Monday, August 27, 2012

Should You "Bank" on Your Home?

We are just about to close on the selling of our home of 19 years and I was wondering what the appreciation was over the past two decades. This was inspired because my realtor keeps reminding me of how much I paid compared to our selling price. The actual cost can get really complicated (considering home improvements, tax benefits, repairs and maintenance, etc.) but I wanted to keep it simple.

I took our purchase price as the present value and our selling price minus realtor fees and updates to the house for selling as our future value. The 19 years of compounding yields a whopping 2.2% return on our house. I know all of you finance people want to look at my investment (down payment) and calculate the return based on that, with tax advantage on interest, also calculating in home repairs and maintenance, but that gets complicated really fast, and I don't have all of those records (shame on me). But this shows that our house appreciated an average of 2.2% over 19 years or about the average inflation over that period.

My grandfather always told me "you buy a house to live in and not as an investment." The house has served us well as a happy home to raise our three children; But as an investment? -Not so much. We are glad that we sold our house. We hope that the buyers enjoy the house as much as we did and they make it into their happy home (but not bank on it as their happy investment ever-after).  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Paying for College – Your Award Letter

Sallie Mae just released a study conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs titled “How America Pays for College 2012”. The burden is shifting to the student, up from 25% in 2009 to now 34% in 2012.  As a student, after you complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and send it to your school, the school will send you an award letter, stating scholarships, grantos, work study, and amount available through federal subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. As you start the fall semester, it is a good time to start paying on your student loans. How are you going to pay?

If you borrow money for college, you should take advantage of subsidized federal student loans before unsubsidized federal and tap private student loans as a last resort. The difference between these options is that the interest of a subsidized student loan does not accumulate until you are done with school while the interest in an unsubsidized student loan starts to accumulate while you are still in college. Private student loans have the highest interest rate; the interest and payments start immediately. But, should you borrow all you can while in college?

To me, the answer is ‘No’ to borrowing. Take full advantage of grants and scholarships – you don’t have to pay those back, but be careful of how much you borrow. Loans have to be repaid. If you don’t need it, don’t borrow it. This will require you to create and stick to a year-long budget. Once you create a budget, you can determine how much you will need to borrow for college. You can also work on campus through work-study programs which will help reduce the amount you need to borrow.

With total student loan borrowing exceeding total credit card borrowing in the United States, as a student, you will want to take a hard look at how much you should borrow for your education. Student loan money is not free money and the less you borrow, the less you will have to pay back. Complete a budget for college and seriously consider how much you need tn borrow when you get your awards letter from your school. I challenge you not to take your full award if you have to borrow on subsidized, unsubsidized or private student loan. However, if you need the money to stay in college, borrow the minimum amount so you can graduate on time.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Who Do You Trust?

Peregrine Financial Group and a missing $200 million? Cedar Falls, Iowa, the Heartland, where corn is tall and people are honest. It's of small towns where people leave their keys in their cars and they don't lock their front doors. Embezzlement of this nature happens in New York, Greece, but not in Iowa.

Peregrine Financial Group was an Iowa-based brokerage firm and the CEO allegedly used $200 million of his clients’ money to keep the business going. He attempted suicide and confessed to embezzling in his suicide note.

If this can happen in Iowa, it can happen in your neighborhood and with you investment counselor. I do not want to imply that all financial advisors are dishonest, but the few bad ones remind us to keep on our toes. A few basic points to keep in mind as you talk to your financial professional:

1. No one is going to be or should be more concerned about your financial wellbeing than you. It is your money and your future. You need to take responsibility for your financial future. This may require you to increase your financial literacy by talking a personal finance class, researching the investment on your own, and being aware of market trends. Don't bury your head in the sand when it comes to financial knowledge - you can learn it, you can do it.

2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. How often have you heard that? If you are making money on your investment and everyone else is losing, it may be time to question your investment broker.

3. Ask questions. If you don't understand an investment or investment strategy, question it. This is a great way to increase your knowledge.

4. Use your BS detector. If an investment doesn't feel right, smell right, and you have an uneasy feeling about it, it may not be the right investment for you.

5. Be aware of the con-artist. The "con" in con-artist stands for confidence. The goal of the con-artist is to get you to trust him or her so he or she can rip you off. Be aware of these phrases: "this is standard language and you don't need to read every detail," "trust me, everyone is doing this." I have a special deal for you that not everyone can have."

Again, it is your money and being knowledgeable about the investment options helps you make wiser investment decisions.