7 Liabilities That Will Ruin Your Net Worth


If you're passionate about personal finance, you know about the importance of building net worth. This means accumulating things that will grow in value, while reducing your liabilities. A person with no debt, a home that they own free and clear, and a sizable retirement account likely has a high net worth. A person with thousands of dollars in credit card debt, a burdensome mortgage, and no cash savings has a low or even negative net worth.

Building net worth is about accumulating money and assets, but it's also about reducing liabilities. In short, it's about making sure debt isn't hurting your ability to achieve your financial goals. Here are some big liabilities that can hurt your chances to build a high net worth. (See also: 6 Money Moves to Make If Your Net Worth Is Negative)

1. Credit card debt

Credit cards can be poison to those looking to generate wealth. Interest rates on credit cards are so high that it rarely makes sense to carry a heavy balance on them. The average household with credit card debt owes more than $15,000 on their cards. It's no wonder Americans are, in general, fairly lousy at building net worth.

Having a lot of credit card debt can hurt your credit score, thus making it more expensive to borrow for mortgages and auto loans. This leads to a nasty spiral that virtually guarantees your liabilities will be larger than your assets. If you have credit card debt, start paying it off as soon as possible. Aggressively reduce your expenses, learn to invest rather than spend, and get out from under the pressure of those crippling cards. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

2. Car loans

Many people live with car payments as a permanent part of their lives. Financing the purchase of a vehicle is a common practice, but is also an easy way to add to your liabilities while adding very little to your net worth (cars almost always decline in value).

Vehicles aren't cheap, but if you can avoid making car payments over the course of several years, you'll be better off financially. Work to save toward the purchase of a vehicle so payments are minimal or nonexistent. Resist the urge to purchase a new car until the one you have is no longer viable. Avoiding several hundred dollars a month in car payments will free up cash to invest and accumulate assets rather than see your net worth stagnate. (See also: Cutting Your Car Payment Is Easier Than You Think)

3. Unpaid taxes

Yeah, taxes are a pain. No one really feels like paying them. But if you don't pay them, they turn into liabilities that can grow as a result of penalties and fines. Failure-to-file penalties only add to your tax bill, and keep increasing the longer you avoid paying.

If you are employed, most of your taxes are taken from your paycheck, but you still may find that you owe some money on your tax return. Self-employed people must be extra diligent to ensure they are paying taxes on any income they receive. It's also important to make sure you are paying proper real estate taxes on your home, as well as taxes for income gained from your investments. (See also: 8 Tax Return Mistakes Even Smart People Make)

4. Medical bills

There will come a time when you or a family member gets hurt or injured. The expense of hospital stays, surgeries, or ongoing care can be devastating. It's driven many families into bankruptcy and can crush any attempts to boost your net worth.

It may not be possible to avoid medical emergencies, but you can protect yourself by being properly insured. If your employer subsidizes the cost of health insurance, take advantage. If you are self-employed, seek to find a reasonably priced plan through a state or federal health exchange. Insurance isn't always cheap, but it will prevent you from taking on costly medical bills that destroy your financial well-being. (See also: How to Handle a Massive Medical Bill)

5. Student loan debt

We often view student loans as investments in our financial future because an education can help us earn more in our career. But until they are paid off, student loans are only liabilities. If you are still in school, you have some time before you have to start making payments; but once you graduate, those loans can become awfully burdensome. Heavy student loans can force you to take on additional debt just to make ends meet, in turn sinking your net worth even further.

To avoid this, it's important for you and your family to save as much money for college as possible in advance. Take cost and value into consideration when making your college choice, and think about getting a job while in school to help pay for tuition. This may require some tough choices, but avoiding student loan debt will help you get on track for building your net worth much sooner. (See also: 6 Questions to Ask Before Taking Out Student Loans)

6. Your mortgage

Owning a home can be a great way to build your net worth, but that may not be the case if you have a bad mortgage. If your payments are so high that you are unable to save money and invest, it's preventing you from boosting your net worth in other ways.

Borrowing money to buy a home is perfectly normal and has helped countless people get on the path to financial freedom. But it's important to have a mortgage that helps you more than hurts you. Put as much money down as you can so the loan itself is not too large. Get a loan with a low, fixed interest rate with a relatively short term (30-year mortgages are OK, 15-year mortgages are even better).

When you begin paying off your mortgage, you may not be paying off much of the principal of the loan at first. But soon, you'll be making a good dent and building real equity. And that's the path to building net worth. (See also: 8 Signs You're Paying Too Much for Your Mortgage)

7. Home equity loans

It's not uncommon for people to borrow money from the equity of their home to pay for major expenses. There are a variety of reasons why this may make sense. But it's important to be careful when doing this. When you are borrowing from your home equity, you are essentially turning an asset — the equity of your home — into a liability. In essence, you are taking away something that adds to your net worth.

In the long run, borrowing from home equity can help build wealth if you make the right financial choices. For example, you could use money from the equity of your home to make repairs or expand the home, thus boosting its value. And when interest rates are low and market returns are high, it may make sense to borrow for major purchases and use your available cash to invest instead. Just be sure to weigh the risks and rewards before borrowing heavily against the equity in your home. (See also: 4 Smartest Ways to Use a Home-Equity Loan)

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