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State of Our Finances: The MagnifyMoney Survey

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We launched MagnifyMoney because we believe people are paying too much in credit card interest, paying too many complicated overdraft fees and not earning enough on their hard-earned savings.

Banks are in the business of borrowing money from people in the form of checking and savings account deposits and then lending that money to people who need it through loans or credit cards. Right now, banks are charging very high rates on credit cards, and paying very low rates on deposits. They sit in the middle and enjoy rich profits.

But how much money are Americans leaving on the table (or in banks’ pockets)?  We decided to conduct a national survey to see just how much money people are losing to the banks’ fine print and fees.

Savings

Of those surveyed, 73.4% of Americans keep their money in an old-fashioned branch bank account. That means they are likely receiving 0% on their checking account money and 0.01% on their savings account. Yes, the big banks are paying an average of 0.01% on their savings accounts – that is not a typo.

Of those Americans who have a savings account, the average amount sitting in the bank was was $28,696. If, instead of giving money for free to branch-based banks, people switched to FDIC insured online savings accounts, like the ones offered by Barclays, GE or Ally Bank, they could earn close to 1%. Rather than earning less than $5 a year, they could be getting over $250.

Overdraft Fees

An overdraft happens when you spend more money than you have in your checking account. According to our survey, it has happened to 35% of us. But why do people go overdraft?

53% are just forgetful (mistakes happen).

47% of people go overdraft because they need the money: the month lasts longer than their paycheck.

Last year alone, Americans were charged $32 billion in overdraft fees. According to the CFPB, the amount in annual fees, on average, for accounts that had at least one overdraft was $225. Why so much? Every incident of overdraft costs $35 and banks will charge multiple incidents per day. For example, Bank of America could charge up to $140 per day – even if you only were overdraft by $20 (4 transactions).

Our survey showed that people are definitely fed up: 69% would like an account that does not let you go overdraft and charges no fee to decline. Fortunately, such products exist – like the internet bank Simple and Bluebird by American Express. We hope to help people find these products.

Credit Card Debt

42.4% of Americans have credit card debt. The average balance of those surveyed was $10,902.

Now, you will often hear that the average interest rate is 15%. However, at MagnifyMoney we know that credit card companies engage in risk-based pricing. That means lower interest rates are given to people who pay their balance in full every month and higher interest rates are charged to people who are likely (or have historically) revolved.  That means they pay less than the full balance, and then have to pay interest.

Our data proves this. 75.7% of those with credit card debt, paid an interest rate higher than 15%. The average monthly payment on that debt is $408. At an 18% interest rate, that means the average American will pay at least $1,707 in credit card interest over the next 12 months.

Think about it this way: banks will pay (savings account deposits) 0.01% for money.  So, for $10,902 a bank would pay about $1 in interest. Then they turnaround and charge the average American $1,707 in interest. Not a bad business.

Fortunately, there are options out there to help people save money. Fifty percent of Americans with credit card debt have considered a balance transfer. Of those who completed a balance transfer, 89% would do one again. However, there are still many misconceptions about balance transfers.

People don’t understand how the interest charges work — 31% think interest is charged retroactively and 35.2% don’t know how it is charged.

Some people don’t get the full benefit of the balance transfer because they spend on the card (46.7% of people do that) or by pay late (25% of people fail to pay on time).

Rather than looking online for the best balance transfer offers, an amazing 68.5% of people respond to a direct mail offer.

But, if you choose a market-leading balance transfer, pay on time and don’t spend on the card, the average American could save more than $1,300 over the next 12 months.

Personal loans could also be a great option if you can’t qualify for a balance transfer (or don’t trust yourself with another credit card). Only 36.5% of people with credit card debt considered a personal loan

The survey results are clear

At MagnifyMoney, we believe that people are not getting enough on their savings (less than $4 a year). We think they are being charged too much for overdrafts (an average of $225).  And they are paying way too much for their credit card debt ($1,707 a year).  We think the results of our survey are clear: people are paying far too much for their banking products and services.

The good news: alternatives exist.

State Of Finances

State Of Finances

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About MagnifyMoney, Pay Down My Debt

My New Forbes eBook: How To Crush Credit Card Debt

A few months ago, Forbes asked me if I would write an eBook on the topic of credit card debt. And I am pleased to announce that my book is being published today. “Secrets from An Ex-Banker: How To Crush Credit Card Debt” goes on sale today at Amazon and iBooks.

My New Forbes eBook: How To Crush Credit Card Debt

If you feel trapped in credit card debt, and want help building a plan to become debt-free, this book is for you.

We remain a nation addicted to credit card debt. The average American has 3.7 credit cards in their wallet. Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough, because we continue to open new accounts and spend more. Last year, over 40 million new credit card accounts were opened. In the first three months of 2015, we added over $20 billion to our balances in America. We just keep swiping.

I believe there are three big problems with credit cards:

  • Some people just spend more when they spend on plastic. Countless studies have demonstrated that people swiping a card can end up spending anywhere from 10% more to double their original intentions.
  • It is very easy to pay only 2% of the balance, commonly known as the minimum due. For cash-strapped families, the minimum due is incredibly tempting. And it means that you ended up financing your purchase over 30 years.
  • Credit cards remain obscenely expensive. Interest rates remain well over 15% for the vast majority of borrowers. The average American family in debt is spending over $1,000 each year in credit card interest alone.

The purpose of this book, along with the MagnifyMoney site, is to help people take control of their financial lives and eliminate credit card debt. Too many people are losing sleep over debt that doesn’t disappear. Credit card debt does not have to be a life sentence. I can help you build a plan to crush that debt forever.

In this book, I will help you answer the following questions:

  • Should you be trusted with a credit card? Gambling addicts should not move to Las Vegas. Equally, some people should never use a credit card again. I will ask you some tough questions to see if you can handle carrying that temptation in your wallet.
  • Are your fixed expenses too high? Credit card debt may just be the symptom of a bigger problem. You might have purchased a house or car that you can’t afford. As a result, you will always struggle to get through the month until you reduce your fixed costs. I will help you do the math and find the true source of your budget problems.
  • Do you have a credit score that can help you get out of debt faster? There are so many credit score myths out there that refuse to die. I spent a big portion of my career leading teams that built custom credit scores and used generic scores like FICO. I will help de-mystify credit scoring and show you how you can take steps today, even while you are still in debt, to build your score. You do not need to be rich to have a good credit score.
  • Can you refinance your debt to a lower interest rate? Getting a lower interest rate can take years off your debt. Marketplace lenders can help cut your rate by 30% or more. With balance transfers, you can get a rate close to 0% for 15 months or longer.
  • Should you consider consumer credit counseling or bankruptcy? If you are just too deep into debt, you may have to take more aggressive action. But it should all start with a non-profit consumer credit counselor. I will help you figure out if you should visit a counselor.

I hope you find the book helpful. And if you need help becoming debt-free, sign up for a free consultation with someone from the MagnifyMoney team. You can sign up here.

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About MagnifyMoney

How This Site is Financed

Fine Print Alert

MagnifyMoney is completely free to use. It does not charge a subscription fee. Our guides are free to download. Our tools are free to use. And we never charge for our 30 minute consultations (a member of our team is happy spend 30 minutes on the phone helping you build your plan to get debt free).

At MagnifyMoney, we’re committed to comparing more products than anyone else. We update our results daily. We have built sophisticated money-saving tools that are easy to use, from your desktop or your mobile device. Our guides are written by true industry insiders, who really know how the system works. You won’t find amateur writers recycling generic tips in our guides. Instead, you will find experts who used to run credit card companies or have firsthand industry knowledge on a topic helping you understand the rules, tricks and traps.

Plus, we spend a lot of time campaigning for a more transparent banking system and developing financial literacy programs for school and universities.

In this article, we will explain how it all works.

Yes, The Site is Completely Free

There are two really important things to know about us:

  1. We will never charge you, the user, for any of the tools on our site. We want to help as many people as possible. And we know that charging a subscription or service fee would limit the number of people we could help.
  2. We will never let a bank or financial company pay us to write a favorable review or give a favorable placement. The reviews are written by us. The blog posts are written by us (or by talented writers we hire. Want to apply: send us a note info@magnifymoney.com) The marketplaces are powered by us. If you see us recommending a deal as the best, it was because we made that decision – not because we sold that space on our website.

We launched the website in May 2014, and have been overwhelmed by the response. People pay too much money for credit card debt. They don’t earn enough on their everyday savings. And they spend way too much on fake “credit repair” and “credit score booster” books and services.

We have helped nearly 2 million people get out of debt faster, negotiate hard with collections agencies, earn 100x more on their savings account and build their scores the right way. And, based upon our growth trajectory, we will be helping millions more.

Along the way, we have had a lot of sketchy people already reach out and ask us if they can write a blog post, pay us for a link or pay us for a good review. The answer has been, and will continue to be: NO!

So how does MagnifyMoney Generate Revenue?

Banks and companies can not pay to appear in our product recommendations. We have a team that is constantly looking for the best deals. Our goal is to find the best deals, and worry about the money later.

To find those deals, we look at the Top 100 Banks, the Top 100 credit unions and then a long list of start-ups and other challenger brands to see if we can find an even better deal. We update these results every single day. If you find a better deal (or work for a company that is creating a better deal), just email Nick, our co-founder. He can be reached at nick@magnifymoneycom, and we’ll include it in our results.

We then go out and see if any of the products we recommend have referral deals (or “affiliate links.”) That means they pay us a commission when a MagnifyMoney user ends up opening an account with them. We will only sign an affiliate deal if:

  • We have complete editorial control over our reviews. If taking a commission means we have to re-write our review, we won’t do it.
  • We can be completely transparent with you about when and where we get paid. In our marketplace, you will see this when we have a deal:

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  • And if you sign up for our email list or download our debt guide, we will never sell that information to anyone. We use it only to help us create better guides, tools and resources for you.

Doesn’t This Make You Biased?

We don’t think so. We believe in complete transparency, and we will always tell you when we are getting paid. We will let math guide our recommendations.

Are You Different from Other Sites?

We think we are very different from most sites out there. Here is why:

  • We have a team of experts. And when we don’t have the answer, we look outside of MagnifyMoney to find the expertise. Our goal is to give you the best answer, and to do that we have the best people (not necessarily the best marketers)
  • Most websites will only display products that pay them. And they will often rank the products based upon how much they are paid, rather than how valuable the product is to you, the user. At MagnifyMoney, we look for the best deal. And we rank products based upon the transparency of the product and the savings for you, not the commission paid to us.

Because Of Our Approach, You Will Find Products Here That You Won’t Find Anywhere Else

When you visit our product pages, you will see names that you haven’t seen before. Not surprisingly, some of the best deals come from small, new and innovative companies that can’t match the marketing budgets of big banks.

We love when the challenger wins. And MagnifyMoney is a platform that will help the challenger win.

This Is Just The Beginning

We love saving people money, but nothing makes us happier than helping people transform their lives. When we can help someone come up with a plan to be debt free in 2 years (when they thought they were going to go bankrupt), we are thrilled. And, when a startup or a credit union provides the product that helps them get out of debt faster, we are even happier.

Banking is too expensive and too complicated. We are waging a war on both.

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Today the MagnifyMoney Team is Thankful For…

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Today, our team is taking time to spend the holiday with family and friends, but we’d like to take a moment to reflect on what we’re thankful for (related to financial products of course)!

Nick: Thankful for CFPB, Credit Unions and Startups

As you know, we launched MagnifyMoney in May of this year. Before launching the site, we spent countless hours reviewing financial products and tools to help people save money.

During the past year, a few things have really stood out for me:

  1. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Complaint Service. There are a lot of times when the government creates unnecessary bureaucracy or just wastes taxpayer money building bridges to nowhere. But the CFPB Complaint Service is a true public service. We have all been lost in the complex maze of a bank’s customer service department (even people who worked for banks are not immune to these service black holes). With the CFPB complaint service, you have the ability to get your complaint heard. Two members of the MagnifyMoney team had problems solved by the CFPB. It is truly a great service, and I am thankful it exists.
  2. Credit unions are looking to grow. Because of their unique structure (credit unions do not have shareholders), they can afford to charge much lower interest rates. Thankfully, over the past year, we have seen credit unions make it easier for people to join, and they have created truly incredible products to help people with credit card debt save money. Some of the great offers we have seen this year include 99% for the life of the balance with no balance transfer fee – which is amazing. I just hope the credit unions continue to invest in better digital experiences so that more people can take advantage of their offers.
  3. Startups are looking to make bank accounts cheaper and easier to use. I have learned the
    name of many small, Internet-only banks that are quietly looking to change the way we bank forever. They are innovating, eliminating unnecessary fees, paying 100x higher interest rates and creating amazing digital experiences.

I am hopeful that, over the next 12 months, we will see even better deals for consumers. And we look forward to sharing those deals with you at MagnifyMoney.

Erin: Thankful for Mobile Deposits and No ATM Fees

As an early adopter of online banking, I’ve been cashing checks with my smartphone since 2011. I probably would have tried earlier, but I was far from an early adopter to the smartphone.

I haven’t needed to step foot in a bank branch for personal deposits for years and I’m thankful I can save my time (and in some cases gas money) by depositing checks and handling my financial life from the comfort of my home, or office or wherever else I’m logged into a secured wireless network.

Speaking of Internet-only banking, I’m grateful for ATM fee reimbursement. It further nullifies the need to go into a bank branch, because I can use any (non-sketchy) ATM and ignore the obnoxious alert that I’ll be charged $3. I can ignore extra fees because my bank reimburses me! No need to fret about losing some of my money to a giant, monster, mega bank.

Just remember, loyalty doesn’t pay. Always be on the look out for the best deals. If your bank used to reimburse ATM fees, but plans to stop the practice — it’s time to switch. If your bank charges you $12 to move money from savings to check to cover an overdraft fee — it’s time to switch. If your bank only offers 0.01% interest on your savings account — get out of there! But probably not right now. Right now you should go enjoy turkey, pumpkin pie and time with your loved ones.

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How to Find Big Savings in Small Places

Save $450

At MagnifyMoney, we believe that Americans can find big savings in boring places.

Consider putting more money into your pocket in one of the following ways:

  1. If you have credit card debt, move the debt to a balance transfer (if you have excellent credit) or a personal loan (if you have good credit). You can cut the interest rate you pay on that debt.
  2. If you have a savings account, move your savings from a low interest rate savings account at a traditional bank (paying 0.01%) to a high-yield internet savings account that could pay up to 1.05%.
  3. Earn cash-back on your everyday spend with a cash-back credit card (you can earn at least 2% on your purchases).
  4. Stop paying overdraft fees by opening an Internet-only bank account that does not charge overdraft fees

 We have run the numbers, and:

  • 30% of the population keeps $29,000 in a bank savings account, which pays close to $0. They could earn $300 from an Internet savings account. In addition, they spend $1,269 per month that could earn cash back of $450. So, in total, they could earn up to $750 from savings and cash-back
  • 17% of the population has credit card debt (average of $9,500) and excellent credit scores. They could save up to $900 over the next 12 months in balance transfers.
  • 13% of the population has credit card debt, a decent credit score (650-700) and pays overdraft fees. They could save an average of $300 over the next 12 months by switching to a personal loan and another $150 by opening an overdraft-free account
  • 5% of the country (not counted in the numbers above) heavily uses overdraft and check-cash companies. They could cut $500+ by switching to a branch-free account and eliminating fees.

So, we see at least $450 for 65% of Americans.

We also like to think about it in a slightly different way. Right now, Bank of America has about $500 billion of deposits from consumers, and they pay close to 0%. If Americans moved $100 billion from Bank of America to Internet-only banks, they would receive an extra $1 billion of interest from banks over the next 12 months. And moving money to an Internet-only bank savings account is easy and FDIC insured.

We can put a ton of money back in our pockets, instead of lining the banks’ coffers. Hopefully MagnifyMoney can help you get even a little bit extra, because every little bit helps.

Want regular updates about the best financial products out there? Then sign up for our Price Checker Newsletter. Twice a month, we’ll deliver the best-of-the-best right to your inbox.

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MagnifyMoney Introduces the Price Checker Newsletter

Email Newsletter

 

You’ve probably taken a few extra minutes out of your shopping excursion or errands to search for the best deals. Whether that’s using an app to see if another store offers lower prices, clipping coupons to save a few bucks at the grocery store or driving a little further down the street to get gas for a few cents cheaper a gallon, we’ve all gone that extra metaphorical (or sometimes literal) mile to save some money.

So, why don’t people apply the same diligent savings techniques to their financial products? Switching banking products can save consumers hundreds to thousands of dollars.

At MagnifyMoney, our goal is to connect consumers with the absolute best deals on financial products.  We have Goofski, our consumer watchdog, sniffing out the best deals for you.

But instead of making you take valuable time out of your day to comb through various sites to comparison shop, we’ve created both our tools and now a bi-monthly newsletter to do the work for you.

When you sign up for the Price Checker newsletter, you’ll receive an email every other week highlighting the best deals for:

  •       Balance transfer offers
  •       Cash back credit cards
  •       Highest interest rate savings accounts
  •       Cheapest checking accounts
  •       Best 30-year mortgage

The Price Checker email will also include fine print alerts to keep you informed about any sneaky changes your bank may be making.

Got questions? Email us at info@magnifymoney.com and your inquiry may be selected for the “Question from the Mailbag” section.

We promise to never send you spam, just deals that save you lots of money! We will never share a product that isn’t watchdog approved.

Sign up for the newsletter by clicking here and entering your email address.

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We’ll Show You Our Biggest…Financial Mistakes

Woman trying to protect her saving

Today, the MagnifyMoney team reveals our biggest financial mistakes for your amusement and hopefully to serve as a warning of what not to do in the future.

Mild Money Mistake: The Cost of Emotional Attachment to “Stuff”
Erin’s story

I loved my first (and only) car. She was a beautiful Toyata I affectionately named Stella – yes, after A Street Car Named Desire.

I owned Stella during my college years. I went to school in Western New York, a full hour-and-a-half away from the closest major city of Buffalo. There were no reasonable public transit options, so I viewed Stella as a necessity for off-campus jobs, internships and adventures (including road trips to Michigan, to New York City, to Charlotte and Atlanta). I saw my car as my ticket to freedom and developed quite an emotional attachment to her.

We had a few expensive issues over the years. Two accidents (one my fault, one not), both of which required a new rear bumper. New tires after a few years of driving around in Western New York snow and sludge.? But overall, my insurance was relatively cheap at $1,000 a year, I didn’t have to pay too much for gas each month and I owned my car out right with no monthly payment or interest on a loan.

After college graduation, I loaded all my belongings into Stella and drove down to Charlotte – where my parents lived. Like many college kids I didn’t have a job lined up and planned to set up shop at my parents’ house while I hunted for a job.

Only a week later, I flew up to New York City for a job interview. Three weeks later I packed my bags to move.

For a delusional 24-hours I considered bringing Stella with me to the Big Apple. Then I realized she would cost me far more than I could afford on my meager salary. Insurance costs would go up, I’d need to pay for parking, gas would be more expensive, I didn’t really need a car to get around and Stella was simply bound to get hit at some point.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to sell Stella. I didn’t know how long I’d live in New York and wanted to have the car in case I threw in the towel after a year. So, I discontinued the insurance and let Stella sit in my parents’ driveway to collect rust.

You don’t even need to know much about money to understand cars do one thing well: depreciate in value.

In the year Stella sat in my parents’ driveway – I lost money – even though she didn’t cost me anything.

Had I sold Stella in the summer of 2011 (a car in great condition with under 50,000 miles) I probably could have gotten $2,000 – $3,000 more than when I sold the car in the summer of 2012. By then, I realized I’d be living in New York City for at least a few more years and didn’t need a car.

For a 23-year-old, the loss of $3,000 just for letting a car sit in a driveway is a lot of money.

I’m fortunate this is my biggest money mistake thus far in my young life, but it still stings a bit to have a few thousand dollars less just because I couldn’t bear the thought of selling my car.

The Painful: The Cost of Missed Bills and Bungled Change of Address Forms
Brian’s story

My biggest money failure happened right after I graduated college.

It was a busy summer.

A trip to Italy.

A few weeks at home.

A boot camp at another college across the country.

Back home for a week.

A move to a first job 1,500 miles away.

And one month in a company paid hotel while I found a ‘permanent’ apartment.

That’s five addresses in the span of a few months.

And I handled it as poorly as possible, bungling the addresses of two bills.

I lived on campus, and the University handled the phone services. So when I changed my address with the University for alumni notices and student loans, I thought the phone bill would go along with it.

Of course, it didn’t. Even the finest universities are as well organized as the biggest companies, with departments that don’t talk to each other.

So the bill for my last month of phone service went to my now empty and unchecked P.O. Box on campus. While I had set up forwarding to my parents’ house, our campus post office, like many, is notorious for unreliable service. And that bill was no exception. It was never forwarded. Nor were any of the past due notices.

So I never saw it until checking my credit report about a year later, where it was listed in collections. There was nothing I could do about it then, it stayed on my report for years.

And while checking that credit report I noticed a more serious issue.

One of my credit card accounts had a balance of several thousand dollars run up on it and was charged off by the bank as past due.

I had two card accounts, never actually used this one, and forgot to change the address on it.

Perhaps someone intercepted a statement, figured out the account number (I think back then full account numbers were on statements), charged it up, then filled out the change of address form, and had future bills sent to a mysterious address in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

So I never saw the late payment notices. It took months of back and forth to get that fraud taken care of.

The lesson here is:

Before you move, save every single bill you have over the last month. Put it in a pile. And make sure you call or login to change the address of every single one of them. Then bring that pile with you so you never forget again. Or put them in a spreadsheet and follow up every month for 3 months to make sure they all get forwarded.

If you’ll have several addresses in a few months, send them all to your parents.

All of this was easily preventable. It’s easier to avoid now thanks to full online accounts, but it can still happen if you’re sloppy.

The Expensive: A Homebuyer’s Woes – a Rotting Roof and Busted Boiler
Nick’s story

Buying a house is a huge financial decision. It is the biggest purchase most people will ever make. When done properly, owning a home can be a wonderful experience. But, as the mortgage crisis of 2008 shows, there are a lot of ways it can go wrong.

I was very excited to buy a home with my wife in 2008. As someone who had worked in banking my entire career, I felt prepared to make the decision. I had a 20 percent down payment. I signed up for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, because I did not want to gamble on interest rates. I could safely afford a monthly payment that included principal, interest, insurance and property taxes. And, I had enough money for the planned critical fixes as well as an emergency fund.

But, two things happened.

  1. Every budgeted critical fix ended up costing at least 25 percent more than originally planned, and
  2. Unexpected things started happening

When the workers replaced the roof, they found rotting that required fixing.

And then, just as winter started, we heard a loud noise in the basement. The boiler had died rather dramatically. If we wanted to stay warm in the winter, we would have to find thousands of dollars right away.

Very early in my life as a homeowner, I started to feel that all-consuming stress. It felt like the home owned me, and not the other way around.

As I spoke with neighbors and friends, I realized that I had made that rookie mistake. I assumed everything would go according to plan. Ironically, I would never make that mistake at work.

I had been advised to set aside one percent of the purchase price of your home every year. But that makes it sound like a smooth monthly expense. And it isn’t. It can come as a big surprise, like a broken boiler three months after you buy the home.

In retrospect, I wish I would have taken every quote for work and increased it by 25 to 30 percent. I should have more aggressively budgeted for maintenance and other accidents. We probably still would have bought the home. But, instead of doing all of the work at once, we would have waited to start some of the home improvement work. And, I would have made sure I had access to low-interest borrowing (a credit union credit card, like PenFed at 9.99%). As much as you plan, really big things can happen. And, having low-cost borrowing options readily available is very important. If you wait until you need to borrow the money, it is always too late and too expensive.

Share your money mistakes or ask us questions about handling them via TwitterFacebook, email info@magnifymoney.com or let us know in the comment section below!

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6 Life Lessons From My Father

Nick_and_Dad_large

 

Eight years ago today, I received the worst phone call of my life. I was told that my father, aged 61, had died unexpectedly. Nothing prepares you for the shock of having to say goodbye to your dad forever. And I certainly wasn’t prepared. The following years felt horrible. I had always been described as a hyper-rational risk manager of a bank. But I would regularly find myself, in the middle of the day, fighting back tears – and feeling like someone had just punched me in the stomach.

As the pain faded (and it still manages to sneak up on me every now and again), I was able to focus on the good memories. I am sure we all say this, but my father was truly unique. I learned so much from him. And in honor of his passing, I wanted to share some of the lessons that have helped me the most.

First, a bit of background

My father was born in 1944, and he entered the world a troublemaker. I think it is safe to say that he spent more time in the pool hall (yes, hustling) than the library. He first met my mother when they were 13. He proposed shortly thereafter. She didn’t say yes until they were 18 years old, and they were together until he died.

My father never went to college. He liked to say that he was a proud graduate of Langley High School (in Pittsburgh, PA).

Fast forward to the age of 61, and he was retired, living near the beach and surrounded by family. Eight years later, my mother does not have to worry about her finances because he continues to take care of her in death as he did in life.

So, how did he do this?

No fear

My father once wrote down for me his approach to management. It was on one page, and most important was the advice: no fear. Fear cripples people. My father had to compete with people who had fancy degrees and global experience. The only time I would see my father getting nervous is when he would have to write his biography for a conference, and felt that people would think less of him because he didn’t have a degree.

But he was never afraid to step up and take responsibility. He wasn’t afraid to fail. And he certainly wasn’t afraid of giving credit to someone else. In fact, he seemed happiest when someone he trained went on to even bigger success.

I spent so much of my previous banking career surrounded by people in a constant state of fear. When people are afraid of being fired, afraid of the boss’ mood, or afraid of saying what they really mean – life can be painful. I thank my dad for showing me an alternative way, and given me the confidence to speak up and take a stand.

An incredible sense of responsibility and ownership

My father always put his family first: we were his primary responsibility. I remember when we would move (and we moved often as my dad would be promoted), the real estate agents would always be telling him how much more house he could buy. But he always restrained himself. He never borrowed excessively to pretend to be something he wasn’t. I even remember going to the party of someone who worked for him. His employee had a bigger house than we did, and my father had pride in that, because we didn’t overextend ourselves.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have dreams. His biggest dream was to buy a boat. Given that we live in the USA, easy credit is always available and people would constantly line up, telling him he could afford it. And that he deserved it. We never bought that boat. But we did get very close, once. I remember seeing him at the kitchen table, sitting with a glossy brochure and a calculator. He told me that as much as he wanted it, he just didn’t think it made sense. So, we didn’t buy it. I often wish I had more of that discipline.

As soon as my father put his name on something, he felt an incredible sense of responsibility. He felt and acted like an owner.

And life wasn’t always easy. I remember when he lost his job. I was in 8th grade. But my father made a routine. Every morning he would go to the office, and apply for jobs. He brushed rejection aside, and ultimately went on to even greater success. He didn’t feel sorry for himself; he just took action.

A sense of humor

My father was always laughing, and always playing practical jokes. He did this at home, and in the office. As a young child, my father brought me to work one day. I was very excited, and dressed up in a suit and tie. In the office, I was amazed by the constant laughter. They seemed to be having so much fun: how could they possibly be working? So many people (especially here in New York) think that success is only achieved if you work countless hours and look like your life is miserable. Stress and misery is worn as a badge of honor. When I saw my father and his colleagues having fun while building a business, I subconsciously learned a lesson. But it wasn’t really until after he died that I truly had the confidence to just have fun at work. Even in a formal British bank like Barclays, we sometimes laughed so hard that my cheeks would hurt.

Don’t stop learning

My father loved history. I had a degree from Stanford in History and Economics.  My father had a passion for the subject. He knew more than I did. I was often embarrassed at how much more he knew. If you truly love something, you want to learn as much as you can.

He also introduced me to theater. We would go to a small dinner theater in our town when I was young. What I enjoyed most is that, weeks before the show, we would start reading all about it. Who wrote the play? What story were they telling? What is the history of the story? And then, we would talk about the show afterwards. I loved that my father could be as passionate about the Steelers as he was about the latest play that we watched.

Find what you enjoy, and make sure you balance your life between passions.

Care about the people around you

At my father’s funeral, a ton of people who worked for him came to the funeral. There were people flying in who hadn’t worked for him in more than five or 10 years. Why did they come? Because when you worked for my father, he treated you like part of the family. And it wasn’t an act. He cared about them, and he treated them like people.

He would never force someone to make a ridiculous choice between watching graduation or going to a meeting. He used to tell me that we all overestimate the importance of short-term events, and the impact we have on them. That meeting that looks so critical now will be forgotten tomorrow.

But, in a world where people want to feel important, every meeting is critical. And, in a world where people want to tell their friends how stressed and busy they are (because stress = success), silly things happen.

In conclusion

It may seem odd that I am indulging in this blog post on MagnifyMoney.com

But I would not be working on MagnifyMoney if it weren’t for my father.

I was not afraid to quit my job and give this a go. I am ready to put my name on it, and act like an owner. I want to have fun doing it, while helping people. And I have built close relationships with people over the years. Friends have funded this business, and my co-founder is my best friend of 15 years.

And I was able to afford this, because (for the most part) I remembered my father and his decision to buy the boat. And I understood that short-term material sacrifice is important, because it can give you the ability to do something you love.

I know we live in a world of lists. So, I will conclude with this list.

Six things to learn from my dad

  1. Don’t let fear control your life
  2. If you put your name on it, you own it. And behave like that.
  3. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t on borrowed money
  4. Have fun. And there is no better way than laughing. And that means laughing at home, laughing at work and laughing often.
  5. If you are in a position of authority at work, don’t overestimate the importance of short-term events. And never force someone to make a stupid choice (like attending an “urgent” meeting or going to their child’s graduation)
  6. Life can be taken from you, or someone you know, with little warning. Possessions and promotions are not with you in those final hours. Friends, family and the memories of what you did together are what truly endure.

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Discover Your Time Personality, the key to Financial Health

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These findings, and the quiz, are the result of collaboration with Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University and author of more than 50 books, including The Time Paradox. He led the 6-nation study. You can learn all about your time personality, and get personalized financial tips based upon your time personality, on our microsite.

And some of the biggest findings are highlighted below:

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Our Journey to the Chambliss Center Inspired by Paycheck to Paycheck Documentary

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A couple of months ago, we (the MagnifyMoney team) watched the moving HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The film follows a struggling single mother as she tries to better her financial situation, only to be constantly knocked down by circumstances largely outside of her control.

In a sea of financial battles, Katrina had one safe harbor: The Chambliss Center for Children.

The Chambliss Center, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, offers 24/7 extended childcare and early childhood education for children ranging in age from six weeks to 12 years old. Parents are charged a fee on a sliding scale at a substantially reduced rate compared to the typical cost of childcare. Chambliss also provides a residential program for children who have been removed from their homes and are in custody of the State of Tennessee. Some children are placed in foster care, while others live onsite at the Chambliss Center.

Inspired by Katrina’s story, we contacted the Chambliss Center to see if we could help.

Last week, we headed down to Chattanooga to host financial seminars and provide one-on-one sessions to speak with both the Chambliss Center staff and parents who, like Katrina, often deal with immense pressure to make ends meet each month and dig out of debt.

We drove up to the Chambliss Center and were greeted by the sounds of children laughing and gleefully yelling on one of the Center’s many playgrounds. Chambliss’ Vice President of Development and Administration welcomed us with a grand tour of the Center’s extensive facilities including nurseries, classrooms, basketball courts, and a swimming pool. Nearly two, hug-filled, hours later, we settled into a conference room and prepared to give our two lunch seminars for the Chambliss staff.

MagnifyMoney co-founder, Nick, spent an hour overviewing our A,B,C’s and the foundation for financial health.

A – Ask the tough questions (How much debt do I have? Am I consistently going overdraft? Do I have anything in collections? What’s impacting my credit score?)

B – Break up with your bank (Don’t stay in a toxic relationship with a bank, switch to an Internet-only bank or a credit union)

C – Commit to a long-term plan

The attentive participants asked questions about credit scores, balance transfers, overdraft fees and handling their debt.

Nick reiterated over-and-over that one needn’t be rich in order to have a strong credit score; it’s based on responsibility. Prompt by this comment, one listener raised her hand and commented about her shock that her credit score sat in the high 700s even though she had debt.

“Do you pay your bills on time?” asked Nick

“Yes,” she responded.

“Do you max out your cards?” he followed up

“Not anymore,” she said with a half-hearted laugh.

“Well, the credit bureaus see you as responsible. It isn’t about how much money you have, it’s about how responsible you act with your credit,” Nick explained. “You don’t need to be rich to have a good credit score, but a good credit score can save you a lot of money.”

A short time later, the three of us sat in front of two seventeen-year-old boys from the Chambliss Center’s residential program. At the tender age of 18, these young men will age out of the foster care system and be required to live independently.

In an effort to prepare them for their eighteenth birthday, the three of us spoke with the young men basic personal finance, building credit history and why it’s imperative to stay away from predatory lending like title loans, pay day lenders and overdraft fees.

One of the young men, who will turn 18 in four months time, lobbed us question after question about handling his finances including the astute inquiry, “I once heard no credit is as bad as bad credit, is that true?” We answered his questions and gave him our business cards, asking he keep in touch and reach out about any questions when he was handling his own financial affairs.

The next two days were spent in one-on-one meetings with members of the Chambliss staff and parents.

We spent 45 minutes blocks of time sitting down with individuals and discussing their financial situations. Some were concerned with improving their credit scores while others weren’t sure about how to battle overdraft fees and most wondered if they could dig themselves out of debt. We kept our talks conversational and educational before exploring if we could help each individual save some money. We consistently had people tell us they wanted to as much as they could about money to keep their children from repeating their mistakes. One woman went so far as to say, “In my family, bad money habits have been passed down from generation to generation. It will end with me.”

In a few cases, we were able to make a sizable dent in people’s debt and help them learn how to handle future emergencies without turning to title loans or pay day lenders. But those stories will be shared later this week.

The Chambliss Center stands as a pillar of hope for men and women struggling to raise their children while they need to work, or go back to school and often times serve as the single parent.  We felt fortunate to speak with their inspiring staff and the parents who work so diligently to ensure their children are provided with excellent care and education.

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