Certain financial planning tips have stood the test of time and likely always will. For instance, it’s hard to imagine behaviors such as sticking to a budget, building an emergency fund and paying off credit card debt will ever go out of style.
On the other hand, some generally accepted pieces of advice/tips haven’t held up quite as well and likely deserve a second look. Consider the following:
• Pay off your mortgage as quickly as you can. Eliminating debts is a good thing in a vacuum, but it’s not always the best idea for a mortgage for a few reasons. First, mortgage interest is a big tax deduction for most homeowners, so the less you owe, the smaller your deduction becomes.
Secondly, when interest rates are low like they are now, investment returns are typically higher. Consider that since 2009, shortly after the Fed cut rates to near zero in the wake of the financial crisis, the S&P 500 has enjoyed annual double-digit percentage increases nine times and is on track for a 10th this year. Therefore, someone who used extra capital during this time to pay down a mortgage might regret not investing that money instead.
Finally, it could create a liquidity crunch. If most of your wealth is tied up in a fully paid off house and a retirement account, it could be challenging to come up with a large sum of money in a crunch. After all, you can’t spend your house.
• Never borrow money from your 401(k) plan. It’s true that it’s unwise to take a loan from a 401(k) to augment your lifestyle (e.g., to buy a better car or to take a trip to Las Vegas). Nevertheless, if you have mounting credit card debt or need money to make a down payment for a home, such a move is hardly the end of the world.
Almost invariably, you can still contribute to the plan and, in most instances, you pay yourself the interest back. The big catch, of course, is you need to make sure you can generate enough cash flow in the future to make the loan payments. Remember, while a 401(k) loan can serve as a lifeline to pay off personal debt, it will not fix bad habits, such as overspending. If bad habits make a 401(k) loan necessary, you need to take that opportunity to reflect and change those habits.
• Own fewer stocks as you age. While some retirees need their portfolio to supplement other income streams to support themselves after they stop working, many do not. Some have pensions or other retirement plan-based income that, together with Social Security, far exceeds what they need to live each month comfortably.
In instances like that, volatility, while not ideal, isn’t as big a concern, so continuing to have exposure to equities isn’t as risky as it is prudent, especially in a rising inflationary environment. All things considered, whether you should have exposure to stocks has less to do with how old you are and more to do with the total picture of your wealth at any given time.
• Owning rental real estate is an easy way to generate cash flow. Some believe that owning rental properties is a painless and straightforward way to create extra income while having the added incentive of creating significant wealth over the long term. However, even if you discount some of the legal protections the pandemic has provided tenants, with many states still having eviction moratoriums in place, being a landlord is every bit as risky as running a small business.
When something breaks, it’s on you to fix it, whether it’s a light bulb or something more expensive, such as a central air conditioning system. Naturally, those costs — which tend to pile up — cut into your margins. Also, don’t forget about tenant turnover and vacancies, which can create a perfect storm for significant losses for landlords, combined with the above costs.
Taxes are another issue to consider. Yes, a landlord can claim a string of deductions each year, including expenses related to mortgage interest, property taxes, operating expenses, depreciation and repairs. But what many don’t realize is that when you sell a rental property, some of those breaks can be recaptured — which, along with capital gains taxes, can take a big bite out of your returns from a sale.
• Never lease a car. From one perspective, this has never made much sense. Critics have always claimed that leasing a car means you never own it. But the moment you drive a car off a lot, it’s worth dramatically less than what you paid for it, so it’s not as if you are building equity anyway.
At the same time, the mileage restrictions can be a challenge, with often exacting penalties for exceeding them. Yet, with many people now working from home, that’s less of an issue, meaning that leasing, at least for some, has never made more sense.
It is undoubtedly true that there is wisdom in widely accepted financial planning rules of thumb. But in a lot of cases, the answer is more gray than black or white. Work with a qualified financial advisor to understand how the conventional wisdom may or may not apply in your situation.
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.