Tag Archives: interest rates

Sears, Amazon and Why We Can’t Do Our Own Investing

Ever wonder why retailers aren’t doing so well? Here’s a huge reason for it: Traditional retailers such as Sears, The Bay, Macy’s and the likes take 9 to 13 months to get a new clothing line from concept to production and into their stores to sell. Zella is a company with an extensive line of clothing. They can get an idea to production and into stores inside of two weeks! Two weeks versus a year. Wonder no longer why traditional retailers are fading quickly.

On the upside, Thursday Amazon announced they’d be selling Kenworth appliances online. Yes, Sears does have stuff people want – but now it’ll be online and in the U.S. only for the time being.

That announcement also shows why you and I really can’t do our own investing very well: When Amazon announced they’d be selling Kenworth, the stocks of other appliance retailers and manufacturers dropped by $12.5 billion collectively. From Best Buy to Whirlpool, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and the likes their stocks took a big hit. Now you and I may have figured out in a few days that, instead of Kenworth being gone, they’re now going to be a major player with Amazon behind them, but the Bay and Wall Street computers made the sell moves within a minute…

Speaking of investments, I’m going to make a bold prediction if you remember that I’m not an economist: The Bank of Canada can’t and won’t raise rates again until the U.S. does. The rate increase two weeks ago was based on thinking the U.S. would do one, too and they didn’t. The dollar is now way too high for our exporters and getting the dollar down is the main objective of the Bank of Canada. So they can’t do another increase, even if they wanted to, until the U.S. starts to raise them again.

Bad for savers, good for borrowers to get another reprieve…

What Would You Do? Pay $40 Or Destroy Your Credit?

During a recent trip to downtown Edmonton, I purchased an all-day ticket from the lot’s dispenser, put it on my dashboard, grabbed my laptop, and left. Three hours later, after my seminar, I got back to my car only to find a violation ticket for $40 under my wipers. What the heck? I was choked! It turns out that the wind had blown the receipt off my dash when I opened the passenger door to get my laptop bag.

The majority of people would ignore the ticket, while some might phone the company and try to talk their way out of it. That may work, but I doubt it. The ticket wasn’t displayed so the fine was issued. Even if someone can talk their way out of it, unless they take the extra step of getting the ticket voided in writing, it will show up again.

Within a month, the collection letters will start to arrive. Then, a few months later, this will end up at a collection agency. After their hate letter, they’ll report it to the credit bureau. You now have a collection on your report. That will drop your credit score about 100 points if you had a decent score prior to this. In other words – it’s destroys your credit.

But the chain reaction gets worse: Your interest rates on your credit line and some new borrowing will now jump a lot! Sure, you can eventually pay the ticket. There’s even a small chance you can convince them to remove it. But it’s more likely it’ll just get changed from an outstanding collection to “paid in full”. And for the next three to six years this impacts your borrowing ability or rate.

Unlike most everyone else, I swallowed hard and paid the fine the same day. Expensive lesson learned – something I call a stupid fee. But a $40 lesson is a lot cheaper than thousands of dollars in higher rates, and years of credit problems.

A Vernon person emailed me the same kind of issue. He had collection letters he ignored and now the item is on his credit file. What can he do now? Pay it and learn a very expensive lesson for the next few years.

Is There A Point In Paying Down Your Mortgage?

I recently received an email from a lady asking if there is still a point in paying down her mortgage when house prices don’t seem to be increasing.

It’s a very good question. However, she’s confusing the mortgage with the value of her house. They really aren’t connected. The mortgage is the DEBT owed – the value (up or down) is what it can be sold for. The difference is what comes out in cash equity when it’s sold. In a perfect world, the mortgage is tiny – the value is high. So what’s cashed out on sale is huge equity. Or if the mortgage balance is still high and the value hasn’t gone up much – the difference between the two is a much smaller amount of equity.

The value is what you can sell the house for. The mortgage balance determines the cheque you’ll actually get if you sell.

The difference between owing and value is your equity. If you pay down the mortgage – the equity increases. That takes work and money. If you just pay the regular mortgage, equity builds slower. On the “value” side of the house – that is a second increase, but one you can’t control much, as it’s the market and what a buyer is prepared to pay.

All of us, hopefully, will pay off the mortgage. It’s just a question of whether it’s double or triple the original amount when interest is added for 25 years, or whether it’s much quicker and thus, much less interest, by paying weekly payments (that takes about seven years off) or adding a lump sum whenever  you can.

She’s right in that it’s the last debt that should be paid as it’s the lowest interest rate. It shouldn’t even happen before paying off a car or credit card. But for someone that’s debt free, except the house, it then becomes a choice. Invest extra money, or pay off the house – or both.

For over six years now we’ve heard that there’s an imminent massive housing price correction. I guess all these ‘predictors’ will eventually be right if you just keep saying it every year. In 2014, prices increased an average of 6% while the Bank of Canada predicted a 30% correction. In 2010, the Economist warned of a 25% reduction but prices increased 6.8%.

Predicting the housing market is a game you’re bound to lose, just like trying to time the stock market. Pay down your mortgage and invest a little money each and every month. If you’re not retiring today, or not selling your house this week – watch all those investment shows for entertainment value, and not specific advice to your financial situation.

Five Steps to Mortgage Debt Freedom

Another hockey season starts today and I have two predictions: Vancouver and Edmonton won’t make the playoffs…although I’m more certain about the Oilers than the Canucks… and we’ll get another massive wave of 95,000 Scotiabank commercials…in the first week… I can’t help the Canucks and my Oilers, but I can help you with one of the main Scotia commercials.

Last year, one of the always-played commercials was a lady pulling into her driveway and a marching band came out and played.  She actually paid off her mortgage – and that’s something so few people do in a given year. The tag line was to come see Scotia to learn how to become mortgage free.

Well, you don’t actually need to do that. I’ll give you the scoop on what an appointment with them will get you in less than their 30-second commercial time.

-Shop around and get at least three quotes when your mortgage is up for renewal. They can vary by up to half a percent or more.

-If rate shopping gets you a lower rate, don’t lower the payment – shorten down the time you have left on the loan.

-Set it up for weekly payments if you can possibly afford it.

-Take advantage of your 10 or 20% prepayment privilege each year if you have a few thousand dollars.

-If you can swing it, go in and get your payment increased 10 or 20% right now. It’s not a lot, but it’ll add up to a lot.

That’s it – it really is that simple. If you do one or two of these five things you’ll be mortgage free much faster than 90% of people who are on the forever plan and a ton of people in their 50s or older who aren’t going to live long enough to pay off their home.

Getting your rate down by half a point on just a $200,000 balance will save you $1,000 a year. But, instead of dropping the payment and leaving your loan on the forever plan, just cut two or three years off the term. You’re used to paying a certain payment, so don’t think you’re saving or gaining anything if you take a lower payment.

Changing from monthly to weekly payments has the effect of paying 13 payments a year. That’ll cut the typical mortgage down by four to five years – and that’s a lot of time saving!

Lastly, almost all mortgages let you prepay up to 10 or 20% a year without penalty. If you have a bonus, a tax refund, or some money – dump it on there. It cuts the length of time by a lot. Leave the payments the same and any online calculator can show you the huge interest savings it’ll create. That’s assuming you don’t have any debt that’s at much higher rates. If so, those balances are way more of a priority.

But the best way to be mortgage debt free is still to sell your expensive home and purchase a cheaper one. Less price equals less mortgage. Unfortunately, that’s something very few people would consider…

The Downside of Low Interest Rates

Boy, did we Canadians go on a debt binge last year. Our total consumer debt, excluding mortgages, reached $1.4 trillion at the end of 2009. We are now officially the most overextended country of the big 20 developed nations. For all the pain we see from US families, we now owe more than Americans, on a per capita basis, and even more than the average Greek family! Right now, we are in debt $1.44 for every dollar of income. If there were to be a setback in the economy again, we’d be in big trouble.

Or, as we talked about a month or so ago, when rates keep climbing, we’re in the same trouble. Don’t forget, consumer debt, other than probably our fixed-rate car loans, most everything else from lines of credit to credit cards are on variable rates. That means, rates go up, you’re paying that increase the following month.

Yesterday, the Bank of Canada raised interest rates another quarter of a percent for the second time. On each $100,000 of debt that is not on a fixed rate, these two rate increases will cost you $500 a year and rising.

Behind the scenes, the federal government is taking steps to clamp down on our debt loads. A few months ago, the Federal Finance Minister announced changes to the down payments for mortgages, and the total that can be refinanced on a home.

The next wave of pressure, and nobody has talked about this, yet, is your credit cards. Starting in a few months, your minimum payment will be going up. The good news: you’ll have it paid off faster. The bad news: It’ll hit your budget to pay more as a minimum payment.

Starting with MBNA, the largest issuer of MasterCards in Canada, August will see a new and higher minimum payment. They will be the first, but not the only ones, to change the way the payment is calculated.

Why? Remember that I always say what happens in the US will come here? Well, their new credit card regulations require a box on your statement to show how long it would take to pay off the balance when making minimum payments. That will happen in Canada this fall, too. So when they increase your payment, the staggering time it’ll take to pay it in full won’t look quite so ugly when you see it in a few months.

The third reason, and it’s a big one, is that our debt load has started to increase the arrears and write offs that card issuers are having. So if they increase your payment, they get paid back faster, and have less risk. But we can also start to look for limits to be cut back for a ton of people in the next wave of clam downs. In the US, $1.5 trillion has been cut from credit limits and they’re not done yet.

I Didn’t Know – But You Need To!

I would bet that the two fastest changing industries are probably the medical field and the world of finance and credit. What was true one month gets changed, amended, legislated, or moved around, in one way or another.

Over the last couple of days I came across a number of things that are brand new, and that we all need to know:

-Scotiabank has changed their credit card agreement. That means others have, or will, follow soon. Starting in September, if you miss, or are late, on three payments in any 12 month period, your rate will go through the roof. The statement I saw jumps it by 7%.

-The two-tier interest rate charges started in the U.S. and is now here. Along with that, you will no longer receive credit limit increases automatically. You will now actually have to OK them. And that’s a good thing. Almost none of us NEED a bigger limit. The card issuers will send you the limit offer and you can accept or decline. Of course, you can still contact them to request one, if you need to.

-Scam phone calls are something that happens to millions of people. But you can no longer rely on call display for the accuracy of the number popping up. With internet calling, fraudsters can now spoof phone numbers being displayed to read almost anything they choose. You THINK you’re getting a call from your bank, because that’s what it reads on the call display, but it’s not. Always, always, get their name and department, hang up, and call the number on the back of your credit or debit card. It is the ONLY way you know you are actually reaching your bank.

Millions of us deal with Shaw, as do I. But I found out two days ago how nasty they get with one month past due. My company pays the bill, but there wasn’t a statement in April. May got paid, June got paid, July got paid, but it was always dragging by a month. My fault – no doubt. But they simply went in to disconnect my internet one morning.

All companies love you when you pay – and I’ve paid them close to $30,000 over the years, but don’t care when there’s a slight problem – no matter what the reason. Media relations chose not to respond to my inquiry, but their computers can only tell I’ve dealt with them since September 2008, instead of April 1995. Whether it’s Shaw, your bank, or your mortgage company – they’re ruthless on any past due amount, no matter what the reason, track record, etc. So, as the kids say: Don’t go there.

Survey Says: We’re Worried About Our Debts…Ya Think?

This week, RBC released their Consumer Outlook survey, and it shows that more and more of us are worried about our debt load. I think that’s great news in that we’re finally getting real and seeing that borrowing money does not work, and being broke is not a fun way to go through life.

Fundamentally, it’s a real problem when we stay optimistic about our debts. THAT is what gets us broke! When we talk ourselves into buying this or that on credit, thinking that the payment isn’t that big a deal, we’re on a slippery slope of trouble. We block out the fact that it might take two minutes to spend it, but it’ll take years to pay it off!

A way better mindset is to be pessimistic about our debts and optimistic about our incomes. Instead, the survey shows that we believe we can become debt free reasonably quickly, but we’re worried about our job security. To me, that’s the wrong way around. We should be pessimistic about our finances. It’s what makes us realize maybe we can’t pay that payment for years, what happens when rates go up, I’m going to be in trouble if I carry my credit card at the max, and so on.

Yet, on the income side, 24% of us are worried about a job loss. To put it in perspective, however, the unemployment rate is 8.5%. But 5.5% or so is full employment. We know that from just a year or so ago. So, the real unemployment rate is around 3% and 24% of us worry. That’s a total disconnect between the two!

On the optimistic side, thinking we’ll pay off our debts pretty quickly, the numbers are even more surprising:

18-34 year olds expect to be debt free by age 43.
35-54 year olds think it’ll be at age 59. Yet, the group that’s closest to that age, those age 55 and older, think it’ll be at least until age 66! So a heads up to those under age 34: It ain’t going to happen! No way, no how – honestly. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that you’ll likely have a mortgage payment of 25 to 30 years which right there, alone, makes it impossible.

And almost everyone under age 54 has a car payment. The average car payment is $480, financed over seven years. What’s a seven year old car worth? Exactly. So what happens then? We finance another one and go on another seven year broke cycle. Skipping one of these seven year finance cycles and putting that money into an investment account or RRSP will be over a million dollars when you retire. Instead, we buy something that’s worth less and less each month and keep paying and paying.

Keep in mind that every time you commit to a payment, you’re voluntarily taking a pay cut! That payment has to be made, so it’s money you no longer get to keep! It may be that $200 credit card payment, $400 car, the financed furniture, or whatever. Yet, if our boss wants to give us a pay cut we go insane. But we do it to ourselves every time we borrow!

One more thing which will become really important to all of our finances over the next year or so: The RBC survey showed that only 57% of us think interest rates will go higher. Excuse me? Rates are the lowest they’ve been in generations. So when they move, where do they HAVE to go? Up! And every line of credit and every variable mortgage will take some big jumps. The It’s Your Money book has a chart that asks how ready we are for the next rate increase. Anyone with just $150,000 of debt being hit with a 3% rate increase will spend another $329 after tax for nothing but more interest. And if we say we’re broke now, where’s that $329 going to come from?

What can we do? The really easy basics that 90% of us won’t do:
-Stop borrowing – period. When you’re in a hole, it makes sense to stop digging. Debt is NOT your friend.
-Do a written budget each month to know, not guess where your money is going
-Stop going to a restaurant unless you work there
-If your car is financed – sell it, no matter what you owe. That saved payment alone will likely get all your other debts paid off within a year. Drive a $2,000 beater for a couple of years until you’re debt free.
-Pay yourself first: Have some money taken right off your pay, or out of your bank account towards savings. If you don’t see it, you can’t spend it.
-Leave the credit cards with a relative. Out of sight, out of mind, and start paying in cash or by debit card.
-Get an emergency savings account of two weeks income so the next crisis will just be an inconvenience.

The Good News: Interest Rates Came Down this Week

The better news: Sit tight – they’re coming down lots more. There’s no guarantee, because even weather forecasters can’t get it straight a week out, but with the huge drops in the U.S. and the slowdown in the economy, this one is kind of a no-brainer.

The bad news: It’s only a rate drop and all those bills you have still need to get paid. Kind of like gas prices dropping a couple of cents – real exciting, but not that big a deal in the big picture. But every bit helps…

If you’ve got debts ranging from mortgage loans to cars, lines of credits to credit cards, some will be affected, some won’t.

We’ll talk about mortgages and what to do if you’re in the middle of a fixed term in a couple of months when they come down some more. Yes, there is help and hope for you. But If you have a variable rate, or floating rate right now, your payment is coming down. If you’re mulling changing it to a fixed rate one – hang in there for the next couple of rate decreases before you lock it in.

Anyone considering borrowing when the rate goes down – your payments will be lower, and that’ll save you money – a little bit. But it’d be great if you held off a little longer for a few more rate decreases. Drive your car a little longer, get that line of credit a little later (if at all), or if you’re in the market for a home get the pre-approval in place now (it’s good for 60 to 90 days) to lock in the rate and lenders WILL give you the lower rate at the time you’re closing approaches.

If you’re looking to buy a new vehicle make sure to get the price from the dealer using either the rebate OR the cool rate they may offer. That cool rate just got less attractive so take the net price after the cash rebate and get a quote from a credit union. Very often the rebate and prime rate financing is better than the 1.9 or 2.9 the dealer has! But you’ll never know if you don’t do the comparison shopping!

Your credit cards won’t change at all – sorry. They’re around 19% average, they’re a rip off, and they ain’t moving – there’s way too much profit in the high rates they charge and you’re paying it so there’s no way they’re coming down. But until you really really believe they’re a rip-off, you’re not likely to get angry enough to change to a debit card and stop using credit cards altogether.

Lines of credit, however are all based on the prime interest rate. If it’s secured by your home, the payments are interest only, or if it’s an unsecured line it’s generally three percent payments. Those will drop. But why do you have the line of credit in the first place? If it was for an emergency, you’ll have a zero balance and it won’t matter.

If you do have a balance, don’t lower your payments with this interest drop. Keep paying what you’ve been paying. This is a huge opportunity to be able to pay the same amount of money but more of it will go to principal and you’ll have it paid off faster.

That applies to all of your borrowing. Is it to tread water and pay as little as possible or is it to use this rate decrease to step up to the chance to pay it off quicker? Only you can decide but there’s nothing like financial freedom with NO debts and monthly payments.

What Just Happened This Week?

Wow – it’s only Wednesday and what a week it’s been in the financial markets.

Monday the world markets dropped enough to wipe out $5 trillion in wealth while the US markets were closed and Tuesday morning the US Federal Reserve dropped rates three quarters of a point.

Here in Canada they came down a quarter of a point that the banks did pass on, but there had been rumours that the no service mega banks were considering not lowering the prime rate.

While it was only a rumor that started back in December, there is no way to buy this kind of bad publicity is there? And how great that a number of media outlets, starting with columnist Greg Weston, brought this to the attention of the world.

The logic was that banks wouldn’t pass on the one-quarter point rate reduction to offset some of their rising expenses and that would include the billions of dollars some of them have lost in their subprime mortgage portfolio.

When the prime rate changes, it affects two-thirds of our borrowing costs, either directly or indirectly, for consumers and businesses. A lower rate is the Bank of Canada wanting to impact the economy, manufacturing, consumer spending and the dollar.

How dare the banks consider not moving down the prime at the same time? Isn’t it enough to keep charging us more and more interest, less and less competition and more service charges everywhere? Am I just cynical or are we supposed to cover some of their paper losses?

Just having this idea floated is another big reason to allow more competition in the banking field. In the U.S. there are about 3,000 financial institutions waking up each morning figuring out ways to bankrupt each other – that’s competition. Not the five we’ve got who want to merge into two or three.

But there’s good news in hearing banks might not change the rates. Because when we get mad – we get moving and there are alternatives for your financial needs:

For savings: ING right now is at 3.75%

For loans & mortgages: Credit unions are at or below the mega no service banks’ rates, are locally owned and run AND you’re a shareholder so you’ll get a large refund at the end of the year.

For RRSPs: Mine are with Primerica Financial. Many of their mutual funds have way better returns – and there are lots of other no-load no fee places to comparison shop.

Maybe this is another reminder to get informed because knowledge really is power and to remember to always always comparison shop. There are options and a lot of ways you can save interest and money.