Tag Archives: importance

What is Personal Finance

What is personal finance? And Why does it matter?

Those are two very interesting and important questions to ask as one either begins their life as adults, or begins asking questions they’ve never approached before. For the past five months or so, this blog has predominantly been centered around personal finance, both the investing side, as well as the money management side.

I didn’t realize that before I choose to continue this journey with you all, I should probably take a moment to explain what Personal finance actually is. Personal finance clearly deals with how individuals manage their money.

While the topic briefly touches on the analysis and performance of businesses and organizations for investment purposes, it predominantly centers around the individuals’ approach to managing each dollar in and each dollar out.

Personal finance answers questions like:

What are my financial goals? What use do I have for money? What should my investment approach be? How much do I need to be saving? How large should my house purchase be? Should I buy this trinket or save the money?

Many of these questions are simply answered through quiet reflection or by asking your friends and family for feedback. However, some of these more complex questions like how to invest your money, or how to craft a financial plan can often be better answered by a financial advisor.

Why does personal finance matter? 

There are three basic reasons why you should pay attention to your finances:

1. Money has impact

2. Money can be complicated

3. Money is emotional

While we of course don’t have the time to go into the details of Personal Finance in one blog post, I hope this gives you a great picture of what this topic is all about.

Acquiring a Domicile: How to Rent an Apartment

Most people have or will rent at some point in their life. What often comes up is concern about rising prices or lack of adequate amenities. These issues will always be a concern. However the following steps will help prepare you for a move into someone else’s rental.

1. Determine your Renting Criteria

As soon as you decide that you want to rent, you need to determine what you’re after. What kind of budget are you looking at? What square footage? What types of Amenities do you want? What are your needs verse what are your wants? In which location specifically does this rental need to be?

Answering these questions will give clarity, allowing you to start the next step…

2. Narrow Search to 10 Rentals

As soon as you’ve determined your renting criteria you will be ready to begin screening. Similar to how a landlord screens potential tenants, you will be screen potential landlords. Find ten places that most closely meet your criteria.

Some places you can find rentals include:

Pad Mapper, HotPads, Lovely, Trulia and Walkscore

3. Visit Your List and Come Prepared

With your list in mind you can begin visiting each one. To come prepared, bring a checkbook, wallet, or some means of payment in case they want to charge you for an application fee. Also bring proof of income such as a pay stub or other documentation. Lastly, you’re going to want a photo ID.

At this point you should be well on your way to both knowing which locations fit your needs, and entering yourself into the landlords application process. Assuming you meet the rental criteria, you will probably get one of your applications responded to within a week or to.

You’re on your way! I hope this helps you on your rental journey.

Why Sometimes More Taxes are Good for You

How can more taxes be a good thing? Well taxes are something you pay either out of your earnings/income or your spending/consumption or when you die. So if we just look at the first type, income taxes, we can see that the amount of income tax you pay is largely determined by how much income you make.

I’m guessing you’d like to make more income this year. Specifically either residual income or capital gains income. So paying more income taxes can actually be a good thing; it means you have made more income.

Before you assume that paying more taxes is universally good I want admit that more taxes isn’t always better. For example if you pay sales tax on the purchase of a new car, that’s not necessarily good. Or if you forget to deduct retirement contributions form your income, that’s not necessarily good.

To be clear, income taxes should be reduced as much as legally possible. However overall, an increase in taxes probably means you’re making more money.

In conclusion, avoiding income tax at all costs may actually be a bad thing because it’s keeping you from earning more money. Go earn more money and eventually you may find that you kind of like the implications of paying more taxes.

A Logical Approach to Getting into Debt

The largest expense most folks in the U.S. incur is a home. When buying a home most Americans choose to take out a home mortgage. So how do you go about buying a home? I’ll share that with you in the steps below.

To be honest, I have never purchased a home of my own, however, I plan to. These are the steps I will take in a couple years when buying my first place. I also will incorporate the experience and knowledge I’ve learned from my Father who was both a home builder, carpenter and owner multiple times during my teen years and still is today.

Place and Purpose

Where and why you want to purchase a home are some of the most fundamental questions. For example are you wanting to buy in San Fransisco, CA? In that case you’re probably okay with a price range of $300K-$400K+. Thinking about Lansing, MI? It’ll cost you around $75K-$250K. These ranges are drastically different so deciding on where you want to buy is the first step.

Then ask, why am I buying? Maybe you intend to “house hack” and move out a year later to turn it into a rental, or maybe you want a quiet family home in the country that you can live in for 30 years. Maybe you just want a place large enough to house your aging parents as well as your growing family? There are many reasons for buying.

With those two things in mind, your location and your reasons behind buying, you are ready for the next crucial step, Financing and Finances.

Financing and Finances

Financing and Finances are the most analytical and numbers-based part of purchasing a home. First look at your finances. How much house can you afford? How much home do you actually want or need for your situation? In which ways will a home limit or help you financially?

Financing a home is fairly straightforward and complex at the same time. One one hand all you have to do is go to a bank, get approved for a loan, and then pick a house to buy right? While this is certainly the gist of it, there are most considerations and steps involved.

For example how much downpayment are you putting down? This will determine whether or not you need an FHA loan or conventional loan. What interest rate will you most likely have? What kind of monthly payment will that mean and will you be able to afford it? This kind of ties back into the realm of Financial analysis.

Comparing, Choosing and Closing

In you first step you decided on what you wanted generally speaking and where you wanted to live. In the second step you got approved for a loan and made sure you knew how much you were willing to spend and if you could afford it. Now it’s time to find a place.

First you’re going to need a realtor. This real estate agent will be able to help you locate properties in the area you identified. As they show you properties you will get a feel for the characteristics that you like and the ones you don’t. You’ll ask questions like, “would I  be willing to pay more for a pool?” Or, “Should I pay less for no garage?”

After looking at enough properties you will decide upon one or two that suite you. Get you Realtor to put in offer and you may have to negotiate a little. After agreeing on a price and terms (which is often a long process) you will come to sign the contract. As the day of closing comes near you will have to be aware of the following closing costs:

Realtor Commission

Property Appraisal Fee

Due diligence costs

Attorney fees

Other closing costs

These closing costs and others will usually range between 5% to sometimes even 10%.

Next you’ll have to start moving in, which is a whole different process. But for now I hope I’ve helped you develop a plan for your own home buying.

Lending Investments: Are They Worth It?

When it comes to investing money for retirement two of the most common investments are stocks and bonds. Today I want to focus on the latter.

When it comes to investing in debt investing there are a few main types which I will briefly mention:

1. Corporate Bonds

These are a form of debt security that is issued by a corporation. Because they aren’t backed by the government, there is a higher risk and therefore higher yield associated with this kind of loan. There are many forms of this kind of bond.

2. Government Bonds

These can refer to Treasury Bills (T-Bills) which are debt securities lasting less than a year, Treasury Notes (T-Notes) which are debt securities lasting between 1 and 10 years or Treasury Bonds which are debt securities lasting more than 10 years. In addition there are also something called Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) which involve lending money to the government in return for small payments and ultimately principal that is indexed to inflation.

Under this category I will also place Government agency bonds. These are bonds that are issued by Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE’s) and/or Federal Government Agencies.

Bonds issued by GSE’s usually have the following characteristics: 1) A small return that is slightly higher than treasuries because 2) they have credit/default risk. Examples of Government Sponsored Enterprises: Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae).

The second kind of agency bonds, which are issued by Federal Agencies have the following characteristics: 1) less liquidity and therefore 2) slightly higher yields than treasuries but 3) are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. Examples of government agencies: Small Business Administration, Federal Housing Administration and Government National Mortgage Association.

3. Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties and smaller government entities. There are two types, General Obligation Bonds (Bonds issued by small local governments that are backed by their full faith and credit), and Revenue Bonds (Bonds backed by specific revenue sources like tolls). These will always have yields higher than government bonds because of the slightly higher risk.

4. Bank Debt Assets (mortgage-backed, asset-backed and collateralized debt obligations)

This is a type of asset-backed security that is secured by a mortgage or collection of mortgages. It can get complicated to explain but for now you just need to know that banks and financial institutions usually own these.

5. Peer-to-Peer Lending

This is by far the most recent debt invention. Peer-to-Peer lending refers to a means by which individuals give and borrow money to each other usually over the internet to produced higher returns than can be given by other bonds or get a loan they otherwise couldn’t get.

Conclusion:

So should you invest in lending investments, and if show which ones? The answer really depends on your goals, risk profile, capacity for risk and the options available to you. Talk to your finical advisor about this or refer to one of my upcoming posts on the subject of asset allocation.

Investing in Gold: Should You do It?

There are usually two camps to the gold issue. One group says that gold has always been a medium of exchange and that, as a physical resource, the demand for gold will never go away. The second group argues that gold isn’t really worth much except what people are going to pay for it. It just sits there, collecting dust, not producing income or ROI.

So which is it? Is gold a legitimate investment or should we consider it a gamble? Well first let’s look at a brief (very brief) history of gold and how it has been used.

For thousands of years gold has been seen as a valuable resource. The ancient greeks at around 700 B.C. valued it enough to issue the first gold coins. This was under the reign of King Croesus of Mermnadae, who was a ruler of Lydia. They formed coins using a mixture of gold and silver that is called electrum.

As time progressed, more and more civilizations recognized the value of gold as a medium of exchange. For example the use of gold spread to Asia Minor as well as Egypt. The next big champion of gold were the Romans. They developed more technology that helped mine it in their vast empire.

As China and Indian economies developed, they began trading their valuables like silk and spices to the western countries for gold and silver. Gold continued to be used by civilizations for trade. It was always seen as a “precious metal.”

Fast forward a bit and we come to the early U.S.. The largest advancement in the case for gold occurred in 1792 when the U.S. adapted gold and silver as our currency standard. For decades after the U.S. used these two forms as money until paper currency was adapted in the United States. However even when we adapted paper, the backing behind it continued to be gold.

Eventually in the late 20th century, the gold standard was ended and fiat money took over as the form of currency for our country. Ever since gold’s price has moved up and down with demand and supply.

So, has it been a good investment?

The answer depends on what time frame you look at. For example after the crash of 08 and 09 gold skyrocketed in price. However recently the price has been dwindling. Overall, since we went off the gold standard, gold has gone up around 3% per year. How does that compare to stocks? Pretty poorly. Stocks have produced around a 6% return above inflation during that period.

So, does gold have any place in a portfolio? The answer is maybe. Looking at how modern successful investors view this resource, we can see that gold is best used as a small percentage of any portfolio. It can balance out times of panic when the stock markets plummet. Ray Dalio, a successful hedge fund manager and billionaire, has invested in gold only as a small portion of his overall investments.

Finally, the choice is really up to you. Talk to your investment advisor and do some research on your own. You may find that a 10% allocation of gold can significantly reduce the risk for your retirement account. Or maybe you decide not to because you realize you can produce better returns without it. Either way, don’t consider gold a true investment for any meaningful percentage of your investments.

The Most Advantaged Retirement Account

When it comes to picking a place to keep your retirement savings, there are two basic types of accounts to be aware of. The first is what is called a taxable account. This simply means the growth is taxed like most other investments. The second type of account is what is called tax-advantaged. In other words, this account has tax advantages like either  tax free or tax deferred growth.

In the category of tax advantaged accounts, there are a few popular names. Names like 401K and IRA are often used. When setting up a retirement account you can either set one up through your employer, or independently through a broker.

The types of accounts usually provided through an employer are 401K’s and 403B’s. Essentially these accounts are the same, but talk to your tax advisor about the differences and what applies to your specific situation.

If you decide to take the route of setting up a retirement account on your own, you can set up what’s called an IRA  (individual retirement account). IRA rules, for this current year, allow you to put up to $5500 of income away, tax deferred. In other words, you can avoid paying taxes on $5500 of income this year.

So the major employer-sponsored plans are 401K’s and 403B’s. The major independently funded retirement accounts are IRA’s. Within these options there is what’s know as a Roth. Whether it is a Roth 401K or a Roth IRA, the Roth has a few characteristics:

  1. Instead of deferring taxes upfront (and deducting the contribution from your taxable income) you pay taxes from the start.
  2. Instead of paying taxes on the growth, you avoid paying taxes in the future if it is taken out after 59.5.

In other words, Roth accounts are different in the fact that you pay taxes up front, but avoid paying it in the future if all the requirements are met. In recent years, the Roth has become more popular for these reasons.

Generally speaking, the Roth is better than the conventional account because of the power of “tax free” withdraws”. There are a few other types of accounts, but for most people, some form of IRA or 401K is the best option. I hope this helps on your retirement journey, whether you’re starting out, or in the midst of major changes.

3 Things to Have in Your Wallet

While most Americans are saddled with credit card debt, student loans, and monthly car payments, the underlying issued usually relates to how we view money in general. Most people would like to say they are responsible with their finances, but their actions tell a different truth.

Out of this basic mentality toward money often comes many damaging habits we see today. For example the uncontrollable, erratic spending that characterizes consumers can go back to the root cause of lack of responsibility.

Responsibility over every area of your financial life, especially what is in your wallet, comes from an understanding that personal finances are a crucial area to match with your values.

When someone takes responsibility over their wallet they should be aware of three items:

1. Cash

Most have heard the saying “cash is king” whether on the Dave Ramsey show or elsewhere. But is cash really that powerful? The truth is that sometimes yes and sometimes not so much.

For example if you’re buying a table on craigslist, cold, hard cash will probably be the most powerful negotiator. However if you’re buying a home, pulling out cash might make you look a lot like a drug lord…

Make sure to always have a good amount of cash in case an expense comes up that you can’t use your cards for.

2. Debit cards

Even more important than the credit card is the debit card. A debit card gives you access to your bank checking account and can often be the most popular means of payment. While you certainly don’t need to have multiple debit cards and different banks, there is certainly a case to having at least one.

3. Credit cards (maybe)

Some of the most daunting debt in the US is the credit card loans. According to the NY post, credit card debt in the US is approaching $1 Trillion. Why would you want to have a credit card?

When it comes to credit cards I believe that about half of people should not have them because of lack of discipline. The other half of people should have a few quality cards that are used regularly but sparingly to build credit. There might be some points or cash back in there, but that’s just icing on the cake.

Ultimately your use of credit cards should depend on your discipline and self-control. Everyone should have debit cards. And everyone should carry an adequate amount of cash in both fives, ones and a ten (maybe $50 total?).

Besides the payment-related items there are of course things like ID and insurance cards but I hope you have enough common sense in those areas. I hope this helps your spending habits on your financial journey for many years to come.

2 Things I learned from Ray Dalio’s Book

While often seen on TV and financial journals, Ray Dalio is somewhat of an unheard of figure outside of the financial world. He started broke, developed his skills, knowledge and habits, and today is the billionaire funder of the largest Hedge fund in the world.

In his new book, Principles, Dalio focuses on the principles or set of beliefs that have been the baseline of his success in both life and business. Throughout the chapters he illustrates just how crucial principles are, not matter the principles, to how you perform in each area of your life.

From his book I have taken 2 main points:

1. The things we do know are much smaller than the things we don’t know

While everyone would say they believe this idea in theory, when it comes to the actions we take, many of us, including myself, will puff up our egos higher than is actually the case.

Dailo states that people who have more knowledge, success and experience on a topic, should carry more weight in our decision-making.

2. Set up systems, or processes that help make decisions and see around emotions

While emotions are a natural and good part of life and human interactions, when it comes to making the best decisions, especially the business decisions, logic should be the ultimate decision maker.

Two of the greatest roadblocks to making quality decisions are the ego and the blind-spot barriers, which are both covered by the entrepreneur’s planet in their post: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/150799291/posts/16

Ultimately being committed to integrity, open-mindedness, and self-improvement, are the largest factors that have contributed to Ray Dalio’s success and the principles he teaches.

 

R.E. Strategies: Investing Debt Free Vs. Leveraging Properties

When making financial plans there are two basic schools of thought to get your information from. One group says that debt is bad, and that you should limit or eliminate all debt as soon as possible. The other group argues that getting rid of consumer debt is wise, but that borrowing money to buy investment properties or start businesses can be a smart investment.

Who do you listen to? The answer is that it depends. For example let’s look at the debt approach.

If your strategy is to purchase single family homes at favorable mortgage terms, receive monthly cashflow, grow equity and increase the value of the property over time then this strategy may work. However the alternative, no-debt strategy would leave you saving up and purchasing the whole investment with cash. Sound difficult? You bet!

So which strategy is better? Well that depends on which provides a better, risk-reward ratio. The following are a few risks we should be aware of when investing in real estate: Law suit risk, credit risk(that we won’t be able to pay the mortgage, thus losing the property), cashflow risk (that costs will rise to the point where we don’t receive adequate cashflow). These are just a few risks.

Of these three risks, which ones are effected by taking out a loan? Credit risk and cashflow risk are both effected. Credit risk isn’t even a concern with the no-debt approach(because there’s no mortgage) and cashflow risk increases with the debt approach because there’s increased monthly expenses in the form of loan payments.

A different risk we haven’t discussed yet is the risk of loss of capital. For example let’s say you make the investment in a limited liability entity and are thus only able to lose the money you have into the deal. With the all-cash approach your risk is much higher than the debt approach.

Overall the risks of using debt are slightly higher. However in terms of returns the returns can potentially be much higher than if you only use cash. In addition, purchasing a property with cash takes longer to save up for , lengthening the time it takes to make the original investment in the first place.

So which is better? It all comes down to if you are willing to take slightly more risks to potentially make much more ROI. As long as you are sure to never borrow more than 80% of the value of a property, the debt approach will usually work slightly better. Lastly, the most important takeaway is that simply investing is the most important step. So stop waiting and start taking steps towards financial freedom today!