Renting vs. Buying

This is the fourth post in a series of six blog entries focused on topics that might be of interest to the Millennial generation.

In my experience, one of the largest financial decisions clients struggle with is the decision to rent or purchase their residence. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, and every individual’s situation is different. However, there are some scenarios that may help guide you in making the right choice.

Let’s start with buying. Here are five factors that may make it more beneficial to purchase:

  1. You like the idea of “forced savings” – as you pay your mortgage your balance owed is reduced. Building this equity in your home will create a form of savings for you. Since the value of the home is locked in, you can’t squander it away on dining out or shopping. You realize the savings once you decide to sell it.
  2. You think the tax incentives are attractive – when you file your taxes, you will be able to deduct mortgage interest. Property taxes will also add a nice deduction. If you do any energy-efficient improvements, you could be eligible to deduct those expenses. Another bonus is that depending on your situation, any capital gain from the future sale of your home is free from federal income tax.
  3. You want stable payments– typically your mortgage payment will never change, while rent is more susceptible to rise with inflation. Purchasing may be right for you if you are looking for a stable cost of living.
  4. You dislike the restraints placed by your landlord – often when renting you must get everything approved. If you want to paint, rip up the carpet and put down hardwoods, take out a wall or have a dog, then owning probably makes more sense. Home ownership allows you to customize a space and really have a place that you can call home.
  5. You value a second-income stream – by owning a home, there is potential to create additional income by renting part of it out. If you have an extra bedroom, finished basement, or a garage for storage, it’s possible to rent to friends, family or others to help cover your mortgage payment.
  6. Bonus – quite possibly the biggest bonus of all is you will be debt free in retirement with no mortgage payment. You will always have the expense of a rent payment if you continue renting.

But guess what… buying may not be right for everyone. It’s important to remember that there is more to owning a home than just a mortgage payment. Between maintenance, fees, and taxes, the costs can add up. And other factors may contribute to make it an unwise choice for some people to purchase. Here are five factors that may make it more beneficial to continue renting:

  1. You plan on moving – home ownership is not a short-term investment. If you think that you may be moving for any reason within the next 3-5 years, it’s wise to continue to rent. Once you are settled, revisit the topic!
  2. You don’t have good job stability – of course you can never be 100% certain if your job is stable, but the possibility of your income going down could greatly impact the type of home you can afford. If you expect to quit your job, or anticipate being let go, hold off on a home purchase until there is a bit more certainty about the future.
  3. You just aren’t that handy around the house – as a renter, you don’t have to worry about maintenance issues. If the pipes burst (something that the author can relate to), then the landlord is responsible for repairs. For a homeowner, it’s 100% on you. It’s up to the owner to paint, shovel the drive when it snows, and fix the garbage disposal when it’s broken. If you aren’t ready for the hassle or expense involved with being the fixer-upper, then perhaps home ownership just isn’t for you.
  4. You have a low credit score – having a solid credit score is vital in purchasing a home. While it may not prevent you from getting a mortgage, it could drastically affect the interest rate that you receive. If you have a score below 700 it would probably be best for you to rent while paying off debt and building up your credit.
  5. You don’t have money for a down payment – if you don’t have any cash squirreled away for a down payment, it may not be the time to purchase. If you don’t have a 20% down payment you will have to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance) which will increase cost of monthly payment. Use this time to save and budget before taking the plunge.

These are some of the basic pros and cons of renting vs. buying. Since every situation is different, it’s always best to speak with a financial advisor about the circumstances surrounding your own decision matrix.

With correct planning and consideration, we’re sure that you will come to the best decision for you!

Ashley Woodring, CFP® Financial Advisor

 

Student Loans vs. Saving

This is the second post in a series of six blog entries focused on topics that might be of interest to the Millennial generation. If you would like to see our attempt at making these subject matters entertaining, visit our YouTube page to see a video version of this article.

 

You’ve recently graduated from college and you have a load of student debt. It can be overwhelming. You think it will take forever to pay it off. To make matters worse, you know you are supposed to be saving for retirement but you feel like you can’t because you need to pay off your student loans first.

To make the best financial decision it is important to remove the psychological barriers that often accompany the ‘saving versus paying down debt’ trade-off. The millennial generation is particularly opposed to debt – more so than older generations, so they tend to pay their student loans off before they start saving. Unfortunately, this could be the wrong choice.

The long run average of large company stocks is 11.3% (1950-2013). If your student loans are at an 8% interest rate, you would be better off investing money over and above your minimum loan payment if you have the risk tolerance for investing the money in equities.

Maybe an 11.3% return sounds unrealistic. It’s common for this historical return to seem disconnected from the present. A common psychological condition causes us to take recent past experiences and extrapolate them into the future, creating a false sense of predictive ability on what the future holds. If the good times are rolling, they will always roll. If we are in crisis, we will be in crisis for the foreseeable future. But the truth is that things change. Our economy is cyclical in nature and that’s why we use long-term historical observations to make long-term decisions.

Even with the worst recession since the Great Depression the average return of large company stocks in the 10-year period from 2004 -2013 was 7.4%. And while that’s not huge, you may be willing to take the chance that we won’t soon see a repeat of the worst stock market period in history. Those loans will get paid off eventually and you’ll have more money in retirement simply by saving more and saving earlier.

Don’t forget about your employer match on your 401k. If you have a 401k match, by all means take it! Even if your student loan interest rate is 12%, you’d be better off (after paying the minimum) putting enough money into your 401k to get the free money. That’s a 100% return, guaranteed.

Harli Palme, CFA, CFP®
Partner

Gen Y, Say Yes to Stocks!

It started with anecdotal evidence: a conversation with a co-worker about a group of professionals he spoke to about their 401k. The wiser (by which I mean older) folks were asking about the outlook for the economy and how they could maximize their 401k contributions. But the young man in the group, who was in his early 30s, expressed complete contempt for the stock market.  All of his money, he said, was in cash. Then a client of mine who is nearing retirement called me just to tell me about a dinner he went to where the topic of investing came up.  He was shocked at how vehement the young people at the table were about not investing in stocks due to their risk.

Since then I’ve read about a growing body of evidence coming from surveys and other research that suggests that the younger generations are too conservative in their investments. Gen Y is saving but not investing aggressively enough. The problem is that they distrust financial institutions (we don’t count) and believe another financial meltdown is all but imminent.

Gen Y, we don’t blame you. You were in your teens on Sept. 11, 2001, which had to have rocked whatever concept of stability you had. By the time you were old enough to know what the stock market was, the technology-driven crash of 2001-2002 was causing strife in budding 401k plans. And just when you were starting to dream about home ownership the housing market was spiraling out of control in 2008-2010. Many of you watched your parents go through extreme financial duress during this time period, something you were well old enough to understand.

It’s no wonder that Generation Y is too conservative. Your generation doesn’t have the benefit of personally experiencing the roaring 80s and 90s to boost your confidence about the markets. You don’t know who Crockett and Tubbs are. Looking at historical stock returns on paper just isn’t the same as living through it. And it’s hard to understand why men ever wore over-sized shoulder pads, but they did. Even the last five (amazing) years of positive stock markets seems like mere payback for the horror of 2008-2009. Despite this, we have to remember that stocks have historically provided the highest long-term return. No matter what your steadfast beliefs are about the future of the economy, it probably carries no more predictive capacity than the next differing opinion. That’s why we look to history as a guide, rather than trying to guess the future.

When you look at stock volatility over long time frames, it isn’t nearly as risky as the day-to-day movement would have you believe. In the last 87 years large company stocks’ annual returns ranged from -43% in the worst year to +54% in the best. That’s quite a spread! But those same stocks in any given 20 year period (starting on any given day in any year) averaged returns in a range of +3% in the worst 20-year period to nearly +18% in the best 20-year period. That includes the Great Depression and the market crashes of this century. That’s a lot easier to swallow. You have a long time before liquidating your accounts for retirement – probably more than 30 years, so you should be taking a longer term view.

And let’s not forget about inflation. That cash that’s in your 401k is doing less than nothing for you. Long run inflation is around 3%. If you are getting a 0% return on your cash, that is actually -3% in real dollars, guaranteed.

Saving money isn’t good enough. Millennials need to invest with a little more oomph. Yes, diligently putting away $500 a month for 30 years is hard work and no one wants to see their money shrink. But consider this: if you get a modest 4% average return on those savings, you will have $347,000 in retirement; if you double that return to 8% an amazing thing happens: $745,000. Taking risk means a lot of ups and downs along the way, but potentially twice the money in the end. If you can go cliff-jumping with your friends, you can buy stocks, right? (No? Was that just my friends?)

There is no reward without risk, to be sure. Any investment plan should be done with the full comprehension of the volatility, range of outcomes and potential for return. There certainly is risk in losing money in the stock market over short and intermediate time periods. However, those losses only become permanent if you sell out during periods of decline. It seems all but certain that an all-cash/fixed income portfolio is doomed to growth too slow to possibly reach any long-term financial goals.

 

Harli L. Palme, CFA, CFP®

A Gen-exer who believes all of the above applies to her generation too, except the part about over-sized shoulder pads.

Paralysis from Analysis

This month, I celebrate my 500th year at Parsec.  OK – it is really 22 years, but sometimes it feels like 500 years.

During that time, I have been involved in a lot of highly technical projects.  With one project in particular, I was really stressed out about the details.  I analyzed every piece of data so much that I made little progress.  Bill Hansen, one of our Managing Partners, said I suffered from “paralysis from analysis.”  After some reflection, I realized he was right.  At some point, I had to let go and realize nothing would ever be perfect.

In my lengthy career here, I have seen the effect of “paralysis from analysis.”  Some investors may be reluctant to act based upon the endless stream of information available now.  One can flip on the TV at any hour and hear the opinions of investment commentators.  Peruse the Internet, and one can find a vast amount of data about the stock market and the economy.  With so much information and contradictory opinions, it is easy to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

In some cases, inaction can be as devastating as making the wrong choice.  Consider this scenario.  On March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 hit bottom.  A lot of people panicked and sold all holdings, leaving the proceeds in cash.  Five years later, the index was up 205.84 percent or 22.6 percent annualized (total return).

At the bottom point, there were probably a few people on TV who claimed the end was near.  One could probably find endless charts and articles foretelling great doom to come.  If an investor was paralyzed by this data overload, sat on the sidelines, and did not invest during that five-year period, he or she could have missed an opportunity to recover from deep losses.

What should a person do?  For starters, it helps to leave emotion out of the decision as much as possible.  Then, develop an investment plan that will not lead to sleepless nights.  The real test will come when the market has wild swings – either up or down.  One must commit to the plan and not deviate based upon the mood of the moment.  It is fine to alter the plan if goals or needs have changed, of course.

We at Parsec try to help our clients develop these plans and weather the inevitable market fluctuations.  Communication is a key factor in success.  We encourage our clients to tell us their goals, their changing life situations, or anything that is relevant to staying on target.

So, let’s switch off the talk shows, put down the business magazine, and take a nice walk.  Let’s try to enjoy life instead of obsess over every little detail.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS®
Senior Operations Associate

Portfolio Construction: The Way We See It – Part 1

In this ever changing world we live in, there are “advisors” everywhere. Flip on the TV, pull up a news app on your mobile device, or even the national paper. I came across a gem a few weeks ago from the NY Times archives.

SUNDAY, June 5, 1994; Picking Stocks by the Stars

Published: June 5, 1994

For those who missed the recent conference on “Astrology and the Stock Market” in Manhattan (about 40 people attended), here are some tips from several of the hot sessions:

The Art of Timing: Combining Astrological Indicators — Graham Bates, London financial astrologer. “I’m worried and confused about the eclipses in November. I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I know they’ll be important.”

Stocks, Planets and Solar Cycles — Richard Mogey, executive director of the Foundation for the Study of Cycles. “There’s a 23 percent gain the fifth year of every decade because of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle. I’d expect the same in 1995.”

The Cosmic ‘Inner Winner!’ — Paul Farrell, author of “Think Astrology and Grow Rich.” “When Uranus and Neptune go into Aquarius, I look toward information and technology.”

Beyond Cycles: Using Interpretive Astrology to Identify Key Turning Points in Markets — Charles Harvey, president of the Astrological Association of Great Britain. “When there is a new moon in the eighth house, Placidus system, in New York, there is always a major change in interest rates. That happens July 8.”

Want something more specific? Henry Weingarten, who heads the Astrologers Fund (the conference sponsor), predicts, “Novell will be at 30 next May.” But, “If it hits 35 before then, I’m out.”

There will always be very smart individuals that develop complex theories of why and how the markets work. This is part of human nature and our innate desire to understand how our world works. This is why we have departments in government and universities dedicated to studying human behavior. Our investment approach at Parsec is incredibly simple. We accept that markets behave irrationally in the short term. We feel that it would be a breach of our fiduciary duty to attempt to predict short term market movements.

Fiduciary duty is extremely important to us. This duty is a very old idea, which was defined here in America with Harvard College v. Amory in 1830. The decision of this case scolded the trustees and instructed them of their duty to manage the trust as they would manage their own affairs. This is known as the “Prudent Person Rule.” Here at Parsec, when evaluating an investment, we ask ourselves first is this in the best interest of our client and secondly would we invest in this particular security.

Be on the lookout for further posts on this topic.

How much is that Doggie in the Window?

According to a recent announcement from the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $55.7 billion last year on their pets. That’s billion, not million. An article at Time.com (http://time.com/#23451/pets-dogs-cats-spending-americans/) cleverly noted that the figure is $10 billion more than Germany spends on its defense budget.

I admit I am one of these people. My little rescue dog hit the lottery when she came to live with me. She has seven dog beds, if you include her car seat (yes, car seat). She owns more jackets than I do, although they are all for function, not fashion. She has multiple, color-coordinated harnesses, collars, and leashes so that she need never feel ashamed about how she looks. When we go on vacation, she has as much luggage as I do. Yes, she is spoiled rotten.

I am not alone. Bill Geist of the “CBS Sunday Morning” program tells a hilarious story about his “free” rescue dog: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/even-cat-people-fall-in-puppy-love/.  Sometimes, the unexpected costs can really add up.

In our industry, I see a number of fees that some people pay for investments: high commission rates for certain products, either on the front or back end of the transaction; frequent, unnecessary trade costs from a practice called “churning;” and expensive investment counsel fees. Before long, that simple purchase of 100 shares of ABC Widget Works has cost a fortune in added fees.

When you are evaluating an investment advisor, consider how the person earns his or her money. Does he receive a commission for his or her investment recommendations? Is he or she directly affiliated with a broker? Does he or she charge an additional investment counsel fee? While he or she may promise a great gross return on investment, the net return after all of those fees may be no better than what you would find with a simple savings account.

At Parsec, we do not receive commissions for any of the investment products we recommend – no commission from the trade, no commission for recommending a certain security, nothing. In addition, when we recommend mutual funds, we look for funds that do not carry significant internal fees.

We are not beholden to a particular broker. We have four brokers who we like to recommend, based upon client needs.

We do charge an investment counsel fee that we think is reasonable to industry standards. When you sign a service agreement, you see upfront what your fee schedule will be. On a quarterly basis, you receive a reports package that includes information about net-of-fee investment performance, current holdings, et cetera. We are also here to help with planning – everything from college savings to retirement to estate. We like to think service goes beyond placing a trade. Our clients pay us to act as a partner in planning their future.

Everything in life – from owning a home to adopting a rescue dog – has the potential for unexpected costs. How you invest your money, though, should be a little more straightforward. With a little research in advance, you can evaluate whether or not fees charged for service are reasonable and affordable.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to order organic food for my doggie. And maybe I will pick up a bottle of shampoo. She told me she is tired of smelling like a bowl of oatmeal.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Happy 5th Anniversary, Bull Market!

That’s right, it’s the Wood Anniversary for the market, which hit bottom on March 9, 2009. Since then, it has come roaring back – the S&P 500 is up 174% for the 5-year period (that’s price change only, not total return). Not too shabby.

The WSJ has a nice article here showing the anniversary in five charts. According to one of the charts, this rally is the second-best since WWII (beaten only by the S&P’s 228% gain from 10/82 through 10/87). The article’s author thinks there is still room to go in the market recovery, saying that investors’ confidence in the rally will continue to fuel stock market inflows.

No one knows what the future will bring where the market is concerned, but the present is a far cry from five years ago. Happy Friday, happy bull market anniversary, and here’s to five more years!

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA
Portfolio Manager