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avatar You are viewing an archive of articles by Gerri Detweiler. Gerri Detweiler is the author of five books, including Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress: Real Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis. As a consumer advocate, Gerri has been interviewed for more than 3,000 news interviews/ She is also an international speaker and has testified before Congress on consumer credit topics.

Gerri Detweiler


This is a guest article by Gerri Detweiler. Gerri is the host of Talk Credit Radio and serves as Director of Consumer Education for Credit.com. She is the author or co-author of five books, including Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights. Her next DIY project is to (finally!) roast coffee beans.

Mark Frauenfelder makes his own yogurt and sauerkraut. roasts coffee beans, and has raised chickens. He’s also tricked out an expresso machine and built his daughter a guitar out of a lunchbox. And he’s managed to complete all of these DIY projects — and many more — while contributing to the very popular blog BoingBoing, and serving as editor of Make Magazine. Oh, and he’s also written a book about his experiences: Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throw Away World.

My DIY projects, by contrast, are often utter failures. My homemade sauerkraut probably would have given me food poisoning if I had been dumb enough to taste the foul-smelling concoction, and the popcorn popper I bought on eBay to roast coffee beans has been sitting untouched on a shelf for a couple of years now. Oh, and my homemade yogurt tasted like the cheesecloth I used to strain it.

It would be easy to dislike Frauenfelder, except for the fact that he’s a really nice guy. So instead of getting annoyed every time he writes a post about one of his successful projects, I decided to interview him on my radio show, Talk Credit Radio, in the hopes of gleaning some wisdom that could help me become a more successful DIYer. Following are some his best tips (edited and excerpted) from that interview:

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Gerri: Tell me a little bit about what you learned from your DIY journey?

Mark: I think the most important thing I learned was that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you can learn a lot from mistakes. In fact, a lot of research has shown that people learn fast when they do make errors because it really sticks in your mind.

As Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine which is a technological project magazine, I hung around a lot of people that I call “alpha makers,” people who are just committed to anything and they do a great job of it. I found that it isn’t so much their skill level that’s important but the fact they have gotten over their fear of screwing up. And that is like the most important thing that I learned, otherwise you’re going to be frozen with fear.

I make tons of mistakes all the time but I hopefully learn from them so that every new box guitar I build is a little bit better than the one before. Then you can raise the bar and challenge yourself to try something a little better. It’s a fun way of looking at the world.

You do have time to for DIY projects

Gerri: Mark, let’s talk a little bit about the time factor. You’ve got two daughters, and a full-time job as a writer and editor. How do you fit in these DIY projects? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just go and buy a spoon (rather than carve one yourself)? Or go and buy espresso rather than try to figure out how to trick out your espresso machine?

Mark: Absolutely, it would be easier to go out and buy something and time is really precious, especially when you have small kids and you have to work for a living. And that is one of the reasons I wrote this book. I read all those books about going back to the land and making things yourself, they kind of assumed you lived in this ideal world, you have infinite time to do all this stuff.

So I took a much more realistic approach: What if I gave myself 15 minutes a day to get away from the computer and work on a project? And I think almost anybody can give himself 15 minutes a day. But it really adds up and after a month or so, that’s a considerable amount of hours that you’ve been able to devote making things.

There was a guy I was reading about in the 1700’s whose wife was 10 minutes late at the dinner table every minute so he took those 10 minutes to work on a novel and he ended up writing 3 very successful novels that way by squeezing in those 10 minutes. I think that’s the trick is giving yourself that time and scheduling it in.

Gerri: In your book, you talked about how when you were making your wooden spoons, you discovered that you could actually do that while you were on a conference call, for example, and concentrate better. So maybe there is some synergy between being able to accomplish other things whether to clear your mind, or find the relaxation that you need if you take on some of these projects.

Mark: Absolutely and you’ll see that with knitters. People who knit say that they are able to really have a much more pleasant conversation while they are knitting and I found that also that when I do work conference calls, if I just sit and carve a spoon it puts you in kind of a slow state or something and I’m much less fidgety and I can really concentrate one that conversation. It’s a pretty cool effect.

You can do this anywhere

Gerri: You aren’t living on a ranch in Montana or out of the woods somewhere. You’re living in a Los Angeles suburbs, is that right?

Mark: Yeah, I’m about a six-minute drive from Hollywood and Vine. So I’m right here in the city, basically up in the hills.

Gerri: You’re doing these kinds of projects in a very urban environment. Do your neighbors, do people think you’re crazy?

Mark: They’re amused by the chickens. When I had the chickens, they got out and were running around on the street and one of the people who lives on the block, he was one of the producers of The Waltons and he was, “hey this is just like The Waltons!” And he got hold of a cam and started snapping some pictures – he loved it.

It’s not always about saving money

Gerri: Some of these projects may involve specialized tools, or they may involve specialized materials. What have you found in terms of the financial payoff or the financial cost in your DIY projects?

Mark: That’s a really good question. It’s kind of a yes and no thing. No, it’s not going to save you money compared to something that you would buy. If you were to build your own television set it would cost a lot more money to buy the part than it would to buy the TV off the shelf. It’s usually cheaper to buy in almost every case.

But, if you look at making as a hobby that is really rewarding and a way to spend time, it’s going to be less expensive than going out at night and spending a lot of money at a nightclub or taking an expensive vacation or something like that. As leisure activities go, you can make it pretty inexpensive. If you wanted to become a wood carver, you could buy an improvised wood carver set under a $100 and it would give you a lifetime of enjoyment. In the end I think it’s an inexpensive and rewarding way to spend your time.

Gerri: And some projects like some of the food projects you’ve done, you may have an initial investment, like building the chicken coop or getting the yogurt maker if you decide to go the route. But it sounds like that in the long run, they can end up saving you money.

Mark: Yeah, definitely, one thing that I’ve started doing is roasting my own coffee. And there’s a way that you can do it using an air popcorn popper. There are tutorials online that show you how to do it and the cool thing is that green coffee beans, unroasted beans are a lot cheaper than roasted beans. They’re about $5 a pound that’s comparable to, comparable roasted beans would be about $15 a pound. And green beans will stay fresh for about a year or two so you can keep them by yourself, 10 pounds of beans and then roast a batch whenever you need fresh coffee and you will have the freshest coffee ever and you’ll save money.

Gerri: I really appreciate your book and recommend it. I also love your blog at boingboing.net. Can you give us more places that you recommend that anyone who’s interested in DIY should visit?

Mark: Sure, well I think makezine.com has a lot of really good recent resources that will show you how to make different projects, lots of tutorial videos that can help you get started, information about Maker’s Fair, which is our twice annual fair, that has a 100,000 attendees who come to see this giant-like science and creativity fair. It’s really fun.

And another really good website is instructibles.com and that’s where people upload instructions on things that they’ve made, all sorts of gadgets from beer coolers, built-in wagon to really neat kind of kites, all kinds of projects. I think those two right there will keep you busy for at least a couple of weeks.

Listen to or download the complete interview with Frauenfelder here: download

You can also listen to or download an interview with Consumerism Commentary’s Flexo here: download

Editor’s note: I’ve been a fan of Mark Frauenfelder since I discovered BoingBoing many years ago. He was a guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, as well, in 2009.

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This is an article by Gerri Detweiler. For the past twenty years, Gerri has been an advocate helping consumers find reliable answers to their credit questions.

Just as student loans can be “good debt” or “bad debt” depending on how they are used, they can be good or bad for your credit scores, depending on how you handle them. Obviously, they can help your credit scores when you’re able to pay them on time, and hurt them when you can’t. But there are important nuances that can make the difference between earning a great score and a mediocre one.

When student loans = good credit

Student loan debtA student loan can provide a student’s first credit reference. That’s especially true now that the Credit CARD Act makes it more difficult to load up on credit cards before you turn 21. Student loans differ from credit cards in an important way, though; they are installment loans, not revolving loans like credit cards. That’s a plus when it comes to building a well-rounded credit file. “Our research has shown that (all things being equal) consumers with a wider range of credit experiences tend to be better credit risks than those with only limited credit experience,” says Anthony Sprauve, public relations director for FICO.

What about the fact that many students graduate with not one, but many, student loans? Unlike maxing out a bunch of credit cards, the fact that your report lists multiple student loans is not necessarily harmful. That’s true even if the balances are high. “While having many revolving type accounts with high balances can hurt your score — even when paid on time — the FICO scoring formula doesn’t place nearly as much importance on the debt amount and the number of loans when considering installment loans,” says Sprauve.

But, of course, it can be hard to keep track of due dates on multiple loans, so the greater the number of loans, the greater your risk that you’ll miss a payment. If you consolidate some or all of your loans it will be easier to keep track of your due dates, but don’t expect a boost to your credit scores. “Typically (consolidation) wouldn’t have a major impact on the score because it’s installment credit and the amount you owe is still the same,” says credit scoring expert Tom Quinn.

When student loans = bad credit

Missing payments on your student loans hurts your credit scores. If you pay a few days late, say on the 5th of the month when the loan is due on the 1st, it’s unlikely the loan will be reported as late. But once a payment is thirty days late, it will likely be reported to the credit reporting agencies, and your scores will suffer as a result.

If you can’t make your payments, check out flexible repayment options, such as the Income Based Repayment Program (now dubbed “Pay As You Earn” by President Obama), graduated repayment, or income-contingent repayment. Or find out if you are eligible to put your loans in deferment or forbearance. Repaying your loans through one of these programs is not likely to hurt your scores, says Quinn.

But be careful. Some students who apply for deferment or forbearance think it’s a done deal and stop paying, only to discover it was not finalized and they are considered delinquent on their loans. Make sure you have something in writing from your lender before you reduce or stop making payments.

Quinn also warns about a common misconception that loans in deferment or forbearance are ignored when
credit score are calculated. “It’s still considered because you are obligated to pay it,” he says, adding that, “Delinquencies are reported even if the loan is deferred.”

What if damage has already been done? Late payments can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years and simply paying the past due amount won’t remove those late payments. But if your federal loan goes into default, you may be able to improve your credit by rehabilitating your student loan. You’ll have to make nine monthly payments on time over a nine to ten month period, depending on your type of loan. Once you do, you can apply for rehabilitation and, if successful, the notation that your loan was in default will be removed from your credit reports.

More student loan and credit scores tips

  • Feel free to prepay. Pay off your student loans early and you’ll save money on interest. Doing so shouldn’t hurt your credit scores, though, Sprauve warns that without other installment loans you could see your scores drop slightly.
  • Keep meticulous records. From the time you take out your first student loan, you should start a file and keep copies of loan documents, statements, etc. This documentation may prove to be invaluable if you experience payment problems.
  • Pay on time. This can’t be emphasized enough. If you move, notify your lenders of your new address. A statement that goes missing does not let you off the hook for a payment. Never heard from a lender about a loan you took out? Track down the lender and find out when payments are due.

Photo: a_mina
Department of Education

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