Credit Card FAQs

Whether you already have a credit card or are thinking about getting one, it’s time to get acquainted. Here’s what you should know.

What is a credit card?

A credit card allows you to borrow money to make purchases and then pay back later. How much you can borrow is based on your credit, or your trustworthiness to pay back the money. There is also a time limit to pay back the money before interest starts to multiply on the original amount borrowed.

Why use credit cards?

Credit cards carry several advantages:

  • Use credit cards in place of cash, which can be bulky in your wallet.
  • Build and maintain credit history. Mortgages and other loans will often check how well you handled past payments. Did you pay on-time?
  • Earn perks like travel miles or shopping points, and sometimes even cash back, with certain credit cards.

What are some key costs of using a credit card?

  • Finance Charges – Do you carry a balance on the credit card after it is due? Then you owe interest on the borrowed money, otherwise known as finance charges. These get calculated as an annual percentage rate, or APR. If you pay in full each month, you have no finance charges.
  • Late Fee – Don’t pay your credit card on-time? There’s a fee for that.
  • Balance Transfer Fee – Trying to move other debt to your credit card, so that you can capture a lower interest rate? Doing so incurs a balance transfer fee, usually a percentage of the amount to be transferred.
  • Annual Fee – Some credit cards carry such good perks or low finance charges that it costs you money to use them. Using these types of credit cards is wise only if the perks outweigh the annual fees.

As you can see, most of these costs don’t apply if you pay your credit card in full each month. Thus, it is actually possible for the cost of using credit cards to be zero!

How does credit card debt happen, and how do I avoid it?

As long as you pay off your credit card in full every time and on-time, you won’t fall into debt. In fact, it should be the only way to use credit cards. Unfortunately, credit card companies give the option to pay a minimum amount, typically 1%-2% of the total credit card balance. Paying the minimum causes the remaining balance to rack up interest, adding to the cost of what was originally borrowed.

To illustrate the real cost of carrying a balance on a credit card, let’s use this example. Say you buy a bike for $100 on a credit card with 18% APR (annual percentage rate). $100 x 18% = $18. You actually pay $18 more dollars on that bike if you let that debt sit for a year. If the credit card company calculates on a monthly or daily basis, and most do, that bike will cost even more. Much like compound interest on investments, debt multiplies itself over time. Avoid debt altogether by buying only what you can afford and paying off the balance in full each month.

Parents can introduce credit cards using a 3-step approach. 1) Start with gift cards. What’s great about gift cards is that you can only spend what you have and nothing more, but you are required to spend in only one place. Nowadays there is the option to get gift cards to use wherever credit cards are accepted. 2) Get a debit card to allow for spending anywhere, keeping within the limits of what is available. A debit card requires an attached bank account to pull funds from, so you will need to set one up if you want children to access their own money. 3) Graduate to the credit card! Only keep the credit card if every statement is paid in full.

Credit cards: Good or Bad?

Only you can decide whether credit cards are good or bad for you. If you can commit to paying off your credit card in full each month, there really is no disadvantage to keeping or getting one. Choose what’s right for you!

Tune in next week to learn about the 401(k) plan. Is it a type of investment? Is it a savings account? Subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

Homework: Know what credit cards are charging you. Become familiar with the costs before getting a credit card, and choose the right one. If you already have a credit card, is it the best one for you?

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Compound Interest

In addition to the seven natural wonders of the world, Albert Einstein believed in an eighth wonder of the world: Compound Interest. What is compound interest? In a nutshell, it’s money making money.

How does one unlock the door to compound interest? Through investing. The easiest way to understand investing is to think of a plant. Start with a seed (investment), and the plant will eventually sprout branches. Some branches will have leaves (interest), but others will sprout new branches, which yield more leaves (more interest). Sure, there may be setbacks, but if your plant thrives, your little seed has grown into something much larger. Imagine if you could do the same with money? You can! That is the power of compound interest. Branches growing more branches.

Time plays an important factor in investing. Just like plants need time to grow, your money needs time to grow interest and then more time for that interest to compound into more interest. The earlier you invest, the more your money can grow on its own. To calculate what time can do for your money, use the Rule of 72.

Rule of 72: Divide 72 by the (%) interest rate you earn, and the answer is how many years it will take for your initial investment to double. For example, if you earn 8% interest on a $1,000 investment, 72 divided by 8 equals 9. Without adding any more money, that $1,000 investment will double to $2,000 in 9 years.

When it comes to investing, your choices vary widely, but they boil down to a few basic types.

Cash

Believe it or not, cash is a type of investment because it has the potential to earn interest. Some common cash investments are money market accounts or certificates of deposit (CD). Although cash tends to be the least likely investment to lose money, it does not typically yield a lot of interest. But for short-term needs, also known as liquidity, this is a good choice to earn a little bit along the way.

Bonds

Have you ever borrowed money and needed to pay interest when you returned the money? When you invest in a bond, you are loaning your money to others, and after some time, they pay back your initial loan with interest. There are many types of bonds you can invest in, so the interest rates and chances of getting your money back fluctuate depending on who you are loaning the money to.

Stocks

Buying stock is essentially owning a part of a company, hence you buy “shares” of that company. A stock earns money when the company is viewed favorably by investors and loses value when the company is viewed negatively. Stocks have vast potential to grow, but also come with the risk of losing money. Much like plants weather different seasons, stocks can take a bumpy ride. This is why stocks should be seen as long-term investments, so that your money is given a chance to ride out any volatility. You may have also heard of investments called mutual funds, index funds, ETFs, options. These are simply variations of investing in stocks and sometimes bonds.

Real Estate

Ever wonder why most people say buying a home is better than renting? It’s because buying a home gives you the opportunity to earn money when you sell the home, assuming the home grows in value. To invest in real estate, do you have to buy a house? No. You can actually invest in real estate companies through real estate investment trusts (REIT) or even buy shares of publicly traded real estate companies on the stock market.

Tying It All Together

When thinking about what to do with your savings, you will most likely take more than one approach to investing. You may even have investments not listed above. The key is to plant those seeds, and then witness the wonder of compound interest!

Tune in next week as we explore credit cards. Good thing or bad thing? Subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

Homework: Do your research! Choose 5 of your favorite companies or brands that are publicly traded on the stock market, and follow their stocks for the next month (or longer). If you initially invested $10,000, how much did you earn?

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Balancing A Checkbook

Ever wonder why the amount left on your account is called a “balance?” That’s because you should get that same number after you “balance” your checkbook.

Like budgeting, all it takes to balance a checkbook is addition and subtraction. However, budgeting and balancing serve different purposes. Budgeting is about looking ahead, whereas balancing is about looking back.

Nowadays with all the available money tracking tools, most people don’t bother to balance their checkbooks. However, I strongly encourage you to add this exercise to your monthly routine, so you can monitor how well you are doing against your budget. Are you spending what you originally planned? Do you need to make tweaks to your ongoing budget?

Let’s Begin!

Let’s use the following example to illustrate how to balance your checkbook. Feel free to substitute your own numbers.

Start with $2,000 in your bank account at the beginning of the month.

Add (+) $3,000 in earned income.

Subtract (-) $1,000 for rent.

Subtract (-) $200 for utilities.

Subtract (-) $200 for transportation.

Subtract (-) $100 for Internet / phone bills.

Subtract (-) $1,000 for purchases related to food and miscellaneous shopping.

After doing the math above, we are left with $2,500. This number should match the remaining balance on the bank account at the end of the month.

There you have it! Now you are an *ace* at balancing your checkbook!

Homework: Balance your checkbook for last month. Did your actual spending match your budget?

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Budgeting 101

A budget is just a fancy way of saying a “plan for your money.” Anyone receiving money on a regular basis, whether it be allowance or salary, should have a budget. This tells you exactly where your money goes, so that you only spend what you have. It’s easy to start a budget, but will take some discipline to stick to the plan!

Money Out = Money In

With just a bit of addition and subtraction, you can create a budget. Add all the money coming in, and then subtract every expense line-by-line. Once everything is subtracted, did you get zero? If you get a zero, that means your money is perfectly balanced between what you spend and what you make. If you get more than zero, you can afford to spend more or add more to savings. If you end up with a negative number, you either need to earn more money or lower some expenses.

Share and Save First. Then Spend.

A budget works best when you account for the 3 S’s in the following order: Share, Save, Spend. Treat money you share and money you save as expenses that get subtracted … first. This will get you in the habit of recognizing what you can afford to spend.

Should Credit Card Spending Be Its Own Expense?

The quick answer is NO. Credit cards should not be considered its own expense category on a budget. Since purchases placed on credit cards reflect specific expense categories, the purchases belong in their rightful categories. Say you used a credit card to buy clothes for $20. That $20 gets categorized as “Clothing” or “Shopping.” The exception to this rule is if you are paying off existing credit card debt, you should include an expense line for “Debt Payoff.” We’ll talk more about credit cards in the future.

Monthly vs. Annually

A budget, or plan, works best when you can follow it. Most salaries and bills come on a monthly basis, so I recommend creating a monthly budget, in order to follow along more easily. Just remember to divide any income or expenses that happen once a year into a monthly amount. For example, car registration tabs get renewed annually, so divide the expense by 12 to account for them each month. You may also consider taking the sum of your electric bill over 12 months and listing an average amount each month because costs vary during the winter vs. summer months.

You Did It!

You just created a budget! Stay within your limits when spending in each category. Update the budget with any new changes, and monitor your progress at least once a year. Remember, a budget is only as good as you make it, so be honest with yourself!

Homework: Get started on your own budget! Parents can involve children by working on the family budget together. Did everything balance out to zero at the end?

Now that you are an ace at budgeting, are you ready to balance a checkbook? Tune in next week to learn more! Or subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

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5 Steps To Smarter Spending

Spending money. Let’s face it. We love to spend money, but we don’t love to talk about our spending decisions. Have you ever been in a store when a child asks, “Can we buy that toy?” and then hear a long, detailed response on all the reasons to buy or not buy the toy? Probably not. Instead, we hear a quick response like “maybe” or “nope.”

That conversation is actually a great opportunity to educate children about money. Ask them the questions: What do you need to do to get that toy? Would you rather spend money on a toy instead of eating dinner that week? What else could you buy with your money? Make them aware of the decisions they face when spending money. They will come to appreciate what they have and not spring for every shiny new thing just because they have money.

What might help is to talk through these 5 Steps to Smarter Spending. If shopping on your own, go through the steps as a thinking exercise.

  1. Set a limit. How did you come up with that number? Spending money is fine, but only if it’s within your means.
  2. Trace your money. What did you have to do to earn that money? Understand the value of what you are spending.
  3. Weigh your options. Where else can you spend that money? Don’t forget to factor in basics like food or shelter.
  4. Compare prices. Read my post “What Is The Right Price?” to learn more.
  5. Let go. Every financial coach seems to say, “Don’t spend money!” But I’m here to tell you that spending money is ok. Let me repeat. SPENDING MONEY IS OK! We make money so we can use it. Just be smart about it!

Homework: Practice the 5 steps to smarter spending using a food menu. Bon appetit!

Tune in next week as we tackle budgeting. What is a budget? How do I begin? Or subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

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A Life Of Sharing

You make a living by what you get;

You make a life by what you give.

– Winston Churchill*

I spent the past two lessons on saving money, but now let’s talk about sharing money. In my opinion, of the 3 S’s – Share, Save, Spend – sharing comes first. Why? Because your saving and spending habits depend on how you view sharing.

You’re probably thinking, sharing has nothing in common with the other two. Saving and spending are self-serving, whereas sharing is about others. But let’s examine that for a moment. The money you save eventually gets spent, and who do you give that money to when you spend it? To others. In fact, you could argue that the end goal of all money is to be shared with others.

Can you think of all the ways that your money gets shared? Let’s look at a few.

Charity

Charity donations and/or church tithes are a great way to develop a habit of sharing. Not only do you make a difference for others by giving, but you also feel good about it. Practice sharing first by automatically setting aside a portion to give away each time you receive money.

Taxes

Even though it’s called “paying” taxes, you are actually “sharing” taxes with everyone, including yourself. Tax dollars fuel essential parts of our society. Police, firefighters, roads, and schools name a few. Taxes get a negative reputation because they lower our earnings, money that we feel belonged to us already, when in fact, we should take the same approach with taxes as we do with charity. Set aside what you are “sharing” in taxes first, and then treat the remainder as your own earnings.

Parents can teach young children about taxes by taking back 25-cents of every $1 dollar of allowance or gift money for “household tax.”

Tips

Tips probably belong in the Spend, rather than Share, category, but the act of tipping is sharing money. I have witnessed millionaires who did not tip when the situation warranted it, which led me to wonder: If you have $50 million, what is an extra $5 dollars? Was sparing $5 dollars worth letting down the worker who depended on that tip for income? Avoid becoming a scrooge by factoring in the cost of tip before receiving services.

The Ripple Effect

The beauty of sharing money is that it creates a ripple effect. When you donate to a cause, your friends and family will likely follow your lead. When you tip someone, he or she will likely be more generous when tipping others. Sharing not only enhances your own perspective of money, it impacts everyone else’s mindset too. All the more reason to share!

Tune in next week to learn how to have a conversation about spending. Or subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

Homework: Whenever you receive money, automatically devote a portion for sharing before counting your money. If you don’t already have one, find a cause that you are passionate about and donate!

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*The origin of this quote may be different, according to the International Churchill Society.

How Much Money Should I Save?

The million dollar question (pun!): How much should I save?

Well, there’s a complex answer and a simple answer. In most cases, you’ll get the complex answer.

It depends.

Everyone’s number is different because we each have different savings goals. Saving for a car is different than saving for a house. Saving for a house is different than saving for college. Saving for college is different than saving for retirement.

Some factors that aid in calculating your savings number:

  • How much do you need for your goal?
  • What have you already saved?
  • How long before your goal takes place?
  • Where will you invest your savings, and at what growth rate?
  • How much can you afford to save?

As adults, your savings number will likely be limited to the last question: How much can you afford to save? I challenge you to reverse your thinking: How much can you afford to spend? Recite the following motto, specifically in this order: SHARE, SAVE, SPEND.

Looking at spending last will be a good way to focus on your savings goals and forces you to examine how much you must earn to afford your lifestyle.

A good rule of thumb is to save one-third (1/3).

Earlier I mentioned that there is a simple answer to the question of savings. If you are young and don’t have any major goals yet or are just starting out, a good rule of thumb is to save one-third (1/3). Any time you receive money, share a third, save a third, and spend the rest!

So ask yourself the question: How much should I save? Don’t get discouraged if your number seems high. Remember that you can adjust some factors to reach your savings goal, like decreasing or delaying your goal. Even if you save a small amount now, you are still building the blocks to your financial future. As you continue, increase your savings little by little. Soon enough, you will be savvy at saving without giving it any thought!

Tune in next week to learn why “sharing” is first on my list. Or subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

Homework: The next time you get allowance or money, make sure you know how much is going into each of the 3 S’s: Share, Save, and Spend. Can you save one-third or more? What would a small increase in savings do for your goal?

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A Good Four-Letter S— Word: Save

If having savings is a good thing, why does the act of saving money get such a bad reputation? Do we dread saving money because we live in a world of instant gratification and don’t have the patience to spend our money later? Maybe. Is it tough to accumulate savings when we have other bills to pay? Of course. Do we sometimes get overly enthusiastic when we first start saving, only to jump ship halfway? It happens. How do we overcome these obstacles?

Delayed Gratification

If you were given a choice between winning a new electric scooter or a trip to Disney World, which would you choose? You’d probably choose Disney World because it’s more expensive. What if you can get the scooter now, but the trip requires waiting three years? You’d switch to the scooter, wouldn’t you?

Wait a second! Just a moment ago, you wanted Disney World, remember? Don’t let short-term impulses get in the way of your long-term dreams. If you want something bad enough, it’s worth waiting for. That’s the power of delayed gratification.

(In case you are not a Disney fan, feel free to substitute your own dream purchase in this scenario.)

Automated Savings

Balancing savings and expenses can be a challenge. One solution is to budget, so that your savings take a dedicated amount like any other bill.

Another way to prioritize saving money is through automated savings. Whenever money comes in, whether it be allowance or working income or gift money, automatically save a portion. Direct deposit makes this easy by routing a percentage or dollar amount to an account, which you can assign for a specific purpose.

Celebrate Small Victories

The hardest part about saving may be the journey to reach your goal. It’s easy to lose sight or get distracted if you don’t celebrate small victories. Consider giving yourself a little boost or reward for reaching milestones along the way to your goal. Buy yourself a keychain or take a test drive at the arcade after saving $200 towards your first car. Reward yourself with pizza every time you reach a big step towards your dream trip to Italy. You get the idea.

Parents can help by throwing in a savings match. For instance, offer a nickel for every $1 dollar that your child saves or alternatively, pitch in $5 after your child reaches $100, $10 after reaching $200, and so on. Little incentives go a long way with motivation!

Yes You Can!

Savings takes work. But that work can be fun once it’s automatic and if you put the savings toward an achievable goal that excites you. Figure out what it is that you really want, and then start saving!

Tune in next week to learn how much you should be saving. Or subscribe below to automatically receive weekly lessons in your inbox!

Homework: The next time you are faced with an impulse purchase, ask yourself if you would rather save the money towards a bigger goal. Think of a goal you really want, something that shows saving money is good!

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What Is The Right Price?

As a child, I grew up watching TV game show “The Price Is Right.” But often, I knew the price was NOT right because their prices reflected full retail value, and every one of those goods could be purchased for less.

This begs the question: What is the right price?

Granted there are some items that you cannot pay anything but full price. Taxes are an example. But you’ll find that the vast majority of material goods can be found at a lower price than MSRP, or manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Even services, like a haircut or hotel stay, have deals or discounts if you take the time to look.

target price

That is why you should find what I consider the target price. How much could the price be after a discount? What is the item worth, in other words, what is its value? Most importantly, what is the item worth to you? Practice giving yourself an ultimatum: “If I cannot buy this $35 item for under $20, then it goes back on the shelf.”

Some ways to reach the target price:

  • Get it on Sale
  • Apply a Deal or Coupon
  • Wait until inventory clearance or a new model enters the market
  • Consider getting it Second-hand
  • Negotiate if the situation allows for it

You may find that you miss out on an opportunity because your target price estimate was too low. That’s ok. You will adapt. And hey, it saved you from spending money this time. So the next time you go shopping, play the target price game and see if you win!

Homework: Visit your favorite store and without looking at the price tag, determine a target price for the item you want. As a bonus challenge, resist any urge to buy immediately, and wait at least 30 days to see if you are still interested in making that purchase.