Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Credit Reports & Credit Ratings

What is your economic reputation worth to you?

Your credit report is a listing of all past and present obligations and the credit rating is a number that estimates how reliable you are financially.  Banks and other lending institutions look at your credit rating to determine whether to lend money to you and what price (interest) you will pay for the loan. According to, a person with a poor credit rating borrowing $200,000 for a house will pay $127,000 more in interest than someone with a stellar credit rating.  This is insane.  

Image by Petr Kratochvil
Debt ends up costing you so much over your lifetime, so remember any unpaid bill lowers your score.  You can raise your credit score just by paying things like rent and utility bills on time.  The idea that you need a credit card to increase your score is silly because the credit card will encourage you to overspend. If you overspend, by definition you have spent more than you have, so you will not be able to pay the bill.  

The credit card company will happily add interest to the remaining amount and your debt grows.  This is called carrying a balance (aka: falling behind) and it lowers your credit rating while costing you more. If you are careful with a budget, you can utilize credit cards as a cashless payment system assuming you pay the bill off each month and there are no hidden fees. Read all credit contracts carefully; better yet have your parents do it.  That’s why they are there. The problem according to Robert D. Manning in his book Credit Card Nation is that paying by credit cards does not hurt as much when you buy with cash, and this leads many to overspend and get into debt.

If your parents have given you a credit card for emergencies, then save it for true emergencies.  Pizza lust is not an emergency.  If you run up your parents’ bill, they will find out when the bill comes, so get permission prior to using it.  If you can’t contact them, and in your best judgment it is an emergency then use it, but let them know immediately.  Your parents are depending on you to not screw them, honor their trust in you by thinking hard before using the card.  If you screw up in judgment, be up front about it and accept the consequences.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fiscal Sanity

Image by Andrew Bardwell
Debt is a prison that many of us voluntarily walk into.  That is how a trap works; we walk into it based upon some lure.  We see something we want, (ignoring warning signs of danger) we go get it, and we suffer.  Debt represents all the money you owe and have not yet paid back, so when you owe money to someone you essentially become their slave (Proverbs 22:7). states that the average American household owes more than $15,000 on their credit cards. Furthermore, the ongoing housing crisis is devouring many families, and few have any savings for retirement.  Can you escape these traps, or are you doomed to eventually be swept up in the random nature of the business cycle?  Now that you are a legal adult, you are allowed to enter into contracts, but beware that contracts are binding.  If you make a bad choice here, your parents can’t get you out of the contract.  

Credit cards offers are going to be available everywhere you go, and you need to be very careful because some of the contracts will cost you money even if you do not use the credit card.  Those freebees and gifts offered by credit card vendors can lead to serous debt.  A lot of people put down false information on the application to get free stuff, but it isn’t worth the compromise of your values for a free Frisbee or t-shirt.  At this phase in your life, you should avoid credit cards.  

You do not need to walk into debt, but folks tend to run up the bill as long as additional credit is issued.  They have lost the sense of the enormity of their debt and give up all hope of paying things off.  The bottom line is that when you borrow money you have an obligation to pay for it because taking something without paying for it is stealing.  Jesus’ most talked about topic is money, so you can learn much about how to handle yourself financially when you live according to the Word of God. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Allure of Last-Minute Success

When you work a hard day, it will feel natural to want time to relax, unwind, or recharge.  We want to play and while fun is not wrong most people devote way too much time to fun.  Television, video games, Facebook, and texting, are classic time wasters. We are good at time wasting when we have something we don’t want to do staring us in the face.  
I have watched my younger son play with thread rather than do his writing exercises.  When we have work hanging over us, any diversion becomes even more fun.  Many successful people talk about doing the most important things first, then rewarding ourselves with things that are more fun.  This is habit three of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
It is important to realize that we are making choices in our use of time.  It is a good idea to take a week and log what you have been doing with your time.  Just get a sense of what you do.  This will allow you to budget time realistically.   You probably will not like doing this because it shines a light on what you do and you may feel ashamed.  Please push through this feeling and do the exercise.  This is the same issue people face when they try to create a budget.  
With time, there needs to be a schedule or things will not get done.  If you go off of feeling, you won’t get things done.  I am a very organized person at work when it comes to my time, but I struggle to keep track of things going on at home because at work I only have to keep track of what I need to do while at home I have to accommodate my wife and children’s needs in addition to mine. 
It is important to realize that there is a behavioral element to our usage of time.  We tend to procrastinate on those long-term important things, because we don’t feel the pressure of time.  Feeling is an unreliable guide when setting your schedule.  Most of you have experienced that rush of productivity and creativity that accompanies trying to get something done in the last minute.  Unfortunately the problem is that it works sometimes.  
If you got burned from procrastinating, hopefully you learned your lesson.  I’ve interviewed a number of high level students and asked them to tell me the advice they would give themselves if they could go back a few years, and more often than not they tell themselves to not procrastinate on homework.  You know this, but for those of who didn’t learn your lesson about the pitfalls of procrastinating, please realize that you will probably not get too far in your college career if you keep procrastinating.  
So much of what is done in college is long term work such as reading, studying for tests, researching, and writing.  These cannot be done at the last minute with any degree of success.  This is why some of the most brilliant students struggle, because the system that was utilized in past does not work for them now.  The more time you can devote to long-term things the better you will be doing in many areas of your life.  This concept is progressive, the longer the view of your perspective, the more purposeful the activity of your life (2 Cor 4:18).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Productivity and Time Awareness

Image by Jesus Presley
A major factor that can determine your success at managing your time is the “feeling” of time. 

When I was a kid, I used to like jumping my bike.    This one jump I built looked like all the others and consisted of a couple of bricks and a piece of plywood.  I had done this type of jump hundreds of times, but this one had a surprise in store for me.  Sensing that the jump was small, I got a very fast run at it. 
The problem was that the plywood for the ramp was that bendy type of plywood and when I hit the ramp it bent in a way that shot me straight up.  At the apex of my ascent, time stopped, or least my sensation of time altered to where it felt like time stopped.  I knew this would end badly.  I had gone almost vertical and it was going to hurt.  In my mind, everything slowed and I had time to think about the ground as it rushed upwards to meet me. That jump did hurt, but I walked away without anything broken. 
This is an illustration of our brain’s ability to process time differently based upon the situation.  According to Douglas Fox in his article "The illusion of time” in moments of pure fear, our brain is going crazy and things slow down because we are processing the visual images must faster.
I have experienced other events when time stopped: All four of my children’s births, proposing to my wife, being caught in a lie, having to ask forgiveness, having to answer a question where there was no painless option.  All of these moments cause our mind to race and time to stop. 
The problem is that other than these moments of heightened time awareness. According to Hebert Wray In his article "Looming Deadlines” our perception of time is not constant and can expand and contract with the situation.  Time drags through painful moments, while time flies when we are having fun. 
This inconsistency is why we fail to allocate enough time to work in our lives.  When you study, it will feel that you have studied much more than you have studied because time drags when you are doing work you don’t want to do.  Whatever time you allocate to study, push yourself to do that amount of time and no less. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Managing Trash Time

Image By WahTee 
How do you handle trash time?  

Trash time is a short amount of time between two important events in your day. Trash time is typically unproductive, but it doesn't have to be.  For a student these small patches of time are an opportunity to do micro-study.  The small bursts of study can really add up to some significant learning.  College Freshmen often struggle with getting control of their schedule.  In high school, all the blocks of time are mapped out and similar every day, while in college there is a constantly shifting array of commitments.

If you are are early to an appointment or the appointment ends early there will be some unexpected trash time.  Being able to utilize trash time requires being ready to use it and sensing that it is there.  If you regularly have to wait between two classes, then this is trash time you can count on and should take steps to harness this resource.

We decide what we do with our time, and doing nothing is a choice, but we actually have a lot of time on our hands even in the midst of a busy schedule.

  Every moment can have a purpose, but not every purposeful moment requires movement (Psalm 46:10).  Sometimes the best thing to do is unplug and sit quiet before God.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Study Smart...Longer

UC Riverside:  Note cards in a Vending Machine??
Studying unimportant information is a waste of valuable time.

I teach an AP class to high school freshmen.  Let that sink in...  

There is active debate out there as to whether high school freshmen are educationally mature enough to handle to rigors of a college course.   I'm seeing kids succeed, but it is a difficult struggle for them.  It is not for the faint of heart.  

The two major hurdles I see are  writing and reading levels.  Absent these two skills, the class becomes a suicide mission.  Even my top students struggle with studying, so much of the class becomes a primer on how to study.

Note cards are a tried and true method for memorization.  I use a system called “Shrink the Pile.” In this system the point is to limit how much you study. It begins with telling the difference between what is and is not important.  It makes no sense studying unimportant information because that represents a waste of valuable time.  You identify the facts that are important, eliminate all that you already know, and study what is left.   

 This is where you must trust yourself.  If you know it now, the information is in long term memory and will be there come test time.  Now that you have your list, make the note cards and start memorizing.  Here is where the magic happens, go to sleep!  In his article "Sleep sorts the memory wheat from the chaff"  Ferris Jabr explains how sleep throws out useless information, so that what remains in the morning is long term memories.  That’s right, go to sleep and let the brain do its job of throwing out useless information.   

The problem is that some of that useless information is important and are terms you will need for the test, so don’t let your subconscious mind determine what information is best for the test.  You are just checking for what information has survived the night.  When you wake up, before looking at the cards, hand the pile to someone to quiz you.   

It doesn’t matter if you wait awhile; the important part is that you don’t look before someone quizzes you.  When you hand the pile to them, get a trash can, better yet a paper shredder and place it below the person who will quiz you.  Then you will utter these magical words.  “You are going to quiz me, and every card I get right you will throw away.”  These words have no magic if you don’t believe them.  As you watch cards fall into the trash, resist the urge to mix your hand with the remains of breakfast in order to retrieve your cards.  You will now have a smaller pile to study all day.  The next morning repeat the trashcan drill with your partner, resisting the urge to be a trash diver.   

What has happened is that when a concept makes it through the night and you are able to get it right, the information has moved from that portion of your brain that stores temporary information to that glorious place where information stays with you.  Long-term memory will be there for you come test day.  Don’t worry that the process of pushing new information into memory will force you to forget something you already know.  The brain doesn’t work that way, because according to J.R. Anderson in his book Learning and Memory: An Integrated Approach long-term memory capacity is limitless.  You aren’t going to start forgetting your phone number.   

Remember the play dough factory from when you were a kid?  You crammed the play dough in the top, pushed down on the plunger and watched dough squirt out in whatever shape you had selected.  The brain is not like a play dough factory where something going in has to come out on the other end.  In fact the brain is like a net that grows larger the more it is used and new memories and learning can be acquired more rapidly because they have older memories and learning to build upon.   
As you learn new things, you will be able to collect new information more efficiently.  This is why the “smart kids” seem to know it all.  The truth is that they don’t need to study as much as you, but you will get to where they are through hard work.
Shrink the pile and you will be seeing the most difficult terms over and over.  If you leave the note card pile too large it will take too long to get around to the terms you really need to work on.  You are allowing information you already know to keep you from learning new things.  Trust yourself.  The good students don’t study it all; they only study what is new AND important.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nurturing the Boomerang Generation

Image by R. Pollard
First some definitions for this post…

Boomerang Child: A boomerang is an adult, age 18 or older, who moves out of the family home for a time and then moves back in.

Deadbeat Child: A deadbeat is an adult, age 18 or older, who is not going to school, living with parent(s) or friend(s), is not working or looking for a job and does not help out with household or yard work chores.  This is not to be confused with a deadbeat parent who is failing to pay child support, but I’m sure there is a strong correlation among the two groups.

Some boomerangs are deadbeats, while some deadbeats are not boomerangs because they never left in the first place. 

There are many young adults who are living outside of the home only through substantial parental financial support, so in reality they are not financially independent.  These folks will escape the disdain of society because they look like they are successful, but their parents may view them as deadbeats.

The Situation
The Pew Research Center had the following startling facts on boomerangs:

  • 29% of boomerangs say they’re satisfied with their living arrangements
  • 24% of boomerangs moved back in with their parents their own because of economic conditions.
  • 61% of boomerangs say they have friends or family members who have moved back in with their parents over the past few years because of economic conditions.
  • Those without a college degree are twice as likely as those who have graduated from college to be living with or have moved back in with their parents (22% vs. 10%)
  • 32% of 25-34 year olds receive substantial financial support from their parents. 

Stats on deadbeats are difficult to flesh out (I tried, really) due to the subjective definition of a deadbeat.  I’m just going to assume the number of deadbeats is on the rise.

What does this deadbeat trend mean to parents?
While the Pew study cites the troubled economy as the leading factor for boomerangs.  The growth of deadbeats in our society has a lot to do with our over-permissive and overindulgent parenting styles.  (Pr. 3:11-12) (Pr. 13:24) (Pr 19:18) Christian families are also falling prey to this as more and more parents equate permissiveness with love.  This is one of the main reasons for the decline of our society. 

Christians should not be surprised by this trend, but we should take note as we deal with our children (Eph 5:15-16).  As more and more of our kid’s generation become deadbeats there will be a general expectation that this type of lifestyle will be accepted in your house (1 Cor. 15:33-34).  You will have to work harder to reinforce your expectations that they grow to be independent.

A Biblical Way Forward for Parents
We as parents must nurture our children towards independence.  In addition as Christians, we should aspire to instill a strong sense of devotion to Christ. (Proverbs 22:6) (Ephesians 6:4)

Discipline is going to look different for each family as well as for each child.  Their personality bents, interests, and gifts seen through the light of scripture should determine our methods (Proverbs 22:6).

David failed to discipline his son Amnon for raping his sister Tamar.  David was angry but did nothing.  David’s guilt from his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband made him less willing to do what needed to be done.   This inaction led to the death of his sons Amnon and Absolom, as well as 20,000 Israelites in a costly civil war.  (2 Samuel Chapters 13-18)

A Biblical Way Forward for Adult Children
If you are a young adult reading this and you are not doing enough to contribute to the household or doing enough to move towards independence, you will probably be kicked out soon.   Ditto, if you are living with a friend. 

Living the life of a deadbeat is a life of sin.  Confess your sins to God.  Change and get to work. (Pr. 10:1) (Pr. 10:4) (Pr. 12:24) (1 John 1:9) (Pr. 14:23)

If you are a young adult receiving financial support then sit down and talk with your parents about their expectations of you.  Communication is key and all parties have to do their part.   Why wait until the door locks are changed and your stuff is thrown out on the front porch?

This post is a part of the Christian Writers Blog Chain.  Check out other great posts by clicking on the links on the left.

Please comment I really want to hear your take on this difficult and interesting subject.