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Money

The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Bad Spending Habits All Around Me...

MONEY: Bad Spending Habits All Around Me...
So I am back living in the house I grew up in; a big town just outside of New York City.

The house had been empty for years...Not because it's in a bad neighborhood.

Empty because the cost of maintaining this house is too high.

Old-world construction is very strong and sturdy, but the cost of heating + cooling this place is extreme.  It's the kind of house that OK during the cool months, but feels hotter than the outdoors during the summer, and colder than outside when the weather gets frosty.

And then there is the property tax.  Extremely onerous, and it never goes away.  And if the bill goes unpaid for a long time, as it has here, a lien can happen, then a tax sale...💰😭💸😭💸

Horizontal RULE

Student-loan debt is pure evil.  Many years ago, when I was really struggling, I defaulted, and "they" were able to access my bank account and take every penny I had.  It was less than $1,000, and they just took it without warning.  I wasn't able to pay my rent.  It was hell.

Losing control with credit-card debt? MUCH worse.  Did that when I was young and stupid, but eventually get my act together and paid it all down to $0
.

But credit-card debt is unsecured. A bank can't take your home away from you, no matter how much credit-card debt you have.  BIG difference.

So my cousin decided to move into this house and give living here a shot.  Made sense to her, because she landed a great nursing job in NYC.  Great pay, A+ benefits and all the overtime she wants. Only problem was that she lived in Massachusetts. This house solved that.

So now my cousin has two places that she calls home, in two different states.  She commutes back and forth a lot, but the 3-hour drive goes by fast, especially on weekends.

My mother (RIP) spent lots of money on repairs and renovation.  Other members of my extended family pitched-in too.  While empty, thieves and/or squatters did bad things.

There are young children here, but the house is big, and the walls are thick.  Noise is contained, and the kids have plenty of room play, without disturbing anyone. The situation here is cool and calm and drama-free, which is very, VERY important to me. After all I've been through over the past 22 years, I have no tolerance for ugly behavior of any kind. ZERO TOLERANCE!

This OLD House!

There is, however, a nagging concern here: my cousin and her husband are both shopaholic-spendaholics.  There is more footwear dumped all around this house than I have EVER seen in any home.  There must be at least 300 pairs of shoes...In every corner, and every room.  Moreover, there are more daily deliveries from Amazon than I used to see in the retail outlet I managed years ago.  Stacks of boxes, all shapes and sizes, and from all over the world, waiting outside,
every day. Crazy....😱📦🥴📦😱📦😵‍💫📦😱

The mother of my child was REALLY GOOD at wasting money, and doing so in the most despicable way. Tantamount to just flushing it down the toilet.  So yeah: these things bother me...😑😒😐🫤

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Income Sharing: An Excellent Alternative To Student Loans

As a person who suffered with extremely oppressive student loan debt for many years, I found this NBR segment out of Purdue University very cool:




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Friday, January 08, 2010

Heart + Sweat = Cutting Student Debt

Heart + Sweat = Cutting Student DebtFor five years in my late twenties, I didn’t work what most people refer to as a “real job” (though the emotional and sweat equity I expended begs to differ). I was a volunteer in Arizona, and the work I did was as real as it gets! I lived and worked with pregnant women who were homeless or alone, serving as a staff member of a wonderful community called Maggie’s Place. Day after day, I had the extraordinary privilege of watching expectant mothers grow – and not just in their middles! Women came to us uncertain and scared, often having experienced violence, substance abuse, abandonment, or other forms of suffering. In the shelter of our welcoming home, made up of 20+ women and up to eight babies, mothers who lived at Maggie’s Place could learn about parenting, health, education, employment, housing, budgeting, communication, setting boundaries, and a myriad of other subjects in which skills are needed to make it as a single mom. These mothers were the strongest women I had ever met. How was I so blessed to get to share in their lives?

In 2004, I was three years out of college, and growing restless at my job in Pennsylvania. I knew I was fortunate to have grown up in a stable home, and I wanted to do something to help others who hadn’t. I had considered volunteering somewhere full time after high school or college, but didn’t know how it would be financially possible; I had about $13,000 in student loans. I also wasn’t sure where my skills could best be used. However, after several years of feeling unfulfilled in my work, I decided to finally give volunteering a shot.

Though not sure where to start, I discovered a web site for Catholic Network of Volunteer Service (http://www.cnvs.org/), an organization that matches volunteer hopefuls with places that need volunteers. Shortly after I submitted a profile about my background and the type of work I sought, a staff member from Maggie’s Place contacted me. I couldn’t believe it - the community sounded perfect for me! It was in the southwest (I needed a break from the northeastern winters), and seemed to offer most of what I was looking for. The application process began, and I was invited to fly out to Phoenix for an interview in April 2004. The five days in Arizona solidified my desire to volunteer at Maggie’s Place, and upon my return to Pennsylvania, I arranged for a year-long leave of absence from my job. I was sure that I would get the volunteer bug out of my system within that year. Little did I know that I would stay with the Maggie’s Place community for five years!

After a busy summer of tying up loose ends, I loaded down my ’93 Saturn for the long-dreamt-of drive across the country with my best friend. Our week on the road was everything such adventures should be, and I arrived in Phoenix refreshed and excited for this new chapter in my life.

The work of Maggie’s Place was right in line with my values, and my gifts were a good match for the young and growing organization. I loved working with the moms and babies, and I knew I was truly making a difference. Mothers and their babies could stay in our homes for up to six months after the babies were born, so there was time for the moms to really get on their feet. I had thought I was the one who had something to teach, but I learned so much from the moms of Maggie’s Place! Our community was rich and diverse, with each member bringing a unique flavor to the mix. The other volunteers came from around the country, each wanting to use her abilities for the good of others. I was surrounded by a supportive community of people who shared my goals and ideals, and each day brought new joys. The work was hard – don’t get me wrong – but it was meaningful, and I went to bed each night knowing that I had given all I could to whatever challenges the day had presented.

Occasionally I was able to fly back east for family gatherings. Each holiday I was home, relatives would ask how on earth I could afford to be a volunteer. After all, I didn’t earn a salary, I had no 401K, and I had student loans to pay off. What was I thinking? How did I buy stuff? Wasn’t I wasting my hard-earned degree in English education? How could I live without a job? When was I going to rejoin society?

Despite my best attempts to explain, I don’t know if my extended family ever completely got my situation. While volunteering is not possible for everyone, it is often a more viable option than most people think. Here’s how it can work:

The country is full of non-profit organizations that provide services to various populations – families, youth, children, elderly, women, and men; people who are homeless, abused, hungry, disadvantaged, or in crisis due to any number of circumstances. There are projects in education, health and medicine, disaster relief, environmental protection, and community and economic development. There is more than enough work to go around.

Many of these non-profits are run primarily by volunteers, individuals from various backgrounds who commit to work for the organization for a certain amount of time – typically ten to twelve months. If both the volunteer and the placement site desire, these commitments often can be extended. In exchange for their work, volunteers do not earn a salary, but rather receive living stipends. These stipends can range widely, depending on the other benefits the organization offers - I have heard of monthly stipends from $50 - $800 - but basic needs are provided for, one way or the other. If an organization provides housing and transportation for its volunteers, the stipends might be lower. If volunteers are expected to pool their money for a shared apartment and utilities, their stipends will be higher.

For example, during my volunteer time at Maggie’s Place, my monthly stipend was $350. In addition to that, I received room and board, health insurance, access to community vehicles, and auto insurance while driving those vehicles. My only monthly bills were for my cell phone, personal car insurance (since I had chosen to bring my car), and asthma medication. Granted, there weren’t wads of cash left over, but I was still able to afford a few plane tickets home and the occasional meal out. The community was committed to living simply, so it didn’t matter that I couldn’t buy the latest trends or newest gadgets. I was living with formerly homeless women who might have given birth on the street if not for Maggie’s Place; how could I complain about what I didn’t have? Besides, with so many housemates, we could always borrow from someone!

Clearly, I did not choose to volunteer for the financial perks. However, volunteering offered one huge bonus that I wasn’t initially aware of – AmeriCorps Education Awards. AmeriCorps is a federal program in which non-profits can participate, allowing a year or two of full-time volunteering to be possible for many people. At the end of a ten to twelve month term of service, AmeriCorps members are eligible to receive an Education Award of up to $4,725. This money is a voucher that can be used to repay federal and state student loans (Stafford and Perkins loans are common ones), and you may receive two awards in your lifetime - a total of $9,450! This amount is for full-time service; smaller awards are available for part-time service.

You may ask “How do I pay my student loans while I volunteer?” Most federal and state loans qualify for forbearances, which means the borrower doesn’t make payments while volunteering. And while interest accrues while you volunteer, the government will pay that interest when your loan comes out of forbearance. So with two AmeriCorps Awards, plus over $600 of interest that was paid, I was able to knock over $10,000 off my student loans! After applying that money, my loans were paid up for the next seven years, and my remaining balance was quite manageable. Additionally, my husband Jim, whom I married after my first two years of volunteering, served as an AmeriCorps member in the Maggie’s Place office after our wedding. The combined $20,000 off our student loans made it possible for me to continue serving with the community long after I thought I could.

If you have gotten by without student loans, or if you haven’t been able to afford higher education, AmeriCorps Education Awards can also be used to pay for schooling after you have completed your volunteer time. And some schools will even match your award! Not a bad deal, eh?

Before you quit your job, ignore that student loan bill, and commit to your favorite cause, you’ll need to do your homework. Know that:

  • Not all non-profits have volunteer programs or offer AmeriCorps Education Awards, so investigate.

  • There are requirements on the number of hours of work volunteers must log, and regulations on the types of work that can count as AmeriCorps hours; these should be explained to you by the organization you go through to volunteer. I was required to log at least 1700 hours between 9-12 months of service; getting those hours was not a problem.

  • AmeriCorps Awards typically cannot be used to repay private loans, so know who your lenders are.

  • Education Awards are considered taxable income in the year you use them, so be prepared to part with a bit of the money.

  • Awards must be used within seven years of earning them.

  • You don’t have to use the award all at once, and you can split the money between different lenders and/or schools. Full information about AmeriCorps programs can be found at http://www.americorps.gov/.

As a volunteer, my days were full, often with tasks I never thought I could do. I managed a fleet of used, donated vehicles; sorted hundreds of maternity and baby donations; became equally comfortable with the wealthy and the impoverished; assembled and disassembled all kinds of furniture; grew in public speaking, problem solving, and time management; learned all about the social services in the greater Phoenix area; pulled off great celebration parties with little money and donated items that always arrived at the right time; witnessed the births of three babies (and even gave birth to my own!); and saw some of the best and worst characteristics of humanity. Though we did not grow rich monetarily, Jim and I grew rich in so many other ways.

Don’t know where to start searching for a service site that matches your interests? In addition to the AmeriCorps web site, I recommend visiting http://www.cnvs.org/ and http://www.pallotticenter.org/. If you choose the hard but rewarding road of service, you won’t regret it. Happy hunting! All the best.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Was Paying Off My Student Loan Debt A Bad Idea?

Student Loan Debt
Student Loan Debt
Back in January 2008, I decided to payoff my student loan balance and be done with it. At the time, I wasn't too worried about draining my savings account, since business was good, and I felt that my business was more or less recession proof. I was paying 8% interest, and there was no way for me to consolidate to get a lower interest rate, because I had already consolidated with William D. Ford. (FYI: you can only consolidate student loan debt once, unless you go back to school and get more student loans.)

Here's what prompted me to payoff my student loan debt:

The above is a clip from the 2007 tax statement sent to me by the folks at William D. Ford. As you can see, since I consolidated, the amount I paid toward the principal was about the same as the amount I paid in interest. That just boiled my blood, and made me a little bit sick to my stomach. I'd been paying interest my whole life, and I was tired of it. This student loan debt was the only debt on which I was paying interest. I had an opportunity to rid my life of interest payments, so I took it.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder if paying off my student loan debt was a good idea. Yes, I know, you're asking yourself, "how the heck can paying off a huge debt be a bad idea?" It can be, if, like me, you are now working with a depleted savings account. I have learned -- the hard way -- that my business is not recession proof. In fact, I have learned that it is in fact very sensitive to economic conditions. This is the first time the economy has taken a hard spill since I began expanding my business back in 2003.

I had paid off my car note a few months previous to paying off William D. Ford, which did not help at all. At the time, I was very confident in my ability to maintain a steady and strong income. I got cocky, and now I'm paying the price.

Here's are the other directions I considered:

  • Keep paying ~$110 per month with 8% interest. Balance would be reduced to $0 in about 500 years.
  • Increase my monthly payment to reduce the time it will take to bring the balance to $0, and reduce the total amount I would have to repay. Of course, with this option, I still would have been burdened with an 8% interest rate.
  • Transfer the debt to a 0% credit card. A decent option, but with 2 significant negatives 1) Once the interest-free period ends, there is no way to guarantee that I'd be able to find another favorable 0% credit card deal to which I could transfer my balance. 2) Balance transfer fees. 18 months ago, finding a 0% credit card that doesn't charge a balance transfer fee was easy. With the onset of the economic slowdown and the global credit crunch, feeless deals have all but disappeared.

So, yeah, I'm hurtin' right now, but I'm still very glad that the debt is gone. I cannot put into words how satisfying it was to call William D. Ford to check my balance, and hear this.

So, how am I going to manage?

First, I'm going to petition the family court to have my child support payments reduced. My monthly payment is nearly $700 for one child, which is way too high considering my current income. The mother of my child and I recently canceled plans to send our daughter to an expensive, private school. The fees were just too high (~$8,500 per year.) That's too much for a child going into Kindergarten. Even if my current income was the same as it was one year ago, when I was making almost as much as a U.S. Senator, I'm 90% certain that I would have decided against sending her to that expensive school. Fact is, she's doing great in the subsidized private school she's attending now. She also goes to Kumon twice per week, which I can recommend to any parent who can afford the $200 per month (she is way ahead of her peers in math and reading, thanks in no small part to Kumon.)

Second, I'm going to cash out my whole life insurance policy and get a term life policy. Suze Orman has finally convinced me that whole life insurance is not the best way to go.

Third, I'm going to cutback on my food shopping. Thankfully, I stocked up on meat during the good times. I now have a deep freezer full of high quality meat that could last a year or so -- literally!
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If you can payoff your student loans, I say do it. Just don't payoff your car note within the same time frame! Comments welcome.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Supreme Court Decision: Social Security Benefits Are Fair Game

Student Loan Debt Horror Story Years ago, when the government emptied my bank account in order to satisfy a portion of the student loan debt that I wasn’t repaying, I was floored. I could not believe that the government had the power to take away all my money in such a manner. It was a wakeup call that I won’t ever forget, and it was, quite frankly, one that I really needed.

From this day forward, many retired and disabled folks who receive Social Security (SS) benefits, and who’ve made the mistake of disregarding their student loan debts, may experience the same shock and horror that I went through when they get their next SS check.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled against Mr. James Lockhart, the 67-year-old retired postal worker who’s SS check had been cut by 15% in order to make payments towards his 20-year-old student loan debt.
Lockhart’s case was controversial in 3 dimensions:
  1. Lockhart defaulted on his student loan debt 20 years ago, which means that his SS benefits should have been protected by the Debt Collection Act of 1982.
  2. The Social Security Act stipulates that SS benefits should not be "subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process."
  3. Lockhart claimed that he needed every penny of his monthly social security check ($874) to pay for food and the medicines he needs to treat his diabetes and heart disease. James Lockhart lives in public housing.
Today’s Supreme Court ruling sorts out 2 conflicting rulings made by 2 lower courts regarding Lockhart’s case and another similar case.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against Mr. Lockhart because The Court felt that the Higher Education Act gives the government every right to take a cut of Lockhart's SS benefits.

However, the 8th Circuit Court made a contradictory ruling in a case that was separate from, yet very similar to, the Lockhart case. The case involved Ms. Dee Ella, a Kansas City, Missouri woman who defaulted on her student loan debt 20 years ago; the 8th Circuit Court decided that the Social Security Act and the Debt Collection Act should protect Ms. Ella from having her SS benefits offset by the government.

So, basically, the job of the Supreme Court was to decide which Act of Congress should trump the other: The Higher Education Act (or, to be more precise, the Higher Education Technical Amendments) won out.
So now it doesn’t matter how poor or disabled your are, it doesn’t matter if you need every penny of your SS check to pay for life-preserving medicines and food, and it doesn’t matter if you defaulted on your student loan debt 30 or even 50 years ago: the government can--and most likely will--offset your SS benefits if you default on your federally subsidized student loans.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

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