Hank Coleman is the publisher of the popular personal finance blog, Money Q&A, which is dedicated to helping answer its readers’ tough investing, retirement, insurance, and money questions in plain English as they work their way to financial freedom. We recently sat down with Hank so he could give us some straightforward, unbiased information about investing, money management, and financial planning.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to focus on personal finance and investing?
Unlike most personal finance bloggers, I have a passion for finance and the educational background to back up what I write and talk about on Money Q&A. I have a Masters in Finance and a graduate certificate in family financial planning, which is a prerequisite to taking the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam and earning the credentials.
Money Q&A isn’t a site about how I clawed my way back from a mountain of credit card debt or my own personal finance journey. It’s a site full of real, useful information that readers can trust, as well as tips to help them take back control over their personal finances.
Finish this sentence: “The most important thing that Americans should know about investing is…”
…that you need to start young and just purchase index funds that mirror the stock market as a whole. You don’t need to try and pick the best stocks to invest in. You don’t need to try and find the best mutual fund manager to help you invest your money. You simply need to invest in the entire stock market.
And, thanks to the power of compounding interest, time is the biggest asset that investors have. You need to start investing early, and let time and your money work for you.
What are some debt-management strategies available to consumers that are almost always a bad idea?
Shuffling debt around and using debt consolidation is frequently a bad debt-management strategy. You aren’t tackling the bigger, more fundamental problem. Why are you in debt? Simply moving money around won’t fix the situation. You have to know why you are in debt and how to stop adding to your debt, and then tackle paying off that debt. A lot of people think consolidating their debt is a great debt-management move, but they’re often just ignoring the real issues.
Under what circumstances might a credit union be a viable option for consumers as opposed to a bank?
Credit unions tend to offer higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans for their consumers. Plus, credit unions offer a safe alternative to customers who are tired of being treated poorly by their banks. Every month, there seems to be a new story of a bank taking advantage of its customers. A recent survey found that 52% of credit union customers feel happy to be a part of the institution, while just 17% of national bank customers feel engaged and happy. If you feel more like another dollar sign to an institution rather than an appreciated member, then joining a credit union could offer unique benefits that make you feel more welcomed.
Talk a bit about the evolution of the “side hustle.” Why has this become so popular today?
People have started to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two parts to the budgeting equation. You can only cut your budget so much in order to pay off debt and take back control over your finances. The other side of the equation is your income. If you really want to tackle your debt or live the life you always dreamed about, you have to increase your income. That’s why the side hustle revolution has taken off. And with options like Uber, blogging, Etsy, and others, it’s easier now than ever before.
Do you have any financial planning advice for middle-aged people who have not been putting money away for retirement?
There is an old Chinese proverb. “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The same is true for retirement planning and investing. Is it good that you haven’t saved yet for retirement and you’re middle-aged? Of course not. But, now is the time to start planning for your retirement. You can’t look back and feel guilty. You have to pick yourself up and start planning now!
Finally, name one thing that most Americans can do today to start saving money or reducing expenses.
I’m a big fan of tricking yourself into saving money. If you haven’t started saving or investing and don’t know where to start, you can begin slowly by tricking yourself into good financial habits. Set up an automatic deposit from your paycheck or even a checking account to an investment account or to build up an emergency fund. Use a smartphone app like Digit.co which sets aside a few dollars a week automatically from your checking account into a savings account. Start saving all of your coins in a jar each night. These are easy things that you can do without much thought that will really add up over time.