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No Joke

Jonathan Clements

Jonathan is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. He also sits on the advisory board of Creative Planning, one of the country’s largest independent financial advisors, and is the author of nine personal finance books. Earlier in his career, Jonathan spent almost 20 years at The Wall Street Journal, where he was the newspaper's personal finance columnist, and six years at Citigroup, where he was director of financial education for the bank's U.S. wealth management arm. Born in England and educated at Cambridge University, Jonathan now lives in Philadelphia, just a few blocks from his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

No Joke

Jonathan Clements  |  May 22, 2016

THIS WEEKEND, I have been clearing out old computer files that contain half-baked column ideas that never saw the light of day. One such file contained jokes that brokers tell about everyday investors.
My goal was to illustrate the disdain with which Wall Street views its clients. Indeed, I can’t think of another business that is so scornful of its customers, regularly belittling their intelligence and viewing them not as clients to be helped but as sheep to be shorn.

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Moving Slowly

Jonathan Clements  |  May 21, 2016

IF THERE’S MONEY you’ll need to spend in the next 12 months, you don’t want to put it at risk, so savings accounts, money market funds and similar cash investments are the only prudent choice. But as your time horizon lengthens, holding cash becomes less and less appealing. The reason: Your money’s purchasing power is pretty much guaranteed to shrink, once inflation and taxes take their toll.
Got cash in your long-term investment portfolio?

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Worse Than Greece

Jonathan Clements  |  May 14, 2016

HOW DO OUR FINANCIAL habits stack up? Academics Cristian Badarinza, John Y. Campbell and Tarun Ramadorai compared U.S. households with those of 12 other developed nations. Here are nine highlights:

Almost 50% of U.S. households are invested in the stock market, versus 34% in Finland, 25% in Spain, 24% in Germany and 23% in France.
Defined contribution retirement plans—think 401(k) plans and their ilk—are widespread in Australia, the U.K. and U.S., but are far rarer in continental Europe.

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Nothing Like Nothing

Jonathan Clements  |  May 7, 2016

YOU WOULDN’T WANT to spend your entire life in the 0% tax bracket, but it’s a nice place to visit. Got stocks or stock funds in your taxable account? If you sell them in the right year, you could realize capital gains of almost $100,000 and perhaps more—and pay a 0% federal capital gains rate.
I was reminded of this loophole as I was flipping through Phil DeMuth’s latest book, The Overtaxed Investor

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Foreign Affairs

Jonathan Clements  |  May 1, 2016

I HAVE NEVER BEEN to Japan and can’t claim any special knowledge of the country—and yet lately it’s been much on my mind. Japan is today’s poster child not only for wretched long-run stock market performance, but also for what happens to economic growth when the workforce contracts. Still, Japan’s troubles make me an even bigger advocate of investing abroad. Below, I explain why.
Never Going Back
In late 2008 and early 2009,

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Happy Thoughts

Jonathan Clements  |  Apr 23, 2016

THINK ABOUT THE BAD stuff that didn’t happen. Very few of us will have a year when we crash the car, our home burns down, our employer goes belly up and our big bet on a single stock goes way down. Yet all of these things could happen, which is why we buy auto and homeowner’s insurance, keep an emergency reserve and avoid big bets on a single stock.
Sound sensible? There are two great dangers.

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It’s a Big World

Jonathan Clements  |  Apr 16, 2016

IF YOU WANT to feel short, stand next to somebody tall. Want to feel badly about your portfolio? Compare it to the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.
Over the five years through March 31, the S&P 500 notched an annualized total return of 11.6%, versus 7.2% for the Russell 2000 index of smaller U.S. stocks, 2.3% for MSCI’s Europe, Australasia and Far East index and a loss of -4.1% a year for MSCI’s Emerging Markets index.

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Control What You Can

Jonathan Clements  |  Apr 2, 2016

ASK NOT WHAT THE markets can do for you. Ask what you can do for your portfolio.
After 15 turbulent months for stocks, many folks feel they’re at the mercy of the financial markets. But in truth, we’re far from powerless. We may not be able to control the direction of share prices. But here are seven crucial financial levers over which we have a lot of control:
1. We can figure out how much cash we’ll need from our portfolio over the next five years,

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Fistful of Trouble

Jonathan Clements  |  Mar 26, 2016

CONFRONTED BY a complicated financial world, the temptation is to fall back on rules of thumb. But are these rules any good? Here are five of the most popular:
1. Save 10% every year. There are two knocks on this rule of thumb. First, the 10% of pretax income is the sum you’re meant to save for retirement—which means those who have other goals, like buying a house and paying for a child’s college education,

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Muddling Along

Jonathan Clements  |  Mar 4, 2016

TEN-YEAR TREASURY notes are currently yielding 1.9%. That means today’s buyers will likely lose money, once inflation and taxes are figured in—and yet demand remains robust, as evidenced by 2016’s rise in Treasury bond prices.
The healthy appetite for Treasurys partly reflects the vast amount of excess capital sloshing around the global financial markets, as well as the tiny payouts on alternatives such as money-market funds and savings accounts. But it also reflects the current fear engendered by both stocks and lower-quality bonds.

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$686 Million Man

Jonathan Clements  |  Feb 26, 2016

EXXONMOBIL recently announced 2015 earnings of $16.2 billion, just half of 2014’s level. That news sent me scurrying around the Internet in search of a decade-old article I vaguely recalled.
At year-end 2005, Lee R. Raymond retired as ExxonMobil’s chairman and chief executive after 13 years at the helm. The following April, The New York Times reported that Raymond earned $686 million during that stretch, equal to $144,573 a day. The article noted that,

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We the Problem

Jonathan Clements  |  Feb 19, 2016

WHY IS THE U.S. economy growing so slowly? Should we bar new immigrants—and toss out some of those already here? Can we afford today’s Social Security retirement benefits? These three huge public policy issues might seem unrelated, but they are connected by two demographic realities: The workforce is growing too slowly—and the retiree population is growing too quickly.
Over the next decade, the U.S. civilian workforce is projected to grow at 0.5% a year,

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Weighing Risk

Jonathan Clements  |  Feb 11, 2016

WITH STOCKS IN turmoil, investors are once again fretting over risk. But what aspect of risk should we worry about? Whenever the notion arises, it’s worth contemplating three questions.
What are the odds of success or failure? Over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 (with dividends reinvested) has lost money in 11 calendar years, equal to once every four or five years. With odds like that, an occasional losing year should be no great surprise.

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Worth the Wait

Jonathan Clements  |  Feb 7, 2016

THE DEBATE OVER when to claim Social Security reminds me of the debate over index funds. On one side, there are those who have studied the issue—and on the other side are crackpots and those with a not-so-hidden agenda. Yes, you should index. Yes, most folks should delay claiming Social Security retirement benefits.
Elsewhere, I’ve written about the breakeven age for claiming Social Security, assuming you took your benefit and invested it. The upshot: Taking benefits at age 66 or age 70 is typically a better bet than taking benefits at 62,

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A Hollow Victory?

Jonathan Clements  |  Feb 1, 2016

VANGUARD GROUP founder John C. Bogle has an article in the latest Financial Analysts Journal where he reviews the growth of index funds over the 40 years since the launch of Vanguard’s first index mutual fund—and where he makes pointed remarks about their upstart cousins, exchange-traded index funds.
First, consider the phenomenal growth of index funds. They surged from 4% of stock fund assets in 1995 to 16% in 2005, and then kept barreling right along,

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