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Settling for Six

Jonathan Clements  |  November 11, 2015

SINCE RETURNING to life as an ink-stained wretch early last year, I have been talking about the likelihood of modest stock returns. My best guess: A global stock portfolio might notch 6% a year over the next decade, while inflation runs at 2%.
It turns out that the person I admire most on Wall Street, Vanguard Group founder John Bogle, also has modest expectations. This is no great surprise: How I think about stock returns has been greatly influenced by Jack’s writing.

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Keeping It Private

Jonathan Clements  |  November 8, 2015

FAMILY CAN BE a wonderful asset. Your parents, siblings and adult children might help with home repairs, offer free advice based on their professional expertise and take care of the dog while you’re on vacation.
When the circumstances are right, I think there’s an opportunity to take this even further. For instance, earlier this year, I provided my daughter with a private mortgage, which allowed her to purchase her first home. There aren’t many people I’d strike that deal with,

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Benefits Revised

Jonathan Clements  |  November 2, 2015

TWO KEY CHANGES to Social Security retirement benefits were wrapped into the budget bill passed by Congress last week. The changes have big implications for married couples.
First, after April 2016, if you suspend your benefit, any family members collecting benefits on your earnings record will also have their benefit suspended. Second, those who aren’t age 62 by Jan. 1, 2016, will lose the right to file a restricted application, where you claim just spousal benefits,

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Wasting Time

Jonathan Clements  |  October 27, 2015

STOCK MARKET gyrations since mid-August have investors focusing intently on short-run returns. But if you can drag your gaze away from the daily turmoil, you’ll realize this is a colossal waste of time—and a huge distraction from the big story.
This thought occurred to me as I was playing around with the data available at MSCI.com. Take the MSCI World index, which includes 23 developed markets, including the U.S.  From the index’s year-end 1969 inception through Sept.

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Mistakes Compounded

Jonathan Clements  |  October 14, 2015

A GOOD GRASP of compounding is fundamental to managing money. Without an understanding of the way money grows and shrinks over time, folks can’t fully appreciate the value of starting to save when they’re young, the damage done by large investment losses or the true cost of carrying credit-card debt.
Yet I fear compounding isn’t well understood. This has dawned on me over the past month, as I’ve been teaching an undergraduate course on personal finance.

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Raising Rates

Jonathan Clements  |  October 3, 2015

IT’S ONE OF THOSE indelible teenage memories: visiting the Bank of Baltimore in suburban Washington, DC, in the late 1970s.  I would hand over my babysitting or lawn-mowing money to the bank clerk, who would slide my green bank book into some magic typewriter. After a joyous clatter of keys, my bank book would be returned, and there would be recorded not just my deposit, but also the latest quarterly interest payment.
My children and stepchildren—ages 10 to 27—all have bank accounts.

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What Tax Losses?

Jonathan Clements  |  September 30, 2015

AFTER A TURBULENT few months for stock prices and with 2015 winding down, talk will soon turn to tax-loss harvesting. The notion: You sell losing stocks in your taxable account, and then use the realized capital losses to offset realized capital gains and up to $3,000 in ordinary income, thus trimming your 2015 tax bill.
Sound like a smart strategy? If you trade individual stocks actively or you’re a really bad investor, tax-loss harvesting might make sense.

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Without Distinction

Jonathan Clements  |  September 17, 2015

IF WE WORK like dogs for 40 years, we’ll get our reward, which is the chance to sit around and do nothing for 20 or 30 years. That’s the definition of a successful life, according to conventional financial wisdom. But it doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, does it?
My contention: It’s time to rethink the crazy distinction between work and retirement and, in the process, redefine what counts as a successful life.

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Toil and Trouble

Jonathan Clements  |  September 11, 2015

AS I WATCH the recent market turmoil, three thoughts come to mind—and one great hope. First, I feel like a shopper waiting for the next sale. As of yesterday’s market close, the S&P 500 was down a relatively modest 8% from its May high. If this drags on, without any further decline, I’ll eventually do a little buying and selling, to bring my holdings back into line with my target portfolio percentages. But to get enthusiastic about stocks,

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Why It’s Different

Jonathan Clements  |  September 5, 2015

RETIREMENT MAY be our final financial goal—chronologically speaking—but we should always put it first. Partly, that’s because retirement is so much more expensive than, say, buying a house or putting the kids through college, so it takes many decades of saving and investing to amass enough for a comfortable retirement. But among financial goals, retirement is also unique in two other ways: It isn’t optional—and we can’t pay for it out of current income.

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Silly Headline Alert

Jonathan Clements  |  July 29, 2015

INFLATION ROSE just 0.1% over the 12 months through June, as measured by CPI-U, the most popular inflation measure. But that tiny increase is a bad guide to the future, because it’s held down by the 15% plunge in energy prices over the past year.
So what should we expect? A better guide is CPI-U with food and energy excluded, which rose 1.8% over the past 12 months. Better still, take your cues from the Treasury market.

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Truly Taxing

Jonathan Clements  |  July 16, 2015

THE FEDERAL TAX system punishes the middle class, who have earned income and fund retirement accounts. Meanwhile, it favors the wealthy, who are more likely to have substantial sums in taxable accounts and then bequeath those assets.
Okay, now I need to explain myself.
First, there’s the question of earned versus unearned income. Tax rates on wages are higher than those on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, plus workers also have to pay Social Security payroll taxes.

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Just Feels Right

Jonathan Clements  |  July 5, 2015

MEIR STATMAN, a finance professor at California’s Santa Clara University, argues that financial decisions—like everyday consumer purchases—have three benefits: utilitarian (what it does for me), expressive (what it says about me) and emotional (how it makes me feel).
As we manage our finances, we insist our goal is strictly utilitarian, and that all we want to do is make money. But in truth, we often make decisions for expressive or emotional reasons—and these other motivations can hurt our stated goal of greater wealth,

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Genius Isn’t Enough

Jonathan Clements  |  July 1, 2015

MEB FABER’S  Global Asset Allocation offers a look at the historical performance of a fistful of portfolios, such as those recommended by Rob Arnott, Harry Browne and Ray Dalio. It’s a quick read, with just 129 pages, much of it consumed by charts.
The book’s biggest surprise? How unsurprising the results are. “As long as you have some of the main ingredients—stocks, bonds, and real assets—the exact amount really doesn’t matter all that much,” Faber writes.

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Buying Happiness

Jonathan Clements  |  June 16, 2015

“MONEY IS an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t,” write Elizabeth Dunn, Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson in an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology that appeared April 2011—and which, needless to say, I only just got around to reading. It’s arguably the best academic article on money and happiness for the general public,

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