Interview with Kimberly Palmer, author of Generation Earn

Kimberly PalmerThere’s a good chance you already know who Kimberly Palmer is, and if not, I would strongly recommend you get to know her! I have been following her work for a couple years now and trust me, she’s going to be the next big thing in the personal finance world (watch out Suze Orman!).

Kimberly Palmer is the senior editor and personal finance columnist for US News & World Report, writes the magazine column and daily blog, Alpha Consumer. She has appeared on NBC’s Today show, CNBC, CNN, and local television and radio shows across the country. She has also written for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune in Tokyo as a Henry Luce scholar.

She recently wrote a fascinating new book, Generation Earn, which has received rave reviews and is definitely a must-read. But rather than try and describe the book myself, I thought it would be best to have her tell us a bit about it in her own words…

Generation Earn book coverWhy did you write Generation Earn?

I felt like I had to stand up for my generation! Our reputation has been dragged through the mud as if we are terrible with money and totally defined by debt. While it’s true that people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s carry more debt than ever before, we also care about so much more than just debt – we want to get ahead, be smart with our investments, be frugal in innovative ways, and also give back. So I wrote the book to help people do that.

What are the biggest credit card mistakes that young people make?

The biggest mistake, ironically, is that too many young people avoid credit altogether. You’d think that would be a good thing, but it can actually hurt us. If we’ve never had any experience with credit or accounts in our own name, then it can be impossible to take out a mortgage or even an auto loan, because lenders see us as utterly inexperienced. That’s why the smartest way to manage credit cards is to use them, but use them responsibility, by paying them off each month.

You say that credit cards have earned a bad rap that they don’t deserve. What do you like about them?

I like that they can save us during emergencies or really tight times and actually help us get ahead. For example, I interviewed one woman in the book who graduated from college and essentially had no income to pay for an apartment or outfits for her first job. So she used a credit card to get her through those first couple months, before her paychecks started. While it sounds like a bad idea to use credit cards for such things, it was what enabled her to start her job and look presentable right away – and of course, she paid off those cards almost immediately. The bottom line is that if used responsibility, credit cards can be very valuable tools!

What does it mean to use credit cards smartly?

Paying off the balance in full, taking advantage of rewards if you carry no balance, and shopping around for the best card for you. There’s no “best” card for everybody because cards and people’s needs are so individualized – which is why sites like yours are so helpful!

How do you use credit cards and I’m dying to know, which one(s) do you personally use?

I use them as described above – I use credit cards for pretty much every purchase I make, even coffee, and then pay them off in full each month. That means I get some pretty sweet rewards. My rewards paid for my fancy new coffee maker and toaster, as well as a fantastic $200 dinner with my husband recently. I use a Wells Fargo Visa Platinum card.

What would you say is the biggest mistake that the credit card industry is making today?

I don’t like the recent regulation change, going into effect in October, that requires card companies to consider individual income and not household income when considering card applications. While I understand the reasoning behind it – card companies shouldn’t approve cards for people who can’t afford them –I think it is insulting to stay-at-home moms and dads who deserve access to their own credit cards. It’s insulting to have to just be an authorized user on your working spouse’s card.

In Generation Earn you discuss the importance of philanthropy, which too often goes by the wayside for many. If you had 30 seconds to convince someone why it’s so important, what would you say to them?

It will make you happier! Plenty of studies show that one of the quickest ways to feel better about your own life is to help someone else. Even if you don’t have much money, you can get together with friends to make a modest donation together or contribute your time (or blood!).

With a list price of only $14.99 (and even cheaper online) I think your book’s advice will pay for itself many times over, especially given your creative advice about all the ways to earn more in the Job Juggling chapter. Who would you say would benefit the most from buying this book today?

Thank you! The biggest benefit I think is that it can immediately help you start feeling better about your financial situation, whether it’s because it will show you how to spend smarter, invest better, or earn more.

Head over to to learn more and where you can buy it.

Written April 2011

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I stumbled upon Kimberly Palmer last year on US News and thought she had a lot of great advice. I am about to start law school and take on a significant amount of debt and Palmer’s strategies and insights have provided me with additional confidence in my decision to go forward with school even though the large majority of friends and family have tried to persuade me not to. I can’t wait to start reading her book!