Posts Tagged ‘investing’

Investing in a Retirement Account is Like Taking Out a Loan

Traditional retirement plan contributions come with a loan attached to it with a variable rate of interest, to be determined at a later date by the tax code and your income level. #interestrate #interest #loan #IRS #taxesEver since the FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) movement hit the scene I started to question conventional financial wisdom. 

Most of the advice preached was re-purposed from generations past. A penny saved is a penny earned turned into a variety of frugal anecdotes. You can’t read Proverbs (from the Bible) and not recognize the many similarities in advice. Sound money principles have ancient roots.

For a time the FIRE community welcomed me as one of their own before I stepped back a bit to cut my own path. (No sense in another voice calling out the same message.) I’m still part of the community, but gave myself permission to question the dictums of said community. The hope was to build a bridge from where we are to a higher level.

It also became clear my net worth was near the top of the demographic. This bothered me and caused me to conclude something was wrong.  How could a backwoods farm boy with nothing more than a high school education, a few college courses and a full personal library do better than virtually all within a community so dedicated to wealth?

I don’t trust luck to carry me that far. It had to be something else.

Then I started reading what was published in the tax field and felt a great disturbance in the force. While the advice was fundamentally sound, it also lacked in effectiveness if brought to task. All too often blogs were using IRS publications as their authority. (The IRS is NOT a tax authority; they are a bill collector.) If people followed this advice and the IRS ever challenged (likely with so many people tempting fate) there was a real risk of loss. (If you go to Tax Court and say you used an IRS publication as your substantial authority you lose automatically even of you a right! IRS publications have zero authority in Tax Court.)

Sometimes the math was fuzzy. A blogger might claim a certain level of frugality when it didn’t add up. Some claimed a level of wealth that also didn’t add up. Either the rules of mathematics were suspended or someone was trying to pull the wool over their reader’s eyes.

The biggest area of concern involved retirement accounts. The mantra of filling retirement accounts to the hilt for long periods of time has some obvious issues

Some retirement account problems are less apparent. Everyone keeps saying this is the best thing since sliced bread. But is it? 

So I started running some numbers and it wasn’t as clear as most are led to believe. There was something fundamentally wrong with the advice.

 

Numbers Game

The issue is with traditional retirement accounts (IRA, 401(k), 457, 403(b), Keogh, profit-sharing and cash balance plans); Roth type retirement plans don’t have this issue.

Don't lose your retirement account to hidden taxes. Current tax savings are dwarfed by future taxes on all the gains at the highest rate allowed by law. It's your money! Don't give it to the IRS. #retirement #account #hidden #taxesRoth style retirement plans don’t get an up-front deduction, but grow tax-free. Most financial blogs consider this the best animal in the yard. I agree.

A close cousin — if you qualify for it — is the health savings account where you get a deduction and tax-free growth, to be used for qualified medical expenses. The biggest drawback of the HSA is the amount you can invest annually is relatively small. 

Roth retirement plans are limited in many cases based on income on if the employer has the option in their 401(k) . The maximum Roth IRA contribution is also relatively small. (Exact limits are excluded from this post so changes in the limit don’t distract from the evergreen content.)

The mega-backdoor Roth (a favorite of the FIRE community) allows for sizable Roth contributions with one caveat: it’s probably illegal (according to the IRS). The IRS hasn’t attacked the mega-backdoor Roth because there is no current revenue to be raised by taking such action; Roth investments are not deductible.

However, once these accounts grow in size the IRS could come back and disallow the tax-free advantage, plus interest and penalties. If the IRS has a kind heart (ahem) they could forgo the excess contribution issues which would certainly mean penalties several hundred percent of the entire investment. You decide what course you wish to take. 

The safest retirement plan route means traditional retirement plan investments after you maximized your Roth contributions. Or is it?

 

Loan Document

Traditional retirement plan contributions come with a loan attached to it with a variable rate of interest, to be determined at a later date by the tax code and your income level.

All you debt-free warriors should feel a bit nervous at this point. Just as a mortgage-free home still has loan-like obligations (property taxes, insurance, maintenance), a traditional retirement account has an unannounced interest-like expense and it is a big one.

And this is what disturbed me so much that I had to publish a post on it. 

We all know that traditional retirement accounts get a tax deduction at your ordinary tax rate up to the retirement plan contribution limits. We should also know that these accounts grow tax-deferred and that all distributions are taxed at ordinary rates.

This is a real problem if your goal is to maximize your net worth. In the early years the tax benefit makes it seem like it is the best deal on the planet. But as time passes the math tells a darker tale.

Let’s start with a simple example to get a fundamental understanding of this matter:

Joe contributes $10,000 to his t401(k). This is subtracted from his income on the W-2 and never reaches his tax return. His tax bracket is 30%.

We will disregard actual tax brackets as they change over time and we are more interested in a workable formula for determining the best course currently and for future readers as well.

The good news is Joe saved $3,000 on his taxes this year. However, in 40 years, when Joe retires, he discovers his investment in a broad-based index fund performed as index funds have over long periods in the past: around 7% per year on average. Joe is a very happy man! He now has $149,744.58. 

If Joe were to take the entire amount in one year it would be a fairly large tax. However, Joe decides to take the money out over a number of years. As a result his ordinary tax rate is only 15%. (We will disregard taxes on Social Security benefits and other similar issues to make calculations easier.)

Joe now has a tax bill of $22,462. (Numbers are rounded.) That is $19,462 more in additional tax! Call the 19 grand a tax or anything else you want, but it looks like interest on the $3,000 to this accountant.

Even though Joe saw his tax rate decline by half in retirement he still saw his tax bill increase over 700%. His interest rate would be slightly less than 5.2% annualized in this situation assuming Joe never saw his account value increase after he started taking distributions, an unlikely event.

 

Early Payments

If I approached you and said I would borrow you $20,000 at 5.2% would you take it? Unless you have bad credit that is a high interest rate, especially since it in not deductible. Worse, you can’t make early payments to get out of the deal! You can’t jump ship until you are at least 59 1/2 years old. And if you are stubborn I’ll kick you overboard at 70 1/2. 

The good news is I’m a nice guy and will not do that to you. On the other hand, Congress has passed laws the IRS carries out doing just that.

And we haven’t seen the worst part yet! Retirement plan distribution included in income can cause more of your Social Security benefits to be taxed and can also increase the premium you pay for Medicare once you reach age 65.

A small tax deduction today can do real damage in the future. This is why I say I want multiple tax benefits before I get excited about a tax deduction

All this assumes your tax bracket drops when you retire. Considering the massive government fiscal deficits during a strong economy, it seems to this accountant taxes will go up in the future. And if your income remains high in retirement your tax bracket will also be higher.

Consider this: If Joe had a 30% ordinary tax rate on his retirement plan distributions his taxes would have climbed to $44,923, a full 7% annualized rate. For people with good credit this is a massive interest rate and almost nobody is thinking about this.

 

The Cold Equations

Joe’s example is unfair. First, Joe will put a lot more into his retirement plan over his lifetime, therefore, the damage will be much larger.

Second, retirement plan distributions happen over a number of years. While this might sound like a solution to the problem, it actually makes it worse as the investments continue to grow over time.

Third, smaller account balances experience the same issue only with smaller numbers and that tax rates might be lower due to the lower income level.

Fourth, early retirement does not solve the problem. Yes, you can take a limited amount of money from a traditional retirement account before age 59 1/2 without penalty under Section 72(t). This only reduces the amount of time the money has to grow; it doesn’t resolve the issue.

No matter how you cut it, traditional retirement accounts are best viewed as loans from the government, due in retirement. If you don’t pay the piper, your beneficiaries will.

 

 

Alternatives

Your experience will differ from that of others. You can use the simple example above to determine your implied interest rate assessed as tax in the future. You may discover this isn’t an issue for you. Or, you might need a moment for reflective prayer.

We saw that greed for a current tax deduction produces a 5%+ interest rate loan from the government, payable in retirement. So, what alternatives are there?

The best comparison is doing nothing at all (investing in a non-qualified account). You still invest in the same index fund. Dividends and capital gains are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains (LTCG) tax rate (15% or less for most taxpayers) instead of ordinary rates later (up to 37% federal, plus state income taxes). 

Since the money is outside a traditional retirement account you don’t have to worry about early distributions or required minimum distributions. And if you die your beneficiaries get a step-up in basis the retirement accounts don’t get. Gains on these investments are also taxed at the lower LTCG rate. 

 

Matching

I can hear the complaint already: What if my employer matches?

A valid argument. We’ll go back to Joe again and assume his employer matched his contribution 100%.

Joe invested $10,000 of his own money and his employer matched his retirement plan contribution with another $10,000. 

Joe still gets a deduction worth $3,000 for his contribution. The employer’s match is free money and not taxed until Joe takes the money out.

In total, Joe has $20,000 invested in his retirement account. His account grows to $299,489 in 40 years. The tax on this at a 15% tax rate is: $44,923. 

The initial tax benefit to Joe is $3,000, plus $10,000 from his employer, for a total of $13,000. The implied interest rate in this situation is around 3.15%.

The lesson of this part of the story is that using your employer’s retirement plan up to the match maximum is still a good idea for most. After hitting the matching maximum you might be better served putting the rest into a non-qualified account, however.

 

Smart readers will also be quick to point out the extra tax savings means you have more to invest which mitigates any of the extra taxes owed in the future. This would be true if people actually did that.

When was the last time you invested your tax savings from a traditional retirement account investment? Where did you invest it? Uh-huh. Thought so. You spend the tax savings as most do.

(If you are one of the few who actually pull the tax savings from the family budget and invest it in a non-qualified account my hat comes off to you. You still need to run the numbers to verify the best course of action.)

 

Facts and Circumstances

You can’t read tax law for more than a few minutes before running across the words “facts and circumstances”. And this situation is no different.

The IRS has hidden interest-like charges on retirement accounts. Here is how to avoid them. #avoidtaxes #taxes #retirement #IRS #interestI gave you the tools to build a working plan based on your facts and circumstances. Use a future value calculator to determine the interest rate the tax code is forcing you to pay if you use traditional retirement accounts. 

Employer matching is a real benefit that is diminished by the tax code after very long periods of time. (I would focus on the employer match closely as real value can be found there.)

After the employer match and available Roth retirement plan contributions allowed are exhausted you might find non-qualified accounts the best course of action, for you

The important thing is that you are reading this. That means you are more likely to run your numbers for the best options, for you

There are a lot of factors at play. Index funds still kick out dividends and some capital gains which are currently taxed. This slightly reduced the implied interest rate of the traditional retirement plan if you are prone to investing tax savings. It also assumes you keep your fingers off the pile until retirement. 

The one thing to remember is that deferred taxes frequently come with an implied interest rate paid as a higher future tax.

This is the kind of stuff I think about in the dark of the night. It might also be the prime reason I top the net worth list at Rockstar Finance.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

3 Steps I Took to Reach Financial Independence by Age 32

Do what this man did to become a millionaire by 32, starting from nothing. This man's story of growth is moving as we went from poverty in a rural area to massive wealth in a few short years. See what he did to accumulate his massive wealth and become a millionaire.The news feeds seem to be filled with story after story of people retiring at a very young age and how they did it. Most of the stories are very similar and goal always seems to be retirement and world travel. 

But what about the rest of us who want to continue making a difference in the world and refuse to bow to hedonism? 

Most people, I think, are unhappy doing nothing for long periods of time. Travel is fun until it becomes your full-time job. 

There are the hyper performers — the Steve Jobs’, Elon Musks’ and Warren Buffetts’ of the world — who never stop working and then there are the folks we see in the news feeds looking to check out at the earliest date. 

Most folks, however, are somewhere in the middle. They want financial independence for the freedom and security, but enjoy the social and productive nature of gainful employment. These people might work a traditional job, run their own business, consult or volunteer. 

That is what this story is about: How I reached Financial Independence (FI) by age 32, defined as net worth north of $1 million, and the steps I took to get there while retaining a happy and productive life.

The finish line will not include exotic travel. Instead, I focused on what I considered important: family and community. I still run the same business I did back then and I’m married to the same woman (31 years and counting and it just keeps getting better!). I’m most proud of my successful and happy marriage, though that doesn’t seem to sell considering the number of stories on long and happy marriages in the news feeds. 

So this is my story of how I accidentally discovered I was a millionaire.

 

Humble Beginnings

I never inherited a penny in my life and if I am so blessed in the future it will make no difference in my lifestyle. Born to a poor family in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin, I learned of family and hard work from little on. When Vince Lombardi said “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”, he gave my dad the adage, “Family isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

And good thing, too! When you live on a farm in the middle of nowhere there are not many folks to socialize with other than family.

We never had much money growing up is what I’m saying. We always had food on the table, but I remember when I was very young my dad put a piece of plywood across two sawhorses as our kitchen table. (Well, it seemed like luxury living to me!) We were happy because the outside world had not yet crept in to educate us to how backward we were.

Somewhere in this utopia I decided I wanted to be rich some day. It was probably the outside world sneaking in and corrupting a certain accountant in the room, but I had to be receptive to be tainted.

But there was trouble in paradise. The late 1970s were a difficult time for farmers. By 1982 when I graduated high school the writing was on the wall and I was oblivious. 

Less than six months out from graduation the farm was gone. I had no skills to sell in a world not hiring. In 1982 no employer was hiring in the county I lived in. It was so bad employers no longer kept up the illusion and didn’t waste paper giving you an application. The answer was NO!

I managed to save a bit in this environment. I turned 18 with a couple thousand to my name and no debt. 

 

Budding Entrepreneur

The money I had came from a variety of sources, a common theme in my rise to FI. In high school I got up every morning to milk cows at 4 a.m. After school I started milking cows again for 4 hours. I pulled a lot of teats, folks. You might laugh at that, but you would lose that grin if you were there.

For 56 hours per week I milked cows, plus other farm chores, and was paid $40 per month for the effort. I spent nothing! Not because I was smart, but because there was no place to go to spend the money. Town was a long walk and there weren’t many stores in the closest towns.

My freshman year of high school I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA). To raise money members of FFA sold light bulbs. (Back then we only had the incandescent bulb which burned out a lot.)

I took to selling like a duck to water. I talked to everyone in town and every farmer within a day’s drive (I might be stretching the truth a bit). And when the light bulb drive was over I had sold more light bulbs than anyone in FFA history by a very large margin. 

I could sell. That is an important trait other articles on FI don’t mention. Working a job with good wages and benefits and living a frugal lifestyle has several glaring problems.

First, you might not have a high paying job. Minimum wage is not going to get you there by age 32.

Second, you might live in a high cost area of the country. 

Third, formal education and high IQ — and EQ — also make a difference

Forth, it assumes you are in good health.

Fifth, that you never lose that high-paying job while running for FI.

I certainly wasn’t connected and let me be honest here. I, ah, ahem, don’t have a college degree either. {cough} 

You heard me! I did take some college courses, but not enough credits or the right combination for even an Associates. And here I am with my enrolled agent license (the EA is a licence, not a degree) teaching other tax professionals and hiring highly educated people, some of whom have moved on and work for the IRS now.

Not being the smartest guy in the room or with the right education (or pedigree, I might add), I wasn’t on anyone’s radar as Most Likely to Succeed. So what did I do to reach FI so young?

 

3 Steps to Financial Freedom

From graduation day to my 22nd birthday I put those selling skills to work and managed to accumulate a $200,000 nest egg. And remember, this was back in 1986 when $200,000 was serious money. A $10 an hour job was good money in those days. (And I walked up hill to school (both ways) in snow all year around. Just sayin’.)

FFA decided to expand their light bulb fundraising to include garden seeds. There were no records to break as it was the first year offered. Needless to say, I sold a lot of seeds too. (Would you like some light bulbs with those seeds, sir?)

Ditch the job and start living. No more daily grind for the man. Instead, use these 3 steps you build your fortune. #retirement #job #finance #work #wealth I bowed out of selling for the school my junior year and started selling imported goods wholesale to retailers (and anyone else who would buy). I got my supply from a company called Specialty Merchandising Corporation (SMC). Oh yeah, those were the days. And, oh what a lesson I learned.

You see, people will buy over-priced cookies from young girls when it feeds corporate headquarters of a non-profit. But start selling stuff to line your own pocket and the number of “yeses” to “nos” changes radically!

So I improved my skill sets.

By the time I reached the age of majority I accumulated more experience than wealth. Sure, I had some money, but I wasn’t flush. The family farm was gone and that avenue of gainful employment with it.

I worked a short time in my dad’s agricultural repair business. It was tough sledding for dad back then, too. He’s doing well now, but in 1982 it wasn’t a pretty sight.

While working for dad earning a meager wage (money was preserved to pay other employees and to get the business profitable enough to feed a family of four) I worked 80 or more hours per week (record week on the job: 122 hours). I supplemented my income preparing taxes in the winter months. 

Before we knit our eyebrows in dad’s direction, understand it was survival back then. I worked long hours 7 to 9 months of the year (depending on the weather); January and February were light so I had time to prepare taxes. Late May got really busy and for the rest of summer and autumn. So I could earn more in a few months doing 50 or so tax returns than I could working day and night the rest of the year.

To be fair, dad paid me $40 per week, if memory serves, and later, $100 per week. (After I got a raise I quit. Ungrateful kid.)

Readers quick at math will realize this doesn’t add up to $200,000 in 4 years. And that is where we begin our journey of Steps to FI:

 

Step 1:

Unless you make a lot of money at your traditional job you will need multiple sources of income

Let’s count where all my money came from. 1.) Dad was paying me $160 a month, 2.) I was still selling SMC and profits were growing, 3.) I was preparing a small number of tax returns with virtually no expenses (gross margins approached 100%!) and, 4.) interest and dividends.

Interest rates were sky high in the early 1980s. Passbook savings accounts (remember those) paid a minimum of 5%, but most bank products yielded near or over 10%.

While bank interest was guaranteed and the rates mouth-watering, I decided I wanted to own a piece of America by owning stocks. I fondly remember one of my first purchases, a company called, ah, what was that now, oh, Phillip Morris (MO). And I owned a piece of Wrigley, too, until Warren Buffett screwed it up by funding the buyout of Wriggly by Mars, Incorporated for cash. 

I still own those shares of Big MO, now called Altria. The dividends were and are a growing part of my income and don’t think for a moment I didn’t realized the value of getting paid for not working; just for own a piece of a business.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have more than one source of income. If all your income sources are in one basket and that basket withers you are screwed. You might put all your eggs in one basket with a business since each client is a separate income stream, but relying on one traditional job as your only financial resource is problematic. A simple layoff can destroy all your plans.

 

Step 2:

A few years later I got it in my head I would invest in real estate (RE) and go full-time as a tax professional. SMC died on the vine as I focused on building my practice and managing my RE investments.

Which leads to the second step I took toward FI: I owned income producing things (RE and the business) that I had a reasonable amount of control over. 

A job can disappear just like that through no fault of your own. The company can go belly up, the economy can slow, or your job gets outsourced.

Business and real estate have plenty of risk, but it was risk I could control. The Tax Code is never going away and when people try to stop paying less in tax I’m in trouble. Until then I’m golden. 

RE is also risky and comes with a mortgage to increase the incentive to get those units rented. Doing proper research before buying and joining your local apartment association (as I did) and applying some sweat equity increases your chances of success.

I used Step 1 above in RE as well. One vacant unit, if that is all you own, is a 100% vacancy rate. I bought several properties fairly quickly because I knew a few vacancies would only be a nuisance then rather than a catastrophe. 

I worked hard at my businesses. There was no free ride for this backwoods boy. Sometimes it hurt, a lot. There were times I didn’t know what to do. But I never stopped learning and never backed away from labor: manual or desk work.

In Step 2 I structured several income streams into something I had at least some control over.

 

Step 3:

You would think after my business was profitable and the rentals started throwing off reasonable income I could lean back and enjoy the ride. And if you think that you are wrong!

Retire early with these 3 steps used by a wealthy accountant to retire at 32. Early retirement can happen if you follow the simple steps this man used. #FIRE #financiallindependence #money #wealth #earlyretirement Before it was made popular by the tech industry, I always pushed my business into new territory. My goal was to create the company that would replace my business before competitors do.

I was the first in my community to offer free electronic filing. That might not seem like much now, but back then it caused my tax practice to grow explosively. When Wisconsin offered e-filing I was first on the list because the state knew I offered it for free and had no fraud cases. In other words, I could offer State of Wisconsin e-filing in my Wisconsin community for free before competitors could even offer the service. By the time e-filing was rolled out for all I had a commanding lead.

I also sold life insurance in the business for a while. I was never big on traditional life insurance, but key-man and for buy-sell agreements it made sense.

I was also a stock broker for a number of years before I realized I’m a tax guy first and hawking high-fee investments rubbed me wrong.

You can read this blog and see example after example of things I tried. Some ideas worked great; others I’d rather not mention (but share anyway so you benefit from my experience). 

And that is Step 3: Try an idea. If it doesn’t work, step back and reevaluate, then try again until it works. Never over-commit. Test small before jumping in with both feet. You don’t want to do something that destroys what you’ve built to-date. Once you determine you have a winner you can expand. Remember, most ideas don’t work! Trying a lot of ideas to see what works best before committing serious resources is a better way to reach FI at a young age.

 

Accidentally Get Rich

Of course, you need to avoid debt as much as possible and pay it down quickly when it arrives. You also must spend less than you earn if you are ever to build real wealth. You’ve heard it all before. It’s really simple. Spend less than your earn; invest in index funds; wait. If you want faster you better be good at sales or business; preferably both.

And this is where it gets interesting and how I discovered I blew past a $1 million net worth without even knowing it!

From age 22 to 32 a lot happened. My business grew and I got married. (Marriage brings in additional considerations.) Mrs. Accountant was open-minded, allowing me to funnel excess cash into investments rather than a higher lifestyle. I went from around $200,000 in cash to $1.2 million.

Remember the real estate investments I had? Well, eventually my dad, brother and I started a partnership with one-third ownership each. We bought a lot more properties. 

The bank that funded our RE holdings required we provide a personal financial statement every year or so even if we were not borrowing more money.

So I sat down to figure out what I was worth. I valued all RE holdings at what we paid for them rather than what I thought they were worth minus mortgages. I added retirement and non-qualified accounts. I valued my tax practice at zero and the practice had no debt (I only had real estate debt at the time).

As I added the values of all the accounts it started to dawn on me I might be a millionaire. I had a good idea what my share of the mortgages were and the assets were climbing too far above $1 million to drop below that level once mortgages were subtracted. 

When I struck the double lines below the bottom number it was clear I surpassed $1 million by a large enough margin to say I was a millionaire. 

Mrs. Accountant was in the dining room clipping coupons. I shared the good news. All she said was, “That’s nice,” and kept clipping coupons.

You see, I was more important to her than any amount of money. She lives frugally as I do and enjoys every day we are together. She saw, better than I, what was really important.

It was a let down in so many ways. Mrs. Accountant wasn’t excited about the money! I didn’t feel different either. I missed the big day when I crossed that magical seven-figure number. There was no bump or turbulence to indicate I crossed into another zone of existence. In reality nothing had changed; only my mindset.

Once I digested that it was only a number I decided to do what I always did. I tried lots more things, grew my business and expand my sources of income, much of it passive.

You see, I learned the most important step of all: It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. And I had the best mate in the world along for the ride.

It was that day when I was a 32 year old man that I learned to live life for the first time. Live, for Real. 

And I discovered I was always wealthy as long as I had my family.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Finding Under-Valued Stocks

Find under-valued stocks for high profits. Use the most hated stocks for the best investment returns.Jack Bogle gave us the index fund. Warren Buffett has said most people should put their money into index funds.

Personal finance bloggers—especially in the FIRE* community—spout “index fund” like it’s a nervous tick. And you might have noticed this blogger has the same nervous tick.

Some are worried about all this index fund investing. The concern is index funds will control so much of the market that it will lose its efficiency. I remember the same concerns in the 1990s, when I was a stock broker, about mutual funds in general, most of which were actively managed.

Index funds will not break the market any more than actively managed mutual funds did. For one, there will still be plenty of people investing in individual stocks. And the hedge fund guys will do their share providing liquidity.

Index funds are automatic investing. All mutual funds and ETFs for that matter. You drop in your money (dollar cost averaging is suggested) and let time perform its magic. The broader based the index fund, the better your chances of enjoying the stellar performance of the market averages.

But some people don’t like “average”. And even the most hardened index fund investor periodically finds a company she would like to own a piece of directly.

That is where we come in today.  Finding a gem that can add to your portfolio’s performance isn’t easy, but possible if you know where to dig. Many have made a career out of beating the market with thoughtful investments. 

Index funds should be the home for a good chunk of your money. However, you might have a mad money account or even a serious money account for investing in businesses you feel are under-priced while possessing future growth potential.

Investing in individual companies can be very rewarding, but carry significant risks. I’ve been fortunate in finding great businesses that have performed well over the decades. My individual stock investments have outperformed the market. I’ve also noticed I think differently about an investment than most. 

Today I will share why I buy what I buy, and more importantly, why I pass on so many opportunities that seem so obvious. 

 

Buy the Hated, Be Leary of the Loved

Most people buy the hot stock because everyone is doing it and the recent price action has been tilted steeply up. These are the loved stocks. In the early 1970s they were called the Nifty Fifty; we now call them FANG (Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google, the parent company of Alphabet) today. 

Buying hot stocks is easy because everyone is doing it. That always causes me to pause. 

For disclosure, I own one share of Facebook and a modest amount of Apple. I never owned any Google stock, but had a brief fling with Netflix.

Most loved stocks are priced accordingly. While I do own some shares of FANG companies, they are not predominant in my portfolio. 

Let’s do a brief rundown of the list. Netflix is sporting a 134 price/earning (p/e) ratio as I write. While NFLX has a dominant market share and there are reasonable barriers to entry from competition, NFLX faces stiff competition from Apple and more importantly, Disney. NFLX doesn’t have to fail to drop significantly. If Disney captures even a small slice of NFLX’s business the stock is in trouble.

Google is also richly valued at over 40 times earnings. Facebook is a company I want to own, but management is concerning. FB has a dominant platform and not much in the way of competition. When FB dropped below 130 in December, the margin of safety was large enough for me to buy. But it was a modest investment. 

Apple is a story we’ll address shortly.

I’m not saying there is never value in popular businesses. What I am saying is they tend to be over-priced. Warren Buffet once said he preferred a great company at a good price than a good company at a great price. Think about that for a moment.

NFLX and GOOG are excellent businesses, but are difficult investments to make at the current price. You don’t buy a great company at any price! You want to buy great businesses at a good price (or better) with plenty of margin for safety. Things do go wrong, you know.

Another area I tend to avoid are the socially acceptable investments. Everybody wants to invest in green companies these days. As a result, all that extra money is pushing these investments to levels too rich for this accountant’s blood. There can be select quality investments in this area, but none of it is cheap.

Since investing is about making money and not some ethical or moral statement, I seek value where others tend to avoid. Think of the most hated stocks: oil, coal, tobacco, processed foods.

I don’t own Exxon-Mobile (XOM), but I did take a look-see. As longtime readers are well aware, I own a lot of Altria stock, one of the largest tobacco companies on the planet. This is a good place to start our research on what makes a business worth buying.

 

Anatomy of a Good Investment

I think it was Warren Buffett who said, “It costs a penny to make and it’s addictive. What’s not to like,” about Altria (MO). In my opinion, Buffett would own a large slice of MO if he didn’t have a reputation to uphold.

Peter Lynch, in his book Beating the Street, shared his wisdom with a set of principles. Peter Principle #14 said: If you like the store, chances are you’ll love the stock. While Lynch is a legend in the investing world with a whopping 29.2% average annual return (better than Warren Buffett’s) when he managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, there are times his principles are not hard and fast.

Use the secrets of hedge fund managers to find hidden gems in the stock market. Buy before the stock moves higher.Take, for example, Amazon. AMZN is a great company with great management. I love the company and buy plenty of stuff from the platform. Unfortunately, the stock price is not so great. Buying even a great company with great management at nearly 100 times earning is a serious risk. AMZN is a great company, but probably not the best investment for me.

Which illustrates a point. I don’t smoke. Never smoked. But I do love MO as an investment. Their track record is unbelievable and they are doing it in a shrinking industry. 

Still, my purchases of MO slowed these past few years. The price was a bit high for the situation and the 30 years of a declining cigarette market was starting to look problematic. True, MO has the world’s leading cigarette brand in Marlboro and are one of the best managed companies publicly traded. Management loves rewarding shareholders which is also a good sign.

The declining market size didn’t concern me the most; competition did. Peter’s Principle #16 says: In business, competition is never as healthy as total domination. I agree. And MO was facing serious competition for the first time in decades from a new foe: Juul.

Vaping isn’t exactly the most loved industry either. However, vaping was taking market share from MO and it was starting to move the needle. MO made attempts with their Nu Mark product to no avail. Juul was taking over the vaping market the way MO took over the cigarette market. And the regulatory environment creates plenty of barrier to new entrants.

What turned me the most positive on MO in my life was the 35% purchase of Juul. And the best part is vaping costs less than a penny to make and is also addictive. (MO also invested in a Canadian marijuana company.)

My greatest excitement with Altria is the potential size of the vaping market. When you review the numbers it is not hard to see Juul could be a larger company than MO. And more profitable due to the lower taxes on vaping products. 

Excitement is not a good thing when investing! Boring is best because this is going to be a long slog. Patience is the most important quality when investing. I bought my first shares of the now Altria in the early 1980s. If you reinvested the dividends, MO was one of the best performing stocks of the last 30 years. And you enjoyed a couple of profitable spin-offs along the way. 

Here are the things I looked at when purchasing more MO in December and earlier this year:

Is there an existential threat? 

The massive investments MO made in late 2018 required review. The question has to be asked: If the government shut down Juul today would if put MO at risk of collapse? 

After researching the issues it became clear the answer was “No”. If Juul went out of business MO would lose their $12.8 billion investment. But(!), this would not be enough to cause a dividend cut. Dividends would climb slower, no doubt, but the enterprise would continue. Also, if Juul disappeared, the people using the vaping products would probably turn to cigarettes for their nicotine fix, which MO has a dominant share of the market.

What about debt?

All else equal, I prefer companies with less debt. MO certainly has debt. The debt they issued to buy Juul will increase interest expenses. MO management said cost-cutting would be enough to offset the entire additional interest expense. Very encouraging. 

An over-leveraged company should be avoided as the risks are too high. The balance sheet should provide all you need to determine the debt level the business has.

Everybody hates it!

MO’s stock took it on the chin as investors hated the Juul investment, at first. For a brief moment I was able to buy a great company in a hated industry that was hated by even its own investors. And there was nothing to warrant such a response. Yes, MO paid plenty for Juul. However, looking at Juul’s growth, the price will look like the steal of the century in less than a few years. So I backed up the truck. Now my dividends are even higher.

Financials?

You do not need to be an accountant or tax professional to read a public company’s financials. But you do have to read them. Let’s take a look at MO’s balance sheet.

 

 

The balance sheet is the most important financial to review. (The cash-flow statement is a close second.) Income statements can be cooked, if you will. The balance sheet tells me how solvent the firm is. It also tells me if a recent investment creates an existential threat. 

As you can see, MO has reasonable amount in cash and investments in other companies. If MO sold all investments in other companies they own for the price they paid they would have enough to retire all debt. MO investments in Juul and ABInBev are solid investments so they probably could sell these investment holdings at a profit. But we’ll discount some of these investments anyway to pad our safety margin.

When you review MO’s cash and investments against it’s debt and consider the shareholder’s equity, it is easy to see MO is not facing an existential threat due to their Juul investment.

One thing to note. The reason for the large negative number for Treasury Stock is due to share buybacks.  This is not unusual.

 

A Few More Investments

As I noted in the beginning, I have a large share of my liquid investments in index funds. My retirement funds are almost 100% index funds or cash. My non-qualified monies (money in non-retirement accounts) are partially in index funds; a large portion is also in individual stocks. Buying good companies and holding them for a long time by default will increase the percentage not in index funds.

Apple is one of my newer investments. I will not provide financials as I did for MO. You can see Apple’s financials at CNBC

I prefer buying when a company is on sale. December last year when the market was down ~20% had me buying heavily. APPL has been in my portfolio for years and I added to it. I never used their products so I didn’t know if I’d love them or not, but I am fully aware of the cult status Apple users feel about their Apple products.

APPL is a popular FANG stock so it might be something to avoid. Except, the stock price increase was accompanied by increasing earning, low debt, loads of cash and stellar management. Of all the FANG stocks, APPL has the best management team. 

If you take the cash and subtract all debt, APPL still has ~$35 per share in cash! This means the p/e ratio is lower than listed. In other words, the enterprise has a 13.74 p/e ratio on it as I write. This is more than a reasonable purchase price for a company in a class by itself and a cult-like following. Though, I would prefer it “more” on sale before buying more. 

 

Knowing When to Sell

Selling can be harder than buying. Even the world-renown Warren Buffett, who says his favorite investing horizon is forever, sells investments periodically.

Even your favorite accountant has sold a few shares of his beloved MO in the past.

Let’s take an example of why selling is different than buying. Buffett’s fourth largest holding is Coca-Cola (KO). He bought KO in the 1980s (if memory serves) and has held it since. The dividend is solid and growing. 

Learn the secrets of buying under-valued stocks before they are discovered. Buy your investments on sale for quick profits.If you looked at KO today (a hated stock because they sell sweet drinks bad for teeth and accused of causing obesity) you would probably take a pass. The company is awesome with an awesome product and solid management, however. KO is dominant in their industry. But where is the growth coming from?

KO has a lot in common with MO. People are drinking less fizzy soda water and the world population is no longer growing fast enough to power profits higher. Unlike MO, KO can’t raise prices as easily. 

That said, If I owned KO I might not sell it. (I owned KO from the mid-80s to the late 90s.) The financials don’t excite me enough to buy a piece of the company. However, selling doesn’t make sense either. Selling would cause a serious tax bill if you held the stock a long time. And dividends like that are hard to come by.

When I sell it tends to be early on. If my original premise starts to erode I sometimes exit the investment. I bought Tesla and eventually sold. Of course I look smart because the stock was straight up at that time. However, my investment was more along the lines of keeping an eye on the company rather than a new serious investment position. The issue: Tesla without Elon Musk is in big trouble and they might be in big trouble anyway. I consider that a management issue in a very competitive market getting more competitive by the day.

When Facebook did a Faceplant in December, I bought. After considerable thought I came to the same conclusion about management and sold. 

Like Buffett buying KO, I bought Aflac (AFL) in the B’C.’s (actually the early 1980s) and held it ever since. I haven’t bought more in longer than I can remember. The dividends are climbing and it has been a good investment with a very accomplished management team. I looked at AFL recently (for this article) to see if I should buy more. There are certainly reasons to buy, but not enough for me to add to my position.

Certain things will have me selling fast. Hints of accounting irregularities are usually a sign to exit. If new management is failing, I leave. (I owned GE once upon a time and sold all of it because I had no faith in new management after Jack Welch left.) 

 

Waiting List

Patience is key to winning at investing. You wait for the right deal, then buy and wait forever as the business value keeps climbing. The stock price and dividends soon follow.

Finding a list of “hated” companies is easy. I want big, dominant companies in my portfolio. This reduces the chance of catastrophic failure. A good example is Boeing (BA).

BA is one of two major aircraft manufacturers in the world. (There are some smaller firms, but BA and Airbus control most of the market.) Recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max planes put BA under pressure. I bought a share so all the news stories would populate my feed. The stock started climbing so I thought I might not get a chance to buy at a “good” price. It happens. Most “watch list” businesses never become a real investment. 

BA came down again, but not enough for me to buy. Personally, I like BA more than airlines. Buffett disagrees, but I’m okay with that. 

Another watch list stock is JNJ. I owned JNJ in the past and I forget why I sold. (It was a dumb idea.) The recent asbestos in baby power/talc court ruling drove the price down. A little. Not enough to buy.

I’m watching Microsoft (MSFT) also. They really found their mojo after years where management struggled. I think Satya Nadella is a good leader at MSFT.

 

Of course, I own other businesses not discussed here. The idea is to give you the mindset necessary to win at investing.

Here is my final note: There is no crime is holding cash! Sometimes I catch heck when people realize I’m holding cash instead of investing in index funds. I can handle it. When the market is up I buy less because good investments are harder to find. When the market declines, like it did late last year, some businesses get discounted more heavily than others. Usually I find reasons to put my cash to work at those times. 

Now the market is near a new high again and new money is still looking for a home.

So I wait. Patiently. 

 

* FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

How to Use this Blog to Earn a Quick $1 Million

People prefer the familiar over honesty. That's not good for your wealth. If you want money you have to stop following the herd.By now you’ve probably realized this blog is a bit different from others in the personal finance arena. Sure, we talk plenty about taxes, investing, frugality, retirement and more, but how we go about it is different on a very subtle level.

The general media and popular bloggers of personal finance preach the same information without saying anything new. They spout “spend less than you earn”, “invest in index funds” and discourse endlessly about the 4% safe withdrawal rate from retirement accounts. 

Well, duh!

Yes, you might find often repeated advice motivational (I do), but you can go almost anywhere to hear it. Dave Ramsey is right. Get rid of debt! You do this by spending less than you earn. Baby steps help as you develop your financial skills. Then what?

However, once you get serious—I mean really serious—advice like “spend less than you earn” seems darn basic. Heck, grandpa told you that 30 years ago without referencing any blogs or media outlets. You need better information if you are going to climb to the next level.

In the early days of this blog I worked hard to find a place in the demographic. I always wanted to take the less traveled road. If everyone said you should retire early and travel the world, I pointed out the flaws in the logic. Conventional wisdom—much like the herd of lemmings racing for the cliff—is wrong!

If I was to add something to the heap of personal finance material already in existence, I would need to take drastic measures. And do it subtly!

You might notice the bloggers spouting the same gibberish get picked up by mass media outlets while your favorite blog (that had better be this one!) gets nary a mention. The reason for this is people prefer the familiar to an honest answer that could make a real difference.

 

Comfort Zone

Therein lies the risk to your wealth. The pantheon of bloggers telling you the same message risks you joining the herd. And as we all know, the herd gets slaughtered. (Grilling season is right around the corner.)

If it’s easy and fits in a witty soundbite (or click-bait title) it gets more attention. But this isn’t necessarily good for you financially. 

I made you, readers of this blog, a promise. Last autumn I promised to change the tempo of this blog, focusing on you, the reader. Prior to that I provided good information, but always with a jaundiced eye toward what would bring in more readers. That required me to sound like everyone else.

Put an extra $1 million into your investments easily. These proven methods are used by the wealthiest people today.But you can’t point out the flaws in over-simplistic information by sounding the same horn. If I was to give my readers a chance to put at minimum $1 million dollars in their pocket, I had to step up my game.

I did that before to some extent with a few notable exceptions when I sold out to the crowd. Time for consistency.

Things are different now. When was the last time a blogger dropped north of $16,000 to test outsourcing so his readers could benefit?

I’m not talking about building an addition to your home and making a blog post out of it. The blogger benefits regardless. I’m talking about dropping serious cash to explore an option with the benefit going to the reader whether it worked or not.

In the office they said I was nuts with my outsourcing idea. It turns out I was. Still, readers won! Other tax professionals (even those hiring a tax pro) received valuable information on a powerful trend affecting many industries.

That is what I mean by being different for the benefit of the readers of this blog.

 

Million Dollar Opportunities

So how can reading this blog add $1 million to your wallet?

You have probably read blog posts on side gigs that pay well. All those posts and articles in the popular media outlets spout pretty much the same thing. And the biggest complaint is that they don’t work as promised. 

The reason they don’t work as promised is because they require a special skill (maintenance man for landlords) or have low expectations (dog walker or Uber driver). Sure, you can make money house sitting and walking the neighbors dog, but the opportunities are limited and frequently less than satisfying ways to spend a day. Doing what nobody else wants to is not a side gig; it’s as torturous as working for the man!

This blog has offered several side gig ideas over the years as well:

Several additional idea have been interspersed throughout the text. 

The nice thing about my side gig recommendations is that they are rarely mentioned outside this blog. And you can do these all from home. Many small tax offices are run out of the owner’s home. It keeps costs low and allows you to stay small so it doesn’t overtake your life. 

Forensic accounting, for example, is a wide open field. Yes, you can work for someone else, but you can also start your own business specializing without any formal education, except what you learned reading The Wealthy Accountant. Nothing is more rewarding than helping people find financial stuff they thought lost forever.

I also warned about side gig risks and even offered a side gig tax guide

 

Flaws and Solutions

So how do you get your hands on the promised $1 million? 

Lists of side gigs have one inherent problem—they lack details. It’s wonderful to tell someone they need a dog walking job, but then forget to provide a play-by-play to do so. My post on 12 seasonal, high-paying side gigs has the same flaw. It takes the shotgun approach and fails as all other similar attempts do.

I did a better job outlining tax preparation and forensic accounting as a side gig. I recommend reviewing those posts if you are serious about a side hustle that is fun and very profitable.

Most opportunities are more subtle. Last week I published on when it’s a bad idea to add to your retirement account. The wire to my email box melted off after I published that. I think I had more people contact me asking for help on this than read the article. (That’s not as much of an exaggeration as you might think.}

The flaw with most blog posts and popular media articles is trying to serve everyone. The solution is to serve just one person: you, the reader. 

You can’t give 30 good ideas and expect people to use any! Research into retirement plans has made this clear. (Several research papers have found that the more options you give people the less action they take.) 

That is why I don’t tell you each week is yet another great side hustle idea. 

Take last week’s post, for example. I provided multiple examples of situations where adding to a retirement account would exacerbate future tax problems. Several solutions were provided while special note was made that facts and circumstances of the individual would prevail (we are all unique). 

I know many readers understand full-well what I was talking about. Focusing on this one special situation is a massive side hustle opportunity with plenty of income potential.

I charge $350 an hour for consulting on stuff like this and I’m booked out till Christmas. You can be just as booked with a few strategically placed speaking presentations at a local Optimist Club or Eagles. The average client will save well into the six figures in taxes and net worth. You will log an average of over 5 hours per client at your regular rate.

 

Show Me the Money

It’s all about focus. You can’t be everything to everyone. (God knows I tried.) 

Find your niche, get good at it and sell it to the world. 

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns a lot of different companies. But Warren does only one thing: allocating capital. He is really good at one thing and let’s others do that they specialize in.

The same applies to you. Find that one niche that tickles you and exploit it. 

Don’t worry about not liking it down the road. I tried a lot of different things. That is why I have so much to share here. I’m always into something. 

It’s okay to get good at something, do it for a while and then move to something else. I did it my entire life (all under the umbrella of my tax practice, my true focus) to great success.

 

It’s About More Than Earning Money

So far I focused on earning more. Plenty of readers have reminded me it isn’t worth cutting taxes if you are earning minimum wage. Many have lamented not having money to invest so I started with earning more money.

You can pick almost any post on this blog and turn it into a profitable side hustle. I warn you to only focus on one project at a time if you want to keep your sanity. It’s also more profitable that way

The amount of wealth you have is in direct proportion to understanding the secrets of money. Wealthy people know how to focus on the right things for maximum wealth creation.But now that you are earning more money you need to know what to do with it. I’ve discussed that a lot too.

The conventional wisdom is to drop the whole shebang into an index fund and live with the results. It’s sound advice if you can live with the decision.

Instead, I encourage readers to put most of their liquid assets into index funds and also have a small mad money account for crazy ideas. 

But serious money doesn’t belong in a mad money account! That is why I recently revealed I’m dropping my mad money account. Money is too important to just throw away on crazy ideas! 

When it comes to investing, emotions are the most important element. I’ve witnessed so many clients over the years in my office lose money on investments they were stellar performers. The constant buying high, only to be scared out of the investment on a temporary pullback, is cancer to a portfolio.

Last December the stock market dropped around 20%. People in the demographic that read blogs like this one were starting to panic. And there was no real pain at that point! On Facebook people were screaming they were ready to pull the plug (sell into the down market). 

I was buying more. I actually bought my largest portfolio addition of the year on Christmas Eve, the market low of the pullback. I was able to buy when others panicked because I had no emotional attachment to my investments.

When it comes to investing I recommend reading the same thing again and again until it sinks in as long as what you are reading tells you to not trade based on the current direction of stock prices.

If you are good with numbers and have a small amount of business training (you read good business books) you can research potential investments outside an index fund.

I frequently share what I am buying (and every so often, selling) in a private Facebook group.  If you want to join just make a request. Since I run the group you have a good chance of becoming part of our tribe. Just mention this blog post and I promise quick approval.

 

Here’s Your Check

None of this should be surprising. Picking up a side gig where you don’t have to run the world (just focus on a narrow service) is the perfect solution to increasing your income. 

Learning to set aside emotions (something I publish about a lot when the market is down so readers don’t make a stupid mistake) takes practice. If you master that trait you will watch your net worth rise higher than Jack’s beanstalk. 

And it doesn’t take long either. I’ve seen more people build a million dollar income and/or net worth in a manner of a few years more times than I can count. It happens a lot more often than people realize.

Once you learn the secret (it’s not much of a secret anymore) all that is left is controlling emotions.

Set your focus on one post here and read it several times. Then follow the links, if provided. Read outside this blog, too. I don’t know everything and my worldview isn’t absolute. 

Where possible, run scenarios. (Example: If you plan on helping people optimize the right amount to invest in retirement accounts versus non-qualified accounts, run a few few tests to see how the numbers interplay with the tax code.) 

Then set a game plan to acquire clients. I’d tell you how to do this, but I already have (check the link).

Now that you have more money, sock half of it into an index fund. Leave a bit to the side for what I call pleasure investing. Research companies you are familiar with (maybe you use their product or work in the same field they serve). When you find an under-priced gem, buy. (Next week I’ll show you where I find under-valued stocks.)

It’s as simple as that. 

If you follow what I outlined in this post you should see no less than $1 million of income and net worth growth above what you already have. All you need to decide is how fast you want it.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

A Non-Political Look at Income Inequality and the Wealth Gap

3 ways you can end income inequality and narrow the wealth gap. Together we can change the world.Frequently we look for political solutions to income inequality and the wealth gap. While the issues can be improved slightly from political action, there are two additional ways to close the wealth gap and level income that are more effective.

Politics is the messiest way to fix these problems and history offers ample warning for those who seek answers from this source. One need not look further than Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia to see how abysmal political leveling can be. North Korea is a modern example of how not to level the playing field. 

Let’s turn our attention to the second way income inequality can be reduced. Walter Scheidel in his book The Great Leveler explains what he calls the “Four Horsemen” of leveling: war, revolution, collapse and plague. Historically these four horsemen have been the leading cause of leveling of income and wealth throughout history. 

Once again this is not a comforting thought. You can read Scheidel’s work for an in-depth review of his research. The record is clear, however; it takes great dislocation, pain, suffering and death for income and wealth to level naturally.

The first two methods of leveling the playing field are not valid choices if you enjoy freedom and like living a comfortable life. These first two methods of leveling are accomplished by bringing the top down rather than the bottom up. Which leads to an interesting thought experiment on how much we really want income equality and a narrower wealth gap.

 

Defining What We Really Want

Before we continue to the third and most viable way to level income and wealth we need to define what it is we really want and what we are trying to accomplish.

Leveling the playing field is actually very easy if you are willing to destroy massive amounts of wealth. Scheidel’s work and the 20th Century are amply examples of fixing the problem the wrong way.

Political solutions eventually lean toward solutions that are relatively effective which means forcing the top down and violence. The four horsemen do the same thing with the crude hammer of god. 

When most people speak of equality they mean they want to bring the bottom up, otherwise they are no better off than before while the upper classes are rent destitute. Normal people are not so dark in their thinking.

Therefore, we really should not care what other people have as long as we are enjoying affluence. Complaining you have one less apple as you relax in paradise is way too diva for this writer; it also shows a remarkable lack of emotional maturity.

In the Western world affluence is high, but there are still people stuck in poverty. The 1% have taken a larger and larger piece of the pie which means the middle class is getting squeezed with smaller gains and the poor are outright losing ground. (See embedded video.)

 

 

From the middle class on up the Western world enjoys massive affluence the rest of the world aspires to. A nice home with two SUVs in the garage are common. Travel is an affordable luxury. Food and clothing ample.

But there is something that grinds on our conscious when one person is paid less than another for the same exact task at the same exact skill level. This requires effort to fix.

While it is easier to ask someone else to make the change, each of us have within ourselves the ability to force equality. 

As a business owner we can take great measures to ensure employees are treated fairly and equitably. But what about large employers? How can we force change across our society?

And before these actions take hold, what can we personally do to narrow the wealth gap in our own life? Can we narrow income inequality in our own life regardless what business or government does?

This brings us to the third way to level the playing field.

 

 

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In 1995 James M. Poterba of MIT and Andrew A. Samwick of Dartmouth College published a damning report on household wealth in America

The above chart shows the household savings rate in America for the last 60 years. In the 1970s the savings rate began a precipitous decline. At the same time income inequality began to grow. Could there be a correlation?

Poterba and Samwick discuss historical stock ownership in America in their report. Their most interesting comment is telling: All corporate stock is ultimately owned by individuals. They allow for foreign ownership of U.S. equities which was around 5% at the time they published.

Here is what you can do to end income inequality today! 3 ways to narrow the wealth gaps and level income.While stock ownership eventually is owned by individuals, the real question revolves around which individuals own these investments.

According to the report household ownership of stocks was nearly 90% in the 1950s and has declined to less than 50% by the 1990s. Since the report it is fair to say stock ownership has continued declining.

The third way to level income and smooth wealth can only be accomplished on the personal level. If most people refuse to engage the exercise they will suffer greater inequality and there is nothing the government or any politician can do about it!

Traditionally the arguments surrounding income inequality involves wages. There is truth behind the inequality in wages over the last 30 or so years. The richest are getting the largest share.

But this ignores every other source of income! In the 1950s virtually all households held some stock. These households had a fractional share of ownership in these corporations. Dividends went to the household, almost all of them.

Now fewer than half of households own stocks which means these households have zero income from this source. The wealthiest by default ended up owning nearly all America’s wealth. People complained, but refused the one solution nobody could stop them from exercising.

And capital gains and dividends are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income, like wages. Even with this massive incentive for individuals to own stocks the average person took a pass. And so income inequality grew. 

All the gains in America’s growth hence went to the remaining owners of America’s engine of economic wealth. There was no other possible outcome. The people who held stocks (owned a piece of American businesses) ended up with all the gains and the gains were spread to a narrower and narrower group with each passing year.

 

Get Your Share

At first glance you might think something as simple as having more people own shares in American businesses would not solve the whole problem. That thinking is wrong.

Owning a piece of America’s value creating machine means you get a slice of the profits in the form of dividends. Many middle class taxpayers pay a very low or no taxes on these dividends. 

Something else happens when more people own a piece of corporate America. Your fractional ownership slightly levels the wealth gap because you now own something tangible like the wealthy do. Your share might be small, but there is power in numbers. 

When nearly 90% of households held U.S. stocks, dividends were more widely distributed. It also meant nearly every household had a small say in how companies operated! (Remember, you are a part owner when you hold stock.)

As fewer people held stock there was no one to slow down the enormous gains in CEO salaries. The CEOs rewarded the remaining few shareholders and employees were left out of the discussion because they didn’t own a piece of the enterprise.

Of course, owning a few shares in McDonald’s doesn’t give you the ability to dictate policy at the firm. But if many people owned stock in the company they could gather enough influence to change corporate behavior!

It might sound strange, but what would happen if every employee of McDonald’s owned 100 shares and worked together to change wage policy at the firm? I know, I know. People working at McDonald’s can’t afford to own stock in the firm. Yet I argue you can’t afford not to own a piece of the company if you ever want to change corporate policy!

Income inequality and the wealth gap are the same exact problem! As the wealth gap widens the lower end of the economic scale has less and less say. Of course the people on top want more and they get it because nobody that owns the company says different. 

 

The Gift That Keeps Giving

When my kids were growing up they received a share of stock as a gift for Christmas every year. One year they got a share of Wrigley, another year a share of Disney. 

Part of the gifting process was to examine each company they had stock in along with a few other possibilities.

The family came to the conclusion Wrigley was a winner for a variety of reasons. Wrigley gave every shareholder a case of gum each Christmas which my kids found incredible valuable. Stock ownership had real benefits! 

The financial reports also looked promising. Earning grew and so did dividends. Dividends were reinvested while excess cash was funneled into more shares. The growth was impressive.

Then Warren Buffett came along and funded Mars Corporation’s cash buyout of Wrigley. (Damn you, Warren!) Every member of the Accountant household got a big, fat juicy (Wriggly makes Juicy Fruit gum) check for their ownership in Wriggly. It was a bittersweet moment, however.

Yes, a big, fat juicy check is always welcome, but the regular income of dividends ended! And worse, no more gum in the mailbox in mid-December! It was as close to a crisis as I ever saw it!

While many people use index funds, there is something lost when we give authority to a mutual fund to vote our shares. That is why I still own individual shares in companies.

Your influence is minor when you own a few shares in a company. But even without a majority of ownership a large number of shareholders can make life very unpleasant for management tone deaf to owner/employees. 

Regardless your minor control of the companies you hold stock in, you have an unseverable right to your share of profits. This by default shrinks the wealth gap and income inequality for you.

 

Fixing the Wealth Gap and Income Inequality One Person at a Time

It is tempting to blame government and politicians for the wealth gap and income inequality problems. But as we saw above, the problem is not a political one and politics can’t solve it regardless what politicians promise!

You can change the world; you can make a difference in ending income inequality.Natural levelers are down-right brutal. We don’t need a catastrophe to level the field to an acceptable level. Complete equality is a terrible goal as the 20th Century has shown. However, the current environment is way too lopsided to be good for society in the long run either.

Businesses are the engine of value creation and growth; labor builds the goods and provides the services that make that value creation and growth possible. It is fair to say labor should have a reasonable slice of that pie.

Looking to the government for solutions is only a minor stopgap. Social services (the safety net) can be increased (and improved), but this is unproductive after a point. While more can be done in this area, it will not solve income inequality if individuals refuse to own a piece of the means of production! Nor make even a dent in the wealth gap!

Unexpected plague, war, revolution or collapse can temporarily level the field, it does so by bring the top down, leaving the middle and bottom no better off than before and probably worse. To fix income inequality issues and narrow the wealth gap, we want to focus on improving the most amount of lives as possible, not destroy everything until we are all level digging in the dirt for sustenance.

I know the world preaches index funds; so do I. Before Jack Bogle passed away recently he warned of the issues I brought up above. If mutual funds/index funds/ETFs control all the stocks they will vote the rules in corporate guidance. 

If you respect and value freedom you will demand a voice and your voice is purchased with ownership. It doesn’t take much. A few shares of three good companies can do wonders for your economic status. You can still hold index funds with the bulk of your money. (They pay dividends too, you know.)

Even without direct ownership (ownership through index funds) you still personally shrink the wealth gap. The increasing dividends added to your wage income narrows income inequality ever so slightly.

It took 40 years for the problem to grow this wide; it will take more than a few years to fix, even in your personal life. 

Or we could do what we’ve been doing all along and hope it changes magically all on its own.

Or demand a government bailout. (But then you’re just like corporate America.)

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

The Coming Collapse of China

Protect your finances if China's debt bubble implodes. Don't let the trade war ruin your retirement plans.

Protect your finances if China’s debt bubble implodes.

When the Western economic world collapsed in 2008 there was only one beacon of light: China.

For decades China has grown at nose-bleed speeds and looked like an unstoppable economic miracle. Now the foundations of that miracle are exposed and the house of cards is in peril. Shadow banks and ghost cities are only the tip of the ice berg.

Speculation over the years of fudged official economic numbers coming out of Beijing is starting to haunt the government there. As 2018 came to a close the government reported the slowest growth in 28 years. This was still a bit north of 6%.

Unfortunately, these slower growth numbers are probably a wildly exaggerated lie. Recently, a former chief economist for the Agricultural Bank of China mentioned a report that two recent studies show China’s economy growing at a mere 1.67% and another showing the economy actually declined.

While there is no doubt China has made massive economic leaps over the past several decades, much of the recent growth is built on a shaky foundation.

In many Western nations an economic crisis can ensue from excessive indebtedness. The difference between Western nations and China is what the debt funding was used for. In the U.S., for example, corporations can over-extend themselves, causing over-production and an inventory hangover. Household debt might be wasted on stuff that has virtually no value. But homes and autos have at least some value and a good amount of utility. Something we will see China wasn’t spending on.

 

Dangerous Foundation

China is mired in a massive amount of debt. Trustworthy numbers are hard to come by, but many reports claim China’s government and municipal debt are several times larger than the annual economic output of the country.

What China spent the money on is a bigger problem than the excessive debt! The growing mountain of debt is difficult to manage. However, if the debt was used to produce something of value it would be possible to work through the financial problems with only modest economic pain.

China did some of that (spending on productive investments) and a whole lot more creating rubble. 

People inside China have captured videos of buildings built in the last decade tipping over and put them on YouTube. Ghost cities in China are well known outside the country. Whole cities with virtually no people living there. 

What is worse is the quality of construction. A large number (based upon information from people living in China a long time) of buildings only a few years old look like they are more than a century old! It is hard to imagine the crumbling facade and disrepair huge parts of these cities can fall into after only two or three years. Again, YouTube videos allow you to glimpse the slow moving disaster in the works.

The layers of debt these unlivable buildings have is equally ill-constructed. Municipalities borrow so they can encourage growth which generates tax revenue. (The tax system in China is untenable as local governments frequently find the greatest source of funds though the crazy financial deals with developers.) 

Builders, which are frequently state-owned and very inefficient, pile on more debt to build the structures.

Then the final layer of debt is added when individuals buy, believing real estate never goes down in value. People in China buy real estate because they consider it a good investment even when they don’t live there or rent it out.

Renting is also far cheaper than buying a property in the populated areas of China. Rents frequently only cover a fraction of the mortgage payment so ownership is even more financially demanding.

 

Inside Information

A year-and-a-half ago this blog was one of the few websites allowed inside China by the government. Today it is officially banned!

My oldest daughter spent time in China last year and was able to pull up this blog. She taught English as a second language and lived with a host family. That is no longer possible.

Are you prepared for the collapse of China and the debt bubble? Protect your finances with these 3 simple steps.Many foreigners teaching English as a second language in China are sheltered from the worst parts of China. My daughter, Heather, sought the real experience and got it. Fortunately she had a host family who considered themselves unconventional and enjoyed Heather’s presence. Her friend stayed with a family that wasn’t unconventional and had a miserable experience.

When Heather returned home she stayed in contact with her host family. She grew a bond with the host mom and their 5 year old daughter. 

In the last few months contact has been more difficult. We actually lost contact for over a month and feared the worst. These are good people and we worry about them because they are friends. 

As we started to give up hope of ever hearing from our extended Chinese family the host mom made contact. The story was grim.

This family had another foreign teacher and they had to send her home early over safety concerns. From the inside China has already started to implode.

The government’s solution to the stagnant economy was to set off another round of debt spending. With state-owned firms extremely inefficient and getting a large portion of the additional spending it is like doubling down on stupid.

 

Reality Test

You can hide fiscal malfeasance for a very long time if the government want the facts hidden. However, the natural laws of economics still apply and eventually assert themselves. 

The growing mountain of debt will eventually cause a crisis. The longer the delay before appropriate remedial action is taken the more pain will be measured out. 

China had started steps to resolve the issues. It would have taken a long time to fix the worst of the financial problems. However, the risk was high China would implode before they resolved the worst of the imbalances. The world community, knowing the approximate depth of the problems, quietly played along. What other choice did they have.

Unfortunately for China, the new American president had no patience for such slow resolutions. The trade spat exposed the underlying weakness of China’s economy quicker than expected and might be the trigger to set off the avalanche. 

The Los Angeles Times recently reported China announced more than $600 billion of economic stimulus. The goal is to fix the problem as fast as possible before catastrophe strikes. More debt seems a poor choice of ointment.

China’s history in not encouraging if the slowdown is too fast and/or a currency or debt crisis occurs before adequate safeguards are in place. 

The debt may be too large for an economy the size of China’s to navigate to calm waters. Many Chinese banks are insolvent because they can hide behind government censors. In a true capitalist economy these banks and other companies would have been shuttered long ago. So the inefficiency of the system trudges on and deepens.

Normally I would have an optimistic option at this point. And while I think this could be the next financial crisis to strike, I don’t think it will be the end of good times forever. All I’m saying is there will be a few moments when people get really scared if China collapses.

 

Preparing for the Storm

Dinny McMahon in his book, China’s Great Wall of Debt, does a better job digging deeper into the debt issues in China. This short post can’t cover the details the way a book can. The issues are deeper than I mention with shadow banks and incredible debt loads even greater than the government in China understands since they also know much of their data is faulty. I recommend reading this book. 

The risks posed by China should not cause undue alarm. Planning for the possibility is wise, but no one knows when, or even if (the miracle could actually be a miracle), the boom will drop. 

Is China's debt bubble about to burst? Learn how to protect your investments before it's too late.Since timing a crisis of this nature is impossible you can’t sell all your investments and hope it is the right move. The investments you sell might benefit from the Chinese crisis or the market could rally for years before the flood of Chinese debt consumes the news feeds.

There are some steps you can take to protect yourself if China implodes and if it doesn’t will bolster your financial situation regardless.

The 2008 financial crisis that started in the U.S. was a debt crisis. Home lending was out of control. Appraisals were based on fantasy and fake documents. Almost sounds like what China is dealing with today. 

Debt crisis are always painful events. Companies fail and jobs are lost. People with money hold it tight for fear things will never improve. 

As we saw in 2008, a financial crisis in a major world economy spreads. Very few parts of the world went unscathed by the 2008 events in the U.S. Even China was affected. 2008 set China on a massive borrowing for growth scheme they can’t seem to get off. Once the lie starts you need bigger and bigger lies to keep the charade going. 

Since debt is the cause of so many financial crisis I suggest you insulate yourself by reducing or eliminating debt. (I prefer the elimination of debt because the seriousness of the China issue is large enough to harm virtually anyone holding debt.)

Reducing debt is an easy (relatively) and simple (relatively, again) way to insure your fiscal soundness if China stumbles. Like all debt, it takes time to pay off. Today is the best day to start the process. When the tsunami is visible on the horizon it’s too late; there will only be time to grab something solid and hold tight.

A second security procedure is to keep some of your finances liquid. Most of your money should probably be invested in broad-based index funds all the time. Market timing just doesn’t work. Having two years of spending in a money market fund might also be a good idea. This is a similar tactic people in or near retirement use so they don’t have to dip into investments when the market is down.

 

Final Planning Tips

I wish I could share more, but I fear if I was totally blunt it might harm my friends in China. 

This is a serious issue China works hard to keep from the press around the world. It is easy to think China is loaded with cash since they hold so many U.S. Treasuries. In a crisis China may have to sell large amounts of these Treasuries to defend their currency causing an interest rate spike in the U.S. This would be economically disruptive even if the Federal Reserve fights to counter the effects of such a liquidation. 

The most serious issue happened when we lost contact with Heather’s host family for over a month. They only contacted us because they were traveling outside China. This is very concerning. When things get really bad (and usually just before), totalitarian governments clamp down hard. Foreigners in China have been learning this. The security alert for Americans traveling in China is elevated and travel there is not recommended. This is not a warning to be disregarded.

If the same thing happened in Russia it would be less an issue since their economy is so much smaller. Even with inflated numbers, China’s economy is still one of the largest on the planet. If China stumbles we will all feel the ground quake, especially since some of the debt is in U.S. denominations.

This post is not about inciting panic, rather the opposite. Risk is high and even the U.S economy looks to be softening. Smaller refund checks this tax season means people were enjoying a slightly higher take-home pay during the previous year. That could lead to a softer U.S. economy for a while.

You can weather almost any economic storm without debt. Even in good times debt can be a burden. 

I worry because a family in China close to my heart is living dead center of where the storm will strike. I wish them and all of China well. 

We are all in this together. So take precautions, reduce debt, increase your financial cushion and be well.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

The Anatomy of Wealth

Every fortune starts with the first small investment. See how this man turned a small investment into a large fortune with a steady stream of income.

Every fortune starts with the first small investment.

I did something different this holiday season than I ever did before: I took two five-day weekends. This may sound like a minor thing considering the FIRE* community I supposedly belong to**, but to me it was a serious adjustment.

The first long weekend over Christmas didn’t feel like a true long weekend. Every day was filled with family events so I didn’t have to worry about filling lots of dead time.

The New Year’s weekend was the opposite. I had a full five days to do anything I wanted. Sure, I still checked the office email a few times and kept current with social media, but for the most part I stayed the course and enjoyed five days without the obligations of work.

As most people know, it is easy to waste a day or five if necessary. For hyper-productive people this is more of an issue. Can you imagine what Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or the late Steve Jobs would do with their free time? You guessed it. They do exactly what they do every other day. Either you create value in the world or you don’t. One has a reason to be alive; the other does not. You choose.

The extra days off were delightful, actually. I enjoyed several good books and extra time with Mrs. Accountant and the girls. Still, I was reading the stuff I always read. I was learning and growing. The only difference is I was on my couch versus my office chair.

But this story isn’t about my long holiday weekends; it’s about money; the reason you stopped by this place.

Anyone Have Some Spare Change?

As the holiday came to an end I was sitting on the living room  floor reading a book as Pinky, my cat, pawed underneath the edge of the couch. I put my book down to see what she found. (I was hoping it wasn’t a real mouse (as opposed to the toy mouse we gave her.))

Pinky had her paw underneath the edge of the couch as far as she could reach and kept trying to push further. Whatever she found—or lost—she wanted back badly. I nudged Pinky to the side and lifted the edge of the couch and reached under and found the elusive prize.

A quarter! Pinky’s keen eyesight found a shiny quarter deep under the couch. A guest over the previous weekend must have lost the coin and it finally fell through the cushion to the floor beneath the couch.

To most people this coin is a modest 25 cents. If found in a casino most people would immediately drop the coin into a slot machine with the outside chance of turning the coin into serious cha-ching. Most people would be just as broke as the moment before they found the coin.

Pinky is not a gambler; neither am I. As small a prize as the coin was, Pinky still wanted it. It was shiny. That was it’s value and Pinky knew it.

The Gift that Keeps Giving

Like any cat, Pinky soon gave up her prize when she realized I wasn’t giving it to her. (In my defense, I retrieved the coin she couldn’t get. A smile emoji might go nice here.)

Proud of the prize I stole from Pinky, ah, earned, I should have dropped it into my coin bucket I use for playing cards Friday night. But I didn’t. Something else entirely different crossed my mind.

Why does one man succeed and another fail? It comes down to one simple rule. Follow it and you win; break it and you lose.

Why does one man succeed and another fail? It comes down to one simple rule. Follow it and you win; break it and you lose.

You see, that simple coin is money! Add enough of them together and it becomes a serious nest egg. Even a mere 25¢ has value! If you respect money—which is a store of value—then a simple quarter will be respected as much as a hundred dollar bill. You don’t toss it away in a mindless casino game.

Even Pinky understood the coin has value (as a toy). But it’s worth a heck of lot more than that to me.

The first thought that entered my mind when I saw the coin was how much of a fraction of a share of an index fund will that buy and how much of dividend (an income stream) will it throw off? Pinky, our resident diva, placed a more immediate, hedonistic value on the coin. Pinky’s human (me) was thinking longer term.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. How much income can one simple 25¢ piece actually throw off? Well, by my calculation, the same amount as every other quarter in my portfolio.

Think about that a moment. From this perspective, your entire investment portfolio is made up of a bunch of quarters throwing off an income stream.

This isn’t a hard concept to understand. Your body is made up of a large number of cells. Cells are made up from numerous chemical compounds constructed from atoms. Atoms are made of electrons, protons and neutrons. And the components of atoms consist of a number of elementary (sub-atomic) particles.

All things of size are composed of many parts. Each part alone seems small, but remove the infinitesimally small part and the house of cards starts to crumble. Remove an electron from an atom and the atom is different; responds and reacts different. Helium has two protons. Take one away and the atom is now hydrogen, a very flammable element. One small change does make a difference.

Anatomy of Wealth

What makes one person rich and another poor?

Two people working the same job side by side earning the exact same wage can have radically different financial conditions. One worker can squander her paycheck each week while the other maxes out her retirement plan and saves even more for a rainy day.

The worker spending all her income as it comes in is under a lot of stress. A slow economy is cause for concern. If her hours are reduced, or worse, she is let go, hard times will follow quickly. The worker saving a large percentage of her income feels virtually no stress. A lay-off or reduced hours is nothing more than a reallocation of life-hours. She can always do something else productive with her time. Since she has plenty saved, money will not be a problem.

How much can you turn a 25¢ coin into to? How much of an income stream? If a man and his cat can do it, so can you.

How much can you turn a 25¢ coin into to? How much of an income stream? If a man and his cat can do it, so can you.

So why did one worker save/invest and the other live paycheck to paycheck? It might take a series of questions to get to the bottom line, but I bet the final answer sounds something like this, “I save so I have an income stream when I need it or when I retire.”

The concept is simple in theory; difficult in practice. Everyone knows they need to save and invest for the inevitable day when the money will make life easier. But some see money as a chance to spend and party. So why do some save? What motivates them? Triggers them?

Once the thought entered my head when I saw the quarter Pinky was trying to dig from under the couch it seemed silly. Why was my first thought to invest the newfound wealth for an income stream? And do other people think this way or am I just weird? (Don’t answer that!)

My guess is about the same number of people who have financial wealthy have the thoughts I have about money. Financial wealth is a simple process. Start investing early as much of your income as possible, reinvesting the income stream except in extreme emergencies. Yet, some people can’t do it. If they have it, they spend it.

It comes down to mindset. The ancient Stoics talked about visualization. Well, investing money for an income stream tomorrow requires vivid visualization. I could see the income stream from that quarter the second I saw it. It’s the reason my first thought was to invest it.

People who spend most or all their income can’t see the benefit of saving/investing some of their hard-earned income. “I don’t want to be the richest guy in the cemetery,” they say. “Can’t take it with you.” To which I reply, “You’re right. But I’d like to have some while I’m here!” Perhaps it is time to train your mind to visualize yourself with lots of money and the income stream it provides.

If Pinky can see value in digging a coin from under the couch you can visualize the value and benefits of investing a significant portion of your income.

Warren Buffett is known to keep personal expenses low so he has more to invest. Wealthy people think this way and you need to adopt the financial mindset of the rich if you want less stress and more options in the future.

Every dollar that passes your paw is an opportunity to create an income stream. Even a bank deposit throws off a limited amount of interest. The income stream is vital to your financial health and future.

My grandfather always had a saying that has stuck with me: Never take off the pile. Granddad was an old farm boy living the dream in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. He lost the farm in the farm crisis of the early 1980s and then rebuilt his fortune doing nothing more than saving a serious portion of all his income. Most money was only deposited in bank accounts. And he still managed to re-grow his liquid net worth well into the seven figures starting over from an old age. His rule of only consuming the income from an investment had a lot to do with his success.

The corpus of your investments, that original seed money, is sacred. If you never touch the sacred you will always be safe! The income stream keeps growing larger with time. Dividends reinvest to earn more dividends. You don’t need a pension when you have one far safer and personally designed.

 

As for the quarter I commandeered from Pinky? Well, I tossed it into the coin bucket I use for Friday night cards. Seems Vanguard requires a deposit larger than 25¢. Guess I’ll up next month’s auto investment.

 

* FIRE: financial independence/retire early

** Before someone takes these words wrong let me clarify. There is no doubt I’m a member of the FIRE community. I handle tax issues for several key bloggers of the demographic and attend conferences periodically. I say “supposedly” because I don’t feel like a member to the FIRE community. I’ve never been a fan of retirement—I like doing productive activities as long as I’m breathing. As readers may notice, I don’t chum with many members of the community either, instead choosing to keep plugging along in my tax practice. I’m a rural guy who likes his rural life without the bright lights of center stage.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Is Staying Fully Invested in the Market the Right Move?

Should you always be 100% invested. It depends on your circumstances. Sometimes cash is the better investment. Cash can also grow your long-term investment returns.

Should you always be 100% invested. It depends on your circumstances. Sometimes cash is the better investment. Cash can also grow your long-term investment returns.

Most of the time the stock market is climbing north. Interspersed between bull markets are those times when rookie investors act as if the sky is falling.

Long bull markets turn normally intelligent investors into casino gamblers; they even use gambling terminology: we’re due for a bear market or as they say at the casino, “Red is due after 8 black spins” at the roulette wheel; as if the ball has a memory. The odds of it coming up red are the same as it was last spin, in case you were wondering.

Of course, long moves in the stock market sets off our sixth sense that this can’t last forever. Before long you’re not fully invested (a religious mantra of many investing circles) which smacks of market timing.

This brings up a good question: Should you always be 100% invested in the market?

If only it were as simple as a yes or no answer.

The truth is many people should NOT be fully invested in the market and some people SHOULD be and it has nothing to do with market timing. The trick is to know when to be fully invested and if not, by how much.

It boils down to your personal situation: where you are on your journey to financial independence, how close to retirement you are (or if you are in retirement), spending habits and viable alternative investments.

Investment Levels

Whether you should be fully invested or have cash in money market accounts includes many variables. The easiest decision is when you are starting out.

Under $100,000: When your net worth (this should probably be liquid net worth) is under $100,000 and you are a good distance from retirement age you should be fully invested at all times.

This is the time to super-charge your tax benefits by funding retirement plans to the max. Employer contributions (if available) are an added bonus.

With time on your side you have to stay fully invested. Markets declines will come and go, but the risk is being out of, rather than in, the market. Riding out the storm of a bear market is only a minor speed bump in the rear view mirror so fully invested you should be.

Fully invested requires some explanation. Fully invested applies to your retirement and non-qualified accounts. These funds are earmarked as long-term investments and should be where they have the greatest opportunity for gain: broad-based index funds. You still need an emergency fund or at least some liquid assets easily accessible should your employment situations change or a major expense arise. We don’t want to be in a situation where we are forced to borrow at unfavorable terms or sell an index fund at market lows. A modest amount of liquidity is necessary and has nothing to do with market timing.

Your level of cash involves several factors. If you own a home and have access to a line of credit, it might be better to keep everything invested always and use the LOC if the need arises. This allows your savings to be working to your advantage. As the economy and business grows, so does your wealth.

In any case, when you are young and just starting out, the more you keep invested the better. Dividends and corporate profits keep climbing with only modest, short-term declines. You need the out-sized returns of the market to reach financial independence in a reasonable amount of time. The broad market averages 10% per year (some years more, some years less) while money market and bank accounts barely keep up with inflation if at all.

Investing can feel like a balancing act. Should you invest in the market or keep some in cash? There are good reasons to keep cash instead of investing.

Investing can feel like a balancing act. Should you invest in the market or keep some in cash? There are good reasons to keep cash instead of investing. Please share on Pinterest.

$100,000 – $1,000,000: The first $100,000 is the hardest. You earn every dime to get your account value up. The higher the account balance, the easier it is to get it compounding with meaningful numbers.

As your net worth climbs, having more cash can be beneficial, especially if you invest in individual stocks or have real estate investments.

When starting out it is important to invest in less risky investments. While the stock market does go down, the long-term gains are enviable for those with a modest amount of patience.

As your account balance rises you may consider alternative investments. Income property comes to mind. So does Peer Street and similar types of investments. (Most alternative investments should be a minor part of your portfolio.)

Retirement accounts will remain fully invested unless you are in or entering retirement where about 2 years of living expenses should be in a money market account.

Non-retirement accounts are a different story. The higher your liquid net worth the more likely you will keep some money in cash. High net worth individuals have more opportunities to invest than low net worth people. (Consider this an incentive to grow your account values.)

With a higher net worth you are either closer to retirement than those starting out or in retirement. A long-term investment horizon makes index investing almost a necessity. However, once retirement pops above the horizon or is your current lifestyle, more cash needs to be held in liquid money market accounts to satisfy normal (and sometimes abnormal) living expenses.

As your net worth grows you tend to learn how to ease up on traditional labor. Ample money allows you the freedom to choose between more time at work or more time with family; most people choose more family time. Because you now have the resources to spend less time in a formal working environment, you will need liquid funds to cover expenses wages may not.

Over $1 million: Even index funds keep a small percentage of their assets in cash to cover expenses and for withdrawals. Now that your liquid net worth reached seven figures you need to consider the same strategy.

Millionaires start to see their income get lumpy. This means you don’t see a steady income, but larger chunks from sales of assets or from your business or commissions, rents, dividends and interest. While wages can still make up a sizable part of your income, other passive forms of income generally dwarf your earned income. (The stock market gaining an average 10% in a year on a $1 million account yields a $100,000 unrealized gain and $20,000 in dividends at a 2% dividend yield.)

More alternative investments tend to show up now that your stash has climbed to million dollar status. The easiest way to invest a small sum is in an index fund. With a larger pile alternatives play a potential role.

We preach index fund investing a lot around here, but everyone I work with that has at least seven figures of net worth has accumulated several alternative investments. Once you begin investing, opportunities abound. Just be careful it isn’t a scam; they abound, too.

There is a difference between a few dollars and a million plus. With a million dollars you now spend more time allocating assets: how much real estate should I own and where, do I own bonds, individual stocks, gold (please, no), micro lending investments and so forth.

Most of the people I work with that have a large net worth tend to keep a small pile in cash. Five percent of a million dollars is $50,000. It sounds like a lot, but a small amount compared to the whole. $50,000 sounds like a lot until you realize circumstances could require you to need this liquid cushion. Remember, income tends to gets lumpier when your net worth gets reasonably high (and even worse when unreasonably high).

Business Owners and Side Gigs

Readers living off business income have a unique set of challenges. Businesses need working capital so uninvested money needs to be easily accessible for operating expenses or opportunities to expand the business or spike profits.

Businesses must have an adequate cash reserve! Every business owner enjoys surprise opportunities unannounced. Some of my best money-making opportunities were the result of having cash available when competitors didn’t.

Cash is king! 100% invested all the time can hurt your investment return. Find the right balance between cash holdings and index fund investments.

Cash is king! 100% invested all the time can hurt your investment return. Find the right balance between cash holdings and index fund investments.

Side gigs are really micro businesses. The same opportunities fall in the laps of side gig purveyors.

The type of business determines the amount of cash needed. In my tax practice I generally keep $50,000 liquid with a $100,000 line of credit. Small opportunities do not require the risk of waiting to sell an asset or borrowing money; I can write a check. As strange as it sounds, there are times when they sell dollar bills for 82 cents a piece. (Well, it seems that way. I use multiple bank offers with this working capital, snagging thousands of dollars annually in bonus interest. I also can buy assets or invest in a new business venture connected to this blog or my practice without funding concerns.)

As you approach retirement you also need to consider more liquid funds because there will be a need in a few years or less. (Index fund investing should have a 5 year time horizon minimum.)

Short-term funds must always remain liquid to prevent a market decline forcing you to sell at a loss! As I stated, money needed within 5 years should be in a bank product or money market account. This applies to everyone at all net worth levels. Nothing guarantees a market decline better than dropping short-term funds in the market you’ll need in six month or a year. It’s almost like God is punishing you for being stupid (or greedy). (Yes, I’m speaking from experience.)

Retirement

Retirement changes everything. As you are growing your nest egg you are also bringing in outside cash from work and/or income properties, et cetera. When you are in retirement you are earning less (or nothing) so you need the income stream from investments to cover daily expenses.

You annual spending habits and investment values determine how much you will need to keep liquid.

If your net worth is really high and spending level low you can keep all your money invested in index funds and live off the dividend stream.

For everyone else it is a good idea to keep around 2 years of living expenses in cash (money market accounts). If the market keeps climbing you can sell enough of your index fund to pay bills. When the market declines you can live off the money market funds. If the market decline is steep you can divert dividends to the money market account rather than reinvesting dividends.

The goal is to a void a cash crunch when the market is down significantly. Small declines ( a correction, defined as a 10% decline from a recent market top) are no problem as you’ll still sell part of the index fund for living expenses (if dividends don’t cover the bills). What I’m worried about is the 2008 type decline of 50%. I don’t want to sell in that environment no matter what. It’s a buying opportunity if anything.

Market Timing

As my net worth grew over the decades I noticed I keep more and more money in cash when valuations become stretched. While this isn’t technically market timing (buying and selling to capture small market movements), it is done with the expectation of investing at a later date at a better price.

Currently I’m at a high cash position. Money pouring in over this year I’ve kept in money market accounts (I still invest automatically in my Vanguard index fund, but the money coming in is always more than the baseline I automatically invest). For a while I invested in Peer Street and made a few other modest investments. I tried to get out of investing in individual stocks, but I had to invest more in Altria when the world was coming to an end and the dividend yield jumped over 6%. I also added to my Facebook and Apple holdings modestly when their stocks declined significantly.

Another reason I keep more money liquid now is that I want a ready pile of cash for an emergency investment. The economy is humming right now, but the day always comes when a piece of real estate shows up 30% below market value for a fast sale. And I’m just the guy to make a fast sale to because I don’t need a loan; I can close this afternoon.

Liquid funds have a low rate of return until you can pull the trigger on a deal like no other in zero time! Businesses and individuals frequently have fire (or should I say FIRE) sales for a variety of reasons. I enjoy getting first dibs because the seller knows I can close the deal fast.

Bonds

Interest rates also play a key role in how  much you should have in equity index funds. When interest rates are high it’s easier to keep more liquid funds as your money market pays stock market returns.

We haven’t seen high interest rates in well over a decade. That doesn’t mean those days will never return. In the early 1980s you could buy a 30-year Treasury with a 14% coupon (the bond paid 14% interest annually for 30 years) and the interest was state tax free. Regardless of what the stock market did, I would not have had hurt feelings if I had money in Treasuries for 30 years at 14%. That is about the best risk-free investment there ever was.

If Treasury bonds climb to 7% or higher I will probably keep some money in bonds. If you are starting out you still need to ride out the stock market storm as you need the compounding effect of growing businesses to build your nest egg. If your stash is a bit bigger risk-free bonds might be at home in your portfolio. (For the record I currently hold one, that is 1, Treasury Inflation Protection Security (TIPS) of $1,000; my entire bond portfolio.)

If interest rates ever climbed to double digits there is nothing wrong with dumping a large portion into Treasuries, especially if you are retired. You can throw the 4% rule out the window when the U.S. government is paying more than 10%.

Wrap Up

Reading personal finance blogs might lead you to think holding cash is a sin. It Isn’t! Having plenty of cash ready to jump at a moment’s notice is a powerful wealth building tool. Warren Buffett keeps large amounts of cash at his firm, Berkshire Hathaway. He keeps the cash handy for potential claims from his insurance business and for opportunities to buy good businesses at a good price. You and I should be no different.

If you buy and sell the market hoping for a quick gain you are market timing and you will eventually get you head handed to you (if you already haven’t). Every client I ever had who *traded* the market had sub-par results and most took a bloodletting.

It might seem like a fine line between market timing and what I’m suggesting here. It isn’t. Money I keep to the side for potential investment can stay in money market accounts for years for all I care. If I don’t find a super deal for the money is plods along earning 2.3% (the rate as I write). It may never get invested. If, however, the market declines I’ll allocate more of these liquid funds to the index.

And if Apple decline more or Facebook drops (or gets better management) or Altria stays at these levels (or buys Juul, I think it’s a god fit) I’ll be exchanging more of that cash burning a whole in my pocket for pieces of those businesses.

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