Monday, June 29, 2015

Lessons from the Richest Nation Ever


As of June 2015, America is the richest society ever, after a strong spring in which Americans accumulated $1.4 trillion in total assets. With the Dow and NASDAQ recently hitting record highs and home prices finally reaching pre-bubble levels, there's no telling what records might be broken in the future.

Not everyone is enjoying this windfall, though, and you may be one of those who are wondering where your gold-plated Ferrari is or why your etched crystal brandy decanter isn't as jewel-encrusted as your neighbor's.  If so, it might be a good time to take stock of your surroundings and draw some lessons from the country about accumulating wealth.

Who has all that money?

A very small number of people have a very large share of American wealth in 2015, as many middle class families are still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis and The Great Recession.  A recent Pew study found the gap between the rich and the middle class is at a 30-year high, and most of the typical American's net worth is tied up in their home.

While America's total net worth is at a record high, the typical American household's net worth is $81,200, down two percent in the last five years.  The top 10 percent of households are worth about 40 times more than the typical household, with an average of $3.3 million.  The top one percent of the top one percent of American households is even more staggeringly rich, with about 16,000 families owning 12 percent of American wealth, about $630 million each, on average.  More distressing, about half of  
Americans have a net worth of $0 or less.

Who are the rich people in the country?

The rich tend to be older than the country as a whole, with millionaires being 57 years old on average, while the typical American is in his or her late 20s. Millionaires typically come from more humble backgrounds, with about 80 percent being first-generation millionaires.  They are likely to be married, have two children and live in middle-class neighborhoods.  In other words, millionaires look a lot like the middle class, except a few years older and wiser.

What do I need to do to become a millionaire by my 50s? 

The first steps to accumulating wealth are the things you'd expect: 

  • Spend less than you earn
  • Save the rest
  • Invest patiently and
  • Own your home

It might seem obvious, but those four steps can be difficult and the difference between understanding the concepts and achieving them can be daunting.  If you're looking for some guidance, Destinations Credit Union can help. Our online accounts and tools such as MoneyDesktop make budgeting a breeze and we offer a variety of savings products for members of any financial background. We have home-buying specialists who can guide first-time homebuyers through the process, from putting together a down-payment to securing one of our competitive mortgage rates. 

What might be more surprising is that the rich tend to own their own businesses, with about 4 out of every 5 American millionaires identifying as self-employed or retired from self-employment.  There are 28 million small businesses in the United States, defined as companies with 500 or fewer employees, and small businesses have created nearly 2 out of every 3 net jobs in the last 20 years, currently employing more than half of all working Americans.

Owning a piece of the American economy is a clear path to wealth, and with the knowledge base that comes with 21st century technology, that path is more well-worn than it has been in the past.  Seven out of 10 new small businesses with more than one employee survive for at least two years, half last for at least five years, and a quarter of those new small businesses are expected to still be going strong in 2030.  Over half of the small businesses created this year will operate out of their owners' homes, often starting as an extension of their founder's favorite hobby. 

Are there any other ways to grab the brass ring?

If you're not interested in starting a business, you can still build a comfortable savings account by putting away part of each paycheck. It may be difficult, but it's not impossible.  Of course, there are other options too. One woman in Las Vegas won the lottery four times in the last 25 years, so you might want to borrow her lucky rabbit's foot.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Financially Productive Summer


Summer vacation is a quintessentially American innovation. Nowhere else in the world do kids have months on end free from school or any other responsibility. On one hand, it's great to spend more time with them. On the other, how do you keep them entertained without breaking the bank?

Fortunately, there are a few ways to have the kind of summer break that builds memories without building debt. You can use these months to teach your children valuable lessons about financial responsibility, spend quality time together as a family, and save (or make!) a little money along the way. Try activities like these 5 for a fun, financially responsible summer! 

1) Have a yard sale! 

If there's one lesson to impart to children about saving, it's that less is more. It can be hard to impart that lesson with toys from birthdays and Christmases past crowding the closet, collecting dust. Encourage them to find one or two things per day that they could contribute to a yard sale, then have it at the end of the month.

Involve your kids in as many aspects of the plan as possible. Ask them to help you advertise on Craigslist and other social media. Have them tell their friends or their friends' parents about it. Show them how to do research to price items, and have them work the cash box. All of these are valuable skills that can help them with summer jobs in the future!

When the sale is done, have a conversation about what you can do with the money. It could go toward a family vacation, or into a savings account or college fund. Let them contribute ideas for fun things the family can do with the yard sale proceeds. This can be a chance to teach kids about budgeting while encouraging them not to hold on to things that don't bring them joy. 

2) Start a (very) small business! 

One way children learn the value of hard work is to earn a wage for doing a job. Paying your kids an allowance to do a job is one way to do that, but certainly not the only one. Getting your kids to help with a very small business is a great way to let them see the rewards of hard work while making a little money on the side.

Business services will vary, but demand for many services is higher in the summer. Businesses need window washers. Elderly neighbors may need help with weeding, mowing, planting, or other landscaping projects. Many people clean house in the summer and list old furniture for sale, which can be rehabilitated and resold for a profit. Any of these small projects would make a fun way to spend some time together this summer.

The business doesn't need to make a lot of money to be valuable. In addition to quality time, your children can gain an appreciation for the hard work that goes into making a successful business. This could be a great addition to a college application essay or a resume for a first job. 

3) Fix up the house! 

There are tons of great, simple projects that you can tackle as a family to improve the efficiency of your home. Some of the easiest, like installing a new front door, can be done in an afternoon and improve the aesthetic appeal and insulation of your house. These are great projects to tackle as a family.

Any repair or upgrade that you've been putting off can be a great summer project. Kids can earn a wage for their labor, or they can work in exchange for some privilege, like going to a sleepover at a friend's house. Doing this kind of work can help them understand how much hard work goes into home ownership.

These little improvements can add up to significant savings. You'll start feeling the benefits in lower electricity bills in the summer, and continue to feel them all year round. When you sell your house, these improvements will reflect in the higher value of your home. 

4) Plant a garden! 

Believe it or not, planting a garden is one of the most cost-effective things families can do together. For every dollar you spend in green bean seeds, you'll get up to $75 back in fresh produce! You can pickle, dry, preserve or can the extras and sell them to friends and neighbors for an even better return!

There are many ways to squeeze additional savings out of a garden. Instead of costly fertilizers, you can compost kitchen waste. You can find reclaimed wood, especially from pallets and shipping containers, to make raised beds. Save seeds from produce, and water with rain collectors.

Planting a garden doesn't just save money. It can also be a way to encourage your family to eat more vegetables. Tending and caring for a patch of vegetables can be a great way to build responsibility and have fun outdoors this summer! 

5) Plan a stay-cation! 

The average cost of a family vacation is creeping up. For a family of 4, a week of vacation, excluding travel, costs $1,700! Even if you're taking a road trip in a reasonably efficient family vehicle, that could easily amount to $2,000 or more.

The best parts of a vacation are the shared experiences, and there's no need to go too far to get those. Find a local festival or cultural event, and plan a vacation in your home town! Check out local historical sites and museums, eat out at nice restaurants, and come home to your own beds at night.

What's more, a stay-cation can show your kids the rich culture of their surroundings. Use your stay-cation as a time to visit sites of personal interest, like where you and your partner met, or where their great grandparents went to school. They'll appreciate the deeper knowledge of where they come from, and you can appreciate the togetherness... and the savings! 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Credit Repair Scams Are Back, Don't Let Them Fool You


Earlier this month, the Better Business Bureau warned the country to keep an eye out for criminals masquerading as credit repair agencies, an old scam that keeps coming back every few years.  The scam is easy to spot if you know what to look for, so here's what you need to know. 

How the scam works:

Companies advertise a service that can give customers a "new credit identity" and will immediately fix their credit score.  The scammers charge their customers an upfront fee in exchange for a 9-digit code, sometimes called a "Credit Profile Number" or "Credit Privacy Number." They might say the number protects customers from identity theft, builds their credit or enrolls them into a new government debt-relief program.

The numbers they give to customers are not magic numbers that fix bad credit; they're stolen Social Security numbers.  Not only won't they improve your credit, but anyone who pays a scammer has unwittingly bankrolled an identity thief. 

How the scam can hurt you:

If a company sells you a stolen Social Security number and you use it to apply for a loan, you've committed fraud, even if you had no idea that the number was stolen.  If you lie on a credit or loan application, misrepresent your Social Security number or obtain an EIN under false pretenses, you've committed a federal crime.  You could face fines, or in some cases, time in prison.  If you suspect this might have happened to you, seek legal advice immediately. 

How to spot a scam:

Credit reporting scams are one of the many kinds of criminal activities built around identity theft. If you're not sure if you're dealing with a criminal, listen for some of these key phrases credit repair scammers use:

·        "We just need a small fee to get started"  - In the U.S. and Canada, credit repair companies can only receive their fee AFTER they've performed a service.

·        "We dispute all of the charges on your credit report, even the ones that are correct.  The worst thing that can happen is that they say 'NO' and you might even get lucky" - Legitimate credit companies will not encourage you to lie to credit agencies because that's a crime.  It is a good idea for you to check your credit report for inaccuracies from time to time, but don't lie to those agencies.

·        "If a loan asks for your Social Security number, put in this code instead" - There is no magical code to fix your credit.  If it seems too easy, proceed with caution.

Remember, some credit repair companies work hard and treat their customers fairly.  They'll write a contract, make their loan rates known and follow the law.  When you call an honest company, you'll know the rates and terms.  Scammers tend to make outlandish promises or omit details, so if a deal seems too good to be true, or if it's hard to find out what you're getting into, you might want to walk away. 

What to do if you think you might be a victim:

If you've been the victim of this kind of scam, you have some legal options.  You can sue them for any money you lost, seek punitive damages on top of that or join a class action suit.  Talk to a lawyer immediately.

You can also file a complaint online atftc.gov/complaint 

Who can I trust to repair my credit?

If you have bad credit, it can feel like everyone is trying to scam you.  If you need to repair your credit, and you don't know who to trust, talk to Destinations Credit Union's counseling partner Accel.  Accel can help you make a plan to get out from under your debt, build your credit successfully, and plan for the future.

If you don't have any credit, then Destinations Credit Union can help you, too. Unlike the multinational corporate banks and credit cards, we're local and personal.  You're more than a number to us, and we look forward to helping you.



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