It’s 5pm and another Monday working from home has concluded. As I shut down my ThinkPad (work laptop), I am pleasantly surprised to find that my days have not become a blur. Having worked from home since March 12th, I assumed that the pause to my daily commute would have also stopped my sense of time. Alas, I am fully aware. In this awareness, I have been intentional about embracing my newfound stillness, taking advantage of moments to sit in silence or daydream. Moreover, when I grow tired of silence, I binge-watch Billions (for obvious reasons) and House of Cards. Ahh, there’s nothing like head-to-head battles between a billionaire hedge fund manager and an oft corrupt Attorney General and political back-stabbing to increase adrenaline. Finally, when I need a reprieve from scripted shows, I scroll through Twitter in search of comic relief.
Although my timeline has now been dominated by 24-hour coverage of COVID-19 and its devastating global effects, the small pockets of laughter emerge. When the comedy stops, I interact with fellow economics advisors, educators, and students for I find solace in my #finlit community. Thus, as engage in discourse centered on analysis, facts, and opinions, we find ourselves on common ground with two items: the cancellation of student loan debt and the misinformation around the Economic Impact Payments. A large majority within finance and borrowers agree that the current public health crisis, broken healthcare system, and necessity to shelter-in-place overrides the necessity of individuals paying back their student loans. Additionally, as the number of Americans filing for unemployment rises past 12 million, the time for cancellation is now.
As of this morning, the student loan debt total is $1,719,965,109,124. Within this total, there are roughly 45 million Americans, me included, who owe a portion of this lump sum. Moreover, two-thirds of women contribute to this debt, with Black woman bearing the largest burden. Even if you have been fortunate enough to maintain employment and work from home, every penny earned has been dispersed to food, shelter, and filling in other monetary cracks. Therefore, if employed workers are treating their student loans as an afterthought, I am certain those who have been furloughed or unemployed are not hard pressed to repay Sallie Mae.
As I re-read the above paragraph, I am reminded though that federal student loans have been placed into forbearance until September 2020. I am also reminded that Economic Impact Payments of $1,200 continue to be deposited into the bank accounts of tax filing citizens. Two lights at the end of turbulent tunnels are not without baggage, however. With every deposit of the impact payment follows contentious commentary. For example, conversations have ranged from those casting judgment on those anxiously awaiting assistance, to those above the fray, and to those who strongly urge individuals to practice risky financial planning (investing in volatile marketplaces) versus practicing sound, risk-averse planning. What has begun to grind my gears is that the commentary is not derived from economic schools of thought or economics degree-holders, but passive enthusiasts. It is one thing to speak with facts, it is another to speak from misinformation. To quiet the noise, I will continue to practice due diligence.
Now that I have waded through the noise, I am happy to report that I created a plan of action, one that sees a blending of my financial education and receiving the stimulus – paying down on my student loan principal. I like a few am fortunate that my bills are up-to-date and my needs are met. As such, I intend to one-up Sallie Mae and pay down on my principal before September. If you are in a similar position, I implore you to pay down on your principal balance, too. With interest rate accrual halted, the time to loosen student loan debt’s hold is now.
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economic, political, and social landscape, do not forget to prioritize your well-being above all else. Faulty markets will continue to exist, just like citizens playing the blame-game with their respective governments will continue to exist too. In the end, find peace in your stillness and invest in your wellness.
As we reflect on the bewilderment, chaos, and uncertainty that was March 2020, let us remember that in this trying time, our best recourse outside of following CDC and state department of health guidelines is going above and beyond for one another. Yes, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate media across all platforms, as well as continues to drastically change the face of modern medicine, many are using their time at home make sense of the world around them. Specifically, the activities of the day have varied from monitoring CNN, eating, stressing, and obsessively checking both checking and savings accounts, credit scores, and 401k/Roth IRA accounts.
In examining the world and its shaky financial circumstance further, it is disheartening to see the effects of this pandemic. Widespread layoffs, exponential unemployment applications, and the rapid rise of food and housing insecurities have left even the savviest of economists concerned. Thus, if the world’s leading experts are being transparent about the dire economic straits we find ourselves in, imagine how everyday citizens feel? Moreover, when looking at the United States, imagine how working class and poverty-stricken individuals feel against the crashing tides? As a working class individual, I harbor fear; I also harbor resentment for the choices made by elected officials who swore oaths to protect and serve the public. And yet, in that resentment, I still find pockets to bestow gratitude.
Today is the first day of National Financial Literacy Month and regardless of your sentiments surrounding financial literacy, and the privileges that extend to many, it is crucial to have ongoing conversations about finance and the multiple roles it will play in your lives during and long after the public health crisis. To jumpstart the conversation, take a look at March 25th’s Experian’s Twitter chat:
Q1: How is everyone doing during this Coronavirus pandemic?
WW: Mentally, I am anxious. Such uncertainty leaves me craving an answer that is not there. Additionally, as an educator who now relies on virtual learning, I am working overtime to ensure that the academic and personal needs of my students are met. #CreditChat
Q2: What are your thoughts on panic buying?
WW: This is a contentious topic, but needs to be addressed. The fears surrounding scarcity are real, however, this fear should not result in hoarding essential items. Specifically, hoarding common, everyday items to the point of wiping out shelves is irresponsible. #CreditChat
Q3: What are some ways we can help those around us during this financially-straining time?
WW: Ask close friends and family how you can be of assistance in providing the basics: food, clothing, and perhaps shelter, if your circumstances allow. The percentage of unemployed workers is high, as well as the percentage of strain. Do your part wherever you can. #CreditChat
Q4: What are some ways to manage our budgets with many unexpected expenses?
WW: For those still employed and receiving scheduled paychecks, budget the best way you know how. For those who cannot financially commit to budgeting, do not feel ashamed or pressured. The financial effects of this crisis are massive, so again do what you can! #CreditChat
Q5: Many people will have larger credit card bills in 30 days. What tips do you have for repayment?
WW: Call your credit card company and ask about flexible payments and if they can waive your interest and late fees. #CreditChat
Q6: How can families still have fun without spending money while #SocialDistancing?
WW: Cooking meals and having fun together is a start. Family game and puzzle nights are an option, too! Also, movie nights with bargain snacks will never fail. #CreditChat
Q7: As the outbreak grows, more people are #WorkingFromHome. What are the challenges with #RemoteWorking?
WW: For me, I find that I work longer hours when at home. Because commuting is no longer a factor, I start earlier and end later. Also, I have to force myself to work from my desk rather than my bed so as to maintain a routine and structure. #CreditChat
Q8: What are some smart ways to cut back on expenses?
WW: Truly eliminate the expenses that you don’t need (only you know what those are). Remember, cutting back on vices will not catapult you into a higher tax bracket, but the consistency and effort put towards saving incrementally will yield positive results. #CreditChat
Q9: What are some ways to keep your #CreditReports and #CreditScores strong during the Coronavirus outbreak?
WW: Check your score regularly and quickly speak up should anything should be out of order. Be sure to also contact your lender(s) if you need a little more time paying monthly bills. If you are fortunate enough to pay your monthly statement, pay on time. #CreditChat
Q10: Any final tips on coping with the Coronavirus pandemic?
WW: Be vigilant, but not to the point of obsession. Be intentional about where you are receiving your information, and who the messenger(s) is/are. Be open to introspection and use whatever downtime available to financially and personally plan for the months to come. #CreditChat
Economic educators, enthusiasts, and supporters alike – Happy New Year! 2019 was arduous, exciting, and often exhausting as the ebb and flow of these feelings left many emotionally, mentally, and physically scarred. Thus, whether the year was equal parts traumatizing and triumphant, there is a consensus: we are ready to embark on all-things new. As the celebrations continue, I want us to take a moment to be intentional about our 2020 academic, financial, personal, and professional goals. As such, these goals should be crafted and executed with care. In examining the crafting and execution of goals further, I want to share mine. Thanks to Experian for providing the blueprint and foundation that will serve as the path to achieving fiscal success in 2020. Below you will find my 2020 financial goals:
Q1: What are your financial goals for 2020?
WW: To continue making a sizable dent in my graduate student loan debt; to save two to three times harder than I did this year (2019); to shed all of the financial baggage from 2019l and to utilize all professional raises responsibly.
Q2: What is your favorite app/software to help you create a budget?
WW: For individuals without internet access or access to smartphones, manually tracking expenses will be ideal. For individuals with access to high speed technology, apps such as Mint and PocketGuard are the go-to choices. Likewise, NerdWallet provides interested parties with free budgeting worksheets.
Q3: What are some ways to start getting into a frugal financial habit?
WW: Create a realistic plan. As such, whether your plan includes saving $5 weekly, or utilizing rideshare (Lyft, Uber, etc.) services bi-weekly or three times a month, your plan should not only be tangible, but allows room for change (especially should you fall off course).
Q4: How is monitoring your physical health helpful in maintaining your financial health?
WW: It is no secret that economics and healthcare are intertwined. It is also no secret that healthcare is an expensive business often leaving many in massive debt. Even those with adequate healthcare insurance are not exempt from exorbitant costs and fees; therefore, it is crucial that individuals maintain their health so as to eliminate the need for ongoing care and spiraling into further debt.
Q5: What are some financial mistakes you made this year (2019) that you'd like to change to perform better next year?
WW: I was not as diligent about budgeting as a I should have. I teetered between automatically saving 5-10% from each paycheck to manually saving less than 5% when I could. As a result, this financial inconsistency proved to be ineffective. Likewise, with financial raises came the propensity to overspend. Thus, I had many moments of buyer’s remorse, which I look to decrease in 2020.
Q6: What's your favorite personal finance podcast/Instagram account/blog/book, etc. to increase your personal finance expertise?
WW: My favorite personal finance blog is Wealth With Whitney and my favorite accounts are @CouncilEcondEd, @ElyssaJK, @FinLit_Dating, @MyFabFinance, @peerlessmoney, and @scribesays.
Q7: What are some ways to get out of debt faster?
WW: If you can, please pay more than the minimum balance. Even if your payments are automated, you can adjust monthly payments to reflect a higher amount.
Q8: What are some ways to help you start investing?
WW: The first place to start is your retirement plan. If you are fortunate enough to have employee matching, utilize this to your financial advantage. As such, set your percentage between 3 and 5%.
Q9: What are some steps you can take to start on the path to good credit?
WW: Continue paying monthly credit card statements on time; continue paying student loans on time. If you cannot repay your loans, please contact your loan provider to discuss alternative repayment plans or possible deferment.
Q10: Any tips to improve your finances in the new year?
WW: Be intentional and serious about your short – and long-term financial goals. Finances are complex and the work to maintain financial stability is exhaustive but worth it when done correctly and when provided with adequate access and resources.
As I reflect on the whirlwind year that was 2019, I find myself overcome with emotions especially as I think about all that I have accomplished personally and professionally. In shining a light on my professional feats, leaving the university that I have called home for 17 years (first as an Upward Bound student, second as an undergraduate, third as a professional, and lastly a graduate student) to soar new heights at an new organization was dual parts exhilarating and frightening. Settling into my new role, I can confidently state that I have found an ease in knowing that my vast experiences and knowledge would be integral as I now work with a new caseload of New York City public high school students. These students’ post-secondary pathways are as unique as they are and as such, attention must be paid and care must be intentional. Moreover, as I work to discover just how unique their academic and personal needs are, I am also working to uncover what knowledge they already possess about the college application process, specifically as it relates to financial aid.
From introducing concepts such as award letters, FAFSA, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Pell Grant, TAP, and taxes to dissecting what encompasses an institution’s sticker price, I find that the level of education varies and the gap is wide. Likewise, when introducing additional concepts that are often related to college such as a checking and savings account, credit cards, debt, interest rates, money as a medium of exchange or unit of account, I find that knowledge is minimal to non-existent. As a result, I am eager to delve deeper to uncover why such knowledge is low. In the interim, I believe I can point to one source of this illiteracy – a lack of early action education.
In analyzing the many positive effects that early action financial education and planning has on a child’s personal development, I decided to participate in a #CreditChat hosted by Experian that centered on the various ways to introduce banking, debt, money, and saving to children of different ages. Here are my responses:
Q1: How would you explain where money comes from to a child?
WW: My first introduction to money was through a coin counting game. As such, when accompanying my parents to stores, I was given coins and had to use the dimes, nickels, pennies, and quarters to add up to the total amount. I will be playing a similar game with my child/ren.
Q2: How would you explain to a child that credit cards are not free or infinite money?
WW: Because most children are learning how to expand their vocabulary, using and explaining term such as borrowing, lending, monthly statements, etc. is a start. I would also show them my monthly statement as an example.
Q3: How would you explain to a child what money is and what it does?
WW: When teaching my introductory course, I always talk about the three functions of money and their purposes. For my child, I would use a dollar bill to simply break down each function.
Q4: How would you answer a child who wants to know how much money you make?
WW: When I first asked my mother how much money she made she grabbed her paystub and explained the “net” and “gross” amounts and what taxes were. I am certain that I will do the same, explaining each line items in an easy-to-understand tone.
Q5: How would you answer your child when they asked, “Are we rich or poor?”
WW: First, I’d ask what their understanding of “poor” or “rich” is. Next, I would use this question as an opportunity to talk about the differences between families and individuals with an abundance of access, money, and resources versus those who are not as fortunate.
Q6: What’s your strategy for explaining why you can’t or don’t want to buy something for your child?
WW: Being transparent without overloading them with advanced concepts and terms. As a result, I would be honest about not being able to afford an item/items of the moment because payment is needed elsewhere. Financial honesty is truly the best policy.
Q7: What are some ways to explain the importance of savings to kids?
WW: Tried-and-true methods of piggy banks and savings jars are an optimal start! To begin, have your child outline what their saving goal is and the timeframe in which they want to execute this goal. Then, have them start small by saving leftover change and bills.
Q8: What are some ways to show kids how to spend within their means?
WW: An early introduction to budgeting never hurts! Once they become aware of what their spending limit is that week, the next two weeks, or the entire month, they will (hopefully) begin becoming intentional about purchases and overall spending.
Q9: How do you talk to kids about debt in ways they will understand?
WW: Easing into the conversation is important. Show them your credit score and explain why the numbers are high or low. Show them your monthly credit card statement and explain why the amount is high, why the interest is high, and why it is taking longer to pay off.
Q10: Any final tips on teaching kids about money?
WW: As always, I highly encourage early action planning. Thus, whether your child’s introduction to money is through interactive games, hearty discussions, or tutorial through documents, their education starts now!
Education enthusiast whose mission it is to see Financial Literacy receive well-deserved shine.