Monday, April 26, 2010

My DIY ROP Life Insurance Policy

As you know, I'm currently in the process of purchasing a $500,000 term life policy for the benefit of my sister, who has recently taken in my parents. I had my medical exam last Friday and Accuquote just confirmed that it received my application. I'm told the underwriting process takes about 4 to 6 weeks, so I should be getting my policy by my next birthday. (Gaaaaaah. I share the same birthday as Michael Vick?? Ugh.)

*Ahem* I digress.

Assuming that my health exam results are "excellent", my annual premium for a basic term life policy should be $595, or about $50/month. I was also quoted $1,250/year, or, $104.17/month for a Return of Premium ("ROP") policy.

ROP policies will allow term life insurance policyholders to recover all or part of their premiums paid over the life of the if they do not die during the stated term. Basically, with an ROP policy, I'll be paying an insurance company $104.17/month now, to get back $104.17/month 30 years later. (By my calculation, the yield on the additional ROP premiums would be about ~3.98% APY over 360 months.)

Any claim that the net cost under an ROP policy is zero, ignores opportunity costs or illiquidity. More importantly, the additional premiums are wasted if the policyholder does die during the term.

This site gives an objective explanation of the pros and cons of ROP policies. But ultimately, I think the most compelling argument against the ROP policy is:
"Why Shouldn't I Get ROP Term Life Insurance?

The main reason people don't get ROP term life insurance is that it costs more. It can cost up to three times as much as term life insurance.

Some financial advisors also suggest that if you can afford ROP life insurance, then you should consider getting regular term life insurance and investing the difference."
Although I'm convinced that the ROP policy is not worth it, I'm intrigued about getting a "refund" of my premiums. I wondered whether I can DIY my own ROP policy?

Confession: Although I have enough money to pay this year's premium, I just realized that I don't have enough room in my monthly budget to pay for subsequent years' premiums. In order to pay for my life insurance policy, I'll need to reduce my monthly student loan payments from $1,478/month to $1,373/month (for the "pretend" ROP policy), or, $1,428/month (for the basic term life policy).

My Plan: I immediately set aside $595 for my basic life insurance premium and an additional $660 for my hypothetical ROP premium for this year. I created a sub-account in my Smartypig account (2.01% APY) specifically to park my "pretend" ROP premium. I also adjusted my budget by reducing my SL payments to $1,373/month. I plan to save and/or invest the additional $55/month "pretend" ROP premiums.

I can already hear the trolls - - "The extra $55/month is better spent paying down your ginormous student loans!! You're such an idiot. No wonder you got yourself in such a horrendous financial hole." And quite frankly, I can't argue with the trolls, since they're right. My private SLs have an APR of 3.547% and are likely to go higher in the upcoming months. But I want to point out that I banked this year's "pretend" ROP premiums from my future spending earmarks, not from my emergency fund or future student loan payments. So I don't want to hear how paying down 3.547% APR is better than banking at 2.01% APY. I get it. I really do.

And I've decided to proceed with my DIY ROP plan because I'll still be able to pay off my private SLs in 2 years with or without the additional $55/month. (Even at the reduced $1,373/month payment, I'll be paying over 3 times the minimum monthly payments owed on my private SLs and over twice the minimum monthly payments on all of my SLs combined.) But the biggest reason why I'm doing this now is because I highly doubt I'll remember to start setting aside my "pretend" ROP premiums several years down the road when I payoff my SLs.

Although I parked this year's "pretend" ROP premiums into a savings account, I intend to dollar cost average my future monthly hypothetical premiums into my Fidelity non-deductible IRA account with commission-free ETFs. In essence, my gamble is whether my "pretend" ROP investments can match or beat 3.98% APR, or even 3.547% APR.

Only time will tell...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy With My New Fidelity IRA

On February 3, 2010, Fidelity Investments offered commission-free trades on 25 iShares ETFs. As a small investor and a die-hard, dollar-cost averager, this intrigued me. My biggest obstacle to dollar-cost averaging ETFs was brokerage firms' commission fees. Even at low-commission fee Scottrade, I would need to buy $700+ of any one ETF in order to limit my commissions to 1%.

If I had $700+ to invest monthly, I wouldn't care too much about brokerage commission fees. But alas, since most of my income is going towards paying down student loans and my 401k, I don't have that kind of money to play with invest. (Some day, though, some day.)

Anyhow, I was happy to see that Fidelity was offering TIP commission-free. (I currently have 10 shares of TIP in my Scottrade accounts.) I was even more excited that EEM (MSCI emerging market fund), IVW (S&P500 growth fund), LQD (investment grade corporate bond fund) and EMB (emerging markets bond fund) were also offered commission-free. I was sold.

Traditional v. Roth?
I chose to open a Traditional, non-deductible IRA. Although I expect my 2010 AGI to be below the $105,000 - $120,000 threshold, it may not be if I get laid off at the end of the year and am given my lump-sum severance. In order to avoid the headaches of a potential re-characterization from a Roth to a Traditional IRA and coverting it back to a Roth, I just chose to open a Traditional IRA and convert it a Roth next year.

Open Account With $2,500 or $200/month?
Since I intend to dollar cost average over the year, I chose the SimpleStart IRA process which waives the usual $2,500 minimum investment in lieu of $200 monthly automatic contributions.

I chose to invest $220/month and keep the rest of the money in my numerous "high" interest-bearing savings accounts. Fidelity offers an FDIC-insured, deposit sweep, but it's currently earning 0.10%. That's pretty much close to nothing.

DRIP Feature
I've currently elected to invest solely in income funds in my IRAs to create a source of tax-free, passive income stream in my retirement. I figure that since I'm not presently investing much money in my IRA (in comparison to my 401k), I'm not sacrificing that much potential growth for safety.

For the first two months, I bought couple shares each of LQD and EMB. They both pay out about $.40/share in dividends per month. I was delighted to learn that my Fidelity account also has a DRIP feature which would reinvest my dividends into the ETFs. (I don't think my Scottrade accounts have this feature.)

With the DRIP, I earned an extra 0.005 share of EMB and an extra 0.004 share of LQD and should be getting more at the end of the month. Woo hoo!!

All in all, I'm happy with my new Fidelity account. I'll be the first to admit that the iShares ETFs aren't my first choice, but if I want to dollar-cost average, this is currently my best option. If I can find additional monies to invest, I'd also eventually like to add growth fund ETFs into the mix. My 401k is woefully lacking in growth funds and this may be a great way for me to diversify.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Parents Are Moving In With My Big Sis... Today

Lately, the phrase, "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray," is running through my head frequently. I previously wrote about how my big sis was planning to buy a house in Arizona and rent it out to my parents in the event that her employer transferred her to another state. I petulantly pouted and threw a tantrum that if my sister went through with the plan, she'll need to take care of my parents, not me.

Well... turns out, my big sis IS taking care of my parents since they're moving in with her. TODAY.

My big sis closed on her brand spankin' new home on New Year's Eve. She bought a 3 BR/2.5 Bath, 1750 sq. ft. home with granite counter tops, all stainless steel appliances (incl. washer/dryer), window treatments AND landscaping inclusive for $250k. (For those of us who live in expensive States, doesn't this make you sick?)

Anyhow, I digress. About a couple of months ago, my sister noticed that my parents got a renewal notice from their landlord. My sister asked what my parents intended to do. My mother confided that they probably can't afford to continue to live in their apartment since they've been using their credit card cash advances to pay their rent. *EGADS*

In response, my sister offered to take them in for $675/month rent. My dad immediately accepted her offer. *DOUBLE EGADS*

My parents live on a fixed income, but not a shabby one. They take in about $3,300/month in pensions and Social Security. So how come they can't afford to pay ~$1,200/month in rent?

Over the past two months, my sister and I have been trying to piece together my parents' finances. Although we're not certain yet, this is what we estimate:
  • Approx. $40k in credit card debt;
  • My father never signed up for Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage). His monthly prescription drugs cost about $300-$400/month.
  • Supplemental health insurance cost about $500/month.
Doing the math, there’s no reason why my parents can’t make ends meet. But I suspect there are other "financial bombs" that my sister and I haven't yet uncovered. My parents hate each other and refuse to speak to one another. Both are passive-aggressive and obstinate. They refuse to listen to one another. Neither will admit to, or take responsibility for their current situation. Worse yet, neither has any clue regarding what financial obligations they have. *Sigh*

My mom often cries that she wants death to come a day sooner. My dad has been telling anyone that would listen, that his family neglects and abuses him. (My dad is suffering from advanced dementia. For the record, no one is abusing or neglecting him. If anything, he is the one that is emotionally abusive to us all.)

It is appalling to my sister and me that my parents can't seem to appreciate how lucky they are. They are not destitute - - they have over $3,000 in monthly income. ($3k/month NPV is probably more than I can expect in my retirement!) They have children that are willing to step in to care for them. (My parents see this as a cultural birthright, so of course they wouldn't consider this "lucky." *Sigh* Gotta set them straight on this one eventually.) Yet, all they can see is how miserable their lives are.

Being happy or miserable is not only a state of mind but a life choice. I agree that my parents are not in the best financial state. But that's the consequence of their poor (read: no) planning. Rather than accepting the consequences of their failures and attempting to make right, they both claim they are just plain "unlucky." My parents have made their choice to wallow in misery. How sad and depressing.

I tried explaining to my parents that being "lucky" or "unlucky" is not an issue of chance, but is reflective of one's attitude and effort in creating one's luck. The common characteristics of "lucky" people are:
  • being skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities;
  • taking risks on opportunities;
  • being flexible and don’t define themselves by others' expectations;
  • being able to make decisions by listening to their intuition;
  • being able to maintain positive expectations;
  • being able to “not give up” and manage to transform bad luck into good.
As the 18th Century Irish Author and Physician Oliver Goldsmith once said, "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

My parents lack all of the characteristics of a "lucky" person. I guess they are indeed unlucky, but unlucky
by choice.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

March 2010 Progress Report

My financial life and my personal life were previously in sync. When my financial life was in the dumps, so was my personal life. When my finances improved, so did my spirits.

But there's been a "decoupling" of the two since my father's car crash in February. My net worth rocketed upwards while my emotions have taken a free-fall.

Now that my finances are under control (or, at the very least not as dire as it used to be), I guess I'm experiencing the diminishing return on happiness for every dollar increase in my net worth. I hate thinking that way since it makes me very unappreciative and whiny.

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that I am a VERY lucky woman. I earn a damn good salary with damn good benefits. I got a windfall in December, while many people were unemployed or experiencing cut backs. I also got a bonus in March that was completely unearned and undeserved. I need to improve my attitude in my professional as well as my personal life. At the end of the day, I want to say I earned my good fortune and deserve a good life.

To those who are curious, below is my recent embarrassment of riches.


Starting Debt (6/08)

Last MonthThis MonthDIFFERENCE
Private SL$49,528.99$40,481.01$39,111.05$(1,368.96)
Fed'l SL$55,852.68$53,321.08$53,170.49$(150.59)
Car Loan

I've been up and running on my snowball since January. After interest, I've been paying down my debts by over $1,470+/month, or 1.5%+. Woo hoo.





The savings I report here is with respect to my emergency fund savings only. I have an additional $18,036.59 in an unreported "earmark" fund for expenses, such as tax, car maintenance, IRA, etc. etc. I don't report my earmark funds here, or in my net worth, since it's money I intend to spend eventually.





In addition to my savings and earmark fund, I've created an "X"-Fund, which is reported in my net worth as "other property." I came across a significant windfall (~ $33K) in December. In January, I allocated $20,175 of my windfall into what I call my "X-Fund," since I don't know yet whether I'll need to use it as an emergency fund or a down-payment for my first home. Either way, it's money that I don't intend to touch unless I absolutely need to or unless I reinvest it.

In March, my company also paid me a bonus (net ~$9,711.61), which admittedly was not deserved. I put $4,000 of my bonus money into my X-fund, hence the big jump this month. I don't expect any future big jumps.



The increase of my net worth has been on an incredible trajectory. And it's so ironic that my emotional state has been on a recent downward spiral.

The breakdown and the history of my net worth can be seen here.

Re-Evaluating My Life

To those of you who’ve expressed concern about my extended absence, thank you.

Since February, I’ve been flying back and forth to my parents’ place to take my father to his various doctors’ appointments. I’ve been depressed due to what I’ve been slowly learning about my parents.

During my visits, both my mother and my father take turns telling me how much they despise one another. My father actively calls my mother “The Monkey,” and refuses to acknowledge her presence or to speak to her. My mother still cooks, cleans and launders for my father, but nothing more. Both are mired in self-pity and have concluded that they are just “unlucky” people. It's just sad and frustrating to see how these people are actively choosing to be miserable during their last days/months/years of their lives. Neither have accepted any responsibility for their current miserable lot in life.

The silver lining in all of this though, is that I had the epiphany that I love my life. I don't want to squander it. I guess you could say that I am lucky to be observing a real-life “what-not-to-do-with-your-life” example first-hand. I've decided to step back and take stock of my life.

I have so much to say, yet it's hard to put down in writing, since I am experiencing a gamut of emotions simultaneously. Once I can get my thoughts organized, I will post bit-by-bit. Stay tuned.