75 Personal Finance Rules of Thumb

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A “rule of thumb” is a mental shortcut. It’s a heuristic. It’s not always true, but it’s usually true. It saves you time and brainpower. Rather than re-inventing the wheel for every money problem you face, personal finance rules of thumb let you apply wisdom from the past to reach quick solutions.

Table of Contents show

I’m going to do my best Buzzfeed impression today and give you a list of 75 personal finance rules of thumb. Some are efficient packets of advice while others are mathematical shortcuts to save brain space. Either way, I bet you’ll learn a thing or two—quickly—from this list.

The Basics

These basic personal finance rules of thumb apply to everybody. They’re simple and universal.

1. The Order of Operations (since this is one of the bedrocks of personal finance, I wrote a PDF explaining all the details. Since you’re a reader here, it’s free.)

2. Insurance protects wealth. It doesn’t build wealth.

3. Cash is good for current expenses and emergencies, but nothing more. Holding too much cash means you’re losing long-term value.

4. Time is money. Wealth is a measure of how much time your money can buy.

5. Set specific financial goals. Specific numbers, specific dates. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

6. Keep an eye on your credit score. Check-in at least once a year.

7. Converting wages to salary: $1/per hour = $2000 per year.

8. Don’t mess with City Hall. Don’t cheat on your taxes.

9. You can afford anything. You can’t afford everything.

10. Money saved is money earned. When you look at your bottom line, saving a dollar has the equivalent effect as earning a dollar. Saving and earning are equally important.

Budgeting

I love budgeting, but not everyone is as zealous as me. Still, if you’re looking to budget (or even if you’re not), I think these budgeting rules of thumb are worth following.

11. You need a budget. The key to getting your financial life under control is making a budget and sticking to it. That is the first step for every financial decision.

12. The 50-30-20 rule of budgeting. After taxes, 50% of your money should cover needs, 30% should cover wants, and 20% should repay debts or invest.

13. Use “sinking funds” to save for rainy days. You know it’ll rain eventually.

14. Don’t mix savings and checking. One saves, the other spends.

15. Children cost about $10,000 per kid, per year. Family planning = financial planning.

16. Spend less than you earn. You might say, “Duh!” But if you’re not measuring your spending (e.g. with a budget), are you sure you meet this rule?

Investing & Retirement

Basic investing, in my opinion, is a ‘must know’ for future financial success. The following rules of thumb will help you dip your toe in those waters.

17. Don’t handpick stocks. Choose index funds instead. Very simple, very effective.

18. People who invest full-time are smarter than you. You can’t beat them.

19. The Rule of 72 (it’s doctor-approved). An investment annual growth rate multiplied by its doubling time equals (roughly) 72. A 4% investment will double in 18 years (4*18 = 72). A 12% investment will double in 6 years (12*6 = 72).

20. “Don’t do something, just sit there.” -Jack Bogle, on how bad it is to worry about your investments and act on those emotions.

21. Get the employer match. If your employer has a retirement program (e.g. 401k, pension), make sure you get all the free money you can.

22. Balance pre-tax and post-tax investments. It’s hard to know what tax rates will be like when you retire, so balancing between pre-tax and post-tax investing now will also keep your tax bill balanced later.

23. Keep costs low. Investing fees and expense ratios can eat up your profits. So keep those fees as low as possible.

24. Don’t touch your retirement money. It can be tempting to dip into long-term savings for an important current need. But fight that urge. You’ll thank yourself later.

25. Rebalancing should be part of your investing plan. Portfolios that start diversified can become concentrated some one asset does well and others do poorly. Rebalancing helps you rest your diversification and low er your risk.

26. The 4% Rule for retirement. Save enough money for retirement so that your first year of expenses equals 4% (or less) of your total nest egg.

27. Save for your retirement first, your kids’ college second. Retirees don’t get scholarships.

28. $1 invested in stocks today = $10 in 30 years.

29. Inflation is about 3% per year. If you want to be conservative, use 3.5% in your money math.

30. Stocks earn 7% per year, after adjusting for inflation.

31. Own your age in bonds. Or, own 120 minus your age in bonds. The heuristic used to be that a 30-year old should have a portfolio that’s 30% bonds, 40-year old 40% bonds, etc. More recently, the “120 minus your age” rule has become more prevalent. 30-year old should own 10% bonds, 40-year old 20% bonds, etc.

32. Don’t invest in the unknown. Or as Warren Buffett suggests, “Invest in what you know.”

Home & Auto

For many of you, home and car ownership contribute to your everyday finances. The following personal finance rules of thumb will be especially helpful for you.

33. Your house’s sticker price should be less than 3x your family’s combined income. Being “house poor”—or having too expensive of a house compared to your income—is one of the most common financial pitfalls. Avoid it if you can.

34. Broken appliance? Replace it if 1) the appliance is 8+ years old or 2) the repair would cost more than half of a new appliance.

35. Used car or new car? The cost difference isn’t what it used to be. The choice is even.

36. A car’s total lifetime cost is about 3x its sticker price. Choose wisely!

37. 20-4-10 rule of buying a vehicle. Put 20% of the vehicle down in cash, with a loan of 4 years or less, with a monthly payment that is less than 10% of your monthly income.

38. Re-financing a mortgage makes sense once interest rates drop by 1% (or more) from your current rate.

39. Don’t pre-pay your mortgage (unless your other bases are fully covered). Mortgages interest is deductible, and current interest rates are low. While pre-paying your mortgage saves you that little bit of interest, there’s likely a better use for you extra cash.

40. Set aside 1% of your home’s value each year for future maintenance and repairs.

41. The average car costs about 50 cents per mile over the course of its life.

42. Paying interest on a depreciating asset (e.g. a car) is losing twice.

43. Your main home isn’t an investment. You shouldn’t plan on both living in your house forever and selling it for profit. The logic doesn’t work.

44. Pay cash for cars, if you can. Paying interest on a car is a losing move.

45. If you’re buying a fixer-upper, consider the 70% rule to sort out worthy properties.

46. If you’re buying a rental property, the 1% rule easily evaluates if you’ll get a positive cash flow.

Spending & Debt

Do you spend money? (“What kind of question is that?”) Then these personal finance rules of thumb will apply to you.

47. Pay off your credit card every month.

48. In debt? Use psychology to help yourself. Consider the debt snowball or debt avalanche.

49. When making a purchase, consider cost-per-use.

50. Make your spending tangible with a ‘cash diet.’

51. Never pay full price. Shop around and do your research to get the best deals. You can earn cash back when you shop online, score a discount with a coupon code, or a voucher for free shipping.

52. Buying experiences makes you happier than buying things.

53. Shop by yourself. Peer pressure increases spending.

54. Shop with a list, and stick to it. Stores are designed to pull you into purchases you weren’t expecting.

55. Spend on the person you are, not the person you want to be. I love cooking, but I can’t justify $1000 of professional-grade kitchenware.

56. The bigger the purchase, the more time it deserves. Organic vs. normal peanut butter? Don’t spend 10 minutes thinking about it. $100K on a timeshare? Don’t pull the trigger when you’re three margaritas deep.

57. Use less than 30% of your available credit. Credit usage plays a major role in your credit score. Consistently maxing out your credit hurts your credit score. Aim to keep your usage low (paying off every month, preferably).

58. Unexpected windfall? Use 5% or less to treat yourself, but use the rest wisely (e.g. invest for later).

59. Aim to keep your student loans less than one year’s salary in your field.

The Mental Side of Personal Finance

At the end of the day, you are what you do. Psychology and behavior play an essential role in personal finance. That’s why these behavioral rules of thumb are vital.

60. Consider peace of mind. Paying off your mortgage isn’t always the optimum use of extra money. But the peace of mind that comes with eliminating debt—it’s huge.

61. Small habits build up to big impacts. It feels like a baby step now, but give yourself time.

62. Give your brain some time. Humans might rule the animal kingdom, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t impulsive. Give your brain some time to think before making big financial decisions.

63. The 30 Day Rule. Wait 30 days before you make a purchase of a “want” above a certain dollar amount. If you still want it after waiting and you can afford it, then buy it.  

64. Pay yourself first. Put money away (into savings or investment accounts) before you ever have a chance to spend it.

65. As a family, don’t fall into the two-income trap. If you can, try to support your lifestyle off of only one income. Should one spouse lose their job, the family finances will still be stable.

66. Every dollar counts. Money is fungible. There are plenty of ways to supplement your income stream.

67. Savor what you have before buying new stuff. Consider the fulfillment curve.

68. Negotiating your salary can be one of the most important financial moves you make. Increasing your income might be more important than anything else on this list.

69. Direct deposit is the nudge you need. If you don’t see your paycheck, you’re less likely to spend it.

70. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. Instead, use comparisons to set goals. (net worth).

71. Learning is earning. Education is 5x more impactful to work-life earnings than other demographics.

72. If you wouldn’t pay in cash, then don’t pay in credit. Swiping a credit card feels so easy compared to handing over a stack of cash. Don’t let your brain fool itself.

73. Envision a leaky bucket. Water leaking from the bottom is just as consequential as water entering the top. We often ignore financial leaks (e.g. fees), since they’re not as glamorous—but we shouldn’t.

74. Forget the Joneses. Use comparisons to motivate healthier habits, not useless spending.

75. Talk about money! I know it’s sometimes frowned upon (like politics or religion), but you can learn a ton from talking to your peers about money. Unsure where to start? You can talk to me!

The Last Personal Finance Rule of Thumb

Last but not least, an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

Boom! Got ’em again! Ben Franklin streaks in for another meta appearance. Thanks Ben!

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

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Source: bestinterest.blog

How This Former Zookeeper Paid Off Over $40,000 In Debt

Hey! Today, I have a great debt payoff story to share from Steffa Mantilla. She paid off $40,000 in debt so that she could be a stay at home mom and start a business. Enjoy!

My husband CJ and I have been married for over a decade.  You’d think with all that time married would come wisdom but it wasn’t until year 10 of our marriage before we really took stock in figuring out our financial life.

How This Former Zookeeper Paid Off Over $40,000 In Debt

How This Former Zookeeper Paid Off Over $40,000 In Debt

Like most people, we got into a routine and didn’t question what we thought was working.  We had surrounded ourselves with other couples who were living the same way we were. 

There was no impetus to change because we had created a comfortable echo chamber with a “Keeping up with the Jones’ mentality.”

Fast forward to today and we’ve paid off $100,000 in debt and are on track to pay off our mortgage within the next 3 years. 

While there’s no “easy button” on debt payoff, I hope that our story can help others see what’s possible and the steps we took to get there.  

More debt payoff stories:

Our Debts

In 2016, my husband and I were close to $200,000 in debt.  Around $165,000 was our mortgage, $12,000 in student loans, and $30,000 in consumer loans.  We were a dual income couple with no kids and lived like money was infinite.  Most of our friends had a similar lifestyle and seemed to be able to afford it.  

The problem was, we put our entire life on payments because we had the mistaken belief that we “deserved it” somehow.  Payments for already-experienced fancy vacations, new cars, and furniture ate up the majority of our paychecks.  

From the outside, we seemed like we were well off when in reality, we were one missed paycheck away from not being able to make the minimum payments on our bills.  

What Made Me Want To Change My Career

By the time 2016 rolled around, we had been married for 11 years and were ready to start a family.  I had also been in my zookeeping career for equally as long.

I had worked my way up from an Avian Intern all the way up through my ultimate goal of Senior Keeper for Carnivores.  While I had loved being a zookeeper all those years, I had reached the limit of upward mobility.  All higher positions were supervisory and were no longer working directly with the animals.  

When we were discussing our future family plans, it became apparent to me that my career wasn’t going to mesh well with my idea of motherhood.  Zookeepers work long hours, often starting at 6AM to get the exhibits ready by the time guests arrive.  They also work every weekend,  evening special events, and every holiday.  

I was also capped out on pay. 

Despite working a decade in this field, having advanced continuing education certifications, and the required degrees, I made merely $16 an hour (roughly $30,000/year).  The long, strenuous hours left me burnt out and wanting a change.

One day, my husband and I sat down to do our budget planning for a baby.  After looking at all of the costs, including childcare, if I continued to work in the same job, I would be making negative dollars

This, combined with rarely being able to have weekends or holidays off with my family, was a deal-breaker.  I’d essentially miss out on my child’s entire childhood if I stayed in this job.

I brought up the idea of becoming a stay at home mom and we set out to make a plan.

What Needed To Happen To Make This Work

In order for me to become a stay at home mom, our family budget had to be drastically altered.  Thankfully, while talking about finances was awkward in the beginning, we quickly set aside any embarrassment or feelings of guilt that we had.  

Open communication without judgement, finger pointing, or blame was the only way we were able to make a real plan that we could stick to.  While it was stressful since we were essentially broke despite both earning incomes, we instead used this to come together and strengthen our marriage instead of pull us apart.

By the end, we came to the conclusion that a few things needed to happen:

  • Pay off all our debt (except the mortgage)
  • Lower our frivolous household expenses
  • I’d need to get a job to make up the difference in our budget

Our Money Mindsets

As a wedding gift, we had received the book The Total Money Makeover.  Neither of us had heard of Dave Ramsey before and didn’t really have an interest in learning about him.  Thus, this book sat on our bookshelf for 10 years unopened.

It’s kind of interesting thinking back about how we had the tools for financial success right in front of our faces for literally 10 years without ever using them.  But, we weren’t mentally open to change at the time.  

I think the saying that “you can help someone who won’t help themselves” is especially true when talking about money.  Money is a personal topic that many people have hang ups about. In our case, I knew investing was good so we did that but never really had a problem with debt.  I assumed everyone had debt and all my friends confirmed that.

For CJ, he grew up in a household where you didn’t talk about money.  It was always a source of stress because there was never enough.  Then when he grew up and got his first adult job, there was a sigh of relief.  All restrictions were gone and he could spend how he wished instead of constantly being in a scarcity mindset.

Even though we came from very different money backgrounds, we both were missing solid financial knowledge.  Neither of us had been taught about building wealth or living a debt-free lifestyle.  

This was a huge paradigm shift that we each needed to overcome in order to truly get on the same page and work together.

How We Got On The Same Page As A Couple

I love reading so I quickly devoured The Total Money Makeover in one day.  But no matter what, I couldn’t convince CJ to read the book.  He thought of it as “work” and he’d rather read for relaxation.

So I used my training in operant conditioning to subtly leave hints and clues about.  CJ and I now joke how I “clicker trained” him into getting on board. 

During car rides together we’d listen to the Dave Ramsey Podcast. I’d talk about how neat it was hearing other’s debt-free screams and then we’d discuss what we’d do if that were us.  Could we ever achieve that?  How are these people able to do this and we can’t when we’re earning more money than them?  

The best persuasion was learning about others achieving their financial dreams.  Dreaming together and making plans for our financial future was instrumental in giving us an achievable goal.  

Now it wasn’t just some vague idea; we had concrete plans for how we wanted the next 20 years to go.  We could eliminate financial stress and truly live a life we never thought was possible.

Our Plan To Pay Off Debt

So back to the debt.  We had around $42,000 that needed to be paid off before I could become a stay at home mom.  We weren’t a brand new couple so we did have some savings and investments.  Everything was disjointed and not well organized though.

After looking at our current financial state, we saw that a lot of the debt could be wiped out fairly quickly with the money we had in various places.  

Here’s where we took money from:

  • Sold stock from my childhood mutual funds that my parents had set up as a teaching tool. (~ $2,000)
  • Sold company stock from CJ’s job that was bonus compensation. (~$3,000)
  • Emptied out our $15k Emergency Fund down to $1,000 ($14,000)

These were the immediate quick wins that we could do.  We now had $23,000 left in debt to tackle.  

Rearranging our budget was where we found our largest consistent monthly savings.  After tracking our spending for a few months, we saw that we were spending an insane $800 a month on eating out and for entertainment purposes.  This was on top of the $600 we already spent on groceries for two people.

While we do live in a city where things cost more, it wasn’t enough to justify hundreds of dollars every month.  We were going out for dinner or drinks with friends whenever we were invited.  We never said “no” and our bank account was weeping.  

I also started to take any overtime that was offered.  I’d either come in to work on my days off when coverage was needed or I’d volunteer to work extra evening special events.  This also made it easier to save because a lot of my free time was being used up so I couldn’t go out with friends.

After rearranging our budget and adding in overtime pay, we were able to free up around $1800/month to go directly towards debt. It took 12 months for us to pay off the remaining debt.  During this time I got pregnant and now had to figure out what to do about my soon to be eliminated income.

Making Up The Deficit In Our Budget

Fast forward to me having a baby and being out on maternity leave.  During this time I was still being paid since I had sick days accumulated from the past 5 years.  I was working with my boss to try and see if a part-time or few days a week position could be created.  

Ultimately, while they were willing to work with me somewhat, it still wouldn’t have been financially viable due to the cost of childcare.  

After switching gears, I started talking to other zookeepers who did pet sitting as a side job.  They mainly did weekend pet sits or before and after work drop-ins.  I picked their brains a bit and then decided to offer up my services on Rover.

The reason I chose Rover was that there was already a built-in client base.  I knew I could get clients by highlighting my experience with animals.  Who wouldn’t trust their dog with someone who worked with cheetahs and lions?  By using Rover, I didn’t have to do any outside marketing and ended up having a client wait list.

I also made it clear that I’d be bringing my baby along with me to all dog walks or cat sits so I only took on small or elderly dogs and cats.  I met all clients ahead of time to do behavioral observations and stroller testing to ensure it would be safe. 

In the end, I took on 2 mid-day dog walk clients and numerous cat sitting clients. Our budget was going to be $500 short once my maternity pay ended but with these pet sitting clients I was making $500 a month bare minimum.  And I didn’t need to worry about childcare.  

Paying Down The Mortgage

As I got into the hang of mom life and my child grew older, I started looking into creating my own business.  I was now a self-taught personal finance enthusiast  and Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) so I started my blog Money Tamer.  I was able to write blog posts during my son’s nap time and learned as much as I could about online business.  

My blog is now monetized and the income I take from it goes directly towards our mortgage principle.  Any extra money that CJ earns also goes towards paying off our house early.  We’ve sold things we no longer want or need to consignment stores or used online marketplaces.  

Over the past three years, we’ve been able to put close to $55,000 towards paying down our home making our total debt payoff close to $100,000. 

Our next goal is to have our house paid off in an additional 3 years or so.  

Final Thoughts

Getting out of debt is possible even when you feel lost.  So many people grow up in households where money is taboo and many schools barely touch upon the subject.  Even if you think you’re too far gone, I’m here to tell you it’s never too late.

We had been married and spending with abandon for over 10 years before we got our act together.  The biggest factor in our success was our change in mindset.  We started seeing money as a way to build freedom into our lives rather than surrounding ourself with consumer goods.

If you’re in a couple, it’s paramount that you have meetings to dream together.  You both need to create a dream you’re both working towards so that you aren’t tempted to derail one another.  When one of you is struggling, the other is there to help keep you on course and vice versa.  

This is the route we took, and while it’s not complete yet, we’re well on our way to being able to reach our goal of financial freedom.

Author bio:  Steffa is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and founder of the personal finance website Money Tamer.  She is an online entrepreneur who built her business while being a stay at home mom to her toddler.  Steffa has paid off over $100,000 in debt and now teaches others how they can get their finances under control to do the same.

Are you trying to pay off your debt? What are your dreams for life after debt?

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Source: makingsenseofcents.com

Pizza Delivery is for Millionaires

My son and I are having a beautiful Saturday night here at home. The sun is setting over the mountains outside my bedroom window and I’ve just finished baking a pizza which I am about to serve up for his dinner.

Although our day has been very simple, there has been an underlying magic within it that triggered an epiphany that I just had to write to you about. Because within this simple moment seems to be the secret to pretty much everything.

We woke up to a cloudless blue sky and were treated to summer-like warmth even though it’s November. I served up a French toast breakfast and then we ate together as we made plans for our day. We decided the first stage would be some computer work for him, while I went out to do some yard work and a bit of maintenance and cleanup on my construction van, to get it ready to lend to a friend.

Stage Two was our big walk downtown. Little MM wanted to get some shots of old buildings as part of an assignment for photography class, and I wanted to fix a minor leak in the roof of the MMM HQ Coworking building, so we decided to combine the errands. The walk was long and adventurous and we even stopped for some exorbitant ice cream cones on the way, courtesy of a gift card I received for helping someone last month.

We got it all done – Little MM got his 24 required shots, I fixed the roof and also ran into my co-owners Mr. and Mrs. 1500 who were setting up the building for a group breakfast tomorrow. So my boy and I strolled the 1.5 miles home through the sunny leafy autumn streets of Longmont and settled in for the night.

I popped one of my homemade pizzas into the oven. Because it was a big one, it was going to take at least 25 minutes to cook so I figured I’d use that time to shower off the day’s dust and sunscreen. But then I noticed my hair was starting to get a bit out of control so I gave myself a quick haircut before the shower.

And as I stepped out of my room, dressed in clean clothes and feeling sharp and healthy and arriving in the fancy kitchen I built last month just as the oven beeped to indicate the pizza was finished, I realized that this is the secret to wealth. Days like today. Monetary wealth for sure, but also every other kind of wealth.

We had just enjoyed an almost perfect day almost effortlessly, just by having the right habits in place.

We had a shitload of fun, socialized and exercised and advanced the projects that are important to us. But simultaneously, we spent very close to zero dollars, and left the world mostly unscathed as we finished our day.

The beeping of that oven full of homemade pizza was what really set off the epiphany in my head.

“Damn”, I realized, “even with all this excess money building up over the years, it didn’t even occur to me to order a pizza. It’s just automatic, and thus faster and cheaper and healthier, to make my own.”

Plus by avoiding the delivery I am saving my neighbors from one gas-powered car bringing an unnecessary extra serving of danger and pollution onto our street. It’s a three-way win with no losing involved.

Ordering a decent extra-large pizza including tax, tip and delivery: $20
Dad’s Homemade pizza: about $4
Difference: 500%

Sure, the difference here is only sixteen bucks, but I wanted to highlight the percentage difference instead. Because if you apply this philosophy of efficient, automatic habits all through your life, it really does tend to cut your costs so that your life becomes 2, 3, 4, or even 5 times less expensive.

So I thought to myself “WHY does anyone who is not even a millionaire yet, or even worse who has a mortgage or credit card debt, still do something as frivolous and easily avoided as ordering a pizza?*”

With that example drawn out in detail, let’s look at some of the other details of this day:

New kitchen in my latest frugal fixer-upper house in progress. Even the toaster is fancy!

My new kitchen which made that pizza cooking so enjoyable was built on a total budget of about $6000 including changing the floorplan, electrical, plumbing, cabinets, countertops and all the appliances.

This is less than half of what custom-ordered cabinets alone would have cost, and a full kitchen remodel of this type usually tops $25,000. But by getting assemble-it-myself cabinets from Ikea and my appliances from Craigslist and doing all of the work myself, I cut the cost by about 75%, while earning plenty of great physical exertion and satisfaction at the same time. Savings: about $20,000 or 80%

My son is in the public middle school rather than in the private school across town, which is where some of the other multimillionaire parents send their kids. If the private school were better for his needs, of course we could afford to send him there too. But we gave the local option a chance and it has turned out to be an incredible place for him. Savings: about $20,000 per year or roughly 100%

We chose walking as our means of transportation, and if we were in a rush we would have ridden our bikes. This habit of not driving doesn’t just save me gas and maintenance money, it also allows me to keep an older vehicle. I have a 1999 Honda van that is still in sparkling new condition.

She just reached drinking age, all cleaned up for her first can of Coors Light!

It stays new because I barely use it, because I have designed my life to be within an entirely muscle-powered radius. But this brand-new van is worth less than two grand and insurance is about twenty bucks a month. Maintenance is less than $10, registration is $5. Savings versus owning an “average” $35,000 American car and driving an average amount: about $600 per month or 90%.

We didn’t go “shopping” (100% savings), watched a movie at home instead of the theatre (100%), I cut my own hair for the something-hundredth time (100%), we advanced our health rather than chipping away at it (100%), and built this warm caring relationship with each other as well as with our friends (priceless).

And there were all sorts of other less tangible things working in the background too. I bought a commercial building and started this coworking space as a way to pass the time and spend time with old and new friends – the same reasons that someone might buy a vacation home in the mountains or at the beach.

But instead of costing me a few thousand dollars per month and requiring 100 miles of driving every time I visit, this building is just a pleasant walk from home and it generates thousands per month in cashflow and appreciation. It is great for the mental and physical health of all of our 75 members and growing, and we all save money by being a part of this community.

Mr. 1500 and I hosting a party at MMM-HQ for the first screening of the Playing with FIRE documentary, April 2019

The funny part of all this is that today was a completely normal day for us – most of my days are very similar to this one. The only unusual part was that I happened to take a step back and actually notice it. And that is really the point of this whole article:

We get used to our daily routine, and think of it as “normal”, even if it is completely ridiculous.

In recent months, I have just had my eyes re-opened as I have had more contact with people who are living more typical American lives than me. Their normal is different than mine, so when I visit I happen to notice the differences – more car trips and impulse purchases and pizza deliveries.

These people are not living lifestyles that appear exorbitant at all, and their houses aren’t packed with expensive things. But these little 5-to-1 differences just silently happen, quietly and consistently and add up to perhaps $100 per day, when compared with a more streamlined lifestyle.

And $100 every day becomes $36,500 every year, and if you invest that conservatively it will compound into about $520,000 every decade.

$520,000 per decade.
Just from the tiny mindset switch between
“hey lets order a pizza”
versus
“Hey, let’s throw a pizza into the oven.”

I really think this is important, and as this whole “FIRE Movement” thing grows, some people are getting soft and complaining that Mr. Money Mustache is “too extreme”, and so we should take a gentler and easy path and let our spending get sloppy if that is what’s right for us.

The thing is, this is usually just wrong. It’s laziness rather than practicality. Because Mr. Money Mustache is already plenty spendy, and plenty sloppy – well beyond the level required to live a happy life.

I can afford to live this way, because I’m old and wealthy now. If you are still young and poor, you should be spending less than me, not more.

So, pizza delivery is for millionaires, and it’s also time to put away those car-clown keys and get back on your bike. We’ve still got work to do.


* Of course, this is a perfect-world generalization. Real life has room for joyful exceptions and imperfections. But you have to know the reality of what you should be doing, before you can safely start making exceptions like ordering your pampered ass a pizza.

Source: mrmoneymustache.com

1099-C: What You Need to Know about the Cancellation of Debt Tax Form

January 6, 2021 &• 5 min read by Brooke Niemeyer Comments 4 Comments

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From early January to mid-February, you might receive a number of tax documents in the mail. They can range from expected W-2s from your employer to forms about mortgage interest you paid. One form that many people don’t expect is the 1099-C. Discover why you would receive such a form and what the IRS expects you to do with it. Make sure to consult with your tax professional for your specific situation.

What Is a 1099-C Form?

A 1099-C is a tax form required by the IRS in certain situations where your debts have been forgiven or canceled. The IRS requires a 1099-C form for certain acts of debt forgiveness because it sees that forgiven debt as a form of income.

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For example, if you borrowed $12,000 for a personal loan and only paid back $6,000, you still received the original $12,000. Not paying back the other half of the loan means you got the benefit of that money without paying for it. The IRS considers that to be income in many cases.

Why Did You Get a 1099-C Form?

Not every debt cancellation involves a 1099-C form. But if you received this form in the mail, it’s because of a debt cancellation that occurred at some point during the tax year.

Box 6 on the 1099-C form should have a code to help you determine why you received the form. You can also learn more about 1099-C cancellation of debt processes and the reasons you might receive such a form if you’re not sure whether yours is accurate.

The IRS provides instructions and information about 1099-C forms and cancellation of debt in general. That includes a list of potential codes that might be found in Box 6:

  • A—Bankruptcy (Title 11)
  • B—Other judicial debt relief
  • C—Statute of limitations or expiration of deficiency period
  • D—Foreclosure election
  • E—Debt relief from probate or similar proceeding
  • F—By agreement
  • G—Decision or policy to discontinue collection
  • H—Other actual discharge before identifiable event

What Should You Do with a 1099-C Form?

You should never ignore any tax form you receive, as each might have positive or negative implications on your tax return. But you should also not panic if you receive a 1099-C form indicating a large amount of income. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will owe a lot more in taxes.

First, find out whether the type of debt cancellation on the 1099-C form is excluded from taxable income. The IRS provides a list of exclusions, which include debts that were forgiven because you were insolvent or involved in certain types of bankruptcies. It’s a good idea to double check with your bankruptcy lawyer about whether you need to claim 1099-C income relevant to your bankruptcy discharge.

Once you know whether you need to claim the income or not, you must incorporate the 1099-C into your federal tax filing. If the canceled debt doesn’t fall under an exclusion, you report it as “other income” on your tax return.

That income will be included with your other income in determining how much tax you must pay for the year. In short, you’ll have to pay taxes on the extra income. That might mean your refund is reduced or that you owe more taxes than you would otherwise.

In cases where the 1099-C canceled debt falls under an IRS exclusion—which means you don’t have to pay taxes on all or some of the income—you still may need to file a form. The creditor that sent you the 1099-C also sent a copy to the IRS. If you don’t acknowledge the form and income on your own tax filing, it could raise a red flag. Red flags could result in an audit or having to prove to the IRS later that you didn’t owe taxes on that money.

Luckily, the IRS provides a form for this purpose. It’s Form 982, the Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness.

What to Do if You Received a 1099-C Form After Filing Your Taxes

If you don’t know a 1099-C form is coming—and many people don’t realize they might receive one—you could file your taxes before it arrives. You should file an amended return if this happens. That’s true even if the 1099-C doesn’t change your tax obligation, as you might want to get the Form 982 on record for documentation purposes. 

What’s the 1099-C Statute of Limitations?

There aren’t really statutes of limitations on cancellation of debt, though the IRS does have rules about when these forms should be filed. The creditor must file a 1099-C the year following the calendar year when a qualifying event occurs. That just means the creditor must file the next year if they discharge or forgive a debt.

If the creditor files a 1099-C with the IRS, then typically it must provide you with a copy by January 31 so you have it for tax filing purposes that year. This is similar to the rule for W-2s from employers.

However, there is no rule for how long a creditor can carry debt on its books before it decides it’s uncollectible. So, if your debt isn’t canceled via repossession, bankruptcy, or other processes, cancellation could happen at any time. The creditor doesn’t have to tell you about it other than sending the 1099-C.

Is a 1099-C Form Good or Bad for Your Credit?

The 1099-C form shouldn’t have any impact on your credit. However, the activity that led to the 1099-C probably does impact your credit. Typically, by the time a creditor forgives a debt, you’ve engaged in at least one of the following activities:

  • Failed to make payments for an extended period of time
  • Negotiated a settlement on the debt
  • Entered into a program with the creditor because you can’t pay the debt, such as a home short sale or voluntary repossession
  • Been sent to collections
  • Had a foreclosure or repossession
  • Gone through a bankruptcy

All of those are negative items that can impact your credit report and score for years. So, while getting a 1099-C itself doesn’t change your credit at all, you’ve probably already experienced a negative hit to your score.

Get Tax Help if You Receive a 1099-C

As with other tax topics, the 1099-C can be complicated. It’s a good idea to work with a professional when dealing with complicated tax matters or trying to reduce your tax burden legally.

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Source: credit.com

VA vs. FHA: Which Government Product Is Best?


Nicole Carlson

Posted on: December 12, 2020

There are plenty of different home loan products that home buyers can choose from, with popular products including FHA and VA loans. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are both government-backed programs, but they have their own set of benefits and drawbacks.

When looking to buy a house, which is best: VA or FHA? The answer depends entirely on what the buyer is looking for.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the big differences between the two mortgage products:

Click to check today’s VA rates.

Downpayment

For home buyers looking to avoid a downpayment, it’s tough to beat VA loans. VA loans don’t require any type of downpayment – part of the program’s guarantee.

FHA loans will require a downpayment of at least 3.5%, but that’s still well below that traditional 20 percent that many home buyers assume they need.

In terms of getting the lowest downpayment possible, VA loans have FHA loans beat.

Insurance

If you make a downpayment of less than 20 percent on an FHA loan, you can expect to be paying a mortgage insurance premium, or MIP. This will be paid either upfront at the closing of the FHA loan or monthly, with the annual fee being spread over all 12 months.

Unlike other types of mortgage insurance, MIP will also last the life of the FHA loan. That means an FHA buyer with less than 20 percent down will be required to refinance their loan after they’ve established enough equity in their home.

VA loans, on the other hand, require no type of insurance regardless of how much the buyer puts down. This is another part of the VA’s guarantee – the VA insures the loan, so any type of insurance is moved away from the home buyer.

Mortgage Rates

It’s difficult to peg mortgage rates since they’re always changing, but one thing is clear: VA loans typically come with a lower mortgage rate than FHA loans.

Mortgage software giant Ellie Mae demonstrates this. Each month, they compile a report of all the loans that go through their software. That report is then released, giving home buyers valuable information to work with.

In October, the average mortgage rate for a VA loan was 26 basis points (0.26%) lower than the average rate for an FHA loan. October wasn’t a fluke, either; VA loans routinely have lower mortgage rates than FHA loans.

Check today’s VA loan rates.

Qualification

While VA loans have an edge with downpayment, mortgage rates and insurance, home buyers will still need to qualify for the loans. Here’s how different qualification requirements compare for both products:

Credit scores

Technically, VA loans have no minimum credit score and FHA loans can be approved with scores as low as 520. But in the real world, lenders will want to see a credit score of at least 580 for FHA loans, and usually around 620 for VA loans.

According to Ellie Mae’s October 2020 Origination Report, the average credit score for closed VA loans in October 2020 was 725, compared to 683 for FHA loans. Granted, this does not show what the minimum requirement is for either product. However, generally speaking, FHA loans are usually more flexible with credit scores than VA loans.

DTI

With the debt-to-income ratio (DTI), both VA and FHA home buyers will want to keep their total debt to income below 45 percent. This means that the total monthly amount spent on debt (including the mortgage you’re trying to get) needs to be below 45 percent of monthly income.

Neither product has an edge here, but it’s still an important part of qualifying to pay attention to.

Eligibility

Anyone can be eligible for an FHA loan, but only specific veterans and military members can get a VA loan. Usually, most veterans are eligible, so long as they’ve served for 2 years or more. Requirements for eligibility do change, though, depending on when the individual served, how they served and why they retired from the military.

For a more in-depth look at VA loan eligibility, click here.

Ease of using the product

VA loans have a reputation for going slower than other loan products, but that’s not entirely the case. According to Ellie Mae, the average VA loan closed in 51 days – just one day slower than the average FHA loan.

The longest part of the VA home buying process can be the VA appraisal. With some preparation, this process can go smoothly, as with all the other steps of buying a home with a VA loan. Click here to find out how to make the VA appraisal process go smoothly.

Which is best?

On paper, VA loans have more benefits than FHA loans. Each situation is different, though, so it’s impossible to say whether or not one product is definitively better than the other.

That being said, VA eligible home buyers will likely want to take advantage of the VA’s mortgage product.

Click here to check your VA loan eligibility.

Source: militaryvaloan.com

New York City Renters Owe More Than $1 Billion in Unpaid Rent, Survey Finds

New York City apartment tenants are more than $1 billion in debt from missed rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey measuring the depth of the rent crisis brought on by Covid-19.

The debt figure is the most recent indicator that unemployment benefits and federal stimulus packages have so far been inadequate to alleviate the growing financial burden of missed rent payments across thousands of city households. Both landlord and tenant advocacy groups have lobbied heavily for more government rental assistance during the pandemic.

The survey, conducted by the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord trade group, focused on New York buildings subject to the city’s rent-regulation laws. These apartments account for about half of the city’s total rental apartments. Tallying responses from landlords, the group estimated that as many as 185,000 households living in these apartments are more than two months behind on rent, with an average debt of more than $6,000.

Jay Martin, executive director of CHIP, said rent debt from the rest of New York’s apartment inventory is probably the same or greater, meaning the total debt New York City renters are carrying is likely more than $2 billion.

“It’s not an insurmountable amount,” Mr. Martin said. “The numbers tell us that, probably, if we could get an additional billion or two dollars in the city, we could probably pay off every single renter’s arrears in the entire city of New York over the last year of the crisis.”

The Covid-19 relief package passed by Congress in December included $1.3 billion in pandemic rental assistance for New York state. It is still unclear how much of that will be made available for New York City, however, or how difficult it will be for tenants to meet eligibility requirements for the funds. State and city housing agencies are expected to roll out their distribution plans for the assistance in the coming weeks.

Housing advocates worry that if eligibility guidelines are too strict, much of the money will sit unused as tenant debts grow deeper. Nationally, about $300 million in federal rental assistance from the spring was still unspent as of December. And in New York, only $40 million of the state’s $100 million in pledged rental assistance had been spent as of the same month, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to sign an executive order expanding eligibility.

“It was structured in such a narrow way that it was hard for people to apply and so many were deemed ineligible” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Congress, an affordable-housing group focused on budget issues. “How the state and city target the [new] program is going to be really important.”

During the pandemic, most New York renters behind on payments have been saved from evictions by a combination of federal and state laws. In December, Mr. Cuomo extended New York’s eviction moratorium until May 2021. Some landlords, meanwhile, have fallen behind on their mortgages and other obligations, as rent collections reduce to a trickle and replacing nonpaying tenants with ones that can pay isn’t an option.

Asking rents for New York apartments have decreased in many neighborhoods during the pandemic, yet rents are still high by national standards. In New York City, the median one-bedroom-apartment rental price is $2,350, according to listings website Zumper.

Once eviction protections do expire, it could mean a surge in new evictions and other litigation, if rent debts persist.

“The court is not a perfect system but it is the only system we have to adjudicate any relief for tenants [and] any relief for property owners,” CHIP’s Mr. Martin said.

Source: realtor.com

Charged Off as Bad Debt: An Explainer

July 21, 2020 &• 5 min read by Lacey Langford Comments 73 Comments

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Making payments late or missing payments completely spells bad news for your credit rating. When you miss too many payments, your creditor may charge off the debt. When your debt is charged off as a bad debt, don’t fool yourself into thinking it goes away.

A charged off debt can lead to harassing phone calls, garnished wages, and a major drop in your credit score. According to the Federal Reserve, consumer loans had a charge-off rate of around 2.3% in the final quarter of 2019. Credit card debt was more likely to be charged off than other forms of debt. But what is a charge-off, and how much does it impact your credit if your balance is charged off as bad debt? Find out more below, including what you can do about charge-offs on your credit report.

What Is a Charge-Off?

A charge-off occurs when you don’t pay the full minimum payment on a debt for several months and your creditor writes it off as a bad debt. Basically, it means the company has given up hope that you’ll pay back the money you borrowed and considers the debt a loss on their profit-and-loss statement. The creditor closes your account, which could be a personal loan, credit card, revolving charge account or another debt you’ve failed to pay as promised, and it’s charged off as a bad debt.

If you make payments that are less than the monthly minimum amount due, your account can still be charged off as bad debt. You must bring your account current to avoid it being charged off. Once your debt is charged off, your creditor will send a negative report to one or more of the credit reporting agencies. It may also attempt to collect on the debt through its own collection department, by sending your account to a third-party debt collector, or by selling the debt to a debt buyer.

When Will a Charge-Off Happen?

Charge-offs typically don’t happen until your payments are severely late. When you start missing payments, creditors will first send letters reminding you of your past-due bill. If that fails, they move on to the collections process. The standard time for creditors to perform a charge-off is after 120 to 180 days of nonpayment.

Does Charged Off Mean Your Debt Is Paid Off?

Charged off doesn’t mean your debt is forgiven. Don’t be misled into believing that because the creditor wrote off your balance that you no longer need to pay the debt.

Even when a company writes off your debt as a loss for its own accounting purposes, it still has the right to pursue collection. This could include suing you in court for what you owe and requesting a garnishment of your wages. Unless you settle or file for certain types of bankruptcy—or the statute of limitations in your state has been reached—you’re still responsible for paying back the debt.

How Does Charged Off Debt Affect Your Credit Score

Charge-offs affect your credit report because they’re caused by missed payments. FICO research indicates that a single late payment negatively impacts your credit score. Missing a payment by 90 days can drop your score over 100 points—but missing it by just 30 days can also have a significant negative affect on your score.

Because a charge-off results from missing payments, you have both the late payments and a charge-off listed on your credit report. Even with good credit, a single charge-off lowers your credit score substantially. Late and delinquent payments have the largest impact on your credit score because up to 35% of your score is determined by your payment history. A lower credit score can cause higher insurance rates, larger housing and utility deposits, increased interest rates and denials for new loans and credit cards.

How Long Does Charged-Off Debt Stay on Your Credit Report?

Just like late payments, a charged-off debt stays on your credit report for seven years. The seven-year clock starts on the date of the last scheduled payment you didn’t make and doesn’t restart if the debt is sold to a collection agency or debt buyer. Paying the charged-off amount won’t remove it from your credit report. The account’s status is simply changed to “charged-off paid” or “charged-off settled,” which remains on your credit report until the end of the seven-year period, when it automatically falls off your report.

How to Remove a Legitimate Charge-Off from Your Credit Report

The only way to have a legitimate charge-off removed from your credit report before the seven-year period expires is to convince the original reporting entity to do so. That’s typically the creditor that wrote the debt off.

While this tactic is hit or miss, success can mean a major positive for your credit report. And even if you’re not successful, you can still get a bit of a bump in your credit history by paying off charged-off debt. Here’s how it works.

  • You need to have enough money to negotiate with. Before you start negotiating, determine how much you can realistically pay and how soon you can pay it. If you can pay in full right away, you have more leverage to have the charge-off removed you’re your credit report, but you can also ask if they’re willing to make payment arrangements Consider saving up money or taking out a debt consolidation loan.
  • Once you have enough money to negotiate, contact the original creditor. Make sure you’re speaking to someone who has the authority to negotiate with you and make agreements about actions on your credit report.
  • Let the creditor know how much you can pay and that you’re able to make the payment today in exchange for calling the debt paid off and removing the charge-off from your credit report.
  • Get any agreement in writing from the creditor before you make a payment.

If the creditor won’t delete the charge-off from your credit report but does agree to settle your debt for less than you owe, consider the offer. Make sure they agree to mark the charge-off as paid-in-full on your credit report. That shows future creditors that you did make an effort to pay your debts and can be a critical requirement if you ever apply for a mortgage.

How to Dispute a Charge-Off on Your Credit Report

Sometimes, the charge-off on your credit report isn’t accurate. Perhaps you never owed the debt to begin with or you did pay it, and the profit-and-loss write off is a clerical error. You can work to get such items removed from your credit report by disputing them and asking the creditor to verify what they reported. Write a dispute letter yourself or work with a credit repair company to help clear up your report.

When you sign up for ExtraCredit, you get exclusive discounts to reputable credit repair services—plus access to 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit reports and additional features.

How to Avoid Balances Being Charged Off as Bad Debt

Even better than working to settle a debt and potentially get a charge-off removed is avoiding the issue in the first place. The ideal time to act is as soon as you see you’re struggling to make regular payments. Waiting until items are charged off as bad debt means your credit score will take numerous hits as you miss payments.

But if you can’t pay your debts, what choice do you have? Turns out you have many options, including some of the ones summarized below.

  • Consolidate your debt. Apply for a debt consolidation loan that lets you bring several debt items under a single account. You may be able to qualify for more favorable terms that reduce the amount you pay each month to make it easier to manage your debt. But this is more likely before your credit score drops due to missed payments and charge-offs.
  • Get a balance transfer card. If the debt you’re struggling with is credit card related, apply for a balance transfer card. If you can get approved for a card with a 0% APR offer, you may reduce how much you have to pay each month and make it easier to pay down your debts.

TD Cash Credit Card

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% Introductory APR for 6 months on purchases

Ongoing Apr:
12.99%, 17.99% or 22.99% (Variable)

Balance Transfer:
0% Introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers

Annual Fee:

Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn $150 Cash Back when you spend $500 within 90 days after account opening
  • Earn 3% Cash Back on dining
  • Earn 2% Cash Back at grocery stores
  • Earn 1% Cash Back on all other eligible purchases
  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Visa Zero Liability
  • Instant credit card replacement
  • Digital Wallet
  • Contactless Payments

Card Details +

  • Reach out to the creditor for help. Most creditors have programs designed to help account holders who are experiencing emergency financial situations. As soon as you know you can’t pay your bills, call the customer service line for your account and ask if there are programs you can apply for to modify your loans or seek other assistance. Just make sure the new agreement you make is possible with your budget.

Take Charge of Your Debt

The worst thing you can do is ignore debt you owe. It won’t go away, and things get progressively worse for your credit history and score when you let them fester. So, check out your free Credit Report Card today to see where your credit is falling short and start looking for ways you can realistically handle debts that you owe to improve your credit in the future.


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Source: credit.com

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