Economic uncertainty has caused a lot of people to step back and consider what’s really important and how they might weather a slowdown in the economy. Most experts agree that the best course of action is to get debt under control and have some money set aside for an emergency. The Colorado-based National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), an independent, nonprofit foundation whose mission is to educate Americans about personal finance, offers these tips to help calm the sea of change.
Have an emergency fund
Most financial experts recommend that you save three to six months’ worth of income in an emergency fund. The money in the fund can take care of living expenses if you are laid off from a job or get hit with a large, unexpected bill. Keep the money where you can get to it easily – in a savings account or a money market fund – but use it only for true emergencies. Since building an account of that size can be intimidating for some people, William L. Anthes, NEFE president, has some tips for consumers to help them start saving:
o Set aside a certain amount from each paycheck – as little as, $25 or $50 will start the habit – and deposit it into your savings account before you pay your bills.
o Save $1 a day, plus your loose change. By the end of the month, you may have $50 or more to add to your emergency fund.
o Deposit tax refunds, job bonuses, overtime pay or raises into the emergency fund.
o Cut all unnecessary expenses (restaurant meals, impulse purchases, etc.) and put what you’ve saved into your fund.
o When you pay off a credit card or other bill, keep paying the same amount every month but pay the money into your emergency fund instead.
Pay off debt
One of the most beneficial steps consumers can take is to pay down excess debt. For most people, that means credit cards. Ideally, you want to pay off your credit card balance every month, or at least pay more than the minimum to save on interest charges.
And paying more really does pay off. For example, if you owe $2,000 on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate and make the minimum payment each month, it will take you 18.3 years to retire the debt, and you will have paid out $5,584.89. If you add just $25 to each payment, you'll save $2,685 in interest charges and pay off the bill 13 years sooner.
George and Debbie Smith managed to pay off more than $15,000 in credit card bills in about a year by paying more than the minimum and putting extra money (like raises and bonuses) toward the debt. This strategy also helped them save enough money to put a nice down payment on the house they purchased the following summer.
If you’re buying (or thinking about selling) a house
Believe it or not, it is still a great time to invest in housing and your future. Housing markets have held up fairly well in the face of the economic slowdown, and the recent cuts in federal rates mean attractive options for both buyers and sellers. But, as with most things in life that are worth waiting for, patience is definitely a virtue. If you’re selling, don’t expect the house to sell immediately – or for the price your neighbor got for his house, says Warren Marshall, a Realtor in Austin.
"There are a lot of properties out there that are overpriced for this market," Marshall says. "Sellers will often dig their heels in because they see prices other houses have sold for in the neighborhood, but that’s not always realistic."
Marshall says it’s crucial that the buyer’s and seller’s agents do their homework before either pricing or purchasing a house – and manage the expectations of their clients. By taking these steps and investing in a little early preparation, buyers and sellers will come out ahead.
Help for skipped mortgage payments
When times are tough, it can be tempting to pay the little bills, like the cable TV, instead of the big ones – like your mortgage. Mortgage counselors say many homeowners live from paycheck to paycheck without a budget. When faced with a financial crisis, they often lack the resources to weather the storm.
But falling more than 30 days behind in a mortgage payment is a financial no-no. The good news is that homeowners who skip payments because of temporary financial setbacks such as job layoffs, divorce or illness often have more help available to them than they may realize.
The most important step is communication with the lender or mortgage holder. An immediate call at the first sign of trouble will usually result in a more receptive response and willingness to help, including partial payments and other solutions. By simply communicating and working with a lender, homeowners can save their investment and their credit rating.
Prevention is definitely the best strategy to ensure financial security. For example, if consumers see that income is diminishing, it’s wise to take steps to weather the situation at that time. Then, if an unexpected financial crisis hits, it’s not a disaster.
For services, contact RE/MAX Genesis at830-833-2000 or lightfoot.com.