Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Credit card backgroundSurviving unemployment, the pros and cons of taking a personal loan to pay off credit card debt, and where your state ranks on the list of America’s most debt-free.

How to survive a job loss
Tips on how to get through one of life’s most difficult times.

Use Personal Loan to Cut Credit Card Debt?
Is trading one debt for another a smart idea?

4 signs of financial immaturity in teens
Could your teen already be on the road to financial ruin?

6 Financial Mistakes We Don’t Make Anymore (and 2 We Still Do)
What financial mistakes are we still making in the “new normal”?

The Most Debt-Free States in America
This list may surprise you.

Why you still feel like you’re in a recession

Money squeezeI’ve been through several recessions now, and they all had at least one thing in common: people complained that the economists who declared an official end to the downturn were out of touch, because it didn’t feel like the recession was over.

Recoveries take a while to spread through the economy, which means people experience the expansion at different times…and some never feel it at all, because they or their geographic areas are permanently left behind.

In the case of the Great Recession, though, there are pretty good reasons why you may feel like it never ended:

  • For one thing, median household income in the U.S. in real terms (adjusted for inflation) is nearly 9% less than it was in 1999, according to the Census Bureau.
  • The unemployment rate (now 7.4%) has been declining, but is still well above 2007 rate of 4.7%.
  • The unemployment rate doesn’t capture discouraged workers (those who have given up looking for work) and those who are working less than they’d prefer. In fact, the number of full-time workers as a percentage of the population is down sharply from pre-recession levels.

I could go on, but economists who have dug into the numbers make it clear that most of the growth in recent years has accrued to those at the top. Earlier this year, the New York Times featured research by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, that tracked incomes between 2009 and 2011:

“…there was a wide gap between the top 1 percent, whose earnings rose by 11.2 percent, and the other 99 percent, whose earnings declined by 0.4 percent.

Mr. Saez, a winner of the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, concluded that ‘the Great Recession has only depressed top income shares temporarily and will not undo any of the dramatic increase in top income shares that has taken place since the 1970s.’

The disparity between top earners and everybody else can be attributed, in part, to differences in how the two groups make their money. The wealthy have benefited from a four-year boom in the stock market, while high rates of unemployment have continued to hold down the income of wage earners.”

The takeaway here (besides the fact that it’s nice to be rich) is that it’s not just your imagination: the recovery has not spread very far into the economy.

 

 

Hoard cash if unemployment looms

Dear Liz: My husband and I have been aggressively paying down our debts and plan to be debt free by this time next year. We’re devoting about 20% of our income to debt repayment and saving about 6% (not much, I know, but we’re young and just starting out). We were building an emergency fund and currently have enough money in it to cover only a few months of our expenses, since we had to dip into it recently for unexpected car repairs.

My husband just lost his job. I make enough that we would just barely be able to cover all of our minimum payments and our bills, but my employer lost its biggest client and I may be out of a job soon too. Should we continue to make the same debt payments, reduce the amount or make only minimum payments until we are both securely employed?

Answer: As soon as you know that unemployment is a possibility, you should begin to conserve cash. That means making only the minimum payments on your debt and cutting your expenses to the bone. Although the job picture is improving, the average duration of unemployment is still close to 40 weeks. That’s a long time to go without a paycheck.

When you’re both employed again, you should reconsider your financial priorities. Getting out of debt is a great goal, but not all debt is created equal. Paying off credit cards should typically be a high priority, but you needn’t be in as much of a rush to pay off federal student loans, car loans or mortgages, because the rates on these debts is typically fixed and relatively low. Instead, make sure you’re taking advantage of retirement savings opportunities and building up a cash cushion to tide you through the next financial setback.