FIRE movement promotes extreme savings, early retirement

A relatively new financial movement aims at financial independence and early retirement, sometimes extremely early retirement.
And that’s the name of the movement: Financial Independence; Retire Early.
Adherents say people can retire in their 40s or even 30s if they practice extreme saving and investing.
The key idea is to enlarge the gap between necessary expenses and income. The money in the gap is what you invest.
As a practical matter that means closely tracking expenses, eliminating anything that isn’t necessary. Make sure your living arrangements are as inexpensive as possible. Eliminate all debt. Cut expenses to the extreme. Then, enlarge the gap by side jobs or part-time jobs to create a big monthly investment number.
FIRE people try to make sure they max out 401K and retirement programs, while saving extra on the side. They intend to retire before they can withdraw funds at age 59 and a half. They also have to make enough money to buy private health insurance.
FIRE retirees actually don’t think of retirement as a way to stop work. They think of it as a way to work the way they want, without worrying about money.
Semi-anonymous blogger Roman, founder of TenFactorialRocks.com, says this can even be done with children. While the USDA says it costs $11,000 to $12,000 per year to raise a child, Roman says it costs more like $4,200 to $7,000 a year, depending on day care costs. Roman writes, “Kids want your time and attention more than expensive gifts, lavish vacations, overpriced tutors and royal treatment summer camps.”
On the other hand, Lisa Harrison of the Mad Money Monster blog, rejected the FIRE movement in favor of simple living. When trying FIRE, she and her husband cut out every single extra expense, from coffee dates to dinners, and they found that, after two years, their savings were up but their happiness was down. They decided to simply live in a frugal manner, saving money regularly, keeping expenses down, but going on dates and buying pizza. “A feeling of relief washed over me,” she writes.

Mortgage rules for condo buyers

No, for the buyer, the same rules that apply to any mortgage apply to a condo buyer. Keep in mind that in calculating your debt-to-income ratio for the loan, lenders will count your condominium fees as part of your total monthly expenses.
A condo mortgage is different because the building itself has to qualify for the loan.
Generally, lenders won’t make a loan on a condominium that is in poor financial shape or poorly maintained. It has to be a properly run residential building.
The lender looks at the condo association records to make sure it is sufficiently insured, isn’t being sued, and residents are paying their dues (no more than a 15% delinquency).
Lenders also want to make sure the building is residential, with at least 50% owner-occupancy. They don’t want to see stores or hotel rooms. They don’t want to see condo units sold as time shares.
Finally, at least 90% of the units have to be occupied.
If the condominium project is established and known to meet guidelines, and you are a credit worthy borrower, you will probably have little difficulty getting a conventional loan.
You might want to do a little extra research, however. Remember that when you buy a condo, you are buying into the Homeowners Association and you are sacrificing some privacy for convenience. It’s a good idea to take a look at the minutes from the HOA meetings to see the sorts of issues being discussed.
When the building qualifies and you find the property suitable, financing a condo should be much the same as a conventional home.

Statistics about Americans

  • 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings: GOBankingRates
  • 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with $400 for an unexpected bill: MetLife
  • American debt in 2018/2019 averaged $136,365, and totaled $13.95 trillion: NerdWallet
  • Americans have an average of $6,849 in credit card debt: NerdWallet
  • The Median (half above, half below) household income for Americans in 2018 was $63,179: US Census
  • 12.8 million children lived in poverty in 2017, which was 17.5%. That was a decrease from 2016 when 18% lived in poverty: US Census
  • 45% of Americans believe in the existence of ghosts and demons: YouGov
  • 40% of Americans don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom at home.
  • Super Mario Brothers is the most popular and the most famous video game: YouGov
  • The most popular sandwich in America is grilled cheese (79% say it is their favorite) followed by grilled chicken tied with turkey (75%). Roast beef comes in next at 71%.

For Baby Boomers, it is time to make a profit, save headaches

Baby Boomers (aged 54 to 74) are holding on to their beloved homes, but selling and downsizing now could not only save a lot of headaches, it could also make a tidy profit.
Interest rates are low with the national average rate hovering around 3.6% to 3.9%. Buyers are plentiful. In most areas, there are more buyers than houses for sale. That means a great house for sale could snag a great price.
One option for downsizing is condo living, which can bring a host of benefits to retired Boomers. Condo retirement communities offer a community where people interact and make new friends. Some have parties and even social events for people from the same area. And, you can admire the landscaping without having to mow and trim.
A condo in the city brings the excitement of shopping and entertainment within walking distance. Or, an Uber is just a click away. No more commutes.
Selling that big home and buying a smaller home can add to your nest egg and, if you want, bring you closer to the kids. It’s also a good way to bring the pets along. Along the way, downsizers save big on smaller utility and maintenance bills.
One other consideration: It is always easier to finance a home before retirement. If you have the will and the way, make your move while the market is perfect.

New investment rule: Take your money later

As of Jan. 1, those with a 401(k) or IRA can start withdrawing the required minimum at age 72.
Previously, account holders were required to take the minimum distribution at age 70.5.
The new rules, arising from President Trump’s Secure Act, update the old rules, which were based on life expectancies in the early 1960s.
There may be some tax implications for some account holders, depending on their tax brackets in the year they withdraw. Check with a financial advisor to be sure.
The Secure Act also eliminates the maximum age for traditional IRA contributions, which was previously capped at 70.5 years old. The bill summary by the House Ways and Means Committee explains, “As Americans live longer, an increasing number continue employment beyond traditional retirement age.”
Americans who turned 70.5 years old during 2019 will still need to withdraw their required minimum distributions. Failure to do so results in a 50 percent penalty.
People who are expected to turn 70.5 years old in 2020 will not be required to withdraw RMDs until they are 72.

What is a lease-to-own, and is it a good idea?

A lease-to-own, also commonly referred to as a rent-to-own or a lease option, is an arrangement between a buyer and a seller in which the seller leases a property for a set period of time, at which point the buyer typically has the option to purchase the property outright (sometimes a contract legally obligates the buyer to purchase).
Nearly everything in this type of contract is negotiable. Often, the seller agrees to set aside a portion of the monthly payments toward a down payment or equity in the home.
It’s also important to note that this is commonly used as a short-term agreement — a few months to a few years — and that, at the end of the lease period, the buyer needs to obtain a traditional loan.
So why would either side consider a rent-to-own scenario?
A buyer may need time to put away money for a down payment and/or to build up their credit. Perhaps they’re self-employed, for example, and need a few years’ worth of tax returns to demonstrate income stability to a traditional bank. Or they have less than stellar credit and simply need time to repair it.
A seller might like the idea of locking in a purchase price and collecting monthly payments along the way. Say the two sides agree to a three-year term with a purchase price of $170,000. If the buyer pays $1,000 a month, the seller collects $36,000 and still sells for $170,000 at the end — which, even after expenses, can net the seller a nice profit.
A lawyer who’s well-versed in real estate law is usually the best person to review, if not draw up, the contract. And buyers should keep an eye on building their reserves and credit so they can qualify for a mortgage that will allow them to take ownership at the end of the term.

Tips for managing contractors

As much as we love our home renovations, there’s no denying that the process can nevertheless be a stressful one. Some of that is due to the myriad of details, ranging from large choices like siding color and style to the smallest, like door stops or light covers.
And a good chunk of the stress can come from working with contractors. From personality styles to deadline stress, the homeowner-contractor relationship can be a tricky one.
To keep a project running smoothly and to reduce stress, consider these tips for working with a contractor:

  • Communicate clearly and in detail. From the first walk-through to the final check, make sure you are clear in your expectations and goals. Put it all in writing, from the paint finish and number of coats to the projects a contractor needs to complete before getting that next check.
  • Speaking of milestones — never get ahead on the money. In other words, pay the contractor enough to cover materials and some of the early work, and then draw up milestones that serve as a carrot. This is fair to both sides: the contractor isn’t working for free, and you aren’t in a position to lose money should a worst-case scenario happen, and the contractor stops showing up.
  • Get referrals and visit construction sites. Any reputable contractor will gladly hand over referrals and welcome you to their job site. This gives you a look at finished projects as well as their style with in-progress work.
  • Get multiple estimates. This may not be necessary with a small project — you probably don’t need three estimates for someone to install a toilet — but you should always get estimates from multiple contractors for mid-sized to large projects. Not only do you get a better idea of the price, but you could be surprised at how differently contractors may visualize the same job.

Act pushes businesses to enroll employees in retirement plans

If the galloping stock market isn’t enough incentive to get into a 401(k) retirement plan, President Trump’s Secure Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, offers another perk.
The Act gives a tax credit to employers that automatically enroll workers into their retirement plans.
Studies show people are more likely to stay in a plan if they are auto-enrolled, rather than have to do it themselves, according to Business Insider.
Under the Secure Act, small employers will get a tax credit to offset the costs of starting a 401(k) plan or Simple IRA plan with auto-enrollment, on top of the start-up credit they already receive.
States have created their own automatic-IRA programs, where companies without a retirement plan can or must provide one for their employees.
Enrolling in a 401(k) or IRA vastly expands money in retirement.

Prevent hacks into home security system

The latest home security gadgets are a far cry from the early days of simple motion detectors. Whether it’s the Ring video doorbell, which alerts you to someone at your front door (and allows you to talk to them), or other systems that use facial or voice recognition, we’ve got cameras and eyes everywhere.
The downside, of course, is the potential for hackers to access those cameras and find their way into our homes.
Consumer Reports offers tips to keep our home security cameras from being hacked:

  • Keep your camera’s firmware up to date. Some cameras automatically download and install these updates, which fix software bugs and patch software vulnerabilities, while others require you to check for updates on your own.
  • Change your camera’s password. You should approach your security camera’s password the same as your other devices and use long and complex passwords without personally identifying information.
  • Set up two-factor authentication if possible. This means the camera company sends you a onetime-use passcode via text, phone, email, or authentication app that you input in addition to your username and password when you log in to the account. As CR points out, even if a hacker cracks your password, they won’t be able to access your camera unless they also gain access to your onetime code.
  • Set up a password manager. A password manager generates strong, random passwords and stores and remembers them for you. Many are free.

What to consider when getting out of a rental and taking a mortgage

You have many factors to consider in your journey to home ownership.
Here are some basic considerations:

  • If you can make a down payment of 20 percent, whatever mortgage you choose, you won’t have the cost of mortgage insurance added to your monthly payment. Many buyers can’t come up with the large down payment, but mortgage insurance is only charged by mortgage companies until equity reaches 20 percent.
  • Many conventional mortgage lenders ask for 5 percent to 10 percent down.
  • What is your credit score? To qualify for a conventional mortgage, you need a score of 620 to 640 or higher. But if your score is at least 580, you can still quality for an FHA mortgage.
  • The big advantage of an FHA mortgage is its low down payment requirement, just 3.5 percent. They account for 30 percent of all mortgages today. But if you have to move in very soon, beware, it takes a longer time to get one.
  • If you have a credit score lower than 580, you still might be able to get an FHA loan with 10 percent down.
  • How long will you stay in the house? If that might be for just a few years, an adjustable rate mortgage might be a good choice. Consider it if you are in the military, your job requires you to move every few years, or if this is just a “starter house” for you.
    If you plan to live in the home for a lifetime, a 30-year fixed rate, or a 20-year fixed rate, would be better. Or, if you can afford the higher payments on a 15-year fixed rate mortgage, you’ll get the best interest rates of all.
  • The VA loan is for service members or (this is important), for former service members.