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The Day – Liz Weston: Here’s what bad financial advice costs you

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Good financial advice leaves you better off. Bad advice does the opposite, and may even enrich someone else at your expense.

Here are some areas where you need to be particularly careful to seek out good advice, since bad advice can be so costly.

INVESTING

Most financial advisers aren’t required to put your best interests first. They’re allowed to recommend investments that cost more or perform worse than available alternatives. Why would they do that? Because the inferior investments pay them or their employers more than the better ones.

This kind of conflicted advice takes a heavy toll. White House economic advisers estimated in 2015 that conflicted advice cost Americans $17 billion a year and resulted in losses of one percentage point per year for affected investors.

One percentage point may not seem like a lot, but over time it adds up. Someone who contributes $5,000 a year to a retirement fund could have nearly $1 million at the end of a 40-year working career if the average net return is 7%. If higher costs reduce the return to 6%, the nest egg would total about $775,000.

Look for advisers who are fiduciaries, meaning they are required to put your interests ahead of theirs. You might also consider a robo-advisory service, which uses computer algorithms to design investment portfolios at low cost.

FINANCING COLLEGE

The second-worst piece of college financing advice is “Don’t worry about the cost.” The worst? “College isn’t worth the cost.”

Education still pays off in higher lifetime earnings and lower unemployment. Someone with a high school diploma could expect to earn $1.3 million over a lifetime, according to research by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Someone with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn $2.3 million. Unemployment rates are currently 2% for those with bachelor’s degrees and above, and 3.7% for high school graduates. Those rates peaked in 2009, just after the last recession, at 5% for college graduates and 11% for high school grads.

Rather than skip college, skip the costly debt. Limit your borrowing to federal student loans, which typically max out at $31,000 for undergraduate education.

CLAIMING SOCIAL SECURITY

More than one third of Social Security recipients start benefits at the earliest opportunity, which is age 62. Fewer than 4% wait until age 70, when benefits max out. But starting Social Security at 62 can cost people up to $250,000 in lost benefits, according to a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get good advice before they claim. Even Social Security itself may not be a good source, since its representatives have been known to steer people wrong.

Social Security claiming calculators, such as the free one at AARP’s site, can help you determine the lifetime impact of starting benefits later. If you have substantial retirement savings, you also should consider consulting a fiduciary financial planner about the best ways to coordinate Social Security claiming with retirement plan withdrawals.

MANAGING YOUR CREDIT SCORES

You may have heard that you don’t need to worry about your credit scores because they’re not important or because they’ll be good as long as you handle money responsibly. Neither is true, and having bad scores can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.

People with credit scores of around 720, for example, could expect average mortgage interest rates of 3.67% on a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage, according to Informa Research Services Inc. The monthly payment would be about $1,374. People with 620 scores, on the other hand, average 5.03% or $1,616 a month. That’s a difference of $86,891 over the life of the loan.

Similarly, someone with 720 scores could expect to pay $5,000 less on a six-year, $30,000 car loan than someone with 620 scores.

Higher interest rates aren’t the only cost. Bad credit also can cause you to pay more for insurance, make it harder to get an apartment and cause you to miss out on the best cellphone promotions.

The best advice: Learn how credit scores work and monitor at least one of yours so you can address problems before they cost you a fortune.

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: lwesto

NerdWallet: How to find a financial adviser http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-choosing-financial-advisor

National Bureau of Economic Research: Leaving Big Money on the Table: Arbitrage Opportunities in Delaying Social Security http://bit.ly/nber-delaying-social-security

AARP: Social Security claiming calculator http://bit.ly/aarp-social-security-calculator

 



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Miracles in a tough season

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Harry Hines Boulevard in northwest Dallas is a “track,” a place where prostitution is, at least in normal times, visible and available. It’s a wide, treeless expanse of concrete, low-slung buildings, and neon signs. On a Saturday in early August, a nearly full moon glowed in the southeastern sky. A couple of strip clubs had reopened and, judging from the parking lots, were doing good business. Outside of one, a doorman stood wearing a surgical mask. 

The pandemic hurt strip clubs like those on Harry Hines Boulevard, and it also put a crimp on prostitution generally. The Dallas Police Department (DPD) reported that cases of johns “purchasing prostitution” dropped 63 percent during the first half of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. Human trafficking reports dropped by 39 percent. “COVID has definitely had an impact,” said Maj. John Madison of DPD’s vice unit.

But the pandemic effect has not been all good. Harmony Grillo, founder of Treasures, a California-based ministry to sex trafficking victims, said traffickers are forcing some women to do more porn webcamming “to meet the increased demand that’s created by those in quarantine.” Carol Wiley, director of A Way Out, a similar program in Tennessee, said fewer johns may be renting women face to face, but she fears that “violence toward the women [by traffickers] increases.” 

Some of the heaviest and least-anticipated impacts of the pandemic have fallen on victims of sex trafficking who had already escaped the life. One such victim—call her Ava, because she has legitimate fear of her trafficker tracking her down—was recovering from three years of being sex trafficked when the pandemic hit.

Ava, 24, escaped her trafficker in 2018. She built a relationship with God and overcame deep-rooted social anxieties. But the pandemic shutdown took away much of the community she had built since escaping prostitution. In-person worship services at her church in Fort Worth stopped. Small groups she attended on issues from emotional support to financial coaching could no longer meet.

Ava was living in a house run by Valiant Hearts, a Texas-based group that helps women escape the sex industry. As the pandemic lockdown continued, house parent Tiffany Kiser noticed that Ava had lost the optimism she’d gained since being in the program. She stayed in her room and refused to talk about what was bothering her. 

In normal times, Valiant Hearts provides women with choices, something victims lose when they are trafficked: To appear controlling risks having a victim equate you with her trafficker. But Ava was at a critical point in her healing, one that called for an unorthodox approach. Kiser and Emily Chavez, Valiant Hearts’ program director, demanded that Ava sit down with them. When she did, her hands shook and her face looked as if a year and a half of therapy had completely unwound. Ava said she couldn’t explain how she felt or why. “Just start talking,” Chavez said.

SEX TRAFFICKING IS A LARGE, sophisticated, underground economy, with its own networks, business models, and jargon. Criminals like the one who trafficked Ava are the successful entrepreneurs of the industry. They own multiple homes and drive expensive cars. At any one time, they may control dozens of prostitutes, sometimes trading them with affiliated traffickers in other parts of the country. They diversify across every segment of the market, from prostitution conducted along streets to discreet, “agency-­level” procurement deals for wealthy and prominent johns who shield themselves behind third parties. 

Ava’s trafficker controlled 30 women of different ethnicities, shapes, and hairstyles. He used a combination of charm, coercion, and physical assault to keep them in line. One night after a birthday party for one of the women, police responded to a call about an attempted robbery and shooting. When the police saw so many women and only one man in the house, the officers became suspicious—but could find no grounds to arrest anyone.

The next day, one of the women told Ava she wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the hospital. Ava loaned her a cell phone so she could call for a ride home. Ava never saw the phone again. At the hospital, the woman told authorities her real problem: She was being trafficked and needed help. The phone became evidence in the case against the trafficker. 

Six months later, police raided the house where Ava lived, arresting her, the other women, and the trafficker. Since she was recovering from invasive cosmetic surgery, police placed her in a segregated cell as a protection against infection. There she remained for six weeks: “It was the first time that my brain had freedom to think the way it wanted to.”

“It was the first time that my brain had freedom to think the way it wanted to.”

In jail, Ava began asking God to show her if He was real. He opened her eyes to see her situation: The trafficker claimed to care about her while beating her and crushing her sense of self-worth. One day as she lay on the skimpy jail mattress, a letter arrived from a friend. It contained a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and to harm you.”

Ava wasn’t sure what to make of it. Were there plans to harm her? She looked the verse up, and realized her friend had miscopied it. The actual verse reads “… not to harm you.” In that moment, she realized if she stayed with her trafficker she might share with her trafficker some of the affluent, glamorous life he portrayed to the world, but there would be harm. 

She decided to take her life away from her trafficker and give it to God.

When she met with her lawyer, she pleaded to find a place where she could learn how “to be human.” That’s how she ended up at Valiant Hearts. Ava was baptized a year ago. Photos from after the service show Ava’s face stuck in a smile that, as she described it, almost covered her eyes.

Ava’s battle was not over. She had to sort through years of emotional damage. For three months after moving into the Valiant Hearts house, she was afraid to leave, only going to church or with others to the grocery store. She also had to unravel a financial and legal mess. Sex traffickers bind and exploit victims by using their identities to open businesses and bank accounts for laundering money. Ava learned about a house in California deeded in her name.

“It’s very strategically planned out,” Chavez said, “so that nothing ties back to [the trafficker]. And when the ladies come out … they have debt, tax evasion, criminal histories, bad credit, and bad relationships with banks.” Ava’s credit score was “about as low as it could get.” Banks turned her down five times for a checking account before she got one through a connection to someone who owned a bank.

WHEN THE PANDEMIC HIT and Ava withdrew, Chavez was worried. She demanded that Ava “just start talking.” 

It started with tears, and what Ava later described as “word vomiting.” She began to see how in the absence of healthy routines and regular worship, she had fallen into old patterns of thought dictated by her trafficker: She’d never amount to anything, never be anything but a prostitute. Ava began to realize the extent to which the pandemic had become a trigger, but one she could counter with skills she had already learned in counseling. 

Since then Ava has made progress. She’s completed the Valiant Hearts program. With her legal troubles mostly behind her, she is moving into her own apartment. She has a job with Savhera, a company that provides employment to victims of sexual exploitation. She is also starting college and has a 10-year plan to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, so she can “help more survivors like myself get deeper healing and understanding.”

“This will be the first time I’ve lived on my own literally my entire life. Woo-hooo! The Lord has shown off in this season, really showing miracles. But it’s also been a really tough season.”  

—Paul McDonnold is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course



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Warner Robins GA Credit Repair Finance Score Improvement Service Launched

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New credit repair services have been launched by the expert team at Fresh Start Consumer Services. They work with clients in Warner Robins, GA and the surrounding areas.

New credit repair services have been launched by the expert team at Fresh Start Consumer Services. They work with clients in Warner Robins, GA and the surrounding areas.

Fresh Start Consumer Services has launched a new credit repair service for clients looking to improve their financial future. Interested parties can sign up for credit consultations, in-depth credit analysis, credit recommendations and more.

Full details can be found at: https://freshstartconsumerservices.com/index.html

The newly launched services are designed to ensure clients can repair bad financial credit history, track their improvement campaign in measurable ways, and secure a better future for themselves and their family.

Clients can work with Fresh Start Consumer Services to clean up their past. This is achieved by working with the major credit bureaus and creditors to challenge the negative report items that affect the credit score.

Based in Warner Robins, GA, the expert team at Fresh Start Consumer Services is passionate about helping citizens to improve their credit score to give them more buying power. As a result of this, clients are able to secure more options in life.

The team understands that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and their services are designed to ensure that clients can get the most out of life. They also realize that a bad credit score can harm clients’ quality of life – and can be a difficult situation to get out of.

Fresh Start Consumer Services offer courses in credit repair and restoration, budget management, credit education and purchase assistance. Clients get easy access to their account 24/7 for live status updates on improvements, allowing them to fine-tune the management of their credit score.

Service options include personalized dispute options to fit each clients’ exact credit repair needs, an experienced case analyst and case advisor working personally with them throughout the process, custom dispute letters, and more.

For clients, there are a number of reasons to work with a credit repair specialist. Clients are able to secure significant savings on interest rates, attain better terms on loan products, and get access to the best credit card deals. They also gain access to more housing options.

The team states: “Fresh Start Consumer Services offers a unique combination of services that gives our clients the quality of life they deserve. We specialize in helping our clients achieve qualifying credit and the financial health they desire.”

Full details can be found on the URL above.

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Is it Possible to Trade In a Car Early?

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Yes, early trade-ins are possible when you finance a vehicle. In fact, there’s no set time frame on trading in a car. Most dealers won’t take a trade-in that’s too fresh, though, and it’s best to wait until there’s equity in your vehicle before you try to trade it in.

What’s a Trade-In?

When you trade in a car, you’re essentially selling it to a dealership and financing something else from their lot, without the hassle of selling and buying with separate transactions. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how and where you have to trade in your vehicle.

However, it’s beneficial to shop around and see which dealers can give you the best price, but you shouldn’t just head to a car lot and ask what they’re willing to offer you. When the time comes, there are several steps you may want to take to get ready for the trade-in process, especially if you’re looking to trade in early before you’ve had the chance to close the equity gap.

Trading In Early and Equity

Are Early Trade-Ins Possible When You Finance a Car?When you’re trading in a vehicle soon after you’ve financed it, you’re more likely to be in a negative equity position – owing more on your auto loan than the car is worth.

This is especially true if you financed a new vehicle, or a certified pre-owned car. Newer vehicles depreciate faster than used ones, which have typically already seen their biggest drop in value.

Depreciation is the loss of value over time and it can’t be stopped. It can be slowed, though. The best way to do this is by using a large down payment when you finance. This reduces the amount you have to borrow, and leaves you owing a price closer to what the car might cost after you drive it off the lot. New vehicles typically lose around 10% of their value as soon as they touch the road.

If you don’t have the equity to recoup your investment in a car, you have to make up that difference out of your own pocket. It’s much easier to trade in a vehicle that can pay for itself, but this isn’t always possible when you’re trying to do so early.

Preparing Your Early Trade-In

When you know that you’re starting with a deficit on your trade-in, it’s a good idea to be prepared to get the most you can. Clean the car thoroughly, both inside and out, and make sure to fix any minor damage that may have occurred in the short time since you took out your loan.

Getting the vehicle detailed and fixing major mechanical issues isn’t likely to result in a worthwhile increase to the cash in your pocket, so don’t go overboard. Remember, you want to make as much money on this trade as you can, and it’s probably cheaper for the dealership to fix any large issues.

Before you set foot in a dealer to get your trade-in appraised, it’s a good idea to know approximately how much your car is worth. You can find this out by going to online valuation sites such as Kelley Blue Book or NADAguides. Be sure to be honest when you’re inputting information, since it’s the only way to get an accurate estimate of possible value.

Shopping for Trade-In Values

Once you have the estimates (which you should print or save to your phone), it’s time to take your trade-in to get looked at. Taking it to a few different dealerships is a good way to find the best deal you can.

We recommend taking your early trade-in to at least three different dealers, making sure at least one of them is a franchised dealership that sells your vehicle’s brand. A franchised dealer that sells your car’s brand may be more likely to offer a higher price.

Depending on your credit situation, it’s likely a good idea to ensure you’re trying to trade in your vehicle to a dealership that can work with your situation, especially if you have poor credit. And that’s where Auto Credit Express can come in handy.

We have a nationwide network of special finance dealers that are signed up with subprime lenders who can help people in many different types of credit situations, including bad credit, no credit, and even bankruptcy.

The process is easy to get started – just fill out our free auto loan request form. We’ll match you to a local dealership that can get you started on the financing you need after your early trade-in.

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