Is There a New iPhone? Nope, It’s Just Homeowners Lining Up for Home Remodeling Cash

For two days, as the calendar flipped from May to June, Renee Wallace lived in a tent. She set up camp on a sidewalk in Whitehall, Ohio, and waited.

To be clear, Wallace has a home, which she loves. That’s why she needed to rough it outside the door of the Whitehall municipal building for two days — she was first in line for a first-come, first-served home rehabilitation program, in which Whitehall residents could be reimbursed for up to $7,500 in property improvements. On Monday, June 1, at 8 a.m., Wallace was the first to turn in her application, securing her future reimbursement (pending a few meetings and completion of the project). The money was all spoken for less than 5 minutes later.

“Our waiting list pretty much started at 5 minutes,” said Gail Martineau, a Whitehall spokeswoman. “I told people not to be discouraged, we will work our way down the wait list.”

Renee Wallace's home

Applicants must front the money for their remodeling projects and complete them within a year in order to receive their reimbursement. The grants cover half the remodeling expenses, up to $7,500, but the home improvements must fit a specific set of criteria.

“[It’s] all stuff that you can see from the street, because we want to make a visible difference in the community,” Martineau said. Painting, new windows, siding, front landscaping, front porches — work that would improve the curb appeal of the property. This year, applicants could include driveway work in their projects and receive 25% of the cost in reimbursement. Applications are only available to residents whose annual household income does not exceed $125,000.

The program started last year, and Robert Miller’s wife, Linda Powell, was one of the people in line. In fact, she was the last person to submit an application before the wait list started.

“We lucked out,” Miller said. He and Powell were watching the 11 o’clock news (a rare event in their household) one night last summer and heard about the program. “We looked at each other and she said, ‘Do you think I should go down there in the morning?’” Powell got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day, and when she got to the municipal building, she was 25th in line. This year, Martineau estimates the city will fund reimbursements for between 25 and 27 projects.

Putting the Money to Work

Wallace heard about the program too late last year and missed the opportunity. She lives in one of the oldest homes in Whitehall (a fact she attributes to the Whitehall Historical Society). Wallace’s house was built in 1910 and was part of the Underground Railroad, and the history is part of what she loves so much about it, but old homes can take a lot of time and money to fix up and maintain.

Her plan is to replace windows and siding — many of the windows in Wallace’s home are original, leaving her home very cold in the winter.

“Those old houses are so drafty and cold, and I’m looking forward to a warm winter,” Wallace said.

Miller and Powell replaced windows and their front door, in addition to painting the house and landscaping the front. Miller is a school teacher and did most of the work during his summer break. Their renovations took about 2 1/2 months and cost about $11,000 — by November, Miller had turned in the receipts, the city audited the project and Miller and Powell received their reimbursement check for half their expenses.

miller-powell house

The couple financed part of the project through the window and door company they used, and they received a six-month 0% financing period. They repaid the costs during that period with their reimbursement, so they didn’t have to pay interest on their materials.

Just as the city program hoped, homeowners near Miller’s house were inspired by his renovations and made some improvements to their properties, too, enhancing the look of the neighborhood. Such renovations tend to increase property values, and by extension, property taxes, but Miller said that hasn’t happened yet.

“Part of the city agreement is that they will do no special assessment,” he said. “We had our three-year review about a month before we started the project so we still have about two years before those will go up.”

While making home improvements is a great way to increase your property value, it’s always important to weigh the costs of renovations against the benefits. It can be quite an undertaking — getting estimates, applying for permits, staying within your budget — so make sure you’re in a place where you feel you can financially absorb the impact of the project. If you need to apply for financing, you’ll want to know where your credit score stands, because the better your credit is, the more likely you’ll be able to secure affordable financing terms. You can get two of your credit scores for free on and updated every 30 days to monitor for important changes.

Inset images courtesy Renee Wallace & Robert Miller/Linda Powell

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Unconscious & Cost-Conscious: The Plight of an Uninsured Hospital Patient

Imagine a relaxing stroll in the park becoming a nightmare when a falling branch results in an emergency room visit. Even the most cost-conscious consumer — if it’s a patient who’s lost consciousness — has no control over which hospital the ambulance chooses.

Scenarios like this happen, and where the ambulance delivers you can result in dramatically different bills. For patients who have private insurance or are covered under public programs, there may be a buffer against high charges. For uninsured patients, they are left on their own to negotiate the price of their care.

A recent study found that there is enormous variation across hospitals in terms of what they charge. The study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health generated headlines declaring that hospitals are charging the uninsured more than 10 times the cost of care. This report focuses attention on the fact that health care pricing lacks transparency. It compared what hospitals charge for a procedure to what Medicare – the federal health care program for elderly and disabled – would actually pay the hospital for the care. On average, hospitals charge nearly 3.5 times the Medicare rates.

The report found that the top 20 hospitals charge more than 10 times the Medicare rate. The Medicare rate is set by the federal government. And 49 of the 50 hospitals with the highest charges were for-profit hospitals. Half of them were owned by a single chain.

Many cry price-gouging, but the response from the for-profit hospital industry claims the study is an unfair assessment of hospital prices. They assert that charges are not a relevant measure of what consumers, insurers or government programs pay for services.

To be fair, what hospitals charge and what they expect patients to pay are generally two very different numbers. For patients covered by the other large public program, Medicaid (a federal/state program for low income individuals and families), the government sets the rates. Privately insured patients reap the benefit of discounts that their insurers are able to negotiate off of the initial charge.

So, does the sticker price really matter? Well, yes it does. Many claim that hospitals increase the rates charged to hike reimbursement from payers. For example, starting with higher rates in negotiations on insurance discounts can drive up even these discounted prices.

Who is likely to pay the highly inflated, sticker-price rate? To begin, patients with no insurance may be asked to pay the highest rates. Insured patients who seek care from an out-of-network provider may also end up paying the sticker price. Same, too, for patients covered by workers compensation insurance or automobile personal injury protection.

Both for-profit and nonprofit hospitals claim that few patients pay the sticker price. This may be true, but how would the average patient even know? For patients of nonprofit hospitals, this should be easy to assess. Obamacare included a provision that all nonprofit hospitals must have written financial (charity care) assistance policies that are to be posted on the hospital website. The policy should explain how the sticker rate is discounted for patients who qualify for assistance. One way to find these assistance policies is to do a search for charity care or financial assistance using the hospital website’s search function.

For patients at for-profit hospitals, it is not so simple. They are not subject to the same Obamacare rules since they do not get federal tax-exemptions. However, even for-profit hospitals claim to give breaks to uninsured patients – though the terms of those discounts can be rather opaque. And if you don’t know about these discounts, you may be billed the sticker price, be hounded for payment and have your credit ruined if the bill is sent to collection and reported to the credit bureaus.

What to Do If You Get a Big Bill

Here is some solid advice for anyone with a large hospital bill. First, contact the hospital and ask if it is a for-profit or nonprofit hospital.

If the hospital is a nonprofit, ask for a copy of their financial assistance policy. They are required under federal law to provide it to you. The policy should outline whether assistance is available to both insured and uninsured patients and explain how to apply.

If the hospital is a for-profit, ask them whether they have a financial assistance or charity care policy. If you are uninsured, ask about their uninsured discount policy. Ask them for a copy of their policy. Let them know if you need help with your bill, and apply for assistance. Just remember, the for-profit hospitals are not required to offer it — though many do.

A final note on the research: The industry claims that few patients pay the sticker price. If you feel that you are being charged an inflated rate for services, ask the hospital for an itemized bill that breaks out all discounts and assistance provided. And if you are still puzzled by the bill, look for a qualified health care consumer advocate to help you resolve it.

[Editor’s note: It’s important to check your credit reports regularly for accuracy and for your own information. You can see whether any medical debts are affecting your credit by getting your free annual credit reports from, and you can get a free credit report summary from every month to watch for important changes.]

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.

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This article by Mark Rukavina was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

What Can I Do With Unused College Savings?

Secondary education in America is expensive — there is no doubt about it. But there are some programs in place to help parents or guardians save for college. A 529 plan, the tax-advantaged investment vehicle operated by a state or educational institution, can be a great way to fund higher education expenses. It offers a lot of flexibility as far as how much you can save, who can use the money and what you can do if there are leftover funds after your student graduates.

If you have a lot of money saved in one of these accounts and then your student receives large scholarships or decides not to attend college, you can end up with a surplus, and there are some strings attached. Check out some tips to repurposing leftover 529 funds.

Don’t Touch

The day after graduation is not when you should be worrying about these funds — unless you can withdraw them for school-related expenses from the past six months. This money will continue to grow tax-free indefinitely, as long as there is a living beneficiary. Another great aspect of the 529 plan is that it is not limited to use on a bachelor’s degree. You never know if you will end up going back to school, so consider letting the account grow while you weigh the pros and cons of returning to graduate degree or working toward a professional degree. This money can be used for tuition and fees, books, supplies and room and board in the future so there is no reason to rush a decision.

Keep It In the Family

If you can be fairly certain the intended student will never be using the money, you might want to consider passing it along. You can transfer any excess 529 funds to another beneficiary at any time by contacting your plan administrator. Even if you do not have kids, you can pass it to a niece, nephew, your parents or even yourself. Most plans allow you to make this change once a year. You can also leave it to a future student such as a grandchild or heir because there are no time limits on when you need to withdraw 529 funds. You can designate who you want control of the account once you are gone and even if you do not make any new contributions, the money will continue to grow tax-free.

Know the Rules

These options can be best if you have done an excellent job planning for not only college education but all other expenses in life. However, if you find yourself in need of these funds for other purposes, you can access them, with a catch. These withdrawals come with a penalty. It’s important to study up on your plan’s regulations so you understand exactly what you will face when extracting the money for uses other than educational. The more you know about the rules, the better you can weigh your options and act. You will likely pay a 10% penalty plus income tax on any gains earned during your 529’s investment period. This may not be worth using for a family vacation but may make sense for paying off high-interest debt.

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The Sex Pistols Aren’t the Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Band With Their Own Credit Card

Sex Pistols credit cards. The ironic headlines wrote themselves. The British band that embodied rebellion will now grace the front of Virgin Money credit cards and pocket Richard Branson’s money while perhaps encouraging consumers to spend more of theirs.

A critic might be tempted to call it the most dramatic sellout ever, given the Sex Pistols anti-consumerism message, but that would ignore the Country Life butter TV ad that singer John Lydon appeared in several years ago. (Later, bragging about the ad’s success, Lydon told the Guardian newspaper, “It amazes me that people don’t get the opportunity of me … I sell.”

But let’s not pretend this is the first time a famous person has tried to make a buck on plastic. It’s not even the first time a rock band has tried to make a buck by appearing on plastic — far from it.

Back in the mid-1990s the Rolling Stones lent their images to credit cards. KISS, Elvis and Johnny Cash are pictured on credit cards. But then, so is your college, and your favorite professional sports team and…well, just about anything. The image on a credit card really doesn’t mean much, unless it comes with some kind of benefit, like points toward free game tickets. The Sex Pistols credit card comes with a standard interest rate of 18.9% APR and fees, according to the Guardian.

And it’s not just rock ‘n’ roll bands that have their own plastic products. Other music moguls are getting in on the act too. Hip hop star Russell Simmons has the RushCard. Hillary Duff had a card targeting teenagers. Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire have tried to attract the country crowd to prepaid cards.

And then there was Justin Bieber, who back in 2013 hawked a card arguably designed to make it easier for kids to spend their parents’ money. Bieber was paid $3.75 million for a 14-month contract to promote a product that was initially called BillMyParents, but morphed into SpendSmart, according to the New York Times.

With the variety of musical acts getting in on the credit card business, maybe a simple credit card image of the Sex Pistols isn’t the sell-out it might initially appear. Still, the partnership is a bit odd, given that the Sex Pistols actually refused to appear at their own induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, calling the institution a…. well, we can’t really write what they called it. Something like bollocks.

Keep in mind that you may be paying extra for a celebrity-sponsored credit cards (they have to pay the celebrity somehow, right?), so keep an eye out for high fees and thoroughly read the card’s terms. Comparing offers can help you determine the best credit card for you. No matter what kind of credit card you’re shopping for, it’s always important to know where your credit stands, since your credit score will play a part in determining whether your application is approved and the interest rates you’ll be granted. You can check your credit scores for free on

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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Can You Pay Back a Debt in Pennies?

Imagine $2,064 in “nice rolls of quarters nickels and gold dollars” and then imagine trying to use that money to pay a bill. One of our readers tried to do just that. Whether he was ticked off about having to pay that debt (he did say he videotaped his attempt), or whether that was simply the cash he had on hand, he says his payment was refused.

His question to us: Can they really turn down legal tender for the payment of a bill?

The answer is normally yes. You’ve no doubt seen signs at gas stations or convenience stores saying bills larger than $20 are not accepted. It’s much the same thing. In fact, banks have been known not to accept payment in coins (or to redirect the would-be payer to a branch with a large-enough safe to accommodate the payment).

Banks have to verify and count the coins, says Nessa Feddis, senior vice president of the American Bankers Association, and it costs them money to do so. “People think that if banks have machines that count the money, then it should be free, but the machines cost money,” she said. And you have to wonder about the motivation to pay in a manner that requires a wheelbarrow.

Furthermore, there is no law that entitles people to use coins to pay their bills.

The part of law that applies to accepting money is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled “Legal tender.” It says, “United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”

“This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor,” according to the U.S. Treasury website. But there is no federal requirement that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as payment. Private businesses can develop their own policies unless there is a state law that says otherwise. “For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills,” the website says.

As cumbersome as it may be to accept payment that comes in coins, sometimes businesses do so. (If you’re going this route, it’s best to have the coins neatly rolled and to get the business’s permission.) If your payment is rejected by a creditor because it’s being made in coins, keep in mind that you may want to consider using another payment method to avoid a potential late fee and a late payment recorded on your credit report. You can check your credit scores for free on to see if late payments are affecting your credit.

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Is There a Statute of Limitation for My Student Loans?

Is there a statute of limitations on student loan debt? An essay in the New York Times by a writer who strategically defaulted on his student loans has rekindled the ongoing debate about the fairness of allowing young people to be saddled with large — or even massive — debt, sometimes for the rest of their lives, and what happens when they decide to buck the system.

But not all student loans last forever. Whether it does depends in part on the type of loan. Private student loans are subject to statutes of limitation. Federal student loans, however, have not been subject to statutes of limitation for nearly 25 years.

“The elimination of the statute of limitation for government student loans in 1991 placed borrowers in unenviable, rarified company with murderers, traitors, and only a few violators of civil laws,” wrote the National Consumer Law Center in a policy brief.

Statutes of limitation generally limit how long creditors or collectors can sue borrowers to collect debts. In most cases, collectors can still try to collect on time-barred debts, but may be limited in their ability to use the courts to do so. Consumers who are sued for debts beyond the statute of limitation (a.k.a. “time barred” debts) can raise the statute of limitation as a defense against the lawsuit.

The statute of limitation usually begins when a borrower last made a payment or defaulted. Making a payment at a later date, or in some cases even acknowledging the debt, can restart the clock on the statute of limitation.

Why It’s Important to Seek Legal Guidance

Statutes of limitations are a matter of state law, and the time period that applies to a specific loan is not always clear.

There are primarily two ways that state laws handle the statute of limitations, explains Joshua Cohen, a consumer lawyer who specializes in student loan law. Some states are “procedural,” he says. In those states, the law of the state in which the lawsuit is filed applies. (Debt collectors must sue debtors where the debtor currently lives.) “If you are in Connecticut, it’s a six-year statute of limitations, and you are stuck with (the law of) the state where you live.”

In other states, this time period is “substantive,” he says. In those states, “the courts say whatever law governs the contract” is the one that applies. Florida is one of these states. If the lawsuit was filed against a debtor in Florida, “the statute of limitations from the state of the contract” would apply, says Cohen. That period might be shorter than the five-year Florida statute of limitation, but it couldn’t be longer. And still other states, such as New York, have “borrowing statutes,” he says which means it “borrows the statute (of another state) based on the contract.”

And then there are additional nuances. Cohen explains: “In Vermont, there is a six-year statute of limitation, but if (the contract) is witnessed, it is 10 years. In Pennsylvania those signed under seal have a 20-year statute of limitation and at least one lender buries a clause in there that says it is signed under seal,” he says.

Sometimes these limits are based on case law rather than clearly spelled out in state law. In other words, they aren’t always crystal clear, even for attorneys, much less for consumers. Therefore, consumers who are facing default or collection on a private student loan would be wise to contact a consumer law attorney in their state for help.

“Get an opinion from a lawyer licensed in your state,” recommends Steve Rhode, founder of “So many of these private student loans were packaged and rebundled that challenging the loan documentation will limit if it is collectible, regardless of time.”

Borrowers can locate consumer law attorneys with experience in student loan law at or at the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Besides challenging a time-barred debt, there may be other ways that students can avoid having to repay their private student loans. “These limitations include what the loan was used for and if the school was accredited at the time of attendance,” says Rhode. “Those two facts can provide strict limitations on what part of, or whether, the loan can be collected.”

Note that the length of time that negative information such as late payments or collection accounts can remain on credit reports is governed by a different law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. So just because the statute of limitation has expired on a student loan debt, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t appear on your credit reports. And just because a debt doesn’t appear on your credit reports, that doesn’t mean that it can no longer be collected. (Either way, it’s important to check your credit reports regularly to see what’s being reported on them. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from, and you can get a free credit report summary from every month to watch for any changes.)

“The removal of both statutes of limitation and bankruptcy protections from student loans should never have happened,” says Alan Collinge, founder of Student Loan Justice. ”This has given rise to an out-of-control, predatory lending and collection system that is devastating families by the millions.” He takes particular issue with the fact that defaulted student loans are profitable for the government — and says the lack of these consumer protections are the reason why.

What Can You Do If You Can’t Pay?

Since it’s unlikely this will change in the near future, here are steps to take if you have student loan debt you can’t pay:

  • Make sure you first understand whether your loans are private or federal. (Check the National Student Loan Data System which should include your federal loans, or ask your servicer if you still aren’t sure.)
  • Get your credit reports to find out which loans are reported, and the status of those loans. While the credit reports shouldn’t be your sole source of information about these debts (reporting mistakes do happen), they may help identify loans you’ve lost track of.
  • If you have federal loans, look into loan forgiveness programs or flexible repayment plans such as Income-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment.
  • A credit counselor with expertise in student loan counseling may be able to help you navigate your options for a low fee as well.
  • If you have private loans, talk with a consumer law attorney to discuss your options, including strategic default, bankruptcy or negotiation/settlement.
  • Watch out for student loan relief scams that may charge high fees for services that are free (such as applying for payment relief directly with your servicer).

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This article by Gerri Detweiler was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How Much Tax Money Should Come Out of My Paycheck?

Q. I’m changing jobs and I’m not sure the best way to decide how much I should have withheld in taxes. My husband does side contract work and he doesn’t pay estimated taxes, so at my job now, I have them take out more each week to cover his taxes too so we don’t get slammed at the end of the year. Advice?

A. Figuring out — ahead of time — what taxes will be due can be a challenge. But you can make smart guesses to ease the process come April 15.

For starters, taxes can be tough to estimate because the withholding tax schedules do not take into consideration itemized deductions, said Howard Hook, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant with EKS Associates in Princeton, N.J. They also don’t adequately account for two high-income earners where the lower tax brackets have already been filled with the first spouse’s income, he said.

“The fact that your husband does not pay estimated taxes on his side work does make things more difficult,” Hook said.

That said, the answer to your question depends largely upon the amount of income you and your husband are currently earning, said Steve Gallo, a certified public accountant with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield, N.J.

“Without knowing what your joint tax bracket is and how much of this is attributed to your husband’s side work, giving you accurate advice would be difficult,” Gallo said.

Gallo said if your husband’s side work is a small part of your overall income, you would most likely be able to cover his taxes through your increased withholding. However, if his income is significant, covering both the income tax and his self-employment tax could prove troublesome, he said.

In order to avoid underpayment penalties, in the event you have a balance due, the IRS requires that your total withholding tax for the current year be equal or greater than your total tax liability for the prior year, Gallo said. If you meet this requirement and you still owe taxes there will be no penalties assessed.

Hook said the best way to figure out how much to withhold is to do a tax projection based on how much taxable income you think you will have in 2015.

“If you use an accountant to prepare your taxes, you should ask him or her to prepare a tax projection so that you can see how much you need to withhold,” Hook said. “If you do not use an accountant to prepare your taxes, it is more difficult to do and it probably makes sense to hire an accountant to prepare your taxes in the future.”

He said the accountant will not only help you with the tax projection, the accountant also may be able to help you find additional deductions you may not have thought of on your own.

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True Financial Grit: How Sheer Tenacity Can Help You Get Rich

You might be under the illusion that financial success is all about smarts.

Nope. Think again.

You can be the smartest mathematical guru in the world and find yourself broke.

Why is this? Don’t all the smart people get the best-paying jobs and a Lamborghini or two? Isn’t it the smart people who can shrug their shoulders at briefcases full of cash because their portfolios are too big for the hassle of making the deposit?

Well, not exactly.

You know what the secret sauce is to financial success? It’s grit, and I’m going to show you how to get it.

What’s Grit Anyway?

Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll find synonyms like courageresolvestrength and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear that someone has grit, I picture a tough, rough war hero pressing forward despite unspeakable odds. I picture a weathered sailor in the perfect storm riding the crest of a 100-foot wave destined for glory. I picture someone who doesn’t stop even in the face of danger or failure.

That’s grit, my friends.

The Importance of Grit

The interesting thing about grit is that it’s actually one of the most important qualities to have in academics. Smarts only take you so far – grit takes you beyond the limits of your mental abilities.

In an article by Emily Hanford, writing of Angela Duckworth and the research on grit, she writes:

In one study, Duckworth found that smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that, among the study participants — all students at an Ivy League school — people who are not as bright as their peers “compensate by working harder and with more determination.” And their effort pays off: The grittiest students — not the smartest ones — had the highest GPAs.

Hard workDetermination. These are ideals that have proven themselves to be valuable over and over again.

If you want to do anything notable in life, it’s probably going to require some grit. Tenacity is highly valuable. And when it comes to finances, you’re going to need a huge helping of it.

Financial Success & Grit

I believe there is a strong correlation between financial success and grit. Let me explain.

Americans are up to their eyeballs in debt. You should hear some of the stories I hear on a regular basis. While many of my clients come into my office to talk about their investments, inevitably we get on the subject of debt – which genuinely needs to be addressed as part of their overall financial strategy.

Student loans, credit cards, mortgages, business loans – every piece of debt my clients hold is a liability that takes away from their ability to invest and make money on their money. Many times, debt becomes an overwhelming burden in the lives of my clients, and they can’t see a way out. (This calculator can help you see your lifetime cost of debt.)

The problem with debt is that while it’s pretty easy to learn how to get out of it, doing so is another matter altogether. It takes well-established grit to sacrifice the majority of discretionary expenses and put in the extra hours at work to have enough money to make a real dent in the problem of debt.

Whether you’re trying to overcome burdensome debt, find a suitable career, or develop a well-balanced investment portfolio, you’re going to need some serious grit.

The truth is financial success requires a deep commitment to a set of ideals not just at the beginning of the journey, but over the long haul through everything that life throws in one’s path.

How to Grab Some Financial Grit

How do you develop grit in your financial life? I have a few suggestions…

1. Work up to larger goals.

If you want to develop some financial grit you can’t start out by tackling nearly impossible goals. If you do, failure will stomp on your dreams and you might slip into inaction.

Instead, start on a few small, attainable financial goals. For example, you might begin by creating a budget that actually works. Don’t try to become an overnight millionaire, start wherever you are on your financial journey.

Over time, once you have the foundational pieces of financial planning in place, you can work up to learning how to invest with confidence or start your own business.

2. Decide who you’re going to become.

If you feel you’re timid and don’t take many risks, it’s time to change how you view yourself. If you tell yourself day after day that you’re a nobody and you’re not going to amount to anything, well, you’ll probably fulfill your own prophecy.

Decide who you’re going to become. Who do you want to be? If you could start fresh, what would you do?

Never let who you’ve been determine who you become. Do you think I was born with my own business and a career I love? No way! I had to fight to get to where I am today. The good news is you can do the same.

3. Practice getting back up after failures.

If you can learn to get back up after failures, you’ll find some grit. Failure is often found on the path to success.

Theodore Roosevelt once said:

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure . . . than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

Don’t be afraid of failure! It will happen. Develop some grit by pressing on.

4. Develop a strong support system.

Sometimes the only way you can get through a difficult situation is with the help of others. Your grit coupled with the strength and wisdom of others might just be the recipe to get you through rough times.

That’s why I highly recommend developing a strong support system. Regardless of how much grit you can muster up, there will be occasions you’re going to need to rely on a friend or loved one.

When you do, you’ll realize that not only can others help you get through a difficult financial situation like going through a costly divorce, enduring a stock market crash or watching your business dissolve into nothing, but people can encourage you to get gritty and march forward.

Financial grit can help you find a great deal of financial stability. Remember, it’s not about smarts, it’s about how determined you are to reach your goals and stick with the plan even when trials and tribulations come your way. Go with grit!

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Oh China, You So Funny. This is Going to Hurt.

According to Shanghai Daily, consumer debt is rolling out to middle and low-income earners in China and in my opinion this will just leave innocent people slaughtered by easy credit.

Imagine living in a country where easy credit has never been available and then having your first taste of it. It will be like doing meth for the first time and being an instant addict. The thrill of easy credit actually has some of the same brain chemistry responses, just without the acne and bad teeth.

“Private capital, foreign and domestic banks and Internet companies will be allowed to set up “consumer credit” firms, which can extend small loans to the public for their retail purchases, the State Council, China’s cabinet, said on Wednesday.”

I wonder how Bank of America China is going to go over. Hopefully Capital One doesn’t translate into something bad you do with a duck and a goose. According to Google, 第一资本 actually translates back into english as First Capital. Oops.

Forecasters say the Chinese appetite for consumer credit will grow 20 percent per year.

“Compared to traditional loans offered by banks, loans designed specifically to fund retail purchases are generally small and without the need of guarantees. Such loans are especially handy for people who are either denied of credit cards by banks or whose cards have low credit lines,” said Wang Qisheng, chairman of Suning’s consumer credit arm.

And why do you think they were denied credit? I’m going to go with excessive risk of default.

As a consumer debt expert I can see what the byproduct of this kind of type of rampant credit access is going to be. It’s interesting that there appears to be little to no emphasis in passing out useless financial literacy classes before the meth gets loaded up for distribution. But then again I do have to give props to China for having teens who scored at the top of the charts on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s financial literacy test. Damn overachievers. American teens ranked ninth.

But then again, a U.S. college graduate just told me the other day, “they are garnishing my wages for way more than I can afford. I make about $1,000 a check they want to take 15% out of each check that’s 30% a month.” [Insert head slap.]

As one U.S. client told me in the past, “Shopping is my heroin and my credit card is the needle.” While that might be not quite what is reported to about to happen in China, you can imagine the emotional draw to consumption with easier access to sub-prime credit.

This will be interesting to watch since China has no real process to deal with overwhelming consumer debt and no personal bankruptcy system, yet. They probably will develop a personal bankruptcy system once consumption slows to due to over-indebtedness. It’s a lesson we learned in America, centuries ago.

China already has a suicide issue over debt problems. “By official estimates, as many as 280,000 Chinese kill themselves each year, twice the rate in the United States, says a 2008 LA Times article.

But non-government statistics find the suicide rate in China among women is the second highest in the world. And my own studies show women are most likely to suffer emotional trauma from debt than men.

The LA Times article is about the “Bridge of Death”, Nanjing Bridge, in China where desperate people jump but a kind man tries his best to save them.

“I told him to go away, it’s none of your business,” said Shi Xiqing, recalling the day Chen saved his life. Shi, 43, who collects recyclables for a living, was deep in debt after borrowing $15,000 to pay for his teenage daughter’s leukemia treatment. When he couldn’t make the loan payments, the debt collectors grew abusive, even chasing him down the street and slapping him in front of his friends.

“I couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Shi, now a close friend of his savior. “I went to the bridge because it’s convenient — a few seconds, it’ll all be over.”

Most people Chen helps don’t want to stay in touch. But Shi was different. He liked how Chen would never say no to handing over yet another small loan to tide him over, or to taking him out to a local dive for the occasional bottle of cheap liquor. Chen never tired of telling him that everything was going to be OK.

“This bridge needs people like him,” Shi said. “Without him, I would not be here today.”

And while some make the argument consumer bankruptcy can’t simply be transplanted into China, the argument can also be made that easy credit is going to create a hell of a mess and a process to deal with that should be rolled out at the same time.

And one day in China someone will do the research and find out the same thing we’ve learned in America, “Those That File Bankruptcy Do Better Than Those That Don’t.”

Hey, maybe we can give people a misfortune cookie with every new line of credit that is soon to be issued in China.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Listen Up, Government Employees: Here’s What Hackers Can Do With Your Social Security Numbers

The largest union for government employees says the massive cyberattack on the government’s Office of Personnel Management was much worse than the Obama administration previously said it was, and every federal employee’s personally identifiable information has been compromised, the Associated Press reports. The OPM data includes information on most civilian federal employees, but not members of Congress or their staffs.

In a letter sent to OPM, J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union believes information on all those federal employees, federal retirees and up to 1 million former federal employees was stolen, including their Social Security numbers, which Cox said the union believes were unencrypted. The union doesn’t have direct access to the investigation, the AP reports, but Cox said the information they have received from OPM is “sketchy” and downplays the seriousness of the attack. The government hasn’t responded to the union’s claims of encryption failures and the breach’s scope.

“[V]ery little substantive information has been shared with us, despite the fact that we represent more than 670,000 federal employees in departments and agencies throughout the executive branch,” Cox wrote in the letter to OPM, according to the AP.

Identity theft has long been a problem, but issues like data breaches and a lack of online privacy have brought identity theft concerns to the top of people’s minds. It’s a pretty broad crime, encompassing several things a person can do if they get access to your PII, or personally identifiable information.

One of the worst things that can happen in a privacy breach is exposure of Social Security numbers. They’re wrapped up in most aspects of Americans’ lives — employment, medical histories, taxes, education, bank accounts and so on. The consequences of having your Social Security number end up in someone else’s hands aren’t pretty — most of them are downright terrifying. Here are some of the things they may be able to do:

1. Open Financial Accounts

Your Social Security number is the most important piece of personal information a bank needs when extending you credit or opening an account. With that number, the thief can get credit cards or loans, and when it comes time to repay them, they won’t, damaging your credit in the process. The missed payments are tied to your Social Security number, meaning they’ll end up on your credit report.

In some ways, that’s one of the better outcomes of identity theft — you can use your credit scores and credit reports to spot fraud and put an end to it. Unfortunately, it could take a while for your credit to recover from the damage.

2. Get Medical Care

Health insurance provider Anthem was hit by a data breach recently, and people were first concerned about exposure of medical records. Anthem says medical information wasn’t compromised — Social Security numbers were, and that poses a greater threat to victims’ health.

Someone with your Social Security number could undergo medical treatment, effectively tainting your medical records. Inaccurate medical records could have deadly consequences, if you receive treatment based on a false history.

3. Steal Your Benefits

A thief could also use your Social Security number to file for unemployment or Social Security benefits, depleting the assistance you may need to access later on.

Thieves can operate under your identity for years without discovery, and some of these crimes are very difficult to detect. One of the best things you can do is regularly check your credit reports (you can also get your free credit report summary from, updated every month), reviewing them thoroughly for unauthorized accounts or public records not related to you. These red flags could indicate clerical errors or identity theft. Either way, you want to watch out for it and act as soon as you see something suspicious.

While details on the OPM breach remain unclear, those who may have been affected should prioritize monitoring their credit — it’s important to remain alert, even if you’re not sure your information has been compromised.

Want to see the other things identity thieves can do with your SSN? Click here to see the full article.

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.