Debt Sinks Worlds Oldest Business

Think using debt to fund your small business is a good idea? I have a great counter-example for you, Koko Gumi. Koko Gumi (a Japanese construction firm) was the worlds oldest continuously operating company, and had been in business 1,400 years. Yes, they have been a family business since the 7th Century and are having to shut their doors. Why? Debt, of course.

You see, in the 1980’s, the company borrowed heavily to invest in the inflated Japanese real estate market. It was an opportunity too good to miss, they thought. The bubble burst, and they were in hock up to their eyes. Then, demand for their services diminished (they are specialists in building and restoring Buddhist Temples) and they couldn’t keep afloat.

The 1-2 punch of debt and hard times is too much for almost any business or family. You can’t predict when hard times will come, but you can influence how hard they will hit you. By preparing with a generous emergency fund and keeping out of debt you can make sure that your head stays above water, no matter what.
If you are interested in learning more, Business Week has all the sad details.

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Nothing Wrong With Student Loans?

The prevailing logic in our culture is that student loans are a good thing, or at least a necessary evil that is required in order to get an education. In reality they sap both our individual and collective futures. We take the people with the most energy, the most enthusiasm, and the most potential and saddle them with long-term financial commitments at exactly the wrong time.

Student loans are a student loans are a multi-billion dollar industry , in some ways a shady one. With hundreds of millions of dollars going through major universities there is a significant conflict of interest, establishing a relationship that will enrich an institution at the expense of its students. The New York Times published an article detailing the tangled relationship between Citibank and several universities. While no wrongdoing was admitted on anyones part, both parties agreed to pay restitution and to abide to a new code of conduct for student loan processing. That sure sounds like wrongdoing to me!

MasterCard Makes Identity Theft Easier!

I just saw a commercial that really struck a nerve. It is from MasterCard (I believe) and is touting the new proximity cards that don’t require a signature.

The ad is a story about a sick zookeeper who has his animals steal his card, then go to the store and get him chicken soup, a blanket, and other soothing things. Then the animals swipe the card and are able to buy the items without a signature or a second look from the merchant.

I thought this was an excellent commercial, at least from my point of view, as it showed how insecure these tools really are. It tells the world, any mammal can steal your identity!

Finding Inspiration

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

— Jack London

A Great Trend — Colleges Refusing Student Loans

I feel one of the real short-sighted decisions that we have made as a society is the decision to saddle students with debt (often a great deal of it) in order to complete their graduation. Now, I know that if you approach education with your eyes open it is entirely possible to make it happen without debt. However, it still is the case that when a student is evaluated for financial aid, it is assumed that they can and will go into debt in order to get an education.

It gave me great hope to read that Davidson College (alma matter of one of my nieces) has decided to go a different direction. MSNBC is reporting that Davidson has decided to replace student loans with grants and work-study programs. This is especially heartening, as this is a small, private, liberal arts school, where prices are often highest. The ability to graduate without debt makes this a great college value in my book!

Why I Don’t Use Credit Cards

The issue of credit cards comes up a lot when I teach FPU, and there is always someone who doesn’t see the problem with using them. Personally, I think credit cards are at best dangerous and at worst usurious. There is absolutely no upside to credit card debt, whatsoever.

Here are several reasons why I don’t use credit cards for my finances:

  • On average, people spend 12-18% more when they use credit cards vs cash.
  • Credit card companies don’t have any loyalty.
  • Perks and rewards come at a very high cost.
  • Credit Cards make it difficult to track your purchases day-to-day and easy to buy things you can’t afford. I don’t want to use any tool or service that has a vested interest in damaging my long-term future.

Here are some reasons why I don’t do business with these companies:

Dabbling with credit cards is like playing with snakes. Don’t be surprised if you get bit!

Investing Strategy — From the Mouths of Babes

Is investing easy enough for children to do? Evidently so! Paul B. Farrell, author of ‘The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing‘ wrote about how an 8-year-old crafted a portfolio that not only outperformed the S&P 500, but also his own professionally managed pick.

How did he do it? Well, primarily by investing in low-cost, well diversified mutual funds that cover the entire market. Sound familiar to all the FPU people out there?