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Different thinking, different outcomes; a case study! January 5, 2009

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I have been talking about how different thinking, different psychology can make a huge difference in one’s results over the last few months, when what drops in my lap is a perfect example.  In 2006, I made a series of sales calls to clients encouraging them to refinance out their excess home equity.  My reasons were simple, in Florida we are always at risk of hurricanes and it is always best to have your $$ more liquid.  Some of the people took my counsel and refinanced to 80% loan-to-value, putting the equity into EIULs, money market accounts, and paying off car loans, some didn’t.   As it turns out two families that I had called ended up in 2008 having to sell their homes because of job losses.  One family (couple A) did not re-finance keeping their 30 year fixed loan at 6.5%.  The other couple (couple B)  did re-finance up to 80%, into a interest only loan @ 6.25%,  paid off their cars and started funding an EIUL.  They both had very similar homes in very similar neighborhoods that appraised within $2,000 of each other when they originally bought in 2002.

Now, I heard from the realtor that the one couple that had chosen to not re-finance were really glad and even commented that my ideas were truly bad.  Both couples understood that home values had plummeted in the area, and wanted to exit their homes without having to write a check at closing, so they gave this realtor the same mission of not having to write a check at closing.  Now remember, 1 couple had taken out $70,000 in equity in 2006, while the other hadn’t.  The realtor priced the homes a little different because of the goal.  Couple B, with the re-finance were priced 15% above the other couple.  Well both of the houses sat on the market for several months with no action, so the realtor suggested lowering the price, which the non re-finance couple (A) accepted.  The re-finance couple stuck to their guns of not writing a check at closing, so could not go down any lower.  The first couple were able to sell their home the following month after negotiating the price down even more.  The second couple started to get some interest, but always said that they were unwilling to sell for less than what was owed.  And two months later they sold their home.  After negotiations they ended up bringing a check for $15,000 to closing, which they had put aside when they refinanced.  Bad deal you say.  Should have not refinanced you say.  Well, actually no. They sold their home for $45,000 more than couple A.  You see, the realtor told me that the people who bought their home, fell in love with it, and during negotiations were consistently told that the owners were not willing to go below their mortgage amount so it set a floor for negotiations.  Psychologically, the new buyers understood the situation and it truly affected the negotiations.  While couple A who had all that equity, were psychologically willing to lose it, in order to get out of their predicament (transferring to a different area, had car payments, etc.), and they did.  Now, although it wasn’t pleasant for couple B to bring  that $15,000 check to closing, they had use of the money for two years and had kept it liquid for emergency situations like this. They also had no car payments, and about the same mortgage payment as couple A because it was an interest only loan.

Now, some people might think that this was a function of luck.  However, I believe it was a function of planning and pyschology.  You see, couple B had lower debt service because they had paid off their cars, and more reserves because they had saved the rest of the equity while couple A were focused on getting out of the situation as fast as they could so they didn’t have to carry a mortgage and rent in another area where their new job was located.  I also suspect that they had little in the way of reserves to carry them through.  They had not planned for this situation, while couple B, had at least positioned themselves to make it through a bad situation.  Hence, the different psychology and the different outcomes!

Rene Descartes once famously opined “I think, therefore I am” starting a whole philosophical movement, which doubts what our senses/emotions tell us and trusts our reason above the senses.  Reason tells us that excess equity sitting inside a home is both dangerous and useless (see equity management), while our emotions tells us it is safe and secure sitting inside the walls of our home.  Just like our emotions tell us to sell our mutual funds/stocks because the market is down.  Both times we are much better off using our reason over our emotion!

Remembrance of three mortgage deals. April 3, 2008

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I take this time, as legislatures attempt to grapple with the credit issues of the day to remember three mortgage deals that presented to me.  It is my way of pointing out the folly of trying to find victims in this situation.

She came to me through a mom’s group that my wife belongs to.  She was living in a relatives home for almost a year.  Her husband worked, while she was a stay home mom to two children.  She wanted to buy a home because her relative “was being unreasonable” with them.  Quickly, we found out that they owed money to several entities leaving them with a credit score in the mid 500’s.  They had only a few thousand dollars saved over the year they had been living rent free.  The husband made little money.  And she didn’t want to work, even part-time, because she wanted to take care of the children.  I proposed a plan that had them paying off their debts, saving money for a down payment and having her work part-time. I even gave her two names of folks willing to hire part-time moms.  I told her the plan would take about a year to pull off.  “That is unacceptable,” she tells me.  “What about those stated loans?”  I tell her I will not lie for her, and beside, they couldn’t save money now, so how were they going to find the money to pay a mortgage?  She then bad mouths me to several people who tell my wife about it.  She finds someone else to do the deal for her, and the house was in foreclosure several months after.

A gentleman comes to me who had declared bankruptcy a few months before.  He had gotten himself into a mortgage with a “equity based loan,” which had a variable interest rate going up to 13%.  He made good money, just lost control of spending that caused the bankruptcy.  He was a commission salesperson.  I found him a sub-prime loan, insisted on him taking the fixed rate, and financed it with home equity.  For income documentation they took 12 months worth of checking account inputs and outputs.  Because his scores had come up to the mid 600’s I was able to get him an interest rate of 7%.  He has not been a day late in the several years since.

He ran a successful business.  However, he expensed out quite a bit so couldn’t demonstrate a realistic income.  He had plenty of cash flow.  Credit scores in the high 700’s.  We got him a stated income loan with a interest rate of 6.675%.  He also owns three investment homes.  He has never missed a payment and his credit scores have gone up since we did the loan.

As I watch the government shenanigans, and finger pointing, I wonder who are the real victims here.  I wonder about the couple of handful of folks who approached me for a sub-prime loan, but went elsewhere when I insisted on them having a fixed rate.  I wonder about those folks who bought option arms from someone else, after I suggested a different loan program was best for them.  I wonder about those folks who scoffed at my suggestion to pull out equity then, who are losing their homes now.  I wonder about those folks who I suggested use a professional real estate person to sell their home because the market was going bad, but did the For Sale By Owner thing and never sold their homes.

Who are the victims?  I wonder….. 

How the wealthy handle their Real Estate? March 18, 2008

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I recently read an interesting article in the NY Times about the wealthy and their real estate financing.


When the NY Times writes about finance ideas you know that the wealthy have used these ideas for years.  Typically, the NY Times doesn’t define “wealthy,” but they do make a very important point.  Those that are buying their first home, that have little in the way of reserves, that have low credit scores, should get a 30 or 40 year fixed rate mortgage and learn how to make those payments and build up some equity before they can move on to more advanced financial techniques.  You have to learn how to walk before you run!

Now, for the rest of us I will quickly go over the more advanced techniques that I have been getting my clients into for years.

1. Interest Only Loans.  This loan, although slightly more expensive than the fully amortizing loans create maximum cash flow.  You can get them with a variable rate or a fixed rate.  Basically, your required payment is the interest due on the loan each month.  So you gain the tax benefits of mortgage interest, but are not required to make a principle payment for years (10,15).  This allows you to keep more money for yourself, to invest in, college funding, etc.  And if paying off your mortgage is your goal, you can make a principal payment anytime and lower your required payment.  This works especially well for those who have variable income, or who get bonuses or those that invest and make money from their investments periodically.  It puts you in charge instead of the lender.

2. Variable Rate Loans.  The bain of the sub-prime set, offers advantages for the financially responsible.  These range from monthly re-sets (Home Equity Lines are usually set up this way) to fixed for 3-5-7-10 or 12 years before they reset.  Very few people are in the same loan for more than 10 years.  They either move to another home, or refinance.  So why pay the extra expense for a 30 year fixed rate loan?  Now, sometimes the variable rate loans have a much lower interest rate, while other times the spread is minimal.  Bottom line, you should check the difference and make your decision based on what your past habits and future plans are.  

3. Equity Management.  I have blogged on this extensively in the past.  Just click on the link to the right for details.  Bottom line, people who could afford to have a paid off home, choose not to because they can put that money to work for them, instead of leaving it inside the walls of their home.  It is a time tested strategy and recently has been the topic of several financial best selling books.

Don’t think that these strategies are only for the rich, the reality is exactly the opposite.  The rich put these strategies in play to get wealthy!!!

Foreclosure, Home Equity Declines and You! March 10, 2008

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There has been much attention to the rising rates of foreclosure of late.  Additionally, the federal reserve issued a press release last week about the decreasing amount of home equity held by Americans.  So I thought I would blog on this with an eye toward you folks out there that are financially responsible.

First of all the overall foreclosure rate has broken the 2% mark.  But let’s look behind these numbers.  The rate of foreclosure for prime loans (loans made to people with reasonably good credit) is still below 1%.  So for folks that had a good history of paying their bills, the foreclosure rate is within historical range (although on the high end).  Sub-prime loans are another story.  For sub-prime fixed rate loans the foreclosure rate is 1.52%, while the variable rate loans rate is 5.29%.  Both are historically high rates.  I have mentioned this many times before, but this is not surprising for two reasons.  First, when you are giving loans to people who have not paid their bills in the immediate past, it is not surprising that they continue that behavior.  What is surprising is that so many of these folks have been able to pay their mortgage, given their history.  Secondly, the industry has used teaser rates and sold the lower interest rate of variable loans to gain a competitive edge over other loan officers and companies that take a responsible approach to lending.  Here is a statistic that should really illuminate the foreclosure crisis.  Currently 42% of the foreclosure starts are folks with a sub-prime variable rate loans.  These loans only make up 7% of the total loans out there.  One more point about the  sub-prime variable rate loans is that the majority of folks went into foreclosure BEFORE their interest rate rose!  And the 6 month LIBOR rate, which most of the  sub-prime adjustments are based on has come down 2.5% lately.

Next is the fact that 18% of the foreclosures are on non-owner occupied properties.  Many of these loans had high loan to value percentages.  So for some, this might be a business decision to get out of a bad investment decision.  If you are upside down on your loan (owing more than the worth of the property), you are cash negative, and you never had great credit scores to begin with why not walk away?  There is even a California company that for $995 will teach you how to do this with as little damage as possible to your personal finances!  Consider this just like companies declaring bankruptcy, a chance to reorganize.

Finally, the foreclosure action is not spread evenly.  California and Florida have the most, followed by Arizona, Nevada and the Midwest.  California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada had the most price appreciation since 2000, so are seeing home values drop the most (still way ahead of 2000 numbers).  Where there was double digit price appreciation there were speculators.  Most of these speculators were amateur investors although the large development companies acted in the same way.  Those states are now paying the price for all this speculative activity just as the tech stocks have been paying the price for the speculative action of the late 1990’s.

Is it surprising that when real estate values go down that home equity percentages also go down?  No.  When the federal reserve last week sent out the information on this the mass media made a big deal of it and tried to tie it to the foreclosure activity.  However, the truth is that home equity has been declining (percentage basis) since 1945 as the Federal Reserve pointed out in their press release, but most media outlets conveniently dropped that line.

As regular readers know, I am not a big fan of keeping home equity inside of homes, so it should not surprise you that I give a big yawn to all this noise about declining home equity and foreclosure activity.  To it I say so what?  Yes, it will dampen real estate values for a time, especially in California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada.  Yes, the recession will exasperate the foreclosure rate and will probably extend the real estate down cycle.  Yes, if you have to sell your home in the face of this, it will be difficult.  But real estate has always been cyclical and one should know this going in.

So what  does this all mean to you?  Well, as long as  you have a decent amount in an emergency fund to cover …well …. emergencies like job loss, sickness, etc. you should be fine.  Just sit tight and let the down real estate cycle finish.  But, if you live in an area that is suffering job losses and out migration then, you might take a look your real estate investment.  It took Houston Texas twenty years to recover from the oil based recession that started in the late 1970’s.  Like all investments, your real estate should be examined based on fundamentals like population inflow/outflow, jobs, demographics, and neighborhood stability.  Frankly, real estate is a great investment most of the time, but what the realtors and lenders won’t tell you is that there are certain circumstances and geographic areas that it would be best to rent rather than own!

Hope this makes sense and is helpful.

The 1.5 point Challenge! March 3, 2008

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I have given much thought to how to allay folk’s fear when getting a mortgage that they are getting the best rate they can.  Frankly, I have blogged why chasing rate from one lender to another never works.  So I have instituted the 1.5 point challenge.

Folks who get a loan through me will pay a total of 1.5  points for their loan.  This can be up front points (the cheapest way) or on the back end as yield spread premium or any combination. 

Now to put this in perspective, banks usually make 2-2.25 points when they price a loan.   Most brokers will try to get 2 points if they can.  And if they are dealing with people who are having problems qualifying they will pump it up to as much as 4 points.

But if you come to me you will get the loan for 1.5 points and I will even show you in advance the rate sheets (Florida state law requires a GFE 72 hours before closing with the total compensation disclosed).

Now in order for us to work this deal you must have a application filled out and on record so we can lock the loan at the 1.5 point price.

At that price I can make a living and you get a great deal and get to work with a professional and licensed mortgage broker who will search out the best rate for your particular circumstances.

If you think you can get a better deal, then good luck!

If you want to move on with more important things in your life, like finding that great home, and know that you are getting a great price for your financing then give me a call!  

Lawsuit attacks developer/lender cartel! February 8, 2008

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Two California home buyers are suing KB Homes and Countrywide Mortgage because they claim the appraisers inflated their home value causing them to overpay for their homes.  I was waiting for this to happen, because for a long time there has been an unholy alliance between developers, lenders, and appraisers.  Here is how it works.  Large developers and large lenders will form a third company (ABA) that allows for the developers to share in the profits from lending.  The developers will encourage folks to use their lender usually by offering incentives.  Friendly appraisers will be lined up that will give maximum value for these new homes.  My experience is that because there are now two companies expecting profits from the loan that the loans are usually loaded with fees and have a above market rate.  The bottom line for customers is that they usually end up giving back those incentives in the terms of the loan.  Ok, so far its legal.  But here is what the lawsuit is about.  After construction is finished an appraisal is required to make sure the value is there for the loan and to determine what the final price will be.  This appraisal is also suppose to protect the buyer from overpaying for the property.  Normally lenders would scrutinize the appraisal to make sure it follows its appraisal guidelines.  But because developers and lenders were in cahoots with each other (in this case KB Homes and Countrywide) the lender did not question the appraisal.  End result is that consumers end up overpaying for their homes and KB and Countrywide end up with large amounts of profits.  In an rapidly increasing market this malfeasance goes unnoticed, but in a stagnant or down market it is a different story.  If this lawsuit is successful I believe it will open up floodgates for other folks. 

Here is the truth.  In real estate deals there should always be independence between the various parties (ie seller, lender, appraiser).

If there isn’t then the temptation for malfeasance is just to high.  If you buy from a developer, always use an independant lender.  Do not…I repeat do not use their lender no matter what they say.  Demand the same concessions they offered to use their lender or walk away.

Option Arm Loans: Good or Bad Loans? February 5, 2008

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West Coast Banks like World Savings, Washington Mutual, Countrywide, and others have originated and propagated option arm mortgages.  In short a option arm is a short term variable rate loan that recalculates the rate frequently based on the “COFI Index.”  This index represents the rate depositors are paid for savings accounts in the 11th District.  Most of these loans are sold with a lower “teaser” rate that is only good for a short period of time.  In addition to the variable nature of the loan, 4 payment options are given.  These usually range from negative amortization payment to a 15 year amortized payment.  Most people that have this loan choose to pay the negative amortization amount.  This means that every time they make a payment their loan amount is increasing.  Popular in California, the underwriters allowed folks to qualify for these loans using the teaser rates.  In short, you could buy a more expensive home using this loan than the other types of loans.

The people selling these loans usually advertised the payment rate and kept the actual interest rate from the consumer as long into the process as they could.  There is a reason for this.  Because these loans are considered higher risk loans, they had a higher underlying interest rate.  This “premium” was anywhere from 1% to 3%.  Now in order to make these loans seem less expensive than they were, and to add to the profit mortgage originators made, almost all option arm’s were sold with a 3 year pre-pay penalty.

One final comment on these loans.  When the loan value went up to 110% of the original value the negative amortization payment rate drops off and your required payment moves to an amortizing payment rate.

Now here is what is happening to folks with these loans.  They have seen their loan amount go up, their real estate value go down, and their payment rate go up.  If they tried to get out of these loans they were hit with the triple whammy.  Pre-payment penalties of 6 months interest, little or no equity left, and debt to income ratio’s that are too high for conforming loan standards.  In short, they are stuck in a very expensive product that has a much higher interest rate than they could have qualified for at the time of their loan.

I have never sold an option arm loan.  I think they are too dangerous for most folks and too expensive to consider.  You make the decision for yourself what you think of these loans.  If you want one there are many folks who will sell you one, just not me.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) January 30, 2008

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Are you throwing away dollars every month using a home equity line of credit?

Many homeowners have added lines of credit they have gotten from banks.  Recently I had a very interesting discussion with someone who had a home equity line of credit (HELOC).  This person was telling me how happy he was with the line of credit, mainly because it “cost him nothing” and it was prime -1/2%.  I found that interesting. His line of credit was costing him 6% currently (If the fed’s lower the rate today it will go down accordingly).  He took it out several years ago.  It is a variable rate so it goes up and down with the fed’s fund rate.  But here is the kicker, on average there is a 1-2% spread between the rate you can get on a HELOC and current 30 year fixed mortgage rates.  Remember HELOC’s are second mortgages so they are always going to carry more risk to the lender and therefore have a higher interest rate.  His average draw over the time he has had the HELOC is $100,000.  So every year he has this line it has cost him $1,000 to $2,000 in excess interest.  When I ran the numbers for him, he had already passed the break even point.  Had he paid the expenses of refinancing instead of getting that “free” HELOC he would have saved money at this point and every month hereafter will cost him more money. After this discussion he wasn’t quite so happy with his “no cost” HELOC. Many folks are like him and are throwing out dollars every month.  Now here is a fact, 90% of those with HELOC’s carry a balance on it the majority of the year.

Here is some advice on HELOC’s:

1. Add a “no fee” HELOC for emergency purposes only.  If you are the type of person that can’t keep themselves from drawing from the line for spending then don’t do this;

2.  Use a line for temporary purposes only, for example, to build a addition to your home.  Refinance if you can’t pay down the line;

3. If you have a HELOC, analyze how you have used it.  If you look back and the majority of the time you have a balance on it, then it is time you looked into refinancing the line into a 1st mortgage (assuming you have enough home equity to accomplish this).  A competent mortgage planner should be able to run the numbers for you and give you a break even point for the expenses. 

HELOC’s are just another example of where the “no fees” option ends up costing you much more money in the long run.

Managing Mortgages January 25, 2008

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Reel to Reel       Are you listening to music on a reel to reel player? 

Sometimes, there are changes in the way people do business that take a while to catch on.  Managing one’s mortgage is just that, a positive change that is taking awhile to catch on.

First let me tell you that managing debt is not a new concept, businesses have been doing it for a long time.  However, when applied to personal finance it is a new way of thinking.  Last generation, folks got a 30 year amortizing loan, paid it off as soon as  possible, and  felt much better for it.  Mortgage burning parties were all the rage.  Many people still feel that way about their mortgage.  Back then credit card’s were not as ubiquitous as they are now, and credit card debt was not really a factor.  Folks also depended on their defined benefit pension for retirement income.

My, how things change.  Now credit cards and the balances on them is a way of life for most Americans.  Currently, only 39% of those retiring have a defined benefit plan, and that number goes down every year in the forseeable future.  However, many people still think about their mortgage the same way as the last generation did.

But there is a better way of handling their mortgage.  Manage it scientifically.  That is where a small group of mortgage professionals, including myself, has seperated themselves from the mainstream of the industry.

Managing one’s mortgage is really managing one’s home equity.  Most people have a lion’s share of their savings in the form of home equity, yet have not been educated in understanding the repercussions of this fact.  Many of these folks can tell you the return on their investments, yet there only object in their mortgage is to get the lowest rate.  So when they hear rates are low they go out and ask a couple of lenders for a rate quote and refinance if the rate is lower.  But does it really make sense to refinance at that time?  How much lower does the rate have to be?  What about a home equity line?

What if your mortgage planner sent you quarterly updates on rates.  What if your mortgage planner kept you apprised of your home equity?  What if your mortgage planner could provide you with a plan comparing different loan programs for total cost and future wealth?  What if s/he did this on a regular basis for you?  What if your financial situation changes or is going to change? Do you have a financial professional to talk to about your changing situation?

When your mortgaged is being managed, then all the above will be at your disposal.  Call me to have your mortgage managed or call a like minded mortgage planner in your area.  Isn’t it time you moved into the new century and stopped doing the same thing your parents did?

Isn’t it time to PLANNED to build wealth? 

Freedom Point November 28, 2007

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Thanks to Dave Savage for this post:


Have you ever thought about your Freedom Point? 

“Freedom Point” is one of the more important concepts in mortgage planning and yet it gets surprisingly little attention.

As its name implies, Freedom Point is the particular date when a homeowner’s liquid assets exceed his debts. At the Freedom Point, paying off a mortgage transforms from an obligation to a strategic financial planning decision.

My duty as a Mortgage Planner is to help my clients reach their Freedom Point as quickly and efficiently as possible.  I achieve this by helping homeowners to make informed liability and mortgage decisions.

In my playbook, there are two very basic — and very different — approaches to accelerating a Freedom Point.

  1. Prepay the mortgage by sending extra principal payments to the bank monthly, or annually
  2. Leverage a “low payment” mortgage program and then invest the difference between the low payment and the payment of a 30-year amortized loan in an interest bearing account

Let’s look at Method #1 in a chart:

Prepaying a mortgage helps pay the loan off faster

In Method #1, a homeowner pursues a safe and predictable plan of attack on his $400,000 home loan.  By over-paying the mortgage each month by $250 (as shown in the “30 Yr Redux” column), the 30-year fixed mortgage is paid in full and the homeowner reaches his Freedom Point in 23.3 years. 

In eliminating 6.7 years off the mortgage, the homeowner saved $131,788 in mortgage interest payments.

Not too shabby! 

Now, using Method #2, the homeowner uses a low-payment mortgage such as a 5-year ARM with interest only payments, or a 30-year fixed mortgage with 10-year interest only payments.  But, he also calculates what the “full” mortgage payment would be if the loan was not interest only. 

The difference in the two payments is invested and then managed in interest-bearing accounts.

In other words, instead of paying principal to the mortgage company, the homeowner pays the principal to himself and earns interest on it.

Let’s look at the chart for Method #2:

You may reach your Freedom Point more quickly by making interest only payments and investing the principal

In financial terms, this is called “compounding” and is the main reason why money in the bank is better than money under your mattress.  The longer the bank holds your money, the more interest it earns over time.

Because of compounding interest, the homeowner using Method #2 reaches his Freedom Point in just 22.6 years.

Why Method #2 may accelerate the Freedom Point is a matter of simple mathematics.  If properly managed, the homeowner’s accumulation fund will earn interest, and then the interest earned will itself earn interest. 

But there’s an additional benefit for homeowners using Method #2. 

Having an “accumulation fund” provides additional liquidity.  With money sitting in a bank account (and available at a moment’s notice), a homeowner has more financial options in the event of a life emergency such as job loss or illness.

By contrast, extra principal paid into a mortgage is not recoverable without a remortgage.

And now it gets interesting.

Once a homeowner reaches his Freedom Point using Method #2, he holds power over his finances and is leveraging his home to the fullest.  Because a properly-managed interest-bearing account is virtually risk-free, the homeowner can now choose to:

  1. Use the accumulation fund to pay off his home in full
  2. Leave the accumulation fund alone and continue to earn compounded interest on it

These choices would not be available using Method #1.  Remember, when a person pays extra mortgage principal to the bank, those dollars are considered “locked up” unless the homeowner chooses to remortgage his home.

So, which Freedom Point strategy is best for you? 

It all depends on your personal savings discipline, short- and long-term goals, investment rate of return and current financial situation.

A key starting point, though, is to sit down with a qualified mortgage planner to do a Freedom Point Review.  Annually, your mortgage planner should monitor your progress and help you to make adjustments to your plan, as needed.

Reaching your Freedom Point is all about goal-setting, having a plan, and making informed decisions. If you’re not confident that your current mortgage planner can help you make informed decisions to accelerate your Freedom Point, please call me or email me anytime.