Economy

Is Your House Really Considered an Asset or Just a Place to Live?

Is your house an asset? Some would say yes, and I am sure that some would say it’s actually a liability. Here are different ways of thinking about your house.

Asset: Hopefully your house will appreciate in value over time, but this is not always the case. Because of the often high amount of leverage that most people take on when buying a house, the increase in value can often be multiplied. If it goes down in value and you are underwater, then your asset turns into a nightmare.

Even if your house does appreciate in value it usually does not make much of a difference. This is because most people end up selling their first house and using the proceeds, if any after considering all of the costs of selling a house, to purchase a larger house. Any equity is then “locked up” in their new house again.

No income generation: Unfortunately, your house does not generate income, unless you own a multi-family property, which is not a bad idea, but shunned by most. As a side note, a good strategy is to purchase and live in a multi-family house as your first home, stay for a number of years, move to a new home, and then rent out your unit.

Place to live: Economically, over the long-term owning a home is much better than renting, although life does seem much simpler when renting.  If you think of your home as a place to live vs. an asset than your perspective will change, including funds spent on  improvements. A cost benefit should be considered when making improvements, but know that improvements to your home are not usually the best investment.

Using it as an asset: If your home appreciates in value and your mortgage balance has steadily increased then you have the opportunity to tap into the equity of your home. Just make sure to use this equity wisely as you don’t want to find yourself unable to pay your equity loans and then end up in financial turmoil. Investments considered should be high return, low risk, which they should always be.

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Some Horrible Ways to Lower Your Tax Bill That are Not Recommended

I don’t think that I ever met anyone that likes to pay taxes. Everyone feels better when their taxes are paid in full with no outstanding balances, but not actually paying them. Sometimes this hatred of paying taxes can go too far and here are a few examples of what not to do:

Understate your income: As a business owner there is a huge temptation to “pocket” any cash that is received or cash checks instead of depositing them to your account. However, if you understate your income too much then you may be facing jail time and massive penalties.

Overstate expenses: Maybe you really like cars and use multiple cars for your business. However, if your spouse does not work in your business then her car payment is not a tax deduction. The same goes for personal meals, personal expenses, and outright lying about your expenses and deductions. Most likely you do not give 15% of your income to charitable. It’s possible, but not very probable.

Losing money in a side business: The main purpose of starting a business is to make money. Maybe some contemporary experts think that you should try to change the world, but most likely you are selling a product or service that is not going to cure illnesses. Sometimes a newer business owner is so intent on losing money to not pay taxes that they never let their business actually become a business. A business can only lose money for so long. The same goes for real estate investments and traditional investing.

Spend a dollar to save a quarter: Do not ever spend money on an unnecessary tax deductible expense just to save taxes. The math is very simple – spend $1 to produce $.25 of tax savings, which equals $.75 lost.

Multi-state taxation: The tax laws are extremely complex and each state has its own set of rules. However, don’t let this stop you from doing business or working in other states to take advantage of opportunities.

Tax-exempt investments: Even though municipal bonds are exempt from Federal taxes and possibly state taxes, this does not mean that they are appropriate for you. You must do the math to make sure you compare after tax returns of taxable investments to tax exempt investments, otherwise you may be worse off economically.

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An Observation Regarding Money Worries

There are a few things that I noticed over the years that seem to contradict each other regarding money worries. There seems to be a link between being charitable, concerns over saving too much, and stress about money.

Charitable giving: some people make a lot of money and give little to nothing to charity, especially as a percentage of their income, and the opposite is sometimes true regarding those with modest incomes. Theoretically, the greater your income then the greater should be your charitable giving. Why does this make sense? I believe that it has to do with a scarcity mentality and a fear of letting go. If you are overly concerned with not having enough money, whether real or imagined, then why would you part with your money?

Overly concerned about saving: Let’s face it, it is daunting to think that we have to make sure to save enough for retirement, college, a house or a larger house, 6 months of expenses for an emergency fund, weddings, sweet 16 parties (they can be over the top nowadays), vehicles, business ventures, and everything else. It even makes me exhausted just writing that! However, some take it too far and save so much or are concerned so much about saving that they get really stressed out. Although I am an advocate for saving up for most of the above (I’m not a big fan of massive weddings and outlandish sweet 16 parties), you have to balance that with current needs or you will be miserable. Who wants to eat the cheap steak to save an extra $10 for their retirement?

Do any of these apply to you? Maybe just a little?

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A Silly Trap When Trying to Pay Off Debt

I have had numerous clients tell me that they are paying off their debts early, whether it is a student loan, car loan or mortgage, which is very admirable. However, they really aren’t paying off their loans early. How can this be and why?

The reason is simple. They are not actually paying off their debts, but prepaying their regular monthly payments. The assumption is that if you make extra payments then those extra payments will go directly towards principal, which in essence will reduce your loan balance. It sounds logical, but usually the loan company will apply these payments towards future bills, so in reality no extra principal is being paid. They are just considered prepayments.

One way of determining if your extra payments are being applied properly is to look at your current monthly statement to see if your payment amount is either -0- or shows a lower amount than normal. If this is the case, then your extra payments are not being applied towards principal.

The proper way and easiest way to ensure that your extra principal payments are being applied correctly is to specify that your extra payment should be applied towards principal. It is best to do this online and then check your activity once the payment settles to confirm this.

It’s not right, but when it comes to finances you must be extra careful and do not make any assumptions!

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Is Debt Good or Bad?

What are we to believe? Is debt good or bad? On one extreme are some financial pundits that say to go into debt and use other people’s money to make money, and on the other extreme are experts that believe that any form of debt is bad. Who should we listen to?

Ignoring the rare exceptions, most successful people have incurred some form of debt either personally or through their business, and if they did not incur this debt then they would most likely not be in the position that they are in currently, even if they have now paid off all of their debts. Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Pros of debts: Without incurring debts, virtually no one in this expensive area would be able to purchase a house. If you were debt averse and had to save up for your house to pay cash, then you may never get there. If a $500,000 house appreciates by 3% per year on average (let’s ignore significant ups and downs to keep the point simple), then just one year later you would need to save an additional $15,000 to purchase your home. You may never get there.

If you want to expand your business or start a new one and need capital to build out your office or purchase equipment, then a loan is most likely needed. Even the best savers have a hard time saving up the significant sum that is needed to do so. The same applies to investment properties.

Unfortunately, you most likely need to incur some debt to finance college or purchase a vehicle.

Cons of debt: Debt is not without risk and I am a big proponent of proceeding cautiously and wisely when incurring debt. Here are several pitfalls of debt:

Over leveraged: If you incur too much debt than you may not able to meet your payment obligations. This is especially true if and when there is a slow down in the economy and/or your business. Think of debt payments as taking from your future income, but you really never know what your future income will be. If you find yourself with tons of debt then you need to closely examine your spending and look for ways to increase your income.

Increases risk: Debt amplifies the risk of any financial endeavor due to a decrease in cash flow from making debt payments and the financial obligation of the debt. Most debt is personally guaranteed, even if it is for business. Trust me when I say that a bank owns you when you take out an SBA loan. They may even put a lien on your children, but that may just be a rumor.

Makes you spend more (much more): Surprisingly, this isn’t mentioned too often as most people only consider the monthly payments, interest rate, and length of a loan. However, debt makes you less cautious when spending and investing money, even if it is for something productive, such as  purchasing equipment for your business or buying rental properties. The end result is that you wind up spending more than you anticipated. Why do you think so many companies offer enticing payment plans for just about everything? If you have the resources to pay cash, then it probably makes sense to do so.

Increases costs: Even loans with low interest rates increase your costs due to both interest and fees, which can be very significant.

As you progress on your financial journey, then a noble goal is to become debt free. Ideally, you should try to avoid debt when possible, but it may provide you with a much needed boost to get you started. Just do not over do it.

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This Will Kill the Economy Long-Term

There are many factors that can help an economy to grow, including productivity gains, wage growth, sound governmental policies, healthy banking systems, etc. A lack of all of these items will hurt economic growth, and there is one more often overlooked item that can and will devastate an economy over the long haul.

It’s probably not what you think, but I’ll give you a hint: think Japan. What is a major issue that is facing Japan? Low birth rates and a disproportionate amount of older persons compared to younger persons. Why does this matter?

Minimum: Statistically, a country needs approximately 2.1 births to have a stable population. If you want to bury yourself in statistics, then you can read reports from the U.N. or The World Bank. Although there are lower mortality rates than in the past, fewer births will mean a declining population and a disproportionate amount of older persons. By the way, the world’s population is expected to stabilize and/or decline by the end of this century.

Disproportion of elderly: In Japan, the population of elderly persons is much higher than in the U.S. Unfortunately, with lower birth rates there are less younger people able to physically take care of the elderly and also financially. Systems like social security will not be able to continue in a healthy fashion if there are not enough younger people available to contribute towards the system.

Basic math: If there are less people available to purchase services and products then economic growth will stagnate or decline. This can be offset somewhat by productivity gains and wage increases to an extent. Also, there will not be enough candidates to fill employment opportunities at businesses, which will stifle growth further.  More people = growing economy.

Myths?: I believe it started back in the 1960’s with doomsday scenarios of overpopulation and a strain on the resources of the planet. It really hasn’t panned out, but there have also been other modern inventions and policies that have stifled population growth. There is one statistic that I’ve heard that states the entire world’s population can fit in the State of Texas comfortably. Even if this statistic is way off and it would take the entire United States, then that would leave the rest of the world wide open.

Solutions: There are a few solutions to address this problem. One is immigration from countries or regions with high birth rates, such as Africa to countries with low birth rates, such as Japan. This would take changes to immigration policies enacted by governments.  The other solution is to encourage families to have more children and not to wait too long to do so. What is the worst that can happen – you may need to buy a massive van to drive your family around?!

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