Small businesses that have money management and debt problems are anxiously waiting for the new credit card rules to go into effect in July 2010. But the majority of business owners need immediate debt relief. While the new rules will help, for some it will be too little, too late.
The main problem with using credit to finance your business is that it is a big risk. That risk, of course, is you are promising your future production to pay back that financial obligation in full and in a timely manner. There is really nothing wrong with using credit as long as there is virtually no risk involved in paying the money back. There is a lot wrong with being over your head in debt and being handcuffed to the credit cards. This is risky in the extreme, because with just one or two bad months, the house built on using credit lines can fall very quickly.
I am glad to see the new credit rules passed. What I am not happy about, however, is the length of time until credit issuers must comply. The current credit system has driven some individuals and businesses into bankruptcy and the rest of the nation to the very edge of financial disaster. The credit rules could have been mandated to be effective in 2 or 3 months rather than 18 months and it would help the economy now when it desperately needs it.
Living in a condition based on credit and debt is very, very risky. Done on a national scale, and helped along by exorbitant interest rates, over-limit fees, late charges, and a 22-day billing cycle, the nation’s consumers are $850 plus billion in credit debt and it is evident they are sinking fast. The new rules are a long overdue step in the right direction.
What are some of these new rules that everyone is talking about? Simply stated, the new rules prohibit:
- Placing unfair time constraints on payments. A payment could not be deemed late unless the borrower is given a reasonable period of time to pay. This would eliminate many of those exorbitant “late payment fees.”
- Placing too-high fees for exceeding the credit limit solely because of a hold placed on the account.
- Unfairly computing balances in a computing tactic known as double-cycle billing. This two-cycle method enables billing offices to charge interest on balances that were part of the previous month’s balance, even if the balance was paid in full.
- Unfairly adding security deposits and fees for issuing credit or making it available.
- Making deceptive offers of credit.
Two excellent provisions of the new rules are: 1) that customers will be given 45 days of notice before any changes are made to the terms of any account, including jacking their rate for missing a payment or paying a bill late, and 2) banks must apply payments (beyond the minimum) either to the balance with the highest rate or proportionally across all balances. The second one eliminates beyond the minimum payments to be applied to only to the lowest (or 0%) interest rate principals first.
When someone balance transfers to a zero interest rate card and then uses the card for purchases, the purchases are typically billed at a very high interest rate. What consumers fail to realize is that the bank will apply payments only to the zero interest balance while the higher rate purchase racks up interest charges until the entire zero balance principal is paid off. That sabotages the whole debt reduction strategy of the zero balance transfer.
While the Associated Press is calling the new rules the most sweeping clamp-down on the credit card industry in decades, I’m wondering why the clamp-down on the abuse took so long to be addressed, and why the banks are being given 18 months before the new laws go into effect. With modern technology we can move and make changes almost at the speed of light, so 18 months is like moving at the speed of a glacier.
As I have been doing for the past decade, I still advise business owners and consumers to use the 5 old-school money management tips on reducing debt that they can employ right now to start digging themselves out of debt and get their own personal economics healthy.
Money Management Strategy #1 – Stop Using Credit
The place to start is by locking away the credit cards and figuring out how to cut expenses back to function within your income. Unsurprisingly, this first step can take quite a bit of discipline. Paying operating expenses with credit cards can easily become a habit, and as a result, can rapidly build up debt for the small business.
Figure out ways to increase your income and instead use only cash. This is the single most effective action you can take to begin the process of debt reduction.
Money Management Strategy #2 – Never Spend More Money Than Your Company Makes
Paying for items with credit because you don’t have the cash is the recipe for economic slavery. Using credit in that manner commits your business’ future income to pay the credit company.
Business owners must get creative and find ways to increase the company’s income, and then use it to pay both current expenses and to pay off past credit debt. Additionally, a business owner must take a ruthless look at what expenses are absolutely necessary. Business expenditures should be expected to bring in more money, business, and income. If they don’t do this—don’t directly lead to the creation of more income in some way—then determine if the company can do without certain items in the short term.
Money Management Strategy #3 – Always Pay More Than the Minimum Payment
Set a goal to pay at least 3 to 5 times the minimum required payment on each credit card and line of credit. Paying the minimum amount due on credit payments is a financial trap that keeps you perpetually in debt.
An effective way to reduce the debt is to take 10% to 15% every week off the top of the company’s income and use it to pay down the debt. Don’t wait until the statement says the payment is due. Pay some on-line every week as soon as you earmark it for paying the debt. The added bonus is that you stop the daily interest compounding on the payment amount you made. That alone can save you thousands in interest over the long haul.
Money Management Strategy #4 – Never Spend Over Your Limit or Pay Late
Use old fashioned money management discipline and never sabotage your debt reduction program by getting hit with $25 to $39 over-the-limit or late fees. Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions make millions through financial penalties for being late or going over your credit limit. Worst of all, the money paid in penalties creates more debt.
Money Management Strategy #5 – Find Ways to Cut Expenses
While a fundamental requirement of any debt reduction program is more cash as fast as possible to pay the debt off, there is one important area that should not be considered an unnecessary expense. That area is marketing and promotion. Correct money management includes the continuous promotion of your company’s products and services. Marketing and advertising are areas you don’t want to stop spending on. Marketing is going to make you money and is a correct financial investment when properly done.
There is an old advertising saying that still holds true today: “When the economy is good you need to promote, and when the economy is bad you need to promote MORE!”
Whether an economy is in an economic depression, a recession, or is thriving, the above money management principals still apply. Money management for small business takes financial planning and discipline. Reducing debt is just one step in an overall program to ensure that a business will survive and make the maximum amount of money for the business owner. There are other steps in a successful money management program that can be taken to achieve your financial goals, and this will be addressed in future articles. For now, reduce that debt and improve the financial health of your own economy.
For more information about steps you can take to reduce your debt, sign up to receive the FREE Debt Reduction Solutions Guide. If you need further help with a debt management program, send an email to Sandra Simmons, President of Money Management Solutions, Inc. at info@MoneyMgmtSolutions.com or call (727)448-1011