Car Taxes – Know Your Tax Rate Before You Buy

This past fall, my mom decided to sell her 2006 Honda Pilot and upgrade to a new Pilot. My wife and I had been getting by with just our van for a few months, but we were ready to have a second car again.

So: Rather than go car shopping, we decided to buy my mom’s used Pilot. It had relatively low miles and was still in good condition. Plus, my mom was willing to give us a good price.

I called up USAA because they offer really good rates on car loans. I was already pre-approved, so the car loan was processed quickly. Of course, I had to decide how much of the car I wanted to finance, as well as if I wanted extra to cover the sales tax.

Continue reading Car Taxes – Know Your Tax Rate Before You Buy

Debt Consolidation Programs – Benefits & How to Avoid Scams

If you’re burdened with your unpaid bills and want to get out of financial trouble, you may opt for debt consolidation programs. With the help of these programs you can simplify your debts and become debt free.

Debt consolidation programs

A debt consolidation program combines all your multiple debts into a single one. Whether or not you will be eligible for the program will depend upon several factors, like, your credit report, amount of debt you owe, your current income, etc.

All your unsecured debts will be consolidated into a single one. You may have to take a new loan for this, at a lower interest rate. It will be easier for you to make a single payment towards the new loan, instead of paying multiple creditors.

You may take a home equity loan or a new debt consolidation loan to consolidate your multiple debts into a new one. If you take a new loan you may have to use your home or car as collateral.

You will need to negotiate with your creditors to consolidate your unpaid debts, with a new loan at a lower interest rate. You may do this negotiation on your own or get the help of third-party professionals to find out the most suitable consolidation program for you and do the negotiation, on your behalf.

Benefits of a consolidation program

A consolidation program has several benefits which are mentioned below:

  • Single payment: This program helps you to make a repayment plan according to how much you can afford. Once your creditors approve the plan, you have to make a single monthly payment to pay off your debt.
  • Counseling: If you opt for a consolidation program with a consolidation company, they will do counseling with you to help you realize your financial goals.
  • Negotiation with creditors: The consolidation company also negotiates with your creditors, on your behalf, to lower your interest rate and waive off your fees towards late payments.
  • Less time: If you opt for a consolidation program, you may get rid off your debts in 4 to 6 years. Thus, in a very short time you will be able to attain freedom from debt.

Debt consolidation programs are beneficial for you if it really helps you to get rid off your debts in a shorter time. With the help of this program you can also pay less than the amount you actually owed. However, you need to be aware of the fraudulent companies and avoid those.

How to avoid fraudulent companies

To avoid scam companies, you need to find the reliable and authentic companies, based on the following factors:

  • Proper license holder: Every state has its own list of license-holder companies. Prior to enrolling for a consolidation program with a company, you should make sure that it has a valid license. You can get the list of license-holder companies from the office of the attorney general.
  • BBB rating: Every registered company receives a grade from the Better Business Bureau. You can see the rating of the company to know about its credibility.
  • FTC: The Federal Trade Commission has a list of companies against which the customers have lodged any sort of complaint. Before selecting a company you can check with the FTC list and find out whether or not the company is reliable.
  • Consult with relief networks: You can take help of people associated with relief networks. It has experienced people concerned with debt, so you will get authentic advice/suggestions on the program you may want to opt for.

If you want to opt for debt consolidation programs, you should choose reliable and authentic agencies. You can get list of authorized agencies from the Yellow Pages or from the Internet. You can also get references from friends and neighbors.

Before finalizing with an agency you should make sure that it has legal accreditations so you do not fall prey to a scam and lose your hard-earned money.

About the Author: Jason Holmes is a regular writer with Debt Consolidation Care and is also a contributor to other financial sites. His expertise is woven around various aspects of the debt industry and with his e-books he tries to impart to people the different situations and simple solutions to get out of difficult situations. Some of his works include e-books like Credit Score: The Quintessential Therapy for a Happy Pocket, Take Creditors and Collection Agencies to Small Claims Court, and My Story- From Depression to a Smile.

Consumer Debt – The Worst Kind of Debt

Consumer debt is the kind of debt you put on credit cards and other types of revolving retail accounts.

What makes this kind of debt so odious is: There are no fixed minimum payments. And there is no fixed term in which to clear the debt. You could be making (mostly interest) payments for decades.

It’s not that hard to rack up large amounts of consumer debt shopping at malls, retail stores, and department stores. Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there… next thing you know you’ve got some serious financial obligations.

My wife stumbled on a show last night called Clean House: Search for the Messiest Home in the Country. This show shines a light on families who have shopping, hoarding, and cleanliness/organization problems.

Sharon Baglien: Shopaholic in Denial

Last night was a re-run of the third episode of Clean House in which the crew tackled Sharon Baglien’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio. From the first scene, I could not believe what I was seeing. Baglien’s house, garage, attic, basement, and an off-site storage unit were crammed floor-to-ceiling with junk.

I say “junk” because not much of it was getting any use. But the truth is, most of the junk was brand new — still in the box, tags intact!

There was so much stuff in the attic that the ceiling was cracking. There was nowhere to sit for meals. And when the house was finally emptied, it took 400 50-gallon plastic containers, 75 large packing boxes, and 300 large garbage bags to hold everything.

The show’s crew then had to rent a 7,000 sq ft space for the “yard sale” to sell all of Sharon Baglien’s stuff. I was truly stunned.

But what stunned me more than anything else was Sharon’s persistent denial. She repeatedly denied being a shopaholic. She repeatedly excused her own behavior by saying that it was “just 30 years’ worth of accumulation” — as if the amount of time that had passed made everything okay!

If I accumulated for 30 years straight, I wouldn’t have had even a fifth of what this woman had in her house.

Anyway, with such an addiction to shopping and hoarding (she had been paying monthly rent for a storage unit for decades), I have to imagine that Sharon is also facing some substantial consumer debt. And while her situation is extreme, it paints a vivid cautionary picture.

The Problem with Consumer Debt

The problem with consumer debt is that it must be paid off by the sweat of your brow. Clothes and food and dishes and kitchen gadgets and “stuff” all depreciate rapidly. In most cases, you’d be lucky to get pennies on the dollar when you tried to resell your stuff, even if it was barely used.

Cars depreciate, too, but not nearly as fast as consumer goods.

This is a unique quality of consumer debt when compared to secured debt. Debt that is secured can usually be cleared by simply selling whatever was used to secure the debt.

Consumer debt, on the other hand, cannot be cleared by selling the items you purchased. Unfortunately, you will have to work off the debt — or settle it, or declare bankruptcy. And none of those is much fun.

Secured vs. Consumer Debt Ratio

As you take stock of your own finances, pay close attention to the ratio between your consumer debt and secured debt. If you have debt, it’s better to have secured debt.

There was a time not that long ago when the majority of my debt was consumer debt. Now that has changed. I mostly have secured debt now. Which means that in a pinch I could liquidate a few items and clear my debts quickly.

(Of course, being debt free is best of all, but I’m not there yet.)

Another option that I recommend is consolidating consumer debt into a Prosper loan. I did this at one point and it worked really well for me.

What’s nice about a Prosper loan is that there is a fixed monthly payment and there is a fixed pay-off date. You’re not making payments for the rest of your life. The whole point is to pay off the loan. (This is in contrast to credit card companies who want you to carry balances forever.)

Remember: Consumer debt can be ugly. So stay away from it as much as you possibly can. And if you have consumer debt, develop a plan for how and when you’re going to pay it off.

Retail Credit Card – When Credit Bites Back

You might think a retail credit card would be harmless. And you may be right. But my good friend told me a story about his wife that left me speechless. (Well, not really, because here I am now writing about it.)

In this particular case, the retail credit card actually got his wife fired from her job. Here’s the scoop:

My friend’s wife (we’ll call her Liz) has been working at Lane Bryant for a couple years now. She’s had glowing reviews. The customers love her. But there’s one little problem.

Liz does not like to push the Lane Bryant retail credit card as hard as the company would like. Sure, she asks each customer if they would like to open an account. Most either already have an account… or decline because they don’t want a retail credit card.

No matter how the customer responds, Liz never gets pushy and usually accepts the customer’s response at face value. Under normal circumstances, Liz’s behavior would be perfectly acceptable. Except there’s a little detail called a quota

Minimum Number of New Retail Credit Accounts

Apparently, when you work at Lane Bryant, you’re actually not in the business of selling clothes. You’re in the business of getting people to open Lane Bryant retail credit cards… and then getting them to buy clothes. Kinda.

Because you don’t actually want customers to buy clothes with cash or anything other than a Lane Bryant credit card.

This is why each employee is required to open 6 new retail credit card accounts every 2 weeks. That’s 3 new accounts per week.

If any employee fails to hit this quota, they can be let go immediately. Fired. On the spot.

Unfortunately, this is what happened to Liz. Not even her glowing reviews or positive customer feedback could make up for her unwillingness to shove credit cards down the throats of Lane Bryant customers.

Lesson: If you don’t feed the beast, the beast will devour you instead.

Mixed-Up Priorities

During the last few years, strange things have happened to the business landscape.

Cash is no longer good enough. Credit is king because stores can make so much more through exorbitant interest, late fees, and fees assessed when you try to pay your bill by phone or the Internet.

Let’s be honest. These are no longer retail stores. They’re credit card companies disguised as retail stores.

This can’t be good. It’s not good in the short term, and it’s definitely not good in the long term.

One retail credit card I recently canceled charged $10 to make a payment over the Internet.

Worse, they put the fee on my NEXT statement in the hopes I’d forget about it. That way they could charge me a late fee on top of a fee that shouldn’t even have been assessed in the first place!

But, hey, this is American business. Anything to keep the shareholders happy, right?

American Credit Card Debt – Symptom of a Debt-Based Currency

American credit card debt ballooned rapidly in the 90s and early to mid-2000s leaving many families with total combined balances in excess of $10,000. Some used the easy credit irresponsibly, racking up $50,000+ in consumer debt (not even counting car debts).

Then, in the fall of 2007, signs of weakness in the housing market — and the economy in general — began to appear. By the fall of 2008, the entire economy seemed to be falling apart.

All of a sudden, Americans were struggling to repay their credit card debt. They were even struggling to pay their mortgages.

One commenter on Digg suggested that credit card debt wasn’t the problem, but rather that irresponsible Americans were the problem.

Yes, I laughed. On the surface, it’s easy to agree with. Irresponsible people get what they deserve, right?

But the issue is actually much more complicated because the dollar is a debt-based currency. It is not real money. Every dollar in circulation is actually owed to the Federal Reserve — with interest!

In other words, our entire economy is based on debt.

Credit Card Debt Is Inevitable

The way the American economic system works, credit card debt — and, indeed, all forms of debt — is inevitable. Because the only way the economy stays healthy is if the money supply is expanding.

And the ONLY way new money is created is through debt.

This may be hard to believe. And since I don’t have space in this article to explain how this works, I will simply point you to G. Edward Griffin’s masterpiece, The Creature from Jekyll Island.

In America, every dollar magically turns into 10 dollars, maybe more, all through the dubious practice of fractional banking.

American Blindness

Most Americans don’t really understand how our money system works. They are blind. As a result, they hack at the branches instead of striking the root.

The branches are things like credit cards, irresponsible behavior, etc. These are not the real issue. The root is our debt-based money system. This is what is hurting us.

Right now, Americans are paying off debt faster than they ever have before. They’re tightening their belts, cutting back, using extra money to reduce debts. They are borrowing less.

This is all good. All things being equal, having no debt is better than being in debt. So I commend any person or family that is fighting the good fight (so to speak).

But until our money system gets a complete overhaul (including real money), then Americans will continue to bear the burden of oppressive credit card debt.