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Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 5:26 PM
Among the central issues of retirement planning is whether you should pay off your mortgage before you stop working. While it’s a straightforward question, the answer is less clear. Financial planners fall on both sides of the fence when it comes to advising their clients on how to handle their house payment.
The truth is, Americans have a love/hate relationship with mortgages, and with good reason. While these long-term loans have allowed folks across the socio-economic strata an avenue to home-ownership, the mortgage is also perhaps the most dreaded bill we pay every month. Why? Because it is by far our biggest monthly expense.
While doing research for my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, I gathered data on how retirees handle their mortgages, and how their particular situation impacted their happiness. I learned that the happiest retirees go into retirement either mortgage-free or within five years of paying it off completely.
But today, more people than ever are moving into retirement still carrying a mortgage. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of homeowners ages 65 and older with mortgage debt increased from 22% to 30%. For homeowners 75 and older, the rate jumped from 8.4% to 21.2%.
And just how much do these folks still owe on their mortgages? The median debt climbed over the same period from approximately $43,500 to almost $80,000. Do the math and you see that this is an 82% increase. So, if your mortgage loan burning party is still some ways off, you’re not alone.
As you contemplate retirement, what should your strategy be? Should you set your financial focus on making your mortgage disappear?
Some financial professionals would answer with a resounding “No.” They look at it in terms of net returns. Think about a scenario where you have $100,000 socked away. You could use that money to pay off your mortgage or keep it invested in the stock market. Say your mortgage interest rate is 4%. These pros will tell you to hang on to the mortgage, because you may net 8% of gains from the stock market, putting you ahead 4% overall.
This strategy makes theoretical sense, but we have to ask if it passes the real-world test. The answer is no. In everyday life, we could go a decade with a flat market, just like we did in the 2000’s, something I recently discussed with Barron’s Magazine. Or the market could take a tumble right before you decide it’s time to cash out. In either of these scenarios, you will have paid 4% on your mortgage with little or no gain from your market investments. In my opinion, paying off a mortgage before retirement (or soon thereafter) is more of a financial sure thing.
But back to our question and how it applies to you. Should you pay off your home?
My answer is a qualified yes. Each decision is highly individual and requires careful calculation. Consider these three factors as you weigh your situation, and whether to wipe that house payment off your monthly budget:
If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to drop on your mortgage, that’s perfectly okay. And you’re not alone – very few people can throw a wad of money at their house payment all at once. Most happy retirees who own their homes outright paid off their mortgage early little by little, making more than the minimum monthly payment over several years. In my experience, probably 70% of retirees who are mortgage-free used this method to reach that goal.
Think about this scenario. You have just signed a 30-year mortgage of $250,000 at 5% interest, and your scheduled payment is $1,342 per month. If you just add an additional $300 to each payment, you’ll trim nine years and four months off the life of the loan – and save $79,684 in interest. That’s no small change.
Other ideas include saving up to make an extra mortgage payment each year, or structuring your payment plan so that you pay 50% of your monthly obligation every two weeks (which leads to an extra month’s payment every 12 months).
I want you to hear me loud and clear on this one: Never, ever use retirement account (IRA, 401k) money to pay off a mortgage. Never. Why? Because paying off your mortgage by tapping your nest egg won’t create that coveted peace of mind. Instead, it could create more stress.
For starters, withdrawing money from retirement accounts will likely incur a significant tax bill, on par with the taxes you’d pay on earned wages. Second, reducing your hard-earned retirement reserves undercuts your future security two-fold: It takes actual cash away and it reduces future interest earnings on the accounts.
Where does this leave you? With your non-retirement accounts, a.k.a. the ones that have already been taxed. But use caution here, too. These funds are important in your on-going security. They provide liquidity that can be tapped in case of emergency or opportunity, and tapping them out won’t help your peace of mind.
Anyone who’s familiar with my financial planning strategy knows that I’m a believer in the one-third rule. The rule is simple and powerful: If you can pay off your mortgage with no more than one-third of your non-retirement savings, you should consider doing so.
For real numbers, say you owe $50,000 and have $160,000 in savings. You should go ahead and wipe out that mortgage. In this case, you’ll still have $110,000 in liquid assets as you cruise down the retirement road.
Let’s talk more about peace of mind, as it’s paramount to a fulfilling retirement. My research on the happiest retirees has taught me that owning a home free and clear creates a real sense of calm and peace. Plain and simple, it just feels good to say goodbye to that monthly mortgage payment as you enter a new and different phase of life.
The feel-good factor makes sense. With no mortgage payment, you have dramatically lowered your monthly retirement living expenses and taken stress off your nest egg and other sources of monthly income. And with this extra cash on hand, you have more financial freedom to pursue your retirement passions and dreams – think added vacations, hobbies, or charitable giving. Isn’t that what a happy retirement is all about?
Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM
— It's that time of year again when parents and college or college-bound students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The idea of wading through a form – especially one that requires financial information – is definitely not an appealing idea, but the FAFSA could be a tremendous help in getting your student money to attend college.
The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA.
Fill it out – you have nothing to lose.
You may think that you don't need to fill out the FAFSA, especially if you believe you might not qualify for need-based aid. But there's no income cut-off point with federal student aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the FAFSA can help you qualify for all kinds of grants, loans and scholarships, including those offered by your state, school or private organizations.
By investing a few minutes of time, you could reap thousands of dollars in potential rewards.
Submit it ASAP.
The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better, according to consumer adviser Clark Howard. Although the federal deadline isn't until June 30, 2018, you should check with the financial aid administrator at colleges you're interested in to make sure their deadlines aren't earlier.
Submitting earlier will help you plan how you'll pay for college. You'll also have a better chance of getting as much aid or scholarship money as possible since some colleges distribute their available money on a first-come, first-serve basis, Howard says.
Gather the information you'll need.
The FAFSA asks questions about the student as well as his or her parents if the student is a dependent.
You'll need the following information on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:
Watch out for common mistakes.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators points out some common mistakes that can delay your form's submission or cause you to not get the aid and scholarships you might qualify for. They include the following:
Keep an eye out for requests for more information.
Your FAFSA may be selected for verification, which means you'll have to provide some additional or supporting information, U.S. News & World Report explains. This process doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything wrong. You may have a discrepancy or mistake on your form, but some FAFSAs are just randomly selected for verification (lucky you!).
Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM
— With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.
Here are some options:
Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.
The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Equifax from here on out due to the recent data breach.
You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.
This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com
While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.
This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.
Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.
If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.
Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.
To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.
Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.
Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.
It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.
Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM
— Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.
It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?
The following are four ways your house can make you money:
List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.
If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.
Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.
When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.
On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.
Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.
Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.
The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.
Rent out your driveway or storage space.
If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM
— Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.
Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.
Choose your plan carefully.
When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.
Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.
Take advantage of preventative care benefits.
Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.
Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.
Work within your formulary.
Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.
It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.
Utilize HSAs and FSAs.
If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.
An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.
Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.
Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.
For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.