Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties?

This week’s Mint audit helps out a couple, Pasquale, 46, and Jillian, 39, who are starting a new life together after each experiencing divorce. Both work in software sales earning roughly the same income. When combined, their earnings average $450,000 a year.

The New Jersey couple shares a new mortgage and a savings account. They recently purchased a home together and pool a fraction of their incomes together into a joint account to pay for shared expenses such as the home loan, property taxes and utilities.

Pasquale and Jillian also arrived at the relationship owning their own properties. Pasquale has held onto his townhome in a nearby town that he bought after his divorce. He rents it out, earning a nice $500 monthly profit. Jillian also has a home in Florida, which she rents out. She more or less breaks even every month.

They would like advice related to managing their rental properties (should they sell them?), possibly buying a vacation home in the $250,000 to $350,000 range and, for Pasquale, saving up to help send his two daughters (ages 13 and 17) to college. They’re also wondering if they’re saving “enough” for retirement.

They had lots of good questions, and after an hour on the phone and a review of their finances, I was able to fit together some of their puzzle pieces.

First, here’s a break down of some their finances:

Retirement Savings

  • Pasquale: Contributes 5% to 401(k) and has about $500,000 in it. He also invests 15% in company’s ESPP (Employee Stock Purchase Plan)
  • Jillian: Contributes 5% to a 401(k) plus employer’s match, totaling 10%. She has about $200,000 saved. She also invests 11% in her company’s ESPP.
  • If they were to both cash out their ESPPs today, they’d have about $250,000 in gains, which are subject to income tax.

Child Support Payments

  • Pasquale: $4,000 per month

Debt (Credit Cards and Student Loans)

  • Pasquale: $18,000 in student loans
  • Jillian: $40,000 in student loans

Real Estate Holdings

  • Each of their individual properties has about $80,000 in equity.

 

Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Max Out the 401(k)s

The couple is doing fairly well with their retirement savings, but I think they are too exposed to their ESPPs. They contribute more to their ESPPs than their 401(k)s, which is very risky, considering an ESPP puts all your money in a single stock. A 401(k) is far more diversified.

They may benefit from reallocating some of those dollars back into their company 401(k). In doing so, I recommend they both aim to max out their 401(k)s, which also means a bigger tax deduction. This year’s maximum contribution is $18,500.

Transfer Some ESPP Earnings to College Savings

Every six months, each receives the chance to cash out some or all of the money in their ESPP. I recommend striking at the next opportunity to reduce their exposure to a market downfall and help pay for future college expenses. Taking 20 or 30 percent off the table and placing the dollars into a safer haven like a CD creates less risk.

For Pasquale, specifically, I’d look into selling some of his shares at the next opportunity and placing it into a plain vanilla savings account to cover at least the first two years of his daughter’s education. His daughter will choose a school soon and expects to receive some grants and scholarships to reduce the cost. At that point Pasquale can better estimate how much to withdraw from the stock plan.

For his youngest daughter, it’s not too late for Pasquale to open a 529-college savings account. That money can later be used for higher education costs without being subject to taxes. Investing $500 a month in a 529 starting today could help to afford at least the first year or two of school, depending on where she lands. Pasquale may even consider using some of the ESPP gains to fund the new 529 for daughter #2, if his eldest doesn’t need it.

Sell Rentals to Purchase a New Second Home

How emotionally tied are they to their individual properties? Pasquale said he could take it or leave it. The $500 cash flow is nice, but he’s open to selling it. Jillian, however, would be sad to part ways with the Florida home. While its rental income is just enough to cover the carrying costs, she likes the idea of keeping it. She’s always wanted to have a house by the water.

But I propose a scenario: What if they sold both rental properties and pooled the equity ($160,000) to afford a new second home that they’d both own? They’re eyeing a cabin near the Poconos in Pennsylvania. The estimated cost for a home that suits them is between $250,000 and $300,000. A 50% down payment on a $300,000 home would mean that their monthly mortgage would be roughly $700 per month, given today’s average interest rate of about 4.50% (or possibly higher for second homes.)

From selling the two properties they achieve their goal of affording a second home. Located in a popular resort area, they can also rent it out from time to time for more than $700 a week. Renting the place for just 8 or 10 weeks out of the year would probably cover the annual mortgage.

From there, any extra cash flow could be used to save more for retirement, travel, college, or whatever they wish.

 

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com