Disclaimer

This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Using Money From Your Roth, What I Learned

Posted By Paul
10/14/14

Hi Everyone,

I don't know if any of you out there are aware of it, but currently the rules with Roth IRA's are very interesting in that you are allowed to withdraw CONTRIBUTION money from your Roth at any time for any reason without penalty or tax implication.

This makes sense since the money you contributed to your Roth was already taxed as income, but a question I had was: Assuming I want this money, how do I get it and how do I know how much I can withdraw?

So the first questions of how you get it, is actually pretty easy.  When I looked into it it seems like most companies that offer Roth IRA's have a pretty easy way to withdraw money.  With my provider I can actually do the whole thing online and electronically transfer the money to my checking account and have it in a few days (really nice!).

So now for the question of how do you figure out how much you can withdraw?  The while idea is that if I open a Roth IRA and over it's lifetime I've contributed a total of $1000 then today if my Roth is worth a total of say, $1200 I can withdraw that $1000 for any reason without penalty, but if I take out more than the $1000 I get hit with all kinds of penalties (unless of course I've hit retirement age and meet other requirements).

If you remember that you contributed $100 a year and you have had the Roth for 10 years that it might be easy to remember that you can take out $1000, but if you're like me and the amount you contributed to your Roth has changed over the years then the total amount you've contributed can be a tricky (but important) question.

So how do you get the answer?  Well if you have had your Roth with the same company for its entire lifetime you can probably just call them and then can look up your contribution history.

But if you're like me and you MOVED your Roth at some point then your current company will only know the contributions you've made since the Roth has been with them.  If you contact your old company and they can help you then great, but more likely you will have to go through your old tax documents and hopefully find your old 5498 tax forms or your old Roth account statements to track down your contributions.  That's what I ended up having to do, and it was a big hassle.

My advice?  Start a google doc or something like that and just enter your contributions for each year, that way if you ever do want to withdraw money early from your Roth IRA you'll know exactly how much you can safely take out.

Friday, August 24, 2012

When to refinance? My latest thoughts.

Posted By Paul

It wasn't that long ago that I refinanced my mortgage and I remember that as we signed the papers the agent actually said: "Let's take a moment to appreciate how good a rate this is, it will never get much better than this."

Now I see that rates have dropped to the point where I am once again considering refinancing.

There are so many sources of advice on this topic everything from: "Only refinance if you can save at least one point on your rate." to complicated spreadsheets and formulas.

Well when I found myself trying to decide if I should refinance again, I realized that what I was really doing was deciding two things:

1) What was my primary goal?
2) What was I willing to commit to?

If you can answer these two questions then I think refinancing decisions become much more clear.

Here is what it was in my case:

What was my primary goal?
There are lots of perfectly valid answers to this question when it comes to refinancing.  Some of the most common are:
"I want to pay off my mortgage as fast as possible."
A great goal.  Once your mortgage is paid off then a huge monthly expense essentially disappears from your life.

"I want to pay as little in interest as possible."
This one often goes with the "fast as possible" one since the two often relate.  It's annoying paying all of this interest month after month.

"I want my monthly payment to be as little as possible."
Another perfectly valid choice.  A smaller payment can mean peace of mind.  Less money you have to come up with every month.

What was I willing to commit to?
Here are some things that might come up when you consider this question:

"Can I commit to paying the closing costs?"
Another simple one.  If you don't want to pay the money for the closing costs, then it simplifies your hunt considerably in that its becomes a question of the best rate you can get with zero closing.

"Can I commit to a bigger payment?"
If you refinance to a shorter mortgage (go from 30 year to 15 year) then not only do you get a better rate, but it generally means paying off quicker and less interest paid.  The problem?  It often means your monthly payment gets bigger (unless your rate increase is significant enough to offset it).  Ask yourself if you are willing to commit to being obligated to make that payment every month.

"Can I commit to being in this house for a certain period of time?"
If you are CERTAIN that you are going to move in a specified time, or if you are CERTAIN that you aren't then your choices become a little more clear.  For example, probably not much point in refinancing a house if you're going to move in a year anyway.

For me I found that my primary goal was to lower my monthly payment.  Even if it means I have to pay it longer and I end up paying more interest in the long run.  I also realized that I didn't want to commit to a bigger payment, and that even though I wasn't 100% sure that I wasn't going to move anytime soon, that I was at least able to commit to the idea that a move was not in my foreseeable future.   I was also able to commit to paying the closing costs.

Once I figured that out, the refi choices became much more clear.  For me I just did a straight refi to a 30 year fixed, and took the better rate.  Of course my payment drops thanks to the lower rate and "resetting the clock" on the 30 year mortgage, but it also means that the amount going to principal per payment drops.

In this process I did discover something interesting.  When I took the amount I paid in principal before the refi, and looked up how long it would take to reach that same amount of principal AFTER the refi if I just paid the minimum each month, the answer was that it would take me about 6 years.  Wow.

I also discovered that if I did the refi and took the lower payment but kept paying the amount of my OLD payment (applying the extra to the principal) then the total principal I would pay each month is more than the total principal I pay each month right now.  My thought is that I can keep doing that, but if something catastrophic happens where money gets really tight then I can just stop paying that extra and fall back to my nice small payment.

So I decided to go for it, so I am working on the refinance right now.  I know lots of people try to approach this problem purely mathematically, but I find that difficult to do since often there are just too many unknowns for me.  By focusing on two simple questions I felt like I was able to identify the choice that got me to my goals given the best information I had right now.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Adventure In Personal Lending

Posted By Paul

Hi Everyone,

How, I found this very old posting about personal lending just sitting in my drafts folder.

I'm posting it now even though I wrote this about 18 months ago.

So stay tuned for the epilogue on how it went.

-----

I recently learned a little about personal lending sites. They had me intrigued to the point where I decided to dip my toe in the world of personal lending.

I decided to open an account at Prosper.com and see what it was like lending money to random people.

First of all, it seemed very strange to be browsing listings of total strangers. There was a voyeuristic quality of perusing the loan listings of these people. It was fascinating to see how much money they needed and why (not to mention the interest rate they were willing to pay).

Since I was very new to this whole concept I decided to choose three different loans and loan each $25. The way these pages work is that a person who wants a loan asks for a certain amount, for a certain payback term with a certain interest rate. If the loan looks good you can contribute to the loan.

I chose two loans that were considered lower risk by prosper (with a correspondingly lower interest rate) and one high risk loan (with an interest rate of 31%). All three loans have a 3 year term.

It is kind of cool that you can just contribute $25 to a loan, so the total you need to play around is actually very small. The idea is that if someone wants to borrow $1000 they need to have enough lenders willing to contribute to their loan so that they reach their goal.

There are many strange aspects of this process. Some of the obvious ones:

-I don't honestly know if these people are using the money for what they say they are using it for (the listing says 'to payoff a credit card' but for all I know it could be going to a gambling habit)

-There is the risk that one (or more) of your borrowers will stop paying/declare bankruptcy/move off the grid, or who knows what.

My overall impression of personal lending? When I loaned out the money and every month when I get my payments (so far all three loans are being paid off on schedule) I feel like I'm playing some sort of game. I know that any form of investment can be viewed as gambling, but lending money to strangers using their internet posts to judge the likelihood of being paid back REALLY feels like gambling.

So for me, I think personal lending will just be a fun little hobby. Picking loans and watching the payments come in IS fun, but I don't think I will ever put anything more than "fun money" into one of these sites.

For some of the loans I contributed to I saw people that had made contributions in excess of $1500! I really don't see myself ever doing that. There seems to be so much uncertainty in the process that I would feel uncomfortable committing any significant amount of money to it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Link: A cool tipping guide.

Posted By Paul

If you're like me and always wondering about the proper etiquette for tipping, there is a pretty cool page that has an interactive 'tipping guide.'

I looked up several services to see if what I thought was the proper etiquette matched what was in the guide.

Check it out:

Tipping guide

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Tip For Estate Planning

Posted By Paul

Hi Everyone,

Having had a recent experience with estate planning I thought I would pass on something that I learned from the experience.

A friend of a friend recently had a relative pass away.  The relative had had a healthy long life, and had left behind some very clear estate planning.

The only downside was that the relative had listed a person as their executor that now lived overseas.  It was difficult to locate and contact this person and created a lot of hassle.

Luckily they listed several alternate executors, but one issue they had was that they chose people that were about the same age as them or older.  It makes sense that you would choose peers to be your executor candidates, but the problem came up that since the relative had lived such a long life the other candidates were all quite up there in years and didn't feel up to handling the role.

There were a few aspects of the estate that needed to be resolved quickly.  The process of tracking down the overseas candidate, and getting the paperwork for them to decline the role took quite a while. Luckily the other candidates were easier to find, but when it was discovered that they didn't want to serve as executor it took additional time to get THEIR paperwork handled and then ultimately find someone to take over the role.  Ultimately it all got resolved, but it ended up being a significant hassle. 

My advice?  Definitely list several candidates to serve as your executor, and try to update your estate documents accordingly if someone moves overseas or has some other event that would make them unable to serve in the role.  Also be sure to let your executor candidates know that they are listed in your estate planning so that they can let you know if for any reason they no longer want to serve in that capacity.

Also I think that it's practical to have at least one executor candidate who is significantly younger than you, to avoid the situation where all of your candidates are in a place in their life where the hassle of handling an estate is too much.

Once my son is an adult I plan on making him an executor candidate, and hopefully I'll keep my estate planning up to date in case something happens that makes an executor candidate no longer able to do the job.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Saving while celebrating holidays

Posted by Paul

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share something that my family started doing recently that ended up being fun and also a good way to save money.

We noticed that in certain months we had quite a few holidays. For example my wife and my wedding anniversary is in February as is Valentine's day.

My wife and I started to 'split the difference' where instead of celebrating each holiday separately we actually pick a day between Valentine's Day and our anniversary and celebrate both with a night on the town.

It's worked well for us, not only do we avoid the Valentine's Day crowds in restaurants, etc but we also feel like we can splurge a little bit more since we're having one celebration instead of two.

We still observe Valentine's day and our anniversary, but with much more simple stuff like a small surprise treat or a dessert out with our family.

It has been a nice way to celebrate frugally without feeling like we are sacrificing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Want to save money? Skip the kid's meal

Posted By Paul

My wife and I often have dinner with friends (who also have little ones). Since the kids aren't quite up to restaurant age yet we get takeout from various restaurants around town and we take turns hosting the meal.

We have been doing this for years, and we generally orders kid's meals so that our little ones will have something to eat.

Just a few weeks ago while our friends were hosting we noticed that our little one wasn't really interested in the restaurant food we ordered for him that week, so our friends offered him some apples and mac and cheese (which he happily ate).

We decided to try that from now on, where both families agree to have simple kid food available when it is their turn to host, so we don't feel the need to include kid's meals in our restaurant orders.

We save money on the kids meals and if our little one ends up wanting to try our restaurant fare my wife and I are happy to share our food. We've noticed this works especially well since our little one seems to enjoy trying new foods so he often prefers trying our food as opposed to his kids meal which is often a fairly boring chicken finger and fries sort of thing.

Plus when we get all the little ones together they often want to play, so the meal part of the evening is often brief and we end up giving him a snack at home right before bedtime anyway, so why pay the extra money for the food he doesn't eat?