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Rule Your World

I’VE NEVER BEEN a fan of financial planning rules of thumb. To understand why, consider a common shortcut for choosing an asset allocation: The allocation to bonds in a portfolio, according to this rule of thumb, should equal an investor’s age.

For example, if an investor is 65 years old, his or her allocation to bonds should be 65%. That sounds reasonable—until you realize that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is 65. Should he have the same asset allocation as everyone else his age?

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Cooling Off

TODAY’S STOCK MARKET reminds me of Charles Dickens’s famous line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
It’s the best of times, of course, because the market continues to hit new highs. From a low of 2,237 in March 2020, the S&P 500 has doubled. Over the 10 years through July, the S&P has delivered an average annual return of 15.4%, including dividends, far above the historical average of 10%.

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Why They Believe

THE 19TH CENTURY feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys doesn’t hold a candle to the debate between supporters of index funds and supporters of active management.
Those in the index fund camp cite decades of data—going back to the 1930s—to support their view that active management is a fool’s errand. In fact, Standard & Poor’s regularly publishes a study it calls SPIVA, short for S&P Index Versus Active. Each time, analysts there reach the same conclusion—that it’s exceedingly difficult for an actively managed fund to beat its benchmark.

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Wedding Gift

ON THE SURFACE, Social Security seems straightforward: During our working years, we pay into the system. Then, when we’re older, the government sends a check every month for life.
But scratch the surface and you’ll find that Social Security offers a number of additional benefits. Among them: a benefit for spouses. This can be highly valuable, but the rules around it are complex and very specific. Consider, for example, the late talk show host Johnny Carson.

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Not a Law of Nature

THE 4% RULE IS ONE of the best-known ideas in personal finance. But is it really a rule? And does it apply to you?

Let’s start at the beginning. The father of the 4% rule is a financial planner named William Bengen. Back in the early 1990s, he became frustrated with the prevailing rules of thumb for retirement planning. He found them too informal and set out to develop a more rigorous approach. The question he sought to answer: What percentage of a portfolio could a retiree safely withdraw each year?

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How to Lose Less

IF THERE’S ONE STORY that seems to have captured the investing public’s imagination this summer, it’s the revelation that venture capitalist Peter Thiel has managed to accumulate more than $5 billion in his Roth IRA—where it will be entirely tax-free to him.

In its reporting, ProPublica, the news outlet that carried the story, focused mostly on the tax aspects—the fact that Thiel was able to use his Roth IRA in such unusual ways. In my opinion,

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How to Choose

A FEW WEEKS BACK, I discussed some of the challenges with traditional long-term-care (LTC) insurance: In addition to steep and rising premiums, these policies are complex. Many policyholders have to contend with an annual renewal letter that presents a mind-numbing matrix of options.
But there’s more to it than that. Long-term care is also an emotional topic. There’s the expression that personal finance is more personal than it is finance. I’ve been reminded of that over the past few weeks,

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Why We Struggle

TODAY MARKS MY 200th article for HumbleDollar. Looking back, one recurring theme stands out: Managing our finances is, in a lot of ways, like managing our health.
Ask any doctor the recipe for good health and you’ll hear the same things: Exercise regularly, eat right, don’t smoke. It isn’t complicated—and yet it isn’t so simple. Environmental factors, genetics and bad luck conspire against us. Result: Even the most disciplined person isn’t guaranteed perfect health.

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Their Loss, Your Gain

LONG-TERM-CARE insurance policies are, in my opinion, both a blessing and a curse. They’re a blessing because they can help cover critical and costly care when a family might have no other financial options.
But they can also feel like a curse. That’s because of what many owners of traditional long-term-care (LTC) insurance refer to as “the letter.” This is the renewal letter that policyholders receive each year. These letters provide a menu of renewal options,

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Taking Precautions

THE FEDERAL RESERVE caught the market by surprise this past week. In fact, it seemed like Fed policymakers caught even themselves by surprise.

Previously, they had been forecasting that interest rates would stay near zero through 2023, on the assumption that inflation would remain manageable. But as the country has emerged from hibernation, inflation has run much hotter than expected. As a result, an increasing number of Fed officials now expect they’ll have to raise rates much sooner.

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Timing Those Taxes

TYPE THE WORDS “safe withdrawal rate” into Google and it’ll return more than a million results. I’m not surprised by this. People debate practically everything in personal finance, but the debate around this question is particularly intense.

For at least 25 years, the conventional wisdom has been that it’s safe for retirees to base portfolio withdrawals on the 4% rule. But not everyone agrees. Some feel that percentage should be higher, while others feel it ought to be lower.

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Taking Sides

WHEN IT COMES to financial questions, there are two common reasons people disagree. Sometimes, they disagree about the facts—whether, say, interest rates are headed higher. But sometimes, people disagree for another reason: They see the world through different lenses.

Last week, I mentioned that Ray Dalio, a prominent hedge fund manager, had recently said that bonds “have become stupid.” I disagreed, but not because of the facts. There’s no disputing the impact of today’s low rates.

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Portfolio Insurance

A TEL AVIV WOMAN named Anat decided to surprise her elderly mother with a gift. Noticing that her mother had been sleeping on the same worn-out mattress for decades, Anat replaced it while her mother was away from the house. She then took the old mattress out to the curb.
It wasn’t until the next morning that her mother noticed the change and asked what had happened to the old mattress. Anat explained that she had put it out with the trash,

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IRA Earns IRS Ire

LET ME TELL YOU about Alvan Bobrow. His tale—and specifically his lawsuit—are important for every investor to understand. That’s because the legal loophole he sought to exploit is now a pothole for everyone else.

The first thing to know about Bobrow: He’s a tax attorney and, back in 2008, he had a clever idea. In need of cash, he took a $65,000 distribution—the technical term for a withdrawal—from his IRA. Ordinarily, a distribution from an IRA (unless it’s a Roth IRA or includes nondeductible contributions) is treated entirely as taxable income.

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Four Reasons to Roth

CONGRESS IS BACK at it, aiming to change the tax laws again. Just since 2017, there’s been the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the SECURE Act and the CARES Act, each of which contained tax provisions, some very significant. As I type this, Congress and the White House are horse-trading on another round of changes.
Because new legislation is still being negotiated, I think it’s too soon to change your financial plan. But there’s one strategy that makes sense for a lot of people,

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