Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

 

Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

I have more student loan debt than I care to admit. But it was my decision, and I own it.

 

There’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately about student loan debt. With the total U.S. student loan debt reaching $1.75 million (mine included), the calls to forgive student loan debt have reached a crescendo—as if, if we scream it loud enough, the debt will just disappear into the ether. Removing the prospect of a presidential magic wand making it go away, the real question now is this: how do you save for the future, pay down your debt, and live fully?

I often read news articles detailing the hardship new graduates face when they struggle to pay down their loans and subsidize their lifestyles. I see a lot of finger-pointing toward a rigged system, corporations underpaying, or the predatory nature of lending. This isn’t to dismiss legitimate concerns of these institutions, but too often, I see a lack of personal agency. Behind some news articles, you find the subject of the article owns a Mercedes or rents an apartment that their social status dictates they should have but not the one their wallet demands. Take a step back.

Can you answer “yes” to these questions?

  • I know exactly how much money I’ll have at the end of the month.
  • I do not live paycheck to paycheck.
  • I can pay my bills and still save for wish list items.

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to look at your current lifestyle. There’s an emotional component to finance that we often overlook. For many of us, our relationship with money becomes a reflection of who we are as a person. No one proudly admits they spend $150 on brunch a month. And no one boasts about their tendency to avoid their bank accounts out of fear of what the balance will be. After college, I had a coming-to-Jesus moment when I decided that to live my life fully, I needed to be the one who dictated where each and every dollar went. Enter zero-based budgeting.

If you’re not familiar with it, zero-based budgeting requires you to assign each and every dollar of your paycheck to a job. By assigning each dollar, it exposes your spending habits and tallies all the dollars and cents that have a sneaking tendency to add up well beyond your expectation. You must decide, “Do I need to budget $100 on Uber rides? I’d rather apply it to something else more important.” There is a mental calculation and trade off that must occur for you to affirm how your money is spent. There are several apps you can find to assist with this, such as You Need a Budget (YNAB) and EveryDollar. Having done this myself for a while now, I have found significant savings that I use to apply toward next month’s bills, thus providing me a safe buffer should I run into emergency expenses. I cook meals at home, and now suddenly I have $150 to allocate how I want (hello, Hawaii fund!).

Here’s the point: budgeting every dollar sets you free. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not. I’ve been able to tell every dollar what to do. I can set goals for myself, make trade-offs, and avoid incurring more debt. That constant fear of not knowing if I’ll make it to the next paycheck has vanished. It’s also worth noting that while it may feel difficult at first to adjust, your income is likely to increase as you pay down your loans. Luckily, your spending habits will stick even as you increase your wealth.

How do you save for the future, pay your debt, and live fully? You take control of your financial situation—warts and all.

 

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Is Now the Right Time to Buy a Home?

Is Now the Right Time to Buy a Home?

 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it seems that Americans have been clamoring over one another to achieve a core component of the American dream: homeownership. And this phenomenon isn’t surprising; people have spent more time at home than ever before, and the obstacles to buying have dropped significantly. I’ve been asked more and more by my clients whether now is the right time for them to buy.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not a cut-and-dry yes or no. Homeownership is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and there are multiple items to consider before making a decision.

 

Interest Rates

When I speak with potential homebuyers, one of the top reasons they feel an urgency to buy now is due to historically low interest rates. And they are not wrong. As shown in the below chart, 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates in the past year have been at their lowest ever since Freddie Mac began tracking them in 1971.

Source: https://www.macrotrends.net/2604/30-year-fixed-mortgage-rate-chart

 

While some may think that saving 1% on their mortgage rate isn’t a big deal, the truth is that it adds up quickly. Let’s say a homebuyer is comparing two 30-year fixed mortgages for a $500,000 loan amount, one with an interest rate of 3.0% and the other with an interest rate of 4.0%. At first glance, the monthly payments may not look too different: $2,108 per month for the 3.0% loan and $2,387 per month for the 4.0% loan. However, over the course of 30 years, this difference adds up. Over the life of the loan, the 3.0% rate will cost $258,887 in interest paid. Alternatively, the 4.0% rate loan will cost $359,348 in interest. That’s a difference of over $100,000 in interest paid over 30 years!

I certainly understand the concern as it relates to interest rates: How long will the rates stay this low? Since most lenders will not allow you to lock in your rate prior to your offer being accepted on a home, homebuyers are feeling the pressure to buy as quickly as possible. On March 16th, 2022, the Federal Reserve announced its first rate increase since 2018 of 0.25%, with additional interest rates increases on the horizon. While some may take this as a sign to buy a home as soon as possible, it’s important to keep in mind that the Federal Reserve is not required to raise interest rates, and there is still a possibility that they could change course.

 

Down Payment

For many homebuyers, the question of how much cash they should put toward their down payment is often top of the list. Historically, most buyers have targeted a down payment of 20% of the purchase price. Why? you may ask. Lenders have discouraged homebuyers from putting down less than 20% as it reduces the lender’s risk in case the homebuyer stops paying their mortgage.

To encourage buyers to put down at least 20% of the purchase price, most lenders charge Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) to those who do not meet the threshold. The average range for PMI can cost between 0.58% to 1.86% of the original loan amount per year, depending on the homebuyer’s down payment, loan amount, and credit score.2 To put this in dollar terms, if a homebuyer had a $500,000 mortgage and was subject to a 1.00% PMI rate, it would cost them an additional $417 per month.

Though PMI is clearly a cost to be mindful of, recent years have shown more buyers opting to put less than 20% down. From 2017 to 2020, 33.6% of 30-year mortgages carried PMI. This is a sizable increase compared to the share of PMI mortgages from 2011 to 2016 at 25.5%.2

It is also important to keep in mind that a homeowner is not obligated to pay PMI for the life of their mortgage. Once their equity in the home is over 20%, the homeowner can work with their lender to have the PMI cost removed. Equity ownership in a home is not just linked to the amount paid, though. If a homebuyer purchased a home for $500,000 and the home appreciated in value to $550,000, they will have an additional 9% in equity compared to where they started.

Why should someone take out a mortgage with PMI? One of the top reasons is to maintain enough cash in emergency savings. Once the home purchase closes, the buyer is responsible for all maintenance costs—emergency or otherwise. If one must choose between paying PMI and having a sufficient emergency fund, I will almost always recommend prioritizing the emergency fund. Having enough cash on hand to support unexpected costs serves as the foundation (pun intended) for all prudent financial plans.

 

Competition

From speaking with your friends or listening to the news, you may think that everyone has bought a house in the past two years. Your intuition isn’t completely off-base; data from the US Census shows that homebuying peaked at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021.

Source: https://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/index.html > Current Press Release (Full Report and Tables)

The increase in homebuying in recent history has unsurprisingly led to increased competition and sales prices. According to Redfin, in July 2021, the average home sold for over 102% of the list price.3 This was the height of sale-price-to-list-price ratios since the beginning of 2020. More recently, January 2022 has started off with the average house selling for 100.3% of the list price.

While this is a promising sign that competition has slowed down from its height, the housing market is still quite competitive. This often leaves homebuyers feeling the pressure to make a quick decision and offer over the asking price.

 

Conclusion

In addition to the factors mentioned thus far, there are other considerations to keep in mind when purchasing a home. Do you intend to live in the house for at least five years? Do you have enough cash outside of your emergency fund to pay for routine and unexpected maintenance? Are you ready for the responsibility that comes with owning a home? If not, maybe renting a house is a better option for you.

At the end of the day, choosing to buy a home is a significant financial decision that impacts many facets of your life. If you are left wondering where a home fits into your financial plan, our advisors at Merriman is happy to help you assess your options. Additionally, if you are a first-time homebuyer, please check out our Guide to the Homebuying Process.

 

Sources:
1 https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-minutes-reflect-growing-unease-over-high-inflation-11641409628
2 https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/104503/mortgage-insurance-data-at-a-glance-2021.pdf
3https://www.redfin.com/news/housing-market-update-inventory-falls-below-500000/

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

The Roth Rulebook

The Roth Rulebook

 

When preparing for retirement, it can be important to save money in different types of accounts to give you flexibility when it comes time to spend those funds. One of the most powerful and misunderstood types of accounts is the Roth. A Roth account is an after-tax retirement account that can be in the form of an IRA or an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k). The after-tax component means you pay tax on the front end when receiving the income, and in exchange, you can receive tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals if you follow the rules of the Roth. There are three components to consider: contributions, conversions, and earnings. Contributions and conversions refer to the principal amount that you contribute or convert, while earnings refer to the investment growth in the account. There are contribution and eligibility limits set by the IRS each year, but today we will focus on withdrawing funds from a Roth IRA to maximize the after-tax benefit.

 

Roth Contributions

After you contribute to a Roth IRA, you can withdraw that contribution amount (principal) at any time without paying taxes or the 10% penalty. That is an often-overlooked fact that can come in handy.

Example: Ted is 38 years old and decides to open his first Roth IRA. He contributes $5,000 to the account immediately after opening it. Two years later, Ted finds himself in a financial bind and needs $5,000 for a car repair. One of the possible solutions for Ted is that he could pull up to $5,000 from his Roth IRA without paying any tax or penalty.

 

Roth Conversions

A Roth conversion is when you move funds from a pre-tax account such as a traditional IRA. You will owe income tax on the amount that you convert. This can be a powerful strategy to take control of when and how much you pay in taxes. There is no limit to how much you can convert.

When it comes to withdrawing money used in a Roth conversion, five years need to have passed or you need to be at least 59.5 years old to withdraw the conversion penalty-free. It is important to remember that each conversion has a separate 5-year clock.

Example: Beth is 50 when she executes a $40,000 conversion from her IRA to her Roth IRA in January 2020. In March 2025, Beth finds herself needing $40,000 for a home renovation. One of the possible solutions is that Beth could pull up to $40,000 from the conversion that she did over five years ago even though she is under 59.5.

 

Earnings

When it comes to withdrawing earnings from growth that has occurred after contributing or completing a conversion, you must wait until age 59.5 and five years need to have passed since you first contributed or completed a conversion. If you don’t follow both of those rules, then you could have to potentially pay income tax on the growth and a 10% penalty.

Example: With our previous examples above with Ted and Beth, even though they can withdraw their contribution and conversion respectively, neither of them can touch the earnings in their Roth accounts until they are 59.5 and have satisfied the 5-year rule.

 

Other Important Details

There are a few other exceptions that allow a person to avoid the penalty and/or income tax, such as a death, disability, or first-time home purchase.

For ordering rules, when a withdrawal is made from a Roth IRA, the IRS considers that money to be taken from contributions first, then conversions when contributions are exhausted, and then finally earnings.

 

Strategies 

  • Have a thorough understanding of the rules before withdrawing any funds from a Roth account.
  • Speed up the 5-year clock.
    • You can technically satisfy the 5-year clock in less than five years. You can make contributions for a previous year until the tax filing date (typically April 15th, but as of this writing, it may be April 18th in 2022). This means that a contribution on April 1st, 2022, could be designated to count toward 2021, and the clock will count as starting on January 1st, 2021. This shaves 15 months off the 5-year clock! Note: Conversions must be complete by the calendar year’s end (12/31), but you can still shave 11 months off the 5-year clock.
  • Start the 5-year clock now!
    • Even a $1 contribution or conversion starts the clock for you to be able to harness tax-free gains, so start as soon as possible.
  • After the passing of the SECURE ACT in 2019, most non-spousal IRA beneficiaries must now fully distribute inherited IRAs within ten years. This means that an inherited Roth IRA owner could potentially allow the inherited Roth to grow tax-free for up to ten more years and then withdraw those funds tax-free. If it fits into an individual’s financial plan, this can be a tremendous tax strategy to take advantage of.

 

Roth accounts can be incredible but also very confusing. As advisors, we figure out the best way to use these accounts to your advantage in terms of maximizing growth and minimizing taxes. If you have any questions about how you can best utilize a Roth account, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are always happy to help you and those you care about!

 

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Nothing in these materials is intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances. Merriman does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

How We Understand Financial Freedom, and How We Actually Should

How We Understand Financial Freedom, and How We Actually Should

 

Financial freedom is especially important for young people, particularly students. They frequently overspend on online courses, products, clothing, and even essay review services like Best Writers Online.

As a result, they feel a sense of financial deficiency. To avoid this problem in the future, it is critical to learn how to properly manage one’s budget.

 

What Exactly Do You Mean by Financial Freedom?

What prevents most people from following their dreams? Money, only money! This represents a specific stage of life. Some may object, saying, “But money does not make you happy!”

And it is true. The primary mission of money is to provide people with safety and freedom. Also, it provides us with the opportunity to live our lives the way we wish. Indeed, it is difficult to argue the point that it is easier to be happy with money than with an empty wallet.

Financial freedom allows you to kill two birds with one stone: have enough resources for living and be happy at any stage of your life.

 

What Is Financial Freedom?

Financial freedom is defined as a state in which a person’s income received without active participation (passive income) significantly exceeds his expenses for maintaining the desired lifestyle.

 

Why Is Financial Freedom Important?

Being financially free means that you have the freedom to:

  • Choose your lifestyle;
  • Buy the things you want regardless of your regular salary;
  • Spend money on entertainment;
  • Invest in projects and the property estate sector;
  • Avoid credit loans;
  • Have access to free money whenever you need it.

Both children and adults must learn the fundamentals of financial freedom—the sooner, the better. Adults can take a long time to learn something new, putting off all their business until later.

The most effective option, of course, is to teach students, who are more intellectually flexible than adults and who have a greater understanding of why this is important than schoolchildren.

Students usually spend most of their time writing essays or scientific papers. However, financial literacy is a much more valuable issue that they will face once they become self-sufficient. As a result, it can be wise to delegate written work to the professionals of an essay review service such as Writing Judge in order to have more time to focus on learning the basics of financial freedom.

 

How Do You Achieve Financial Freedom?

How many of us have wished to be financially independent but concluded that it was out of our reach? We frequently blame our circumstances, other people, or even our bad luck.

However, with proper planning, anything is possible. Here are some pointers to get you started:

#1 – Time Is More Important Than Money

A person who has achieved financial independence begins to see boring meetings and routine work in a new light. He understands that his time has a higher value, and it is better to spend it on important activities. Things that must be done but are of no interest can always be delegated to someone else.

#2 – Always Have Sources of Additional Income

To be financially independent, you must find a passive source of income. Do not refer to an additional source of income as a part-time job; it could simply be another job.

In most cases, one can do it for free or for a small amount of money at first until he improves his skills in a specific field. Over time, this source of passive income can be even more profitable than the main job.

#3 – Make It Possible for Your Money to Grow

The traditional methods of saving money under a pillow or in a home safe are already out of date. Inflation quickly depletes these savings.

Financial crises often leave you wondering whether you should invest. There are various ways to generate passive income from assets, including stocks, alternative investments, and real estate. Simply select what is best for you.

There have never been better strategies to develop equity in the past. The miracle of compound interest will dramatically improve your savings. It may appear complicated, but everything is straightforward: if you constantly contribute, you will receive a proportion of the growing amount each year.

Open a brokerage or an individual investment account and learn how to invest on your own. There are numerous competent materials and courses available on the Internet that can be mastered for free. Create a managed portfolio and replenish it once a month. Or determine if it’s time to hire a financial advisor for guidance.

#4 – Be Deliberate in Your Actions

A person seeking financial freedom does not believe in lotteries and does not invest large sums simply because “everyone does it.” Follow your instincts rather than trends and popular opinion.

#5 – Income Should Be Carefully Spread Out

Invest in various areas to avoid losing everything to the next “black swan.” Even if some assets depreciate, the rest will serve as insurance.

#6 – Read Books on Finance

Read books about financial freedom and ways to achieve it—not to impress others but to expand your knowledge. One devotes a significant amount of time to earning money.

Understanding how money works make sense if you want to dispose of it competently. The wise man researches customer reviews before purchasing household appliances. The same thing applies to money. Learn from the best in this field.

#7 – Plan Ahead of Time for Potential Crises

The world has experienced financial turmoil over the last few decades, including the financial crisis of 2008 and the pandemic-induced recession. It is worthwhile to keep an eye out for signs of impending crises to strengthen your investments’ financial situation. This will also aid in the proper management of available funds.

#8 – Do Not Spend Money on Things That Are Not Necessary at the Time

Goods on sale, incomprehensible investments, and other unnecessary categories of expenses do not contribute to financial freedom. Give up impulsive spending.

#9 – Use Your Money to Help Others

Not everyone is a philanthropist. A small donation, on the other hand, is accessible to nearly everyone. When we help the rest of the world, we benefit ourselves. And this alters our relationship with money.

#10 – Manage Your Monthly Budget

The best way to ensure that all bills are paid and savings are replenished is to create and stick to a monthly budget. This is a common routine that aids in the achievement of financial objectives while discouraging unplanned spending.

It is not difficult to live a simple life. Many wealthy people developed the habit of living within their means before becoming wealthy. To do so, you must analyze costs on a regular basis and find reasonable ways to save without sacrificing your quality of life. For example, when you go shopping, don’t go to the city center where prices are higher; instead, head to a remote quarter where the cost of the same goods is much lower.

#11 – Automate All Your Payments

On payday, distribute funds depending on monthly needs. If you pay a loan, send payment as soon as you receive it. The same is true for savings: it is preferable to set aside a specific amount at the beginning of the month and then spend the remainder.

This also applies to utility bills, mobile communications, and the Internet. All essential payments can be set up in your bank application so you do not even have to send them manually. There will be no incentive to put something off until later.

#12 – Invest in Your Health

Invest in your health by seeing doctors, particularly dentists, on a regular basis. Many difficulties can be avoided by simply altering one’s way of living.

Outdoor walks, healthy eating, and exercise therapy help to prevent several common ailments, such as hypertension, gastritis, diabetes, and obesity. Remember that poor health can compel you to retire earlier than expected and earn a smaller monthly income.

 

Conclusion

Control revenue and spending, investigate investment opportunities, and begin accumulating money as soon as possible. Financial freedom is more than just a certain level of wealth. This is an opportunity to live debt-free, think strategically, and understand how to manage finances for the benefit of your family and others.

 

 

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Lafond Wanda
Lafond Wanda is a professional content writer, copywriter, content strategist, and communications consultant. She started young with her writing career from being a high school writer to a university editor, and now she is a writer in professional writing platforms— her years of expertise have honed her skills to create compelling and results-driven content every single time.

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and it is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

 

After a difficult 2020, many looked toward the new year through an optimistic lens. 2021 kept us all on our toes, with the continued pandemic and new strains, along with a turbulent market and rising inflation to name a few things.


While we don’t yet know what 2022 will bring for the economy, for markets, or for our own lives, there are still some things we can control.

 

As we welcome in a new year with hopeful expectations, let’s take a moment to recommit to those factors within our control:

 

Planning for Our Future

As we reflect on continued challenges this year, many are wondering what they can do to set themselves and their loved ones up for financial success. From getting creative with financial literacy for your little ones, to avoiding common pitfalls at early and mid-career points, to preparing for retirement and taking care of future generations, we see and help with it all. While we can’t predict what the future will hold, we can help you plan, prepare, and hold your hand through the transitions of life.

 

Building Better Financial Behaviors

Too often investors focus on markets and the latest fads when they should focus on themselves, their hopes, goals, and dreams. When we see the media focus on a trend, like we did with NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and inflation this year, it’s an important reminder to not be swayed from your investment philosophy. With the right amount of guidance and discipline, diversification can be the key to long-lasting financial freedom. 

 

May you and your family enjoy the warmth this season has to offer and a new year filled with hope, love and success!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

Overcoming Financial Fears

Overcoming Financial Fears

 

Early in my career, I had several instances of folks canceling their appointments with me last minute. Some were for emergencies with work or family, and some were for reasons such as “not being prepared to meet” or “not sure this is the avenue I want to take” or, in rare cases, saying nothing at all. It was easy to take that personally, but over the years I have come to realize that such cancelations or procrastination in general when meeting with a professional financial planner is often driven by fear.

Let me give you some context. When someone has a financial problem today, they often will hit the internet—Google, YouTube, a blogger whom they follow for answers. When answers are harder to come by, they might call a trusted friend or family member and ask for help. Getting even to this point takes time; the question may be put back on the shelf for another day. But let’s assume it is a big issue, like buying a new home and figuring out how to finance two homes for a time. This person will need answers, soon, and a professional advisor to help. From here, they may ask for a referral or hit up Google again for folks to call—but then it comes the call, scheduling, and SHOWING UP to the appointment. They have gone through five or more steps just to get to appointment day, and now they are ready to cancel.

Why? We live in a world where finances are not often discussed, even amongst our closest family. We have been taught that you don’t discuss it, and then we are bombarded for years with the Joneses’ owning the next big, expensive item. Facebook and Instagram have shown us the best of other people’s lives; and by comparison, we feel inadequate, even if our financial road has been relatively free of detours. This feeling can make it difficult to approach a professional and lay out our financial truth. But I am here to say that it doesn’t have to be.

As an advisor, I pride myself on being neutral. Your financial life up to today is what it is, and we cannot change those facts. If you have debt, feel like you should have saved more, are late to the game, or have gotten this far by sheer luck, it does not matter. In fact, it does not change who you are as a person. If you are asking for guidance, any great advisor will take the time to educate you on what they feel is best for your situation and will strive to make you feel at ease.

As you are searching for an advisor, look for someone who you feel you can trust. Meet with several if the first one isn’t right. In fact, check out our blog posts on what to look for in an advisor and the 10 reasons why clients hire us. Everyone has something in their financial past that they are not proud of, and airing that to a stranger can feel scary; but I promise that we are not the “financial confessional” I once had someone mention to me. We are here to help and would love to meet you.

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.