Which Is A Better Investment: Real Estate Or Stocks?

Classic San Francisco Victorian In Haight DistrictWe’ve got real estate tycoons and we’ve got stock market tycoons. We’ve even got wealthy bond investors such as PIMCO’s Bill Gross who pulls in over $100 million a year, but let’s forget about bonds for now. Now that everything is heading up, I’d like to have an open discussion on which asset class provides the the most amount of wealth over the long run.

With my net worth split roughly 40/30/30 between real estate, stocks, and CDs, you might assume that I like all three asset classes somewhat equally. The fact of the matter is I would much rather have 60% of my net worth in real estate, 35% in stocks, and 5% in CDs at this present time. Unfortunately, shifting one’s net worth around isn’t as easy as snapping one’s fingers. (See: “Recommended Net Worth Allocation By Age And Work Experience“)

It’s important to realize there are no renter or cash tycoons. The return on rent is always -100% every single month. Meanwhile, the return on cash averages a paltry 0.1% nationwide. You can certainly be a wealthy renter with tons of cash in the bank. But your wealth was accumulated through other means so don’t get confused. Having a money strength grade of F– is no way to go.

In this article I will explain to you why I have a preference for real estate over stocks (equities). Both have proven worthy of building great wealth over time, however real estate is going to provide the most return over the next 10 years in my opinion. I’ll do my best to make the case for both asset classes.

REASONS WHY REAL ESTATE IS BETTER THAN STOCKS

The Main Reasons To Do And Not To Do Your Own Taxes

Happy giraffes grazing in the fieldIgnorance is bliss.

When you don’t know your boss is getting a huge bonus for saving the firm money by screwing your bonus, you’re happy. When you don’t know the reason why you didn’t get into the fellowship program is because the managing director is a woman who hates men with different political ideals, you’re happy. When you have no clue your boyfriend is hooking up with your best friend, you’re happy to carry on!

I’m generally a very happy go lucky type of guy. My facial expression seems to have “smile” as a a default setting. But there is one time a year where I get angry and randomly shout obscenities while no one is looking. The one time of year is during tax season.

As a proud financial masochist, I decided to redo my taxes a second time online just to make sure I didn’t make any errors. I’ve got a five figure tax bill for the first time in my life thanks to AMT, some one off incomes, and retroactive tax law changes in the state of California which I may write about more in the future.

Lo and behold I found a five figure error where I inadvertently inputted my property tax bill instead of my mortgage interest for one of my rental properties. My error makes me wonder what else I’ve done wrong. Despite my mistake, I’m a big proponent of everyone doing their own taxes. This post will highlight four reasons why, as well as five reasons why you’re silly.

THE MAIN REASONS TO DO YOUR OWN TAXES

Build Your Financial Nut: 401(k) Retirement Contributions Matter Less Over Time

financial-nutI want to get everybody talking about their retirement portfolios because making the proper net worth allocation, deciding on how often to rebalance, and running different growth scenarios matters more over time. Contributing the maximum $17,500 a year to your 401(k) should be standard. If you’re making more than $60,000 a year and not maxing out your 401(k), then you should probably give yourself a timeout to contemplate why you’re slicing off your toes.

As you can tell from my 401(k) by age chart, contributions add up quickly over time. Assuming you receive no company match and suffer no losses, you’ll have at least $100,000 in your 401(k) in six years. In 10 years, you’ll probably sock away over $200,000 and in 30 years you’ll finally reach that magical $1 million dollar mark.

The S&P 500 is up roughly 10% year to date. That’s a healthy $100,000 gain in your million dollar portfolio in three months without having to do much of anything. I’m cautious investing new money now, but the point is once you’ve amassed a sizable nut there’s no longer a need to work in a bull market – unless you are restless like me.

401k CONTRIBUTIONS AS A PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PORTFOLIO

What Does Early Retirement Feel Like? The Positives And Negatives Of Not Working For A Living

Retirement Travel In SantoriniFinancial independence and retirement are used interchangeably, but there are some subtle differences. Financial independence is usually applicable to people across their entire lifespan. Those who cashed out $5 million dollars worth of Facebook stock at the age of 30 are financially independent just like those who saved $5 million in their retirement funds by the age of 65.

Retirement, on the other hand, is a term often used to describe someone in the last quarter of their lives e.g. ages 65 and up. This is why some folks get so hot and bothered if you aren’t in the upper ages but say you are retired. They don’t think you deserve retirement because you’re not old enough! If you don’t want unwanted attention as an early retiree, just say you are unemployed, on sabbatical, or an entrepreneur.

The reality is all of us would rather be financially independent earlier, so we have more time to enjoy our wealth. When the director of admissions at Berkeley asked why I was applying so early (25), I told her it was because I knew what I wanted to do and felt it best to leverage an MBA degree sooner, for a longer period of time. Little did I know I’d be done 10 years later.

The older we get the more we are willing to trade money for time since we have less of it. Given I’ve already described what financial independence feels like, I’d like to now describe what life is like once you no longer have to report for duty. I’ll be as candid as possible so you can get a realistic understanding.

THE CHANGED LIFE OF A RETIRED MAN – THE POSITIVES

The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Married Couple

A cute couple of dogs.

Will this odd couple last?

One of the most popular posts on Financial Samurai with over 250 comments is The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person. The “above average person” is loosely defined as someone who graduated from college (35% of the American population), works hard, plays well with others, takes full advantage of their pre-tax retirement plans, saves additional disposable income, stays on top of their finances by utilizing free financial tools, expects nothing from their parents or the government and is not delusional. If you were a “C student” and expect to live an “A lifestyle,” you are definitely not the above average person!

Take a moment to study the above average person’s net worth chart again. Somewhere between the ages of 45-50, the above average person’s net worth reaches over one million dollars. We can all agree that thanks to inflation, easy monetary policy, a roaring bull market and a recovery in real estate, becoming a millionaire by the time we retire is fast becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person by Financial Samurai

It’s important to note the figures in my chart are for individuals and not for couples. For those of you who combined your household net worth to see where you stand, so sorry. That’s cheating. At the same time, not everybody can find someone they love hence why I initially created a per person chart. It would be presumptuous to assume we can all live in marital bliss. Not everybody is even allowed to get married thanks to the government telling us who we can and cannot be with. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to “married couples” as anybody who is in a long term relationship.

This article will come up with reasonable “above average couple net worth” charts based on what I think, what the government thinks, what you think, and the realities of life. One can also define “above average” as one standard deviation beyond the midpoint of the normal distribution curve (top 16%). Not every couple can be above average. But every couple can certainly try.

THE AVERAGE NET WORTH OF THE ABOVE AVERAGE COUPLE

Cheap Health Insurance Options For The Unemployed, Self-Employed, Or Early Retiree

Restless In Warnemunde Germany

Whether you are unemployed by choice or due to unfortunate circumstance, having health insurance is a must. According to The American Journal Of Medicine, 62% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were health related and that’s before the economic meltdown. What’s more frightening is that back in 2001, health related bankruptcies were “only” 45% of total. The epidemic is growing!

Say what you will about Universal Healthcare, with a nation as rich as ours going bankrupt at the rate of 62% due to health expenses is an absolute travesty. Genetics and a drunk driver hitting you while crossing the street doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor. So why should one die while another lives when all it takes is money to save a life?

In 2009 roughly 2.3 million people were unemployed for longer than six months. By June 2012, the ranks of the long-term jobless soared more than 100 percent to 5.3 million. The employment market is thankfully recovering with a rise in corporate profits, but we are still at levels much higher than the natural rate of full employment.

You do not want to be unemployed AND uninsured. You’ve already lost your steady paycheck. The last thing you want is to have a medical disaster that wipes out your savings, emergency fund, and retirement funds. If you lose everything while unemployed, it will be brutally difficult to rebuild. You might very well enter a cycle of poverty and never get out.

AFFORDABLE HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS

Recommended Net Worth Allocation By Age And Work Experience

Squaw Valley USA, Lake Tahoe With the average savings rate below 5%, a median 401(k) of only $110,000, and an average 401(k) balance at retirement age 60 of around $230,000, most Americans are financially screwed in 2015. Just do the math yourself. Add the average Social Security payment per person of $18,000 a year to a 4% withdrawal rate on $230,000 and you get $27,200 a year to live happily until you die at 85.

Let’s think about this some more. You spend almost 40 years of your life working just to live off minimum wage in retirement. Hopefully you were able to live it up during your working years, otherwise, how else can we explain a national sub 5% savings rate? Blowing lots of money for fun is fine if you expect to live like a pauper when you’re old. The better way to do things is to smooth out your spending across your expected life expectancy to reduce stress and live a much steadier lifestyle.

We’ve talked in detail about the proper asset allocation of stocks and bonds by age. Just know that stocks should be a minority portion of your net worth by the time you are middle age. If you so happen to have 100% of your investment allocation in stocks before retirement and 2009 happens, well then you are poop out of luck. Calculate how much you lost, equate your loss to how many years it took you to save the value of the loss, and expect to work that many more years of your life. Now that’s depressing.

We also found out that the median net worth for 2010 plunged to $77,300 from a high of $126,400 in 2007. Surely the median net worth has recovered since 2010, but such data from the government only rolls around every three years. The main nugget of information is that from 2007 to 2010, the median home equity dropped from $110,000 to $75,000. In other words, the median American’s net worth almost ENTIRELY consists of home equity! What another bad idea.

Finally, despite a 150%+ rebound in stocks since the bottom of the crisis and savings interest rates of only 0.1% due to a dovish Fed, a lot of people missed out on the recovery as evidenced by a tremendous amount of cash still sitting on the sidelines due to fear. Anybody who has lived through the 1997 Russian Ruble crisis, the 2000 internet bubble, and 2006 housing correction probably has a good portion of their net worth in CDs, bonds, and money markets because they’ve been burned so many times before.

The question we must all ask ourselves is, “What is the right net worth allocation to allow for the most comfortable financial growth?” There is no easy answer to this question as everybody is of different age, intelligence, work ethic, and risk tolerance. I will attempt to address this question based based on what has worked for me, and what I believe will work for anybody who is serious about building enduring financial wealth for the long run. I’ve spent over 20 hours writing this post in hopes that every Financial Samurai reader can build a rock steady net worth portfolio to make money in good times and lose less in bad times.

THE MENTAL FRAMEWORK FOR NET WORTH ALLOCATION

Explaining Why The Median 401(k) Retirement Balance By Age Is Dangerously Low

Retirement Life On Lake TahoeYou likely won’t be able to live off your 401(k) alone in retirement, but you should be able to combine your 401(k) with alternative savings, investments, and Social Security to live a financially free life when the time comes to withdraw at the age of 59.5. Most Americans don’t have pensions.

The below chart shows what a typical 22 year old college graduate should have accumulated in their 401(k) if they followed my advice and started maxing out their 401(k) after two years of working. The maximum amount one can contribute for 2015 is now $18,000 from $17,500 pre-tax in 2014.

The high end shows what happens if there is roughly a 5% constant rate of return from investing. I’m not even including contributions or company match to keep things conservative.

The reality is that the median account balance in the U.S. is only around $91,800 as of 6/25/2015, according to Fidelity, one of the largest 401k managers around with over 12 million accounts. Among employees participating in a 401k for at least 10 years, the average balance hit $251,600, up 12% from a year ago. Have you checked your 401k for excessive portfolio fees yet? If not, check out Personal Capital’s free financial management tools and save money.

At least the median has risen by over 100% from around $47,000 during the depths of the bear market in 2009. Furthermore, the current median account balance is now higher than pre-crash 2007 levels of $74,781 thanks to contributions.

Given the median age of Americans is 35.3 according to the US Census Bureau, the median 401(k) balance per person should be closer to $218,000-$350,000 according to my 401(k) retirement savings guide instead of $101,650. So what happened to the missing $117,000 to $239,000?

FINANCIAL SAMURAI PRE-TAX SAVINGS GUIDELINE 

401k Savings By Age Chart

HOW MUCH DO PEOPLE REALLY SAVE FOR RETIREMENT?

How To Pay Little To No Taxes For The Rest Of Your Life

Save on taxes and go see Istanbul, TurkeyFor the past 10 years, I’ve been a buffoon. Ever since I was 25, I paid more than $100,000 a year in taxes. Even though I didn’t work for most of last year, I still paid over six figures in taxes. You don’t get a thank you card if you pay over $1 million dollars in taxes in case you’re wondering. Instead, you get the government hooked on your juice with fishing letters from the IRS asking for more!

I didn’t mind paying my fair share of taxes when I was in my 20s because I was excited to progress in my career. I felt lucky to just have a job that allowed me to save like crazy and help others financially through charitable donations. As I grew older, my views on income taxes changed.

Since the turn of the century, we’ve witnessed a devastating war in Iraqistan that by some estimates have taken over 1 million lives. We’ve observed Congress do nothing to pass a balanced budget since 2008 while giving themselves pay raises every single year. During the 2009-2010 financial crisis, the government doled out massive bailouts to institutions such as AIG while allowing executives to pay themselves millions of dollars. AIG even had the audacity to contemplate suing the federal government this year for wrongful terms! What the hell.

I felt sick to my stomach supporting such atrocities by a government who also discriminates against certain citizens while displaying no fiscal discipline. Why can’t we all be treated equally? I don’t know. When it takes 18 months for the city to fix a noisy and dangerous manhole cover, perhaps paying tens of thousands of dollars in state taxes is not worth it anymore. How about $5 bucks instead?

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Unfortunately, those words were spoken on January 20, 1961. Most of us weren’t alive then since the median age in America is only 35. I’m afraid our society has permanently adopted a one-way take, take, take mentality.

I think I’ve paid my dues. Unless you’ve paid as much in taxes, please don’t criticize me for writing an article on how to help you legally pay less taxes. To build wealth, we must minimize our expenses. Taxes are one of the largest expenses we’ll ever incur.

THE BEST WAY TO PAY LITTLE TO NO TAXES

The Proper Asset Allocation Of Stocks And Bonds By Age

Proper Asset Allocation Of Stocks And Bonds by Andrew MacGill Flickr Creative commonsTo start, there is no “correct” asset allocation by age. Your asset allocation between stocks and bonds depends on your risk tolerance. Are you risk averse, moderate, or risk loving? I’m personally risk loving or risk averse, and nothing in between. When I see “Neutral” ratings by research analysts, I want to slap them upside the head for having no conviction. Then the optimist in me thinks what a great world to have occupations that pay well for providing no opinion!

Your asset allocation also depends on the importance of your specific market portfolio. For example, most would probably treat their 401K or IRA as a vital part of their retirement strategy because it is or will become their largest portfolio. Meanwhile, you can have another portfolio in an after-tax brokerage account like E*Trade that is much smaller where you punt stocks. If you blow up your E*Trade account, you’ll survive. If you demolish your 401K, you might need to delay retirement for years.

I ran my current 401K through Personal Capital to see what they thought about my aggressive asset allocation. To no surprise, the below chart is what they came back with. I essentially have too much concentration risk in stocks and am underinvested in bonds based on the “conventional” asset allocation model for someone my age. To run the same analysis on Personal Capital, simply click the “Investment Checkup” link under the “Investing” tab.

portfolio-analysis

I am going to provide you with five recommended asset allocation models to fit everyone’s investment risk profile: Conventional, New Life, Survival, Nothing To Lose, and Financial Samurai. We will talk through each model to see whether it fits your present financial situation. Your asset allocation will switch over time of course.

Before we look into each asset allocation model, we must first look at the historical returns for stocks and bonds. The goal of the charts is to give you basis for how to think about returns from both asset classes. Stocks have outperformed bonds in the long run as you will see. However, stocks are also much more volatile. Armed with historical knowledge, we can then make logical assumptions about the future.