Free Credit Scores From ALL 3 Major Credit Bureaus + Free Credit Monitoring + $50k in Free ID Theft Insurance (No Credit Card Required)

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Updated 2019. The government requires the credit bureaus to provide you a free credit report once every 12 months. However, the services listed below provide you a free credit score updated throughout the year either daily, weekly, or monthly. The best ones also offer free daily credit monitoring and/or free identity protection services. As of 2019, all three major credit bureaus are covered: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.

None of the services below require a trial or credit card number to sign up, so you don’t have to worry about any surprise charges. These are either ad-supported (they will pitch you stuff) and/or they are “freemium” services with a paid upgrade option (but you can stay on the free tier forever). Each of them offers something unique, and together form a comprehensive daily monitoring of your credit.

Credit Sesame

CreditSesame.com offers a free credit score every month, based on your TransUnion credit report (VantageScore 3.0). Score range is 300-850. They only require the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number. No trial or credit card required. The best parts about Credit Sesame in my experience are that they have the most reliable credit alerts and the free $50,000 in ID theft insurance.

  • Free daily credit monitoring. Credit Sesame also offers free daily credit monitoring of your TransUnion data, with alerts coming via e-mail, text, or smartphone app. This service tracks more than 40 different credit activities such as a balance change, address change or when a new account is opened.
  • Free identity protection and restoration services. Credit Sesame also includes $50,000 in identity theft insurance and access to identity restoration support in their free membership level.

Credit Karma

CreditKarma.com offers you two free credit scores, based on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports and updated weekly (VantageScore). Score range is 300-850. They only require the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number. No trial or credit card required. The best part about Credit Karma in my experience is that you get two credit bureaus covered in one service.

  • Free credit monitoring. Credit Karma also offers free e-mail credit monitoring alerts of your TransUnion data.
  • Free identity theft monitoring. Credit Karma uses your email address to search and notify you of breached accounts and threats to your identity.

FreeCreditScore.com

FreeCreditScore.com offers a free credit score every month, based on your Experian credit report (FICO 08). Score range is 300-850. They require your full Social Security Number. No trial or credit card required. They don’t have ads, but instead ask you at every opportunity to upgrade. The best part about FreeCreditScore.com in my experience is that they are a rare free option to track changes to your Experian report, which rounds out the two above.

  • Free credit monitoring. They also offer free e-mail credit monitoring alerts of your Experian data.

WalletHub

WalletHub.com offers a free credit score based on your TransUnion credit report (VantageScore), updated daily. Score range is 300-850. They only require the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number. No trial or credit card required. The best part about WalletHub in my experience is that they offer daily access to your full TransUnion credit report, if for some reason you want to check your full report that often.

Note that some of the scores above are not FICO scores because Fair Isaac charges more money in licensing fees and these companies may not be able to cover those costs with their advertising. However, these services are still be very useful for tracking changes in your credit history. I enjoy getting alerts if a credit card balance is paid in full, if there is a new credit inquiry, or if my credit utilization ratio gets too high on a specific credit line. This is also a great way to get early warning of any fraudulent activity.

Bottom line. Used in combination, I use the services above to keep track of any daily changes to my credit reports across all three credit bureaus for free. None of them require my credit card number, and they alert me to things like new accounts, new credit check inquiries, and high credit line usage.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Mental Model For Expenses: Past, Present, and Future (With Animated GIFs!)

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The theory behind financial independence is simple. Spend less, save more, invest it into income-producing assets. The reality is complex, full of daily decisions about balancing income and spending. The Morningstar article (yes, M* is writing about early retirement too now) A Simple Plan for Financial Independence presents this simplified graphic of your “personal economy”.

Income can come from labor, capital, or land. Expenses can be put toward your past (debt), present, or future (investing in capital or land).

I’ve been thinking about this “past, present, and future” mental model for expenses, it meshes will with the simple rules that I want to teach my children: Avoid debt whenever possible, and seek out income-producing assets.

Present. There is countless advice to save money on current expenses. Call it prioritizing, call it frugality, call it whatever. These are important, but I’d rather focus on the added ideas of past and future.

Past. While debt is an important part of the economy, I hate that going into debt for non-essentials is so readily accepted in today’s society. Using home equity lines of credit for a kitchen remodels. Credit cards for vacations. The entire microloans trend where you buy a $100 pair of jeans for $10 a month times 12 months ($120) is a dangerous mind game. Debt is having compound interest work against you, and thus making someone else rich. Debt should not be normalized. Debt is an emergency!

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Future. If you look at people who have really achieved financial freedom, where they truly spend the day doing whatever they want and without money worries, they have all have collected a big pile of income-producing assets. It could be rental property, commercial real estate, a laundromat/car wash/business, dividend-paying stocks, municipal bonds, a pension, Social Security or even just bank CDs if you have enough. In most cases, they collected them with purpose. They didn’t just put the minimum into their 401(k) and call it a day. They would shovel whatever extra money they had into their favorite money-making machine. When I buy more stocks, I see a future income stream:

via GIPHY

When you buy one of these income-producing assets, it should get you excited!

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I’m still not sure exactly how to create this distaste for debt and this desire for money factories, but I’m working on it. If you have these two in place, that should help with everything else – earning more income with labor, spending less on the present.

Oh, and here’s a funny-but-sad representation of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

via GIPHY

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Financial Freedom and New Car Loans Don’t Mix Well

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Apparently, my rule of thumb about affording cars isn’t exactly going viral. If you are serious about financial freedom, you shouldn’t be taking out loans for luxury items. A new car is a luxury item! Basic transportation will cost you under $10,000 and you can usually get a loan with the best interest rate from a credit union. Here are some surprising statistics from the WSJ article The Seven-Year Auto Loan: America’s Middle Class Can’t Afford Its Cars (paywall?).

The average new car auto loan is now $32,000 over 69 months. 1 out of 3 people are rolling over debt from their previous car. 90% of new car loans are for longer than 4 years. 70% of new car loans are for longer than 5 years. This is crazy. Soon we’ll have a 15-year mortgage for cars.

Dealerships now make more money from car loans (and add-on insurance junk) than the purchase price. They are getting a cut of all the interest you’re paying.

So far this year, dealerships made an average of $982 per new vehicle on finance and insurance versus $381 on the actual sale, according to J.D. Power, a data and analytics company. A decade earlier, financing brought in $516 per car and the sale made dealers $837.

This is why I support the FIRE movement. It may not be perfect, but it can inspire a change in mentality where you would never consider going into debt for heated leather seats. Instead of a $32,000 car loan, you could spend $8,000 on a used 2012 Toyota Corolla and put $24,000 towards owning a $120,000 investment rental property with positive cashflow. Or you could put that $24,000 into maxing our your 401(k) or IRA. Or you could start building a compounding stream of dividend payments from owning high quality businesses. Or seed your own new small business. The idea of owning income-producing assets is what should get you excited!!

I’m not saying you should never buy a new car. If you have your financial ducks in a row, then sure buy whatever car you want… with cash! The debt industry wants you to have your dessert NOW, and pay for it later. They want a direct cut of every future paycheck. If it’s a luxury, you should have to save up for it first, and then buy it. I know, such a quaint idea.

Getting far enough ahead to pay cash for your next car can seem impossible. Consider taking out a loan for minimalist basic transportation from all the major credit unions (NavyFed, PenFed, Alliant CU) as well as your local credit union. It’ll work at used car dealerships and even on a car off Craigslist. $10,000 financed at 3.5% APR for 3 years is under $300 a month. After 3 years, instead of starting another new lease or facing another 4 years of car payments, you can now use that $300/month to buy your next income-producing asset.

Here is a chart tracking non-housing debt from the New York Fed. The slight decrease from 2009 to 2013 made me optimistic about the future. Since then, the debt has shot back up and my optimism has gone down:

Have you noticed that half of all TV commercials are about new cars? It takes a lot of effort to convince you to buy something you don’t really need.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Beware Fintech Making High-Interest Debt Easier Than Ever

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Fintech (financial technology) is supposed to make our lives better. You’ll hear how they want to nudge us to save more, invest better, spread risk, and lower costs. But if you look a little deeper, another thing many want to make easier is debt.

Fintech doesn’t make you financially literate. Did you know that banks still make $35 billion a year in overdraft fees? Consider the recent findings of a TIAA Institute study Millennial Financial Literacy and Fin-tech Use reported by Felix Salmon:

One might view fin-tech as a tool that provides convenience, but one that also has the potential to improve personal finance decisions and behavior. It could then promote better personal finance outcomes. But the dynamic is more complex and nuanced, especially when viewed at the level of separate fin-tech activities.

  • Millennials are 40% more likely to overdraw their checking accounts if they use mobile payments.
  • Budgeting tools don’t help either. Millennials who use their mobile devices to track their spending are 25% more likely to overdraw their checking account.

Everyone wants to lend you money, from Goldman Sachs to the mall kiosk cashier. Goldman Sachs started a new high-yield savings account and renamed it Marcus. Many people found it prestigious to “have an account” at Goldman Sachs. But really, that savings account only exists so that Marcus has a cheap source of funds to offer personal loans online at up to 25% APR. A Marcus smartphone app is coming soon. SoFi and every other popular student-loan refinance company is expanding to consumer loans as well. Micro-loan companies like Affirm will let you put a $100 pair of jeans on a monthly payment plan.

Here’s the growth of personal loans since 2010, per Quartz:

Got bad or no credit? Fintech to the rescue! LendUp, Elevate, and others already provide payday-type loans with 100%+ APRs. Except they aren’t “payday” loans, they are structured as “installment” loans. Instead of just $300, they’ll lend you more money because they lets them escape the payday loan regulations. See the LA Times article Borrow $5,000, repay $42,000 — How super high-interest loans have boomed in California:

They may be new start-ups, but they can still exhibit old-fashioned bad behavior, like promising to help customers build credit but never actually reporting anything to the credit agencies. CFPB Orders LendUp to Pay $3.63 Million for Failing to Deliver Promised Benefits:

“LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “The CFPB supports innovation in the fintech space, but start-ups are just like established companies in that they must treat consumers fairly and comply with the law.”

Margin loan for your next iPhone? Right after writing about buying productive assets instead of going into debt, I get this email from Ally Invest:

Margin is something that short-term traders use in order to increase their buying power temporarily. Long-term investors have little to no use for margin since the interest rates will eat up returns. But at least they’d be buying a productive asset if they bought stocks.

Here’s why using margin loans to buy a car or smartphone is a bad idea. First, your interest rate at Ally Invest starts at 9.50% APR and isn’t fixed. So it’s not like you’re getting some awesome rate. 10%-15% APR is as high as credit card interest. Second, this is a collateralized loan backed by your stock holdings. If you don’t pay it back, you don’t just get a ding on your credit score like with a credit card. They sell your stocks and take the money. A home-equity loan is backed by your house, but at least your interest rates are low. Even worse, if the market value of your portfolio drops enough (something not under your control), your broker will issue a margin call. If you don’t pay up immediately, they will forcibly sell your stocks at that low price to pay off your loan.

Bottom line. Fintech may be new, but some things never change. There will always be people selling you things you don’t absolutely need, and now it will be easier than ever to go into debt to buy those things. Be on the lookout for wolves dressed in slick smartphone apps.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Big Picture: Is Compounding Growth Working For or Against You?

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I’m a finance geek and like to dig around in the details like asset allocation or tax strategies. However, sometimes I read some news that reminds me to step back and look at the big picture. Half of all Americans don’t own any stocks at all. Before the 2008 financial crisis, about 2/3rds of US adults had some skin in the stock market, but that number dropped significantly and hasn’t rebounded. From a Gallup poll:

Even out of the half of Americans with some amount of stock ownership, most of them have no idea about stock market performance. Betterment conducted a survey [pdf] asking people to estimate the US stock market performance since December 2008, and Axios made it into a nice chart. Note that all of the respondents in the Betterment survey stated they had at least $1 invested in the stock market.

About half of respondents either thought the stock market dropped or stayed the same over the last 10 years. The correct answer is that the stock market is up over 200%. Only 8% of people who own stock got this right.

I worry that this means that only a small percentage of people are aware of the potential power of investing in productive assets like businesses. Sure, 200% is a lot, but over 10 years it’s not an insane number. At 12% annual growth, your money doubles in 6 years and thus quadruples in 12 years. At 8% annual growth, your money doubles in 9 years and thus quadruples in 18 years. Even at 6% annual growth, your money will double in 12 years and thus quadruples in 24 years.

Owning productive assets like public companies, real estate, or private business ownership gets you on the train powered by compounding exponential growth. Debt like student loans, credit card balances, even a home-equity loan for a new kitchen remodel, that’s like putting the compound interest engine in reverse. I know that it is easier said than done, but one of my favorite quotes from Mr. Money Mustache is that you should treat “debt as an emergency”. The difference between even putting a $50 into stocks a week, versus paying $50 week in interest to carry your debt each month can become the difference between having choices and the treadmill lifestyle forever.

If someone realizes the power of compounding, then they are more likely to covet that rental property or share of Apple stock as much as a new BMW lease or Viking stove. I love buying new shares of VTI. It gives me a dividend gift every quarter. This appreciation is the key to the constant accumulation of productive assets and not stuff.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Never Worth It? Overdraft Protection, Student Loan Assistance, and Payment Accelerators

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piggybank_feesA lot of financial articles are all about optimizing or finding the “best”. The best bank account, best credit card, best mutual fund, etc. However, this CurrentAffairs.org article Nothing For Money takes a different perspective. They outline three “Bullsh– Financial Products” (BFPs) that are never, ever worth the money. There is no “best” to recommend. The best advice is to simply avoid them completely.

Overdraft Protection. The banks say they only want to offer “help” with this “protection”, but then why did it require governmental intervention make it opt-in only? You may be opted-in today due to old rules or by accident (you can still call them and opt-out). The fact is that most people would probably save money overall if it didn’t exist and banks simply rejected the transactions instantly.

I would really love to hear from anyone who has had a positive experience with overdraft protection. If you exist, write in and let us know about an instance when you were glad to pay your overdraft fee in order to have your transaction processed on the spot. What was the transaction? Why was it worth the extra $35 or whatever the fee amount was? Why was that better than using a credit card if you had access to one?

Student Loan Assistance. Student loans are big business and unfortunately the long list of options can be confusing. Don’t let one of these outfits take advantage of you.

So the student loan assistance companies will literally charge you many thousands of dollars to do something that: a) is not even necessarily the right thing for you; and b) is extremely easy and fast to do yourself if it is the right thing for you.

Payment Accelerators. I am also a big proponent of DIY payment acceleration. I have never found a payment accelerator program that I would recommend to a family member.

First, they generally charge you a lot. The companies that do this for your mortgage will sometimes charge you a full mortgage payment up to $1,000 to start the program, and then a fee of $5 or so every time they withdraw a payment from you, which is usually every two weeks. If you used a payment accelerator for your whole 30-year mortgage, you’d pay almost $5,000. There are also companies that do this mainly with auto loans. They charge a little less, but it’s still a lot. Most of them will charge you $399 at the beginning and then $2-3 per withdrawal, again usually every two weeks. So for a five-year loan, even if you pay it off six months early, you’re still looking at almost $700 in fees.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Don’t Trust Your Student Loan Servicer, Especially Navient

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gradcapIf you don’t understand why having a fiduciary requirement matters in terms of financial advice, read this Bloomberg article about student-loan servicer Navient. Learn about the sad behavior of a company that services the student loans of over 12 million people.

Here’s what Navient CEO Jack Remondi says in public:

At Navient, our priority is to help each of our 12 million customers successfully manage their loans in a way that works for their individual circumstances.

Helping our customers navigate the path to financial success is everything we stand for.

Here’s what Navient supposedly did:

In January, the CFPB sued Navient in a Pennsylvania federal court, alleging the company “systematically” cheated student debtors by taking shortcuts to minimize its own costs. Navient illegally steered struggling borrowers facing long-term hardship into payment plans that temporarily postponed bills, the government alleged, rather than helping them enroll in plans that cap payments relative to their earnings.

Why? Because Navient makes more money when you apply for temporary forberance as opposed to income-based repayment.

In July 2013, when Navient was the servicing arm of Sallie Mae, Remondi said in an earnings call that “it’s very expensive work, for example, to enroll a borrower into something like an income-based repayment program … which we are doing. But we don’t actually get paid for outperformance in that side of the equation.”

How much more did borrowers pay? From the CFPB press release:

From January 2010 to March 2015, the company added up to $4 billion in interest charges to the principal balances of borrowers who were enrolled in multiple, consecutive forbearances. The Bureau believes that a large portion of these charges could have been avoided had Navient followed the law.

Here’s Navient’s quiet response in court:

Instead of “No, we didn’t do that horrible thing!”, it was “So? Why would you expect otherwise?”

Borrowers can’t reasonably rely on America’s largest student loan servicer to counsel them about their many options, Navient said on March 24 in a motion to dismiss the case, because its primary role is, after all, to collect their payments.

There is no expectation that the servicer will act in the interest of the consumer,” Navient said in response to the litigation filed Jan. 18 by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Navient does not have a fiduciary duty to the borrower. As a result, even if Navient says they will act in your interest, they don’t have to actually act in your interest. This is an important lesson.

If you have student loan debt, don’t trust your servicer. Apparently, their advice is (allowed to be?) heavily biased. Do your own research on student loan repayment options. There are many options that cap your payments based on income and some even include debt forgiveness options.

In terms of the bigger picture, don’t blindly trust anything in the financial industry. If they want your money and they aren’t a fiduciary then they have no legal requirement to act in your best interest. They can sell you horrible things and it is perfectly legal. If I was ever to let anyone else manage my hard-earned money, it would have to be in a fiduciary relationship. That’s just a minimum to even be considered.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

New Year’s Checklists: What Is Your Financial Priority List?

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Updated for 2017. You’ve worked hard and you have some money to put away for your future self. What should you do with your money? There is no definitive list, but each person can create their own with common components. You may also want to revisit it again every year.

You can find some examples in this Vanguard blog and see what I had down in this 2006 blog post. Here’s my current list:

  1. Invest in your 401(k) or similar plan up until any match. Company matches typically offer you 50 cents to a dollar for each dollar that you contribute yourself, up to a certain amount. Add in the tax deferral benefits, and it adds up to a great deal. Estimated annual return: 25% to 100%. Even if you are unable to anything else in this list, try to do this one as it can also serve as an “emergency” emergency fund.
  2. Pay down your high-interest debt (credit cards, personal loans, car loans). If you pay down a loan at 12% interest, that’s the same as earning a 12% return on your money and higher than the average historical stock market return. Estimated annual return: 10-20%.
  3. Create an emergency fund with at least 3 months of expenses. It can be difficult, but I’ve tried to describe the high potential value of an emergency fund. For example, a bank overdraft or late payment penalty can be much higher than 10% of the original bill. Estimated return: Varies.
  4. Fund your Traditional or Roth IRA up to the maximum allowed. You can invest in stocks or bonds at any brokerage firm, and the tax advantages let you keep more of your money. Estimated annual return: 8%. Even if you think you are ineligible due to income limits, you can contribute to a non-deductible Traditional IRA and then roll it over to a Roth (aka Backdoor Roth IRA).
  5. Continue funding your 401(k) or similar to the maximum allowed. There are both Traditional and Roth 401(k) options now, although your investment options may be limited as long as you are with that employer. Estimated annual return: 8%.
  6. Save towards a house down payment. This is another harder one to quantify. Buying a house is partially a lifestyle choice, but if you don’t move too often and pay off that mortgage, you’ll have lower expenses afterward. Estimated return: Qualify of life + imputed rent.
  7. Fully fund a Health Savings Account. If you have an eligible health insurance plan, you can use an HSA effectively as a “Healthcare Roth IRA
    where your contributions can be invested in mutual funds and grow tax-deferred for decades with tax-free withdrawals when used towards eligible health expenses.
  8. Invest money in taxable accounts. Sure you’ll have to pay taxes, but if you invest efficiently then long-term capital gains rates aren’t too bad. Estimated annual return: 6%.
  9. Pay down any other lower-interest debt (2% car loans, educational loans, mortgage debt). There are some forms of lower-interest and/or tax-deductible debt that can be lower priority, but must still be addressed. Estimated annual return: 2-6%.
  10. Save for your children’s education. You should take care of your own retirement before paying off your children’s tuition. There are many ways to fund an education, but it’s harder to get your kids to fund your retirement. 529 plans are one option if you are lucky enough to have reached this step. Estimated return: Depends.

I wasn’t sure where to put this, but you should also make sure you have adequate insurance (health, disability, and term life insurance if you have dependents). The goal of most optional insurance is to cover catastrophic events, so ideally you’ll pay a small amount and hope to never make a claim.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Secret Shame: Will We Ever Talk Openly About Money?

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We may not like to talk about our own money, but we sure like to read about other people’s money. The May 2016 cover story for The Atlantic magazine is The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans by Neal Gabler:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.

The essay has definitely hit a nerve, with over 3,000 comments, a handful of formal reader letters, and several financial experts all weighing in with their responses.

As someone who used to openly share his net worth, I have to give Mr. Gabler credit for candidly sharing about his financial “impotence”. Most people would rather undergo a root canal than share intimate details about their financial insecurities.

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I also recommending reading this Esquire piece: 4 Men with 4 Very Different Incomes Open Up About the Lives They Can Afford – From a father on the poverty line to a CEO millionaire. It is interesting to note that despite the disparity in both their current and desired future incomes, all four men are both mostly happy and plan on working into their 60s or longer.

You can see why people choose silence, as it is an exquisite sort of pain to have strangers publicly break down all of your mistakes and diagnose your underlying personal failings. But I think more discussion is exactly what we need, not less. Hopefully despite the judgment, Mr. Gabler will eventually be better off for it. We need to talk it out, share both our struggles and solutions, and face up to the problems instead of just hiding it and hoping it magically goes away.

Let’s put away the snarky internet comments and try a civil discussion with empathy and detail. I’d like that a lot more than reading another article about disappearing pensions or debt statistics.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Charts: Average New Car Price vs. Average Student Loan Debt 1990-2014

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When I was a senior in high school, I still remember my parents offering me a new luxury car instead of tuition assistance. Although I’m pretty sure it was only a test, it did serve to remind me of the cost of tuition and not to waste it. Seeing the average student debt of graduates is now over $30k, I wanted to see how the price of a new car and student debt tracked. These are the best charts that I could fine.

The green line in the first chart tracks the average cost of a new vehicle as rising from ~$15,000 to ~$27,000, within the time period of 1990 to present. I don’t believe the green line is inflation-adjusted. You can see it runs from roughly $15,000 to roughly $27,000. (Source: Atlantic)

newcarprice

The second chart below tracks the average student debt upon graduation over basically the same timeframe, 1990 to present. The non-inflation-adjusted value has risen gone from ~$9,000 to ~$33,000. (Source: WSJ)

avgstudentdebt

It is hard to equate the two values because student debt is just the amount left over after the parent (usually) pays as much as they can while the student is in school. However, this USA Today article suggests that since 2010 parents on average have been paying less.

Five years ago, only half of families reported using grants and scholarships to pay for college. This year, two-thirds of families did, the study shows. […] Meanwhile, parents are contributing less of their income and savings toward college costs, covering 27% of college costs compared with 37% in 2010, the study shows.

At the same time, other reports show that for parents with top 20% incomes, education spending has nearly doubled as a share of their total budget.

Average student debt is definitely growing faster than new car price. But in terms of total size, it is still comparable to the cost of a new car. People finance new cars all the time. Does that make student loans less scary? I don’t know, because financing a new car has always scared me a lot too.

Even after taking the tuition assistance from my parents, I still came out of college with roughly $30,000 in student debt myself, above-average at the time. I like to think that I got better value of my degree than a new car. 🙂

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Quizzle Review: Free Equifax Credit Score and Credit Report

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Quizzle logoQuizzle.com is a website that offers a free credit score and your official Equifax credit report every six months. You can now monitor your credit scores from all three credit bureaus for free. It has been six months for me, so I just grabbed my 2nd credit report of 2014 and took the opportunity to provide a brief review of this service.

(Fun fact: Quizzle part of the Quicken Loans family and owned by Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and soon-to-be employer of Lebron James.)

Here are some website screenshots:

quizzle1

quizzle2

Your free Equifax report lists all your credit lines including credit cards and other loans, recent credit inquiries, public records, and other personal information. This is the same report that you would get if you bought one from Equifax directly or got your free government-mandated one from AnnualCreditReport.com. Get your timing right and that is three free Equifax credit reports a year.

Your free Equifax credit score is specifically the newest VantageScore 3.0 which was unveiled in 2013 and has the same scale as FICO 300-850. A little background – VantageScore was actually created directly by the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to compete with the best-known FICO score from Fair Isaac Corporation. I don’t think they’ve overcome FICO, but it appears they are the 2nd-most widely used score out there and supported by some big bucks. Unlike some FAKO scores, it is actually used by lenders in their loan decisions. However, the numerical value will probably not map directly to your FICO score. From the Quizzle site:

Quizzle features the VantageScore credit score. The VantageScore credit score is used by thousands of lenders, including the nation’s largest banks, in their credit card, auto lending and mortgage businesses.

Some additional details:

  • Yes, it is really free. No purchase or credit card required. No trial subscriptions either.
  • There is no effect on your credit score because you are checking your own credit. It is a soft pull, not a hard pull.
  • You will see advertising of various financing offers based on your information (mortgage, auto loans, credit cards, personal loans). As part of Quicken Loans, so they will likely pitch you for a mortgage. However, they state that they don’t sell your information to others.
  • Free 24/7 credit monitoring of my Experian account was also offered to me. I am not sure if this was targeted only to select users as I had to opt in, but it was clearly marked as free. I just signed up for this so I haven’t gotten a chance to see how it works.
  • Paid upgrade options. Quizzle Pro gets you monthly Equifax credit reports and scores for $8-$11 a month. The pricing appears to be customized for each user. Quizzle Pro+ gets you all that plus $1,000,000 in Identity Theft Protection and 24/7 Victim Assistance for around $18 a month. I did not purchase either option.
  • The site states you can get a free report and score every 6 months (180 days), but I was able to get mine after just 168 days (I didn’t try every day, I just remembered today and it worked… shrug). I checked on January 27, 2014 and again on July 13, 2014. It would be more competitive with other sites if they could start offering score updates every month and keep the reports every 6 months.
  • Prior to early 2014, Quizzle used to give out Experian-based credit scores twice a year, but Credit Sesame already gave Experian-based scores for free every month so it wasn’t very appealing. The change to Equifax was a welcome one.

In summary, I am glad this service exists and I don’t mind being pitched a mortgage loan consultation every six months in exchange for a free official Equifax credit report and credit score. It is another step closer to gaining better access to what I consider our personal information. Credit Sesame and Credit Karma are similar services that use the other two major consumer credit databases:

  • Quizzle = Equifax (updated every 6 months)
  • Credit Sesame = Experian (updated monthly)
  • Credit Karma = TransUnion (updated every 7 days)
My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Charts: Credit Card Debt and Household Debt Trends

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Here is an interesting Quartz article by Matt Phillips outlining “the most important change in the US economy since the Great Recession that nobody is talking about”. I don’t know about that, I’ve seen a lot of these charts before. But many include more recent data, and below are a few of the notable ones. (Note the truncated scales on several of the vertical axes.)

The overall theme is that household debt levels appear to be settling at a more sustainable level. Household debt service payments as a percentage of disposable income are at their lowest levels in over 20 years:


(click to enlarge)

Breaking this down a bit, we see that total US credit card debt has been dropping pretty consistently since 2009 and remains lower than 2003 levels:

[Read more…]

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.