Don’t Rush to Pay off Your Student Loan – make a plan first

This may surprise you: you should worry more about saving for retirement than paying off your student loan. Yes, there are many bloggers testifying to how they paid off their loans, and many trying to tell you that you need to too. The frequency of such posts does not mean that they are right, or that they have factored in all that you need to for a “best use of cash flow over time” plan. In fact, paying off student loans that have relatively low interest rather than investing will be a costly mistake.

Compare student loan payoff blog posts to the many advisors who encourage paying off your mortgage. The urgency to retire your mortgage belongs to the Silent Generation, who survived the Great Depression and are risk adverse. Paying off a mortgage is usually not the way to maximize your net worth. (Watch for a post on “rent vs. buy” discussing investing and use of mortgage debt.) Furthermore, tying up so much capital in a house lacks for diversification and liquidity – you cannot sell your daughter’s room to cover tuition when she goes off to college.

How do you decide what loan to pay off when? Start with this rule:

Whenever the interest rate on debt is less than the annualized return on investments, only pay the minimum on the loans

because the investments will grow faster than using the same cash to pay off debts

The term “annualized” returns is key here, as one good year is not a good measure, nor is a recent bad year; you want the 5 or better 10 year average return.

Next, when applying this general rule to yourself, be sure to use after-tax values. You can deduct home mortgage interest in most cases, a portion of student loans in some cases, and credit card debt in almost no cases, while you can deduct your investment in your retirement plan and what you invest grows tax-free until withdrawn. Roth IRAs do not give you a deduction now, but do grow tax free and withdrawals are tax-free.

Here is a quick example: say your retirement plan is all in ETFs, so it grows at about 7% per year over time, say you have a student loan with an interest rate of 3%, because you consolidated all your undergrad loans, and it has a minimum payment of $500 per month, and say you have $1,000 per month for which you want to devise the best plan. Apply no more than the required minimum to student loan and invest all the rest, maxing out your 401(k) or 403(b) plan first, and then investing in a Roth IRA next. In 10 years, you will be so much better off than the person who used the full $1,000 to pay her student loan. What if you had a loan with an interest rate of 8%? Tough call. However, because the loan is compounding over time at a higher rate, that persuades me to apply more to the loan, provided that doing so did not give up an employer match on a 401(k) plan.

These examples are overly simple, I realize. Many of you face the quandary of student loan vs. retirement funding vs. rent or buy a home and more. I am working on that …. (Watch for a post on integrating decisions on buying a home, paying off student loans, investing for retirement and all the other issues you are likely to face.)

Investment advice on saving for retirement – now!

Start your investment plan – now! Your future portfolio will thank you

“There’s no time like the present”, especially when it comes to investing. Young adults have a great advantage over other investors: time.

Compounding – The benefit of time is that is allows for interest to compound, which is the ability of an investment to grow by reinvesting earnings. Consider that a single $10,000 investment at age 20 would grow to over $70,000 by the time the investor becomes 60 years old (based on a 5% interest rate). By comparison, the same investment made at age 30 would yield about $43,000 by age 60, and made at age 40 would yield only $26,000. The longer money is put to work, the more wealth it can generate in the future.

Matches – If your employer offers an employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), we suggest you enroll in their plan. Not only is savings made easy through automatic payroll deductions, but your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars. Additionally, many employers offer 401(k) matches, which means they will contribute money into your account. If you don’t take advantage of this benefit, then you are leaving money on the table.

Resources – Another advantage young people have is there are now, more than ever, many low-cost services available to make saving and investing easy.

  • Consider the Acorns app. This app rounds up each transaction you make with your debit or credit card to the nearest dollar and invests the change into a diversified portfolio.
  • Robinhood is another useful resource. This app offers commission-free trading of listed stocks and ETFs. They run a lean company which allows them to operate for less. They make their money by accruing interested on investors uninvested cash balances and through fees charged in their upgraded version. This is a low-cost means of entering the investment world.
  • Check out Betterment.com, a robo-planner website for investing using ETFs that holds down fees. You use this to invest your taxable funds and your retirement plans, like IRAs.
  • Also check out earthfolio.com, a robo-planner for investing “with a social conscience.”

Whichever form of investment you decide to take, the earlier you begin, the better. Start building your wealth now! See also: Young people, don’t let this happen to you. Plan for retirement now!

 

[As we have stated in past posts, we recommend investing passively, using ETFs or index funds, so you save fees. You can buy a diverse set of ETFs, set up your portfolio and sleep until you rebalance next year.]

Steve Jobs said: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” – so how does that help your career path?

Michael Simmons recalled the impact of Steve Jobs last January in Top predictor of career success 2015.

Simmons then says: “We think we understand what caused his success. We don’t. We dismiss usable principles of success by labeling them as personality quirks. What’s often missed is the paradoxical interplay of two of his seemingly opposite qualities; maniacal focus and insatiable curiosity. These weren’t just two random strengths. They may have been his most important as they helped lead to everything else … Jobs’ curiosity fueled his passion and provided him with access to unique insights, skills, values, and world-class people who complemented his own skill set. Jobs’ focus brought those to bear in the world of personal electronics.”

In the post, he quotes Steve Jobs form 1995: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.”

How does any of this relate to you and your career? Simmons reports from his 2013 interview of an expert on networks that a key indicator is being in “open networks.” He then indicates how that is beneficial:

• More accurate view of the world. It provides them with the ability to pull information from diverse clusters so errors cancel themselves out. Research by Philip Tetlock shows that people with open networks are better forecasters than people with closed networks.

• Ability to control the timing of information sharing. While they may not be the first to hear information, they can be the first to introduce information to another cluster. As a result, they can leverage the first move advantage.

• Ability to serve as a translator / connector between groups. They can create value by serving as an intermediary and connecting two people or organizations who can help each other who wouldn’t normally run into each other.

 • More breakthrough ideas. Brian Uzzi, professor of leadership and organizational change at the Kellogg School of Management, performed a landmark study where he delved into the tens of millions of academic studies throughout history. He compared their results by the number of citations (links from other research papers) they received and the other papers they referenced. A fascinating pattern emerged. The top performing studies had references that were 90% conventional and 10% atypical (i.e., pulling from other fields). This rule has held constant over time and across fields. People with open networks are more easily able to create atypical combinations.

Here is a quote that I find interesting (and can relate to):

This is challenging in that it can lead to feeling like an outsider as a result of being misunderstood and under-appreciated because few people understand why you think the way you do. It is also challenging, because it requires assimilating different and conflicting perspectives into one worldview.

And this really does ultimately get back to Steve Jobs, who said “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” If you have not read, or better yet, watched this, find time to do so: The 2005 Stanford commencement address Jobs – “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Michael Simmons is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Empact, a global entrepreneurship education organization that has held 500+ entrepreneurship events including Summits at the White House, US Chamber of Commerce, and United Nations.

What we are reading – for laughs, for serious thought and discussion, and just because

She’s right: This is the Fourth Grader who Asked Obama to put a Woman on the $20 Bill, from BuzzFeed News

Technology: Musk Plots Energy Storage fix Where Utility Industry Failed, from Bloomberg

Humor: Cookie Monster, Life Coach – on YouTube

Health: A 2-Minute Walk May Counter the Harms of Sitting – Even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the risk of premature death.

Language: 20 Common Phrases Even the Smartest People Misuse, from The Muse

Comedy: Penn Jillette’s Big Dumb American Crush on Howard Johnson’s, from Eater

How to Be Emotionally Intelligent – What makes a leader? Knowledge, smarts and vision, but also the ability to identify and monitor emotions and manage relationships. From the NY Times

Comedy: The Man Who Makes the World’s Funniest People Even Funnier. As comedies become increasingly improvisational, they need an editor like Brent White to sew them together. From the NY Times- Quote: “Sometimes you just create a joke out of nothing.”

How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time, from Nautilus – Quote: “The Royal Automobile Club deemed Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie the most dangerous music to listen to while driving.”

What Is Your Purpose? We need to forge new ways to seriously discuss the deepest questions in life with modern tools. This is a start. From the NY Times