What is the Best Investment Vehicle To Save For A Down Payment?

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I just moved into a rental house with an option to buy. I figure I can probably save up around $40-45k for a down payment in three years. how should i save? The Roth IRA tax loophole for first time home buyers maxes out at $10k and takes 5 years anyway. It sounds dumb, but the best safe short term investment I can think of is savings bonds. There has to be something better!

When I originally wrote this, a down payment was not a requirement. For people with not too horrible credit, who could document enough income to afford the loan, at or below a conforming loan amount, 100% financing was available. Unless you've got access to a VA loan, that is no longer the case. Every other loan requires one. I'm confident lenders will start doing 100% loans again within a few years, but if you wait until then, you're going to miss the appreciation that's going to convince them to bring it back.

As to the possibilities: A Roth IRA, along with traditional IRA, 401k, etcetera, are special accounts with tax advantages which are mostly forfeit if you intend to use them for relatively short term goals. More important is your choice of investment vehicle.

Your major constraints here are a relatively short time frame and you want a certain amount of safety. The idea of investing the money is that you want to get more money, not lose your investment savings.

So if you're going to move outside the realm of guaranteed investments for this purpose, you are going to worship at the altar of diversification. Stocks generally go up, but can go down (roughly 28 percent of all years since records have been kept), and indeed, are not anything like a panacea. Therefore, if you're going to risk the stock market or the bond market in order to obtain their higher returns, you're going to want to diversify, diversify, diversify in order to prevent anything short of a general market decline from ruining your investment.

With that firmly in mind, individual stocks are probably not a good idea. If successful, the idea is that the income will be mostly capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate. Unfortunately for this idea, it's hard to get efficient and diversified individual stock investment for less than $100k. At $100,000, you've got a down payment to be extremely proud of.

The same with individual bonds to an even greater extent. When most bonds run in $10,000 to $50,000 denominations, diversifying is not really an option when you're just trying to save up for a down payment. If one of your bonds suffered a significant downgrade, bond price would take a hit, and therefore a very large part of your investment would suffer a setback.

Next on the list is government savings bonds and bank CDs. These offer a guaranteed return. The problems are that it's a mediocre return at best, and it's all ordinary income. Still, 2.5% or so for bank CDs is safe and secure, even if it reduces to about 2% after taxes. US Treasury securities have a four year minimum holding period to get their guarantee. Me? I stopped loaning the government money decades ago.

All of the various insurance products are a bad idea. You're saving for something you want within five years, not something forty years away or trying to insure a possible loss. Nor does the tax treatment help. Secure commodities investment is one of those oxymorons like "plastic glass".

Finally, there are mutual funds. These are diversified by their very nature. In fact, my usual complaint is that they are too diversified, but in this case, that's actually good. Pick a good fund family that covers all of the major asset classes, including bonds. Yes, you pay management fees (and advisement fees or a sales load if you are smart to help keep you from over-reacting to short term market events), but you can average nine to 13 percent per year, pretax, seven to ten afterward. A large portion of gains will be capital gains, taxed at lower rates than ordinary income. This isn't a certain or guaranteed investment, and can lose some of your principal, even all of it in theory. Nonetheless if you're comfortable taking what is in my estimation a small amount of risk, it can really pay off.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 18, 2014 7:00 AM.

"Fixes" for the Mortgage Meltdown - Seems You Can't Keep A Bad Idea Down was the previous entry in this blog.

Mineral Rights: They Can't Sell What They Don't Own is the next entry in this blog.

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