Financial Priorities.

First things first, apparently I’m a little late to the game, but I made a Facebook fan page last night for Punch Debt In The Face (See the new widget in the sidebar on the right?). I don’t really get why that’s better than my Facebook profile page, but for some reason people tell me it is. I also don’t know why likes are important on a page, but again, someone told me they were. Would you take a moment to head on over to my new fan page and gimme a little Likey Likey. If you do, I will…well… do absolutely nothing for you. Sorry, just being honest.

Alright, on to the content…

Do you have an income? Do you have expenses? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you darn well better have some financial priorities in place.

While there are a million different things we could talk about in regards to financial priorities, I want to focus on just one. Which comes first: investing or paying down debt? Hey, speaking of…

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Answer: Chuck Norris.

In all seriousness, I think financial priorities are something most of us think we have figured out, but don’t always truly understand. Today I’m going to show you why investing in your 401K is often a better option than paying down high interest credit card debt.

Let’s look at an example:

Jane, makes $50,000 year. She’s 30 years old and her employer fully matches 5% of any contributions she makes to her 401K plan. Jane also has $5,000 in credit card debt, at 15%. What should Jane do, pay down the card as quick as possible, or start building up a nice little nest egg for retirement?

A 15% APR, on a $5,000 balance, means Jane will be paying about $62/month in interest. If she made nothing, but minimum payments, it would take her a little over 22 years to pay that sucker off. She’d also pay $5,729 in interest over that time resulting in a total payment just shy of $11,000. Yikes, that $5,000 original bill became a whole lot more expensive. Better pay that sucker off ASAP, right?

Now let’s examine the investing route.

Jane would be investing $208/month in her 401K if she contributed 5%. Her employer matches that and gives her another $208. If she earned a doable 6% return on this money, and never got a raise in her life, she would end up retiring at age 67 with $683,030 in her 401K. Not bad at all.

If Jane decided to postpone contributing to her 401K, she could use that $208 to make accelerated debt payments each month. But let’s not forget, that 208 number is pretax, so in reality she’d have about $175 extra to throw at her credit card. With the additional payment, Jane will now be credit card debt free in 20 months and will have only paid about $673 in interest. Sounds a heck of a lot better than the 22 years it was going to take in the first example.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Wanna know what Jane’s 401k would look like if she didn’t start investing until after she became CC debt free? She lost nearly two years of company matching and compound interest, resulting in $596,388 in her 401K. That’s $86,642 less then if she started investing at age 30.

Guys and girls, this point is SOOOO important it can not be overlooked. It is absolutely in Jane’s best interest to start investing in her companies 401K, even though she is not debt free. If she waits until she has her credit card paid off, she loses a crap load of money. I know this seems to go against the grain. Credit card debt is evil, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean it should always be at the top of our financial priorities.

Obviously, in a perfect world you will have enough discretionary income that you can not only contribute to your retirement, but also pay down your debt quickly. I always have been, and always will be a DEBT PUNCHER, but only when it is in your best interest.

Does your employer offer a 401K match? (I’d like as many people as possible to answer this question since I’ve heard a lot of the retirement benefits in the private sector have been getting cut left and right). Are you taking full advantage of that match? If not, you’re stupid. I’m sorry, you just are. You are literally giving up FREE money. In Jane’s situation would you go the way of Dave Ramsey and still pay down your credit card first, or would you let number’s guide you and start contributing to your retirement?

p.s. Like me on Facebook, I’m desperate ūüôā

This is why you buy when the market is breaking records

The Nasdaq hit an all time high yesterday, ending the day at 5,056. The previous record dated back to March 10th 2000, when the index was at 5,048. As you can guess, the previous record was set shortly before the dotcom crash that sent the Nasdaq down nearly 4,000 points to 1,114 in 2002.

The S&P 500 set an intraday high yesterday, but closed just a few points shy of a new record.

Looking at the Dow, we find an equally¬†bubbly story…

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 10.33.58 PM

The low in 2009 was 6,626. Today we’re at 18,058. That’s an insane roller coaster that has been climbing aggressively for the last six years.

THIS BUBBLES GOING TO POP! 

But guess what. You should probably keep investing in the market anyways. In fact, this is the exact way the market is supposed to work. Although there are peaks and valleys, the market trend has always been in an upwards direction. ALWAYS.

Sure, we have a recession (or depression) every decade or two, but these occasions are always followed by a lengthy period of gains. For every two to four years of losses, we average five to ten years of gains.

The market highs are getting higher, which means¬†the lows get higher too when the crash finally comes.¬†It’s a beautiful thing.

WHY you BUY in a bubble. 

In June 2013, I wrote a post titled I might take out a $30,000 401k loan just to piss some of you off. I was thinking of borrowing from my 401k and one of the primary draws was that the market was trading at all time highs (the Dow was at 15,000 for the first time ever). Why wouldn’t I want to lock in the sexy appreciation I had earned?

Fortunately, I was too chicken to take out the loan. Thank goodness considering the market has shot up another 20% since that post.

No one can time the pop.  

The¬†problem isn’t with identifying when the market might be in a bubble. It arguably is right now.

Problems come when you try and preempt the bubble’s pop. You could sell today thinking things are crazy¬†overvalued, only to find out this gravy train goes on for another three years before there is a correction.

This is why I need to constantly remind myself that I should think about my investments like I think about my marriage.

To have and to hold from this day forward. 

In sickness and in health. 

In good times and bad times. 

For richer or poorer. 

Until death does us part.

I will contribute to my investment accounts. 

You NEED to know your expense ratios.

throw money in toiletNow that I’ve given our savings account the cold shoulder in hopes of building long-term wealth via our taxable and retirement accounts, basic investment strategies just wont cut it any more.

The need to go deeper.

In 2007, when I landed my current job with the Feds, I was handed a fat stack of HR paperwork as part of my new hire packet. One of the pieces of paper in this stack asked if I wanted to begin contributing to the government’s version of a 401k, known as the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

The paper told me that if I contributed 5% of my salary, the government would match that contribution and throw in an additional 5% on my behalf.

I didn’t have to be a savvy investor to know that a 100% return on investment was an incredible opportunity.

The TSP is nice in that it only has five funds that one can choose to invest in. They are…

  • C Fund: Essentially an S&P 500 index fund
  • S Fund: A total US stock market index (so companies the S&P doesn’t cover)
  • I Fund: An international fund that mimics a Morgan Stanley International fund
  • F Fund: A broad index representing the US bond market.
  • G Fund: A guranteed return fund. Currently about 2% ROI. 

For all of the bureaucratic red tape and politics that comes with the government, you sure can’t beat the simplicity of the TSP.

But the thing that puts the TSP miles ahead of the competition, likely even your 401k plan, is the expense ratios.

If you’re a super passive contributor to your retirement accounts you might not even know what expense ratios are.

Without boring you to death, expense ratios are a fee that you pay the organization that manages your investment account. You may not have known these expenses existed because you don’t pay them out of pocket, instead your organization just debits them from your account.

Know your expense ratios. 

It could literally mean the difference of tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars over the course of your accounts life.

For example, the TSP charges expense ratios of 0.029%. Or in other words, for every $1,000 you have in your TSP, they will deduct 29 cents, annually.

Whereas, if you have an actively managed account, it isn’t uncommon to have expense ratios of 1%, or in other words $10 is deducted for every $1,000 invested, annually.

Ten dollars a year might not seem like a lot, but OH BOY does it add up quick.

Impact of Expense Ratios over the long term

For the sake of making everything easy, let’s say you have $100,000 in your 401k right now. You add $10,000 to your account each year. You are planning on earning an 8% return on investment over the next 30 years.

Take a look at how an account with a 0.030% expense ratio absolutely DESTROYS an account with a 1.0% expense ratio.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at Mar 4, 2015, 10.30.57 PM

So while a 1% expense ratio may not seem like a lot up front, man-oh-man does it cost ya big bucks in the long run, $419,181.44 to be exact.

Why pay an organization $420,000, when you could keep all that money for yourself? 

I’m fortunate that the TSP has insanely low expense ratios. It would be stupid of me to not contribute as much as I can each year to take advantage of the low fees (hence the reason I’m hoping to max my contributions this year).

And the good news is, even if I quit working for the Feds, I still get to keep my TSP. This will be one account I will probably never get rid of.

“But Ninja I don’t work for the Feds.”

You ever heard of Vanguard? Of course you have! It’s universally known as being one of the most legit investing institutions in the universe (think the Costco of investing).

Vanguards expense ratios are really cheap compared to most of their competitors (although still two to five times that of the TSP).

The more money you have, the better rates you will get.

From 2007 to 2014, I was contributing to VTSMX, which is Vanguards version of a broad based stock market fund. The expense ratio was 0.17%. Not too shabby.

But now that I’m committed to not being such an investing dummy, I’ve sold all $30,000 of that fund and bought VTSAX, which is EXACTLY the same fund, but has an expense ratio of 0.05% (1/3 of VTSMX). The catch with VTSAX is that you have to have a minimum of $10,000 to invest in this account to qualify for the cheaper fee.

Had I left my money in the more expensive VTSMX, I would have paid $22,000 more in fees over the next thirty years.

THAT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO STUPID. 

So, seriously, if you haven’t thought twice about your investment (taxable and retirement) accounts’ expense ratios; you need to get off my web site and start doing some research (especially because your employer might have some really sucky options).

Not doing so could LITERALLY cost you a fortune.

*make sure you consider tax implications on realized gains if you sell investments from a taxable account. 

For Oh Won Kay.

In the blink of an eye, my overtime income that I blogged about two days ago is gone. Rest in peace, hopefully we will meet again.

Where did it go?

I’m glad you¬†asked.

As soon as I learned the opportunity for overtime was available, I immediately began deciding how to purpose this new found income.

And like a true personal finance nerd, the result was about the most boring thing you could possibly imagine.

My 401k. 

While I’d like to pretend you didn’t see that coming, I imagine you nerds would have been just as nerdy and probably done the same nerdy thing.

Seeing that I have no idea how long this overtime option will be available to me, I want to make sure I take advantage while I can.

For now that means I’ll be throwing $1,600/month in to my 401k instead of the $600/mo I have been doing.

Since my agency matches 5% of my income each month, I have to be careful about how fast I max out my 401k.

If I hit the $18,000 limit by, let’s say August, then I would no longer be allowed to contribute to my 401k for the rest of the year (September to December). Which means, my agency wouldn’t be able to provide me a 5% match (since I’d no longer be contributing).

Or in other words, I’d lose out on about $2,000 of 100% FREE MONEY.

No way in heck I’m going to let that happen, so even though the overtime I’m working should theoretically gross me an additional¬†$2,400/mo. I’ll only be throwing in $1,600 towards my 401k.

Leaving me with about $600ish dollars to tinker around with after tax.

To make sure things don’t get too exciting around these parts, I’ll probably just set up an auto-transfer and have that extra money go straight to my brokerage account.

Sexy by the worlds standards? Hardly.

Sexy by not-being-an-idiot-with-new-found-money standards? Absolutely. 

Are you investing more or less than you thought?

Just about every personal finance guru has an opinion on how much you should contribute to retirement. Their suggestions usually falls between 10% and 20% of your gross income. For as long as I’ve been at this personal finance thing (since 2007), I’ve decided to contribute no less than 15%.

Here’s what my retirement contributions have looked like so far for 2014…

401K: 10% of gross income

Roth IRA: $5,500 (which is 6.7% of gross income).

As our income has increased, we’ve been able to send more discretionary income to retirement, (I started with 5% contributions in 2007).

There’s something missing though, I also get a full 5% match from ¬†my employer for my 401k contributions. So, although I am personally only sacrificing 17% of my pay for retirement, I’m really getting¬†22% socked away¬†for future me.

So my question is simple:

When the talking heads state one should be saving 15% towards retirement, are they factoring in the company match? Or another way to think about it, would you say I am investing 17% towards retirement, or 22%? 

It’s an interesting question, one that could literally mean the difference of a $1,000,000+ come retirement depending on how one decides to proceed.

When I asked this question on twitter, I got a 50/50 split. Half said they count the match towards their goal, while the other half said they pretend like the match doesn’t exist and it’s just a bonus.

This is why you invest in your 401k

Got a quarterly statement from the Thrift Savings Plan (the government version of a 401k) yesterday and it tickled my fancy in ways my fancy has never been tickled before.

unicorn tickles

There was a good amount of information on there that seemed totally pointless. Like the section that told me if I was 62 years old (I’m only 28) and retired today, I could expect to withdraw $364/mo from it.

Woopdy-freaking-do. 

But the very last section on the form made reading all the useless stuff worth it. The section was titled “Your total lifetime contributions”.

I frequently think about my retirement contributions.

  • As a percentage of my income (10%)
  • As a dollar amount out of each paycheck ($310)
  • As an amount I hope to have in my TSP come retirement (millions)

But I don’t think I’ve ever considered exactly how much money I have put in to my TSP. According to this quarterly statement, I’ve invested a total of $28,122 over the last six years I’ve been working.

Here’s where things get sexy.

I’ve put $28,000 of my own money in to this account, but my total account balance is about $72,000 as of this writing.

That right there friends is why I freaking love my retirement accounts. My $28,000 investment has made for itself an additional $44,000 in gains. In the words of that kid who got drugged up at the dentist 9db

Since I don’t make a million dollars a year nor am I anticipating being gifted a million dollars, the only way for me to reach millionaire status is by investing diligently. Deciding to contribute to my 401k at 22 years old was probably one of the better decisions I’ve ever made. Hopefully it will continue to pay off handsomely for years to come.

Now go up your contributions!

 

Keep your credit card debt. It’ll be good for you.

Do you have an income?

Do you have expenses?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you darn well better have some financial priorities in place.

While there are a million different things we could talk about in regards to financial priorities, today I want to focus on just one.

Which comes first: investing or paying down debt?

I think financial priorities are something most of us think we have figured out, but don’t always truly understand.

Today I’m going to show you why investing in your 401K is often a better option than paying down high interest credit card debt.

Let’s look at an example:

Jane, makes $50,000 year. She’s 30 years old and her employer fully matches 5% of any contributions she makes to her 401K plan. Jane also has $5,000 in credit card debt, at 15%. What should Jane do, pay down the card as quick as possible, or start building up a nice little nest egg for retirement?

A 15% APR, on a $5,000 balance, means Jane will be paying about $62/month in interest. If she made nothing, but minimum payments, it would take her a little over 22 years to pay that sucker off. She’d also pay $5,729 in interest over that time resulting in a total payment just shy of $11,000. Yikes, that $5,000 original bill became a whole lot more expensive. Better pay that sucker off ASAP, right?

Now let’s examine the investing route.

Jane would be investing $208/month in her 401K if she contributed 5%. Her employer matches that and gives her another $208. If she earned a doable 6% return on this money, and never got a raise in her life, she would end up retiring at age 67 with $683,030 in her 401K. Not bad at all.

If Jane decided to postpone contributing to her 401K, she could use that $208 to make accelerated debt payments each month. But let’s not forget, that 208 number is pretax, so in reality she’d have about $175 extra to throw at her credit card. With the additional payment, Jane will now be credit card debt free in 20 months and will have only paid about $673 in interest. Sounds a heck of a lot better than the 22 years it was going to take in the first example.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Wanna know what Jane’s 401k would look like if she didn’t start investing until after she became CC debt free? She lost nearly two years of company matching and compound interest, resulting in $596,388 in her 401K. That’s $86,642 less then if she started investing at age 30.

Guys and girls, this point is SOOOO important it can not be overlooked. It is absolutely in Jane’s best interest to start investing in her companies 401K, even though she is not debt free. If she waits until she has her credit card paid off, she loses a crap load of money. I know this seems to go against the grain. Credit card debt is evil, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t mean it should always be at the top of our financial priorities.

Obviously, in a perfect world you will have enough discretionary income that you can not only contribute to your retirement, but also pay down your debt quickly. I always have been, and always will be a DEBT PUNCHER, but only when it is in your best interest.

Does your employer offer a 401K match? (I’d like as many people as possible to answer this question since I’ve heard a lot of the retirement benefits in the private sector have been getting cut left and right). Are you taking full advantage of that match? If not, you’re crazy. I’m sorry, you just are. You are literally giving up FREE money. In Jane’s situation would you go the way of Dave Ramsey and still pay down your credit card first, or would you let number’s guide you and start contributing to your retirement?