Filing Taxes

We filed our taxes. It just takes so long, but it’s easy. This year I recorded what I did and how long it took, so I wanted to share.

I’ve shared that I record transactions all year long. Inevitably, a few things slip through a crack. So I go through everything I have on file to make sure I can support a charge I’ve recorded (e.g., receipt) and that I haven’t missed entering something in my spreadsheet (e.g., I have a receipt for work, but didn’t put it in my spreadsheet).

DC TAXES

Mr. ODA works for a DC office, but lives in KY. The paperwork information got crossed, and he ended up paying taxes to DC for a little while. Apparently DC is used to this mistake. There’s a form he filled out, attached a copy of his W2, and mailed it to DC. He received a full refund within a couple of weeks! I couldn’t believe the timing of it and how it easy it was!

STEP 1

My first step was to load all my mortgage documents for the houses that we still have mortgages on. I need to know the mortgage interest for the year and what they paid out in taxes from escrow. For some reason, it never tells me the insurance payments made on the tax document, so I need to go through my email or look at the line-by-line escrow to see when and how much was paid for insurance. I estimate the mortgage interest each year, but I don’t have the final amount until January.

STEP 2

Then I go through my email files. I try to get most of my receipts via email (e.g., Home Depot and Lowes are good about tying your credit card to your email address so I keep everything filed electronically). This took me just over 3 hours. I went through each email receipt to see if I had it recorded properly. I found 2 or 3 transactions that I had receipts for, but they weren’t recorded in my spreadsheet. I also found out that I didn’t record any of my final December transactions (i.e., stormwater utility bills and property management).

STEP 3

After I go through everything I can electronically, I move on to my paper files. We have a lot of our insurance through State Farm, and they don’t email me receipts for payment, nor can I look up previous payments made on their website. So I keep a paper copy of all the insurance documents for each house. We had a huge debacle with two of our KY houses and insurance last Fall, so I had to make sure I had all of that recorded accurately. I used to rely on the paper stormwater utility bills that I pay directly, but this year I just went into our checking account and verified the amounts that I paid against what I recorded. Since most of my transactions are kept electronically (especially with having property managers, so they’re sending me the bills they receive electronically), the paper checking was only about an hour this year. It used to be longer, but I’ve streamlined my electronic filing so mostly everything is in there.

STEP 4

After just over four hours of “prep” work, we move on to the tax software.

Mr. ODA entered our W2 information, we both pulled up all our investment account statements, and then we got into the investment properties. It’s tedious, and each year we have to remember how we matched our terminology to the system’s terminology (why can’t I keep better notes on this?!). We got into a groove and knocked out half the properties in about 80 minutes before taking a break. We focused on the 3 properties that we received one 1099-MISC for first, which involved going back and forth on some screens. Then we knocked out some of the easier houses. The next night, we finished off the rest of the houses in about an hour.

We usually call it complete at that time, but we don’t submit right away. We take a few days to see if we think of something we may have missed (whether investment property or personal finance), and then we submit. We usually owe Federal and State tax every year, so we’re never in a rush to get this done and pay. Somehow, we get a refund for Federal this year, but we still owe the State.

SUMMARY

About 6.5 hours of tax work, after being pretty on top of it all year. People ask us why we don’t use someone to do it instead of putting all that time in. It’s not that easy. If we had to send our information to an accountant, we still would have to gather all our receipts and send them over. I think it’s easier to look at my receipt and record it, rather than gather all my emails and send them to an accountant (not to mention Gmail is not a great mail system in this regard because you can’t easily add emails to new emails). Then we have to field all their questions regarding the documentation that I send, which will inevitably be frustrating to me. It’s all around cheaper and easier to do it this way.

Tenant Evaluations

When looking to rent your house, you should do your due diligence. Our concerns are whether a person has a history of late payments, collections accounts, and if they have a criminal history.

We do two steps of initial screenings before asking a tenant to pay an application fee. The first two steps given them the opportunity to disclose anything that may be seen as unfavorable or not meet our rental criteria. This way, once they pay the application fee, it’s a verification step, and they’re not wasting any money for me to find out that I’m going to decline them.

Here are the details of how I go through the evaluation process, and specifically how I just did it for our new rental.

RENTING CRITERIA

First, I send everyone interested an “Interest Form.” We ask for their legal name, contact information, credit score, employment data, number of occupants, whether they smoke, if they have pets, if they’ve been evicted, and if they’ve been convicted of a felony. I also ask them to provide any other information they think I should know that may affect their ability to rent the house. I send this form to everyone who expresses interest, and it’s the first step before scheduling a showing. I request the data before scheduling a showing because I don’t want to waste my time or theirs showing the house, when they had adverse responses to our criteria. This was more important when I was scheduling individual showings, but I now conduct an “open house.” I set aside two hours to be at the house and ask they come during that time. If that doesn’t yield a tenant, then I’ll evaluate who couldn’t make it and field new requests to see it to determine if I’ll show it individually or host another open house.

We have this at the top of our Interest Form.

Properties are offered without regard to race, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status.

Required standards for qualifying to rent a home are:
• Each prospective applicant aged 18 or older must submit a separate application.
• We limit the number of occupants to 2 per bedroom.
• Your combined gross monthly income must be at least $4,000.
• You must be employed and/or be able to furnish acceptable proof of the required income.
• You must have a favorable credit history.
• You must have good housekeeping, payment, and maintenance references from previous Landlords.

Compensating factors can include additional requirements such as double deposit and/or a cosigner.

Our typical rental actually requires 3x the rent as the monthly income, but since our last house was more expensive, we put the requirement as a dollar amount threshold instead.

Then I would historically review those who say they’re interested and pick the one that appears to be most qualified. I’d send them a “pre-application” form to fill out. However, for our last tenant search, I asked everyone interested to fill out the “pre-application.” The tenant screening system doesn’t tell me their last landlord information or their employer, which are both necessary for making phone calls and checking their information given. The “pre-application” repeats some of the questions on the Interest Form, but the pre-application requires them to sign the form as an “affidavit” that the information is accurate.

If they tell me that they’re going to have a low credit score, it helps me to know the reasons for it up front. Additionally, by letting me know any issues up front, it saves them money. If they self-report that they have several collections accounts, then it could be cause for me to move on to a different person interested. If they don’t tell me that they have some issues in their history that may be unfavorable, and I send them the application, then they’re spending $40 per person only to potentially not get the house. I prefer to use the online tenant screening as a final verification step than an initial screening and potentially waste someone’s money.

One time I got through all these steps, had 3 different people submit an application for a house, and the report came back with an eviction. We asked why they didn’t disclose that to us originally. They told us a story about how they were asked to leave somewhere, but they didn’t know that it was reported as an eviction. We told them that they were disqualified. We went with our “runner up,” and they’ve been in the house almost 3 years without any issue or late payment.

We also had two people submit an application and then a bankruptcy was reported on the credit report (it was before the pre-application step I implemented). She said she didn’t see a place to explain a bankruptcy, so she didn’t think to mention it. For future reference, if I ask for your credit score and you have anything concerning in that credit report, it’s helpful to be upfront about it. In that case, everything else was fine and her explanation for the bankruptcy was clear and thorough. We gave them a chance, and they were amazing. She was rebuilding her life after taking on a lot of new bills after a divorce, juggling single-income life, and it was a way to consolidate the debt.

DECIDING BETWEEN TENANTS

In this last situation, I had several people express interest in the property.

I held the open house, and I asked everyone to let me know by noon the following day if they were interested in pursing an application after seeing the property. I received 6 or 7 people who were interested in the house.

I don’t look at one factor. I weigh all the information given to me in my head. In a perfect system, I may assign a weight to each data point, but that’s more effort. I’m reviewing the data and trying to see who has the best, well-rounded criteria.

The house is big (2100 sf with 4 bedrooms), and rent is higher than anything we’ve ever managed. I looked at what they are currently paying in rent. If they’re currently paying $1500 per month, then that made me more confident that they’d cover the $1750; if they are currently paying $400 per month, then I was concerned that they weren’t prepared to cover such a large expense difference. Along those lines, I also gave more credit to someone who has a stable job that they’ve been at for more than a year, versus a few people who said “I’m starting a new job at the end of April.” We have a tenant that goes through jobs every 1-3 months and is always a pain with rent, so I’m probably more scarred by job history now.

I gave more credence to those who had at least a 600 credit score, but I didn’t rule out anyone with a credit score less than that. One woman did have a lower credit score, but she had other good information, so I didn’t rule her out.

Finally, the determining factor came down to availability. My top two contenders had different desired move dates. One said early April, and another said June 1st, but May 1st may be ok. When I asked her to explain about her move date, I received a detailed story that didn’t have any conclusion on when she was available. Since this is a business, and I had a qualified group interested in the house sooner than others, they were the ones selected. If I didn’t have someone qualified for an April move in, then I would have waited for a May 1st rental instead of lowering my standards.

Luckily, I had enough interest in the property that I could select someone who was well qualified and get it rented sooner than later.

APPLICANT SCREENING

Once I’ve given someone these two opportunities to disclose unfavorable information in their credit or criminal history, and they’ve provided favorable responses that meet our criteria, I send the link for the application. The potential renter enters their data into the system, which helps keep their information secure (e.g., I don’t have their social security number) and helps eliminate any typographical errors that I may make transferring the information into the website instead of them entering the data they already know. Additionally, the tenant pays the fee (currently $40) directly to the website, which helps them understand that once the report is run and the fee is paid, it was for a service so it’s not refundable. I heard multiple stories this past week where people paid “application fees,” but were later told that they weren’t the first to respond. That’s not fair. I don’t need to know everyone’s detailed reports and cost people money if they aren’t going to get the property. So here’s how I handle the tenant screening process.

The system generates a report for me to see that includes their credit history, criminal history, eviction history, and income verification.
– The credit history shows any missed or late payments; collections accounts; bankruptcies filed with the chapter, date filed, and amount settled; and their score. I’m more concerned about late or missing payments than anything else there. The collections accounts are typically related to medical bills, but if they’re for general credit cards or an enormous car loan, I’d find it more concerning. I’ve also not ruled someone out simply because they’ve filed bankruptcy; two of our tenants actually have a bankruptcy in their report.
– The criminal history tells me if they’ve had any judgements against them. I’ve seen traffic violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. The report also tells me if they’ve been listed on any sex offender registry. If they have felonies, multiple misdemeanors, or are on a sex offender registry, it’s automatic disqualification. I’ve gone down the road of giving people chances, and it hasn’t gone well. This report isn’t fool-proof either. I know how to use the court record system where we have most of our houses, and I now look them up in all the nearby jurisdictions to be sure there’s nothing reported.
– The eviction report will tell me if they’ve been formally evicted. This doesn’t capture any times where a tenant and landlord agreed on the tenant’s departure outside of the court system. This also may miss some jurisdiction evictions. We had someone show up in a separate jurisdiction when I went looking for their information in the surrounding areas, but it didn’t show up on the report. Don’t think that this report is fool-proof.
– The income verification comes with a built-in caveat. I don’t know the details on how the report is run, but the result is something along the lines of “we believe that the self-reported income is near accurate.”

The report suggests whether to accept or decline the applicants. I suggest reviewing the data and making a decision for yourself. Some reasons why the recommendation will be to decline include: criminal history, bankruptcy, and low credit score.

We have given several people “chances” that don’t perfectly meet our criteria. Below is a screenshot where the recommendation was to decline. However, we ended up asking for more information and giving them a chance. They ended up spending a year in a rental of ours, moving out of the area, and then asking for our rental availability when they came back to town. They always paid on time, hardly asked for anything, and took great care of the house.

We have also accepted tenants that had some concerns in their report, but the system recommended we accept them. We tried to overlook the issues, but we’ve ended up regretting it. We have one tenant who has a criminal history (forgery) and we ended up having to release her roommate from the lease because of a domestic violence and restraining order issue. She’s also consistently late on making rent payments and doesn’t keep communication lines open. We plan to ask her to leave at the end of this lease term. We also had a tenant with a 480 credit score who wrote us a letter about her low credit and asked for a chance. She ended up consistently paying late (she always paid, but it was always a fight); we threatened eviction when it got to a breaking point where she was combative, but she left on her own terms. That’s a good example where she was a terrible tenant, who we gave multiple opportunities and even restructured her rent, but her eviction report won’t say anything to that effect.

DEPOSIT

Once I have an approved application, I request a deposit to hold the property and remove the listing. Typically, the lease signing doesn’t occur immediately. In those cases, I want protection of my cash flow that I’m holding the property for someone specifically. I’ve had a couple of houses that have signed a lease immediately, but typically there’s a lag between “acceptance” and the lease being signed (forming a contract).

In this last instance, the tenant was accepted on Friday, but the lease wasn’t going to be signed until the following Thursday. I requested a $400 deposit, which will be applied to their balance owed to get the keys transferred to them. I originally was going to request $500, but I realized that the week’s worth of time at the rent per diem rate came to $408. If they back out between now and Thursday, then I haven’t lost income if I had chosen someone else and not held the property until the date they wanted a lease. Ironically, they ended up paying a deposit of $500. For them to obtain the keys, they owe a security deposit ($1750), the first month’s pro rated rent (about $1300), and a pet fee of $500. Their total is $3,550, but the $500 I’ve already collected is applied to that balance. Therefore, on Thursday, they’ll owe me $3,050 for me to hand them the keys.

Usually, I require the first month of rent to be the full amount, and then the proration is applied to month 2. Since for this tenant, they already paid rent at their current address for the month of April, and the rent here is higher than our average, I went ahead and prorated the first month so they didn’t have to put so much cash out of pocket in a short period of time.

SUMMARY

You can see how I am not making black-and-white decisions. I’m not hanging my hat on one or two factors. I’m being reasonable in my decisions and understanding that there’s a person, and maybe a family, on the other end of this transaction.

Be fair. Utilize a variety of factors in making your eligibility determination. Keep your communication lines open with potential renters until you have a deposit and/or lease signed on the property.

Treat this as a business and make informed, logical decisions instead of emotional ones, but be reasonable.

Credit Card Rewards

A while back, I wrote about how, if you really wanted to put the effort in, you could be maximizing credit card rewards. If you don’t want to put the effort in that I’ll get to in a second, then you could at least have one reward-earning card that you use for all your purchases and pay off each month.

Important reminders:

We don’t use cash. Everything goes on a credit card unless it’s prohibited or there’s a service charge that outweighs our rewards.

We pay off the balance of every credit card every month. We have never paid interest on a credit card balance.

Let’s dive in.

REWARDS

Credit card companies are offering rewards for using their card for purchases. Some even give a reward for making payments on it too. The rewards can be in a point system, cash back, or incentives for specific companies (e.g., Delta, Disney). We prefer more generic reward options, but some people like to use a specific reward card. The best reward credit card for you is one that matches your spending habits.

An example of a specific reward credit card would be a a Disney card. As you earn money, it goes towards their trip to Disney. Psychologically, they feel that their expensive annual trip to Disney is “paid for.” While this may work for some people, our thought process is that if I earn $1,500, then I have the flexibility to put it towards a Disney trip or can buy something else.

The simplest way to collect rewards is to have an all-category-cash-back credit card (e.g., 1% cash back on all purchases). However, to make the most, you could be using multiple credit cards so you can earn extra rewards in different categories. Then you need to know which card to use when, and also keep track of your statement periods so that you pay it off in full each month. A category type credit card can give rewards in multiple categories (e.g., 4% on gas, 3% of restaurants, 1% on all other purchases), can rotate reward categories (e.g., first quarter is 5% on gas, second quarter is 5% on groceries), or can be geared towards one specific category all the time (e.g., 5% on gas). There are typically earning caps in these categories.

CHOOSING A REWARD CREDIT CARD

Each credit card company has a variety of cards that offer different rewards. You can decide what fits your spending pattern the best. If you don’t want to identify the categories that you spend, then the Citi Double Cash is a great “catch all” with no annual fee and no reward earning cap. You earn 1% cash back on each dollar spent, and then an additional 1% on each dollar paid towards your credit card balance. We deposit our earnings into a checking account instead of a statement credit, because we learned that we don’t earn cash back on the statement credit made.

Some credit cards have an annual fee. We typically shy away from anything that has an annual fee because we don’t like paying money to spend money, but we did have a couple of exceptions. For instance, one card had a $450 annual fee. You earn 3% points (one point is the equivalent of a penny if cashed out) on all travel and dining purchases and 1% points on everything else, but if you redeem the points earned through their travel portal, you get a 50% bonus. One of the rewards was reimbursement of $300 worth of travel costs. The card reimbursed the cost of TSA Precheck too, which as $75, and had a DoorDash credit of $30. Then the last $45 of the fee was offset by the rewards granted through point usage. But the annual fee increased to $550, and we no longer thought it was worth keeping and that the cost would be fully offset by the rewards.

We also look for a sign on bonus. If we’re going to have our credit checked, we want to capitalize on it. Sign on bonuses are typically additional cash back or points once you hit a certain spending threshold. For example, the card may say “once you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, you’ll earn a statement credit of $300.”

In addition to a sign on bonus, we would also prefer opening a card that offers a 0% introductory rate. I’ve shared before that we most often look for a new credit card because we have a large expense coming. When faced with paying for in-vitro-fertilization out of pocket, we opened a new credit card that had 15 months worth of 0% interest. This way, when we paid the tens-of-thousands owed, we gave ourselves an interest free loan. That particular credit card was only used for that expense because the reward categories were worse than other cards we had. However, we didn’t close that card because it helps our credit by having more of credit line open.

OUR REWARD USE

Besides the Citi Double Cash, we’re partial to the Chase options out there. We use different cards for different categories, and then use the Citi for anything that doesn’t fit into a category.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards last year. That’s money in our pockets that we did nothing except spend other money to get. In the past, it’s usually about $1,500 per year that we bring in with credit card rewards. The amount in 2021 was higher due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

What could you do with a “free” and “extra” $1,500?

If you’re smart with credit cards, they can be a powerful tool to create financial flexibilities.

Commercial Loan

We closed on a new type of loan last week. It wasn’t a completely smooth process, but it was easier than a residential loan.

WHY COMMERCIAL?

Residential loans on second+ properties were over 4.5% on their interest rates last month. The commercial loan gave us options that were lower than that. It comes with a catch though. While the loan is amortized over 25 years (there was a 20 year option too), there’s a balloon payment after 5 years. There were also 3, 7, and 10 year options. Being that this was our most expensive investment property purchase, 3 years was too much of a risk to take on that balloon payment. The interest rates for 7 and 10 years didn’t make it worth going the commercial loan route. While the interest rate is fixed (unlike in an ARM or adjustable rate mortgage), this balloon is a risk.

By going through a credit union, our costs were also minimal. Our closing costs were just over $1,000, rather than the typical $2k-3k that we’ve seen on closings that cost less than half what this house cost us.

The only other “catch,” if you want to call it that, is that there is no escrow. I already handle the taxes and insurance payments on my own for a handful of our houses, so that’s not a big deal. I also appreciate having control over my money instead of having to check in on escrow regularly and making sure all the escrow analyses are actually done correctly (because one recently wasn’t!)

PROCESS

We filled out an application, which they called the “personal financial statement” and included our detailed financial status. It had me list all our account types and balances. I assume that’s what they used to compare against our credit report, because we actually didn’t send any account statements to them (glorious!). We had to provide the last 3 years of tax returns (ugh… we haven’t done 2021 yet so we had to give 2018).

I developed a rent roll and gave that as well. It listed all real estate owned, purchase price and date, current market value, monthly rent, mortgage balance, monthly mortgage payment, and whether or not it’s occupied. I added the HOA payments on the houses where it’s applicable because that always seems to be a last minute request for documentation.

Once the application was completed and reviewed, that was it. We were asked a few follow up questions about the numbers on our forms, but we weren’t asked for anything further. Essentially, “underwriting” happened as part of the application process, versus in the middle of the application and closing dates, spanning days and maybe weeks of documentation gathering and answering of questions.

Instead of a “rate lock,” the rate given is the rate that was present at the application submission, pending any exceptions (e.g., if credit isn’t what we said it was or we have outstanding loans not disclosed). As an auditor, it was hard for me to accept that we weren’t going to be hit with a surprise somewhere along the way because we never signed anything agreeing to loan terms! 

We saw no documentation until the Monday before our Thursday closing. There was no initial disclosure, and no “rate lock.” We had no idea how much the closing costs actually were going to be. The responses to our questions were slow or nonexistent. We didn’t see our appraisal until the Friday before closing. Not knowing the process or knowing when we’d find out how much this was costing us was more than we’re used to handling emotionally.

We received the HUD settlement statement on the Monday before closing. Luckily, everything was correct. Our sellers had already moved out of the area, so we had to have the statement sent to them, signed, and sent back to the Title attorney. They did that perfectly, and we had an easy closing on Thursday. We signed all the paperwork in about 20 minutes!

FIVE YEAR LOAN

Mr. ODA ran some numbers to show me why we should go for the 5 year loan instead of the other terms.

We didn’t consider the 3 year option because we didn’t want to manage that balloon payment or refinancing so quickly.

As a reminder: the closing costs for the commercial options are the same regardless of the term, and were about $2k less than the traditional loan; all the commercial loans are amortized over 25 years, but have a balloon payment at the end of the term given; all are based on 20% down (because there was no incentive for 25% down).

The final decision to go with the 5 year loan was that we haven’t shied away from risk in the past, so take the incentives that come with the shorter term (i.e., lower monthly payment and less interest paid). Our portfolio has made drastic changes over the last 5 years. Therefore, we don’t see a reason to pay more interest, reduce less principal, and have a higher monthly payment (thereby lowering our monthly cash flow) just because a balloon of $167k is concerning.

BALLOON PAYMENT

The loan is $193,600. After 60 payments (5 years), the principal balance (with no additional payments made) will be $167,500.

Let’s face it, if we had $160k+ liquid, we wouldn’t be paying the first 5 years of interest on the account. We can make additional principal payments over the next 5 years to dwindle the balance before the balloon payment is due, and/or we can look into refinancing the balance at the end of the 5 years.

We had another private loan that had a balloon payment at 5 years. That loan was originated at about $70k and we paid it off in about 3 years. We had several issues with that lender, so we had the incentive to throw money at the loan and be rid of it, versus attempting to refinance it at the end of the 5 year term.

It’ll be interesting to see what we do on this going forward. The balloon payment would typically be an incentive to make additional principal payments. However, we have six other loans with an interest rate higher than this loan’s, and one loan with the same interest rate. We’ve been focusing on either the one with the lowest principal balance or the one with the highest interest rate. This new loan doesn’t fit either of those categories!

SUMMARY

Mr. ODA asked me if I would do this again, and I would. It was frustrating to ask someone in customer service a pointed question and not get an answer, but overall this was easy. There was minimal documentation needed, the requests didn’t drag on, and the closing costs and interest rates available were favorable. The balloon payment is something that needs to stay on your radar over the next 5 years (and mostly in that final year), but refinancing is always an option. It doesn’t mean that you have to be ready to fork over $167k on that date, but you do need to plan for closing times and ensure you keep your credit worthiness in good shape (although isn’t that always the goal?!).

Should you take the raise?

Yes.

It seems it’s time to revisit this discussion.

A raise does not mean you’re making less money because it’s “taxed more.” The tax rate is not greater than 100%, which means each individual dollar is not taxed at a rate greater than or equal to that dollar. The highest tax rate for 2022 is 37%. So even if you’re at the highest tax bracket, you’re still bringing home 0.63 cents on the dollar. So let’s revisit the United States tax system: marginal tax brackets.


MARGINAL TAX BRACKETS

Your income is taxed by the IRS according to a marginal tax bracket. This means that each dollar fits into a separate “pot” to determine how much it’s taxed. This does not mean that if you make $15,000, it’s all taxed at 12%; or if you make $95,000, it’s all taxed at 24%. This means that each dollar that fits into these “pots” is taxed at its respective rate. For ease of seeing how the math works, this post is just going to assume you’re filing single, but there are other options, which changes the bracket amounts.

Let’s say you make $80,000, and you’re considering a raise to $95,000. This is a difference of $15,000 in gross income. Only $5,925 falls into your “new” tax bracket. Your net raise (take home pay, barring any other deductions for the year) is $11,581.50, and you’re paying $3,418.50 in additional taxes.

Let’s do an example where you receive a raise, but you stay within the same tax bracket. You’re making $80,000 and offered a 5% raise, which would bring your salary to $84,000. You would make another $3,120 in net income, and you’re paying $880 in additional taxes (which is 22% of the salary increase).


Making $90k instead of $80k does not mean that your entire pay check is now taxed at that higher rate. This is the common misconception about earning more money. Each dollar is taxed within the bracket it falls into. In 2021, single filers get taxed on 10% of their income up to $10,275. That means that the first dollars they earn are taxed at 10%, but the $10,276th dollar they earn is taxed in the next bracket, or 12%. The 12% bracket goes to $41,775. Similarly, the $41,776th dollar they earn will be taxed at 22%, and so on.

Mr. ODA posted about how bonuses are calculated by your payroll processors back in 2019. I’d rather take the additional money in my pocket than worry about how it may appear to be taxed more when you see a new paycheck.

March Financial Update

We have been surprisingly busy around here. I’ve been juggling a few rental issues, staying on top of some billing issues, and trying to make it through a commercial loan process.

At one point, most of our loans were held by one company. That was a more simple life. Even though we’re down to 6 mortgages under our name, it’s through 5 different companies. I’m really struggling keeping up with them and getting in a groove after our most recent refinance. I’ve mis-paid things 3 times now. I’m always on top of our payments, but something just isn’t clicking right now for me. I just paid one of our mortgages due April 1 instead of changing the date to be an April pay date. At the moment, we have a buffer in our account because we’re getting to this closing next week, but we usually don’t, so hopefully I have this figured out now that I’ve made so many mistakes.

RENTAL PROPERTIES

LEASE RENEWALS

We had 3 properties process their renewals this past month. Each of them had cost increases to their lease renewal (875 to 950 effective 5/1, 850 to 900 effective 8/1, and 1025 to 1100 effective 5/1). We have another property that will have a renewal offer go out this week. Then we have 3 that will need action by the end of April because the leases expire 6/30, and one that will need action by the end of May because it expires 7/31.

MAINTENANCE

We had a tenant reach out to us that they found bugs in their bathroom tub. She sent pictures and, sure enough, they were termite swarmers. I have way too much experience with termites. I called our pest company, and they sent someone out for an inspection to confirm they were termites. Then I got a call that because we didn’t pay the annual fee to keep our warranty current for the last 3 years (we had the house treated for termites in February 2019 when we bought it because there were active termites and extensive damage by the front door that needed repaired), they could charge us $650 again. However, since we’re considered a business account, she’d be happy to let us back pay the termite warranty and they’re treat it. So I paid $294 for the treatment instead (split with a partner on this house). She also informed me that they had cut off the hot water to the kitchen sink because there was a leak. I don’t know why tenants don’t tell us these things right away! I had my plumber out there the same day, and he replaced the whole faucet. That was $378. That’s one of those charges that’s frustrating because we could have replaced the faucet on our own, but we don’t live there anymore. Oh well; it’s also a cost split with our partner, so that helps.

We had another tenant reach out saying that her kitchen sink drained slowly. She’s been with us since we bought the house and never asks for anything. She’s on top of communication and was super appreciative each time we agreed to renew her lease. We had done a huge sewer line replacement project at this house, so I was skeptical of the issue. It turns out there was a plastic fork lodged down there, but I just let it go (meaning, she’s then technically responsible for the cost). Our property manager let her know that if it happens again, she’s financially responsible, but we’ll cover the cost ($200) this time.

RENT COLLECTION

We FINALLY got the check for one of our tenants that had an approved rent relief application. They submitted an application in November to cover December, January, and February rent. By mid-December, they ended up paying December rent because they hadn’t heard (and the application expires, meaning their protection from eviction expires (not that I would have pursued eviction for this group because they’ve been great tenants for several years)). They received approval for 3 months worth of rent and 2 late fees on January 11. We received the check on March 4th. So frustrating in that process, but still better than an October approval and us getting those 3 months paid at the end of January.

We had our usual suspects not pay rent. On the one house, they didn’t tell us they weren’t paying rent for the longest time. Now, they tell us they’ll pay us on a later date. I let it go this month, but with them paying on the 23rd, that means we’re in a perpetual cycle of not getting rent on the 1st. We have a partner on this house, so I plan to address it next month if they claim another 3+ week delay in getting us the rent. On the other house, she let us know in February that she’d struggle to pay rent and she gave us random amounts throughout the month. I let her know she was still $106 short from February and that she was now in default of March’s rent, and I got no response. Then Mr. ODA had $1000 show up in his account on Friday. She still owes $371 between the two months, but at least we have the mortgage payments covered. She’s also the tenant that we plan on not renewing her lease because she’s caused issues throughout her tenure.

BUYING A NEW PROPERTY

We’re still in the process of getting through closing on a new rental property. We’re expecting to close not he 24th, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s a commercial loan, and it operates different from residential mortgage underwriting, so we’re in the dark. Communication has been next-to-nothing. We’re currently waiting on the appraisal to come back. That was our one hurdle to getting into the house. I said once the appraisal clears, then we (as the buyer) shouldn’t have any risk in getting to closing. Therefore, we were hoping to have the house painted before we close (I would do the painting), then we could refinish the floor and get the rest of the cleaning done the weekend after closing, and get it listed for rent for April 1. I suppose I wouldn’t be trying to get to the house before Friday, so I guess I can be patient and wait to see what happens with the appraisal for a few more days (even though the appraiser was on site last Tuesday, and I’ve never had it take more than a day or two to get the paperwork).

REFINANCE FOLLOW UP, STILL

We still have an issue with the mortgage that I ended up paying 3 times for the 2/1 due date. Our refinance was difficult, and the communication continued to be difficult after closing. I asked on 2/1 whether our loans had been sold yet because I was surprised I hadn’t heard. Usually, I see a note saying to pay the new company before the first payment, thereby not paying the first payment to that “first payment notice” place that comes with the closing documents. The company’s contact said to keep paying them because they hadn’t sold the loans yet. I didn’t open the attachments in his email because I assumed he was reiterating what he said in the email. Turns out, one of the loans was already sold, and I should have paid the new company. Well, I processed a paper check to go to a completely different company (started with a C, and I didn’t catch that I selected the wrong one in bill pay). Luckily, that company sent us our check back, saying they think our loan is closed with them and they can’t process the payment (thank goodness we once had a loan with the address I put in the memo line so they could clearly make a connection and say “we don’t want this!”). When I noticed my mistake on the 14th, I sent a handwritten check that I rushed to the post office at 4:55 to get post marked. In the meantime, I found out that I was able to set up an online account with the new company even though I didn’t have the loan number yet (they gave it to me over the phone). I paid the new company online to make sure I didn’t have anything on my record claiming I didn’t pay by the 15th and it was late. I figured I’d rather manage 3 payments being made than fight the credit companies to change my credit report. Well, the initial company cashed my handwritten check, but they still haven’t sent the money to the new mortgage company. They just kept telling me they have 60 days to get it to them, and I said that’s unacceptable that they’re holding my money. That was a week ago that I was told I’d get a call back, and I haven’t heard from them.

PERSONAL EXPENSES

Now that the basement is done, I had a strong urge to finish projects. There were several things that were starting but not completed. Those final punch list items always seem to take forever. I was impressed that Mr. ODA pushed to get some of the things in the basement done right away, even though they weren’t on a critical path. However, I didn’t uphold my end of the project by painting those things, so I got back to that. I mentioned several of the projects in a recent post, and I’ve done a whole lot more since that post. But all that to say, I’ve spent a lot of money in the last month. I bought a lot of supplies to finish off these open projects. I also had big purchases of cabinet hardware, a dining room table, a desk, and a wood. We haven’t done very much out of the house, so we don’t have a lot of other expenses than these projects, which means our credit cards are actually have the usual balances. We did book an AirBnB for a trip at the end of the summer with friends of ours. That was a big hit on the credit card for a week at the beach, but they reimbursed us for their half.

SUMMARY

It feels like I just keep lowering the balance in our investment accounts each month, but I went to look at February 2021 to see the total. Even though some balances have decreased, we’ve still contributed to the accounts, so overall they’re $21k higher than last year, which is encouraging. I guess I should also focus on the property values raising significantly. We’re over $500k higher than last year in our assets, and our liabilities (i.e., mortgages) are about 13k less than February 2021. We’re also still over $3M on net worth, even if we’re hovering right around that. We’ll add about $50k to our net worth by the end of the month, as long as we close on the new property on time.

Year in Review: Part II

I have gone through all our expenses in 2021 and categorized them, which was very time consuming. I swore I’d do better this year, but it’s March, and I haven’t done anything.

In the past year, we hit a net worth of $3 million. That’s really exciting, but we have more goals. It’s important to note that the net worth is through our investment properties, retirement accounts, and other investment accounts, so it’s not liquid funds. The values on our properties have drastically increased, many of which we’ve recently refinanced and have an appraisal on file showing just how much equity we’ve gained on these. Except for the cash that we have in our savings account right now, as we prepare to purchase another property at the end of the month, we don’t typically carry a cash balance. Our philosophy is that, if there’s an emergency, there are very few things that can’t be put on a credit card, and we can liquidate investment funds within 24 hours. We don’t subscribe to “3 months worth of expenses in savings” type actions. We’ve had plenty of large expenses hit us with rental properties, fertility treatments, and other random health needs, but it hasn’t ever been something to drown us financially. So while it’s exciting to see that new net worth, it doesn’t change our spending philosophy.

DIVIDENDS, INTEREST, & REWARDS

Mr. ODA used to have our dividends get reinvested automatically, but now they are transferred into our checking account. That was over $6,500 that came in, mostly at the end of the year, but there was ~$30 per quarter deposited also. In a different time, interest earnings on accounts used to be something to be excited about. Our checking and savings account combined brought in $6.51 for the year.

Mr. ODA is set up with GetUpside. When I went to their site to get a better description, I learned that you can earn cash back through gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases; I thought it was just gas. It’s an app that allows you to earn cash back through your normal purchasing. However, it also gives you an incentive for referring people, and so when that person buys gas, you get some cash back. By checking the app for a participating gas station (and only using it if the incentive offered is a better price than surrounding gas stations), Mr. ODA deposited $32.45 for the year.

Between 5 credit cards, we brought in $4,232 worth of rewards. These are simply earned by either spending or paying the credit card, no further action. We preach and preach to have credit cards with rewards. Everything we purchase goes onto a credit card; at the end of every cycle, we pay that credit card off. We’ve developed a mindset for spending that means we’re not afraid of what we put on the credit card and whether we’ll be able to pay it off in full at the end of the month, because we’re not spending frivolously. I will caveat that this amount of rewards was possible due to sign-on bonuses that were earned in a previous year, and then the credit card changed their reward redemption options, allowing us to pay ourselves back for restaurant purchases. We had previously been using the rewards to purchase travel needs through their portal, but we were able to dwindle down our rewards with this reimbursement change.

INVESTMENTS

Every month, we each put $500 into our investment accounts as an automatic contribution to max out our Roth IRA contributions. Additionally, each kid gets $50 deposited into their investment accounts each month. We also received the child tax credit each month, so with that, we put $125 into each kids’ account. The thought process was that we received $600 for them, and so after investing in their accounts, we were left with $350 to go towards “raising” them, which was the intent of the money being sent out in advance.

EXPENSES

My categories were super broad. For instance, if we traveled, I included all the expenses (e.g., lodging, flight, activities, parking, dog-sitting) as “entertainment.” But “entertainment” also included watching horse racing, baseball game, zoo, babysitting, etc. “Home” includes any furniture purchased, decorations, cabinet knobs, pictures/frames, etc. Even with the broad categories, I still had too many.

There are 3 categories that we have more control over, so I took a closer look at them: groceries, gas, restaurants. These are the ones that we can control our actions to change if we wanted/needed.

GROCERIES

A shortfall on my tracking is that I don’t know if Walmart purchases were necessarily for groceries or for something else. I removed a $300 purchase from my list because we wouldn’t have spent that much in one transaction in groceries, but I can’t figure out what we did spend it on because it was too long ago.

I investigated the spike in June, and I didn’t come up with anything jarring. There’s a transaction for $165 on a day with another transaction, so that may not have been food. August had several trips to Kroger. Trips to Kroger mean that we’re buying in bulk, so things purchased there are typically several of a particular deal they’re running that week versus an actual grocery shopping trip. There are 19 grocery transactions in August, which is higher than usual. August also included an emergency “find this kid some medicine while we’re on the road” that cost us $8 worth of medicine.

Lesson learned: We can do better meal planning and making fewer trips to the grocery store. We can be more deliberate about what we’re purchasing instead of stocking the pantry without a plan. We have a Sam’s Club membership and sometimes we tag along to Costco to scope out deals, so those lead to more bulk purchases, which will fall by the wayside in 2022. The Kroger deals will continue to be on Mr. ODA’s radar though.

GAS

Interesting that January through April are so much lower because we didn’t necessarily stay home. We drove about an hour away for a trip in January and a trip about 90 minutes away in March, went from our house to Lexington (about a half hour) every weekend, and went to the zoo (about an hour or so away). I guess we stayed home during the week more, which kept our gas costs low. April was when we gave up on a lake house and decided to be deliberate about going on trips, so I expected to see an uptick in gas costs at that time. I described that whole thought process and what we did in this post. Some of the uptick in certain months can also be contributed to us trying to maximize gas prices (e.g., we fill up if we’re going to be near Costco, even if we don’t necessarily need the gas at that time). In October and half of November, I was working in Lexington on the weekends, so that was 3 days a week that I was driving 25 minutes each way. Then in December, we drove from KY to Long Island, which is a whole lot of gas.

Lesson learned: We like to be active, so I don’t foresee a change in our gas-purchasing patterns in this year. As I type this, gas prices are soaring all over the country. Since we like to travel, our trips are usually within driving distance versus flying with two kids, so spending the money in gas is cheaper than 3-4 plane tickets.

RESTAURANTS

This is a funky one to track. While we’re traveling, we’re clearly eating at restaurants more often. That’s seen in the higher spending that happened over the spring and summer months. I don’t remember spending all of February in the house, but our credit card purchases seem to say that’s what we did – no gas and no restaurants. In March, we splurged on a birthday dinner ($77!), which is unusual for us. From April through August, we were traveling (and therefore eating fast food and at sit-down restaurants), Mr. ODA had work trips (so he’s going out to eat with coworkers for multiple nights), and there seems to be one or two transactions each month where we paid for a group dinner that was reciprocated (and not captured). Under the restaurants category is also when we went for drinks somewhere. We went to a winery and had a couple of drinks with friends, and that could probably be considered “entertainment” versus eating outside the home.

HOUSE WORK

We put a lot of money into our house this year, which is surprising since it’s new construction. We finished our basement, which was about $15k instead of the $75k-100k that other people have been quoted for the job. We bought a patio set, a grill, and an entryway table. Mr. ODA built a “shed” under our deck (we can’t have free-standing sheds per the HOA, so we enclosed under the deck .. not “free standing” 🙂 ). Most of our furniture moved with us from the last house without an issue, but there were a few purchases needed. Between our initial move in purchases (a kitchen table and chairs), purchases in 2021, and a few purchases that have already happened in 2022, we should be done with big house purchases.

INCOME

I quit my job in 2019. I manage our 12 rental properties as my “job” now, but I also am open to part time jobs as something to do. In April 2021, I was asked if I could help fill a position at the race track during their Spring meet. It wasn’t a job that I wanted to go back and do in future meets. I mentioned that I’d work the Fall meet if I could do something like pour beer, and Mr. ODA’s dad (who works there) made it happen. I also worked some of the days of their horse sales. I worked 22 days for the year and contributed $5k to our family’s spending for the year.

LOOKING AHEAD

I’ll try to track our expenses in real time this year, so that I can categorize them more accurately. Watching expenses month-to-month means you can also make adjustments if you see you’ve spent more than usual in one category.

Finishing our basement meant that we moved furniture around. A sections that was in our dining room moved to the basement, freeing up the dining room to actually be a dining room; I purchased a table and chairs. The “playroom” toys were moved down to the basement, and that room became the guest room. It’s nice that the guests can have their own space on the first floor and not share a bathroom with the kids. That freed up the previous guest room to be an actual office, so I purchased a desk (our old desk was in poor shape and it didn’t move to KY with us). Other than that, I don’t see any major expenses on our own house for this year.

We expect to travel a lot again this year. We already have six trips planned. They’re all driving trips, so that’ll increase our gas category. I have one trip expected to fly to my sister’s baby shower, but that hasn’t been scheduled yet. We’ll also have day trips that we’ll do around our house, which is usually an hour to an hour and a half worth of driving.

While we don’t “budget” or believe in the “envelope system,” we do watch our spending on a regular basis. We check our accounts every few days to ensure there are no surprises as well (i.e., don’t wait for your statement to come and find out there have been false charges). Keep paying attention to what’s being spent and where your money is going so that you can make informed financial decisions.

DIY Projects

I took a break from writing posts to play in the nice weather we were having and then finish up some outstanding projects this weekend. Some projects are still not finished, but I felt good about the progress. Here are some things I did, which means you can do it too and save yourself some money. 🙂

SHOE STORAGE: $6

We have a mud room “welcome center” or “drop zone” in our house. Here’s a picture from the builder on what it looks like.

It’s beautiful until you realize that the purpose of these shelves is to house things like shoes, keys, outdoor things, etc. There’s no point to style them like bookshelves, and it’s hard to keep it looking organized. When we have guests, they have to see this because it’s outside the only first floor bathroom. It drives me crazy that people see it. I store all our craft supplies on the top shelves (little hands), and I ripped all that down and organized it into bins. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s still better than the pile of things that quickly gets unorganized. The bottom shelves have shoes on them. A year ago, I asked Mr. ODA to build me an intermediate shelf in the bottom right cubby. We used scrap wood already on hand at that time. Shoes aren’t tall, and we were just throwing them in there on top of each other. Well, all this build up just to say: I finally bought contact paper and wrapped the plywood. I originally wasn’t going to bother painting it because I didn’t have the trim paint on hand. Since then, a nice worker left me a pint of it, but I still thought the contact paper would be better. It seems so small and silly, but I got the pattern to line up straight when I wrapped it on the edge, which makes me happy.

LAUNDRY ROOM: $49

Again, nearly a year ago, I took down the builder-grade wire shelf that was in the laundry room. I then patched the gigantic holes that this type of shelf requires. Here’s a builder photo of a laundry room in this floor plan to show what I mean, and where it started.

Instead of blinds in there, I frosted the bottom sash of the window with spray paint I had left over from doing a similar job in our last house ($0). Someone was getting rid of a cabinet on our neighborhood page, and I wanted it for the laundry room ($0). I bought cabinet enamel ($25), which I highly recommend over regular paint if you want a clean look. It’s pricey, but it’s worth it (I’ve used it here and on a desk I refinished, and I still have half the quart left. Here’s the one I used.

I hung this repainted cabinet last summer. Every time I walked by, I thought that a light brick wall would look so good with the color of the cabinet. I thought about it for several months and finally decided to go for it. I bought 2 rolls of peel and stick wallpaper off Amazon ($14). It did not go well. I got the idea out of my system, but I didn’t enjoy the process of hanging it. I’m curious about doing traditional wallpaper, which is easier to move around and line up, but I was disappointed that these two sheets didn’t automatically line up with each other and I had to piece them together.

In my last house, I hung a cabinet and then Mr. ODA and his brother built two shelves that I stained dark next to it. That’s still my goal here, but I haven’t done the shelves. I had already been in Home Depot for an hour, and Mr. ODA wasn’t there to talk me through the options, and HD likes to just throw all their crap in the lumber aisles to make it very difficult to navigate if you have a cart, so I gave up. But I did get chair rail ($10)! I originally wanted something really big, but I panicked and went with a smaller, more ornate option. I stained it espresso (already on hand from the last laundry room job), so you can’t really see the details in it, but at least the end of the wallpaper is covered now. It doesn’t matter how many times I am around an air compressor and nail gun; I do not enjoy that thing.

I also put the contact paper that I bought for the shoe shelf on the bottom shelf of the cabinet I refinished since paint had dripped into it and the original owner of it had drilled several holes through the bottom of it. P.S. The knobs were put on by the previous owner; one day I’ll patch the hole and realign the knobs so they’re even, ugh.

STENCILED WALL: $73

I don’t really recommend stenciling a whole wall. I’ll probably put 10 hours into the wall already by the time I’m done. Also, $73 is a lot to spend on one wall, but I’ll find more uses for the paint. That’s the upfront cost, but with leftover supplies, there will be more projects.

I wanted my daughter to have pink in her room, but nothing bright. I found this beautiful muted pink color. I wanted to do one wall this color in a satin finish, and then get the same color but in an eggshell or flat to do the stencil. While at the store, I found a different kind of paint and went for that instead; it’s a metallic paint! It’s subtle enough that it’s hard to capture all the stenciling in photographs, and it changes how you see it based on how the light hits it.

So I’ve purchased a gallon of pink paint (that has more than 2/3 left in it) ($38), this special paint (with about half of it left once I’m done) ($20), and the stencil that I had someone make for me ($15).

Halfway through the wall, I discovered an error I’d been making. I had been using a manual level to make sure the top of the stencil was level when I put it on the wall. The stencil was not cut correctly – the image on the stencil is cockeyed within the stencil, so leveling the edge of the stencil meant that everything I was painting wasn’t straight. Once I started using the laser level, I found that the level line wasn’t the same whether I used the top of the cut out part or the edge of the stencil piece. I tried to start correcting it because, while it wasn’t noticeable, I figured it’d get noticeable by the time I got to the other edge of the wall and along the ceiling. Things got messed up in a few spots where I couldn’t quite see where I was lining it up against what I had already painted.

Oh, and let’s not forget that I had the paint out, went to deal with a crisis with my son (potty training!), and my daughter seized the opportunity. She got my paint brush, dipped it in the paint, and smeared it all over the stenciled wall I had already done. Luckily, that stencil was dry, and I found her right away so the paint was wet, so it mostly just wiped off.

There are two sections I’ll need to re-paint pink and then re-stencil, and then there’s a few touch up areas where I’ll need to hit it with a small brush and fix the pink around the stencil. Once paint got caked on the stencil and created its own barrier to bleeding behind the stencil, the wall is coming out perfect. If this didn’t take absolutely forever, I’d want to go back and do the first 5 rows I did without the laser level and caked up stencil, but no thanks.. it isn’t THAT noticeable!

The [near] finished project is exactly how I pictured it, which never seems to happen for me, so I’m powering through. Here’s a close up of the wall since there are too many imperfections to share the whole thing at this point.

BASEMENT WET BAR: $53

Mr. ODA and I put up shiplap against the wet bar wall as a feature. We didn’t want to close in the room with upper cabinets (this section sits in the middle of the open basement and we didn’t want to distract from that), we didn’t want to tile the wall with a backsplash because the wall is FAR from even, and we didn’t want to leave it painted with nothing above it. Mr. ODA decided on shiplap, and he liked the charcoal color instead of the white or painting it. It really looks great, but it’s unfinished. We didn’t know how we wanted to do the final piece. So this weekend, I bought two molding types to check it out, and we still need to add that and paint/stain it. I also purchased the sink faucet finally, which should arrive tomorrow. We first thought we’d put shelves in the shiplap, but after you work so hard to make it level and shim it like crazy behind each piece, you don’t really want to immediately drill anything into the face of your pretty project. 🙂 I didn’t include the cost of the shiplap in my calculation above because that was purchased before this weekend’s goals of finishing projects, but the molding was $10 and the faucet was $43.

Speaking of finishing, this reminded me that I have to buy the cabinet pulls. We had held off installing them because the flooring people were going to come back and fix some things. There’s a protective layer on the outside of the cabinets, and I didn’t want to pull it off until they were done banging around near them (their workmanship was quite poor, so I don’t trust them). Since I wasn’t going to install them, I didn’t make it a priority to order them, but I can now. There’s more to come on the basement, since we did most of it ourselves.

DIMMER SWITCH: $11

Our son’s sleep has been an issue since birth (PSA: Buy the Taking Cara Babies course for newborns and save yourself a lot of frustration in life by getting a baby to sleep longer with less fights). We finally got into a bed time groove, but it involves him sleeping with the light on. It drove me crazy that it was so bright in there, so I removed the bulb from the overhead light and told him it was broken so he’d use the lamp. When we visited my family, he slept in a room with a dimmer switch and let the light be on the lowest dim level. I finally got around to purchasing the dimmer switch and installing it! Cut off the electric to the room at the electrical box, unscrew the old one, cut the wires, strip them to the right length (it’s on the back of the switch), insert the wires in the right places, screw it into the wall, and turn the electric back on.

SUMMARY

And that’s where I’ve been for the last week! We ordered a desk for the office and a dining room table now that all the existing furniture is where it’s meant to be with the basement finished. That’s what caused my final push to get things done. Now we have our daughter’s birthday party coming in a few weeks, and I was hoping to have almost everything completely before people are in the house! Now go do some projects you’ve been putting off too. 🙂

Year in Review: Part 1

Just over a year ago, I decided it was time to put more effort into sharing what we’ve been through. When I’m looking to learn something new, I like to find examples of how other people handle it. I want to know the places they struggled and how they learned. I find it a better way to form my opinion than by reading an article that doesn’t have any meat in it, only providing an outline.

In the last year, I learned that blogging wasn’t as easy to keep up with as I thought it would be. I have a list of topics still to cover, so it wasn’t a matter of content. But raising two kids hinders my ability for an uninterrupted thought process to write an article, unless I get to it before they wake up.

The blog was started by Mr. ODA in 2018. He wrote a few posts, and then it sat for two years. I decided to pick it back up in January 2021. During 2021, we published 65 posts. Each month, I wrote a post about our financial update; I included any major expenses, how management of rental properties was going, and how our personal spending may have changed month-to-month. I shared our purchase of 11 out of 13 of our properties, our sale of one property, refinancing mortgages, paying off mortgages, renting properties, maintaining properties, etc. I also shared just general life decision making along the way.


Part 1 for my year in review will address what happened with our rental properties. I’ll dive into our personal finances in Part 2.

As a quick recap, we have 12 rental properties. Nine of them are in Virginia, and three of them are in Kentucky. Two of the houses in Virginia are owned with a partner because we still had cash available to buy more houses, but at the time we had the maximum number of mortgages allowed by Fannie/Freddie (max is 10). The houses were purchased between February 2016 and September 2019. All 3 houses in Kentucky are managed by a property manager, who gets 10% of the monthly rent each month. I manage 5 of the Virginia houses personally, and then we have a property manager who manages the remaining 4, who also gets 10% for each house.

RENTAL PROPERTY MORTGAGES

In January 2021, we completed a refinance of one property, and then in December, we completed three cash-out refinances. The loan balances on these 4 properties increased; one increased because closing costs were rolled into the loan balance, and the other 3 included $190k worth of equity taken out from the houses and creating new loans.

We went from 11 mortgages (two of which are actually owned by a partner) down to 8. House 6 had a balance of $26,447 coming into 2021, and that was paid off by June. Two other houses had a total balance of $157,500 at the beginning of the year. Their balances dwindled through regular monthly payments and one lump sum payment right before we completed the cash-out-refis and completely paid them off.

We have been working on paying down another mortgage that is owned with a partner. Between the two of our families, we paid off about $44,000 additional principal for that mortgage. We’re matching each other’s additional principal payments so that the math is easier to follow, so we can only make additional payments in line with what he can do also. We each owe about $10k on this mortgage now.

Even though there were so many mortgage-related transactions in the year, our overall loan balance only decreased by $6,000.

The market has continued to rise due to the limited supply, and so our home values on the rentals actually increased over $500k over the last year.

RENTAL PROPERTY LEASES

We turned over 1 property the whole year! The tenant that was living there had already told us that they were renting until they found a place to buy, so we knew they wouldn’t be long term tenants. We had a relationship with them from a previous house, when they had moved out of the area and then back. They had a poor experience renting in another area and reached out to us since they appreciated us as landlords. They found a house towards the end of their first year, but we let them out of the lease early. Their lease was slated to end October 31, 2021. We don’t usually have leases that start/end in the Fall if we can help it, but we had let the previous tenant out of her lease early to purchase a house also. The tenant said she was able to be out at the end of August, and we preferred moving the lease closer to the summer months anyway.

We raised the rent on 6 properties.
– The one house that was turned over went from $1200 to $1350 per month. However, we added a property manager who gets 10%, so our cash flow only increased by $15 per month.
– Two of our properties have long term tenants; the rent is significantly below market value, but we value not having to turn over the house. These houses are on a cycle where we increase the rent $50 every two years.
– Our KY property manager tried to increase rent on the 3 properties she manages. One was increased by $25, another by $5, and the other one cried that she couldn’t afford an increase. That’s the one where we plan to increase by $75 next month, and if she doesn’t accept, we’ll turn it over and get $75-$100 more per month.
– We increased rent by $150/month for one of our properties that we have with a partner. It was a risk, but this is a house that claims 3 people live there, but they have 5 queen size beds in the house. We figured either they leave and we get several big things fixed up that have been deferred because of all their things in the way, or we make up for all the years that we didn’t manage their rent and didn’t increase it. They accepted the increase.

RENT COLLECTION

We were very grateful that we made it through those initial months of the pandemic without tenants not being able to pay rent. We had a few people let us know that they were laid off or unable to work (e.g., restaurant business), but we learned most of our tenants worked in the health care field. So while we made it through 2020 without many issues, 2021 brought more challenges. Nothing was insurmountable, and it wasn’t debilitating financially, but it was still something to manage.

We had some big struggles with non-payment of rent on one house. She was 31 days late paying August rent, then she didn’t pay September’s rent, and then she applied for rental assistance to cover September, October, and November, which we didn’t receive until February 2022. That was all on top of her generally being a week late in paying through the beginning of the year too. She doesn’t maintain employment, she doesn’t communicate, and we’ve just had something new and different pop up as an issue every few months. We eventually received January 2022’s rent, but we still haven’t received all of February’s rent – just in time for March rent to be due.

We have another property (the one that was raised $150 per month) that is perpetually late. They eventually pay, and they’re getting better about actually paying the late fee (when they pay rent 20+ days late…), but they were late for 10/12 months of the year.

Everyone else paid their rent on time. In general, we’re lenient with late fees and issues. If you reach out to us and mention that there was a hiccup and you’ll need one more pay check to pay rent, our response is typically: please pay what you can now, pay the rest next week, and don’t worry about the late fee. However, when you don’t communicate and/or you’re consistently weeks late and we’re having to carry the expenses, there needs to be a consequence to incentivize you getting back on track.

RENTAL EXPENSES

We replaced the flooring in House3 ($4,000), hot water heater in House9 ($1,500), HVAC in House10 ($3,300), washing machine in House10 ($250), and HVAC in House12 ($3,900). We also had various electrical and plumbing work that needed to be done in several houses. We also spend about $7k per year in property management fees.

Usually turn over is an area that requires us to put a lot of money into a house. Luckily, the one house that we turned over this year only required some paint work, and we didn’t have any other turnovers.

While it’s nice that our assessments have increased and our housing values have increased in our net worth calculation, it comes at a price. Our taxes have increased on all the properties. In total, they’ve increased over $2,500 in just the one year (meaning, that doesn’t include all the previous years worth of assessment increases that have occurred!).

GOALS

In this year, we hope to add one more rental property to our portfolio. We’ve been actively working on it, but this market is crazy! We’re not willing to overpay on a property and get into a bidding war just to be done with the search. It’s interesting to see that we haven’t bought a new rental property in almost 2.5 years, when we had purchased so many all at once. We had gone back and forth with saving for another down payment or just paying off more mortgages after we paid off House6 in June. Once the cash-out-refi was a possibility, we decided to go ahead with purchasing another property. We’ll self-manage whatever we acquire. We had been looking in Virginia and Kentucky, but have started to settle into a Kentucky property (I like the laws for tenant/landlord relationships better in Virginia) so that we can save the 10% management fee and the expensive leasing fee, since housing prices are significantly higher than what we’d prefer for the rent ratio we’d be getting.

We have 8 houses that still need negotiation and/or lease termination coming this year. Two houses have already agreed to their rent increase, and we just need to get the new lease signed. Five houses will be offered a new lease term with a rent increase (averaging about $50 per month on the increase). One tenant will be asked to leave at the end of her lease term.

We want to remove the tenant from House2 at the end of her lease term. She has been a concern in numerous legal ways, does not hold steady employment, and the house is well under market value rent. Turning over that property will require us to go to Virginia to work on it. It’ll need repainted, the carpet will probably have to be replaced, and I worry that she’ll do some damage when we tell her we’re not interested in renewing her lease.

SUMMARY

I like to look at the details of the rental properties all at once in this format. Sometimes, I get caught up in all the things that I need to get done, and I feel like it’s so much work. In those moments, I forget that there are most days of the year where I don’t even think about the properties. Even when expenses seem to be piling on top of themselves, to look back and see that our expenses totaled less than $15k over 12 houses is encouraging. We’ve also reached the point where we’ve replaced most HVACs and several roofs, which are areas that can create problems that compound on themselves, whereas a replacement is expensive, but then I don’t have to get all the calls that something went wrong.

Tax Season

W2s and financial statements are arriving in the mail. It’s time to submit your taxes. We file our own taxes. And that surprises people every year.

We have 12 rental properties, two of which are owned with a partner. Mr. ODA works full time. I work random jobs, but produce income that requires filing. This sounds like it can be complicated, but it’s not.

Mr. ODA projects out our tax liability all year long, and he makes adjustments in his W2 paycheck to account for what we’ll owe. Our goal every year is to owe. Our philosophy is that if we get money back, that’s just an interest free loan the government has had from us all year. I can make a whole post on how getting excited for a tax return shouldn’t be a thing, but I’ll just leave it at. But you can’t owe too much, because then you have to pay a penalty. It’s a careful balance that I entrust Mr. ODA with and don’t ask any questions.

This post focuses on having business-type expenses. If you file just W2 income, then it’s not something you need to manage all year long, but you can still do your taxes on your own!

BUSINESS EXPENSES

The key to getting through tax season is knowing that it takes work all year long, not just in the one week crunch time to file your taxes. Schedule E is going to require you to put your income and expenses, per property, not as a whole, so it’s important to have expenses assigned to a particular house. If you record income and expenses as they occur, it’s less of a hurdle when the year is over. By recording the activity all year, it then becomes a verification process when the year is over, thereby reducing the possibility of missing something or recording something wrong.

At the beginning of every year, I create an Excel workbook to track each property’s expenses. I use it as a projection of income, a projection of expenses, and a way to keep track of re-occurring expenses (e.g., stormwater utility bills I can’t assign to the tenant for payment). I set up each property on a separate spreadsheet within the workbook to identify all known costs for the coming year.

Not all of these categories apply to each property (e.g., HOA, prepaid points), but I found it was easier flipping between each spreadsheet if they were uniformly set up. There’s also a chance that you’re carrying appliance depreciation costs. Appliance purchases aren’t captured as a one-time cost in the year of purchase; the purchase is required to be depreciated over its useful life (e.g., a $500 dishwasher purchased on January 1 is depreciated over 5 years, so it’s $100/year worth of an expense claimed on your taxes). As I incur expenses or need to adjust my income, I record it per property.

After the end of the year, I then verify what I’ve recorded. I make sure that I have the right income for each property (e.g., were there late fees collected, were there rent concessions granted, were there non-payments). Then I go through each property’s paper folder I have filed to make sure I’ve recorded anything I have a receipt for. Then I go through my electronic folder for each property, and this is where nearly all my record keeping is (e.g., I have Lowe’s and Home Depot automatically email me receipts for a purchase, and all my contractor work is billed via an invoice emailed to me). I’m verifying that I have a receipt for any expense that I incurred and recorded already. I’m also verifying that I haven’t missed recording an expense that I have a receipt for.

Once I have everything verified, I let Mr. ODA know that the business expenses are ready. Inevitably, we’re waiting for some final investment account documentation to be available before we can input our data, but we’re mostly ready to go.

TAX SOFTWARE

Each year, we hunt for deals on websites that will allow us to pay nothing or a minimal cost for filing our taxes. We’ve spoken to a couple of financial people to see whether having a CPA do our taxes would be better, but they always agree that inputting in Schedule E is the only way to go, which is really straight forward. If we’re trying to not pay to file our taxes online, then we don’t want to pay someone to enter the data on our behalf if they’re providing a benefit outside of that. I know several people who use a tax accountant to file their taxes, and they rush around looking for all their documentation to provide that person. That seems more overwhelming to me, and it just seems faster to be on top of it myself than gathering receipts and being ‘on call’ to answer questions.

Filing our taxes is usually a 2-3 hour process. It’s not complicated, but it’s time consuming. We’ve found the best way to do it is having Mr. ODA input the data, as I pull the information he needs. I keep a tax folder to file all the paperwork we receive around this time of year (mortgage statements, investment account statements, etc.). I have that file handy, as well as all our account log-ins. I’m trying to pull information as fast as I can while he’s entering it and clicking through the software. Sometimes there’s something that trips us up because there seems to be a change each year, but we mostly have a groove by now.

If you haven’t filed your taxes on your yet, take this as a sign to give it a try!