Would you Rather Have a Million Dollars, or a New Car Every Three Years?


Would you drive a used car until you were 55 if someone would pay you a million dollars to do so?  Understand this doesn’t mean driving a junker – just driving a four-year-old car until it was eight years old and then trading for another four-year-old car.  If you would take this deal – and I think that most people would – why would you go on buying new cars anyway?

The fact is, if you can save up and buy used cars for cash every four years, rather than taking on a new payment schedule and dropping deeper underwater with each new car loan, you can invest the savings and have over $1 million by the time you are 55 just from the savings on the car loans.  Even more insane, that $1 million will turn into $2 million by the time you are 62, $4 million by the time you are 69, and a cool $8 million by the time you are 76 (which will probably be the new retirement age, given current life expectancies).

How could this be so?  Two reasons: depreciation and interest.

Basically, any car will drop in value by 50% in four years.  This means that a new car which cost $30,000 will be worth about $15,000 in four years.  This means that the car will lose an average of $3750 per year during each of the first four years.  This, by the way, is if you sell it to another individual.  If you trade it in, you’ll be lucky if the dealer will give you $10,000 (because he wants to make a profit from the sale of your used car to someone else).

 

              

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The same depreciation rate is true when you buy a used car – it will still lose about 50% of its value over four years –  but because the price of the car is less, the depreciation loss per year will be less.  Let’s say you pick up that car someone else bought new for $30,000 after four years when it was worth $15,000.  Even if it drops in value to $7500 over the next four years, you’ll still only be losing $1,875 per year.  This means that you will save $1,875 per year, which you can invest.

The second reason that what seems like a small amount of savings can turn into a large amount of money in 35 years is compound interest.  Specifically, while you are paying interest when buying a car on payments, you are being paid interest when you are able to save money that would have been going to a car payment and invest.  If you were going to be paying 8% interest on a car loan, but instead pay cash for the car and invest the rest, you will be getting an effective interest rate of 20% on your money, assuming a 12% return on stocks.  This means that instead of working extra hours to pay the interest on your car loan, you will be making money for simply letting others use your money to build their businesses.

So before you fall into the trap of endless car payments, think about what that car payment is really costing you – millions of dollars over your lifetime.  Is that new car smell and 32,000-mile warranty really worth that?

Your investing questions are wanted.  Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How to Fund Everything without Filling Out Tax Forms


A while back, probably right after I’d finished filling out my income tax forms for 2010, I made a post about a tax idea called the Fair Tax.  The beauty of the Fair Tax is that it would eliminate all of the hassles involved in paying taxes.  Income taxes, Social Security, and other Federal taxes would be replaced by a single sales tax on goods and services when purchased (a national sales tax).  Because taxes would be figured out and charged automatically when you purchased something, you would no longer need to keep track of expenses, have tax-deferred accounts, set up medical savings accounts, 401ks, IRAs, etc… and go through other hassles.

You would simply receive your whole paycheck each month and then spend or save as you choose.  One benefit beyond the simplification of tax compliance is that saving would be rewarded while spending would be penalized.  The current system encourages spending and borrowing, through tax breaks for things like business expenses and the mortgage deduction, and penalizes earning.  This means that under the current system there is a disincentive to grow businesses or work harder because more of your income is taken the more you earn.

The Fair Tax is prevented from being regressive, or level in any case, through the use of a prebate.  In the prebate, a certain amount is refunded to each person each year at the beginning of the year.  For example, if the sales tax is 10%, and $3000 were prefunded to everyone each year, then no one earning less than $30,000 would pay any taxes that year ($30,000*10% = $3000), even if they spent their entire paycheck on taxable goods and services.

One issue with implementing the Fair Tax is the radical change to the tax system.  We have spent so many years having taxes taken from our paychecks and doing things to reduce income taxes that it would be a big shock to the system to see it changed overnight.  Imagine the shock of going to buy a new car and seeing a 20% tax added to the top of it!  Never mind that you have 20% more cash in you pockets – you still see that big tax on the car.  You were paying that big tax before, but it was taken in small increments so you did not see it all at once.  There is a way, however, to implement the tax in a way that will be a smaller shock on the system.

(Never read The Millionaire Next Door?  It is a must for anyone wanting to actually become a millionaire.)

Currently about 50% of people pay no income tax at all.  In fact, many get cash given to them by the tax system since they receive a refund through the Earned Income Tax Credit.  This means that implementing the Fair Tax to replace the tax payments of the lower 50% of earners would not require a large sales tax since the amount of revenue collected from them is mainly Social Security and Medicare, which aren’t large amounts of money.  Also, implementing the Fair Tax would enable taxes to be collected from those who currently don’t pay taxes – those who get paid under the table and/or have illegal sources of income (drug sales, prostitution, illegal labor) – since they would also be charged the sales tax when they spent the ill-gotten money.

If the Fair Tax were implemented only on people making $60,000 per year or less say, it would only be necessary to have a sales tax of about 5% or less.  This means that everyone would see a prefund each year of $2000 (5% x $40,000) and see their sales taxes increase by about 5%, assuming that it is desirable to continue to see 50% of the people pay no income taxes.

After a few years of seeing those at the low-income levels not need to file taxes and also seeing how the system worked, those in the middle and upper-middle classes would probably want to join the system.  The threshold for the Fair tax could be then be ratcheted upwards as political winds allowed.  The prefund would need to be ratcheted upwards as well since the level of the sales tax would need to increase as the income level of the Fair Tax threshold increased.  This is because in order to generate the same level of revenues the sales tax percentage would need to increase since those at the higher income levels are paying a larger portion of the taxes.  If the Fair Tax were ever to fully replace the income tax, including for those in the top 1% of earners, the rate would be about 23%.  It is thought, however, that the drop in the expenses paid by businesses for tax compliance and tax avoidance would allow them to charge less for the goods and services; therefore, the actual price of the goods might stay about the same.

If you like this idea, please tell a friend – let’s get rid of the IRS!

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Is It Possible to Save for College?


About 16 years ago I sat down and predicted the growth of my son’s college savings account.  I was planning to put away $2,000 each year into an Educational Savings Account (ESA).  Using an investment calculator, and using an estimate of a 12% return (about the average return for the stock markets), I predicted I’d have about $140,000 by the time my son was ready to go to college.  With in-state tuition at about $12,000 per year, plus money for food and housing, I was figuring a cost of about $30,000 per year, so the ESA would at least get him through undergraduate school.  He could then do research/teaching/etc. to help fund grad school if he went, and hopefully get out debt-free or fairly close.  That was the plan.

              

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Unfortunately, then came the 2001-2003 stock market, where returns were low or negative.  Things finally picked up after the 2003 tax cuts (yes, tax cuts do spur the economy, despite what some Liberal pundits will tell you), but then stocks fell during the 2008 housing market crash.  Since that point things grew at a modest pace, until Trump was elected, from which point on things have been on fire.  Despite the fairly good markets from 2009 – 2016, and the great market over the last 10 months, my annualized rate-of-return has been around 3.5% instead of 12%.

So, sitting here with about two years until the first tuition bills come in, my son’s account has a little over $52,000 in it today, instead of the $108,000 I predicted.  This is enough to pay for about two years’-worth of college expenses, but not four.  Alternatively, it is enough to pay for tuition, but not for room-and-board.  This has left me with a big dilemma:

How should I invest for the next couple of years, if at all?

With less than two years remaining, if I really need the money in two years, I should really put it all into bank CDs.  I cannot predict what the markets will do over such a short period of time, and they have about a 1/3 chance of being lower in two years than they are today,  There is a small chance, maybe one in ten, that they will be 25% lower or more, meaning I may only have around $39,000.  Then again, if we do see some great returns over the next couple of years, for example if Trump is able to pass big tax cuts and spur the economy, I could get 20% returns and have almost $75,000 when the first tuition bill arrives.  Note that my original predictions assumed I stayed fully invested in stocks the whole time, which was probably a bad assumption due to the risk of doing so during the last couple of years.

Another question this raises, however, is

Is it possible for a middle-class family to really save up and pay for college?

Granted, perhaps we should have been putting $4,000 or $5,000 away each year, with $2,000 in an ESA and then the rest in taxable accounts or a 529 plan after we maxed out the ESA.   But I don’t see how most families who don’t make $150,000 per year could afford that.  I mean, we have been very disciplined compared to many people our age.  Despite having an income far less than $150,000 per year, we paid off our home about six or seven years ago, leaving a lot of free cash flow available that many families who keep a constant mortgage don’t have.  Frankly, I don’t know how families who keep a mortgage are able to pay for the things they buy.  (Maybe they don’t, since the median amount of debt families who have a credit card balance is $17,000, according to Nerdwallet.)  Paying for everything and not using credit, including the things that come up like medical bills and auto repairs, I’m really glad we don’t have that $1,000 or $1500 mortgage payment each month.

I do think that many families should be able to get their children through college debt-free or close to it, but saving up everything ahead of time may not be possible.  Once our son gets into college, we could direct some of our regular income towards his room-and-board.  He is also likely to get scholarships that will cover most or all of his tuition.  If he also gets a part-time job and makes $500 per month, that would cover about half of his room and board.  Still, it does make you wonder why college prices are so high that many people need to get loans to get through.

Luckily in our case (and good planning and hard work create luck), we have some resources beyond the ESA to help pay for college.  Because of this, I will probably keep the ESA fully invested in stocks, hoping that we’ll see a couple of good years to boost the account balance.  If we see a drop in the next couple of years, we can cover costs with other funds for the first year or two while we wait for the ESA to recover a bit.  Really we don’t need to assume we’ll need to tap the account right away.

So what do you think?  Is it possible for families making $80,000 per year to save up for college?  Are tuition costs worth the value of the product they provide?  Is it worth it to run up loans to pay for college?

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.