Beware the Fed


There is an old axiom on Wall Street:  “Don’t fight the Fed.”

The Federal Reserve holds an enormous amount of power over the economy.  While the President is usually blamed for a bad economy and praised for a good one, the fact is that the federal reserve actually has significantly more power over the state of the economy.

Despite the name, the Federal Reserve is not an institution of the Federal Government.  The Federal Reserve is made up of a board of bank executives from around the country — the “Governors” — with one individual chosen as the Chairman.  The Chairman is chosen by the President and confirmed by the Congress, but the post is meant to be non-political.  The group meets periodically to discuss the state of the economy and any action that should be taken.  The power of the Federal Reserve over the economy is so acute that the discussions held during the meetings are kept in secret with notes from the meeting only being released several months after they meet.

Often traders will move the stock market up or down before the Federal Reserve meets based on what they expect the group to decide.  If the group’s decision surprises the market, the stock market will often move up or down several percentage points.  The announcements made by the Federal Reserve are purposely made rather vague since they know the power of their words.


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The Federal Reserve controls the economy through two levers, the Discount Rate and the Fed Funds Rate.  The discount rate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discount_rate) is the amount that the Federal Reserve charges banks that borrow funds from it.  Generally, it is frowned upon for banks to borrow from the Federal Reserve directly and they generally get a scolding when they do so.  The exception is during the recent money crisis where borrowing from the discount window was encouraged since other sources of capital had dried up.

The Federal Funds Rate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fed_Funds_Rate) is the rate at which banks loan each other for overnight periods.  The Federal Reserve does not control the Fed Funds rate directly, but instead adds money to the economy or takes it away to affect the rate.  This is done by selling notes, which has the effect of removing money from the economy, or buying notes, which injects money into the economy.  Like anything else, the more money there is in the economy to lend, the lower the price for borrowing (therefore the lower the interest rate).

Because the bank’s costs of capital decrease when the rate at which they can obtain decreases, they also tend to lower the rates they charge.  This trickles up into the economy (except, interestingly, credit card rates), such that most rates tend to fall.  Because the rate savings accounts provide drops, bonds become more valuable, so their price tends to rise, dropping the amount of interest they provide.  Likewise, because the return of common stocks becomes more valuable, stock prices also tend to rise.

This is the reason to not “fight the Fed.”  When the Fed is lowering rates, it’s best not to be short, and when the Fed is raising rates, it’s best to prepare for a fall.  Note that in the early ’90’s, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to bring the economy out of the early 90’s recession.  The stock market took off first, followed by the economy.  President Clinton was credited with the good economy that followed, but it was all touched off by the Federal Reserve.

In the late 90’s, when inflation was starting to pick up and internet stocks were trading at ridiculous prices, Fed Chief Alan Greenspan warned of what he called “irrational exuberance.”  The Fed began raising rates to pick the ensuing bubble.  A few months later, the bubble burst and the early 2000 recession occurred.  President George Bush Junior was blamed for this recession, but the stock market had already started to fall before he took office because of the actions of the Federal Reserve.  Finally, just before the latest recession, the Federal Reserve, concerned about housing prices, began to raise rates to dampen the economy.  This caused the housing bubble to burst, leading to the current state.

The action of the Federal reserve typically takes half a year to have an effect.  It takes time for companies to start borrowing and hiring after rates are lowered.  Likewise, when the economy has a good head of steam it takes time for the wheels to grind to a halt.  The Federal Reserve set rates at near zero in 2008 and had been waiting for the economy to pick up.  It appears that there has finally started to be some growth, and the Feds are starting to slowly raise rates because they fear inflation picking up.  As they do so, it is likely to slow the economy and may cause stocks and bonds to fall, at least temporarily.

It would not be wise to fight the Fed.  If you have money invested that you need within a couple of years, it might be wise to take opportunities to sell.  If you are invested long-term, however, it would probably be better to just stay put.  You don’t know if the effects will be immediate or if there will be a great run-up through this New Years’ season as there often is.  If President Trump is able to get a tax cut through, that will also add fuel to the fire and you might miss out on a great advance in stock prices before the Fed’s effect is finally felt.  The effects of the Fed are temporary and matter little if you’re investing for 20 years.  Missing a big move up in stocks because you’re sitting on the sidelines will.

Have a question?  Please leave it in a comment.  Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Hedging Strategies to Protect Yourself Against a Market Drop


With the big run-up in stocks this year and many people expecting a pull-back or an outright bear market, perhaps you’re getting nervous and looking for ways to protect the gains you’ve made.  Hedging refers to taking positions that will reduce your loss should the market drop while still allowing for gains should the markets continue to perform well.  Today I thought I’d discuss some hedging strategies for those who are looking for a little protection.  Understand, however, that any hedging strategy you employ will reduce gains in the future.

In speaking about hedging we’ll assume that the investor is primarily long to start with, meaning that the investor will make money if the stocks he/she owns go up in price.  (When you buy a stock, bond, or mutual fund, you are “long.”  When you sell short or buy an option that goes up in price when a stock goes down, you’re “short.”)  Most people are long most of the time and this makes sense because the market’s long-term tendency is always up.  Being short for a long period of time would be like entering a turbulent river and expecting to travel mostly upstream.  Hedging a short position can also be done just by doing the compliment of the trades I describe.  For example, buying a call option instead of a put option.  (If you are not familiar with options, check out Options Trading: QuickStart Guide – The Simplified Beginner’s Guide To Options Trading or a similar book.)

One often associates hedging with risk, largely because of the term, “hedge fund” applied to the high risk/high return funds purchased by wealthy individuals.  These funds get their names because they can take long or short positions, but often these funds are not hedging.  Instead they are using large amounts of leverage to make large gains from relatively small movements in the markets.  This causes a substantial risk of losing money.  True hedging actually reduces risk.

To hedge is to take up positions that are designed to offset long positions, such that the investor will be less susceptible to losses due to falls in the market.  For those who play roulette, you would be hedging a bet of $100 on red by putting $50 on black as well.  You would be reducing the amount you would win if red were rolled since you would lose the bet on black, but you would also be reducing your loss should black be rolled since your small win on the black bet would reduce the loss on the red bet.   If an investor is perfectly hedged, he/she will not lose money no matter what the market does.  But by taking up these positions, one also limits or eliminates the possibility for making gains while the hedges are in effect.  The following are ways to hedge a long position:

Selling shares of the same stock short-  This is also called “selling short-against-the-box” and forms a perfect hedge provided that equal numbers of the shares are sold short as are held.  No matter the movements in the stock, no money will be gained or lost.  (Note that if the stock price goes up an investor would need to add cash to the account or pay margin fees, since this would result in  negative cash balances in the account).  Selling short-against-the-box has little purpose other than delaying gains from one year into the next for taxes.

Selling shares of other complimentary companies short-  In this strategy, the investor sells short shares of a company that he/she expects to decline if shares of the company he/she owns fall in price.  For example, if he owns McDonald’s, he might sell shares of Wendy’s short, figuring that is the market turns against fast food companies shares of both companies will fall.

Buying put options- A put option is a legal contract by which someone agrees to buy shares of a stock for a predefined price before a certain date.  This can be though of as an insurance contract on the shares of the stock.  In exchange for this agreement the owner of the shares gives the seller (called the writer) of the put a certain amount of money, called the “premium”.  For example, a put option for selling 100 shares of XYZ stock at 50, good for three months, might cost $300 when the price of XYZ was at $51 per share.

Writing covered calls on the stock–  Here a contract is written that allows another individual to purchase your shares for a fixed price.  This limits the amount the investor can make on the shares (since if they go up above the agreed to sales price they will be purchased for the sales price) but reduces losses somewhat if the shares decline in price due to the premium collected.

Buying short ETFs– This involves buying short exchange traded funds (ETF).  These are financial instruments that are designed to go in the opposite direction of a particular market segment or index.  For example, an owner of several mining companies might buy a short basic materials ETF as a hedge against a fall in commodities prices or a slowdown in goods production.

Selling a portion of the position The simplest way to guard against losses in a position is to simply sell some or all off the position, and is probably the best thing to do if you really need the money in the short-term since it is the most cost-effective way to be safe.  This, of course, reduces the possibility of future gains, however.

If you’re interested in individual stock buying and this strategy, I go into far more detail in my book, SmallIvy Book of Investing: Book1: Investing to Grow Wealthy.  Check it out at the link below if interested.

Have a question?  Please leave it in a comment.  Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

401K Changes that Would Work


IMG_0120401k plans are better than traditional pensions and way better than Social Security, if they are used correctly.  The issue is that they are not used correctly.  People are too timid and leave all of their money in the money market or treasury fund their entire careers, missing out of the growth they could have had if they had invested.  They don’t enter the plan until they are in their forties or fifties, or contribute far too little.  They are too aggressive when they are nearing retirement, usually because they are trying to make up time, and see a market crash wipe out half of their portfolio value right when they were ready to head out-the-door.  They borrow against their 401k plan, or take the money out entirely, and lose the effects of compounding.

These issues could be easily solved.  The reason they occur is the rules behind 401k plans that allow or even encourage behaviors that are destructive to the employees retirement.  People have no choice in the amount they contribute to Social Security or pension plans.  The employer or the government dictates how much of the employee’s pay is contributed and how much they provide.  And at least with Social Security, you have no choice but to participate.  You are enrolled whether you like it or not.  Employees can choose not to enter the pension plan at some companies, but most realize that they should and they do enroll.  Likewise, you can’t borrow against your pension plan or Social Security or take it out early.  In the case of pension plans, they are invested in a mix of stocks and income investments in a manner that is appropriate for the goals of the plan and the payouts that must be made.

The sad part is, if people were to put all of the money they are putting into Social Security (about 13% of their paycheck) into a 401k plan and invested it properly, everyone who worked their whole life would be set for retirement.  There would be no issue paying for living expenses and medical bills.  The senior discount would vanish since most seniors would be multi-millionaires.  Unfortunately, people don’t think about their futures and plan.  They either see the big pile of cash they’ll need to build up to have  comfortable retirement as being either too difficult to achieve or retirement too far out in the future, so they sabotage themselves.  Much as I hate to see central government planing and control, some regulation is needed to nudge people in the right direction.  Unlike Social Security, where the government has proven that they’ll just squander any money given to them, however, government involvement should only extend to preventing people from drawing the money out to soon, not enrolling at all or not contributing enough,  or investing the money in a way that is too timid early or too aggressive late.  Here are some regulations that would make 401k plans the path to comfortable retirement for all:

1.  Required enrollment.

Employees should be required to contribute at least 5% of their pay to a 401k plan to ensure they’re putting enough away for at least a basic retirement.  While I hate to force people to do anything, it is for the good of society to not have a group of destitute retirees.  As an incentive to contribute more, the rules could eliminate the need to make a Social Security contribution if at least 10% of an employee’s paycheck is being contributed to a 401k, between the employee’s contribution and the employer’s.

2.  Forbid withdrawals until age 62, then limit withdrawals until age 70.

There is no good reason for people to be pulling their retirement savings out early, and again, doing so subjects society to the burden of carrying a lot of destitute old people.  No withdrawals should be allowed until the employee has reached at least the age of 62 (which also encourages people to work longer and reduce the number of years they’ll need to be supporting themselves with their savings).  To prevent people from pulling all of the money out at age 62 and blowing it, they should only be able to pull out a portion, like 5%, each year until they are age 70.  Hopefully by that point they will have learned that it is a good thing to take the money out slowly since then the account has the ability to recover and generate more money and they’ll continue that behavior from then into old age.

3.  Eliminate borrowing of funds.

Just as funds should not be withdrawn, they should not be borrowed.  If people want to pay down credit cards, start a business, or upgrade their home, they should find the money elsewhere than their retirement savings.  People shouldn’t live beyond their means at the expense of their retirement funds.

4.  Remove the money market option for those under age 58.

There is zero reason for anyone to have a dime in a money market fund within a 401k account until they are getting close to using the money.  Removing this option would force employees to invest the money, which would allow the money to grow and prevent inflation from reducing their spending power in retirement.

5.  Require a professional money management option.

Most people know little about investing.  An option where a professional money manager just invests the money for employees should be included.  This would be similar to a traditional pension plan, except the money manager could invest for groups of employees separated into different age brackets instead of investing everything as one big account.  Because there would just be a few, large accounts (maybe three), instead of a lot of little accounts to manage, and because the manager would be investing in mutual funds instead of individual stocks, the cost would not be very much.

6.  Limit the contribution of company stock by employers.

Some employers like to issue company stock as their contribution instead of giving cash because cash is more precious.  This puts an employee in a risky position since he/she then has a big position in one company – their employer’s.  They could both lose a job and see their 401k decimated should the company misread market conditions.   A reasonable limit, such as 1% of salary, should be placed on the amount of company stock that can be issued by a company for a 401k contribution.  Alternatively, require a company match at least 5% of salary with cash before issuing stock so that the employee at least has 10% of his/her salary going into the 401k in a diversified manner before concentrating in company stock.  Employees should also be able to sell shares that a company distributes to them immediately and shift the money into mutual funds where it will be appropriately diversified.

7.  Require low-cost index fund options in each plan.

Research has shown that low-cost, passive funds will beat out high cost, actively managed funds over time.  Unfortunately, some employers only have high cost funds available.  Every 401k plan should at least have the choice of a large cap, small cap, international, and bond index fund in their investment mix.

8.  Auto-enroll employees in a target date retirement fund.

Even when they do enroll (usually through automated enrollment), many employees tend to wait to get into their 401k plans and make their investment choices, sometimes for years.  Currently, many 401k plans auto-enroll employees in a money market fund, meaning they are losing money to inflation until they shift the money somewhere better.  Instead, they should be auti enrolled in a target date retirement fund so that at least they’ll have a reasonably good investment plan until they get the time and motivation to take a little more active role.

To ask a question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing

Will the Republican Party Be Changed this Time?


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I was eight years-old when Ronald Reagan was first elected.  Like Donald Trump, he was an outsider, elected after years of a dismal economy under a President who tried Liberal policy after Liberal policy to fix it, only making.  Like with Donald Trump’s predecessor, many of the actions Reagan’s predecessor was taking were probably keeping the economy in the doldrums.

The effect of President Reagan’s presidency on my generation was enormous.  We saw that the Conservative, free-market principles, really worked.  If you cut taxes, the economy would surge as people worked more.  There were jobs everywhere because light regulations allowed businesses to do productive things instead of fill out reams of paperwork and businesses actually wanted to be located in the US.  We learned that if you gave people the freedom to take care of themselves, they mostly would.

Then came George H.W. Bush.  America returned from an outsider to a party insider.  We then started seeing typical Republican actions – talking about free markets and lower regulations, but not really fighting to reduce regulations and government influence in the markets.  He even reluctantly went along with the Democratic Congress and raised taxes after his famous, “Read my lips” statement in the debate.

Under President Clinton we of course saw taxes raised a great deal and all sorts of new regulations come into play.  We saw something interesting under Clinton, however, largely due to the push from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress elected under the Contract with America pledge.  We saw a requirement that those on welfare, who were able, go back to work.  I remember hearing stories of women who had gone into the workforce after knowing only welfare saying that they had dignity for the first time in their lives.  The other thing that was striking was something I didn’t realize until Bill Clinton mentioned it in a speech he was giving at the 2008 Democratic Convention for Barack Obama – that everyone was working in the late 1990s, and the economy was on fire.  I came to realize that a side effect of getting everyone to work is that you have a lot more things being produced, meaning there is more wealth to go around.

With the second George Bush, again we saw the typical Republican talk about free-enterprise but no a lot of fight for free markets.  We even saw regulation of the light bulb – phasing out twenty-five cent incandescent bulbs for $3 CFLs and $10 LEDs.  When the mortgage meltdown came in the end of 2008, rather than seeing the government simply support the money markets and protecting depositors as they could have done, we saw the government bailing out the large banks and insurance companies.  The people who made the bad mistakes kept their companies and their jobs, while the taxpayer was left holding the bag.  This was clearly crony capitalism, not free-enterprise.

Now, like Reagan, we have an outsider.  In fact, Donald Trump is even more of an outsider than Reagan since Ronald Reagan was at least Governor of California before he became President of the United States.  Trump has never held an ected office or even been an officer in the military – a first for America.  Donald Trump talks about using free enterprise principles – low taxes, reducing regulation, reducing the cost to repatriate money from overseas — to help those in America who have been exploited by the Democrats and ignored by the Republicans.  Hopefully he will do as he promises and the Republicans in the House and Senate won’t block him.  And, hopefully,  Republicans will see the support he has gotten despite not being the most elegant speaker or tactful politician and realize that really using free-enterprise principles is the path to a strong economy.  And that is the path to keeping the Presidency.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Teaching Personal Finance in School


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A dyed red-haired rapper criticizes the public education system in a viral YouTube video, “Don’t Stay in School“.  Looking back at my education, I remember learning the capitals of the states for no apparent reason.  Other than watching Jeopardy, I’ve never used this information.  Now my children are also learning the capitols, again for no reason.  With search engines this information is even more useless than when I was in school.

If we replace the teaching of useless and pointless things like this, or maybe the learning of the three types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic), we would have time to teach children a lot of really important things for their lives like personal finance.  Much of the information about personal finance that keeps people from making bad decisions was not taught to their parents, which is one reason we see so many people buying new cars every three years or running up debt on 19% interest credit cards.  Here are some lessons that should be taught in schools instead of, say, the types of clouds.

The rule of 72.  If you take 72 and divide by an interest rate, that will tell you how long it will take an investment to double at that rate.  For example, if you put your money into a CD paying 4% interest, you will double your money about every 72/4 = 15.5 years.  Double that rate to 8% by investing in bonds and you’ll double your money about every 72/8 = nine years.  You get a better return because you’re taking on a little more risk since the bond issuer could default.  Go into stocks, which have a variable return, but one that averages around 12% annualized if you hold them for at least 20 years and you will double your money every six years or so.  If you invest your money for 30 years, $1000 will turn into $4,000 in bank CDs, $8,000 in bonds, and $32,000 in stocks.  That’s something worth learning.

The rule of 72 works the other way as well.  If you are taking out a home mortgage at 8%, you will pay in interest about every nine years about the amount of principle that is not paid off during that time. Because you pay back very little of the principle during the first two-thirds of a mortgage, if you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage, you’ll pay about $160,000 in interest during the first nine years and still owe about $180,000 on the loan, as if your payments just vanished.  Over the life of the loan, you’ll pay about $530,000 for that $200,000 mortgage.  If you use the rule of 72 and assume you’ll owe about the full loan value for the first 18 years and then a little over half of the mortgage value for the last twelve years or so, you would estimate paying $200,000 for the first and second nine-year period, then a little of $100,000 for the last 12 year period, which is pretty close to the $530,000 paid.  If you get a 15-year loan instead, you could estimate about $200,000 for the first nine years and then a bit more than $100,000 for the next six years.  The true amount you’d pay would be about $344,000 – fairly close to your estimate of a bit more than $300,000.

Note if you keep a credit card balance and are paying 15% interest, the rule of 72 tells you that you’ll be paying the full value of the balance in interest every five years.  If you keep a $10,000 balance on your cards, you’ll be paying $10,000 every five years or about $2,000 per year in interest.  That is a paycheck or two for many people, meaning you’re working a month of your life per year just to pay interest on your credit cards.  Maybe if people learned this in school, they would be more leery of whipping out the plastic for a vacation.

The power of extra payments.  And speaking of home mortgages, here’s a little trick that is not taught in school that would be very valuable.  If you look at your mortgage pay-off plan, you can determine how many payments you could remove from the loan by making an extra payment.  For example, in year one of a 30-year loan on $200,000 at 4% interest, you’ll be paying about $3,500 in principle and $8,000 in interest.  Monthly this is about $300 in principle and $670 in interest each month, for a payment of about $970 per month.  If you paid an extra $300 in a month (the amount of the principle paid each month), you would be eliminating one mortgage payment, saving yourself $970.  Pay an extra payment, and you’re eliminating about three payments, or $3,000.  If you make an extra payment during the last year of the loan, you’d only be saving about $60 since at that point your payments are going mainly to principle.  By looking at the amount of principle you are paying off each month, you can see how powerful making extra payments is.  Early in the loan (and the higher the interest rate you’re paying), extra payments are very powerful and well worth the money.  Later on, not so much.  Maybe if people knew this, they would try to hit the loans hard during the first several years and save hundreds of thousands of dollars.  People often get serious about paying off their loan at the end, but by that point, most of the damage has been done any you might be better off to invest the money.

Small amounts add up.  Let’s say you run by Starbucks every working morning and drop $6 on a sugary coffee drink.  If instead you made a cup of coffee at home for essentially free (compared to $6 per cup) and invested the money, you would be investing about $150 per month or $1,800 per year.  Invested in mutual funds, making 10% annualized over 30 years, you’ll have about $330,000.  That is enough to send a child or two (or three) to college.  So, just by changing your morning routine and making expensive coffee drinks an occasional luxury rather than a daily routine, you can pay for college.  Imagine how different things would be if almost everyone did this.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Financial Options for Paying for Retirement


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So perhaps you’ve been saving and investing for years, and now retirement is in your sights.  The question now is, “How do I use the money in my retirement accounts and other savings to pay for things in retirement?”  Today I thought I’d discuss some considerations and ideas.

How much income can I receive each month?

The first consideration is how much spending money will you have in retirement.   This information might also point to the need for a part-time job or other source of income in retirement.  A fairly good rule-of thumb is that you can withdraw about 3-4% of your net worth per year from your retirement account without the value declining in value in real-dollar terms.  (Here “real dollar” means dollars adjusted for inflation so that you’ll have the same amount of spending power as the years go on.)  If you withdraw more than this, you will be spending your portfolio over time and eventually run out of money, assuming you live long enough.

For example, let’s say you have a portfolio (401k, IRA, savings, etc…) totaling $750,000.   You would be able to spend about 0.03*750,000 =  $22,500 per year without seeing the value of the portfolio decline and be able to leave your heirs about the same amount of money when you died.  Monthly this would be about $1875.  If you were just paying for a family of two, had the house paid off, drove old cars, and didn’t do much, this might be sufficient.  If you wanted a bit more of a lifestyle, you might need to work a part-time job to help with expenses.  You could also consider options such as selling your home and downsizing to increase the investment portion of your net worth.  If you pulled out $40,000 per year, the value would decline over time, meaning you might run into an issue in your 80’s or 90’s.

How can I generate the income I need?

The second aspect is how you use the money in your portfolio to generate the cash needed to pay for living expenses.  Here there are basically three options:  1)  Invest a portion of the portfolio in income producing assets to generate regular payment, 2) Sell some assets each year to raise cash, and 3) Buy an annuity to pay the income you need.  Let’s look at each of those options.

1.  Invest a portion of the portfolio in income-producing assets to generate income.

This is the traditional way of generating income for expenses.  It works well in times when interest rates are fairly high (not the current period).  Many people simply invested in bank CDs to generate income, but while the dollar value of bank CDs remains constant, value will be lost to inflation each year, plus the rate of return will always be lower than other options like bonds, real estate, and dividend-paying stocks.  You can choose this option if interest rates are sufficiently high to generate the income you’ll need and you’ll have enough left over to invest in growth assets like stocks to prevent inflation from reducing your rate-of-return in the future.

Typically the percentage of income investments when you retire should be around 50%, so if you can generate enough income from bonds and dividend-paying stocks using about half of your portfolio or less, while investing the remainder in growth stocks that will increase in value with time. this could be a good option.  Note that as you age, you would shift a greater percentage of your assets to income assets to increase the amount of income you receive each month to account for inflation.  When you were 80, you might be 70-80% in bonds and 20% in growth stocks.  You could buy individual. stocks and bonds, but it is usually easier to buy an income fund.  Also note that the higher the return you’re receiving, the higher the risk you’re taking.  It is generally a good idea to spread the risk out between safer, lower paying bonds and more risky, higher paying bonds.

2.   Sell some assets each year to raise cash.

The first strategy is probably best if you have just enough money to generate income for retirement.  If you have more than enough, you might still put a portion in bonds to help smooth out the volatility (having about 20% in bonds will greatly reduce the price level of value fluctuations in your portfolio without greatly affecting your total return), but plan on selling assets each year to raise cash for expenses.  Because growth stocks will provide greater returns than bonds and income stocks over long periods of time, this will provide more money to use in retirement and/or pass on to the next generation.  There will be volatility, however, so you need to have enough of a cushion to weather most market downturns that may occur.  This means you really should have at least twice the portfolio value required to generate the income level you really need since a 50% decline in stocks over a short period is not common, but it does happen once-in-a-while.

Part of using this strategy involves using cash to provide the money you need during the years when the market declines and you need to wait for the market to recover before selling more shares.  Since the market usually recovers within a year or less (although there are exceptions like the Great Depression), having a cash cushion will usually provide the time you need to avoid selling shares too cheaply and locking in losses.  Since having a loss over a five-year period is almost unheard of, having between three and five years’ worth of cash is a conservative strategy.  (Note “cash” here means bank CDs and money market funds – not $100’s in your mattress.)

If using this strategy, some level of opportunism should be used.  If there are years when the markets do really well, use the opportunity to raise some cash.  In years when the markets decline, maybe wait to sell unless your cash drops below some threshold, for example, 2 years’ worth of expenses.

3.  Buy and Annuity to provide a monthly payment.

When you buy an annuity, an insurance company invests your money and pays you a guaranteed amount per month for the rest of your life (or some other period depending on the terms of the annuity).  Because the insurance company wants to make money, they will always pay you less than the amount you could have received if you had just invested it yourself using strategies 1 or 2 above.  The difference is that the rate-of-return each year would vary if you invested yourself, where it would be guaranteed (provided the insurance company didn’t default) with the annuity.  The insurance company would get variable returns by investing your money, but make a higher return overall, where you would get a lower, but fixed (guaranteed) return.

Clearly, annuities have drawbacks.  The income they pay is often fixed in dollar terms, so your buying power may decline over the years due to inflation.  If you die young, your money may be gone so you may not have anything to leave heirs.  As stated above, you will not, on average, do as well with an annuity as you will do investing yourself (assuming you invest appropriately).  The exception may be if you live a really long time, but for everyone who lives exceptionally long, someone dies exceptionally early.

If you do choose to buy an annuity, avoid the fancy annuities that promise things like additional returns based on the market performance or other bells and whistles.  Just buy a simple annuity that pays a fixed amount (perhaps indexed to inflation), either immediately or at a certain age (if you’re worried about running out of money late in life) .    If you want to also get some market returns, hold back some cash and invest it yourself outside of the annuity.

Note finally that there is no reason to just choose one of these strategies.  You can mix and match them.  You could buy bonds and income stocks to generate some income, but also sell some stocks to raise cash to supplement what the bonds were paying, particularly in times like now when bonds aren’t paying much.   You could also buy an annuity to pay for something critical like food and basic necessities, then use bonds and growth stock sales to pay for luxuries like travel and home improvements.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Time to Buy Energy?


IMG_0123There are two fundamental strategies to stock selection – growth and value.  With growth you try to find the stocks in companies that are expanding and will continue to do so for many years.  You profit when the company grows and their share price increases along with the growth.  Eventually they’ll also pay a dividend that will increase in value each year, providing income maybe ten to twenty years down the road.

The second type of investing, value investing, involves picking stocks that are beaten down in value, and therefore are cheap compared to where they should be in price.  Generally the best thing to do is to find industries that are out-of-favor and select stocks within that industry, rather than buying individual stocks that are having issues.  If a whole industry is declining, good and bad stocks will all decline in price.  When the industry recovers, so will most of the stocks within that industry.  In fact, the companies that emerge will do better than they were doing during the last boom time since the weaker companies will have vanished, leaving market share for the survivors to grab up.

If an individual stock is falling because of issues at the company, however, there may be systematic issues with the company.  Many of these companies will take years to recover, and may disappear entirely.  One example in my portfolio where this happened was with Pacific Sunwear, which I had bought at $20 per share, then again at $2 per share once the price had dropped, thinking that they were cheap enough to be worth taking the risk  and waiting for a recovery.  In that case they over-expanded and the taste for their products turned.  Since that point the whole company has filed for bankruptcy.  The company had systematic issues that didn’t disappear with a turn in the economy.

Right now an interesting place to be from a value investing standpoint is energy.  I held a few oil and gas companies just when the energy market peaked about a year ago, leading to some big losses.  I mistakenly decided that I wanted a hedge against inflation and energy seem like a good inflation hedge, so I bought in, right near the top.  The price of oil then dropped through the floor, taking many of my investments down 80% or more.

I sold many of the companies I had purchased, such as Oasis Petroleum and Ensco PLC, since I didn’t see them coming back for a long time.   Others, however, like Greenbriar and Cameco, still seemed like good places to be as a long-term investment.   Greenbriar makes rail cars and was doing well during the oil boom because of all the oil that is shipped by rail.  They also have business beyond oil, however, so they should do well in any booming economy where a lot of things are being shipped.  I therefore bought more shares after the fall and plan to sit on them for several years, waiting for the recovery.

Cameco is the world’s largest uranium producer.  They were hurt both by low oil prices and by the Japanese nuclear accident.  Nuclear power, however, is the only currently viable energy source that doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, and with many countries imposing carbon taxes and other measures to reduce CO2 production, nuclear may become much more popular.  I therefore bought more shares of Cameco after the fall.

These are not short-term position.   It takes time for industries to recover.  Over long periods of time, however, mixing in a few value positions with growth positions can pay off well.  We’ll see what happens for me with these two positions.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Good HSA Investing Can Let You Retire Early


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If you are fortunate enough to have a Health Savings Account, or HSA, you might be able to retire earlier than a lot of your peers.  Many people have the money to retire by their late fifties, but they hold out a few more years because they’re worried about losing their health insurance before they become eligible for Medicare.  If you invest properly in an HSA starting when you’re young, you might have the cash needed to carry you through to the time you’re eligible for Medicare and beyond, allowing you to retire on your timetable.

This is even assuming Medicare will still be there when you’re ready to retire.  The actuaries for Medicare have been warning for years that the system is running out of money and will either need an infusion from Congress/taxpayers or it will need to start cutting benefits.  This makes even the more reason to beef up your HSA.

So let’s look at the basics of an HSA and then talk about how to contribute and invest in an HSA to have the money you’ll need for medical expenses later in life.

What is an HSA?

A Health Savings Account, or HSA, is a private account that you can use for medical expenses, including paying the doctor, paying for labs and x-rays, and paying for prescription drugs.  You can also use an HSA to pay for COBRA continuation of insurance if you lose a job.  This means that if you are laid off or see your hours drastically cut, you can continue to get the same healthcare insurance for a period of time (currently 18 months, but always check this since it can change) so long as you are willing to pay both your part and the portion your employer was paying before.  So, having a well-funded HSA can help protect you from an unexpected job loss even years before you retire by providing the money needed to pay for COBRA coverage.  Unfortunately, it cannot (at this time) be used to pay for private insurance.

When you use your HSA to pay for qualified medical expenses (things like those listed above), you don’t need to pay taxes on the withdrawals from the HSA.  If you buy other things, you may need to pay some taxes.

Who can start an HSA?

Basically you can start an HSA if you have an employer who provides one, which means that your employer offers a high-deductible health insurance plan option.  The idea is to encourage employees to choose a plan with a high deductible by also having an account from which they can pay for expenses before meeting their deductible.

How does an HSA get funded?

Many employers fund part of the HSA for you as further incentive to choose the option.   In addition, you are able to contribute some of your own money from your paycheck to fund the HSA.  There are limits on how much you can contribute, so check the laws before proceeding.

Why would you want to contribute to an HSA?

If you pay for medical expenses out-of-pocket, you’ll be spending money on which you will have already paid taxes.  You can deduct medical expenses from your taxes, but only above a really high threshold that most people do not meet.  If you instead put the money into an HSA, then pay for medical expenses out of the HSA, you will not pay taxes on the money deposited from the first dollar.  So, if you are in the 15% tax bracket, this is like the government paying for 15% of your medical bills.  In fact, you don’t have to spend the money on medical bills during the year in which you make the contributions to see the savings.  As soon as you put the money into your HSA, you can deduct the contribution from your taxes, while letting the money stay in the HSA until you need it.

Why would you want to invest in an HSA?

In addition not paying taxes on the money you put in, money from interest or capital gains earned inside of the HSA will be tax-free if used on qualified medical expenses.  This means that you can put $2,000 in an HSA today, invest it in stock mutual funds for 20 years, and maybe then have $16,000 or so that you can spend on medical expenses, all tax-free.  Put in $10,000 today and you might have $80,000 later, and so on.  That $10,000 invested in your early twenties for 40 years might provide around $650,000 in your early sixties, which is enough to pay for some significant medical events even without insurance.  Double the amount you contribute and you’ll have over a million dollars available.

And that’s the part that might help you retire early.  If you have enough saved up in an account to self-insure for the unlikely event that you’ll have a major medical event during the three or four years between retirement and Medicare, you may be able to take the risk.  If before you retire the requirement in the Affordable Care Act is repealed that prevents the sale of catastrophic, major medical insurance , that would be even better since then you could buy inexpensive insurance to pay for the unlikely event that a major surgery will be needed and just self-insure for the more minor events.   The nice part about investing money for medical expenses in an HSA instead of just putting money into an IRA for retirement is that you can spend it tax-free on medical expenses before retirement age.  This provides protection and options for you that an IRA will not.

How should you invest the money inside an HSA?

In investing, you need to look at how soon you’ll need the money.  Money you’ll need (or have a reasonable chance of needing) within the next three years or so should be kept in cash.  Money that may be needed in 3-10 years you should be invested in a mix of stocks and bonds.  The higher the percentage of bonds (up to 80%), the more stable your account balance will be but the lower your return.  Money you don’t need for ten, fifteen, or twenty years or more should probably be invested almost entirely in stocks since they’ll offer the best return and protect your money from inflation.

Cash:  So first look at your deductible and multiply by three to estimate how much money you may need to pay out-of-pocket for medical expenses in the next three years.  Then look at your income and free cash flow and decide how much of those expenses you could cover from your paychecks if needed.  Plan to keep the amount beyond what you could cover from your income in cash so that you’ll be ready for near-term medical needs.  For example, if you have a $5,000 deductible and plan to cover $2500 per year from your salary, you’d need to keep 3 x $2500 = $7500 in cash inside the HSA.  For the first couple of years after you open the HSA, you’ll probably just be building up cash.  Investing comes a little later.

Bonds/fixed income assets: Figure out next what your deductible will be for seven years.  When doing this, assume that your deductible will increase by 10% each year for each of those seven years.  For example, if you have a $5,000 deductible now, use that value for the first year, then multiply by 1.1 for each year afterwards to get $5,500, $6050, $6655, $7320, $8052, and $8858, for a total of about $47,500 over the seven-year period.   Plan to keep about half this amount in bonds and the other half in stocks.  This will result in that portion of your portfolio being fairly stable in value while enjoying modest growth.  In years when the market really falls like 2008, this portion of your account may fall about 15% while the stock market as a whole falls 40%.  In years like 2009 when stocks go up 30%, this portion of your portfolio might gain 15-20%.  This will nearly ensure that you’ll be able to generate the cash you’ll need to meet your deductible in the period 3-10 years from now.

For the first ten years or so after you start an HSA,  you’ll probably not have this much to invest.  Just start by building up the amount of cash you’ll need from the section above,  Once you’ve got enough cash, start buying half bonds and income funds/half stocks and growth funds as you contribute more money.  As far as selecting particular funds goes, you’ll want to just buy an income fund that buys the whole market –  all types of bonds and some dividend paying stocks if possible.  For the stock portion, split between funds that invest in large and small caps 50/50 or just buy a whole market stock fund.  When choosing funds, get the ones with the lowest fees you can find.  If you can find passive funds – those that invest based on a strategy rather than hiring managers to choose investments – that is normally the lowest-cost option.

Stocks/growth assets:  Once you’ve invested enough to cover yourself for ten years out, you’re ready to invest any additional funds for long-term growth.  Here you’ll want to buy a mixture of large cap and small cap stocks, while skewing slightly towards small caps.  For example, you could put 40% in a large growth stock fund and 60% in a small growth stock fund.  If you have the option to buy into an REIT fund, which invests in real estate, you could add this to the mix with maybe a 20% REIT, 50% small cap, 30% large cap allocation.

As with everything, this will start slow with only a small amount invested in your HSA.  After sticking to the plan for many years, however, suddenly the value will explode.  You’ll be surprised at how much money your investments are generating and how easy it is to cover your deductible and medical expenses each year.  Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of money to cover medical expenses.  You’ll then have a lot more freedom and a lot more options.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How to Do Taxes Like Donald Trump


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Much ado was made about Donald Trump’s tax return where he lost close to a billion dollars in one year. The speculation was that he might have not paid taxes for the next 18 years.  The fact is, we really don’t know from that one return whether he paid taxes or not for the next 18 years.  If he made a profit of a billion dollars the next year, he would have been paying taxes from the following year onwards.  He just would be allowed to use the loss in 1995 to offset gains for up to 18 years due to the tax laws.

Unfair?  Unpatriotic?  Hardly.  The issue is that we have an income tax in America, which taxes, well, income.  If you have lots of income, you pay lots of taxes.  If you have little income, you pay little taxes.  People have decided that you should pay more (a greater percentage in taxes) if you make lots of income because 1) you can afford to do so, 2) somehow you are evil and should be punished if you make lots of income, and 3) everyone else deserves some of your money since you make so much.  This is a called a progressive tax code that charges one percentage for the first so many thousand dollars, then a higher percentage for the next so many thousands, and so on.  For those who make a lot of money, they only get something like forty cents for each additional dollar they earn.  Note this probably doesn’t encourage business owners to stay in the office and work a few more hours to open additional factories and create more jobs since they will only get to keep forty cents on the dollar once they reach the income threshold.  This means fewer jobs may be created because of the tax code.  It also really encourages high-income individuals to find ways to pay less in taxes.

Part of the income tax code, because it taxes income, is that you only pay taxes on your net income, when you make income.  Your net income, for an investor, is the amount you gain when you sell stocks or other assets.  You don’t pay taxes while you still own the stocks, buildings, etc…, even if they go up in value during the year, because you don’t have access to the money – it’s only on paper.  At the end of the year you add up all of the gains for the stocks you sold for a gain (those you sold for a higher price than you paid).  You then add up all of the losses from the stocks you sold at a loss (you got less back than you paid).  You subtract the total loss from the total gain, and that is your income – money you have that you didn’t before.  You pay taxes on that amount.  Even if you make a billion dollars on your gains, if you lose a billion dollars on other stocks you sell at a loss in the same year, your net income is zero and you pay no taxes.

For example, let’s say you have 1000 shares of XYZ stock that you bought at $10 a couple of years ago.  You decide to sell the shares because they’re now at $20 per share, making a profit of $10,000.  The same year, you sell 400 shares of ABC stock that you bought at $40 per share, which are now trading at $20 per share, taking a $8,000 loss.  In total, you have made $2,000 because you made $10,000 on one transaction but lost $8,000 on another.  In the end, you have $2,000 more in your pocket, not $10,000.

But let’s say that you had another stock, DEF, and you also had a loss of $10,000 on that stock.  Now you have a net loss for the year of $8,000.  Because you have no income that year, you pay no taxes, as Trump did in 1995.  But let’s say that the next year you sell a stock and make $12,000.  You really have only gained $4,000 since you lost $8,000 the previous year.  It would, therefore, be unfair that you needed to pay taxes on a $12,000 income when you were only $4,000 ahead over the two years.  The tax law, therefore, lets you roll the loss for the previous year forward and use it against the gain you make the next year.  You really only made $4,000, so you only pay taxes on the $4,000 gain.  Trump, therefore, would not need to pay taxes again until he had made at least enough in profits over the next several years to offset the billion dollar loss he took in 1995.  In other words, he did not pay taxes until he actually made income – fair enough.

Trump said that he didn’t pay taxes because he was “smart.”  He was being smart, and you should be too.  Here’s what he probably did, as should any investor:

Note:  This assessment of the tax code is believed to be true at the time this is written.  Before you do anything, verify the following statements against the tax code since things do change or, better yet, check with an accountant.

  1.  When you need to sell stocks to raise money for something, look at your gains and losses.
  2. Try to pair gains and losses together so that they offset each other.  For example, if you need to raise $50,000, and you have a stock worth $25,000 with a $10,000 gain, and you have another stock worth $25,000 with a $11,000 loss, sell them both together in the same tax year.  That way you won’t pay taxes on the gain while you have a big loss sitting in your portfolio.
  3. Remember that you can also deduct up to $3,000 in stock losses against regular income.  In the example above, the extra $1,000 in losses could be deducted from income for the year.
  4. DO NOT sell a stock at a loss and then buy it back within 30 days.  Likewise, don’t sell a stock at a loss if you’ve bought more shares of the same stock within 30 days.  This is called a wash sale, and you probably won’t be able to deduct the loss if you do so.  The same holds true if you buy something “substantially equivalent” to the thing you took the loss on (for example, you take a loss on a Vanguard S&P500 fund and then buy shares in the SPDRs within 30 days).
  5. Note you can take gains and then buy shares back immediately all you want.  You might want to do this if you sell a big loser and have a big gainer in your portfolio that you want to keep.  Sell them together, then buy back the shares of the gainer immediately to reset your cost basis.  Note you could have also rolled the loss forward into future years if you had not sold the gainer, but this might make your taxes simpler to just take the gain and the loss together.

Other smart things to do:

  1.  Put stocks that pay dividends and bonds (which pay interest) into tax deferred or tax-free accounts like IRAs and 401k plans so that the income and dividends won’t be taxed every year.
  2. Fill your taxable accounts with mainly long-term growth stocks (or index funds) which will not generate a lot of income until you sell them.  Note this rule only applies if you do not need current income for expenses.  If you’re living off of your investment account in retirement, it might be better to be living from the income in your taxable account while your 401k continues to grow.

So there you have the secrets of Trump.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Is a Roth 401k Better than a Traditional 401k?


IMG_0120We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom.  If you have an old, stodgy traditional IRA you should convert to a snazzy new Roth IRA.  There is now even a new Roth 401k.  Sure, you’ll need to pay all of the taxes since the money was initially invested tax-deferred and the conversion requires that the taxes be paid immediately.  For an account of $100,000 this could mean a tax bill of $20,000 or more.  But it will be worth it in the long-term, right?

Well, maybe.  It is true in general that if you are investing for a long time before retirement, the mathematics show that a Roth IRA , where after-tax funds grow tax-free, will do better than investing in a traditional IRA where funds are not taxed until withdrawn from the account at retirement.  This is true even if you invest the tax savings (the money that would have gone to taxes) in a taxable investment account rather than spend it.  This is because the large amount of growth in the IRA will not be taxed, so when you are withdrawing your millions later, because you paid the taxes on the thousands you put into it now, you will end up with more money.

But those making the above calculations leave out some important factors.  First of all, they assume that you are investing for a long time period, such that the money you put into the Roth IRA will have years to grow, compounding ad nosiuem such that the amount gained from interest and capital gains will far exceed the funds deposited.  If you are putting funds into an IRA for a shorter period of time — 10 years before retirement, for example — it may be better to put the funds into a traditional IRA.  This is because the money has little time to grow (15 years or so), and if your withdrawals are small enough, you may be in a higher tax bracket when you are making the money than when you are withdrawing it.  It may therefore make sense to make tax-free Roth IRA contributions early in one’s career when in a lower tax bracket and with many years before retirement, and then make increased tax-deferred contributions into a 401K or Traditional IRA when near retirement.

The second big factor that is left out of the calculation is politics and all of the things that can happen in thirty or forty years.  Because the rules can be changed at any time at the whim of the legislature, your calculations may be meaningless.  This is particularly true with the current demographics.  We have a large percentage of the population who have saved nothing for retirement, and a few people who have saved a great deal through IRAs and Roth IRAs.  This has led to a situation where some individuals have millions of dollars, and others have almost nothing (or negative balances, in some case).

Given that the nothing-savers far outnumber the big savers, it could be very popular to establish some sort of wealth tax (as the inheritance tax is already) or change the rules on the Roth IRA withdrawals, charging a “distribution fee” or some other form of tax.  After all, “how is it fair that some people have lots of money, and others have none”, the thinking will go.  Even if the rules are not changed, the taxes on dividends and interest as funds from the Roth IRA are pulled out and put into fixed-income securities could rise to high levels as governments try to balance their books.

Another possibility is that the income tax could be abolished or radically changed.  For example, the Fair Tax idea has been around for years.  In this scheme, income taxes would be eliminated entirely and replaced with a national sales tax.  To make things “fair” each individual would receive a prefund (beginning of the year refund) such that those who make little would pay essentially nothing in taxes, while the larger spenders would pay more.  If such a tax scheme were enacted, the Roth IRA tax-free growth would evaporate.  There has also been talk about eliminating the income tax and replacing it with a Value Added Tax (VAT), which is similar to a sales tax.  Here again, the Roth tax-free growth would be eliminated.

The bottom line is to not get too enamored with mathematical calculations when it comes to finances.  One must always remember that the rules can change and the risk of rules changes affecting results, particularly when large time periods are involved, must be taken into consideration.  As the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and perhaps sometimes it is better to save the taxes now than save the taxes later.  So go ahead and save up for retirement, putting away at least 10-15%, but think about spreading it out between tax-deferred and tax-free growth, just to play both sides of the table.  Also, think long and hard before converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, particularly if it is a large account.  In particular, if you do not have the funds available to pay the taxes without touching the balances of the IRA, it may not be worth it.

To ask a question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing