This Degree Will Cost Me How Much?!

For decades, conventional wisdom told us that you needed to go to college if you wanted to have a professional career and make a high salary. If you wanted to be the boss, college was a must. Any money spent on a college degree would be recouped by the earning power gained from that degree.

Today, things are different. High school graduates are faced with the dilemma of having no money to pay for college because their parents were unable to save. Part time jobs and seasonal employment, which used to help college students pay their tuition bills, are now hard to come by with the unemployed workforce vying for positions that used to be reserved for teenagers and college students.

What are college students to do? Rather than forgo an education, students take out student loans. But at what cost? How much student loan debt will these students be saddled with upon graduation?

Let’s use a medical student as an example. A medical student needs a four year degree just to get into medical school, and will then be required to complete four years of medical school for a total of eight years. Here is a typical breakdown of the financial burden incurred by a medical student attending a private university:

Undergraduate school: Four years at an average tuition rate of $32,000 per year = $128,000

Medical school: Four years at an average tuition rate of $45,000 per year = $180,000

Total Bill: $308,000

Keep in mind that these are just the averages for tuition and do not include fees and housing. Typically, medical students will be assessed fees for their labs, using computers and other on-campus technology, health services, and the library. Grants may cover a portion of the tuition and fees, but medical students on average graduate with student loan debt of nearly $200,000.

Even if the student decides to stop at a 4-year degree and try to find a job based just on that education, they will be graduating with financial burden of $128,000 if no other financial aid options were available to them and they decided to pursue a degree at a private university. Regardless of the subject, a 4-year degree at a private university will run you approximately the same amount, meaning college will cause a debt burden that will be hard to remedy in a sputtering economy.

So, what’s a graduating high school student to do? It may be wise to consider the cost of a college before sending in the deposit to hold your spot at the school. Grants are available, but are limited and usually based on income, including parental income. Graduating with debt may seem like no big deal due to the perceived marketability of a degree, but it’s best to weigh the pros and cons before signing up for debt.


Tips to Avoid Bankruptcy

Almost every day, it seems that there is some bad news about the rising cost of living. This is meaning increasing numbers of people are applying for bankruptcy. The prices of everyday essentials are going up at a time when most people’s incomes aren’t keeping up with the rising inflation.

Fuel bills, food and the cost of insurance– all essentials in our lives – are going up, meaning the money that’s left to pay for other things is becoming less and less. Finances are tight for most, even for people that do not need a debt management plan or debt consolidation. If you are facing bankruptcy then it is an even harder time to have money worries following the recession.

If you are already making payments towards a debt settlement plan or debt consolidation then it is important to keep these payments up to date. Anyone seeking to avoid entering into a debt management plan, debt consolidation or bankruptcy might be able to do so by tightening their expenditure and using the extra money to pay off debts.

Some good news is that there are some easy ways for people to save money and potentially prevent actions such as bankruptcy being taken. The first thing that can be done is look at your utility bills and insurance policies. Use a couple of price comparison websites to double check that you are getting the best deals available and if you are not then switch providers. Although, you need to check your contracts to make sure you can leave without incurring any financial penalties. Check your mobile phone bill and usage to see if you can move to a different network or get a cheaper contract on your existing one. If you’re not using all your minutes and texts then you are just wasting money. It’s also worth working out if a pay-as-you go phone would be more economical to use as some of the pay as you go plans these days offer free texts if you top up so much a month.

Food is another basic essential that none of us can do without. Having said this there are ways to cut food bills which saves money. It is estimated that the average family of four people wastes $680 worth of food every year, the equivalent of $56 a month. If you plan meals, preparing the meals from scratch and making sure you cook the right amount it’s easy to begin to reduce expenditure on food. Switching to cheaper brands at the supermarkets can also help shrink the bill. Giving up dining out and takeaways is yet another simple way to ensure you have more money left towards the end of the month.

If you need to save even more money to help with your debt management payments or debt consolidation then cutting out or cutting down alcohol and cigarettes will make a big difference to your cash flow as these are luxury items that have a high price at the till. This will also have a positive impact on your health.

Small things can really add up and help you tackle your debts before they build up and become a more serious problem which could lead to possible debt consolidation or worse filing for bankruptcy.

If all these ideas seem a bit drastic then think about the ultimate goal of becoming debt-free and the relief that you will feel when you can finally pay off your debt management plan or debt consolidation, which will mean that you avoid bankruptcy.


Best Time for DIY Debt Settlement is Early

When you begin to realize your debts are mounting and you are about to lose control of your finances, it is in your best interest to begin the process of debt settlement on your own right away. Debt settlement sounds like a complicated process average consumers cannot handle on their own. Actually, it is this myth that often perpetuates the vicious cycle of debt.

There are many reasons why your financial status will fall into disrepair. Job loss, expensive medical treatments, investments gone wrong, overspending, and even fraud can throw your financial affairs into a spin, leaving you with creditor calls demanding money and dwindling funds in your savings accounts. Making a move as soon as you realize where your financial affairs are headed will serve you well.

How to Start the DIY Settlement Process

Settling debts on your own may sound ominous and overwhelming but that is simply not the case. All consumers have the power to settle their debts but many fear the process.

To start out you should make a list of your financial outlook. Use your existing budget or create one if you haven’t used a budget before. (Incidentally, not having a budget is the trigger that leads many into the downfall of debt.) Find out exactly how much you owe to each creditor and then figure out how much of your income or savings goes out to monthly financial obligations. Money left over should be noted.

Next, make a list of your creditors and their contact information. Decide who the priority is in the debt settlement process. Perhaps you need to contact your highest-interest credit card provider before you contact your medical provider’s office. There is no definitive answer as to who should come first so you’ll have to figure out which debts need settlement first.

The Negotiations

Once you have established your creditor list, contact the highest priority creditor. It may be wise to ask for a manager as soon as the phone is answered to ensure you are speaking with someone who has the authority to give you the answers you need. Be upfront with the company representative and briefly relate your current or impending financial hardship.

For instance, if you have just been laid off from work, let the company know the situation and how long you expect the hardship to last. Ask if there is an acceptable amount of money less than the balance you owe that you could pay to settle the debt in full since you anticipate being unable to fulfill your monthly obligation for long. If the manager can not accept a one-time payment, they may be able to suggest alternatives such as lowered monthly payments for a period of time. If you do not have the amount of cash necessary to settle the debt, ask if they will rework your payment obligations on a monthly basis.

Whatever arrangements can be made with your first creditor, be sure to request the details in writing from the company. In some cases, consumers have neglected to get a copy of the arrangements in writing and therefore were later unable to prove their deal, making them responsible once again for the total balance due regardless of previous payments being made on the account. Most creditors will not go back on their word but the written confirmation is the only proof you have on your side as a consumer.

Once you have settled the debt with the first creditor, you’ll need to re-evaluate your finances to see what debt to tackle next. In the situation where one creditor refuses to settle your debt for a lesser amount, move on to the next and do your best to keep your monthly payments going, even if you are only paying the minimum due.

Why Waiting Is Devastating

If you wait too long to contact your creditors to keep an open line of communication, your debt problems will only grow and compound financially. The added fees, penalties, and interest charges only mean you’ll have a bigger balance to fork over. As soon as you know that times will be tough for you financially, reach out to your creditors for help.

Realize you are not the only debtor with financial hardships. In most cases, creditors will be open-minded and flexible if you give them the opportunity. They are not blind to the state of the current economy and may have resources and options you do not even realize that can significantly help you pay off owed balances. Until you open up and admit where you are heading, you will get nowhere in your pursuit of your debt relief goals.

Don’t wait for collection calls to start or for someone else to step in. You are responsible for your debts and the earlier you are able to reach your debt elimination goals, the faster you can get back on the right financial track.


Mobile Payment Wars: Credit Card Companies Arming for Battle

Payments are going mobile, and credit card companies do not want to be left behind. The big players are arming themselves to make sure that wherever the mobile payment field is headed, they get a little piece of the action.

Visa Invests in Square

Square is a mobile payment system that launched last May and allows anyone to accept payment through their mobile device. Square appeals to merchants who otherwise do not accept credit cards through a merchant account, such as small businesses, artists, or other vendors that want to avoid paying monthly fees to credit card companies. In the first three months of 2011 alone, Square processed $66 million in transactions. Not bad for a start-up company. But things are getting even better for Square as Visa announced this week plans to invest an undisclosed amount of money. In return, Visa gets a small piece of the action and has joined Square’s Board of Advisors.

Visa’s recent move will also open up new doors for the credit card company, as more merchants will be accepting credit cards for payment. According to the Central Penn Business Journal, this market includes some 27 million small businesses.

MasterCard in the Mobile Field

Visa isn’t the only company aiming to go big in the mobile payment field. MasterCard has been working its game since 2002 when it developed its PayPass system. PayPass-enabled cards contain a chip that allows shoppers to wave the card in front of a terminal in order to make charges. This takes advantage of a technology called radio-frequency identification, or RFID. The company now has 88 million PayPass cards and devices in use at nearly 300,000 merchant locations.

MasterCard is also teaming up with Google to allow Android users to make mobile payments. The Android device would contain everything a consumer needs, from being able to make payments to receiving offers and discounts after they make a transaction.

American Express Won’t Be Left Behind

As for American Express, it just launched Serve, a new payment network that lets people pay each other online through mobile phones or at merchant locations. Serve users manage their accounts through a smart phone app or with a prepaid card. Users can transfer funds from their debit cards, bank accounts or credit cards.

American Express also plans to partner with the start-up mobile payment company called Payfone, which also enables users to pay through their mobile phones.


Are You Really Ready to Retire?

So you’re approaching the tail end of your career and hopefully you’ve done your self the favor of investing in a 401k or other type of IRA, perhaps coupled with a portfolio of mutual funds, stocks and other investments, you may even be one of those lucky few who have a pension. I am sure that you may have some very well thought out day dreams about what your retirement will look like, but if you are in a state of debt those ideas are just that; fantasies. Keep in mind that your wealth is determined by the value of your assets minus the cost of your liabilities.

If you are 55 and have elephant debt (debt that is at least more than half of your net income) you are in a world of hurt. Here are the facts about your situation, you are debt heavy and your working years are numbered, now assuming you are not one of those tragic figures who currently finds himself unemployed you have a window of opportunity to salvage your retirement outlook and bring your retirement fantasies closer to fruition. Your first step on your escape from retirement limbo is to zap all unnecessary weigh-downs. Weigh-downs are avoidable expenses that are holding you back from becoming fiscally sound before retirement; cable or satellite bills, phone bills, smart phones, buying bottled water instead of getting a filter for your faucet, taking vacations, buying new cars instead of repairing your current ones, frivolous purchases, etc.

By now you are thinking that I’m telling you that you that you have to downgrade your lifestyle; the truth is that I am only telling you to take into account the many leaks that are in your financial boat and attempt to plug them up.

Instead of paying $30-$200 a month for cable or satellite get Netflix or Hulu for less than $10 a month do this and you save yourself $180-$2,280 a year. Instead of buying cases of bottled water for $4-$6 a case buy a faucet filter and save dramatically each year. Instead of paying for a redundant land line consolidate your phone service to just your cell phone, secondly unless you truly need a Smartphone for your work than just get a normal cell phone that does what it is supposed to do; make and receive phone calls, do these two steps and save your self at least $1,000 a year, if not far more. Hold off on taking a vacation for the time being and instead put the money towards saving you financial future, this will save you at least $1,200-$5,000 a year.

Assuming that your elephant debt was not caused by buying a luxury car, you have a yet another way to pay off your elephant debt; don’t buy a new car! Instead of buying a new car drive the one you have and keep up with regular maintenance, literally drive it till it dies and you will instantly generate a net savings for your self of at least $5,000 a year. Do all of these things and you will have at least $6,588 on the low end and up to $12,592 at the high-end.

Keep in mind that you probably have other weigh-down expenses that only you could know about and so I leave it to your judgment what your course of action should be regarding them. For some people cutting off weigh-down expenses alone will put them on the right track towards being financially solvent by the time they retire, the rest of us probably face dramatic changes to our operating procedure. If you own a boat or even a plane it may be the time to liquidate those assets in order to free up cash flow towards paying off debt. Now chances are that your kids have moved out and you no longer need as big of home as you have, you could capitalize on this situation and either rent out rooms or down size to a smaller home. Keep in mind that I only recommend down sizing in extreme cases when no other alternative is readily available. Remember your goal is to be in a position to actually achieve your dreams when you retire, you can’t hope to do that if you are weighed down by debt.


Recent California Supreme Court Ruling Drives Lawsuits

After a ruling in February in the California Supreme Court, it is now illegal for a retailer in the state to request the zip code of customers paying with a credit card. Apparently this information was being used for marketing purposes although consumers were led to believe otherwise. The result: more than 150 class-action lawsuits have been filed in California against numerous companies. The retailers include Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond and Wal-Mart.

More than 40 of these lawsuits were filed in San Francisco Superior Court but include other jurisdictions in California as well.

Consumers claim the basis for these lawsuits is they were deceived into providing personal information under the assumption it was pertinent to finalizing the credit card transaction or for fraud prevention. Instead, consumers are learning this information seems to have been used for marking purposes.

The court ruled that collecting zip codes is illegal under a law that bars stores from collecting “personal identification information” when it is not needed for a transaction. The law was originally put in place to prevent customers’ personal data from being misused. But that is the same justification stores are using for taking zip codes; they say it is an anti-fraud measure.

In the Supreme Court Case, Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, Inc., a woman sued the home store Williams-Sonoma after the company used her name and zip code to find her address and added it to a marketing database.

Clearly most consumers would not have divulged personal information, such as their zip code, if they knew what it was really being used for. Stores in California certainly won’t be asking for zip codes moving forward, but that isn’t enough for many consumers who feel they’ve been violated and deceived in a big way.

Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association told The San Francisco Examiner: “Most of the time, it’s being used to verify the credit card is your credit card, so it’s for fraud prevention.”

But the California Supreme Court disagrees.


ABA Reports an Improvement in Most Loan Delinquencies

Consumers are doing a better job of paying their credit card bills on time. According to a recent report by the American Bankers Association, bank-issued credit card delinquencies dropped to their lowest rate of 3.28% in the last quarter of 2010, compared with the 3.64% it had been in the previous three months. A delinquency is defined by the ABA as a payment overdue by 30 days or more. This is the lowest bank-issued credit card delinquency since the first quarter of 2001, nearly ten years, and it is also below the 15-year average of 3.92%.

The rate of unemployment has been falling steadily and dropped to 8.8% in March. Private-sector employers added 216,000 jobs that month. Clearly, our economy is slowly but surely recovering, and consumers are better able to make their credit card payments in a timely manner.

In addition to bank-issued credit card delinquencies, the overall delinquency rate decreased in the final quarter of 2010 from 3.01% to 2.68%. In fact, 9 out of 11 loan categories that the ABA tracks decreased in the fourth quarter. In the category of home improvement loans, ABA reported a slight rise in loan delinquencies to 1.26% from 1.23%. The only other category that did not show a delinquency decrease was housing loans, but these remained unchanged at 4.05%.

ABA chief economist James Chessen believes these figures to be encouraging.  “I’m feeling hopeful about further declines in delinquencies because of continuing job growth, but the unknowns are the impact of higher gas and food prices,” he said in a statement.“The 2% reduction in federal payroll taxes that began in January was intended to boost discretionary income. Unfortunately, rising prices have dashed any chance of that.”

The Associated Press reported in March that food prices in February saw the biggest rise in 36 years. Cold weather was mostly to blame, The AP said, but prices on food commodities have risen sharply over the last year.

The national average gasoline price on April 11 was $3.77, compared with $2.86 a year ago, according to AAA. Instability in oil-producing countries like Libya pushes gas prices up, along with rising demand as Americans travel to work more and once again have money to travel on vacation.

Clothing retailers, too, are raising prices. The price of cotton has more than doubled in the last year, according to The AP, and synthetic fabrics cost nearly 50% more. As shoppers return to stores, steep discounts are no longer needed.

With recent world events and rising gas and food prices, consumers will certainly continue to face challenges. But the fact that unemployment rates are improving seems hopeful. The more money consumers make, the more they will be able to make necessary payments on time. Hopefully, we will continue to see delinquency rates drop throughout 2011.


5 Steps To Debt Freedom

Experiencing personal debt can feel like falling into quicksand: no matter how hard you try to climb out, you just keep sinking further down.  In a society where more is better, it can be difficult to watch your peers enjoying the finer things in life while the collections agencies are knocking at your door.

If you’re in debt, you’ve probably made yourself a lot of big promises.  “I will conquer this,” you’ve said, and three days later you were completely overwhelmed.  This may be what’s tripping you up.  The world’s problems are not fixed overnight, just like weight isn’t lost by taking one magic pill.  Be honest with yourself.  Arm yourself with knowledge both about your own behaviors and the many options available to help you reach debt freedom.

5 Steps To Debt Freedom

Step 1 – Understand Your Situation

First, know what you’re dealing with.  Take a pad of paper with you wherever you go for one week and write down everything you spend.  Then rate each purchase on a scale of “must have” to “want to have” to “don’t need.”

If you rely more on debit cards, sign up for a money-tracking site like to have your spending automatically tracked and categorized.  This will also help you evaluate how you pay for your purchases.

If you have more than one credit card, cut the extra ones up.  Once you’ve evaluated your spending, cut out your “don’t needs,” and think critically about your “want to haves”.  Is there any way you can make them cheaper?  For instance, if you “want to have” coffee, can you make it at home six days out of seven?  Can you use generic rather than brand products?

You don’t need to cut out all of your creature comforts, but by identifying them as such, you can determine just how important they are to you, and instead use them as occasional rewards rather than as givens.

Once you’ve made these decisions, add up all that you’ve cut out.  If you’ve saved, say, $300 per month, this is money you will be able to apply in later steps to paying off your debts.

Step 2 – Organize Your Debt

Next, open up a spreadsheet and start making columns.  Make one column for your fixed expenses-costs that do not change, like mortgage or rent, health insurance, and so on.  Make another column for your variable payments-things like gas, gifts, and restaurants.  Make one more for your debts, and another for your income.

In your debt column, highlight “good” vs. “bad” debt; that is, student loans with lower interest rates vs. credit cards higher rates.  Then add it all up. This is a great way to visualize just where your money is flowing and what you can do about it.

Step 3 – Make a Spending Plan

Now, make a spending plan.  Start by paying your fixed expenses and minimum balances.  Then pay any variable expenses you must to avoid going into more debt.  These are the things you just have to do to keep your head above water.

Take a look at that $300 you’re now saving every month by cutting out extras.  It’s not just a lump of money; it can do things!  Put that money away in a savings or money market account with as high an interest rate as you can find, and keep doing so until you reach the $1,000 mark.  This is your emergency fund; it will help you stay out of more debt should something unexpected come up.

Step 4 – Eliminate Debt Strategically

Choose a target.  Which debt do you want to tackle first?  Start on one with a higher interest rate.  19% might not seem like a lot more than 15%, but it adds up quickly.  If you have many debts with high rates, call the companies and try to renegotiate for a lower one.  You’d be surprised what the term, “I’m a loyal customer” can do!

Step 5  – Increase Your Income

If you’re finding after taking these steps that you still do not have anything left to pay off more than the minimum balances on one debt at a time, then it may be time to consider increasing your income.  This could be by searching for a higher-paying job, but if this is too intimidating, stick to that small steps mentality.

Can you make that extra $300 per month by babysitting? How about working in a coffee shop, or doing some freelance work on the side?


To summarize, that’s: one credit card (or none!), cut out extras, pay off minimums, focus on one high-interest debt, increase income. You may also want to try old fashioned approaches, like paying only in cash, separating all of your expenses into envelopes labeled, “fixed,” “variable,” and “debt” and not spending anything after those envelopes are empty.  You can also put limits on your cards, or make automatic alerts on an online payment tracker.

Remember, this is about understanding your own mentality.  What can you do to make money more concrete to you?

Feeling overwhelmed?  Here’s a little secret: we all have debt-especially those people you see driving fancy cars.  The theme in any “get out of debt” plan should be moderation.  If you find yourself sliding, try to figure out why rather than beating yourself up.  Did you have a tough week and really need an extra purchase on iTunes?  This shouldn’t be a big deal now that you know your finances intimately.  Just look at your upcoming week and see how you can make up for it.

If you ever start really feeling deprived, make a wish-list and write down things you desire as they come up.  Once you’ve addressed your debt, look back at that list and see what things you can now afford.  You may find that time has satiated those desires more than the purchase itself.

While paying off debt is never fun, remember that you’re paying for your future.  Get the past settled so you can move on and start doing what you’d really like to with that hard-earned money!


Banks to Reduce Credit Card Interest Rates

The credit card industry has been doing back flips to reach the good graces of the credit consumer. And they have made a step in the right direction.

Since the passage of the Credit CARD Act in 2009, banks have been losing money, and began to charge consumers for services that used to be free. Bank of America began charging credit card users a $59 annual fee, and Chase implemented a $5 ATM fee. Well, these same banks and others, under the guidance of the CARD Act are starting to do something that actually helps pack our wallets – welcome, a decrease in credit interest rates.

Last year, millions of consumers experienced credit card interest hikes, before the passage of the Credit CARD Act due to bank scandals, an unruly economy, and pending reforms. According to Federal Reserve, the average interest rate increased almost a full percent, from 13.57 percent in 2008 to 14.31 in 2009. estimates that between 91 million and 121 million credit cards experienced rate hikes during the recession.

A section of the Credit CARD Act requires credit card companies to review any rate hikes that happened since January 2009. The law explains that if a state’s interest rate was increased due to high credit risk or market conditions, those issues had to be reconsidered every six months. The law then demands that the rates be cut when credit risk declines and market conditions improve.

By law, once the rate has been lowered it can not be raised again, according to Ken Clayton, general counsel for card policy at the American Bankers Association. The law requires banks to warn customers about rate hikes 45 days in advance and limits increases on new purchases.

But any decrease in payment can mean big savings for the consumer. According to the average balance on a credit card at the end of 2010 was $4,965. At a 19 percent interest rate it would take 13 years, 9 months to pay it off. Interest would be $3,894. If interest rates were cut to even 16 percent it would only take 12 years, 5 months to pay off. Interest would drop to $2,906.

Millions will feel the reprieve. Bank of America said that it will reduce the interest rate on about 1 million of its cards, according to the Associated Press. JP Morgan Chase & Co. , Citigroup Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., Discover Financial Services and American Express haven’t revealed the number of cards affected, but all confirmed that some customers will receive lower rates. If all banks changed rates on 2% of their cards like Bank of America is doing, then over 10.5 million card will be affected.

Consumers will not only see the changes in their pockets, they will also see it on their bank statements. Consumers who saw hikes in interest rates during the recession due to poor payment histories and did not reconcile their debts, will not be eligible for the reducing interest rates.


Why Certificate of Deposits Are One of the Safest Places to Put Your Money

Volatile markets, falling home prices and an unpredictable economy are all reasons for one to be concerned about the safety of one’s money. If you are seeking to keep your assets protected, then I suggest using Certificates of Deposit, or CDs, as one of the safest places to keep your money. There are several reasons for this:

  • Insurance – If you open a CD with a FDIC insured bank your money is protected up to $250,000, up from the previous limit of $100,000. Just as with a savings or checking account if that bank should fail the federal government will make sure that all customers will get back their money up to that limit. There are no such guarantees with stocks and bonds.
  • Guaranteed Return – A Certificate of Deposit often comes with a fixed interest rate that is higher than a regular savings account and that can outperform stocks and mutual funds in a down market. There is no guessing at what your return will be at the end of you CD’s term. It can be calculated and you can plan on having that return on your investment.
  • No Broker Fees – Setting up a CD is just like setting up any other bank account and does not carry with it any origination or maintenance fees. Unlike a brokerage account there is no need to pay someone to keep looking at your assets, changing their allocation and charging you for the privilege.
  • Low Risk – Real estate has climbed and fallen over the past ten years. During that same time the stock market has been flat. Even bonds do not have the return rates they used to. Investing in any of those three over the past decade could very well have resulted, and for many did result, in a significant monetary loss. By contrast a CD would have continued to earn money during that same time period. The low risk of CDs can make it a wise portfolio investment during uncertain times.
  • No Monitoring – Once opened the CD takes care of itself. There is no need to fret or to pore over you monthly statement. Just sit back, wait until the end of the account’s term and enjoy the return.

Some may assume that uncertain times are when risks should be taken. But some investors are looking not for risk but safety. If so then a certificate of deposit is one of the safest places to keep your money.