May 21, 2015
Students Borrowed Less in 2013-14
Here’s actually some good news about student debt: borrowing by undergraduates is now declining.
Annual borrowing by all full-time undergraduates peaked at $6,122 per student in the 2009-10 academic year and fell to $5,490 by 2013-14, according to the Urban Institute’s new report, “Student Debt: Who Borrows Most? What Lies Ahead?”
For its shock value, the media toss around the $1.2 trillion figure – the total of all U.S. student loans outstanding. The institute provides a more refined look at student debt by diving into U.S. Department of Education data to learn who tends to borrow the most and why.
The findings are summarized here: …Learn More
April 7, 2015
Kids’ College Trumps Parents’ Retirement
Parents have spoken: paying for college is affecting their retirement planning.
Two new surveys indicate that the surge in college costs is impinging on Americans’ retirement finances. One survey, by the research firm Hearts & Wallets, found that boomer parents who support their adult children are more likely to delay retirement than parents of financially independent offspring. The second survey, by the mutual fund manager T. Rowe Price, found that half of parents are willing to delay retirement or dip into their retirement savings to fund college.
The surveys included young, idealistic parents as well as parents staring down the barrel of the retirement gun, and parents whose children achieved financial independence years ago. Nevertheless, these responses consistently show a willingness to trade retirement security to pay for their children’s college education.
The findings aren’t shocking, since parenthood is defined by sacrifice. But financial planners offer some tough advice about parental financial obligations, especially for clients zeroing in on retirement. Parents – as opposed to their offspring – have relatively few years left in the labor force to save for retirement.
“There’s going to be a day when you can’t work anymore,” said Kelley Long, a financial planner with Financial Finesse, which provides independent financial education programs and a financial helpline for U.S. workplaces. …Learn More
February 24, 2015
The Pain of Paying Student Loans
Anger, frustration, confusion, and regret – high emotion permeates the nearly 8,500 complaints about student loans posted last year on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.
A college education can pay dividends in the form of higher lifetime earnings and more opportunities, and millions of graduates repay their loans without incident. But many of the one in three borrowers facing extreme difficulty with repayment have legitimate reasons. The job market, while improving, is not robust for recent graduates. And interest rates on student loans are higher than mortgage rates, so the amount of debt accumulated – and the monthly payments – can be substantial.
Borrowers report that lenders and the firms hired by lenders to service customers are often unwilling to renegotiate monthly payments or devise ways to work down the principal. “I wish that with what I know now I never would have gotten these loans for college,” said one borrower’s online complaint.
The CFPB last month requested detailed information from lenders and servicing firms about customers’ options for modifying loans or negotiating more affordable loan payments. Customers receive “very little information or help when they get in trouble,” CFPB said.
Future borrowers beware. Here’s a sampling of the complaints about lenders:
• No flexibility.
• Refinancing may one day be possible – but not now.
• “Bureaucratic nightmare.”
Unfortunately, private lenders are not under the same obligations as the federal government to show flexibility in renegotiating federally funded loans; for example, the government forgives loans for some public workers or offers payment plans that take into account graduates’ incomes for those who don’t earn enough to meet their loan payments.
So before taking out student loans, consult the CFPB consumer guide, which recommends exhausting all federal loans before resorting to private loans.
The issues raised in the complaints detailed below sound similar to subprime borrowers’ experiences with loan servicing firms. …Learn More
January 20, 2015
Errors in Medical Bills Are Rife
Ever try to make sense of a medical bill, with its co-payments, cost-sharing, and government or insurance-company reimbursements that haven’t been paid yet? Hospital stays with multiple doctors and lab tests make billing even messier.
These layers of complexity contribute to errors and confusion that can damage Americans’ credit ratings. Consumers “incur medical debts in collection without certainty about what they owe, to whom, when, or for what,” the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports.
When a hospital or physician hasn’t been paid, they may, after trying to resolve the issue in-house, pass the unpaid bill to one or a series of collection agencies. Yet nearly one in four of the complaints consumers have made to CFPB about medical bills in collection said the debt “is not mine.” One in five said they’ve paid the bill being reported as past due.
There’s new evidence that the number of people reporting medical debt issues is declining, and new federal rules are aimed at curbing aggressive collection practices for low-income patients. But medical debt still accounts for half of the collections posted on credit reports and is the largest source of complaints about credit reports, exceeding complaints about utility and cable bills and retail and financial transactions. …Learn More
December 4, 2014
How to Think About Self-Control
“Self-control” is a catch-all label for resisting all sorts of temptations, including overspending. According to a new study, controlling overspending can be broken down into three distinct behaviors:
• Setting goals such as buying a house or saving money.
• Monitoring bank statements to systematically track where your money goes.
• Committing to the goal in the face of short-term temptations to spend.
Data for the study came from a nationally representative U.S. survey of households over age 50. The survey has extensive information about the households’ finances and about each individual’s resolve to set goals, track their finances, and carry out their commitments – whether financial or non-financial.
Households lacking self-control disproportionately have lower net worth – no surprise there. The largest effect is on their liquid financial assets, such as checking and savings accounts and IRAs. Impulsive consumption “is more likely to have an immediate impact on liquid holdings than on illiquid assets,” such as property, said the researchers, who are from Goethe University in Frankfurt.
More interesting is their analysis of the role played by self-control’s three individual components. The study found that the third ingredient – the ability to stick to commitments – draws the darkest line between success and failure in accumulating net worth.
But the researchers also divided net worth into “real wealth” – homes, other property, or vehicles – and financial wealth, which is more easily liquidated than property. Commitment again proved most important in determining whether people own property. But when it comes to accumulating financial wealth, monitoring one’s finances plays the largest role.
Everyone talks about self-control. This study clarifies what it is.
December 2, 2014
Curbing Debt: It’s Not What You Know
The biggest financial hurdle facing workers with low incomes is just that: inadequate income to meet their daily needs.
Low-income households are further tripped up by their greater tendency to borrow at high interest rates – rates they are the least able to afford in the first place.
Some academic research blames this on poor financial literacy. But a new study out of Northern Ireland examines two separate aspects of financial literacy and finds the problem is not a lack of knowledge but rather an absence of money management skills.
Among “financially vulnerable” people, the study concluded, “money management skills are important determinants of consumer debt behavior” and “numeracy has almost no role to play.”
The study involved researchers conducting one-hour, face-to-face interviews in low-income neighborhoods in Belfast. They interviewed 499 people whose average gross earnings were the equivalent of $567 per week or less. …Learn More
October 23, 2014
How Emotions Meddle with Money
Our 401(k) retirement system requires most workers to save for the future. But it’s difficult to reach this increasingly important goal, because our emotions – overconfidence, pleasure, fear of loss – get in the way.
“We believe our own nonsense,” is how Daylian Cane, a professor in the Yale School of Management, explains financial behavior in a new public television program, “Thinking Money: The Psychology Behind our Best and Worst Financial Decisions.” The short video above is taken from the program.
Further clouding our judgment are a vast array of consumer products, and the stress produced by how easy it is to purchase them with a credit card swipe and how hard it is to pay off the cards.
“Thinking Money,” a production of Maryland Public Television, covers many topics covered by this blog, including help for people trying to overcome their emotional obstacles.
“Thinking Money” is scheduled to air in its entirety on public television stations around the country in coming weeks. Click on “Learn More” for a list of broadcast dates in major cities. …Learn More