Peak Debt – What Is Your Story?

Have you reached peak debt?  That’s what I consider the highest debt you’ll willingly take on during your lifetime.  Many people may not have hit peak debt yet.  Think of people who have not bought homes but plan to do so.  They will probably hit peak debt later.  But even they can look at their peak debt to date.

Our Peak Debt Story

We hit our peak debt in June 2007.  Predictably, this was when we took on the mortgage to our current home.  I figure that for many, this would when they saw their debt at its highest.  After all, for most people that buy a home, it’s the largest purchase they’ll ever make.  Since so many people do so with a mortgage, debt lines up as well.

For us, our highest debt total was comprised of the following:

  • Mortgage – $224,000 (this was 80% of the cost of our home)
  • Student Loan Debt – $31,969
  • Auto Loan – $8,647
  • Credit Cards – $0

This put our total at $264,616.  That was the highest debt we ever hit.

Where We Stand Today

I won’t go into the individual numbers, but will give some highlights:

  • We have paid off about 45% of our total debt since then
  • The auto loan was paid off within a year.  We have not taken on a new loan since.
  • We aggressively paid down student loan debt before my wife became a stay at home mom.  There is one loan remaining.  However the interest rate and payments are low enough that we’re fine with it.  The loan is set to end in early 2020.
  • Our mortgage started slowly as we originally had a 30-year mortgage.  We transitioned to a 15-year mortgage and did another re-finance.  The first took advantage of the lower rates.  The second freed up some cash flow and continued to low rate advantage.  Ideally, I’d like to have this paid off by 2029.
  • The only new debt we took on was during our re-finances.  In each case we rolled in some of the closing costs.  Other than that our debt has gone down every month.
  • We’ve never carried a credit card balance.

What Does Peak Debt Mean To You?

I’m curious what peak debt means to you.  What is your personal story?  At what age do you think peak debt should be reached?

I’m hoping that people will write their thoughts and experiences in the comments.  I expect different perspectives.  For example, owners of rental properties might continue to hit new peak debt numbers.

Readers, I’m curious as to your thoughts and experiences on peak debt.   If you have a moment, please share in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Do You Believe These Money Myths?

There are a lot of different things you’ll read when it comes to your money.  The personal finance world has lots of people with many opinions.  I’m one of them!  But with so much out there, it can often get confusing.  What do you believe?  What’s true and what’s a suggestion?  I don’t have all the answers.  But there are a few money myths that I’ve seen come up more than a few times.

#1: Always Pay The Higher Interest Loan First

The higher the interest rate means that less of your payment goes to your principal.  This is true.  So, you should always pay the highest interest loan first, right?

Not always.

I think you have some flexibility here.  If you have a loan with a low balance, maybe consider paying that off first.  It will free up some cash flow.  Plus, paying off a loan will give you a ‘win’ on your scorecard.  Those can be very important and might be worth a few bucks in higher interest in the short term.

#2: It’s Too Late To Start Saving

Many people start saving for retirement or their first home right out of the gate.  If you’re one of those people, then congrats.  But if you’re not, don’t worry.

It’s never too late to start saving.  I don’t care how old you are.  Many people who give this answer are just making excuses to continue bad habits.

I don’t care if you have friends that are your age who are already retiring and you haven’t saved a buck.  You should and you can start making a difference.

#3: You Have To Choose Between Paying Off Debt Or Saving Money

I’ve read at least a thousand pieces over the years on this topic.  Which is better if you have extra money?  Paying off debt?  Or saving/investing?

I’ve never understood why people think it has to be either or.  It doesn’t.

If the answer isn’t clear or you don’t have motivation toward one, why choose?  Try a mix of both.  Either one is going to help you in the long run.  And, you might find that one excites you more than the other.  If that happens, then you can make adjustments.

#4: Having An Emergency Fund Is Good Enough

OK, so you saved $1,000 for an emergency fund.  You’re covered, right?  Wrong.

The fact is that even if you’ve built yourself a cushion, there is still work to do.  What if you have an emergency greater than $1,000?  How will you restore your fund if an actual emergency depletes your fund?  What if someone comes to you with an emergency of their own?

Be prepared.  Think ahead.

#5: Following Someone Else’s Budget Is Your Ticket To Success

A budget that works for someone else may not work for you.  Everybody has different circumstances and different needs.

Also, many people are at different stages of how they can handle a budget.  Someone who’s never used a budget should start simple. If they tried to use the budget template of someone that’s had one for twenty years, it probably won’t work.

Budgets come in all shapes and sizes.  There is no one size fits all.

#6: Focus On Cutting Spending To Save Money

This isn’t bad advice.  It’s actually really good advice.  However, it may not always be the best advice.

After all, the advice here only focuses on one side of the equation.  Spending.  This is great, but there’s also opportunity that comes by making more money.

Consider that we all have limited time in our lives in which we can focus on saving money.  If your time allows you to cut $1,000 per month in expenses, that’s great.  But what if you focused that time on earning more money instead?  If you could earn $2,000 per month with the same effort, then focusing on cutting expenses could actually be costing you $1,000 per month.

#7: The Stock Market Is Always Going To Go Up

It may seem like this is true given that it pretty much has for the last ten years.  But it doesn’t.  And it won’t.  Don’t believe people on CNBC that tell you that ‘this time it’s different’.  And that the market can go up forever.

It’s not and it won’t.

Everybody needs to keep an eye on the market and recognize that it’s not a one way only road.  The experts that tell you that it can only go up probably have a plan in place.  And when the market starts going down, they’ll have executed their plan before they go back on the air and talk about the downturn.  Trust me on this.

The fact is, they don’t care about your money.  They care about theirs.  Don’t get the two confused.

Readers, what advice have you heard that may need some corrections or clarifications?  What do you think about the items I mentioned?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

10 Short Term Money Goals That Are Easy

We all know we can do a better job at saving money, right?  I know I do!  Sometimes figuring out where to start is a bigger obstacle than actually making the changes.  If you can relate to that, then this post is for you.  Here are ten short term money goals, things that you can do today and without much trouble, that can really help you out.

Review Your Insurance Policies

Most people could save money on insurance.  You can often adjust your deductibles to lower your payment.  I also recommend shopping your policies around.  If you have more than one type of policy, you can often get a multiple policy discount by using one carrier.  Either way, checking your insurance is something that can probably save you money.  The great thing is that you can do this with just a few phone calls or website visits.

Create A Savings Fund

If there’s something that you have always wanted but don’t have the money for, that can change!  Create a savings bucket and start putting some money aside.  Whether it’s a bigger TV, a new car, or a family vacation, you can start saving for it today.

Calculate Your Debt To The Penny

Most people know the benefit of getting out of debt, or even reducing it.  This is all fine and good, but I wonder how many people know exactly how much debt they have.  Now is the time to figure it out.   Look at everything you owe and add it together.  It might sound like a frightening idea, but knowledge is power.  Once you know your debt amount, it won’t be holding itself over your head.  Now you can start thinking about ways to pay it down!

Create A Christmas Fund

This sounds an awful lot like the savings fund idea, but it’s really a specific one.  If just thinking about paying bills in January stresses you out, then this one is for you.  Stick a little bit aside every month and you can have a good chunk (or all) of the money ready when the bills come due.  I’ve used this strategy for years and it makes the holidays much less stressful.

Look At Your Cell Phone Bill

If you have a cell phone, and who doesn’t, then take a look at the bill.  You might be able to save some money.  These days the plans and offerings change so fast, that you might be able to make some changes and save some money.

Bump Your Retirement By 1%

Most people won’t notice if their paycheck declines by 1% but it can make a serious difference in your savings.  Go in and add 1% to your deductions today.  Bonus tip: Every time you get a raise, bump it by another 1% each time.

Sell Some Junk

It might be junk to you but you might have stuff sitting around that someone else will pay for.  You get money and space.  It really can’t get much better than that!

Track Your Net Worth

This is another one that goes into the ‘knowledge is power’.  Track your net worth, which is simply to add together all of your assets, then subtract out your debt.  Once you’ve figured it out, then re-calculate it every month.  This will start letting you see how your financial story is changing over time.  The thing is you have to start doing it, so do so today.

Check Your Credit Reports

You get a free check of each of your three credit reports every year.  I go in roughly every four months and run a check of my credit report. This is easy.  It only takes a few minutes.  You want to make sure that everything is accurate, and you can use this to identify things that you could do, like close a dormant credit card account.

Think Of Something That You Can Live Without

Indulgences are fine, but chances are there is at least one that you can get rid of and find that you’re perfectly OK with.  If you have premium channels on your cable package, could you drop this? Could you make your own coffee instead of stopping at the coffee shop?  Do you really need that pair of fancy shoes?  When you spend less money, it adds up to money in your pocket.

Readers, what are some easy ideas that you have to meet short term money goals?  Let me know your ideas and what’s worked for you in the comments.  Thanks so much for reading.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

7 Steps To Improve Your Credit Score

Few things are worse than finding out that you have a bad credit score.  Many people know that they have this hanging over their head, where others are taken completely by surprise when they go to take a loan or just do a check.

If you have a bad credit score, then don’t wait to start fixing it.  Every step you take can count and help improve your score, and the faster you get started, the faster you can see your score move in the right direction.

Check your credit report for accuracy.

The first thing you should do is check your credit report to make sure that everything is accurate.  A bad score can come about with inaccurate information or if you’ve been the victim of identity theft and there are items that you don’t even know are there.

Work through any late payments.

If you’re late on any payments, you need to get this taken care of in order to gain any sort of traction at all.

Reduce your available debt.

If you have a lot of credit lines open, you can often improve your score by selectively closing credit cards or calling credit companies and asking for a lower credit limit.  Less available credit is often seen as less risk of default, which can improve your score.

Reduce the number of open balances.

If you are carrying a lot of different credit cards with balances, you want to start reducing this number as fast as possible. If you owe $5,000, it’s more favorable to have two cards splitting that balance than it is to have six or seven.  You can start by paying off cards that have the lowest balances.  You may also look for an existing card that will offer a good rate on balance transfers and bring some or all of your credit balances together into one spot.

Pay off your loans faster.

If you’re only making the minimum payments, you need to start bumping this number up.  Sell some stuff.  Take on a side gig.  Make lifestyle changes.  Whatever it takes, you want to start lowering your balances, which will improve your score.

Stop applying for credit.

Newer lines of credit are seen as riskier than older ones.  Every ‘new’ credit card you take can potentially damage your score.  As a general rule, don’t apply for any additional credit.

Stop charging.

If you pay off $500 on your balances but then add $400 in the month, you’re not going to get very far at all.  Make your purchases for what you need today via cash, check or a debit card.  This way, any activity on your cards is only serving to lower it.  Knowing that goes a long way.

The bottom line is that bad credit scores are awful, but they don’t last forever.  You may not be able to change it overnight.  However, you can certainly do so with an organized and disciplined approach.

Readers, have you ever actively taken measures to improve your credit score? How did it go?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.