One of the changes in the laws about credit cards was that the banks must verify that you have sufficient income. But they're allowed to use an estimate of that income based on your credit report. Any idea about the formula the credit bureaus use to make that estimate? I'd really love to have even a general idea of how much they think we earn.
Thanks for your question. I don't see how the banks can use income information in your credit reports since there is no income information listed. You supply the banks with proof of that. I think you are confused.
Hi, Michelle -- Love your chats; they have gotten me, at age 24, on the fast track to paying off my student loans.
My question is this: I have about $9,000 left to pay off at a 6% interest rate, and am using all my discretionary income to pad the required monthly payments.
I also make Roth IRA contributions of $250 every month. Should I direct that retirement money towards my loans (and get them paid off within a year) or keep on plugging away more slowly at both goals?
And would your answer change for someone like my boyfriend, who has quadruple the amount of student loan debt and is also making regular Roth IRA contributions?
I would back off on the retirement savings for now if it meant getting rid of that debt in a year. You still have plenty of time to save for retirement. Also, put money away for emergencies and the life happens fund (for unplanned for expenses so you don't rob your emergency fund).
And your honey needs to be even more aggressive if he has triple your debt.
Prof. Reich: Did you read this book? If so, could you share your reaction to it? I thought it remarkable for a conservative "law and economics" guy to admit that bubbles are part of capitalism and that gov't action is needed to ameliorate them. I also think it took guts for him to rebuke the conservatives blaming Fannie and Freddie for the housing crisis.
I did read it and was also struck by his admission that bubbles were inherent in capitalism, and that government action was necessary. He's less ideologically committed to the market than I expected he'd be. Perhaps his years as a federal judge have exposed him to the real world.
Michelle, help. I made a conscious decision not to look at my 401k statements during the worst of the recession, but I eyeballed one this week--and the balance is the same as it was two years ago! How worried should I be, and what sort of advisor should I talk to about my strategy? I'm 40, so I've got at least 20 more years of working and contributing, but I'm worried.
First, don't just peak at the statements. Pull them all out and look at them directly. You may have found you were way up and now down because the market was down.
I nearly panicked in 2008 when my account was down about 30 percent. But I stayed the course because I believed in my investment strategy. My 401 (k) account was way up and now down again. But had I given into my fears I would have locked in my losses.
So look but just make sure you are investing according to how much risk you want to take and you are properly diversifed based on that risk. If you aren't then makes some changes. Talk to someone at the company managing your plan. You may be eligible for free advice.
Realistically, how can we compete with China without a big drop in wages in the U.S.?
Germany offers one answer. The German median wage continues to be very high, and its manufacturing prowess is unmatched. Indeed, Germany is exporting lots of its high-end manufacturing and manufacturing equipment to China. The answer has a lot to do with the German education system, which puts a high value on technical competence.
I'm forutnate to have some discretionary monthly income. What are some investment options that I could choose to build a future income for my two adult sons?
First, make sure you have enough savings. That you are saving for your retirement at a rate in which you will have enough in retirement.
Then answer these questions:
--- Do your adult sons have student loan debt?
-- Consumer debt?
Help them if you like by aiding them in getting rid of debt.
If you accept that housing prices have to be some multiple of what people earn, and that companies would rather sit on their cash than hire people or increase wages, then don't housing prices have to come down? Isn't trying to artifically support housing prices doomed to fail? Won't more people be able to afford houses at a lower price? Isn't this simple economics?
You're right in the sense that housing prices were so out of whack in terms of the historic ratio of prices to wages by 2007 that they were bound to fall. (I still find it hard to believe that Wall Street didn't know this -- of course it did.) The question is how far. My sense is probably another 5 to 10 percent nationally.
Hi Michelle, I have several student loans and I really try to live frugal, not buy what I don't need. I have a Perkins loan with about $5,500 left and I am concentrating on paying this one off first (highest interest, debt snowball plan). However, I was wondering if I should take out some savings and pay it off with that and rebuild my savings. I have about three months income in savings and it would reduce me down to two months or less. I just want it out of my way but I am not sure if I am being irrational. My current plan is to pay it off by the spring without using savings but paying more every month.
If this debt bothers you that much, take the savings and pay it off assuming you are reasonably sure your job is secure.
If so, kick the debt to the curb. Then you can take what you were paying on the loan and put that back into your savings to build it up.
Easy one... what is the proper balance between free markets and government regulation?
Not an easy one at all. Entire books -- indeed, entire economic and social movements have been based on different answers to this question. If you start from the point of view of the market, you look for "market failures" to justify government action. If you start from the point of view of society as a whole, you ask for where we can't rely on social or government action to justify private markets. The best place to start is probably somewhere between. Fundamentally, the philosophical question is what do we owe one another as members of the same society? Or are we fundamentally and essential on our own?
How can the economy recover without explicit solutions to toxic debt (valueless credit default obligations), mortgages that aren't worth the amounts that the homes cost, and improper foreclosures? Doesn't the government need to provide a huge solution?
In my view, the administration should have insisted that Wall Street and the major banks support legislation that would allow homeowners to include mortgages on their primary residences in personal bankruptcy. The practical effect of this would be to give home owners more bargaining leverage with their lenders.
Did Mr. Reich read Steven Pearlstein's column about the necessity of wage cuts (10/12). Pearlstein is usually worker friendly and their may be some truth to it but he seemed to surprisingly thrown in the towel on the issue.
There's no secret to creating more jobs by cutting wages and getting poorer. Indeed, many Americans are already on that road. The real challenge is to create more jobs that pay at least as well if not better than the jobs that were lost.
Bottom line: was Krugman right, was it not big enough, direct enough, far thinking enough?
For example: a recent article I read said that mayors reported a $6 return for every $1 invested in water treatment plants. A Michigan paper reported 2.3 billion gallons of CSO discharged into the Great Lakes in May/June. Why didn't the ARRA go to long term infrastructure investments like CSO/water treatment, real high speed rail ($8.3B compared to China's 40 lines in shameful).
And moreover...as a fed...why did we hire all these contractors who took their cut? Direct hiring in a WPA style program would have saved tens of thousands per job created. Why was Obama so overly cautious?!
The original economic sin of the Obama administration was its failure to make the initial stimulus at least $1.2 trillion -- a figure many of us were pushing.
I'm "almost" debt free. I just have a $66k mortgage. I'm 40 years old and just met a man that is 45 years old. He has $80k debt...mostly from the sale of his home during his divorce. He was upside down and incurred additional cost during the sale . He doesn't manage his money well and I want to run away as fast as I can. However, most men I'm meeting have a lot more debt than me. What should I do? The reason this is a concern is because I'm ready for marriage...but not necessarily with him. I'm trying to avoid men with extreme amounts of non-mortgage debt. Is this unrealistic? AmI being vain?
So has the guy even approached the idea of marriage with you?
If now, why are you guys sharing so much personal information?
I know this isn't what you thought I might say. But I see the panic in your words. Debt alone doesn't make a person a unfit mate. You have to look at why there's debt? Is there a pattern of bad money decisions that aren't likely to change? Is the person working on getting rid of the debt?
Then you have to ask, are you willing to help, once married, attack the debt. Two incomes attacking debt can make it go away faster.
Stop focusing on the numbers and look at the person. But in the end if you hate debt as much as I do, it's not unreasonable for you to say to the guy, once he's actually said he wants to marry you or he's thinking about it, that you are concerned about the debt. You may even decide you can't handle it.
That's okay. Your choice. It's not a matter of being vain. It's a matter of knowing what you can tolerated.
I married a guy who was frugal. I did that because I didn't want fights about how cheap I was. That's me. Others might be able to put up with the struggles.
Just know what you can put up with.
Is there any bright side to cutting the deficit in the middle of the recession?
No. It's ludicrous.
Why do few question college tuition escalating faster than too many can afford w/o crippling loans financed by parents, students or both? The effect is decried, yet the cause unaddressed. Then parents who do go tens of thousands in debt to allegedly ensure their children's future are condemned for not saving more for retirement. And all this disregarding the average American income at $47,000 annually. Why not investigate how colleges justify these ever-bloating fees?
Escalation of university fees and tuitions has been driven by competition among colleges for star students and faculty -- forcing colleges to add expensive country-club amenities to attract the best students and reduce teaching loads and add perks to attract faculty stars. But don't forget that only a relatively small percent of students (and their parents) typically pay full freight. Most are subsidized to some extent by the full-payers.
I also think it's a matter of craziness. Many parents and students don't really, truly think about what it's costing the kid to go to college. I've heard parents say: "Pick the school you want to go to and we will figure out how to pay for it later or somehow."
That's financial craziness. But schools know that and have known that for a long time. So there's littel incentive to keep tuition prices down.
Are there any great examples around the world (or in U.S. states) showing Keynesian principles work?
Look at the history of the United States between 1941 and 1974. That's all the evidence you need.
Mr. Reich, is there any chance that you will return to help Conan O'Brien fight crime once his new show debuts?
He hasn't asked.
I have a mortgage balance of about $82,000. I have money saved and could pay it off. Should I take money out of my savings and some money out of an annuity I have in order to get rid of it? Someone told me not to pay off your mortgage because he knew someone who did and he no longer had credit and couldn't buy things. This true?
I think what you need to be careful about is being house rich can cash poor.
Meaning you have a paid for house but no cash. That's not a good situation either.
But if you have enough savings -- especially if you are in retirement or headed for retirement -- to sustain yourself then I would become free of the mortgage.
My personal goal is to pay off my mortgage before I retire. If I do that frees up about a third of my income.
Hi Michelle and Robert.. I agree that there were structural and procedural errors in place, and not reviewed that led to this recession. I am not to blame, however three layoffs later, I am PAYING for others' mistakes. Bank of America which received a bailout, is still fighting with me over fees! I have long since moved my money, but it's interesting to see who is benefiting from this recession, who even cares, and the rest of us who are screwed. What is a way to stay positive?
The Wall Street bailout continues to be the most unpopular political decision in decades. The mere fact most of it has been repaid by the banks doesn't remove the obvious conflicts of interest that led up to it and continued during it, nor does it remove the "moral hazard" in the future as the biggest banks naturally assume they'll be bailed out again, nor most importantly does it restore the typical American's sense of trust and fairness in the system. Geithner and Summers let Obama down on this one, as did other Wall Street types who advised him what to do.
Amen to that!
Growth is the accepted measure of the health of an economy. But can growth go on forever? Is the idea of a steady-state economy ever discussed amongst mainstream economists?
Growth comes from an expanded population coupled with technological improvements. I don't see why it can't or shouldn't continue indefinitely. But don't confuse growth with the accumulation of material goods. Growth permits a society to generate all sorts of things including a cleaner environment, better health care, more art, and so on. What we use growth for depends on political as well as market decisions.
Can we truly solve the housing mess without having a procedure allowing mortgages to be dealt with in the bankrutpcy courts?
That would be my preferred route. Allowing homeowners to include mortgages on their primary residence within personal bankruptcy would, as a practical matter, give homeowners more bargaining leverage over their lenders.
Michelle, I wonder if guys like this are just looking for women who can bail them out of debt.
I don't know. Maybe.
But my guess is the pool of people without debt is a very small pool so you are bound to find them in the dating pool.
Hello Robert, I am currently reading your book, Aftershock, and was struck by the three coping mechanisms you mentioned which lead us to the great recession. My question is, because the middle class is currently still being stretched thin and the initial three coping mechanisms have been exhausted, do you foresee other coping mechanisms which will take their place? I agree with the basic bargain notion that you bring up in the book. But I find that prices continue to rise on every day goods while incomes stay stagnant or in many cases decrease.
I don't see another coping mechanism coming along, which is why I don't believe this so-called "recovery" will take off. The vast middle and working class of America won't have the purchasing power it needs to restart the economy unless or until the economy is restructured to give it a bigger share in the gains from economic growth. We learned this after the Great Depression. We forgot it in the 1980s and beyond.
What comparisons can be made to the current midterms and the midterms of Clinton's first term...the financial reforms they had put in place had not taken effect, there was a great deal of economic uncertainty...Clinton went on to win a second term. Is it reasonable to make such comparisons today?
1994 bears striking resemblance to 2010 in terms of a jobless recovery. But by 1996 the recovery was in full bloom, and Clinton had no trouble being reelected. I don't see that scenario ahead of us now. To the contrary, I'd be very surprised if by 2012 the recovery was better than anemic.
Dr. Reich, if tea party-type economic measures start getting implemented over the next two years, how great is the risk of a double-dip recession, i.e., a return to higher unemployment, more home foreclosures, lower wages, more bankruptcies due to uninsured medical bills, greater budgetary constraints at public universities (like Cal), etc.? P.S. Go Bears!
Better than 50 percent.
My daughter has a goal of being accepted into a ivy league college. She says that doesn't necessarily want to go there, because I've made it clear that I have set aside enough money for her to go to a state college and that anything after that is up to her (and she's not allowed to take out loans). Is this a bad goal? Should I discourage her from trying?
Oh my, don't discourage her from trying. That's never been my message or goal.
She should apply and see if she can first get in and then what money (non-debt) is provided. Several of the elite schools have great endowments so she may get free money.
BUT...and here is what I'm telling my own children. If you get into the school of your choice we have to be able to pay for it with either the money we've saved on our income at the time. So let's say my oldest applies and gets into an elite school but she gets some money. We will cover the difference as long as it doesn't entail taking out any loans.
If she doesn't get any aid from the schools she applies to then we start looking at her next choices that we can affort with savings and out of pocket.
If money is still tight, we rethink the college experience. She may have to stay in state or commute.
The point is to look at what's right for her academically, socially and ECONOMICALLY.
Would you give any support to cutting the military budget in half or further? We seem on a neverending quest to spend the money without solid threats and real benefits. 300-400 billion is an amazing amount of money to spend on real benefits, not super-duper helicopters and carries that circle the globe.
Military spending is now about $740 billion a year, not counting mounting costs for dealing with the health needs of those who return. We can't possibly afford this for much longer. I expect the debt commission to take a hard look at potential cuts.
I read recently that Google paid a corporate income tax rate of 2.4 percent over the past three years. And, if I recall correctly, for all but one year of its existence Enron paid no income tax at all. What good does it do to have a corporate income tax rate of 35 percent in this country if no one pays it?
It's always struck me as odd to tax corporations anyway. They're not people (despite what the Supreme Court may think). Better to have a higher marginal tax rate on high-income individuals and families.
I've read that mobility is at a historic low as many homeowners have to stay put in their current homes because they are under water. This obviously keeps unemployment higher than it otherwise would be. Prof. Reich - what is your take on this problem? How large a factor is mobility in the current labor market landscape?
Geographic immobility due to the "lock-in" effect of the housing market is contributing to the lingering effects of the recession but the biggest problem by far is lack of sufficient aggregate demand. Consumers are 70 percent of the economy; they're still burdened by large debts, unable to borrow nearly as easily as before, and must save for retirement. Meanwhile, businesses won't add employees unless or until they know there's a market for the goods and services those new employees could produce. And exports can't possibly make up for the shortfall, even if the dollar continues to fall. (Other major exporters won't allow it anyway.)
I think she's asking if she should let herself get emotionally involved with a man who has a lot of non-mortgage debt and handles his money carelessly. Your answer seems to be to get involved without worrying about the finances, then when decision time comes around, negotiate the money matters and walk away if he's not willing to change. Ouch--I think her instincts are better than yours. At 40, she should be looking for men who share her values, not fixer-uppers. At that age, their bad habits won't be easy to change.
I believe you charactized my response incorrectly.
I said: "Debt alone doesn't make a person an unfit mate. You have to look at why there's debt? Is there a pattern of bad money decisions that aren't likely to change? Is the person working on getting rid of the debt?"
Those questions get at the person's values of handling money.
But even people with current bad money habits can change. I know because I work with individuals all the time. Many stay the same. Others change for the better. But if we start knocking people off without finding out if they can change, the pool of potential mates shrinks dramatically.
And to say at 40 it's hopeless to work with someone isn't fair to someone who could change.
Sometimes the Internet is like the telephone game. Someone said they read Google paid a tax rate of 2.4 percent. That isn't wnat the story said. Google paid a tax rate on its OVERSEAS PROFITS of 2.4 percent. Its overall tax rate was about 22 percent. That's lower than the 35 pct rack rate, but inline with the effective rate paid by many U.S. corporations.
Just passing this along. I don't have time to double check, but the point is to double check what you hear and read.
Isn't a big problem the fact that so-called free traders in Congress and prior administrations have put too much emphasis on free trade rather than on fair trade? Focusing on fair trade would level the playing fieldrather than have it tilted in favor of countries that don't support sufficient labor, environmental and civil rights protections as the U.S. does.
Yes but we don't have a clear and precise definition of "fair trade." If we demanded developing nations to provide the same wages and working conditions, and the same environmental protections, we have here in the US, we'd be doing nothing more than protecting the US market -- a kind of backdoor protectionism. I've argued for a slidiing scale approach: As nations become more prosperous, their labor and environmental standards should rise. For example, they should have a minimum wage that's half their median wage.
Last week during an interview with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that under the Obama administration "more private sector jobs were created during the first 8 months of 2010 than in the 8 years of the Bush administration." If her assertion is true, why didn't those two rounds of Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and other Republican/Bush policies when they controlled Congress work?
History has shown that the Bush tax cuts neither created jobs nor increased wages. Nothing trickled down. Supply-side economics is one of those unfortunate economic theories to be tried in practice and shown to be bogus.
Mr. Reich, what do you believe is a realistic "natural" rate of unemployment which policymakers should aim for? I tend to believe that the 4 - 5 percent we saw in the late 90's early 2000's were unsustainable due to the bubbles, and we'll be lucky to get back to the 6 - 7 percent that was in the late 80's early 90's.
I believe 4-5 percent unemployment is sustainable without inflation, simply because it's so easy for employers to avoid pay increases by going abroad for additional capacity or substituting new technologies for additional workers.
Mr. Reich, Do you believe that there is sufficient justification for an anti-trust investigation into the large Wall Street banks? I believe that the excess compensation in Wall Street is due to lack of (real) competition between them, and given the barriers to entry only breaking the existing banks up has any real hope of improving matters. In addition, I would submit that Goldman Sachs behavior is just as much of a threat to the republic as was Microsoft giving away Internet Explorer for free or AT and T's long distance rates, both of which merited an investigation in earlier times.
I agree. I'm frankly puzzled (perhaps appalled would be the better word) that the Justice Department hasn't launched an antitrust investigation, nor even criminal investigations of all the fraud obviously committed on the Street.
What do you think of the idea that the Fed should buy state bonds to stimulate the economy?
Without a sufficiently expansionary fiscal policy, a more expansionary monetary policy (including the Fed's so-called "quantitative easing") is like pushing on a wet noodle. There's not enough demand on the other side. The result, I'm afraid, will be lots of bubbles -- including the stock market.
Michelle, I really enjoyed your presentation on CNN last week. Particularly the fact that you recommend everyone to pay off their student loans before looking to buy a house. My question is, given the historically low mortgage rates for a 30-year mortgage, I am wondering if you stand by your position, or perhaps there is room for debate on this issue given the unique circumstances of the real estate and market and 30-year mortgage rate?
I understand people want to own a home. But I also understand more than most the burden so much debt can have on a person and family.
If people did what I suggest, don't you think they would take on less student loan debt?
A mortgage is tough enough to handle without the added burden of debt that could be wiped out faster if people lived like they were students once they graduated to get rid of that debt BEFORE taking on the largest debt they will probably have in their lives.
So, yes, I still stand but what I said even knowning that many people will it ignore it.
"Geithner and Summers let Obama down on this one, as did other Wall Street types who advised him what to do." Excuse me, but the bailout of the banks occured in October 2008. Obama wasn't even president... Yes, he was advised as candidate to support the TARP, but it wasn't his decision. Blaming Obama for bank bailouts I expect from the Tea Party, but a former cabinet official in a Democratic administration? Really?
I don't blame Obama for the bailouts, of course, but he and his economic team had the opportunity to condition the second tranche of bailout money on a number of specific actions the banks could have been required to take: provide more loans to small businesses, allow homeowners to include their primary residence in personal bankruptcy (and support legislation if necessary), limit salaries and bonuses and tie them to long-term performance, unravel conficts of interest with credit-rating agencies, and so on. But almost no conditions were placed on the second tranche.
Mr. Reich, What would you like to see done for reforming the federal role in the housing market (aka Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac), which I believe the administration is planning on taking up next year? My own opinion would be for any federal subsidy to be directed solely at first-time home buyers below a certain income level and a certain house price level (which is what I believe the FHA used to do). Subsequent houses and refinances, etc., should be left to the market. Also, do you believe that securitizations of mortgages should be banned? It seems to cause more problems than it solves.
I agree with your suggestion but I wouldn't ban the securatizatons of mortgages. That would reduce availability of mortage loans. Instead, I'd reform the credit-rating agencies, severing their connections with the institutions that issue the securities.
The nobel prize in economics was awarded to 3 professors who postulate on the inefficiency between supply and demand in the labor market. What do you think about this? Is this a contributing factor to the length and severity of the depress...oops --recession?
Labor markets are inherently "inefficient" because people, unlike capital, cannot and will not move immediately to better opportunities and, in general, don't respond easily to price changes in the labor market. That's why market fundamentalists have been so consistently wrong about labor markets.
Wanna bet?. Snap out of your romantic haze and get real.
Are you sure you are in the right chat?
Because no one I know would EVER accuse me of putting romance over finance.
What I'm saying AGAIN is we shouldn't judge people or mates soley on past bad financial behavior if there's an indication that the behavior has changed. Proof of change, not what they say.
There are plenty of people in this chat or who have contributed to this chat that made MANY bad financial decisions. But then they wised up. Changed and are doing well.
Mr Reich. Labor costs are not too high here. It's corporate greed where profit has to be better than the previous quarter. When is enough enough? Example: My wife bought a pair of Ugg boots for $200. Half of American women over 13 own a pair. This authentic Austrailian company manufactures their boots in China. Now you can't tell me we can't make a pair of quality boots here for the same or less. Companies choose to keep maxing their profits at the expense of labor. What they fail to grasp is that their base of purchasers are dwindling. How can we bring back a made in the USA pride?
Corporations are not set up to be socially responsible. They're set up to make a profit, and they'll do whatever they can to achieve that goal -- unless government sets limits. You're quite correct that the logical endpoint of three decades of outsourcing, bashing unions, and cutting wages is an American middle and working class that no longer has the means to buy what's being sold. But only government has the capacity to set the rules of the game in such way that the gains from economic growth are more broadly shared.
"Look at the history of the United States between 1941 and 1974. That's all the evidence you need." I assume 1974 was the first oil shock? What should the response have been? How would you have addressed "stagflation"?
The oil shocks led to double-digit inflation in the late 1970s. But we failed then -- and have failed since -- to do what we should have done: Imposed a small tax on carbon that would gradually increase, thereby creating incentives to move toward non-carbon fuels.