The Hidden Cost of Credit

We’ve all heard warnings about getting too deeply into debt. It seems that lately every other commercial is about credit counseling or debt reduction. Telemarketers call and ask us if we’d like to eliminate high paying bills and before we answer, they’re extolling the virtues of second mortgages and refinancing our house.
This column would like to share the benefits as well as the methods of eliminating debt without risk. Without disguising what you owe as a single payment stretched over 30 years. What you’ll find here are some easy to follow tips regarding credit, debt, and the elimination of monthly payments from your life.
For example, how long would it take to pay for a set of furniture costing $2,000 if you charged it using a store credit card making just the minimum payments? Some of you would be shocked to learn that it would take over 30 years. Others would shrug it off as the cost of getting what you want. However, let me share what you probably wouldn’t know.
The minimum payment on a charge like that would be about $38. (In all examples we will not be compounding rates, calculating tax consequences, or quoting specific interest charges. We will use worst case or best case examples to share the point. Every situation is different but principles are universal.) Taking that same $38 and investing it in mutual funds over the same period could result in some surprise numbers.
If you earn 8% over 30 years you would earn a total of about $55,000 at $38 a month. If you found a way to earn 10%, just 2% more, you would end up with $85,000. At a rate of 12% your final total would be $132,000. And for the high risk investor, at 18% the total after 30 years would be $536,000. Folks, that’s a half a million dollars in the future for a couch you had to have today.
This is what I mean by the hidden cost of credit. It’s not what you see that can hurt you. It’s what you don’t see. Credit has two costs that can alter your future and neither of them is really talked about. You just saw and example of future cost for today’s comfort. You’ll never see these numbers on a financial disclosure of any loan document. They’re important numbers that you need to see and understand before you make a buying decision.
The second one is what I call the net payback. What that term means is that your payments are made in net dollars (earnings after all tax and other deductions). What you need to look at is how many hours you have to work to “net” enough to pay for a particular purchase. In this case, let’s say your mortgage payment (not including tax and insurance) is $1,000 a month. If we assume that one third of your earnings are deducted for taxes (I know some are higher depending on state and local deductions) you would have to earn $1,500 to make that payment.
Since banks and other sources advertise the effective yield of potential earnings, you should calculate the “effective” interest rate you’re paying. To do that, find out what rate of interest you would be paying if your mortgage payment was at your gross earnings. For example, if $1,000 a month was reflective of a 7% mortgage and you had to earn $1,500 to make that payment, calculate what the rate would be on the same amount borrowed to reflect a $1,500 payment. In this case, the effective rate would be approximately 11.5%.
I’m being extreme to share what you may not have been considering when it comes to borrowing. After learning the hard way about the consequences of debt, I can conclude that all you do when you borrow is travel to your future earnings to pay for your past pleasures. Unfortunately, you can’t relive the past but you will have to live in your future.