March 24, 2016
Americans Are on a Credit Card Binge
Rising levels of credit card debt are a good thing and a bad thing.
And they are definitely rising: during the final three months of 2015, Americans added $52.4 billion to what they owe on their credit cards, according to a new CardHub report based on Federal Reserve Board data.
For context, that is nearly as much as was added to cards in all of 2014.
Spending rises when consumers have jobs or get better jobs and when the economy is growing, as it is now, said Lowell Ricketts, an analyst with the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. With incomes increasing, he said, “they’re in a stronger position to make those investments like purchasing a new home or renovating their existing homes.” The surge in credit card debt indicates that people are using plastic to pay for things like the furniture for the new house.
The bad part is what happens to over-leveraged spenders when the economy suddenly turns down, which is what WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez is concerned about. “We are starting to get into scary territory here,” she said. The fourth-quarter binge “was much larger than usual.”
During all of 2015, credit card balances, net of payments, increased by nearly $71 billion, substantially higher than the $57.4 billion increase in 2014. Last year’s fourth-quarter binge was only part of the story, Gonzalez said. …Learn More
March 15, 2016
Private Student Loans: Borrower Beware
Privately financed college loans were less than 10 percent of the $1.3 trillion in unpaid student debt last year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bulk of student loans are funded by the federal government. But the minority who borrow from private financial institutions often learn painful lessons after graduation: it is much more difficult to negotiate affordable repayment plans with private lenders. Private loans are unlike federal student loans, which have standardized repayment options and procedures.
This blog is intended to help parents and future college students avoid getting into difficult situations in the first place with private loans. Squared Away interviewed two student loan experts at Clearpoint Credit Counseling, an Atlanta non-profit: Terrence Banks, a counselor who works directly with borrowers, and Thomas Bright, a blogger.
Question: Graduates trying to renegotiate their private loans conveyed some harrowing stories in Clearpoint’s 2013 blog post. Have things improved since then?
Terrence: The complaints are still valid and still rampant. But some – not all – private lenders have stepped up to the plate to make private loans a bit more financially feasible.
Q. What would you advise parents and matriculating students do when making their first borrowing decisions?
Terrence: Exhausting the federal loan option is paramount before you go to the private loans. If you find yourself in trouble where you can’t make a payment, you have more options under the federal than the private loans. Also try to find out the potential income for your future profession before going down this road and borrowing at all. And then look for grants – there’s a slew of grants that are untapped each year because people don’t take the time to access them because student loans are so readily available.
Q. How do borrowers get themselves into the situations like this one, described on your blog? “I am able to consolidate my federal loans (big help on the monthly payments) but not my private loans.” Borrowers also talk about inflexible private lenders and being harassed with phone calls from these lenders. … Learn More
March 8, 2016
Study: College Debt Hurts Retirement
College graduates learn very quickly that paying hundreds of dollars toward student loans each month makes it difficult to afford things like a nice apartment or a car.
But they might not appreciate the long-term consequences of their record levels of borrowing: college debt is an added threat to their retirement security, according to a new study by the Center for Retirement Research.
The researchers gauged the debt’s impact by looking down the road to retirement and projecting what would happen if working people of all ages had started out with the same profile as young adults: 55 percent of today’s 20-something households have student debt, and they owe $31,000, on average.
College debt has a bearing on retirement security through two avenues. First, money going into loan payments is not available for a retirement savings plan. Second, lenders place limits on how much total debt a homebuyer can have, forcing many borrowers to delay home purchases; and getting a home loan would be very hard for the 17 percent of student loan borrowers delinquent on their debt.
Based on these assumptions and using 2013 data, the Center’s National Retirement Risk Index shows that those at risk of a lower standard of living when they retire would increase sharply to about 56 percent of working U.S. households – compared with 52 percent at risk when the student loan projection isn’t figured into the NRRI calculation.
This “represents a substantial increase in the already alarming rate of households at risk,” said the Center, which supports this blog. …Learn More
February 23, 2016
8 College Repay Plans – and Counting
This was going to be a quick blog post about the new student loan repayment program rolled out by the federal government in January. But the differences between it and the seven plans that preceded it were too confusing to figure out on a tight deadline.
This isn’t just the view of one cranky blog writer. Craig Lemoine, a financial planning professor and student loan expert at the American College of Financial Services, which trains financial planners, also admits to being confused about the repayment options, which keep increasing in number.
If Lemoine were a student, he asked, “How on earth would I know which one to pick?”
His confusion pales in comparison with that of a lovely and loved young member of my family. She’s vague on the details of how her own student loans work. Here’s a rough approximation of our recent telephone conversation: …Learn More
January 26, 2016
How Melanie Paid Off Her Student Debt
Sitting at her computer in the oversized studio apartment she shares with her boyfriend in Portland, Oregon, Melanie Lockert received confirmation on Dec. 10 that her ordeal was over: $81,000 in college and graduate school loans were finally paid off.
She had two reactions. The first was an existential panic. “Who am I without debt?” the 31-year-old asked herself. Then a grin spread across her face. “I started dancing and screaming in my apartment. It was such an amazing moment, and I felt incredibly happy to be done with this,” she said.
Recent college graduates might despair that their day of liberation is far away or might never come. But Lockert’s single-minded focus on demolishing her debt, particularly by accelerating her payments recently, provides a roadmap – and some hard lessons – for those facing a seemingly endless string of monthly payments.
Lockert’s path followed a zigzag pattern, which she documented in a Dear Debt blog that she started writing in 2013. Being debt-free was not her first priority when she packed up her undergraduate loans and moved from California to New York in 2010 to attend graduate school – a decision that would more than triple her total student debt. Paying off her loans required a lot of patience and sacrifice, some risk-taking, and brutal self-honesty. She concluded that she couldn’t accomplish her financial goal if she pursued a career in the field she had studied in college. … Learn More
November 12, 2015
Mortgage Payoff? Freedom vs the Math
Financial planner Diahann Lassus views as misguided the “obsession” some baby boomers have with paying off their mortgage before they retire.
But Jane Rose, who has done just that with the loan on her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, has discovered how liberating it is. “I’m such a happy camper,” she said.
The math versus the emotion, the rational versus the irrational, head versus heart – that’s a simple way of framing a complex issue. Many boomers looking ahead to their retirement years are grappling with whether to pay off their mortgage before they retire or shovel any spare funds into their employer’s 401(k). Both arguments have merit for very different reasons.
First, the math. The alternative to paying off the mortgage – extra funds for the 401(k) – will provide more savings, more net wealth (assets minus debt), and more financial flexibility in retirement, according to many financial planners and an economist here at the Center for Retirement Research (CRR).
“There are few problems in life that aren’t mitigated by having a lot of money,” says Anthony Webb, CRR senior economist.
Indeed, directing extra contributions to a 401(k) is particularly attractive to well-heeled boomers in high tax brackets, who benefit the most from having both tax breaks: the federal mortgage interest deduction and the 401(k) tax deferral for contributions.
Other considerations, however, can tilt the balance toward paying more on the mortgage. …Learn More
November 5, 2015
Meaningful Work Improves Health
Older workers with jobs that give them a high degree of control and influence or a sense of achievement and independence tend to be healthier, new research finds.
The specific benefits of these “psychosocial” aspects of work include lower blood pressure, musculoskeletal agility, better cognitive functioning and improved mental health. They’re equivalent to the health benefits associated with vigorous exercise three times a week, the study found.
Researchers long ago established a strong connection between poor health and jobs requiring strenuous physical activity in harsh conditions. This new study looks at a wide array of psychosocial job characteristics increasingly relevant in the New Economy, as well as revisiting the grueling physical characteristics prevalent in the manufacturing-driven economy of the past.
Lauren Schmitz, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, tracked 50- to 64-year-old men working full-time over an 18-year period. The researcher used the Occupational Information Network, which gauges some 970 occupations, to identify the current physical and cognitive demands of their jobs, as well as their physical environments. Controls included factors such as the workers’ childhood health, smoking, exercise, mid-career earnings, and their parents’ socioeconomic status.
The study revealed a strong association between the men’s health and the psychosocial characteristics of their employment. Further, workers who were required to make “high-stakes decisions” had better cognitive functioning. Interestingly, only weak links were found between declining health and the environmental hazards and strenuous physical demands that the workers faced late in their careers.
“Occupations that allow men to use their strongest abilities and give them a sense of achievement, independence, variety, authority, creativity, and status are associated with improved health at older ages,” Schmitz concluded.Learn More