Financial Genome Project – Chapter 6

Chapter 6 – Assets and Liabilities

“I can’t lie, I’m guilty of splurging too man
‘Till I learned the difference between assets and liabilities
Really important man, I swear.” ~Ludacris (American rapper)

As I mentioned in Chapter 5, The Payment System, I placed the payment system outside the genome because we’ll trace out each expense. Before we dive into individual expenses though, I want to discuss assets and liabilities. Every penny we spend is either consumed (e.g., food) or becomes an asset and/or liability.

When we buy food, money is exchanged for a good that, theoretically, is consumed in its entirety. This is true until you have kids, where they claim to be “starving”, eat one bite of the food, suddenly become full, and the rest is thrown away. We’ll consider this waste as totally consumed as well. Entertainment is another consumable expense. When we go see a movie or go to a theme park, the entertainment value is consumed.

When we buy clothes, furniture, consumer technology, etc. they become assets. We spend the money; we receive a good in exchange, and we own the product—it becomes an asset. It’s important not to conceptualize assets as a good thing or a bad thing. When I took my first accounting class in college, the professor told me to wipe all word association with the words credit and debit. It turned out to be sage advice, since the main reason students struggled in the class was because they had a hard time classifying credits and debits. If you’re interested, the confusion comes from assigning items to debit “cards” and credit “cards”. Once you get passed that, accounting gets a lot easier (relatively). If you spend all your discretionary money on clothes, then you may have a lot of assets; however, that’s probably not a good thing. Having a lot of assets, that aren’t generating returns, can become costly.

These same assets can be liabilities when we use money we don’t have (e.g., credit cards) to purchase goods. For example, a shirt may cost $10, but when placed on a credit card, we must pay the whole $10 back and any interest we accrued if we didn’t pay off the whole balance before the next billing cycle. Your debt is a liability. When the debt is paid off, then the good becomes an asset; however, that interest you paid siphoned a portion of your salary. Technically, the $10 shirt is an asset and you have an equal $10 liability; however, clothing has nearly no resale value. A $50 shirt sells for 50 cents at a garage sale just like a $10 shirt does. Additionally, too many consumer assets can generate additional expenses if you need to purchase storage to hold those assets. This is becoming a negative trend in our economy, with nearly 1 in 10 households renting a storage facility, compared to 1 in 17 in 1995.[1] Storage costs, in this case, would be a consumable expense.

Some goods, like houses and cars, can be an asset and a liability at the same time. If you buy a $250,000 house and put $25,000 down, then you have $25,000 as an asset (called equity) and a $225,000 loan—a liability. As you put money towards your mortgage, your liability goes down and your assets/equity go up. An additional tangent—the interest you pay on the mortgage is then siphoned off your salary. We’ll discuss all the intricacies of the home purchasing in a future chapter. If the value of your house rises your equity goes up, but then your liability stays the same.

This is an important concept as we spend our income. The way we choose to spend our money determines our ability to influence the financial genome. There are two ways a single individual can greatly influence the genome. The first and most common is to have a large net worth. Your net worth in calculated by total assets less total liabilities. People with a high net worth, as individuals, yield a large amount of influence on the genome. They can invest their money to influence corporations, non-profit organizations, and governments or they consume a lot more, influencing the success of products. The second way a single individual can influence the financial genome is by having a large amount of power. This is intangible and difficult to calculate. For example, the annual salary of a U.S. Senator (not a majority/minority leader) is $174,000 a year.[2] Assuming the Senator isn’t already a millionaire (a rarity in modern politics), $174K is not considered an ultra-rich salary (upper 1%); however, a U.S. Senator can yield a large amount of influence on the financial genome. In most cases, power and net worth typically go hand-in-hand.

Keeping track of your net worth is a beneficial step in basic personal finance. You total all your liabilities and subtract that from your non-consumer product assets (don’t include clothes, furniture, and electronics). As I mentioned above, your house and car can be both as asset and a liability. The equity of your house or car (estimated value less mortgage or car loan) is an asset. The remaining balance of the mortgage and/or car loan is the liability. It’s recommended you record your net worth twice a year or more frequently.[3] When establishing financial goals, you should aim to increase your net worth each year. I have included an example net worth calculation below.

NET WORTH CALCULATION EXAMPLE

 It’s important not to just track your net worth, but it’s also beneficial to track your monthly expenditures (or expenses). We’ll go into all the different genome connections we make when we spend our money in future chapters. After a couple years of tracking your net worth, you may be surprised to find your net worth stop growing and plateau. A lot of times, this is because your expenditures have increased quicker than your salary; thus quicker than your savings (a.k.a. lifestyle inflation). You can record your expenditures at the same time as your net worth—every six months or sooner. A lot of monthly expenses can be renegotiated to lower your costs. In the last year, I’ve managed to reduce my phone, internet, and cable TV bills by calling each service and asking them to find ways I can lower my bills without reducing services. Some people have found success in reducing expenses/increasing services with shopping around for car, property, and life insurance. With advancements in technology, some people can eliminate classic bills. Some people are foregoing expensive cable plans and going with streaming service which can cost 80% less. Here’s an example of tracking your expenditures. This is not an all-inclusive list and some people may have fewer expenditures.

EXPENDITURE EXAMPLE
If you’re able to lower your monthly expenditures, place this money into savings or invest it to increase your net worth. If you have sufficient emergency savings, are appropriately insured, and invested correctly, you should see your net worth increase year after year. Thanks to the power of compounding interest/returns, and reinvested dividends, your net worth will start to grow exponentially. I remember it took me nearly 5 years to become debt free and to save my first $10K. It took me only 2 years to save my next $10K after that. 3 years after that (10 years total), I was still debt free and my net worth was at $100K. Shortly after, I bought my first house yet still managed to have a positive net worth.

Below is our current genome sequencing. We’ll start to trace out each expense in the next chapters, and when we do, we’ll mark its connection to an asset or a liability (or both). It’s important to note, that while we have some control over the job and income we have, we have significant control on what we do with our money, and how it impacts our net worth. Where we go in the genome from this point depends on your goals in life.

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING

[1] http://www.consumerreports.org/personal-finance/the-high-cost-of-self-storage-facility/

[2] https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/senate_salaries.htm

[3] https://www.moneymanagement.org/Budgeting-Tools/Credit-Articles/Money-and-Budgeting/How-To-Create-a-Personal-Balance-Sheet-and-Determine-Your-Net-Worth.aspx

Financial Genome Project – Chapter 5

Chapter 5 – The Payment System

“When the scheme faltered [John] Law resorted to a number of rescue packages, many of which have their echoes 300 years later. One was for the bank to guarantee to buy shares in the Mississippi company at a set price (think of the various government asset-purchase schemes today). Then the company took over the bank (a rescue along the lines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Finally there were restrictions on the amount of gold and silver that could be owned (something America tried in the 1930s).” ~The Economist, 2009[1][i]

The quote in the beginning of this chapter is about John Law, a banker and gambler, which fundamentally changed France’s financial system. His bank controlled many parts of France’s payment system, and it collapsed in four years. Understanding all the parts of the financial genome can help expose and proactively avoid financial failures. This chapter will help you with your personal finances.

In Chapter 4, we discussed the “involuntary” healthcare deduction from your salary before you receive your salary (current sequence pictured below). Before we discuss what we spend our money on, we’ll spend time looking out how the payment system works. We’ll look at it broadly at first and then dig down deeper when we go through individual expenses. The main reason we should look at it broadly first, is to understand that while spending money, you’re either losing money while spending money or you’re earning money to spend money. How we spend our own money is a choice we can control. You can work against you by costing yourself money, typically through hidden costs that we’ve accepted as a society. We can avoid these costs. Conversely, the genome can also reward you as you spend money. I’ll show you how to be rewarded and avoid some costs in this chapter. I’ll put potential costs in red font and potential rewards in green font.

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING

                In most countries with a modern banking system, employers directly deposit salaries into employees’ bank accounts; although, some may still give physical checks directly to employees. Checks require the employee to go to a check-cashing facility. Most people go to their own bank and deposit their check directly into their own bank account or get the money in cash; however, some people go to check-cashing facilities and get the money in cash. These type of non-bank facilities charge a fee to cash the check based on the value of the check. This is one way people can avoid costs, by cashing checks at their own bank versus using a check-cashing facility. Technology has helped us avoid costs by allowing us to cash checks using our smartphones directly to your bank.

According to a 2015 Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) report, only 7% of households were “unbanked” meaning they didn’t have a checking or savings account (.7% lower than 2013). Additionally, a total of nearly 20% of U.S. households obtained financial services outside of the banking system (like check-cashing services).[2] This means that people are being charged to gain access to their own money. Having a bank account doesn’t necessarily mean you avoid fees though.

Like we discussed in Chapter 1, banks can charge a variety of fees that you need to avoid. The most basic fees involve just having a bank account and those need to be avoided. Banks shouldn’t make a profit based off fees, they should reward people for trusting them to use their bank so they can loan that money out. This is called fractional reserve banking and we’ll discuss it in more detail in future chapters. If you use a bank account properly, you can earn rewards. Interest is the most common reward for keeping money in a bank. The interest you earn depends on interest rates, which are incredibly low right, but it’s better than paying fees.

So to recap the flow of income, your employer paid you by direct deposit or a check. You can cash the check by directly depositing it to a bank account or exchanging it for cash. You have two methods of accessing your money: 1) by using the money that was directly deposited into your bank or 2) by using cash. When money is directly deposited, you can use it by transferring it from your bank to the vendor’s bank with an automated payment, utilizing debit and credit cards, writing checks, or withdrawing the money from an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). This is quick chart of what the payment system looks like.

PAYMENT SYSTEM

Automated payments are becoming increasingly popular as technology increases. Consumers often automate their bill payments which sends the money directly from a consumer’s bank to a vendor’s bank. Large companies offer this service for free. The company has to pay for this service but it’s such a negligible cost to attract the hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers. Small companies or services may charge for automated payments, and people should avoid those payment methods if they can.

I’ll dedicate an entire chapter to using debit and credit cards, but the costs have become transparent. Companies like Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) charge vendors a percentage of every sale. Most companies simply add this cost to every commodity and it becomes transparent (actually, just hidden in plain sight). To avoid this hidden cost, I recommend you use a rewards debit and credit card that offers rewards on every purchase—only if you can pay your balance in full every month. By not doing so, you’ll be charged the finance charge, at double-digit interest rates, and negate any savings.

Switching to check usage, some banks charge to provide checks, so there may be costs in using checks. Over time, writing checks will become obsolete. If 90 checks cost $15, each check actually costs 16 cents. If you’re writing a $10 check, then 16 cents represents a 1.6% fee. Lastly, and most unsettling to me, is the cost of withdrawing cash from your bank. Finding a bank that doesn’t charge you for checks or avoiding using checks is a great way to avoid those fees.

According to data pulled from the National ATM Council, the average ATM withdrawal is $60.[3] ATM owners often charge $2 or more for cash withdrawals. Bank-owned ATMs don’t charge their own customers to withdrawal cash. A $2 withdrawal fee on $60 is a 3.3% fee. A $2 withdrawal fee on $20 is a 10% fee. For some reason, avoiding ATM fees is not a priority for consumers and it should be. Cash provides anonymity of purchases—an ideological side benefit. Interestingly enough, businesses that have an inherent requirement for cash such as gentlemen clubs [so I’ve heard] or casinos charge the highest fees for ATM withdrawals. Some ATM fees at these clubs are as high as $8. An $8 ATM fee for the average $60 ATM withdrawal is a 13% fee. To avoid ATM fees, try using your own bank’s ATMs or find a bank that reimburses ATM fees. Planning ahead and budgeting also helps prevent unnecessary or impulse needs for cash.

So whether you pay a vendor using automated payments, debt or credit cards, a check, or with cash, the money will eventually make it to the vendor’s bank. This is important to note. Almost every step in the payment system requires a bank. Banks issue debit and credit cards managed by Visa, MasterCard and other card companies. Banks wield an extraordinary amount of power in the financial genome, and we should be very mindful of that at all times. As I’ve mentioned it before in previous chapters, transparency and access are nice, but can also lead to nefarious dealings within the genome. Here’s what our current financial genome sequencing looks like now. The payment system is not outside the genome, and we’ll start making connections in the next couple of chapters.

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING

 

[1] http://www.economist.com/node/14215012

[2] https://www.fdic.gov/householdsurvey/2015/2015execsumm.pdf

[3] http://www.statisticbrain.com/atm-machine-statistics/

Financial Genome Project – Chapter 4

Chapter 4 – Health Insurance—A Privilege or a Right Still Comes From Your Paycheck

“For a long time, America was the only advanced economy in the world where health care was not a right, but a privilege.  We spent more, we got less.  We left tens of millions of Americans without the security of health insurance.  By the time the financial crisis hit, most folks’ premiums had more than doubled in about a decade.  About one in ten Americans who got their health care through their employer lost that coverage.  So the health care system was not working.  And the rising costs of health care burdened businesses and became the biggest driver of our long-term deficits.” ~Former President Barack Obama[1]

In Chapter 3, our sequence (pictured below) revealed that, before we receive our salary, our employer has to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes to the federal government and we must pay Federal income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and, if applicable, State income taxes and/or bank fees. All these taxes (yours and your employer’s) totaled 31-38% of your salary. But before we finally get to the point where you have your salary in your bank, ready to be spent or saved, we must look at another “involuntary” withholding–healthcare insurance.

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING

                Healthcare insurance evolved from nothing in the early 1900s to nearly 70% of the population being covered by employer-provided healthcare insurance in the 1960s.[2] Health insurance used to be considered a “benefit” offered by employers and treated as tax free for employers. In January of 2014, after a US Supreme Court ruling (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius)[3], the individual mandate was passed requiring all applicable US citizens to maintain health insurance. While health insurance is mandatory, you get to choose how much you’d like to pay.

Modern insurance salary-withholding types involve 2 factors—a deductible and a premium. A deductible is the minimum amount you’re required to pay before the insurance picks up the costs. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare), one can also choose to pay $0, go without coverage and pay a penalty to the IRS (equivalent to the basic bronze plan). The premium is the monthly cost you and your employer pay to maintain the insurance. The size of the deductible and premium is typically inversely proportional. The higher deductible you have, the lower your premium should be. This is because you pay more initially for medical expenses.

Insurance is one of the most complicated parts of the genome. Navigating the entirety requires advanced mathematics and economics degrees, and there are several industries supporting it (i.e., insurance agents). Insurance companies use advanced mathematical algorithms to calculate the probability of someone needing to utilize the money and how much deductible/premium each person pays. This is done by actuaries, using complex actuarial tables. Since the start of for-profit insurance companies, they’ve managed to collect more than they need to pay out—creating what’s called a “float.” Insurance companies are then allowed to invest the “float,” for their own profit.

During the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare) planning phase, the White House webpage once said, “…the only changes you will see under the law are new benefits, better protections from insurance company abuses, and more value for every dollar you spend on health care.”[4] President Obama promised competition from the government to private health insurers. Unfortunately, as the ACA grew in complexity, politicians from both sides took opportunities to profit from it. Private insurers made money hand-over-fist. In 2016, UnitedHealth’s, one of the largest private health insurers in America, revenues rose nearly 24% to $83.6 BILLION.[5] Meanwhile, government-provided premiums continued to rise; despite President Obama’s promise to cut a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.[6] From 2014 to estimated 2017, premiums for the basic bronze plan rose 32%; 12% just from 2016 to 2017. Bronze plans started at $359 in 2014 and rose to $475 in 2017 ($408 in 2016).[7]

One of the goals of mapping out the Financial Genome is to create a forecasting model that takes in input and provides a forecast of the potential outcomes. For example, I heavily researched the Affordable Healthcare Act and knew that private insurers would make a lot of money off of taxpayers. But without a solid model, I was too scared to invest in private insurers. As mentioned above, UnitedHealth (stock symbol UNH) is one of the world’s largest private insurers and was rewarded nearly twice as much as the general stock market (see below). This is why I’m spending the time to map out the genome.

UNITEDHEALTH (UNH) STOCK SINCE ACA PASSED

All that being said, we’ll just focus on the genome connection between your employer and you. The last step before finally receiving your paycheck. You have some control over how much is taken out of your salary by deciding how much deductible and premium you’d like to pay. It’s truly a personal finance and lifestyle choice. Generally speaking, the healthier you are, the higher your deductible should be and the lower your monthly premiums should be. This is because you’ll be taking the financial risk if you need medical care. If you have pre-existing health problems or are unhealthy, then you’ll want to pay a lower deductible and pay higher premiums. If you require frequent health care, then your insurance company may pay more than you do in premiums. With ACA granting more access for those with previously uninsurable reasons and pre-existing conditions, insurers have to cover a large pool of people requiring medical care. The government and employers tend to incentivize higher-deductible health care plans since it minimizes their portion of the premiums as well as yours. Take a look at the chart below to show the different types of typical healthcare insurance plans that are available.

TYPICAL HEALTHCARE OPTIONS

We’ll discuss in further chapters, but the world has to decide whether healthcare insurance is a right of every citizen or if it’s a privilege of a civilized society. Like the title says, whether it’s a right or a privilege, it will still come from your paycheck. The choice will be philosophical, ideological, and political. Whatever path we choose, will determine what kind of connections that are built in the genome. As for now, and with the limited amount of public information, we can say that health insurance for a typical American job can be anywhere from 0.1 – 6% of your base salary. So after adding healthcare insurance, this is what our current genome sequencing looks like.

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING

We are finally at the point in the genome where you receive your salary and can start to save. We’re covering the very basics at this early point in our travels through the genome. It’s important to note that your employer giving you a salary isn’t the linear “starting point.” It’s a giant, interconnected circle, which we’ll continue to drill down as we touch each part of the genome.

 [1] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/09/26/remarks-president-affordable-care-act

[2] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114045132

[3] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

[4] http://www.politifact.com/obama-like-health-care-keep/

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2017/01/17/unitedhealth-and-optum-profits-soar-despite-acas-political-uncertainties/#7e96ef535769

[6] https://barackobama.com/2007/06/23/a_politics_of_conscience_1.php  (Archive page: found in this article: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/obameter/promise/521/cut-cost-typical-familys-health-insurance-premium-/

[7] http://go.avalere.com/acton/attachment/12909/f-0419/1/-/-/-/-/Deck.pdf

Financial Genome Project – Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – Benjamin Franklin the First Tax Planner

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” [1]

 ~Benjamin Franklin (1789)

As we discussed in Chapter 2, you are part of a feedback loop that keeps the genome constantly running. We looked at our first connection between you and your employer, and how your salary is sent to your bank account. We showed that if you’re not cognizant of the process, you may be charged bank fees—robbing you of receiving your full salary. Those bank fees are within your control, but there are other genome connections preventing you from receiving your full salary—and those are not really within your control.

Genome – Fee Connection

We left Chapter 2 with our first connection between your employee and you. The picture above is what we’ll call sequencing—a visual representation of the financial genome. The sequence above shows your salary being distributed from your employer, to your bank account, where you can access the money and where you might be charged bank fees. Now, we’ll look into the distribution of your paycheck further to see how payroll taxes, our next genome connection, represent further reductions to your income. The payroll taxes we’ll cover are the Federal/State Income taxes, the Social Security tax, and the Medicare tax. In the first chapters of the financial genome, we’ll stick with the genome in the United States of America. As the popularity of this project grows, we’ll continue exploring other countries, and eventually map out the whole world.

Imagine you’re interviewing for a job and your future boss shows interest in hiring you and offers a $100K salary. You accept the job offer, but your future boss responds, you’ll have to take an immediate 30-40% pay cut. Would you still be interested in this job? Would you be shocked to know that this happens with every job offer in the US?

Payroll taxes have become somewhat transparent in our modern genome. The taxes are automatically deducted from your paycheck and the remainder is deposited to your bank account electronically. Your paycheck stub should show your gross pay less deductions. Your gross pay is the amount before withholdings (taxes and voluntary withholdings), while your net pay is the amount that is actually deposited into your bank account—also known as take-home pay. I remember the difference by thinking about putting a net into a gross pond and your take-home pay is what’s in your net.

You and your employer both pay taxes for your employment—and if self-employed, you pay both sides. You only see your portion on your paycheck. My personal opinion is that people would be more upset about taxes if they saw the full amount. Depending on your state, you may have to pay a State Income tax which goes directly to your state’s government. You also pay a Federal Income tax which goes to the federal government. You can manage the amount both State and Federal is taken out by adjusting your W-4, Personal Allowance Worksheet. Some companies allow you to make changes online, while others require you to visit your Human Resources department. States taxes vary by state—my home state of California is 6.6%, while New York is 9% (2017 rates).[2] Federal Income taxes vary by whether you’re married or single, and by how many “exemptions” you claim. With my income, claiming single and zero exemptions would give me a 12.8% federal income tax. In reality, I claim married with 5 exemptions for an 8.5% federal income tax. I choose to claim more so I get more in my paycheck monthly and receive less in my tax refund; while making sure I don’t owe anything either.

The federal income payroll taxes you pay monthly are estimations of your annual tax on your income. Like I mentioned above, by adjusting what you claim on your W-4 you can reduce or increase how much you pay per month. Depending on your personal situation, you may receive a tax refund or you may owe. If you get a refund, it means you paid more payroll taxes than you needed to. If you owe, then you didn’t pay enough. This generates a common debate amongst taxpayers—is getting a large tax refund a good thing? Mathematically, the answer is no. Continually striving to minimize the amount of taxes one pays is a pillar of a sound personal finance strategy. By maximizing your monthly income you can reduce debt and increase savings much quicker. That being said, behaviorally, people must look within themselves to see if they’re able to effectively utilize the additional money in your paycheck versus receiving a large tax refund. For some (many in my opinion), a large tax refund forces people to save. Unfortunately and only through anecdotal evidence, I feel most people don’t save the refund and make a large purchase instead. It’s really a personal choice; however, most certified financial planners will focus on you maximizing your monthly paycheck. Additionally and ideologically, some people acknowledge a danger of giving the government their own money during the year and then receiving it back without interest later the next year. In 2017, the IRS is already warning taxpayers that their tax returns may be delayed. The IRS will hold refunds for taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit until February 15th, so there is some basis to that ideology.[3]

The taxes that you and your employer pay are the Social Security and the Medicare tax. These are both paid equally (50/50) by you and your employer—or completely if you’re self-employed. The total Social Security tax is 12.4%–with each paying 6.2%. Total Medicare tax is 2.9%–each paying 1.45%. So when you combine all the taxes, you’re looking at roughly 30% or more of your paycheck not going to you. In 2014, the average taxpayer paid 31% of his or her income to taxes.[4] This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s just how we created our financial genome in America. The picture below shows our current sequencing with taxes shown.

Genome – Payroll Taxes Connection

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935. In 1937, Social Security was taken out in one lump sum and then the monthly payroll tax started in 1940.[5] The Medicare tax started in 1965. The Federal Income Payroll tax is different than the Social Security and Medicare payroll tax. The federal income tax originally started in 1861 to help pay for America’s Civil War, and then was repealed 10 years later. In 1913, with the ratification of the 16th amendment, the federal government gained the power to tax the income of individuals.[6]
Unlike the scenario in the beginning of the chapter, employers don’t discuss your net salary prior to mandated withholdings. When you apply for a job, you’re applying for the post-employer taxes salary; however, the salary advertised is before your own payroll taxes. When applying for jobs, you should automatically deduct 23-30% to figure your pre-insurance salary (we’ll talk about that in the next chapter). So the $100K a year job you’re looking at, may only be $70-$77K a year after payroll taxes.

When companies factor in labor costs, they are calculating your total salary. So that $100K salary that they’re advertising costs your employer an additional $7,650 (6.2% Social Security/1.45% Medicare) plus their portion of health insurance, retirement benefits, and any other employer-provided benefits. This is why companies are so resistant to support a federal minimum wage increase. It’s not simply an increase in wages, but a proportionate increase of employer-paid taxes and benefits. Fair wages isn’t as black and white as you may read on mainstream media—it’s actually very complicated, but that’s out of the scope of this chapter.

So far, we’ve only looked at the connection between your employer giving you a salary and how you don’t receive 100% of your salary due to payroll taxes and potential bank fees—but we’re still not to the point of receiving your salary. On top of Medicare, you must also pay for your own health insurance. In the next chapter we’ll look at health and life insurance before we talk about the connections once you finally receive your salary.

[1] http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/franklin-the-works-of-benjamin-franklin-vol-xii-letters-and-misc-writings-1788-1790-supplement-indexes (To M. Le Roy, 13 November, 1789)

Picture link: http://www.notable-quotes.com/f/franklin_benjamin.html

[2] https://www.adp.com/tools-and-resources/compliance-connection/state-taxes/2016-fast-wage-and-tax-facts.aspx

[3] https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/irs-and-partners-look-to-start-of-2017-tax-season-encourage-use-of-irsgov-and-efile-warn-of-refund-delays

[4] https://taxfoundation.org/average-us-worker-pays-over-16000-income-and-payroll-taxes

[5] https://www.ssa.gov/history/hfaq.html

[6] http://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html

Financial Genome Project – Chapter 2

Chapter 2 – Newton’s Third Law

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.[1]

Before we begin our adventure through the genome, we should take a look at the most important piece to the entire complex system—you. You are a laborer and you are fueled by your income. Governments siphon part of your income in taxes for their engines. Then you consume by spending money, fueling businesses’ engines. You can also save part of your income which fuels other businesses through investment. The entire complex system that we’ve built as humans relies on laborers earning an income, getting taxed, and then spending or saving the rest. We keep this entire complex system running.

The engine of the genome starts with you receiving an income from a company or a government (local, state, or federal). The taxes go to a government and a part of that goes to salaries to generate government worker incomes. When you spend your money, it represents sales for a company, part of which goes to employees’ incomes. And something different happens in the genome when you choose to save money. We’ll discuss in a later chapter. Governments can only operate with taxes, and companies can only operate with sales. By working and generating an income, you’re keeping our current genome alive.

After reading that, does it seem so farfetched that in the movie, The Matrix, we are being used as batteries to keep the “machines” alive? We think we have control. We can simply stop working right?  Without government assistance, most couldn’t survive very long without relying on primitive skills. Additionally, once too many people stop working, then government assistance wouldn’t be available either. So without you working, the government, companies, and people surviving on government assistance would be unable to operate. By working and earning an income, you create a feedback loop that enables you to generate an income, while simultaneously supporting the governments and companies within the loop.

Income Feedback Loop

In the Income Feedback Loop above, check out that little blue arrow between Salary and You. Have you ever thought about all the connections that happen before receiving your paycheck? Let’s look at just that arrow in this chapter, before we address all the components of the feedback loop. Gone are the days when you worked and your employer gave you your earnings in cash at the end of the day. Now you must wait for two weeks, to a month, before you receive a paycheck. Also, you no longer receive your paycheck directly from your employer. Your employer probably uses a contracted service for distributing payrolls. Finally, your paycheck no longer comes directly to you—now it goes to your bank.

Your paycheck is purely electronic, and we continually drift away from paper money—known as fiat money, or paper money which has no intrinsic value, but is made legal tender through government decree. [2] Nearly every working person in a developed country receives an electronic paycheck directly deposited into a bank account. Only in undeveloped countries do people typically receive daily earnings or receive income in cash or goods. The whole electronic transfer process is nearly transparent to most of us. We check our bank accounts on “pay day” and if all went well, we have money in our bank accounts. Isn’t that convenient?

But this transparency and convenience comes at a cost and it is hidden in dark places of the genome. In these dark places, people are building businesses designed to make the genome appear transparent. By making it transparent, they have the ability to make microscopic changes that may negatively impact you—without you knowing it. In our busy world, where people typically check their online statements only to find out the balance after pay day, we often miss these miniscule disruptions to our paychecks. Our first dark spot in the genome is the “bank fee”—like small, hidden sand bars in a muddy river slowing speed boats down.

Until about 2008, before financial operations were in the negative spotlight, it cost you money to keep money in a bank account even though it was, and still is, mandated by employers in developed countries for payroll processing. Unfortunately, some banks still have a lot of fees just for having a bank account: checking account fees, minimum balance fees, and no direct deposit fee. Then banks charge when you spend your own money with ATM withdrawal fees and annual credit card fees. The banks are even gracious enough to let you spend more money than you have with overdraft and insufficient funds fees. In 2015, the nation’s 628 biggest banks made $11.16 billion from just overdraft and insufficient funds fees alone, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.[3] Since banks are “environmentally friendly”, they’ll also charge you a hard copy statement fee forcing you to go online to check your statements. If you want to travel outside of the country to spend your own money, you can expect to see foreign transaction fees. Even if it’s something that you can’t control like someone writing you a bad check, you may receive a returned deposit fee.

Genome – Fee Connection

Some fees have gone away as hard-pressed banks had to reassure people that keeping your money in banks was safe after the 2008 financial “collapse”. If you’re reading this, go through your last three statements and check to see if you are being charged any fees. If you are being charged multiple fees, you need to change your bank. I’ve shined the light on this genome dark spot specifically to help you receive 100% of the paycheck that you’re supposed to be earning. As you can see from the image above, these fees prevent you from earning 100% of your salary. Eliminating fees improves your “fuel efficiency” in your financial engine as we travel through the genome.

Do you ever find it unsettling that your paycheck doesn’t actually come directly to you, but goes to your bank and then you are charged fees for accessing it? Keeping your money is how banks make money. Banks with more than $115.1M in liabilities (i.e., loans to other banks, companies, and individuals) only have to keep 10% of it on hand.[4] Have you ever heard of a “bank run”? This is where many people want to take out their money from their accounts and the bank doesn’t have enough in reserve. Banks saw this happen in 2008 and, more recently, in 2016 when the “Brexit” (Britain’s departure from the European Union) happened. There’s been multiple times where people have tried to get their own money and were denied. Not having access to your own money is part of the modern genome that we must live with, but by eliminating fees, we improve our position in the genome.

My intent is not to demonize banks, but I do want to introduce to you that almost everywhere in the genome, there’s an equal, yet opposing force to everything you do. Sir Isaac Newton’s third law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We find this is true in the financial genome. For every dollar you make, there is a part of the genome trying to pull that money away from you. Some of it is voluntary, like with our spending habits; some of it is involuntary, like taxes, and some of it is voluntary only if you know about it—like fees.

This is only the top surface of the connection of your income between your employer and you. The Income Feedback Loop shows the aerial view of what the genome connections look like, but as you’ve just read, there are many connections in between only one aspect of that loop. The Genome Fee Connection exposes one dark connection that you need to be aware of and change if it applies to you. There are more connections between your employer and you, regarding your salary. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss payroll taxes.

[1] http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaws/Lesson-4/Newtons-Third-Law

[2] http://www.investorwords.com/1928/fiat_money.html

[3] http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201602_cfpb_variation-in-bank-overdraft-revenues-and-contribution.pdf

[4] https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/reservereq.htm

Financial Genome Project – Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – It All Starts With You

“We shouldn’t expect immediate major breakthroughs but there is no doubt we have embarked on one of the most exciting chapters of the book of life,” Professor Allan Bradley, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.[1]

     Like the movie, The Matrix, there is a complex system operating around you. Instead of operating off of sleeping humans, like in the movie, the system operates with our finances. It impacts you every day without you knowing it. I’ve called this financial system the Financial Genome; comparing it to the Human Genome Project. Once you know about the financial genome, then you’ll be able to influence it to secure your future, protect your family, and understand the world around you. It is like the galaxy, infinite in all directions with complicated networks of connections. We’re going to start small and then expand farther out making “connections” with various parts.  Every day that passes without you knowing and understanding it, the greater the influence other people have on you and soon you won’t have any more control.

I want you to embark on an exciting adventure as we explore the Financial Genome together—known as the genome from here forward. Exploring the genome can help you with your personal finances; though it’s not a personal finance book. Economic principles will be the highway as we explore the genome, but don’t worry, it’s not an economics book. This isn’t a self-help book either, but one of the key concepts of this book is that time will continue to push and evolve the genome, whether you understand, believe, or participate in it.

This is simply a way of understanding the genome and exploring the exciting connections around us. There are some great parts of the genome where the smallest, marginal, influences can create a positive impact on the whole genome. And unfortunately, there are a lot of dark areas in the genome where bad influences can negatively influence the genome—some overt and some covert. Simply knowing about these great parts and dark areas are can help most of us. In our vastly complex genome, we must start somewhere.

I had a hard time deciding where to start our journey into the genome. My first thought was to start with money—but what is money? The concept of money is extremely complex and we’ll cover our concept of money in another chapter. My second thought was to start with “the why” of exploring the genome. “The why” will be explored through each chapter as we go deeper into the genome. But for now, “the why” is simply to allow you to understand where you fit in the genome and, most importantly, apply force to your surroundings—creating a change in your financial environment.

The most logical point to start to me is to start with you. Not you specifically. You as a human being, which as a species, has accepted and participates as a functioning part of the genome. It’s important not to think of the genome as some linear shape with input and output, or a hole that we can go deeper into until we meet an end. Instead, think of the earth in the entire galaxy. If the galaxy is infinite, then you’d need to start somewhere, and most of us would start on Earth. You are the Earth of the genome.

99.9% of the time, the “person”, or you, our starting point of the genome, is a plugged-in member of our genome. When we discuss money in more detail, you’ll see that the entire genome relies on our belief in the entire construct. The genome slowly evolved into the complex system it is now. Once one of our ancestors traded a product for another product, it created a connection in our genome. Those two humans believed that those two products had an equal value in which a trade was completed. Assuming these two humans didn’t immediate kill each other, and the trade went through without conflict, then the first verbal contract was completed. The majority of our genome is simply a verbal contract, growing larger and larger, and more complex as technology advances.

The modern genome relies in your utmost faith and obedience to the verbal and written contracts you engage in every day. As a human, you absorb an input, typically as an income and you produce an output, typically as you spend, save, and are taxed.

You exert influence on genome connections in three ways. 1) You exert influence based on how much you believe in the system and how obedient you are. 2) Your influence is usually greater as your income increases. In almost all cultures, the rich are able to control more connections and exert influence on genome connections that increase their control.  3) The genome can exert influence on you through your output. Governments can tax you and companies can increase prices. Your ability to manage your consent, input, and output will determine your impact on the genome.

The genome is constantly evolving around you, regardless of how much influence you may have on the genome. No matter how complex it becomes, your understanding of how you influence the genome will help you navigate through it. Despite our knowledge of the system or how powerful some connections become, there are also outside pressures on the genome as well.

There’s an external pressure on the genome, that has nothing to do with your participation, understanding, or obedience. It is time.  Time is the greatest pressure on the genome. It can be a negative or a positive force. The longer you remain ignorant of your presence in the genome, the more negative the force is perceived—like pressure building as you go deeper underwater. For those of us that become aware of the genome early, the positive force is like the wind in your sails pushing your boat effortlessly. Remember, time exerts its pressure on the genome no matter what you do.

The biggest secret of the genome is…the entire system can be altered, changed, and modified if enough connections (people in this case) make it so; however, the system has been carefully crafted to prevent that from happening. There is a surface layer that most of us know about—and accept and are obedient to. An example of a simple connection, in which we’ve accepted and are obedient to, is the 40-hour American work week. Back in the late 1800s, the 40-hour work week was actually an improvement on the average 100-hour work week that some industry workers experienced[2]. The 40-hour work week isn’t common among all countries and neither is the Monday through Friday work week. We’ve accepted the 40-hour work week and the 5:2 work-to-rest ratio. Financially independent people don’t have a 40-hour work week. They may have more or they may be completely free.  There are many more examples deeper into the genome. There are some we can modify ourselves, and some that require an entire culture to change. This is why it’s so important to explore the Financial Genome. Come with me.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/04/14/genome.reut/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/history-of-the-40-hour-workweek-2015-10