Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Welcome New Visitors

Greetings to all new readers from the Radical Personal Finance podcast!  I thoroughly enjoyed being on Joshua's show because it helped me distill some of my thoughts into bite-sized chunks of information.  Thanks for suffering through my spotty Skype connection and stream-of-consciousness yammering.  If only I could deliver my message as smoothly as Joshua!  I will shoot for a smoother performance on my next podcast appearance.  

Here some of my most popular blog posts over the years:

Let me know what you think of my ideas.  I look forward to your comments and questions.  Good luck achieving your financial and life goals.


Monday, October 13, 2014

2015 Free Money!

Greetings all!  With 2015 right around the corner, it's time to start our tax planning.  It looks like the standard deduction and personal exemption amounts are going to increase in 2015*.  It also appears that the child tax credit will remain at $1,000 per child.  These increases in the standard deduction and personal exemptions mean that the government will allow us to earn more money before it expects us to pay federal income tax.    

2015 Free Money for Federal Income Taxes
Standard DeductionMarried Filing Jointly$12,600
Personal Exemptions$4,000 * 3$12,000
1 Child Tax Credit$1,000 / .10$10,000
2015 Total Free Money$34,600

As the box shows, the three of us will file for the standard deduction of $12,600 using the married filing jointly classification.  We will also claim three standard deductions for a total of $12,000.  Since our son still qualifies for the child tax credit, the first $1,000 of federal income tax will be credited back to us.  That means that we can earn another $10,000 ($1,000 / .10) before we owe any federal income tax.  (The .10 figure represents the 10% tax bracket.)  Our 2015 free money total is $34,600...not bad! 

What does this actually mean?  Simple, any taxable money at $34,600 or below will have a federal income tax rate of 0%.  So, if we can live on $34,600 or less in 2015, Uncle Sam expects us to pay $0 in federal income taxes.

What happens if we need more money in 2015?  If we realize that $34,600 won't cover our 2015 living expenses, we will withdraw the remainder of the 10% tax bracket.  The remainder of the 10% tax bracket will be $8,450.  (The maximum of the 10% tax bracket is $18,450 minus the $10,000 from our child tax credit.)  Now, our 2015 income would total $43,050 with a tax obligation of $845 ($8,450 * .10).  That is an effective federal income tax rate of 1.96% ($845 / $43,050).  See below:

Total Free Money$34,600
Remainder of 10% Tax Bracket$8,450
Free Money + 10% Bracket$43,050
Effective tax rate of 1.96% 

What if we need even more money?  In that case, we would realize that all money after $43,050 would be taxed at the 15% federal income tax rate.  In other words, every $1,000 beyond the 10% bracket would carry a tax obligation of $150.  Not too bad, but certainly more than we paid in the 10% bracket.  However, just being aware of our tax breakpoints will enable us to make informed tax decisions in 2015.

I hope this helps you hammer your financial plans in 2015.  What do you think?  Did I forget anything? 

Notes:  * 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What's the Deal with Your Mortgage? 5.875%!

The Old Homestead
Warm Cancun greetings to all!  Over the last few months I have received comments and questions regarding my ridiculously high 5.875% mortgage rate.  Currently, I owe $59,568 on the mortgage; I also owe around $21,500 on our HELOC (home equity line of credit).  Many people recommended that I refinance the balance to a lower rate; others suggested that I pay off the mortgage by making additional payments to the principal.  These are great suggestions, but I have my own plan to slay the beast.  Here is a brief look at my financial ball and chain in financial calculator format:
  • PV = $59,568 (originally borrowed $125,000 on $157,000 home)
  • I = 5.875%
  • PMT = $811 (including additional principal payment)
  • N = 7.5 years / 90 months (originally a 30 year loan) 
  • FV = $0 (that's the goal of every homeowner, right?)
I have looked into refinancing my mortgage, but I have not been impressed with the options.  Sure, I could get a lower rate, BUT I do not want to pay points and closing costs.  At this point I simply don't want to pay anymore fees to the banks; I'm tired of paying these guys.  Moreover, I do not want to extend the term of the loan.  Presently, I am on pace to pay off the mortgage in about 7.5 years, so the last thing I want to do is "upgrade" to a 10- or 15-year mortgage.  Refinancing looks like a classic "heads-you-lose-tails-I-win" scenario to me.    

I have also looked at refinancing our mortgage and HELOC balances together.  Last fall Alliant Credit Union had an enticing offer to consolidate both loans into at 10-year loan at 3.375% for only $300 in fees.  The idea of paying off both loans in 10 years or less appealed to me, so I applied for the loan.  Fortunately, I failed to get my tax return information back to them in time to qualify for the rate.  I say fortunately because I believe I can do better by not locking myself into 10 years of payments.  

The Big Plan: 
What's my devious and clever plan?  Actually, it's incredibly boring and pedestrian.  First, I plan on making additional mortgage payments to get my mortgage balance down to $45,000.  Once I get my mortgage down to $45,000, I can then use my USAA HELOC to pay off the rest of my mortgage.  Paying off the mortgage would eliminate a monthly payment of $811, but it would also swell my HELOC balance to its maximum credit limit.  In that event, I would pay a rate of 2.89% on my HELOC balance...roughly $110 a month.  In other words, my monthly payment obligation would be only $110, not the $811 I'm currently paying.  

Over time I would drive down my HELOC balance with my other sources of income.  For example, every January my wife and I deposit our IRA and 457 distributions into the HELOC  and then slowly withdraw them as needed.  We could also deposit rent payments into the HELOC if we decided to rent our home again.  I feel confident that we could have our HELOC under control within 2 to 3 years.

What If...      
  1. your low 2.89% HELOC rate suddenly rises?  In that case, I would go to USAA's website and lock in a fixed rate on the balance (or part of the balance).  Even if my HELOC rate doubled, I would still be paying less than my current 5.875% mortgage rate.  (2.89% * 2 = 5.78%)
  2. you can't hit your $45,000 mortgage balance goal in time?  In that case, I might have to postpone this magnificent plan a year or two.  At my current payment schedule, my mortgage balance should hit $45,000 around January of 2016.  However, if I just couldn't help myself, I guess I could use a 0% credit card to drive down the balance.  Obviously, I'd be playing with fire, but I'm certain I could pay off $5,000 to $7,000 over the course of 18 months.  I get such credit card offers (0% for 18 months!) in the mail every month, so maybe I'll use their money to help me.  Of course, this would be an impulsive last resort, and I wouldn't recommend it to most people.  Credit cards coupled with humans usually lead to disaster. 
When will this financial coupe take place?  It depends on my extra principal payments and HELOC interest rates, but I would love to pull this off in January of 2015 or 2016.  Of course, a lot can change between now and then, but I'll be ready if a good situation presents itself.

What do you think about using a HELOC to pay off a mortgage?  How about my incredibly awesome idea of using a credit card to pay off a mortgage?       

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Family Adventure in Cancun, Mexico

Mexico or Bust!
Greetings from Cancun, Mexico to all my loyal Millionaire Educator readers (Mom and Honest Abe)!  Two weeks ago I bought one-way airline tickets from AirTran for the Atlanta to Cancun flight.  Two days later my wife, son and I landed in Cancun and began our family adventure.   We decided to come to Mexico for two main reasons.  First, my wife and I both agreed that an extended family adventure would benefit all of us.  We could all work on our Spanish, see lots of interesting sites, hit the beaches, and escape the suddenly cold Georgia winter.  Second, we also wanted to see what it would be like to live in Cancun as a local, not a tourist.    

Let's face it, most U.S. news pertaining to Mexico is very negative.  Friends and relatives advised us not to go, and my wife and I had our own reservations.  We agreed that if we didn't like it, we would return home after two weeks.  So far, we have really enjoyed our trip, and we plan on staying for two full months.
The flight from Atlanta to Cancun went smoothly and only took two and half hours.  The flight was especially exciting for my son because it was his first flight AND his birthday.  It was a day to remember for him.  It was also a big day for me because it was my first flight in 13 years!

Birthday Flying!

Once on the ground in Cancun, we proceeded through immigration and customs without any problems.  The immigration officer was a gregarious guy, so Sr. Hablar-sin-fin here struck up a conversation with him.  I mentioned to him that we spent our honeymoon in Cancun 17 years ago.  He told me that I would by shocked by how much the city had grown.  He issued us tourist visas for 180 days and wished us well on our adventure.  All in all, it was the most pleasant immigration experience I ever had.

Once outside of customs, we exchanged a few dollars (at a terrible exchange rate) and proceeded to the ADO bus counter where we bought three tickets to downtown Cancun for 93 pesos ($7 U.S.).  Outside the airport, we immediately felt the 80 degree warmth of the tropics...it was awesome.  Of course, we also had to fight off numerous taxi drivers offering their services as we made our way to the bus stop.        

After a 20 minute bus ride, we found ourselves in downtown Cancun during Friday rush hour.  I did not have a hotel reservation, but I knew there was a hotel near the bus station that would fit our needs.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find it and took my wife and son on a goose chase that ended up in McDonald's.  I figured I could at least get my bearings using their WiFi.  After a few minutes, my son said he was hungry, so we celebrated his birthday with a Cajita Feliz, Happy Meal.  (So much for cultural immersion!)  
Cajita Feliz:  It Don't Get No Better!

After our birthday meal at McDonald's, we found a taxi driver who took us to our hotel for 30 pesos.  We checked into the Hotel Kin Mayab where we paid 600 pesos ($45 U.S.) for a room with two beds.  My wife and I immediately realized that prices had gone up considerably since our last trip 17 years ago.  
Enjoying the Pool

The following morning we moved over to a suite at a hostel for 680 pesos.  The room was better, had a nice pool, and included breakfast.  We stayed at the hostel for two nights, so the first three nights in Cancun our lodging cost us about $150 U.S.  The costs of hotel rooms is much higher than I anticipated, so we began exploring other options and found a studio apartment in downtown Cancun.
Nuestro Apartamento
Our studio apartment cost us $511 U.S. for one month...not exactly  cheap, but much better than hotel rates.  The apartment is nice; it includes WiFi, a coffee maker, mini fridge, microwave oven, and access to a shared kitchen.  However, the room is a little small for the three of us.  A couple or single individual would love this set-up.
Our Home for the Next Month

The Beaches
One of benefits of an extended stay in Cancun is that you can explore its many beautiful beaches.  Since we are not staying in the hotel zone, we have to ride the bus to the beaches.  It costs us 57 pesos ($4.40 U.S.) to get to and from the beach; the bus fare is 9.5 pesos per person.  So far, we have been to three different beaches:  Playa Tortuga, Playa Forun, and Playa Delfines.    Playa Tortugas has shallow, calm water with no waves or undertow.  It's a nice relaxing family beach.
Having Fun at Playa Tortuga
Playa Forun (aka, Playa Chac Mool) is more of a party place for foreign tourists.  Like all the beaches here, it is gorgeous due its combination of white sand and clear blue water...you have to see it to believe it.  
Fun at Playa Forun
Thus far, our favorite beach has been Playa Delfines.  It's more of a local beach towards the south of the Hotel Zone.  It has nice facilities:  palapas (gratis!), showers, and a nice changing / bathroom.  If you ever make it to Cancun, you'll have to check out Playa Delfines...highly recommended! 
Playa Delfines Day Trip
If you have any questions about Cancun, please email me.  Due to the incredible amount of fun we're having here, it might take me a while to get back to you, but I'll do my best to answer any questions.  I'd love to write more, but today we're off to Playa Delfines!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

We're Done with Credit Card Debt

Credit Card Debt...Be Gone!
This post will be brief...I just wanted to share some good news.  This week we paid off the last $500 balance on our Visa credit card.  We had carried a balance on a number of 0% rollover cards since 2009.  At its peak, the balance was $10,000.  By rolling our credit card debt to 0% rollover cards, we were able to avoid most credit card expenses:  interest and late payment fees.  Every month we automatically sent in payments using our bank's Bill Pay service.  However, owing anything to a credit card company is NOT good; thinking and worrying about credit card debt definitely affects your psyche.

In the future, we plan on using our credit cards sparingly.  That shouldn't be so hard since we make most of our purchases these days with our debit cards.  We prefer debit cards because they seem to moderate our spending and encourage us to be thrifty.  (Watching our checking account balance steadily diminish over the course of the month seems to keep our spending and consumption in check.  On a debit card you can't spend what you don't have!)

If you don't have any credit card debt, congrats and good for you.  If possible, avoid credit card debt at all costs; it's usually a first step towards debt slavery.  If you are dealing with credit card debt, good luck paying them off and reclaiming your financial freedom.    


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Accomplishments and 2014 Goals

Happy New Year to all; may 2014 be your year!  Okay, it’s time to see how we did with our 2013 goals.  Let me start by saying my wife and I only worked five months each this year, so we came up short on most of our financial goals.  Nonetheless, 2013 was still a great year for us.

Savings Goals
Our 2013 savings goal was to save $102,050 in our various retirement and education accounts:  IRA, 403b, 457, HSA, Coverdell ESA, and 529 plans.  Unfortunately, we did not hit our goal; we actually came up $23,328 short!  However, we still managed to save $78,722 in our five months of work.
Result:  We missed our goal, but we're not ready to call saving over $78,000 a failure.      

2013 Savings Results
Total Retirement 
and Health Savings
 Educational Savings 
Total Educational Savings
Grand Total

Spending Goals
Our 2013 spending goal was to live on $51,750. Right off the bat, I got this goal wrong by miscalculating how much we could earn and still remain in the 10% federal income tax bracket.  In 2013 we took $58,375 of income from our 72t IRAs and 457 accounts, so we overshot our goal of $51,750 by $6,625. 
Result:  We missed our goal and paid more federal income tax than planned.  Oh well!     
2013 Spending Results
Spending Goal
Spending Result
Amount Over
Federal Income Tax Due:
($7,850 * 10% = $785)
+ (10,075 * 15% = $1,512)
Effective Federal 
Income Tax Rate:
($2,297 / $58,375)

Debt Goals
Our debt goals for 2013 were very ambitious.  By working only five months last year, we came up way short on this goal. Currently, our total debt (mortgage, HELOC, and credit cards) is $107,351.  As this amount goes down to ZERO over the next few years, our net worth should increase.
Result:  A swing and a miss, but that's what happens when you stop working.

2013 Debt Results
Debt Goal
Debt Result
Amount Off

Health, Professional, and Personal Goals
Here's a recap of how I did with my various 2013 goals.
  1. Overall, I am happy with my health.  My weight is still at 245 in spite of the fact that I haven't run in 3.5 months.  I still adhere to my No-Low-Slow Carb diet, and it has changed my life for the better.  My minimalist exercise routine became so minimal that I stopped it all together.  That was a bad idea because exercise almost always improves my mental outlook.  In 2014, I plan on re-committing to my minimalist workout routine.  I also plan on running more regularly; I never feel bad after a run.  
  2. I got almost nothing done on my professional goals for 2013.  I added no new teaching certifications, did not finish my books, and my web sites are still disasters.  This area is my biggest disappointment.
  3. In the area of my personal goals, I did a little better.  Initially, I had hoped to use Memrise to build on my Chinese, French and German language skills.  Sometime around March I began using Duolingo instead.  I am currently at level 12 in Spanish, level 8 in Portuguese, level 7 in German, level 2 in Italian, and level 1 in French.  My Chinese fell to the wayside.  I only completed one FEMA independent study course, and I did not take the CLEP Humanities test as planned.  

2014 Goals
I'm going to keep it simple; here is what I hope to do in 2014:

  • Savings:  We plan on saving 100% of our wages when and if we take jobs in 2014.  All wages will be diverted into IRA, 457, 403b, HSA, Coverdell ESA, and 529 accounts.  We also plan on starting a taxable investment account this year.    
  • Spending:  This year we plan to live on $51,775.  That amount is the total of our 72t IRAs and the balance of two 457 accounts.  At the this level of income, we should pay $1,239 in federal income taxes for an effective federal income tax rate of 2.4% ($1,239 / $51,775).     
  • Debt:  At a minimum, this is the year we finally slay our remaining credit card debt.  We're also considering selling our house and downsizing to a retirement home in Florida.   
  • Health:  I plan on continuing my No-Low-Slow Carb diet plan and restarting my minimalist exercise and running program.  This should be an easy goal to achieve.  
  • Professional:  I'm not going to make any bold claims this year.  Last year I wrote 16 blog posts; this year I plan to write at least 17.  I also want to get at least 100,000 pageviews of this blog in 2014.
  • Personal:  I plan on sticking with my Duolingo language study; I should hit level 12 in both Portuguese and German.  Any improvement in French and Italian will be a bonus.  I also plan on taking the CLEP Humanities test because I will need the college credit to keep my teaching certificates updated.  Time permitting, I would also like to earn 12 hours of  FEMA Independent Study credit.  
With those goals in mind, I plan on lacing up my steel-toed boots and squarely kicking 2014 in the derriere!  

Friday, December 27, 2013

10 Happy Years with a Couple of Old Nags

Swayback #1
December 26th, 2013 marked the 10-year anniversary of a very special relationship.  The old girl in question has been so good to me and my family.  She's reliable, hard-working, and still a little pretty in spite of her advanced age.  Sure, she often has a "rode-hard-and-put-up-wet" look to her, but I don't mind.  Even though at times she feels unsteady and rickety, she still delivers one heck of a ride.  While I don't really "love" this aging wench, she does have a special place in my heart.

Yeah, my 2002 Mitsubishi Galant has been very good to me!  Ten years ago we paid $10,500 for this "sweet" ride.  Since then, I have replaced the tires thrice, the timing belt twice, and the air condition once.  (I might have changed the tires four times, but I wanted to use the word "thrice.")  When I bought her, she had 46,000 miles on her; today she has over 257,000 miles!  Here she is:          

The Chick Magnet
Earlier this year her wheel covers fell off, and she looked especially bad.  So, I forked over $20 for some smoking hot wheel covers, and she instantly looked 300 pounds lighter and 10 years younger.    

My Girl All Gussied Up
A few months after we bought the Mitsubishi, we bought a used 1998 Volvo S70 for $7,000.  We've used the Volvo as our secondary vehicle, so we've only put about 35,000 miles on it over the ten years.  The good news:  we haven't had to buy a car since May of 2004!  Sure, we have spent money on gas, oil changes and basic maintenance, but we haven't spent a dime on car payments.  (Actually, I have never had a car payment while my wife had one over 20 years ago.)    

Swayback #2

Without a doubt, these two reliable cars, sans car payments, have helped us to maximize our savings and build our net worth.  While these two girls have served us well, we know that eventually we'll have to put them out to pasture.  Until that time comes, we plan on saddling them up and ride'm hard till that can't go no more...giddy up girls!    

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Net Worth for December of 2013

Here is our net worth for December of 2013:  

December of 2013
Checking$430Morgage @ 5.875%$60,599
Savings$1HELOC @ 2.89%$42,589
Stocks$147Credit Cards @ 0%$1,365
72T IRAs$567,454
Traditional IRAs$32,092
Roth IRAs$15,795
457 Accounts$102,582
Cars$2,500NET WORTH$810,878

Thoughts and Comments on Our Net Worth
  1. At this point of the year, my financial goal is to simply get to January of 2014 without a financial misstep.  
  2. As of the today (12/12/2013) our net worth is down about $2,000.  
  3. I'm still looking forward to paying off the credit cards in January...oh yeah!  Credit card is up a little because I used it to pay for an international job fair and a few purchases.  
  4. The HELOC will be used to pay for next months mortgage and utilities payments.
  5. Depending on whether or not we take jobs, we could crack the million dollar net worth mark next year.  It's just a matter of time...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How I Escaped My 403(b) by Quitting My Job

Welcome to any new readers visiting this site after my recent post at 403bwise.com.  Thanks again to Dan Otter for letting me share our 403(b) story with his readers.  In case you missed it, here is the link to the article.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Net Worth for November 2013

Here is our net worth for November of 2013:  

November of  2013
Checking$2,487Morgage @ 5.875%$61,119
Savings$1HELOC @ 2.89%$41,183
Stocks$139Credit Cards @ 0%$1,027
72T IRAs$567,073
Traditional IRAs$32,052
Roth IRAs$15,757
457 Accounts$102,425
HSA @ Alliant CU$4,098
ESA-GA 529-UTMA$33,614
Cars$3,000NET WORTH$812,314

Thoughts and Comments on Our Net Worth
  1. The rising market is helping our bottom line...for now.  
  2. I'm really looking forward to paying off that credit card debt!  I'm done with credit cards; they're dangerous.
  3. I have got to get that mortgage balanced refinanced.  My current rate of 5.875% is just too high.  I feel like I'm leaving money on the table by not taking care of this. 
  4. The HELOC will increase as I borrow from it to finance the rest of 2013.  As soon as we receive our IRA distributions in January, we will park the money in the HELOC and reduce that balance.  
  5. We took our last 457 distribution for the year; it was a $5,000 withdrawal.  
  6. In January I will adjust the value of our cars; they're probably worth less than $3,000.
  7. Overall, our net worth increased a little over $12,000 since October.  Thank you Mr. Market.