I was very averse to using leverage until a few months ago, when a good friend pointed out to me that withdrawing from my retirement accounts to pay tuition costs, home improvement, and (in the future) post-retirement living expenses would be far more costly than getting a huge cash-out refi and using the leverage for investing, as long as you plan to pay the loan out early. Obviously, you’d face major sequence-of-returns risk, but I did the numbers.
Here’s the scenario I ran. I got a $320,000 loan at 3.75% for 30 years (cash-out refi) and I plan to pay it back as soon as possible after four years but in any case within ten. Of that $320,000, I pay $205,000 over the next four years for various things–my previous mortgage, tuition payments, home improvements, expenses. After that, I continue to withdraw $15,000 a year for living expenses.
The alternative is to deduct $152,000 from my retirement accounts over the next four years and not take out a loan, instead just finishing paying off my mortgage.
In both scenarios, I would shift $14,000 per year from my cash account to my retirement accounts.
I then ran 32 different scenarios. In each one, I assumed I was invested in all accounts in a global index fund (I used the Wilshire 5000). Each scenario had a different starting date, from 1978 to 2009. In each scenario, I would end the mortgage as soon as my savings in my cash account exceeded the principal owed, but in no case would I keep the mortgage more than ten years, even if it meant depleting my cash account entirely and withdrawing money from my retirement account in order to pay the principal owed. In addition, I would be paying capital gains taxes in the leveraged cash account and no taxes on gains in the retirement accounts.
If I had started in August 1983, I would have lost more money using leverage than I would have using my retirement accounts. But in every other starting year, I would be ahead using leverage. In six out of the 32 scenarios I’d be able to pay off the principal within four to six years, while in the rest I’d keep the loan for nine or ten years. The advantage of taking out the loan over not doing so averages out to about $230,000. So I figure I have a 96% chance of doing better with leverage than I do without–if I stick to this strategy carefully.
Everyone’s circumstance is different. But cash-out refi’s have such low interest rates right now, that it’s worthwhile looking into.
Of course, it’s also possible that I made a big mistake somewhere in my calculations. But I’ve gone over it a number of times and can’t see where I might have gone wrong.
The reason August 1983 is such a bad time to start is that the ten-year forward CAGR of the W5000 at that point is less than 5%. There are a few other times when the ten-year forward CAGR is that low–1999, 2000, 2006–but not in August. If I had run 32*12 scenarios starting in every month of every year, I might have gotten a few more failures, but I still think there’s at least a 90% chance of being ahead at the end.
A big reason why this works is that you’re removing some sequence-of-returns risk by paying back the principal at the earliest possible time. In other words, if the stock market does well, you get out early; if it doesn’t, you stay in until it does.