The Boring (& Completely Effective) Way to Build Wealth: A Case Study For Young Investors

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Both my kids are in their 30s. I suspect they’re like the majority of their peer group in that they simply wanna make good decisions, live their lives, raise their families, have fun in the process and retire well. Today, let’s take a typical 30-year-old from their peer group and see what’s possible for her.

First, though, let’s set up what she and her husband’s financial picture looks like these days.

As related toย average income in their age group (for those with have degrees), Maggie makes pretty much the median income for her peer group and age range. Her husband, Jim, works for a private firm dealing mostly with the military, on his way up the ladder, earning just under $60,000 annually. Add in Maggie’s earnings of $48,000, and their household pre-tax income is just over $100,000 yearly.

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Let’s Get Started

Maggie ‘n Jim bought their first home a bit over two years ago. It has room for a couple kids, which are part of their ultimate plan. They’ve been traveling like crazed banshees the last few years due to his job. They figure better now, before any little ones come along. Though their travel costs are lower than we’d think, they’re still a chunk of change, for sure. All that traveling has them counting continents, not countries, to which they’ve been. THAT kind of traveling. ๐Ÿ™‚

They have around $20,000 in savings. They have no student debt, as they both worked their way through college. She as a nanny, him at Costco. Sure, it took ’em longer to get their degrees, but on the plus side, they graduated without any student debt.

Neither one of ’em contribute to any 401k or IRA, though in order to buy their first home, much of the FHA down payment came from Jim “gutting” his Costco plan right after he graduated. After talkin’ with a highly regarded EIUL (Equity Indexed Universal Life)ย expert, they decided on a policy costing $500/mo, indexed to inflation. It was structured for 30 years, meaning the tax free annual income would begin when they turned 60.

To maximize the ultimate income benefit, they’ll grease the skids with a modest $3,000 up front at inception, based on the expert’sย advice.

Results

At age 60, they’ll begin receiving $9,000 a month โ€” tax free โ€” ’til they’re 90. That’s $108,000 a year, which means they’ll end up collecting about $3.24 million over 30 years. Remember now, it’s all tax free. Since they live in a high income tax state, that annual income would likely hafta be roughly $150,000 a year pre-tax. Not a bad way for a young couple starting out in the world, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Related: 3 Real Estate Investing Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Earlier

Note:ย Can’t yet budget in a $500 monthly premium? Then just do half that, $250/mo. At inception you’d put in just $1,500. Your tax free income at 60 would be half of Jim’s/Maggie’s, about $54,000 yearly. Still, that’s slightly in excess of $1.6 million over 30 years from 60 to 90 years old. The vast majority of Americans over 60 and retired don’t make that much pre-tax.

Sad, isn’t it?

Maggie decides to take the plunge, opening up a small home “nanny” care biz. She loves kids to death, so this is a natural. Jim’s gone to work in the morning as kids would arrive, and they’re gone by the time he gets home. A perfect fit. The gross annual income will be approximately $50,000, maybe slightly higher. Her actual taxable income will be much less, likely around $36,000.

It’s Now Five Years Later…

Jim rose to become office manager locally, reporting only to the regional boss. His pay is now at just under $85,000. Maggie’s business has consistently produced a pre-tax net income from her business of around $36,000 yearly. Four of the last five years, she’s put between $20-25,000 after tax money in to the Roth side of the Solo 401k she started after her first year in business.

Each year, this Roth Solo acquired one discounted first position note. The solo now owns approximately $135,000 in actual note debt for which it paid just over $100,000. Total payments annually now exceed $12,000. That means Maggie’s Solo can now buy an additional discounted note every couple years from accumulated payments alone. Since they have ’til they’re 59.5 years old before they can collect payments tax free, that’s gonna add up.

Note: As time passes and Jim’s salary continues escalating, Maggie will be able to take after tax savings and add to her annual Roth Solo contributions. She does that now, but on a limited basis suiting their family budget. She’s allowed to put in a maximum of $51,000 each year, via contribution, profit sharing, and after tax personal savings.

Once she’s 50, if she still owns a business, the overall maximum allowed rises to $56,500. These numbers change more often than expected, and it’s usually upward.

Caveat: The owner of a Solo can only contribute to the extent of the company’s salary to them. So, in Maggie’s case, if she still made $36,000 a year pre-tax, that would be her ceiling for money into the Solo that year, regardless of whether or not she had more money available.

Moving On Up

At 40 years old, and now with a couple kids in school, Jim and Maggie decide to move to larger digs. They’re feeling a bit cramped in less than 1,300 feet. Besides, their home has gone up in value, and Jim has been adding a bit to the monthly payment for a decade now.

In addition, each time he got a promotion/raise or bonus, he’d get rid of a little more debt on the home fort. Since their property is worth more than they paid, and the loan is lower by far than it woulda been, he’s strikin’ while the iron’s hot. In 10 years at the same firm, Jim has become a favorite — and somewhat of a rising star. His salary is now five figures monthly, roughly $140,000 a year, which doesn’t include bonuses.

The net proceeds from the sale of their home amounted to just over $350,000. The home they found will have payments about $1,500 more than they’ve enjoyed the last decade. However, since Jim’s now making more than twice what he did as a rookie so long ago, this works out just fine. In fact, the new house payment is actually a smaller percentage of his income alone than their first payment was.

It’s a winning move.

He set aside around $125,000 from his home sale proceeds to invest in their first small income property. Counting down and closing, it took around $85,000 for a modest out of state duplex. With the other $40,000 or so, he bought the first discounted note for their own portfolio, outside the Roth Solo.

Opting for the Cost Segregation Approach to Depreciation (CS)

Their household income exceeded $150,000 yearly, which meant no depreciation leftover after sheltering the duplex’s cash flow could be used to offset a dime of their ordinary (job) income. Yep, that’s a tax rule. This meant that every year, approximately $15,000 of unused depreciation was put on the shelf to gather dust.

Meanwhile, their family budget was focused like a laser beam on paying the duplex off within five years. Realistically, they won’t be able to pull that off. But they’ll come close. When they sell the duplex in five years, their net proceeds will be about $230,000. The cap gains and depreciation recapture taxes will combine to be in the neighborhood of $35,000.

This is where it gets good.

Since they no longer own the duplex, the IRS can no longer prohibit them from using all that “shelved” depreciation. It’s added up to a pretty healthy $75,000. In simple math, this means that whatever their household income was the year of sale, it will now be $75,000 less. ๐Ÿ™‚ Can we hear an “amen”?! In California, taxes alone this means they’ll save a few HappyMeals under $7,000. It’ll be a savings of around $25,000 on the fed return. That’s a total of, give or take, $32,000 or so in tax savings the year of sale.

In other words, they had to pay a net $3,000 in taxes on the sale of the duplex. This means they now had around $227,000 after tax in the bank. What to do, what to do, right?

Where Does That Put ‘Em at 45 Years Old?

Both their kids are now teenagers. Though Maggie’s business is thriving — not to mention making a lot more than when she began — she’s already planning its exit. That will happen immediately after the younger kid graduates high school. What’s Maggie accomplished in her Roth Solo 401k?

Let’s take a look.

She’s had 15 years of contributing annually to the Solo, all of it after tax (Roth). The contributions alone have combined to acquire just under $4,000 monthly in note payments. Her note payments all those years have combined to acquire an additional $2,500 a month in payments. What that boils down to is that three times a year, the Solo’s payments alone are buying notes now. ๐Ÿ™‚ Or, put differently, every 12 months, her payments are generating an additional monthly income to the Solo of roughly $800 —ย almost $10,000 a year. Year after year after year…

Where Are They So Far?

By the time Maggie’s 50, she’ll have either closed her business or sold it. I doubt if it would have much value, as most parents pick home-based nannies or the specific nanny. Bottom line? No more contributions from that point on.

Meanwhile, back at RothSolo Ranch, her rather impressive note portfolio will keep growing. Remember, notes tend to pay off sometime in the range of 6-10 years. Don’t count on that for any particular note, cuz the average or median time periods are still 100% random for any specific note. The point is that from her first note purchase in year 1, to when they retire at 60 years old โ€” Solo’s 30th birthday โ€” the income from her notes will easily eclipse $20,000 โ€” wait for it โ€” a month.

All of which will be tax free.ย Oh, and that $20,000+/month? That’s the lowest it’ll ever be, as notes have a pesky habit of continuing to pay off. Apparently, they either don’t care or don’t know you’ve retired. ๐Ÿ™‚

The EIUL โ€” forgot about it, didn’t you?

About the same time they retire and begin taking all that tax free note money every month, their 30 years of EIUL premium payments came to an end. They’re now the proud recipients of another $108,000 annually, of which โ€” you guessed it โ€” is tax free.

But wait! What the heck happened to the $227,000 after tax proceeds of the duplex sale?

After much cussin’ and discussin,’ they opted to split it three ways. They bought a brand new fourplex with $107,000 used for down and closing. All four units had separate tax IDs, so they got three of ’em at 20% down, and the fourth for 25%. It cash flows just fine, and they’re comin’ at the debt the same way they did on the duplex. It’ll be paid off by at least the time they turn 60, though more likely than not before that.

Related: The Buy โ€˜n Hold and NEVER Sell Strategy: A Case Study

The cash flow free ‘n clear will range from $3-3,500/mo.

They then took $100,000 and bought more discounted notes for their personal note portfolio. Remember, they’d acquired their first personally owned note back when he was 40. The payments they created with this new money added around $12,500/yr pre-tax. They were now receiving just over $17,000 a year in pre-tax note income in their own names. This boiled down to around $10,500/yr after tax. With another 15 years for random payoffs, new note purchases via saved payments, and new purchases after the payoffs, this personal fund will easily reach $100,000 yearly, pre-tax by their 60th birthdays.

What’s the conservative bottom line for their annual retirement income at age 60?

  • EIUL โ€” ย $108,000
  • Fourplex โ€” ย $36,000ย minimum
  • Roth Solo 401k Income Via Discounted Notes โ€” ย $240,000ย (As notes pay off over time, the income goes up.)
  • Their Personal Note Portfolio โ€” $100,000 is a realistic and somewhat conservative guess. That assumes no note ever got paid off, and the only increase in income was generated by payments buying more notes, a highly unlikely set of facts.

That’s $484,000 in annual retirement income, beginning at age 60.

Some Facts to Note

1. In retirement, as is the case always, we can only spend after tax income. Over 70% of Jim ‘n Maggie’s retirement cash flow is tax free by definition.

2. If they’d had significantly more capital in the beginning, or made a lot more money at work, they’d have acquired more real estate.

3. Notice how mind numbingly boring the process was. That’s likely the most valuable takeaway.

4. By the time they reach 70, it’s more likely than not their income will have risen to at least $50-60,000 monthly.

Finally, think of the legacy wealth/income they’ve started for their kids. They’ve likely ensured multiple future generations of their family the best of education and all that goes with it. Who among us wouldn’t like to be the original family author of a legacy like that?

Now, it’s your turn: What do you think? Is this a realistic scenario? What would you change?

Don’t forget to leave a comment!

About Author

Jeff Brown

Licensed since 1969, broker/owner since 1977. Extensively trained and experienced in tax deferred exchanges, and long term retirement planning.

43 Comments

  1. One of your best articles for the younger set to contemplate Jeff! Forwarded it off to Ty as he is finding the 2-4 investment opportunities are drying up and probably time to review his strategy etc. You have to love that Solo Plan for after tax production!

    The secret to Boring, has to be starting earlier than later, time can make everyone look like a genius without taking a lot of risk.

    thanks!

    jeffrey

  2. Nice breakdown of a lifetime investing plan. I have been investing in real estate – buy & hold with the occasional flip, but am getting tired as I approach 50. How would you recommend that I begin researching how to invest in notes?

  3. No offense, but I’m guessing you sell life insurance, yes? It seems to me the kind of return you are citing in the EIUL is far from typical, and certainly not guaranteed. As they say: “your mileage may vary.”

    I do agree with the main point of the article, that good investing can seem boring, and success is the result of many unsexy, but sound choices over a long period of time.

    • Jeff Brown

      Why on earth would you guess anything like that, Bill? I’ll get my EIUL expert to come on and address your question. I don’t make any money, directly or indirectly when I tell clients to get an EIUL. It’s just the right thing to tell ’em sometimes.

      Also, I’ve learned that there are far more faux ‘experts’ on the subject than genuine. I went through a few of the wannabe types before I found a serious expert. Stand by for Dave Shafer to weigh in.

      Dave?

    • Jeff asked me to post on here in response to these questions. I used 8% as an average interest credit. The 25 year look back for this group of indexes is 9.24%. The actual average interest credit for the particular product had you taken out a policy in its first year of existence [11 years ago] is 8.4%. That is based on actual interest credits given to the product since inception.

      I let you judge for yourself if the last 11 years is typical of what you might find over the next 25 or if the 25 year look back is a better estimation, but I use a more conservative number than either.

      Just to save you from an extended critique the expenses inside the policy are determined by one’s age and gender and are mostly front loaded over the initial 10 years, so this product is not appropriate for those with short time frames. The minimal amount of time for folks to own these before they start harvesting cash is around 15 years in my opinion. There are ways to minimize the expenses in life insurance policies that render overall expenses for the life of the policy between .3% and 1.7% depending upon ones age and gender on inception. There is also a product out there that allows for even lower insurance costs as a tradeoff for accepting serial [annuity like] death benefits. EIULs are the fastest growing insurance products over the last 5 years and as such have brought out the attention of Wall Street who is very threatened by them.

      Bottom line is that as a product they have been in the marketplace for over 17 years and have performed exactly how they are structured to perform and have given a higher IRR than their critics say is possible.

      • Susan Maneck

        I have to say, I’m skeptical of the life insurance. I’ve always believed insurance is insurance, while investments are investments and the two shouldn’t be mixed. Therefore if you are young and in good health, term insurance is better. I got a universal life policy only when my health was declining and my term insurance ran out. If I switched over to universal life I could keep the super-preferred rate. There is one insurance annuity product I’m looking into, however and that is longevity insurance mostly because it would leave me free to spend the rest of my portfolio without fear of running out of money. Already have LTC insurance.

  4. Barry Cohen

    This is a great strategy and doesn’t really sound all that boring. As a owner of a few multiplex homes, I like the idea of buying notes and not having to deal with properties. So Jeff, where do I start my hunt to buy these discounted notes??

  5. jeffrey gordon

    Hey Jeff, as a former life insurance estate planning type from a former life, I have to say adding the third leg of an EIUL to the three legged based stool of Income Property and Discounted Notes is one of the most unique and I dare say powerful concepts for a younger investor with a family.

    I was recently chatting with my 42 yo orthopedic surgeon after my surgery and he picked up very quickly on the power of moving away from a 401k investing in stocks and replacing it with the the Bawld Guys three legged stool approach strategy–with his rather significant professional income/cash flow, even at 42 the after tax cash flow projections for his retirement at 65 were staggering to both him and I!

    Thanks again for sharing this gem of a strategy!

    jeffrey

    • You should do your due diligence on any financial transaction. For me, I make sure my clients [and I sell a lot of EIULs] are fully informed on how they work or don’t work for people. There are positives and negatives of all strategies that need to be melded with each person’s financial plans, EIULs are no exception. And I have learned that the internet is a great place to learn, but you have to be selective on what you believe and who you listen to. Most of my clients come to me from the internet. And they come with doubts which are put to rest with education in most but not all cases.

      A lot of haters out there on the internet.

      • Xiaolei Hu

        I am very interested to see the IUL illustration to the example shown in this article. $500/month, $6000/year for 30 year old, that sounds like a ~$500,000 IUL policy with a level payment plan. What index would you choose? SP500? Dow? Your credit interest of 8% seems a little too high,considering the CAP of 12% and the suggested rate now is under 7%.

        I am not saying IUL is no good. I like it as much as you do. But $100,000 retirement money for another 30 years, when the client only puts in $180000 in the first 30 years? You have to show me the illustration and the carrier insurance company.

  6. Jeff Great article sir blew my mind. I have acquired properties and have thought about the notes. The EIUL just started this year this is good to know they do work good in long term the agent talked about the same type of benefits for the EIUL to have protection and Tax benefits. I am going to print this article and keep with me to refer back to when ever i get frustrated. This will remind me that being boring and diversified with investments will have less stress future, traveling and wealth. This is such a great article for people like me who don’t have a high income but with great investment steps can still have a great future retirement years. Thank You sir its very inspirational. You can have a great retirement without a very high income.
    Raj

    • Jaden Boudle

      This! I was going to say the exact same thing. Fictitious Maggie and Jim’s situation is very similar to ours… And now you’ve really got my gears turning! I have been trying to learn more about notes and had never even heard of the EIUL. Guess I need to do some more research now!

      Thanks Jeff for an incredible post!!

  7. Jeff
    I will be contacting you shortly, I want to buy you lunch in San Diego amd show you my scenario. We are currently at Lake Tahoe, our ninth vacation this year. Retirememt is nice but I think we can do much better than we are now. My monthly spendable income to asset ratio is about 0.05% amd I think I can do better.

  8. Jeff Brown

    Thanks Cody โ€” How much earlier? How much capital/equity/income is available to make it happen? It’s different for everyone. Get a hold of me and I’ll give you a pretty good idea whether or not your timeline makes sense.

  9. Jason Brown

    Jeff, I’m 34 and have been interested in real estate investing for a long long time. I’m blown away by the concept and potential of the other 2 “legs” that were outlined in this material. Thanks for sharing! I’ll take a little boring now for for some not so boring later!!!

  10. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for another informative post! I was wondering about your opinion on annuities. I recently read a book called ‘The Annuity Stanifesto’ by Stan Haithcock. It got me really motivated and excited about the possibilities of how to fit annuities into my portfolio. The topic can be confusing and intimidating at times, so hearing about different strategies (like leveraging, laddering and splitting contracts) was refreshing. Check out his website (www.stantheannuityman.com) and let me know what you think!

    • Jeff Brown

      Hey Mary โ€” I’ve yet to see an annuity that wouldn’t be embarrassed in the company of an EIUL. ๐Ÿ™‚ They generate less income, and most of ’em by far are taxable income. If you’d ever like to chat, just let me know.

  11. Eric Mass

    Jeff Brown. You are the man. Your interview on the Podcast is the only interview I’ve listen to multiple times. And to be honest, I think drafting a plan for retirement before diving into and business (real estate or not) is the perfect starting point. Stephen Covey says to start with the end in mind. And this my friend is pure gold. I’ll make sure to read and dissect everyone of your articles, read your books, and when the time is right, reach out for future business ventures. Thank you for your insightful and informative words.

  12. Thomas F.

    A beautifully boring plan you’ve laid out. I have seen other articles you have made talking about EIUL policies and I am curious where would be a good place to do more research? I looked it up on Google and I do not have to expertise to reliably tell the difference between fear-mongering and legitimate criticism. At best I can make decent guesses depending on the tone of the article but that is it.

    • Xiaolei Hu

      I agree. Internet provides confusing knowledge. I would recommend you find a person who really knows this product, sit down for a hour or two and really learn everything about it. Or simply call the major insurance company, nationwide, pacific life, etc.. They all carry similar products and are a good starting point.

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