How debt consolidation can go wrong

Daniel Montville knew a debt consolidation loan wouldn’t solve his financial problems, but the hospice nurse hoped it would give him some breathing room. He had already filed for bankruptcy once, in 2005, and was determined not to do it again.

Montville took out the loan in 2015, but within a year he had fallen behind on its payments and on the payday loans he got to help his daughter, a single mother with four children. The payday lenders all but cleaned out his checking account each time a paycheck landed, leaving little money for necessities. Then his daughter lost her job, and the $5,000 tax refund she had promised to him as repayment went instead to supporting her kids.

“That’s when I wised up and realized this was a no-win situation,” says Montville, 49, of Parma, Ohio. Montville is now repaying his creditors under a five-year Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan.

In my latest for the Associated Press, learn why debt consolidation isn’t always the best idea.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 money tools to save you from yourself. Also in the news: Why paying off debt with retirement money can be dangerous, how to make money selling stuff online, and why you should think twice before giving up financial control at the altar.

3 Money Tools to Save You From Yourself
We could all use a little help.

A High-Wire Act: Paying Off Debt With Retirement Money
A dicey proposition.

How to Make Money Selling Stuff Online
Putting money in your pockets by creating room in your closet.

Think twice before giving up financial control at the altar
Create a balance instead.

Free of debt – with regrets

Stories about how ordinary people pay off debt quickly can be amazing, inspiring — and somewhat deceptive.

These tales often mention the sacrifices debtors made but may gloss over the cost to their quality of life or the misguided choices they made. Becoming debt-free can be a worthy goal, but understanding the pitfalls can keep you from repeating others’ mistakes.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why some folks wish they hadn’t paid off their debt in such a rush.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 questions when shopping for a brokerage account. Also in the news: Is a robo-advisor right for you, why higher prices are squeezing both buyers and renters, and how a wife got her family out of $40,000 in debt.

5 Questions When Shopping for a Brokerage Account
What you need to know.

What Is a Robo-Advisor and Is One Right for You?
A different type of financial advisor.

Higher prices squeezing both renters and would-be homeowners
A housing shortage in parts of America is leading to higher prices.

A ‘good wife’ who secretly got her family $40,000 in debt shares how she climbed back to even
You can climb back, too.

Are you afraid to look at your finances?

Credit counselor Linda Humburg understands why many of her debt-burdened clients don’t want to open their mail. What bothers her, though, is the sheer volume of untouched bills and collection notices that some bring to their first counseling appointments.

“The shoeboxes (full of bills) don’t make my heart drop as much as the grocery bags and garbage bags,” says Humburg, counselor manager for FamilyMeans Financial Solutions in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Not wanting to confront unpaid bills is a perfectly understandable, if unfortunate, reaction to a bad financial situation. And it’s not just people in extreme debt who might be afraid to look. Many people avoid checking their credit scores or using retirement calculators because they’re afraid of what they might find.

The problem is that delaying action usually makes matters worse.

In my latest for the Associated Press, the high cost of living in denial.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 keys to successful debt consolidation. Also in the news: Credit card startups want to get in your wallet, financial must-do’s for newlyweds, and the best ways to get a big credit card bonus without going into debt.

4 Keys to Successful Debt Consolidation
Put those cards away.

Credit Card Startups Race for Space in Your Wallet
One card to rule them all.

Ask Brianna: What Are My Financial Must-Do’s as a Newlywed?
Starting off on the right financial foot.

The best ways to get a fat credit card bonus without going into debt
Timing is everything.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to cash in on short-term rentals like Airbnb. Also in the news: How to get your business out of debt in five steps, and how to make to make the most of your summer vacation.

How to Cash In on Short-Term Rentals Like Airbnb, VRBO
Generating extra income with your extra bedroom.

How to Get Your Business Out of Debt in 5 Steps
Taking the first step.

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Job
Put aside some cash.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Budgeting for newlyweds. Also in the news: What you need to know about May’s Fed meeting, should a partner’s debt keep you from marrying, and a retirement literacy quiz you need to pass.

Budgeting for Newlyweds: Figuring Out Family Finance
Now comes the fun part.

May 2017 Fed Meeting: 7 Questions (and Answers)
What you need to know.

Ask Brianna: Should My Partner’s Debt Keep Us From Marrying?
Things to consider.

A retirement literacy quiz you need to pass
Knowing the essentials.

Go nuclear on your debt – move away

Ken Ilgunas paid off $32,000 in student loans two and a half years after graduation — starting with a $9-an-hour job.

With zero job offers in his chosen field of journalism, he instead moved from Wheatfield, New York, to Coldfoot, Alaska, a truck stop and tourist camp north of the Arctic Circle, so he could put every possible dollar toward his debt.

Every possible dollar meant virtually every dollar. His job as cook, maintenance worker and tour guide provided room and board. What Coldfoot (population 10) didn’t provide was places to spend what little he was making.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how literally moving outside of your comfort zone can help you pay off debt faster.

Q&A: You don’t need to carry debt in order to have good credit

Dear Liz: You should tell people that they can help their credit score more by not paying their credit card bills in full each month. By not paying in full, but paying the minimum or more each month, it shows the card issuer that you can handle credit wisely and encourages them to raise the limit. This pushes the utilization down.

Answer: There’s nothing wise about carrying credit card debt. The idea that you need to carry a balance to have good scores is a stupid, expensive myth that needs to die.

People who spread this myth don’t understand how balances are reported to the credit bureaus and subsequently used in credit scores. Credit card issuers typically don’t report your balance on the day after you pay your bill. They may report your last statement balance, or the balance on a certain day each month. That’s the balance that credit score formulas have long used to calculate your scores. The scoring formulas traditionally couldn’t see whether or not you carried a balance from month to month, so there was no reason to do so and incur expensive interest.

Recent credit reporting changes will make carrying a balance an even worse idea. Some card issuers have started reporting payment patterns — essentially telling the bureaus which people consistently pay their balances in full and which don’t. That’s because research has shown that people who pay off their credit card bills are significantly less likely to default than those who carry a balance. Mortgage lenders already are considering this information when making loans, even though it’s not something that factors into the credit scores most of them currently use.

Although there’s no advantage to carrying a balance, there is a huge advantage to lightly but regularly using the credit cards you have. That’s what actually shows scoring formulas and lenders that you can responsibly manage credit.