Opinion: Pay off all your debt before investing in stocks
Ever build one of those mortgage spreadsheets?
It’s a pretty good exercise. Here is the most important step: Open that spreadsheet and add up the interest you will pay over time, assuming you don’t make any prepayments.
The answer will probably blow your mind.
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For example, on a $250,000 30-year 4% fixed-rate mortgage loan, you will actually pay about $430,000 in total over the course of those 30 years.
Every butthead reading this is thinking: “But you get to deduct that from your taxes!”
I have never understood that philosophy. You would rather pay more money than less money so you can get some of it back?
True, mortgage interest is tax-advantaged (for now), but most of the money you pay in interest is unproductive. It doesn’t do anything. That is the price you pay for the ability to spend money you don’t have. And it is expensive.
Interest paid for credit-card loans, car loans and student loans is unproductive. Who has ever been happy about the hundreds of thousands of dollars people pay in interest?
Think of all the things you could have bought with that money.
Nobody thinks about this.
Credit-card debt is the worst. Of all the years I have had credit cards, only once did I carry a balance for a month. I was just curious to see what would happen. I got charged $50 in interest. Fun.
There are people who carry tens of thousands of dollars (or more) in credit-card debt. They pay the monthly minimum, incurring hundreds of dollars of interest charges every month.
I do not understand why someone would limp along under this crushing burden of debt and not take any action.
Bankruptcy is obviously an option, but a better option is to implement some austerity, start saving money and chip away at those credit-card balances. You can get them down to zero over time if you work at it.
Credit-card debt should not be used at all. So if you have a balance, pay it off. If you have multiple balances, pay them all off. You should pay them off before you pay off your other debt because you are getting violated by the interest rate.
You have to take action. Leaving those bills unopened on the counter doesn’t mean this is all going to go away.
One last thing
The number one question I get as a financial writer is: “Why should I pay down my mortgage/car loan/credit cards? I can earn more than that in the stock market.”
Uh, no, you can’t.
Even if the after-tax interest rate for your mortgage loan is below 3%, there is no guarantee that you will be able to beat it.
All you will have done is swollen your balance sheet, with lots of assets and lots of liabilities. Shrink the balance sheet. Make it smaller.
It’s about safety. Once you own your house/car/life free and clear, there is no better feeling in the world.
The stock market, as represented by the S&P 500 Index SPX, +0.04% may not behave. You can have slumps of 10%, 20% or more in any given year. Then you’ll have debt and losses. Take care of the debt first. After that, start looking at making money in the stock market.
Think of the thousands of dollars you have going out the door in debt-service payments:
• Mortgage loan
• Car loan
• Credit cards
• Student loan
Some of this debt is “better” than others, but it’s all bad. Imagine you got rid of it all, and you had your income — all of it — turn into pure, free cash flow.
Is that even possible?
Jared Dillian is a former Lehman Brothers head of ETF trading. In a special report, he writes about how to properly position your portfolio for what he says is an upcoming stock market crash.
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Jared Dillian is an investment strategist at Mauldin Economics. He is the author of "Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers," which chronicled his time at the investment bank before the 2008 financial crisis. Dillian edits and publishes a variety of financial publications, including The Daily Dirtnap.
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