Dan and Marie Trujillo have a sizable amount of consumer debt, which is an obstacle to their dreams of a larger house and a larger family. Some financial planning helped them find a path toward those goals.
This summer Dan and Marie Trujillo felt like they had arrived at a crossroads without a road map.
The SeaTac couple wanted to buy a larger home and have another child. But several obstacles stood between the Trujillos and their dream.
They were carrying about $26,000 in consumer debt, and they lacked a cash reserve. Meanwhile, King County home prices continued their relentless climb, often by double-digit percentage increases over the previous year.
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“We had a long talk about what to do and how to do it,” said Dan, 33. “But we needed guidance.”
Marie, also 33, sought the counsel of her family and friends. But the deluge of advice was overwhelming.
One day in July, Dan sat down at the kitchen table and filled out an online application for free financial advice from the Money Makeover project at The Seattle Times. Marie doubted that they would be selected.
As it turned out, they were. The Financial Planning Association of Puget Sound connected the Trujillos with financial planner Robin Tan and his son, Landon Tan, at KMS Financial Services in Kirkland. They volunteered to advise the Trujillos for free.
After poring over the couple’s finances, the Tans pleasantly surprised the Trujillos with their overall assessment.
“I think they have a pretty strong situation,” Landon said. “They have a lot going on, but they also have a lot to work with.”
The Tans didn’t give the couple a complete green light, however. They urged Dan and Marie to pay down their consumer debt and build up their cash reserves before jumping into King County’s frenetic housing market.
One thing working in the Trujillos’ favor is their steady income.
Dan earns between $70,000 and $81,000 a year before taxes as an account manager at Pepsi Beverages of Seattle. Marie earns about $30,000 a year before taxes by working 32 hours a week for the Bill Pierre License Agency in Seattle.
The couple have no other sources of income.
Marie’s 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage lives with them. Dan has a daughter from a previous relationship who lives with her mother.
Dan is gradually building wealth through his employer’s benefit package. He contributes to his workplace 401(k) retirement plan, and his account balance is currently around $60,000.
He also saves $35 a week in another workplace program that buys PepsiCo stock at a discount for employees.
Dan held a union job during his first 11 years with the company. As a result, when he retires he will receive a union pension benefit of more than $800 a month.
So far, Marie does not have any retirement savings.
As is the case with most Americans, the Trujillos’ largest asset is their house. The three-bedroom rambler, built in 1956, was recently appraised at $354,000.
Because of their work with the Tans, the Trujillos recently refinanced the debt on their home. They now owe about $271,000 on a 30-year mortgage.
With Dan’s retirement savings and the equity stake in the couple’s house, the Trujillos have a net worth of about $116,700. That’s above the national median for Americans younger than 35, census data show.
One of the Tans’ highest priorities for the couple was to tackle their consumer debt. In the summer the Trujillos owed about $23,700 on five credit cards with interest rates ranging from 9.99 percent to 23.9 percent. They also had some medical and legal bills that added up to about $2,600.
An opportunity arose when Dan’s employer gave him access to a company car. Suddenly, a household with two adult drivers had three vehicles in the driveway.
Marie suggested selling her 2008 Honda Pilot, which was paid for, and the Tans readily agreed. The Trujillos sold the SUV for $7,700 in October and promptly paid off a Capitol One credit card with an interest rate of 23.9 percent. They have $5,400 remaining for their other consumer debts.
The Tans also urged the couple to consolidate their consumer debt at a lower interest rate and improve their cash flow — all by refinancing the mortgage.
When Dan bought the house in 2006, he had to buy private mortgage insurance because his equity stake in the property was less than 20 percent. Mortgage insurance offsets the risk for the lender, but it cost Dan $138 a month.
The Tans figured, correctly, that 11 years of house payments and the home’s rising value had pushed the Trujillo’s equity stake above the 20 percent threshold.
So the Trujillos refinanced. They lowered their interest rate to 4.12 percent from 4.25 percent. They borrowed about $21,000 against the house to pay off their high-interest consumer debt. And they eliminated their private mortgage insurance because their equity stake is now about 23 percent.
Eliminating the credit-card debt and the mortgage insurance alone should reduce the couple’s monthly expenses by about $640 a month, Dan estimates.
“To be able to wipe that out is going to be huge for our cash flow and savings,” he said.
At the Tans’ urging, Dan also increased his workplace 401(k) contribution to 6 percent from 3 percent, thereby taking full advantage of his company’s matching contribution.
The Tans also advised the couple to use their more robust cash flow to build a $25,000 cash reserve. That would give the Trujillos a ready source of cash for unexpected bills — and an alternative to paying for surprise expenses with credit cards.
The Trujillos are dutifully following the Tans’ advice. Their moods today can be summed up with one word: relief.
“We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Marie said. “We have a plan.”
But they are still restless about buying a home larger than their 1,250-square-foot rambler.
“I still don’t know if we can wait,” Marie said.