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not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Posted by behaviorkelton (My Page) on
Wed, Apr 18, 07 at 12:47

I few months ago, I asked whether or not I should be paying my mortgage down or not (I'm paying 6.1% on a 15 yr mortgage).

It seems that the only reason for paying off a mortgage would be emotional (feeling of satisfaction), and I was generally advised to simply save/invest the money.

I was told that I could easily invest the money such that it would acrue interest at rate equal or greater than my mortgage interest. If this is true, then clearly it is better to just save the money and *not* tie it up in a mortgage.

OK...so I'm investing.

Currently, I'm going with mutual funds (Vanguard).

So here the questions:
1. Should balanced funds be expected to offer returns that will meet/beat 6%?
2. Is the stock/bond climate looking OK? (there are lots' of doom/gloom forecasters... but do they ever get it right?)
3. I used to be a Motley Fool fan, but I just re-signed up for their forum and MAN!, it seems much more commercial these days with all sorts of ads and come-ons to subscribe to newsletters with "once in a lifetime" investment advice. What's up with that? Somehow, it all seems less legit.

Thanks,
behavior


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Historically, over a very long time, stocks have returned approximately inflation plus 6%. So it is not unreasonable to expect stock investments to outperform 1 6.1% mortgage (which doesn't include inflation, of course) over a 15-year period. No guarantees, but it's a reasonable bet.

Vanguard has seven funds that they consider "balanced." The returns from those funds over the past 10 years range from 7.39% to 9.87%/year. As they always say, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but at least these numbers give you an idea of what you would have gotten had you bought them a decade ago.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Yes... I suppose their is no sure thing. CD's and some money market accounts are getting 5% which is the penalty for going for security.

Although it seems that today's market seems very unstable due to the current "climate" (iraq, iran, high consumer debt), I sometimes wonder if it's ever possible to get a proper objective perspective.

I mean, in the 70's it seemed that the US was going to hell in an economic handbasket, the 80's looked a tad better, the 90's enjoyed a bull market, but plenty were saying that the market was overheated and due for a bust (well, before the actual bust).

Thanks


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

actually you only need to beat the after tax rate of your 6.1% mortgage..that rate would depend on your tax bracket..


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Hi again behavior,

You haven't given an indication of your age, but I assume that you are looking at long-term investments here. Even if you're in your mid 60s, you may well have 30 years or so to live.

Which tells me that if you were at that age, you wouldn't want to eat 1/6th of your assets in the first 5-year period, as they wouldn't be around to grow or earn anything, after you ate them. If it were me, I wouldn't want to eat more than 1/6 of my assets in the first ten years ... and I'd prefer to eat even less than that.

And for assets that I expect to have working for longer than 10 years, I feel fairly comfortable in having them fairly heavily exposed to equity investments.

Many advisors suggest that one subtract one's age from 100, e.g. for someone 65, that makes 35, so they recommend that that person have no more than 35% of her/his assets in equity-based stuff.

I disagree ... I'm crowding 80, and I have about 80% of my assets in equities. Cause that's where the best rate of growth is found in well-chosen, quality stocks. Over long periods, the rate of pay on bonds doesn't grow much, but a stock that I bought 40 years ago for $4.20 or so, that paid about a dime when I bought it, has grown in value to $100.00 ... and the dividend rate was increased a couple of months ago from $2.80 to $3.08 per year.

The value of the bond doesn't grow a lot, either- not like well-chosen stocks. And if the value of your invested dollar isn't going to grow ... all that it'll ever produce is produced now. And it's taxed now: in Canada, at top rate. In addition, if the number of your invested dollars can't grow, after you pay tax on your current income, you must put some current earnings with the principal, in order to keep the value intact, for inflation erodes the value of each dollar of all of your dollar-denominated assets ... every year.

Not only that ... I don't have to answer to the Income Tax people with regard to the growth in value of my stocks until I sell them (or die). If I can't avoid paying tax ... I prefer to defer it.

And in my situation, when I sell non-tax-deferred-retirement stuff, I pay a low rate of tax on the capital gain. That suits me just fine.

With regard to your mutual funds ...

... how be you let me run some of your assets? The average rate of growth in the stock market has run about 8%, and I'd like you to pay me about 20% of that ... and I get paid, whether there's any growth or not.

That's the way it works with mutual funds (and the fees are about 25% in Canada).

I have a suggestion for you.

Go to a major library and do some research on manageent of stocks, on your own. One good resource is the Value Line advisory.

If you want to invest using mutual funds for a while, fine - but learn how to buy stocks directly, then invest that way.

Pay yourself the fees that the mutual fund managers get.

Very few of them outperform the market, over the long term.

Another suggestion - do some investing outside of the U.S.

Your huge gov't debts, plus their spending more than their income each year, plus large consumer debt has many people in international finance reckoning that the recent fall in the U.S. Dollar will continue.

A few years ago, when I wanted to visit the U.S. and exchanged Canadian money, they'd give me about 69 cents U.S. per Canadian Dollar ... recently it was over 90 cents, currently about 87 cents. So, had you moved money up here back then, you'd have made whatever growth in value it produced, plus about 25% extra due to exchange.

Consider some of the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China. On the other hand ... how about buying a chunk of the nearby petroleum pool that has more oil there than in Saudi Arabia ... but somewhat harder to obtain, because it's mixed in sand. While the complex process of extraction used to be profitable only if oil was over $25.00 a barrel ... now it's down to about $12.00/barrel ... and oil hasn't been at that level for some time.

Good wishes for learning increasingly how to manage your money - then doing it. No one cares as much about your money as you (except some folks that'd like to transfer some of it from your pocket into theirs).

It's an interesting hobby - that pays well (that last in capital letters).

ole joyful


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

If you want to invest using mutual funds for a while, fine - but learn how to buy stocks directly, then invest that way.

Pay yourself the fees that the mutual fund managers get.

I agree that "traditional" load funds come with a hefty price tag. But kelton is talking about Vanguard, which has a reputation for keeping the costs of running their funds about as low as they go. Given that no one seems to have much free time these days, it's not hard to assign a value to one's spare hours. If Vanguard is offering very-low-cost index funds without a load, how many hours does one have to invest to hope to beat the index average?


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Heres another opinion from Canada.
There is no one right way to invest. Ole Joyful prefers to invest outside a tax deferred investment plan.
I prefer to invest inside such a plan. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
In Canada investing outside a tax deferred investment plan requires minimizing sales of securities which have gained in value and tracking the purchase costs. Inside a tax deferred investment plan I can ignore the short-term tax consequences of my actions and will have to eventually pay taxes on my withdrawals.

Investing for the long term I would suggest companies with high and rising dividends, preferably companies that are currently out of favor. Avoid investing in companies in the same business as your employer. If your employers line of business runs into trouble you risk losing both on your investments and your employment income. Do invest in businesses you both understand and have knowledge about.

You can get international exposure by buying stocks in American multinationals, which have operations all around the world.
Do invest in different sectors of the economy for example finance, transportation, consumer, resource and manufacturing, that way if one area gets into difficulty you dont take too big a hit.
You can get an edge on other investors if you have inside knowledge of a development in a company before it becomes commonly known. As an example at one time I became aware that there was excitement about drilling exploration at an existing mine (I knew one of the drillers.) I bought the stock before results were published and sold once the results of the drilling program were well known.

Mutual funds are a good start to investing if your funds are relatively small. Their various fees can do a lot of damage over time. Balanced funds are a blend of stocks and bonds, over the long term they dont seem to do as well as stocks. Alternatives to the standard mutual funds are the "Exchange Traded Funds" known as ETFs. The ETFs are mutual funds, which trade like stocks.

Recognize that the premium you get paid for investing is because you are taking on risk. You really have to know how much risk you are willing to take. That means being more honest with oneself than many seem to be willing to accept.

I prefer to use a full service broker for my investing. I know that some of those who post here dont like full service brokers. I have found that mine has pointed out areas I might otherwise have missed. Perhaps the greatest advantage of using a full service broker for me is restraining my enthusiasm for risky ventures.

Ian


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I really like Vanguard's STAR fund. It is a low fee balanced fund that consists of other vanguard funds.... which includes some of their good "risky" funds that have long been closed to new investors.

Still, I'm thinking that I should roll along with a Vanguard total stock market fund (which, unfortunately, means total "US" market), and then getting one of vanguard's international funds. Very low cost stuff.

Actually, I think I'll start a new thread. I'd like to ask about yet another Vanguard fund.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I like the Bob Brinker news letter at Bobbrinker.com. I have used his advice for several years and he has saved me a ton of money. ( thank you Bob)
Also you would do well going to Betterinvesting.com and ck out the NAIC web site. I joined that and have a stock club that is doing well in the Cleveland area. We share info buy stocks and sell stocks as a club.
The NAIC is great for new investors and has many classes and convetions. The price is right and it's mostly volenteers that arn't in it to sell you anything.
anyquestions you can email me at scott01254@aol.com

Good Luck
Scott
Scott


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

how about buying a chunk of the nearby petroleum pool that has more oil there than in Saudi Arabia ... but somewhat harder to obtain, because it's mixed in sand. While the complex process of extraction used to be profitable only if oil was over $25.00 a barrel ... now it's down to about $12.00/barrel ... and oil hasn't been at that level for some time

Where is this oil found, forgive my ignorance


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I do not know what it is but mutual funds are just not my cup of tea. I will use them when forced by 401ks but that is the only time. I think you give up both control, fees, extra taxes on phantom gains (outside of a 401k or IRA ofcourse) and the only advantage a small investor has, flexibiltiy to take advantage of small imperfections in the market. You become part of this large unwieldy thing instead

To the extent you want broader market exposure, anyone looked into ETFs? Any advantages? The more exotic ones appeal to me (commodities and currencies) but also sounds like a great way to lose money if you do this haphazardly. Any thoughts?


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Saphire, I believe that Ole Joyful is referring to the Athabaska oil sands. The link should take you to the Wikipedia article on the subject.

As with any investment do your own homework. After all it's your ass that's on the line.
There's plenty of free advice out there which is worth exactly what you pay for it.

Here is a link that might be useful: wikipedia oil sands


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I haven't been to the Motley fool in a long time, for the same reasons. I like Jim Jubak of MSN money. He makes a lot of sense, and his 'Jubak's picks' portfolio always seems to do well. One thing I like about him is that he explains macroeconomic forces and how they impact investing in an understandable way.

In general, altho different asset classes are starting to behave more in-step w/ one another, I think it's still a good idea to diversify. (Diversifying doesn't mean owning both P&G and Kimberly Clark, either--it means US-international, large-medium-small companies, real estate, commodities, etc.) A fund of funds would be one way to do that. If you dollar-cost average (put a set $amount into your investments monthly) you'll wind up buying more of out-of-favor assets and less of hot assets (because hot assets cost more, your fixed $ buys less of them). This helps you to buy low, so you can sell high (many people buy hot assets just as they're about to cool, so they wind up buying high, and selling low.)


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Pay off the house ....Invest later.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I'm new to this forum. What an interesting topic. We try to do the following in this order:

1) 401K (the company matches).
2) Contribute to our kids college funds.
3) Tack on a little extra to the mortgage payment each month.
4) Contribute to our Roths.

If we didn't have the company match on our 401k and college to save for, I think I would put more money towards our mortgage. On paper, I might make more money investing in stocks but intuitively, I think owning your home outright makes sense. Especially if you live in a decent real estate market where you can sell or rent a home out reasonably fast.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Busy Mom

You may want to rethink that one. Of course it depends on whether you have any hope of financial aid. If you do, then do not even think about doing #2 unless the money is not in their names. Instead make sure you are maxed out on retirement first.

You can always pull the money from a Roth after 5 years. Any money held in their name counts much more than money held in your name


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

We finally decided that paying extra on a low-interest mortgage is not worthwhile. We don't have kids, so that isn't a factor in our financial planning. We actually just refinanced our 15-year mortgage to a 30-year mortgage so we will have more liquidity. This is what we're doing:

- Maxing out our 401ks (i.e., we are each contributing the maximum allowed, not just the minimum to get the company match)*
- Maxing out our Roth IRAs
- Putting the difference between the 15-year and 30-year mortgage payments into a high-interest savings account (we set up auto payments).

Our only debt other than the mortgage is a fairly low HELOC balance. When we refinanced, we kept that line of credit open and maintained the balance we had. We decided to pay just a bit over the minimum on that until we have the emergency fund built up.

When we have a sufficient emergency fund (which, BTW, can be smaller because we now have a smaller monthly payment), we will invest some money in mutual funds. We'd like to start on this sooner rather than later to maximize the opportunity to increase our nest egg.

This new setup provides more flexibility, so we'll see how it works out. Our accountant (who is very conservative) thought it was a good plan.

RE living in a "decent real estate market": That is so much subject to market fluctuations that you can't count on being able to sell a house on the terms you might want at the time you want. A house CAN be a good investment, but it should primarily be considered a place to live.

*My take-home pay is in fact less than it was when I started working at my current company 7 years ago because I keep upping the pretax deductions.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Saphire-
I don't expect our income(or tax bracket) to go down in between now and college. Right now I'm a stay at home mom. I plan to return to the workforce in a gradual way after my youngest son goes to Kindergarten. I have always considered our Roths to be off limit retirement funds. I didn't realize that we could have access to them after only five years - tempting (kind of wish I didn't know that!). The good thing about our college savings plans is that relatives can also contribute to them. And it feels good to have money earmarked especially for the kids. I don't forsee us being able to qualify for financial aid at college time, although, I really haven't looked into that yet (our kids still have 10+ years to go). I know lots can change in that amount of time. Oh, how I wish I had a crystal ball!

Harreithomeowner, you've made some good points. I just think it would be so nice not to have a mortgage....


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

One thing you may want to factor in is how many will be in college or graduate school at once. This may allow financial aid where it otherwise would not be.I recently got something in the mail about prepaying college expenses at over 250 colleges but I have not followed up

It really is the whole issue of how things count for financial aid. I actually do not take my own advice as I do Coverdells for each kid. The other concern if you are doing this as a Uniform Gift to Minor rather than a 529 or Coverdell is that at 18 they can take the moeny and buy a Porsche with it and you cannot stop them


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Harriet,
Your plan sounds good to me!


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Saphire-
My kids are close in age but far apart grade level wise due to a fall birthday/late kindergarten start. Yep, I worry about the porsche thing, too. But, I figure what they don't know can't hurt them.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Scott - your link at better investing dot com only gave lists of ads. I tried clicking on the NAIC websites and just got more links with absolutely no info. Do you have a workable link that is not advertisements?


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

It's a common question in this forum, but paying off the mortgage now is an attractive option.

What I like most about it, is that by paying the mortgage off, I have guaranteed myself a savings of, say, $850 every single month without concern about market swings. That's about 10 grand a year!

It seems that most of the more financially sophisticated members of this board advise against paying off a mortgage for most people.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

It seems that most of the more financially sophisticated members of this board advise against paying off a mortgage for most people

That is the subject of many a conversation between DH and myself. We could pay off the mortgage, but our interest rate is just 5.12%. Our nest egg is earning considerably more than that. Our financial advisor, while acknowledging the phychological comfort of owning our home outright says that financially we are better off leaving things the way they are. The home will be paid off in 12 years.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

At 5.12%, I wouldn't consider paying off the mortgage either!

Mine is 6.125%....which is historically low, but it's higher than I could earn in any safe investment (which appears to be around 5.2%).

I doubt I could find an investment that returns a guaranteed 6.12%. Further, that 5.2% earned in a good money market or CD is going to be taxed such that it returns something closer to 4%.

The stock market is the only way, that I can see, for me to have a shot at doing better than my mortgage interest...which I think is the most important part of the formula (If you have enough ready savings for emergencies).


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Behaviourkelton when you looked at the savings on paying off the mortgage did you factor in the tax write off on the interest portion of the mortgage?
When calculating cost/benefit of any course of action you really have to look at the after tax result.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I've just re-read this entire thread and what a lot of great posts!

What I've taken from this thread is that
a) There is no "one size fits all" solution
b) You have to factor in the tax implications - otherwise you are comparing oranges and apples
c) The Canadians on the board have different tax laws (again oranges and apples)

Question for kelton - you are focused on a guaranteed return. I'm wondering if you could accept a small amount of risk for a better return?

Even though I'm retired and DH will soon retire, we are still moderately aggressively invested as I am very concerned about inflation.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Yes, I have considered the write off of the mortgage interest, but my yearly interest doesn't even equal my standard deduction...so, unless I'm missing something, interest deductions are not a factor for me.

I am invested in some Vanguard mutual funds with around 70% in stocks. I have considered getting a bit more risky by possibly getting into some emerging market funds.

For now, I'm just sticking with my conservatively invested savings ... mostly in Vanguards STAR fund.

The recent run up in the market has put me in a mind to move money around, but attempting to time the market has always proven to be a losing proposition for me!!! Every time I have tried to time the market, I have lost money.... if I would have just stayed put, I'd be much better off today.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

>>The recent run up in the market has put me in a mind to move money around, but attempting to time the market has always proven to be a losing proposition for me!!! Every time I have tried to time the market, I have lost money.... if I would have just stayed put, I'd be much better off today. <<

Exactly. You are following (what it sounds like to me, so apologies if this isn't correct) the "herd" mentality and buying when it is popular (high) and then panic selling when the market falls. It's no different than buying a house at the top of the RE runup and then watching the RE 'bubble' burst on you (yeah, it happened to us in 1989, so I know how it feels!).

Steady, reasoned investing with a diversified portfolio - which you are NOT doing by having only 2 funds in mind - gives better results over time. You will not gain hugely in hot stock years, but you will also not lose hugely in bad ones, such as the 27% drop in the S&P 500 from 2000-2002 and the dot-com implosion.

Our retirement portfolio was 85% invested in the S&P 500 in 2000. Lost my job in the dot-com implosion and watched my husband's retirement savings lose a quarter of their value.

My husband asked me what we should do. I told him the fundamentals were still in our favor, we're investing for the long term, and that the big stocks would recover first which is the historical norm.

Within 18 months we had regained the losses and the portfolio has gained 11-22% annually since, BUT we are currently more aggressively diversified into international stocks on the advice of my ex-boss. He's an independent Certified Financial Planner who can pick and choose his customers because he's semi-retired and only takes referrals, no hard advertising for years now.

What I learned from him that was a lot more important than any stock tip was to get my legal and financial house in order! This meant a customized Revocable Trust (we learned what NOT to have while trying to update my widowed MIL's outdated Trust!), new wills, power of attorney docs, durable healthcare POA updates (including the crucial HIPAA release which nobody ever tells you about, but legally a doctor can't even tell your spouse what's wrong with you, emergency or no, without it).

I also finally consolidated all my previous employer 401k's into one IRA at a low-cost brokerage. I'd been meaning to do it for years, but kept putting it off. I finally got a first-hand lesson just before I left the CFP's employ - a widow signed on as a new client and her husband had left half a dozen 401k's scattered around at various tech companies. It was a paperwork NIGHTMARE to get them consolidated under the widow's name! So that was on my to-do list before I could start looking for work, LOL.

You cannot "time" the market. Free advice is usually worth what you have paid for it. Heck, even a lot of paid advice often isn't worth it! As my ex-boss would tell people, "Hey, if I knew what the next hot stock would be, do you think I'd still be doing the CFP thing??!??" Mind you, he makes a very comfortable living; nothing outrageous and nouveau riche, just a good solid six-figure income plus he loves what he does, working with people and helping them secure a good financial future.

Set up a regular investment program and diversify through mutual funds at a low-cost brokerage. At least 3 funds in different markets, preferably 5 as your portfolio grows. Check the 10 yr average returns because the 5 yr averages are now skewed - the 'dog years' of 2000-2001 have now fallen off the 5 yr average.

For those who are saving for college, 529 plans are not counted in most college aid plans because the adult retains ownership, a child is merely the beneficiary and it can be changed at any time. However, 529 plans are only useful if your investment horizon is at least 10-15 years. A UTMA account can be transferred to a 529 plan but you will need to talk to your financial advisor or brokerage for full details.


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

Thanks.

Actually, the Vanguard STAR fund is a fund of funds. It holds a wide variety of it's own funds to include some higher risk funds that are now closed if you tried to invest in them directly.

Although it seems to be a matter of "don't put all your money into one basket", it would be very tedious for me to diversify to the extent that this fund does for me automatically...and cheaply!

I am, perhaps, thinking of doing the "herd" mentality with the recent run up by selling high... if indeed, this is the high. Sitting on the money in a safe haven while I decide on what's next. Wait for the market to correct a bit and get back in?... invest with a more international flavor?

Shucks, I'll probably just stay put!

This STAR fund is, for now, my mainstay.

I can see, though, that I would have done just as well or better over the years if I would have simply invested in a combo of total stock market index and bond fund.

My original question was an attempt at determining the sort of investment which would *reliably* beat the interest on my mortgage. Someone once told me that it would be incredibly easy to reliably meet or beat the 6.1% mortgage rate that I am paying....so I ask, "oh? so where is this investment?".

So far, stocks have more than beat that rate, but safely?

You are right, getting my legal house in order would be prudent!


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

>>My original question was an attempt at determining the sort of investment which would *reliably* beat the interest on my mortgage. Someone once told me that it would be incredibly easy to reliably meet or beat the 6.1% mortgage rate that I am paying....so I ask, "oh? so where is this investment?". <<
You are absolutely correct in your skepticism. Sure, in good years, it's easy to beat a 6% benchmark. In a bad year - not so easy at all! People have very short memories when it comes to history, which is all finance really is.

I didn't realize the Vanguard STAR is a compilation of various funds, so that was interesting research.

It's weighted pretty heavily towards large cap companies, and has much less international than I prefer, but like I said, we're aggressive investors. In a stockmarket that is moving sideways a lot, being highly reactive to the morning news, having a good chunk in large cap is a reasonable balance of return vs risk. I'm a great believer in large cap, they've been pretty good to us over the years.

>>So far, stocks have more than beat that rate, but safely? <<
One of my consulting bosses is still working because he lost 70% of his liquid assets during the dot-com meltdown. He worked in the technology sector and believed in it; didn't have any background in investing and hired a "friend of a friend". Well, you can imagine what happened to him!

Fortunately he's young enough to recover and now smart enough to use a truly professional money manager. He's learned his lesson - better to pay a fee to have someone give you diversification and steady growth, rather than investing with your emotions.

Good luck, and remember, guilt is a great motivator in making one get things done, LOL!


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RE: not paying off mortgage, but invest in what?

I just discovered this nifty little calculator that helps you figure out whether it's better to pay off a particular debt vs invest.

In my case our mortgage is 5.12% and is tax deductible. The next time DH brings up the subject of paying off our mortgage, I'm going to show him this calculator....

Here is a link that might be useful: Calculator - Pay down debt?


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