Seasoned Wall Street professional Femi Faoye is young, driven, and on a mission.
The 28-year-old Brooklyn native looks over startling facts every day– and he’s worried. According to the White House, 40 million Americans have student loans; and today’s twenty-something holds an average debt of about $45,000.
This includes everything from cars and credit cards to student loans and mortgages, according to a PNC financial independent survey.
For the first time ever, sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores in March, according to the Department of Commerce- largely driven by millennial spending.
These stats are startling. And as a financial literacy advocate, Faoye knows first-hand what this can mean for inattentive millennials down the road.
With so much working against us, I wondered what could be done to start building wealth, instead of chipping away at it. Faoye assures me there are no “hacks” or shortcuts, just simple principles to follow and one truly innovative app that may be the young pro’s ticket to building real wealth.
Here are the 3 things to know NOW:
Pay Down Debt Fast
“More than 70 percent of U.S. students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree leave with debt,” says Faoye. “This has severely hampered, delayed, and in some cases eliminated the availability for young professionals to build wealth. Worst yet, many young professionals don’t even think they have student loan debt. A recent study from the Brookings Institute found that 14% of students surveyed who were in student loan debt thought they didn’t have any.”
“I wish there was a magic trick or hack to handle student loan debt,” continues Faoye. “Unfortunately, there aren’t any that I am aware. But there are a few things you can do.”
Consolidate Your Loans (if possible)
Federal and private loans cannot be consolidated, but you often can consolidate many of each type for one simple payment. The caveat here is that if you combine loans with a low-interest rate with loans with a higher interest rate, your overall rate will increase. In those cases, it’s best to leave the loans as separate. Pay down the loan with the highest interest first.
Pay More than the Minimum
Every loan provider will inform you of your minimum monthly payment. To decrease the amount of time you are in debt, pay more than the minimum. Also, ensure that you are paying off the principal and interest and not simply the interest.
Even though your student loan payments may be monthly, you can still make payments throughout the cycle. I encourage people to make bi-monthly debt payments to decrease the overall amount of time spent in debt. This will also help raise your credit score. It’s a nice two-for-one deal.
Live Below Your Means
“For many young professionals, retirement isn’t even on the radar,” says Faoye. “But no retirement savings can mean longer or indefinite professional careers, poverty, or severe financial hardship for future millennial retirees. Living below your means is good stewardship towards a more secure future. Future and emergency savings are important, so small things like putting off big ticket items and eating out just a few times a month can help you put more money aside in the long run.”
Open a High Interest Savings Account
One of the best ways to quickly build your savings is to use a high-interest savings account. Call this your “Freedom Fund” or your “Quit Your Job Fund”. Whatever you decide to call it, you’ll need it for emergencies, big purchases, or a way out of a situation you’re looking to change.
When it comes to a great place to park your money, options abound.
CIT Bank currently has one of the highest interest rates on the market at 2.20%. BBVA also has a high-interest savings account currently at 1.9%. Be sure to review all of your options and open one today (before these rates go away) so you can start your freedom fund now.
Be Smart with Credit Cards
“Most consumers need a maximum of two credit cards,” says Faoye. Generally, I advise people to follow these simple rules when it comes to credit cards:
Avoid department store and retail credit cards
They tend to have high APR’s and lure consumers into shopping more to take advantage of “deals”. Do yourself a favor, decline those offers.
Use a special card to build your credit
Need to build or rebuild your credit? Plenty of cards exist to help get you back on track financially and on your way to creating real wealth. The ABOC Platinum Rewards Credit Card* features a $150 statement credit as well $0 annual fee.
Don’t use more than 30% of your credit line
This will help to maintain or increase your credit score and it will ensure you have credit at times of emergency.
Pay your credit card off, in full, every month
Don’t get into the habit of carrying a balance on your card. Balances accrue interest, which means you pay more, in the end, for your purchases. However, to follow this rule you must be disciplined to only charge things on your credit that you have the cash to pay for.
Sign up for all of the bonuses, rewards or special features that your card offers. Examples include cash back on every purchase or at certain retailers, airline or hotel points, frequent flier miles, and general credit card points. These rewards can be as good as cash and help you save on future purchases. Take advantage!
Use the Robinhood app and Start Investing Your Money
“An analysis by State Street’s Center for Applied Research found millennials are holding 40% of their portfolios (an incredibly high portion) in cash because of fears about the markets,” explains Faoye. “And according to a recent survey by Capital One ShareBuilder nearly 60% of millennials say they distrust financial markets.”
“Millennials are currently lacking or underinvested in the stock market. This is a serious deterrent to building wealth.
In comes Robinhood. This fairly new tool is a super easy investment app created for millennials. The stock market is a huge component to wealth generation, saving for retirement, and achieving other financial goals. The Robinhood app (iPhone) allows users to trade stocks for free. Besides offering free trading, the app also doesn’t require a minimum balance to open an account. So someone could put in as little as $50 to $100 and start trading.”
Femi Faoye is the CEO and Co-Founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Responsible Economically Advanced Model-Citizens) a cutting-edge financial education and advocacy social-impact organization committed to empowering underrepresented, urban youth by equipping them with the essential knowledge for life’s challenging financial decisions.
He is also is the founder of Millennial Capital Management, a New York City-based boutique investment consulting firm, where he served as Managing Director until 2014.