Today, after watching some NFL games, I suddenly became curious about bankruptcy, so I did a quick google search and the first figure I found was astonishing. According to official records, in 2013 there were over 1 million non-business bankruptcy filings. 1 million. 1,000,000. On average, for every 300 people in the US you know, 1 of them filed for personal bankruptcy last year. This figuratively blew my mind.
So the topic for my blog post today was quickly decided.
You know, life happens. Someone in your family falls critically ill and you have to borrow money to pay for medical expenses without being able to pay it back. You lose a job because of the financial crisis and can no longer pay your bills. I offer my condolences to those that have a legitimate reason to file for bankruptcy. The road ahead, credit-wise, is going to be tough. Bankruptcy stays on credit reports for up to 10 years, and this is not the kind of record you want on your credit profile. Lenders that see bankruptcy when reviewing your credit report will not be very likely to extend you credit.
So, if bankruptcy is inevitable, how can you minimize its negative impact on your credit?
Many young folks, especially those that haven’t been in the US that long, conflate debit cards with credit cards. Debit cards have almost nothing in common with credit cards despite their similar physical appearances.
Unlike Visa and Mastercard which only process but not issue credit cards, and like Discover, American Express also issues credit cards. The origin of American Express is also very distinguished from those of the competitors. They started out as a domestic express mail service back when the US Post Office did not yet deliver packages. They made a lot of money, and very quickly established the American Express brand as a premium service provider. Later on, American Express gradually transformed itself into a financial services company while skillfully retaining and enhancing the brand nationwide and worldwide.
I personally don’t carry a credit card balance unless my credit card is offering a 0% APR promotion because one of my goals in the credit quest is to build a perfect credit history without paying a penny in interest. But from my observation, I’m not the norm. Many people I know carry balances from time to time, and when they come to me for advice, I always tell them to at least pay the minimum to avoid late payment fees, and over time I have helped them save quite a bit of money from that.
I often get inspiration for my blog posts from people I interact with. I learn of my readers’ needs through talking with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and everyone else with whom I have a conversation that involves personal finance matters. In a recent conversation like that, I learned of someone who keeps her credit active by making a large purchase on her credit card and paying the balance gradually, over months, obviously accumulating and paying interests. She learned of this practice from someone else.
You know that I advocate paying off balances before due dates so you’d never pay a penny in interest. Let’s discuss which approach is better for your credit.
On Tuesday, February the 5th, I finally opened an investment account at Scottrade, after missing out on a lot of good deals from the stock market recovery from late 2011 through 2012. My 401(k) plan with my employer consists of mostly stock rather than fixed income, and sure enough my annual return in 2012 was almost 20%. But I was particularly confident about the revival of Bank of America when its stock price was around $5 a share, and even now I still believe I would have bought a lot of their shares and would have benefited from the 100% return had I known how to invest and had the determination to step into the investment world. Regrets are my life enemy, and to end this agony, I just had to open an investment account.
If you have read my first blog post, you may find it tempting to apply for a credit card if you do not already have one. And you should. But I’d like to give you an overview of what exactly you’re stepping into.