Documents Needed To Refinance A Rental Property Mortgage

Latest 10-year yield chart

10-year Treasury Yield Aug 2013 – Aug 2014

If you haven’t refinanced your property in the past several years, it’s worth checking the latest rates today. The 10-year yield is back below 2.5% as of August 20, 2014 as Wall Street economists scurry to revise down their interest rate assumptions once again. I swear they have the best jobs on Earth because they never, ever have to be right.

I am a firm believer that interest rates will stay at these levels +/- 1% for years. Information transfer is instant nowadays thanks to the internet, and policy makers are much more adept at managing inflation and unemployment in America. As a result, go with an ARM rather than a 30-year fixed mortgage to save yourself money.

The general rule is that any time you can lower your interest rate by 50 basis points (0.5%) and break even within two years, you should refinance. Nothing is more beautiful than locking in a low rate and paying down the loan with ever-weakening dollars thanks to inflation.

Unfortunately for landlords, refinancing a primary mortgage is simple compared to refinancing a rental property. The reason being that refinancing a rental not only requires various Home Owners Association board members to cooperate with the process if you own a condo, the bank does much more due diligence.

From the banks point of view, lending money for a rental is riskier because the default assumption is that you require rental income in order to pay back the mortgage. Therefore, the bank needs to add an added margin of safety in the form of a higher mortgage rate to compensate for their risk. Rental mortgages are usually 25-50 bps higher than a primary residence mortgage.

I just rented out my primary residence this summer at a rent that’s almost double all my costs because I’ve lived there for 10 years. But banks still quoted me for mortgage rates at least 25 basis points higher than the primary mortgage I took out for my new home.

Steps To Get Out Of MASSIVE Credit Card Debt Due To Lifestyle Inflation

Lifestyle inflation and a mega yachtI don’t discuss too much about credit cards on Financial Samurai because I’ve only got three (a travel rewards card, a generic rewards card, and a corporate card) and nothing much happens except for racking up rewards points. Definitely use a credit card for convenience, safety, rewards points, and insurance protection if you can control yourself. But if you’re not careful, thanks to the ease of use and absurdly high interest rates, problems may ensue.

The following is a guest post by Debs, a middle income earning new grandmother who was able to amass over $140,000 in credit card debt! I asked her to share her story on how she did it, and how she is getting herself out of debt. Kudos to Debs for having the courage to share her story.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I tell this tale as a warning to all people like me who are on the bandwagon of lifestyle inflation, “I deserve” and family struggles that may cause you to take your eyes off the ball and wake up one day to say “How did I get here?”.

We weren’t addicted gamblers or smokers. We didn’t have a lot of fancy toys. We drank moderately and yes, we had four kids and a large home to boot (purchased in 1991). Maybe a few travels thrown in here and there, but not excessive. There was some shopping for work clothes and things for our home. Maybe a bit of stress relief shopping, but nothing extravagant. That is my first message.

Our debt crept up on us without even realizing it. At least I didn’t realize the size it had grown to. I wasn’t watching the finances. I was only working hard to contribute to the family income. That was enough, or so I thought.

Should I Go To Court And Fight My Speeding Ticket?

Speeding Ticket

Back at the scene of the crime

Speed racer is in the house! I got a speeding ticket for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone the other day and I’m pretty ticked.

The cop pulled me over after I sped up in the middle of a yellow light and asked me whether I knew why he pulled me over. I innocently responded, “Because I went through a yellow light?

He looked at me a little funny and said, “No. Do you know what the speed limit is here on Masonic Avenue?”

I’m not sure officer. 35 mph?” I responded.

No, it’s 25 mph and I got you on the gun going 45 mph,” said the officer.

First I was shocked that a five lane artery (2 lanes going south, 3 lanes going north) would have a speed limit of only 25 mph. I wasn’t blowing by anybody at all. Second, I was super surprised the officer said he clocked me at 45 mph!

Moose is slow as molasses as a 14 year old Land Rover Discovery II. There is NO WAY Moose could reach 45mph in two blocks. His 0 – 60 mph time is 11.4 seconds new and surely he’s lost a step over the years. 45 mph = 66 feet / second. Average city block is around 400 feet. I would have to be putting my pedal to the metal to get to 45 mph, which I wasn’t because that action guzzles more gas.

I looked at the officer when he told me I was going 45 mph and said, “You mean this car? I don’t think so. I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 8 years since my car is so slow and old.

He kinda laughed and asked me for my license and registration.

When he came back three minutes later, he handed me a ticket and said, “I’m not going to write you up for 20 mph over the speed limit because that’s not good for your insurance and I don’t want to hammer you. I’ll just do 35 mph in a 25 mph instead.

Gee thanks. What a nice guy! I was actually hoping he’d let me off with a warning as two other cops did in the past six years when I was driving Moose. Who gives a speeding ticket for 35 mph in a 25 mph zone when everybody is driving 35 mph?

What Is Capitalism? To Understand Let’s First Explore Communist China

Chongqing, ChinaWhat is Capitalism but a way of life for many who want to get rich. Communism gets a bad rap for its ability to stifle innovation and effort. However, when you look at Communist China, growing at 7-9% GDP per year, do you really think its citizens have no desire to improve their living standards beyond what is generally proposed?

We all have an inherent nature of wanting to do better. Not only do we want to continue improving, we also want to one-up our peers! After all, what’s the point of making $100,000 dollars a year if everybody else makes the same?

We learned a good amount about how the happiest people on Earth live after my 2.5 week trip to Scandinavia. So, I decided to take a trip to Chongqing, one of the fastest growing cities in China to learn more.

THE CHONGQING FIREBALL

What Is The Best Way To Make Money Fixing And Flipping Homes?

Pre Flip Fixer

Pre Flip Fixer

The following is a massive guest post by Samurai Mark Ferguson, who became a licensed real estate agent in 2001 after graduating from the University of Colorado with a Business Finance degree. Mark runs a team of ten real estate professionals and is an avid real estate investor. Mark owns 11 long-term rental properties and fix and flips 10-15 homes every year. 

I have been a licensed real estate agent since 2001 and I am real estate investor. I love selling houses, but it is much more fun to buy a house, fix it up and sell it for a profit. I have fix and flipped close to 100 homes in my career and you can make a lot of money fix and flipping homes. It is also possible to lose a lot of money if you don’t do your homework or know what you are doing. Despite my experience, I still lose money on occasion!

Fix and flipping homes may seem like a pretty simple concept. Buy a house that needs some work, fix it up and sell the house. The truth is it takes a lot of time to find the right deal, find the right financing, find the right contractor, decide what to repair, maintain a property, value a property, make sure all the needed repairs are done and then sell the house. Fix and flipping is not something you can spend a couple of hours on a week and be successful. If you don’t take the time to do things right and mess up any of the parts of a fix and flip, you can turn a nice profit into a big loss.

How much money can you make fix and flipping homes?

Fix and flipping houses is not an easy side job that will make you a fortune while you continue to work at your day job. You may see fix and flippers on television appear to make $100,000 on a fix and flip, but television can be deceiving. It is extremely rare to make $100,000 on a flip, unless you are dealing in high value/high risk properties. Most of the television shows I see about fix and flips leave out many of the costs associated with a flip and overstate the profits.

I try to make $25,000 on each flip I complete that I buy for less than $150,000. If I buy a flip for more than $150,000 I hope to make more money, because higher value flips use more of my resources and I cannot buy as many properties.

I network with and meet many investors who also fix and flip homes and my margins are very similar to theirs. It is important to know what other investors are expecting for a profit, because you will be competing against them when trying to buy properties. If you are buying homes off the MLS or at the foreclosure sale expecting a $50,000 profit when other investors will settle for $25,000 in profit it will be hard to find any houses to flip.

Although it is tough to make $100,000 on a flip I have done it twice. Those were higher dollar properties purchased for over $200,000 and sold for over $350,000. The real money is not hitting it big with one flip, but in flipping multiple properties that make a modest profit. I have 9 fix and flips in various stages of the process from on the market and under contract to waiting for a contractor to start work. Those 9 fix and flips should make me $250,000 or more in the next 6 months or less. If you are wondering about my math, I want to make at least $25,000 on each flip, but I average about a $33,000 profit. That means I should make around $300,000 from these 9 flips once they are repaired and sold. I am the sole owner of my fix and flip business and that is all profit to me, although I do have to pay staff who help with the fix and flips, my rentals and our real estate sales team.

Do You Make As Much As A Union Worker Electrician?

Secret Power OutletThe media loves misery. There’s definitely a lot of bad out there, but does the media really have to focus on suffering 24/7 to generate viewership? Perhaps disinterest with negativity is partially the reason why old media is dying. And perhaps because old media is dying, journalists can’t help but write depressing things. (life hack tip: don’t watch the news for a week and observe your stress level go down and your happiness go up.)

I’ve long believed that many people make much more than we know or think. Always watch what people DO with their money, and not what they say. If they are just making ends meet, why is there a nice car in their driveway? Debt and poor choices can’t explain everything. Or can they?

We sometimes like to think other people are struggling to make ourselves feel better. But “other people” are ourselves. It’s much better to focus on bettering ourselves don’t you think? Some people had to start over in their 60s due to the financial crisis. While other people made a fortune scooping up deals for cents on the dollar. Try to always look at the positive side of things no matter what, because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.

Here’s a whole list of six figure jobs in multiple industries in case you’re curious and need proof that you don’t need to graduate at the top of your class to make a large income. This post is about discovering one more.

Tenacity And Faith – Do You Have It?

Stone HengeI’m not sure if it’s by coincidence or because I’m spending more time listening, but I’ve noticed more people sharing with me how they lost a lot during the 2008-2010 financial crisis, and how they’re doing everything possible to get back on track.

I was at Bed, Bath & Beyond the other day when I met a sales clerk in the home decor section. He was probably around 65-70 years old with withered skin and dark patches all over his arms and head. He looked quite ill and smelled like he had been hitting the bottle the night before. His name was “Bob” and he was full of smiles as he sought to help me find the perfect barstool.

I selected a set of four handsome barstools from the choices he showed me for my kitchen. I didn’t have the famous 20% off coupon BBB sends in the mail, but Bob gave me a wink and told me, “I got you, don’t worry.”

He asked me whether I had recently bought a new home, and I told him that I did. “I finally found that room with a view I’ve been searching for all this time,” I replied.

“I used to have a view, but then I lost my business of 20 years and then I lost my partner. It was just me in this old house for a couple years until I realized I could no longer afford the rent, so I moved. I have a small place now with the view of the street and another apartment’s window, but it will do,” Bob lamented.

I gave Bob my condolences and tried to cheer him up by continuing on the conversation, “Hopefully your new place is comfortable and at least much cheaper yeah?”

“Oh, yes, much cheaper,” Bob responded with a smile. “I miss the view, but I’m just thankful to have found an affordable place to live in the city.”

To lose money is one thing. I did that spectacularly well during the downturn. To lose love and money at the same time is unbearable.

But Bob showed an incredibly positive attitude during our time together, and he made me a very happy customer that evening. I even ended up doing some research on BBB and bought some of their stock. Fingers crossed their debt offering will help their financials and they can compete effectively with the likes of Amazon and other online retailers.

Maybe all Bob wanted was for someone to listen to his sorrows. Unless we die first, we might also one day end up alone. 

How To Pick A Robo-Advisor In The Digital Wealth Management Era

Old Coins by Financial SamuraiOne of the reasons why I’m an Apple user is because I appreciate good service. When I dropped my Macbook one evening and my hard drive stopped working, it was incredibly easy to schedule an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. They fixed my hard drive and recovered my data within 30 minutes and away I went. Peace of mind is worth the premium, which is why I’m a fan of technology-assisted financial advisory firms with human financial advisors.

But what if you have time and know how to upgrade your RAM, swap out your hard drive, and do your own diagnostics? (I remember doing all that as a teenager.) Then going the robo-advisor route may very well be a good option because their fees are even lower. There’s just no person to guide you through life’s myriad changes.

Robo-advisors, aka algorithmic advisors deploy sophisticated investment algorithms to help invest your money in the best risk-adjusted way possible. You essentially fill out a profile about yourself and the algorithm will go to work to recommend and implement their recommendations for you.

I used to have a hard time trusting computers to do anything for me. But after spending 13 years covering some of the largest mutual funds and hedge funds in America, it’s clear that algorithmic investing, or more commonly known as quantitative investing or scientific investing have done extremely well. For example, Bridgewater Associates run by Ray Dalio is the largest hedge fund in the world with over $120 billion dollars and it’s a macro quantitative fund with tremendous performance. Famous hedge funds run by George Soros, David Tepper, and Steve A. Cohen can’t even compare.

A good quant fund or algorithmic advisor is all about having good people. At the end of the day, the investment variables are created by people and continuously tested for maximum returns. Spending time understanding people’s backgrounds and then trusting them to do the right thing is a huge part of letting other people run your money. After all, the reason why you want someone else investing your money is because your expertise lies elsewhere, and you’ve got more interesting things to do with your time.

In this article, I’d like to provide a brief primer on the three main robo-advisors that exist today: FutureAdvisor, Betterment, and Wealthfront. Because I’ve personally met Bo Lu, Founder of FutureAdvisor, I’m going to compare and contrast FutureAdvisor to the other two. They are all based here in San Francisco.

Financial Samurai Passive Income Update 2014-2015

Financial Freedom Through Passive IncomeWelcome to my annual passive income update. I don’t do these updates more often because nothing changes too much on a month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter basis. Do you really want to see that I increased or decreased my passive income by $1,000 from the month before? I think not.

Here are some immediate reasons I can think of for why building passive income is a good idea:

1) You likely won’t want to work forever, no matter how much of an eager beaver you now are.

2) Unfortunately bad things happen all the time e.g. layoffs, financial meltdowns, theft, etc.

3) It’s nice to provide as solid a financial foundation as possible for your family and loved ones.

4) You broaden your knowledge and expertise across various topics so you can seem erudite but remain a little dumb.

5) You’ll reduce financial stress and feel happier that not all your income is tied to one main source.

6) You will decrease your chances, your spouse’s chances, and your children’s chances of ever having to depend on the government to survive.

7) You will have more freedom to do things you truly want to do. This feeling becomes more intense as you grow older given you become more aware of the finality of life.

8) You can push yourself financially beyond what you think could ever be possible. Who doesn’t love a good challenge except for the people who have everything handed to them?

This is my third annual passive income report where I have a goal of making $200,000 in relatively passive income by mid-2015 after leaving my job in early 2012. I started off with roughly $78,000 a year and I’m currently up to a projected ~$150,000 a year if all goes well after renting out my old primary residence. Life is uncertain, and I’m sure things will change.

To clarify the meaning of passive income, I do not include income from consulting, freelancing, asset sales (stocks, bonds, real estate, baseball cards etc), and business income. I’ve got other targets for these revenue streams that I might discuss in a future post, but probably not. The goal of passive income is to have the income largely come in without doing much work at all. But in order to not do much work for money, we’ve first got to work very hard for our money!

One thing to note is that I started my passive income journey before writing about Stealth Wealth. $78,000 a year is roughly the median income in SF, so it wasn’t a big deal. But I promise that if I ever breach $200,000, I will go dark and never write any specific figures again. If I do, you’ll know that I’m lying to blend in because that’s what Stealth Wealth is all about. 

If You Produce Nothing How Can You Expect To Make Any Money?

Produce nothing? Have a double bagel

Produce nothing? Have a double bagel

Every time I walk into a coffee shop, I see guys fiendishly coding on their laptops. Although the chances are slim to ever make it big as an entrepreneur, thousands of predominantly 20-something year old men try their luck anyway. Huge respect for anybody who tries.

100% of the non-family tenant applicants for my previous house were males in tech, internet, finance, or consulting. No wonder why fellas complain that San Francisco is turning into a sausage town. At the same time, women also complain there are no good men in San Francisco either. Such a conundrum!

The title of this post may seem obvious, but I don’t think it’s obvious for the folks who 1) complain on the bus why their life sucks, 2) complain on message boards why what someone else wrote is terrible, or 3) complain on here why it’s too hard to save money or spend less. There has to be action, otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Every single company we know of today started with someone who had a vision and a determination to produce something new. If you’re working 40 hours a week or less and wondering why you aren’t getting ahead, you might as well move to Europe where life is good and everybody makes roughly the same. A 40 hour work-week is an arbitrary amount to work given we have 168 hours a week.

A Massive Generational Wealth Transfer Is Why Everything Will Be OK

Bank Of Mom And DadWhen I bought my previous home 10 years ago my 68 year old neighbor stopped by to say “hello.” He was the godfather of the block, having bought his building back in the early 70s. He gave me the inside scoop on all the neighbors, and one neighbor stood out in particular.

He said the house across the street was purchased a year before mine by a family who wanted some place for their son to live as he attended UC Hastings School Of Law. The purchase price? $1.45 million for a 2,100 square foot three bedroom, three bathroom house. The son would host at least one fraternity-like party every year, but other than that, the house was pretty tame. The son continued to live in the house after law school and now it looks like they might sell.

For 10 years, the son not only lived for free, but he probably made rental income as well thanks to his two roommates. His $120,000+ law school tuition was also probably full paid for by Bank of Mom and Dad and I’m not sure how he paid for his $60,000 Audi S4 unless you make a lot of money as a law student? If the house ever sells, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets to keep the $1 million+ in profits.

It’s clear to me that my neighbor is going to be quite alright, even if he doesn’t work for the rest of his life. If you’re willing to accept so much assistance that’s beyond what you can afford, then why bother working at all? Just mooch off your parents forever!

My Other Neighbor

About two years ago my 32 year old next door neighbor came home in a brand new, $48,000 Toyota 4Runner Limited. I thought it was a quizzical purchase because the car couldn’t easily fit in his garage. I saw him struggle for five minutes just to get the beast in.

Even so, I was intrigued and wrote a post about it called, “Dealing With Money Envy” because I was jealous. He’s lived in his parent’s flat for the past 11 years since college while his parents lived in their other home in the South Bay. With the average SF rent for a two bedroom at $3,800 a month, of course he could afford a new 4Runner. He’s saved $400,000 in after-tax money by not paying rent for 11 years.

My neighbor is a nice fella who now works in real estate with his father. For 2.5 years he got to travel around the world in his 20s without holding down a job because he could. His mother would stop by and share with me how his son was having so much fun. Meanwhile, I worked my ass off all throughout my 20s just so I could be able to afford the house at age 27. His carefree lifestyle is what made me the most envious. The car was just an extra kick in the nuts.

When I was moving out he asked whether I’d like to sell my house to him (to the family really). If he could really afford my house, then his finances must be in great shape because valuations have gone a little nuts as you can see in this chart.

Confessions From A Spoiled Rich Kid

Flying Over San Francisco

Flying Over San Francisco For Fun

The following is a guest post from long-time reader, Samurai Marco.

When Sam first mentioned that he was accepting guest posts from his readers, it made me wonder what, from my financial journey, I could share. After all, you’re already all a bunch of financial samurai’s yourselves, right? Is my journey interesting enough? At 43 years old, have I made enough mistakes?

I grew up a spoiled rich kid in Cupertino, California, about an hour south of San Francisco. My father was a one of those, and I hate to use this term, “Serial entrepreneurs.” He started a lot of technology companies, a couple went public, some were acquired and, of course, a few failed. I remember my Dad, back in the early 80′s, bringing home the first prototypes of the Macintosh and Compaq computers and even the first cell phones.

His summer parties were filled with the “who’s who” of Silicon Valley. I remember, in particular, one Christmas party in 1997, Gil Amelio and Steve Jobs made the deal for Apple to buy NEXT that night at my Dad’s house. The Forbes reporter, who was there, leaked it the next day I’ve gone flying with my Dad and Larry Ellison. I’ve talked stocks in the swimming pool with Eric Schmidt. So yes, I was surrounded by a lot of money and power and got a lot of attention for being my father’s child.

To say I grew up spoiled really is an understatement It’s taken me a long time to realize how “out of touch” my reality was back then. We flew first class to Italy every summer, sometimes twice a year, to visit family. We lived in a big house with a swimming pool in a “safe” neighborhood. My parents bought us whatever we wanted.

Increasing Passive Income Through Leverage And Arbitrage

Sunset in San Francisco, Golden Gate Heights

Priceless View Of The Sunset In Golden Gate Heights, San Francisco

Earlier in the year, I had a nice conversation with a well-known San Francisco angel investor about risk and reward. I had a chunk of money coming due from an expiring 5-year CD and I wanted to get some advice on what to do with it. I asked him whether he would be leveraging up or paying down debt in this bull market. He responded, “Sam, I always like leveraging up. It’s how I made my fortune.” This angel investor is worth between $50 – $100 million dollars.

Of course you can’t just leverage up into any old investment. The investment has to be something you know fairly well and has a good risk/reward profile. The only thing I have confidence leveraging up on is property. Everything else seems a little bit like funny money.

Although I quit my job a couple years ago to try my hand at entrepreneurship, I’m a relatively risk-averse person because I’ve seen so many fortunes made and lost over the past 15 years. If I was risk-loving, I would have done what so many brave folks do nowadays and quit as soon as I had a business idea, instead of methodically moonlight before and after work for three years before negotiating a severance. The breakfast sandwich guy I used to go to for 10 years while I was working told me he was worth $3 million dollars during the dot com boom in 2000. I went back for old times sake last month and he is still there!

Despite my risk-aversion, I do believe money should be used to increase the quality of your life and the people you care about. As a result, I did something recently that might seem financially risky, but I think the move actually lowers my financial risk profile now that I’ve had a chance to fully process the situation.

I finally found my panoramic ocean view Golden Gate Heights home! A room with a view has been on my bucket list forever. But it never occurred to me to look in San Francisco, despite being so close to the ocean because I thought such homes would be unaffordable. San Francisco already has the highest median single family home price in the nation at $1 million. To add on a panoramic ocean view would make prices outrageous, or so I thought.

It’s the same curmudgeon as never asking out a super model because you think she or he will say no. You’ve just got to ask and I’m sure you’ll be delightfully surprised once you try.

After spending months aggressively looking for my next ideal property within my budget, I found a view home for less than half the cost of my existing home on a price/square foot basis. How is this possible you might ask? The farther west you go from downtown and the established neighborhoods, the cheaper prices are in general (see the graphic I created in The Best Place To Buy Property In San Francisco Today). But the farthest away you’ll ever be is 7 miles because San Francisco is 7 X 7 miles large. Given I’m only going into a downtown office two times a week, I don’t mind the extra 15 commute. To be able to watch the sun go into the ocean every day for the rest of my life is priceless.

Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?

Are You Smart Enough To Be Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?The smartest people in the world are listeners, not speakers. If all you’re doing is speaking, how do you learn anything new?

There was once this portfolio manager I covered who had this uncanny ability to make you feel uncomfortable without saying anything at all. He had a poker face when you spoke to him, and when he felt like changing expressions, he’d go from solemn to smiles in a millisecond. We nicknamed him Crazy Eyes. It turns out that he was literally a genius with an IQ over 160. He also consistently beat his index benchmark for eight years in a row and made millions because of it.

The earliest examples of acting dumb to get ahead starts in grade school. You know what I’m talking about. Those kids who were too cool to study and too cool to sit still in class as they flicked spitballs from the back of the room. These kids weren’t just acting dumb, they really were dumb.

When you purposefully waste your opportunities growing up, you’re not only disrespecting your parents, but also the millions of other kids around the world who will never have the same opportunities.

This post will do the following:

1) Argue why acting dumb is a smart move to get ahead.

2) Provide some tips to help you look and seem a little dumber than you are.

3) Share three personal examples of how acting duhhh, has helped in work, stress management, and relationships.

The Best Way To Get Rich: Turn Funny Money Into Real Assets

Funny Money

POOF! Funny Money Be Gone

The US stock market is on fire right now and everybody is getting rich – well, everybody who decides to save, invest their savings, and take some risks. For everyone else, this bull market is a disaster because everything gets much more expensive when everybody gets rich.

The first stock market meltdown I ever experienced was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. International college students from countries like Korea and Indonesia had to drop out because the Won and Rupiah depreciated so much, making tuition unaffordable. Construction cranes stopped moving in Bangkok and the IMF had to bail out the entire region. Of course some people made a killing in the downturn when they swooped up assets for pennies on the dollar. But most people lost their shirts.

Then when things really started getting good again in 1999, the NASDAQ collapsed in the Spring of 2000. I only experienced one brilliant year of mega exuberance after college before the floor fell out in March 2000. Many people in finance lost their jobs and then 9/11 happened. I remember seeing my stock portfolio go from $3,000 to an absurd $200,000 in six months, and then lose about $40,000 in a couple weeks when B2B stocks started imploding.

Where does all the money go? It’s all funny money! I remember thinking. Paper millionaires who exercised their stock options early and didn’t sell not only lost everything, they also owed huge tax bills as well. The government always wins. 

Get A Free Financial Consultation With Personal Capital

Personal Capital Financial Advisor Over the years, a number of you have asked me to write a review about what exactly goes on with a free financial consultation with Personal Capital. Common questions include: Is the consultation really free? Is the consultation a high pressured sales call in disguise? Will I get something out of it even if I don’t sign up? Is it worth it?

The short answers to the questions are: Yes, the consultation really is free. There’s no high pressured sales tactics, just an understanding they’d like to work with you if you’ve found them helpful. You can continue to use their free Financial Dashboard if you don’t hire them. Yes, you will definitely get some good tailored advice and the opportunity to pick someone’s brain who sees and advises on multiple different types of financial situations for multiple different types of people. And yes, spending time getting a review of your finances for free is worth it since it gets you to review your financial situation at the very least.

I sat down with Patrick Dinan CFP®, a Personal Capital Financial Advisor over the course of 1.5 hours and two sessions, which I’ll now share with you in this post I spent about four hours putting together. The post shall provide transparency on the advisory service process as an insider.

My goals for the meeting were three fold: 1) To understand what a prospective client goes through during the call to advise on a better experience, 2) to understand Personal Capital’s value proposition for the 75-95 bps under management a year they charge and 3) learn what specific advice they could give me, a personal finance enthusiast who has been in the business for 15 years.

I’m sitting in a unique position given I’m very familiar with Personal Capital’s free financial tools as a DIY user for two years before I joined as a consultant to help build out their online content six months ago. I’ve gotten to know some of Personal Capital’s financial advisors and I’ve also sat in on various important meetings with the CEO, CPO, COO, and CMO to get a better understanding of the products and their desired messaging.

An important takeaway I’ve gotten from working more intimately with Personal Capital is that Personal Capital is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who has a fiduciary duty to do what’s in your best interest. They are registered with the SEC, and are not a broker dealer. Broker deals only have a “suitability standard” for their clients, not a fiduciary standard, whereas RIAs have a much stricter fiduciary standard. For example, if you want to invest your entire $500,000 retirement portfolio in Apple after you dreamt Steve Jobs reincarnates, Personal Capital won’t let you because that violates your risk parameters and is not in your best interest.

A broker dealer, on the other hand, would probably also advise against such an aggressive move, but if push comes to shove, they could execute the transaction. The more a broker churns your portfolio and puts you into higher fee mutual funds, the more s/he gets paid so long as you don’t leave. But no matter how much your portfolio turns over with an RIA, the firm gets paid a fixed percentage of assets under management. The main way a RIA gets paid more is if you’re happy and your assets continue to grow. Interests are better aligned. 

The Average Savings Rates By Income (Wealth Class)

costWe all know that Americans as a whole don’t save a lot of money. The latest savings statistics for 2014 shows that the average American only saves ~4% of their income a year. 4%! In other words, it takes the average American 25 years to save just one year’s worth of living expenses. That is a disaster.

When you’re 60-something years old and only have 1.6 years worth of living expenses to buttress your declining Social Security checks, life isn’t going to be very leisurely. You’ll probably be mad at the government for lying to you and mad at yourself for not saving more when you still had a chance.

The problem with averages is that averages distort reality. For example, the average household has a net worth of approximately $710,000. You and I know that this is impossible based on common sense. But simple math doesn’t lie. Take the total household wealth in the US of $81.8 trillion (according to the Fed) and divide by 115,226,802 US households (according to the Census Bureau) and you get $710,000. (Related: How Much Should My Net Worth Be By Income?)

I’m absolutely positive more than 90% of Financial Samurai readers save more than 4%. We are personal finance enthusiasts after all. Therefore, what’s the reality behind this ~4% national savings figure? The truth is that savings rates vary by income.

How To Convince Your Spouse To Work Longer So You Can Retire Earlier

Retiring early on the beachOne can either work hard for their wealth, inherit their wealth, or marry into wealth. No way is the right way to get rich. Although the most honorable way is probably getting wealthy with your own two hands.

When I wrote the post, “Stay At Home Men Of The World, UNITE!” in February of 2012, I was being a little silly. The post was just a fun way of forecasting life as a stay at home man as I sought to build my online media business. Two years later there’s still a huge bias against men who are stay at home dads or non-breadwinners. Men who work traditional day jobs love to poke fun at men who don’t. Women, on the other hand, don’t seem biased at all against men who don’t work. In fact, I know several men and women who don’t work who ended up being secret lovers!

One of the strategies to retiring early is to have a working spouse. I have a couple lady friends who retired at 32 and now enjoy playing tennis and drinking chamomile tea during the day at my club as their husbands work their private equity jobs. One lady worked in advertising, and the other lady worked in corporate retail. When I asked whether either of them missed working they laughed in unison and said, “Not at all!”

During my time away from Corporate America from 2012-2013, I also met a lot of guys at Golden Gate Park (where I also play tennis) who retired early because their spouses worked. They were a little older on the early retiree spectrum (40-50). One husband’s wife is a cardiologist at UCSF Hospital. Another guy’s girlfriend is an executive at Salesforce.com. No doubt both their partners are doing well. All of the early retiree guys employed nannies to take care of their children during the day so they could play tennis as well. Gotta love it.

Thanks to the strengthening equality of men and women in the work force, more men are able to break free from corporate bondage to live alternative lifestyles. Men can be the stay-at-home parent now. Men can drink beers at the country club after a round of golf with their buddies and not have to worry as much about money anymore. The equalization of the sexes for career advancement and pay have been a big boon for men as well.

In this article, I’d like to share some tips from early retirees who successfully convinced their spouse or partner to continue working so they don’t have to. 

The Best Area To Buy Property In San Francisco (Or Any Major City) Today

Golden Gate Heights View

View From Grand View Park, San Francisco

I realize not everybody lives in San Francisco, but there are insights into this article that can help you find the best area to buy property in your respective city as well. I’m just going to use San Francisco as an example since I live here.

If you want to buy real estate as an investment, it’s important the area not only has a strong domestic demand curve due to a robust labor market, but also a strong international demand curve as well. It’s the international demand curve that really lifts prices higher during good times.

Less than 0.5% of the housing stock is for sale at any given moment. It doesn’t take much to create a property bidding frenzy if you add international buyers to the mix of domestic buyers. Prices in London are being driven by Russian and Middle Eastern tycoons. Prices in Hong Kong are being driven by the wealthy Mainland Chinese. Prices in Singapore are being driven by wealthy Indonesians and expats. While prices in San Francisco are being driven by the tech boom, low interest rates, restrictive building codes, limited land and foreign buyers from China and Russia.

To sell property now is like selling Apple Inc. at $390 a while ago. Your property may have appreciated a lot since purchase, but there’s still a long ways to go if you can hold on. Thankfully for buyers, couples will always get divorced, homeowners will always want to upgrade or downgrade, and companies will always lay off or relocate their employees. There just isn’t enough supply to meet demand in San Francisco, and it’s unlikely there ever will be enough supply with the rise of tech powerhouses such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple.

Apple alone has gained more than $100 billion in market capitalization in 2014 and employs over 20,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now imagine what will happen to housing demand when Pinterest, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Uber go public in the next several years? They are hiring like crazy at $70,000 – $200,000 a pop and already have valuations in the $5 – $17 billion dollar range, each.

Different Investment Strategies For Different Life Stages

Different investment strategiesA number of people have asked me to share some different investment strategies for different life stages. What I’ll do is highlight the various investment strategies I think make sense for most people, discuss a couple more alternative investment strategies, and round up what strategy I think is most appropriate by life stage.

We all know that step one to building financial wealth starts with saving. What really widens the wealth gap over the years is HOW one invests. Before investing in anything, I encourage everyone to tell themselves five things out loud.

1) I will lose money.

2) I will feel like a complete idiot when I lose money.

3) Nothing goes up forever.

4) There are plenty of exogenous variables outside of my control.

5) No risk, no reward.

Now that you’re mentally set to invest your hard-earned savings in the stock market where one change in government law, a corrupt CEO, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or a declaration of war could instantly wipe out half your gains, let’s begin!

The Best Way To Gain Financial Security Is To Develop Financial Buffers For Your Financial Buffers

Financial Buffer Moat around Osaka CastleLeaving my job in the spring of 2012 was not an easy decision. Even if you have all your ducks in order, it’s still a leap of faith where you hope fluffy pillows await instead of jagged rocks. One of the main reasons why I wrote my book, “How To Engineer Your Layoff” was because negotiating a severance was the key financial buffer that gave me the courage to break free.

Before figuring out how to get laid off in order to gain a severance, my only real financial buffer was my various passive income streams which equaled about $78,000 a year at the time. I did input a Blue Sky scenario of $118,000 a year gross if things worked well on the rental property front after a couple years. But Blue Sky scenarios are never to be used in important life altering decisions.

$78,000 a year in passive income might seem like a healthy figure, but I live in San Francisco where the median condo price is around $800,000 and the median single family home costs around $1 million. Food and gas are also expensive and entertainment costs can quickly spiral out of control if you let them. We’ve had a terrific 100+ comment discussion on my post wondering how people in expensive cities live a comfortable life making less than six figures a year. It’s definitely possible as the comments have suggested, but it’s not easy, especially if you’re over 30, have a family, and no longer want to live like a college student.

I didn’t want to compromise my lifestyle in early retirement by eating dog food and living in the boondocks just to have all the time in the world. Otherwise, retirement is counterproductive. When I started writing this post, I could only recall two financial buffers. But as I kept on writing, I realized there were many more.

I’m confident you’ll find more of your own financial buffers than you first realized as well. Many people I’ve professionally consulted with have asked about building alternative income streams while working so that one day they don’t have to work. This post is for all of you and a revelation that the world isn’t as scary of a place after all. 

Why It’s So Hard To Get A Mortgage According To A Loan Officer

Dream KitchenI shared with you my most recent painful journey in qualifying for a mortgage. It’s not over yet as the underwriter now wants a signed copy from my CPA on his company letterhead of all my company’s financials. My CPA said he charges $3,800 for a thorough audit, so I told him to go jump in a lake. Instead, I sent off my company’s financials with my signature and told my bank to take it or leave it. I think they’ll take it because I’ve fulfilled every single item on their 21 point check list. We shall see.

My mortgage pain post was shared around the web and I ended up having a good dialogue with a loan officer. He shared with me some frank insights as to why it’s so hard to get a mortgage nowadays.

If you are easily offended, I suggest skipping this post. But if you can handle the truth, and if you want to gain some perspective from someone who controls millions of dollars in loans to satisfy property buyer’s wishes, then read on. 

How Much Is The Average Credit Card Debt Per Household?

Average Credit Card Debt Per Household

How many times have you withdrawn a wad of cash only to see it disappear a few days later with little idea where it all went? By putting as much expenditure on my credit cards as possible I get a handy dandy pie chart and expense line breakdown at the end of every month to see where my money is going. Furthermore, I get all those juicy rewards points that really begin to rack up over time.

The average household owes $15,191 based on data from the Federal Reserve and Nerd Wallet, a credit card lead generator. They also throw out a $7,191 number for average credit card debt for “non-indebted households.” According to the Experian Intelliview tool, the average credit card balance per consumer was $3,779 in 1Q2013. However, consumers with low credit scores – like a “D” in the VantageScore range – had average credit card debt of $5,965. Finally, according to CreditCards.com the average credit card debt per U.S. adult, excluding zero-balance cards and store cards is $4,878. The average debt per credit card that usually carries a balance is $8,220. And the average debt per credit card that doesn’t usually carry a balance is $1,037 (must equal spend).

It’s hard to figure out what’s the right number because they seem way too high and all over the place given the median household income is around $51,000. One way to finding a better average credit card debt and spend number is to simply get more datapoints with a short four question survey below.

The impact on the amount of average revolving credit card debt per household is largely determined by income. You might have an astounding $15,000 in revolving credit card debt, but if you are making $1 million a year, who cares? The more pertinent measure is average revolving monthly credit card debt to average monthly gross income.

What’s confusing is that it’s unclear whether people who pay off their credit card bills every month are also included in the average credit card debt per household. After all, when I charge something on my card, I have interest free debt for 28-31 days, depending on the month, until I pay the bill off in full. The solution is to simply calculate the average credit card spend a month to the average monthly gross income, and calculate the average revolving credit card debt a month to the average monthly gross income to get a more thorough picture.

What Is Considered Mass Affluent Based Off Income, Net Worth, And Investable Assets

Average Net Worth For Above Average Person

The middle class is the best social class in the world because nobody messes with the middle class. Politicians endlessly pander to the middle class in order to gain votes to stay in power. When you’re in the upper class, you become a target for hate groups who can’t stand success in the great USA. If you’re poor, well that just stinks.

But what about the mass affluent? You might have heard the term bounced around here and there on the TV, online, or on the radio. Surely including the words “mass” to signify a large population and “affluent” to signify wealth is an even better class than the middle class? As far as I can tell, the mass affluent are yet to be negatively targeted by hate groups.

In this post you’ll learn about the various financial definitions that aptly describe the mass affluent. Furthermore, we’ll discuss why being part of the mass affluent has its benefits.

In Search For A Good Travel Rewards Credit Card: Barclaycard Arrival Review

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard Sea TurtlesWith my new goal of traveling at least 10 weeks a year, I’ve come to the realization it’s wise to get a credit card whose primary design is to rack up maximum travel rewards points so I can travel even more. I’ve found the card in the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

Before publishing this post, I had a grand total of one personal credit card – the Citi ThankYou card. I’m not a believer in getting multiple credit cards because I’m all about simplifying my finances. I also pay my credit card bill off in full every single month, so there’s no need to take advantage of those 0% introductory rates. But with my new mission to travel post retirement, it’s only prudent to take advantage of great benefits.

If I got the Barclaycard Arrival before my four week trip to Europe this summer, I would have been able to accumulate over 18,000 awards points! Better late than never because I’m going on another two week trip to attend the US Open tomorrow in NYC. The last time I went to the US Open was twelve years ago and I can’t wait to return!

How Much Should My Net Worth Or Savings Be Based On Income?

Mallorca Sunset Net WorthIf you’ve been making $500,000 a year for a decade as a 40 year old but only have a $1 million net worth, you’re probably a donkey with some serious financial issues. If you’re making $80,000 as a 30 year old but have a $500,000 net worth I’d classify you as a hero who is on their way to bubbles and unicorns!

I’ve written about The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person that provides charts on where highly motivated people who want to achieve financial independence should be. The only problem with my analysis is that it doesn’t tie income levels specifically in the charts. This post will bind the inextricably important link between income and wealth to ensure as high a chance of financial freedom as possible.

To create a good net worth guide based on income can be very tricky based on variables such as how long someone has been making X income, the return on investment, and the state of the economy. Hence, a more conservative assumption is to replace net worth with savings. Let’s first understand the current state of the world and break down our assumptions.

The Proper Asset Allocation Of Stocks And Bonds By Age

Endless Variety Of Gouda CheeseTo 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.

How To Reduce 401K Fees Through Portfolio Analysis

Do you know how much in mutual fund fees you are paying a year? I didn’t, so I ran my 401K portfolio through Personal Capital’s 401k fee analyzer and I’m absolutely shocked by the results! I always figured that from a percentage point of view, my mutual fund fees were small. But, when you take a small percentage multiplied by a big enough number, the absolute dollar amount starts adding up.

401K Fees Add Up!

As you can see in the picture above, I’m paying $1,748.34 a year in fees across four mutual funds. In 20 years, I will have paid roughly $84,000 in fees based on only this amount. The second portion of the above chart shines a light on the specific fund that costs the most. In my case, it is the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund with a 0.74% expense ratio.

I’ve got another fund worth about $22,000 as part of my 401K which does not show a fee, because it is a hedge fund whose fees are baked into the performance. Typical hedge fund fees are 2% of assets under management and 20% of upside. This is called 2 and 20, which is egregiously high, but it’s the only way I can get short exposure to hedge my bets.

I’ve been wanting to do a 401k/mutual fund fee analysis for the longest time, but was too lazy to do the analysis until I realized I didn’t have to do the calculations myself. Every year I want my portfolio to be as optimized as possible.

The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Person

Average Net WorthEverything is relative when it comes to money.  If we all earn $1 million dollars a year and have $5 million in the bank at the age of 40, none of us are very wealthy given all our costs (housing, food, transportation, vacations) will be priced at levels that squeeze us to the very end.  As such, we must first get an idea of what the real average net worth is in our respective countries, and then figure out the average net worth of the above average person!

According to CNN Money 2014, the average net worth for the following ages are: $9,000 for ages 25-34,  $52,000 for ages 35-44, $100,000 for ages 45-54, $180,000 for ages 55-64, and $232,000+ for 65+. Seems very low, but that’s because we use averages and a large age range.

The Above Average Person is loosely defined as:

1) A person who went to college and believes that grades do matter.

2) Does not spend more than they make because that would be irrational.

3) Saves for the future because they realize at some point they no longer are willing or able to work.

4) Largely depends on themselves, as opposed to mom and dad or the government.

5) Takes responsibility for their own actions when things go wrong and learns from the situation to make things better.

6) Has an open mind and is willing to look at the merits of both sides of an argument.

7) Welcomes constructive criticism and is not overly sensitive from friends, loved ones, and strangers in order to keep improving.

8) Has a healthy amount of self-esteem to be able to lead change and believe in themselves.

9) Understands the mental to physical connection in everything we do so that that a healthy mind corresponds with a healthy body.

10) Enjoys empowering themselves through learning, whether it be through books, personal finance blogs, magazines, seminars, continuing education and so forth.

11) Has little-to-no student loan debt due to scholarships and part-time work.

Now that we have a rough definition of what “above average” means, we can take a look at the tables I’ve constructed based on the tens of thousands of past comments by you and posts I’ve written to highlight the average net worth of the above average person.

How Much Should People Have Saved In Their 401Ks At Different Ages

Saving Jar Colleen Kong

By Colleen Kong at KongSavage.com

The 401k is one of the most woefully light retirement instruments ever invented. The worst is the IRA which limits you to contributing only $5,500 only for individuals making under $60,000 a year and married couples making under $116,000 a year. Meanwhile, you have to make less than $114,000 a year as a single or $181,000 as a married couple for the privilege of contributing after tax dollars to a Roth IRA, which I do not recommend before maxing out your 401k.

Give me a pension that pays 70% of my last year’s salary for the rest of my life over a 401(k) any time! With the government only allowing individuals to contribute $17,500 a year in pre-tax income into their 401ks in 2014, once again, our politicians fail us with their regulations.

The average 401k balance as of January 2014 is around $99,000 thanks to an incredible 30% rise in the S&P 500 in 2013. Even so, $99,000 is incredibly low given the median age of an American is 36.5. As an educated reader who is logical and believes saving for retirement is a must, I’ve proposed a table that shows how much each person should have saved in their 401ks at age 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65.

We stop at 65 because you are allowed to start withdrawing penalty free from your 401k at age 59 1/2. Meanwhile, I pray to goodness you don’t have to work much past 65 because you’ve had 40 years to save and investment already!

Life Lessons From Twelve Days At Sea

The Mediterranean is chilly in the Fall, ranging from 48-75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Anybody coming from San Francisco will feel right at home.  The cruise ship was packed with a couple thousand explorers.  Not only that, there were three other ships just as large following a similar itinerary.  Pretty good for the tail-end of the season in a supposedly difficult economy.

One of the best ways to travel is via a really large boat.  Every other day you’re waking up to a new city.  There’s never a need to pack and unpack your bags.  Meanwhile, the amount of activities on board is endless.  If you like service, food, travel, and a variety of entertainment, then cruising is for you.

Another positive about cruising is that you really have to time to observe your surroundings.  You’re captured, with nowhere to go, except for perhaps the tennis court on the top deck and the buffet line right below.  When you’ve had your second helping of peach cobbler ala mode and are relaxing in the jacuzzi tub, all you’re doing is contemplating.  In addition to coming up with a mercurial plan of writing full-time from a cruise ship for $12,000 a month, I learned a lot of things that I’d like to share with you.

LESSONS LEARNED AFTER 12 DAYS AT SEA