Debt & Frugality

As Didi says in the novel (Findependence Day), “There’s no point climbing the Tower of Wealth when you’re still mired in the basement of debt.” If you owe credit-card debt still charging an usurous 20% per annum, forget about building wealth: focus on eliminating that debt. And once done, focus on paying off your mortgage. As Theo says in the novel, “The foundation of financial independence is a paid-for house.”

Sharing mortgages with unequal incomes

By Alyssa Furtado,  

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

When you decide to buy a home with another person, there’s a good chance there will be a difference in your incomes. Whether the difference is big or small, it raises questions about how expenses will be split up. Two people with unequal incomes getting a mortgage together is a very common occurrence: couples make up a vast majority of homebuyers. But you can also buy a home with a friend or family member.

If you’re planning on sharing a mortgage with someone else, here’s what you need to know to make it work.

How will the home be owned?

If you’re purchasing a home together, you need to discuss how the ownership will be structured. If you’re a married or common-law couple, you’ll probably opt for what lawyers call joint tenancy. Both parties share a 100% stake in the property and both are fully responsible for everything related to the home, including the mortgage, taxes, and maintenance. If one partner dies, the other becomes the sole owner of the home.

If you’re buying with a friend or family member, you might opt for what lawyers call tenancy in common. With this structure, each person owns a separate share in the property and is responsible for their share. If you’re planning on being tenants in common, and one of you earns a higher income, you’ll need to discuss how that affects each partner’s ownership stake in the home and who will be responsible for what payments.

Who pays for what, and why?

When making decisions about how to share expenses, couples in joint tenancy usually take on equal responsibility. Since both partners are 100% owners of the home, finances are joined and mortgage payments are made using a joint account. Household income is the only thing that matters in this situation. Couples have to work together to make decisions about their budget to ensure the mortgage, property tax, and maintenance costs are all paid.

For tenants in common, you can choose to split up ownership and expenses a few different ways:

Continue Reading…

Avoid the Credit Card minimum payment trap

Somewhere on your credit card statement there is a note saying if you only make the minimum monthly payment each month, it will take you a certain number of years and months to pay off the balance – BUT ONLY IF YOU NEVER ADD ANY MORE CHARGES TO THAT CARD AGAIN!

Your credit card agreement will specify the minimum payment that is due every month. This amount is generally a certain percentage of the balance owed. This percentage can often be based on factors such as your credit score and the limit on your card.

Basing it on a percentage instead of a fixed amount (like a consumer loan, for example) works in the credit-card company’s favour because the minimum monthly payment reduces as your balance reduces. It will take decades to get out of debt and cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest.

At one time, minimum payments were 5% of your balance, but they have gradually reduced to an average of 2%. My personal Capital One MasterCard requires only 1.45%.

According to a recent TransUnion survey of Canadian credit-card holders, 44% of respondents pay their credit card balance in full each month, and 9% just pay the minimum. Interestingly, it varies by province, with consumers from Ontario (27%) and British Columbia (20%) most likely to pay the minimum.

Avoid this financial trap

Jacob moved into his first apartment. His first stop was the local furniture store to buy some living room furniture. He put $5,000 on his new credit card (18.9% interest). The first minimum payment was $200 (4%). If he maintains this payment, it will take him 11 years and 5 months to pay the entire balance and, by the time he has made his final payment he will have paid $8,109 for his furniture. That’s a lot of money for something that will drop in value year by year, assuming he will still own it in 11 years. Continue Reading…

Low future returns? The coming bull market in advice

A bull market in advice? This novel idea is the basis of my latest Motley Fool blog, which came out of the 2017 Vanguard Investment Symposium held this Tuesday.

Hopefully, the title is self-explanatory. Click on the highlighted text to access the whole blog: Lower future returns from balanced portfolios means a bull market in advice.

Click through to get Vanguard’s forecasts for future returns. Suffice it to say that they don’t believe the next five years will be as good as the last five years have been for balanced investors.

All of which means good financial advice will be at a premium.  Naturally, Vanguard believes that the lower expected future investment returns are, the more important it is to reduce costs and taxes, which of course its low-cost index funds and ETFs facilitate. But it also believes advisors can help investors by addressing the so-called  “behaviour gap.” It’s been well documented that poor investing behaviour (buying high, selling low) are destructive to returns, which is why a good financial advisor can more than recoup his/her fees.

Advisors can add 3% value per a year

Many fee-based advisors use the kind of investment funds Vanguard provides and Vanguard believes good advice can “add value” of roughly 3% per year to clients’ investment returns.

Behavioural coaching is the single biggest value-add: 150 basis points (1.5%). “Staying the course is difficult,” but “a balanced diversified investor has fared relatively well,” said one Vanguard presenter quoted in the Motley Fool piece, Fran Kinniry.

Behavioural coaching is followed closely by 131 beeps for cost-effective product implementation (using low expense ratios). This alone can add 1 to 2 percentage points of value, Vanguard says, attributing the finding to “numerous studies.” Rebalancing accounts for another 47 beeps, and Asset Location between 0 and 42 beeps (as opposed to Asset Allocation, which it says adds “more than 0 beeps.”)

A proper spending strategy (identifying the order of withdrawals in the decumulation stage) accounts for another 0 to 41 beeps. All told, the potential value added comes to “about 3%,” Kinniry says.

Vanguard says a “strong move to fee-based” compensation is accelerating. In 2015, 65% of advisors’ compensation came from asset-based fees, while wealthier investors are “most willing to pay AUM-based fees.” Gradually this will ‘flow down” to less well-heeled clients, “as smaller balances can now be well-served” in a fee-based model because of scale and technology.

Using Cerulli data from 2015, Vanguard estimates the median asset-weighted advisory fee is 1.39% for the mass market ($100,000 assets), 1.28% for the middle market ($300,000), 1.09% for the mass-affluent market ($750,000), 0.92% for the affluent market ($1.5 million to $5 million) and 0.70% for the High Net Worth market ($10 million or more).

On average across all clients, the median fee is 1.07%.


How to set your Retirement savings target

How much to save for retirement depends on the type of lifestyle you’re   aiming for

How much to save for retirement varies for each investor. A fulfilling retirement is not simply a matter of accumulating sufficient wealth to give you peace of mind. It is equally a matter of knowing what you will do — in effect, ensuring that you will be as active and productive with your time as you were during your working days.

These days, more investors suffer from what you might call “pre-retirement financial stress syndrome.” That’s the malady that strikes when it dawns on you that you don’t have enough money saved to be able to earn the retirement income stream you were banking on.

To alleviate this worry, we recommend that you base your retirement planning on a sound financial plan. Here are the four key variables that your plan should address to ensure you have sufficient retirement income:

  • How much you expect to save prior to retirement;
  • The return you expect on your savings;
  • How much of that return you’ll have left after taxes;
  • How much retirement income you’ll need once you’ve left the workforce.

Consider taxes when determining how much to save for retirement

As for the tax structure, it keeps changing. But it’s safe to assume that you’ll pay a lower rate of tax on dividends and capital gains than on interest, and that you’ll generally pay taxes on capital gains only when you sell.

As for the return you expect, it’s best to aim low. If you invest in bonds, assume you will earn the current yield; don’t assume you can make money trading in bonds. For stocks, the market returned 10% or so yearly on average over the past 80 or so years. Aim lower — 8% a year, say — to allow for unforeseeable problems and setbacks.

Continue Reading…

What exactly does your Home Insurance cover?

I recently received my home insurance renewal notice. The company I deal with merged (or was bought out?) by another company and the accompanying letter advised reviewing the policy to make sure I was getting the appropriate coverage.

Being obsessive that way, I did go through it with a fine-tooth comb. I don’t want to be disappointed if I ever have to make a claim.

Do you know exactly what your home insurance policy covers?

Are you planning a vacation this summer?

Since an unoccupied home is at greater risk of damage and susceptible to break-ins, you may not be covered while you are away. Coverage may only be provided for a certain number of days. If your house will be empty for longer than that minimum you will probably be required to have someone visit your home on a regular basis – generally every three to seven days, depending on your policy.

Water coverage depends a lot on your policy

I was really glad to find out I had been paying an extra $12 for extended water coverage (I didn’t actually pay attention to it before) when a major sewer backup flooded my basement. My neighbours – who assumed they were automatically covered – were giving me the stink eye when the clean-up and restoration crews pulled into my driveway and totally rebuilt my basement.

Typically, this coverage is for when water backs up into your home from a sanitary or storm sewer that overflows, or any accidental water seepage from burst pipes, for example.

Check to see what your limit is. If you did extensive and costly renovations to your basement, a $10,000 limit is not going to cut it for you.

What we think of as “flood” insurance – when water gushes in to your home due to a river or lake overflowing its banks – was not available in Canada until recently (2015). If you build your dream home five metres away from a babbling brook that triggers only a “hundred-year flood,” be safe and buy the optional coverage.

Home insurance doesn’t cover your home’s market value

Home insurance covers only the actual cost to repair or replace your home as it was before the loss.

Insurance companies will look at the overall maintenance of your home. You need to keep up with repairs. You are not usually covered if you have cracks in your foundation, loose window casements, or a leaky dishwasher that allow water to seep through.

Related: Our house insurance bill is up 30 percent!

They will take into account depreciation of your roof and garden shed, and the condition of that (dead) tree in your yard that crushed the neighbour’s gazebo.

You can’t say, “I hope there’s a big wind storm that knocks down my (broken down) fence so I can replace it with a nice new cedar fence.”

Personal property is almost always covered for replacement cost at today’s prices. Actual cash value will only pay today’s value for the item, prorated for age, use and condition.

However, you must actually replace the items and provide receipts. The insurance company won’t just hand you a cheque.

Condominium corporation insurance doesn’t cover your condo

This insurance covers the building structure, such as roof or windows, and common areas. It does not cover the contents of your own condo, or third-party liability if you cause damage to other condo units. You need your own separate policy. My condo corporation insurance has a $25,000 deductible if I cause any damage – so I made sure that this liability was included in my personal policy.

Likewise, if you are a tenant, your landlord’s insurance is not going to cover you. A lot of renters don’t bother getting tenant’s insurance – as you have probably noticed when you hear of a building fire in the news and the tenants have lost everything.

What’s personal liability protection?

Personal liability protection only covers accidental injury to other people on your property, or damage to another person’s property.

So, if you get sued by your neighbour after punching him in the face during an altercation – you are on your own.

Final thoughts

Home insurance is not regulated like auto insurance. In fact, unless you have a mortgage, you are not obligated to even have it.

Policies can differ widely and may not fully protect you. Sometimes you need to pay a bit more to add a rider to the policy for your valuables, or to protect against different risks.

Know what’s covered. What are the coverage limitations? Don’t assume that insurance will pay for all damages. Update your policy if necessary to best protect your property. It doesn’t make sense to reduce your coverage in order to save a bit of money.

Marie Engen is the “Boomer” half of Boomer & Echo. In addition to being co-author of the website, Marie is a fee-only financial planner based in Kelowna, B.C. This article originally ran at the Boomer & Echo site on June 27th and is republished here with permission.