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Catching Up

February 14th, 2015 at 08:35 am

I've started several 2014 wrap-up/2015 goals posts, and never get around to publishing them, because a) I start yammering on and b) it gets too depressing!

Some days I feel great about where I am -- I've paid off a lot of credit card debt and have a good start on an emergency fund -- but then I do my yearly budget projections and end up $10-15K in the hole by the end of the year. (I overestimate spending and underestimate income, but still....)

Then I did our taxes and we really need to change our withholding! We had claimed a high number of exemptions for a while, because with the rental we had a fairly decent loss to write off, but we don't get the full amount anymore and it's really affecting our bottom line. We owed around $2,800 last year; we have a small refund this year but only because we had a lot of stuff donated to charity, from his parents and my grandparents (finally cleaning out the basement, garage, and attic!). We won't have that next year, and without it we'd owe about $5,000 so it's time to make a change!

I'm also having us increase our retirement contributions; we're both putting in just the minimum to get the match right now. We aren't able to contribute directly to an IRA or Roth; a backdoor Roth won't work for S because has an existing IRA. I could do one -- I have a teeny tiny IRA and the tax on a conversion would be negligible -- but at this point, having it come directly out of my paycheck, and reducing my taxable income, is preferable. (Plus I actually think we'll be in a lower tax bracket when we retire, so tax-deferred is our better option at this point.)

Of course none of this helps our monthly bottom line any, but it's a necessary evil. We do have lots of areas where we can cut back, and I've already identified about $5,000 I won't be spending on a particular hobby this year. I also haven't included any side gigs I can pick up. Still, my focus has changed a bit for 2015, and rather than working quite so heavily on eliminating debt, I'm going to work more on not incurring additional debt.

I have a refinance to do mid-year, and potentially another one in the fourth quarter. The first will definitely ease up cash flow, and significantly lower our highest interest rate. (The second will probably end up being neutral overall.) I also have a small 0% balance transfer offer through August 2016. That combined with the refi will put my highest credit card interest rate at 3.99%, so I'm a little more comfortable about scaling back on repayments than I would be with the 24.99% I had a couple of years ago! (I will still pay some extra to the cards; paying just the minimums means I'm in debt until 2030! As of now this change will extend my payoff by one year.)

Unfortunately, we have decided that we really do have to replace the wall furnace that died on us back in November. We've been limping along with an electric space heater, but it doesn't do much on these sub-zero nights, and it's expensive to run! So that's $2,500 out of the EF -- the only good aspect being that at least I had the funds set aside!

My 2015 goal, then, will be to replace the $2,500 and get the EF back up to $5,000. Since I'm still finishing up the 52 Week Mega Challenge ($1,890) and doing the regular 52 Week Challenge ($1,378), I'll easily meet and exceed that goal. My original goal of $7,500 in the EF is a little ambitious now (given I still need to save up $3,700 for property taxes in September), but I think I'll stretch the EF goal to $6,000. That's only another $232 I need to come up with, which seems do-able.

(Actually my EF goal hasn't changed -- save up $2,500 this year -- it's just the final account balance that's changed because of the heater.)

Anyway, my other goal of paying off $17,500 in credit card debt is adjusted down to paying off $12,000. That includes a few 0% balance transfers that will come due this year. It doesn't include the one card I'll pay off with the refinance, since I'll still owe that money, just not on a credit card.

To end on a happier note, I did negotiate a 7% pay raise (which is a lot less than it sounds like!), which will help offset my increased 401(k) and withholding. S should get his standard 2% increase, which will help a bit, too.


July 2nd, 2014 at 11:11 am

S has a very small rollover IRA at Fidelity. ($2300) We just recently rolled an old 401(k) into it, so now we're ready to invest in something other than a money market mutual fund. I figured Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index would be the way to go, but unfortunately Vanguard raised their minimum investment to $3000, even for IRAs. So, after some searching and finding almost *no* funds that have less than a $2500 minimum, I figured I'd invest in the Vanguard STAR fund and then, once it hit $3K or greater, exchange into the VTSMX.

Except when I tried to do the trade, I kept getting an error that the fund has a $2500 minimum. So, more research, and I combed through the 10,000+ funds that Fidelity offers as open to new investors, and couldn't find any with a minimum of less than $2500. Fishy. I checked the IRA account agreement, and it says nothing about minimum investments, except that you must meet the fund's minimum requirement. I contacted Fidelity and sure enough, the only mutual funds you can invest less than $2500 in through their accounts are money market mutual funds.

I'm not entirely irritated with their policy, but I'm irritated that a) it's not mentioned in the account agreement anywhere, and b) both the account agreement and the trading platform give the impression that it's the fund's minimum investment requirement that matters, and not Fidelity's. (In fact the trading platform specifically states, "The selected mutual fund has a minimum investment requirement of $2,500.")

So I have a few options: 1) I can leave the money in the money market mutual fund; 2) I can contribute an additional $200-700 to bring the account up to $2500-3000 and invest in one of the Vanguard funds; 3) I can invest in an ETF or stock; or 4) I can transfer the IRA to a new Vanguard IRA and follow the STAR-to-VTSMX plan.

Number 1 is least desirable, because the money is earning almost no interest and since this is long-term retirement savings, I'd rather maximize earnings as much as possible. Number 2 is not much better, since we don't qualify for a deductible IRA and I'd rather use the $200-700 to pay off debt at this point (plus honestly I chafe at feeling compelled to contribute to an IRA simply so that I can invest in a product that might actually make money!). Number 3 is doable, Vanguard has a Total Stock Market ETF with essentially identical performance as the mutual fund. Number 4 is attractive primarily because of my pique at Fidelity.

Actually number 3 is probably the best choice, now that I've listed them all out, because it will get me invested in the better-performing fund from the start. (The STAR fund has been significantly underperforming the Total Stock Market Index for the last couple of years.) In my still-irritated state, though, it would be satisfying to tell Fidelity to stuff it. (Although a) they probably would never know or care why I transferred the account and b) S's current 401(k) is at Fidelity and is a much larger account, and of course we can't move that one.)

So I guess I'll stay at Fidelity and buy the Vanguard ETF -- but I might wait a day or two until I'm less irritated about the whole thing!

Rethinking My Payoff Plan

March 26th, 2014 at 08:19 am

I have lots and lots of debt, but I'm on track to have it all paid off within 10-11 years, assuming minimal commissions on S's job and 1-2% annual pay increases only for the next 3 years. (S's income fluctuates; he does have a base and generally gets 3% COLA, but commissions vary by tens of thousands of dollars each year.)

Basically, I have the following types of debt:

Credit Cards and Lending Club Loan
401(k) Loans
Personal (Family) Loans
Real Estate Backed Loans

My plan has been to pay them off in that order, in essentially a snowball (or avalanche, I guess they're called now, since I'm paying the highest interest rates off first), and then I'll have nearly $5,000 a month freed up for savings, investing, etc.

After reading a bit here, and thinking about it, I may change that a bit. I'll still tackle the credit cards/LC loan aggressively (on schedule to be paid off 5/16, unless I'm able do a consolidation at a lower interest rate), and then the 401(k) loans (on schedule to be paid off 8/17, unless of course the credit cards get paid off sooner and then they'll be paid off sooner, too). Then I think I'll step back a bit, and build the emergency fund up to $15,000 and set up a $5,000 slush fund. That should take less than a year. Next I'll look at setting up Roth IRAs for S and me and get on a plan to fully fund those every year. Once that's done, I'll increase our 401(k) contributions back to the maximum (we're currently both only contributing what the company matches).

Ideally I'll still have some extra money at the end of the month once this all shakes out, and I'll start tackling the family loans. Unless the family gets impatient, which is conceivable, or the interest rates get too high. Interest is renegotiated annually, kind of a compromise between what the lender could get in a high-yield CD and what I would pay on a bank loan at the average interest rate. Right now it varies from 2-3% on a few different loans. Some of those will be paid off in the next couple of years, just from the regular payments, and that money goes to the next loan. It's basically a separate snowball/avalanche plan; the income from the rental is paid directly to the family so I never even see it, and it gets disbursed among the loans as we agree each year at the "Family Financial Summit" (FFS).

Once the family is taken care of, I can then tackle the real estate loans. (I should add, at this point S has a company car and we don't really see that changing, unless he takes a promotion -- knock wood, of course!! My car will be paid off by 2/17 (part of the family loan) and I expect to have it for several more years; if not, we have the option to buy S's company car when he gets a new one (that's how we got the car I'm driving now), which is about every two years, at a decent price.) First in line would be the rental, which may be sold by then. (They're on a 'lease to own' agreement, which actually was supposed to happen last year, but they've had some setbacks and aren't in a position to buy, and quite honestly I'm not in a hurry. The value is still below what I paid for it, though I think I'm just starting to tread water on the mortgage amount, and it's about half what it was when they started renting at the peak of the bubble.) If any money comes out of that sale, it would go toward the family loan.

By that point all of the unsecured debt will be off of my shoulders, we'll have a solid emergency fund, we'll be aggressively saving for retirement, and our only debt will be the mortgages. Which, frankly, sounds like both heaven and the impossible dream! I'll look at interest rates then, see about refinancing if it would be helpful (though my current rates aren't too horrible, 4.25-5.375%), and decide at that time which balance to pay off first or if I should pay extra on both. Excel is my best friend so I'll run the numbers and see what makes the most sense. I've got a little time to get there yet!

I've tried to not be too aggressive in planning these payoffs, and to not count on variable things like commissions and raises. Right now I still feel like I'm teetering on the edge -- a significant expense would be tough but probably manageable (>$5,000), but a major expense would be difficult, and of course a job loss would be catastrophic. Once I get these credit cards paid off, I'll breathe a lot easier. I'll actually have five paid off within a year, which will shave about $14,000 off my total cc debt and $450 off the minimum payment amounts. (Not that I plan on only paying the minimums, but it's nice to know that in the event of a catastrophe my obligations will be that much lower. It's still a lot to pay every month, don't get me wrong!)

It's kind of hard to believe, after all these years of debt hanging over me, that I might actually be free of it!