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Buy outright or invest?

Storybook Home
December 6, 2018
Playing the ‘what if’ game: If you had the option of buying your home outright or investing the money and having a mortgage, which is your choice? I’ve heard arguments for both. Having liquid funds is important, investments will likely outpace home value gains, tax write off of interest payments, home could go down in value. Conversely, if you own your home you never have to worry about a monthly payment so can save and invest more money monthly and maybe enjoy life more with travel and less work, if your new investments fail at least you aren’t homeless or over extended, freedom from being house poor/slaving for a place to live every month, you aren’t giving the bank your tens of thousands in interest, investments can crash and be risky, the peace of mind of knowing you own your property and short of not paying your property tax you can’t loose it. So which do you choose and why? Fun fact: mortgage has roots in the word death meaning death debt; a mortgage was not meant to be paid off and was a way to have a life long debtor.
Buy out right
Invest

Comments (34)

  • chiflipper

    Too many variables, personal situation will determine answer. Young people with possible job location changes VS retirees or business owners...and the individual's tolerance for debt.

  • wmsimons85

    Agree, depends on your age firstly imo and as chiflipper said all those other variables.

  • jn3344

    I've done both. Today I am glad my house is free and clear. Though if you are a young person dumping $1000 a month into investment accounts, the recent collapse in stock prices will pay off in the future.

  • PRO
    Anglophilia

    Agree with the above. It depends...

    I have chosen to still have a mortgage on my house of 34 years. I've refinanced it several times over the years, each time taking cash out and at the same time, reducing my monthly payment due to lower interest rate. The last time I did this was 3 years ago. No regrets - could afford my new kitchen that way.

    I talked to my financial adviser about this before doing it at this age (I'm now 75). He agreed that a 15 yr fixed rate mortgage at a better rate than I had and the ability to do a new kitchen, was the way to go.

    I could pay the entire mortgage off right now if I wanted, but why would I want to limit my liquidity by doing so? I like have a LOT of cash available at my age. If I suddenly need to hire nurses, I have the money to do so. Could be many other things I might need a chunk of change for. My mortgage is still only about 1/4 the value of my house, the interest rate is now a full percentage point below what it was 3 years ago, I got my kitchen, and I can afford the mortgage. I can also deduct the interest.

  • Bruce in Northern Virginia

    If you can get a mortgage at a decent interest rate, in a neighborhood where homes retain value, and investments continue to meet the average for the last 90 years, then in the long run it should be better to take a mortgage and invest your money. However, there are many job and personal situations that might make it difficult to meet all these criteria. Like many other things in life, timing is critical.

    For example, you should be able to get a home mortgage now at 4.25-4.5%, and the annualized average return of the stock market for the last 90 years is 9.8% (which drops to about 6-7% adjusted for inflation). If you can afford to time the market so that you don't have to withdraw money at the wrong time (e.g., just after the 2008 crash), then it should work out better to keep your cash.

    Bruce

  • Toronto Veterinarian

    Waaaay too many variables. Interest rates, market trends, home location, local, national, and international economies, age, health, employment future (i.e. expected income vs near retirement), etc.

  • jmm1837

    I'm very much of two minds about this one. It's a truism that houses are generally poor investments, and in a low interest-rate environment, it makes sense to put money into the markets rather than the house. On the other hand, most people I know don't actually have the discipline or knowledge to put the money into good investments, so they end up spending the money on consumables, continuing to pay interest, however small on the mortgage, and not getting the advantage of potential returns on the stock market. And if mortgage rates go up, and employment rates go down, they could get themselves into trouble.


    We were fortunate enough to be in a position to buy our current house, and the one before that, in cash. We're in our late 60s/70s, have decent pensions and investment portfolios and are keen to simplify our lives. Not having a mortgage is definitely one of those simplifications.

  • Caroline Hamilton

    We own our primary and second home outright. Also three investment properties. It might sound foolish to some but the real estate is one part of a diversified portfolio of stocks, fixed income, etc. Every situation is different and we have no regrets.

  • jmm1837

    We did have a couple of investment properties - sold them to finance our current house - but we still have money in real estate mutual funds. We just found that the return on our investment properties wasn't great compared when the cost of property management, insurance and maintenance was factored in, while the hassle of owning them was becoming quite onerous. So, the simplification principle kicked in. But I agree that having property investments is good economic strategy, so long as one also has the other elements of a diversified portolio in place as well.

  • worthy

    Since I paid off my first home mortgages in 1980, I've always mortgaged and re-mortgaged to the hilt using those funds for other investments, most successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) real estate--rental, spec builds, equity mortgages and principal residences. (Principal residence gains are totally tax-free here.)

  • jn3344

    Jmm1837 makes excellent points. For most in the US home investments are poor investments. There are a couple handfuls of zip codes where this is not true.

    My RE investments yield about 7 or 8% before taxes over time. Its ok. A good diversification. But you wont find me on TV flogging my latest failsafe get rich quick method.

    Beware of snake oil salesmen.


  • sandk
    As others have said, too many variables to get an answer from a poll. Run your own numbers and look hard at your own situation. I ran numbers for my house and decided no mortgage was the way to go. The amount of interest paid is astounding when you look at the total amount. Our financial advisor was skeptical, but admitted part of the assumption about mortgages being better was that people don’t invest the money freed up when a mortgage is paid off. They’ll spend it on things that don’t build wealth. Do the math and be realistic about your spending habits.
  • Mrs Pete

    I agree that many variables exist, but I'll share several thoughts on the topic:

    - We married and bought our first house in 1990, when interest rates were still high. It made sense to pay extra on our house every month; however, we still maxed out our 401Ks and invested in other ways too. Balance is always important.

    - We've lived in a paid-off house for more than a decade now, and it's been great. We have been able to save aggressively, AND we traveled extensively when our kids were still at home, AND we had no problem paying for college.

    - I was a poor kid and often felt insecure about /worried about money. When you grow up like that, a bit of that young kid remains inside you -- I cannot tell you how much more secure I feel knowing that every brick of this house is MINE.

    - We all assume we have years left to pay off our house, but all too often careers are cut short by lay-offs, disabilities, or even worse things. If such a situation befalls you, having a paid-off house will be a god-send and will allow you to live less expensively.

  • David Cary

    The psychology favors paid off. The rational favors a mortgage. Do a little of both (which of course means a mortgage just not with only 20% in and minimum payments).

    I always use this argument when talking with friends. Diversification is the first principle. Next, we are encouraged by tax law to invest in 401ks (and even more so with matching) and that is forced to be in the stock market.

    So max out 401k and use some of your other funds to do RE. This of course is most people's default and tax law encourages borrowing for your own RE so do it.

    If you are getting close in life to a much smaller income, then having a mortgage makes a whole lot less sense.

    My own personal situation is that RE taxes alone might kick me out of my home. Doesn't matter if it is paid off. It would always be cheaper to sell and get something more modest.

  • B Carey

    The argument and answer to this question is emotional/psychological versus rational/financial. Assuming one has the knowledge of both sides of the argument, the answer really is more in depth with an individuals risk tolerance. From a financial perspective, at todays (yes, even at the 5%+ that my build will end up being at!) interest rates, a person would be better off investing their mortgage amount in a diversified portfolio. We can run numbers all day long, but over the long haul, the stock market is going to outperform the interest on your mortgage. This only changes when the historic performance of the stock market changes or the mortgage rates change.

    If you have $500,000 in cash but can't afford a monthly payment on a $500,000 mortgage with your income, then you should not buy a $500,000 house. If home values dip low enough that you can't get out of your house, a mortgage allows you an opportunity to choose a foreclosure. A cash owned house does have more potential for loss of income.

    The argument of what if you can't make your mortgage payment only applies if you don't have the rest of your finances in order. Before paying 100% cash for a home, you should have 3-6 months cash reserves plus be on track with your retirement assets.

    What happens if you fall short on funds?

    Owned home-Complicated cash-out refinance loan that can be more difficult to obtain than a mortgage. Takes 30+ days.

    Mortgage on house and funds in the stock market or retirement account-Stocks/mutual funds can be sold, wait 3 days to clear funds and issue a check. Funds available within 5 days.

    So, the only reason to pay cash on the purchase of your home is the psychology of having a paid for home.

    My psychology does not like the refinance mentality of a home. I prefer to buy with 20% down and pay off over time. Then refinance if rates drop, but not take cash out unless for an investment/business pursuit or home improvements.


    Unfortunately, many people refinance to pay off credit cards and pay for vacations. Not many Americans "save the difference". It is amazing to me how many people have none or very little saved for retirement. Read a joke on facebook that "I use to live paycheck to paycheck, but through hard work and perseverance, I now live direct deposit to direct deposit." So if someone wins the lottery, they should probably pay cash for their house. But if you have saved the amount for your house over time, then you have more ability to not over-extend yourself than most of America...and even though it goes against the psychological grain, you should not pay cash for a home.

  • Storybook Home
    Fascinating insights! Agree about psychology vs rational. If I had the choice, I would still buy out right though. I vividly remember the horrors of the Great Recession housing crash. Many friends were affected. I was a minor at the time with a financially stable household and thankfully was not. Sure most of that was due to people making poor financial choices and overextending themselves and even without the crash those same people would likely have been caught in other financial kerfuffles (most financial savvy people weathered the storm ok). But still, something like that stays with you. And I’ve seen so many friends and family members stuck down with illness unexpectedly that changed their income prospects. Good Long Term Disability Insurance only does so much (and most don’t have it.) It is SCARY how few (particularly Americans) save for retirement and future financial solvency. I have a very low risk tolerance though. I’d much prefer the peace of mind of owning my property so I know I always have a place to sleep safe and warm and then leverage future funds into aggressive investments (and having some extra fun money for travel.) It baffles me taking equity out of a house for things like remodels, cars, etc. Horrible ROI in most cases. Patience and saving rather than ransacking the nest egg since for most Americans their house is their only real asset for retirement and to then downsize. With millennials struggling to become home owners one wonders what will happen...
  • B Carey

    Storybook-Very good points. Had you put $500,000 in cash into a house in 2006, you may have been lucky to sell for $300,000 in 2012. So you would still not be in any better situation than a stock market downturn.

    Waiting to invest for retirement has drastic effects on your end balance. Are you familiar with the rule of 72? It basically says that if you are earning 10% on your investment that the balance doubles every 7.2 years. The point is that so much of your balance is from interest earned rather than principal you invested. Our tax system and some employers also incentivize investing in 401K through less taxes and employer contribution matching. Catching up later can be hard as you are only allowed to invest a certain %income and $ depending on your age and investment type into retirement accounts.

    You will not find a financial advisor out there who will advise you to pay off your home (at 6% or less interest rate) before you have fully maxed out your retirements accounts.


  • Storybook Home
    B Carey, I am operating under the assumption one would max out their Roth IRA/401k/403b along with/as well as buying the house outright. Pay yourself first of course. Also, your retirements needs will be less with no mortgage. Most recent retirees I know who are struggling are struggling because of their mortgage/rent payment being too high compared to their monthly payout. But of course, many of us are not fortunate enough to buy a home outright OR max out retirements and investments. These are mostly just speculations and musings in my part. In a cut and dry world, yes investments are the smarter play.
  • B Carey

    Storybook-Understood. The point is more that other financial milestones should be hit before paying off your home. Even Dave Ramsey suggests 15% to retirement accounts, then investing for children's education, THEN paying off mortgage. (not wanting to get into the helping with children's education debate here)

    Unfortunately, the retirees that you are looking at who are having a hard time with their mortgage did not set aside 10-20% throughout their worklife for retirement. Saving the last 10-15 years just doesn't work. Too often, people think about retirement too late. To say that most of us aren't fortunate enough to max out a retirement account is not true in America. If you have a car worth more than $3,500, a cell phone, internet service, smoke or drink, buy new clothes, etc, you have funds that can be set aside for retirement. Choices is a different matter. Some of that comes from education. A lot of it comes from wanting to spend $1 now versus $2 at some point in the future.

    Many people have become millionaires on a small income by living very frugally. Most aren't willing to make the sacrifices.

  • BT

    > Many people have become millionaires on a small income by living very frugally.

    Medical industry will take every dime of your money in one year, once you get old and sick in USA. It is not just making the money ... you will need an ability to hide it.

  • Lisa

    BT: Please elaborate on your scheme to defraud your neighbors.

  • jmm1837
    Well, if you live in Canada, Australia or western Europe, that comment about the "medical industry" simply doesn't apply.

    That's the problem with this thread: some of the things being said are too general to br true for everyone. What makes sense for a young, double income family (invest, save, top up your retirement funds) makes a lot less sense for those at the opposite end of their working lives, who have their financial ducks in a row (living debt free is a liberating feeling). And going into foreclosure might be a relatively low risk strategy for those in financial difficulty in some US states, but not in much of the rest of the world, where you lose your house but still owe the bank for the difference between the sale price of the house and the value of the mortgage. No home and a big debt with nothing to show for it is not an ideal situation to be in, but it happens all too often, especially when the local economy takes a dive.
  • Mrs Pete

    The psychology favors paid off. The rational favors a mortgage. Do a little of both

    Yeah, this is much like what I said earlier in this thread: Balance.

    - Don't pay off your house in lieu of investing or saving for your retirement.

    - Don't pull equity out of your house constantly so that you reach retirement without owning it.

    And that all kind of dances around another smart idea: Buy a house you can comfortably afford. You don't want to make yourself house poor.

    It is SCARY how few (particularly Americans) save for retirement and future financial solvency. I have a very low risk tolerance though.

    I agree that it's scary that most people aren't retirement-prepared, and I think over-housing oneself is part of that. Just because the bank will lend it to you doesn't necessarily mean you should buy it.

    Same thing for cars.

    Most recent retirees I know who are struggling are struggling because of their mortgage/rent payment being too high compared to their monthly payout.

    It just seems like common sense to me: You need a paid-off house to retire.

    The point is more that other financial milestones should be hit before paying off your home. Even Dave Ramsey suggests 15% to retirement accounts, then investing for children's education, THEN paying off mortgage. (not wanting to get into the helping with children's education debate here)

    Sounds like my favorite financial word again: Balance.

    Many people have become millionaires on a small income by living very frugally. Most aren't willing to make the sacrifices.

    That'd be us -- and our children are already started on this path. Thing is, this slow-and-steady concept takes will power because it seems like you're always going against the grain. You have to be able to resist advertising, not keep up with the Joneses, etc. ... and that's not easy. It takes a combination of approaches; perhaps eating at home, never developing a taste for $5 coffees, renting DVDs instead of going to the movies, buying clothing used, taking modest vacations ... it takes awareness, will power, and even some luck.

  • Toronto Veterinarian

    "

    Many people have become millionaires on a small income by living very frugally. Most aren't willing to make the sacrifices.

    That'd be us -- and our children are already started on this path. Thing is, this slow-and-steady concept takes will power because it seems like you're always going against the grain. You have to be able to resist advertising, not keep up with the Joneses, etc. ... and that's not easy. It takes a combination of approaches; perhaps eating at home, never developing a taste for $5 coffees, renting DVDs instead of going to the movies, buying clothing used, taking modest vacations ... it takes awareness, will power, and even some luck."

    The flip side of the argument of doing such things is that no one knows how long they will live, and sacrificing now in order to hold off enjoyment for later (e.g. retirement) can backfire if your health or the health of your loved ones changes dramatically, or (obviously) if you die unexpectedly. And that's not an unreasonable concern - it's as legitimate a concern as becoming indebted in your senior years. There's no point in being a millionaire if you're not going to enjoy the money, in my opinion.......Money can buy happiness if you spend it correctly; if it's not buying happiness, you're not using it properly. Those $5 coffees can be worth that and more if you drink them in the company of friends and associates, building relationships and social capital, for instance.

    As stated before, it's the balance that's important; don't sacrifice too much, don't spend too much.


    (edited to add the missing word "coffees" (for clarity))

  • strategery

    Haha, here is me telling you what is best for you.

    Be a man: Provide for your family and your personal well-being. Get a nice home in a nice place and get on with your life. Invest the rest.

  • B Carey

    jmm- During working years in America, the best financial plan for a young, double income family AND those at the opposite end of their working lives is still invest for retirement before paying off a mortgage. Given the tax-advantages of retirement plans, low mortgage interest rates, and rates of return on the stock market, paying off the mortgage before fully funding your retirement account does not work out to be the best financial decision. I plan to have my home paid off by retirement, but not at the expense of my retirement account. And also due to a strong psychological preference to have a paid for home by then. As part of a strong financial plan, retirement accounts should also include plans to have a percentage of funds moved from more aggressive funds to safer funds to ensure that ups and downs in the stock market don't significantly impact funds you intend to pull out in the following 1-5 years. What percentage is moved depends on projected spending requirements as well as risk tolerance.


    Toronto-There is more to long term planning than just how much someone has in their retirement account. I believe long term planning also includes taking care of your health. Not to get sidetracked, but taking control of your own nutrition can dramatically improve your retirement years. America is a hard country to stay away from excess chemicals. Our food is DROWNED in all sorts of food coloring and substitute sugars. 3/4 of Americans don't get enough exercise. While we can all get an injury, to plan to be incapable before 75/80 should not be on the radar of most people. (Excluding those who have more severe issues). I don't believe that exercise and food solves every condition. My oldest is ADHD. Food diets do improve this but not solve it. Give a regular kid a pixy stick and they will be happy. Give my daughter a pixy stick and she turns into Hammy from Over the Hedge. Exercise also helps her. We are not a strict organic household. Its a balancing act. Eating fast food everyday, not exercising, etc is a path to not feeling the best you can in your retirement years.

    Saving 10-20% into retirement should be done before enjoying the $5 coffees. Too many Americans buy a home right at their 28% gross income, plus have 2 brand new vehicles with payments. All while not investing towards retirement because "they can't afford to". I could die this next year. But I am 37, and my life expectancy (through basic calculator from life insurance company) is 98 years. (DH expectancy is 92) 33 years is a long time to live on just a paid off home and social security. We plan to do a lot of RV traveling and intend to stay active in our future grandchildren's lives, even if they don't live in the same state. We hope to have funds to pursue hobbies. We both will likely still have income coming in either through working parttime on projects we choose or through buying/selling as part of our hobbies (we already have 2 streams of income from this as a natural course to our enjoyable activities). I don't intend to sit at home in front of my TV all day. Basically, we plan to enjoy retirement!

  • Toronto Veterinarian

    " I believe long term planning also includes taking care of your health. Not to get sidetracked, but taking control of your own nutrition can dramatically improve your retirement years. "


    Yes, but it won't change the chances of someone getting killed or disabled in an accident (auto, industrial, etc), of a child being born with a debilitating disease or disability, or from a random act of fatal luck, like getting ALS at 45 or a brain tumour at 60.

  • Lyndee Lee
    "Be a man"

    This is a ridiculous, sexist statement! There is nothing about this discussion topic that applies only for one sex or gender. Even if someone chooses to follow traditional gender roles, that is a personal approach, not appropriate advice to society as a whole. Also, why would anyone asume the person starting the discussion is a man? Drop the outdated statement and join the modern world with "Be a responsible adult"
  • B Carey

    You are right. That's why I said dramatically improve your chances. My calculated life expectancy takes into account that I could die in a car wreck or get pushed off a bridge. It also takes into account my likelihood of getting a brain tumor. I got land 5 years ago to build on and have stressed over getting all the details right. Sure would suck to die just as the house gets finished (especially since I will be putting my own labor into it!). But that doesn't mean I don't sacrifice now instead of making it happen. Saving for the future is still wiser than not saving for the future on the chance that it may not come.

  • jmm1837
    B Carey - I don't entirely agree on the mortgage issue. When you retire your income takes a dive, and so does your ability to pay off your mortgage. If you're still carrying a hefty one, you're very vulnerable to interest rate hikes. That can mean compromising your lifestyle to service the mortgage, it can mean selling investments at a time not of your choosing, or, in the worst case, it can mean defaulting, losing the house and still ending up with massive debt. I do know seniors who effectively treated their homes as bank accounts, to pay for holidays, renovations, cars, etc without fully realizing what a 30 or 40% drop in income post retirement income really meant.

    As for health, again I disagree. The average life expectancy in most of the developed world is over 80 years, just under 80 in the US, but the "healthy average life expectancy" is 8 to 10 years less than that, so yes, you should be planning for that possibility well before 75 or 80. You have to take into account that even the healthiest, most active person may well end up needing a new hip or knee as the body wears out and, while the former at least does not imply physical disability, it may eat into your finances, depending on your heath system.

    As others have said, balance is everything, and thst to me means having a post retirement income stream and expenditure pattern sufficient to withstand the vagaries of the market. Adding in an expenditure like a mortgage payment, which is also subject to fluctuation, is adding a complication most retired folks don't need and many can't manage.
  • Toronto Veterinarian

    " My calculated life expectancy takes into account that I could die in a car wreck or get pushed off a bridge. It also takes into account my likelihood of getting a brain tumor. "


    Yes, but people aren't statistics. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

    I'm not against saving for the future, and I'm not against sacrificing for one's children's future, but I am against sacrificing for one's personal future. Saving? Yes, but only to the extent of providing an "emergency preparedness" fund, not to the point of feeling deprived.....Truly sacrificing? Not in an unbalanced way.


    I don't care if anyone else agrees with me or not, but if they don't, I suspect it's because they haven't had any close relative die or become seriously disabled at a young age.

  • B Carey

    jmm-I am going on the assumption that one has a fixed interest rate with their mortgage. In my opinion, you should not get an ARM mortgage unless you are either very certain you will be in the home for only around the # of years before the rate can increase OR you are both risk tolerant and financial savvy enough to fully understand and calculate an ARM. Also, the numbers for average life expectancy to ~ age 80 if for a newborn. The older you are now, the longer your current life expectancy is.

    Toronto-I am honestly curious. Do you think that living on 90% of a person's income requires extreme sacrifice?

  • Toronto Veterinarian

    " Toronto-I am honestly curious. Do you think that living on 90% of a person's income requires extreme sacrifice? "


    No, I wouldn't call it sacrificing.......and that's my point, I guess. If you're sacrificing because you think it will be worth it when you enjoy things later, you've gone too far. In my opinion, YMMV.

  • Mrs Pete

    The flip side of the argument of doing such things is that no one knows how long they will live, and sacrificing now in order to hold off enjoyment for later (e.g. retirement) can backfire if your health or the health of your loved ones changes dramatically, or (obviously) if you die unexpectedly.

    You're right.

    I'm barely into my 50s, and a couple of my same-aged friends have died young. It's very hard to see that: to know that they've saved and prepared for a retirement they won't see, to think they'll be just a name to their grandchildren, etc. I also know one person who's become disabled in her early 50s. However, I know more-more-more people my age who are just starting to panic because they realize they're 10-15 years from retirement and aren't where they should be in terms of savings. And I know more than a few people who've been laid off in their early 50s -- those who'd been saving for years are inconvenienced, whereas those who had postponed saving are in a real crisis.

    You're right that saving aggressively can backfire, but I think it's the right choice for the majority of us. Said differently, I think a few people will save and die young, while a lot of people will be without adequate finances in their elderly years.

    I believe long term planning also includes taking care of your health.

    Totally agree -- retirement planning is more than finances.

    All while not investing towards retirement because "they can't afford to".

    Certainly some Americans are making good choices and still genuinely can't afford to save for retirement, but the average American can save enough to be prepared for a comfortable retirement by 65.

    Coupled with "can't afford it" is "not paying attention". For example, a fellow teacher who was about to retire told me she was SHOCKED when she sat down to do her paperwork for retirement and realized that her pension would not be the same amount as her paycheck. Um, yeah, I've known that since I started this job. Our pension is about 40% of our paycheck -- very nice, but you need to have personal savings as well. They give us our pension details -- including the formula -- every year along with our W2s. How does a person reach the 30 year mark in this job and not take five minutes to calculate the value of her pension?

    We plan to do a lot of RV traveling and intend to stay active in our future grandchildren's lives, even if they don't live in the same state. We hope to have funds to pursue hobbies. We both will likely still have income coming in either through working parttime on projects we choose or through buying/selling as part of our hobbies (we already have 2 streams of income from this as a natural course to our enjoyable activities).

    Yes, our goals aren't identical to yours, but I agree with you on the concepts of setting goals for retirement and having multiple income streams in retirement.

    Toronto-I am honestly curious. Do you think that living on 90% of a person's income requires extreme sacrifice?

    I agree that 10% should be easy. I suspect that -- especially for those of us reading this custom-house-building board -- someone lives quite well on 90% of what you earn. Even 70%-80%.

    A side-note that hasn't been mentioned outright is consumer debt. It's a whole lot easier to live on 90% of your income if you aren't paying for yesterday's goods (with interest). By and large, this is a matter of starting out right in your adult life; if you start out without debt, it's not all that hard to stay within your budget ... but with debt, you're behind the eight-ball.

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