Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

September 18, 2019

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway Suite 300

Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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April 15, 2019

Is a home really an investment?

Is a home really an investment?

The housing market has experienced major peaks and valleys over the past 15 years.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you might be wondering if buying a house is a good investment, or if it even should be considered an investment at all…

“Owning a home is the best investment you can make.”
We’ve all heard this common financial refrain: “Owning a home is the best investment you can make.” The problem with that piece of conventional wisdom is that technically a home isn’t an investment at all. An investment is something that (you hope) will earn you money. A house costs money. We may expect to save money over the long term by buying a home rather than renting, but we shouldn’t (typically) expect to earn money from buying a home.

So, a home normally shouldn’t be considered an investment, but it may offer some financial benefits. In other words, buying a home may be a good financial decision, but not a good investment. A home may cost much more than it gives back – especially at the beginning of ownership.

The costs of homeownership
One reason that buying a home may not be a good investment is that the cost of homeownership may be much higher than renting – especially at first. Many first time homebuyers are unprepared for the added expense of owning a home, plus the amount of time maintaining a home may often require. First-time homebuyers must be prepared to potentially deal with:

  • Higher utility costs
  • Lawn care
  • Regular maintenance such as painting or cleaning gutters
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) if you don’t provide a full 20 percent down payment

A long term commitment
Another problem with considering a house as an investment is that it may take many years to build equity. Mortgages are typically interest heavy in the beginning. You can expect to be well into the life of your mortgage before you may see any real equity in your home.

Having the choice to move without worrying about selling your home is a benefit of renting that homeowners don’t enjoy. The freedom to move for a career goal, romantic interest, or even just a lifestyle choice is mostly available to a renter but may be out of reach for a homeowner. So, be sure to consider your long term goals and aspirations before you start planning to buy a house.

When is buying a home the right move?
Buying a home in many cases can be an excellent financial decision. If you are committed to living in a specific area but the rent is very high, homeownership may have some benefits. Some of those may be:

  • Not having a landlord make decisions about your property
  • Tax savings
  • Building equity
  • A stable place to raise a family

Buying a home: Not always a good investment, but may be a good financial decision
Although buying a home may not pay you in high returns, it can be an excellent financial decision. If owning a home is one of your dreams, go for it. Just be aware of the costs as well as the benefits. If you’ve always wanted to own your own home, then the rewards can be myriad – dollars can’t measure joy and the priceless memories you’ll create with your family.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, realtor, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

February 4, 2019

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Whether you’re renting or you own your home, there are various insurance options you may want to consider.

Like any insurance, they’ll help provide financial coverage in the event of an unexpected disaster. There are also varying levels of insurance that you may choose.

For Homeowners
There’s a general category known as “homeowner’s insurance”, which usually covers four categories: interior and exterior damage, damage to or loss of possessions on the property, and personal liability coverage that will help cover the cost of injuries sustained while on the property (such as if a guest slips and falls down the steps to the front door). The damages section of the policy usually won’t cover acts of war or nature, the latter including things like volcanic eruptions or floods. However, many policies will cover lodging and meals while the property is under construction and not able to be inhabited for the duration, such as if an exterior wall is destroyed by fire.

For geographical areas prone to certain disasters, a separate, specialized insurance policy may need to be purchased in order to cover damages or loss caused by such disasters. For example, for areas that are low-lying and near rivers where frequent heavy storms occur, general insurance may not cover damage to the property. Conversely, properties in mountainous areas are unlikely to need flood insurance but may need earthquake and/or landslide insurance if such events are more common there.

For Renters
While homeowner insurance will cover damage to the property – which is a major concern for those with a financial stake in the property – renter’s insurance usually covers damage to and loss of possessions, and also offers coverage for personal liability for injuries sustained on the property. The landlord likely has an insurance policy on the property to help protect against financial loss in the event of physical damage, but their insurance unlikely will extend to the tenant’s possessions or guests’ injuries. Thus, those who rent the property will need to consider insurance policies for these events.

Which Policies to Choose
As with any insurance policy, there may be deductibles, liability limits, covered and noncovered events and assets, and premiums. Generally the higher the limits and the broader the group of included incidents or assets, the higher the premium will be.

Some issues to consider:

  • If you choose a high deductible you may have a lower premium.
  • If you have guests over regularly, greater coverage for personal liability may be worthwhile.
  • If you travel often, an extension to protection may be a good idea. This is because many insurance policies may not cover theft or certain damages (like those arising from fire) for “vacant” homes, since these can be a greater risk when no one is living there for an extended period.
  • Many companies and policies may offer discounts to the premium if you have certain protections, like an alarm system, if you regularly perform maintenance, or opt for fire-retardant materials.
  • Some companies offer premium discounts if you have for example, both your car insurance and your renter’s or homeowener’s insurance with them.

The bottom line is that you should shop around for the best rates and coverage. Each individual will need to find the best fit. Make sure you have coverage for any specific circumstances that may be common in your area. And most importantly, make sure you thoroughly read and understand your policies, and the situations they cover, and don’t cover.

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January 28, 2019

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.

Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]

What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.

The Case for Ownership
One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.

For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.

Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.

One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.

The Case for Rentership
For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.

And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.

Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.

So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.

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[i] https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/08/who-rents-their-home-heres-what-the-data-says/566933/
[ii] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/causes-of-property-value-decrease-2124863

December 3, 2018

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

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November 26, 2018

Travel Insurance: What to know before you go

Travel Insurance: What to know before you go

Postcard-worthy sunsets. Fascinating cultures and customs. Exotic people and maybe even a new language to learn – at least enough to order food, pay for souvenirs, and find the nearest bathroom.

Travel can leave us with some amazing memories and lead us to grow simply by being exposed to different ways of seeing the world. It’s also fraught with peril – much of which we don’t consider when daydreaming about our trip. Travel insurance has the potential to provide protection if the daydream turns into a nightmare in a number of ways.[i]

An auto or life insurance policy is designed to provide a limited set of coverages, making the policies fairly easy to understand. Travel insurance, by comparison, can cover a wide range of unrelated risks, making the coverage and its exclusions a bit more difficult to follow. Depending on your travel insurance provider, your travel insurance may cover just a few risks or a wide gamut of potential mishaps.

So how do you know what kind of travel insurance you should purchase? Read on…

Trip Cancellation Insurance
One of the most basic and most commonly available coverage options, trip cancellation insurance provides coverage to reimburse you if you are unable to take your trip due to a number of possible reasons, including sickness or a death in the family. Cancellations for reasons such as a cruise line going bust or your tour operator going out of business are also typically covered. Additionally, if you or a member of your party becomes ill during the trip, trip cancellation insurance may reimburse you for the unused portion of the trip. Some trips you book will allow cancellation with full reimbursement (within a certain timeframe) for any reason, whereas some trips only allow reimbursement for medical or other specific reasons – make sure you check the travel policy for any limitations before you purchase it.

Baggage Insurance
Your travel daydreams probably don’t include lost baggage or theft of personal items while abroad – but it happens to travelers every day. Baggage insurance is another common coverage found bundled with travel insurance that provides protection for your belongings while traveling. If you already have a homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy, it’s likely that you already have this coverage in place. As a caveat, homeowners insurance and renters insurance policies typically limit the coverage for certain types of items, like jewelry, and may only pay a reduced amount for other types of items. Home insurance policies also have a deductible – typically $1,000 or more – that should be considered when deciding if you should purchase baggage insurance with your travel insurance.

Emergency Medical Coverage
Most people don’t know if their health insurance will cover them internationally – it could be that your policy does not protect you outside of the country. Accidents, illness, and other conditions that require medical assistance are border-blind and can happen anywhere, leaving you wondering how to arrange and pay for the medical attention that could be needed by you or your family. Travel health insurance can cover you in these instances and is often available as a stand-alone policy or bundled as part of a travel insurance package.

Accidental Death Coverage
Often bundled as a tag-along coverage with travel health insurance, accidental death coverage provides a limited benefit for accidental death while traveling. If you already have a life insurance policy, accidental death coverage may not be needed – and chances are good that your life insurance policy has fewer limitations and provides a higher death benefit for your named beneficiaries or loved ones.

Other Travel Coverages
A number of other options are often offered as part of travel insurance packages, including missed connection coverage, travel delay coverage, and traveler assistance. Another coverage option to consider is collision and comprehensive coverage for rented cars. Car accidents are among the leading types of mishaps when traveling. Typically, a personal car insurance policy will not cover you for vehicle damage, liability, or medical expenses when traveling abroad.

When you’re ready to cross “See the Seven Wonders of the Modern World” off your bucket list, consider travel insurance. It may provide some relief so you can concentrate on the important things, like making sure you bring the right foreign plug adapter for your hair dryer.

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[i] “Should you buy travel insurance?” Insurance Information Institute, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Lv9BPc.

October 29, 2018

How much home can you afford?

How much home can you afford?

For most households, buying a home means getting a mortgage, which means lenders play a big role in declaring how much house you can “afford”.

Many people take that calculation as a guide in choosing which house they want to buy, but after you’ve signed the papers and moved in, the lender might not be much help in working out the details of your family budget or making ends meet.

Let’s take a look behind the curtain. What is it that lenders look at when determining how large of a mortgage payment you can feasibly make?

The 28-36 Rule
Lenders look closely at income and debt when qualifying you for a certain mortgage amount. One of the rules of thumb at play is that housing expenses shouldn’t run more than 28% of your total gross income.[i] You also may hear this referred to as the “housing ratio” or the “front-end ratio”. The 28% rule is a good guideline – even for renters – and has been a common way to budget for household expenses over many generations. Using this rule of thumb, if your monthly income is $4,000, the average person would probably be able to afford up to $1,120 for a mortgage payment.

Lenders also check your total debt, which they call debt-to-income (DTI). Ideally, this should be below 36% of your income. You can calculate this on your own by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. For example, if your car loans, credit cards, and other debt payments add up to $2,000 per month and your gross income is $4,000 per month, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify for a loan. Most likely you would need to get your monthly debt payments down to $1,440 (36% of $4,000) or under, or find a way to make more money to try to qualify.

Buying less home than you can afford
While the 28% and 36% rules are there to help provide safeguards for lenders – and for you, by extension – buying a home at the top end of your budget can still be risky business. If you purchase a home with a payment equal to the maximum amount your lender has determined, you may not be leaving much room for error, such as an unexpected job loss or other financial emergency. If something expensive breaks – like your furnace or the central air unit – that one event could be enough to bring down the whole house of cards. Consider buying a home with a mortgage payment below your maximum budget and think about upsizing later or if your income grows.

A home as an investment?
A lot of people will always think of their home as an investment in an asset – and in many cases it is – but it’s also an investment in your family’s comfort, safety, and well-being. In reality, homes usually don’t appreciate much more than the rate of inflation and – as the past decade has shown – they can even go down in value. Your home, as a financial tool, isn’t likely to make you rich. In fact, it may do the opposite, if your mortgage payment takes up so great a percentage of your monthly budget that there’s nothing left over to invest, pay down debt, save for a rainy day, or enjoy.

Homes are one of those areas where many discover that less can be more. Whether it’s your first home or you’re trading in the old house for a new one, you might be better served by looking at how big of a mortgage payment you can afford within your current budget, rather than setting your sights on the house your lender says you can afford.

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[i] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/mortgages/new-house-calculator.aspx

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