IT’S FIVE WEEKS until the end of the year—which is five weeks during which you can do some valuable financial housekeeping. Here are seven recommendations:
1. Give tax efficiently. In the past, charitable contributions were a direct and easy way to lower your tax bill. But with the recent tax law changes, which include a big hike in the standard deduction and limits on some itemized deductions, this strategy doesn’t work as well.
THE MUSICIAN PRINCE died in 2016 at age 57, leaving behind a legacy of musical genius. Unfortunately, he also left behind an ongoing legal and financial mess. The issue: For reasons no one understands, Prince neglected to prepare even the most basic estate plan, leaving potential heirs squabbling over his fortune.
Under the latest tax law, passed late last year, only those with more than $11.2 million in assets ($22.4 million for a married couple) are subject to federal estate taxes.
RECENT WEEKS HAVE been challenging for our country. We’ve seen horrific terrorist attacks. The midterm elections suggest the U.S. is deeply divided. While the economy has been doing well, the stock market has started to wobble. October, in fact, was the market’s worst month since 2011.
For all these reasons, folks have been asking me whether they should steer clear of the stock market for a while, until the dust settles. That sounds sensible—until you realize the difficult steps involved:
Step 1: Predict what’s going to happen and when.
IS APPLE the greatest company ever? On the surface, it certainly appears that way. The company sells more than 450,000 iPhones every day. Customers love them: According to surveys, iPhone customer satisfaction stands at 98%. Last year, Apple’s revenues topped $250 billion, and in its most recent quarter the company saw profits jump 41% from a year earlier. Not surprisingly, the company’s share price reflects this success. Having gained 33% over the past year,
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE tax rate? This isn’t meant to be a trick question. If you’re like most people, your favorite rate is probably zero.
While a 0% tax rate is great, it isn’t easy to achieve. There’s just a handful of ways to create tax-free income. If you have young children, 529 accounts are a great option. If you earn a high income, you might buy tax-exempt municipal bonds.
And, of course, there are Roth IRAs.
IN THE MID-1990s, Federal Express had a problem. Though the company’s safety record was exemplary, regulators had proposed new rules that would have posed an operational nightmare for the giant shipper.
The company flew Boeing 727 air freighters that each accommodated eight containers. Though they had never had a problem, the government’s concern was that if two heavier-than-average containers were loaded next to each other, it could cause the plane to become dangerously unbalanced.
THE STOCK MARKET this year reminds me of one of those Rorschach inkblot tests. The broad U.S. market has gained more than 4%, including dividends, but it’s difficult to know what to make of it. Bulls point to this year’s tax cuts and believe that the market’s gain makes complete sense. Bears, on the other hand, note that the market has quadrupled in less than 10 years and conclude that it’s at an unsustainably high level.
AS YOU NO DOUBT noticed, the stock market took investors on a wild ride last week. On Wednesday, the Dow industrials dropped more than 800 points. On Thursday, the Dow lost another 546 points. Friday was better, up 287 points, but there was still plenty of stomach-churning volatility.
At times like this, I’m reminded of Warren Buffett’s motto: “You want to be greedy when others are fearful, and you want to be fearful when others are greedy.” While that certainly sounds logical,
MY 10-YEAR-OLD SON and I had a chance encounter last month with the commissioner of the Boston Police Department. After saying hello, he bent down and offered my son this advice: “Stay in school,” he said, “and listen to your parents.”
Often, the recipe for childhood success is just that simple. Ditto when it comes to managing money. The basic principles are usually pretty straightforward. But there’s one topic that often leaves people with a headache.
MY GRANDFATHER was from Queens in New York City. He was a great guy and taught me a lot. He was also a native New Yorker, so he was street smart and tough.
One day, while we were walking together down 47th Street, near Times Square, I stopped to look at the jam-packed window of an electronics store. My grandfather waited patiently, but cautioned me, “Careful, they’ll take the eyes out of your head.”
It was a funny expression,
ALBERT EINSTEIN reportedly once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” or words to that effect.
When it comes to investing, I have always believed that the simplest approach is the best approach. But in recent years, a new type of investment has, I believe, crossed over into the “too simple” category.
This new type of investment: target-date mutual funds. If you aren’t familiar with them, target-date funds are mutual funds that typically buy other funds.
THE NOTED PHYSICIST Lord Kelvin reportedly declared in 1900, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now.” In the annals of inaccurate proclamations, this one stands out. Just a few years later, Einstein published his Theory of Relativity and, in the following years, proceeded to upend many of the scientific world’s longest standing and most deeply held beliefs.
The world of personal finance witnessed a similarly inaccurate prediction 76 years later. When the newly formed Vanguard Group launched its first index fund,
THE STOCK MARKET recently hit yet another all-time high. But instead of unalloyed glee, many investors are struggling with mixed emotions. They’re thrilled at their gains. But at the same time, they’re hesitant to put more money into a market that has already gained so much.
Result: Folks have been asking, “Isn’t there anything else I can buy?” Often, this leads to questions about alternative investments. Below is an introduction to the topic,
KANYE WEST, it turns out, is one heck of an investor. According to a recent analysis, a group of West’s stock picks has beaten the overall market by 40 percentage points this year. It’s an astonishing result. What, if anything, can we learn from his performance?
First, some background: As you may know, West is married to Kim Kardashian, who is one of the dominant personalities on social media, so it was via Instagram that the world gained a window into these investments.
MY SONS’ BASKETBALL coach, George, has a favorite expression: He talks about “working through the uglies.” When you’re developing a new skill, he says, you shouldn’t expect to be perfect the first time or even the second. But if you keep working at it, over time there will be progress, “from ugly to not-so-bad to decent to good and then, eventually, to great.” The message is clear: You can’t rush it, you can’t skip steps and you have to start with the basics.