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A Man With a Plan

Greg Spears

Greg is HumbleDollar's deputy editor. Earlier in his career, he worked as a reporter for the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. After leaving journalism, Greg spent 23 years as a senior editor at Vanguard Group on the 401(k) side, where he implored people to save more for retirement. He currently teaches behavioral economics at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as an adjunct professor. The subject helps shed light on why so many Americans save less than they might. Greg is also a Certified Financial Planner certificate holder.

    A Man With a Plan

    Greg Spears  |  May 10, 2024

    YOU COULD CALL ME a 529 superfan. The college savings plans helped me put my two kids through college. Their state and federal tax advantages cut the exorbitant cost of college just enough so we didn’t have to borrow for our two kids’ education.
    Which makes it surprising that I knew the man who created the 529 plan—but I didn’t realize he’d fathered them.
    I covered Senator Bob Graham of Florida as a newspaper reporter in Washington in the 1990s,

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    Powerful Savings

    Greg Spears  |  Sep 21, 2023

    I BOUGHT AN EXPENSIVE new water heater last year for my house in Maine. The old heater had a ring of rust at the bottom, and I was spurred to act by an $800 rebate offered by the state of Maine, which was contingent on buying a heat pump water heater. The new water heater draws its heat from the surrounding air, and is two-to-three times more efficient than my earlier model.
    I filled out a rebate form at the appliance store counter.

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    All You Need to Know

    Greg Spears  |  Sep 4, 2023

    I WAS HAVING DINNER in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a new friend, Joseph. He told me of his frustration with his financial advisor. The two might meet for an hour, but afterward Joseph still didn’t know what to do.
    “Explain it to me like I’m five,” he said to me. So I did.
    Joseph has a PhD from an Ivy League university, so he doesn’t need a kindergarten story. Yet I understand his frustration.

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    Shortage Hits Home

    Greg Spears  |  Aug 24, 2023

    IN THE CENTER OF the Maine village where I spend my summer, a few residents live in a makeshift encampment. It consists of four popup trailers—the kind towed by cars—plus some cars, dilapidated lobster boats and a couple of pup tents, one containing children’s toys.
    The residents live without running water, so they bring it to the site in gallon jugs. Their laundry hangs on clotheslines strung between trees and a lobster boat. The site looks forlorn and temporary,

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    An Educated Choice

    Greg Spears  |  Aug 2, 2023

    WHEN I WAS YOUNG and unschooled about money, I borrowed thousands of dollars to attend Northwestern University. As I recall, tuition was around $12,000 a year in 1980, and I had only $3,000 to my name. How could I pay?
    The dean sent me a letter explaining that the college would lend me the money for my master’s degree in journalism. It would also extend me a work-study job, which would help pay for my spartan off-campus room.

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    Class Worth Taking

    Greg Spears  |  Apr 20, 2023

    LESS THAN HALF of Americans—46%—have tried to calculate how much they need to save to live comfortably in retirement, according to a 2022 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. I often meet extremely bright people—doctors, residents, PhD students and professors—who say with a sheepish smile that they don’t understand the intricacies of their retirement plans.
    For some, this lack of understanding is a choice. People who sense they haven’t saved enough, or any money at all,

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    My 2023 Forecast

    Greg Spears  |  Jan 8, 2023

    AROUND THE TURN of the year, investment experts issue their forecasts for the next 12 months. Bloomberg says it has gathered more than 500 market predictions for 2023, with many forecasting a rough year for the financial markets.
    I’ve done my research as well, and I’m now prepared to offer my forecast: There’s an 80% chance that the S&P 500 will return between -10% and 30% in 2023.
    I can’t claim this as original work.

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    11 Retirement Changes

    Greg Spears  |  Dec 23, 2022

    JUST IN TIME FOR Christmas, a sweeping new retirement law has passed both houses of Congress, and should be signed into law this weekend. Dubbed the SECURE Act 2.0, it makes dozens of significant changes to the employer-based savings systems that millions of workers depend on for retirement.
    Under the new law, some workers will be able to save far larger catch-up contributions during the home stretch of their working years. Meanwhile, retirees can delay taking required minimum distributions until age 73 starting in 2023.

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    Yellen About Taxes

    Greg Spears  |  Dec 19, 2022

    WHEN JANET YELLEN was nominated to be secretary of the treasury, the Senate Finance Committee staff went over her tax returns with a magnifying glass. Yellen, an economics PhD who taught at Harvard, always prepared the returns for herself and her husband, economics Nobel laureate George A. Akerlof.
    “She discovered to her surprise that she had been doing the family taxes wrong for years,” reports Owen Ullmann in his excellent new biography of Yellen,

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    Making Lemonade

    Greg Spears  |  Nov 21, 2022

    YOU KNOW IT’S BEEN a rotten year for investors when it’s time to brush up on the rules for tax-loss harvesting. It’s one way to turn negative returns to your advantage, provided you act before year-end.
    If you have taxable investments that have lost value this year—and who doesn’t? —the basic idea is to sell them in 2022 to lower the taxes you owe. Realized losses can be used to offset any investment gains you’ve realized this year.

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    Made You Look

    Greg Spears  |  Nov 18, 2022

    I LOOKED UP OUR investment account balance recently. It’s something I’d avoided doing for months. My wife, the voice of reason, said we might bounce a check if we didn’t know how much was in the money market fund. Confession: I don’t balance our checkbook manually.
    I waited to log on until after the Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up 14% in October, its best month since 1976. I don’t know why the bear lost its grip on the Dow last month,

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    Worst Year Ever

    Greg Spears  |  Nov 8, 2022

    BONDS ARE ON PACE to have their worst year on record. To be sure, once interest rates stop rising—perhaps early next year—they may win back their place as a worthwhile investment for retired investors. But right now, that feels like wishful thinking.
    As the Federal Reserve has hastily raised short-term interest rates in big steps to fight inflation, bond prices have fallen down the cellar stairs. Bloomberg’s broad U.S. aggregate bond index is down 16% in 2022.

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    Own It All

    Greg Spears  |  Nov 2, 2022

    ONLY CASH IS SHOWING a positive return this year, while most parts of the stock and bond market have suffered double-digit losses. And with inflation spiking, even cash investments have been a losing proposition in 2022. With nowhere to hide, perhaps it’s time to renounce active management and consider the three-fund portfolio.
    Long championed on the Bogleheads forum, the three-fund portfolio is an indexing approach that drives down costs, feasts on diversification and ends investment selection errors by sticking with just three funds:

    Total U.S.

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    Under the Tree?

    Greg Spears  |  Oct 31, 2022

    A VANGUARD FINANCIAL planner once told me his clients’ biggest problem was that they didn’t want to withdraw money from their accounts during retirement. They lived beneath their means because they just couldn’t overcome their desire to continue seeing their assets grow.
    If this describes you, too, you might be pleased to learn that required minimum distributions (RMDs) would be delayed a year or more if legislation, which currently sits before Congress, can slip through the crowded legislative calendar and pass before year-end.

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    Four Signs of Slowing

    Greg Spears  |  Oct 25, 2022

    WHEN I WAS A KID, I remember being puzzled by all the newspaper stories devoted to a recession. First, the articles said that one might be ahead. Then they said it had arrived. Immediately afterward, the stories shifted to, “Is the recession lifting?”
    The same loop is starting in my newsfeed now, with daily stories asking if a recession is ahead. It’s a definite maybe, according to the experts, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

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