Tag Archives: research

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.

Becoming the Squirrel of Personal Finance: 4 Places to Stash Your Cash

Most folks around the world understand the concept of saving more; you can only increase savings when you either increase income or decrease spending. However if instead of investing, what if one were to put the money into savings? Where should they put it? That’s what I’d like to explore.

When considering where to put your savings there are two main factors: Risk of Inflation, and Risk of the Need for Capital.

Risk of Inflation:

When you put money into savings there’s not really a real risk of losing your money to a drop in the stock market. That’s a good thing. But the risky part is that with slower interest and growth on your money, you’ll have a harder time keeping up with inflation. Often the savings interest won’t even be enough to cover the different.

Therefore with saving there is always a risk your purchasing power can do down.

Risk of the Need for Capital:

What if you put money in a CD (Certificate of Deposit) and find out a few days later that you need the money for an emergency?

First, at least some of your money should have been in a liquid asset for emergencies. But secondly, if you have to take the money out, a CD will usually penalize you. So you should always be aware of the chance you’ll need the money and what you’ll do if you do.

With those to risks in mind, the need for capital and inflation, let’s explore the options for saving:

Conventional Saving Accounts

These usually command the lowest interest rates because of the relative liquidity of funds.

Online Savings Accounts

These are online accounts that you set up in which you usually receive higher rates of interest because there isn’t any brick and mortar building to maintain.

Certificates of Deposit

These are the best for funds you’re sure you won’t need for a short period of time. For example if you know you’re going to purchase a car in 3.5 months, then maybe taking out a 3 month certificate of deposit isn’t a bad idea if it gives you are larger return of interest.

Conclusion:

Decide your reason for saving and how much liquidity you’ll need. If you can stomach tying up your money for months or even a year at a time, maybe a T-Bill or CD is worth it. Otherwise, consider a regular bank account or Money Market.

The Stock Market is Falling: What Should I Do?

The last few weeks started as a few percent decline in the market. As gurus and commentators covered it, they viewed the decline as a temporary, week-long or even a few day-long event. However a few weeks later here we are, still waiting and wondering when the market will rebound.

As a long-term investor this is exciting for me. Not only have stock declined roughly –% from their high, they continue to fall to increasingly discounted prices. Everything might not be a bargain at this point, but after falling about 9% the market is a lot closer to reasonable pricing than it was a month or two ago.

So when prices drop like this, what should an investor do?  They should do what the best investors do – find good companies and buy them at favorable prices. This might mean waiting and watching for a good company to drop below your perceived value it.

But for index and active mutual fund investors slowing dollar-cost-averaging into the market may make the most sense. Understand that the market will come back. It’s just a matter of how quickly it does.

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.

Building An Empire: Your Real Estate Investing Options

Real estate investing has become a sexy topic for many real estate channels, blogs and books. There are those who say buying a home is a great financial step. However those who want to go beyond the typical goal of homeownership, there are a wide variety of options.

Direct vs Indirect vs Hybrid

When you first decide to put money into real estate, you have to ask yourself how much you would like to be involved in the process. For those who want to buy or manage property directly, there is direct real estate investing.

If you don’t want any part in the investment process you can consider the real estate indirect investment options. These are things like REIT (Real Estate Investment Trusts) and syndicated real estate funds.

The hybrid between indirect and direct investing is partnerships. With a partnership you find someone to either provide the money and credit or do the more involved part. Basically you only are require to take part in part of the real estate investing process, whichever you decide as partners.

Step 2: Picking your strategy

If you decide to invest indirectly into an REIT or syndication you will need to do research and decide on one. For those who determine on either a hybrid or direct investment approach exploring strategy is your next step.

There are many strategies out there like flipping, buy and hold, BRRRR method (Buy, Rent, Repair, Refinance, Repeat), property development, house hack and a few others.

Finally: Choosing your Property Type

After picking which strategy to deploy, you have to determine which kind of property you’d like to buy. Examples include single-family, multi-family (duplex, triplex and four-plex), commercial office, commercial retail, industrial, commercial residential (apartments)

Funding

The last step in acquiring property is deciding upon a funding method. There are a few ways to do this. You can either buy the property cash, which of course is less common, or you can buy one using other people’s money (OPM).

Funding a property using other people money can either come from a bank or somewhere else. If you’re using a bank to buy residential property there are two basic kinds of loans that are usually deployed, either a conventional loan or an FHA loan. The FHA loan is basically a loan that requires less of a downpayment in exchange for paying (PMI insurance).

With an unconventional funding source there are usually two places to get it from: the seller (called seller-financing) or outside places. Seller financing can be fairly straightforward but let me explain that the other outside sources of financing can come from friends, acquaintances, or private lenders.

Conclusion:

Whichever form of real estate you decide to buy, whatever strategy you decide to employ,  and whatever funding method us use to buy them, real estate remains a solid investment option. Real estate can be consider a reputable option up there with stocks and business ownership. Next time you’re thinking you want to invest use these steps to uncover your own real estate path.

Different Stock Investing Strategies

I am going to briefly cover the top most widely used “investment” strategies for stocks. Technically not all of these methods are investing because a few of them involve short term trading.

1. Stock Index Mutual Funds

There are many types of indexes. Indexes are essentially a predetermined basket of stocks that are formulated using a set of rules. For example the most widely used index, the S&P 500, is an index that incorporates the 500 largest companies in the US and weighs them in the index accordingly. There are other indexes such as small-cap indexes or tech stock indexes. The bottom line is that with an index you are purchasing a tiny portion of a large basket of US stocks that is going to reflect your sector of choice.

2. Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Actively managed indexed funds are very similar to indexes except for 1 key difference: They aren’t bound by a predetermined set of guidelines. For example an active mutual fund might have a focus on large-cap stocks or international stocks, yet there aren’t any rules on how much of each of these have to be purchased. This is different from an index where the predetermined weight of each stock is set in stone. Out of this difference comes an increase in management fees because of the funds active, and therefore more costly management structure.

3. Value Investing

This is the method used by the smartest and most successful investors (in my opinion). Warren Buffet is the most famous example of this. Value investing involves determining a company’s value (regardless of current perceived value) by looking at a balance sheet and income statements using fundamental analysis. As the investor sees a price drop well below it’s determined real value the value investor can seize up good deals and hold on for the long-term.

4. Day Trading

This is a common strategy by short-term investors who use primarily technical analysis (looking at charts and trends) to make “investing” decisions about which stocks to buy and then sell quickly for a profit. The risky thing about this is that if you accidentally buy a stock or ETF that suddenly drops in price, you could get stuck with a plummeting investment that was truly overvalued.

5. Random Strategy

This strategy is specifically for people who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t even pretend to try to act like it. They randomly purchase stocks that “sound cool” and then hope that they rise in price. By far this is the stupidest strategy just behind day trading. You can lose your shirt much easier with mindless/random investing or day trading than you can with the other strategies I outlined above.

Conclusion:

Whatever you do, please don’t choose route 5, and preferably strategy 4 as well. Not only is day trading risky and the fees expensive, it has also be statistically been proven to outperform traditional investing methods over the long-term.

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.

Inflation: What it is and How to Use It

Inflation has essentially been around since currency was created. But what is it? The Marriam Webster dictionary defines inflation as:

“a continuing rise in the general price level usually attributed to an increase in the volume of money and credit relative to available goods and services”. That’s nice to know but how does this effect us in our daily lives?

Well the “rise in the general price level” can mean things like groceries, fast-food, restaurants, as well as other things like insurance, utilities and housing (both for buyers and renters).

With this cost increase usually happening year over year, what are some things we can do to minimize this?

Well the first big thing is planning. If you are considering retirement in a decade, realize that the cost to live then will be higher than the cost to live now. Do a rough calculation on the average rate of inflation (roughly 3.5%). Over ten years the cost of everything will most likely rise 41%!

After understanding the impact of inflation and incorporating it into your estimated retirement costs, it’s time to talk about investing. The best types of investments for inflationary periods are stocks and real estate. The reason for this is because stocks’ value (in the long-term)is based on the earnings of the company and earnings generally go up with inflation. So off the bat you have a built in inflation protector.

The second ideal investment, real estate, is a little more complicated to invest in. A common “investment” people choose to make is in their home. While it is certainly the case that homes usually go up in value, the decision isn’t a clearcut one. (Check out my blog on the rent vs buy debate)

Another way to invest in real estate is to buy rentals. This is more hands on and therefore takes more time and energy. If you are comfortable with this then by all means go forth and invest! However a lot of people find the intensive commitment inherent in this type of real estate investing too much to handle.

If this is the case with you you can consider another options, REIT’s. Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REIT’s as they are called, involve the investment of large groups who buy large quantities of real estate. The earnings and appreciation from this real estate is owned through a large quantity of shareholders who buy part of the ownership, like a stock.

While this is certainly an option, I find REIT’s to be remarkably unimpressive long-term compared to stocks or direct real estate investments.

Whichever path you choose to take, be wary of the inflation hurdles and the best ways to overcome them.

3 Forces Standing Between You and Your Financial Goals

Time

Often all the things we want to accomplish aren’t feasibly achievable in a set period of time. When this is true, we have to make the often difficult decision of determining which path matches with our values. In other words, we probably can’t achieve every goal we have so we have to prioritize.

This is very true with short term goals like making it to your kid’s basketball game verses watching the football game live. But it can also be true with long term goals. For example I certainly would enjoy the process of being a masterful accountant who has both technical skills and people skills. However I have come to realize that I might never become the world’s greatest accountant if I have other goals more worthwhile (for example like becoming a great financial advisor).

Goals

You might think a strange thing to add to this list is goals. After all, aren’t goals things that empower us and keep us on track? Yes and no. In one sense goals are essential to producing the results we want in life. In another sense, goals by themselves, without effective plans to get there and way to streamline actions towards them, are meaningless.

As Warren Buffet and Bill Gates agreed in an interview: one of the greatest factors to success is focus. Putting all your energy on one task, both with your mind and body, is a powerful thing.

Having too many goals, I have found, can get in the way of this powerful focus. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the things that are worthwhile and the things that can wait.

Inflation

Lastly on this simple list of 3 is inflation. This is more of a technical obstacle than a mental one. However the force can be equally important. If you were to buy a house in a stable neighborhood today, do you think the same house would be worth more in 30 years? Yes, I would hope so. This fact that we can all bet on, the fact that prices will overall rise year after year, is called inflation.

Inflation is powerful because it covers both the consumption side (for example like purchasing gum) and the investment side like stocks or investment real estate. Inflation is such an important force that I will be covering a brief history and action steps around it tomorrow in my blog. Tune in!