United States Prime Rate

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tips for Surviving A Recession

Americans are worried about their finances, and they're angry with their government. The federal government is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to keep zombie banks and corporations alive, while at the same time offering limited help for individual Americans who have always been responsible with their finances. Regardless of what the government is doing, middle-class families, small business owners and everyone else who's feeling the pinch of this recession should do what they can to survive. Here are some recession survival tips:

  • Become An Indispensable Employee - Layoffs are happening everywhere; no sector of the economy is safe. A sound workplace strategy: become the employee that your company can't do without. You don't have to suck up to your boss, but there are things you can do to make yourself stand out in the crowd. Be the employee who shows up to work early and leaves late. Make a point of showing off to your boss just how productive you are. Every once in a while, make intelligent recommendations on how the company you work for can save money. When you see a conflict flare up, be the level-headed mediator who resolves the problem.

  • Get Rid of Your Debt - Don't get into the mindset that having credit card debt is OK. It's not OK. Even if you have only a few hundred dollars of credit card debt, and you're paying interest on that debt, then your finances need fixing. Cut back on extraneous expenses and pay your credit card debt down to zero as soon as you can.

    If you have old credit card accounts that you don't use, keep these cards open. This will help to keep your FICO® credit score healthy. If you recently used an old credit card to make a small purchase so that your bank doesn't close the account, that's fine. But pay that balance down to zero right away. You will reap no benefit from paying down a credit card balance over time, large or small.

  • Stay Fit! - We all know that there are unnumbered benefits associated with physical and mental fitness. One of the most overlooked is the amount of money it can save. You can't prevent the medical bills associated with e.g. a car accident but, by staying in shape, eating right and not smoking, you can prevent maladies like cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Medical bills can pile up extremely fast, and, if you're unfortunate enough to end up dealing with a protracted illness, you could end up losing your job as well.

    Keep your brain healthy by eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids as often as possible. Sardines, salmon and fish oil pills are all good picks. If you want to have a great mind into your old age, exercise and cultivate your brain by learning new skills like a new language or new dance steps. When you're bored waiting in line somewhere, count backwards in your head. Start with the number 300, then subtract seven or nine (not an easy decrement like two or five), and keep going. A healthy, productive brain is the best tool you can have to build wealth in any economic climate.

  • Boost Your Rainy-Day Fund - Your goal should be to have enough cash in the bank to survive for a year if you lost your main source of income.

  • Invest In Gold and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Lending - Right now, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the S&P 500 Index are off more than 45% from their October 9, 2007 peak. Bottom line: stocks aren't looking good right now. Moreover, since stocks have become unattractive to both institutional and individual investors, lots of Wall Street money has been moving to the safety of government securities, driving yields way down. Investing in gold makes perfect sense right now. The Fed and the Treasury department have been pumping vast quantities of cheap cash into the economy, which will cause inflation to flare up like an ulcer down the road. Investors will move their money to gold even faster than they are now, driving its price upward.

    P2P lending is also a great investment option right now, if you can tolerate some risk. For example, at Lending Club, the average return is 9.05%. Where else can you help yourself with a high rate of return, while helping worthy borrowers who can't find loans elsewhere?

  • Sell Stuff on eBay and Craigslist - You know you have lots of stuff around the house that you could sell on eBay.com, so just sell it. Better yet, list your stuff on Craigslist.com for free. Whenever you pick up an item in your home and say to yourself, "Nah, that couldn't sell on eBay or Craigslist," snap a few photos of the item and list it. Just about anything can be sold online; this is especially true today as this recession has turned many consumers into serious bargain hunters.

  • Refinance Your Mortgage - Right now, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department are working together to keep mortgage rates as low as possible. The average refinance rate is expected to fall and remain below 5% for some time, which makes it a great time to get out of a high-rate mortgage. To get the best rate, make an effort to get your FICO credit score above 760 (720 is no longer considered top-tier.)
If you don't like what the government is doing with your tax dollars and money it's borrowing from other countries then contact your representatives in the House and Senate. But don't waste too much time and energy complaining. Every morning, remind yourself to focus your efforts on increasing your income and net worth. This recession has the potential of lasting two years or more, so even wealthy families are cutting back and preparing themselves for the worst. The key to surviving this economic downturn is to build and preserve wealth, but never overlook the importance of preserving your mental and physical health.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Investment Options for the Recession-Weary

The media have been relentless in their discussion of the current state of the economy. Many Americans have been paying very close attention to economic news headlines, and they've been fretting about their declining investment portfolios. This painful recession has prompted many to take step that are tantamount to putting their hard-earned money in a coffee can and burying it in their backyard. Obviously, mattress-stuffing is a safe way to go, but that lazy cash will definitely lose value over time, its value eroded away by inflation. This economy has everyone worried about their investments, but there's no need to panic. There are still safe places to invest your dollars:

  • Gold - Since the global financial crisis began back in 2007, investors have been looking for safe places to grow their money. Institutional and individual investors have been buying gold, both the metal and stock in companies that mine and process gold. The price on gold will almost certainly increase into 2009 and probably into 2010 as well. The federal government has reacted to the triple threat of a) the real possibility of a deep and protracted recession b) financial market turmoil and c) the threat of deflation by dumping vast quantities of cheap cash into the American banking system, and all this cheap money will eventually make its way into the economy. When that happens, inflation will rear its ugly head, and investors will buy even more gold, as a hedge against rising prices.

  • Peer to Peer Lending Networks - Peer to Peer (P2P) Lending Networks like Lending Club have been gaining in popularity as individuals and businesses find it virtually impossible to secure financing from banks and other financial institutions. Currently, Lending Club offers investors returns in the range of 6.69% to 19.37% (the average return is 9.05%.) If you're interested in a short-term investment and you're willing to take on some risk, investing in P2P lending may be an option for you. Research the network you're planning to lend with. Find out the average loan default rate and carefully consider whether it's a system that you are comfortable with. Most lending networks allow you to provide micro-loans to borrowers, which you can use to get your feet wet.

  • High Yield Certificate of Deposit - A certificate of deposit (CD) is a type of deposit account that invariably offers a higher yield than a standard savings account. CD's are considered relatively safe and provide a decent return on your investment. Before investing in a CD, use your favorite search engines (don't rely on Google alone! Yahoo! has a great search engine too!) to research the financial institution you plan on using. If you find complaints about fraudulent activity or poor customer service or worse, then stay far away from that particular financial institution. The last thing you want is to have your money tied up in CD's provided by a fraudulent company like Stanford Financial.

    Credit unions have weathered the financial storms of recent months well. If you can join one, it's a great idea to buy a CD with a credit union (a CD at a credit union is called a share certificate.)

  • Debt Reduction - Reducing your debt should at the top of your financial to-do list regardless of the state of the economy. Carrying an oppressive debt load during a recession can bring ruin to a once thriving household, and nobody wants to be forced into moving back with their parents. If you are looking for a safe and smart place to invest your money, consider investing in your financial future by reducing your debt. Every balance you reduce or pay off will increase your monthly cash flow, and that liberated cash can be used for investing.

  • Stocks - Experienced investors know that a recession can bring great opportunities to make fast money. With real estate and stock markets plummeting globally, the biggest losers are, generally speaking, small to mid-sized companies and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) stocks. Companies that have had a substantial market share for more than 25 years are far more likely to survive this and future recessions. It's important to diversify your portfolio and sell stocks of companies that are unlikely to survive the current crisis. Look for strength and obvious opportunities. Companies that are sitting on huge piles of cash -- $10 billion dollars or more -- are strong. If a company's stock price is cheaper than that same company's earnings, then owning a piece of that company is probably a good idea.

  • July 22, 2020 Update: Click here for an excellent list of recession-proof businesses.

    U.S. Treasuries are also extremely safe. Even if everyone in the United States failed to pay their taxes, the federal government has the power to simply print more money to meet its fiscal obligations. In the current economic environment, however, Treasury bills, notes and bonds are in high demand, which in turn has caused their yields to drop dramatically. Bottom line: there's almost no point in investing in e.g. a 12-month Treasury bill when the yield is less than 1%.
    It's always a good idea to have a strong cash position during an economic downturn, but overdoing it can seriously compromise your plans for a comfortable retirement. Investing during a recession can be tricky, but with knowledge and some courage, even the most cautious investor can invest with confidence and, most importantly, stay ahead of inflation.
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