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Archive for August, 2013

If you had a dollar for every time you heard the phrase “Start investing early,” you could retire with a million. If you actually acted on that phrase, you are probably retiring with more. Now is the time to encourage your children and grandchildren to start saving as soon as they get their first job. Let’s assume that your teenage child or grandchild is employed for five years from age 16 to age 21. During this time, he or she saves $276 per month ($3,315 per year) and invests the money in a Roth IRA (paying taxes, of course, but at a low tax bracket). This may be a serious sacrifice for a teenager, so any contribution from you would be of great help. Assuming the money returns the historical equivalent of a diversified 60% stock/40% bond portfolio, your child can retire at 65 with $1 million tax-free, without having to invest another dollar after age 21.retirement

Over time, your asset-allocation policy can veer off track because of market ups and downs. This is illustrated quite clearly in the attached image; a strong stock performance can  use a simple 50/50 portfolio mix to become unbalanced over time. After 30 years, what was once a 50% allocation to stocks now sits at 66%—quite a jump. Moreover, not only does the portfolio’s allocation change, but the portfolio’s risk also changes, rising sharply from 9.1% to 11.4%. If your needs and/or risk tolerance have not changed, your allocation shouldn’t either.

But why would anyone want to sell investments that have done great in order to purchase laggards? While rebalancing might seem odd at first, it is all about risk control. If more and more of your total portfolio winds up in one investment, you risk losing a lot should that investment stumble.rebalance

Handing over a portion of your investment earnings to the IRS is never pleasant. Fortunately, a specific category of mutual funds, called tax-efficient funds, might help you keep the amount you send to Uncle Sam to a minimum. Here’s how tax-efficient funds work. Mutual funds must pay you almost all of the money they make from interest, dividends, or capital gains (money made from selling stock) in a year. That’s called a taxable distribution (since you must pay taxes on that money). Tax-efficient funds keep their taxable distributions as small as possible, thus lowering the amount you have to pay in taxes.   Tax-efficient funds can use several strategies to keep distributions low. They avoid stocks that pay dividends. They don’t sell their stocks very often. When they do sell stocks, they might also try to sell some that have lost money to offset those that have made money. They could also hold stocks for more than one year before selling, since the profits are taxed at a lower long-term capital gains rate than short-term transactions. These methods, as well as some others, keep your tax bill lower.

While tax-efficient funds seem extremely attractive, there are a few drawbacks to note. First, there are only a handful of these funds available from which to choose (relative to other categories). Second, of the funds that do exist, few have long-term investment records that you can analyze. Finally, most tax-efficient funds stick mainly with large-company stocks and tax-free (municipal) bonds. That means you might have to look at non-tax-efficient funds to get exposure to other types of investments in an effort to build a diversified portfolio.

Diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

tax deferredOne of the main reasons why retirement accounts are so beneficial is the power of tax deferral. In a tax-deferred investment vehicle, such as a 401(k) plan or an IRA, your earnings are not taxed until you begin withdrawing money from your account in retirement. Consider the image. A hypothetical value of $10,000 is invested in both a taxable and a tax-deferred account. The difference in value between the two accounts becomes quite substantial after 20+ years. For investors with a long investment horizon, a tax-deferred portfolio is an excellent choice.

Please keep in mind that once you begin to withdraw money from your retirement account, you will be taxed accordingly. However, since you will most likely earn less in retirement, withdrawals from a deferred portfolio may be taxed at a lower rate.

wagesAmerica has long been known as the land of opportunity and the promise of a better life to people from all over the world. Recently, however, many Americans feel robbed of opportunities and better lives by the top 1% of their own. This growing income inequality has led to problems and civil unrest, as demonstrated by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

The table presents household income distribution data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Given that the poverty threshold for a two-member household is around $14,000, it appears that approximately 13.7% of Americans are poor. At the other end of the income spectrum, 3.9% are rich, with household incomes higher than $200,000.

investedInvestors who attempt to time the market run the risk of missing periods of positive returns. The image illustrates the value of a $100,000 investment in the stock market during 2000–2006, which included the bear market of 2001 and the recovery that followed. The value of the investment dropped to $57,537 by September 2002 (trough date). If an investor remained invested in the market over the next three years, however, the ending value would be $91,488. If an investor exited the market at the bottom to invest in cash for a year and then re-entered, the ending value would be $74,403. An all-cash investment would have yielded only $60,252. Even though the continuous stock-market investment did not recover its initial value after three years, it still provided a higher ending value than the other two strategies. Investors are well advised to stick with a long-term approach to investing.

Retirement usually doesn’t start until you’re in your 60s but there is a good reason to start saving much sooner. The earlier you contribute to your nest egg, the moprocrastinationre time your portfolio will have to grow in value.

The image illustrates the ending wealth values and effects of compounding of two investment portfolios. Consider two hypothetical investors who begin investing $3,000 at an average annual rate of return of 5%. Investor A invests $3,000 for a 30-year period, which results in an ending wealth value of $199,317. On the other hand, investor B invests $3,000 for a 20-year period, which results in an ending wealth value of $99,198. Investor A invested an additional $30,000 compared to Investor B. However, a large difference in the ending wealth value can be attributed to the compounding effect of the $30,000 for the additional 10 years. In other words, your dollars saved now will be worth a lot more than your dollars saved in retirement.

diversificationInvestors often wonder how many funds they need to reduce risk through diversification. The answer isn’t a specific number of funds, but rather the holdings of each fund. If multiple funds in a portfolio have similar holdings, an investor can fail to achieve diversification benefits. Portfolio A and Portfolio Z in the image contain five mutual funds. Each oval represents the ownership zone, which accounts for 75% of the fund’s holdings. The funds in Portfolio A overlap, indicating that each fund shares similar style characteristics. Too much overlap defeats the purpose of using multiple funds to create a diversified portfolio. Portfolio Z spans across many styles, so positive performance by some investments can neutralize the negative effect of others. As illustrated, it is important to be aware of the possibility of security overlap when constructing a diversified portfolio.