Anyone who reads my columns knows that I absolutely despise debt.
Some people argue that there is good debt (a mortgage and student loans) and bad debt (credit-card debt and pay-day loans). I disagree.
Debt is debt. Its sometimes a necessary financial tool, but only when used sparingly and paid off as soon as possible.
But is there ever a time when indebtedness is a fair trade-off for something you value?
Thats the question I was asked during a recent online discussion. My answer might surprise you.
My wife and I have always been great savers, a reader wrote. We are debt-free, even after finishing putting our two children through doctorate degrees two years ago. We hate debt, but we love our children. The two girls and their families have moved seven hours away, and we would like to be closer to them.
The couple also is concerned that, as they get older and possibly need some caregiving help, living so far away will be a burden to their children.
So, they wanted to know whether they should move and take on a mortgage or stay where they are and remain debt-free.
To move, the couple said, they estimate purchasing a home for about $300,000. They are in their mid-60s and retired, with a combined monthly retirement income of about $7,000 before taxes. They are able to make a $200,000 down payment.
We always bought the smallest house on the block that met our needs, not our desires, the reader added.
Before going any further, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, recommends that the couple talk to their daughters about their expectations.
They dont want to move closer thinking they will see the grandchildren or help with them more frequently if that isnt also what the parents are thinking, she said.
If everyone were thrilled about the possible relocation, the next issue would be: Can they afford the mortgage?
Using a mortgage calculator at realtor.com, I found that the principal and interest payment on a $100,000 loan at 2.99 percent would be about $961 if they opted for a 10-year fixed loan.
Current interest rate trends for various mortgage types are automatically plugged into the calculator, which also lets you input your home location and then estimates your property tax and insurance payments.
Using a Washington, DC ZIP code, the couples total cost would be $1,294, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance.
The couple didnt provide any additional financial information, so I dont know what assets or other major expenses they may have. I dont know if the $200,000 would come from the sale of a current home or if they planned to pull the money out of their retirement savings. However, based on what I do know, it appears they could handle a mortgage.
Then the issue turns on how much they value being debt-free. This is when personal finance becomes very personal.
We are torn between our love for no debt and love for our children, the reader said.
I would move.
As I told them, I would do whatever I could to avoid getting a mortgage, including searching again for a house or condo I could purchase outright.
But if they dont want to rent, cant or dont want to move in with family, or they cant find a cheaper home to meet even their modest needs, take on the mortgage.
As much as I hate debt and dream of one day being mortgage-free, I dont want to hold on to money at the risk of losing the time living closer to my adult children and grandchildren.
Generally its a great arrangement, because all generations can help with caregiving across the lifespan, Butts said. But even more, it means sharing family stories, history and experiences that help children and youth connect with their roots. It supports what has been called the grandparent advantage, because younger generations benefit from the recycled knowledge and experience of elders, and elders are fulfilled helping launch the next generation.
To further make her point, Butts referred to a Maya Angelou quote: Today people are so disconnected that they feel they are blades of grass, but when they know who their grandparents and great-grandparents were, they become trees, they have roots, they can no longer be mowed down.
By moving, the couple can leave a legacy that distance can prevent.
If they stay put, they may have more money to pass on to their children and their childrens children.
But if they move, they also have something else they can pass on: their presence. And as we know, money cant buy time.
Contact Michelle Singletary at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071.