Five Unfortunate Facts about Student Debt in America

Our first guest post on the ERN blog! Ever! Let me introduce Drew Cloud who runs the fascinating blog studentloans.net. Not too long ago, I remember U.S. student loans surpassing one trillion dollars (a one with 12 zeros!) for the first time. Now we’re at $1.4t and the amount just keeps growing. Make sure you check out Drew’s blog, too, especially the treasure trove of data on the topic. Take over, Drew!

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A quick online search of student loan debt in America reveals the astonishing truth about the widespread, increasing expense of attending a college or university. Currently, more than 44 million borrowers have amassed over $1.4 trillion of student loan debt, and each year, the total continues to climb. While taking out student loans is now firmly embedded in the college experience for the majority of students, the picture remains bleak for borrowers. Here are five unfortunate facts about student loan debt in America to prove that point.

StudentLoanChart
Student Loans Owned and Securitized, Outstanding. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

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Seven reasons in defense of debt and leverage: Yes, you CAN have too little of a bad thing!

We hope you had a great holiday weekend and a very Merry Christmas! If you are looking for the fourth installment of the Safe Withdrawal Rate series (see part 1, part 2, part 3), please come back next week. Who is in the mood for heavy-duty number-crunching when we’re still digesting the heavy meals and scores of eggnog from last weekend? Yup, every year around this time we reconfirm the concept known as “too much of a good thing.” Only those of you free of the sin of overconsumption can throw the first meatball, uhm, stone. I’m waiting… Still waiting… Nobody? See, we’ve all experienced overconsumption between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But is the opposite true as well?

Can there be too little of a bad thing?

The bad thing I’m talking about is debt. To many of us in the FIRE community, debt is a four-letter word – figuratively! An entire niche of the Personal Finance blogging world is dedicated to getting out of debt and that’s a really good cause especially for those with a low or negative net worth. Paying off credit card debt at 18-20% or student loan debt with high single-digit percent interest rates should be priority number one. But that doesn’t mean that all debt is bad. For us in the ERN household, we’re blessed to never have had any sizable debt, except for a 30-year mortgage that we plan to pay off not a day earlier than we have to. We enjoy the ultra-low interest rate (3.25%), the tax-deductibility and putting our money to work with higher expected returns elsewhere. We love leverage! Our blogging friend FinanciaLibre has written excellent pieces on the topic of leveraging your equity portfolio with the cheap borrowing costs of a mortgage, see hereRead More »

Passive income through option writing: Part 2

Last week we made the case for generating passive income through option writing. A quick recap of last week: buying puts to secure the downside of your equity investment is a bit like casino gambling: pay a wager (put option premium) for the prospect of winning a big prize (unlimited equity upside potential). Unfortunately, the average expected returns are also quite poor, just like when you gamble in the casino or buy lottery tickets.

Since we can’t beat the casino, let’s be the casino!

Being the casino means we act as the seller of put options. Let’s see how we implement this:Read More »

Passive income through option writing: Part 1

On the path to early retirement (and most likely in early retirement as well), the ERN family will be writing options to generate passive income (in addition to equity and real estate investments, of course). This may be something that people either haven’t heard before or even if they did, they might be turned off by the involvement of derivatives. After we got over our initial aversion against trading exotic instruments like options we found that it’s actually a reliable and profitable strategy to generate passive income. We mentioned this strategy already in a previous post on trading derivatives on the path to FIRE and thought that others might find this interesting too.

Today, in Part 1, we will do a quick intro to cover mostly the conceptual aspects of this strategy. Part 2 will go into how we actually implement our strategy. As a warm up, though, let’s start with a …

Pop Quiz:

Since 2000, the SPY ETF (S&P500 index fund from iShares) returned about 101% (Dec 1999 to August 2016, dividends reinvested), or about 4.3% p.a. What would the return have been if we had participated only when the market went up, i.e., if we had avoided every single down month and received a 0% return during that time?

A: 386% total, 10.0% annualized

B: 1,039% total, 15.7% annualized

C: 2,497% total, 21.6% annualized

D: 3,891% total, 24.8% annualized

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We just went from millionaire to dead-broke with one simple accounting maneuver

We are on the home stretch to early retirement and in about 18 months or so – if everything goes well – we will sell our expensive condo, pay off the mortgage and move to a less expensive location. We might rent a house there or pay for a modest home with cash. One way or another, we should be completely mortgage-free!

Or will we still have a mortgage? How about the “mortgage payments” in the form of our future living expenses in retirement? They increase by the rate of inflation every year! That’s the mother of all mortgage payments! Mortgage mayhem! How do we treat a “mortgage” like that on our balance sheet? Read More »

Trading derivatives on the path to Financial Independence and Early Retirement

Derivatives and FIRE (Financial Independence and Early Retirement) sound like two things that don’t mix. Like oil and water. Financial derivatives (options, futures, etc.) have the aura of opaque and highly risky investments. On the way to Financial Independence, most people are either oblivious to derivatives or avoid them like they carry communicable diseases. Probably derivatives are also traded in some smoke-filled backroom or an illegal gambling joint, right?

Let’s look at the myths vs. facts!Read More »

Lower risk through leverage

You heard that right! You can use leverage the smart way and reduce risk, all the while keeping the expected returns the same as in an unleveraged portfolio. Leverage has gotten a bad reputation, sometimes for a good reason, think Global Financial Crisis in 2008/9 or the LTCM debacle that almost sank the financial system in 1998. But every force can be used for good or bad, think Star Wars. So how do we change leverage from a Darth Vader to a Luke Skywalker?Read More »

How to create a no-limit Synthetic Roth IRA in a taxable account

Tired of contributing a paltry $5,500 per year ($11,000 for couples) to your Roth? If you like to contribute more than that, why not find a way to generate returns in a taxable account that mimic those of a Roth IRA? Impossible, you say? Under very specific conditions it is possible to generate after-tax returns in a taxable account that replicate those of a Roth IRA. We call it the Synthetic Roth IRA.Read More »

REITs pros and cons

We live in a low-yield world. Interest rates are much lower than in recent history and this has spurred a mad “search for yield” whereby investors look for anything, really anything, that offers yield above the measly low interest rates currently prevailing in this country. REITs have greatly benefited from this trend and when my hairstylist starts telling me that he invests in REITs it makes me wonder if that sector might be a little bit overheated (brings back memories of the late 1990s when a different hairdresser in a different city gave out Tech company recommendations). Here are some pros and cons of REITs.
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