Jumping on the I Bond Wagon

What are I bonds?

Series I savings bonds are a type of bond offered by the US Government, with the intention of hedging against inflation. They provide the purchaser a return that is commensurate with the rate of inflation during the life of the loan. The caveat – this rate adjusts every six months. Between the months of May 2022 and October 2022, these bonds will pay an annualized interest rate of 9.62%. Guaranteed. Depending on what inflation does by October, that rate may go up or down, but as long as you purchase the loan before Halloween, you can enjoy that rate for the first 6 months of ownership. This is because the rate only changes every 6 months and the interest accrued compounds semi-annually.

Some Rules

I bonds must be held for 1 year. Therefore, you need to be sure that money can be made illiquid for that amount of time. Think of it like a Certification of Deposit, or CD, you can buy from a bank; however, in today’s numbers, an I bond has a FAR higher rate of return. If you need to liquidate the I bond before 5 years, you must forfeit the final 3 months of interest from when you sell/cash it (e.g., if you hold it for 18 months, you earn interest for only 15 months). After 5 years, there is no penalty. The bond will earn interest at the prevailing semi-annual rate for 30 years if you don’t cash it out, and after that it wont earn anything. The rate will never go below zero, even if the inflation rate (Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers) does go negative, although is can be 0%.

There’s a minimum purchase amount, which is $25 for electronic purchasing and $50 for paper purchasing. Then there’s a $10,000 individual, annual (calendar year) limit for owning bonds each year for each individual, which covers receiving or giving them as gifts as well. Example, I can buy $20,000 in a year if I’m giving a relative $10,000 of them, but that relative then cannot buy any because they now own that $10,000 I gave them. There is not a limit per household, so spouses can double up.

I bond earnings are subject to federal income tax, but not state.

Calculate the Rate

The I bonds have a fixed rate and a variable inflation interest rate.

The fixed rate is stays the same through the life of the bond. The fixed rate is set each May1st and November 1st, and it applies to all bonds issued in the six months following the date the rate is set. The current rate is 0%.

The variable interest rate is based on the inflation rate. It is calculated twice a year and is based on the Consumer Price Index.

These two rates are then put into a formula to get the “composite rate.” Composite rate = [fixed rate + (2 x semiannual inflation rate) + (fixed rate x semiannual inflation rate)]. This means that currently, it’s [0.0000 + (2 x 0.0481) + (0.0000 x 0.0481)], which equals 9.62%.

Interest is compounded semi-annually.

How to Purchase

Series I bonds are bought through TreasuryDirect.gov after creating an account. This helps ensure legitimacy and provides simplicity for the purchase and ownership of the bonds.

You pay the face value of the bond. For example, you pay $50 for a $50 bond, and then the bond increases in value as it earns interest. For electronic purchases, you can buy any denomination, to the penny, between $25 and $10,000.

You can buy paper Series I bonds if you don’t want to set up an online account or make online purchases. When you file your tax return, include IRS Form 8888. Complete Part 2 to tell the IRS you want to use part (or all) of your refund to purchase paper I bonds. Purchase amounts must be in $50 multiples and you can choose to have any remaining funds delivered to you either by direct deposit or by check. There’s a limit of $5,000 worth of paper bonds. More information can be found on the Treasury Direct website.

I Bonds for Me

A guaranteed return of 9.62% for the first 6 months of ownership is quite enticing. High Yield Savings Accounts and bank-issued CDs are still hovering in the 1-2% interest range, and the most recent year over year inflation report announced for April 2022 was at 8.3%. Given COVID-19 numbers trending upward again, American and global supply chains still struggling, and the effects of trillions of dollars of extra money entering the American economy as bailout for the American public taking a long time to stabilize, I figured the consumer price index numbers that I bond rates are based off wouldn’t be dropping quickly anytime soon.

My logic. Again, a guaranteed return near 10% is phenomenal, even if possibly short term and variable. “Best” case scenario – the rate stays high and the interest keeps compounding for many semi-annual cycles. Granted, this also means that the inflation rate stays high and that isn’t something I’d prefer for my total financial outlook. But Series I bonds are hedges for the effects of inflation. So at least I’m “keeping up” in this section of my portfolio.

The most likely/medium case scenario – control over inflation happens in the next year or two and the rate drops several percentage points, such that it’s a real decision whether to keep a guaranteed return of 4-5% or to cash out the bonds and put that money into other investments. This would also mean that I’d lose 3 months’ worth of that 4-5% interest if this decision happens sooner than the 5 years.

“Worst” case scenario – for THESE bonds at least. Inflation stops and the interest rate on these bonds plummet. I cash out the bond in a year or two and I lose 3 months of interest. But let’s face it, the reason I’m quick to cash out is because the interest rate is low anyway. So I’m not losing much! And then, that also means that the rest of the American economy and my portfolio have been stabilized and things look a little more predictable.

When forecasting any of these three scenarios, I saw a fairly win-win-win situation, so I pulled the trigger on a major purchase of these bonds with some of the discretionary cash Mrs. ODA and I were sitting on as we navigate the craziness in our life right now.

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.

House 11

Our 11th purchase was a 4 bedroom and 2 bathroom house, which we were excited about. We only had one other 4 bedroom, and it only had 1.5 baths, so this was a new demographic we could meet. We again needed a mortgage, but we were tapped out (max of 10 mortgages allowed per Fannie Mae), so we went to our partner. I went through the process of establishing the partnership in the House 10 post.

The house had been listed for sale in July 2018, dropped the price in October 2018, and we went under contract on it on December 1, 2018. We went under contract at $129,000, which meant, according to the 1% Rule, we would look to rent it for at least $1290.

The house required a lot of cosmetic work (relative to our usual purchases) before we could rent it. The biggest hold up was the carpet replacement, but we had to do a lot of cleaning and painting also. We closed on February 4, 2019; got to work on the house on the 6th; and then had it rented on March 3, 2019. That’s a longer turnaround time than we’d like, but we thought the long-term benefits of a 4/2 house would be worth it. Plus, with our goal being $1290 based on the 1% Rule, we were happy that we rented it at $1300 and through March 31, 2020.

LOAN TERMS

We were given two options from the loan officer. Both options required 25% down. We could do a 15 year mortgage at 5.05% or a 30 year mortgage at 5.375%. The 15 year mortgage payment was $865, while the 30 year was $640. Since both options required 25% down and we aren’t concerned with our monthly cash flow (as in, we’re not living off of every dollar that comes out of these houses right now), we chose the 15 year. Escrow changes over the last few years have increased the mortgage to $941, unfortunately. However, we’ve been paying off this loan with pretty substantial chunks of money thrown at it. The loan started at $96,750, and the current balance is $21,350. We would have liked to have this paid off a few months ago, but we need to time our payments with our partner, who recently paid for a wedding, renovations to a new house, and a new tear-down property adjacent to his personal residence that he’s going to build a garage-type thing (city living = street parking for him).

We went under contract at $129,000, and the house appraised at $140,000, so that was a nice surprise. The current city assessment is at $148k, but it would likely sell for more than that.

PARTNERSHIP

Since the LLC was already under way when we purchased House 10, we needed to add this one to the LLC. We contacted our attorney. He processed all the paperwork, and we showed up just to sign everything in a quick meeting. At this time, we also requested an EIN be established for the LLC. To process adding this to an established LLC, it cost us $168 (which we paid half of since we’re split 50/50 with our partner).

PREPARING TO RENT

This house was probably the second most effort we had to put in to prepare it for renting. We had to replace quite a few blinds that were broken, do a deep clean of everything, install smoke alarms, paint, replace the carpet, and do some subfloor work.

We had to paint nearly every room (one room we even painted the ceiling the same color as the walls because the ceiling was in rough shape, and it wasn’t worth the time for precision of the edges).

The floor at the front door was rotted by termites. The guys had to cut out the floor and replace the wood before the new carpet could be ordered. We needed the house treated for termites at that point since there was an active infestation that we found. Depending on time and price, I’d rather replace carpeted areas with hard surface flooring for easier maintenance. Since we were already losing time with all the maintenance on this house to get it ready to rent and it was a small area, we just went the easy way out and put new carpet in. The carpet was only in the living room and hallway; all the bedrooms have hardwood flooring.

FIRST TENANTS

We were able to get a family in the house fairly quickly after we finished our work. We rented it at $1300. They signed it on March 3rd, and I had set the terms until March 31, 2020 (this comes into play later). The family had been renting with a roommate (and the husband’s boss!), and that guy had wanted to leave the house. In January 2020, the tenant said, “we signed the lease on March 3rd, so we want to be out at the end of February.” That’s not how leases work. The lease signed said until March 31, 2020. Some time between us telling him that he was in our lease until the end of March, not February, and the end of February actually coming, they decided they wanted to renew their lease. They signed a new lease with us on March 11 to cover 4/1/2020 through 3/31/2021.

In April 2020, the tenant received a job offer in Texas. He asked about a lease break, and we offered an option. All the communication was done via text message, so it was technically in writing, but there was never a “wrap up” text that identified all the agreed upon terms to allow for the lease break. I used this as a teaching opportunity for the 3 of us in the LLC that clearly documenting agreements in writing (preferably with signatures) is important.

The tenant offered to pay May rent without prompting, so we thought that was covered. The part that needed to be detailed was what was considered a “lease break” fee. We had agreed to 60 days worth of rent, and the security deposit couldn’t be used to pay that. Mr. ODA tried to contact the husband on multiple occasions to get rent paid at the beginning of May, but there was no response. I finally sent an email, detailing that they agreed to pay May’s rent, and that technically, they were on the hook for the entire year’s worth of the lease (quick aside: while that’s what the lease says, I think a caveat in the law actually means they’re not really liable for the whole amount because once the house is vacant for 7 days, it defaults back to our ownership, and then we have to show due diligence to re-rent it, leaving them liable for only the gap period). Well, as usual, the landlord gives us a guilt trip (their daughter was in the hospital in TX) instead of separating that from the concept of “pay your debts owed.” As a person, I feel for you on this; as a business owner, it’s not my responsibility to manage your finances and personal life.

The tenant called Mr. ODA and yelled at him. A few hours later, presumably with a more clear head, we received a fair response via text. He even apologized for yelling on the phone. He paid the last few hundreds that were owed, and we all moved on.

SECOND TENANTS

After our first tenants vacated the house, we had to get the house turned over. There was a good bit of work that needed to be done for just a year of someone living there. They had also left stuff behind that became our responsibility to get out of the house. We listed the house for rent. Our partner showed it to 3 younger people who would rent it together. They seemed great until we ran their background and credit check. They had evictions they didn’t disclose (claimed they didn’t know), so we shared the report with them and continued showing it.

We ended up showing it to a couple, and they liked it. After we accepted their application, we were able to get the lease signed on May 7, 2020. Since this was at the very beginning of the pandemic, we had to get creative. I signed this lease on a street corner (hadn’t realized that the place I had selected with outdoor seating was closed!), and they paid their first month’s rent, security deposit, and pet fee in cash that he handed to me in a sock (with a warning that told me this wasn’t the first time he handed someone cash like this haha). They’ve been great tenants, and they renewed their lease.

MAINTENANCE

The new carpeting when we first bought the house cost us $700. Between the termite treatments and other general pest control, we’ve spent $950.

Once the first tenant moved in, we learned of some other issues that weren’t apparent by us just working there and not living there. We had the plumber come out to fix several issues with the hot water that cost us $1450! Then we found out that the master bathroom shower wasn’t installed properly, and it was missing a p-trap; that cost us $325.

Our insurance carrier didn’t like that there wasn’t a handrail for the front steps of the property, so in March 2020, we had to have one installed at $190.

We had to replace the washing machine in April 2020 for about $500. As I’ve shared, we try to not include any ‘extra’ appliances because then maintenance and replacement are our responsibility. This was a fun one – we replaced it just to make the tenants happy and not deal with maintaining it, and then those tenants left right after that, and our new tenants brought their own appliances (so they just have two washers and two dryers in their kitchen).

We had an electrical issue with the master bathroom that cost us $150.

Luckily, I did the inspection over the summer, and nothing came of that initially. We did end up replacing a fan in the master bedroom because the light part of it stopped working with the switch. Since we don’t live near the house anymore, and our partner was in the middle of getting married, we went through Home Depot to have it installed, so all together (fan/light and install) it was about $175.

SUMMARY

This has been a good house. We didn’t realize that the house is located outside the city limits, so we needed to figure out trash pick up in the county (not included in the taxes). Other than a few maintenance hiccups, things have been smooth sailing. We’re happy with the tenants who are there, that they’re maintaining and cleaning the house, and we’re getting our desired rent amount (that they pay on time every month). The street is in a decently nice neighborhood with a lot of original owners, which helps it keep (and increase) its value.

Escrow Payments

A theme I stick to in this blog is that you need to watch your money. I’ve talked about ways that I’ve fought to get money back where it wasn’t billed correctly (e.g., medical bills), and today’s warning is about escrows.

An escrow account, in the sense that I want to talk about it, is tied to your mortgage. Your monthly payment includes an amount that goes into a separate account held by your mortgage company, and they manage paying out your taxes and insurance on your behalf.

The benefit of an escrow is that you don’t have to manage your insurance and tax payments. You don’t have to pay out a large sum of money once (or twice) a year because you’re paying towards this account every month that will manage that billing for you. The downside is that this escrow account requires you to maintain a balance, so it’s holding your money where your money isn’t working for you. Another downside is that your money movement is less transparent, and you just expect that the payments will be made accurately. The bank basically takes on the administrative burden of paying these bills on your behalf, in exchange for continually holding this money without paying you interest.

Each month your mortgage payment includes principal, interest, and escrow. For example, I have a mortgage payment that is $615.34. The P&I total will remain the same amount each month, but the principal portion of each payment will slowly increase while the interest slowly decreases. In my example, the total P&I is always $428.11, but the breakdown of what’s principal and what’s interest changes (e.g., October’s payment due included principal of $119.58 and interest of $308.53; November’s was $120.03 of principal and $308.08 of interest). The escrow amount each month for this mortgage is now $187.23; this number stays the same until there’s an escrow re-analysis.

An escrow analysis is conducted once per year to verify that the escrow account will have sufficient funds to pay out the bills received (typically taxes and insurance), while maintaining the required minimum balance. Sometimes the increase is known ahead of time because you can see that the estimates for the initial escrow contributions were off (or in our case, new construction uses estimates based on last year’s tax payment, which only included land value and not the final sale of the home, so we know there will be an escrow shortfall in our future). A shortfall may also occur when there’s been a drastic change in your property value assessment, causing taxes to increase more than an expected amount (like in 2021!), or when insurance costs change more than projected.

Below is an escrow analysis of one of our accounts. The highlighted row shows that when our taxes are paid, the balance will fall below the required minimum. The document says that the minimum “is determined by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), your mortgage contract, or state law. Your minimum balance may include up to 2 months cushion of escrow payments to cover increases in your taxes and insurance.” If you are projected to dip below the required minimum, they’ll offer you the opportunity to make a one-time contribution to the escrow account or your monthly payment will increase to cover that projected shortfall.

The increase is calculated in the image below. My payment to escrow at the time of this analysis was $126.18. They take my insurance and taxes owed, divide by 12, and come up with my monthly base escrow payment ($149.81). At the lowest point in my escrow balance (highlighted in yellow above), the account will be -149.43. The difference between this balance and the required balance of $299.62 is $449.05. Divide this number by 12 to get the $37.42 in the image below indicating the monthly shortage for the account.

The new escrow payment is added to my P&I payment (which stays the same), and this is my new monthly mortgage payment.

An escrow analysis showing that we’ll fall below the balance required inevitably means that my monthly cash flow will decrease (because we always opt for the change in monthly payment instead of a one-time contribution). As taxes and insurance increase, so does your requirement to fund your escrow account. While the reason for the escrow increase is to cover the taxes and insurance, which I would have to pay anyway, the escrow increase is higher because of the required minimums. One of our houses started with $766.96 as the monthly payment, and it is now $802.96 due to the escrow analysis. Another one started at $477.77, and it’s now at $537.60.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Honestly, the only way I’ve checked my escrow balances in the past is at the end of the year when I’m verifying the insurance and tax payments “make sense.” I’m not even verifying the details behind the numbers, just that it was similar to last year’s amount as I update my spreadsheet. Well this time, I logged in to update my spreadsheets with the new mortgage balances for the October Financial Update, and I saw my escrow account was negative by over $1000! That makes no sense because these accounts are reviewed annually through an escrow re-analysis to ensure you’re not projected to dip below their required minimum balance, and if it were to be negative, it would only be by a much smaller amount.

We had recently changed our insurance. Usually when we change insurance providers, we pay the current year on our credit card (to get those points!), and then all future billing goes to our escrow account. I don’t know why we didn’t do it this way for the most recent change, but I’m inclined to blame the fact that the process took months to get new insurance because this company hasn’t been responsive, so we just wanted it done and weren’t thinking. Since we didn’t get the new policy issued before our old policy was billed, both insurances were paid out by our escrow. Sure, that should have affected our escrow balances, but still not by $1000.

One house had a policy that cost $573.31 and the other had a policy that cost $750.06. The new policy includes both houses under one policy (this becomes annoying and it makes me uncomfortable for reasons I can’t seem to articulate to the agent) and costs $1,180.87. Each mortgage escrow paid out the original policy amounts since we didn’t execute the new policies timely. After these were paid out, the mortgage company received a bill for $1,180.87. For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the company paid $1042 from each of our escrow accounts, and then one escrow account paid $138.87 (which is the balance of 1180.87-1042). The $138.87 covers the policy fees; so someone realized that there was a separate line item for policy fees, but didn’t realize that the $1042 should have been split between two houses (even though they knew there were two houses because they took from both escrows).

I questioned the process with the new insurance company, but he didn’t take responsibility for it. He claimed that the mortgagee had to know to split it and they don’t manage any of that. I explained that I’ve had multiple houses insured by one company and have never been given one policy number for it. He acted surprised. My gut says this is wrong and isn’t going to work, both for future billing and the possibility of a need for a claim. We did receive a check in the mail for $903.13 (the difference of $1042-138.87), but we still have paid the $138.87 and want it reimbursed. I sent an email this morning explaining again that I’ve confirmed with my mortgage company that this insurance company was paid $1042+$1042+$138.87. He again responded that the $138.87 is the fees portion of the bill, and I again said that I know, but it’s been paid twice, and I’d like it back. So now I’ll stay on top of that $138.87 to make sure we get it back.

You need to fight for yourself. You need to know what companies are owed and know what you’ve paid. Then don’t back down to keep asking for an update. I recently discussed how I had to fight for medical bills (multiple times) for a year at a time to get the money reimbursed that I was owed. I even recently had to call on another medical bill that I paid before realizing it hadn’t been submitted to insurance (I would love to understand why this keeps being an issue that my medical bills aren’t submitted to my insurance before billing me). Then they submitted it to insurance and sat on my reimbursement until I called twice asking for the reimbursement (that both times they agreed I was owed and it was “in process.”). Manage your money. Especially because that $138 that I’m waiting for now could mean a big difference to a family in need or living paycheck to paycheck.

Amortization Schedules

An amortization schedule is a document that is a huge spreadsheet of numbers that tells banks and their software how to apply your monthly mortgage payment. It defines the amount of each payment going to principal to pay off the loan balance, and the amount going to interest for the bank allowing you to borrow their money.


Let’s rewind. How does the bank figure out how much your monthly principal and interest payment is going to be? This is a function of several things:

  • Loan amount (purchase price minus down payment)
  • Interest rate
  • Loan term (length)

Want to see a formula for that?

  • loan amount = x
  • interest rate = y
  • loan term (months) = z

Looks like a blast doesn’t it? I saved this formula into my spreadsheet for evaluating properties so that once I fill in the purchase price, expected down payment, loan length, and the predicted rate from my lender, it will auto-populate the monthly mortgage payment amount. I then take that number and can calculate predicted cash flow based on a rent estimate.


Back to the point of the post. Loans with long terms borrow the money for a long time. Loans with high rates borrow the money more expensively. In both cases, the early stages of the amortization schedule give much more money to the bank as your fee for borrowing (interest) than they do to pay down the loan. This is because every dollar of that loan principal is being borrowed and needs paid for.

In the first payment, the entire principal amount borrowed is in that formula above, so it’s expensive to the bank to give you that money. Fast forward 15 years of a 30 year loan and you have far less outstanding principal left, so the interest charge associated with that is less. Since your total monthly mortgage payment (principal and interest, ignoring escrows) total doesn’t change, the interest applied towards a smaller balance leaves more ‘room’ to pay toward more principal. Basically, the bank gets its money out of your monthly payment first, and what is left over can go to principal pay-down.

DAILY INTEREST

To better explain the cost of borrowing each dollar over time, it’s likely easier to break it down into daily interest. An amortization schedule calculates the cost to the borrower for giving you the bank’s money on a per day basis. So while I have access to $X for the whole month, I owe the bank for every day I’m carrying that principal. Multiply by 30 and that’s what the bank charges me for interest for the month. Then, remember that the leftover is what goes to the principal pay-down.

How to calculate. Divide your annual interest rate by 365 to get your daily interest rate. Multiply that rate by the outstanding principal to get your daily interest charge. Multiply that by the days in the month (or most banks use a standard month length = 365/12) and come up with the interest the amortization schedule charges you for that month’s payment.

We mentioned the different types of amortization we’ve seen in the House 1 post. This loan calculated your monthly principal part of the payment by the exact number of days in the month so each month’s proportion of principal to interest varied up and down. This is in contrast to what most banks do that I mention above.

THEORETICAL EXAMPLES

A pretty standard rate in the last decade is 4% on a 30 year fixed mortgage. Lets say the loan amount is $100k. Plugging that into my formula above, we get a monthly payment of $477.42. Above are the first 10 payments on that loan. Only about 30% of your monthly payment is actually paying down principal at the beginning. It takes 153 payments (i.e., months) before the amount of each payment going to principal is actually more than paying interest. Total interest on the full loan in this scenario is $71,869.


Now lets look what happens when we change it to a 15 year loan. The total payment jumps to $739.69 because you are paying the principal down twice as fast. But, the first payment you make is already $406.35 worth of principal pay down. Compare it to the first loan example in the terms of daily interest. The rate is the same. The amount is the same. So the interest due for the month is the same. But because your amortization schedule knows that you’re paying the loan off much earlier and requires a larger total payment, the leftover for principal pay-down is far more substantial.

Next, look how much quicker the interest charge drops after just 10 payments compared to the first example. $320.98 vs $328.95. This is because you are paying principal down more quickly, so the outstanding balance decreases and the daily interest is then lower too. Total interest in this scenario is $33,143.


In this example, we move back to a 30 year loan, still at $100,000, but we bumped the rate to 6%. The total payment rises to nearly $600, and the principal to interest ratio of the beginning payments is quite poor. Only 17% of the payment is going to principal pay down, which means that the daily interest is high, and stays high for many months. It’s not until month 223 (18 years later!) before the amount of principal in each payment is higher than the interest payment. Total interest in this scenario is $115,838.


Side story – Mr. ODA’s parents paid off their 30 year mortgage on their residence in 12 years. As a child, Dad would explain to me their process. They printed out the amortization schedule and put it on the fridge. Each month, based on their regular cash flow of life, they would choose ‘how many months’ they wanted to pay to the loan. So they’d make their regular payment, then they’d pay the principal portion of the next 2-3 months on the amortization schedule also. They’d make some really gnarly extra payments with weird dollars and cents, but it was a calculated decision. Then they’d cross those months off the schedule, knowing that with that extra payment, the interest that was tied to that principal portion on the schedule was simply avoided/canceled, by paying that principal early. This was a powerful tool to help me understand how the loan process worked, and one that help create the foundation for me to look at time value of money, opportunity cost, guaranteed return vs potential invested return, etc. Dad missed a lot of stock market gains by accelerating a 30 year mortgage to 12 years, but very few people ever regret owning the roof over their head free and clear – with a byproduct of NO MORTGAGE PAYMENTS for the 18 years that would’ve been remaining! Now he can make more investments with that leftover cash flow of life.


Amortization schedules are one of the largest “gaps” in understanding for the typical mortgage customer. They typically get told what to pay each month and ascribe to a “set it and forget” mantra that they know in 30 years, their house will be owned free and clear. Anytime before that, why bother understanding the background math?

As you can see in the examples, a shorter loan means faster pay down with less interest overall, and a lower interest rate means a smaller payment. When looking at loan options, understanding how the math operates to get to your options can help you determine what your priorities and goals are, and how to execute them.

In our recent refinancing post we talked about analyzing when was a good time to refinance our existing loans and which ones we’d target first. Simple advice you can find on the internet is that it’s a good idea to refinance if you plan to keep the property for longer than the result of closing costs divided by monthly payment. Most times this was about 2 years for us. You can see above that the 6% example had a $123 larger monthly payment than the 4% example (30 year term). So if closing costs are $2,000, it would only take 16 months (2000/123=16) to “break even” on a refi to go from a 6% loan to a 4% loan. No brainer!

There’s another hidden benefit there too, that gets missed to make it even shorter than 16 months. Look at the principal portion of the monthly payment. On the 6% example, it’s only $99 on payment 1, but on the 4% example it’s $144. That’s another $45 benefit! You’re paying down the principal at a faster rate. Add that extra principal portion embedded within the monthly payment to the $123 lower payment savings ($123+45=$168) and you get a “break even” point of only 12 months ($2000 closing costs/$168=11.9)!

Understand how your mortgage math works so that you can speak intelligently to a lender, ask good questions, and set yourself up with the best scenario for your finances and your future.