Low Blows

Jonathan Clements  |  December 14, 2019

THE INDEX FUND fee-cutting battle reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion more than a year ago, when Fidelity Investments launched four zero-cost index funds. You can’t get any lower than zero, right? Apparently, you can. One small fund company is now effectively paying investors to own one of its index funds.
Still, the price war among financial companies has clearly moved on, with some firms eliminating brokerage commissions in 2019 or touting the high interest rate paid by their brokerage cash account.

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Good for You?

Robin Powell  |  December 13, 2019

IS SUSTAINABLE investing a fad? Everyone seems to be talking about it—not least product providers eager to persuade us that their sustainable funds are so much better, more ethical or more likely to outperform than everyone else’s.
Leaving aside the moral reasons for investing in funds that aim to deliver environmental and societal benefits, is sustainable investing a good idea financially? Do sustainable funds, otherwise known as ESG (environmental,

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Durn Furriners

William Ehart  |  December 12, 2019

A BURNING QUESTION has only gotten hotter as foreign stocks have lagged disastrously over the past dozen years: Should any of your stock market money be overseas?
Most experts say “yes.” Vanguard Group, for one, recommends investors allocate 40% of their stock investments to foreign markets. In fact, some pundits have smugly derided what they call the “home bias” of those U.S. investors who avoid or underweight foreign stocks. Those stocks currently make up about 45% of world market capitalization.

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The Aftermath

Catherine Horiuchi  |  December 11, 2019

AFTER LEAVING the hospital, our family met up at a favorite neighborhood restaurant.
“What’s next?” the teenagers asked.
“Now begins the parade of covered dishes,” I answered.
For the month after my husband’s death, when preparing food hardly seemed possible, friends and neighbors made sure our refrigerator and freezer bulged. The kids experienced a variety of main meals, side dishes and desserts. There was enough for us and our many helpers, and we experimented with time and labor-saving meal shortcuts.

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So Many Benefits

Dennis Friedman  |  December 10, 2019

SOCIAL SECURITY has come under political attack over the years. With the federal deficit ballooning, will there be another round of attacks in the run-up to 2020’s election?
I hope not. Here are 15 reasons we should all want to preserve Social Security benefits, no matter which political party we favor:

It helps many. About 63 million people get a Social Security check each month. That’s one out of six Americans.
It provides insurance.

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Few Absolutes

Kristine Hayes  |  December 9, 2019

ALMOST 30 YEARS ago, I landed my first fulltime job. I worked at a state-run academic institution, earning $16,000 a year. The sole retirement benefit was a pension plan with a five-year vesting period. There were no investment choices to be made. There was no ability to invest additional funds, beyond what my employer contributed to the plan. It was a retirement plan requiring no participation on my part.
My second job came with the option of investing in a traditional 401(k) plan.

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Owning Oddities

Adam M. Grossman  |  December 8, 2019

TURN ON THE RADIO and, it seems, you can’t help but hear the holiday classic It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. My question: From an investor’s perspective, is this indeed the most wonderful time of the year?
Apparently, it is. According to a 2017 paper titled Holidays Financial Anomalies, three of the best days for the stock market are the days after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

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Saving Myself

Jonathan Clements  |  December 7, 2019

WHAT DOES IT take to succeed financially? Pundits love to parse stock market returns, dig into the minutiae of Roth conversions and debate retirement withdrawal strategies. Yet, when asked what’s the most important financial virtue, almost all give the same answer: great savings habits.
That mundane reason certainly explains my financial success. Yes, I’ve benefited from owning index funds, holding a stock-heavy portfolio and buying enthusiastically during market declines. But all of that has been gravy.

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Tending the Garden

Phil Dawson  |  December 6, 2019

WE HAVE a hardwired biological incentive to promote the wellbeing of our kids, so that the family line will continue. This is the selfish gene in action. Yet modern human behavior suggests that the wiring may be at least a little faulty—for three key reasons.
Environmental. Our domination of natural resources continues to create tremendous improvements in global wealth, but it sometimes comes at the expense of the only confirmed habitable space that’s practical for our species.

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Bonding With Bonds

Sanjib Saha  |  December 5, 2019

FOR MANY YEARS, I didn’t own bonds or anything similar, except some bank certificates of deposit. Frankly, I was clueless.
My first dilemma: Should I invest in bonds if I have a mortgage? It didn’t make sense to me to borrow from the bank and, at the same time, lend out my money at a lower interest rate to a bond issuer. I felt I should pay off my mortgage first. A few friends and even a financial advisor recommended otherwise.

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Give Until It Hurts

Richard Quinn  |  December 4, 2019

I’M GUESSING our credit cards are excited. It’s the holidays, so they’ll get to see the light of day more often. December is a time for spending, for throwing caution to the wind, for rationalizing what we and our children need or deserve. It doesn’t help that we’re barraged with advertising tugging at our heart strings.
Perhaps it’s time to counterattack, to apply logic and to think not about the joys of Christmas morning presents or the next Chanukah gift,

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Making the Call

Bryan Sudweeks  |  December 3, 2019

TRADITIONAL or Roth retirement accounts? Below are eight key questions to ask. Your decision should be based on your answers to these eight questions—including the importance you put on each.

Do you want a tax break now? Assuming you qualify, a traditional IRA allows you to deduct your contributions, resulting in a lower taxable income for the year. Ditto for tax-deductible contributions to an employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) plan. But with Roth accounts, you don’t get this tax benefit.

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Imagining the Worst

Adam M. Grossman  |  December 1, 2019

IF THE NAME Harry Browne doesn’t ring any bells, I’m not entirely surprised. Though he was twice a presidential candidate, he never captured more than 1% of the vote. Still, to my knowledge, Browne is the only financial advisor ever to run for the White House. 
As a Libertarian, some of Browne’s economic proposals were extreme—including, for instance, abolishing income taxes. But one of his ideas has stood the test of time: In his 1981 book, 

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Breaking Bad

Jonathan Clements  |  November 30, 2019

WE ALL DO things that make us feel good right now, but which aren’t so good for us over the long haul. Yes, even me. Yes, even you.
Some of this behavior stems from hardwired instincts passed down to us from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, like our tendency to consume whenever we can and to focus too much on today, while giving short shrift to tomorrow. Other damaging behavior is the result of habits we’ve developed,

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Food for Thought

Richard Quinn  |  November 29, 2019

FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote this out of frustration, bordering on desperation.
More than a year ago, I bought a condo and took out what was supposed to be a short-term mortgage, which we’d pay off once we sold our home of 45 years. Silly me. You guessed it: I still have the mortgage and I still own the old house, with not even a single offer received. The No. 1 reason for buyers’ lack of interest: The kitchen is too small.

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