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! Read More »

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Cash Management in Early Retirement

Less than two years away from early retirement, we wonder how much cash (if any?) we’d like to hold in a money market account. As many of you might have heard, we currently run a very tight ship with our cash management. We have no emergency fund – our entire portfolio is our emergency fund! But that’s easy to do while the paychecks are still rolling in and we maintain a 60% savings rate. Early retirement will be very different. How would we handle the cash withdrawals in retirement? How do we react to market fluctuations?

In the FIRE community, I often read that the solution (maybe even the panacea) for an equity bear market is to keep a certain percentage of the portfolio in cash (money market account) to sustain cash flows through a bear market. And we should point out that we are not the only ones thinking about this, as evidenced by recent popular posts on the PIE blog and on Retirement Manifesto (also check out the really cool infographic) dealing with this subject. Two to three years worth of expenses (presumably 5-10% of the portfolio) seem to be the numbers floating around (examples: 5% cash allocation for the PIE blog, The Retirement Manifesto recommends 2-3 years, ThinkSaveRetire uses 3 years), obviously calibrated to roughly correspond to the length of the average bear market.

How much of a difference does a cash cushion really make?

How big is the opportunity cost of holding cash when there isn’t a bear market?Read More »

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 »

Top 10 reasons for having an emergency fund – debunked (Part 2)

This is a follow up from our post last week when we couldn’t fit debunking all the arguments for emergency funds into one post. This is also good place the point out some of the great work other bloggers have done on this topic:

Here are our reasons 6-10. Enjoy!Read More »

Top 10 reasons for having an emergency fund – debunked (Part 1)

In a past blog post, we pointed out that a $0.00 emergency fund is most useful for us. Lots of visitor traffic came from both Physician of FIRE and Rockstar Finance (thanks for featuring us!!!) and most comments were very supportive. Good to know that others follow a similar approach. To make the case more complete we should also look at some of the standard arguments people normally use in favor of keeping a large stash of cash for emergencies.

That’s because in addition to some of the complaints we got in the comments section, someone we quoted in our post, Scott Alan Turner, is a blogger and podcaster and he dedicated almost an entire 28 minute podcast (transcript included if you don’t want to spend 28 minutes) to our theory and why he thinks we’re wrong. We respectfully disagree!

For full disclosure: I really like Scott’s blog and podcasts in general. I mean no disrespect and like to invite everybody to check out his material. I agree with most of what he has to say, just not the advice on emergency funds! Enjoy!

So, let’s look at some of the arguments in favor of an emergency fund and debunk them. It took us a while to put this together, but better late than never!Read More »

The Great Bond Diversification Myth

Bonds diversify your equity portfolio risk. Everybody knows that, right? Well, how much diversification potential is there, really? Much less than we thought! (For full disclosure, though, bonds still serve a purpose, but it has nothing to do with diversification!)

Pop Quiz: Over the last 10 years, a portfolio of 80% stocks (U.S. Broad Equity Market) and 20% bonds (U.S. Aggregate Bond Market) had what correlation with the stock market?

A: 0.998

B: 0.857

C: 0.800

D: 0.683

The correct answer is A: the correlation was +0.998, so an 80/20 Stock/Bond portfolio would have been extremely highly correlated with the stock market. We might as well round it up all the way to 1.0 because from a statistical, financial and economic perspective that’s pretty much a perfect correlation. This correlation coefficient is for a broad U.S. stock market ETF (use Vanguard’s US Total Market VTI) vs. a portfolio made up of 80% Vanguard’s VTI and 20% Barclays Aggregate bond index (we used the iShares AGG total returns). Monthly returns are from 07/2006 to 07/2016.Read More »

Gold vs. Paper Money: a rant

Have you ever seen these TV commercials:

“Governments are trillions of dollars in debt and are printing paper money at record pace. So, don’t invest your retirement in paper money. Transfer your IRA to a Gold IRA at XYZ Capital. Call now for your free IRA transfer kit.”

I have to cringe every time I see or hear that. What deceptive marketing! Our financial assets (equity ETFs and Mutual Funds mostly) are not invested in paper money, they are merely denominated in paper money. In fact, if people are so troubled by measuring their equity portfolio in USD paper money, they are free to measure it any way they want: ounces of gold, metric tons of copper, bushels of wheat, gummy bears, the choices are endless. And by the way, don’t forget that gold is denominated in paper money USD as well!Read More »

The ultimate retirement account comparison in one single Google Sheet

Some people argue that there is a rule of thumb for which account is more attractive when saving for retirement (both early retirement and “normal” retirement). Jeremy over at Go Curry Cracker likes the 401(k) and is skeptical about Roth IRAs, while someone on Kiplinger recently recommended the Roth and trash-talked the regular 401(k) in light of higher projected future tax rates. Who is right? Nobody. There are likely no universally true answers to the following (and many other) questions:

  1. Taxable account vs. Roth IRA?
  2. Roth 401(k) vs. regular 401(k)?
  3. After-tax 401(k) contributions or a taxable account?
  4. Should I invest in a high-fee 401(k) at work or a low fee taxable account?
  5. What is the drag in after-tax returns from having to pay taxes on dividends throughout the accumulation phase?
  6. If you have a lot of money to invest and already max out the regular 401(k), should you shift more money into a Roth 401(k), to get more “bang for the buck?”
  7. Should I roll over an IRA to a Roth IRA?
  8. Should I use a deferred variable annuity to boost tax-deferrals?
  9. Pay down credit card debt first before saving for retirement?

It all depends on the individual situation, tax rates, expected return assumptions, account fees/expense ratios, etc. The only way to tell which account is more attractive is to get out the spreadsheet, punch in your particular parameters and compare. But how do you do that? Others did it before but sometimes we have the feeling they compare apples and oranges. A Roth 401(k) is best because you can withdraw tax-free? Not necessarily because you have to take into account the taxes you pay upfront when contributing to the Roth IRA.

We came up with an easy way to make sure you compare apples to apples to gauge the relative attractiveness of different accounts. Read More »

How to invest a house downpayment fund

Our previous post on emergency funds got a lot of traffic and we received mostly praise for the post (see here and here). One issue mentioned by some that got us thinking is how to save for a house down payment or some other large expense in the future. Should we apply our same rule as for the emergency fund, i.e., invest it all in risky assets to get greater expected returns and avoid opportunity cost? Or is this a different animal from an emergency fund?

Since we still can’t time the stock market we would lean towards keeping money in stocks until it’s time to withdraw. So we first make a case in favor of equities. But we concede that there can be situations where you want to take less risk, say, where you could lose your dream house if you are short even a single dollar in your down payment fund, so we present some options for that scenario as well.Read More »