What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

June 1, 2020

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway
Suite 300
Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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April 15, 2020

Are Hybrids Cost Effective?

Are Hybrids Cost Effective?

Do hybrids save you money? It’s an age-old question that’s generated substantial controversy.

Fortunately, the years have produced a lot of research on the issue. The results are clear; hybrids almost never break even with their gas-powered equivalents.

Upfront Cost
Hybrids almost always start off at a savings disadvantage when compared to gas cars. They can cost you on average thousands of dollars more upfront than a gas-powered car. For instance, a hybrid Toyota Corolla costs about $23,100,¹ while a gas version costs about $19,600.² So hybrids start you off quite a chunk of money in the hole. How can they make up for the initial disadvantage?

Gas mileage
Hybrids, unfortunately, don’t really pay for themselves at the pump, at least not quickly. Most hybrids will take years to pay for themselves, with some taking over a decade.³ You might want to do your research to compare hybrid and gas-powered models of the same car and see when the hybrids will recoup their higher costs!

Repairs, warranty, and incentives
Hybrids and gas powered vehicles are pretty similar in terms of reliability, but with one exception. Hybrid car batteries are incredibly durable and can sometimes last for the lifespan of the car. They’re pricey if they do fail (up to a few grand) but that’s often covered by warranties. Unfortunately, that’s really their only advantage. In absence of government incentives, hybrids are overall comparable maintenance-wise to gas cars.

Conclusion
That’s not to say that there aren’t reasons for driving a hybrid. Hybrids are awesome if you hate the experience of refueling a car. They’re also great if you’re environmentally conscious and don’t want to shell out for an electric car. Just know that you won’t start saving money until a few years have gone by!

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April 8, 2020

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Are Solar Panels Cost Effective?

Cutting down on energy bills can be brutal.

Leaving the heat off during a Montana winter? Terrible. Not touching the AC during a Georgia summer? Forget about it. What if there were a way to fully power your house and not pay monthly bills? What if the sun could power your house for free? Sounds too good to be true right?

And it is. But there’s a case to be made that provided you have the cash for them upfront, solar panels can be cost effective over the long haul. Here’s a breakdown on how.

How much do you spend on power?
The first consideration is how much you spend annually on power. The cost of electricity and usage vary from state to state, but they average out to about $0.13/kWh (1). The average household uses about 867kWh per month, so the average annual cost for power comes out to be around $1,352 (2). Over a 25 year period that adds up to roughly $33,800.

What’s the total cost of installation?
Power is expensive. But so are solar panels. The average cost for a solar panel system is between $15,000 and $25,000 (3). And let’s assume hiring a contractor for installation would run you about $6,300 (though self-installation is possible). Your total costs could be between $21,300 and $31,300 dollars. Part replacement is also worth keeping in mind. Panels are typically warranted for 25 years, but individual parts might have shorter warranty periods (4).

Tax Incentives
One of the big perks of going solar is tax incentives. Right now, the federal government allows citizens to claim 26% of the cost for solar panels installed by Dec. 31, 2020. That gets reduced in 2020 to 22% and vanishes entirely on Dec. 31, 2021 (5). That could make a big difference in your total long-run savings.

Total Savings
So let’s assume you spend $20,000 on a solar panel system and pay $6,300 on installation and claim the 26% tax incentive. That brings your total to $19,462. That’s $14,338 less than you would have originally spent on power!

There are several factors to consider before you go out and install solar panels. Remember that all these numbers will vary depending on your state and region. Daily hours of sunshine will affect your panels’ efficiency. Do research on costs in your area and consult with professionals before you make any big decisions!

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March 23, 2020

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Let’s face it—we’ve all botched a New Year’s fitness resolution.

Sure, we started the year with great intentions and a few gym visits, but it didn’t take long for our resolve to waver and we never returned. However, many of us have kept that membership around. After all, we paid so much to sign up that we might as well hold on to it just in case our motivation comes back, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that gym membership might have been a bad value right from the start. But how can you tell? Here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about finally moving on from your overly ambitious New Year’s resolution.

How gym memberships work
Gym memberships seem pretty simple on the surface; you pay once a month for access to gym equipment during operating hours. But annual fees and initiation fees can add up pretty quickly, meaning that you can potentially sink hundreds of dollars into a gym. National gym chains may range in price from $164 to $1,334 per year, but the national average comes out to $696 annually. Plus, some gyms make you sign a contract locking you into a year-long membership. You have to pay for the membership regardless if you work out!

The big question: Are you paying for something you won’t use?
Gym memberships are more cost effective the more you take advantage of them. Going to the gym seven times a week at an average priced gym? Let’s do the math. You’ll pay $1.90 per visit. Go four times per week? $3.36 (1).

But let’s say you visit the gym about four times per month for an hour-long sweat session. You’ll wind up spending $14.50 per hour! To put that in perspective, we spend an average of $0.28 on Netflix per hour. Sitting around watching TV is far more cost effective than working out.

Alternatives to gym memberships
So what can you do if you want to get fit but don’t want the potential financial black hole of a gym membership? It’s often cheaper in the long run to build your own gym at home rather than getting a membership. You also might want to see if your apartment or office has a serviceable gym. If all else fails, you can always do body weight exercises. You might be surprised by how grueling and intense push-ups and squats can be!

The bottom line is that the keys to making your gym membership worth it are motivation and discipline. The cost of buying a membership isn’t enough incentive (2). You have to find a deeper drive to get you in the gym week in and week out. Check out the costs of your local gym, weigh the alternatives, and ask yourself why you want to start working out before you sign that contract!

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October 21, 2019

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

Is Survivorship Life Insurance Right For You?

A survivorship life insurance policy is a type of joint insurance policy (a policy built for two).

You may not have thought much about that type of insurance before, or even knew it existed. But joint policies, especially survivorship policies, are important to consider because they can provide for heirs, settle estates, and pay for final expenses after both spouses have passed.

Most joint life insurance policies are what’s known as “first to die” policies. As the unambiguous nickname suggests, a first to die policy is designed to provide for the remaining spouse after the first passes.

A joint life insurance policy is a time-tested way of providing for a remaining spouse. But without careful planning, a typical joint life policy might leave a burden for surviving children or other family members.

A survivorship life insurance policy works differently than a first to die policy. Also called a “last to die” policy, a survivorship policy provides a death benefit only when both insured spouses have passed. A survivorship policy doesn’t pay a death benefit to either spouse but rather to a separate named beneficiary.

You’ll find survivorship life insurance referred to as:

  • Joint Survivor Life Insurance
  • Second-to-Die Life Insurance
  • Variable Survivorship Insurance

Survivorship life insurance policies are sometimes referred to by different names, but the structure is the same in that the policy only pays a benefit after both people insured by the policy have died.

Reasons to Buy Survivorship Life Insurance
We all have our reasons for buying a life insurance policy, and often have someone in mind who we want to protect and provide for. Those reasons often dictate the best type of policy – or the best combination of policies – that can meet our goals.

A survivorship policy is well-suited to any of the following considerations, perhaps in combination with other policies:

  • Final expenses
  • Estate taxes
  • Lingering medical expenses
  • Payment of debt
  • Transfer of wealth

It’s also most common for a survivorship life insurance policy to be a permanent life insurance policy. This is because the reasons for using a survivorship policy, including transfer of wealth, are usually better served by a permanent life policy than by a term insurance policy. (A term life insurance policy is only in force for a limited time and doesn’t build any cash value.)

Benefits of Survivorship Life Insurance

  • A survivorship life policy can be an effective way to transfer wealth as part of a financial strategy.
  • Life insurance can be difficult to purchase for individuals with certain health conditions. Because a survivorship life insurance policy is underwriting coverage based on two individuals, it may be possible to purchase coverage for someone who couldn’t easily be insured otherwise.
  • As a permanent life insurance policy, a survivorship life policy builds cash value that can be accessed if needed in certain situations.
  • Costs can be lower for a survivorship life policy than insuring two spouses individually.

The good news is that life insurance rates are more affordable now than in the past. That’s great! But keep in mind, your life insurance policy – of any type – will probably cost less now than if you wait for another birthday to pass for either spouse insured by the policy.

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May 13, 2019

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

Your first lesson isn’t actually one of the six.

It can be found in the title of this article. The best time to start teaching your children about financial decisions is when they’re children! Adults don’t typically take advice well from other adults (especially when they’re your parents and you’re trying to prove to them how smart and independent you are).

Heed this advice: Involve your kids in your family’s financial decisions and challenge them with game-like scenarios from as early as their grade school years.

Starting your kids’ education young can help give them a respect for money, remove financial mysteries, and establish deep-rooted beliefs about saving money, being cautious regarding risk, and avoiding debt.

Here are 6 critical financially-related lessons EVERY parent should foster in the minds of their kids:

1. Co-signing a loan

The Mistake: ‘I’m in a good financial position now. I want to be helpful. They said they’ll get me off the loan in 6 months or so.’

The Realities: If the person you’re co-signing for defaults on their payments, you’re required to make their payments, which can turn a good financial situation bad, fast. Also, lenders are not incentivized to remove co-signers – they’re motivated to lower risk (hence having a co-signer in the first place). This can make it hard to get your name off a loan, regardless of promises or good intentions. Keep in mind that if a family member or friend has a rough credit history – or no credit history – that requires them to have a co-signer, what might that tell you about the wisdom of being their co-signer? And finally, a co-signing situation that goes bad may ruin your credit reputation, and more tragically, may ruin your relationship.

The Lesson: ‘Never, ever, EVER, co-sign a loan.’

2. Taking on a mortgage payment that pushes the budget

The Mistake: ‘It’s our dream house. If we really budget tight and cut back here and there, we can afford it. The bank said we’re pre-approved…We’ll be sooo happy!’

The Realities: A house is one of the biggest purchases couples will ever make. Though emotion and excitement are impossible to remove from the decision, they should not be the driving forces. Just because you can afford the mortgage at the moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in 5 or 10 years. Situations can change. What would happen if either partner lost their job for any length of time? Would you have to tap into savings? Also, many buyers dramatically underestimate the ongoing expenses tied to maintenance and additional services needed when owning a home. It’s a general rule of thumb that home owners will have to spend about 1% of the total cost of the home every year in upkeep. That means a $250,000 home would require an annual maintenance investment of $2,500 in the property. Will you resent the budgetary restrictions of the monthly mortgage payments once the novelty of your new house wears off?

The Lesson: ‘Never take on a mortgage payment that’s more than 25% of your income. Some say 30%, but 25% or less may be a safer financial position.’

3. Financing for a new car loan

The Mistake: ‘Used cars are unreliable. A new car will work great for a long time. I need a car to get to work and the bank was willing to work with me to lower the payments. After test driving it, I just have to have it.’

The Realities: First of all, no one ‘has to have’ a new car they need to finance. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘a new car starts losing its value the moment you drive it off the lot.’ Well, it’s true. According to CARFAX, a car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive away from the dealership and another 10% by the end of the first year. That’s 20% of value lost in 12 months. After 5 years, that new car will have lost 60% of its value. Poof! The value that remains constant is your monthly payment, which can feel like a ball and chain once that new car smell fades.

The Lesson: ‘Buy a used car you can easily afford and get excited about. Then one day when you have saved enough money, you might be able to buy your dream car with cash.’

4. Financial retail purchases

The Mistake: ‘Our refrigerator is old and gross – we need a new one with a touch screen – the guy at the store said it will save us hundreds every year. It’s zero down – ZERO DOWN!’

The Realities: Many of these ‘buy on credit, zero down’ offers from appliance stores and other retail outlets count on naive shoppers fueled by the need for instant gratification. ‘Zero down, no payments until after the first year’ sounds good, but accrued or waived interest may often bite back in the end. Credit agreements can include stipulations that if a single payment is missed, the card holder can be required to pay interest dating back to the original purchase date! Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards may be enticing to shoppers who are offered an immediate 10% off their first purchase when they sign up. They might think, ‘I’ll use it to establish credit.’ But that store card can have a high interest rate. Best to think of these cards as putting a tiny little ticking time bomb in your wallet or purse.

The Lesson: ‘Don’t buy on credit what you think you can afford. If you want a ‘smart fridge,’ consider saving up and paying for it in cash. Make your mortgage and car payments on time, every time, if you want to help build your credit.’

5. Going into business with a friend

The Mistake: ‘Why work for a paycheck with people I don’t know? Why not start a business with a friend so I can have fun every day with people I like building something meaningful?’

The Realities: “This trap actually can sound really good at first glance. The truth is, starting a business with a friend can work. Many great companies have been started by two or more chums with a shared vision and an effective combination of skills. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:

  • Lose whatever money is contributed as start-up capital
  • Agree at the outset how conflicts will be resolved
  • Avoid talking about business while in the company of family and friends
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Develop a well-thought out operating agreement

The Lesson: ‘Understand that the money, pressures, successes, and failures of business have ruined many great friendships. Consider going into business individually and working together as partners, rather than co-owners.’

6. Signing up for a credit card

The Mistake: ‘I need to build credit and this particular card offers great points and a low annual fee! It will only be used in case of emergency.’

The Reality: There are other ways to establish credit, like paying your rent and car loan payments on time. The average American household carries a credit card balance averaging over $16,000. Credit cards can lead to debt that may take years (or decades) to pay off, especially for young people who are inexperienced with budgeting and managing money. The point programs of credit cards are enticing – kind of like when your grocer congratulates you for saving five bucks for using your VIP shopper card. So how exactly did you save money by spending money?

The Lesson: ‘Learn to discipline yourself to save for things you want to buy and then pay for them with cash. Focus on paying off debt – like student loans and car loans – not going further into the hole. And when you have to get a credit card, make sure to pay it off every month, and look for cards with rewards points. They are, in essence, paying you! But be sure to keep Lesson 5 in mind!’

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August 20, 2018

5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business

5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business

Does anything sound better than being your own boss?

Well, maybe a brand new sports car or free ice cream for life. But even a state-of-the-art fully-decked-out sports car will eventually need routine maintenance, and the taste of mint chocolate chip can get old after a while.

The same kinds of things can happen when you start your own business. There are many details to consider and seemingly endless tasks to keep organized after the initial excitement of being your own boss and keeping your own hours has faded. Circumstances are bound to arise that no one ever prepared you for!

Although this list is not exhaustive, here are 5 things to get you started when creating a business of your own:

1. Startup cost
The startup cost of your business depends heavily on the type of business you want to have. To estimate the startup cost, make a list of anything and everything you’ll need to finance in the first 6 months. Then take each expense and ask:

  • Is this cost fixed or variable?
  • Essential or optional?
  • One-time or recurring?

Once you’ve determined the frequency and necessity of each cost for the first 6 months, add it all together. Then you’ll have a ballpark idea of what your startup costs might be.

(Hint: Don’t forget to add a line item for those unplanned, miscellaneous expenses!)

2. Competitors
“Find a need, and fill it” is general advice for starting a successful business. But if the need is apparent, how many other businesses will be going after the same space to fill? And how do you create a business that can compete? After all, keeping your doors open and your business frequented is priority #1.

The simplest and most effective solution? Be great at what you do. Take the time to learn your business and the need you’re trying to fill – inside and out. Take a step back and think like a customer. Try to imagine how your competitors are failing at meeting customers’ needs. What can you do to solve those issues? Overcoming these hurdles can’t guarantee that your doors will stay open, but your knowledge, talent, and work ethic can set you apart from competitors from the start. This is what builds life-long relationships with customers – the kind of customers that will follow you wherever your business goes.

(Hint: The cost of your product or service should not be the main differentiator from your competition.)

3. Customer acquisition
The key to acquiring customers goes back to the need you’re trying to fill by running your business. If the demand for your product is high, customer acquisition may be easier. And there are always methods to bring in more. First and foremost, be aware of your brand and what your business offers. This will make identifying your target audience more accurate. Then market to them with a varied strategy on multiple fronts: content, email, and social media; search engine optimization; effective copywriting; and the use of analytics.

(Hint: The amount of money you spend on marketing – e.g., Google & Facebook ads – is not as important as who you are targeting.)

4. Building product inventory
This step points directly back to your startup cost. At the beginning, do as much research as you can, then stock your literal (or virtual) shelves with a bit of everything feasible you think your target audience may want or need. Track which products (or services) customers are gravitating towards – what items in your inventory disappear the most quickly? What services in your repertoire are the most requested? After a few weeks or months you’ll have real data to analyse. Then always keep the bestsellers on hand, followed closely by seasonal offerings. And don’t forget to consider making a couple of out-of-the-ordinary offerings available, just in case. Don’t underestimate the power of trying new things from time to time; you never know what could turn into a success!

(Hint: Try to let go of what your favorite items or services might be, if customers are not biting.)

5. Compliance with legal standards
Depending on what type of business you’re in, there may be standards and regulations that you must adhere to. For example, hiring employees falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Federal Employment Laws. There are also State Labor Laws to consider.

(Hint: Be absolutely sure to do your research on the legal matters that can arise when beginning your own business. Not many judges are very accepting of “But, Your Honor, I didn’t know that was illegal!”)

Starting your own business is not an impossible task, especially when you’re prepared. And what makes preparing yourself even easier is becoming your own boss with an established company like mine.

The need for financial professionals exists – everyone needs to know how money works, and many people need help in pursuing financial independence. My company works with well-known and respected companies to provide a broad range of products for our customers. We take pride in equipping families with products that meet their financial needs.

Anytime you’re ready, I’d be happy to share my own experience with you – as well as many other things to consider.

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