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Old 12-14-2008, 12:51 PM   #21
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The question to ask your self is: Say you've got $20,000 in the market and a $100,000 house. Would you recommend to your friend with $80,000 debt on their house and no money in the market to refinance their house for $100,000 so they can put $20,000 in the market?
And if you would recommend that, ask yourself why you haven't refinanced your house to 80% of it's value this year to invest more.
This is similar to what Dave Ramsey tells callers when they have thought about investing a windfall instead of paying off the mortgage with it. "If you owned your home free and clear, would you mortgage it in order to invest?"

Almost always, the answer is "no."

But in some sense, you are faced with the same decision: do I want a paid off home *or* a mortgage and some investments? But it's interesting how the psyche changes depending on which "direction" you ask the question in.
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Old 12-14-2008, 12:53 PM   #22
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We are rethinking our plans a little. While we might not pay off the mortgage (12 more years @ 5%), we will likely try to have MMF or CDs in the amount to pay it off should we choose. In other words, we aren't comfortable with the fact that to pay our mortgage off right now, we'd have to liquidate equities in this market. This is more an asset allocation problem and we'll work on correcting that going forward. However, being totally debt free is really important to me, so I'm very sure that before we retire (looking like 8 more years now), we'll pay it in full.
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Old 12-14-2008, 01:00 PM   #23
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We are rethinking our plans a little. While we might not pay off the mortgage (12 more years @ 5%), we will likely try to have MMF or CDs in the amount to pay it off should we choose. In other words, we aren't comfortable with the fact that to pay our mortgage off right now, we'd have to liquidate equities in this market.
To be honest, in *this* economy, I wouldn't be inclined to pay off a 5-6% mortgage anyway. I'd rather have cash in the bank.

There's never a more important time to maximize your liquidity than when the economy stinks. Unless you are securely retired or have a ridiculously secure job, it's hard to have too much cash right now.

But when the economy improved to the point where I was no longer worried about prolonged unemployment, then I'd be inclined to do something more productive with the cash (such as pay down the mortgage or invest some of it, or maybe a little of both).
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Old 12-14-2008, 01:08 PM   #24
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But in some sense, you are faced with the same decision: do I want a paid off home *or* a mortgage and some investments? But it's interesting how the psyche changes depending on which "direction" you ask the question in.
The point is money is a hard fact. You should be able to ask a question both ways and get the same answer. Risk is risk, you wouldn't go to a roulette table and try try to convince someone at a roulette table that betting on black is a much better investment than betting on red. The risk is the same no matter which side you place your bet on.

Just like with drawing, if you draw something you think looks good but then with everything in proportion and it's easily recognizable, and then flip it over and look at it from the backside with a light box or something, it may look horrible and full of flaws from the back. You can't say "Well it's only drawn to look good from this side," because by looking at it from the opposite side you've just revealed your bias and a legitimately good drawing will look good from both sides.
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Old 12-14-2008, 01:28 PM   #25
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Some people are risk-averse enough that they'd rather have a sure-thing 5.75% than a risky 10.5%. That's a personal risk tolerance decision that everyone needs to answer for themselves.
I agree, it is a personal decision - no right/wrong about it.

However - I seem to find an inconsistency among people who choose the 'sure thing' side. I think that many of them have no problem having some money invested in stocks while they are in the process of paying off their mortgage.

But, doesn't that 'sure thing' view really say that you should not have a single penny invested in stocks until the mortgage is eliminated? That every penny should go towards the mort first? Like some of the posts above, it seems they are looking at the same factors from different sides, and coming up with a different answer.

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Old 12-14-2008, 01:36 PM   #26
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I agree, it is a personal decision - no right/wrong about it.

However - I seem to find an inconsistency among people who choose the 'sure thing' side. I think that many of them have no problem having some money invested in stocks while they are in the process of paying off their mortgage.

But, doesn't that 'sure thing' view really say that you should not have a single penny invested in stocks until the mortgage is eliminated?
Only if you think people have to opt for "100% sure thing" or "100% riskier thing." But I would tend to reject that idea; there's something to be said for assuming *some* risk while also seeking preservation of capital with some of it as well. Isn't that the idea behind asset allocation?

You can view "spreading out" extra cash flow into both "sure things" and higher risk/return investments as a form of asset allocation, can you not?

In that sense, wouldn't using half of a windfall to pay down a mortgage and half to invest be like having a 50/50 asset allocation? Is someone who chooses a 50/50 asset allocation being "inconsistent" because they aren't putting ALL of it into the market or into the "sure thing?"
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Old 12-14-2008, 07:59 PM   #27
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I agree ziggy99 - but similar to the posts above, if some people say "You should not take out a mortgage to buy stocks", they should also say, "you should not have any stocks if you hold a mortgage". It's the same thing.

I think that part of the problem is, either statement may be ignoring total asset allocation. As you say - you can balance your overall risk with AA combos. And holding a mortgage or not plays into that total AA. So a black/white view of a mortgage versus stocks is just too simplistic - it does not take into account total AA. I guess that is why I hate those broad brush, one size fits all statements (that I hear from some others).

In case I'm not being clear - I'm pretty sure I'm agreeing with you

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Old 12-14-2008, 11:12 PM   #28
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There's never a more important time to maximize your liquidity than when the economy stinks. Unless you are securely retired or have a ridiculously secure job, it's hard to have too much cash right now.
I'm more in the asset allocation camp. I do want to pay down my mortgage because I believe it gives me more options for flexibility when I FIRE, and I want to pay it off sooner since I want to RE. However with the economy so down and employment shaky, I've actually reversed that and taken larger debt and put the cash in CD just to have the insurance of extra liquidity. Last thing I want to get into is difficulty paying bills because I've parked extra cash in my mortgage where I cannot access it - potentially forcing a fire sale in equity positions or the house itself.
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Old 12-14-2008, 11:55 PM   #29
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If you never pay off your mortgage than you are always going to a a negative x% to compete with for all your investments. Getting an 8% return on your investment rather than paying down the 5% mortgage only leaves you keeping pace with inflation. Once that house is paid off all of your investments gains are actually gains and don't have to be siphoned off to pay for your debt every month..
Actually, no. The investment gains are whatever they are, and are not reduced by your mortgage rate. The mortgage interest is just another personal expenditure and really has nothing to do with market gains or losses.

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The question to ask your self is: Say you've got $20,000 in the market and a $100,000 house. Would you recommend to your friend with $80,000 debt on their house and no money in the market to refinance their house for $100,000 so they can put $20,000 in the market?
Possibly. Depends. What is the LTV? What are the total assets? What percentage of the total assets is the house? What is the liquidity, or cash available?
In general, the answer is probably "Yes".
Your friend's asset allocation is out of whack. 0% allocation to equities is just too small. Equities are necessary to beat inflation. Also, if a time comes when he needs to raise cash, it's a lot quicker & easier to convert stock equity to cash that no convert home equity to cash. And if he can comfortably make payments on a $80K loan, he can almosr certainly comfortably make the payment on a $100K loan. In either case, his S.H.T.F. risk is the same----if he goes into foreclosure the bank will take the house and he'll loose all his equity, no matter if he owes 80K or 100K. Or 5K.

In fact, that is exactly how I got my start in stock investing. Which is how I was able to RE at age 58 12 years later. We refi'd our house to get a lower rate, and instead of keeping the same size loan with a lower payment, I pulled out $20,000 in cash and kept the same payment (at the lower rate).
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Old 12-15-2008, 09:21 AM   #30
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IMOH the continuous releveraging of an asset is what got us into this economic situation in the first place. So to me paying off the mortgage is economically more palatable than realizing how much negative equity/upside down we can be with that asset. We also forget that we've used that equity for something else--for example, when a mortgage has been refinanced we forget to subtract the value of the stocks, or whatever we used the equity for, from the outstanding mortgage balance. If I borrow $100,000 in a heloc, buy stocks (that didn't subsequently lose value haha), and then my house dives $100,000 in value, is my mortgage really upside down? Maybe, but that $100,000 still exists.
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:04 AM   #31
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Getting an 8% return on your investment rather than paying down the 5% mortgage only leaves you keeping pace with inflation. Once that house is paid off all of your investments gains are actually gains and don't have to be siphoned off to pay for your debt every month.
I don't think you are accounting properly here. You have the money in two places at once.

When you pay off the house, that money that you stuck into the house is not *available* for investment - so that money makes zero 'actual gains'. You save the debt repayment, but you lose the opportunity cost of investing that money.

That hypothetical 8% return minus 5% debt payment provides a 3% that you would not have otherwise. Which is actually pretty nice. The downside is there is no way to know if you will get the 8% or not.

And no, the money is not really 'invested' in the house. If my house goes up/down $100K, my net worth changes by $100K, whether I hold a mortgage or not.

I'm not saying go one way or the other, but you should look at the real numbers.

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Old 12-15-2008, 10:30 AM   #32
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It makes no more sense to evaluate a long term decision right at the point when stocks are down, than it does to evaluate that long term decision right at the point when stocks are way up.
While I agree with you 100%, the dominant POV on this board until the recent dust-up was that all times are equal for investing. Posters would say "equities return x%"; not "equities are priced to return x% at this time".

IMO some liquidity provided by a mortgage note will very likely pay off if well invested at today's equity and corpotate bond rates. Of course there is more risk. But having $hundreds of thousand stuck in one house is not necessarily risk free either. If an earhtquake levels your house, there is at least a chance that you can walk from the loan, or that the Bailout Boys will ride to the rescue. Also, if you are a man, houses tend to stick to women in divorces.

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Old 12-15-2008, 10:46 AM   #33
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Also, if you are a man, houses tend to stick to women in divorces.
Is this based on statistical research or personal experience?
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:48 AM   #34
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I don't think you are accounting properly here. You have the money in two places at once.

When you pay off the house, that money that you stuck into the house is not *available* for investment - so that money makes zero 'actual gains'. You save the debt repayment, but you lose the opportunity cost of investing that money.

That hypothetical 8% return minus 5% debt payment provides a 3% that you would not have otherwise. Which is actually pretty nice. The downside is there is no way to know if you will get the 8% or not.

And no, the money is not really 'invested' in the house. If my house goes up/down $100K, my net worth changes by $100K, whether I hold a mortgage or not.

I'm not saying go one way or the other, but you should look at the real numbers.

-ERD50
You are missing the offset which is the money that is going to pay off the mortgage is no longer available for the individual who mortgages, while the prepayee is able to invest that stream of cash. Who makes more money over the life of the mortgage will depend on the gyrations of the stock market. A prepayee from last year is getting 40 percent more equity for the dollar than the mortgagee did a year ago. The longer the market stays below the entry point the more equity the prepayee will have. Over time even if the market returns 8 percent over 30 years it is entirely possible the prepayee will do better than the mortgagee.
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Old 12-15-2008, 10:53 AM   #35
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You are missing the offset which is the money that is going to pay off the mortgage is no longer available for the individual who mortgages, while the prepayee is able to invest that stream of cash.
This is certainly true. But it's also true that draining liquidity can be a dangerous move, especially when the economy stinks.

Over a very long period of time, plowing a pile of cash into the market is likely to "beat" prepaying a mortgage or holding a lot of cash. But not *all* of financial planning is about maximizing returns; some of it is about securing what you have as well.

If one prepays a mortgage with a lump sum of cash today, I only hope they either (a) can honestly and confidently state that they have a VERY secure income stream and (b) they still have a sound emergency fund. The worst thing one can do is take most of their liquid cash, prepay the mortgage, and then lose their job while the roof leaks and the car breaks down.

We're living in a time when liquidity is crucial to financial security for most people. And even if stockpiling cash at 2% stinks, it stinks less than having almost nothing in the bank when a pink slip heads your way.
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:01 AM   #36
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This is certainly true. But it's also true that draining liquidity can be a dangerous move, especially when the economy stinks.

Over a very long period of time, plowing a pile of cash into the market is likely to "beat" prepaying a mortgage or holding a lot of cash. But not *all* of financial planning is about maximizing returns; some of it is about securing what you have as well.

If one prepays a mortgage with a lump sum of cash today, I only hope they either (a) can honestly and confidently state that they have a VERY secure income stream and (b) they still have a sound emergency fund. The worst thing one can do is take most of their liquid cash, prepay the mortgage, and then lose their job while the roof leaks and the car breaks down.

We're living in a time when liquidity is crucial to financial security for most people. And even if stockpiling cash at 2% stinks, it stinks less than having almost nothing in the bank when a pink slip heads your way.
This is an excellent point. It isn't hard to be unemployed and hungry in your paid off house.

In some ways the greatest security is flexibility. You can livea long time in an apartment off cash in the bank. You can also move easily to find another job, or double up with your brother or sister, or move into Mom's. Imagine having a paid off house and no job and a family to feed in today's economy.

Ha
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:07 AM   #37
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Imagine having a paid off house and no job and a family to feed in today's economy.
Especially with a return to more conservative (aka "tight") lending standards. It's pretty hard to use the paid-off house as a ATM when you don't have a job. Those days are over, at least for a while.
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:39 AM   #38
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This is an excellent point. It isn't hard to be unemployed and hungry in your paid off house.
Ha
This is true---but people do have some options--three things that immediately come to mind are drawing on home equity line of credit , get a reverse mortgage (if you are old enough), sell the house. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't there some truth in the idea that having a paid off house relieves you of the financial stress/pressure of having to make payments if funds are tight? I guess this is sort of the question I was trying to address in the original post---if one had invested the market instead of prepaying a mortgage and then the market fell like it has done now, and then they lose their job, the liquidity they thought they had may not be there when they need it most. I mean just like you don't want to sell a house in a down market, you probably don't want to sell your equities in a down market either. As always, thanks!
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:49 AM   #39
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This is true---but people do have some options--three things that immediately come to mind are drawing on home equity line of credit , get a reverse mortgage (if you are old enough), sell the house. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't there some truth in the idea that having a paid off house relieves you of the financial stress/pressure of having to make payments if funds are tight? I guess this is sort of the question I was trying to address in the original post---if one had invested the market instead of prepaying a mortgage and then the market fell like it has done now, and then they lose their job, the liquidity they thought they had may not be there when they need it most. I mean just like you don't want to sell a house in a down market, you probably don't want to sell your equities in a down market either. As always, thanks!
Some thoughts, one at a time:

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This is true---but people do have some options--three things that immediately come to mind are drawing on home equity line of credit , get a reverse mortgage (if you are old enough), sell the house
Assuming you already have a HELOC, maybe. Still, how are you going to make the payments without income? And if you don't already have one, forget about getting one with no job. Reverse mortgage? Maybe in some cases as a last resort, assuming you're at least 62 -- and I think most of us either have (or plan to) not NEED a j*b by age 62. And sell the house? Sure, if you have hundreds of thousands in equity and you buy a much cheaper house or rent (and even renting could be difficult without a job, though maybe with a year's prepaid rent you could get around it.)

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but isn't there some truth in the idea that having a paid off house relieves you of the financial stress/pressure of having to make payments if funds are tight?
Sure -- in fact, this is why some people recommend getting a 30-year mortgage and paying it off like a 15 instead of opting for the 15 -- particularly when the difference in rates are (say) 1/4 point or less. When money is tight, make the minimum payments; other times, pay it down like a 15.

Then again, even with *reduced* cash flow needs, you still have some, and if you've depleted too much cash, you may not have long to meet even the reduced cash flow needs.

Yes, if you prepay the mortgage and manage to hold your job for another couple of years so you can rebuilt a strong emergency fund, it works. But how many of us have that guarantee (or are willing to assume it)? My own financial planning is far too conservative to allow me to assume that and sleep at night.
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Old 12-15-2008, 11:51 AM   #40
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It makes no more sense to evaluate a long term decision right at the point when stocks are down, than it does to evaluate that long term decision right at the point when stocks are way up.
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While I agree with you 100%, the dominant POV on this board until the recent dust-up was that all times are equal for investing. Posters would say "equities return x%"; not "equities are priced to return x% at this time".

Ha
Thanks Ha, I realize now (not unusual for me) that I worded that poorly though.

What I really intended, was to say that it isn't realistic to claim (brag, deride?) that a long term investment strategy is/was successful based on some intermediate point in time. But people do tend to do that at intermediate highs/lows. And I think that is what the OP is doing, to an extent. Just because his money was better off going to his mortgage than the market during the recent downturn, does not mean that it will be the best place going forward. Likely the opposite, but probably not by much.

My stance is pretty much aligned with yours - if we have any faith in the long term viability of the market, then stocks today are certainly a better value than they were at the peak (and if we have no faith in the market - we don't even need to ask the question). And that would seem to make mortgage arbitrage more attractive now than at the peak. So from that standpoint, it makes sense to evaluate it, and re-evaluate it as needed. But not judge it's success/failure - that is where the long term view is needed. Hey, I wish I paid off my small mortgage at the market peak, I'd re-invest now. But that would just make me a dirty market timer

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