One of the most popular New Year's resolutions is to get finances under control. People want to either create a budget, or stick by the one they've already got. And if a miracle takes place, they might actually, go figure, get ahead.
But some of us -- too many of us, really -- have built our finances on a house of cards. One minor wind -- temporary unemployment, an unexpected health emergency, a big sale at JCPenney's -- and the house collapses.
Just a few things for you to knowÖ
Over one million people filed for bankruptcy last year. Finance leaders expect there will be more than that this year.
According to Debt Solutions of America, 39 percent of financial problems come from overspending; 24 percent of trouble comes because of unemployment or a sudden reduced income; 15 percent of problems come from poor money management, and eight percent from a divorce or separation. The remaining 14 percent are clumped together for "other" reasons.
Credit card companies are sneakier than you may imagine. For example, the minimum required payment has gone down from an average of seven percent several years ago to 2-4 percent now. What does this mean? It'll take you longer to pay off your debt, and they'll get more interest from you.
If you pay the minimum payment of $20 on a $1000 card balance, it will take you 22 years to pay it off. Double that payment, and your debt will be gone in only three years, plus a savings of $2100 in interest.
Late fees rise every year, up seven percent from last year alone. For many cards, once you make a single late payment, your interest rate skyrockets permanently.
In 2001, the typical U.S. household has an average credit card balance of $7500, up from less than $3000 in 1990.
If you add up the debt payments for the average American on homes, cars, consumer debts, and other purchases, it equals nearly 100 percent of their income after taxes. In 1992, it was only 75 percent of our total income.
In 1990, the average U.S. household saved 7.8 percent of its income. By 1999, that same family spent 0.1 percent more than it earned.
But, did you also know that if you had put away one hundred dollars a month into a savings account, you could have more than $367,000 by retirement? Even if you started doing that at age forty, you could still have $80,000.
The best way to begin controlling your expenses is to track them. Record all expenses for a month or two. Find out where your money really goes.
Then figure out where you can cut. If your finances are in emergency, put everything on the table and yes, cell phones, satellite TVs, and other "toys" are in play.
And stick to it. Financial stability is rarely about what you bring in; it's about what you send out. You'll never be rich until you control your budget. And you'll build stability around your house of cards.