How to Use Poker to Become a Better Investor

How to Use Poker to Become a Better Investor

 

Investing can be a challenging and precarious endeavor.

There are a host of common mistakes investors make, and they almost always have serious consequences. Even the most stable investment can go wrong, and often forces outside your control affect your ability to make sound decisions. Consider those who had investments in Russia before the war broke out in Europe—they couldn’t foresee the impact here in the US, but it is real.

Outside of those market forces, there are skills that investors must possess which don’t seem to come naturally to all; indeed, some skills are in direct contrast to each other. For instance, you must be able to act quickly and decisively but also be restrained and assemble facts before investing. You must understand the complexities of the market, but sometimes you may need to go with your gut feeling. You must invest big for significant returns, but also take care never to overreach.

Where can one learn the skills required for such a complicated project? Oddly, the poker world can teach us many lessons, and good poker players have gone on to be good investors and vice versa. Vanessa Selbst, one of the most prominent poker players in the world, joined the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, in 2018. She made the claim that there were similarities between the world of investing and the poker circuit and that, subsequently, her skills were transferable. Her success with Bridgewater underlined that belief.

What aspects of poker can help make someone a good investor? In essence, poker is a game of investing: you invest chips in a hand for different reasons. You are then either rewarded or suffer losses because of your actions. However, specific elements of poker make it a great game for investors to indulge in to test their skills.

Here’s why.

 

Informed Decisions

Like poker, investing is a game of skill and chance. You must make decisions based on the information available but also be aware that market forces, like other people’s hands in poker, can change your luck. Skill in poker comes by calculating pot odds, working out the possibility of winning a certain hand based on your information and factoring in the potential variables. Investing is pretty much the same if you scratch the surface; you have some information available, and you work out how much to commit based on that knowledge.

 

Bankroll Management

That brings us to a critical part of both poker and investment: your bankroll. To invest, you must have stake money, and to play poker, you must have a stack of chips. Managing your bankroll and ensuring you’re in the game every time a hand comes up is a real challenge. During a poker game, you use the information available to you to make your choices. You may go all-in if you have two aces, and there are two on the table—that’s a solid hand. Would you do the same on a pair of twos, even with a third on the river? Possibly not. In investing, it’s much the same. You commit to something that guarantees a return but hold some back for an investment that isn’t quite as certain.

 

Deal with Losses

In poker, losses are inevitable. Nobody wins every hand, and sometimes you’ll commit to a play that sees you take a hit. It might be a simple case of having a weaker hand than an opponent, or you might have been bluffed. Either way, you’ll lose chips. The best players lose chips, just like the best investors lose money. Not every foray into forex is successful, and not every stock option goes up. Being a good investor is about handling that loss. Don’t chase the money back; move on and learn from the experience. In poker, if you threw a stack of chips into a hand but the river didn’t bring the cards you needed, you’d need to cut your losses, get out, and start again. That’s solid advice for investors to heed: deal with the loss and move on.

 

 

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by: Breanna T. Worden.
Breanna is an investor and poker enthusiast from Carson City. Having spent many years working for investors in London and Tokyo, he settled in the desert with his partner Charley.

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

 

Home Repairs: DIY vs Hired Work

Home Repairs: DIY vs Hired Work

 

It’s a tricky decision: hire someone to make home repairs for you or do it yourself.  Some are inclined to tackle their home improvement projects themselves to save money. It can even be satisfying to use your own hands to do a job. However, some home renovation projects are better handled by professional contractors.

Whether you plan on making significant structural changes to your house or just looking to make some upgrades, it would be a wise idea to determine which projects work best as DIY and which ones you need a professional for.

Read on to learn the benefits of DIY home improvement versus hiring a professional for the job. Moreover, you will learn how to decide between the two approaches for specific tasks.

Hopefully, it will give you better insights for your next project.

How to Decide Which Improvement Route to Take?

Deciding whether to take up a home renovation project yourself or seek the help of professional general contractors can be a confusing process. Let’s look at it in two parts.

First, let’s explore when it makes sense to tackle a DIY project to save money and when it is best to hire a professional to do the job. Then we’ll go over the pros and cons of each option.

 

 

When to Take the DIY Approach

You may pursue the DIY approach whenever any of the following conditions are true:

The project is not complicated and is easy to learn.

DIY jobs are not meant for complex projects that require specialized knowledge and fine-tuning. You should leave all of that to a professional. However, if the project is not complicated and you are willing to take the time to learn the basics of the job, you can take the DIY approach for that particular task.

You are not looking for perfection.

There’s a big chance that your remodeling project might not be as good as you anticipated it to be if you do it yourself. Are you okay with that? If yes, you can treat the project as a DIY job and enjoy saving money.

You like working on simple home improvement projects.

If you really enjoy DIY projects, then that will make your decision easy. Do you treat it as more of a hobby than a job? If yes, you should try the DIY route for specific home projects.

 

 

When to Hire Professional Help

Consider hiring a professional whenever one or more of the following conditions are true:

The project requires a building permit.

Numerous jurisdictions require a permit to facilitate electrical work or other structural changes. The ideal process would be to contact your city planner and find out your area’s licensing requirements. Such jobs often require special skills, so hiring a licensed contractor to perform them may be required.

A mistake could have serious consequences.

Some home improvements require a combination of a careful balancing act and expert supervision to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Even if you can find ways to burglar-proof your home, mistakes can keep your house vulnerable and weak.

Therefore, it is best to hire a professional, who often provides insurance for their job, if something goes wrong.

You plan on selling the house.

If you have a clear vision of selling your house in the future, you should seek professional help for most of your home repair work. Why? Because amateur DIY work can often turn off potential buyers and even reduce the value of your home.

If you are interested in learning the craft, you can work as a general contractor under a professional for larger projects like bathroom remodeling or plumbing.

 

 

Pros and Cons of Hired Work

Suppose you have decided to hire a pro after analyzing all the factors. In that case, you must check the professional license of your contractor and then think about the following pros and cons.

Pros

  • High-quality results
  • Keeps you out of any physical danger
  • Keeps the house value intact
  • Ideal for major work

Cons

  • Costs more money
  • Binds you to a strict project schedule

 

 

Pros and Cons of DIY

If you have considered all the essential factors and have decided to go for a DIY approach, keep in mind these pros and cons:

Pros

  • Ideal for smaller jobs
  • Saves money
  • Helps you learn a new skill

Cons

  • Compromised work quality as compared to reputable contractors
  • Can cause physical injuries
  • Not possible for building projects that require permits

 

 

Final Words

Your home is your safe haven. It is necessary to weigh all the pros and cons of both approaches when determining whether to go for a DIY job or hire a professional for your home renovations.

On the one hand, a DIY job is ideal for small projects and can help you potentially save a significant amount of money and raise your skill level.

On the other hand, a licensed professional should always handle complex home repair jobs related to cabinet hardware, hardwood floors, plumbing, and electrical work. It might cost you more money, but it guarantees quality results.

Moreover, it keeps you and your family safe from any physical injuries and keeps the value of your house intact. So, take note of the above approaches before you start on your home improvement projects.

 

 

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by: Ben. 

Ben is a Web Operations Executive at InfoTracer who takes a wide view from the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber.

 

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Merriman. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Moving On Up – Ways You Can Prepare for Your Next/Forever Home

Moving On Up – Ways You Can Prepare for Your Next/Forever Home

 

High on the list of stress-inducing situations is the process of buying a home. And while folks tend to think of the first home as being the hardest, I believe it is the next or your “forever” home that causes the most consternation.

The process of buying a home has a lot of moving pieces to contend with for the buyer; and when you add in the sale of your existing property along with the need to be financially stable enough to balance both homes (hopefully not for long), it can make the move feel untenable. Here are a few things that I wish I had known back when I was making that move:

  • Cash is KING right now. Having excess savings set aside will help the process—but it is not the only way to finance your move.
  •  

  • You may be able to use your current home’s equity to finance your down payment. Depending on the situation, doing this can give you a leg up on the competition, particularly in this hot real estate market. To accomplish this, you may be able to use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or a second mortgage. In some cases, a bridge loan may also be a wise decision.
  •  

  • Your investment portfolio may offer some temporary cash for that next down payment. If you have assets in a taxable investment account and don’t want to sell them, you may be able to use a margin loan or a securities-based line of credit. Like a HELOC, you can borrow against the value of something—in this case, your stock portfolio.
  •  

  • You may be able to negotiate a lease back of your current property if the next place is not available.
  •  

  • With home prices on the rise, rolling equity into your next home could help keep your payments reasonable.
  •  

  • Speaking of payments, interest rates are also on the rise. Working with an experienced mortgage broker can help you get set up for success. Start that process early and look for opportunities to lock in lower rates while we have them.
  •  

  • Practice your new payments. Setting aside the additional amount you expect to pay after your move can accomplish two things: Add to your savings and get you used to higher expenses.
  •  

  • Get creative! There are many ways to make that second purchase successful. An experienced team can help you find ways to get your offer accepted.
  •  

  • Have patience. Buying a home can be stressful, especially when you already have a property. Patience and a sense of humor can go a long way toward making it a rewarding experience!

 
We love helping our clients navigate changes, like moving up. If you have questions about how to do this successfully, let us know.

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

 

Let’s Talk About Living with Student Loans

I have more student loan debt than I care to admit. But it was my decision, and I own it.

 

There’s been a lot of chatter in the news lately about student loan debt. With the total U.S. student loan debt reaching $1.75 million (mine included), the calls to forgive student loan debt have reached a crescendo—as if, if we scream it loud enough, the debt will just disappear into the ether. Removing the prospect of a presidential magic wand making it go away, the real question now is this: how do you save for the future, pay down your debt, and live fully?

I often read news articles detailing the hardship new graduates face when they struggle to pay down their loans and subsidize their lifestyles. I see a lot of finger-pointing toward a rigged system, corporations underpaying, or the predatory nature of lending. This isn’t to dismiss legitimate concerns of these institutions, but too often, I see a lack of personal agency. Behind some news articles, you find the subject of the article owns a Mercedes or rents an apartment that their social status dictates they should have but not the one their wallet demands. Take a step back.

Can you answer “yes” to these questions?

  • I know exactly how much money I’ll have at the end of the month.
  • I do not live paycheck to paycheck.
  • I can pay my bills and still save for wish list items.

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to look at your current lifestyle. There’s an emotional component to finance that we often overlook. For many of us, our relationship with money becomes a reflection of who we are as a person. No one proudly admits they spend $150 on brunch a month. And no one boasts about their tendency to avoid their bank accounts out of fear of what the balance will be. After college, I had a coming-to-Jesus moment when I decided that to live my life fully, I needed to be the one who dictated where each and every dollar went. Enter zero-based budgeting.

If you’re not familiar with it, zero-based budgeting requires you to assign each and every dollar of your paycheck to a job. By assigning each dollar, it exposes your spending habits and tallies all the dollars and cents that have a sneaking tendency to add up well beyond your expectation. You must decide, “Do I need to budget $100 on Uber rides? I’d rather apply it to something else more important.” There is a mental calculation and trade off that must occur for you to affirm how your money is spent. There are several apps you can find to assist with this, such as You Need a Budget (YNAB) and EveryDollar. Having done this myself for a while now, I have found significant savings that I use to apply toward next month’s bills, thus providing me a safe buffer should I run into emergency expenses. I cook meals at home, and now suddenly I have $150 to allocate how I want (hello, Hawaii fund!).

Here’s the point: budgeting every dollar sets you free. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not. I’ve been able to tell every dollar what to do. I can set goals for myself, make trade-offs, and avoid incurring more debt. That constant fear of not knowing if I’ll make it to the next paycheck has vanished. It’s also worth noting that while it may feel difficult at first to adjust, your income is likely to increase as you pay down your loans. Luckily, your spending habits will stick even as you increase your wealth.

How do you save for the future, pay your debt, and live fully? You take control of your financial situation—warts and all.

 

 

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Considerations for Being Self-Employed Versus an Employee

Considerations for Being Self-Employed Versus an Employee

 

It’s no question that the pandemic has resulted in major shifts in the workforce. Whether it be the large-scale layoffs in March 2020 or the Great Resignation that more recently impacted personnel changes, we know that millions of Americans have left their jobs due to burn out and/or to pursue starting their own businesses in the hope of finding something that brings more personal fulfillment. In 2021, there were over 5 million new business applications submitted, which is an astonishing 55% jump from 2019.1

If the idea of starting up your own business has been on your mind, you have more than likely asked yourself if it’s the right thing to do financially—or at the very least are curious about all the differences between working for a company or being self-employed. We highlight the pros and cons for both options below.

 

Taxes

First and foremost, taxes are the greatest change when making the switch from employee to self-employed. Most employed individuals are familiar with various line items for federal and state taxes, Social Security, and Medicare amongst many other potential employer-provided benefits (more on those other benefits later). When you’re self-employed, you, of course, still pay federal and state taxes, but in place of the regular line items for Social Security and Medicare, the IRS adds a self-employment tax. Typically, the Social Security and Medicare amounts are figured by employers, but self-employed individuals (or their tax professionals) need to calculate out what their self-employment tax looks like. The self-employment tax rate is 15.3% which consists of two parts: 12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare. And, just as employers do, you can deduct the employer portion of your self-employment tax to calculate your adjusted gross income.2

Sticking on the topic of deductions, self-employed individuals can deduct expenses for their business that can reduce taxable income. Things like phone bills, internet bills, home office expenses, business travel, and health insurance are all common examples of deductible items for the self-employed, and these are all things you can’t typically deduct as an employee. While finding deductions can sound fun, it also means a lot more work on the administrative side by tracking each of these items and having proper documentation to help you make sure you’re maximizing your deductions.

 

Savings

As an employee, you can maximize your pre-tax or Roth 401(k) contributions up to the IRS limit of $20,500 or $27,000 for those age 50 and above (2022). When you’re self-employed, you are eligible to make contributions to a solo 401(k) as both the employee and the employer. This means you can contribute up to $20,500 for your employee contribution then contribute up to 25% of your compensation on top of that for the employer match.

With regard to savings, one item that could be considered a small perk of being self-employed is having the freedom to choose which custodian you utilize for your retirement savings.

 

Benefits

Going back to the topic of benefits, employees are usually offered benefits through their employers, such as paid time off, health and life insurance, free/discounted fitness memberships, retirement plan matching or employee stock awards, donation matching, paid family leave, adoption assistance, and sometimes even retailer specific discounts. These benefits can certainly provide peace of mind beyond their monetary value for some and don’t exist when you’re self-employed.

 

Flexibility/Stability

One huge benefit of being self-employed is the amount of flexibility it provides. You can decide to work from home, a local café, or even beachside. You choose your own hours and aren’t limited to the amount of paid time off you’re allotted each year when you feel like taking a vacation. You’re also your own boss, so there’s no risk of having a supervisor managing you and potentially causing friction. On the flip side, there also aren’t any paid holidays or sick days. Without the oversight of a manager and being fully responsibility for the growth of your business, it takes a great amount of motivation and focus to be self-employed, which could also result in longer hours. There may be periods, especially in the early stages, where earnings may be lower or inconsistent, so making sure you’re prepared will be of utmost importance. Being okay with failure before finding success is a common theme amongst entrepreneurs, and remember that what you gain in freedom, you may also lose in security.

Being an employee typically means stable income; however, this also means your livelihood is dependent on your company’s success. The stability of working as an employee can be more than a steady source of income—it can also mean long-term career development and opportunities and more convenient access to building long-term professional relationships.

 

It’s quite clear that there are many considerations for anyone thinking about making career changes, but there’s no reason you should have to think things through on your own. It’s ultimately a personal choice, but we recommend getting in touch with your advisor or clicking here to connect with an advisor at Merriman to discuss what makes sense for you and your lifestyle.

 

 

Sources

1 https://www.today.com/video/american-workers-are-becoming-their-own-bosses-through-the-great-resignation-130454597857

2 https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/self-employment-tax-social-security-and-medicare-taxes

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and is not intended as specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The information presented here has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

 

The Roth Rulebook

The Roth Rulebook

 

When preparing for retirement, it can be important to save money in different types of accounts to give you flexibility when it comes time to spend those funds. One of the most powerful and misunderstood types of accounts is the Roth. A Roth account is an after-tax retirement account that can be in the form of an IRA or an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k). The after-tax component means you pay tax on the front end when receiving the income, and in exchange, you can receive tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals if you follow the rules of the Roth. There are three components to consider: contributions, conversions, and earnings. Contributions and conversions refer to the principal amount that you contribute or convert, while earnings refer to the investment growth in the account. There are contribution and eligibility limits set by the IRS each year, but today we will focus on withdrawing funds from a Roth IRA to maximize the after-tax benefit.

 

Roth Contributions

After you contribute to a Roth IRA, you can withdraw that contribution amount (principal) at any time without paying taxes or the 10% penalty. That is an often-overlooked fact that can come in handy.

Example: Ted is 38 years old and decides to open his first Roth IRA. He contributes $5,000 to the account immediately after opening it. Two years later, Ted finds himself in a financial bind and needs $5,000 for a car repair. One of the possible solutions for Ted is that he could pull up to $5,000 from his Roth IRA without paying any tax or penalty.

 

Roth Conversions

A Roth conversion is when you move funds from a pre-tax account such as a traditional IRA. You will owe income tax on the amount that you convert. This can be a powerful strategy to take control of when and how much you pay in taxes. There is no limit to how much you can convert.

When it comes to withdrawing money used in a Roth conversion, five years need to have passed or you need to be at least 59.5 years old to withdraw the conversion penalty-free. It is important to remember that each conversion has a separate 5-year clock.

Example: Beth is 50 when she executes a $40,000 conversion from her IRA to her Roth IRA in January 2020. In March 2025, Beth finds herself needing $40,000 for a home renovation. One of the possible solutions is that Beth could pull up to $40,000 from the conversion that she did over five years ago even though she is under 59.5.

 

Earnings

When it comes to withdrawing earnings from growth that has occurred after contributing or completing a conversion, you must wait until age 59.5 and five years need to have passed since you first contributed or completed a conversion. If you don’t follow both of those rules, then you could have to potentially pay income tax on the growth and a 10% penalty.

Example: With our previous examples above with Ted and Beth, even though they can withdraw their contribution and conversion respectively, neither of them can touch the earnings in their Roth accounts until they are 59.5 and have satisfied the 5-year rule.

 

Other Important Details

There are a few other exceptions that allow a person to avoid the penalty and/or income tax, such as a death, disability, or first-time home purchase.

For ordering rules, when a withdrawal is made from a Roth IRA, the IRS considers that money to be taken from contributions first, then conversions when contributions are exhausted, and then finally earnings.

 

Strategies 

  • Have a thorough understanding of the rules before withdrawing any funds from a Roth account.
  • Speed up the 5-year clock.
    • You can technically satisfy the 5-year clock in less than five years. You can make contributions for a previous year until the tax filing date (typically April 15th, but as of this writing, it may be April 18th in 2022). This means that a contribution on April 1st, 2022, could be designated to count toward 2021, and the clock will count as starting on January 1st, 2021. This shaves 15 months off the 5-year clock! Note: Conversions must be complete by the calendar year’s end (12/31), but you can still shave 11 months off the 5-year clock.
  • Start the 5-year clock now!
    • Even a $1 contribution or conversion starts the clock for you to be able to harness tax-free gains, so start as soon as possible.
  • After the passing of the SECURE ACT in 2019, most non-spousal IRA beneficiaries must now fully distribute inherited IRAs within ten years. This means that an inherited Roth IRA owner could potentially allow the inherited Roth to grow tax-free for up to ten more years and then withdraw those funds tax-free. If it fits into an individual’s financial plan, this can be a tremendous tax strategy to take advantage of.

 

Roth accounts can be incredible but also very confusing. As advisors, we figure out the best way to use these accounts to your advantage in terms of maximizing growth and minimizing taxes. If you have any questions about how you can best utilize a Roth account, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are always happy to help you and those you care about!

 

 

 

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Nothing in these materials is intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances. Merriman does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.