After ten months of watching interest rates plummet through previously unimaginable record lows, I’ve finally stuck out my hand in an effort to catch the falling knife. Almost six years ago, I was thrilled to lock in 4.25% for 30 years. I’d taken 7.5% back in 2001when I bought my St. Mary’s County condo. At the time, that was a steal – especially for a 23-year-old with no significant credit history. I refinanced that one a few times over the years and the shopped around for financing for the Tennessee house in 2007. I closed on that one about three months before the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008. Good timing, that.
I’d gotten used to being able to move through the mortgage process pretty effortlessly. I have every conceivable piece of electronic paperwork the underwriters may need at my fingertips – often sending it off before the call asking for it even ended. I’m still good for that, but the mortgage business itself is having a bit of a struggle at the moment. Just getting a broker to call me back proved to be more of a challenge than you might think. I suppose it’s a case of having an embarrassment of riches as everyone is racing to their favorite banker to take advantage of the unprecedentedly low rates. I was warned that getting through to closing, usually a 30-day affair, could take up to 90 days because of how much of a backlog they already have in the pipeline. The rate is locked in, with an option to go lower if they should continue to fall, but now that I’ve started the process, I’m impatient to start getting my monthly savings.
Plague, famine, sedition are all loose upon the world. Maybe we’re all going to hell in a handbag. It’s important to take your happiness where you can find it in strange times, so damned if I’m not going to appreciate a blisteringly low interest rate with no points on the way to the collapse of civilization.
1. Running out of time. Even as I grudgingly accept the fact that it’s necessary to work in exchange for money which I can then exchange for goods and services, I cannot quite shake off the feeling that I’d rather be safely tucked into Fortress Jeff with an endless supply of hot coffee and a mountain of books to read. Mentally preparing myself to go out and rejoin the world is, in a word, traumatic. It’s times like this I can see how one might just get suckered into the fool’s gold appeal of something like a “universal basic income” scheme.
2. January finances. As a professional adult head of household, January has always been a budget buster of a month for me. It’s the month when my biggest bills come due for the year – car insurance, home owner’s association dues, paying off Christmas gifts and travel expenses, the start of the winter heating season, and a few others. No matter how well the year is budgeted, January always comes around like a swift kick in the teeth and throw in one more large dollar item than I was projecting. It’s like the new year giving you a rabbit punch just to remind you that just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s anything more than business as usual.
3. Congress and the president. If you thought having the executive and legislative branches run by the same party put the “fun” in dysfunctional, just wait until you see the magnificent shitshow that Washington devolves into this afternoon when Democrats assume power in the House of Representatives. To all those who scream “false equivalency” or who want to blame one side or the other, I’ll simply say go fuck yourself. A pox on both their houses. No one sitting in our hallowed halls of power is an innocent.
While I was vacillating over my home buying related decisions over the phone, my mother chimed in with some sage advice this evening. She knows me well enough to get that I’m nervous and twitchy about jumping back into the adventure of home ownership after getting caught in the 2009 meltdown. I was griping and complaining about the bills and fees that were hitting long before we even sat down at the closing table. Being who she is, mom has never shied away from asking the blunt questions, like “can you afford this?”
In the back of my mind I knew the answer. I’ve spent months crunching numbers and coming up with precisely where I need to be for the accounts to balance. I responded reflexively by ticking off the expenses that will go up, those that will go down, rattling through estimated fees and expenses from memory, covering the details of my good faith estimate, the downpayment, closing costs, and my best guess of moving expenses.
That’s when she reminded me that most people approaching 40 who run out to buy a family homestead are doing it on two incomes while I’m clawing it out on my own. A few years ago I’d have probably taken that as a sideways commentary about my lack of marriage and production of grandchildren, but we seem to be over that particular hump. Instead I took it as a reminder that I’ve basically always been a one man show – and even when it seemed that I was walking a high wire I’ve generally had the facts and figures on my side. Not to mention luck. There’s always been a healthy dose of that following me around.
Last week, one of my mortgage payments went down. Thinking I would do the prudent thing and reallocate the surplus to paying down the another that’s at a higher rate, I logged into the online banking center and changed my autopay settings on both accounts. At least that’s what I thought I did. In reality, I set a brand-spanking-new automatic payment for each of the two mortgages in question. That wouldn’t be so bad, of course, if you caught your mistake right away. It turns into a bit more of an issue when you miss the mistake for a few days and the bank deducts twice the normal payment from your account and leaves you with a balance of $4.37.
Since almost every bill I have is set up to automatically pay every month, I rarely look at the actual accounts any more. Which helps explain the near-epileptic fit I launched into when the bank sent me a friendly “low balance” email this morning. I’m glad to say that the bank was more than accommodating at getting the situation resolved, but that didn’t really help me feel like any less of a tool. Although I’m still glad I found out today and now three days from now when I stop by to pay the rent. Since I spend most says ranting about it, I thought it was only fair to call out my own bout of criminal stupidity. And now you know the rest of the story.