the list. To find the best Money Market account with no minimum deposit your best bet is to use an online bank.

Now, many people worry that putting your money in an online bank is risky…but that’s not true if it is FDIC* insured. The FDIC is a government agency that will insure all of your deposits (up to $100,000) and guarantee that if anything were to happen to the bank that your money would be returned by the US Government.

There are two other major advantages to online banks. First, they link to a checking account at your regular bank to shuttle the money back and forth. It only takes about 2 days to move the money, but in this case that’s actually a good thing. 2 days is short enough that you can get to the money if you really need it, but long enough that you wont be likely to spend the money impulsively (after all the key to saving is leaving the money there)! The second major benefit of online banks is they often give you a cash bonus for opening a new account ($25-$50) which can be a week’s worth of savings or more!

In tomorrow’s installment we’ll go over some of the actual banks out there and what advantages and disadvantages they have over one another. Hopefully today’s column gave you enough information to look around a little online and do some research of your own. As always, don’t hesitate to email in your questions, and see you tomorrow.


FDIC – The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation which guarantees you don’t lose your money (up to $100,000) if anything happens at your bank.

Brick and Mortar
– This is a term used to describe things that have a physical location (as in made of brick and mortar). So a bank you could walk into would be called a brick and mortar bank where a bank that existed only online would not.

Interest – Money the bank pays you to hold your money for you.