debts

Is It Better to Pay Off Debts or Invest?

Almost everyone has some sort of debt and economic data shows that this is the case. Between mortgages, student loans, credit cards, business debts, and auto loans and leases (yes, a car lease is debt), many people find themselves allocating large portions of their income towards debt payments. When you are in a position to start paying off debts, should you do so or invest your extra funds? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Pay off debts: Pros: Paying off debts with your extra cash will help you to decrease your liabilities, save interest, which can be significant with credit card debts and some business loans, and eventually enable you to free up cash flow. A non-conventional way to pay off debts is to start with the smallest balance debt to get the momentum going.  Cons: If you focus solely on paying off debts while ignoring investing then you will have no assets for long-term or short-term needs. If a short-term emergency arises, then you will be forced to incur debt to pay for it.

Invest your extra funds: Pros: Investing and savings will hopefully produce a much larger amount of assets over time and enable you to take care of emergencies that arise. Keep in mind that funds for emergencies should be kept very liquid, and a reasonable amount to set aside should be 3 to 6 months of expenses. Cons: Your liabilities will decrease slowly, interest expense will remain high, and you most likely will earn less on your investments especially when factoring in risk, then if you were to pay off debts.

Alternative: The decision to pay off debts or invest does not have to be an either or. Some well-known experts advocate at both ends of the spectrum. Why not do both? Assess your debts and savings to see where you will get the most bang for your buck. For example, let’s say you are able to allocate 6% of your income to savings or investments, then you can use 2% to pay off high interest debts, 2% to save for short term needs, and the remaining 2% can be used to save for retirement.

What if you don’t have extra funds?: The solution is simple, but not easy. Assess your lifestyle to see where you can cut expenses while working to increase your income. If you spend everything that you make currently and work to increase your income by 3% and decrease your expenses by 3% then you will now have extra funds. If your situation is more extreme, such as expenses that are higher than your income, then you will have to take stronger action. For smart ways to cut expenses, then type “expenses” in the search function of this blog.

The mature approach: If you have large excess funds then don’t incur more debts and pay off existing debts quicker once your savings rates are much greater than needed. You can be the only one on your block that doesn’t have debt and no one has to know. I am sure that the quality of your sleep will improve!

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5 Financial Truths

There is a lot of information out there about finances, and it’s hard to figure out what is exactly true or not true. Always seek the truth, especially from someone that is not trying to sell you something. Here are some examples:

College: We are led to believe that all of our children must go to college to be successful and make a lot of money. While I am a big believer in education and college, it is not the only route and it is not for everybody. With the high cost of college, the decision to attend college should not be automatic. There are alternatives, such as becoming a tradesman, learning a special skill that does not require college, starting a business, sales positions, military or government positions that do not require college, stay at home parent (yes, this is a vocation), etc.

Retirement savings: Saving for retirement is a good thing, however, it should be balanced with both short and mid-range needs. For example, if you allocate virtually all of your savings towards retirement accounts and ignore having a cash cushion, then your risk of financial catastrophe increases. If a financial crisis arises or a large purchase needs to be made, then you will have to withdraw from your retirement accounts, which is one of the worst financial decisions to make due to both income taxes and penalties on the withdrawals. Furthermore, if you do not have withholdings taken from your distributions, then you will probably end up with a tax problem once you file your return. The prudent action is to have a cash cushion of 3 to 6 months of expenses for emergencies and to save for mid-range goals, such as a house purchase.

Debts: Debt truly is a double-edged sword. There are some who advocate staying away from debts at all costs and others who encourage you to leverage yourself to make more money. The truth is that debt should be used wisely and sparingly, if necessary and as a last resort, and it should not cripple you. If you are able to avoid debt, then that is excellent, as debts increase your risk and they also encourage risky behavior and increased spending in many cases.  To prove this point, why do you think McDonald’s started to accept credit cards, why do auto loans have 7 year terms, and why can young adults take out massive loans for college?  It is to get you to spend more than you would have otherwise.  As you mature financially you should seek to decrease your debts.

Most people would not be able to afford a house without obtaining a mortgage, and if they waited to purchase a house and rented instead, then they would most likely be worse off financially over the long term. Also, some businesses may need to incur debts to purchase expensive equipment, inventory, or improvements that would not be possible if they did not incur debts. To emphasize, it should be used wisely and sparingly.

Expenses, income and savings: Most likely your expenses are way too high. If you are able to save 15- 20% of your income and have no debts then spend whatever you want. Otherwise, set aside money towards savings to steadily increase the percentage that you save each time you get paid. This way you will spend whatever is left over. If you are not able to do this then you need to take a serious look at decreasing your expenses and increasing your income. The truth is that it is really not that hard, but most people have a hard time doing this. As Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”

Home and health = wealth: In the quest for success, don’t ignore your most valued relationships or your health. Nothing can cripple your finances as quickly as health or family issues, such as divorce. With either of these issues your expenses increase exponentially while your income suffers at the same time. Make sure to prioritize.

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How and Why to Strengthen Your Personal Finances to Increase Profits

Most people view their business to be a completely separate entity from their personal finances, and rightly so. This is generally true from a legal, tax, and accounting standpoint, whereas your business operations and finances should be separated from you personally. However, most small business owners are completely dependent upon their business to support them, as they feed off each other. So how and why should you strengthen your personal finances to increase your profits?

Why:

The business won’t starve: By withdrawing every single penny of profit from your business, it will make it much harder to invest in technology, equipment and capital improvements, and people. One of the main reasons that businesses fail is due to a lack of capital.

Increased profitability: If you have a large personal expense that is coming due, such as your mortgage, then you are more likely to take on less profitable customers, jobs, or may even sell your products at a discount due to desperation.

Better business decisions: It’s no secret that people make better business decisions when they are not feeling stressed or anxious. A common example of a bad decision is to cut expenses that support the main operations of a business to save a few pennies, but it ends up costing you dollars of revenues.

How:

Decrease your personal spending: There are numerous ways to decrease your spending, including groceries, dining, entertainment, taxes, auto, clothing, and virtually every category of spending. Some of my other posts will give you ideas regarding cutting expenses, but a few tips including: using cash more, cash budgeting (aka the envelope system because almost no one actually prepares a real budget), reviewing all of your “necessary” expenses, and delaying expenditures/gratification.

Increase cash reserves: Most people are poor at this (no pun intended), including those who save well for retirement. Savings should be allocated for short-term needs, such as emergencies, mid-term needs, such as for a house, and long-term, such as retirement. The easiest way to start saving is to allocate a very small percentage of every deposit that you make in your personal account towards a separate savings account. You can even start with 1%, just to get used to doing this and you’ll quickly realize that it is not that difficult. Over time you can increase your savings rate as you increase your business profits.

Reduce debts: Similar to increasing your cash reserves, you can start with applying a small percentage of every personal deposit towards your debt balances. The big question is which debts should be paid down first. Since finances are very behaviorally driven, then one technique is to start with the smallest debts first while ignoring the interest rate. The reason for this method is because it creates a sense of accomplishment once a debt is paid off, and will motivate you to continue moving forward.

 

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Don’t Be Embarrassed if You Have Financial or Tax Problems

There is a stigma attached to having financial and tax problems, but it doesn’t have to be that way or it may make the problems worse. Sometimes these problems develop as you become more successful, which easily happens with both celebrities and business owners. Other times they develop due to a quick downturn in business, withdrawing money from retirement accounts early, losing your job, health issues, or any other negative event. Even some very successful people have had financial struggles and then bounced back, including:

Donald Trump: Although he never filed bankruptcy personally, his casinos and hotels have. He is now president of the United States.

Mark Victor Hansen: One of the co-creators of the “Chick Soup for the Soul” book series.

Walt Disney: He had financial struggles early on.

Jim Rohn: Entreprenuer, author and motivational speaker who went broke after a business expansion went bad. He is credited with the business success of many and some of his talks can be listened to on YouTube.

Also, the number of celebrities that have financial and tax issues is too long to list . . .

What should you do if you find yourself in trouble or better yet, how can you avoid problems? Here are a few ways:

Hire competent professionals and heed their advice: As your success increases, you need to work closely with advisors that can guide you in the right direction to minimize risks, strengthen your finances, and reduce your tax burdens. If you view and treat professionals as purely costs, then you will not only hire the wrong ones, but you will not seek their advice, which is usually worth more than their cost.

Too much leverage, not enough cash: There are those that are 100% against any types of debts, and I can definitely see how this can be a smart strategy to keep you out of trouble. However, there are many times that you will never realize an opportunity if you do not take upon some debts and risks in a wise manner. Having a reasonable cash cushion will also help to thwart many smaller financial setbacks.

Know the tax consequences: Virtually every financial transaction has a tax consequence and it is prudent to seek professional advice to minimize negative consequences. Having a good year in business, followed by a not so good year can easily cause a tax issue if taxes were not properly planned and paid for. Another tax catastrophe is withdrawing from your retirement accounts and not accounting for income taxes and early withdrawal penalties.

Don’t be so hard on yourself or delay seeking the advice of a professional or your problems will just get worse.

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9 Ways to Reduce Your Money Worries

When we lack money it creates a lot of stress and anxiety, and can be a source of tension in relationships. But how can we make our money work for us? Here are several ways we can take more control of our money to reduce our stresses:

  1. Change your thoughts: Reframe the way you think about money from being worried about it to being non-emotional about it. Nothing changes if you are worried about it, but worries may cause you to make worse financial decisions. This doesn’t mean that you should not care about money or be reckless.
  2. Be a good steward: If you think of your money not as your own, then you will manage it differently. It is a resource, no matter how great or how small, that we are given to be responsible with. Don’t be foolish with how you spend your money or the way you invest it.
  3. Save it first: Save your money first before you pay anyone else. Even if you start with saving 1 % of your income, it will create a habit that will last you a lifetime, and over time you can increase the percentage to more meaningful amounts. Although 1% may only amount to $20, $50 or so a week so there is almost no excuse to save this small amount, even if you are struggling. I like percentages because you save more when your income is higher and less when it is lower.
  4. Delay large purchases: Houses and cars are our largest expenses, but usually there is not a lot of thought put into these purchases. More time should be spent discerning larger purchases then small ones.
  5. Minimize useless debts: It seems as though anything can be financed today, from cell phones to plastic surgery. If your cell phone bill is $500 a month because you financed 5 iphones then you probably couldn’t afford the phones in the first place.
  6. Make more money: If your income is not high enough and your spending is not an issue, then figure out ways to make more money. If you need to switch jobs or hire a consultant for your business then do it.
  7. Give it away: I’m not sure if there are studies on this, but anecdotally, people who are more charitable seem to be happier than those who are not.
  8. Be timely: Pay your bills in a timely manner by being more systematic. Late fees and threatening notices are never enjoyable.
  9. Do something different: As with any problem, you need to change what you are doing because obviously it is not working. Yes, we are all stubborn.

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you make $50,000, $500,000 or $5,000,000, as you will have the same issues, with different variations. And, more money doesn’t mean fewer problems.

Where is all of the Money Going?

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You’re a small business owner, keeping busy, but there always seems to not be enough cash.  An entire book can be written on this subject, but here are a few reasons why you may feel your business is short on cash:

Taking too Much: Unless you have other income sources, you need to either take distributions or a paycheck from your business to live. The problem arises when you take too much and leave the business cash-starved.

Paying off Debts: If you have business debt from loans or credit cards, it can create a cash drain. Even if your business is showing that you have made a profit, you may not have much cash to show for it. This is because only the interest paid actually shows up on the profit and loss statement.

Collections: If you don’t actually collect the money from customers then it is the same as never having made the sale. Actually, it is worse because you have spent your time and incurred expenses.  If this is an ongoing problem, then you need to modify your collection procedures.

Grow the Business Profitably: Every business needs to grow every year as expenses usually only increase.  If the business needs more cash and you do too, then you need to grow both your sales and profits.

These ideas may seem simplistic, but they are extremely powerful. They all relate on the importance of using your financial information, a.k.a. boring accounting stuff, to run your business better.