Scott Walker balanced Wisconsin's budget. His own is another story

Advisers say the Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate should renegotiate — and reduce — his debt

Aug 5, 2015 @ 1:02 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (Bloomberg News)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is likely to remind voters during the Republican presidential candidate debate on Thursday night that he has balanced his state's budget. His personal budget is another matter.

Mr. Walker's financial disclosure, which he filed with the Federal Election Commission on July 31, shows he is carrying between $10,000 and $15,000 in debt on two separate credit cards. One, a Barclay card, is charging him a 27.24% interest rate, while a Bank of America card is charging 11.99%.

He also has taken out between $100,000 and $250,000 in student loans, at a 7.21% interest rate, for his children. Mr. Walker and his wife, Tonette, have two sons in college.

(More: What the presidential candidates' investments tell us about them)

Mr. Walker makes $222,899 annually as governor, and his wife is employed by the American Lung Association.

Despite the whirlwind of activity surrounding Mr. Walker — running a large state and campaigning for president — he should take a moment to review his credit card agreements, according to a constituent who also is a financial planner. Mr. Walker may find he can work out a deal to lower his payments.

“A lot of busy people don't pay a lot of attention to reading the actual bill and noticing what is happening with the interest rates,” said June Ann Schroeder, founder of Liberty Financial Group in Elm Grove, Wisc. “Many times, a simple phone call to the credit card company will suffice.”

FIRST PRIORITY

The first priority for Mr. Walker should be to pay off the Barclay card with the 27.24% interest rate, said Rose Swanger, a principal at Advise Finance in Knoxville, Tenn.

“There is no good reason to get into credit card debt, because it could damage your credit score,” Ms. Swanger said.

If Mr. Walker's credit rating is strong, he can “leverage that to refinance with a private lending company to get a possible rate as low as 4.74%” on the student loan, Ms. Swanger added.

The planners advised Mr. Walker to put himself on an accelerated credit card payment schedule.

“I would recommend a management strategy to reduce the debt and not increase it,” Ms. Schroeder said.

(More: Donald Trump's investment portfolio a messy hodgepodge: advisers)

Among his assets, Mr. Walker has between $1,000 and $15,000 in a mutual funds with T. Rowe Price and American Funds. He also has two Vanguard retirement funds and a 457 fund sponsored by the state of Wisconsin. He also has between $15,000 and $50,000 in Northwestern Mutual life insurance and in a Milwaukee County 457 fund.

SAYS WHAT HE MEANS

A former Milwaukee County Executive who was elected governor in 2011, Mr. Walker survived a recall in 2012 led by organized labor opponents and was re-elected in 2014. In the Thursday debate on Fox News Channel, he will likely take credit for lowering Wisconsin's unemployment rate while balancing the budget.

“He says what he means and he sets out to accomplish what he says he will accomplish,” Ms. Schroeder said. “I prefer that he stay home and not run for president, because I don't want to lose him.”

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