Tag Archives: mike sullivan


Take Charge America unveils Home Ready Counseling

Prospective homebuyers across the country now have access to a new service helping them receive approval for a mortgage. Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency headquartered in Phoenix, now offers Home Ready Counseling, a program specifically designed to address the top approval requirements for a home loan.

“With low mortgage interest rates and a recovering housing market, many consumers are taking steps to enter or re-enter the housing market, but lack the knowledge they need to get approved for a loan,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America. “What’s more, people who have been turned down in the past may not know how to rebuild their credit and improve their chances of approval the next time around.”

With Home Ready Counseling, Take Charge America’s certified counselors provide one-on-one counseling sessions addressing mortgage requirements including down payments and debt-to-income ratio. In addition, counselors analyze credit scores and develop personalized action plans to help potential homebuyers rebuild their credit and meet home buying goals. Plans include:

• Custom overview of positive and negative factors impacting their credit scores

• Potential opportunities to increase point values with each of the three credit bureaus

• Detailed instructions on how to proceed with creditor disputes or issues

• A task timeline aligned with the customer’s home buying goals

Consumers enrolled in Home Ready Counseling also receive access to monthly educational emails and Take Charge America’s online homebuyer education course, which teaches them the terms used in the home-buying process, how loans are obtained, documents needed to close a mortgage, and how to avoid predatory lenders.

Visit Home Ready Counseling or call (866) 260-6751 to learn more about the service.

Arizona School Choice Trust

Advice for Parents on Back-to-School Spending

Back-to-school spending can take its toll on the family budget, with parents paying considerable cash for clothes, backpacks and other must-haves. The National Retail Foundation expects consumers to spend about $74.9 billion this year to send their children and college students back to school, up 12 percent since 2013.

“Back-to-school spending is second only to the holidays, and the outlay is higher and higher each year,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “Retailers push hard in the summer months, and school budget cuts have shifted the cost of supplies to families, but savvy parents can save money without skimping on necessities.”

Sullivan offers eight tips for cutting costs on back-to-school shopping:

1. Take stock: Supply lists often call for scissors, rulers, pencils and other items people already have at home. Parents can save money by taking stock of what they have before buying new supplies.

2. Stick to the list: Teachers’ supply lists have become more extensive – and expensive – so parents are wise to stick to the list and avoid impulse purchases.

3. Comparison shop: Dollar stores, big-box retailers and office supply stores offer deep discounts on many school essentials. Parents can save money by seeking out the best prices and stocking up on items children use throughout the year.

4. Clip coupons: Many websites publish coupons on back-to-school clothing and supplies. Parents also can find their children’s favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter for special coupons available only to followers.

5. Wait to buy: Just like holiday shopping, retailers often discount prices after the rush. Parents can purchase some items after Labor Day to reap savings.

6. Shop or swap second-hand: Clothing swaps are a popular choice to exchange gently used clothing. Additionally, second-hand retail shops, Craigslist and eBay are good options for finding trendy and brand-name gear at a fraction of the cost.

7. Shop tax-free: Many states offer tax-free shopping days during back-to-school seasons. Find out if your state is participating, and buy your big-ticket items then.

8. Include kids in the process: Many parents give their kids a budget for clothing and necessities. Kids who have to choose between blowing the budget on pricey items or stretching their dollars with sensible purchases will learn a powerful lesson about the value of money.

For more financial tips, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


Most High-Net Worth Arizonans Enjoy Hobby Investing

BMO Private Bank today released the results of a study on high-net worth Arizonans (those with at least $1 million in investable assets) and hobby (or passion) investing. The study, the fifth and last in a series by BMO Private Bank examining trends among the affluent, found that half of the state’s wealthy engage in some form of hobby investing. This compares to the national average of 68 percent.

Hobby investing is defined as adding collectible assets to one’s portfolio as a means of diversification and, just as important, as a way to have and to hold the things investors love the most.

“While diversification is critical when structuring a portfolio, hobby investments should be limited to a relatively small portion of an investor’s overall portfolio because of the unique risk and liquidity characteristics associated with most collectible assets,” said Mike Sullivan, Director of Investments – Western U.S, BMO Private Bank.

The study found that the items in which the Grand Canyon State’s affluent are most passionate about investing include:

* Art (25 percent)
* Jewelry and coins (23 percent each)
* Stamps (18 percent)
* Antiques and sports memorabilia (13 percent each)
* Classic cars and wine (10 percent each)

“People who choose to invest in their hobbies often do so because it allows them to feel a sense of engagement without having to spend a lot of time on them. Many hobby investors are keen to create a legacy to pass on to their heirs – one that is unique to them and reflects their interests,” said Jack Ablin, Chief Investment Officer, BMO Private Bank.

Why do People Engage in Hobby Investing?

According to the study, one of the main reasons why Arizona’s affluent engage in hobby investing is simply because it is “fun” (65 percent). Other reasons identified include:

* Combines interests with investing (50 percent)
* Allows for showing off investments to others (20 percent)
* Provides something unique to pass down to heirs (15 percent)
* Provides sound investments that will grow in value (15 percent)

Regardless of what influences people to combine their hobbies with investing, Mr. Ablin noted that, as with any form of investing, there are a few cautionary factors Arizonans of all income levels need to consider. For example:

Antiques: can be very illiquid and therefore not suitable for those who may need to convert them to cash in a short period of time.
Wine and art collecting: are long-term propositions, so not appropriate for those with a short-term investing horizon.
Stamps and coins: there is a robust counterfeit market in both these items, so investors need to be careful about their authenticity and well-educated about the risks.
Comic book collecting: may be trendy today, but the market may not be so strong in the long or even the medium term.

Key National Findings:

On a national level, the study found:
* Two-thirds (68 percent) of high net-worth Americans have a hobby investment.
T* he most common hobby investments are coins (38 percent), art (36 percent), and jewelry (31 percent).
* High net-worth Americans are most likely to engage in hobby investments because they find it “fun” (62 percent), because it is a way to combine an interest of theirs with investing (54 percent) and because it enables them to pass something special down to their loved ones (40 percent).
* Four-in-ten (40 percent) say they invest in their hobbies because it is a sound investment which will appreciate in value, with this being a larger motivator for men than women (41 percent vs. 36 percent).

The online survey was conducted by Pollara between March 28th and April 11th, 2013 with a sample of 482 American adults who have $1M+ in investable assets. The margin of error for a probability sample of this size is ± 4.5%, 19 times out of 20.


Take Charge America: 7 Fees You Should Avoid

It seems there’s a fee for everything. It can be hard to keep track of all of the bank account fees, credit card fees and convenience fees consumers are charged – and it’s even harder to know which fees can be avoided altogether.

“In many cases, people don’t realize how much they’re paying out, as the charges are automatically deducted from checking accounts or tacked onto credit card statements. It can seriously add up from month to month, year to year,” said Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency.

Sullivan outlines seven fees consumers should avoid:

1. Checking account fees: Consumers who pay a monthly or per-check fee should consider switching to a free account. Many online banks, credit unions and traditional banks offer truly free checking.

2. Low account balance fees: Many banks charge fees on accounts that fall below a required minimum balance. This fee is a waste, as there are plenty of institutions that don’t set a minimum.

3. Inactivity fees: Some banks charge clients for inactivity, automatically deducting funds from an account that hasn’t been used over a specified period of time. It’s better for consumers to switch banks or close their accounts rather than pay inactivity fees.

4. ATM fees: Consumers shouldn’t pay money to get money. They can avoid this fee by simply planning ahead and using ATMs at their own banks, or switching to a bank or credit union that reimburses fees.

5. Overdraft fees: Overdraft fees can add up quickly – with disastrous effects. Better record-keeping and cash flow management can help consumers avoid these fees and hold onto their hard-earned money.

6. Credit card fees: Many credit card companies charge an annual fee, usually to the tune of $50 or more. Consumers should consider transferring balances to low-interest, no-fee cards, and close the credit cards with annual fees. Moreover, consumers who are racking up over-limit or late fees may want to consider signing up for alerts warning them when they’re nearing their limit or due date.

7. Extended warranties: Warranties are usually offered on pricey items such as computers and televisions, but they’re not a good use of money. Many big-ticket products already include a manufacturer’s warranty, and consumers who use credit cards with purchase protection will have that safety net, too.

For more financial tips, visit www.takechargeamerica.org.


Boost bottom line by helping workers with personal finances

Employee productivity can be directly correlated with the overall profitability and general health of an organization. An effective workforce, to no one’s surprise, produces an effective product or service. However, many employers are overlooking one of the top issues negatively affecting productivity – problems with personal finances.

According to the 2014 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 24 percent of American employees admit personal finances have been a struggle at work, while 60 percent of Gen Y employees report financial stress.

The burdens of financial stress permeate all facets of life, including the workplace. It can be difficult for employees to perform at their top levels if a large credit card bill is looming or if they’re wondering how they’ll fund their kids’ education or pay the mortgage.

To combat this productivity issue, employers are finding new ways to provide personal finance perks and assistance. Opportunities may include:

• Introduce Financial Workshops & Presentations – Arm employees with knowledge about common financial issues that can derail a budget, such as dealing with credit card or student loan debt, how to build an emergency fund or how to break negative spending habits. Enlist the assistance of financial experts in the community and host presentations in the office or via a webinar.
• Provide Access to Financial Resources & Experts – Employees who are struggling with finances may not know where to turn for help. Providing them with access to financial resources enables them to help themselves in scenarios they wish to keep confidential. Financial services, such as credit counseling, debt management, student loan counseling, housing counseling and financial planning, are available to companies for free or at discounted rates.
• Incorporate Financial Education into Existing Communications – Utilize existing employee communication channels, such as a company intranet or newsletter, to educate workers about timely financial tips. How can employees save money on summer bills? What should employees do to prepare for the next tax season? How can they save money on holiday gifts? Regular communication helps keep smart financial moves top of mind.
• Enhance Employee Benefit Packages – Productivity alone isn’t the only reason for empowering and educating employees about personal finances. Employers are enhancing their benefit and incentive packages to include customized financial assistance as a way to boost recruitment efforts, improve morale and job satisfaction, and reduce garnishments and advance requests. A recent Aon Hewitt survey of 400 companies found 76% of companies are somewhat or very likely to expand their focus on the financial wellbeing of their employees in 2014.

Aiding employees with their personal finances can have a positive impact at the workplace, ultimately boosting the bottom line as productivity and morale improve. Digital technologies combined with personalized expertise are making it feasible for companies of all sizes to easily and affordably support their staff’s financial needs and goals.

Michael Sullivan serves a Chief Education and Operations Officer for Take Charge America, Inc., a national nonprofit financial education and counseling agency headquartered in Phoenix. He oversees the organization’s Financial Wellness program for employers, which provides opportunities for group and one-on-one financial education, as well as employee discounts on counseling services through Take Charge America.