Tax Comparison of 15 and 30 Year Mortgages

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I received a tremendous response from readers about last week’s article comparing 15 and 30 year mortgages (read it here). A number of readers astutely asked how the mortgage interest tax deduction would impact the decision of choosing between the 15 and 30 year note. Here is your answer!

For our example, we are looking at buying a $250,000 home, putting 20% down and assuming a mortgage of $200,000. At today’s interest rates, we’d be choosing between a 15 year mortgage at 3.00% or a 30-year at 3.75%. Here are the monthly payments, not including insurance or property taxes.

15 Year Mortgage @ 3.00% 30 Year Mortgage @ 3.75%
payment $1381.16 payment $926.23
difference = $454.93

Over the full term of the mortgages, you will pay the following amounts of principal and interest:

15 Year Mortgage @ 3.00% 30 Year Mortgage @ 3.75%
principal $200,000.00 principal $200,000.00
interest $48,609.39 interest $133,443.23
total payments $248,609.39 total payments $333,443.23

You will pay a significantly higher amount of interest over the life of a 30 year mortgage. The interest payment of $133,443.23 increases your total payments by 67% over the amount you have borrowed. And that’s at today’s rock bottom mortgage rates! I should point out that above 5.325%, the interest portion on a 30 year mortgage exceeds the original principal. In other words, the interest would double your cost from $200,000 to $400,000.

You can deduct the mortgage interest expense from your taxes, but the amount of the benefit you will receive depends on your marginal federal income tax rate. Here is the value of the tax benefit for six tax brackets.

15 Year Mortgage @ 3.00% 30 Year Mortgage @ 3.75%
interest $48,609.39 interest $133,443.23
15%: $7,291.41 15%: $20,016.48
25%: $12,152.35 25%: $33,360.81
28%: $13,610.63 28%: $37,364.10
33%: $16,041.10 33%: $44,036.27
35%: $17,013.29 35%: $46,705.13
39.6% $19.249.32 39.6%: $52,843.52

Obviously, the 30 year mortgage provides much higher tax deductions, although they are spread over twice as long as the 15 year mortgage. If we subtract the tax savings from the total payments of the mortgage, we end up with the following costs per tax bracket.

Total Cost, after the tax savings
15 Year Mortgage @ 3.00% 30 Year Mortgage @ 3.75%
15%: $241,317.98 15%: $313,426.75
25%: $236,457.04 25%: $300,082.42
28%: $234,998.76 28%: $296,079.13
33%: $232,568.29 33%: $289,406.96
35%: $231,596.10 35%: $286,738.10
39.6%: $229,360.07 39.6%: $280,599.71

It should not be a surprise that even though the 30-year mortgage provides higher tax deductions, that it is still more expensive than a 15-year mortgage, even when we consider it on an after-tax basis.

For most Americans, the actual tax benefit they will receive is much, much less than described above. That’s because in order to deduct mortgage interest, taxpayers have to itemize their tax return and forgo the standard deduction. As a reminder, itemized deductions also include state and local taxes, casualty, theft, and gambling losses, health expenses over 10% of AGI, and charitable contributions.

For 2015, the standard deduction is $6,300 for single taxpayers and $12,600 for married couples filing jointly. So, if you are a married couple and your itemized deductions total $13,000, you’re actually only receiving $400 more in deductions than if you had no mortgage at all and claimed the standard deduction. And of course, if your itemized deductions fall below $12,600, you would take the standard deduction and you would not be getting any tax savings from the mortgage whatsoever.

While the mortgage interest deduction is very popular with the public, economists dislike the policy because it is a regressive tax benefit. It largely helps those with a big mortgage and a high income. For many middle class taxpayers, the tax benefits of mortgage interest is a red herring. With our example of 3.75% on a $200,000 mortgage, even in the first year, the interest is only $7,437. That’s well under the standard deduction of $12,600 for a married couple, and the interest expense will drop in each subsequent year.

Compare that to someone who takes out a $1 million mortgage: their first year interest deduction would be $37,186 on a 30 year note. Simply looking at the amount of the mortgage interest will not determine how much tax savings you will actually reap, without looking at your other deductions, and comparing these amounts to the standard deduction.

Even if you are one of those high earners with a substantial mortgage, you have another problem: your itemized deductions can be reduced under the so-called “Pease limitations”. These limitations were reintroduced in 2013. For 2015, itemized deductions are phased out for tax payers making over $258,250 (single) or $309,900 (married).

Bottom line: If your mortgage is modest, your interest deduction may not be more than your standard deduction. And if you are a high earner, you are likely to have your deductions reduced. All of which means that the tax benefit of real estate is being highly overvalued by most calculations. There is a substantial floor and ceiling on the mortgage interest deduction and it provides no benefit for taxpayers who are below or above those thresholds.

Ceiling: Pease limits on tax payers making over $258,250 (single) or $309,900 (married).
Middle: receive a tax benefit between these two levels.
Floor: no benefit on deductions below the standard deduction of $6,300 (single) or $12,600 (married).

What Skills Do You Need to Succeed in Finance?

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Article by Andy Masaki

Success and prosperity come when you master the most sought after financial skills.

Curious to know what those skills are? Want to imbibe them to be a successful man or woman in your community? Good.

Here are the four skills that are essential to being able to accomplish your financial goals. We all have these skills at some level, but often need a reminder of how fundamentally important these skills are to your overall financial well-being.

Skill #1, Organization: Are you on the brink of retirement? If you want to have a peaceful financial life after retirement, then you can’t skip the first step of taking the time to thoroughly understand all the complex, moving parts of your retirement plan.

First, you need to gather all your financial documents and calculate how much have you saved in all of your investment accounts and retirement plans. Download a copy of your most recent Social Security statement from ssa.gov.

Next, evaluate your family’s medical needs and consider what health plans you may need in addition to Medicare. If you or your spouse will be under age 65 at retirement, research what options you may have for health insurance before you are eligible for Medicare.

Third, check your estate planning documents. Make sure all your information and beneficiaries are in proper order. If your plan is more than five years old, have it reviewed by an attorney to make sure your documents are appropriate for your current needs.

Fourth, organize your tax papers and have a talk with your CPA or tax planner. Discuss the possible ways to save tax in light of your retirement.

Fifth, find out details of your employer’s benefits to retirees. Have a talk with the HR and ask about your options. Submit the required documents to the HR so that you can enjoy all the benefits after retirement.

Sixth, create an emergency fund that will help you survive for at least 12-24 months.

Seventh, plan a budget as per your monthly expenses and needs. Make sure you include annual expenses, such as taxes or insurance premiums, and also set aside money for unexpected bills, such as home or auto repairs.

Skill #2, Strategic Planning: The ability to create a powerful strategy for achieving your goals is a commendable skill. This requires you to focus on your long-term goals and create a specific, detailed plan which will get you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future. Keep an eye on the prize and collaborate with your financial advisor to achieve results. Positive outcomes will motivate you and drive you towards financial success. Negative outcomes will force you to revisit your plan and adjust your course as necessary.

Skill #3, Risk Management: Be it personal finance or investments, there will always be some risks. It is essential that you understand the specific kinds of risks you are taking with each investment, as well as the overall level of risk associated with your entire portfolio.

Research thoroughly before making an investment or adopting a financial plan. Read articles, talk with people, and never be afraid to ask questions. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Apart from investments, there are a few additional things you need to consider. Review your current insurance policies and make sure you know what would be covered and what would not be covered. Make sure you understand your home, auto, and umbrella policies. Check with your financial planner about your individual need for life insurance, disability insurance, and long-term care insurance . Not everyone needs every type of insurance, but if you do need insurance, not being covered can be a catastrophic blow to your financal success. Don’t risk everything to save a little.

Skill #4, Keep Learning: To lead a successful financial life, you need to continue to learn. Tax laws and investment regulations change continually. What never changes is that well-informed investors are better positioned to understand their options and seize the opportunities which can help them achieve their goals. Financial planning is not a one-time event, but an on-going process.

Developing your financial skills is a lifelong process, but it doesn’t have to become a full-time job. Focus on the essential decisions you have to get right and keep things simple. Get organized, make a good plan, scrutinize your risks carefully, and keep learning. If you cultivate these four skills, you will make better financial decisions that can lead to success.

Author Bio: Andy Masaki is an editor with Oak View Law Group and contributes specifically on personal finance topics. You  can also find him fielding queries based on money management topics at various online communities and social media platforms.

Five Financial Planning Steps When Getting Remarried

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For couples getting remarried, there are often additional financial complications and concerns compared to a first marriage. In a second marriage, there may be assets, income, and children which require special consideration. There are many ways to address these thorny issues so that you can focus on moving forward with your relationship and not let financial worries hold you back. Here are five financial planning steps to help: 

1) Redo your financial plan. By working with a financial advisor who holds the Certified Financial Planner designation, you can create a comprehensive financial plan and know that your advisor is not just there to sell you investments or insurance. An advisor is a neutral, third-party expert who can help with your budget, savings, and spending goals as a couple. Your advisor can facilitate this conversation and create an objective plan that considers your joint assets, income, and expenses.  

Specifically, your advisor should help you:

– Prepare a net worth statement detailing all your assets and liabilities.

– Determine when you might be able to retire and what income you should plan for in retirement.

– Evaluate your income and expenses. If you are working, we can determine how much you need to save to achieve your retirement goals. If you are retired, we can calculate how much you can safely withdraw from your portfolio each year. Use this information to develop your joint budget.  

2) Discuss and recognize your differences. Often, couples do combine their finances, and there are some reasons and potential benefits from doing so. However, in many cases, adults who have managed their finances independently for many years will want to keep their finances separate.  This can work well, especially once you decide on the logistics of how to split joint expenses like housing. While you could choose to continue to work with separate financial advisors, we can manage your portfolios separately based on your individual needs. This is increasingly common today, and does not pose any significant difficulty to manage two portfolios and sets of objectives. The benefit of working with one advisor is that you are making sure that your separate finances will be adequate to fulfill your individual and joint financial needs.

3) Update Beneficiaries. Redo your estate plans and be sure to update beneficiaries on 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and insurance policies. It is surprising how often this vital step gets overlooked or only partially completed.

4) QTIP Trust. When couples have grown children from a previous marriage, things can get complicated. There can be a tension between the kids and the new spouse about finances, as well as a concern for the parent that their kids could be excluded from an inheritance if their spouse should outlive them. There are risks when a couple sets up their estate plan to leave everything to their spouse. The surviving spouse might get remarried or choose to exclude the children. Sometimes, there is a concern that spendthrift children could manipulate the surviving spouse and get their hands on the a lifetime of savings.

One solution to this is a QTIP trust, which stands for Qualified Terminal Interest Property. A spouse leaves his or her individual assets to the trust. The surviving spouse, then, is a beneficiary of the trust and will receive annual income to pay for living expenses; they can access principal of the trust only under very limited circumstances, such as for medical needs, as proscribed in the trust instructions. When the second spouse passes away, the remainder goes to the heirs of the first spouse, under an irrevocable designation. This way, the first spouse can be assured they have provided for their spouse and that the remainder will absolutely go to their children. When you establish your estate plan and QTIP trust, by all means, tell your kids what you are doing and what they can expect. Even if they have never said anything, they may be wondering or concerned about your estate plan, and knowing that you have taken care of them will make it easier to accept your new spouse.

Besides establishing a QTIP trust, there are a couple of other ways to set money aside for children or grandchildren. If there are sufficient assets, a simple approach is to leave property and joint assets to the spouse and use beneficiary designations from life insurance or IRAs to leave money to children. For grandchildren, consider setting up 529 college savings plans and naming children as successor participants to manage the accounts after you pass.

5) Maintain Separate Property.  In Community Property states (AZ, CA, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, WI), assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered to be jointly owned regardless of title.  Only assets which pre-date the marriage are considered Separate Property, along with inheritances and gifts received. The challenge, however, is that assets are deemed to be community property unless you can prove that they are separate. If funds are commingled, contributions received, or dividends and interest reinvested, you may inadvertently cause the separate property to become community property. When a couple is getting remarried, it is important for both spouses to understand their separate property rights and take steps to ensure that these assets maintain their separate property character. For details on how to do this, please see my post, Community Property and Marriage.

Second marriages are increasingly common today, and each one has its own unique set of financial details. Smart financial planning can help provide solutions to these complex issues and ensure that both spouses are protected and able to accomplish their goals as a couple as well as individually.

 

Five Ways to Be Richer in One Year

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When I tell people I’m a financial planner, I often get a response like “I wish I needed that service”. I know a lot of people live from paycheck to paycheck, including people who have graduate degrees and good jobs. It’s tough to have a conversation about something as far away as retirement when someone is worried about how they’re going to pay their bills two months from now.

No matter where you are today, it is not a hopeless situation; anyone can change their position for the better. It requires a plan, the willingness to make a couple of changes, and the determination to stick with it. If you’d like to be richer in one year from now, here’s how to get started.

1) Get organized. Do you know how much you owe on credit cards or what the interest rate is? How much money do you need each month to cover your bills? How much should be left over to save or invest? Establish a filing system, or use a tool like Mint.com or Quicken so you know how much you are spending and where. Like a lot of things in life, preparation is half the battle when it comes to personal finance. It can feel a bit daunting at first to take an in depth look at your finances, but ultimately it’s empowering because you will discover for yourself what you need to do.

2) Start tracking your net worth. There are two parts of your net worth: your assets (home, savings, investments, 401(k), etc) and your liabilities (mortgage, credit cards, other debt). Your assets minus your liabilities equals your net worth. If you take 30-45 minutes to calculate your net worth every month, it will change how you think. Just like starting a food journal or an exercise diary, tracking your net worth will make you mindful of your behavior. When you create a higher level of self-awareness of your actions, you will automatically start to change your habits for the better. And of course, if you don’t track it, how will you know if you are richer in one year?

3) Plan your spending. Most of us have a fixed salary where our ability to save depends on spending less than we make. People assume that if they made more money, it would be easy to save more. Unfortunately, what I have actually found as a financial advisor is that families who make $100,000 are just as likely to be broke as families who make $75,000. They may have a bigger house or a fancier car, but they’re no richer. If we want to save more, we have to learn to spend less.

The key to spending less is to find a system or process that works for you. For some people, creating a detailed and strict budget is key. For others, it may work best to become a cash consumer, where you leave the credit cards at home and only spend a set amount of cash each week. It can be helpful to comparison shop all your recurring bills and look to switch providers to save money. (For example, home/auto insurance, cell phones, gym membership, electric provider, etc.) Lastly, people are saving money by dropping their landlines, or dropping cable for Netflix.

4) Put your saving on autopilot. Money that you don’t see can’t be spent. You’re more likely to be a successful saver when you establish automatic contributions, versus waiting until the end of the year and hoping that something will be left over to invest. If your company offers a 401(k) match, that’s always your best place to start. If a 401(k) is not available, consider a Roth or Traditional IRA. If you don’t have an emergency fund, set up a savings account separate from your checking account, so you can’t easily access those funds. Even if you can only save $100 or $200 a month for now, that’s okay, because you’re creating a valuable habit. When you get a raise or receive a bonus, try to increase your automatic contributions by the amount of your raise.

5) Don’t go it alone. People are more successful when they have help, good advice, and accountability from another person. That may mean hiring a Certified Financial Planner, joining a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class at a local church, or finding a knowledgeable friend who can lend an ear. If you’re looking for help with debt and improving your credit, contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at www.nfcc.org or by phone at 800-388-2227.

If you make these five changes today, you will be richer a year from now. Habits are important. For most people, wealth isn’t accumulated suddenly or through significant events, but by years of getting the small decisions right. Build a strong financial foundation, then you will find that a financial advisor can help you take the next steps to creating the financial life of your dreams.

The Best Way to Get in Shape

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In December, after years of good intentions and a couple of false starts, I finally joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. I meet with my trainer once a week and workout two or three times separately. Previously, I thought I could just get in shape on my own, but it was always too easy to find an excuse why today wasn’t a good day to exercise. And then days become weeks, you find other demands more pressing, and you just never get around to it.

Working with my trainer, Clint, has been great. I’m getting in shape and feel very confident that I’m now on the right path. Looking back, my only thought is that I wish I had gotten started much sooner with this process. Why are people more successful with a personal trainer than on their own? Here’s what a coach has to offer:

1) Knowledge. Clint has spent thousands of hours in education and his certifications demonstrate commitment to being qualified and skilled to help others. As for me, I have neither the time nor the interest to learn this information. Since you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s smart to seek out expert, objective advice.

2) Experience. Clint has worked with many clients and knows what works. While everyone’s individual situation is slightly different, a professional trainer has probably seen a lot of clients who have similar needs to mine.

3) A written plan. We started with a physical assessment to document my starting point, and after discussing my goals and commitment, developed a plan unique for me. Now I know what I need to do on a daily basis in order to reach my long-term goals.

4) The right tools. My trainer selects the most appropriate equipment for me to use and makes sure I use them correctly for maximum benefit and to avoid injury. When you combine discipline and consistency with doing the right things, good results happen.

5) Motivation. We have a workout schedule which has become a habit and routine. It’s rewarding to see our plan working, and when there are occasional set-backs, it’s helpful to have Clint’s patience, support, and encouragement to get back on track.

While I certainly suggest others take good care of their health and bodies, here’s what I want people to recognize: just as using a personal trainer is the best way to get in shape physically, using a financial planner is the best way to get in shape financially. What we offer is very similar. As a CFP(R) practitioner, I help individuals accomplish their financial goals, bringing professional knowledge, years of experience, a written plan, the right tools, and ongoing motivation.

Can you get in shape on your own? Of course it’s possible, but you’re more likely to be successful with professional guidance. You can be sure that athletes and actors always have a personal trainer or a team of trainers. Likewise, many of the most financially successful individuals I’ve met, including multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, board members of Fortune 500 companies, and Harvard-trained surgeons all use a financial advisor. It’s not a question of whether or not they’re not smart enough to do it on their own, it’s that they recognize the value in hiring an expert and the benefit that relationship can bring to their financial well-being.

If you are like I was, having good intentions, but procrastinating getting going, it’s time to give me a call. We will put together a financial plan you can understand and I’ll be there in the months and years ahead to help you stay on track with accomplishing your goals. If you’re waiting for tomorrow, don’t. Aside from yesterday, today is the best day to get started.