Category Archives: Personal Finance

Finance Like A Pro: Buying A Car, What To Know

So you want to buy a car!? You’ve seen Dan Bilzerian’s recent Instagram photos and have already binge watched all seasons of Top Gear. Not only that, but you’re sick of driving your mom’s minivan to work. All things considered, it is time you had a little hot rod all for yourself. The only problem: now that you are living on your own, you have to pay for the car on your own as well. For most of you, this will be the first big purchase of your life, and this will be very exciting. One of the many milestones into adulthood is buying your first whip. While fulfilling this dream may bring you back to childhood, it will be very important to think maturely and be well informed in making this important financial decision. Below are some things you need to know before taking this step:

  • Talk to your bank about financing a car. Talking to a professional should be your first step. Being experienced with clients who have been in the same position, they can work with you to analyze your past statements and finalize a budget. You will want to know exactly what term you are able to afford, with the appropriate interest rate and how much you can fork over for the down payment. This step is crucial because in theory, as long as you are making money, you can afford any car with a loan. However, the amount you are making and/or able to pay forward will dictate just how long the term will be. In this sense, the longer the set term, the smaller the payment amount. However, the smaller the payments, the longer you are paying interest on the loan. A five year loan payment vs. a three year loan payment could be the difference of $200. This is something to strongly consider. Buying too expensive of a car may not take priority over other expenses you have to pay, no matter how long the term or how small the monthly payments. This leads me to my next point.
  • The price of the car isn’t the only cost you will have. Lest you forget you have to afford the interest, car insurance, gas and maintenance on the car to keep it running smoothly for the entirety of your ownership. When considering the cost of the car all of these factors must be remembered. Choosing a car in your price range is crucial and this price range should be determined keeping these other equally as important factors in mind. Just because all of your friend’s parents bought their kid a 3-series BMW, does not mean you can afford one yourself.
  • Car payments and loans have two parts: interest and principal. The principal is the amount you need to pay off the car or the balance. The interest is the additional cost of borrowing money. The APR is the rates, fees and other costs that come with the loan in the form of an annual percentage rate. My rule of thumb is three years; if it takes you longer you can’t afford the car.
  • When you want a loan you basically have two choices: dealership loans or bank loans. You will almost always pay additional interest if you go through a dealership. The dealer will get the loan through a bank, so they are just a middleman. That is why I suggest going straight to the source.
  • When you go see a lender, he will be assessing your credit score and credit history in order to make sure you will be able to pay off the loan. Essentially, the lender will be analyzing and predicting your future cash flows and budgets. If you have bad credit, you will likely pay higher interest rates or you may even be denied a loan. If a bad credit score is your reality, you will likely have to put a generous down payment on the car. The ability to pay a percentage upfront demonstrates to the bank that you are financially responsible which could help to lower your payments. When you are approved for a loan, the bank hands you a check to pay for the car and you will soon owe the bank a payment each month. Your new car will become what is called ‘collateral.’ In case you can no longer afford the monthly payments, the bank can seize your car to recover the money that is owed. Having the bank take your car will not only leave you riding a bike to work, but it will destroy your credit score, which will strongly decrease the likelihood of you ever being able to borrow money again. I know this sounds serious, but being a financially responsible adult is serious business.
  • Read consumer reports. In order to minimize these external expenses, you may want to consider a car that is more reliable in terms of average breakdowns or miles to the gallon. Legitimate consumer reports could help you save significantly. As long as looking at the resale value of certain cars.
  • Consider the pros and cons to buying a new vs. a used car. New cars have lower interest rates, but lose intrinsic value almost as soon as you drive the car off the lot. When the back tires hit the road, you have already lost up to a few grand. Buying a used car may mean that you can afford the quality brand you trust and essentially get more for your money. Buying new from a dealership usually means you have to pay for a salesman commission on top of the price of the car.
  • Be a savvy negotiator. The marketplace is still a marketplace, and therefore the concept of sales will apply. Many times salespeople have more leeway in terms of prices than they initially give off. These bottom line prices tend to be far below the advertised price of the car. This is important to keep in mind if you find yourself feeling pressured by a sales employee to buy a specific car. In actuality, you could put pressure on the salesman and turn things around, by negotiating and trying to get the lowest price available.

Lastly, make sure you take care of resale value, change the oil, rotate the tires, don’t drive recklessly, put a protective coat of wax on your car, and change the air filters regularly to keep mpg high. This will also save you a lot of money. So if you are buying a car, enjoy your new whip but be smart with your money at the same time! It will all pay off down the road, literally and figuratively.

 

Treat Your Life Like A Business With These 3 Statements

Businesses, like people come in all shapes and sizes. From big corporations, partnerships to sole proprietorships and LLC’s. These companies can range from businesses like Apple or Google to your sisters haircutting service or the local popcorn salesman on Main Street. You are a business, every day you make financial decisions and transactions with your finances to better yourself. You are constantly mirroring the acts of businesses all around you. Therefore, in order to be financially successful in your life you should always be thinking and acting like a business would, except instead working for a  product or service, you are in business for yourself and your product is a fulfilled life and financial security.

Budgeting with a ‘business sense’ is one of the tools that will get you there. A budget can be created by using the information from 3 different statements that businesses use everyday.  Like any business, you need to keep in touch with your accounting and finance department regularly in order to make smart life/financial decisions. This way you are aware of where your money is going and how you can make it work for you in order to get the best possible return. Using these statements or a financial tool like mint.com will help you keep track of your finances and how much you are spending and are going to spend on your “business”.

Income Statement

This is the statement that shows you your income in relation to your expenses. This statement usually is a single column report with income at the top showing your personal revenue. It doesn’t matter if the money is coming in from your job or other alternative sources of income., this just shows your inflow. The expenses are your outflow. The report will give you your NOI (net operating income) which is basically your personal profit. This will let you know if you are spending too much money. This way you can tell if you need to stop shopping in SoHo on Saturdays or buying too much late night pizza on the Lower East Side at 4am.

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(Click to Enlarge)

Balance Sheet

The balance sheet is your statement that tells you your net value at any given time. This statement breaks down your assets and your liabilities and what you physically own (equity). Here you will show your assets on the left column. These are things  like your cash, money that people owe you, your car, house, value of your investments etc. The right side has your liabilities. These are your debts, such as loans that you have yet to repay for a house or car, and/or your credit card debt. The left side is also where you put your equity. This is essentially your value or ‘net worth’. Your assets are going to equal your liabilities plus your equity. So the right side should equal the left. See below for a visual representation.

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Statement of Cash Flows

The statement of cash flows is important because this is where you are able to financially model where you will be at any given point in time.  this future value is based on certain assumptions such as how much you predict you will be making and how much you will be spending at a future point. This shows on a scale of time your income minus expenses.  It is usually a good idea to stay on the more conservative side because the future is never certain.  So it’s good to not overestimate income and underestimate expenses. Using this statement is helpful because you can see where in the future you will be able to afford more expensive things like a new car or vacation. This will keep you prepared. Click on the visual to see how this works.

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Even if you’re personal versions of these statements are on the more basic level that is okay. You are still making progress and will be more financially informed about your money. These are just power-ups to bring your budget to the next level. I would recommend updating them once a month, so you can always have an accurate sense of where you are. When finances are constantly on your mind you will be more self-aware when spending and save more money.

Don’t Redline your Financial Health, Stay Under Control

Continuation from the last article..

If you drive a stick shift car, then you are likely well aware of the dangers of redlining. Redlining refers to the red area on the RPM meter; This is the area above which the engine is designed to be safely operated. In terms of spending habits, riding the redline consistently will not only hurt your financial health, but will surely cause you problems down the road. When driving a stick shift car, it is important to shift when necessary so you don’t break your car, or your bank account. In terms of finances, redlining can be defined as spending or taking on more debt than your income can afford. Which is the opposite of creating wealth.

In last week’s article, I emphasized that becoming wealthy means that you absolutely must spend less than you make. This still rings true, but it is very important that this principle  isn’t over simplified or misinterpreted.

Living by this simple principle means that you must spend less than you make at every spending opportunity. The simple mind will look at their spending on the most basic of levels. I am very much guilty of this, as are most of my millennial friends. It seems so easy to justify spending $400 of your $600 dollar pay (post rent) on clothes, sunglasses, shoes, clubs, restaurants, bars etc. because technically, you are spending less than you earn. You may even think to yourself, ‘If worse comes to worst I will just skip a couple of meals.’

When most people think of the word expenses they think of the bare minimums such as

  1. Rent, water, electricity
  2. Food
  3. Going out

As a 20-something these are probably, the big expenses that you have to pay. From my personal experiences I have justified my frivolous spending on material items by making sure that these three bases were somewhat covered before I just went for it. This mentality is flawed, there are many other expenses that we tend to forget about, these include: lunch at work, Netflix, Spotify, gym membership, late night street meat, refilling bathroom supplies, dry cleaning/wash and fold, that extra round you bought everyone when you were already wasted, movies, dates, 5% to savings and many other random expenses that come along with living in the city. These are the extra expenses that will cause you to redline your personal financial health that you need to remain cognizant of (and don’t forget, just because the charge went on your credit card doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be counted in your expenses).

When we’ve already spent all the money that we have early on in the pay period because we decided that we needed new Allen Edmond oxfords or those Jimmy Choo heels we are left with a credit deficit because it turns out they were just not our 20-something year old personal budget, go figure.

When I tell you to spend less than you make this means spend less after every single expense has been accounted for and sometimes this means that you actually don’t have enough money to drop $500 on a new suit or hand bag one Saturday of the month because it just doesn’t work within your means (also remember to base your income on your take home pay and not the amount you get before taxes). You can’t afford to be redlining. Redlining is bad for your financial health and makes saving impossible. The hardest part about credit card debt which is inevitable at our age is trying to save and pay off the debt at the same time. If you really really want to be wealthy you have to be consistent and strict with your money until you actually can afford to spend a little. I will be the first one to tell you that every once in a while its fun to rev the engine and redline a bit, splurging on something big but making a habit of this can become a downfall to any wealthy person.

Now is the time to save and skip the redlining because it only gets harder as life goes on and gets more complicated!

Stay tuned for part three of the spending sections.

3 Ways to Wealth

During my time in college I took many finance and business classes in order to graduate. Some of them were helpful and some were just there for me to take, pass, and move on with my life. I will always remember the words of one of my finance professors on the first day of class. He asked the class what are the three fool proof ways to become wealthy. So I thought I would share my professor’s insights with you all because its always good to learn more about how to become wealthy.

The first foolproof way to make money is by marrying into money or by inheriting money. We see often or hear about children with large trust funds and inheritances turning 18 and have sudden access to large amounts of money that was set aside for them or dictated by a will. We also see families acquiring wealth from deceased wealthy family members.

The second way to be wealthy is to be extremely lucky. This includes winning the lottery, investing in a fairy tail stock (that brings you millions) or having a million dollar idea and executing a business perfectly. Now this does happen every once in a while but the chances seem pretty slim for the average person to find such luck.

The first two ways seem like they carry a low probability for most of us and I would like to think people these days still get married because they love someone rather than trying to marry someones bank account.

But….the third way we can become wealthy in our lifetime is to always remember one rule. If you always spend less than you make or spend less than you are able to afford you will surely be wealthy. This concept is so simple yet so many people in all parts of life have such a difficult time understanding that, in order to have money, we have to hold onto it and not spend it.

This brings me to a good point. Millennials in our generation have a tendency to spend money like crazy whether its at the bar, on food, clothes, accessories, or phones etc. A lot of this stuff far surpasses our basic necessities. Most of the time we are not getting any kind of return on our money financially and a diminishing return on the thing that we buy.

So if you plan on being wealthy or want to start, just remember one rule, spend less than you make.

Stay tuned for the next article as we break this down more for better understanding….

Stepping Up Your Budget Game

Recently, while attempting to tackle a vast amount of credit card debt, I came across the much-needed concept of Budgeting. Budgeting is an unusual verb that is not often used in this generation, I too was a little lost. Especially after spending way too much last year on bars, food, beer, lunch, dating and anything else that drains your wallet. I felt like I hit rock bottom financially. I realized I had spent way too much money on too many perishable goods and services. This was a sign I needed to take better control of my financial habits soon or else this terrible pattern was bound to continue.

When it comes down to it budgeting means control, and control is a product of knowledge. Back when I was spending too much, I was lacking knowledge. Financial knowledge about where I was and what I was doing with my money. That was my biggest problem. I wasn’t thinking about how all of my expenditures were adding up. I would always think I had more money in my account than what was actually there, forgetting about the small things that I had bought for lunch or at the stores after work. Note: Small amounts add up the quickest!  So after my card declined a few times I finally forced myself to take control. My first attempt to regain control was an approach any millennial would do in this day—turn to technology. Technology in the form of Mint.com

Mint.com is a budgeting website and application that you can easily download onto your phone, laptop, or other smart devices for free! Mint.com provides personal budgeting tools that allow users (your futures selves) to add all of your financial accounts and display all of your balances simultaneously. This is done in a similar way to an instantaneous balance sheet showing your personal assets and liabilities. I was able to add all of my loans (school and car), bank accounts (checking and savings), credit cards, 401K, and even my brokerage account on Mint.com. At any given time you can view your exact net-worth down to the penny. With Mint.com I am able to see my balances and account activity anywhere I go. This application provides an accessible display of my spending habits in the form of helpful visualizations.

The best part about this service is the categorization tool and the budget planning aspects. Within the site I am able to see all of the purchases that I make on my various credit cards and withdrawals from my accounts in real time. I also have the ability to put these purchases into specific categories to see where my money is going every month. Using these categories I am able to customize personal budget plans. I therefore am able to manage the amount of money I am going to spend on certain necessities such as alcohol, fast food, work lunch, breakfast etc. Mint.com service will even send my cell phone alerts when I am spending too much or have gone over my set budget. These budget limits also tell me if I am saving the appropriate amount so that I am able to pay my loans and credit card bills on time.

This service helped me tremendously with my spending habits and keeping my debt under control. I highly recommend this service to anyone and everyone who wants to be proactive about their financial budgets! See Mint.com for more information and remember, knowledge is power when it comes to taking control of your finances.

Below are some relevant screenshots of Mint.com.

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The Real Winning Lotto Ticket

As a Millennial myself, I know that there is one aspect of life that we are always thinking about, and that is the present; the now, the YOLO, and the ‘if I have cash lets blow it now’ mentality because why not? I’ll just figure it out later. Well this may be all fun and games, but there is something you can do. Something that will allow you to feel justified about spending money freely like this, and that is setting yourself up little-by-little for the future.

As a kid, whenever I received any amount of money, whether it was an allowance or a paycheck, my dad made sure that I always put a portion away in savings for the future. At the time, this seemed like a cruel punishment, but he wanted to ensure that I would have money set aside for college when the time came. Upon receival, I was always inclined to blow this money on candy, electronics or the latest trends, but I am really glad that I did choose to save. When I was finally ready to go to college, I had a large lump sum saved in a separate bank account that was allocated to help me avoid copious student loans.

This same concept can be applied to your 401k. If you are able to put small amounts of money away, you can retire comfortably, with 40ish years to really live your retirement out to the fullest. Many companies in corporate America offer 401k plans that can even MATCH your contribution by up to 4-6%. In the long run, this is HUGE! This means that whatever money you put into your account, up to 4-6% of your salary, your employer could match about half or all of that amount. This means that you could have the potential to double the amount you ultimately save in the early stages and create a snowball effect of interest and returns.

So let’s do some more math here.

According to my 401k Calculator:
Say you are currently making $40,000 per year, and your salary is expected to grow 3% every year (inflation, promotions, job changes),then if you are putting 10% away every year ($4,000: Year 1), after 40 years you will have amassed an amount close to $2,100,000. Much of this money will be relegated pre-tax, meaning you will have more money available to put away that doesn’t have to go to taxes. The best part of this deal is that with this example, almost $410,000 of this amount will be FREE MONEY, money you get from a good Rate of Return (RoR) and/or employer contributions. So everyone, please take my advice and ask your company or current employer about the 401k plans they offer. Please take advantage of these! Your future family and self will thank you. I promise.
Thanks to BankRate.com the screenshots can be found below.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 2.37.44 PMImages from Tumblr, Bankrate.com

 

Don’t Skip On Your Taxes, Keep Every Penny

Approximately one month ago, I had a big decision to make. Do I pay a professional or do my own taxes. After about 3 seconds I knew the answer was clear. It’s like I had forgotten that I just graduated from business school with a major in finance. When people hear the word taxes many tend to cringe because of thoughts of endless paperwork and boring meticulous detail. Thankfully this isn’t 10 years ago and technology has advanced tremendously. We have TurboTax at our fingertips, and for all of you who don’t know, even a child can use this product. It makes doing your taxes as easy as those computer games they make for 5-year olds with the colorful pages and big text.

Here are a couple of reasons to do your own taxes.

  1. The software is easy to use, TurboTax does a great job making their product as unintimidating as possible.
  2. You are more aware of your own money, how much you are making and how much you are saving.
  3. Understand more about politics and where your money is going, if you don’t like how much you’re paying; make sure you vote in the next election.
  4. Saving money. Why pay your local accountant $150-350 when you can use turbo tax for free; if you qualify for the free version. If you make more than $55k, the other version will run you about $90.
  5. 1-step closer to becoming financially independent and more of an adult.
  6. The more you know about taxes the more you can benefit from deduction such as student loan Interest, job hunting costs, and moving expenses.

As a young millennial, most of us will be filing single with no dependents. This means that for most of us our taxes will be simple and less complicated than our parents. We can see our deductions and get every penny that is ours in our tax return. The average tax return is just shy of $3,000, which is a pretty big incentive to just get them done.

It may be tempting to just spend this money on frivolous toys such as a new laptop, expensive sunglasses, shoes or bottle service, but I would recommend investing in your student loans, credit card debt or investing for the future. With interest rates and loans as high as they are it’s almost as if you’d be paying yourself more.