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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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!

College Students and Debt

There is a story on CNN about the debt problems of college students today. While I don’t think the advice is strong enough from the experts, there is some good information, especially for parents of teens.

My favorite part was an example of outstanding parenting …

Ashley Shaw, a freshman broadcast journalism major at Howard University, says she shops with cash, not credit, so she’s aware of how much she can spend. But even without the credit card, she occasionally runs into trouble. She recently overdrew her checking account during a shopping trip.

Right now, Shaw isn’t in any credit or student loan debt. However, she expects to take out student loans in the near future to cover her college expenses.

“As a younger teen, I actually received a credit card and didn’t know my spending limit and that kind of thing, so I maxed out the credit card and was penalized for it, and that’s why I don’t have one now,” Shaw said, explaining her previous troubles with credit.

This is the kind of parenting I want to to for my own children. Ashley sounds like a young woman with an excellent head on her shoulders, who continues to learn the right way to handle money through personal experience. She was lucky to be a teen who had parents who were both engaged and forgiving, and it looks like she is definitely heading in the right direction.

Personally, I hope that she can stay out of the student-loan trap, but it sounds like she has a good enough head on her shoulders to be resonsible and take care of business.

Opting Out of Debt Marketing

Debt is the most heavily marketed product in the US today, to the detriment of American consumers. It is difficult to avoid the huge number of sales pitches that are seen and heard on TV, Radio, Internet, and through sponsorship of the arts and sporting events.

However, there are some things that you can do to keep these ‘offers’ away from you …

Opting Out

Opting out is like adding your name to the ‘do not call‘ list for telemarketing, except for credit card offers. It won’t stop everything coming your way, but it will slow the flood.

The Opt-Out Prescreen website will allow you to remove your name(s) from the lists provided by the major credit agencies. These lists are used mostly for direct marketing from credit cards and insurance companies and are the source of a lot of the dead trees that arrive in your mailbox.
There are a couple of things to know …

  1. When processing your request online, the opt-out is for 5 years.
  2. You can opt-out permanently through paper mail.
  3. You will need to provide your Social Security Number.

BTW, I heard about this through 50 Fun Facts About Credit Cards.

Stopping Direct Marketing

Also, you can remove your name from lists used by the Direct Marketing Association here. These lists are also used to generate offers as well, although they are used less for financial services.

A couple things to understand here …

  1. There is a $1 fee to use this service (online or through US Mail) which I don’t agree with.
  2. Irresponsible or unethical marketers simply won’t use this mail.

Let me know if there is anything to add ….