Debt Repayment: Alleviate your money from its obligation to the past

Debt Repayment: Alleviate your money from its obligation to the past

There is a good chance you, or a close family member, carry debt.  It’s common for the typical American household to carry amounts exceeding six figures (Tsoie & Issa, 2018).  Debt can be mysterious in the sense that individuals might owe a similar amount, but perspectives on how to repay debt vary dramatically.   Debt is also not always negative and can provide strategic benefits in your financial plan.  Consider a home mortgage for example, the underlying asset is likely to increase in value. Mortgages often offer a valuable source of leverage, but loans on depreciating assets like cars can quickly end up with negative equity.  Other loans, like high interest credit card debt, can be especially menacing.  This article will focus on consumer debt repayment and we will highlight a few common approaches to help the borrowers make real progress on eliminating debt.

Many households across the country have debt related to auto loans, credit cards and even personal loans.  The decision to take on debt is personal and the need or desire for debt means different things to just about everyone. Below are some common questions to consider when developing a debt repayment plan.

  • How do you organize debt?
  • Which debt should be paid first?
  • Should debt be paid off ahead of investing for retirement?

One strategy that many people find effective for debt elimination is using rolling payments.  Rolling payments involves focusing on aggressively paying off one loan at a time, while making the minimum payments on other debt.  With rolling payments, you throw as many excess dollars in your budget as possible toward repaying one loan.  Once the target loan is paid off, roll that loan payment into paying off the next debt beyond the monthly minimums.  Keep rolling your payments to the next loan on your list until the ball and chain of your bad debt is paid in full.  To illustrate a couple different ways to prioritize your debt list, we are going to look at three approaches for prioritizing debt, including, an interest rate approach, a behavioral approach and a combination strategy that factors in retirement savings.

When evaluating debt repayment from an interest rate approach, order all debts from highest interest to lowest, and attack the highest rate first.  Focusing on interest rates makes sense because you are reducing the debt with the highest interest rate drag.  Although progressive, the downside to this approach is that it might take months or even years until you finally check a loan off your list.  Many people become worn out and lose motivation to follow the plan.  There will also be cases where a loan with a lower interest rate, but larger balance will be more impactful on the overall repayment plan than a small loan with a higher rate.  However, prioritizing debt strictly by interest rates ignores that. 


Interest Rate Approach Example

Let’s meet Steve, who has three outstanding debts. Steve has student loans totaling $22,000 at 6%, a car note of $15,000 at 3.5% and $8,000 of credit card debt at 17% annual interest.  Utilizing the interest rate approach, Steve will prioritize his debts according to the table below and use the rolling payment method, we discussed for repayment.

Illustrating the Behavioral Approach

Now let’s consider Steve’s situation from the behavioral approach.  This behavioral method prioritizes starting with the smallest loan regardless of interest rates.  Compared to the interest rate approach, you will likely end up paying more interest overall with the behavioral strategy, but the small wins along the way provide motivation and reason to celebrate.  This method has been popularized by the personal finance personality, Dave Ramsey, who consistently recommends focusing on behavior. He refers to this approach as the “debt snowball”.  You can still take advantage of rolling payments with the behavioral strategy, so once each loan is paid off, roll the payment to the next debt on the list.

Combining Perspectives: Debt Repayment and Retirement Savings

The power of compounding interest reveals its best to contribute early and often towards retirement savings for maximum growth.  If your debt is not too overwhelming, it can be valuable to continue retirement savings while paying down loans.  With this in mind, we can utilize a combination approach that addresses both debt reduction and retirement savings.  One method is to target either a specific debt reduction or savings goal.  Use your primary goal as a minimum benchmark then throw as many extra dollars in the other direction (debt or savings) as possible.  Combining goals of retirement savings and debt elimination is best utilized when loan interest is less than the expected return of investments for retirement.  Focusing on both savings and paying off debt can be helpful for identifying opportunities to “beat the spread” by investing versus paying off debt.

No matter how you decide to repay debt, take comfort in knowing the best strategy is one you can commit to and stick with during tough times. Here at Merriman, we believe in the power of committing to a sound plan for guidance throughout your financial life.  If you’re lost on where to start, please take a few minutes to read First Things First by Geoff Curran, which provides a guide toward prioritizing your savings.  If you have questions or would like to learn a bit more, please contact a Merriman advisor who can help navigate your specific situation. 


References:

Tsosie, C., & Issa E.E. (2018, December 10). 2018 American Household Credit Card Debt Study. Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/


Mega Backdoor Roth Explained!

Mega Backdoor Roth Explained!

By: Geoff Curran & Jeff Barnett

Everyone thinks about saving for retirement, and not many people want to work forever. However, have you thought about the best way to save for the future? If you are setting aside the yearly max in your 401(k) and channeling extra savings to your brokerage, you might be missing out on powerful tax-advantaged saving opportunities. In this article, we will show you how we help clients maximize savings, minimize taxes and secure their future using the Mega Backdoor Roth IRA.


Most people know they can contribute to their employer’s retirement plan from their paychecks through pre-tax and Roth contributions up to $19,000 a year ($25,000 if age 50 or older; IRS, 2018). What people miss is whether their retirement plan allows for additional after-tax contributions beyond this limit. Enter the supercharged savings!

It turns out that some company plans permit you to contribute up to the IRS maximum for total contributions to a retirement plan, which is $56,000 in 2019 ($62,000 with catch-up contributions; IRS, 2018). The IRS maximum counts contributions from all sources, including pre-tax employee deferrals, employer matching contributions, and even after-tax contributions for the Mega Backdoor Roth. That means you might be able to contribute an additional $20,000 or more after-tax each year after maxing your elective deferral and receiving your match. You can then convert the extra after-tax savings to Roth dollars tax-free. This more than doubles what most individuals can contribute to their retirement plan, and you won’t have to pay taxes on your Roth account distributions in retirement. This benefit is even greater when both spouses have this option available through their employers, so be sure to check both plans.

Retirement plans like those at Boeing, Facebook, and Microsoft permit easy conversions of after-tax to Roth dollars within the retirement plan. Other companies offer a variation where you can make in-service distributions and move after-tax dollars into a Roth IRA. Make sure to check with your benefits team to find out if your company’s retirement plan supports after-tax contributions and Roth conversions, the steps involved and the maximum amount you can contribute to the after-tax portion of your retirement plan. It’s important not to run afoul of plan rules or IRS requirements, so also be sure to consult experts like your accountant or financial advisor if you have any questions.  

Why contribute extra after-tax?
Now that we have covered the high-level view, let’s hammer down the why. The benefit of contributing to your employer’s after-tax retirement plan is that those contributions can subsequently be converted to Roth tax-free. This is sometimes called a ‘Mega Backdoor Roth,’ whereby you can contribute and convert thousands of dollars per year depending on your retirement plan. Once converted, these Roth assets can grow tax-free and be distributed in retirement tax-free. After several years of Mega Backdoor Roth contributions, you can amass a meaningful amount of wealth in a tax-free retirement account

How do I contribute?
1. Log in to your employer’s retirement plan through their provider website, such as Fidelity.

2. Find the area where you change your paycheck and bonus contributions (i.e., deferrals).

3. Find “after-tax” on the list showing how much you elected to contribute pre-tax, Roth, or after-tax to your 401(k).

4. Enter a percentage to have withheld after-tax from your upcoming paychecks and bonuses that works for your budget.

5. Select an automated conversion schedule, such as quarterly (Microsoft’s retirement plan even offers daily conversions!). If your plan doesn’t offer automated periodic conversions, contact your retirement plan provider regularly throughout the year to convert the assets.

6. Remember to select an appropriate investment allocation for your retirement account that aligns with your overall investment plan.

Is any part of the conversion taxed?
For retirement plans that don’t convert after-tax contributions to Roth daily, there may be growth in the account prior to conversion. This growth is subject to taxation at ordinary income tax rates. For example, if you converted $22,000 ($20,000 contributions + $2,000 investment growth over the period), you’ll owe income tax on the $2,000.

We suggest speaking with a Merriman advisor to determine if your retirement plan allows additional after-tax contributions, how to fit it within your budget and its impact on your retirement savings goals.


References: Internal Revenue Service. (2018, November 2). Retirement Topics – 401(k) and Profit-Sharing Plan Contribution Limits. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-401k-and-profit-sharing-plan-contribution-limits

Lessons From The Lost Decade (2000-2009)

Lessons From The Lost Decade (2000-2009)

“Past performance is no guarantee of future results” is a required compliance disclosure used by money managers when reporting performance. Unfortunately, it is truer in the world of investments than almost anywhere else. When you find a 4.5-star restaurant on Yelp, there is a high probability that you will have a positive experience. Statistically, funds that had the best performance over the past three years (or one year) are no more likely to outperform the following three years than any other fund.

The same is true at the portfolio level. In the late 1990s, U.S. growth stocks were the best performing asset class and investors flocked to the S&P 500. We introduced the Merriman MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio in 1995 in the middle of this period. After the first five years, the cumulative return of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund was more than 2.5 times that of MarketWise, as Figure 1 shows. What happened over the next decade from 2000 through 2009? The exact opposite.

Over the tumultuous decade from 2000 to 2009, the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio (after fees) was up 70% compared to the Vanguard 500 Index fund which had lost -10%, as Figure 2 shows. That 10-year period during which the S&P 500, cumulatively lost money is commonly referred to as the lost decade. It was a painful period for many investors. Their faith in the S&P 500 had been strengthened by nine straight years of positive returns (six years exceeded 20%) and by watching it outperform major indices around the globe.

While it was a difficult period, the investors who suffered most were those who switched investments based on past performance. Figure 3 starkly illustrates the effect of “chasing” good recent performance. The blue and orange lines show the cumulative returns of the MarketWise All Equity Portfolio and the Vanguard 500 Fund. The gray line shows the cumulative growth of funds invested in the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio from the 1995 inception through 1999 and then in the Vanguard 500 fund from 2000 through 2009. While after fees, the MarketWise All-Equity Portfolio slightly outperformed the Vanguard 500 Fund, investing in either approach yielded solid growth. The investor who switched from MarketWise to the Vanguard 500 Fund at the top of 1999 ended up with less investment growth than the investor who stuck with either strategy throughout the whole period.

2009 to 2017 the S&P 500 again delivered nine straight years of positive returns and outperformed most major world indices. In 2018, the index was down -6.6% but has quickly rebounded in 2019. No one knows what the next ten years will bring. History suggests that past performance is no guarantee of future results and that tides turn, but when that will happen is anybody’s guess.



IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES: The performance results shown are for the Merriman-managed MarketWise All Equity (100%) Portfolio and the nonmanaged Vanguard 500 Fund, during the corresponding time periods. The performance results for the MarketWise All Equity Portfolio do not reflect the reinvestment of dividends or other earnings, but are net of applicable transaction and custodial charges, investment management fees and the separate fees assessed directly by each unaffiliated mutual fund holding in the portfolios. The performance results do not reflect the impact of taxes. Past performance is not indicative of future results. No investor should assume that future performance will be profitable, or equal either the previous reflected Merriman performance or the Vanguard 500 Fund’s performance displayed. The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. The Vanguard 500 Fund is a core equity index fund that offers investment exposure to the companies represented by the S&P 500 index. Source of VFINX data is Morningstar.


Should I Rent Out My Home on Airbnb?

Should I Rent Out My Home on Airbnb?

Written by: Geoff Curran, CPA/ABV, CFA, CFP® and Alex Golubev, CFA

The last few years have seen tremendous growth in the short-term rental housing economy. Services like Airbnb and VRBO connect homeowners and travelers around the world. While vacation rentals aren’t anything new, home-sharing platforms make it more convenient than ever for homeowners to earn extra money on their personal residence or vacation home. Airbnb fosters accountability and transparency by inviting hosts and guests to review and rate each other on criteria like cleanliness, following house rules, and ease of communication. A whole ecosystem of services has also sprung up to streamline and improve host operations (Smartbnb, AirDNA, NoiseAware, Vacasa, Evolve and many more). However, vacation rental remains a highly competitive and regulated industry.

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Level up Your Finances: How to Prioritize Saving, Investing, & Paying Off Student Loans

Level up Your Finances: How to Prioritize Saving, Investing, & Paying Off Student Loans

Young professionals juggle ramping up their careers, paying off debt, starting retirement nest eggs, buying homes and potentially building families. There is no shortage of goals for funneling your hard-earned dollars, and we can’t forget to have some fun along the way. It’s time to figure out how to take finances to the next level by supercharging savings and intelligently managing debt, so what do we tackle first?

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What is a CDFA®?

What is a CDFA®?

Anyone familiar with divorce knows how emotionally challenging it can be. On top of the emotional challenges, all the financial factors that need to be considered and evaluated add a lot of stress. After witnessing a few close friends go through this process, I decided to become a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®). With this credential and my financial planning background, I can better help alleviate some of the financial stress and uncertainty that comes with divorce.

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