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An Interview with Patrick Ritchie, Author of “The Credit Roadmap”

An Interview with Patrick Ritchie, Author of “The Credit Roadmap”

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    Patrick Ritchie is the author of The Credit Road Map, an in-depth look into how the credit world works. He is a certified instructor with the Arizona Department of Real Estate. Patrick is a guest lecturer for The Ohio State University and Arizona State University MBA programs. His book is approved by the National Association of REALTORS® and is required reading in finance and real estate classes at major universities. He and the author worked together at Winding Hollow Country Club in New Albany, Ohio in the mid-1990s.

    On Credit

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      1. Why is a good credit rating so important, and how can people improve their credit ratings?

      The main reasons are to borrow money or to seek employment. Obviously lenders look at credit reports and scores in making lending decisions. Employers, more and more, are looking at credit reports as a judge of character in the hiring process. There was a student in the Personal Finance class I guest lecture in at Ohio State who was offered a job and then had it rescinded when HR ran a credit report on him. In a tighter job market it literally can pay to have a better credit report than the next applicant.

      As far as improving one’s credit, the single most important aspect is to understand what is going on in the credit report. Having an understanding of what is contained in the credit report and what is not, FICO® scores consider five factors in calculating a score:

      1. Payment History: 35%
      2. Balances 30%
      3. Inquiries and New Debt: 10%
      4. Types of Credit: 10%
      5. Length of History: 15%

      With these set of factors the ideal account would be a credit card that I have always paid on-time (Payment 35%), with a balance under 50% of my available limit (Balances 30%), it is a major credit card (Types of Credit 10%) and I have had it open for over seven years (Length of History 15%). This is just an example of how the factors apply. There are many things that do not have a role in credit, such as income, assets, down payment amount, interest rates; these items do not influence our credit. Since income and assets play no role, we are all essentially on a level playing field from the standpoint that our credit will be based on our management of our given resources rather than the amount or lack of resources.

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      The best example of this would be two past clients of mine. I like this example because the two clients were the same age, but were in two entirely different worlds when it came to career and finances. The first client played for an NFL team, his income was $2,000,000 annually. The second client was a school teacher; her income was $40,000 annually. Obviously there is no comparison in regards to their resources. However, the credit playing field was completely level and the school teacher excelled, she had close to an 800 score, a fantastic credit score. The wealthy athlete did not manage his financial affairs well; his score was less than 580, an awful credit score. Where did he go wrong? His first mistake was co-signing with friends and family on vehicles, the payments were not made on-time and his credit suffered. Co-signing gives you equal responsibility, and equal demise when the payments are not made on-time, my advice is to never co-sign, ever ( I had a client who co-signed for her son on a house, he stopped making payments and ultimately forced his own mother into bankruptcy, if you can’t trust your own kid who can you trust)? His other issue was the accumulation of about 5 to 8 small collections, most under $200. He had the money to take care of them, but he never knew they existed. Overall, poor management and attention is what caused the low credit scores; it was not for a lack of money.

      What did the school teacher do right to achieve high credit scores? She paid things on-time, never compromised her good record by co-signing with people (Why do people ask you to co-sing? Because they don’t qualify, keep that in mind the next time someone asks you to co-sign), had no collections, had well aged credit cards, did not let mistakes linger on her credit report. She just practiced good management of her credit affairs, and gave her credit some attention to make sure it was in line.

      The first step in making achieving the best credit scores is to give the report an assessment to make sure everything is correct. This is the starting point. Make sure you understand what is on there, why it is on there, and most importantly should it be on there?

      2. What rules do people need to know in the world of credit?

      What people need to know is that there are two main rules, the first being the credit scores and how they are calculated, the second being the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which gives us our rights as consumers in relation to credit reports. These two separate sets of parameters are what shape our credit lives. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, like most statutes is boring to read, so I dissected it into easy to understand language any consumer will understand. I tried to only focus on the points that pertain to consumer rights, the actual aspects that impact credit. If there is one thing that everyone should know about the Fair Credit Reporting Act it is that the consumer must initiate their protections under the Act. If there is something incorrect on my credit report it will not magically fix itself, I must discover it, dispute it, and follow-up to make sure it does not reappear.

      The FICO® credit scoring factors are fairly straight forward. In the book I apply them to numerous examples, similar to how a law book would apply a legal concept to a real court case. By showing how the factors impact people in real life and displaying the potential pitfalls it gives readers a better grasp of how the factors apply to various circumstances. In my classes I always say “there is never a blanket answer to an individual’s credit scenario.” The reason for this is that there are numerous variables in each of our individual credit reports; the same event will impact our credit scores to a different degree. For example, if we have two people who both incur a 30 day late payment in the same month will they be equally impacted? If person A has 10 positive accounts, and person B has only 2 positive accounts, who do you think will suffer a greater drop on their credit scores?

      If I have 10 positives to outweigh a negative versus 2 positives it is apparent the person with more positive accounts is likely to suffer less of a drop to their credit score from a 30 day late payment. Based on this knowledge it shows us that having more, well managed accounts, is better than fewer accounts because in the face of adversity we will have greater protection by being surrounded with positive accounts. However, we always hear that having too many accounts is a bad thing. Based on what? There has to be a test to measure this, so how would I measure if I have too many accounts, or let’s say too many credit cards specifically? Wouldn’t it be based on my income or assets, my ability to repay what I borrow or could potentially borrow? That sounds like the test, but our income and assets play no part in our credit, so it is impossible to test how much is too much. The exception to this is that in applying for a loan the lender would know my income and it would play a role in the decision, but it still plays no role in my credit, since income and assets are absent.

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      In the absence of income, the credit relies on management, how am I managing my obligations? This is the critical item many people miss, it doesn’t matter how much or little income you have, credit is formed by your actions, not your checkbook. Obviously the size of the checkbook can make this easier or more difficult. Reflecting whether or not someone is living above their means and having trouble making payments on-time, or the flip side to that, the person has the funds, but just doesn’t make a great effort to pay debts on-time.

      What if my credit report tells me I have too many open active unsecured lines of credit (i.e. credit cards)? Reason codes tell you why your credit is not perfect, the important thing to realize is that your credit will never be perfect, if you are 740 or higher you have reached the upper echelon, getting to 800 is great, you will never hit 850 on the Classic FICO® model used by banks. Keep in mind there are knockoff credit scores out there being sold to consumers that may give you a higher credit score, but if banks don’t use those credit scores then neither should consumers. I hear all the time about consumers getting a “DisadVantage Score” online and thinking they have a great score, only to find out their FICO® Score is 100 points lower when they go to a lender to apply for a loan. If the real-world uses FICO® so should consumers. Whenever I say credit scores I am referring to FICO®. Back to the reason codes, if you have good credit already, ignore the reason codes. If the reason codes tell me I am not perfect because I have too many credit cards, then I close the credit cards (which I really should never do if I care about my credit scores being the highest they can be), the next time I check my credit report guess what the reason codes are going to tell me? “Too few open active unsecured lines of credit” or “Too many new accounts”, closing the well established accounts results in a lower credit score, ignore the reason codes, they are like the GPS system that tells you driving over the cliff is the quickest route to your destination.

      3. What is the highest credit score you’ve ever seen, and how was it attained?

      The highest I have seen was 841 on the max 850 scale. This score was attained by someone who was 70+ years old, the he had credit cards dating back to the 1960’s that were still open and active. What this illustrates is the importance of keeping credit cards open and active in order to constantly feed positive information into the credit report. Do I need accounts that are 50 years old? No, once a credit card has become 7 years or older it is a well established account. It is common to see people with 800 credit scores when they have credit card accounts over 7 years old. How could an 18 year old accomplish this? Ask mom and dad to add you on as an “authorized user” to their credit cards. In my book it talks about a 22 year who did this, he had no score because he had no credit, nothing good, and nothing bad. His mom added him as an authorized user to an ideal account she had (open for 10 years, balance was 5% of the available credit line, and it had always been paid on-time). Sixty days later when the account appeared on his credit report it generated an 817 credit score, simply because of the positive nature of that account. If he had opened his own account he probably would have a 620-range score for the first 12 months of the account existence. The authorized user account is a very powerful method to boost a credit score, and a great way for relatives to help each other. This came under major scrutiny and public outcry in the summer of 2007, so much so that Fair Isaac, Co. was going to remove it from the scoring model. The outrage has tempered and as it stands, the authorized user account cannot be excluded from the scoring model under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, so it is a here to stay.

      4. Can you hire someone to fix your credit?

      You can, however, the purpose of my book is to give the reader an overall education about credit so they can fix their credit on their own, if it needs correcting. As far as hiring someone to do it for you, it is like hiring someone to clean your house, you could do it yourself, but maybe you want to have someone else to do it because you think they can do a better job. Consumers just need to keep in mind there really isn’t anything they can’t do themselves, although they may procrastinate and never get around to doing it. There are a lot of rip-offs out there, the Federal Trade Commission warns consumers about this. The best way to test a credit repair service is to ask what it is they will correct. If the service states they can remove everything negative regardless of whether it is correct or not, this is a red flag and they are likely to just take the money and run. Accurate negative information cannot be legally removed. It would compare to a tax preparer telling me they can get me out of paying any taxes whether I owe them or not.

      For people with extremely complex issues they may want to consult a consumer law attorney.

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      5. How badly do late payments hurt?

      Payments account for 35% of the score, so a late payment can be a considerable blow to the credit scores. One late payment is not going to completely wreck the credit score. The impact will be based on how much positive credit the person already has. In my book I wrote about a method called “re-aging” which can remove late payments. It exists in the Uniform Policy manual which is put out by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. “Re-aging” can be a great tool, but its use is at the discretion of the lender.

      6. What about bankruptcies?

      I would call bankruptcy the worst case scenario for credit, but it is necessary sometimes. It is better to get closure and recover than to let a bad situation continue. Many people who go through a bankruptcy will recover in 2 to 3 years. A bankruptcy comes off the credit report entirely after 10 years based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The more time that passes the less impact a bankruptcy will have. Bankruptcy is not the end of the world, it is actually a means to get a new start and for some people is their best option. It provides the best closure other than just paying the debt back. If someone doesn’t have the money to repay debt they should consult a bankruptcy attorney.

      7. How can we avoid identity theft?

      For someone who fears identity theft I suggest “freezing” the credit report. To do this, go to each of the three credit bureaus websites (www.experian.com, www.transunion.com, and www.equifax.com) and search for “security freeze”. The instructions are on each site, the cost is minimal, no more than a one-time $10 fee, for victims with a police report it is free. By freezing the credit report it makes the credit report inaccessible and therefore a thief could not gain fraudulent credit from a lender if the lender cannot access the credit report. This is the best method of prevention. Simply monitoring the credit report puts a consumer in the position of responding to the act not preventing it. A fraud alert can be added to the credit report at no cost; however, it is not as efficient as freezing the credit report. With a frozen credit report a consumer can still apply for credit by requesting a pin code so that a specific lender can access the credit report. Identity theft is a lengthy subject and certainly pertains to credit, so I have an entire chapter dedicated to it.

      8. A lot of people are facing foreclosure. Is there an alternative to foreclosure that would be better for credit?

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      A short sale (the lender accepts less than what is owed) may be a better means for some people if the lender is willing to do it. The benefit to a short sale is to reduce the number of months of delinquency versus a foreclosure. If someone wants to keep their home they should request a loan modification from the mortgage company or a temporary forbearance if they are searching for employment. This is a complex issue; I have a three hour class about this specific topic. Individual circumstances vary, but the starting point is to always ask “do you want to stay in this house?” If the answer is no then a short sale, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, or foreclosure are the likely companions to this. If the answer is yes, they would like to stay, then a loan modification, forbearance, among other options are worth pursuing. A homeowner should call the lender first to see what options are available to them. Any organization approaching them and asking for money to assist in preventing foreclosure is likely to do nothing and just take the money. To find a local HUD approved counseling agency go to www.hud.gov and find your state page, most of the HUD approved housing counseling agencies are top notch people. Like with anything, if you have a gut feeling someone is not looking out for your best interests then walk away.

      Productivity

      1. Describe an average day in the life of Patrick Ritchie.

      My day goes from 7 am until I go to bed, which is generally 11 pm. I am still actively doing loans (mortgages), always writing about something, outlining a new book (just finished the second one), creating a new CE class for professional license renewal, teaching my classes, or consulting with someone about their credit. I teach my classes around Arizona, but I also travel the country when someone wants to bring me in to teach about credit. Some days I may be in Lincoln, NE, other times I might be in Maui, HI, wherever I am hired to speak. Currently I am promoting The Credit Road Map as a useful supplemental text for Personal Finance and Real Estate Finance classes at colleges. In between all of this I am attending Law School at Arizona State University, only 2 more semesters to go. I have a wonderful son who is about to turn 5 years old, so all of my non-work time is spent with him.

      2. How do you keep it all together?

      I have no clue how I keep my sanity, but it involves a lot of coffee, lists of everything I need to complete, and simply moving forward constantly. The speaking and travel schedule requires a carefully planned calendar. My laptop is my most important business tool, it goes almost everywhere I go because then I can work from anywhere. Some of my best writing happens on airplanes.

      3. What are the most important things you’ve learned about productivity in the last few years?

      Write everything down and cross it off when completed. Try not to do the same thing twice, think about your procedures so there is uniformity, like a franchise. Never be afraid to take a 15 minute nap to recharge the brain. Most importantly, enjoy what you do and it won’t seem like work. I truly enjoy what I do, educating people about credit is a worthwhile pursuit.

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      Last Updated on August 20, 2019

      How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

      How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

      Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

      In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

      5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

      Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

      1. Be Clear About the Objectives

      Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

      It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

      Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

      2. Keep Them Realistic

      It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

      It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

      3. Account for Inflation

      Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

      Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

      For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

      4. Short Term vs Long Term

      Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

      As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

      More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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      5. To Each to His Own

      The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

      It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

      By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

      11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

      Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

      • Ensuring healthy savings
      • Making smart investments

      You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

      Ensuring Healthy Savings

      Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

      This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

      1. Track Expenses

      The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

      Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

      2. Pay Yourself First

      Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

      Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

      The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

      Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

      3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

      Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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      Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

      At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

      Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

      You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

      4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

      Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

      If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

      Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

      All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

      5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

      In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

      Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

      Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

      If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

      If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

      So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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      6. Talk About It

      Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

      Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

      7. Maintain a Journal

      For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

      So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

      Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

      When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

      At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

      Making Smart Investments

      Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

      8. Consult a Financial Advisor

      Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

      Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

      9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

      Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

      Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

      Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

      It is here where that classification will help.

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      So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

      10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

      Einstein once remarked about compounding,

      Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

      So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

      Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

      11. Measure, Measure, Measure

      All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

      If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

      If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

      Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

      The Bottom Line

      This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

      As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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