|January 25, 2011||Posted by derek under General|
It is quite common for people to look at celebrities with a tinge of envy – thinking how it would be so relaxing to never have to worry about money, earning millions of dollars year after year. Sure, the income that celebrities earn is far more than many people will see in their lifetime but that doesn’t mean they manage their money any better than the next person.
Even the rich and famous are not immune to financial blunders.
The case of MC Hammer is very well-known. He filed for bankruptcy with $13 million in debt after paying monthly wages in the amount of half a million to over 300 people for a term. It is clear that he overplayed his importance as a musician and individual.
What is stranger is that even savvy celebrities can make blunders.
Take Madonna, for example.
Till death do us part…
She has been an international superstar for almost thirty years. She is considered a marketing genius, reinventing herself and setting trends even now at 52. Somehow she missed signing a prenuptial agreement with Guy Ritchie. Her divorce cost her around $75 million. Guess that is not much where she comes from.
Signing a prenup is something many celebrities miss doing and then regret. When Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe got divorced, they split their incomes, unfortunately for Reese, who was making ten times more than him at the time. Sandra Bullock was wise not to make this mistake. She doesn’t owe her unfaithful ex a dime. And still, prenups are often avoided. This document somehow feels emotionally wrong. It feels like the very act of signing a prenuptial agreement can doom the marriage. Bottom line? If you want to be on the safe side, the prenup is your only option.
Enjoy your vices, but in moderation
Gambling, as with all vices, should be enjoyed in moderation. Being desperate to win can only result in a loss. A gargantuan one, in Michael Jordan’s case. He lost a reported $57,000 while gambling. He also lost over a million dollars in a single golf game, mistakenly believing his amazing basketball skills would translate to the golf course.
Death and taxes
A common blunder is forgetting to update your will. RIP Heath Ledger. In his will, signed in 2003, he left everything to his family. His daughter was born in 2005, but he did not update it. Now his $20 million fortune is the subject of dispute.
Nothing is for sure in this world but death and taxes.
Many celebrities can vouch for the latter.
Among them are Nicholas Cage, Pamela Anderson, Khloe Kardashian, Darryl Strawberry, and Wesley Snipes. Nicholas Cage’s earnest appearance is actually quite deceiving. He concealed upwards of three million dollars via Saturn Productions, his film company, in personal expenses. He should have hired an accountant, whose services are not only useful but also tax deductible. Poor Khloe Kardashian seems to owe $18,490 in back taxes. She had an accountant and actually did pay her taxes through him, but he “forgot” to present the respective documents to the tax officials.
Some people are just not to be trusted. Celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Matt Damon can testify to this. Their “financial manager” Dana Giacchetto stole around $10 million from them. Do not hire an accountant just because you heard he or she was good.
Spend less than you earn
Finally, live within your means. Do not spend more than you earn because you might – God forbid – find yourself in Ed McMahon’s situation. He owes $664,000 in mortgage payments and got foreclosed on. Actor Stephen Baldwin and musician Tom Petty share this problem. Both have filed for bankruptcy at one point in time.
Whether you make millions or thousands, spending less money than you earn is a cure for many financial problems that people encounter.
|January 18, 2011||Posted by derek under General|
Guest Author: Sarah Barnett writes on a wide range of personal finance subjects, from credit cards to budgeting.
If you would not take a trip to a strange place without a map, why would you take a trip to an uncertain future without your financial planning strategy? Financial planning is your map to a secure future, and without it you may either get lost or end up perpetually in debt and unhappy.
Like trip planning, financial planning requires a few basic steps:
- Decide where you want to end up financially, your destination
- What side trips, stops along the way, or treats that you wish to explore
- Set dates for achieving milestones, or goals along the way
- Determine which financial vehicles will provide the best means for getting you to your goals
- Know when you have reached your destination
What is your financial destination?
Before you can figure out where you want to go, it is important to know where you are right now. Are you in debt? Do you have children heading to college soon? What current demands are there on your budget? Do you have a budget? There are some great questions to begin with, so get started!
Where is your beginning location; where are you now?
Make a spreadsheet listing all your current financial obligations and debts, plus assets. Include monthly recurring bills like rent, food, gasoline, credit cards and loans, and other items. List items in columns, show totals and include due dates. For credit accounts, show both monthly minimums and total balances. The difference between what you owe and what you own (asset values) is your net worth.
What is a budget and why is it important?
A budget is simply your trip planner. It lays out plans for spending your disposable monthly income. It should include regular expenses, savings, special expenses and extra income left over.
Food, housing, apparel, medical/dental, vehicle, gasoline, insurance, utilities, school expenses, entertainment, saving, gifts, retirement, investments and emergencies are common expense categories. A budget is an important way to monitor and control your income.
Why set target dates or milestone goals?
Setting a target date and monitoring along the way allows you to arrive on time at your goal. If there is a milestone goal, such as building a comfortable retirement nest egg, you get there one step at a time over time.
How does one accomplish this?
Investigate various financial vehicles such as stocks, bonds, savings, investments, real estate, insurance and other financial tools. Stay on the safe side, away from risky schemes and charlatans. Slow and steady always works. Use compound interest on savings over decades to increase savings.
What is the final outcome?
When you have reached your destination, your targeted goals, you have arrived! By long term financial planning, everything should be improved for you and your family. This is why financial planning, at any income level, can be an important and significant benefit to all.
|January 11, 2011||Posted by derek under Savings|
For quite some time I have held online savings accounts at both ING Direct and HSBC and have generally been an extremely satisfied customer. There were – and still are – a few minor issues with HSBC Advance that always frustrate me a little.
Similar to when I continued to drag my feet on moving from ING Direct to HSBC in order to take advantage of the higher savings rate, I have recently been contemplating a move from HSBC over to the American Express Personal Savings account. When the direct mailer arrived the other day from American Express, I finally decided to make the move and leave the 1.0% APY of HSBC behind in favor of the 1.30% APY being offered by American Express.
First impressions of American Express
The sign-up process was a piece of cake and only takes a few minutes to complete. As you complete the application there is the customary note that there will be two test deposits made to your linked account and that you need to confirm the amounts before your linked account will be active. All pretty standard.
One thing that I don’t recall from when I signed up with ING Direct or HSBC though was the fact that I could not even log into my account and explore the interface until the test deposits were confirmed. This was a little disappointing as I had been looking forward to exploring the user interface and getting a feel for all of the features and options available. Unfortunately, the wait to access the user interface did not live up to my anticipation.
As you can see above, American Express Personal Savings has a rather bland user interface. However, while it may be bland I do give it two thumbs up as it avoids a few of the things that I dislike about the HSBC Advance interface such as pop-up windows for bank-to-bank transfers and obscure locations for key information. So while it might not be as flashy as the ING Direct interface that I particularly like, there is a good degree of function over form.
At this point I am still waiting for my initial deposit to process but I have gone ahead and created my recurring deposit. It will be interesting to see how the timing of deposits compares to the HSBC transfer time that has always been a disappointment.
Where ING Direct still shines…
There is no question that I will enjoy the slightly higher savings rate of American Express Personal Savings compared to ING Direct, but there are a few features at ING Direct that I have come to truly appreciate yet have not found duplicated anywhere else.
In the screen shot above, I have highlighted three key pieces of information that ING Direct offers on their accounts that I regularly check when I am accessing my account. While the information doesn’t really impact my account in any way, there is something reassuring about easily being able to see the current APY, how much interest I have earned this month, and how much interest has been paid during the current year.
Over at HSBC Advance, I am still not quite sure if you can find the current APY listed anywhere within your account as I have poked around and not been able to find it. The fact that they don’t make it readily available almost makes it feel like they don’t want you to recognize that they are lowering the rate on a regular basis. At first glance, it doesn’t look like the American Express Personal Savings account will have this information visible either.
From the time I began using ING Direct, I have been addicted to the display of the interest earned in the current month. Maybe it was because I wasn’t used to having money saved instead of going towards debt, but logging in and seeing an extra few pennies in those early days had a way of motivating me to save even more. Anyone that runs their own blog knows what that can be like as they check their stats every twelve seconds.
Good, but not the best
Making a move to the new American Express Personal Savings account has been a good if only because of the slightly higher savings rate than both ING Direct and HSBC Advance. The user interface might leave a little to be desired, but it does appear to be a significant improvement over the HSBC interface that lacks consistency and clarity.
There are other savings accounts on the market that are currently paying even better rates than American Express, however after being a satisfied customer ever since my first American Express balance transfer (although I hope this goes more smoothly) I don’t necessarily mind the few dollars if everything else is top notch.
Time will tell whether or not I am tempted to explore an account with EverBank (who seem to have the highest rate at 2.01% APY) but I would welcome feedback from you on your experiences with any of the above mentioned savings accounts.
|December 23, 2010||Posted by derek under General|
It is not what you know, but who you know.
Surely you have heard that phrase once or twice before and maybe you have anecdotes that would support the meaning of the phrase. Speaking from personal experience, I am certain that my first job out of college was obtained not only because I was qualified but because one of the executives used to work for my father.
Could this same theory apply to the college that you attend and the salary that you can earn? There is no question that certain colleges and universities provide a distinct name-recognition value that can open doors for graduates.
Schools that provide the highest salary potential
In a recap of a recent Payscale.com salary report, Yahoo! Finance listed the top eight schools as ranked by mid-career median salaries. It should come as no surprise that these schools also come with a hefty price tag for their annual tuition. Here is a breakdown of the schools along with the mid-career median salary and the annual tuition:
- Harvey Mudd College :: $126,000 salary :: $40,390 tuition
- Princeton University :: $123,000 salary :: $36,640 tuition
- Dartmouth College :: $123,000 salary :: $40,437 tuition
- Harvard University :: $121,000 salary :: $38,416 tuition
- California Institute of Technology (CalTech) :: $120,000 salary :: $36,282 tuition
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) :: $119,000 salary :: $39,212 tuition
- Stanford University :: $119,000 salary :: $39,201 tuition
- Colgate University :: $119,000 salary :: $41,870 tuition
Is there real value?
The above mentioned schools are indicated to provide the most valuable educations, but what is the cost of that value? With each school carrying an annual tuition in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year, one is paying quite a bit for that perceived value.
As I have mentioned before, one financial decision that I would make differently is to attend the local state university as opposed to a private university. The cost savings in tuition would have meant less in student loans as well as less burden on my parents. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that my earning potential would not have been limited had I attended the local state school.
Awhile back there was an article on CNNMoney.com that provided three ways to save $400,000 and guess what was included among those three ways – yep, college costs. That article appears to support my belief that I would be where I am today regardless of the university that I attended.
Research shows that students with similar academic abilities earn the same whether they attend top schools or less selective ones.
A better judge of value
Rather than simply look at the mid-career median salaries to determine what schools offer the most valuable education, one might want to consider the overall cost of tuition compared to the earning potential. Would you rather spend $160,000 for an education with a starting salary of $60,000 or $40,000 for an education with a starting salary of $35,000?
These numbers are completely arbitrary but demonstrate that attending one of the prestigious universities may put you in a considerable hole financially that the slightly higher earning potential will have diminished returns.
As a firm believer in the fact that the individual determines their own earning potential based on their work ethic and ability, I would think twice before attending one of the schools mentioned above simply to benefit from the potential boost in pay.
What are your thoughts on how your school influences your salary?
|December 22, 2010||Posted by derek under General|
With the Christmas holiday quickly approaching, I’ve noticed that a number of previous posts here at My New Choice are still quite popular with visitors to the site. As you’re finishing your holiday shopping and wrapping presents for your loved ones, take a moment to read these popular posts:
The subject of tipping is always popular during the holidays as the question of protocol comes into play with a number of people: mailman, newspaper delivery man or woman, and hair stylists. When my wife and I were having work done on our house, we wondered what the protocol was for tipping contractors. Check out the discussion in the comments too.
After making our decision on whether or not to tip the contractor, we looked at why so many people feel the inclination to tip people and came up with a general set of rules. But could it really be that simple? How does this approach differ from how you handle who to tip and who not to tip?
How much of your holiday shopping was done online versus visiting brick-and-mortar stores? In our household, my wife did the majority of her shopping in the stores while I did most of my shopping online. While some people prefer the physical act of visiting the stores and fighting the crowds, there are a number of benefits that can be realized by shopping online. Which of these benefits have you found in your shopping?
Most people would welcome the opportunity to have a pile of cash dropped in their lap, but are they truly prepared to handle the financial windfall? Too many people are completely unprepared and ultimately end up exhausting the money on little purchases here and there. Here are a few sound principles to remember should you find yourself with an influx of money this holiday season.
Here is to hoping that you find the above posts to be helpful, or at least mildly interesting, during the holidays and that you have a happy holiday season with your family and friends!
As the new year approaches, remember to make the new choice to manage your finances to become debt free, financially independent and retired early!
|December 21, 2010||Posted by derek under General|
We all know the traditional wedding vows that discuss sickness and health, love and cherish, and all that other good stuff until death do us part.
But there isn’t any mention of hiding purchases from your spouse.
Given the number of marriages that dissolve due in large part to financial reasons, it should come as no surprise that so many spouses are hiding purchases from their spouse.
According to an article on Yahoo! Finance, approximately 80% of married people hide some spending from their spouse. For women and men alike, the purchases most often hidden are clothing and accessories at 43% and 24% respectively. When looking at the second most hidden purchase, there is a clear separation between the men and women as 21% of women have hidden gift purchases while 19% of men have hidden alcohol purchases.
Why are spouses feeling the need to hide these purchases?
In some cases there may be unscrupulous reasons, as evidenced by the Yahoo! article that indicates 4% of husbands and 1% of women have hidden purchases on dating websites.
However, generally speaking, many of the purchases that are hidden are much more innocent in nature. The new skirt. The new tie or shirt. A haircut and color – spending anything more than $10-15 on your hair is just a foreign concept to most men.
Communication is lacking.
As mentioned earlier, money plays an important role in many marriages and unfortunately, that role is often one of stress and fighting. By hiding a purchase, one spouse may feel that they can simply avoid the potential argument about how they spend money.
This may work for awhile, but eventually the other spouse will learn of the purchase and the fact that it was hidden. Not only can this cause further tension regarding finances, but it may also introduce doubt into what else is being hidden.
Whether it be hiding purchases or general financial issues in a marriage, more often than not it has to do with a lack of communication between partners.
In drastic cases, one spouse may be hiding an entire account (whether that be a checking / savings account for discretionary spending or a secret credit card) that is used to keep their activities under wraps. In less severe cases, husbands might be hiding a round of golf here and there while wives might be hiding a manicure or the latest Coach purse.
Regardless of the secret, keeping them from your spouse is building your marriage on an unstable foundation.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every purchase has to be discussed and approved by both spouses. It is entirely possible to be open and honest about the amount of money that is being spent without disclosing where each and every penny went.
Give open, honest communication a try.
Couples that argue about money are more likely to hide purchases from one another, which ultimately causes more arguments about money when the purchases are revealed. Rather than continue that cycle in your own relationship, try to be as open and honest about how money is being spent in your relationship. It might sound silly to do as an adult, but one great way to resolve the desire to hide purchases from one another is to utilize an allowance.
While keeping purchases a secret may not always represent an unhealthy relationship, you will likely find that openly discussing money and how it is spent will bring you and your partner closer together and minimize an area of potential conflict.
Have you ever hidden a purchase from your spouse?
What were you hiding? And why?
|December 18, 2010||Posted by derek under General|
Why is it that some of us are like bees, good at saving money, and others are still living paycheck to paycheck even though they are well into their forties? “The child within” theory is finding more and more proponents.
This theory holds that our spending habits are formed in childhood. People who are bad at saving grew up in poverty and learned that money must be used as intended when it comes by. Or they were born in fabulously wealthy families, and their parents took them shopping as a pick-me-up.
As you can see, there is plenty wrong with this theory.
It does not take into account the fact that someone who was poor would learn to save as a means of ensuring security, or that you do not stay rich by squandering your financial resources. This is not to say that consumption models are not acquired in the family. Our parents influence us in every way.
But there is more to it.
Marketing experts are always looking for new and more efficient ways to cheat us out of our hard-earned cash. One such way is by stimulating impulse buys. Souvenirs are a typical example. If you were on a vacation somewhere and really enjoyed it, you would be likely to buy a souvenir reminding you of that time as a way to let the memory linger. You end up buying some ridiculously overpriced item that you do not know where to put later. It ends up going in the bottom drawer of your desk.
Impulsiveness itself is a generalized trait. Some people never work on this, and they are every salesperson’s dream. They march into the store, fall in love with something, and march back out with it.
In some cases, this involves shopping therapy but usually, it is just the trait. They never work on this because it is a source of great pleasure. Plus, they usually have enough money to afford living like this, either because they make a lot or because someone supports them.
One of the biggest myths is that human beings are rational.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Homo economicus is a dying breed, if it ever existed. How many commercials appealing to reason can you think of? One, two at best. Producers target our emotions and instincts. They use emotions like joy, satisfaction, prestige, happiness, freedom, and nostalgia to turn our attention to their products.
Sex and marketing is a whole separate topic.
Advertisers use non-verbal techniques like pictures and music. Verbal messages involve risks – they are processed cognitively, while techniques appealing to emotions yield fast reactions. And with the endless supply of goods and services for all tastes, fulfilling needs you did not even imagine you had, it is a wonder that some people manage to save any money whatsoever.
Some people are not tempted by the wide array of items on sale. When they drop by the supermarket for bread and some cheese they buy just that. Certain individuals are blessed with inborn prudence. It can verge on stinginess. There is a fine line.
|October 27, 2009||Posted by derek under General, Savings|
The banking industry has undergone numerous changes over the years making it important for consumers to stay abreast of changes to manage their accounts well.
The consequences of making mistakes while managing your checking account can not only be embarrassing in the case of returned checks but also very costly.
Banks have been criticized for charging excessive penalty fees as well as failing to conspicuously disclose important information for various accounts. Wasting money on fees and penalties is not necessary and can be avoided by practicing the following tips.
- Find the right bank. Not all banks are created equal. Each institution has unique accounts, terms and policies making some better than others. Take the time to compare banks – both local branches and virtual banks which operate online. Understand your own banking needs and spending habits to find a bank and account that is best suited for your personal habits.
- Play by the rules. Before you open an account, carefully read the terms and conditions as well as individual policies to ensure you know how to manage your account. By becoming familiar with these rules you are in a better position to actually manage your account accordingly. Just because the banks don’t always draw attention to their policies, it is your responsibility to seek out this information and follow the rules to avoid mistakes which can lead to fees and loss of money that could be used elsewhere in your budget. Specifically you should understand policies regarding how long your bank will hold deposits, how your bank handles an overdrawn account and what protection is offered in the event of fraudulent use of your account.
- Track all transactions. The key to managing your checking account is simply paying attention and tracking all transactions. This may become increasingly difficult in an era where consumers frequently use debit cards for day-to-day transactions as well as electronic deposits and payments. It is imperative that each and every check, debit card purchase, electronic payment, automatic payment and deposit is logged in your check register.
- Take advantage of online features. Most banks today offer customers the option of managing their account online. This can include online bill pay, transferring money between various accounts or simply logging on to balance your check book. The advantage of routinely checking your account online is the opportunity to spot and in some cases correct errors before they result in an overdrawn account.
- Money management tools. Another benefit offered by technology is the ability to sign up for free money management tools via the Internet. There are dozens of websites that help consumers create a budget, track spending and many even link to your bank account and other accounts to automatically update financial information. This can be very useful for people who juggle several credit card, savings, investment and other accounts by providing a “one stop shop” to manage their accounts.
More consumers are paying attention to their personal finances and the need to carefully manage various accounts to save money. Debt reduction, building savings and establishing long term financial security begins with making the best use of each and every dollar available. Checking accounts are not a new concept however the way in which you manage your checking account has certainly changed from just a few years ago.
Advances in technology not only make it easier to manage your account but also easier for mistakes to be made by both consumers and banking institutions. Avoid paying costly fees and penalties and protect your hard earned cash by implementing these tips to manage your account with ease.
|July 17, 2009||Posted by derek under Loans|
What is an ARM Mortgage?
ARM, or “adjusted/adjustable rate mortgage”, is a mortgage with a fluctuating interest rate that varies in accordance to the market. So, in the beginning of your mortgage, while you might pay a lot of interest, should the market drop, so will your interest rate. This allows your mortgage payments to vary from month to month, depending on economic changes and the period with which your mortgage rate will be adjusted. For many borrowers, this is a very cost effective way to handle their mortgage payments, while also allowing them to save money.
The Benefits of ARM Mortgages
As previously mentioned, if you sign up for an ARM mortgage, you will find that your monthly payments will be much lower when interest rates are low. This would help a borrower to afford a higher priced home without having a higher monthly payment. Or, if you take the extra money you save and put it away in an interest bearing account, you will be able to make even more money while still maintaining the benefits of owning a home.
You will also find that ARM mortgages are readily available for a number of different potential home buyers. Even if you have bad credit, you might be able to find an ARM lender for your needs. Borrowers that can’t afford a high down payment will also find that there are ARM mortgages available to cover both the down payment and the actual house payment.
The Negatives of ARM Mortgages
The main concern with ARM mortgages is the fact that they transfer interest rate risk onto the borrower.
While you can save a significant amount of money when interest rates are low, there’s also an equal chance that your monthly payments will increase if there is an upswing in interest rates. Lenders such as Quicken Loans like writing adjustable-rate mortgages for this very reason. If you like to have steady payments that you can count on each month, then an ARM mortgage is not the right choice for you.
Those that don’t have access to a steady source of income, such as freelancers and the self-employed, might want to think twice before applying for an ARM as they may have trouble consistently making their payments every month.
However, if you are a person that can budget your monthly expenses particularly well, you will most likely find that the ARM gives you an opportunity to save more money than you would be able to with a fixed-rate mortgage.
In the end, it is best to consider your lifestyle and your financial history to determine which mortgage is the best choice for you. Sitting down with a mortgage officer to discuss your options is the best way to start the decision making process. ARM mortgages are right for many Americans, and they might just be the answer you have been looking for.
|August 6, 2008||Posted by derek under Credit Cards|
The falling dollar and rising prices has left many people tightening their financial belts to the limit, in some cases even facing the need to borrow money to pay existing debts (certainly not a recommended practice).
More and more people are finding it difficult to pay their bills and are faced with credit scores that are declining due to delinquent payments.
The downward slope of a declining credit score is a slippery one and many people feel helpless when they find themselves in this situation.
Credit Repair Service
When faced with a stack of mounting bills and a diminishing pile of money, some people throw up their hands and hope the situation will magically get better. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead they find their credit score has gone down the drain.
By monitoring your credit report on a consistent basis, you will be able to detect any problems early on and take steps to correct the problems. There will be occasions where the blemishes on your credit report are due to your financial mistakes, although there are also instances where the credit report contains inaccurate information.
This is where a credit repair service, such as Ovation Credit Report Repair, step in to help people clean up their credit reports.
As you might imagine, there are plenty of “fly by night” operations that don’t have your best interests in mind. Be careful when selecting a credit repair service and look for a company that offers things such as a free consultation, no upfront costs, and no long term contracts.
The credit repair services are great for people that don’t want to take the time to educate themselves about their options. Given that you are here reading this, I’m going to assume that you are not in that category as you are obviously making an effort to educate yourself.
That is where Ovation Credit Report Repair sets themselves apart from many of the companies in this industry, as they provide a wealth of free knowledge in their Learning Center. You’ll find things such as: e-books, videos, and podcasts. They also have something called Credipedia, which is their Credit 101 encyclopedia of all things credit.
By taking time to educate yourself regarding the options available to you, the process to dispute inaccurate items on your credit report, and your finances in general, you can most likely avoid having to pay for the services of a credit report repair company. If you’re still unsure, or intimidated, of the process then it might be worthwhile to have a free consultation with a service such as Ovation.
In most cases, you will be able to handle your credit repair on your own if you are willing to commit to the work that will be required. Whether you ultimately decide on using a credit report repair service or not, just be sure that you are making an educated decision and not jumping in blindly.
This post has been a paid review and contains my thoughts on the positive and negative aspects of the site or service in question. With the intent of providing information that is valuable to my readers, if you object to this post please let me know.