Panning for gold …

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Some minor changes to the 7million7years format:

Previously, I had been trying to post to a Monday/Wed/Thur schedule PLUS a video on Sunday. Unless I really find a video that knocks my socks off, I’m going to drop my Sunday video (for now) and shift my posting schedule to Mon/Wed/Fri each week.

I should also point out some key differences between this free blog and my paid membership site (7m7y.com): my blog (i.e. the site you are on right now) is much more ‘chatty’ and random than my membership site; my blog simply reflects my thoughts, feelings, and experiences gleaned from my own journey from $30k in debt to $7 million the bank in 7 years.

My journey – hence, what I share on this blog – is absolutely authentic and I believe that there is real gold to be gleaned simply by reading this blog 3 times a week.

IMHO, it’s the best 6 minutes that you’ll spend each week, besides your love life ūüėČ

I liken reading this blog regularly to wading in a shallow stream and panning for gold: stand there long enough and you get what you need and, hopefully, enjoy yourself in the process. But, don’t expect instant results …

On the other hand, my NEW membership site (The $7 Million 7 Year Wealth System) is a complete course on wealth; if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll immediately recognize the main modules (Finding Your Number, Making Money 101, Making Money 201, and Making Money 301) but it’s covered to a depth that this blog simply doesn’t – and, can’t – go.

And, I’m building it to be a true step-by-step course to fulfiling YOUR financial destiny.

BUT, I don’t advertise on this blog, so the only way you’ll hear more about the course, is by subscribing to my free MONTHLY newsletter – using the form in the right-hand side-bar [see right ====>].

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Is your home an asset?

I spend a LOT of time on this blog talking about your home, and rightly so; your home is often regarded as your single largest asset.

Or, is it?

TraineeInvestor reopens the debate with what I think is a really interesting –¬†seemingly ‘throwaway’ –¬†line in his comment to this post:

The overwhelming consensus of opinion on internet forums and blogs is that your home is not an investment. (There are even people who think it is a liability rather than an asset!!!).

The “overwhelming consesus” hasn’t made $7 million in 7 years, and probably never will ūüėõ

But there is grounding to the home-not-an-asset way of thinking; for example, in this post I quoted Robert Kiyosaki who first told me that a home is NOT an asset¬†[AJC: Unlike many others, I am not a Robert Kiyosaki¬†detractor …¬†Rich Dad Poor Dad was the first book that I ever read on personal finance and, at the time,¬†it really opened my eyes to the value of financial education].

Here’s what RK said:¬†

  My Poor Dad Says   My Rich Dad Says
       
¬† ‚ÄúMy house is an asset.‚ÄĚ ¬† ‚ÄúMy house is a liability.‚ÄĚ
       
  Rich dad says, “If you stop working today, an asset puts money in your pocket and a liability takes money from your pocket. Too often people call liabilities assets. It’s important to know the difference between the two.

Yet, paradoxically, TraineeInvestor also¬†pointed to the exact opposite: study after study has shown that the wealthy own their own homes and the ‘poor’ do not!

So, what do I think?

Well – and, this may also¬†SEEM paradoxical – I actually agree that a home is not¬† an asset in the sense that it doesn’t earn an income.

Of course, you could rent to yourself.

Tell me then, though, when do you – could you – ever realize the value in that ‘asset’?

Only if you sell (you never will); or, pass it on (it’s not an asset for YOU).

Yet, there is one way to realize at least part of the value of your asset (while you still need a place to live), and that is to release some equity by refinancing.

So, technically, I agree with the ‘non-asset’ thinking, which is why I ask you to at least minimize the equity in your own home to a mere (by Dave Ramsey standards) 20% or less¬†of your current Net Worth (and, review annually).

I also advocate buying¬†your first home –¬†more for some ‘human nature’ reasons rather than strict financial reasons – but,¬†nowhere in this blog have I ever said: “… then,¬†upgrade it”! ūüėČ

Why bother keeping up an esoteric “is your home an asset or a liability?” debate at all, when the only real question that you need ask yourself is:

Can I reach my Number if¬†I buy my own home, then keep [insert¬†‘%¬†of current home value’ of choice: 0%; 10%; 20%; 50%; 100%; other] tied up as home equity?

My standard advice is,¬†YES … if:

a) I buy my first home (with whatever starting equity that my bank and I can agree on), then

b) [as soon as reasonably possible, start to] maintain no more than 20% of my net worth in that – or, any future – home as equity

c) and, reassess b) annually (against both¬†my home’s¬†and my own net worth’s¬†current value)

Ultimately, the equity that you choose to keep in your home either helps you to reach your Number, or it doesn’t.

For most people,¬†“reaching their Number”¬†means amasssing ‘real’ assets in the range of millions of dollars. Logically, tying up valuable equity in something that can’t possible reach ‘millions of dollars’ in value is wrong, so why do it?

What does this all mean for you?

My ‘rules’ of home ownership are designed to give you the best chance to reach your Number by your Date.

Depending on how YOU choose to look at it, your home is either your single largest asset or single largest liability …

…¬†the real point of this blog is to make sure that it doesn’t stay that way ūüôā

The Cash Cascade ™

I wrote a series of posts about Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball, and have found this great summary / illustration on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity’s blog (does he just sign his checks BFFP to save ink?):

One of Dave Ramsey’s most popular ideas is that of a debt snowball. The idea is that you pay off your smallest debts first, then roll that debt’s monthly payment into the next smallest. When the next smallest is paid off, you roll the two former payments into the next smallest debt.The snowball grows and grow with each debt that’s repaid.

Here’s a real life example; here are your three debts and minimum payments:

  • $10,000 @ 20% APY, $500 minimum monthly payment
  • $4,000 @ 10%, $200 minimum monthly payment
  • $1,500 @ 12.5%, $75 minimum monthly payment + EXTRA PAYMENT

The debt snowball method states that you should put all extra debt payments towards the $1,500 balance. When you finally pay off that debt, your new payment schedule should look like this:

  • $10,000 @ 20% APY, $500 minimum monthly payment
  • $4,000 @ 10%, $200 minimum monthly payment + $75 + EXTRA PAYMENT
  • $1,500 @ 12.5%, $75 minimum monthly payment

I have only added the words “EXTRA PAYMENT” to both examples, because I want to clarify – then expand upon – BFFP’s example.

First, though, what Dave Ramsey is saying – and, what BFFP is trying to illustrate – is the concept that you take one of your debts (the highest interest rate in the traditional ‘Debt Avalanche’ or the smallest balance owing in Dave Ramsey’s more psychologically-friendly ‘Debt Snowball’ method) and pay that down completely … merely making the required minimum payments on any other loans (but no more!) to stop them from going into default.

The credit card companies will love you for this!

Then when that loan is paid off in full you apply the payment that you USED to make on the first loan that you tackled to the next remaining debt, and so on …

… it ‘snowballs’ because you are applying more and more to each remaining debt, while never having to commit more (or less) to debt servicing than when you first started budgeting.

So, in both examples we are paying $775 (i.e. $500 + $200 + $75) towards debt repayment until all debts are paid off … THEN – conventional financial wisdom will tell you – you get to start INVESTING that $775 a month and you are FINALLY debt free and on your way to … what?

Well, let’s go back and make the small correction: if you only make the minimum payments, you will never pay off any of the debts (or, way too slowly), so you need to find some extra money and make some extra payments to the first loan that you decide to tackle; let’s use an example of $225 a month as an extra payment …

… and, from now on you commit to that monthly $1,000 i.e. $500 + $200 + $75 + $225 EXTRA PAYMENT + C.P.I. + 50% of any ‘found money’ (second jobs, part-time business income, loose change, IRS refund checks, etc., etc.) for your entire working life!

So, we are on the road to success! Or, are we?

The problem is that we have to decide where we’re heading: if our aim is to become a Ramseyesque Debt-Free=Happy clone, then well and good. Your financial plan is set.

[sign off now]

But, if we intend to get rich(er) quick(er)‚ĄĘ we have two huge limitations, neither of which the Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche address:

1. Time to invest, and

2. Money to invest.

Time

We all know the time value of investing early and investing often:

If we lose just 10 years to our investing plan by delaying investing while we pay down ALL of our debt and/or pay down our mortgage we can halve our potential return.

Do you think that might be significant?

So, we don’t want our debt-repayment strategy to unnecessarily delay our investment strategy.

Money

Where are we going to get the money to invest?

Sure we can accumulate $1,000 a month (after paying off debt) – and, grow that amount through C.P.I. and ‘found money’ strategies -but, will that really set us off on the path to financial riches?

The same graph shows that for every $1,000 A YEAR we invest, we can expect $100,000 after 20 years … so, our $1,000 A MONTH strategy should yield $1.2 Million over the same time period … unfortunately, that won’t be enough for a DEPOSIT on the Number that you really need …

… and, inflation will take at least a 50% chunk of that (not to mention taxes)!

So, the solution for most people – who don’t want to lower their expectations to match this depressing, but debt-free (!) scenario – is to move INTO debt … to invest!

This is so-called ‘good debt’ and I’m not sure what Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman’s take on this is, but most financial pundits call it ‘good debt’ for a reason. Assuming that you agree, read on [AJC: if not, I’m guessing that you hit <delete> about 4 or 5 paragraphs ago]

So, here’s what we need …. a different mind-set:

Since we already know that we will more than likely need to incur SOME ‘good debt’ as part of our investment strategy (i.e. some safe level of leverage for investment purposes e.g. a loan on a rental property) …

why pay off OLD debt now in order to accumulate NEW debt later?

It doesn’t make sense, does it?

We merely waste time and money … instead, we should resolve the following:

1. To treat all Consumer Debt as ‘bad’ and incur no further such debt, unless it’s not really Consumer Debt at all (e.g. we need to buy a car to run our catering business, and public transport or a bike really won’t cut it)

2. To apply the minimum required payments + extra payment(s) + c.p.i. + ‘found money’ not merely to the lesser goal of paying down debt, but to the greater goal of helping us get to our Number (i.e. the financial representation of our Life’s Purpose [AJC: if you don’t buy into that philosophy, then simply insert the words “helping us become financially free”])

3. To, from this day forth, look at all debt as an INVESTMENT in your financial future: and, simply ‘invest’ where you get the greatest returns: is that in paying off an old debt? Or, is it in acquiring a new debt?

Example 1

In the example above, we have three debts of 20%, 12.5% and 10% (are they tax deductible? If so, look at the after tax cost which will be 25% to 35% lower than the nominal interest rates circa 14%, 8.5%, and 7% respectively) …

Compare these interest rates to the cost of money for the types of investments that you want to make …

… in this example, all three are higher than current mortgage rates so you will probably want to keep paying them off (although a good argument can be made for paying off the 20% loan first, then buying an investment property BEFORE paying off the others).

Example 2

Let’s make two changes to our example:

Let’s assume that one of the loans is a 2.5% Student Loan, and swap the amounts owing (so that the Student loan is now the ‘biggie’) and, let’s assume that we have at least 5 more years before it HAS to be paid back (so we have time to make an investment work for us); here’s our starting position:

  • $1,500 @ 20% APY, $500 minimum monthly payment + $225 EXTRA PAYMENT
  • $4,000 @ 10%, $200 minimum monthly payment
  • $10,000 @ 2.5%, $75 minimum monthly payment

In this case, we tackle first the 20% loan; I can’t imagine an ‘investment’ that will provide such a quick & safe 20% post-tax return! Then, we tackle the 10% loan.

Again, an argument could be made for leaving it in situ; however, it is only $4k – and, we’ll pay it off in just 4 months – so let’s go ahead do just that:

  • $10,000 @ 20% APY, $500 minimum monthly payment
  • $4,000 @ 10%, $200 minimum monthly payment
  • $10,000 @ 2.5%, $75 minimum monthly payment
  • $10,000 Reserve #1 @ (1%)¬† + $200 + $500 + $225 EXTRA PAYMENT

See what we are doing?

Once we have paid off our two HIGH INTEREST loans, instead of paying down the low interest student loan, we continue to make its minimum monthly payment, and instead apply all of the previous / extra loan payments (from our OLD loans) to building up a ‘reserve’ in a bank account (it pays us a – low – rate of interest!) …

… at this rate, we will have a deposit on a small rental (or our own first studio apartment) in less than a year, then our financial picture will look something like this:

  • $10,000 @ 20% APY, $500 minimum monthly payment
  • $4,000 @ 10%, $200 minimum monthly payment + $200 + $500 + $225 EXTRA PAYMENT
  • $10,000 @ 2.5%, $75 minimum monthly payment
  • $10,000 Reserve # 1 @ (1%)
  • $40,000 @ 6% FIXED, $240 required monthly payment
  • $10,000 Reserve # 2 @ (1%) + $185 + $500 + $0 EXTRA PAYMENT + $185 Rent

Keep in mind that if you used Reserve # 1 to build up a deposit on a small apartment to live in, then you will have no rent to pay, so you can apply part to home ownership expenses (rates/utilities/taxes) and part towards your next Reserve!

And, if you bought a rental, then you may be in an excess rent situation and have more to apply to building your next Reserve, as well … if not, then you will need to decrease the amount going towards your next reserve to cover any rental shortfalls (e.g. mortgage payment deficits, vacancies, repairs & maintenance fund, etc.).

Now, you know why this is not a Debt Snowball, a Debt Avalanche, or even a Debt Meltdown:

It’s the Cash Cascade …

… the new way to look at paying down debt!

In the two years that it would have taken you to pay off your Student Loan and buy your first property, you now own two properties and are well on your way to financial freedom!

What do you think? Will it work for you?

The Great Debt Repayment Fallacy … don't fall for it!

Everybody knows about ‘good debt’ and ‘bad debt’, right? And, we all know – and have committed to memory –¬†Personal Finance Prime Directive # 1:

Eliminate All Bad Debt Now … Before Doing Anything Else!!!

This may be the current Personal Finance mantra, but, if you happen to subscribe to the same view, then read on because this post could be the most important piece of wealth-building advice that you will ever read!

But, first …

That simple and clear ‘PF Directive’ was the assumed premise behind a recent (and very good, I might add) post on The Simple Dollar¬†that I want to delve into a little more deeply than usual because it brings out a critical wealth-building point that may not be obvious to all. In that post¬†Trent said:

A reader wrote in recently:

I have kind of a weird situation with our 2 credit cards, and wanted to see what you thought. We have one card (Citi) with a total balance of $4,800. $3,800 of this is a balance transfer that is at 2.99% until paid off. The remaining $1,000 is at 13.49%. Of course, all principal payments are applied to the lower rate debt first. Our other card (Chase) has a balance of $5,700, and is at 0% until September 08, when it goes to 8.99%. Which card do you think is best to ‚Äúattack‚ÄĚ first?

After reading this email, I thought it would be a good time to take a more general look at comparing the debts you owe as well as how to construct a healthy debt repayment plan.

Trent then proceeded to outline a very good and pragmatic approach to dealing with these, and any other, debts … a plan that involved:¬†

A few sheets of paper and a pen; the latest statement for every single debt; making the first list; ordering all of the debts by their current interest rate; looking for ways to reduce the rates, focusing most strongly on the highest current one; when you’ve reduced rates, making a new list reflecting the changes; dealing debts that are set to adjust in the future; directing all of your extra payments towards the top debt on the list; when a debt vanishes, crossing it off and feeling good about it; updating the list when you acquire a new debt; and, updating the list when one of your debts adjusts to a new rate

Before I weigh in on this, let me ask you a Very Important Question:

Do you really just want to be debt free or do you want to be rich?

I know that¬†sounds self-evident, but stick with me … if you just want to be in the top 5% of the US population and retire on $1,000,000 in, say, 15 years then by all means,¬†do the Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, and/or Oprah¬†‘debt diets’:

That is, save and be debt free (including your own home) … whoohee! … by the time you ‘retire’ [read: work part-time in Costco handing out free food-samples until you’re 75], you’ll be living on the equivalent of $15,000 today¬† and hoping to hell that the government can still afford to pay you social security!

It’s¬†OK if you slavishly follow this thinking: it’s the Conventional Wisdom …

It’s just that if you want … nay, need¬†…¬†to be rich(er) and retire soon(er) then you’re going to need unconventionally large amounts of money in an¬†unconventionally rapid timespan, and that’s going to take some Unconventional Wisdom!

You see, I believe that being debt free and being rich are [almost] mutually-exclusive!

This is a pretty controversial view, I should think … but, I will even go so far as to say that it is [almost] impossible to become rich without using debt: debt to fund your business (working capital finance and/or leases on equipment and/or leases on vehicles, etc.); debt to fund your real-estate investments (fixed interest mortgages and/or interest-only funding); debt to fund your stock purchases (margin lending); etc.

Hold on, all the Personal Finance writers/bloggers out there say:

We can put all of the above examples in the ‘good debt’ category and¬†we already agree that¬†they are OK …

Great!

But, then they always add:

… but, ‘bad debt’ is ‘consumer debt’ (credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc.) and we all know that our Number One Personal Finance Objective is to¬†wipe¬†Bad¬†Debt¬†out, right? After all, it’s not called ‘Bad’ for nothing! Right??!!

Well, not necessarily … sure you shouldn’t get yourself INTO any of this Bad Debt … but, once you have some (you naughty, failed human being, you), you need to mix it with your Good Debt and revisit Trent’s Plan with ALL of your debts in hand … both ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’.

Look at it this way, once you find yourself with a mix of both Good (appreciating and/or income-producing assets) and Bad (depreciating, consumer goods) Debts, the only things that matter are:

1. Paying off the Dollar Value of the Bad Debt as quickly as possible, and

[AJC: Here is the key … its in the¬†“AND]

2. Paying off the highest after-tax interest rate loan off first.

So here was my advice to the person who asked the question on Trent’s post:

Interestingly, in the reader‚Äôs case (if I read correctly) his ‚Äėconsolidated‚Äô card is at a Combined Effective Rate of only 5.2% ‚Ķ because he can‚Äôt attack the 13% portion until he pays off the 2.99% portion I would do the following:

1. Pay off the other card first, then

2. Buy an investment using the money that he would have paid the 5.2% debt off with …

… after all 5.2% is a very low rate of interest!

To clarify: I would not pay either card when interest rates are under the standard variable mortgage rate ‚Ķ I would be financing new real-estate, or paying down the mortgage on my existing (IF I‚Äôm not breaking the 20% Rule). The plan I outlined above starts when the 0% period ends … until then, pay off NEITHER card IF you have a more productive use for the money!

What does this mean for the rest of us?

i) Don’t get INTO Bad/Consumer Debt … save and pay cash for any ‘stuff’ (cars, vacations, furniture, ipods, computers, etc.) that you want.

ii) Once you do get INTO Bad/Consumer Debt … don’t be in such a hurry to get out of it; compare the cost of your Student Loans; Ultra-Low-Honeymood-Rate credit-cards; Super-Low-Suck-You-Into-Buying-More-Car-Than-You-Can-Afford Interest Rate car loans; etc.¬†against the after-tax cost of the mortgage that you have on your house and/or investment properties (or the interest rate on your Margin Loans for your Stocks; or your Working Capital Finance for your Business; etc.).

iii) Work out a repayment plan as though you were going to pay INTO that Bad/Consumer Debt … instead, pay¬†an equivalent amount off against your highest after-tax interest rate loan across your entire Good/Bad Debt portfolio.

iv) Reevaluate at the earlier of Quarterly (i.e. every 3 months) OR when one of the interest rates on ANY of your loans changes OR [yay!] when you have paid one of your loans off.

v) If you don’t want to (or can’t) get out of a higher-interest loan early using (iii) then compare the cost of the lowest-interest loans that you have (regardless of whether they are Good/Bad) against the current FIXED interest rates¬†for new loan on a new investment … if LESS, buy new¬†instead of pay off old.

Remember: The Object of Personal Finance¬†is to end up with MORE money … the object isn’t to SAVE money, PAY off debt,¬†BUY a house, START a business … they are all just all steps along the way.

If you want to get Rich(er) Soon(er) never, ever confuse A Means To An End with The End

… now, let the flames begin!

 

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