Your employer may be stealing from you!

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“Oh, little 401k, how I hate thee … let me count the ways” (2008, Anon.)

I don’t know who first uttered these words ūüėČ but, they strike a chord with me; here are some (admittedly, slightly cynical) reasons NOT to like the humble 401k:

1. Little or no choice of investments

2. Have to wait to traditional retirement age to receive the benefits

3. Stuck with low-returning investment choices

4. Little or no opportunity to ‘gear’ (I guess the employer match and tax benefits counts as a kind of gearing)

5. Fees

6. Your employer may be ‘stealing’ from you

Stealing?!

Yeah, in a way … but, first let’s take another quick look at fees [AJC: Inspired by a comment left on a post by Dustbusterz … thanks ‘Dusty’!]; in 1998 (!) the Department of Labor received and published an independent Study of 401(k) Plan Fees and Expenses.

It found the following average fees being charged by the larger 401k funds:

Total Annual Plan Fees

Lowest       0.57%
Mean         1.32%
Median      1.28%
Highest     2.14%

(Source: Butler, Pension Dynamics Corporation, in Wang, Money, April 1997)

Now, this goes back to 1997, but I just covered some very recent work by Scott Burns, noted financial columnist, and published in his new book, Spend ’til the End, which points to the fees continuing to trend up, citing average (mean? median?) fees of 1.88% now.

Remember that, according to Scott, even a “1% increase in a fund’s annual expenses can reduce an investor’s ending account balance in that fund by 18% after twenty years”!

I calculate that a 1.88% fee reduces your returns after 20 years by a whopping 38%

But, do you know how your employer actually chooses your funds / 401k provider? On the basis of better returns to you? Given the possible 38% ‘hit’, you would assume at least on the basis of lowest fees for you?

Right?!

Nope … not a chance. In fact, the study quoted an earlier report that found that “78% of plan sponsors [employers] did not know their plan costs” (Benjamin) …

… Great! You are putting your financial future into the hands of your employer, 3/4’s of whom don’t even know what the plans that they are choosing will cost you!

So how do they choose the plan that’s right for you [AJC: ironic snicker]?

The study found, one of two ways:

1. In my opinion, an unethical way: The Study of 401(k) Fees and Expenses quoted a prior report that found employers most often choose “the institutions that furnish the firm other financial services – banking, insurance, defined benefit plan management – to provide their 401(k) plan services and may not make an independent search for the lowest cost provider.”

Your employer feathers the bed of their own business relationships with your retirement money. Nice!

2. In my opinion, a criminal way: That would have been enough for me, if I hadn’t accidentally come across what is regarded as the Retirement Industry’s ‘Big Secret’ … it’s a doozy: it’s where the 401k provider shares some of the fees that you pay them with your boss!

Think about it; your employer provides you with a match to encourage you to remain employed then gets back some of that in fees, rebates, ‘free’ services, or just good old ‘relationship building’ at your expense, literally!

How do the funds and your bosses get away with this? Simple, nobody’s looking: “Revenue sharing is a poorly disclosed and relatively unregulated practice, which falls into the gap between Department of Labor and SEC oversight.”

OK, so does this mean that you shouldn’t participate in your employer’s 401K?

Not at all … it just means that you should do the following:

1. Decide if the 401k is going to do the job for you … will it get you to your Number? At a maximum ‘investment’ of $15,500 per year and a compound annual growth rate of 8% – 12% less fees, this is highly unlikely … you run the numbers then make your choice!

2. If not, is it still wise to continue your 401k (consider it a backup plan) as well as more aggressively investing elsewhere?

3. If you can’t do both, you have no choice but to decide which investing strategy is going to have to give way to the other?

4. If you do decide to continue with the 401k, choose any ultra-low-cost Index Fund option that may be on offer over any other selection; if not available, choose a ‘no load’ fund (be careful … some ‘no loads’ are actually just ‘lower load’). And, do your own homework on fees, because you just know your employer ain’t doing it!

5. Lobby your employer to pass back any revenue-sharing back to the employees

6. Insist that your employer choose funds that work best for you over the funds that work best for them.

What you do with this information is entirely up to you; I don’t need a damn 401k … never have and never will ūüėČ

The Mighty 401k Fights Back!

A short while ago I wrote a post challenging the notion that you should automatically plonk your money in your 401k, because:

1. It’s ‘forced savings’

2. It’s pre-tax savings

3. You get free money from your employer!

Yesterday I wrote a follow-up saying acknowledging that these are all good things to have in an investment.

But, not the only things … in fact, there’s only ONE THING that I want from an investment: that it gives me a return that supports My Life.

Not, the life that the investment is capable of supporting …¬†not the life that I have … not even the life that I want … but, nothing less than¬†the life that I need.

But, I expected to cop some flak, and here is some of it …

Traciatim said:

Historically real estate tracks inflation, not 6% annually. You’re also forgetting maintenance and property tax, water/sewage, heat, etc. When you want to retire you’re also forgetting the cost of selling the properties.

In fact, this is a really common theme amongst the detractors (there were a lot of positive comments, too) … but, who ever said that you should invest in ordinary residential real-estate in ordinary locations?

Also,¬†those who¬†‘remembered’ the costs of these direct investments (which I did¬†allow for) , we tend to forget the hidden management costs and fees of the funds that your 401k invests in (which I did not allow for).

Curt said:

If you wait three years, real estate ‚Äėgood deals‚Äô will be everywhere and you won‚Äôt have to invest the time to find them. That will likely be a better time to move money back into real estate.

This is the mistake of trying to time the market; this affects both the 401k ‘option’ and the alternatives, and probably requires a whole post in itself … if you are interested in the real-estate option (and, it is just one of many non-401k options that you could take) and you can find something that ‘works’ now, go for it!

Paul said:

One major flaw in your analysis…and I’m sure I could find others if I look hard enough:

You’re not accurately accounting for taxes here at all. The contributions to the 401(k) Plan are on a pre-tax basis. If you’re saving money in a bank account to buy real estate, that’s on an after-tax basis. To save $5k in a 401(k) Plan, you have to earn $5k. To save $5k in a bank account, you’ll need to earn $6,667 assuming a 25% tax rate.

I didn’t even talk about the risk inherent in real estate versus a diversified portfolio, or how your analysis of the return on the employer match is a bit off.

While it is good to think in unconventional ways at times, you better make sure you are accurately looking at these scenarios before you risk your entire future on them. While it could pan out, it could also blow up in your face.

Wise words, Paul. Of all the criticisms of my post that I read, Paul’s is most valid: I did not do an after-tax treatment (although, I did mention Capital Gains Tax); it’s just too damn complicated to run the numbers for a post like this … and, doesn’t change the relative outcome.

In fact, why do you think so many wealthy people invest in businesses and real-estate? It’s partly FOR the tax breaks! How much tax do you think that¬†they legitimately pay per dollar earned compared to you, even WITH your 401k?

And, it appears that Pinyo of Moolanomey actually reran the numbers:

AJC – Interesting post, but I have to agree with the naysayers. Your analysis in scenario 1 didn‚Äôt include mortgage and other expenses. In part 2 of scenario one where you actually account for expenses and deposit everything into CD, the true advantage is only $63,000 over 30 years and this is before tax ‚ÄĒ after tax it‚Äôs virtually wiped out.

Sorry, Pinyo, on this one we’ll have to agree to disagree … unless you want to share your numbers? Then, I’m happy to do [yet another] followup.

BTW: real-estate is not the only viable alternative to saving in your 401k; my arguments apply to any investment that has the following four characteristics: leverage, depreciation, other tax deduction/s, and inflation protection.

Guys, the critical difference is this one – hardly mentioned in the comments at all: Real-estate has an apparent risk … but, the 401k option has a hidden risk.

I think we all understand the apparent risks of alternate investments v the nice, safe 401k (if you were set to retire¬†at the end of 2007¬†and you ‘forgot’ to shift the bulk of your funds to the bond market, you may have a slightly¬†different view on this) …

I’ll leave you with one thought:¬†when was the last time that you read this headline:

‚ÄėMultimillionaire thanks the tax system for favoring his 401k ‚Ķ says‚ÄĚ ‚Äúwithout it, I would not be sitting in my beach house in Maui sipping Pina Coladas today‚ÄĚ ;)

The Hidden Risk of your 401k …

Recently¬†I wrote a post that challenged the ‘Set It And Forget It 401k Brigade’ to at least rethink their strategy instead of just automatically maxing out their 401k …

… in doing so, I mentioned that there was a ‘hidden risk’ in your 401k.

Whilst the 401k proponents put forth all the wonderful, low risk arguments in favor of 401k’s (quoting long-term market averages of 12%+) they conveniently forget:

1. Fees: Figure around 0.5% – 1.5% in fees set by the funds that your 401k invests in and the fees associated with managing the 401k and the underlying funds (but, only the ones that your employer doesn’t pay). Most of these are conveniently hidden in your returns.

2. Market Dips: Did you know that while¬† the ‘market’ averages 12%+returns, you can only count on 8% as your 30 year return, 4% as your 20 year return, and 0% as your 10 year return from the market. My rule of thumb is: when planning your retirement,¬†count on less … enjoy the possible upside when you are wrong!

3. Inflation: It takes time to get to the nest-egg that your 401k will give you …¬†20¬†– 40 years when you are¬†starting out¬†… so $1 Million just ain’t all that much money (now, let alone 20 – 40 years time!).

But, that’s not the hidden risk that I was talking about … it’s much, much more dangerous than those …

… the hidden risk of your 401k¬†is that you may not get enough out of it to retire well.

Almost as¬†bad,¬†you may not care enough now to plan for what may happen then; after all, for you¬†‘retirement’¬†may be still¬†10 – 20 – 40 years away! Although, it need not be …

So, what do I mean?

As I said yesterday, the arguments that the 401k proponents put forth center around:¬†it’s ‘forced savings’;¬†it’s pre-tax savings; and,¬†the possibility that you get free money from your employer!

All good things to have in an investment. But, not the only things …

… in fact, there’s only ONE THING that I want from an investment: that it gives me a return that supports My Life.

Not, the life that the investment is capable of supporting …¬†not the life that I have … not even the life that I want … but, nothing less than¬†the life that I need.

Just remember this: there’s nothing holy about a 401k.

The purpose of your 401k investment is NOT to get a tax break, not to put aside 15% of your gross salary a month, and not to get any employer match … they are just (important) features …

Just like any other investment,¬†your 401k’s¬†purpose is to help you get you to Your Number so that you can live Your Dream!

Anything less is just settling for less. So, let’s consider the binary options here:

1. Your 401k will get you to your Number

You know your Number, right? And, you know when you need it?

If not, either read this and do this … or, you’ve just wasted a valuable 3.5 minutes beer drinking, relaxing time that would have had a far more beneficial effect on your life than what you have just read … or, will ever read … on this blog!

And, you know what your 401k can deliver by then, right? Not when your employer says that you retire, but by when you need The Number!

If you haven’t done the calculation yet, ask a Financial Adviser to help you (or follow along with our 7 Millionaires … In Training! at http://7m7y.com starting with this article) …

… you think knowing this might¬†be just a tad important?

Now compare what your 401k is likely to be able to produce (now, I would not¬†be using ‘average returns from the stock market’ for this life-critical¬†calculation … I’d want a buffer … but, that’s really up to you and your bean-counter) with¬†Your Number …

… if¬†they are much the same, stick with your 401k (after all, it is ‘set it and forget it simple’). Then concentrate on keeping your job and, getting bigger and bigger pay-rises, because you’ll need ’em!

2. Your 401k will NOT get you to your Number

If your 401k will not get you to your Number, what choice do you have but to at least consider alternates, be they instead of –¬† or in addition to – your 401k savings plan …

… be they real-estate, stocks, 2nd/3rd/4th jobs, marrying into money, winning the lottery, businesses …¬†

…. be they whatever …?

Of course, you could just give up and settle for your lot in life; who am to tell you not to give up on your dreams?

I’ll leave that little job up to Frankie ūüėČ

Who wants to retire in their 20's, anyway?

Join AJC’s Live Video Chat on Thursday @ 8pm CST …¬†7 Millionaires … In Training LIVE Results Show: Final 30¬†announced live tomorrow (!)

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Yesterday we talked about starting young, not just as it applies to saving, but as it applies to accelerating your retirement plan.

Maybe you couldn’t find your WHY?

After all, who wants to think about retirement when they are still in their 20’s or even 30’s? Most are still thinking about their job!

Yet, as yesterday’s post showed, there are some good reasons for starting early. And, who wouldn’t want to retire early if their goals matched these from a recent survey of GenXfinance‘s readers:

How Do You Envision Your Ideal Retirement? 

Being a ‘Gen X’ PF site, we can probably assume that most of the respondents were younger than, say, me. But, it’s even more interesting to notice how each of the first three categories (where the majority of the votes fell) require MONEY and/or TIME:

1. Extensive Travel

Think about it, you can escape money to a greater of lesser degree if you are willing to travel frugally, work at least during some of your stopovers (haven’t you noticed how all the ‘servers’ in restaurants in¬†vacations areas¬†are young foreigners?) …

… but, you can’t escape the time element: this means that you have to be ‘retired’ from your day job.

2. Not going to work; just taking things one day at a time

Obviously, this means that you are retired from your day job … but, two things happen when this occurs:

i) Your income goes DOWN

ii) Your spending goes UP

For those who subscribe to the “75% of current income in retirement” theory, I ask this: have you ever tried spending time doing anything BESIDES WORKING that doesn’t COST money?

Think about it … it stopped me from cashing out when I was offered $4 mill. a few years before I eventually did cash out (for a helluva lot more!).

3. Doing volunteer or charity work

All [charity] work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … this is really 2. plus you are spending some of your time (perhaps a lot) giving back. This is a good thing … as well as the great work you are doing, you are spending less time … well … spending!

4. Other

If you scroll down the comments attached to GenXfinance’s post, you will see that¬†most of the ‘other’-folk either mean not retiring at all (like the ‘pursuing a second career’ option) or involve a similar outflow of money¬†and/or a similar savings-account-draining, non-income-earning amount of time.

But, they are all things that you will probably want to start whilst still young enough to enjoy them …

… which means starting to build a pretty damn large nest-egg pretty damn soon!

Let me know what (and how much by when)¬†‘retirement’ means to you?

What does it mean to be wealthy?

7million7years live tomorrow (!) and 7million7years in the press:

Two of my favorite sites are TickerHound (the Investment Q&A Community) and the Tycoon Report (Daily Investing Newsletter); and, they’re both free!¬†

Also, 7million7years got two mentions when these sites got together here¬†ūüôā

Now for today’s post …

Trent at the Simple Dollar rekindled this debate¬† by asking “How Much Money Is ‘Walk Away From It All’ Money?”

I’ll let you read¬†Trent’s post yourself, but, what often interests me most are some of the questions and comments left by readers to my posts and those on other blogs.

For example, I am often asked what my definition of wealth is; I can tell you what it ISN’T:

I DON’T like the simple numerical definitions of wealth that researchers and academics like to trot out¬†e.g. $170,000 income per year; or $1,000,000 in assets not including primary residence; or even the often quoted Millionaire Next Door formula:

Multiply your age times your realized pretax annual household income from all sources except inheritances. Divide by ten. This, less any inherited wealth, is what your net worth should be.

To me, these are just meaningless numbers.

Then there are the passive-income-covers-current-income approaches to wealth [AJC: you may recall that Robert Kiyosaki¬† claimed $100k p.a. passive income as = wealth for him in Rich Dad, Poor Dad]; “KC” left this example in her comment to Trent’s post:

I‚Äôve always said ‚Äúwealthy‚ÄĚ people are folks who don‚Äôt have to work and can live off their savings, pension, social security check, dividends, and any other non-work related payments. That is an age dependant term. My 90 year old grandmother is wealthy by those standards – but I‚Äôd hardly call her style of living wealthy – but she is able to live comfortably off her savings cause her budget is so small – no car, paid for house, minimal food & utility needs.

I disagree with this definition of wealth, because of exactly that scenario: the ‘cash poor’ person who accepts a certain level of lifestyle because that is what they can afford. They have one benefit: they can maintain this lifestyle WITHOUT WORKING therefore some would consider them wealthy. But, to me, they are still just getting by …

… which is interesting, because KC then when on to show the contrast:

My in-laws are wealthy – they both have pensions and health benefits, but retired early (55’ish) due to a sizable inheritance and wisely saving money when they were younger despite knowing they‚Äôd come into an inheritance. I would describe their lifestyle as wealthy – European travel, upscale cars, very nice paid-for home.

¬†This lifestyle has all the trappings of wealth … but, to me ‘trappings’ do NOT equal wealth. So, KC what would I consider wealthy?

Simple, it’s the definition that you provided, with an additional – but critical- twist:

It’s having the regular passive income to cover your ideal lifestyle not just your current lifestyle!

Your ideal lifestyle is the one that you measure by what you DO not what you HAVE …

… the DO part is about legacy: what, if anything, do you want to be remembered for?

The financial part of this is then simple. Just ask yourself: how much will it COST (time and/or money) and by WHEN do you need it?

When KC did the numbers she came up with the following:

But for me (a 35 yr old) to be wealthy by the no work standard would easily take 3 million. I arrived at that number by saying what amount times 8% would allow me to maintain my lifestyle on the principal generated? I chose $3 million cause in a few years I’d need that extra money due to inflation. At $3 million I could very easily pay off my home and live VERY comfortably off the 8% interest. That would make me and my husband independently wealthy. Oh well, I’m only about 2.8 million away from my goal Рsigh…

Firstly, good on KC for ‘getting’ that you need a hell of a lot more than $3,000,000 AND for¬†figuring inflation into the equation. But, here are some things that she needs to correct:

1. Firstly,¬†she needs to work out her annual passive income requirements –¬†it looks like she’s counting on $3 Million LESS ‘inflation¬†allowance’ LESS Paying off current home.

2. I’m guessing that amounts to something like $150,000 a year that she’s aiming at – a healthy income, but nowhere near ‘reasonably rich’ (that would take about $350,000 – $500,000 a year income: big house, First Class flights, 5 Star Hotels, a couple of fancy cars, private schools). But, let’s assume that she has modest retirement spending requirements: she doesn’t say WHY she needs it, or HOW much … but, we do know that she needs to replace 100% of her time with money as she doesn’t intend to work at all.

3. Before retirement,¬†KC¬†may be able to count on a 12%+ annual compound return (over a 20 – 30 year period) on her ACTIVE investments (forget 401k’s, managed funds, index funds, etc. … to get 12+% she’ll need real-estate and direct investments in stocks), but in retirement,¬†she will want to wind that back to, say 8% on her PASSIVE investments (now she can buy those Index Funds, if she likes).

Why 8%: because that’s the largest¬†return that the stock market has¬†‘guaranteed’ over any 30 year period, in the last 100 years (the figure drops to just 4% over any 20 year period, and 0% over any 10 year period). And, then we really should deduct mutual fund and middle-man fees …

4. But, to counter for inflation and up/down market swings,¬†KC will need to wind back her withdrawals to somewhere between 2.5% and 5% of her portfolio … 8% is right out of the question! Why? You have to reinvest at least the expected amount of inflation; KC will need a payrise if she wants to keep up with rising prices …

5.¬†That means somewhere between $3 Mill. and $6 Mill. is the ‘Number’ for KC, or she’ll have to be content with taking ‘just’ $75,000 a year in retirement (at least, it will be indexed for inflation) … just remember, if she takes 20 years to get to that $3 Mill. it will be just like retiring on $35,000 a year today. Whilst $75k seems like a lot to most, it ain’t ‘rich’.

Maybe¬†KC was a little optimistic in saying: “At $3 million I could very easily pay off my home and live VERY comfortably off the 8% interest”?

Do you need to shift your financial goalposts a little, as well?

Don't let all of those stock investment choices fool you …

People new to the world of finance are often blinded by all the options available for investing in the stock market:

– Direct investments in stocks – but which ones? Growth? Value? Invest far and wide? Or only in a few?

– Trading stocks or options – how to value and trade? Fundamental Analysis? Technical Analysis?

– Investing in packaged products – Mutual Funds? Index funds? ETF’s? REIT’s?

I wrote a post recently that summarized these options; here I simply want to add a little more info …

Investopedia Says:
The building of a factory used to produce goods and the investment one makes by going to college or university are both examples of investments in the economic sense
.

This means that the true definition of an investment is something that makes a little money now, or more likely a lot of money in the future.

Therefore, while I say that there are three sensible ways to invest in stocks, there are only two investment methods recommended by Warren Buffet:

1. Buy and Hold low cost, diverse Index Funds (check out Vanguard‘s web-site, and others) – this is a long-term, low risk (if your holding periods are 20 – 30 years) strategy that can help you fund a normal retirement.

“By periodically investing in an index fund, for example, the know-nothing investor can actually out-perform most investment professionals‚ÄĚ W. E. Buffett – 19932.

2. Invest in a FEW stocks in companies that are (a) undervalued (b) have a large margin of safety (c) that you love and (d) are prepared to HOLD until the rest of the market decides that they love them, too (at which point you can cash out or keep holding for the long/er term). I never attempt to make money on the stock market … Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.‚ÄĚ W. E. Buffett

Anything else is SPECULATING i.e. the process of selecting investments with higher risk in order to profit from an anticipated price movement.
Investopedia Says:
Speculation should not be considered purely a form of gambling, as speculators do make informed decisions before choosing to acquire the additional risks. Additionally, speculation cannot be categorized as a traditional investment because the acquired risk is higher than average
.
Lots of people have made a ton in trading stocks and options (e.g. George Soros, but he was smart enough to know to quit gambling when you are ahead) – the key is to be able to make informed decisions …… my question to you is, how informed are youif you are merely following the herd, reading the popular press, drawing trends on a graph¬† using the same trends that millions of other investors are looking at, doing a rudimentary analysis of the same sets of financials that every analysts worth his salt is poring over?

In short, what is the ‘special sauce’ that you are applying that will let you buck the trend and speculate successfully, like George Soros?
¬†A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought … let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.” W. E. Buffett
And, buying most high-cost Mutual Funds or other packaged products is not investing either …
“We believe that according the name ‘investors’ to [people or] institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a ‘romantic.’ “ W. E. Buffett

So, take Warren’s advice: unless you have a strong reason to do otherwise, stick to one – or both – of the only two ways of investing in stocks and, over the long-term you are very likely to outperform all but the luckiest of those speculators out there …

Oops … I just broke The 20% Rule!

 Casting Call

 

Last days for ‘pre-applications’ to become one of my 7 millionaires … In Training! Click here to find out more …

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If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I have a radically different approach to owning your own home than the Dave Ramsey’s of this world who advocate paying off your own home early:

To be fair, Dave and I are actually saying two different things:

1. Dave Ramsey is saying not to carry any personal debt at all – INCLUDING your own home, since it doesn’t generate an income. And, there are certainly many who advocate this approach.

2. I am simply saying that the EQUITY in your own home shouldn’t exceed¬†20% of your Net Worth.

Now, if your house is worth more than 20% of your Net Worth, and for most people it will, then by definition I am saying that not only is it OK to borrow the rest … you HAVE to borrow the rest!

When you are old and gray, then Dave Ramsey’s approach is fine … but, when you have a plan to retire wealthy, your home – and, your ability to borrow against it – become key.

So, when I told you in¬†a recent¬†post that my house was worth $2 Million …¬†my wife and I¬†actually met BOTH my criteria and Dave Ramey’s as we paid cash and the house fit well within the 20% Rule for us.

As it happens, I can’t stand to see a ‘dead asset’, so we agreed that I could take a substantial line of credit against the house (more than 50% of the current value of the house as a HELOC) and use it to fund some investments …¬†I recommend this approach, even if you fit within the 20% Rule, because you should be maximising the amount that you have invested at any point in time …

… of course, as you get closer to retirement, you may choose to wind back again – as Dave Ramsey suggests – I haven’t, but that’s just me ūüėČ

Now for a ‘small problem’ … a few days ago, we bought a house worth more than¬†twice as much as our current house … at least, it had better be worth more than¬†twice as much, because that’s what we paid.

This means that¬†we¬†have temporarily broken the 20% Rule … d’oh!

It’s not as bad as it sounds, but I wanted to share this story so that I could walk you through¬†our thinking process, because it will be inevitable that you go through a similar process as you gradually step-up your lifestyle (the side-benefit for all of those who read this blog … we hope!):

1. We are taking a very conservative view of our Net Worth: I tend to discount the sale value of any businesses and similar risk-assets that we may have, when calculating our Net Worth, as they can be taken away.

With these ACTIVE assets included, we are well within the 20% Rule, and very close to it even when only counting PASSIVE assets (a MUCH more conservative way to view Investment Net Worth that we will discuss in future Making Money 301 posts).

2. We paid cash for the house (well, we have only put down the deposit, so far, but will pay cash at closing).

The remedy?

Simple: as we did with our current house, we will take out a home equity line of credit and use that for  investment purposes.

This means that we have effectively shifted the borrowed portion of the equity in the house from the personal side of our ‘ledger’ (bad) to the investment side of our ledger ‘good’ …

Used this way, borrowing is a positive tool to be used to advance your financial position, which is why I disagree with the Dave Ramsey approach for those who need to step up their lifestyle and have a solid reason for doing so [read: driving desire to achieve some Higher Purpose in their lives] …

… or, if you prefer the Dave Ramsey approach, simply wait before buying the house.

Financial choices abound!

BTW: to be ultra-conservative, we may instead simply use, say, 50% of the equity in this new house (perhaps more, certainly no less) to secure further income-producing real-estate investments (rather than stock purchases) that we intend to hold for a VERY LONG TIME.

As our Net Worth rises, will we pay down that loan (i.e. HELOC)?

We could … as we would again ‘fit into’ the 20% Rule. But, we probably won’t – because the 20% Rule is a minimum standard and there is nothing wrong with investing more, particularly in conservative, long-term buy-and-hold investments.

I see holding such investments, and borrowing a reasonable proportion to fund them, as less risky to my financial future than the typical ‘save and never borrow’ approaches … but, only because my financial future has to be reasonably BIG … certainly more than a simple savings approach could ever achieve.

That’s how we deal with upgrades to our living standards … perhaps, it’s a model that you can follow, too?

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What is the best way for a newcomer to get started in investing in stocks?

I just got back from Omaha, where I attended the Annual General Meeting for Berkshire Hathaway – Warren Buffett’s company – so, it’s timely that¬†I remind you¬†there are only¬†a¬†TWO¬†sensible ways to INVEST in stocks – BOTH recommended by Warren Buffet¬† – plus one Speculative way:

1. Buy and Hold low cost, diverse Index Funds (check out Vanguard’s web-site, and others) – this is a long-term, low risk (if your holding periods are 30 years) strategy that can help you fund a normal retirement.

2. Invest in a FEW stocks in companies that are:

(a) undervalued,

 (b) have a large margin of safety,

(c) that you love, and

(d) are prepared to HOLD …

… until the rest of the market decides that they love them, too, at which point you¬†cash out and go back to (a).

Anything else is SPECULATING – lots of people have made a ton in trading stocks and options (e.g. George Soros, but he was smart enough to know to quit gambling when you are ahead) – or UNDERACHIEVING such as following the herd and/or buying high-cost Mutual Funds.

You may be one of the few that can succeed in either of these alternative methods … but, please don’t offend the World’s Greatest Investor by calling it INVESTING …

We believe that according the name ‘investors’ to [people or] institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a ‘romantic.’ [Warren Buffett]

So, there are only two methods that Warren Buffet would recommend (and one that he clearly would not) Рone for the wise and the other for the even wiser Рwhich one would you choose?

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Casting Call

 

Well, the ‘news’ of my 7 Millionaires … In Training! ‘experiment’ is finally out … check out my friend, Bill’s post on Money Hacks, then click here to find out more …

… 7million7years doesn't even know how much is in his Retirement Accounts!

[continued from yesterday]

Now, I’m not particularly proud of this … but, it is true … I have no idea how much is in my retirement accounts; and, I didn’t even bother opening my own 401k account as CEO of my last company!

Why?

Yesterday, I wrote about the costs that can build up in the ‘food chain’ of the investing world, showing that merely accounting for the cost-differential between a typical mutual fund and a typical low-cost index fund can account for 20% of the performance of your entire investment portfolio after just 10 years.

I also, mentioned that I don’t like any of these products (even low-cost index funds, even though I will recommend them to lay-investors), primarily¬†because of lack of control and too much diversification (who ever got rich from diversifying?!) …

So, the second part of this post will, hopefully, tell you why I don’t worry about 401k’s and Roth IRA’s as well as address a question that I recently received from a reader who asked:

Any suggestions on a strategy to use for retirement accounts if you earn beyond the limit for a 401k and Roth Ira? I have no company match for a 401k … get hit hard in taxes and have discovered that there is an income limit to a 401k and Roth IRA. Any suggestions?

Well my simple suggestion is: don’t …

The only time that I invest in a retirement account is when my accountant says:

“AJC, you have too much income flowing in, we had better plonk some into your [401k; Roth IRA, Superannuation Plan, whatever]”.

Yet, using a tax shelter is¬†saving money, and as yesterday’s post showed, even a small difference in cost can add to a big difference in outcome … so, what do I really recommend and why?

If you still have plenty of working years left, I don‚Äôt¬†recommend that anybody¬†invests inside their company 401k except to get the ‚Äėcompany match‚Äô (who can argue with ‘free money’‚Ķ yee hah!)

I also don’t recommend that anybody – who still has 10+ years of working/investing ‘life’ left – invests¬†¬†inside any tax-vehicles (such as a¬†Roth IRA) etc. UNLESS¬†they can:

(a) Choose their investments, and

(b) leverage those investments.

By choosing, I mean the whole gamut of what we want to be investing in: e.g. businesses, stocks, real-estate, and ???.

Now, in practice, these 401k/IRA’s are limited, so if you don’t intend to invest in some/all of these classes of investment or you have so¬†little¬†money to invest that you can ‘fit’ the whole or part of your intended, say, stock purchase strategy into one of these vehicles then, absolutely … knock yourself out!

Therefore, for most people, it’s still possible that a 401k or Roth IRA can provide an important place in their investing strategy … simply because the amount that they have to invest is so small …

… even so, they should go ahead only if it doesn’t limit the scope of their overall investing strategy, hence returns!

And, we should all know by now that primary importance of your investing strategy should be set on maximizing growth unless:

i) You are within a few years of retirement, when you no longer have time to take risks and recover from mistakes), or

ii) Have such a long-term, low-value outlook that simply saving in a 401k will do the trick (in which case, invest to the max.).

Just remember, this blog and my advice isn’t for everyone … it’s only for those who need to become rich

…¬†which usually means getting into investments that:

1. You understand and love, and

2. You can grow over time, and

3. You can leverage through borrowings.

If it doesn’t meet all three of these criteria, I simply don’t invest!

Direct investments in businesses and real-estate are the investment choices of the rich because of these three criteria… stocks to a lesser degree (you can only ‘margin borrow’ up to 100% of these, so the amount of ‘leverage’ that you can apply is lower than for, say, real-estate)¬†… and, Managed Funds even less so (you can margin-borrow only on some of these, and only¬†from¬†limited sources).

For me, the limits that tax-effective vehicles place on me, and the maximums that I am allowed to invest in them,¬†automatically reduce these typical¬†‘tax shelters’¬†to a very minor position in my portfolio … so minor, that I allow my accountant to manage them for me, totally.

Remember, though, that they only became a minor portion of my portfolio because I followed the advice that I am giving you here when I was still early into my working/investing career!

Now, I hope that (eventually) you, too, will have so much money OUTSIDE your 401K that whatever is INSIDE will be insignificant for you … in the meantime, at least invest for the full company match.

Pretty controversial? Let me know what you think?

Why 7million7years doesn't buy 'packaged' products …

I left a somewhat tongue-in-cheek footnote to a recent post on the differences between Index Funds and ETFs (if you didn’t read it, I favor the former over the latter for neophyte investors, and neither for serious investors):

Important Note:¬†7million7dollars does NOT currently invest in any Index Funds, Mutual Funds, or other ‚ÄúPackaged Investment Products‚ÄĚ ‚Ķ apparently, he is just a (rich) product of the Stone Age ;)

It seems to me that the wave of packaged products has increased over the past 20 years.

No longer do you tend to hear those stories of people like the reclusive and grumpy Old Man Miller who fell off a ladder and died leaving no heirs and a box of dusty old stock-certificates that now just happens to be worth $900,000 (not to mention a pile of gold just sitting under some lumber in the old wood-yard)!

It’s not just stocks … it seems that you can’t buy L’il Jon a toy without taking out your industrial grade laser to burn through 15 layers of impossible-to-open plastic ‘bubble’ packaging.

Think about the cost-differential between a typical consumer product at manufacture (the price it cost the guy who made it in: raw materials, labor, tooling, bulk packaging, and bulk shipping) and the eventual end consumer who buys it at retail: the price can¬†inflate by¬†5 to 7 times … or even more.

The more hands, the more cost … simple.

Similarly, with ‘investment products’ …

… in my perhaps archaic way of looking at things, the further removed that I am from the investment, the less control I have, the more people who want to add cost (including their profit) into it, and less I like it.

That’s one of the reasons that businesses (my own) are my favorite form of investment … followed by direct investment in real-estate … followed by direct investments in company stock.

 Now, if you do decide to invest in a fund, why would you choose a Low Cost Index Fund over the typical well-diversified Mutual Fund?

Unless, you can guarantee to find me a Mutual Fund that will outperform the market over the next 10 years (considering that 85% of fund managers don’t beat the market, that’s an easy bet for me to take), I would choose the lower cost option, simply because of cost.

If the Index Fund charged you only 0.25% of your total investment amount to enter the fund and another 0.25% a year to manage it for you, but the mutual fund charged you 1.0% and 1.0% [BTW: in this example, the Index Fund fees are too¬†high and the Mutual Fund fees are too¬†low] …

… over just 10 years (assuming an¬†average 8% return¬†for each), you¬†would have paid the Index Fund just over $43,000 in fees … but, the Mutual Fund $157,000.

Why so much?

Because, you also need to factor in the foregone earnings on the amount that you could have had invested, if those fees weren’t there …

On the other hand, if you invested directly in some stocks and just managed to meet the market, with little to no fees (it costs just $7 to buy, say, $25,000 of stock using an on-line broker) …

… now you know why I don’t like packaged products!

I encourage you to run some numbers for yourself …

[To be Continued]