The Leading Causes of Bankruptcy
The most important thing you can do to avoid bankruptcy is understand why a million people a year end up filing bankruptcy. 4 out of the top five reasons starts with medical expenses. This is followed by:
- Job loss
- Unexpected disaster
In some ways, all four items can be categorized as unexpected disaster. If we expanded the list just a bit more, it would include failure to have a proper financial plan. By now, the unexpected is so common, we ought to be expecting it. When the vicissitudes of life catch us completely off guard, bankruptcy is often the result.
Learn to Properly Use Credit
I separated poor or excessive use of credit from the rest as it is the only one of the top five that is self-inflicted. By now, it should be clear that using credit appropriately is important for a successful financial life.
Many people advise those struggling with debt to cut up the credit cards. Other financial advisors say just the opposite. Store credit cards such as those from Walmart can actually prove beneficial in the right hands.
Click here for more information on the advantages of properly using the Walmart store credit card. Today we have many personal financial tools at our disposal, if we use them wisely they can be very helpful, if you use them foolishly we will pay.
Live Below Your Means
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to live up to their means. They commit to all kinds of services they can afford at the time. But because Job instability is such a real and present reality, the loss of even a little bit of income suddenly leaves us living above our means. We need to adjust our lifestyle expectations to something lower than what we think we can afford.
Even applying this advice to the best of your ability, you still might have to file for bankruptcy. It is important to know that bankruptcy is not the end of the line. There are those who can help you recover. Bankruptcy is not a punishment, but a solution. It is the ultimate second chance.
Bankruptcy is not uncommon even for those who make fortunes every year: famous people who have fallen into it. If you fall into bankruptcy the important thing is to change your habits and practices to take advantage of your second financial chance.
When you sell your primary residence in the USA you are able to exclude $250,000 in capital gains (or $500,000 if you file jointly). The primary test of whether it is your primary residence is if you lived there 2 of the last 5 years (see more details from the IRS). You can’t repeat this exemption for 2 years (I believe).
It doesn’t matter if you buy another house or not, that exclusion of up to $250,000 is all that can be excluded (you must pay tax on anything above that amount – taxed at capital gains rates for long term gains).
For investment property you can do 1031 exchanges which defers capital gains taxes. Otherwise capital gains will be taxed as you would expect (as capital gains).
When you inherit a house the tax basis will be “stepped up” to the current market rate. So if you then sell your basis isn’t what the owner paid for it, but what it was worth when it was given to you.
Credit is the ability to buy now and pay later. It takes credit to get an auto loan, a mortgage and other types of financing. Your credit score says a lot about your credit habits. This is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850, and it tells creditors how likely you are to pay your bills. The higher your credit score, the better your chances of getting approved for financing and the lower your interest rate will be.
Credit has many benefits. Most people can’t pay cash for homes, college education or new cars. Without loans, buying a house or car would be impossible for many. And since it takes credit to build credit, many people apply for their first credit card in college to establish a credit history. A credit card also provides emergency funds when we’re short on cash.
Although we use credit regularly as consumers, there are dangers associated with credit. We can avoid some of these problems with responsible use. But unfortunately, credit management education isn’t taught in high school, and many adults don’t learn about credit management until after they’ve made mistakes.
Potential Dangers of Credit
Credit puts a lot of things within our financial reach, so it’s easy to get in over our heads. We might not have enough in savings to purchase an electronic device or take a vacation, but with one quick application, we can get approved for financing and take advantage of life’s pleasures. There’s nothing wrong with getting a loan. But some people can’t stop using credit and they get into serious debt.
Too much debt has a significant negative impact on your personal finances. Paying off that debt will reduce your available disposable income to build an emergency fund (if you haven’t done so already) or save for retirement a house or other large purchases.
Of course, debt isn’t the only thing to be concerned with. Getting credit also means you’re vulnerable to identity theft. This is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. And while some people think it can’t happen to them, no one is invincible.
Keeping Your Credit Report Accurate
Identity theft involves someone stealing your personal information and purchasing items in your name or opening new accounts in your name. It can drive down your credit score and take several months or years to fix. Identity theft often goes unnoticed because some people never monitor their personal credit reports or file credit disputes
You might wonder, what is a credit dispute? As a consumer, you have the right to check your credit history and receive one free credit report from each of the bureaus annually. Also, according to CreditRepair.com, you’re entitled to ask questions about anything included within your credit reports.
A new study, Secure Retirement, New Expectations, New Rewards: Work in Retirement for Middle Income Boomers, explores how Boomers are blurring the lines between working for pay and retirement (as I have discussed in posts previously, phased retirement).
From their report:
The define middle income as income between $25,000 and $100,000 with less than $1 million in investable assets and boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964.
Nearly 70% of retirees retired earlier than they planned to. Many did so due to health issues. Only 3% retired so they could travel more.
48% of middle income boomer retirees wish they could work. For those wishing to, but unable to work: 73% cannot due to health, 17% can’t find a job and 10% must care for a loved one.
Nearly all (94%) nonretirees who plan to work in retirement would like some kind of special work arrangement, such as flex-time or telecommuting, but only about one third (37%) of currently employed retirees have such an arrangement.
It seems to me, both employees and employers need to be more willing to adapt. Workers seem to be more willing, even though they claim they are not: this is mainly a revealed versus stated preference, they claim they won’t accept lower pay but as all those that do show, they really are willing to do so, they just prefer not to. This report is based on survey data which always has issue; nevertheless there are interesting results to consider.
61% of middle income boomers who ware working say they do so because they want to work, not because they have to work.
Only 12% of working middle income boomer retirees work full time all year. 60% work part-time. 7% are seasonal while 16% are freelance and 4% are other. Of those identifying as non-retired 75% work full time while 17% are part-time.
49% plan to work into their 70’s or until their health fails.
51% are more satisfied with their post-retirement work than their pre-retirement work. 27% are equally satisfied with their jobs.
As I have stated in previous posts I think a phased approach to retirement is the most sensible thing for society and for us as individuals. Employers need to provide workable options with part time work. The continued health care mess in the USA makes this more of a challenge than it should be. With USA health care being closely tied to employment and it costing twice as much as other rich countries (for no better results) it complicates finding workable solutions to employment. The tiny steps taken in the Affordable Care Act are not even 10% of magnitude of changes needed for the USA health care system.
Related: Providing ways for those in their 60’s and 70’s (part time schedules etc.) – Companies Keeping Older Workers as Economy Slows (2009) – Keeping Older Workers Employed (2007) – Retirement, Working Longer to Make Ends Meet
Provide easy, new access to credit facilitates sales. For that reason businesses want such easy access maintained. They don’t want people unable to buy just because they don’t have the money.
Financial institutions make a great deal of money providing easy access to credit. They don’t want to slow it down. While they do want to reduce fraud, they are perfectly happy to allow a fair amount of fraud while they can still make a lot of money.
What this means is the financial system has less incentive to eliminate identity theft than the people that have to clean up after it happens to them. There should be better ways to make identity theft much more difficult.
At a lessor level it should also be more difficult to steal one credit card (which also creates a big hassle for us, in trying to clean things up after fraud occurs). I suggested a way to make credit cards more secure and useful. When Apple Pay was announced I learned they are doing basically what I suggested.
Apple Pay doesn’t share information that can be used to steal your credit card. Apple Pay gives the retailer a 1 time use code for that purchase. It can’t be used, even if someone steals it to use your credit card for more purchases. I also believe Apple Pay doesn’t share other details with the retailer, though maybe I am wrong – I think it is just like you giving them cash (they don’t have your name, address, phone number, etc.).
Much of the information businesses share in the USA is considered private in Europe and companies are not allowed to share that personal information. This makes identity theft and invasions of your privacy more difficult. I wish the USA would move more in that direction.
If you have details stolen (a wallet…) you can put a note with credit agencies that results in them be less free to make it easy for financial institutions to give credit without sensible protections against misuse. But you can’t do this just as a matter of course. I believe we should have the ability to protect ourselves from the massive headache caused by businesses providing credit in our name. But we don’t have such protection now, because of the big money in keeping credit super easy (and thus fraud fairly easy).
Having to clean up after identity you may well have to hire someone to help clean up your credit report. To do so, look for credit repair companies with good reviews and a good reputation.
I would imagine choosing to put in extra protections against identity theft would mean we would have less easy access to credit. For example, I wish I could say you cannot provide a new credit under my name that isn’t using my address on file and without confirmation from my email. Also you are required to send an email, send a text message and send a postal letter, and update my credit agency file (in a way I can view) one week before credit is allowed.
There should also be options such as you must get a positive reply from me. A citizen choosing to have better protection against identity theft would give up immediate access to credit. But I would happily do so. I believe millions of others would too. And given how many people are victims every years, millions or hundreds of thousand a new customers for such a service would likely result.
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is a tremendous resource for those planning for, or in, retirement. The center created the National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI) to capture a macroeconomic level measure of how those in the USA are progressing toward retirement.
Based on the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances the Center updated the NRRI results (the entire article is a very good read).
The lower the risk number in the chart the better, so things have not been going well since the 1990s for those in the USA saving for retirement.
As the report discusses their are significant issues with retirement planning that defy easy prediction; this makes things even more challenging for those saving for retirement. The report discusses the difficulty placed on retirees by the Fed’s extremely low interest rate policy (a policy that provides billions each year to too-big-too-fail banks – hardly the reward that should be provided for bringing the world to economic calamity but never-the-less that transfer of wealth from retirees to too-big-to-fail banks is the policy the Fed has chosen).
That exacerbates the problems of too little savings during the working career for those in the USA. The continued evidence is that those in the USA continue to spend too much today and save too little. Also you have to expect the Fed and politicians will continue to make policy that favors their friends at too-big-fail banks and hedge funds and the like. You can’t expect them to behave differently than they have been the last 50 years. That means the likely actions by the government to take from median income people to aid the richest 1% (such as bailing out the bankers with super low interest rate policies and continue to subsidize losses and privatize their winning bets) will continue. You need to have extra savings to support those policies. Of course we could change to do things differently but there is no realistic evidence of any move to do so. Retirement planning needs to be based on evidence, not hopes about how things should be.
Related: How Much of Current Income to Save for Retirement – Save What You Can, Increase Savings as You Can Do So – Don’t Expect to Spend Over 4% of Your Retirement Investment Assets Annually – Retirement Planning: Looking at Assets (2012) – How Much Will I Need to Save for Retirement? (2009)
Personal debt levels in the USA continue to be alarmingly high. Thankfully in the last couple of years things have been moving slightly in the right direction. But the debt levels are still far too high.
The chart shows USA household debt in the 60% range of disposable income in the 1980s. It isn’t as if the 1980s in the USA were some low debt era. Personal debt was high then. It rose into the 120% range in the last 10 years and in the last few years dipped to the 110% range.
Given the large amount of debt falling into collection managing that debt has becoming increasingly important to local banks and credit unions. Companies like, Intelligent Banking Solutions, are helping those institutions deal with collections while building a strong business themselves.
As consumers we need to use debt sparingly and without our means or be trapped in a personal financial crisis. It is hard enough to get ahead today without creating problems such as paying high interest rate debt or penalties and fees for failing to pay back your obligations as required.
Insurance can be annoying as you pay for something you hope not to use. I don’t recall ever getting a payment on life insurance, homeowners insurance, disability insurance or auto insurance. And that I haven’t had a claim is good. On health insurance I have had minor things covered like a physical or dentist and that is it.
Health insurance is critical in the USA. One insurance that people often don’t think of however is disability insurance. It is very
Disability insurance is a very important insurance that too many people don’t consider (many jobs offer it, though not all, and some may take a year before you are covered). Studies show that a 20 year old has a 30% chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. In the USA, the Social Security Administration provides disability benefits for total disabilities.
In the USA you may be eligible for social security disability payments but it is a small amount (so not sufficient by itself). But if you are living overseas and not paying social security I am not sure if you are covered, even for the limited coverage it provides.
I am not sure what the situation is for citizens of other countries, maybe they have better safety nets for people (I would imagine Europe does, but many places probably don’t).
I had been living in Malaysia for several years and am now going nomadic (an increasingly popular choice for a small but determined group of people) and insurance is important for people living overseas and traveling. For nomads or frequent travelers global health insurance is good (though usually it will exclude the USA if you are not a “USA 1%er”(or world .2%)/very-rich as the extremely broken USA health care system is crazy – you can be covered globally excluding the USA for about 1/6 of that same coverage excluding the USA, depending, of course on your coverage). Special care for travelers and nomads should be paid to coverage to return you home if you are very sick or injured.
Disability insurance is something thing digital nomads should pay attention to. But it is normally ignored. And it is a bit tricky as insurance companies are generally extremely slow to catch up to what the world is doing and disability insurance seems to be stuck in the old notions about how tied people were to one country (as are other things – demanding physical addresses even if they know you are nomadic…, basing rules on silly ideas about where you happen to be at some point in time with customer hostile breaking of internet services that have been paid for etc.).
Related: Personal Finance Basics: Long Term Disability Insurance – The Growing Market for International Travel for Medical Care – Long Term Care Insurance: Financially Wise but Current Options are Less Than Ideal
While people question the value of a college degree a recent study by the New York Federal Reserve shows a degree is close to as valuable today as it has ever been. The costs to get that value have risen but even with the increased cost students earn on average a 15% annual rate of return on their investment.
Of course, not every student will earn that, some will earn more and some less.
The time required to recoup the costs of a bachelor’s degree has fallen substantially over time, from more than twenty years in the late 1970s and early 1980s to about ten years in 2013. So despite the challenges facing today’s college graduates, the value of a college degree has remained near its all-time high, while the time required to recoup the costs of the degree has remained near its all-time low.
So a college education is a great investment for most people. This can create a problem however, when people then assume that all they need to do is go to college and they will do well no matter what. The same thing happens in other markets. Real estate has proven to be a great investment. that doesn’t mean every real estate investment is good. It doesn’t mean you can ignore the costs and risks of a particular investment. The same goes for stocks.
Business should not be allowed to store credit card numbers that can be stolen and used. The credit card providers should generate a unique credit card number for the business to store that will only work for the purchaser at that business.
Also credit card providers should let me generate credit card numbers as I wish for use online (that are unique and can be stopped at any time I wish). If I get some customer hostile business that makes canceling a huge pain I should just be able to turn off that credit card “number.”
Laws should be adjusted to allow this consumer controlled spending and require that any subscription service must take the turning off of the payments as cancellation.
For some plan where the consumer agrees up front to say 12 months of payments then special timed numbers should be created where the potentially convoluted process used now remain for the first 12 months.
Also users should be able to interact with there credit reports and do things like turn on extra barriers to granting credit (things like they have to be delayed for 14 days after a text, email [to as many addresses and the consumer wants to enter] and postal notification are sent to the user. Variations on how these work is fine (for example, setting criteria for acceptance of the new credit early at the consumers option if certain conditions are met (signing into the web site and confirming information…).
Better security on the cards themselves are also needed in the USA. The costs of improvement are not just the expenses credit card and retailers face but the huge burden to consumers from abuse of the insecure system in place for more than a decade. It is well past time the USA caught up with the rest of the world for on-card security.
The providers have done a lousy job of reducing the enormous burden of fraud on consumers. As well as failing to deal adequately with customer hostile business practices (such as making canceling very cumbersome and continuing to debit the consumer’s credit card account).
Related: Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud – Personal Finance Tips on the Proper use of Credit Cards – Continued Credit Card Company Customer Dis-Service – Banks Hoping they Paid Politicians Enough to Protect Billions in Excessive Fees