Archive for the 'Personal Finance' Category

[PF] Oil Price Hits Record High. Perhaps a New Job?

Posted Under: Personal Finance

The oil price has hit a new high past $100 a barrel today. See CNN article. That means sooner or later, the gas pumps will suck our wallets dry at an even faster pace. Yay!

For me, I have a decent commute at a little below 30 miles one-way, though I can’t say it’s long base on California Bay Area standard. But I will say that I am lucky to have the luxury of reverse traffic. Ultimately, my work commute is most of the driving I do.

I pump gas once every 5 days on average, which means on 6 times a month on average. Each time, it takes $35 - $40+ to refill my Sciton tC. Let’s say it’s $40 for convenience. Here’s a bit of calculation:

Average monthly gas bill: $40 x 6 = $240
Average yearly gas bill: $240 x 12 = $2880

Now, let’s say I’m in the 28% tax bracket:

Total pre-tax salary for gas bill: $2880 / (100%-28%) = $4000

That’s a hefty amount of money. In effect, it means that I can take a pay cut of $4000 annual salary to have another job that allows me to walk or bike to work and simultaneously, I get to keep the same financial scenario. Better yet, I will likely save on commute time and also pollute the environment less. If the gas price continues to rise, I should seriously consider this option with all these advantages, huh?

Well, I’m not quite serious about a new job, but for those who commute even further, which are plenty in Bay Area, perhaps this shall be an option to consider if they want to curb spending?

Additionally, if we speak in terms of the big picture, increasing gas price also means inflation for grocery, residential gas bill, flight ticket, shipping charges… so in essence, most of our consumption if not all. As such, the effect is already glaring if you did any grocery shopping recently.

May I say, “All hail this black liquid gold that rules our lives with such dominance.”

[PF] A Time and Place for Adjustable Rate Mortgage

Posted Under: Personal Finance

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) is a taboo term by now, while the mess in the subprime loan market continues to unfold.

ARM is another financial tool with a purpose for its existence. However, buyers abused it to buy a house they cannot afford, and banks abused it to get unsubstantiated numbers on their balance sheet. We can generalize that bad outcomes in human society is always the result of an abuse of certain power.

ARM is a good option for someone who wants to buy a house in short-term. It allows the buyer to keep more money in the pocket for the period of time with the initial interest rate, while he invests those money in other places for a higher return. There are also various types of ARM to “tweak” the amount of payment. The usual scenario is for the buyer to live in the house for however long before the interest rate reset and then sell it.

Essentially, the buyer must understand that by taking an ARM, he is speculating on an appreciating housing market. If he plans to live beyond the expiration of the initial interest rate, he’s betting on a reset to lower percentage for the interest rate. The ideal scenario is either selling the house before the reset at an appreciated price, or staying in the house with a reset to a lower percentage. It’s neither the case for the people with ARM, which brings us to the current situation.

I wonder if the ARM buyers in default or facing foreclosure thought and understood about ARM when they took the loan. I doubt it though. They were too busy marveling at the house that’s too big for them to afford. I also wonder if the banks made sure that buyers understand ARM. I doubt that too. They were too busy adding all the numbers on their quarterly reports.

But then, perhaps ARM will be a good option for me in the next few years?

[PF] Mortgage Bailout and Rate Freeze, Government Comes to the Rescue?

Posted Under: Personal Finance, Thoughts

Based on current news, the federal policy will help a selective group of subprime homeowners by freezing the rate for a period of 5 years applicable to those who are still on time with their payment but could not afford a rate reset. In a sense, the selectiveness of this plan is good news because the less government intervention the better, and it means limited government involvement with a free market that badly needs to correct on its own. Nonetheless, the concept of a government supported bailout is still scary, no matter in what scale. Notice I said concept.

Let’s walk through some implications that I had learned.

Promoting Irresponsible Spending, Investing Behavior

Let’s be honest. People who are truly responsible are not those who cannot afford their mortgage. People who are responsible would learn and understand what they are getting themselves into and buy a place they can afford down the road. These people who took an ARM made a bet, whether they think of it this way. Any betting involves risk, just like investing in stocks, starting a business, or gambling in casino. Now that they lost the bet, are they supposed to be able to kick, scream, whine, and complain to get away with it? People who lost in casino don’t get saved. People who bankrupted on their own business don’t get saved. Why this case? Sorry to sound cold-blooded but tough love is sometimes best to teach a lesson. Without consequences, it is difficult for people to learn responsibility, like how we teach kids. If they provide a bail out in this scenario, they may as well bail out people who lost money on stocks, lost money in business. Heck, they should even bail out those who are defaulting on their car loans. After all, we need to “protect the American dream”, and last I heard, that includes owning a McMansion and luxurious vehicles. And what lesson? Who needs to learn anyways?

Repurcusion for Future Home Buyers

Banks are not the owner of the money they lend out. They receive those money from lenders who are looking to receive return base on interest rate. If the government freeze the rate, that takes away the potential return that they invested their money for. They will be intimidated by what else they government can possibly do in the future and therefore, will become much more conservative about investing in the bank loans. To secure a certain income level and to entice lenders for their money, banks will start charging higher rate for all mortgage loans. For this, let me laugh at those who will take out mortgage in the near future. You just got screwed. Oh wait, I’m one of those people… crap!

Punishment for Taxpayers

This is speculation, but the government may end up paying some lenders, not the banks, who actually own the loans to compensate for their loss. Additionally, the government or the banks will need an agency to identify qualified homeowners and process their applications. Someone has gotta foot the bill. This means taxpayers are paying, including many of us who are too responsible to take out an ARM to buy a giganto house. Banks will try to come up with ways to pay for the cost of this plan. They will do things such as increase various financial charges, invent new types of financial charges, lower saving account’s rate… So why save? All you dummies should be taking out ARM you cannot afford. Wait, I don’t have an ARM either… Argh!!!

Prolonging the Housing Bubble

We can all agree on how bloated the housing prices have gotten, especially in major cities. A correction is needed and is a healthy process for the cycle. Responsible people who have been saving diligently to afford a home will benefit from the correction that will lead to more reasonable pricing. Looks like they will have to wait longer now.

Renters will also suffer

Based on the last point, less people will be able to afford their own place due to the lack of, or a delayed correction. Consequently, they will have to rent. The demand for rentals together with sustained high housing price will lead to high and increasing rental prices, which also means less saving to contribute to a down payment. Ouch, a double whammy. I’d like to point out renters in the bay area is definitely feeling the pain of the ever-raising rent. On a side note, I guess when the government says “they will protect the American Dream”, they apparently mean they will protect the American Dream just for those who already own a house, and not those who rent. Renters don’t deserve to dream. I guess I’m stuck in reality then.

Delaying the Inevitable

Last but not least, people who need to be bailed out cannot afford a rate reset on their ARM payment now, how likely are they able to do that 5 years down the road? Their possibility for this is not high, unless the interest rate drops to something like 1% again, which very very unlikely. These people stand a good chance to lose their home to foreclosures 5 years from now still. Will the government bail them out again? I guess we will have to see.

Unpredictable Outcome and Behavior

We don’t know the specifics on who and how ones qualify for a rate freeze. Once we find out, some may take drastic measures in order to qualify. The possibility for abuse simply exists.

I’m not saying that all of these things WILL happen. They are all possible ripples that may result from the government dropping this stone in the pond. However, in the grand scheme of things, this plan which supposedly “protect people from losing their homes” will hurt everyone in more ways than one and at the same time, will “save” just a small group of homeowners only within a 5 years period. You can decide if this is worth it. I personally see more political agenda for this action than the government genuinly want to do something for the people. Now they can claim they have done something. I feel the situation is dire because our economy, and therefore our life, is dictated by a bunch of halfwits who seem to be irresponsible, lacking foresight, and high on we… I mean, greed.

Thank you for reading my commentary.

[PF] Dilbert’s 9 Points on What You Need to Know About Personal Investing

Posted Under: Personal Finance

I’m surprised I’ve never seen this article mentioned in any of the PF blogs out there. It’s the exact same thing that everyone always talk about in the PF blogsphere. Kudos to Scott Adams.

  1. Make a will
  2. Pay off your credit cards
  3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support
  4. Fund your 401k to the maximum
  5. Fund your IRA to the maximum
  6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it
  7. Put six months worth of expenses in a money-market account
  8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement
  9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio

Everything except point 8 to the last is a common theme echoing what most PF bloggers emphasize out there, with point 8 being argued that you should tweak the percentage of your portfolio in stocks and bonds as you approach your planned retirement age. Notice he promotes the use of index fund too. Good stuff.

[PF] I Slept Through Black Friday And It’s My Choice

I slept through Black Friday, yet again. Call me lazy. But it’s my choice.

I chose not to fight the crowd of spending frenzied consumers.
I will shop for deals online now or later.
I chose not to freeze in this cold weather and also lose sleep.
I enjoy my cozy bed and 8 hours of sleep during holiday.
I chose not to buy medicore quality products, albeit dirt cheap.
I research and know exactly what I want that will last me a long time, which are rarely on these deal lists anyways.
I chose not to have so many things.
I prefer a simple life.
I chose to spend frugally.
I can’t believe people spent $20 billion! Actually I can, but you know what I mean.

Ok, I’m done.