WE HAVE CRAZY stock market valuations in the U.S.—and yet investors don’t seem especially crazed, at least compared to the two great buying manias of recent decades.
Six months before the housing market peaked in mid-2006, I remember attending a New Year’s Day party where real-estate investing was—no exaggeration—the sole topic of conversation. I recall colleagues walking into open houses and, after quickly looking around, bidding above the asking price. I remember emails belittling my intelligence for cautioning readers about the likely return from real estate.
I’M CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Mason Finance, a company that helps people turn their life insurance policies into cash—something known as a life settlement. HumbleDollar’s editor made me this offer: If I could write a balanced article about life settlements, clearly spelling out the pros and cons, he’d consider running it. I took him up on the challenge.
If you aren’t familiar with life settlements, you are not alone. An estimated 1.1 million seniors leave roughly $112 billion a year on the table by not selling off lapsing life insurance policies,
I REGULARLY REMIND clients to hold onto their tax records in case their returns are questioned by the Internal Revenue Service. Understandably, clients ask just how long do they need to save those old records that clutter their closets and desk drawers?
Unfortunately, there’s no flat cutoff. The IRS says the answer depends on what information the records contain and the kind of transaction involved.
It supplements this vague guideline with a cryptic warning: Keep supporting records for “as long as they are important for the federal tax law.”
WHEN ASKED WHY he robbed banks, Willie Sutton replied, “because that’s where the money is.”
Similarly, private investment funds—such as hedge funds and private equity funds—are attractive to high net worth investors, because they carry the potential for outsized returns. That, supposedly, is where the big money is. Several factors explain this potential. Among them: These funds not only use leverage to increase the size of their investment bets, but also they may buy investments that aren’t publicly traded—and hence they could receive higher returns because these investments are mispriced or as an inducement to accept their illiquidity.
HUMBLEDOLLAR ISN’T the financial website for everybody. Instead, it’s the place that folks end up after they have made their fair share of youthful financial mistakes—and they’re ready to settle down and get serious about money. I even briefly toyed with adding a tagline to the site: “Where Money Grows Up.”
What does grown-up money look like? It’s less about the size of your nest egg—and more about attitude. Here are 21 signs you’re a HumbleDollar reader:
When your neighbors show off their remodeled kitchen,
SHOULD YOU invest in the stock market? The answer seems obvious: Over the past 90 years, stocks have returned an average 10% a year, far outpacing bonds at 5% and cash investments at less than 3%.
So why ask the question? The reason is the word “average.” Stock market returns are, of course, uneven from year to year and uneven from stock to stock. That’s well known. But the degree to which stock performance varies from stock to stock may surprise you—and that has implications for how you invest.
IF WE WON’T SAVE for the future, should somebody do it for us? Everyone knows Americans don’t save; last year, we managed a miserable 3.4% of personal disposable income. That’s not going to cut it for either financial emergencies or retirement.
We can’t even get many workers to save sufficiently to obtain an employer match in their 401(k) plan. That’s free money left on the table. According to separate calculations by Alight Solutions and Fidelity Investments,
AS A LIFELONG perfectionist, it’s always painful to admit mistakes. When it comes to my finances, I’ve made plenty of good decisions. But I’m willing to confess to at least a handful of errors:
1. Not saving more when I was younger. When I got my first fulltime job, I was thrilled with the salary. I was making $16,000 a year—roughly twice what I’d been living on as a fulltime student.
IT TOOK MY HUSBAND and me several years to figure out our retirement plan—and it wasn’t an issue of money. The nagging question: How were we going to live this new life? We had both had extremely demanding careers and we were ready to move on from the stress of our work lives. But the thought of sitting at home all day watching Judge Judy or stretched out on hammocks really didn’t appeal.
Our solution: We took a page from the playbook of high school graduates—and spent a “gap year” teaching in Africa as volunteers.
IF WE’RE TO RETIRE in comfort, we need to be deadly serious about saving money for perhaps three decades. That leaves a little wiggle room: If our careers span four decades, we might have a decade or more when we can be a little less focused on making and saving money.
The question is, when should this “goof off” period be? Conventional wisdom has its answer: We should pursue our passions in our 20s,
I REMEMBER speaking with an industry colleague about a company that had been in the news. He told me that he liked the company’s stock and, in fact, had bought it for the mutual fund he managed. Then he added, parenthetically, “I owned it, then I sold it, then I bought it back.”
This discussion highlights a fundamental challenge for investors: Mutual fund managers face incentives that often diverge from their clients. Specifically, fund managers are graded and compensated for their performance before taxes.
I CAN ALREADY hear the groans. “Oh brother, here we go again with another of those religious wackos. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about all of that faith-based nonsense. My finances have nothing to do with faith.”
How about the guy spending his last dollar on a lottery ticket at the corner market? Or the victims of Bernie Madoff? Or the 65-year-old Enron employee fully invested in company stock in summer 2001?
WHEN I CHAT with clients about the IRS and mention audits, many turn white with fright. To alleviate angst, I explain that years of underfunding have forced an understaffed IRS to significantly scale back its enforcement efforts. But my reassurances are insufficient to assuage the fears of some clients, so I alert them to tactics that can make audits less traumatic and expensive.
Let’s start with the bad news: Audits are basically adversarial proceedings.
TIME VALUE of money, asset class, diversification, dollar-cost averaging: This is the language of investment professionals. But it isn’t the language of everyday Americans, including those saving for retirement in their employer’s 401(k) plan.
Trust me, I know. During my nearly 30 years overseeing 401(k) plans, including providing financial education to participants, it became clear to me that using such plans as intended wasn’t easy for most people.
For diversification, employees would often invest in several different mutual funds all focused on a similar collection of U.S.
PUT YOURSELF in their shoes. I’ve been doing that in recent weeks, thinking about how I’d design a portfolio if I lived in, say, Australia, Japan or the United Kingdom. What prompted this navel-gazing? I’m in the middle of revising my 2016 book, How to Think About Money, for an international audience.
One conclusion: Here in the U.S., we have it far easier than foreign investors—and a big reason is currency exposure.