• 68°

Start the new year off right with smart money choices

It’s a new year with the usual wave of new year’s resolutions. Many will be looking for better ways to handle their money — namely getting out of debt.

Bank of Brookhaven President Shannon Aker said it’s all a matter of looking at how much is coming in and how much is going out.

“The question I always ask people is, ‘Do you want it, or do you need it?’,” Aker said.

The big thing to look out for, according to Aker, is credit card debt.

“I think that’s the next big economic problem, is credit card debt,” Aker said. “It’s unsecured money, and now students even get credit cards. They don’t even have jobs. They’re trying to get through school themselves, but they can secure a $500-$1,000 credit card, and then once they hook you, they’ve got you.”

Aker’s suggestion on dealing with credit cards is to only spend as much as you know you can afford to pay at the end of the month. But Aker said that can be difficult when dealing with an emergency.

“It’s the unplanned expense,” Aker said. “Whether it’s a dental procedure, a medical problem, a big repair to a car — then it’s like, ‘Oh, gosh. That’s $800. I don’t have that laying around.’ So they put it on a credit card. Then they’re saying, ‘Well, I can pay $100 this month. Christmas is coming up, so I can only do $50.’ Then you’re rolling that interest, and they love you. They love that.”

The key to dealing with emergencies, according to Aker, is to set money aside. That may involve waiting on big purchases.

“So many young guys and girls that I see now spend money like they’re 35 and 40 years old when they’re 22 and 23 years old,” Aker said. “They just don’t have that disposable income yet that maybe their parents have, or somebody that’s been established a little bit longer to do things.

“My generation of parents has hurt (younger adults) in a lot of ways, because we’ve done too much sometimes. It’s really great to see a young person going through college and working and paying their expenses and trying. It’s tough, obviously, but it’s a great lesson to learn there.”

Aker suggests that people who get hooked into credit card debt should talk to their bank about consolidating.

To those who are farther ahead in their life and have some financial security, Aker said it’s important to be conservative in their investments.

“Where you get in trouble is somebody sees something that looks good today, and they throw everything in that direction,” Aker said. “We saw that with WorldCom here. A lot of people bought WorldCom stock 20 years ago, and they were riding high for many years. All of a sudden when they bottom fell out, they’re mad at WorldCom. You want to be conservative. Buying CDs, something that you know is insured, making some money — 1 percent is better than nothing.”

A CD, or certificate of deposit, is similar to a savings account. You put money in the bank for a fixed period of time, and then withdraw it at the end with interest. The key to the CD, Aker said, is that it can be used as collateral for a loan for reduced interest.

“When you do that, let’s say you’ve got a $2,000 CD making 1 percent, you want to come in and borrow some money, you can use a CD as collateral and get a lot lower interest rate,” he said. “If you need $1,000 to do something, you’re borrowing your own money, you’re still getting your CD rate, and you’re getting a lower loan rate.”

Aker also said that it’s never too early to think about retirement.

“The quicker you realize that at some point you’re not going to be making a salary job, you’re going to have to live off what’s coming. And Social Security, it’s not — who knows if it’s going to be there when you come along,” Aker said. “So many of the people that I see that are older, in their 70s or 80s, they’re on that fixed income, and they don’t — things go up, and it really hits them hard, because they’re still getting a very small return on their money.”

Aker recommends that people go for individual retirement accounts or IRAs.

“You can’t get that money until you’re 65,” Aker said. “A lot of people did that, but not as many now as they did 10 years ago. A lot of people that I talk to nowadays that have been working five or 10 years and their business maybe has a retirement plan that they can borrow from. That costs money. I hate to see people borrowing money against something that you’re going to get later. So I always advise people against that.”