What are your plans for your tax cut? Thoughts on what can be done with heavier paychecks and paying less tax

Depending on your world view, this blog post may upset you, but it contains some ideas worth pondering. As they once told us at the Writer’s Center, if you’re not making someone uncomfortable, you’re not doing a good job of writing. This may also be my first blog post to incorporate all of the principles of my blog.

Our calendar year is marked by different seasons. Each year builds up to the excitement of the traditional ‘Holiday Season’ – Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the ball finally drops in Times Square, all of the excitement stops with the birth of new year. The holiday decorations and advertising goes away and ‘Tax’ season starts. It wasn’t until I became a working adult myself that I realized that Tax season was its own season, spanning through the Super Bowl, Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, March Madness; right up until Easter Sunday.

You start seeing advertisements on TV for franchises like ‘H&R Block’, and software like ‘Turbotax’. If you have one your tax preparer starts calling you for your annual appointment. You see people dressed up like the Statue of Liberty on street corners encouraging you to have your taxes done at franchises like Liberty Tax. If you’ve paid taxes, you start gathering your materials together to have your taxes done – your W-2 and other associated forms, your gift receipts, your mortgage interest deduction statement, etc.
Depending on your diligence, you either get them done early, or you procrastinate right up to the middle of April. It’s an exciting time, or a desperate one. Depending on how you’re living your life, the refund (if you get one) will propel you further ahead, or it will be gone as soon as you receive it.

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The 2018 tax season will be different than most in recent times in that many Americans will receive a tax cut, thanks to the recently passed ‘Tax Reform and Jobs Act’. Tremendous controversy surrounded the bill – specifically its beneficiaries. If you were 100% against the bill and are still convinced that it was written solely to help the wealthy, no discussion of the increased standard deductions or the adjusted tax brackets will sway how you feel. This is particularly true if you live in one of the high tax states like my native New York State, whose residents are losing the ability to write off some of their state taxes – taxes which are much higher than the other states.

I would highly encourage everyone to do their own research and not take what you hear on the major cable news networks as the gospel. For this post, I’ve done my own research and am citing projections from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution which was last updated on December 22, 2017. The majority of the rancor and debate in the Main Stream Media (MSM) has centered around the wealthiest

Americans being the biggest beneficiaries of the law. That discussion leads us down the road of ‘Identity Politics’, ‘Fairness’, and varying perceptions of what’s right and wrong. It brings up President Barrack Obama’s position that, “Some Americans can afford to pay more taxes,” versus the other point of view which is that it’s wrong to excessively take money from those who have created it, or inherited it for unsustainable government spending.

My focus is on the potential benefits for individuals living on ‘Main Street’ and what they can do with a little more money in their pockets. I would encourage everyone else to do the same – ask yourselves what you can do to make your life and the lives around you better, as opposed to focusing on what others are getting. It’s tricky because its gets us into discussions about doing for self, and personal responsibility – difficult discussions, but important ones nonetheless.

The new law seems to have already encouraged companies like Apple to reinvest in the United States, but what are the effects of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act personally for people living on Main Street? First, how it affects your life will in large part depend on how you’re living your life in the here and now. Are you living ‘paycheck to paycheck’ or ‘hand to mouth’ as some would say? Are you living outside of your means? Are you riding a high level of debt? Do you have any emergency money? These questions will determine if you’re able to take any extra money you get back and build with it, or if it will get gobbled up right away.

According the Tax Policy Center’s report, one of the major changes in the bill is the increased Standard Deduction for single people and married couples – $6,500 to $13,000 for single people and $9,550 to $18,000 for married couples. For us on Main Street, this one change is going to either increase your refund, or decrease the amount of tax you owe – a win for most people. The tax brackets and associated percentages have also been adjusted. I was originally going to discuss the host of other changes and provisions, but I’ll just simply say that many of the other changes were made based upon the generous expansion of the Standard Deduction.

In addition to the changes in taxes at filing time which will be seen when filing in 2019 for the 2018 tax year, it appears there are going to be changes to Main Street’s paychecks in the near future. Kelly Phillips Erb of Forbes published an article on January 11, 2018 titled IRS Releases New 2018 Withholding Tables to Reflect Tax Law Changes. Based upon these changes which are to take effect in February, many Americans are going to get ‘raises’ due to changes in the amounts withheld. Many people are going to have extra money to spend.

This brings me back to the title of this blog post. What are your plans for your tax cut? As in my ‘Net Worth’ piece, this is a rhetorical question – one whose answers I wouldn’t recommend broadcasting. There are reasons for my asking this question. Do citizens on Main Street need some extra money at tax time and in their paychecks? The data in the next section suggest that they do.

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About a month or so ago when the tax cut debate reached its crescendo, someone on Twitter shared an article entitled The shocking number of Americans who can’t cover a $400 expense, written by Ylan Q. Mui of the Washington Post. The article was published on May 25, 2016, and was based on a 2015 Report by the Federal Reserve which I’ve linked to this piece.

The article cited Figure 12 from the Federal Reserve’s report. Of the three groups surveyed, the group making less than $40,000 said they’d have the hardest time covering a $400 expense – overall less than 50%. The group making $40,000 to $100,000 had the second hardest time covering a $400 expense – overall 62%. As expected, the group making greater than $100,000 fared the best – overall 81% could cover a $400 emergency expense. That said it surprised me that someone making above $100,000 would have a hard time covering a $400 expense. By the way, the groups were broken down by race. Interestingly, black/non-Hispanics were the least likely of this $100,000 or greater group to be able to cover a $400 expense – 63% and Hispanics were close by at 67%.

The argument could be made that individuals making less than $40,000 just don’t make enough money to live off of, but what about those making above $40,000? The same is true for individuals making $100,000 or greater. This data suggests that either the United States has become too expensive a place in which to live, or that some people are mismanaging their finances. In both cases, it seems quite a few people could use the extra money. One could suggest that it’s unwise to not carry enough for a $400 emergency, but that’s dangerous because it gets us into discussions about personal accountability/responsibility, and self-reliance.

Rodney Brooks also of the Washington Post wrote an article entitled 71 percent of Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. In the article he cited data from a national survey by Experion in collaboration with Get Rich Slowly stating that 71% of people surveyed said they didn’t have enough money to retire. Why would Americans not have enough retirement money? Mr. Brooks further cited data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stating that among other things, the percentage of homeowners 65 and older with mortgage debt increased from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011. Among homeowners 75 and older, the rate more than doubled to 21.2% from 8.4%.

Furthermore, 49% of the people polled had credit card debt, and 46% had less savings than they expected to have five years earlier. Katie Ryan O’Connor, an editor from Get Rich Slowly, was cited in Mr. Brooks’ article stating that 71% of the people in the survey said they were not invested in the stock market, and 41% said that they had no plans to invest due to lack of funds. The data cited in these two articles suggest that some Americans could benefit from having some more money in their pockets. If you’re wary of investing money, a wise alternative may be to simply shove it under your mattress for an unforeseen emergency. Over the holiday season, a relative shared that simply getting, “rear-ended on the expressway,” causing a $500-dollar emergency would put many Americans in financial distress, so this seems to be real. By the way, a really good course for learning about the importance of emergency funds and the dangers of debt is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

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I’ve discussed a lack of money for $400 emergencies and retirement savings, but what else can one do with an increased standard deduction and a heavier paycheck? One alternative is to put something into the collection plate of charities, causes and institutions of your own personal interest that also need money. That can be anything, but I’m going someplace in particular with this.

Early on in President Trump’s first year, some Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Presidents bravely visited the White House, upsetting many alumni, students, and African Americans in general. Why did they go? The answer is simple. Their institutions, many of which are close to folding, needed money. Higher Education is a business – one which relies on funding from the Federal Government via grants and loan programs, in addition to gifts from private industry, and donations from generous and loyal alumni.

Three out of the four years I wrote for the Examiner, I interviewed Allstate’s Cheryl Harris about her company’s ‘Quotes for Education’ program in collaboration with Tom Joyner. What consistently came out of those interviews were discussions about anemic rates of giving by HBCU alumni – something that continues today. For my alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), we’ve experienced the same thing. In 2014, as the treasurer for our DC Alumni Chapter, I unofficially got wind that my class of 1999 had an 11% alumni giving rate. That is only 11% of the alumni from my class gave anything to the university that calendar year. It’s a strange phenomenon in that in 2018, HBCUs – those still open, are still very necessary in terms offering higher educations for students who can’t get them anywhere else.

Recently on December 6, 2017, Reginald Stuart of the online publication, Diverse Education, published an article entitled SACSCOC Places Johnson C. Smith University on Probation. The article discussed how the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC) placed my alma mater on a 12-month probation due to concerns about the long-term financial viability of the institution. The article stated that SACSCOC’s actions do not immediately impact the school’s accreditation, though a failure to correct the standards cited could lead to the university losing its accreditation and subsequently permanently shutting its doors. The article further stated that JCSU, in addition to Bennett College and St. Augustine’s University, are ‘tuition-dependent’, meaning that they enroll a high percentage of students who need federal financial aid to attend college.

Why would my alma mater and others like it have such low alumni giving rates? It’s a difficult discussion to have once again because it gets us back into personal responsibility. One explanation for the anemic HBCU alumni giving is indifference about the future crops of students. An alternative explanation is that perhaps many HBCU alumni simply don’t have enough money to give back to their alma maters. It thus again suggests that perhaps they could benefit from a tax cut like the one just passed. If you’re an HBCU alumni who will benefit from the Tax Reform and Jobs Act, regardless of how you feel about President Trump and the Republicans, a potential use for your new extra money in your paychecks could be a donation to your alma mater or an organization like the United Negro College Fund, which gives money to black students at both HBCUs and ‘Predominantly White Institutions’. But that’s up to you.

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Clearly, there are a lot of people who can use extra money. How it’s used will depend on the individual. Will it be spent frivolously on a new pair of shoes and other depreciating items? Or will it be used for something long lasting like a down payment towards a house, retirement savings or donation to a charity? Consider the best way to use your gift from the Grand Old Party. Whose lives and community will it stabilize and enrich? Will it be your own? Or will it be someone else’s? Whose job is it to take care of you and your people? Is it yours or someone else’s? I touched upon this briefly towards the end of my blog post titled Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in household income, wealth building, and privilege. And in closing, what are your plans for your tax cut? Again it’s a rhetorical question – one I wouldn’t necessarily broadcast. Instead, it’s something to think about.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. In you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Who will benefit from Apple’s $350 investment?
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions on household income and wealth building
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Your gross salary, your net worth and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Who will have the skills to benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?

Two of the principles of my blog are “Creating Ecosystems of Success” and “Long-Term Thought”. While my scientific background is in the biomedical sciences Pharmacology and Toxicology, it’s imperative for me to keep my eyes on what’s happening in the other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-fields. This allows me to use my platform to help guide others career-wise, and also for investment purposes (see my Facebook and Bitcoin post). In this post I want to discuss both STEM and careers, and the impacts of the new tax bill on the ‘Tech’ sector, as well as others.

My goal is to keep this post short. I actually have another post in the works regarding the new controversial ‘Tax Reform and Jobs Act’, but a recent development involving the company Apple prompted me to craft of this piece. I’ll start with a recent purchase involving one of the other ‘Four Horseman of Technology Stocks’, Amazon. Shortly after the holiday season, I ordered a copy of economist Dr. Thomas Sowell’s “Trickle Down” Theory and “Tax Cuts For The Rich”. I didn’t buy the book strictly because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was recently signed into law, but because I had an Amazon gift card and thought it would be an educational read. I’m also admittedly one of Dr. Sowell’s biggest fans as he embodies most of the principles of my blog. He empowers his readers with the economic laws and theories, and historical facts to interpret current events, government policies and political discussions with a more complete perspective, independent of your political affiliation or background.

The very short book discusses the famous ‘Trickle Down Theory’ which is a hotly debated topic among economists, media pundits, and politicians. Coincidentally, according to Dr. Sowell, it isn’t a formal economic law and never has been. Instead it is a term used to demonize any cutting of taxes which have historically sparked economic growth in our country, as opposed being a means of making the rich richer and ignoring the needs of those on ‘Main Street’ – the way tax cuts are typically depicted by their opposition. As expected, leading up to its passing, the Tax Reform and Jobs Act was accused of solely being a tax break for the wealthy by its opposition. Recently however, numerous sources are now reporting that it’s actually going to benefit people on Main Street as well. But what will the new law do for the national economy itself on a macro level? On January 17, 2018, Yahoo published an article titled Apple says it will invest $350 billion and hire 20,000 workers in the U.S. over the next five years.

While this is an opportunity for some to boast to the opposition that they had the bill all wrong, my focus is on who will benefit from Apple’s repatriation of its earnings, and its $350 billion investment in the United States. It seems to me that those who are trained in the technologies Apple is working on, and currently has in its pipeline, stand to benefit significantly in terms of career, earning potential, and upward mobility. Those skills may involve things like writing applications for ‘Blockchain Technology’, and/or ‘Quantum’ computers among others. Those who are not trained in those areas will only benefit from the products Apple produces, for the most part, solely as consumers.

As a STEM professional and advocate myself, this is a very appropriate time to discuss some data I recently found published by US News & World Report in 2016 titled Report: Black Students Underrepresented in High-Paying STEM Majors. The article cited data from a Georgetown University Study titled African Americans: Colleges Majors and Earnings, which discussed how black students tend to cluster in fields like social work leading to lower paying careers. The data in the Georgetown study showed that 20% of degree holders in human services and community organizing were black, and earned a median salary of about $40,000 per year. By contrast, only 7% of degree holders who received STEM-related bachelor’s degrees, and earned a median annual salary of $84,000 or more, were black – a very low number considering that blacks are only 12% of the total population in the United States.

This low percentage of participation in STEM, in addition to Apple’s repatriation of earnings, and its investment back into the United States, underscores the importance of having the necessary skill sets at critical times to take advantage of environmental changes imposed by laws like the Tax Reform and Jobs Act. Malcolm Gladwell covered this phenomenon extensively in Outliers. Right now in the United States there is considerable debate about discrepancies in wages based upon race and sex. The question has to be asked though, do those discrepancies exist due to discrimination, or is it majors chosen leading to the acquisition of skill sets for which there is high or low demand from the economy at that particular time? Are we essentially running up against the ‘Law of Supply and Demand’ as we often do? After all, the economy typically dictates what’s needed at a given time, and how much individuals in the workforce should be compensated.

How many more companies will return to the U.S. to repatriate their earnings, invest in research and development here in the U.S., and subsequently hire U.S. workers? Right now it’s unknown. But if other technology giants like Apple return, clearly some groups of people will benefit more than others. The question is will the beneficiaries strictly be based upon to race, sex and class, or will the skill sets possessed by certain well positioned individuals have something do with it? And who will possess those necessary skills once there is an increased demand for them?

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?
A look at STEM: Blockchain Technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping
• Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege
Your net worth, your gross salary and what they mean

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on  Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege

“It seems to me that in general white people are content to eat soup and sandwiches if it means buying a house instead of having the latest fashions, and driving the fanciest car.”

First of all, I hope the opening quote didn’t offend you. It was a part of an actual discussion with my father – one of many, and you’ll see its relevance later on. The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” which in short means showing others how to be successful, keeping in mind that what’s considered successful varies from person to person. The second piece I published on the Examiner titled, Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement, revisited one of my earliest lessons about academic success. In short, my father pointed out that academic success was merely a function of priorities and time invested, not the inherent ability or genetics of a particular race – something which helped me become a stronger student later on.

With two other principles of my blog being “The teaching of Financial Literacy/Wealth Building”, and “Long-term thought”, I’ve crafted a similar piece discussing how our ideas and misconceptions shape our financial lives, and how we see the financial lives and privileges of other ethnic groups/races. Relatively recent data shows that while black families still have half the average median income/net worth of white families, Asian families seem to have caught up to those same white families and have even surpassed them. As a black man myself, I’ve wondered if Black-Americans should look around at all of the other ethnic groups in the United States, as opposed to solely focusing on White-Americans, in terms of financial success and all that comes with it.

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“All of that state and federal money is going to those white folks. The black folks aren’t getting anything.” I’ve heard these and similar discussions frequently growing up during holiday dinners, and even today from my elders in my mother’s generation when discussing current events in my home city of Buffalo, N.Y. For some, Buffalo is a segregated, “non-progressive” city as described in the story of my blog, and it forever shaped the outlook of my mother and her peers.

Actually, many discussions with my father, who is from Harlem, were also peppered with broad brush discussions of “white people”, “them”, or “they” in unflattering ways – usually about the oppression of black people, and white people having unfair competitive advantages in life. The opening quote of this post was from a discussion he and I had about spending habits and race. Are my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles racists? No, I don’t think they think black people are superior to other races, but they did experience segregation and Jim Crow causing a residual level pain, a distrust of white people, and arguably some bigotry of their own. Yes, even if only to a small degree, I do think black people can also be bigoted.

In hindsight, we never discussed how or what Arabs, Asians, and Hispanics were doing – only white people. We knew that most of the stores in our neighborhoods were owned by other ethnic groups, but we mostly talked about the, “white folks.” It was a singular focus which compared black and white, mostly talking about black people being disadvantaged and powerless. It seldom, if ever, came up that there were multiple classes of black people – some which were winning in life, had been doing so for a long time, and had some privilege of their own.

There were, in fact, affluent and privileged black people, though my family didn’t affiliate with them much. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I started to see that there were alternate realities. Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper-class periodically pops up in my writings. Highly criticized for celebrating America’s black upper-class, it was an important work for me personally because it let those of us who didn’t grow up in that class know that it existed – something as a black person you encounter and must reconcile in cities like Washington, DC, where I now reside. Some of these people were born into the upper class through generational wealth and inheritances, while others climbed there through digging in, sacrificing, and doing some things that other ethnic groups had done – things that were considered in some circles to be “white.” The children of these black families had privileges I didn’t have.

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“The person who wrote this, are they white?” my godson asked me.

As described in my post titled, We should have bought Facebook and Bitcoin Stock, a mentor gave me a copy of the book How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000: Earn, Invest and Save. I started giving copies of the book to the younger people in my circle so that they could have a head start on some of the important concepts I only started learning in my late twenties – “Compounding Interest” for example, covered in Chapter 8. One of the lucky recipients was my godson.

I had just read a passage to him from the end of the book. The subsection was titled, “You made a million dollars? Great. Now Zip it”. The section warned against, “playing the high roller to impress people,” which could, “make you look like a fool” and, “invite theft.” I didn’t anticipate his question, but it was very telling about my godson’s world view – a teachable moment which I’ll return to with him in the future.

After asking him about his question, he told me that the passage I read to him sounded like a, “white way of thinking.” I first told him that it seemed that at 14 years of age, he’d started recognizing that there were differences in the value systems of different ethnic and racial groups – in this instance black people vs. white people. In terms of values, our people are known for frivolously spending their resources, flaunting their wares (many only depreciating) – signaling to one another as described by Dr. Boyce Watkins. I then cautioned my godson that not all white people are wealthy and that some were in fact poor. There were also some black people who were wealthy from things other than athletics and entertainment.

What was my godson growing up seeing in Prince Georges County, Md., the wealthiest black county in the United States? I’ll just say that earlier that day, I watched as many of the people at his house gushed over his blue and white Air Jordans – the ones with the shiny colored toes. They were enamored with name brand sneakers, clothing, and other symbols of money and perceived power – again many which only depreciate in value. I’ll stop there. In short, the values he was experiencing daily didn’t dictate keeping any material prosperity he would achieve quiet as it was a white way of thinking.

* * *

I first thought about Asian-American wealth last year when someone on Twitter shared an infographic stating that Asian-American wealth has steadily grown, while their voter participation had stagnated. The point of the tweet was that while Black-America has been one of the more vocal groups during elections, and in civil rights/social justice arenas, we haven’t significantly closed the wealth gap with White-America (as a group). The implication of the tweet was that black people as a group were focusing on the wrong things.

I found some interesting data in a report by the Pew Research Center titled On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites are Worlds Apart. While the report mostly compared black people and white people, it also included some data on Asians and Hispanics. I’ll start with the figure titled “Whites are more likely than blacks to have a college degree”. It showed that 36% more white U.S. adults ages 25 and up had college degrees versus 23% of blacks in 2015. Interestingly 53% of Asians-Americans had college degrees – a greater number than whites.

A subsequent figure titled “Racial gaps in household income persist” showed that in 2015, blacks and Hispanics had median adjusted average household incomes of roughly $43,000. Whites had a median adjusted household income of $71,000, and surprisingly Asian-Americans had a median adjusted household income of $77,900. According to the report, Asian income has been on par or exceeded White income since 1987. Asian-Americans weren’t tracked in the report prior to 1987 so it’s not clear where exactly they started as a group. The gap between blacks and whites has steadily widened since the 1970s.

The figure titled “Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be poor, despite the narrowing of the poverty gap” showed that in 2014 the percentages of blacks and Hispanics in poverty was double that of whites and Asians. The next figure showed that whites have 13-times more wealth (net worth) than blacks in terms of household – $144,200 versus $11,200 for blacks. No data were presented on Asian-Americans. The figure titled “Homeownership is more common among whites than any other racial group” showed that whites led in homeownership, followed by Asians and then Hispanics and then blacks. Further data showed that blacks led in unemployment, versus the other three groups. Lastly blacks led in non-marital births, children under 18 living in single-parent households, and finally declining rates of marriage.

There was an interesting 2014 article from CNBC, written by Hailey Lee titled, How Asian- Americans are transforming the face of U.S. wealth. The article cited data from the Federal Reserve showing that Asian-American wealth had changed dramatically since 1989, growing to 70% of that of whites – $91,440 vs. $134,088. A subsection of the article titled “What came first: Wealth or education?” discussed whether or not the increased attainment of education could account for this gain in wealth.

The article stated that, “In 2013, 73% of Asians aged 35-39 held a degree beyond high school. That percentage was 54% for whites, 36% percent for blacks, and 23% for Hispanics. The disparities grow when looking at individuals with at least a four-year college degree: 65 % (Asian), 42 % (white), 26 % (black), and 16 % (Hispanic).”

In the section titled, “The wealth effect”, the article further stated that, “When Charles Emmons narrowed the data set to examine Asians younger than 62, both levels of median income and median wealth surpassed whites. This implies that younger Asians tend to be financially stronger than older Asians. And older Asians compared to their white counterparts, are weaker financially.”

“There’s a huge population of hardworking, educated Chinese who look to the U.S. for real estate investment,” said Elizabeth Schwartz in the Washington Post’s article titled Wealthy Chinese buyers are a growing force in U.S. real estate markets. “But they come to this market (New York City) not with money to just throw around, but rather to make informed, well-reasoned investment choices.” I looked up this article because I’d heard in recent years that there were lots of foreign investors buying up U.S. real estate in the aftermath of the great recession. One of the most prominent groups being Chinese Nationals whose average home price in 2015 was $831,800 compared with $499,600 for all other international buyers according to the Rosen Consulting Group.

* * *

So, what does all this data mean? First, as Black-Americans our measuring stick is often White- America, but the data out there suggest that the time has come to start looking around and tracking other ethnic groups, and inquiring about how they’ve gotten to where they are in such relatively short periods of time. In my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y for example, on the eastside where I grew up, none of the stores are owned by the black people who live there. The owners are from the Middle East, and they’re able to effectively run their businesses and coordinate with one another – all while growing steadily wealthier.

I didn’t know that Asian-Americans had made such strides in income/wealth. With all of the talk about white wealth and privilege, I thought whites would have been the leaders in these areas. As described in my Challenging Stereotypes and misconceptions post, Asians are perceived as an extremely hardworking group. Malcolm Gladwell dedicated a whole chapter to their work ethic in Outliers. Their attainment of college degrees in comparison to other ethnic groups is noteworthy, but it’s also important to consider what their degrees are in – probably the STEM fields.

They also seem to be very entrepreneurial, and I’m not speaking exclusively about their restaurants. Again, if you look in many black communities you also see an abundance of beauty supply and nail shops. Lastly their spending habits and marital rates are probably also important factors.

In closing, stereotypes and misconceptions are very dangerous in that they can enforce false narratives and world views. Those false narratives and views can lead whole groups of people in the wrong direction over long periods of time, setting them back for generations. Lastly, they can create false targets and goals to emulate and pursue – hence the power of political groups and the media.

Thank you for taking time out to read this blog post. If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement
Your net worth, gross salary, and what they mean
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
The differences between being cheap and frugal
Mother’s day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Father’s day 2017: Reflections on some of dad’s money and life lessons

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story

“Over your lifetime, you’ll actually miss more deals than you’ll catch onto.”

Two of the principles of my blog are “Long-Term Thinking/Delayed Gratification”, and the teaching of “Financial Literacy” as money and investing are topics that I ponder and study quite a bit these days.  I wasn’t taught a lot about them as a youth and strive regularly to fill that space in my personal toolbox.  Learning about investing money is actually critical for all employees who are responsible for saving into their own “Defined Contribution” plans.  A third principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” – helping others to be successful.  This particular story involves all three principles and focuses on two investing opportunities from years past – both of which could have drastically changed my life today if I had been in position to take advantage of them.

This post was inspired by two people.  One is a mentor who has literally adopted me and whom I regularly meet with to talk about the content of my blog, economics, current events and everything else under the sun.  Everyone should have a mentor like this.  The second individual is a long-time friend from our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He worked in the banking industry, and has always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind.

Instead of diving right into the story, for context I’ll go back to my brief high school basketball career – one of the best times of my life.  One of the things our coaches tried to stress to us was “boxing out” on defense.  That is putting a body on your man once a shot went up from the opposing team.  By committing to boxing out as a team, any team almost certainly could position itself to get the rebound and limit shot opportunities for the opponent no matter their height or leaping ability.  It was a simple and effective technique if used consistently and for our young minds, that was the hard part – doing it consistently.  All it took was being mentally alert, and positioning oneself at the right time.

Okay, let’s talk about Facebook and Bitcoin.  I’ll start with a reading assignment my mentor gave me about three months ago.  One of the topics we discuss regularly is investing money – something he is very experienced at and has taught his kids to do – something I’m playing catch up on.  At the conclusion of one of our mentoring sessions, he gave me a book to read titled “How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000: Earn, Save and Invest by James McKenna and Jeanine Glista with Matt Fontaine, the creators of Biz Kid$.  When he first handed me the book, I made a comment about it being a, “Children’s book,” to which he quickly snapped back at me, “Do you know everything thing in this children’s book?”  Eager to know more of what he knew, I didn’t take offense, but instead appreciated his coaching.  He tasked me with reading the book prior to our next mentoring session.

As I read through the book, the initial chapters started with basic money lessons youngsters should have – ways to legally earn money such as through doing chores or eventually getting a job, and also planning and goal setting – some lessons many children aren’t taught at an early age.  Later the book delved into investments in a very simple and digestible way – charts, diagrams, pictures and all.  One caption that stood out for me was something on page 106, which told the story of Facebook’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) back in 2012.

“We should all pool our money together and buy Facebook stock,” my friend described earlier said enthusiastically.  It was the holiday season up in our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He had worked in the banking industry for a while and had knowledge of investment vehicles that myself and my brother, and probably most of his family didn’t have.  We were all at his grandmother’s house where his relatives gathered to fellowship as they did most years.  I watched as he floated around his grandmother’s upper unit telling everyone, “We should pool our money and buy some Facebook stock.  They’re about to have an IPO.”

At that point, Facebook had completely eclipsed Myspace as the number one social media site and most everyone was on it.  While most everyone was using it to reconnect, share the most intimate details of their lives, and other unscrupulous things, its creator Mark Zuckerberg, was cleverly devising ways to monetize his creation through selling advertising space.  It never occurred me, and I would guess the majority of the users, to invest in it.

A mischievous guy at times, I thought this was just another one of my friend’s bright ideas that he was trying to suck us all into.  But was it?  As described in How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000, Facebook’s initial stock price in 2012 opened at $38 per share.  Shortly thereafter the stock price decreased to $17.55.  When I heard that the stock price went down, I laughed internally at the prospect of all of us “pooling” our money to buy this Facebook stock, and the fact that my friend was lobbying so hard for us to do it.  But that was just the beginning.

Facebook’s stock rebounded over the next five years from that $17.55 per share drop and eventually appreciated to around $100 per share in 2015 when How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 was published.  Just before crafting this piece, I checked the business section of the Washington Post for stock prices and to gauge the health of our economy – a regular exercise now.  There I saw that Facebook’s stock is now trading around $170 per share, that’s right $170.  It’s also now considered one of the “Four Horseman” of technology stocks – the other three being Amazon, Apple, and Google.

So let’s put this all in perspective.  What occurred to me when I read that passage in the book was that if I simply had $2,000 lying around and ready to invest in 2012, I could’ve purchased just 100 shares of the Facebook stock for a total value of $1,755 (plus the cost per trade).  Holding onto that stock for another five years, those 100 shares would have appreciated to a total value of $17,550 which could either be cashed out for another purpose, or held for more appreciation.  There would of course be the potential of loss too as with all investments, but Facebook has become a very strong company.  But if you were positioned to get into the game at that point, you would’ve been rewarded later on.

I’ve come to realize that life is all about positioning similar to the way smart basketball players position themselves to get rebounds when a shot goes up, as opposed to simply leaving things to chance.  When I look back to where I was in 2012, I honestly wasn’t in position to safely buy stock of any kind.  I was still lugging around a considerable amount of debt from school, and from mistakes made shortly after starting my federal career – paying too much money for some real estate investing trainings (discussed in another post).  I was recently out of a tumultuous relationship where money was an issue – my not spending enough.  I further had no emergency fund (see Dave Ramsey), and I hadn’t started funding my government retirement plan at least up to the point where I would get my 5% matching contribution – something all employees should position themselves to do if employers offer it.  What’s more is that I didn’t understand much about the stock investing game other than you want to “buy low” and “sell high” whether or not you get into an opportunity when it’s first offered, or if you find something of value at a discounted price and chances are it will appreciate – stocks, real estate, whatever.

But there is so much more to it than buying low and selling high.  There are lessons which take time and commitment to learn – this is part of positioning one’s self.  Furthermore, there are often sacrifices to be made to have money to invest – sacrifices such as not buying a car if public transportation and Uber can be used, taking one’s lunch to work more often times than not, and not “Turning Up” at the club on a regular basis.  As a man, another position might be not having a girlfriend for a while, or at least finding one who isn’t high maintenance.  These are examples of the positioning one must do to be ready to take advantage of the next Facebook if and when it ever comes around.

My friend was right in that it would have been good for us to take advantage of the Facebook IPO.  Coincidentally a couple of years later, he came back to us and told us that we should take advantage of something called “Bitcoin”, a new cyber-currency which I thought was another one of his silly ideas.  He was very enthused about it, but one of the issues was he couldn’t clearly explain to us what Bitcoin was and why it was important going forward.  This brings up another very key point.  A very important investing rule of thumb is that one should never invest in something they don’t understand.  It turned out though that he was right again.  Two to three years later, Bitcoin seems to be paying off for those who positioned themselves and invested in it when it was dirt cheap.  See the recurring theme here?

This post is not about buying Facebook or Bitcoin today in 2017 per se.  Those ships have arguably sailed, and you’d have to have enough money readily available even just to buy 10 shares of Facebook stock today.  In terms of getting into these opportunities early when they’re affordable, you have to position yourself, and that’s the central point.  Either you’re in a position to take advantage of an opportunity when it’s presented to you, or you’re not.  This involves knowledge and resources – studying your investment of choice, minimizing your debt, saving for emergencies, and then allocating money to invest – money you won’t be adversely affected by the if investment doesn’t work.  If you’re not in position to take advantage of a particular opportunity, you can always position yourself for the next one, and the one after that, and then the one after that.  It’s all about foresight and positioning.  Before starting discretionary/speculative investments, it might also be worthwhile to see a trustworthy financial planner (or someone knowledgeable whom you really trust) to make sure you’re on sure footing.

For the people who were in position to get into Facebook and Bitcoin, it wasn’t magic.  They had the resources and they were probably spending time studying those opportunities so that they were able to strike at the right time.  It all takes some time and effort, and how you spend your time will determine if you’re in position to take advantage of the next Facebook.  In closing, I highly recommend How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 to youngsters who have the aptitude for money and finance, and for adults like myself who’ve needed to play catch up.  I’ve personally started sharing copies with those in my inner-circle.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Father’s Day 2017: reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons

Last month I wrote a piece in celebration of Mother’s Day, so it’s only fitting that I write something in celebration of Father’s Day as well.  The Mother’s Day post was about a specific piece of advice my mother gave me about my engagement and looming marriage a couple of years ago.  As jokingly stated in that post, Dad didn’t give me much advice in that particular instance.  He did give me lots of guidance throughout my life though.  Over on my “Heroes and Quotes” page, his is the first quote which was some advice he gave me at a young age about how to succeed academically.

There was much more though, particularly in way of advice about money, women and other things – lots about money and women.  He sometimes consciously taught me things, and some things I learned simply from observation.  With two of the key principles of my blog being “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, and “Empowering Others”, I’m going to reflect on some of his money lessons and some of their deeper and associated life meanings/significances – some of which I had to question.  As in most cases, I didn’t understand everything that was being said then as I do now.

As I go through some of this stuff, keep in mind that fathers are important – biological, step-, or mentors of all sorts.  According to data from Kid’s Count in 2015, 66% of African American kids were raised by a single-parent while the national average was 35%.  My parents divorced when I was three-years old and I thus grew up in a single-parent household for the majority of my childhood.  While I’ve sometimes looked back and wondered what it would’ve been like to have my father in the house, the blessing was that while he wasn’t physically there, it was important for him to be as visible and accessible as possible.

“Always make sure your children know who you are.”  He tried hard to keep up with the words of his own father who died during his teens.  It sounds like a simple thing, but as I grew into adulthood myself, went through college and even started dating, I realized that not every father did this, especially in the black community.  The results often times were catastrophic with long lasting ramifications, especially in dating or ‘pair-bonding’ – a separate topic all in itself.

*  *  *

“You just did something I don’t like.  You didn’t count your change.  How do you know that the cashier gave you the correct change?”  I was an early teen when this discussion took place.  I had just paid for something, took the change the cashier gave me and immediately stuffed it into my pocket.  A stern man, his words, “You just did something I don’t like,” stopped me dead in my tracks.  I didn’t think he was paying attention, but sure enough he was – in general Dad was always paying attention to the most minute details even when you thought he wasn’t.  He also remembered things long after you forgot them and would bring them back up when you least expected it.

When I discovered what he was unhappy about, it made sense to me and I started counting my change.  I even started calculating in my mind the change I was supposed to get back from cashiers before they gave it to me.  The lesson here was to be careful with my money, and to trust no one.  Years later he observed that I was in fact careful with my money.  I told him that I had gotten the behavior from him.  He replied saying something very profound, “Well son, when you have to make child support payments, you have to be very careful with your money.”

“You always keep your receipt because you never know when you’re going to have to return something.”  I don’t know which came first, this lesson or the change counting lesson, but they weren’t far apart.  His father had gotten on him about this when he was younger.  He had allegedly gone into lower Manhattan to buy some underwear and returned home without the receipt resulting in his getting scolded.

“When you get paid, you want to account for all of your expenses.”  This was an early lesson about budgeting.  We didn’t sit down and do one right then and there, and I wouldn’t master it until at least ten years later, but I always remembered the discussion.

“You always pay yourself first.”  This lesson came shortly after I started working, though again as a teen, I didn’t grasp the power of this advice until later.  It had tremendous implications in one’s prime earning years where diligent individuals save for both emergencies and investments and build wealth while others spend all of their income.

“You don’t quit your job unless you have another one to go to.”  Dad gave me this sage wisdom between my junior and senior years of high school after quitting my very first job at the Denny’s Restaurant, near the Buffalo airport.  I lasted three months at that job which consisted of washing dishes, cleaning up the restaurant, and taking out the garbage.  I didn’t last long enough to have to shovel snow in the winter.  The place where I really wanted to work for my first job was McDonald’s.  At the time it looked fun to me.  I was happy to have an income, but after a while I grew tired of working at Denny’s – coming home sweaty, greasy, and exhausted.  Without talking to anyone, I quit that job right there on the spot with no other job to go to.  It was then that I came to the understanding that I had no more cash flow – a sign of immaturity.  The only positive thing about that situation was that I was still in high school and wasn’t required to contribute to any of my mother’s household bills.  Some adults quit their job without having a replacement and put themselves in a pickle; often burdening those around them.

“You always keep money in the bank because you never know when an emergency is going to arise.”  There’s a very funny story behind this lesson and it involves a woman – something very dramatic and stressful according to Dad.  For my own safety, I’ll just stick to the lesson.  At an early age, Dad stressed the importance of having money in the bank due to unforeseen emergencies which inevitably happen to you, or to someone around you.  In this particular quagmire he had gotten into, having some money in the bank helped him get out of it.  He also regretted once not having $5,000 available for a mortgage down payment on a house he was renting.

“You can keep dating her if you want to.  You might have to miss your electric bill.”  This sobering advice came during my first year in graduate school in my mid-twenties.  It was one of my first experiences learning something that Dad had talked about for most of my childhood – women and money.  At least most of the ones we knew came with a price tag, and wanted to be wined and dined.

I had, unfortunately, taken a liking to someone whom I dated for one to two months who openly admitted she was needy, which I didn’t understand at the time as she had already started her own career.  Inexperienced at dating, she grew frustrated with my meager finances and my lack of understanding of what was expected of me.  Dad’s advice here, which came in a hurtful and mocking tone, was simply communicating that I needed to determine whether or not I could afford this particular female.  I decided that I couldn’t.

It’s an important set of questions for all men to ask themselves when meeting a potential partner.  Can I afford her?  Does she line up with my priorities?  Will she tank my finances?  This was also one of the first times I could personally feel the pain, the scars, and the poor fortune my father experienced in the dating jungle after he and my mother split – as there was lots of despair, and little hope or encouragement in his words.

“When you have to make child support payments, it forces you to be very careful with your money.”  I have to be very careful here as this is a sensitive topic, and my mother generally proof-reads my articles.  Throughout my childhood, Dad sometimes lamented about making child support payments – not because he didn’t want to support his children, but because I think he had a hard time making ends meet on his own end.  During my childhood, he eventually took a second job in the military to pay the bills.  It’s a sensitive topic because while he felt maxed out, my mother felt as though he wasn’t doing enough.  And I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say that in many instances men and women see money (and life) differently.  In some instances, as the ones being asked to provide, it can seem like your best is never enough – a hard pill to swallow.  He and I talked about this a lot as I got older and I started experiencing my own scrapes and bruises with the opposite sex.

“The bank is going to want to look at all of your bank statements when you apply for a mortgage, and $2,000 isn’t any money,” Dad scoffed at me, making me feel five feet tall.  I was still living with the big guy during my Postdoctoral fellowship.  I had started reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad series and had joined my local Real Estate Investment Club.  I wanted to make an ambitious move and get my first investment property – a duplex which I would live in and eventually rent out for “Passive” income.  I needed some help with the closing costs and associated expenses, so I asked him for a loan.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

Instead of a nice teachable discussion about the ups, the downs, and the ins, and outs of trying such a thing – it turned into him putting me in a proverbial headlock.  It dragged on for days and days as he mulled over it, and asked me random pointed questions about it – his analysis and communication styles.  After a while I just wanted to drop the whole thing, and I concluded that I never wanted to be in a position to ask his help for anything money-related, though I did once more, and returned to the same conclusion.

In hindsight while it was smart to want to create a passive income stream, it wasn’t a good idea in that particular instance.  I wasn’t going to stay in that area long-term, and I wasn’t experienced enough, and didn’t have enough money to manage a property from a long-distance.  What was funny was that many people don’t even have $2,000 in the bank they can access quickly.  That said, he was right in that it wasn’t a substantial amount of money.  He was also right in that prior to qualifying you for a mortgage, the banks do want to know everything about your financial history.

Dad was also jaded in terms of being a landlord from a prior experience, as he once had a tenant in his lower unit – an older woman.  According to him, he went downstairs to collect the rent one day, and the woman transformed into a malevolent, ominous, and demon-possessed state.  It scared him at the time and forever soured him on being a landlord.

“I wouldn’t invest in the Stock Market if I were you.”  This bit of advice was given to me in my 30s when I expressed that I wanted to buy some stock by the end of that particular year.  Because of his own life experiences, Dad was averse to losing money.  Coincidentally, one of our closest cousins recommended I get in the game and buy stock, and even today experts like Dr. Boyce Watkins, strongly advocate blacks getting into the Stock Market.  So who was right in this case?  Who was to be believed and trusted?

This gets back to one of the points I made in my 2017 Mother’s Day post.  As we grow into adulthood, I think we all get to a point where everything our parents tell us can’t be taken as the gospel and in some instances must be questioned and or pondered critically.  In this particular instance, yes investing in stocks does involve potential loss.  An important consideration going in though is whether or not you understand that there is a potential for the loss, and whether or not you can absorb the loss.  In other words, do you have emergency money in the bank, and is the amount to be invested allocated for that reason?  Can it be easily replaced for another round?  This is a much different thought process than simply stating, “You’re going to lose your money if you do that.”

*  *  *

If the tone of this blog post was in part melancholy and mixed, then it reflects our father-son relationship which has been full of contradictions and mystery.  When I look back at my youth many of my childhood experiences were marked by concerns over money.  I’m not saying that I grew up in poverty because I didn’t by any means.  I don’t really remember my mother, whom I spent the majority of my childhood with, talking about money a lot, but I think she shielded my brother and me from some things – sheltering us, as one of my aunts often said.  I did look around at peers, such as my best friend and realized that I didn’t have Air Jordans, Starter Jackets, Karl Kani, or any of the trendiest apparel of our cohort.

Most of the money-related talks as I grew up actually came from my father and as you might have gathered from this post, many of them had some sort of pain associated with them.  As I’ve gotten older, I understand things much better now.  As we get older we start to see that our parents are people who make mistakes themselves, and are not perfect though at one point we may have thought they were.  In some instances we start to understand their pains and struggles.

Over the years our father-son relationship has gone through a lot of changes – some good and some bad with multiple ups and downs.  Overall I’m grateful for everything my father has done for me, and I tell him that every time I see him now (my mother too).  That said, as I think President Obama said years ago, for children whose biological fathers are missing, there can be other fathers too.  And even if a child’s father isn’t a good one, or can’t supply everything needed, there can again be other fathers to fill in those gaps.  I certainly have many.

There are a lot of podcasts and men’s stations on places like YouTube these days – many talking about the importance of fathers.  My favorite in this current station of my life is Paul Elam’sA Voice for Men” – content I would recommend for any man still figuring things out in our society – personal values, dating and marriage, and finally gender/societal roles.  Fathers are very important if for no other reason than to lend a balanced perspective on the world.  This is true for both boys and girls who themselves will eventually both grow into men and women.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part three

This is the conclusion of my interview of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding Homeownership and the African American Community.  In part two of our discussion, we talked about some of the impediments of Black homeownership, some things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding financial literacy, and finally, the effect of the housing market boom and crash on African American wealth.  In part three of our discussion, we talked about Reverse Mortgages, and general recommendations and considerations for first time African American homebuyers.  This entire interview addresses all of the principles of my blog recently added to the site.

Anwar Dunbar:  What is a Reverse Mortgage and why are they bad products?

Simone Griffin:  They aren’t necessarily bad.  It is about the type of reverse mortgage you get and what you need it for.  A Reverse Mortgage is for people 65 years and older who wish to borrow against the equity in their home. This is a loan which has to be repaid when the homeowner dies. The homeowner still has to maintain the property, and pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.

Reverse Mortgages can come with high fees, so they should really only be utilized if there are no heirs to the house, or if the homeowner truly has no other money to live on.  Let’s say you own your home outright and have no other ways to pay your bills.  If you get a reverse mortgage and there’s nobody who can step in and pay that loan off when you die, the only way to get it paid off is by selling the house.  You’ve lost way more than you’ve gained.  Your family and future generations have just lost a piece of property that they could have lived in.

Consider Brooklyn, NY, where the difference between the average income and the cost of a home is astronomical.  Imagine a Black family who bought a home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, who may have come in through the great migration from the south and bought a home in the 1960s or 1970s – now those Brownstones are going for well over a million dollars.

In 2010 Grandpa took out a reverse mortgage for $300,000, plus fees.  He died last year, and now the family can’t come up with the amount owed to the bank, so the only thing they can do is sell the house.  That’s a million-dollar house which they could never afford today, and $700,000 in equity has gone to the bank.

This is why we have to train our people in their working years about how to afford retirement. Aside for a reverse mortgage you can’t borrow for it.  If you don’t have anyone to leave the home to and you need the money, then it’s fine.  However, it should be a choice, not something you do because you didn’t plan well for retirement; especially if you have kids and grandkids who can utilize that property.

AD:  Redlining.  Are you seeing a lot of that in DC?

SG:  After the housing, boom shady investors went door to door saying, ‘We want to buy your house. We’ll offer you $300,000 cash if you move tomorrow, and we’ll take care of all of the repairs.’  Except that the house is actually worth $500,000.  When you’re paying cash for a house, an appraisal is not required.  So people didn’t bother to spend the money on one, they just took the $300,000 and ran.  If the homeowner had the property appraised, they could have sold it for a much higher amount.  Or they could have kept it. Unfortunately, many of the same people in DC with parents or grandparents who purchased houses for $30,000 or $40,000 sold them at the wrong time.  Now the neighborhoods are turning and they’re saying, ‘I want to move back,’ but they can no longer afford to.

AD: I used a first time homebuyer’s 3% down program with cash back at closing when I bought my condo.  That came with several caveats and nuances that I didn’t understand – I just saw that it was 3% down with cash back at closing.  I also bought into the sentiment that I was wasting money by renting and making someone else rich – a common motivation for first time homebuyers.  What advice would you give first time African American home buyers who are looking to purchase a home?  What things should they stay away from and what would you encourage?

SG:  I would encourage them to stay away from Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS) and creative financing.  A 3% down payment is fine.  Right now those the 3% down loans are often an FHA product, which means you have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), around 1% of the total loan until you have about 20% equity.  There are also 5% and 10% down products that don’t require PMI but the additional down payment may delay your purchase.  Using an organization like HomeFree-USA will help you leverage the home buying opportunity since we’re familiar with many different products, as well as different loan officers.

Lenders are now starting to understand the drawbacks that requiring 20% down or PMI brings. As a result, more are offering lower down payment products. Our job at HomeFree-USA is to be aware of these products, and marry them with local, state and federal funds that will help decrease the cost of homeownership for the buyer.  Now is a very good time to buy.  But don’t fret if you can’t find a product right now – we know where they are.

If there is any way to pay down your debts as much as possible, you should do that.  I know this is easier said than done, but if you can do it, it’s incredibly important to your peace of mind and  for affordability.  People get intimidated by their debt pay down process and what they have to sacrifice.  They’ll say, ‘Well it’s two whole years,’ and then I flip it and I say, ‘It’s only two years.’  In the grand scheme of life, the money you can earn from saving or investing the money you’re paying in debt is substantial.

Let’s say you’re paying $200 in student loans every month, and you’re able to get that paid off in one or two years.  If you put that $200 into a Mutual Fund, that money will grow over time.  You’re paying interest while in debt, so it’s worth it to just drop out of life for two years, or however long it takes, and say, ‘I want this over.  I’m paying off these debts and moving forward with life.’  Then you can take the money you’ve saved and use it towards a down payment on a house and avoid things like financing cars by paying cash.

People assume that they have to finance a car and that’s not the case.  I’ve never financed a car.  I only buy used cars, and each one is better than the last. But many Americans do not take the time to say, ‘I’m willing to put off something that I really want for the greater good (delaying gratification), so I don’t have to spend money financing a car.’  I recommended this to a friend.  She didn’t do it and is still not at the level that she wants to be financially. I thought to myself, ‘If she’d taken the year I suggested to not have a car, her company would have paid for transportation to and from meetings, she could have walked, gotten rides, taken the Metro or Lyft, and after only a year would’ve been in a much better position in life.’

She lives in the center of the city.  It’s an entirely different situation if you live in Odenton and have to drive to DC every day.  But when you live in the city and work in the city, and the metro is only 10 minutes away, there is some leverage.  It’s just a matter of being slightly inconvenienced for now in order to get to a greater position later (delayed gratification).  And many Americans don’t feel comfortable doing that, but the problem is Black Americans have fewer options than non-Hispanic whites.

AD:  That’s absolutely right.  I personally have some higher financial goals and decided to get rid of my car for numerous reasons in 2012; living right next to the metro being one of the main ones.  Some people just can’t fathom the idea of not owning a car.  But I aspire to do things like growing my net worth, and attaining some assets (stocks and eventually real estate, for example).

SG:  My father has a condo in the U Street Corridor.  I was there this week helping him, and it’s very hard to find parking. The metro, and a bike stand, are both 2 blocks away.  There are three grocery stores in the neighborhood and numerous restaurants.  Why would you need a car if you lived there?  If you live someplace that’s not far from the metro, why not take the opportunity do this for yourself so that you can eventually drive whatever you want?  Like Dave Ramsey says, ‘We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else.’  Take that opportunity now.  But many people just don’t see it as an opportunity which is unfortunate, because where Black people are concerned, we don’t have as much to fall back on.

AD:  That’s right.  So a lot of this is in how you’re perceiving things, what you know, and what you’re willing to do.

SG:  Exactly.

AD:  Well, Simone, that was awesome.  A lot of people are going to benefit from reading this.  Do you have any parting comments or do you want to introduce HomeFree-USA one more time?

SG: To learn more about HomeFree-USA, go to www.homefreeusa.org. My financial blog is www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  If they have any questions they can reach out to me at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org. If your readers are ready to start the homeownership experience, they can contact us at 301-891-8400.  They don’t have to talk to me for that.

We have a free class at our Riverdale, MD office every other Thursday, “Five Home Buying Secrets Everyone Ought to Know”.  HomeFree-USA is judged by the number of successful and sustainable home owners we produce, not just the number of clients we see.  That’s the key difference.

AD:  Okay, well Simone, that’s all I’ve got.  Once again thank you for this interview and for sharing your expertise and your experiences.  If we can do a follow up piece in the future, that’s something I would be very interested in.

SG:  Okay, thank you Anwar.

Thank for taking the time to read this interview.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff

A couple of years ago when still writing for the Examiner, I wrote a sentimental tribute piece about my mother for Mother’s Day discussing everything she did for my brother and me.  In short she put being a mother first above all else.  Looking back at my youth I don’t remember her really partying aside from holiday celebrations at her places of employment.  There were always lots of home cooked meals, togetherness, and church on Sundays, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  There was also a lot of love and positive affirmation in our home.

Her motherly guidance continued well into my adulthood.  One of her greatest gifts was given to me a couple of years ago, and I can guarantee that it isn’t a gift that you the reader would expect.  It was a lifesaving gift – one that impacted our immediate family, and that helped stop me from going over my own personal “Fiscal Cliff” and falling to my demise.  I’m sharing this story because I think about it often, but also so that it might help save someone else.  This post will probably likewise touch someone, and maybe draw a laugh or two, or three, or four.

Many of you remember the term “Fiscal Cliff” from one of President Barrack Obama’s earliest showdowns with Republicans regarding the financial future of the United States – at the time a potential massive increase in taxes and broad spending cuts.  There are also be personal fiscal cliffs – situations in which a particular set of financial factors causes or threatens sudden and severe economic decline.  While the sizes and scales are different, they both involve needs, wants, how items in question are going to get paid for, and the after effects.

Only those really close to me know that I was engaged to be married two or three years ago.  Not being one to post my personal business all over Facebook, I initially told only a trusted few.  My former fiancée will remain anonymous, and my challenge likewise will be to tell this story in the fairest way possible, without demonizing and piling on her, as it would show very little class, so wish me luck.  Instead, I will focus on something my mother shared with me, and how it stayed with me as my brief engagement unfolded.  There were actually a couple of quotes that stuck with me but hers was special.

*  *  *

“You know it’s the custom for the bride’s father and/or family to pay for the wedding,” my mother told me shortly after my fiancée accepted my proposal (which I botched by not doing the getting on one knee ritual).  I didn’t know the first thing about weddings and in the previous year had to learn quickly about the “Four Cs” for picking out engagement rings: Cut, Clarity, Carat size, and Color.  Depending on the woman, rings can be a really, really big deal – perhaps too big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  That’s a separate discussion.

Living in two different cities, there were a lot of details my fiancée and I had to work out besides the wedding itself.  We loosely mutually agreed that the ceremony should be held out in the city she was from on the Pacific coast.  I think it was around that time a ballpark number for how much we would spend on the wedding emerged; $18,000 which quickly got rounded up to $20,000.  The funny thing is I think I threw the number out there – not because I had dreamt of spending that amount, but because I had heard two friends say that they had spent that amount on their wedding with some help from their folks I believe.

After she accepted the proposal, things went fast.  Within a week, a close friend sent her a “How to Get Married” book with all of the planning and steps.  There were also plans to go dress shopping in New York City just like the show Say Yes to the Dress.  There is a lot I could say about what all happened next, but for the sake of keeping this focused, I’ll just say that there was a lot of deliberation over the amount to be spent.  While I wanted to keep it at $20,000 or below, my fiancée lobbied to push the number upwards.

“You’re probably going to end up spending a little bit over what you set the budget at,” my mother said, which didn’t make me feel any better.

“How many people are you all inviting?  The dollar amount is going to grow exponentially with the number of guests you’re inviting because you’re going to be feeding all of those people,” a close friend and fellow University of Michigan alumnus said, who had gotten married while we were all still in school.  He and his wife spent a little over $10,000 of their graduate school stipends – a tremendous feat.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding, my mother’s words continued to roll around in my head.  But whose custom was this?  And what if the bride’s father or family didn’t have any money?  Then what?

Eventually I started to ponder the enormity of spending $20,000 on our big day.  I started thinking that it wasn’t a smart idea even though I was a federal employee with a, “good government job.”  I had only recently gotten rid of my revolving consumer debt and didn’t have a substantial emergency fund in the bank, and neither did she.  I had also only recently started getting the 5% matching contribution on my government Thrift Savings Plan retirement account.  Furthermore, I had my eyes on buying stock, and moving into the wealthy class.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding.  What can one do with $20,000?  One can use it as a down payment on a home (depending on the market).  One can purchase a brand new car.  One can invest that money and grow it.  One can donate to charities and scholarship funds for needy kids.  It can also simply be put away for an emergency fund for life’s inevitable calamities.  It can be used to start a business of some sort.  In this case it could also be spent on a one-day bonanza for friends and family who would go back to their lives afterwards.

“What you all need to do is live off of one of your incomes for a year and save the other one,” one of my mentors said when I told him that I was thinking about making the big plunge months earlier.  He was an experienced entrepreneur several years my senior and had seen a lot in his life’s journey.  “You all need to save $50,000 in the bank – actually black people need to have $100,000 in the bank,” he continued.  “Whenever we’re jobless it takes us longer to get hired.”

We need to save $50,000 in the bank?  We need to save $100,000 in the bank?  In addition to my mother’s words about the bride’s family paying for the wedding, my mentor’s words also bounced around in my head.  Was such a thing even possible?  With proper planning and prioritization, and agreeing in a relationship context, absolutely it was possible.  While I could see the power in doing such a thing however, I wondered how realistic it was for the particular set of circumstances I was in.  My fiancée and I didn’t reside on the same planet money-wise, and in several other key ways, which gets to the being ‘equally yoked’ principal that’s often discussed when long-term relationships come up.  This living off of one income for the first year advice actually wasn’t new.  It was just my first time hearing it.

I found out something else highly relevant to this discussion by chance in the Washington PostIt was shared by Michelle Singletary to whom I have to give the credit for citing it in her “Color of Money” column.  In an article discussing finance-related topics couples should discuss before getting serious (credit scores/history for example), she cited a study by Emory Professors Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon titled A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.  They found that couples who spent greater than $20,000 on a wedding and associated costs are 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spent $5,000 and $10,000.  CNN and PBS covered this as well.

“You know Anwar, $20,000 is actually the low end for the amount spent on a wedding,” another close friend and Michigan alumnus said in the aftermath of the whole thing.  That may have been true, but the question in my mind once again centered around whose role it was to pay for all of it.  Was it the couple or the bride’s family?  Both families?  And what were the long-term consequences?  Furthermore, was it sane for a couple with no inheritances, and collectively no assets, to invest that type of money in something like that?

My gut told me no, but there is something sentimental, warm and fuzzy when it comes to women, engagements, weddings and shows like Say Yes to the Dress – something that defies all logic and reason.  As a man, you can easily get swept up in it all because well – it’s what many women like and what many women want to do.  Many have dreamt about their ‘Big Day’ since they were little.

As alluded to earlier, it wasn’t exactly a stable partnership and life’s many circumstances caused the whole thing to implode.  It was actually biblical in magnitude – something made for TV.  I thus didn’t have to proceed down the path that was unfolding in front of me which I saw leading me over the edge of my own personal fiscal cliff onto the rocks below.  No, I never got the ring back.  I got that question a lot – mostly from females I shared the story with, and from one guy – a cunning salesman who was trying to get me to purchase one of his insurance products in a coffee shop one morning.  I gladly told everyone no, as it paled in comparison to the money that I would’ve spent had the whole thing gone forward.

About a year after my engagement imploded, a close friend got married – a Pakistani woman.  I was blessed to be invited to one of the three days of their weekend long wedding celebration/ceremony.  That’s right, it was three days in accordance with Pakistani culture – they do it big.  The ceremony I attended was at a beautiful hall and had all the trimmings.  My coworker and her husband, who was also Pakistani, were both dressed in the most immaculate costumes in accordance with their culture.  He actually rode in on a pony.  I looked around in amazement as all of us guests were treated like royalty.

She shared with me that her parents and the groom’s parents paid in the ballpark of $30,000 for the whole thing – that’s right $30,000.  Coming from the eastside of Buffalo, that’s a lot of money, and afterwards I pondered over and over again that their parents paid for it.  It was their culture and the norm in their community.  They also had an abundance of stable families where their parents actually had the funds to put into that type of thing – perhaps a demonstration of Pakistani privilege.

I continued to ponder their wedding weekend.  Because their parents footed the bill, they as a young couple didn’t take a huge financial hit.  They were able to just continue on with their lives and build – saving into their retirement accounts, planning vacations, pondering purchasing a home, etc.  They were able to start in a good place.  The same was true for another friend.  She and her spouse came from two stable families and themselves didn’t personally make huge investments on their big day.  The bride’s diamond ring was not purchased at some extravagant store like on TV, but instead, it was passed down through the generations in the groom’s family – again a benefit of coming from a stable family.

*  *  *

“Weddings are a big waste of money,” said a professor on my thesis committee at the University of Michigan with a look of disgust on his face.  He was kind of conservative, and had homes in both Ann Arbor and Jackson Hole, Wyo.  He had been around a while and had seen a lot of stuff.  I didn’t understand any of it at the time so I thought he might’ve just been being an old curmudgeon.  He was probably thinking that there were better things that could be done with the tens of thousands of dollars spent on weddings.

Are weddings, engagement rings, and all of the associated costs a waste of money?  As with most things it depends on your point of view.  That said, as a couple, before dumping tens of thousands of dollars into something like that, I think it’s important that both agree on it and ask each other several key questions.  Are you going into debt for it?  Have you already started building wealth individually?  Can your relatives afford to kick in?  Where will you two be after the festivities once everyone else has gone home?  Is spending an astronomical amount of money a need or a want?

“It’s the custom for the bride’s father and or family to pay for the wedding.”  I don’t know that my mother knew that her words would stay in my mind as they did.  The words made more and more sense to me as I thought about them.  From a logical standpoint, if I as a man have just saved for an engagement ring – a month’s salary or more, does it now make sense to dump more money into a one-day extravaganza leaving us financially exposed?  For me at the time, no, it didn’t make any sense.  By the way, this wasn’t the only advice my mother gave me.  As a spiritual woman, there was much more.  My father?  He didn’t give me much of anything advice-wise.  His greatest anxiety/concern was having to fly out to the west coast to attend the ceremony.

Everyone has to decide for themselves what’s right as families and cultures are different.  As mentioned earlier, after a life of making financial mistakes out of ignorance, and only recently discovering some of the key secrets to wealth building such as knowing what a Net Worth was, my focus was more on savings and investments.  Furthermore, having been bailed out of a couple of jams by one of my uncles for example, asking him for more money at that time felt unacceptable.  The same was true for my father of whom I also decided it was unacceptable to ask for financial support of any kind at my current station in life.

For any men reading this and thinking about taking the plunge, this stuff is a big deal.  Many of the ladies (not all) dream about their wedding and will even critique and mock each other over them, as I witnessed a couple of high income-professional ladies do about a peer who paid for her wedding expenses out of pocket.  To cut costs, she and her fiancé wisely did things like cater their reception.  He was a master chef and put in some sweat equity of his own on the food.  I think they spent ~ $10,000 on the wedding, maybe a little less.  Also, some ladies think a spectacular ring is owed them, and will make them feel better during those inevitable rough marital patches.  Some will concede the wedding for a $20,000 or ring.

Think about your life, your goals and the long-term ramifications if you’re paying out of pocket.   Be real with yourself and your partner.  Determine whether or not you’re dealing in needs or wants and where you’ll be on the back end of the wedding.  If the two of you can’t agree there then that should, ‘give you pause,’ as my mother would say.  Interestingly my father’s second wife felt that past a certain age, there shouldn’t be any expectations for families to help pay for anything, and that’s assuming again that you had parents and families who had the means to begin with.

“My friend’s father told her that he would give her a $10,000 gift if she and her fiancé eloped,” a woman in my former lab said at a recent science conference.  Her friend’s father had clearly done the math in his head and projected what a wedding would cost him, and determined that $10,000 would be a fraction of that cost.

While the majority of this story was about me I’m going to close out by going back to my mother as this post is in celebration of Mother’s Day.  It was her words that stayed with me throughout this whole experience.  That being said, one of the challenges to growing up is having the discernment to reconcile your parent’s experiences/beliefs and words of wisdom with your own situation as the two don’t always go together.  Sometimes you do inevitably deviate from what they recommend for any number of reasons – sometimes disappointing them and even going through the hardship they tried to protect you from, and sometimes not.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part two

This article is a continuation of my interview with Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding homeownership and the African American community.  In part one, Simone discussed the inception of her organization HomeFree-USA, and why homeownership is critical to the African American community in the United States.  In part two, we discuss some of the historic and recent impediments to black homeownership, some of the things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding Financial Literacy, and finally the effect of the Housing Market Boom/Crash on African American wealth.

Anwar Dunbar:  You touched upon this earlier when you discussed disparities in income, but what are the other main impediments holding African Americans back as a group in terms of homeownership?

Simone Griffin:  There are a couple of different things.  Number one, lenders aren’t as open to lending to people with lower credit scores.  Because they’re over-correcting after the housing crisis, they prefer to lend to people with a 750 credit score or higher.  Many black people don’t have that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t pay our mortgages.  They simply may not have learned the importance of credit and how to manage it.  And it has nothing to do with your education status – they don’t teach personal finance in college, and are just beginning to do so in high schools.

AD:  No, they don’t.

SG:  If your family doesn’t know anything about credit and you don’t learn about it in school, then how could you be prepared with a 750 or greater score?

AD:  Yes, that’s a very good point.

SG:  A big difference between us and non-Hispanic whites is that between the Great Depression and the 1960s when America was building its wealth, black people were locked out due “Redlining” and other discriminatory tactics.  The Fair Housing and Fair Credit Laws were enacted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which made it illegal to discriminate against people of color.  The problem was, when we tried to buy homes we were expected to make a 20% down payment, and many black people simply didn’t have that type of money. So when home appreciation soared during the 1970s and 1980s, many moderate income black people were unable to buy, which further crippled their ability to build wealth.  Many are still trying to catch up, and it’s 2017!

Meanwhile there are other ethnic groups who have money saved and may be able to give their kids a leg up.  Their kids may have student loan debt, but they can help them pay down their debt faster, or with a down payment on a house.  Mostly though, we’re starting over with every generation.  There are still many first generation college students in our communities – and college is a big indicator of how much more money you’ll make throughout your career.  So we’re still playing catch up to a degree.  This is why HomeFree-USA is so important, because you need that type of knowledge and access to get ahead.

Likewise, we’re positioned to tell the mortgage industry, ‘You say you want diversity, and want to lend to all kinds of people, but your 750 credit score requirement is locking black people out – black people who really could qualify.’  We’re not suggesting they throw a mortgage product out there and tell everyone they’re eligible. We never did that.  There were so many people we met with during the housing boom and said, ‘You should not be buying right now.’  But there were certain things they could do to improve their position, and we’re here to guide them through the corrections.

What’s important is a level of education to the borrower and to the lender.  The lender needs to understand what the borrowers are dealing with right now – what black people are dealing with.  We may have excess student loans, but if you look at non-traditional sources of credit, you will see that these borrowers are typically paying their rent on time for example, something that’s rarely reported to the credit bureau.  Cell phone and utility bills are also not always reported.

Many African Americans are unbanked or under-banked and we’re not used to working with the traditional lenders.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying our bills, and these are the kinds of things that we’re communicating to the lenders.

AD:  I help teach the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church.  As I’ve gone through as a student and a group leader, I think about the things that I was taught home (and not taught).  My mother says that she taught us about mortgages, but I don’t remember getting any of that – or I was just too caught up in the distractions of being a young adult.  Is there an age that’s too early for our kids to start learning this stuff?  Ideally how early should our kids be getting these things?

SG: I think you can start early, but age appropriately.  The sooner someone can start working and making their own money, that’s a big thing.  But in the interim just teach kids about giving, saving and spending, and allow them to hold their own money.  Kids for example, may know that money comes out of an ATM but they don’t understand what goes into making the money.  They may ask, ‘Can we get this?’, and you might reply, ‘No it’s not in the budget,’ allowing you to go into an understanding of what the budget is.

My friend has a nine-year old son who is in love with Pokémon cards and always asks her to buy them so he can trade them in school.  The problem is, he has no concept of how much the cards cost.  I suggested she give him an allotment of money every month for the cards, and once he spends it, it’s gone and that’s it. When it’s his money, as opposed to asking her to spend her money, it will change the level of focus he has on the purchase and care of the cards.

AD:  Earlier you talked about African Americans not having access to homeownership when other groups did from post the Depression era to the 1960s.  How did the 2008 Housing Market Crash affect African American homeownership since we were already playing catch up and were just getting into the game?

SG:  It obliterated our wealth.  One big mistake African Americans made is that we looked at our houses as investments.  We would buy a house, but not put any money into savings or other investment vehicles.  In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, our parents and grandparents had pensions, but most companies have replaced those with 401k plans, which they may not contribute to.  We now have to be conscientious about our entire financial life, including retirement.

When the housing crisis hit, it wasn’t all our fault.  Some people were truly led astray, and there were certainly many people who shouldn’t have been approved for such large mortgages.  I lived in Atlanta during the crisis, and the city was hit brutally by the crisis.  I met so many older people whose houses were paid off, and somebody at their church convinced them to get a Reverse Mortgage, which needlessly got them back into debt.  They didn’t even know what they were signing.  There were so many scams going on in Georgia at that time, including one where people thought they were signing up for one mortgage payment, only to find that there was a carbon copy of the real mortgage document underneath the original one, which required them to pay a far higher monthly payment.

Buyers were often blamed and told they bought too much house.  No, some of these people did their best to buy affordably, but were led astray – another reason why HomeFree-USA is so important.  If you’re working with us, we teach you the questions to ask your loan officer, realtor, inspector and appraiser.

During the housing boom loan officers were saying, ‘Oh, I can get you qualified for a $400,000 house even though you only make $40,000.’   Couple that with an agent who says, ‘I see you’re qualified for $400,000. Let me show you a house that’s worth $450,000 and we can negotiate down to $400, 000,’ and it ends up finally being around $425,000.  You say to yourself, ‘It’s fine because my loan officer says I can pay $500 every month.  So, today your payments may be an affordable $500 a month, which makes you feel comfortable in using your credit cards to pay for your new furniture. But five years later you receive a letter stating that you owe $20,000, due within 30 days. After the 30 days and $20,000, your new mortgage payment will be $5,000 per month. This actually happened to several people.  The homebuyers were either completely unaware of the balloon loan, or were told by their loan officer that they could simply refinance.  But the housing market crashed and they now owed more than their house was worth, meaning they were stuck.

This is why I avoid thinking of a home as an investment.  It can go down in value, especially at the beginning of your mortgage before you’ve built any equity.  We go financially awry when we make our house our only real investment without understanding that you have to diversify your portfolio.

This interview will continue in part three of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses Homeownership and the African American Community.  To read some more of Simone’s financial writings, visit her blog at www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  She can also be contacted directly at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org.

Thank your for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and a the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/site I endorse which be found on that particular page of my site.

Your net worth, your gross salary, and what they mean

Note.  The subject matter of this blog post is not new.  It has been known for years by those who learned about it in their families, or who have discovered it on their own.  It’s simply a discussion from my personal perspective which I think is worth visiting.  The pictures displayed throughout this post are from the eastside of my hometown of Buffalo, NY.  My first money lessons started there – a lot of what not to do, and they capture the essence of some of the money challenges facing my brothers and sisters in my hometown and across the country.

Life is literally a lottery and regardless of your color or nationality, one of its immutable truths is that you can’t control the family you were born into.  You can’t control the parents you are born to, which likewise dictate the privileges and advantages you have access to.  We often think of privilege in terms of black and white (White Privilege), but there are also black families that have privileges over other black families.  The family you are born into in large part guides your start in life, the information, and the values that will dictate your early life choices – good or bad, though they don’t necessarily shape all that comes afterwards – a good thing for some.

Neither of my parents talked about what a Net Worth was when I was growing up.  As described in the Big Words Blog Site Story, my mother and her siblings were first generation college students – descendants of parents who were a part of the Great Migration.  My father’s situation was similar.  They were children of the Civil Rights Era, and thus the big goal for them was earning college degrees and then securing stable jobs on equal footing with their white peers.  That for them was winning and it was also a surpassing of their elders.  For those of us born from their generation (Generation X), going to college was also expected, but what would be the next level for us?  What was winning for our generation?

These days I have a lot of discussions with via text messaging with my brother Amahl, and three close friends from Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY: the twins Alim and Raheem Gaines and our other buddy, Hestin Brown.  All week long we discuss topics including sports, politics, and some of the silly stuff we see in the media, on Black Twitter and on Facebook.  We discuss social issues as well, particularly as they relate to the black community.  We’re a “Black Male’s Support Group”, or even our own little “Think Tank”.  Recently in a group dialogue that started out with a controversy regarding Tyrese Gibson’s spouse and whether she was actually black, something else much more important came up; the concept of one’s net worth.

Alim cited something he heard about listing what black men in the United States earn in terms of average gross income.  I responded wondering what the breakdown was for black women and Alim on cue cited the 2010 study by Mariko Chang describing Black and Hispanic women having average net worths of only $100 and $120.  I quickly pointed out that there was a difference between one’s gross income and their net worth.  My brother, the eldest in our group, asked what a net worth was.  For perspective, we’re all just above the age of 40.  Alim and I both knew the answer and gave it.  I shared that I was first introduced to the term in my late 20s, but didn’t completely grasp it until my mid-30s – very, very late in the game.  I pondered the fact that my brother still hadn’t grasped it yet – not a knock on him by any means, just our life’s circumstance.  I then wondered how our own life decisions would have been different had we known this important concept in our teens.

Just briefly, your net worth is the numerical difference between what you own and what you owe – your savings and your assets minus your debts and obligations.  Your savings are self-explanatory – the amount of liquid cash you have available and can access quickly.  Assets can be anything from securities such as stocks, gold or silver, real estate investments, equity in your home, or profitable businesses.  If you’re an employee, a major contributor to your net worth is your retirement savings – that’s if you’ve been disciplined enough (and able) to steadily set money aside.  Debts are self-explanatory as well.  Common forms of debt are: credit cards, car notes, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, loans against your retirement savings, etc.

I only started learning about what a net worth was in my late 20s, out of curiosity and chance.  Books like the Rich Dad Poor Dad talked about it, in addition to the Millionaire Next Door.  In Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU), the term is not explicitly addressed, but FPU’s ; ‘Baby Steps’ ultimately lead to a steadily increasing net worth.

Okay, so what’s the big deal about this somewhat abstract and nebulous term that only few understand?  The answer is that your net worth is a metric of your wealth which is very, very different than your gross salary.  This is a critical distinction because a high gross salary doesn’t necessarily translate into a high net worth.  A person or a couple can have high gross salaries and still have a negative net worth(s).

In Black America we’re often enamored and impressed with individuals who make six figures.  Similar to one’s occupation, making six figures by itself can be deceptive.  You would assume that a medical doctor, a lawyer, or a news anchor would be very comfortable, but not necessarily – the same is true for someone who makes six figures.  Imagine if a person has a gross salary of $100,000 and their expenses are $95,000.  They’re still essentially broke right?  Beyond a certain point, your gross income is what Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, calls an ‘Entrance Criteria’ – an attribute that allows you entry into a club, though it isn’t a predictor of greatness.  ‘Excellence Criteria’ is what separates the great from the average and the underachievers.  These are the things that allow one to become wealthy in this case.

Contrary to the images we’re bombarded with in the media, the excellence criteria for building your net worth don’t necessarily involve a lavish and high consumption lifestyle, but instead being frugal and careful with one’s money.  Dr. Thomas Stanley wrote extensively about this in his Millionaire Next Door series.  This means that many people are chasing after the wrong things in life and not knowing it until it’s too late.

What are some keys to growing your Net Worth?  Some of them include:

  • Budgeting one’s money and controlling costs – learning to run a surplus vs. a deficit;
  • Saving money gradually in an emergency fund, retirement and then potentially for investments and;
  • Carrying the least amount of debt possible.

What are some keys to keeping and maintaining a low/negative net worth?  Some of them include:

  • Spending more than you earn – spending everything you earn;
  • Not saving anything and;
  • Carrying large amounts of debt – particularly on the things that lose value or don’t justify borrowing the money – cars, sneakers, and degrees which don’t lead to well-paying jobs.

In his Rich Dad Poor Dad series, Robert Kiyosaki actually defines wealth as the amount of time one can go without working while still being able to cover expenses.

But what are the greater implications of growing your net worth and wealth?  They can position you to do things like build businesses.  They can be used to donate to charities, and to give other students, for example, the chance to go to school to better themselves – something sorely needed in Black America.  This is the importance of organizations like the United Negro College Fund for example.  They can be used to fund political candidates and campaigns, and have a true seat at the table when national and local policy decisions are made.  At the end of the day, politics is all about money right?

In Black America right now discussions, like the ones my buddies and I have, are actually taking place about the differences between having a high net worth and having a high salary – again two things which don’t necessarily correlate.  One gentleman on Twitter, a Nigerian I think, who regularly beats the net worth drum often rebutting people who think they’ve made it because they’ve attained a high gross salary and have luxury items like Mercedes Benzes and BMWs.  While these are prestigious toys, they gradually lose value and deceptively don’t translate into wealth.

The interesting thing about one’s net worth is that it can’t be negotiated with one’s employer – it’s something that must be decided and acted upon by the individual once they understand it – like choosing to eat healthy or choosing to continue to eat an unhealthy diet.  It can’t be legislated or forced upon groups of people, nor should it be.  It’s a personal choice just like practicing a religion or choosing a spouse.  Speaking of which, I’ve read that judges actually consider a couple’s net worth during divorces and usually just split everything down the middle – a source of tension particularly when one of the spouses hasn’t earned the assets being split.

“Tasha and Ron are living large.  She’s a School Administrator and he’s a Fireman,” my mother said about couple in their 40s who are friends of the family.  She was looking at their professions and what she thought their salaries were and concluded that they were winning financially.

“Actually you don’t know that, Mom,” I said in reply.  “People can look like they’re making it on the outside, but without knowing their savings, their bills and their debts are, you don’t really know how they’re doing.”  My response echoed Robert Kiyosaki’s books where he stated that an individual’s financial success is actually dictated by their income statement and balance sheet – two things you can’t see by looking at someone – but things banks weight highly when qualifying individuals for mortgages or business loans.

What prevents individuals from growing their net worths?  Several things actually.  One is ignorance.  If no one ever tells you about it and you don’t stumble upon the information, you’ll never know.  Secondly, personal choices prevent one from doing it.  It takes discipline and drive, and many individuals lack those.  As a man, if you’ve recklessly had a bunch of kids and are bogged down with child support payments, you’ll probably never get there.  If you’re a single mother also with many kids, you’ll also have a hard time getting there as well.  It’s not impossible, just exponentially more difficult.  In one of his videos, Dr. Boyce Watkins stated that the average cost of a child is $250,000 up until it turns 18 years of age.  The other piece is that in some instances, particularly in Black America, only a handful of people in a given family get educated and earn a decent salary.  Those individuals are often looked upon to take care of everyone else – a potential, “Siphoning off of the wealth,” as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson said, partially joking, at the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.  That day he was leading a Wealth-Building panel.

Growing a high net worth doesn’t necessarily involve going to get a Ph.D., an M.D., a Pharm D., or a J.D.  You actually don’t necessarily need a college degree to do it.  It simply requires a steady stream of income, understanding debt, and priorities.  This is what Dave Ramsey meant when he said, “Money is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior.”  This is also one of the key principles in Robert Kiyosaki’s Cashflow game where players must choose their profession before playing.  One would think in the game that it would be easier to get out of the “Rat Race” by being one of the higher income professionals like the doctor, lawyer, or the airline pilot, but it’s actually easier as the web designer or the janitor.  While they generate less gross income, they also carry less debt and have fewer bills.  Their cost per child is also less than the higher income professionals.

Understanding what a net worth is and then making the decisions to grow it is a paradigm shift and a powerful one.  As with most things, we all have lives and everyone’s situations are unique.  We all have relatives and friends who may not necessarily understand the decisions and temporary sacrifices being made, and thus it’s important to know your own motivations – you have to know your ‘why’.

Again, a net worth is not a salary that you make every year.  It’s a result of spending habits and specific money choices.  How often should it be calculated?  One of my mentors told me that it should be calculated quarterly.  If you haven’t been paying attention to it, your initial assessment may not look pretty, but it gives you a place to start from – kind of like a doctor’s checkup.

So what’s your net worth?  Don’t answer that.  From experience, just like your gross income, it’s best if you keep it to yourself and only share it with a trusted few if anyone at all.  Money does different things to different people, and when people think you have it, it can do strange things to your relationships – your relatives and friends.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave comments.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on my Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM, and Financial Literacy, there other blogs/sites I endorse which found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part one

One of the goals of the Big Words Blog Site is to discuss Financial Literacy-related topics, particularly as they relate to the African American community.  A key aspect of wealth building is homeownership.  Coincidentally, for my very first interview for the site, I had the privilege of interviewing the very knowledgeable Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA.  Simone and I met at the reception for the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) at the 2016 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.

During our interview, Simone discussed how HomeFree-USA was conceived and its mission, why homeownership is critical for African Americans, the effect of the 2008 housing market crash on African American homeownership and wealth, and the overall challenges the Black community faces in securing and maintaining homeownership.  Based on the wealth of information shared by Simone, our very candid and insightful interview will be posted in three parts.

Anwar Dunbar:  First of all, Simone, I want to thank you for your willingness to talk.  When I finished school, I realized that there were gaps in my financial knowledge.  Homeownership and real estate fall under that umbrella so I want to disseminate information that can help individuals, like myself, who want to have a firmer grasp on these concepts much earlier in life.

How did you get involved in real estate?

Simone Griffin: HomeFree-USA is a family business, which my parents started in 1995.  My father was in Mortgage Servicing for almost 20 years before that.  The servicing entity collects your mortgage payments and pays out the property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.  If you fall behind on your mortgage, they’re the ones you speak to.

My mother was in the retail business, and had a marketing background.  My parents noticed how many minorities in the DC area were locked out of homeownership, primarily because they didn’t know that they could afford it.  Many were government employees with very stable jobs, but no one in their family had ever owned a home.  My mother started HomeFree-USA, and my father later joined her, for those who had no one to guide them through all facets of becoming a successful, sustainable homeowner.

Realtors are often the default vehicle for helping people with their credit and debt issues, but that isn’t their job.  Their real job is to help you find a house.  It’s the job of the financial institution to make sure that you’re financially capable of repaying the loan, but as any homeowner knows, there’s far more that goes into owning a house than just the paying the mortgage.  And when you’ve been renting your whole life and don’t know any homeowners, it feels like a lofty feat.

HomeFree-USA walks with you so you know what you’re doing, are confident that you’re getting a good loan, and are buying well within your affordability range.

Ninety-six percent of the people who fell victim to the Housing Boom and subsequent Foreclosure Crisis didn’t see organizations like HomeFree-USA when they were buying their homes.  Had we seen them, there’s a high chance that they wouldn’t have been in those situations.  They worked with realtors and loan officers, but again it’s not their job to educate and prepare.  Their job is to help you get a loan and into a house.  Because there are shady businesses everywhere, you have to have enough knowledge to know when you’re being lead in the right direction and when someone is trying to take advantage.  That’s why HomeFree-USA is in existence.

AD:  Okay, so in summary, what is the mission of HomeFree USA?

SG:  The mission of HomeFree-USA is to:

  • Strengthen people through sustainable homeownership, financial education and coaching;
  • Enhance communities by creating affordable homeownership opportunities through the acquisition, rehabilitation and sale of Real Estate Owned (REO) properties; and
  • Elevate our partners with capacity building assistance and mutually beneficial programs and initiatives.

AD:  Before we move on you mentioned when the DC market was, ‘Affordable.’  For readers who don’t live in the DC area, what was affordable price-wise versus where we’re at right now?

SG:  Most of our homebuyers at that time were moderate income single mothers – making $35,000 to $55,000 a year.  You could buy a home in DC at that time making that kind of money.  Even if you adjust for inflation today, you cannot buy a house unless it’s an affordable set-aside (of which there are few) with that income.  I made $30,000 when I bought my house.  I could do that in the District then: now, no way.  The average income has also increased in DC, but not to the point where it makes homeownership affordable for all.

AD: They say that DC is no longer Chocolate City.

SG:  No, it’s definitely not Chocolate City anymore.

AD:  Why is homeownership so critical for the African American community in the United States?

SG:   First, one of the big misnomers is that homeownership should be used as an investment vehicle.  I don’t necessarily look at it as an investment vehicle, although homes typically appreciate in value over time.  Most importantly, homeownership stabilizes your expenses, which is invaluable when building wealth.  It also gives your family a foundation that they always know they can come home to.

On average, people of color are still paid less than non-Hispanic whites in this country.  I believe Black women are paid 60% less than their non-Hispanic white male counterparts, so we have to create ways to stabilize our income and expenses as much as possible, while continuing to work on income disparities.  Also, homeowners are typically more focused and invested in the state of their community.  If you have kids, the school system becomes really important.  Holding legislators accountable for actions which may affect your home value also becomes really important. There is a direct correlation between the health of a community and the number of homeowners.  You also get the advantage of having a tax write off.

I just don’t want people to look at homeownership purely as an investment.  Some people feel like it’s a given that their house should go up in value, and that’s not true. It’s an investment and investments are risky.  In the long run though, real estate tends to beat even the stock market in returns.

AD:  I was talking to a coworker recently and we were in fact discussing that when you rent, your rent tends to go up every year, and when you have a mortgage it tends to stay stable.

SG:  That’s true.  Your property taxes and homeowner insurance may increase, but if you have a consistent mortgage payment every month, you can stabilize your overall budget and begin to build true wealth.

This interview will continue in parts two and three of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses Homeownership and the African American Community.  To read some more of Simone’s financial writings, visit her blog at www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  She can also be contacted directly at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org.  A special tank you is extended to Simone Griffin and HomeFree-USA for participating in this interview and also for providing the picture for this post.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.