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Stats to Die For

Jonathan Clements  |  May 13, 2015

I JUST FINISHED reading the Society of Actuaries’ summary of key findings from its “2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey Report.” From this, you might conclude two things. One, I’m way behind on my reading. Two, I don’t have a very exciting life. Both may be true. Still, I found the report fascinating. Here are three excerpts.
First, according to the report, “the two major factors in determining longevity are genetics and lifestyle choices.

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Ruled by Rules

Jonathan Clements  |  May 10, 2015

MOST OF US STRUGGLE with self-control. We eat too much, exercise too little and spend excessively. One solution: Adopt rigid rules of behavior.
For instance, I make it a rule to exercise every morning for at least 40 minutes, always buy whole wheat bread, avoid caffeine after 9 a.m. and eat fruit as a midmorning snack. I’ve followed these rules for so long that they’re no longer rules, but rather ingrained, unquestioned habits.
Not surprisingly,

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Tips for Grads

Jonathan Clements  |  May 7, 2015

THIS IS GRADUATION season at colleges across America. Got a kid heading into the workforce this year? Here are three pieces of advice you might pass along.
First, deal with your financial goals concurrently, not consecutively. In other words, don’t save for the house down payment in your 30s, the kids’ college in your 40s and then turn your attention to retirement in your 50s. If you do that, it will be almost impossible to amass enough for a comfortable retirement.

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An Odd Argument

Jonathan Clements  |  April 27, 2015

IT’S ONE OF THE stranger arguments for claiming Social Security retirement benefits at age 62—but I’m hearing it with increasing frequency. The contention: We should claim benefits early because we’ll enjoy the money more in our 60s, when we’re traveling and spending more, than in our 80s, when we’ll likely be sticking closer to home.
It isn’t clear to me that we should expect to spend less in our 80s, when we may have significant medical expenses.

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Bursting Bubbles

Jonathan Clements  |  April 22, 2015

EVER HEARD of Shopkins? Until six weeks ago, I was blissfully ignorant. But suddenly, it was all my 10-year-old stepdaughter could talk about.
Shopkins are small made-in-China plastic creatures that depict everyday household items—think coffee pots, pieces of cake and toilet plungers—with faces crafted onto them and holes so they can rest atop pencils.
Sarah’s friend Nadia had pronounced Shopkins “cool” and owned more than 100. Sarah was soon scrounging up every penny she could find to invest in Shopkins.

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Their Own Cooking

Jonathan Clements  |  April 17, 2015

I JUST PURCHASED a 2013 Honda CRV. I told the “sales consultant” that I was paying cash. He tried to convince me to take out an auto loan, but I explained that borrowing at 3.4% didn’t make sense when I had cash in a savings account earning 0.25%.
Next, he asked whether I had ever considered leasing. I replied that leasing can make sense if you want to drive a new car every three years—but getting a new vehicle every three years was an expensive habit and I planned on keeping the car far longer.

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Fees vs. Commissions

Jonathan Clements  |  April 13, 2015

I RECEIVED AN EMAIL yesterday from a broker in Texas with the subject line: “Why do you want to put good honest advisors out of business?” The broker argued that I was being unfair in favoring advisors who charge fees over brokers who charge commissions.
My response: “You’ve convinced me that you do a fine job for your clients. But there’s plenty of evidence that many advisors don’t. Their clients—to use your phrase—need to get ‘a fair shake.’ How can we improve the odds that,

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Breaking Even

Jonathan Clements  |  March 17, 2015

IT’S THE NEVER-ENDING debate: When should retirees claim Social Security? This piece, I hope, will at least serve to clarify the basic math involved.
Let’s dispense with a few preliminaries. If you have young children, it may be worth claiming at age 62, so your kids can receive family benefits. Meanwhile, if you’re married and you were the main breadwinner, it’s probably worth delaying benefits to age 70 to get the larger monthly check.

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It Pays to Delay

Jonathan Clements  |  March 9, 2015

AMONG EXPERTS on Social Security, there’s a broad consensus that most folks should delay Social Security to get a larger monthly check—and yet roughly half of retirees claim benefits at 62, the earliest possible age.
Many of these retirees, I suspect, take benefits right away because they need the money or they haven’t given the issue much thought. What about those who have wrestled with the topic and still insist that claiming at 62 is the right strategy?

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Farewell, Tom

Jonathan Clements  |  March 4, 2015

BESTSELLING AUTHOR Thomas J. Stanley died in a car accident over the weekend at age 71. His death has received scant publicity—which is surprising, given the popularity of his books and his impact on the way we think about money.
With co-author William Danko, Stanley wrote the 1996 blockbuster, The Millionaire Next Door. Who are the rich? It isn’t the folks with the flashy cars and designer clothes. Those aren’t signs of wealth.

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Take the Long View

Jonathan Clements  |  February 14, 2015

MOST OF US WILL enjoy wonderfully long lives. For those born in 2000, the average life expectancy at birth was age 80 for men and 84 for women. That’s a vast improvement since 1900, when life expectancy was age 52 for men and 58 for women.
The bad news: While men can now expect to live 28 years longer and women 26 years longer, the bulk of the improvement—20 years—came in the first half of the 20th century.

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Where There’s a Will

Jonathan Clements  |  February 11, 2015

ESTATE PLANNING is easy for most folks—but many don’t bother. Surveys regularly find that half of all adults don’t have a will. Yet a will, the right beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts and life insurance, and correct titling on property (such as the house you own jointly with your spouse with right of survivorship) are all most of us need.
Sure, there are other niceties, like drawing up durable powers of attorney for financial and health-care matters,

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Less Nonsense

Jonathan Clements  |  January 17, 2015

WALL STREET has changed remarkably during my three decades of writing and thinking about money—mostly for the better. For instance, financial advisors now earn an estimated 64% of their compensation from asset-based fees, rather than from commissions. That eliminates many of the worst conflicts-of-interest, including the incentive to churn a client’s account and sell products that pay the highest commission. Today, you also see many advisors making heavy use of index funds.
Along the way,

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Plus Ca Change

Jonathan Clements  |  January 8, 2015

WHAT COUNTS as good financial advice doesn’t change much from one year to the next. In 2014, you should have owned a globally diversified portfolio, kept investment costs low, avoided credit-card debt, maxed your 401(k) and avoided annuity salesmen. Ditto for 2015.
So why do folks read the business section every day, buy personal-finance books and subscribe to business magazines? There’s an entertainment aspect: We like feeling engaged with the wider world.
But there’s also a practical reason: Even if good financial advice doesn’t change much from one year to the next,

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Don’t Look Now

Jonathan Clements  |  December 20, 2014

IN OCTOBER, Lucinda and I spent a week in Venice. We rented an apartment with no wi-fi, so every day for 30 minutes we’d settle into a café with Internet access. While my wife dealt with work issues, I’d catch up on the news, check email, see how the markets were performing and look at the Amazon rankings for my various books.
There was nothing extraordinary about this—except that I was doing it just once a day.

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