Millions and Billions and Trillions, oh my!

The economy and tax cuts simplified!

 

crushing_burden_debt

The media often decries that tax cuts for the rich are unfair, and that the wealthy are greedy individuals who don’t care about poor people and don’t pay their fair share in taxes. We saw a lot of this in recent years from the Occupy Wall Street group as they tried to demonize the top 1%. The sad fact is that the majority of individuals in the USA do not understand the economy, personal finance, taxes, investments, or the stock market in general.

These are three undeniable facts:

  • Wealthy people create the most jobs and pay the most taxes.  
  • Poor people are poor because they don’t yet understand how to become rich.
  • Investing in the stock market has resulted in the largest creation of wealth in human history.

“(It’s) the economy, stupid” – James Carville

Let’s start off by differentiating between the economy and the stock market. They are NOT the same thing.  February 5th 2018 saw the largest single drop in the history of the Dow Jones, 1175 points.  And the two week period from the end of January to mid February amounted to a market correction, which is to say, a 10 percent drop. You did not see 10% of the business in America hang a ‘closed forever’ sign on their doors, nor did you see them fire 10% of their employees, or find the shelves stocked with 10% less goods.  This is because the economy is just as strong today as it was before the market dropped. The economy involves the sum of all the goods and services produced in this country every day. The stock market is something very different and doesn’t have anything to do with the economy at all.  The market reflects speculations by investors on the potential values of various companies based on imagined future profits. Nothing is produced on Wall Street except wealth. When you buy a stock, you are actually really just loaning that company money in the hopes of a future return on your investment. The stock exchange just facilitates and records that transfer of funds. The influx of currency gives the company capital which it can use to expand and grow the goods and services it produces. Hopefully.  As the famous investing disclaimer goes “past performance does  not guarantee future earnings”. This is why tax cuts for business and the wealthy can cause the market to fluctuate.  The perceptions of investors change, and the market reflects that change.  

408chart

A median is the exact mid-point. In 2016 the real median household income was $59,039. That said, half of the households in the USA earned more, and half earned less.  The same can be said of tax payers. About 50% of the people in the country pay ZERO in federal taxes, while the wealthiest 1%  in the country account for a staggering  35% of all taxes collected. When you expand this group to the top 10% of wage earners, the taxes collected grows to 68%. Is it fair when a millionaire gets a larger tax cut? Absolutely! If taxes were ‘fair’ we’d all pay the exact same percentage regardless of our level of income.  

There’s no such thing as a free lunch!

On October 30th 2017, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked off a press briefing by reading an anecdote about reporters and a bar tab to try to explain who would benefit from the proposed Republican tax reform framework.  It was adapted from a piece that had been floating around the internet since the early 2000’s, Here is the original:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for lunch and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

The fifth would pay $1.

The sixth would pay $3.

The seventh would pay $7.

The eighth would pay $12.

The ninth would pay $18.

The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men ate lunch in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve ball.

“Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily lunch by $20.00.”  So lunch for the ten men would now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes.  So the first four men were unaffected.  They would still eat for free.  But what about the other six men?  How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his fair share?

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33.  But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to eat his lunch.

So the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, to follow the principle of the tax system they had been using, and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested that each should now pay.

And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% off).

The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33% off).

The seventh now paid $5 instead of $7 (28% off).

The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% off).

The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% off).

The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% off).

Each of the six was better off than before.  And the first four continued to eat lunch for free.  But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare the amount they got off.

The sixth man said, “I only got $1 off out of the $20 while the tenth man got $10 off!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man.  “I only got $1 off, too.  It’s unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me!”

“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man.  “Why should he get $10 off, when I got only $2?  The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison, “we didn’t get anything at all.  This new tax system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and told him they were angry that he got so much off while they each got very little.

The next day the tenth man didn’t show up for lunch, so the nine sat down and had their lunches without him.  But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important.  They didn’t have enough money amongst all of them for even half of the bill!

And that is how our tax system works. The people who already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the largest benefit from a tax reduction.  Also, all of the taxes collected annually do not cover all of the spending by the Government the short fall of which is covered by borrowing money from foreign countries. Each year this deficit and the interest on the foreign loans adds to the growing national debt.  You can see this debt growing in real time at usdebtclock.org .  Currently we have a national debt of $20,633,000,000,000. This amounts to $63,000 per citizen OR $170,000 per tax payer ! The government needs to shrink the national debt and the only way to do that is by the elimination of all non-essential spending. We need to have everyone pulling their own weight. We can’t have half the country working and paying taxes for the other half of the country to sit home and not work. Government welfare programs must end. We simply cannot keep spending more money than we take in. You can spend your way into the poor house, but you’ll never spend your way into prosperity.    

TheNumbersDontLie

Now when you’re earning less than $60,000 a year, a million dollars is a lot of money.  Even if you earned $250,000 a year, a million dollars is still a lot of money. But when we talk about the US economy, the budget, and tax cuts, were are discussing billions (a thousand-million) and trillions (a million-million) and these numbers are larger than the average person can comprehend.  Let’s ignore the smaller numbers and shoot for the moon by explaining  the size of a trillion.

A single one dollar bill measures 6.14 inches. If you laid a trillion of them end to end, it measures 96,906,656 miles. This would exceed the distance from the earth to the sun. Even if you just stacked them one on top of the other, the distance would be 67,866 miles. This would reach more than one fourth the way from the earth to the moon. Mind blowing huh?

One of my favorite examples of explaining the US budget, taxes, and those ‘HUGE’ multi-billion dollar budget cuts is to shrink the example down to a household budget. You remove the 8 zeroes. I’m using numbers from the recent 2018 US budget and the current national debt .  

  • United States Tax revenue : $3,654,000,000,000
  • Fed budget $4,094,000,000,000
  • New debt $440,000,000,000
  • National debt  $20,633,000,000,000
  • Recent budget cuts which some politicians are proud about  $ 54,000,000,000

Now, remove 8 zeroes and pretend it’s a household budget.

  • Annual income $36,540
  • Annual spending $40,940
  • New debt on the credit card $4,400
  • Outstanding credit card debt  $206,330
  • Recent budget cut $ 540

Now look at those ‘household budget’ figures.  Knowing that you were in debt about 564% of your annual income, would you continue to spend 112% of what you earn? Would you decrease that by less than 1.5% and call that an accomplishment? You’d have to be way beyond crazy to think that was a good idea. Hopefully you now understand why we need to end the welfare state and stop demonizing the rich. As always I wish you happiness and success! 

Are we BEAR yet?

Keeping your cool while others lose their minds over their investment losses.

Since 2009,  US investors have been enjoying the second longest running Bull market since WWII. But after closing once again at record highs on January 26th, 2018, the market started slipping into a correction. The two week period ending Friday February 9th 2018 saw a river of red on Wall Street. Historic losses occurred almost every other day, and the Dow closed down 1175.12 on Monday Feb 5th.  Less than a week later there was a second four-digit drop. In spite of all the excitement we are still ‘technically’ riding the Bull, despite the specter of the Bear periodically swiping at the markets and making the red ink spatter everywhere. So far it’s only a correction, and not yet a crash.  If you’re not sure of the difference:

  • A stock market correction is when the market falls 10 percent from its 52-week high.
  • A bear market occurs when the market falls 20 percent.
  • If the market falls 40 percent it’s considered a crash.  

So what makes the markets suddenly drop? The reasons are many, but usually it starts when large numbers of investors decide to ‘cash in their chips’ so to speak and lock in their gains. Perhaps companies didn’t make their earnings projections,  or investors are afraid that changes in legislation will affect profits. It does not matter but once enough people are selling instead of buying, stock prices start dropping. This spooks the second group of investors who now sell because the price is dropping, and they want to stop losses. This leads to a panic. Once a cascade sell-off effect begins, the only way to stop it is if enough potential investors decided to buy the dips, thus raising the price of stocks and ending the sell-off. Or possibly not. Prices of the shares may recover enough that a third group of investors decide that now they should sell and lock in the partial recovery of lost potential gains, starting a brand new sell-off. That’s why you start seeing these roller-coaster swings of market volatility.

 The key take away from all of this is that middle group of investors who sold out as the stocks plunged ended up losing their money.  It is impossible to time the market.  They were not in the market once it rebounded, which time has shown it will. The group who locked in at the market peak made money, and if they returned to buy the dips, they made even move money. When investing in stocks, you need to keep your head and make informed, intellectual trades. Emotional, panic sell-offs will hurt you financially.

Overtime, the stock market will continue to grow at an average return at about 12%. Crashes, corrections and Bear markets always lead to new Bull runs.  These market fluctuations are a normal part of the way the stock market grows and are not to be feared.  In September of 2017, stock guru Warren Buffet was widely quoted for stating that he believed that in one hundred years, the Dow would hit  one million points. When one of the eight richest men in the world tells you stock tips, you listen! Buffet didn’t get rich by luck. He recommends buying stocks when everyone else is liquidating their assets because you pick up bargains that given time, will more than likely rebound. He also recommends staying in the market and investing in passive, low fee index mutual funds and ETFs that track the markets. In many cases these index funds outperform the majority of actively managed mutual funds and offer a low-cost way for investors to track popular stock and bond market indexes while providing a diversified portfolio at the same time.

I’m getting too old for this excitement.

Although index funds and ETFs offer diversification they are still tied to the market. This is great news if you are young, because you can weather any storm clouds that the market may encounter. On the other hand, if you are nearing retirement and counting on your retirement nest egg being a certain amount, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re weeks away from punching the time clock for the final time only to have a sudden market crash wipe out 40% of your investments.  This is where a higher level of asset diversification towards less volatile investments will protect you.  Bond funds, precious metals and even real estate can provide a much more stable investment, just with comparably lower returns on investment. Only you can determine your individual retirement needs.

Two general rules of thumb based on age.

1) Take the number 100, and subtract your age. The remaining number is how much money you should invest in stocks.

2) Take the number 125, and subtract your age.  This number is the percentage of your investments which should be in higher risk stocks.

Some stocks are more volatile than others. This is reflected in a stocks beta number. The lower the number the more stable the stock. A beta number of 2.0 would fall twice as fast as the market, while a share with a beta of 0.5 would drop half as fast. Also you should research the 52 week highs and lows, as well as the P/E ratio and if the stock pays a dividend, how often it’s paid, and the what the ex-dividend date is. Bottom line, DO YOUR RESEARCH!  Financial matters are nothing to joke about. The wrong decisions early on will greatly impact you in your retirement years. 

Now I’m still south of 50, I’m unmarried,  I have no children, plus I’m debt free. In my individual circumstance, knowing what I know and being willing to accept the risks, I  tend to have ALL of my investments in higher risk assets. Thus far, it’s made me the richest man in my family, although it does get unnerving at times when you watch your portfolio take a big hit during a correction. In the past two weeks, my net worth decreased by more money than some people earn working a full time job for an entire year. It will come back given time, but a  financial loss like that would have killed my mother.

TheCrash

True story

My father, George Henry Lawrence Oetting Jr. was an intelligent business man. He went to St. John’s University, was a CPA, and was the editor of a local Queens newspaper. He understood how money and finances worked. That’s him in the photo above. I used to think that the screaming woman in the picture was my very melodramatic mother, but I’ve since learned it was a just a family friend. But I do remember that look. Everything was a tragedy for my mother when things didn’t go her way.  Now my father was a newspaper editor, so he was always on top of trends in business and investing opportunities.  He owned 50 shares of stock in a growing company called McDonald’s.  I’m sure that this is why my mother grew obsessed with the cheap burger brand. My father was great with finances. My mother? Not so much. That woman couldn’t handle money to save her life. If you gave her a dollar, she’d spend two! Anyway my father died suddenly when I was young, so he never saw the grand openings of the first NYC McDonald’s in Manhattan. My mother got re-married to her boss a year after my father died. About that time, the first McDonald’s in Queens opened at  13832 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11435. My mother still owned the stocks at the time, and she was there with my stepfather acting like she owned the place because she was a share-holder! I remember there was a guy dressed like Ronald McDonald and he was signing these stuffed Ronald dolls and my mother was buying them for all my cousins. She probably blew $100 that day on food and memorabilia which says a lot considering at the time the burgers were ONLY 30¢ each. Anyhow, a year after that, my step father also died. A year later, my mother was dead broke.  Between 1971 and 1975 she’d lost 2 husbands, 2 houses, the lifetime savings of two men, and those 50 shares of McDonald’s stock, which if I still had them today would be valued at three-to-five million dollars. A fool and their money are soon parted. My mother may have cost me a fortune because of her foolish spending habits, but at least I managed to inherit my father’s good looks and intelligence, and those pay their own unique dividends.  I’d like to believe he’d be impressed and proud of the man I grew up to be. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

A Wall Street Fairy Tale

Is the sky really falling?

chicken

Chicken Little lived in Storybook Land. He had a nice government job working for the King, Mr. T. Chicken Little wasn’t born rich, but he was smart and read a lot. He wanted to be rich someday like his cousin Goose Golden-Eggs. Money just seemed to drop out of Goose. She left a pile of wealth everywhere she sat. It didn’t seem fair that some people were  born rich and had more money than brains, but no one ever said life was fair. Chicken had feathered his nest with Index Funds from the Stock Market. He hoped to have a very nice nest egg when he retired. He always paid attention to what was happening with The Stock Market.

The Stock Market was co-owned  by Mr. Bull and Mr. Bear. No one had seen Mr. Bear in years, not since 2009. No one liked it when Mr. Bear ran the market, but thankfully he only did so about once every seven years, and he never ran it for very long. Mr. Bull did a much better job running the Stock Market and always managed to clean up the mess left by Mr. Bear. He even had a new friend keeping him company on Wall Street,  Fearless Girl who just showed up one day and has hung around with Mr. Bull ever since.

Now Chicken Little was always running home from work each day, because he always wanted to see what the Talking Heads on TV had to say. Everyone in Storybook land watched different Talking Heads. There were many of them and you could always find one you liked. The problem was that they all said something different, so you had to be really careful which ones you listened to. Some of them said some very bad and dumb things, and if you listened to them too much, you grew very sad and jaded, like The Old Witch.

The Old Witch liked to tell everyone how  smart she was because she was very old, and she watched the Talking Heads all day long, so she knew everything. As Chicken Little was passing her home, she waved him over.

“Hi Chicken, did  you hear what my favorite Talking Heads said today?”

“No Witch, I was busy working all day so I could have more money to feather my nest.”

“They said Mr. T the King is an idiot, his son is retarded, and he’s going to destroy the world.”

Chicken Little was aghast! He couldn’t believe anyone would say such terrible things, much less listen to them, so he decided to quickly change the subject.

“Say Witch, you’re old and know everything. What’s the best thing to do with your money? I leave ten percent of  my money in  The Stock Market with Mr. Bull and he takes great care of it.”

“The Stock Market?!” she yelled. “You’d have to be crazy to leave money in the Stock Market. Do you remember the big crash of 1929? Humpty Dumpty lost everything  in the Market and leapt to his death because he was so depressed. Only idiots put their money in the Stock Market. I hide all my extra cash in my mattress,  it’s safer than a bank, and I own a nice house, it’s made of Candy and Chocolate.”

Chicken Little didn’t own a house, he rented a nice apartment with a great view. He eyed her home skeptically. “Isn’t candy bad for you? I heard it makes you fat and gives you diabetes.”

 The Old Witch scowled and gave him an angry look.

“What do you know? You’re not as old as I am, and you’re not as smart. I watch the Talking Heads all day. Chocolate comes from cocoa, which is a bean.  Candy is made with sugar which come from sugarcane. So both come from plants and therefore they are both vegetables and vegetables are good for you. Now scat! I’m busy, my favorite TV show is about to start.”

Chicken Little walked away shaking his head. Next he came to the house of the Pigs.

Practical Pig owned a house made of Gold Bricks. He and his brother Fifer were in the yard gardening as Chicken walked past. He called to them.

“Hey Pigs! I was talking with the Old Witch about money, what do you do with yours?”

“All my money is invested in real estate and precious metals.” replied Practical Pig pointing at his house made of gold bricks. Fifer said nothing, he just smiled. 

Practical was older and smarter than his brother Fifer. Fifer lived with his brother and slept on his couch. Fifer  used to own a house made of sticks. It was built on a foundation of sand, and financed with a ‘Ninja’ loan. It was a variable rate mortgage which inflated quickly. Fifer eventually lost his house of sticks when the housing bubble bust, so now he had to live with his brother.

“Isn’t gold and real estate expensive?” asked Chicken.

“It can be, but everyone has to live somewhere, and gold had never been worthless so both are great investments.”  Practical replied.

Chicken alternated looks between Practical Pig and his homeless brother Fifer.

“Say Practical, do you ever hear from your other brother Fiddler?”

“Oh yeah. I spoke to him on the phone this morning. He just moved into a huge expensive mansion financed by BitCoin and Ethereum. It’s totally built out of Ones and Zeros. I worry about him, some day he’ll be sleeping on my couch too.”

Chicken waved goodbye at the brothers and hurried home to his maintenance-free apartment.

The first thing he did when he got home was to turn on the News to listen to what the Talking Heads were saying about the day’s business news. They were all screaming that the sky was falling because the market plunged nearly 666 points and that it was probably the end of the world.

Chicken Little was so shocked by the news that he passed out!

After he recovered from the shock, he reviewed the various news clips to see why the market fell.

Some of the Talking Heads blamed Mr. T the King  for constantly letting his pet blue birds The Tweets fly free,  and said that he didn’t play well with others. Some of the Talking Heads said the Market Fell because The Wicked Witch of the West was the rightful ruler of Storybook Land and the throne had been stolen from her. A few others blamed it on The Man in the Moon and yelled at the sky. A few blamed the Russians. A few said they had ‘no idea why, it was a mystery.’ A few said it fell because the market fluctuates and it’ll bounce back. Uncle Warren the Wise Wizard of Wall Street said he was going to buy lots of cheap stocks first thing in the morning.  Little Jack Horner  sat in the corner eating his pie. The Cheshire Cat smiled until he faded away,  leaving only his grin. Everyone seemed to react to the news differently.

In the end, Chicken Little checked that his nest was still intact, saw that his index stocks were still up for the year, and discovered that despite what some of the Talking Heads claimed, everything was going to be just fine. He decided to listen to Uncle Warren and pick up a few bargains at the Stock Market, and knew that one day, he too would grow up to be a Wizard of Wall Street.

The End

Fairy Tales were a traditional way to entertain young impressionable minds while at the same time conveying a moral lesson. Even Jesus Christ occasionally turned to parables when trying to covey complex ideas to the crowd. There are lots of individuals who have difficulty understanding  how the economy, the stock market, and even personal finances work.  Throw in politics and religion and people get real confused quite fast.

February 2nd, 2018 marked one of the largest drops of the Dow Jones Industrial Average  since 2009. The thousand point plunge from the prior week’s high probably scared the novice investor to death. It’s not as bad as some of the ‘experts’ are claiming. Investing in stocks still results in far greater returns on investment than real estate, precious metals, or even the dangerous new gimmick, crypto-currencies like BitCoin. I’d stay far away from that last one, when that bubble pops, it’s going to burst loud and hard!

The bottom line is that there are many factors which impact our day to day lives, and just as many pundits, cynics, and fools with opinions. Everyone has an opinion.  It can become quite the task to filter out the many voices and distill all the information to refine a pure source.  What do singers , athletes, and movie stars really know when they speak on a topic? For every one celebrity with an actual college degree, there are at least a hundred who barely even graduated  high school.  Check your sources, check your information, and review your facts before making a decision which could potentially ruin your future happiness. Just because everyone around you is telling you what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s the truth. You just might be in an echo chamber surrounded by sycophants.   Tread carefully.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!    

WTF? (What’s the FICO?)

Understanding the 3 digit number that rules your finances.

The acronym  FICO stands for Fair Isaac Corporation.  FICO is a data analytics company which was founded in 1956 by Bill Fair and Earl Isaac.  Using data gleaned from your credit history, FICO generates a score between 300 and 850 which aids creditors in assessing your credit worthiness.  The higher your  score, the better the credit offers and terms you receive. Any number under 629 is a poor score. Fair to average ranges from 630 to 689. Good is between 690 and 719. Anything above a 720 is considered excellent. The scores reflect credit payment patterns over time with more emphasis on recent information. Scores automatically improve, as one’s overall credit picture gets better. That means showing a historical pattern of paying your bills on time and using credit conservatively.

In order to calculate a score, your credit report must contain recent enough info on which to base the number. The minimum amount of information needed is at least one account opened for at least six months or longer, and which has been reported to the credit bureau in the last six months. Adding to the confusion, there are three credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The credit history reports from each of these companies may contain different information, and thus could result in three different FICO scores depending on the information contained within.   

Never assume each credit bureau has your identical credit history. They receive only the information supplied them by lenders, collection agencies, and court records. One bureau may have more up-to-date information than another because some lenders report credit information to the credit bureaus at different times,  resulting in discrepancies. The credit bureaus may record, display or store the same information in different ways. You should review your credit history at least once a year, and you are entitled to ONE free annual report from EACH of the three agencies. You can request a copy from AnnualCreditReport.com this is the ONLY real site to check, don’t be fooled by look-a-likes or fake phishing sites that want to steal your identity.  

Keep in mind the following:

Not all credit scores are “FICO” scores. Some credit agencies may use an internal scoring system of their own creation. FICO scores are ONLY generated by the FICO corporation. Over 90% of major creditors use FICO scores to determine your credit-worthiness.

Your FICO score will change over time.  Just because you had an 810 three months ago doesn’t mean it’s that today. This is caused by changes in your credit history report. Each time your  debt ratio on  your credit cards change, your score can change. A major purchase that brings your card close to its limit will drop your score until the balances snap back to somewhere near $0.00  and the new lower balance is reported.

Some creditors report your credit info very frequently to the credit bureau while others may only do so on a quarterly basis, and this can change your numbers as well.

ficocomposit

How is the FICO number determined?

You FICO score is based on the following:

35%- Payment History

30%- Outstanding Debt

15%- Total Credit History

10%- New Credit Requests

10%- Credit Type Diversity

If you want to raise your score, you need to pay your bills on time, every time, keep your balances low, and apply for new credit only when necessary. NO EXCEPTIONS, NO EXCUSES.  Late payments are reported to the credit agencies, as well as your total balances, and new credit requests. Adding negative information to your credit history will cause your FICO score to drop  like a rock! Any negative information will stay on your history for up to seven years. It is imperative that you do everything possible to avoid anything which will compromise your good credit.

Here are some suggested tips to follow:

DO:

  • Pay your bills on time! I can’t stress this enough .
  • IF you mess up and miss a payment, get current and stay current! The longer you pay your bills on time, the better your score. Every time you mess up, you sabotage everything you’ve accomplished to that point. SO DON’T MESS UP!  
  • If you are so deep in debt that you can’t make ends meet, contact your creditors and seek help from a legitimate credit counseling service. You need to get your debt under control before you can fix it. You can’t run or hide from your creditors. It will make things worse. Trust me. I speak from experience. Re-establish your credit history if you have had problems. It will take time, but it can be done. I did it, you can too!
  • Keep balances low on credit cards, (under 10%), and avoid carrying a balance.
  • Pay off debt rather than move it around.
  • Open new accounts only when needed.
  • Check your credit history once a year.

DON’T:

  • Close unused credit cards, it will lower your score.
  • Open new credit cards that you do not need. This could lower your score.

I know all of the above information can seem a bit daunting. If you’re overextended in your financial circumstances because ‘life happened’, I get it. It’s no fun having collection companies calling your home and harassing you because THEY want THEIR money.  I’ve had poor credit.  Now I have excellent credit.  I can tell you from experience that life is great when you have all your bills paid on time, are debt free, have cash in your wallet, money in the bank, and a FICO score over 750. It took time and persistence for me to accomplish this. It didn’t get fixed overnight, but it did get fixed because I stuck to the plan. I tell you this not to brag about my wealth and success, but to encourage you to follow my lead. I did it, and you can too. I believe in you. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

January : Perfect time for re-balancing the budget!

Keeping you in the black in 2018

We’re three weeks into the new year, and like many folks, you probably went overboard with Christmas spending and then also got hit with some seasonal bills to boot. The start of the new year is the perfect time to analyze last year’s spending habits  and retool the budget for maximum success.

 

Write it down!

Keep a ledger of all your spending. Keep track of every penny and ask for receipts so you don’t forget something.  Also try to have ZERO days, where you spent NOTHING! Try to make a game of beating the number of ZERO days from one week to the next, and one month to the next. This will both help to motivate you and curb your finances at the same time.  I use a spiral bound notebook, purchased on sale at Wal-Mart for 50¢ ! If you notice that you are spending a high amount of money eating out, or on non-essentials, resolve to cut back in that category.

img_0011.jpg

Make a list of regularly occurring  monthly charges such as rent, utilities, and credit cards, and keep a record of their respective due dates. This will allow you to plan these payments according to your pay dates. Never spend more money than you earn!

IMG_0009

If you have high heating bills in the winter, contact your utility company and ask to be put on a budget plan. Then you’ll have  12 equal monthly bills each reflecting 1/12 of your total annual estimated consumption, instead of low bills in Summer and high bills in Winter. Trust me, it’s much easier to stick to a budget this way.

Set aside any ‘extra’ money you trim from your budget to build up emergency savings, or to fund future vacations or big-ticket items.

Clean out the pantry!                                    

If you’ve stocked up the larder with an impressive amount of groceries, resolve to use these groceries over the coming months. You don’t want to have food go out of code in the back of the cupboard because you felt like ordering take-out for the tenth time this month. Spoiled food is wasted money! A home-cooked meal made from scratch with assorted food-stuffs will stretch your pay-check and increase your ability to save even more money! Always keep track of what’s in the house, and don’t buy groceries you don’t need.  Take a list of what you need with you to the store, stick to the list, and buy it on sale, with coupons if at all possible. Also, be sure to avoid the impulse-buy traps the stores lay out for you when you shop.

Clear the queue!

If you have been using credit cards correctly and are reaping the benefits of reward points, then you are already in the habit of paying your entire balance in full each month. That’s excellent, BUT there is usually a two to three week gap between the statement closing date, the invoice mailing date and the monthly due date. If you’re using your cards every day, you run the risk of overcharging and blowing your budget the following month. Let’s assume your VISA cards closing date is January 15th. and about 5 days later, you receive the bill in the mail on January 20th, with a due date of February 2nd.   This bill will have all your charges from December 16th 2017 through January 15th 2018. Let’s say the balance is $1136 on the statement. This will NOT reflect the $30 gas you charged on 1/16, the $235 in groceries you charged on 1/18 and the $17 at the fast food place you stopped at on the way home on 1/20 before you even got home to see the visa bill waiting in your mailbox.  So even though you immediately write a check to cover the $1136 on the VISA bill, you technically are still in debt $282 in new charges not reflected  on the current statement which will appear on your NEXT statement.

What you need to do is go on a credit card ‘diet’ and clear the queue of future charges posted to future statements. First resolve to go ‘cash only’ for a thirty-to-sixty day period.  This will allow you to zero out your balances, and get back to spending as you go, verses carrying interest-free debt on a grace period.  This may be hard if you have automatic recurring payments scheduled, but the trick there is to send a ‘double payment’ the one month.

Trust me, you don’t want to be carrying a ‘grace period’ balance, fully expecting to pay it in full next month, only to have an unexpected life event zap your ability to do so. No one plans to get fired, become incapacitated by illness, or suddenly face an unexpected  car repair job. Life happens. A wise man expects the unexpected and plans accordingly .  As always I wish you  happiness and success!

Will you be left out in the cold?

Security in your golden years is up to you!

” Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,  yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest..” Proverbs 6:6-8 NIV

Grasshopper

The Grasshopper and the Ant  is one of Aesop’s Fables and draws its origin from Proverbs 6:6-8 in the Bible. Aesop is thought to have been a Greek slave who lived about 600 B.C.  The fable describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The situation sums up moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.

Cradle to grave– A Ponzi Scheme

Charles Ponzi was an Italian swindler who ran a fraudulent investment  con operation where returns for older investors were funded through revenue paid by new investors. This is by and large how Social Security works.

 The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. In addition to several provisions for general welfare, the new Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. The Social Security Administration will deny that it is a Ponzi scheme, even going into detail as to why it’s not a Ponzi scheme in one of its publications and again on its website. Social Security is part of a government attempt to provide ‘cradle to grave’ social welfare programs to provide for citizens of the USA. Relying on Social Security to support you in your old age is a terrible idea. It exists solely to provide funds for people too lazy to set aside funds for their retirement, and it will barely be able to cover basic needs. I have personally witnessed my mother and her sisters struggle and fail to make ends meet with Social Security. My mother would have been homeless without me bridging the shortfall left by her $450 a month SSA check the last five years of her life. My last living aunt is 76 and gets a meager $1060 per month.  She is constantly falling behind on the rent. She HAS been homeless, and will probably be again in the near future after alienating most of the family.   

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” – President Ronald Reagan

Your retirement is your business, not the governments!

The 401(k) provision was created in the 1978 Tax Revenue Act,  but went largely unnoticed for two years until Ted Benna, noticed that the tax clause in section 401, subsection (k), did not preclude pre-tax salary reduction when it stipulated that cash or deferred-bonus plans qualified for tax deferral.  It was a creative loophole that eventually led to rise of the 401(k) Plan as a major wealth-generating retirement tool.  Ronald Reagan had made personal saving through tax-deferred individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, a component of his campaign and presidency. (He went on to sign this new interpretation into tax law after he won the 1980 election. ) Payroll deductions for IRAs were allowed in 1981.

In February of 2005 Republican President George W. Bush outlined a major initiative to reform Social Security which included partial privatization of the system, personal Social Security accounts, and options to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into secured investments.  In essence, he wanted to wean the populace off the teat of Social Security and move them into more financially lucrative personal IRAs. Democrats opposed the proposal and after gaining control of both houses following the 2006 Midterm elections, effectively killed the plan for the remainder of Bush’s term in office.  The Democrats created the failure that is Social Security, and they will fight to keep us under its yoke. The path to fiscal independence is paved with the gold bricks of IRAs and 401(k) plans. Countless fortunes have been made by investing in the stock market. No one have ever become wealthy by collecting monthly SSA checks.

IRA vs. 401(k): What’s the difference?  

Both 401(K) plans and IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) allow you to save money in the stock market through tax deferred contributions. Anyone with a job can contribute money to an IRA. You can only contribute money to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan if one is offered by your place of employment. In many cases employers will offer matching contributions. In other words: FREE MONEY. You should commit to contributing 10% of your salary to these plans as soon as you are eligible to enroll, and you should always be sure to contribute enough to  max out the employer match. Again, it’s FREE MONEY! There is no funding match for IRAs. As of January 2018, the maximum employee contribution for 401(k) and similar plans is $18,500. The max for an IRA is $5,500, but if you’re 50 or older you can add another $1000 to that as a catch-up fund.

 Retirement plans offered by employers include:

  • 401(k) plan – a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. It lets workers save and invest a piece of their paycheck before taxes are taken out. Taxes aren’t paid until the money is withdrawn from the account.
  • 403(b) plan – also known as a tax-sheltered annuity (TSA) plan, is a retirement plan for certain employees of public schools, employees of certain tax-exempt organizations, and certain ministers. The basic difference is that a 403b is used by nonprofit companies, religious groups, school districts, and governmental organizations. The law allows these organizations to be exempt from certain administrative processes that apply to 401k plans. In other words, administrative costs for a 403b are lower.
  • 457 plan –  a kind of defined contribution retirement plan available to state and local public employees, but can also be offered by certain nonprofit organizations. They work much the same way as 401(k) plans.
  • TSP Plan – Federal employees and members of the uniformed services participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings plan similar to 401(k) plans offered to private sector employees

Both IRAs and 401(k) plans may be available as ROTHs. Roth IRAs and now the new Roth 401(k)s are named for Delaware Senator William Roth and were established by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. There is no pre-tax savings on these, they are funded by after- taxed income, but they grow tax free.  

IRAs give you the largest number of personal investment choices, they are quite similar to a brokerage fund. 401(k)s tend to limit your investment choices to up to as many as twenty different funds, which may be passive index funds, or actively managed funds which will have periodic fund maintenance fees associated with them which will eat away at your returns.   

EXAMPLE: My company TSP Plan offers 6 funds:

G Fund: Government Securities Investment Fund (no risk bonds)

F Fund: Fixed Income Index Investment Fund – is invested in a separate account that is managed to track the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index

C Fund: Common Stock Index Investment Fund – tracks the Standard &Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Stock Index

S Fund: Small Cap Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market (TSM) Index.

I Fund: International Stock Index Investment Fund – a stock index fund that tracks the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

L Fund: Lifestyle Fund – diversifies participant accounts among the G, F, C, S, and I Funds using professionally determined investment mixes (allocations)that are tailored to different time horizons. The L Funds are rebalanced to their target allocations each business day. The investment mix of each fund adjusts quarterly to more conservative investments as the fund’s time horizon shortens.

The Bottom Line

I have been paying into Social Security since I got my first paycheck at my first job. It’s mandatory. You can’t opt out. I have been actively and intentionally contributing to my company TSP plan since I became eligible. It’s MY option to do so. No one is forcing me to do this. I can check the balances of both programs online. Needless to say, the mandatory government SSA plan which I am forced to pay into has far less in it than my personal TSP plan which I have been overseeing myself.  You will come out far ahead of the rest when you take a hands on approach to your money, and your retirement. A fool and his money are soon parted. Do you want to be wise, or is it your intention to be a fool? It’s your life, it’s your money, it’s your choice. As always I wish you  happiness and success!

You Can’t Time The Market!

The ‘right time’ to invest was yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) often simply called ‘The Dow’ was founded on May 26, 1896. It was created by Wall Street Journal editor Charles Dow, and is named after both Dow and statistician Edward Jones.  It is one of popular financial guides used to track how well investment stock markets are doing.  Other popular indices used by business and finical watchers include:

  • The Standard & Poor’s 500 – often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P was introduced in 1923, but fully realized in its current form on March 4th 1957.   
  • Nasdaq Composite  – created on February 8, 1971 by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD)
  • CBOE Volatility Index or VIX –   a  measurement of  expected  volatility implied by S&P 500 index options, created by the Chicago Board Options Exchange on January 19, 1993. This last one is sometimes referred to as ‘the fear index’, and moves inversely to the S&P. You want this one to plunge.

I will be limiting the scope of this blog post to the American stock markets and  economy.  I have very little experience with foreign stocks and markets. One important thing to note, the stock market is driven by investment expectations and is an ’emotional’ response to the economy. It is not the same thing as the economy, but it can impact it. There are many factors that impact the market that can include everything from oil prices to politics to weather.  Ultimately, shrewd investors study multiple factors before committing their stock trades as past performance is  never an indication of future earnings. No one can know the future, but we can study the past and make an educated guess.

“The sad fact is that people are poor because they have not yet decided to be rich.” —Brian Tracy

The Time is NOW!

Quite often  a few misguided friends and co-workers tell me that they are waiting for the right time to invest in the market.  Fear of a correction or a crash keep them from potential earnings. Poor spending habits hamper their ability to invest. Ignorance and the refusal to seek wise counsel on fiscal issues keep them in poverty. You cannot spend your way into prosperity, the only sure-fire way to get rich is by making diverse, informed investments over a long period of time. You can’t achieve this if you spend every penny  you make on food, ‘toys’, and entertainment.   You need to first get your financial house in order because the money you use to invest must be disposable income not earmarked for essential monthly expenses. Refer to my many earlier blog posts on finances, planning,  and budgeting.   

upupup

“Whenever I hear people talk pessimistically about this country, I think they’re out of their mind.” — Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway chairman

But a crash is coming!

Maybe. Maybe not.  And, so what? There have been 14 crashes in the history of the Dow. The market has ALWAYS rebounded usually within a matter of months. The longest recovery period was from  the Great Crash on October 24th 1929 which lasted four years and then led to the Great Depression.

Three examples of why uninformed and/or misinformed investing is dangerous:

 #1 On November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States. (Full disclosure,  I’m a Christian first, and a lifelong Republican second. I FULLY support the current President. I voted for him in both the primary and general election, and will vote for him again when he runs for his second term in 2020. I’ve lost friends because of this fact, but I stand my ground.)

When Trump won the election, there were a lot of newscasters , Democrats, and entertainers who said the country was DOOMED! I had a discussion with a very upset friend at work who thought that this was the end of the world. On Nov 07, 2016, the day before the election, the Dow closed at 17,994.64. I was hoping and praying that Trump won, because I fully believed that a Clinton win would be the death of the U.S.  and a disaster for its economy. Being precautious, I moved all of my investments out of the market, just in case the unthinkable happened and ‘That Woman’ won. (I had done the same thing in the 2008 election, more on that later.)  Fortunately the best man won.

The Dow shot up nearly a 1000 points over the next week, a gain which I missed out on because I couldn’t move my investments back fast enough.  It kept going up. About two or three weeks after the election, I told the same co-worker that I had read several financial analysts who predicted the Dow would hit 30,000 by the end of Trump’s first term, and 50,000 by the end of his second term should he win again in 2020. I EVEN showed him the articles stating this. He didn’t believe it, not a word, and dismissed it as propaganda.  As of Friday January 5th 2018 the Dow closed at 25,295.87!

#2 There’s an old Investment adage – Sell in May and go away, but remember to come back in September! It’s meant to avoid seasonal declines in the market, and I’ve used it more often than not. Sometimes I’ve benefited, other times I missed out on an unexpected spike in the markets during the Summer.  You can’t time the market, but you can attempt to lock in gains and minimize losses. You see market sell-offs all the time. These are mini corrections and just people trying to time the market because they think it may go down, then they plan to jump back in and capture the dip. In May of 2008, the Dow ran between 12,818.34 and 12,638.22, so it was pretty flat that month. I don’t remember the exact date I got out of the market that May, but It was probably near the end of the month. In either case it was a presidential election year, and I was not 100% thrilled with John McCain, but I absolutely HATED the other option and I’d sooner vote for Satan than a Democrat. (Unfortunately my guy didn’t win that year.)  The Dow closed at 9,625.28 On November 4th 2008. It plunged 500 points two days later and kept dropping. Fortunately as I knew that presidential election years are very unpredictable, I chose to stay out in May and remained out as I kept watching the market drop, and drop, and drop! It hit a low on Mar 05, 2009 of 6,544.10 before it started its long climb back. During this time I was still buying new shares of stock in my 401k, and even increased my paycheck deductions to 20% to capture these incredible bargains, all the while, my original balance total from May 2008 was locked away safely earning interest in a no-risk bond fund. When it got to May 2009, I uncharacteristically moved my nest egg back into the market and rode that elevator to the top! A co-worker wasn’t so lucky. He stayed in during the plunge, got out at the bottom and stayed out missing the rebound because of fear.

 #3 I was speaking about the market with a friend on December 16, 2017. He had his investments in a no risk fund, because he was fearing a crash, and was waiting for the ‘right time’ to re-enter the market. My investments were all in the high risk C Fund, or Stock fund. They still are, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Anyhow, I told him there wasn’t anything to worry about and that the market would keep going up. December 15th 2017, the Dow closed at 24,651.74. Three weeks later on Jan 5th 2018 it closed at 25,295.87, up over 600 points.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  Matthew 6:27 NIV

Let me tell you, I’ve been broke and deep and debt, and I’ve been debt-free and financially sound. Rich is better than broke. I’ve been investing for my retirement since I started working. If you keeping putting off investing in your 401k and building your savings because you’re afraid, you’ll always be broke. The USA has endured many disasters and tragedies which have impacted the stock market since its inception, yet it always rebounds and yields an average return on investments of above 10.5% over the long term. The fact is, if you let your life be ruled by fear and doubt, you will second guess everything, become skeptical with anything and succeed at nothing except making yourself miserable and poor. The decision is up to you, choose well. As always I wish you happiness and success!