The Importance of Discipline

Benjamin Graham’s famous book, The Intelligent Investor, offers insight into the most important trait in investing, discipline. Graham explains you don’t have to be smarter than the rest, just more disciplined than the rest.

We often think investment success is achieved by picking the next hot stock or manager/fund that’s been beating the market, but that is a flawed approach. In the words of Graham, “The best way to measure your investing success is not by whether you’re beating the market but by whether you’ve put in place a financial plan and a behavioral discipline that are likely to get you where you want to go.”

While all advisors and managers strive to outperform the markets over time for their clients, the single biggest thing a good advisor can do is be there to act as your behavior coach.

Many studies show investors are often their own worst enemy, letting emotions drive their financial decisions. This ultimately means doing the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Advisors are there to work with you to help you determine your goals and craft a long-term plan funded with a long-term portfolio. Together, you continue working the plan through all the cycles of the economy, and all the fads and fears of the market. read more…

What should I do about the Equifax data breach?

By now, you’ve learned that up to 143 million people in the United States have had their private information stolen through a data breach at Equifax, a national credit reporting agency. What is new and most concerning about this breach is that Equifax is one of the few companies we entrust with our most sensitive financial data.

What was stolen?

Per the Federal Trade Commission, “The hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personally identifiable information for about 182,000 people.”

How do you protect yourself?

If you’ve already enrolled in an identity theft and credit monitoring service, then you have the necessary coverage and don’t need to do anything further.

If you aren’t using such a service, take the following steps: read more…

How the TAP Annuity Works for Washington State Employees

When planning for retirement, Washington State employees have lots of options. The employer-based retirement for the Washington Public Employees Retirement System (PERS 3) is one part defined benefit (pension) and one part defined contribution. The state’s contribution and obligation is on the pension side and is based on a formula that creates a guaranteed lifelong income stream for the participant. The employee’s contributions are put into an investment account (the defined contribution portion of the plan) like a 401(k) where you can choose between a few investment options. Returns and payments from investments in the defined contribution plan aren’t guaranteed and are subject to risk; however, they have the potential to grow at a faster rate than your pension benefit.

Once retired, you can either withdraw from the defined contribution portion like a regular retirement account or turn part or all of this account into a guaranteed income stream through the plan’s Total Allocation Portfolio (TAP) annuity.

What is the TAP annuity?

The TAP annuity provides a guaranteed income stream with a 3% automatic inflation increase each year. Furthermore, your beneficiaries receive a refund of any undistributed portion of your investment in the TAP annuity upon your death. For example, if a retiree contributes $200,000 into the TAP Annuity and passes away five years after retirement, having only received $60,000 in monthly income, their heirs would be entitled to a refund of $140,000. read more…

Hiring a Financial Advisor

So you’ve decided to hire a financial professional to help you navigate your future. You’ve talked to friends and family members, and while you trust their recommendations, putting your financial future into the hands of someone else is a very big deal. You need to do your own due diligence, but where do you start? Not all financial firms/advisors are created equal. And with all the options available to us, many people decide to go it alone out of fear. They fear they could be hiring the next Bernie Madoff, or that they might end up being a number in a long list of clients. The task can seem so daunting that it’s often easier to hire the first advisor you meet, or do nothing at all.

It’s a big decision and many don’t know what questions to ask and what to look for. The below can help provide anyone looking to hire a financial professional a place to start. The questions are not meant to sway anyone in a certain direction, but rather to help ensure you hire someone you feel comfortable with and confident in.

Understand how the advisor is compensated.

Find out exactly how your advisor is paid and make sure you understand any fees and charges – and have them in writing – before making any final decisions. Fee-only means the advisor does NOT earn any commission, while fee-based advisors can earn commissions.

I believe fee-only advisors are best. I formed this belief working for firms that were fee-based and fee-only, and witnessed the practices at each. Fee-only advisors do their best to align their interests with their clients. They don’t make money off the investments they recommend. In a fee-only structure, anything that comes out of your bottom line in turn comes out of the advisor’s bottom line. Therefore, it’s in the advisor’s best interest to only recommend investments they truly believe are in your best interest.

Fee-based advisors might have incentives to sell certain products. (Have you ever heard: “If you want to buy your financial advisor a new Mercedes, buy an annuity?”) Fee-based advisors can fall prey more easily to their clients’ views and emotions, especially during volatile markets. You want to make sure you are hiring someone that will give you the best advice, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet. You don’t want a “Yes” man. read more…

Why It’s Important to Keep Track of Improvements to Your House

Whether you live in a popular residential market like Seattle, San Francisco or New York, or have simply lived in the same home for several decades, it’s more common than ever that households are incurring taxable gains when they sell their home.

Taxable gains from the sale of a primary residence occur when the gain from the sale is above the $250,000 gain exclusion for an individual and $500,000 for a couple. This gain exclusion is available to households that meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve used the home as your primary residence for two out of the past five years (use test).
  • You’ve owned the home for two out of the past five years (ownership test).
  • You did not use the home sale exclusion in the past two years.

The gain is calculated by subtracting selling expenses and your adjusted cost basis in the property from the sale price. The adjusted basis is what you previously paid for the home plus the cost of improvements. Since you are subject to federal capital gains taxes, state taxes (where applicable) and the 3.8% Medicare surtax (in many cases as the taxable gain can be sizeable), keeping track of your improvement history can lead to significant savings on your taxes.

What’s considered an improvement?

The IRS provides the following examples of common improvements to your home that will increase your basis. read more…

Determining Which Term Life Insurance Policy Makes the Most Sense

Term life insurance is used primarily for pure income replacement (i.e., your human capital). When you apply for term life (non-permanent) insurance, you have to choose the amount of coverage you want ($50,000 to more than $2,000,000) and the term of the policy – usually a 10-, 15-, 20- or 30-year policy. The coverage amount and term depend on your specific needs, such as taking care of young children, or paying off the mortgage if you pass away unexpectedly.

Since term life insurance policy premiums stay level, i.e., the same, your premium does not change during the term. This causes the premium to be higher for longer terms. At the end of the term, you either lose life insurance coverage or apply to obtain a new policy with a different term, conditions and premium costs.

How the Premium Is Determined
Your premium is determined by your age, gender and health rating, multiplied by a stated factor for the term and coverage amount you’re applying for. The health rating component requires an insurance physical exam where a nurse visits you at home or at work, or you can go to a doctor’s office.

When deciding how much insurance to get, consider the costs of raising a child and potential college tuition, plus the mortgage, funeral costs and any other potential debt. For lower coverage amounts, such as under $250,000, many companies offer simplified issue insurance, which you usually receive advertisements for by mail from your mortgage lender or homeowner’s insurance company. This type of life insurance doesn’t require a medical exam and can be approved in just a couple of days. read more…

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