In 1968 Nick Murray had to sell investments the hard way. He met most clients in their home. The tool of choice was the mutual fund. Most people he sat with were hard working people, but unsophisticated  investors. Fee-based advisors were rare in those days for the small accounts families had. Fees were high and people were risk adverse. To top it off, the market was having bouts of volatility, suffering a noticeable decline even to those who didn’t follow the market on a regular basis.

It was in this environment Nick Murray had to convince his clients and potential clients the best course of action for them. Investing in mutual funds came at a steep cost. Loads (aka sales fees) were as high as 8.75%. 91.25% of your money went to work right out of the gate trying to get back to the even water mark.

Nick Murray

Young families had to consider equities for at least a portion of their portfolio if they were ever to have enough money for a comfortable retirement, and Nick Murray knew it. The high fees were one issue; the market another. The question was always the same:

“Do you think the market will go up?”

An honest financial planner will never tell you the market will go up because no one has a crystal ball. Markets do go down at times, and significantly. In the long run stocks would provide the best return on investment if placed in a broad-based mutual fund. The gut-wrenching declines that show up now and again was the problem. Nick Murray had to provide comfort for the clients he served while encouraging the best financial behavior. He said:

“I do not know if the next move in the market will be up or down. The next 20% move could go either way and I have no way of knowing which way it will be. The same is true for the next 50% move. I just don’t know if the next such move is up or down. The same with the next 70%, 80% and even 90% move in the market. But I can guarantee you the next 100% move in the market is up, not down.”

How could Nick Murray make such a claim? Of course, the next non-100% move in the market is anyone’s guess. But to guarantee the next 100% move was up! 

Nick Murray spoke at a H.D. Vest Financial Services conference in Dallas in December of 1994 when he told this story. (I might be off a bit on the date as I’m pulling from memory only. It was December because H.D. Vest always had their December conference in Dallas. The year was 1992 to 1994, with my bet placed on 1994.) Murray explained why he made the statement to clients he did. He said:

“I could guarantee the next 100% move was up because the next 100% move has always up. And if I were ever to be wrong there would be nobody left to discuss it.”

Those words always stuck with me. Every bump in the night, ah, the market is not a cause for panic. Even if I bought at the height of the market in 1987 or 2008, it didn’t take long before another 100% gain was notched onto the market. Even the 1929 high eventually fell to substantial 100% gain after 100% gain.

Once again we face a market with a long up trend and worries abound. 

And now is a good time to ask if you need a financial planner.

 

What a Good Financial Planner Does

Financial planners come in so many flavors. Some are honest and good at what they do. Some are out for a quick buck. Others are incompetent, at best.

Earlier this week I met with a client in my office. This elderly couple had worked beyond the normal retirement age, but now were putting traditional labor in the past. They are simple people that prefer as little complication as possible. 

My husband/wife client have never used a computer. Normally I suggest a good index fund at Vanguard or Fidelity. That wasn’t the right advice in this instance. The 401(k) administrator (Transamerica) presented all the options. 98% of the page was annuity choices: single life, period certain, joint life. Way at the bottom was the lump-sum option.

My client was clear they did not need any of the money. They were aware of the required minimum distribution and that is all they would take from the funds.

So what does an honest financial planner tell a client in a situation like this? They didn’t need the money. They were not sophisticated investors. They were risk adverse. They had more than enough for anything they wanted.

After a half hour of discussion it was clear to me my client did not need an index fund or any other fancy sort of investment. I asked where they banked. It was a good local bank. I explained to them what laddered CDs were. They understood CDs and what I suggested. By the time you read this they will be working with their banker carrying  out what I feel is in their best interest. The interest earned will be small, but it is what serves this client best.

 

A good financial planner will be honest with her clients. No one size fits all. Usually when working with young families I have to spend serious time getting them to invest in equities. (Too often I must work my fingers to the bone convincing them to pay down debt and invest even a token amount.) 

I’m not a big fan of life insurance. (Don’t get me started on annuities.) However, there have been instances where the facts and circumstances indicated a client should have term life insurance. Business clients might best be served with key-man insurance or a policy for a buy-sell agreement. There have even been a few cases where the facts required I suggest annuities. With annuities I always go into a long-winded explanation of the high commissions so clients understand how much it pains me to make such a recommendation because I know commissions are ultimately paid by the client.

 

The most important task a financial planner has, in my opinion, is to prevent clients from panicking in a downturn and contain greed when the market is soaring.  Nothing else a financial planner does will do more to increase the value of a client’s account. 

As an accountant I see many clients. Over the years way too many have committed financial suicide because they got scared out of the market at a bottom. I’ve also seen too many invest on margin (borrowed money) when the market is hot. If I could have one wish, it would be to go back in time and convince more clients to walk away from a hot stock tip. A good financial advisor should encourage good long-term investments, like index funds. Sophisticated investors can invest in individual stocks because they know how to value a business. They use different financial planners from the proletariat. 

 

The duty of a good financial planner is simple: Stay in touch with clients to understand their financial plans and needs, helping them achieve those goals. In other words: Know Your Client!

It is easier than ever to walk the financial road without a financial planner. Mutual fund fees have collapsed to zero in some cases. (Does anyone pay a load anymore to buy a mutual fund?) ETFs are very low cost to buy. Automatic investing is easier than ever. 

The real questions is: Do you need a financial planner? There are only a few questions you need to ask yourself to get the answer:

  • Do you understand the investment choices available and the risks and consequences? Honestly!
  • Do you understand the tax implications? Or have a trusted tax professional to help you understand the tax issues?
  • Do you tend to want to “trade” the market?
  • Have you ever sold or panicked when the market was down? Be honest! How did you react, or not react, to the 2008 economic, housing and market meltdown?

 

Financial planners are different from the past. Many brokerage houses (E*Trade, Vanguard and Fidelity, for example) have in-house advisors available to help you make financial decisions.

Some advisors still pay house calls, but they are getting rare. And since commissions are totally different from a few decades ago when I was in securities, an alternative to a financial planner might be a better choice.

 

 

Alternative Financial Planners

While many consider stock brokers and insurance people financial planners, the truth is they are really salespeople for the firms they are appointed with. These traditional advisors still play a role in financial planning. However, their role is diminished compared to even recent times.

The stock broker wants to sell you stuff that generates a commission or fee-based product. So does the insurance guy. It’s how they keep the light on and I have no problem with that. Many financial planners are fee-based only today, charging 1% or something similar per year on the assets they manage for you. The fee seems small, but accumulates to a large amount over the years. And remember, the fees paid also no longer generate future returns for you.

 

There are two natural professions that can help you with your financial planning needs: attorneys and accountants. The accountant should not also sell products or fee-based services as well or you will find recommendations slanted toward what they sell.

Helping a client by telling them the truth — that they should use laddered CDs — is something an accountant can tell you. I don’t get paid a commission. I charge for my time and have no vested interest in the investment the client makes. 

As an accountant I can also help facilitate the process. If a client needs a Vanguard account I can walk through the set-up process with them or they can call Vanguard. All the client pays for is my time. 

Attorneys can play the same role. They might be more expense and have less time to work with you, but attorneys play a vital role in personal finances. Wills and estate issues will require an attorney anyway. The attorney and accountant can work together to help you deal with issues such a Medicare and future potential nursing home expenses. 

A good attorney and accountant can also keep you honest when the market is soaring or in free fall. These professionals have seen it all before in the market and in their client’s accounts and they don’t shake easy. Clients in my office know I wear cast iron underwear when it comes to taxes, investing and personal finance issues. I’m not moved by headlines! And I doubt your attorney is either.

 

Have an honest discussion with your accountant or tax professional. They might be the perfect choice for a financial planner. 

This makes even more sense if you handle your own finances. Having a disinterest third-party to bounce ideas off of in very valuable. When I’m not writing or preparing taxes, I am working with clients and readers of this blog, consulting on a variety of issues, including: index fund/equity investments, insurance, retirement planning, Social Security and Medicare planning, tax planning, business formation and session planning, and more. It amazes me the topics I discuss with clients. I get to enjoy some unique research at times which keeps me young.

 

Many people reading this blog are informed enough to actually be a financial planner themselves so you probably think you can handle it all on your own. I understand. The history of financial planners and advisors is not encouraging.

Consider an alternative to the traditional financial planner. At least in my office, I help clients make the right choice for them and send them to the most appropriate professionals to carry out the directives.  

Most important, always keep learning because everyone actually does need a financial planner. And the best one you can ever have is you. Because no matter how hard I try to know my client, you know you better than I ever will. My performance is best when my client also understands the rules.

 

This is an important topic. I hope we get a lively debate in the comments on how you, kind readers, interact with financial planners. My ideas are good, but as a team our knowledge will be more than the sum of the parts.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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?

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. 

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.

xt-align: center;”>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.