AMA 84 – Vodka Diplomacy with Phaedra Fisher

Phaedra Fisher visited Russia back in 1994, and witnessed the privatization and inflation firsthand. Her book, Vodka Diplomacy, explains her experience and life in Russia as several events unfolded.

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Not a Student? Student Loan Debt Still Hits Home

Student debt still hits homeYou’re not a college student. You don’t have a child in college. But the escalating crisis of student loan debt still affects you, in ways large and small. In the spring of 2014 the total student debt load in the US had reached $1.1 trillion – and that burden of debt is stifling entrepreneurship, threatening the economic recovery and sparking fears of another recession.

The cost of college has been steadily rising over the past half-century or so. From lowly community colleges to prestigious Ivy League schools, institutions of higher learning have been raising tuition costs and other fees. At the same time, scholarships and grants from private and government sources have been drying up.

That means more and more students hoping to get the degree that would lead to a lucrative long-term career have had to turn to loans to get through school. Because the traditional government funded student loan programs still aren’t enough to cover all the expenses associated with college, private lenders have stepped in to fill the gap, with higher interest rates and shorter terms than the old standbys. Even Pell grants, which could support a lower-income student through a two or four year degree program at a community or small state school, are falling short, which means those students who can least afford another burden of debt are also turning to private lenders for help.

The result? On average, American students leave school with a debt load of about $30,000. And while increasing numbers of students are finishing degree programs later in life, the bulk of the burden falls squarely on the fastest growing segment of the US population: the so-=called “millennials,” people ranging in age from early twenties to early thirties.

In the traditional paradigm, these twentysomethings might have been expected to graduate, get a good job, marry, buy a house and settle down to raise a family funded by a solid career. But increasingly, economic circumstances paint a very different picture.

Student Loan Debt Stifles Economic Growth

Saddled with large amounts of debt, recent graduates are opting not to take on more – and that includes the “good debt” of a home mortgage as well as the general consumer debt of cars and other high-end purchases. Even with near record low interest rates, these young consumers are wary of taking on more debt – especially if they’re struggling with lower paying jobs than they expected to have with their degrees.

Fewer home sales and consumer purchases mean a sluggish economy overall. What’s more, the student debt problem also ripples through the world of employment, with serious implications for job growth and new startups. And that in turn affects the country’s global competitiveness and ability to innovate.

Student Loan Debt Crushes Employment Opportunities

The problem of student loan debt affects the job market – eve among those who don’t go to college. A recent study found a relatively large subgroup of individuals who could go to college but are choosing not to, precisely because they don’t want to take on the burden of thousands of dollars in debt. Instead, they settle for whatever lower-wage jobs they can get with less education. While some may advance to better opportunities and better wages, most don’t.

Another group often overlooked in studies of student debt includes those who enroll in college, but then drop out – usually after they’ve gotten financial aid to attend. These individuals are left in worse trouble than those who do finish. Not only do they end up without a degree and with limited job options, they’re faced with repaying the debt they’ve incurred.

Among students who do finish their degrees, competition in some fields is fierce, leaving many still stuck in low-wage jobs that aren’t connected to their field at all. The old cliché of the PhD driving a taxicab isn’t far from the truth. Limited financial options leave more and more of these new graduates living with family or friends in an effort to make ends meet.

For many, the threat of post graduation debt affects the choice of career, too. Students increasingly gravitate toward majors that promise higher paying jobs upon graduation, such as business or law, rather than the ones that lead to public sector or nonprofit work, like social services ad education. That leads to potentially damaging shortfalls in those key areas.

Even if they are able to land a reasonably well paying job in their chosen field, some of these graduates can expect to be paying down their loan debt for the rest of their working lives. Student loan debt isn’t discharged in bankruptcies, so many simply default – and the resulting blot on a credit report can chill any other efforts to take out a loan.

Student Loan Debt Affects US Global Competitiveness

The student loan crisis isn’t just choking the economy at home. Much of the country’s job growth comes from startups and new small businesses. But recent graduates coping with heavy debt loads may not want to – or be able to – take on the additional debt needed to launch a business. That means that good ideas go undeveloped, key innovations never get off the drawing board, and bright thinkers don’t get the support they need to keep the country ahead of the curve in a competitive global market.

A Turning Tide?

Recognizing the problem is the first step toward fixing the problem, and new – and old – efforts to tackle the student loan debt problem are trying to do just that. New programs aim to help money strapped students understand the loan process. Lower cost online programs aim to make the cost of an education cheaper. Some colleges have even (gasp!) scaled back on some fees and charges, and made more scholarship aid available.

Still, that $1 trillion in student debt won’t go away quickly. As Jason Hartman says, awareness is the key to making changes — and it doesn’t take a college degree to see that student loan debt affects us all.

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The Future May Be Brighter Than You Think: Here’s Why

Bitcoin for Real Estate: A New Frontier

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The Future May Be Brighter Than You Thought: Here’s Why

AbundanceIn a world of shrinking resources and stagnant salaries, it’s easy to believe we’re living in bad times with no hope of a recovery. But a look at the bigger picture, as revealed in a new book based on research from all over the world, suggests that we’re living in a time of unprecedented abundance – and things are only going to improve.

The future is better than you think,  say authors Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler in their new book, Abundance, which argues that, taken overall, the human beings on this planet right now are actually living in times of unprecedented abundance, and that the future doesn’t have to be feared. They’ve got the statistics to prove it, with charts showing everything from the narrowing gender wage gap to the number of people in countries around the world who are finishing college now.

A Century of Improvement

Diamandis and Kotler point out that in spite of current predictions about the decline and fall of cultures and governments, most areas of life have taken a major upswing in the last century or so. Their conclusions range from the obvious (there were more deaths in war in 1918 and 1940 than in our current cycles of armed conflict) to the surprising – a correlation between a reduction in armed conflict and expanding Internet use.

The data, presented on the duo’s website, come from a variety of different studies and analytical frameworks developed by various institutions such as the US Census Bureau. USA Today and university think tanks from round the world. While some is a little esoteric –there’s been a decline in the cost of human genome sequencing and an upswing in the number of people who shower daily in the winter – taken as a whole, the stats and trends offered by Diamandis and Kotler paint a picture of a rapidly changing, but also vastly more abundant world than the ones our parents or grandparents lived in.

Since 1900, the average human lifespan has increased by a stunning 36 years or more, and the whirlwind pace of technology means that people in just about every part of the world have the opportunity to become better informed than ever before – and able not just to receive information, but to create it and share it with the click of a mouse.

Physical comforts are more widely available than ever before, too. That observation about the percentage of people (75) who take a shower in the winter now as opposed to the 1950s (18) speaks to a variety of things including access to indoor plumbing, heat and water.

Technology Feeds Abundance

Another indication of abundance in the world is the number of photographs taken, from zero in the 1850s to thousands today. Add to that the data showing a dramatic increase in the number of people who are able to use the Internet and you have a profile of a population that’s literate and tech-savvy. People make more money and have more leisure time than at any time in the past century and more.

And, the authors argue, because technology and innovation advance exponentially, not linearly,that means that the future could be very bright indeed.

Should Investors Wear Shades?

The takeaway for investors? While no one’s advising a head in the sand approach that ignores the realities of current economic conditions and the struggles of people around the world to simply survive, and the ongoing political and social issues that need to be addressed, there’ this look backward sheds a strong light on the future, with implications for building wealth in real estate.

People are better educated than ever, with unprecedented round the clock access to the most widely available of all commodities, information. And that’s good news for investors in a rapidly growing rental market, where new opportunities become available on a daily basis and there’s always something new to learn. Networking is only as far away as the touch of a button, so it’s easier than ever to stay educated and informed – two of the most important things an investor needs to be successful, as Jason Hartman says.

These gains aren’t likely to vanish. And if you’re hoping to get started in income property investing, the strides we’ve made over the last hundred years or so mean that new doors are opening to learn about investing, make new decisions – and turn more profits. In an abundant world, everybody benefits – and three’s always enough to go around.  (Top image: Flickr/KevFowler)

Source:

Diamantis, Peter and Steven Kotler.  Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.” AbundanceHub. Abundancehub.com. 6 July 2014

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Bitcoin for Real Estate: A New Frontier

The US: The Last Superpower Standing?

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Bitcoin For Real Estate: A New Frontier

AMA7-7-14In spite of outcry from government banks and cyberpolice worried about connections to Internet crime, the Bitcoin just keeps on trucking, with more and more sellers accepting the digital currency. But the growing use of Bitcoin for buying real estate is raising concerns about the digital coin’s staying power and stability.

Bitcoin’s splashy entrance into the real estate market came with the announcement in the spring of 2014 that the owner of a Southampton, NY property priced at nearly $800,000 was wiling to accept cash in traditional funds for the property or the equivalent in Bitcoin.

The German-born owner of that Southampton property isn’t the only one willing to take the controversial virtual currency for a real estate transaction. Sellers in Indonesia and Latin America, where Bitcoi is big, are also letting buyers know they’re willing to take Bitcoin for real estate.

But the volatility of Bitcoin has housing professionals worried. About the implications not just for these sellers, but for the housing industry as a whole – and for the investors working to build wealth through income property investing.

Bitcoin’s Rocky Road

Too see why, let’s look back at the Bitcoin. You’ll find numerous articles about it right here in our archives, because Jason Hartman’s watching its progress. Bitcoin was created back in 2009 as an experimental digital money that anyone cold use, anywhere in the world, without connections to any bank.

The Bitcoin’s popularity spread, especially in countries whose own currencies were unstable, and as it gained traction among larger groups of merchants and sellers willing to take payment in Bitcoin it became a legitimate commodity in the world’s money markets. Prices fluctuated wildly, at some points reaching as high as $200 per coin.

But with that newfound celebrity came troubles. Bitcoin exchanges were accused of money laundering, and the anonymity of the coin made it ideal for use in illegal transactions everywhere in the world. State banks and monetary authorities issued stern warnings and refused to deal in Bitcoin.

The hostility of major financial institutions and governments toward Bitcoin and other digital currencies like it have triggered fears among some Bitcoin supporters of a major effort to kill the coin entirely. But others point to the continuing spread of the coin into areas like real estate as evidence that it’s here to stay.

Bitcoin for Real Estate?

But while conducting a transaction like buying real estate with Bitcoin seems simple, it comes with complications beyond the initial exchange.

The Southampton seller says he included the Bitcoin option to broaden the range of potential buyers and give buyers an additional option. And as long as the Bitcoin sale is treated like a cash sale, real estate professionals point out that it could work. After all, the only requirement for a successful Bitcoin transaction is that both parties agree on the price and the terms.

But the very anonymity of Bitcoin makes it hard to create safeguards around such as sizable exchange. Bitcoin is backed by nothing, and its value fluctuates wildly. A hundred thousand dollars’ worth of Bitcoin today may be worth a hundred, or a thousand, in the next few months, leaving the seller with no return at all.

Credit checks on Bitcoin buyers of real estate are also useless. Since Bitcoin transactions don’t appear on anyone’s FICO report, it’s impossible to verify a buyer’s reliability. And there’s no recourse if the deal goes sour. That’s another reason Bitcoin is loved by illegal traffickers of all kinds.

Another obstacle in using Bitcoin to buy real estate is the number of ancillary transactions that go along with any kind of housing sale. Inspections, title searches and transfers, legal fees and permits are all al pert of buying am investment property – and those entities probably wont accept Bitcoin, so funds for those transactions will have to be carried by the parties involved, even if the main sale is done via Bitcoin.

For now, Bitcoin transactions for real state have been limited to relatively expensive properties, ones that could equally easily be purchased with cash. And cash is still king n some kinds of real estate purchases, pushing out those buyers who have to work with lenders to take out a mortgage.

As Bitcoin continues to make inroads into the world of real estate, should investors get on the bandwagon? The answer depends on a lot of considerations. If you’re a Bitcoin enthusiast who wants to help promote its use, there’s a growing list of sellers willing to meet you halfway.

How Does Bitcoin Work?

Experts point out that sellers willing to tae Bitcoin for property – or any other high-end purchase – may want to consider immediately rolling those Bitcoins over into the purchase of some other tangible thing, such as another property or other substantial item. That ensures some protection against a Bitcoin crash and burn that leaves you holding a virtual wallet full of nearly useless virtual money.

If a property you want can only be had by Bitcoin, it’s relatively easy to get some. Bitcoins can still be “mined” – produced using the complex algorithms that set the number of Bitcoin circulating. If you don’t have the patience, computer power or expertise to mine Bitcoins simply engage or sell something for Bitcoin or pull out your real wallet and buy some Bitcoins from an exchange.

Bitcoins are then added to your online wallet and then transferred to the seller’s account when the deal is done. Fees for Bitcoin transactions typically run much lower than those charged by banks and other institutions.

What happens to your Bitcoin stash come tax time? The IRS and other authorities continue to grapple with how to classify them, but for now they’re being treated as property, not as assets. That’s another consideration in large volume Bitcoin sales.

Should you buy real estate with Bitcoins? Well, maybe. The cybercurrency’s road to complete acceptance in the financial world is still a rocky one. But as more and more sellers opt for Bitcoin purchases, digital money has already altered the way real estate business is done.  (Top image: Flickr/btckeychain)

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The Stimulus Fades, But Interest Rates Stay Low

Successful Investors Use Their Heads

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The Stimulus Fades, But Interest Rates Stay Low

AMA6-22-14The ongoing draw down of the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing plan is in full swing, with another $10 billion slashed from the buyout budget every couple of months. According to predictions, that should cause interest rates to jump. But despite the fading of the Fed’s artificial manipulation, those rates are hovering close to the historically low levels of a few years ago. And that may be good news for US consumers.

Interest rates for the typical 30-year fixed rate home mortgage of the kind Jason Hartman recommends to income property investors are still hovering below 4.5 percent. That’s maybe not quite as low as those historic rates of a couple of years ago. But industry watchers had predicted a much bigger jump following Fed’s decision to scale back the stimulus.

And scale back it has. Qualitative Easing 2, its plan to boost the economy by buying up billions of dollars worth of mortgage backed securities, was intended to push banks to keep rates low, thereby encouraging people to take out loans, which they’d then use to buy things, in a chain reaction that was supposed to benefit not just the struggling housing market but also the economy as a whole.

Though critics worried that the stimulus was really only benefiting the banking industry, its impact was clear: rates stayed low and big ticket purchasing, primarily housing, went up. And that’s why news of its draw-down sent jitters through the financial world.

The Fed is now on its third round of scaling back, paring another $10 billion off its budget every time – a move that triggered speculation that rats would bounce up as natural market forces took over. But halfway through 2014, that still hasn’t happened.

According to a recent report from Interest.com, the reason for the continued low rates has little to do with the Federal Reserve, and much more to do with a dip in the numbers of people applying for mortgages or refinancing plans.

New rules put in place at the start of the year make it harder to qualify for most kinds of loans, and fewer homeowners are opting to refinance than a few years ago, when the housing market was rebounding after its historic collapse. But as the year progresses, lenders are easing up on credit score requirements and actively courting buyers with faster turn around times and quicker approvals

The reasons behind today’s low interest rates are complex, and that picture is subject to change. But for now, those expectation-defying rates are creating new opportunities for smart investors to begin building wealth.  (Top image: Flickr/KevFowler)

Source:

Sante, Mike. “Interest Rates Fall to 2014 Lows Despite the Fed.” Interst.com Mortgages. Interest.com 4 Jun 2014. Accessed 21 Jun 2014.

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5 Investing Mistakes That Cost You Money

Successful Investors Use Their Heads

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Successful Investors Use Their Heads

AMA6-14-14It’s the stuff of happy endings everywhere: a gut feeling a tug at the heart or an intuition opens doors to just the right thing. That can be true in money matters, too – but financial experts say that the best investing outcomes are those driven by cool, collected logic: objective, not subjective, thinking.

Subjective decision-making is the kind that’s ruled by feelings rather than facts and figures. And there’s a place for that in many an investing endeavor, particularly real estate. When you’re choosing a place to make your home for at least a few years, your feelings can – and maybe should – play a role. If price and other “objective” considerations are equal, choosing a house that reminds you of your childhood home may make sense.

But when it comes to investment properties bought with the intent to generate income, decision making, has to be objective. The prettiest property in town doesn’t mean much if it costs too much and can’t generate income from rents. Investors need to consider cold hard facts and figures – a process that Jason Hartman sums us as Three Dimensional Real Estate Investing: price, financing and cash flow.

Those three dimensions allow an investor to take a clear look at the key parameters that indicate investing success. And they also reveal the ways emotions can derail the process:

Emotions can enter into the prices of buying a property. It’s easy to jump at a property just because it looks like a bargain, or sellers say it won’t last long. Those kinds of feelings can make price the sole determining factor of whether a property makes sense. But the objective investor also considers:

Financing an investment can get derailed by impulses and personal interactions too. Again, emotions ranging from comfort (there’s an easy way to handle the process with friendly lenders) to fear and aversion can overrule more important factors such as what terms and rates work best for individual investing goals. Investors making impulsive decisions can end up paying more or getting less.

Not much else matters if the property doesn’t produce the desired income, or cash flow. Calculating the Rent to Value ratio and other factors gives a clear picture of the cash flow potential of a given property – and those figures need to guide decisions.

In other aspects of investing, too, the head has to prevail over the heart. Choosing advisers not for expertise, but for personality, or skimping on learning about the investing process because it’s boring, won’t get an investor very far on the road to building wealth.

How to keep decisions objective – and put those pesky feelings in their place? The key, say life coaches and financial experts, lies in mindfulness: pay attention to how you’re feeling and what seems to be pulling you to or away from a given option, Have clear goals, too, and know what steps you need to take to achieve them – a way to keep the head, not the heart, firmly in control of your investing success.  (Top image:Flickr/KevFowler)

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The US: The Last Superpower Standing?

5 Investing Mistakes That Cost You Money

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The US: The Last Superpower Standing?

AMA6-18-14A slumping economy, a devalued dollar and accusations of spying at home and abroad: for these

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and a host of other reasons, the US has taken a few pratfalls on the world stage in recent years.

But as a newly updated article from The Futurist argues, those troubles don’t change the fact that by a number of key benchmarks, the US is still the world’s only superpower. And that’s good news for investors and entrepreneurs.

What makes a superpower anyway? The term crept into public awareness during the Cold War, when the US and Soviet Union were vying for world supremacy in terms of military reach, innovation, economic strength and cultural clout, among other factors. The US won many of these, especially the cultural clout thing. And, as The Futurist points out, it’s likely to keep on winning – at least in the ways that really matter.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the major contenders for superpower status are China and India, and China leads. It ‘s a large country with a fast growing economy and masses of investments abroad. But by the other standards – military might and cultural reach – it, like other contenders, falls far behind.

Although China spends extensively on its military, at this point no country other than the US has the means to conduct multiple wars with such as small percentage of the country’s GDP. The US military is able to conduct its own operations, engage in cooperative maneuvers with other countries and even step up for peacetime crises at home and abroad. China’s military, for example, has neither that kind of reach nor that flexibility.

The dollar may have taken a beating in recent months in the world markets, but it’s still the most sought after currency in the world, universally recognized and traded on legitimate and black markets around the world. The dollar is so entrenched as the global go-to currency that it would take years for the yuan or rupee to achieve the same kind of reach and influence.

But it’s on the cultural front that America’s superpower status is assured. American brands like McDonalds and Nike are recognized and sought after everywhere in the world. To the dismay of local culture aficionados, American film, television and music have global reach. More than that, the US is the incubator for significant scientific research – and its educational institutions draw students from everywhere in the world, who use it as a springboard for making changes in their home countries. Even the most prestigious universities in China, for example, have little or no recognition outside the country.

As part of a global economy, the US certainly isn’t immune to the ups and downs o he marketplace. But as the saying goes, reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. That’s why US real estate is still the best option for building wealth that lasts – as Jason Hartman always says. (Top image:Flickr/PhilRoeder)

Source:
“Why the US Will Still Be The Only Superpower in 2030, v.2.0” The Futurist. Sungularity2050.com. 6Jun 2008, updated 2014, accessed 18 June 2014

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5 Investing Mistakes That Cost You Money

Data Theft Crosses All Borders

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5 Investing Mistakes That Cost You Money

AMA6-12-14Investing is supposed to make you money, not make you lose it. But it’s easy to fall into a few traps that can cause exactly that – whether you’re new to investing or have been around the block a few times. Regardless of how you’re investing, financial professionals point to five common mistakes that can derail investing success:

Not Establishing Clear Goals
Although of course your goal as an investor is to gain more money, it helps to be much more specific than that. How much money do you want to acquire – and in what kind of time frame? What resources do you have to make that possible? Asking questions like this can create a clear picture of the results you want. Then,

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break that goal down into smaller steps.

Leading With the Heart, Not the Head
While successful investors often credit a “gut” feeling for a successful investing decision, subjective investing – prompted by emotion, not logic – can lead to trouble. Being objective about the pros and cons of an opportunity and making decisions based on logic leads to better results than impulse buying and sentimental attachments to things that just don’t yield.

Failing to Diversify
It’s been said again and again: putting all your investing eggs in one basket means that the basket may fall apart. Spreading investments over a variety of markets and holdings offers protection against a failure in any one aspect of the process and offers opportunities to recover from a localized disaster.

Not Factoring in Costs
In some ways, the old adage is true: you do have to spend some money to make money. But all too often eager investors forget that fact. Fees paid to advisors and other investment professionals, closing costs and down payments on real estate, and a host of other costs have to be taken care of up front. Failing to allow for those can stop an investing effort before it even begins.

Trying to Get Rich Quick
If it looks too good to be true, it probably is – and investors who want quick money are apt to get burned by a variety of scams, strategies and schemes that aren’t sustainable for the long haul. Successful investing often is a waiting game, with returns that come over time.

Investing success depends on getting educated about investing, doing your homework and staying in charge of he process, as Jason Hartman recommends. And that’s the way to avoid those classic investing blunders, too. (Top image:Flickr/marchand)

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Data Theft Crosses All Borders

Gen Y: Changing the Economic Game

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Gen Y: Changing the Economic Game

AMA6-11-14Move over, baby boomers. There’s a batch of new kids in town, and their numbers have knocked you out of first place as the biggest age cohort in the country. We’re talking about the millennials, or Generation Y, whose buying patterns and lifestyle choices are changing the face of the economy in ways large and small.

According to recent Department of Labor statistics, the largest age group in the country now has an average age of just 23. That generation, like the baby boomers born between the end of World War II and 1960, includes people just finishing college to young adults in their mid-thirties. And like the baby boomers, which shaped the cultural and economic landscape for so many years, this new group is making an impact in virtually every area of the economy.

Think of Gen Y as the connected generation. Coming of age in a digital world that puts everything within reach 24/7, this group is adept at testing, Skyping, Facebooking, Instagramming and a host of other web based social connections. In person connectivity? Not so much.

That makes these young people as a general group a challenge for traditional employers, who bemoan their lack of a mainstream work ethic and overall social skills. They’re highly mobile, with little attachment to a job long–term. They’ve grown up in a world where employment isn’t consistent and careers don’t last, and many of them have struggled to find a job related to what they learned in college.

Surveys of social patterns show that this generation is commitment shy in many ways. Burdened with student debt from years in college and struggling to find work, many live at home or with friends, unwilling or unable to make the big-ticket purchases such as a house or car that used to signal “adulthood.”

They tend to marry later, too, and postpone or skip starting families. This generation is more likely than any other to say they plan to have just one child or remain childless – and when they do leave home, they’re more likely to rent rather than buy a home.

Idealism and a wish to change the world is also a key characteristic of this group – and many of them prefer entrepreneurship or working in ways that improve conditions for people and the world to the traditional goals of capitalism.

Granted, that picture of the new millennials has some very broad strokes. But they offer a few insights into the way this new majority views – and changes – the world. It’s a different take on the old American Dream – and as Jason Hartman says, that mans new opportunities for alert investors. (Top image:Flickr/Ju-x)

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Data Theft Crosses All Borders

Is A College Degree Worth The Cost?

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Data Theft Crosses All Borders

AMA6-5-14The Digital Age has all but erased many of the world’s conventional borders. While that’s undeniably useful for commerce and communication, it’s also made cybercrime a household word, as thousands of American Express cardholders in California found out this spring.

Back in March 2014, the American Express Company revealed that data hackers had stolen the credit card information of 58,522 California cardholders, and an additional 18,000 may have had other personal information stolen as well.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times story, the company learned about the theft when law enforcement officials notified it that several files containing the data had been posted online, apparently by members of Anonymous, the network of “hacktivists” that claimed responsibility for shutting down websites and disrupting traffic to sites and individuals it deems worthy of attack. And there’s another twist: AmEx claims the actual culprits are members of an Anonymous subgroup, Anonymous Ukraine.

Internet security experts say that credit card data theft is less damaging than the hijacking of other kinds of personal information such as Social Security numbers or birthdates. Once a theft or misuse has been discovered, credit card accounts can be simply closed out and the cards frozen to prevent further use.

But personal information like a birthdate or Social Security Number is highly desirable. That kind of data can be bought and sold in black markets around the world, used virtually indefinitely to create new identities for all kinds of people trying to fly under he radar. Still, credit card data may contain clues to those other kinds if information and create headaches for users faced with cleaning up the mess.

And credit card data theft is a mess whose cleanup rests almost entirely with the cardholder, who has to contact card companies, scrupulously check statements and receipts, and report suspicious activity to card issuers as soon as possible.

What’s troubling AmEx officials and cybersecurity professionals, though, is the ease with which a foreign group was able to acquire and post the information. The digital world knows no borders, and cyberattacks can come from anywhere, no matter where you live.

Data breaches like the one that hit American Express and the much larger one that struck department store Target a few months ago are becoming almost commonplace – and since digital data swapping is here to stay, consumers must protect themselves by staying informed, alert and in control of personal data, as Jason Hartman advises.  (Top image:Flickr/JanetH)

Source:

Faturechi, Robert. “How To Protect Yourself After the AMEX Breach.” Los Angeles Times Technology Now. Lps Angeles Times. 4 June 2014

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Over Regulation Strangles Business Innovation

What’s the Right Retirement Age Anyway?

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Over-Regulation Strangles Business Innovation

AMA6-3-14It’s only hummus – that chickpea and tahini spread gaining popularity in grocery stores around the country. But a new battle over what exactly constitutes real hummus offers a sobering lesson about the way small businesses and entrepreneurs can be crushed by regulations pushed by their larger competitors.

The story is simple. Sabra, makers of several varieties of hummus, filed suit against a number of competitors including Trader Joe’s to protect the purity of hummus everywhere. Why’s that? According to Sabra, hummus, in order to be called hummus, has to have certain proportions of specific ingredients, chief of which are chickpeas and tahini, a Middle Eastern sesame paste. Although you can add other ingredients like peppers and garlic, hummus just isn’t hummus without chickpeas and tahini.

Enter Trader Joes and a variety of smaller hummus brands with offerings like edamame hummus, which uses soybeans instead of chickpeas, white bean hummus (whose main ingredient is obvious) and hummus without tahini.

Sabra’s legal challenge to these upstarts consists of requesting more specific FDA regulations that specify what hummus can and can’t be, with controls on what products can use the generic term “hummus.” This has the intended effect of shutting own those competitor’s’ products or forcing them to use names that are unfamiliar to buyers and cut out their share of the lucrative hummus market worldwide. End result? More business for Sabra’s hummus products.

Jason Hartman notes that the standoff has echoes of a much larger issue: the tightening of regulatory oversight in areas ranging from tech startups to small banks trying to function n the shadow of larger, predatory ones. Requests for more end tighter regulation of these and other industries by established players in the field pose legitimate threats to the new kids on the block.

That’s a scenario being played out in the nation’s banking industry, as more and more new regulations designed to keep a tight rein on the bigger banks may be overburdening smaller financial institutions, forcing them to either scale back or shut down. It’s also present in the efforts of major utility companies to take aim at solar energy providers by getting local and federal governments to enact new regulations on who and what can be an energy provider.

You may never eat a bite of hummus. And on the face of it, Sabra’s efforts to preserve the purity of the product may seem a little silly. But its efforts to squeeze out competition through regulation is a scenario played out across the country in many fields, where larger corporations and institutions are trying to regulate their competitors out of business.  (Top image: Flickr/JuX)

Source:

Dolg, Polly Davis. “FDA’s Next Frontier: Hummus?” Newser.com 28 May 2014

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Is A College Degree Worth The Cost?

Yes, You Need a Personal Brand

The American Monetary Association Team

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Is a College Degree Worth the Cost?

AMA6-2-14It’s often said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics – a pithy way to remind us that although numbers may not lie, they may paint a distorted picture of a larger reality. Case in point: a recent Economic Policy Institute study which claims that college graduates earn nearly one hundred percent ore than their non-degreed counterparts. But those numbers don’t reflect the harsher realities of the job market and the high costs of college.

As recently reported by Newser, a new Economic Policy Institute study based on Department of Labor statistics indicated that college grads overall earn 98 percent more than those in the same age group who didn’t get a college degree – an increase from last year’s 89 percent. That should mean that these recent graduates are more than able to hold their own in an economy that’s in recovery, right?

As Jason Hartman says, statistics like that are based on bogus assumptions. Those figures, general as they are, paint a very broad picture that doesn’t take

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into account the staggering amount of loan debt that most graduates carry with them out of college – amounts approaching triple digits for some higher end schools. That earning power quickly erodes in the ace of paying off those debts – or defaulting, which brings its own set of problems.

Despite encouraging gains, the employment picture isn’t so rosy, either, especially in some higher end fields. Labor statistics for 2013 indicate the most growth in lower wage jobs such as service industries – and many grads don’t end up finding a job in their area of study right away. That means a period of time working either part time or at a job in a completely different field.

What’s more, global statistics like these ignore another side of the picture: while college grads may make more, they’re also spending that money to pay down the loans and other debts incurred in the course of getting that college degree. Those costs, and the availability of specialized education in technology and commerce, may keep some otherwise qualified students away from choosing to complete a four year degree.

Not all students are equally served by traditional degree programs, and it isn’t clear whether the Labor Department’s earning statistics apply in the same way to students at the top and bottom of their classes – and whether they take into account differences in career choices and the cost of college. Plus, many non-degree jobs pay more than degreed ones. A highly qualified diesel mechanic can command a salary of around $62,000, while a newly minted PhD n English may start out at less than $50,000 annually, while facing far more competition for available jobs.

If numbers don’t lie, they do mislead. And the Department of Labor’s numbers on the earnings of college graduates and their non0degreed counterparts paint a misleading picture – one that affects all major areas of the economy. (Top image:Flickr/imagesofmoney)

Source:

Spak, Kevin. “College Grads Make 98% More Than Everyone Ese.” Newser. Newser.com 24 May 2014

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Social Media For Investors: Neworking, Support, Success

Whats the Right Retirement Age Anyway?

The American Monetary Association Team

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Social Media For Investors: Networking, Support, Success

AMA6-4-14Mention social media, and all too often the image that comes to mind is a group of teenagers furiously posting selfies to Facebook and Instagram. But think again. Social media has grown up, with serious real world applications for professionals, entrepreneurs and investors who want to stay educated, connected – and safe.

A few years ago, social media sites really were just places to connect with friends and post pictures of the family vacation. But as social media has become more businesslike and less, well, social, investors can find more ways to get and stay connected with others in their niche and to stay current on trends, issues and even scams.

Connections
The obvious use of social media is to connect with others, and social media sites ranging from good old Facebook and Twitter to more niche-specific ones such as BiggerPockets allow investors to find and connect with lenders, sellers, financial planners and even renters quickly and easily. Deals can be closed with a series of rapid-fire tweets, a friend with a line on the ideal property can be found, and the progress of mortgage applications can be checked from virtually anywhere.

Whatever your need, there’s a site for that. In addition to the obvious sites that so many of us use every day, it’s possible to find like minded people and properties through lesser known options such as the professional networking site LinkedIn, or even Meetup, the nexus for creating groups and activities.

Support
Social networking can create a place where people involved in a shared pursuit can support and look out for each other. When a massive Ponzi scheme made the rounds in real estate not too long ago, the message boards and forums of sites like BiggerPockets lit up, as members came forth to expose the scheme by telling their own stories and warning others about the scam.

Social sites let people share experiences good and bad, warn against unscrupulous dealings by various professional people, and even compare notes about renters. Getting involved in a social media site or two that are related to your interests as an investor can put an army of allies and informed friends at your back.

Education
Social media lets people pool resources and share their best ideas with others. With access to virtually endless sources for tutorials, podcasts and referrals to qualified financial advisors, social media can help investors become better informed and more in control of their investing decisions.

There’s a social media site for everyone – and investors are no exception. Explore, get involved and make your own contributions – and you’re well on the way to following Jason Hartman’s commandments to get educated and find good financial advice for a successful investing career. (Top image:Flickr/ROchoa)
Source:

Zimmerman, Cali. “Social Networking for Real Estate Investors.” NuWire Investors. Nuwire.com 3 June 2014

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The MintChip: Mainstream Banking Tries To Get Digital

Is Your Technology Controlling You?

The American Monetary Association Team

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The MintChip: Mainstream Banking Tries to Get Digital

AMA6-1-14It sounds like a new kind of snack: the MintChip. But this product of the Royal Canadian Mint represents a new stage in the evolution of digital currency: digital money created and controlled by a state bank. And its demise in April 2014 serves as a cautionary tale about the efforts of governments and traditional banking institutions to horn in on the turf staked out by independent creators of digital currency like the Bitcoin.

Back in 2012, fueled by the emerging success of the Bitcoin, the Canadian government launched its own foray into creating digital currency. According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal Canada about the MintChip’s fate, the new coin was hailed as the evolution of physical money, to be used for online payments like the Bitcoin and its competitors like the Litecoin and Dogecoin.

But the enterprise never took off, and the MintChip never went live. What derailed the process isn’t clear, although concerns about security were raised in the wake of the Bitcoin’s much publicized troubles with money laundering and associations with criminal enterprises like Silk Road.

That issue raises one of the biggest problems with the takeover of digital currency by traditional financial institutions and government bodies. The appeal of the Bitcoin and others like it lies largely in their anonymity and independence from issuing and governing bodies such as, say, the government of Canada.

A currency created by, and immediately traceable back to, an entity like the Royal Canadian Mint comes with built in security and circulation problems that independents like the Bitcoin don’t have. And with alternatives like the Bitcoin available, users looking for anonymity and freedom from banking intervention have no reason to use such a coin.

For now, the future of the MintChip is still in limbo. Canada has suspended work on the project, but it appears that the government may be turning further development of the coin over to a private company – and that may take some time.

Whatever happens to the MintChip, its story adds another chapter to the ongoing evolution of digital money and points up the problems that come when, as many observers of the Bitcoin including Jason Hartman have feared, “traditional” financial institutions try to claim a piece of the digital action. (Top image:Flickr/olihaus)

Source:
George-Cosh, David. “Canada Puts Halt to MintChip Plans; Dould Sell Digital Currency.” The Wall Street Journal Canada. wsj.com/canada 4 April 2014 .

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Yes, You Need a Personal Brand

What’s the Right Retirement Age Anyway?

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What’s the Right Retirement Age Anyway?

AMA5-27-14For decades, 65 has been that magic age for “retirement” – leaving a longtime job and riding off into the golden years with visions of vacations, grandkids and hobbies dancing through graying heads. But a variety of social, economic and personal factors are turning the notion of a true retirement age on its head. And that can be both a good thing and a very bad one.

In an age when human life spans are constantly lengthening, the definition of a “senior” citizen is paradoxically dropping. The American Association of Retired Persons, popularly known as AARP, for example, starts sending out recruitment literature to people on their fiftieth birthday. You

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might be offered the senior discount in a store at ages ranging form 50 to 65. You can take early Social Security at 62, but for some born later on the curve, full benefits won’t kick in until 67.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who reject all the labels and choose to just keep on working, or start a new career or enterprise that carries them through the next quarter century or so of life. And while the movement toward non retirement is growing, many people who hoped to retire in the traditional sense end up working, often at low wage service or fast food jobs, just because they can’t retire: there’s simply not enough money.

It’s now estimated that a worker just starting out needs to save at least half a million dollars during a working life of at least thirty years in order to create a retirement that’s secure and comfortable where there’s no need to work again. But economics may make that impossible. Many of today’s retirees have seen pension programs raided, eroded or scaled back for a variety of reasons that leave them with far less retirement income than they’d anticipated.

Because of all these factors, the workforce, far from getting younger, is getting grayer as the traditional age for retirement gets pushed back ever further. And leaving aside studies that indicate that working contributes to mental acuity and physical and emotional well being, many midlife people are still hoping to hit that point when they can kiss the nine to five goodbye. But when exactly is that? And how do you prepare for it in such uncertain times?

The answer, say financial planners, is as individual as the people involved. Factors include the “official” ages established by workplaces and government programs such as Social Security and Medicare. But other considerations of health, circumstances and outlook also apply. Whether you opt to retire in the traditional sense at 62 or keep working till you’re 95, financial experts stress that it’s important to be proactive – and to figure out what retirement means to you, and what you need to sustain it or what could e a full third or more of life.

That’s where investing in solid assets such as real estate comes in. As Jason Hartman says, it’s never too late to start creating wealth – and investing in income property just might be the key to building the (non) retirement of your dreams. (Top image:Flickr/denharsh)

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American’s Getting Younger — And Making Changes

Yes, You Need a Personal Brand

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America’s Getting Younger – And Making Changes

AMA5-26-14Move over, baby boomers. The younger generation is taking over – at least in terms of population.

The latest US Census Bureau stats reveal that the much-analyzed baby boomers, those people born between 1947 and 1960 or so, are no longer the country’s biggest demographic. They’ve been replaced by a much younger cohort of people in their early twenties. And those changing demographics are affecting the economy – and US society – in a variety of ways.

According to a recent New York Times article, the latest Census Bureau numbers show that the biggest age group in the US is just 23 years old. And that’s followed closely by those a year or two older and younger – an increase that’s accompanied by a gradual decline in the numbers of baby boomers.

Who are these twentysomethings – and where do they fit in the traditional scheme of American life? They’re tech-savvy, less attached to traditional lifestyles, more idealistic and at the same time more cynical than their elders – and they’re not interested in key aspects of the “American Dream.’

Because many members of this generation are either in college or just graduated, they’re likely to be carrying a pretty heavy load of student debt. They’re probably still searching for a job in their field or serving an internship. Some are in the early stages of a career path.

What they’re not doing: committing. To much of anything. In general, this group is waiting later to marry, and when they do, they may choose to postpone having children or remain childless. Burdened by debt, they aren’t taking on loans for homes, cars and other items – even if they qualify for a mortgage.

They’re buying less, and buying differently, and retailers are dancing hard to keep up. And not surprisingly, they’re clashing with the working world, where traditional employers bemoan their lack of a “work ethic” and their inability to fit into the hierarchies of the mainstream business world.

What they are doing: renting rather than owning, sharing rather than acting individually, and paying less attention to the traditional structures of society. Mobile and unattached, twentysomethings are making a major ripple in the ever-expanding pool of renters in America – those who either choose not to buy a home, or who are locked out of the process for economic reasons. They’re also buying fewer new cars and major appliances, and opting for mobile technology whenever possible.

Those traits can benefit smart advertisers and investors, who can tap this expanding pool of young long–term renters, who just may be the key to building wealth for the long term –especially in rental real estate, just the way Jason Hartman recommends. (Top image:Flickr/parkerknight)

Source:

“Younger Turn for a Graying Nation.” New York Times Business Day. New Your Times. Nytmes.com. 23 May 2014

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Yes, You Need a Personal Brand

Is Your Technology Controlling You?

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Yes, You Need a Personal Brand

AMA5-19-14Brands aren’t just for cattle or cans of soup anymore. Whether you’re a job applicant, entrepreneur or professional in virtually any field, you need a way to stand out from the crowd in this increasingly busy digital world. That’s why marketing experts and coaches recommend cultivating a personal brand – and cultivating that kind of consistent identity can help with investing and money management too.

Like it or not, we all have a brand –it’s how we present ourselves in the world, and what that says about us. The possibilities are as varied as human beings themselves.

What’s new, though, is the growing realization that it isn’t just big corporations that can leverage the power of a distinctive brand. Individuals, too, can develop a brand that reflects a personal or professional identity – and leverage that brand to achieve goals.

Income property investors are entrepreneurs, so having a brand helps establish your distinctive identity in the community, to renters, lenders, and everyone you deal with. A brand that’s consistent is easily recognized and communicates instantly key features of the brand holder’s approach to relationships, business decisions and more.

The emerging science of brand management recommends taking time to discover what your brand is – and that may involve figuring out who you are first. It can be helpful to write down goals, passions and interests to see if a pattern emerges. Consider your tastes in art, music and even exercise. What do people say about you? When your perception of yourself matches how other people perceive you you’re on the way to finding that brand.

Once you’ve discovered the elements of your brand, take time to create and share it. What colors represent your brand? How about fonts or images? Put it all together on business cards, letterhead, and anywhere you want to be seen. Those pieces represent you and serve as an “elevator pitch” for introducing you into the world.

The key to a successful personal brand is consistency – your brand should be recognizable anywhere you go. And if your brand establishes you as a serious, capable investor who’s in control of your investments as Jason Hartman recommends, you’ve added another tool to your kit of investing strategies.  (Top image: cjmckinney)

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Is Your Technology Controlling You?

Renting: The New American Dream

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Is Your Technology Controlling You?

AMA5-14-14Do you feel anxious if you forget your cell phone? Can’t take a trip without your GPS? Don’t remember the last time you used a pen and paper? If that’s the case, you may be addicted to technology. And that, say experts, is a recognized addictive disorder that can result in anxiety, depression and lost productivity.

The term

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“technology addict” is making the rounds in psychology circles, intended to describe those constantly connected folks who feel anxious and depressed if they can’t get to their Facebok page or Twitter account. And that kind of addiction is especially prevalent among players of online games and heavy users of social media. But even without that kind of need to stay connected, experts say it’s important to reduce our dependence on devices – and relearn ways to connect in the real world.

Too much time on social media can make some of us feel less, not

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more, connected. And conducting all interaction through emails and texts robs us of cues like tone of voice and body language – and it’s hard to get a hug through the phone. How can you tell if you’re a tech addict — and what can you do about it?

Although digital tools have made work and private life easier and far more convenient, its wise to have a backup in case the unthinkable happens: A phone falls into a lake, your computer crashes, there’s major power outage or any number of other unexpected mishaps.

So how to step away from the devices – and still keep sane? Psychologists advise:

Limit mail and social media checks, and schedule them so you keep track of the time you spend. It’s easy to justify checking mail “just this once,” but it’s easy to become trapped. Keep social media friends to a manageable number – and be mindful of what you share. Turn off you phone at social gatherings – even if you need it for work. And try making notes the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

Techie tools and toys make things easier – and more fun. But when those things become indispensable, affecting emotional and physical well being, it may be time to cut the cord. And if disaster strikes, causing interruptions in power and signals, it’s essential to have a backup plan for a relatively long period without access to those devices.

Though it may be going a bit too far to speak of a true addiction to technology, those ubiquitous devices that promise to keep us connected – all the time – can trap us into dependence. In life as in investing, as Jason Hartman says, it’s important to keep control. (Top image:Flickr/btechworld)

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Renting: The New American Dream?
In a Soft Economy, Wary Buyers Look But Don’t Leap

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In a Soft Economy, Wary Buyers Look, But Don’t Leap

AMA5-12-14The US economy has come a long way since the historic housing collapse of 2008. But a relatively flat employment picture and tighter lending standards may be slowing that recovery down. Case in point: the rebounding housing market, where would be buyers are increasingly browsing, but not committing to a purchase.

After a promising year in 2013 that spurred more optimism about the housing recovery, mortgage applications and purchases are down. Now, a new report from Business Insider suggests that many potential homebuyers are only testing the waters – and that could be good news for investors in income property.

Many reasons have been floated for the stalling of the housing recovery, which looked to be progressing nicely with higher home prices and increased demand for existing homes. But, as we’ve noted before in this space, new mortgage rules and a struggling job market cast a long shadow over the housing market — and the economy as a whole.

While those new lending rules are shutting out more marginal buyers, it seems that other would-be purchasers of residential properties are doing more browsing than buying. According to Business Insider, data on general housing trends gathered by Merrill Lynch reveal that while 2014 has seen a rise in the number of houses available, there hasn’t been a corresponding surge in mortgage applications.

What’s behind the discrepancy? Housing market watchers suggest that potential buyers – those who could qualify for a mortgage but aren’t taking that step – are investigating possible home purchases, but only as a matter of curiosity rather than out of a real intent to buy. That could be because a softer than expected job market makes these individuals skittish about taking on the obligations of a mortgage. Or that the prices of available houses are just too high.

The result? A slowdown in the recovery that many have a ripple effect on other areas of the economy as well – and one that could cause the Federal Reserve to rethink its commitment to tapering down its stimulus program to boost housing and the economy.

But this kind of “window shopping’ in the housing market has a silver lining for investors who want to build wealth in income property the way Jason Hartman recommends. Creative, committed investors able to qualify for mortgages under the new rules may have more options than they think – and more houses to choose from in any given market.

Plus, a downturn in residential homebuying, whatever the reason, continues to mean an upturn in the rental market, which is rapidly growing nationwide across the demographic spectrum. And that means higher rents and more desirable tenants to help keep an investor’s income flowing.  (Top image:Flickr/Philip Taylor)

Source:
Ro, Sam. “Americans are Interested, But Not Serious About Buying a Home.” Business Insider Finance. BusinessInsider.com. 9 May 2014

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Renting: The New American Dream?
El Nino’s Coming: Are Your Assets Safe?

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Renting: The New American Dream?

AMA5-12-14v2Owning a home, with or without a white picket fence, has always been a cherished part of the “American Dream” of stability and security. But in the world after the great housing collapse, for many people renting may be a more sensible option than buying a home. And that’s a different kind of dream that may change the housing market – and by extension the economy – forever.

Time was, owning a home meant an investment in the future. Young families scrimped and saved, planning for their children’s lives and their own retirement. But rising home costs and an increasingly uncertain job market – along with the growing acceptance of alternate life choices – are changing that picture, not just for those young families, but also retirees and everybody in between.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the median price of an existing family home rose by over 11 percent in 2013.That’s good news for the recovering housing market overall but it’s putting the purchase of those homes out of the reach of many would be buyers.

At the same time, the monthly cost of renting came in lower than an equivalent monthly mortgage in 20 of the country’s largest markets. And a comparison of the benefits and drawbacks of buying versus renting appears to tip the scales toward renting for many people.

The obvious benefit of homeownership is of course equity. But as we’ve seen, that equity doesn’t always offset the expenses of owning a home, even with the tax breaks available to homeowners. Factor in ongoing expenses for maintenance and the difficulty of moving quickly if necessary, and you have a pretty good case for renting, especially for single professionals and retirees who like traveling.

Renting means a monthly outlay a renter will never get back. But that also means a landlord handles repairs and maintenance, and a tenant can get out easily once the term of a lease or rental agreement is up. And it’s possible to rent houses equivalent to those up for purchase.

It’s worth remembering that renting was nearly always cheaper than owning a home before the great housing bubble that put home ownership in the hands of virtually everyone. And the crash that followed created a whole new pool of renters who couldn’t gee back into the housing market.

But the winner in the whole own versus rent debate is the income property investor, who ends up with the best of both worlds. As Jason Hartman advises, investing in income producing property provides the benefits of home ownership with its attendant tax benefits and leveraging, along with the steady income that comes from that growing pool of people who choose renting over owning. Do the math, as the saying goes – and it’s the investor who wins.  (Top image:Flickr/boscdanjou)

Source:
Anoriotis, Anna Maria. “The New Math of Renting vs Buying.” The Wall Street Journal Weekemd Investor. wsj.com. 2 May 2014.

 

Read more from The American Monetary Association:

El Nino’s Coming: Are Your Assets Safe?

What’s In Your (Dark) Wallet?

The American Monetary Association Team

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