LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my car insurance. And like most people, the only time I do think about insurance is when I need to use it. Four years ago, I was involved in a collision. My car was totaled and my insurance company processed my claim quickly. Because I was deemed to be not at fault by my insurance company, I didn’t have to pay my deductible or any other expense related to the collision.
IF WE HAVE DINNER with half-a-dozen others, we might all share the same meal and yet each of us will have a different experience—sometimes radically different. Even as we talk politics, crack jokes and swap gossip, we’ll each have our own thoughts whirling in the background: errands we can’t forget, work issues we need to resolve, incidents from the day we keep replaying, worries we can’t put behind us.
For me, those whirling background thoughts often concern financial notions I want to write about.
REVIEWING YOUR investment strategy? To get you started, here are 10 questions to wrestle with:
How much cash you will need from your portfolio over the next five years? That money should be out of stocks and riskier bonds—and invested in nothing more adventurous than short-term bonds.
What’s the total sum you expect to save between now and retirement? If you look at that future savings as a cash holding and count it as part of your portfolio’s conservative investments,
TOWARD THE END of high school, I landed in some predictably adolescent legal trouble: I purchased alcohol underage and had to shamefully explain what happened to my parents. As I dejectedly declared that I would pay the fine and admit guilt, my parents—concerned about potential career implications—instead insisted that I hire a lawyer with my own money. I had to work for more than a year as a busboy and caterer to reimburse my parents for the cost,
IT’S A COMMON PLOY among columnists: You start with the provocative statement—and then spend the rest of the article dancing like crazy, trying to defend it. Today’s provocative statement: Except in a few rare instances, I’m not sure why anybody would ever own municipal bonds.
At first blush, this sounds not just provocative, but downright stupid. If you’re in a high income-tax bracket and investing money through a regular taxable account, it would be foolish to buy taxable bonds and then pay income taxes on the interest you earn.
IF YOU DON’T save diligently, you are highly unlikely to amass a decent-size nest egg. Time to make amends? Here are 10 questions to ponder:
Do you regularly spend more than planned? Try writing down every purchase you make. That’ll tell you where your dollars are going—and make you think twice before spending.
How much of your income goes toward fixed living costs? We’re talking about items such as mortgage or rent, car payments,
DON’T GIVE investment advice to clients. That’s something I’ve repeatedly learned as a tax lawyer. Still, when financial markets gyrate, many clients want advice about taxes, especially the seemingly simple rules for capital gains—and I have a longstanding fondness for eating three times a day.
Let’s start with the basics. Take an individual who sells an investment that she has owned for more than 12 months. Any increase in its value from its cost basis is taxed at her long-term capital gains rate—15% for most individuals,
IT ALL BEGAN with an afternoon phone call between Andrew, my twin brother, and me. I made an off-the-cuff comment about starting our own company. For the previous eight years, both of us had worked at a large lawn care company and then, for a few brief months, at a medium-sized landscaper.
Neither of us doubted we would be successful. But we were taking a large financial risk: Starting our own company meant leaving the security of a regular paycheck,
VANGUARD GROUP is my favorite fund company—and the place where I now keep all my investment dollars. There’s no mystery why: Among mutual fund companies, Vanguard has long been not only the biggest champion of index funds, but also the firm with the lowest annual fund expenses.
Except that’s no longer the case.
Fidelity Investments, BlackRock’s iShares and Charles Schwab have all muscled onto Vanguard’s turf, offering index funds with lower annual expenses. This is obviously a marketing ploy: By offering cut-rate deals on select index funds,
COULD YOU SQUEEZE more happiness from your dollars? Here are 10 questions to ponder:
Which expenditures from the past year do you remember with a smile? Which prompt a shrug of the shoulders and maybe even a twinge of regret? Use those insights to guide your spending in the year ahead.
Could you commute less? Research tells us that commuting is terrible for happiness. You might move closer to the office or try to work at home a few days each week.
WHEN IT COMES to your home, ignorance about taxes isn’t bliss—and it could be disastrous. I often field tax questions from homeowners. Most don’t understand how they’re affected by continuously changing tax rules. Even worse, they’re totally unaware that the rules have changed.
Want to save thousands of dollars? What follows are reminders of how to sidestep tax pitfalls and take maximum advantage of frequently missed—but perfectly legal—opportunities:
Mortgage points. Do you plan to purchase a new dwelling around year-end?
WORKING AT a college is a bit like being in a time warp. Every year, I get older, but the students don’t. The 20-somethings I deal with make me realize just how much times have changed since I attended college.
Tuition. When I was a college student in the 1980s, 529 plans didn’t exist. Of course, tuition costs were also much lower, so there wasn’t as much need for a college savings plan.
THIS BULL MARKET is more than eight years old, U.S. stocks are undoubtedly expensive and there’s even talk of war. Tempted to sell? Problem is, there was also ample reason to be worried three years ago and yet here we are, with shares both higher and more richly valued.
What to do? I fall back on my standard advice: Forget trying to forecast the market’s short-term direction and instead focus on taking the right amount of risk.
WANT TO MAKE sure your family is adequately protected against financial disaster? Try grappling with these 10 questions:
What’s the minimum dollar amount you need each month to keep your household running? That’s a useful number to know if you’re forced to slash living costs because, say, you lost your job or you need to cover a large, unexpected medical bill.
How would you cope financially if you were out of work for six months?
WHEN I LOOK at today’s world, I often think of Charles Dickens’s famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Technology, including the web and smartphones, has made life so much more convenient.
Still, one thing I really miss from the “old days” is the experience of the traditional bookstore. Shopping online is great, but sometimes it’s easier to choose from a curated set of 10 books on a shelf than to sift through an unwieldy list of a thousand choices online.