Sometimes in life a concept can either mean something good or mean something bad, depending on the person’s perspective. A word like “debt” can illicit pangs of dread or a spark of promise, depending on the listener’s mindset. The difference between the two is in some combination of observation, education and experience.
In our consumer-driven society, there is a lot of anxiety around debt. The media regularly reports on the financial habits of American households and how much we are beholden to creditors. The types of household debt of greatest concern seems to be credit cards (consumer) and mortgages. The data tell us that Americans do not save – for the most part – which is the inevitable result of the simultaneous accumulation of large amounts of credit card debt. At the same time, many homeowners are upside down on their mortgages or own homes they cannot truly afford. We are losing value hand over fist: first, to high credit card interest rates, then to loss of property value. We are trained to believe that debt in and of itself is bad, and there is no shortage of evidence that seems convincing.
But, this presidential election brings to light an important truth about debt that often goes un-reported: debt can also be good for you. One of the two candidates in this race is an unapologetic debt enthusiast. He has grown an empire built on debt (other business practices aside.) Almost anyone who has amassed a fortune in business has done so by utilizing the power of debt, but they call it leverage.
According to a recent Inc. article, “the only way to get rich rapidly is to understand the principle of leverage.” The author describes leverage as the financial secret of the super wealthy. In simplest terms, leverage allows a person the potential to exponentially increase the benefit, or return, received from putting an asset to work; it can be your time, energy, money or other resources. A person utilizing the principle of leverage has acquired more of what they need to accomplish a goal, but that additional resource is not derived from their own effort. In the case off money, the resource is, of course, debt.
Leverage is the bread and butter of the capital markets. There are many financial instruments (options, futures, etc) that increase the buying power of an investor’s dollar, thereby allowing the investor to own more shares of a company than would otherwise be possible. Businesses use leverage to operate, expand and improve when they borrow. In real estate, investors use leverage to acquire, rehab and flip properties. An investor or developer who pools funds from other investors will be able to do much bigger. Real estate investors even fund acquisitions and rehabs with credit cards (which for most people is on par with a 4-letter word.) The key to leverage in your finances is to “buy things that will appreciate in value. When you can leverage your time and your money and then put your money to work, you are on the road to riches.”
Leverage is a valuable mechanism for maximizing output and efficiency in the functions that impact profits. The author gives an example of how this works. It’s also the concept behind network marketing: on your own you will make a certain income. But if you duplicate your efforts via a team that you develop to work with you, each of whom will develop teams of their own, your income will expand exponentially. An entrepreneur may start off doing all the labor him/her self, but when he/she is able to hire staff to do the work instead, he/she will have created an opportunity to significantly increase both the client base and the amount of work that gets done within the same time frame. This way time, energy and money are leveraged, which can quickly escalate one’s income and grow wealth.