Tomorrow App: Free Will & Trust, Optional Term Life Insurance

tmrwapp0The newly-launched Tomorrow app brings estate planning to your smartphone. The app includes software that will guide you through the creation of a legal will and trust for your family, and it makes money by also selling term life insurance (which you can use to fund your trust). You can use the free will and trust feature on its own and buy life insurance elsewhere. More press at TechCrunch.

The ready-to-sign wills are legal in 47 states (AK, LA, NC coming later). Here’s a diagram from their website:

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Is this an adequate replacement for an estate lawyer? Estate planning is strange because it is so important, but people always procrastinate about it. Nobody wants to think about death. Meeting a lawyer can be intimidating and potentially expensive. So while you could argue about what is best, most people have nothing. Is it a positive to have free will & trust software that fits many situations, making it more readily available for the public? Can it provide a positive start to a conversation with family? I think so. Are there cases where an estate lawyer would create a better product customized to your personal situation? Certainly.

Here’s what The Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) had to say about other DIY will-making software back in 2011:

Our wallet-watching cousins at the Consumer Reports Money Adviser newsletter took a look at three DIY options for will-making — LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Quicken WillMaker Plus — and found that while all three are better than not having a will, none of them is likely to meet the needs of anything more than the most basic of estates.

I’ve always been a little disappointed with legal software products when they say “we are not a law firm and this is not legal advice”. Okay, they probably have to say that. But really, if they are explicitly providing you with a ready-to-sign will and trust (and historically charging a fee for this service), then aren’t they… kinda… providing you legal advice? I certainly don’t understand it all on my own.

I did download the app and poke around for a bit. I liked the mobile-friendly Q&A format (similar to tax prep software), but as I’m not a lawyer I don’t know about quality or whether it covers the proper scenarios.

Competition. There are many established legal software websites that will guide you through the creation of a will and trust for a fee. For example, the LegalZoom Living Trust package includes a living trust, will, financial power of attorney, advanced medial directive, free revisions, and review from an independent attorney for $299. Willing.com currently offers a basic will for free (no minor children), but their cheapest package that includes a revocable trust also runs $299. A traditional local lawyer will certainly cost more than that, closer to $1,000 and up.

It appears that Tomorrow hopes to subsidize this cost by encouraging you to buy optional term life insurance from them. I think this is a reasonable idea (assuming its not too hard of a sell) as term life insurance is also one of those things people regret not buying until it’s too late. Comparison sites like PolicyGenius life insurance quotes are helpful because premiums are the same no matter which broker or website you buy it from. That means Tomorrow can’t mark up the price.

Our family already has a will & trust set up in-person with traditional lawyers. We bought term life insurance years earlier. On the other hand, I did use a software service to form my business (S-Corporation vs. LLC). Motivating myself to finish our estate plan was hard but I’m definitely glad we did it. I recommend getting something down in writing and starting the conversation, no matter which way you choose to do it.

A Semi-Retirement Update, Father’s Day 2017

okaydadI’ve been told that my blog isn’t personal enough. Father’s Day seemed like an appropriate time to share how our efforts towards financial freedom have altered our day-to-day lives.

Guiding principle. When I first started chasing the idea of “early retirement”, it was mostly about escaping the chains of a 9-5 corporate job for the next 40 years. These days, I am driven primarily to avoid the most common deathbed regret:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This is beautifully phrased, as it will mean something different to everyone. You have to push away the expectations and noise coming from society, your co-workers, even your friends and family. Some people call it mindfulness or meditation, I just call it that quiet voice inside you. Another good take on this from Anthony Bourdain:

It’s a quality-of-life issue with me. Am I having fun? Am I surrounded by people I like? Are we proud of what we’re doing? Do we have anything to regret when we look in the mirror tomorrow? Those things are huge to me.

Choosing semi-retirement over daycare. Up until 2012, my wife and I were dual, full-time earners with a healthy savings rate used to steadily accumulate assets. We spent our free time eating at new restaurants, traveling, hiking, skiing, and playing with our two dogs.

When our first child arrived, we weren’t quite ready to live off our investments but we still wanted to spend a lot of time raising our kids. We decided that we would both work roughly 20 hours a week (“half-time”) and share the stay-at-home parenting duties between us. Technically, we both semi-retired at age 33. At the same time, it was nothing to brag about because many families have a single income parent and a stay-at-home parent. We just happen to split it up. Today, we continue as 50/50 parents and somehow accumulated three kids: a 6-month old, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old.

For a many couples, it is simply financially efficient to keep working full-time and pay for daycare. For others, both individuals want to maintain their career trajectory. Both are a valid options and we don’t pass judgment. For us, giving up essentially one full income was also a big decision. We were concerned that we would be giving up current income now and likely stall our future career growth.

Ever since growing up as kid with a dad working long hours, I made a promise to be different when I had children of my own. I never want to utter the words “I wish I spent more time with my kids”. As a direct result of our aggressive savings rate in our 20s and early 30s, we felt comfortable taking an unconventional path. We are thankful every day that we don’t have to drop off our baby at 7am, work all day, come home, and only see them for an hour before bedtime.

Snapshot of our daily lives. We are not the most frugal family, but again we try to live aligned to our values. Our home is not overly big – two girls already share a bedroom and eventually all three will share one bathroom. We cook dinner at home more often than not. We rarely eat out. Our frequent flyer points are mostly idle nowadays, but we did take our 1-year-old and 3-year-old to visit the UK and France last summer. One of the highlights was feeding free-ranging reindeer in Scotland.

reindeer

Is semi-retirement all sunshine and rainbows? Yes, we’ve never had to deal with daycare or hire a nanny. Either my wife or I have been there for every single bathtime and bedtime. One of us has been present for all the first laughs, first words, first crawls, and first steps. But we also feel physically exhausted at the end of every day. I’m definitely more worn out now than our time as DINKs (dual income, no kids).

You really start to appreciate working with adults again after wrestling with three little tyrants children under the age of 5. Yesterday, my oldest child decided to stick her finger down the youngest’s throat. Guess who got to clean up projectile vomit off a shockingly-high blast radius? I’m pretty sure the comic Fowl Language installed a hidden camera inside my house (check out the book as well):

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There is a huge difference between doing something difficult and aligned with your personal values, and doing something difficult and not aligned with your personal values. Sure, we could spend our free time doing a million other easier things. But perhaps happiness is being able to choose your hard thing and then spend your time working on it. For now, parenting young children is my hard thing. I’m not terribly good at it, but I try… This is a precious time and I want to savor it before it ends.

You may think I’m crazy. That’s okay. Remember, the point is to live a life true to yourself and ignore what other people think. Now excuse me while I clean the vomit stain off my shorts.

Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry, Gratitude, and Relationship Advice

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Freakonomics Radio has a podcast called Why Is My Life So Hard? where they talked with Tom Gilovich of Cornell and Shai Davidai of the New School for Social Research about the concept of headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry:

Most of us feel we face more headwinds and obstacles than everyone else — which breeds resentment. We also undervalue the tailwinds that help us — which leaves us ungrateful and unhappy. How can we avoid this trap?

Here’s a more specific example:

GILOVICH: The idea should be familiar to anyone who cycles or runs for exercise. Sometimes you’re running or cycling into the wind, and it’s not pleasant. You’re aware of it the whole time. It’s retarding your progress and you can’t wait until the course changes so that you get the wind at your back. And when that happens you’re grateful for about a minute. And very quickly, you no longer notice the wind at your back that’s helping push you along. And what’s true when it comes to running or cycling is true of life generally.

This psychological bias relates to all kinds of things in life, including why you think your parents were easier on your siblings than you or why everyone thinks their sports team is always treated unfairly.

Personally, this reminded me of some relationship advice that I was given years ago. Here’s are the basic observations:

  • You are accurately aware of every single good thing you do for your spouse or partner.
  • You are not going to notice every single good thing your spouse/partner does for you.

Simple logic leaves you with the following conclusion:

Your goal should be to feel like you are giving more than you receive. Even if in reality both of you are doing equal numbers of good things for each other, you should still feel like you are doing a bit more because you missed things. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like you are giving at least a bit more than you are receiving, then you probably aren’t doing enough. This concept could also be applied somewhat to professional work relationships.

A similar idea is that when you visit a or national park or campground, try to leave it cleaner than you arrived. You might have left some bit of garbage that you didn’t even notice.

Back Again! Free Website Reveals Your Address History and Names of Relatives (Opt Out)

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Update April 2017. It appears that the same people behind the website mentioned below have created another nearly-identical website. Even if you opted-out last time, all of your sensitive personal information is up again on this website. You must opt-out again by clicking on “Privacy” at the bottom and then the “record removal link” (alternatively, try this) and then following the directions. This one allows reverse address and phone lookups as well.

Original post:

If you don’t like the idea of anyone being able to look up your address history and the names of all your relatives, you may want to enter your name into this website. Depending on the information it has gathered on your from public records, it may list personal information about you such as:

  • Your current and past addresses.
  • Names and birth years of your parents, siblings, cousins, and in-laws.
  • All of their current and past addresses.
  • Any variations of your name ever used.

While all of this information is technically in the public domain, I don’t know of any other website that has it organized in such an accessible manner that is both free and does not require any registration. The website was so detailed that it included addresses that even I had forgotten about, as well as name of relatives that I barely know (which is the intended upside, I suppose). I’m more worried about the downside.

The good news is that the website will delete your information upon request. First, you may want to save whatever information they collected about you into a PDF. Next, I would try visiting this opt-out link directly and following the directions carefully. Alternatively, you can follow the opt-out instructions in this Time article. It only takes a minute, and my name record was removed within 48 hours as promised. Found via Bogleheads.

2017 IRS Federal Income Tax Brackets Breakdown Example (Married w/ 1 Child)

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In a continued attempt to better explain the 2017 federal income tax brackets, here is a graphical breakdown of a simple scenario for a married filing joint couple with 1 dependent. See also my previous examples for a single filer with no dependents and married filing joint with no dependents. I will try to explain the differences in terms such as gross income, taxable income, marginal tax rate, and effective tax rate.

Here is a chart of 2017 federal income tax rates for married joint filers, based on the official IRS tax tables:

2017tbrac_mfj

Simple example. Let’s say your combined gross income is $100,000 a year. You are a married couple with one child under 16, and both earn $50,000 gross income. You are both employees that receive W-2 income only (i.e. neither are self-employed). You don’t have any additional income sources like interest, capital gains, rents, etc. You don’t have any extra deductions like IRA/401k contributions or mortgage interest. You live in a state with no state income tax.

Gross income. Let’s start with your annual $100,000 gross income. You each get a personal exemption of $4,050 in 2017, including your dependent child. That’s $4,050 x 3 = $12,150. You also get something called the standard deduction which is $12,700 for married filing joint in 2017. Since you don’t have a lot of itemized deductions, you fall back onto the standard deduction.

2017t_brackets_mfj1kid

The first 24,850 of your gross income is not taxable. Without doing anything special at all, your $100,000 in gross income is now only $75,150 in taxable income after personal exemptions and the standard deductions. If you’ve already done your taxes, your taxable income should be line 43 on Form 1040, line 27 on Form 1040A, and line 6 on Form 1040EZ.

The first $18,650 of taxable income is subject to a 10% tax rate. Shave off 10% of $18,650 and put that on your tax bill ($1,865). The remaining $56,500 of taxable income is moved onto the next tax bracket.

The next $57,250 in taxable income is subject to a 15% tax rate. However, we only have $56,500 left. So we shave off 15% of $56,500 ($8,475) and add that to the existing $1,865. The total tax bill is now $10,340.

In this example, this 15% is your marginal tax bracket. If you earned another $1, it would be taxed at this marginal rate of 15%. Even with a six-figure income, a couple with at least one kid can still land in the 15% marginal tax bracket (pre-tax 401k or IRA contributions would reduce taxable income even more).

Federal Child Tax Credit. As this income doesn’t exceed the phaseout limits and your child is 16 or under, you also get the full $1,000 Child Tax Credit. A tax credit lowers your tax bill dollar-for-dollar as opposed to a deduction that only lowers your taxable income. Thus, your tax bill is reduced from $10,340 to $9,340.

2017t_compare_mfj1kid

Payroll taxes. These aren’t technically federal income taxes, but you must each pay a Social Security tax (OASDI) of 6.2% and Medicare payroll tax (HI) of 1.45% of your gross income. That’s $3,100 a year for Social Security and $725 a year for Medicare. You both earn $50,000 gross and don’t exceed the income caps. (Your respective employers pay the same amount.)

Overall effective tax rate. You paid $9,340 in federal income taxes on $100,000 of gross income, for an average or overall effective tax rate of 9.34%. Again, you also paid 7.65% in payroll taxes. Your average tax rate is lower than a couple without kids due to the combined effects of the additional personal exemption and the child tax credit. In this specific example, having a kid reduced your tax bill by $937.50 + $1,000 = $1937.50.

Here’s a chart from OurWorldinData.org that shows how the average tax rate changes with taxable income (2016, married filing joint with no kids).

2017taverage

Free Estate Planning Guide and Workbook from American Red Cross

arc_estateIf one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to create an estate plan for you and your loved ones, here’s a good starter kit. The American Red Cross has a free Estate Planning Guide and Workbook which comes in both electronic fillable PDF form or a paper workbook format if you give them your address. It is roughly 50 pages and includes blanks to store your asset and beneficiary information, make future edits when needed, and print multiple copies to share with your attorney and family members. The guide will help you to:

  • Understand estate planning and the importance of having a will.
  • Gather the information they need to prepare to draft or update your will.
  • Discover ways to minimize taxes and liabilities for your families.
  • Explore the benefits of making charitable gifts in your estate plans.

Here’s a snapshot of the Table of Contents:

  • Why Everyone Needs a Will
  • When to Revise Your Will
  • Get a Head Start on Writing or Updating Your Will
  • Three Pillars of Every Estate Plan
  • Will Planning Workbook
  • Charitable Giving Through Your Will or Other Gift Plan
  • Including the Red Cross in Your Will
  • Making a Gift Outside Your Will
  • Gifts that Benefit You and Keep the Red Cross Strong

The American Red Cross also offers another free PDF resource called Disasters and Financial Planning: A Guide for Preparedness and Recovery.

Happy Holidays from edwardfurlong

Earlier this month, we welcomed a third wonderful child into our family. (Yes, I know, the picture on the sidebar is really old…) We are truly blessed. I am also grateful for many other things, including your continued readership. While my posting may be lighter over the next oh… 18 years or so, I am still having a good time and hope that this year brings you a little closer to financial freedom and living a life true to yourself, not necessarily the life others expect from you. Have a joyful holiday season!

baby3

(Having photographers available in the maternity ward was a brilliant business idea.)

Sell Your Halloween Candy to Dentists, Who Donate Them to Troops Abroad

ccDo you let your kids create the memories of Trick-or-Treating but not the subsequent cavities from actually eating all that candy? A nationwide network of over 2,500 dentists will buy back your Halloween candy (usually for $1 per pound, up to 5 pounds) at HalloweenCandyBuyBack.com. Find a local dentist by zip code; I found the locator a bit buggy but there does seem to be at least a few dentists in most metro areas. You can also skip the $5 and donate via mail or drop off at these Operation Gratitude locations.

The candy is shipped to our troops overseas as part of care packages by Soldier’s Angels or Operation Gratitude. The children may also write letters of support and gratitude to the troops. The soldiers often use the candy to build relationships with the local children. Ideally, your children will (1) avoid tooth decay, (2) earn a few bucks (money lesson opportunity), and (3) help brighten the day of a service-member overseas! Here’s an ABC new segment about the site:

7 Essential Money Questions from The New York Times

green_questionThe NY Times has a new essay called 7 Essential Money Questions Sure to Start a Conversation:

What follows are the seven best queries that I could find that tend to stop people cold and get them to open up about whatever money they have and the emotions that wrap themselves around their personal finances.

I found myself answering them in my head, so I figured why not share my answers.

What lessons about money did you learn from your parents?

I would say that I remember frugality being a part of everyday life growing up. We would live in apartments and duplexes, while some of my friends would live in big houses. We rarely ate in restaurants, except on birthdays when I got to go to Olive Garden or Red Lobster. I remember being scolded when I used a paper towel for a task that could have been done with a cloth towel. I was taught to use no more than a dab of shampoo. To this day, I have a visceral dislike of wasting food.

Another thing that stuck with me was that my dad worked hard at a career that he enjoyed, but he could have made more money elsewhere. I didn’t like that he seemed to work all the time, but at least he seemed passionate about what he was doing. Together, I feel like I have combined these characteristics. If you can control your spending, you can be more flexible in your work situation.

What does the word “money” conjure up for you?

Well, for starters money means survival. Food, housing, and personal safety. I am a conservative person that enjoys a feeling of security. By making clear what is need vs. want, I can be confident that I have enough in the bank to “survive” for a very long time.

Above that, money means freedom. Freedom to quit a job with management that cares about short-term profits or metrics more than long-term value or people. Forget you money. Freedom to have more kids without worrying.

How many children would you like to have when you retire?

Three. This is such a personal choice. What’s worse, with fertility problems and adoption hurdles you may not even be given a choice.

How do you think your children feel about that?

I think they’ll be fine. They may have to share clothes, books, toys, and later vehicles. They’ll have to share rooms. Every kid doesn’t need their own room… What’s wrong with bunk beds? I hope they appreciate having siblings.

Raising kids is both so more much difficult and enjoyable than I thought it would be. I used to idealize some ideal “future with kids”. Nowadays, instead of long-term planning, I just try to enjoy the process. Every day usually has a few precious moments and a few difficult ones that test our patience.

Tell me about your financial situation when you first met.

My wife and I met when we were both 18 years old and freshmen in college. Her parents had taken out home equity loans to help fund her education. My parents were also paying for a good chunk of my education, and in addition I was accruing what would end up being $30,000 in student loans. We both had part-time jobs (that’s actually how we met, while I was on the job). Our combined net worth was negative.

What are the most important things in your life?

Family, then friends, then community.

What does the prospect of retirement look like to you?

Here’s my ideal “early retirement” weekday from roughly age 40-60. Wake up early. Prepare kids and send off to school. Work at any job that I enjoy until noon. Eat lunch with spouse and run any errands. Pick up kids and play with/teach/chauffeur them. Have the time and energy to be present with them. Cook at home and eat dinner as a family. Put kids to bed. Read. Go to bed early-ish. On weekends, add in hiking, sports, backyard cookouts, festivals, etc. Travel together as a family for 3-6 weeks at a time in the summer.

Lifetime Allocation Pie Chart: Learning, Earning, and Returning

You always see pie charts used to illustrate asset allocation for portfolios. Stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, etc. How about a pie chart for deciding how to allocate your lifetime:

life_aa

This was one of the “life lessons” provided by entrepreneur Tristan Walker in his Bloomberg profile:

Spend the first third of your life learning, the second earning, and the third returning. I try to shorten earning so I can maximize returning.

Your time on earth is a finite resource. Let’s say you put your life expectancy at 84 years. That works out to:

  • From birth until 28 years old, you are Learning. You are building up your knowledge, skills, and experience. You are building human capital.
  • From 28 to 56 years old, you are Earning. You are converting your human capital to traditional capital – money!
  • From 56 onwards, you are Returning. Once you have enough, it is your turn to give back to your community.

Learning isn’t always done in school. For example, many people will tell you that in your early years, you should take on risks before you develop too many other responsibilities. Start a business, switch careers, or travel the world. Don’t worry about the money in your 20s; your basic food and shelter expenses can be barebones. Invest your time into yourself.

Along the same lines, you won’t stop learning completely at 28 years old, but your focus and priorities may change. As I get close to 40, I feel the growing pressure of providing security for my kids and the pressure of caring for aging parents. In practical terms, you’ll need to invest more of your time into making money. Well, I might change that to earning money and then saving a big chunk of it.

Then one day, hopefully sooner than later, you can move on to giving back in a way that aligns with your personal philosophies. Invest your time towards helping your family, friends, the local community, and the world.

This is a related concept to the Earn, Save, Grow, Preserve lifecyle.

Nickel: Kid Allowance App + Debit Card + Set Your Own Custom Interest Rate

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If you’re reading this, you obviously value financial knowledge and creating a secure life for you and your family. If you have kids, then you want them to develop the same skills. The NYT bestseller book The Opposite of Spoiled explored the many modern ways to teach kids about money. One recommendation for allowances is to split it up into three jars: savings, giving, and spending.

For that saving jar, an additional hack would be to pay your kids interest on their savings. For example, you could pay a monthly interest rate of 10%, which is huge in the adult world, but for a kid you need it to be large enough to be “felt” and hopefully teach them the following concepts:

  • Regular, automatic savings. Let’s say you give them $10 a week that is automatically saved. (They don’t manually move money over every week, it just happens like a 401k plan.) Even with no interest, two and half months later, they’ll have a hundred bucks!
  • Passive income. Now you could introduce the concept of paying interest. When they see their $100 pay $10 in interest at the end of the month, perhaps they will start to understand the power of passive income. “I could keep the $100 in there and still get to spend $10 every month forever!”
  • Compound interest. Now show them how they can get interest on their interest. If they start with $100, don’t take any money out, don’t save a penny more, at 10% monthly interest they will still have $314 after 12 months of compounding.
  • Compound interest + regular savings! If they start with $100, don’t take any money out, keep saving another $10 a week, at 10% monthly interest they will have $549 after a 12 months of compounding. This is starting to become serious money!
  • Passive income revisited. A year later, that passive income isn’t $10 a month anymore, it has become $55 a month! This would be a good time to tell you that parents pay the interest, so if you have a little Warren Buffett at home you should set a cap on interest payments upfront. 😉

There are a growing number of “allowance apps” to cater to this market, but Nickel (iOS only, Android “not yet”) is one of the first services that I’ve seen implement this custom interest rate feature. Designed for kids age 8 and up, Nickel offers a reloadable debit card and a smartphone app for you and the kid. The parent can view all transactions and control things like allowance amount, one-time transfers, and interest rates.

Much like adult prepaid cards with 5% APY savings accounts, there are two buckets of money: the “Card” account which is available to spend via Mastercard debit, and “Pocket” account which earns interest. Here’s a 1-minute video explainer and some screenshots of the interest rate feature:

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Finally, apps are cool, but let’s not forget the core values and character traits that lead to good behavior in general.

Someone Is Doing The Thing That You Decided Couldn’t Be Done

bbootWe are currently planning a 4-week European trip with our young children (age 1 and 3). The most common reactions are “Cool. Wait, you’re not bringing the kids, are you?” followed by “You’re nuts.” At first, we didn’t think it could be done either. It does take a lot of additional planning for car seats, cribs, kid-friendly itineraries, and so on.

While doing some research at a site called My Little Nomads, the author shared a quote by Seth Godin:

One of the under-reported stories of the internet is this: it constantly reports on what’s possible. Somewhere in the world, someone is doing something that you decided couldn’t be done. By calling your bluff and by pointing out the possibilities, this reporting of possibility changes everything.

You can view this as a horrible burden, one that raises the bar and eliminates any sinecure of comfort and hiding you can find, or you can embrace it as a chance to stretch.

That is a great quote that encapsulates why I love the internet. If you want to start your own niche business, pull off home-cooked weeknight meals, take your house entirely off-grid, semi-retire at age 40, or just take your tiny kids on an adventure – someone out there has probably already done it. You may even find an entire online community ready to help you reach your goal. There will be doubters, but all you need to know is that it’s possible.