Avoid common financial mistakes

This was originally published on Monday, December 12 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Many of us are guilty of one or more financial habits that can be improved. The start of a new year is the perfect time to contemplate of your financial goals and revise how you spend and live.

Not having a spending plan. I once read a quote that stated: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Many people feel that having a spending plan isn’t necessary. We all have life goals and most of the time these goals require that our finances be in order. Whether it is going on vacation, back to school or buying a house, a plan is necessary.

Without a spending plan, you cannot prioritize your financial decisions or be aware of where your money is going. A plan needs to be in writing and often referenced to ensure that you are in line with your plan. Not having a personal spending plan can delay your life goals and create a financial peril.

Sit down and take the time to create a spending plan. There are many resources online that can assist you in creating one. Once you have one in place, there are many great apps for your phone that can make staying on track easier.

Living paycheck-to-paycheck. According to an article on investopedia.com, in January 2016 the average U.S. household saving was 6.20 percent. Other comparable countries during the same time period such as Germany, France and Italy saved around 10 percent. Of course there are some differences between the countries, but it shows that living with a high standard of living does not necessarily mean living with large financial debt.

Regrettably, many people are in a perilous position, where one missed paycheck can cause some serious financial repercussions. Put away some money into a savings account each month. If you make $3,000 a month, try to put away at least 10 percent, or $300. If that is not possible, even 1 percent of your monthly income that goes into a savings account is better than nothing. Make a conscious effort in 2017 to put aside a set percentage of your paycheck into a savings account.

Not taking advantage of your employer’s match. Everyone wants free money, so why not take it? According to money.usnews.com “an estimated $24 billion dollars in unclaimed 401(k) match funds are left unused in the United States every year.” That is a lot of lost opportunities to double investment dollars.

If your employer offers a match on your 401(k), take advantage of it and contribute at least up to the match percentage. If you can afford to take the full match, do so. It is one of the least expensive and fastest ways to increase your retirement fund.

Good debt vs bad debt. Good debt has been defined as borrowing money to purchase items of value, such as house, or fund a college degree that will improve your future earnings. Bad debt has been defined as using borrowed money to pay for items that are consumed quickly such as clothing or a vacation.

Many will say that it is OK to have good debt, but the truth is debt is debt. You still owe money to someone else. The difference between the two is that bad debt can destroy your financial health much quicker.

Avoid debt as much as possible. The faster you are debt free, the better.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com

Debt from the deceased can be complex

This was originally published on Monday, May 9 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Q: My father is terminally ill and I am in the process of getting his affairs in order. He has an updated will and I have confirmed that my mother is named as his beneficiary for his life insurance and retirement plan. My main concern is his debt. He took out a large loan several years to help with his medical treatments. He is not behind on his payments but I am curious to what happens to the debt once he passes. Could you help me understand how debt is paid off once the lean holder is deceased?

A: I am so sorry to hear about your father’s illness. As a child it is hard having to switch roles and become the caretaker for our parents. Unfortunately, when someone dies, their debt does not disappear. The rules to creditors recouping their money is complex and often vary from state to state. Of course, it also depends on the type of loan and if there are others who share the responsibility.

Family members typically are not obligated to pay off the debt of a deceased family member directly from their assets. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects family members from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices used to collect a debt.

Who is responsible? Take a look at who signed for the debt. If it is a joint debt, then two or more people are responsible for the full debt. The names of those responsible will appear on the promissory note, loan or credit agreement.

Usually there is a clause in the contract that if something should happen to one of the responsible parties and they are unable to pay their portion then the surviving debtor(s) are responsible to pay off the full amount.

If only one person owns the debt, then that person is responsible for that debt. If the estate, the total net worth of an individual that includes land, possessions, cash, and other assets, of the deceased doesn’t have enough money to cover the debt, the debt may go unpaid. If the estate has money, then the assets from the estate will be used to pay off the debt.

Type of debt

Depending on what type of debt the deceased leaves behind will also determine if the debt will be repaid.

  • Credit card. If the credit card is joint with someone else or has a cosigner(s) then the cosigner(s) are responsible for paying off the debt. Otherwise depending on the amount left the credit card company may pursue collecting what is due.
  • Mortgage. If you are inheriting a house with a mortgage you will inherit the debt as well. If you cannot make the payments, you may have to sell the home. If you are having trouble paying the mortgage, it could affect your credit score if your name is on the note secured by the mortgage.
  • Medical. Medical expenses are usually on top of the priority list to of debts to pay.
  • Taxes. If your loved one passed and left unpaid property or income taxes, the estate will be responsible to pay them. They too can put a lien on assets till the debt is paid off. The deceased will be responsible to pay any income tax on income earned during the year of their death.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo .com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam .wordpress.com.

Be smart about staying out of debt

This was originally published on Monday, March 28 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Financial trouble can happen to the best of us. Small mistakes or an emergency can cause our finances to get out of control. Once you pull yourself out of trouble the important thing is to remember how difficult it was to get out of it. Mistakes happen but if you don’t learn from them you’ll find yourself back in that same situation.

Understand what started your troubles: Did you lose a job? Was it due to unforeseen circumstances? Or maybe it was a combination of several catalysts. Whatever the cause, be aware and stay clear from making the same mistakes again. Go back and think what could have reduced the impact? A larger emergency fund? Better budgeting? Or possibly understanding how credit works?

Budget: If you’ve been reading my past articles, you’ll realize I’m a believer in a budget. Think of a budget as the blueprint to your financial health. You build your wealth and security based on these blueprints. Be aware of what comes into the household and where it goes. The goal is to have a little left over every month and put a little away in savings. Prioritize your spending with your necessities first and then work your way through your bills saving the “luxury” items for last. These are the items that bring you joy such as the movies or dining out.

Tailor your lifestyle to your budget: In other words, live within your means. Don’t try to keep up with the neighbors or friends. Be creative and find ways to stay comfortable. If your income is reduced your spending should be too.

Charge no more than what you can pay: Bad credit habits are one of the major reasons people find themselves in financial trouble. If you do not have the money in your pocket or in your bank account, don’t use your credit card. There are some circumstances where you may need it to purchase a vacation or large item. In that case, before you purchase, reevaluate your budget. How will you pay off the balance and how long will it take? What are you willing to sacrifice to pay it off?

Spending is emotional: Whether it’s to ease the troubles of a long, hard day at the bar with friends or purchasing a video console for the perfect birthday gift, our money is usually connected to our emotions. Find out what triggers you to spend impulsively and find a way to stay away from it or ways to cope with the emotion.

Expect the unexpected: Create an emergency fund. Everyone has an optimal amount they want to set aside. The bigger the emergency fund, the better you’re prepared. This fund should be able to cover car repairs, busted pipes, or even the loss of a job for a few months. Whatever your amount is, the important thing is to start.

Get money smart: You don’t have to hire a financial counselor or pay for a lesson. There are many free resources online, in the library or from nonprofit organizations that you can turn to. If you become familiar with money, you will not be intimidated by it.

Enjoy your financial freedom. You worked hard to get out of your financial troubles. Enjoy your new-found freedom. With good planning, you can realize your dreams.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Healthier spending habits begin with honesty

This was originally published on Monday, March 14 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Some people choose to ignore when they are in financial trouble until they can no longer ignore it. There are some signs to look out for when considering if you are starting to get into financial troubles.

Here are several questions to consider:

Are you using your credit card for everyday basics? Does going to the grocery store make you anxious because you may not have enough money? Do you go to the gas station without enough money in your checking account? If you find yourself constantly short of money for the basic necessities, you are living paycheck to paycheck. This is a stressful place to be and is not good for you financially, mentally or physically. Unfortunately, many people find themselves here. Review your spending habits. Is there any place you can cut back? You may realize that you might have to re-evaluate your living situation. This may mean finding a new job, taking on a second job or even relocating.

Do you pay only the minimum or less than the minimum amount on your credit cards? Although it may keep the creditors from contacting you to pay your bills, it really does hurt you in the long run. This habit will never pay down your debt. Instead it prolongs the time you have to pay which in turn adds interest to your balance inflating the amount you must pay back.

Do you use your credit card for cash advances? Read your credit card statement. You will be surprised how much more interest is charged for cash advances than for using your card for a purchase transaction.

Are your credit card balances near the maximum limit? Do you max out your credit card, make a payment then use it again? This is a cycle that can become hard to exit.

Do you hide your purchases from your spouse or significant other? This is usually associated with the guilt of purchasing an item knowing that you are struggling to make ends meet.

Be honest about your spending and credit habits. Occasionally, we may get by doing this a few times. If you catch yourself in several of these instances, you should consider making some changes. If you see the warning signs, take a serious look at your budget and spending patterns. Search for the reasons you are where you are. It could be because you are between jobs or it could be that you need help managing money. Don’t feel that all is lost and just give up. There are steps you can take to start repairing your finances.

The most important thing is, don’t wait until there is a huge problem. Start trying to change how you are managing your money. Let the people around you know that you are making the change. They can be your biggest support system. If you really feel you need some help, talk to a professional financial counselor. A finance counselor can help you plot a course that will get you back on the right track.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Tips for spending during the holidays

This was originally published on Monday, October 5, 2015, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It is hard to believe that the year is coming to an end and that the holidays are quickly approaching. As much as we try to enjoy the holiday season we often find ourselves financially stressed. As we all know, overspending during the holiday season is quite common and quite easy to do. Companies and stores spend a lot of money trying to tempt you to spend your money with them. Here are a few tips that could keep you in the green instead of seeing red:

Create a spending limit

Take into account everything that you will be paying for this holiday season. There is much more to include than just the gifts. Think about the other things that can sneak up on you, leaving you to ask the question, “Where did all our money go?” Remember to add in the holiday parties, shipping fees for gifts being sent off-island, ATM fees, more power consumed while kids are home on vacation, and of course, the increase in your food budget. If possible, add another $200 to cover the incidentals like an unplanned gift or party that you have been invited to.

Make a list of who you are buying gifts for and how much you are willing to spend. Create another list with the parties you are invited to and what you plan on bringing and how much it will cost you. Keep a journal of how much you are spending; it is easier to know how much you spend when you actually start watching it add up.

Pay with cash

This is probably the easiest way to stay on your holiday budget: Once it runs, it runs out. Be careful with using a credit card for these expenses. Credit cards make it easier to keep spending without realizing just how much you have spent until the bill comes in. You could ask the bank for all $100 bills. It would make you think twice before breaking a large bill. Of course, be alert, because many thieves plan on you carrying cash. It is also easier to lose and once it is lost you can’t get it back.

If carrying money makes you uncomfortable, use your debit card instead. There are no interest fees and your bank may have an app for your phone to monitor your purchases.

If you are going to use a credit card, know which one is the best to use. Many people have more than one or two credit cards in their wallets. Choose the card with the lower interest rate and balance.

Avoid extra fees that you incur by exceeding your spending limit or using your credit card at an ATM. Pay your balance in full and within the billing cycle to avoid late charges.

Buy least expensive first

If you are looking to buy electronics or other high-priced items, try waiting till the stores put them on sale. Black Friday and Cyber Mondays always offer some great deals.

For those gifts that are least expensive, like gift cards or books, purchase those a month or two in advance and it will not add to your December spending.

Be creative

With today’s access to gift-giving ideas online, there are no shortages of gift ideas. There are many alternatives to expensive gifts. Many of them mean more as they come from the heart and not the wallet. There are photo albums, homemade art work or decor, and so much more to create. Some use store-bought materials but many reuse items that you may have laying around your house. Gift baskets are always a hit as well. Put an entertainment basket together with some microwave popcorn, DVD’s, and movie gift certificates. Use your talents like sewing, carpentry and scrapbooking to make a gift that won’t be forgotten.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

End of the year a good time for a financial checkup

This was originally published on Monday, December 01, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

It is hard to believe that 2015 is just a month away. The holiday celebrations are in full swing and we are focused on being with family and friends. Many of us are not thinking about our finances, except maybe for those extra holiday expenses. Nonetheless, the end of the year is a great time to give yourself a financial checkup. Performing an end-of-the-year financial review will help you set new goals for the upcoming New Year.

• A lot can happen in a year and if you have experienced a major life change you will certainly need to review and update your financial records. Here are a few things to consider: Did you have a change of job status? Buy, sell or refinance a home? Are you newly married or divorced? Did you move? Did you welcome a new arrival to your family? Did you lose a loved one? Did you or a family member become seriously ill? Did you receive an inheritance or gain extra income such as child support or alimony?

• Your budget: This is one of the easier aspects to review because you use it on a daily basis. Budgets are very flexible depending on your life circumstances. Your budget should be reviewed when major life changes happen, such as a promotion or loss of a job, marriage or divorce, the birth of a baby or retirement. When reviewing your budget, ask these questions: Does your budget reflect your financial situation? Is it helping you meet your financial goals? Have you incurred more debt or paid some off? Has your income increased or decreased? Have your expenses increased or decreased? Are you constantly over budget? Did you have many unforeseen expenses? Have your financial goals changed? By answering these questions, it will be easier to assess and plan out next year’s goals.

• Net worth: Determining your net worth yearly can give you a snap shot of your financial situation. To determine your net worth, you first add up all your assets. Assets would be your home, cash, car, stocks, retirement funds, businesses and other personal property; basically anything you own that has value. Then subtract your liabilities (debt) from your total assets. Debts such as a mortgage, credit cards, loans and other outstanding debt. The total is your net worth. If your assets exceed your liabilities you have a positive net worth. If your liabilities are greater than your assets, you have a negative net worth. Obviously, you want a positive net worth and reviewing your net worth yearly will give you an idea if you need ne three credit reporting agencies. It is up to you if you want a report from all three at once or spread it out over a year. You can request your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. There are many sites that claim to give you a free credit report, but AnnualCreditReport.com is the only one authorized by law. Look at your report for any unauthorized accounts or discrepancies on your payments or credit history. If you find any errors on your report, write the credit reporting company and they will request more information from the agency that is reporting the error. Your credit report will also help you gauge your finances.

• Powers of attorney: Usually powers of attorney have a year to five years before they expire. Check the expiration dates and get them renewed if necessary. If you no longer feel comfortable placing your trust in someone you have named on the power of attorney, terminate it and place someone else that you do trust.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

Survive Black Friday with your budget intact

This was originally published on Monday, November 17, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

You probably noticed the buzz of the holiday season is quickening. The stores started to deck the halls and the Christmas wish lists are starting to grow. The day after Thanksgiving is the largest and busiest shopping day of the year — Black Friday.

Black Friday is not for everyone; some people would rather stay at home and sleep in after their Thanksgiving feast. But if you don’t mind the early start, the crowds, the long lines and the great deals, then get ready to shop. Here are a few tips to help you prepare you for Black Friday:

• Create a list/budget: Decide who is on your nice or naughty list and how much you can afford. Set a limit and create a realistic holiday budget. Prioritize your expenses and decide how much you want to spend on each. Make a list of those you are buying gifts for, include how much you want to spend and what you want to give them.

The hardest part is sticking to your list and budget. Stay within the budget you set and say no to items that will cause you to go off budget.

• Compare: You know how much you want to spend so the next step is to compare prices between stores. Look through the newspapers, sales fliers and online shopping sites. Some stores will guarantee the lowest prices and may match the price of the item if you bring in the competitor’s sales ad. This may take some researching and time but it will save you money, time and gas if you make one less trip or stop.

• Understand the sales times: Some stores may have Black Friday hours of opening early and closing late. But sometimes the sale prices don’t go in effect until a certain time. Read the advertisement carefully.

• Decide how you will pay: Cash is always welcomed at stores. It is easier to keep track of how much you spend but it can be dangerous carrying around large amounts of cash.

If you are going to use a credit card, use only what you can pay for that month. By paying it off as soon as you get the statement you will avoid interest charges. Some credit cards have a cash back policy if you purchase certain items. Stores may offer extra savings if you open or use their store credit card. These discounts are great offers but treat them as you would other credit cards and charge only what you can pay off. The interest rates on store credit cards can be extremely high.

• Bring along a friend: Not only is it more fun but you can also take advantage of certain sales, such as buy one get one half off. You can also help each other by dividing and conquering each other’s lists. It is always helpful for a friend to hold a spot in line for you while you run off to look for an item. Of course your friend can be a voice of reason when you are tempted to go off budget.

• Be aware of extra costs: There are always little costs that sneak up on you and most of the time we do not realize how much it throws us off budget. Some stores offer warranties especially on electronic items. Check if your credit cards have extended warranties on certain items if you purchase them with the card.

You are going to be out and about for an expanded amount of time and you will get hungry. Instead of buying a snack here and there, bring snacks with you. Stores may offer a discount on items if you purchase two or more. If you do not need two, you will not be saving money unless the second item is free.

• Keep the receipts: You may need to return an item and the only way to do so is if you have the receipt. Receipts will help you review your budget’s status and to compare charges on your credit/debit card. You may want to ask for a gift receipt for the person you are gifting. It will make it much easier for them to make exchanges or returns.

Remember to keep calm, wear comfortable clothing, and that if you aren’t one to be out in loud, stressful crowds, there is always Cyber Monday.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.