COVID-19

Five months ago COVID-19 was just getting started. Fear was rampant. People and businesses made rushed decisions with long-term consequences. In the U.S. fewer than 10,000 people had died from the virus, yet fear was many more would die. 

Over concerns clients and readers (that is you my kind friends) would make poor financial decisions, I published an article encouraging caution and recommended people relax, breathe deeply and think before making a decision. By thinking before acting, I felt my people would be in a better position to make decisions that would serve them well. 

Then I watched my readers act and react on social media. The spread of COVID-19 should have run a chill down the spines of any normal human being. But social media does not bring out the “normal” in people. Some over-reacted with the attitude everyone should shelter in place forever. But as always happens, the disease became “normal” as we saw it every day. Before long people wanted to get out and act as if nothing was wrong or that the risk had ended. The middle, sensible, ground somehow lost out. 

It is sad the intelligent solutions lost out. Again, social media was rife with conspiracy theories, questionable remedies and outright lies. Social distancing, washing hands and masks are three simple things everyone can do to slow the spread of the virus until a vaccine can end its rein of terror.

Logic didn’t work 5 months ago, so now I have to get blunt. This is a financial blog so there is a reason for the focus on a medical issue. Your reaction to COVID-19 is a large part of the way you think. If you conduct stupid, risky behavior with your life, you probably do even worse when it comes to money. The best way for me to convey this message is with the good cop/bad cop routine. 

There are two parts to this post. Part 1 is a mild comedy sketch of the facts. In Part 2 we will put it together and pull out meaningful and valuable data you can use. This value will increase your wealth and allow you to live long enough to enjoy it. Remember, Part 1 is dark comedy and not my opinion. I don’t want hate mail before you read the whole story.

 

Part 1: Dark Humor

I have noticed some interesting posts on my Facebook page recently. It seems people are eager to spread the word that COVID-19 is either a hoax or not that bad or the people dying from the virus would have died in a short time anyway. I also noticed on Facebook (and even in my office) people claiming they have a medical reason to not wear a mask. 

This is just stupid! Doctors have been wearing a mask for over 100 years when working with patients and when in surgery. To date, there is no record of any doctor passing out while wearing a mask. None! In the winter, folks here in NE Wisconsin (and other northern locales) bundle up with thick clothing all over their body and one or more layers covering their face. Then they venture outdoors and slog through snow, wind, ice and frigid temperatures. No more than 5% or so of the population ever passes out in any given week while doing this. The police simply come by and pry the dead bodies from the ground as they clear the roads and sidewalks. Acceptable losses.

Of course that isn’t true. Very few people have any issue with a mask during cold weather. Those that pass out or die don’t do so because of wearing a mask, but because of the cold weather and heavy clothing. And it is usually from a heart attack.

Perhaps people up nort (only folks from northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will know how to pronounce that correctly) are built of hardier stock. Warm weather year-round could be making southern people soft and ruining their lungs, preventing them from wearing a thin piece of cloth over their face. Manufacturers will need warning labels on shirts and undergarments similar to plastic bags. WARNING: RISK OF SUFFOCATION! DO NOT COVER FACE WITH THIS UNDERWEAR! The CDC needs to warn people to put their t-shirt on fast for health reasons.

The face mask is a real problem for the majority people, all whom struggle to breathe even with no facial covering. I understand. I once had a hair from my beard get in my mouth and I thought I wouldn’t make it. Witnesses said I was turning blue from lack of oxygen.

Enough about masks; they aren’t needed anyway because COVID isn’t killing all that many people in the first place. The government is padding the numbers to scare us and most people who die from COVID would die eventually anyway. (You read that right.) 

Let’s look at the facts; you know, statistics.

I’ve heard it so often on social media it must be true: COVID is just like the flu. Only old and sick people are dying from COVID, right? They were all going to die anyway. Right? So why the fuss. Who cares if some old guy 35 years old dies? Young people need to get out, party and have fun. They’ll be 35 soon enough so they need to get their partying in now! Those young people dying from COVID is fake news and a hoax anyway. Saw that on Twitter.

Talking about flu season, only 12,000 Americans die each year from the flu. A really bad year can be as high as 61,000, but that doesn’t happen more than once or twice a decade.

And you don’t worry about dying from the flu, do you? Do you wear a stinking mask just because some slim ball sneezes, do you? No you don’t! You are an adult and have your rights! Besides, NyQuil ™ makes you feel happy. 

So COVID isn’t that bad. It’s like a bad cold season. When was the last time you worried about dying from a cold? during the summer?

COVID only killed 174,165 Americans as I write this.  That isn’t that many. And don’t use that sorry line COVID did in 5-6 months what the flu does in a year. We all know the flu doesn’t do its damage in just a short period of time. Who ever heard of a summer cold? Thought so.

It really isn’t that many! I mean, think about it. I have to give up my God-given rights and wear a mask? and social distance? and wash my hands!!! I’m an American and have my rights! I don’t want any of that socialist stuff from Europe (well, actually pretty much everywhere, including the U.S. is socialist, but I digress). 

Now that we have that straight, that my rights are more important than your scaredy-cat facts, I propose a few more changes to our American lifestyle. If we can have a biker rally in Sturgis during a pandemic we can have a lot of other things, too. As Americans, we have our rights. 

First, we have to stop acting like wusses when a mere 3,000 Americans die in a terrorist attack. Taking off my shoes at the airport, along with the rest of the security check, is unacceptable to a man from a free country. And why should I pay for all that waste? And as long as we’re at it, the cockpit (the boys are giggling now) doesn’t need a bullet proof door. One terrorist attack and billions are spent. . .  of our money! Besides, what happens if the pilot and co-pilot have a heart attack at the same time? It’s possible! Go long enough and it is bound to happen. Just as many dead and broken people as 9/11. Insane! (FYI: Prior to 9/11 I secretly hoped a flight deck would go down so I could land a 737 the way a civilian with no fight experience does in the movies.)

We need to put death into perspective, too. Only 174,165 dead from COVID to date? More died in WWII than from COVID (so far); 291,557 American soldiers died in combat during the Big War. During the entire Vietnam War America only had a mere 47,434 battle deaths. And we started the nightly news back in the 1960s with the number of Americans who died in Vietnam each day. And there were protests! On college campuses! I don’t know what they were protesting for. Today Americans should be protesting for a re-institution of the draft so we can go back to Vietnam and finish the job. The military will also save money since Americans can now bring their own gun to work

As long as we are at it, there are a few more rights we have lost, my fellow Americans. Talking about gun rights, only 15,498 Americans were killed by firearm in 2018. Such a small number of dead Americans and we pass laws restricting firearms, a constitutional right! Heck, COVID kills that many in 10 days and we don’t bat an eyelash. Toughen up America. 

Here is another right we lost. The government, yes that insane group of left-wing liberals, passed laws requiring you to wear a seat belt. Can you believe that? Over half the people killed in auto accidents in 2017 were wearing their seat belt. Lot of good that did them. And the rest of us have to suffer with the constraints of a belt to hold us in our vehicle in case of an accident. That’s as bad as wearing a mask.

Here is the worst government intrusion of all on our rights: drinking and driving laws. In 2016, 37,461 people died in vehicle accidents. Only 10,497 involved alcohol! A week of COVID deaths at best!

For some reason the government has decided it was no longer okay to have one more for the road. Here you are, enjoying a pleasant evening out with friends, and a bored police officer pulls you over, delaying your return home. You get arrested for only having one drink. One! They put you in jail, waste the court’s time and fill the prison with your carcass. All over a measly drink! 

Now I know what some of you are thinking. People who drink and drive have more accidents, but you miss the whole point. The people who drink and drive are just fine, except for the people with impairment problems. These people were going to die sometime anyway.

I hear you. What about the children? Well, in 2016, we saw 1,233 children die in alcohol related auto accidents. But when you think about it, that is a really small number compared to COVID. I also bet you noticed all those young people out partying during the current pandemic. These people aren’t afraid of dying. The number of dead kids is a fraction of a percent of all kids in the country. A small price to pay for their freedom. Besides, some of them will die in Vietnam when we start the war back up.

Then there are. . . 

No. I can’t take it anymore. These arguments are insane alright. COVID deaths are too high and people are making excuses because they are either callus, ignorant, lazy or all of the above. Let’s turn the discussion to something more serious; something that will make the world and our life better.

Part 2: The Fuzzy Math of COVID-19

The statistics above are all true, only twisted in a way to distort the truth. This is prevalent on social media and even from trusted news sources. I included links for your review so you can find answers closest to the actual truth based on facts. 

The faulty logic used in our dark humor skit is more than a risk to our physical health; it is the same mindset that harms you financially. We actually have people who believe 1,000 or more dead Americans a day isn’t that bad. There are people who think it is okay to carry on as if nothing has changed because only old people suffer the consequences. They forgot their Hemingway: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (For exact quote use the link.) The clock keeps counting for all of us and since I see no old people saying, “I don’t care if young people do stuff that might kill me,” I assume today’s young people will want respectfully behavior from the future’s youth.

Except the young are not exempt! Some young people do get sick from COVID. Fortunately, many have few or mild symptoms. Yet, some younger people get very ill and even die from the infection. Worse, there seems to be long-term health issues in some young people. The medical community still doesn’t have answers to why this is. (The Economist, pgs. 65-6, August 22, 2020 print edition

If anyone really believes this faulty logic they would be demanding (and protesting) for the end of seat belt laws, drinking and driving laws and incarceration. But nobody actually protests these laws seriously because we know they do good things for all of us. These laws flatten the curve, so to speak. It is estimated that 14,955 people died in 2017 in auto accidents that would not have died had they been wearing a seat belt. 

Drinking and driving laws are even more advantageous. The 10,497 people who died in 2016 in alcohol related accidents doesn’t tell the whole story. I never heard the argument from young people that “only” 1,233 children died in alcohol related auto accident in 2016 and conclude drinking and driving is less risky for young people. We know that stiff laws on drinking and driving flattens the curve. 

Many social media arguments claim that anyone who dies with COVID is listed as dying from COVID. This isn’t true. Yes, it is possible some people who died in an auto accident with COVID were inadvertently included in the COVID statistics. The number, if there are any, would be extraordinarily low. Making such a claim is like arguing people who die in alcohol related auto accidents would have died from other reasons anyway. Who can say the guy that wrapped his car around the tree would not have died an hour later at home of a heart attack? It is a fallacious argument and should not be used for COVID or alcohol related auto accident deaths.

We could write a book of examples on the faulty logic used to downplay any medical situation. Tobacco companies have been doing it for decades and you are better than a tobacco company, I hope. Instead, we need to turn our attention to what matters in this journal: personal finance and taxes.

Part 2a: The Fuzzy Logic of Personal Finance

We see the faulty logic every day on social media and news outlets. The issues of faulty logic were quickly debunked in Part 2 above. Unfortunately, too many will be distracted from this message before they even read this far. That is too bad because the same faulty logic, carried into your personal life, will cause great financial harm.

The lesson should be simple: Spend less than you earn, invest in broad-based index funds and wait. You tell me how much less you will spend compared to your income and I’ll tell you your net worth at any point in the future within a few percentage points. Then insane illogic takes hold.

Like COVID, young people are less affected in the near term if they don’t heed the mantra above. And even if you do internalize spending less than you earn and investing the difference eventually, you need less money set aside each month to reach retirement or financial independence goals the younger you start. Waiting to start saving and investing is the crime! It’s a simple product of time, as in, the more time your money has to grow the more it does. Call it Keith’s Rule 34. 

Again, like COVID, young people feel invincible and spend to their desire rather than to common sense. Somewhere between youth and their 50th birthday they have a come to Jesus moment and realize the clock really is ticking and who keeps tolling that bell! Then the crazy logic used to start this post is tossed out the window because stupid doesn’t cut it anymore. 

And some never get the message. They don’t walk into my office much anymore since I’m not the kind of tax office you visit if you are 80 years old with a 30 year mortgage and working a job for the man at that ripe old age because you have debt and bills to pay. So much for the gold in the Golden Years. Long-time readers know I’m not a big fan of traveling, but I do like to get out of the house now and again. In retirement it would be nice to visit a few places, even if they are only a skip, hop and a jump away. If I’m working when I’m 80 it’s because I want to and doing the things I want to work at, not out of necessity.

You can delude yourself into believing it’s not that serious when you are young, but it is. Everyone has seen the chart where twin brothers take two investing paths. The first brother starts saving (and investing those savings) $2,000 per year at age 18 and stops when he reaches 24. His twin starts saving $2,000 per year at 24 and keeps at it until age 65. Both brothers end up with about the same amount of money. Only, the first brother invested a mere $14,000 while the second brother invested $80,000 of his earnings.

It is serious: COVID and starting yesterday to save and invest money. The stock market is on a tear after the initial COVID scare. There are people who hit it out of the park owning Apple, Facebook, Tesla and a few other stocks. What we don’t hear about is the people who got taken out behind the woodshed for a whooping. 

The faulty logic of COVID is, “I am young so it will not affect me, I can carry on a normal, I don’t have to wear a mask.” The faulty logic of the poor is, “I’m young and have plenty of time to start saving and investing, I can party and have fun while I’m young because I can, I don’t have to worry about my health because I’m young and healthy.” Notice the overlap?

Too bad a couple percent will not be so lucky. If you have your health you are already wealthy. Medical problems are expensive. Medical bills are more painful than the disease! And lost income due to health reasons is the financial double-whammy health issues can cause.

You will never get another chance to spend less than you earned today and invest the difference. Sure, you can start tomorrow, but today is lost as it bleeds into history. The only questions is: Will you keep buying into the faulty logic of COVID-19 and extending that faulty logic to your retirement and financial independence plans?

Only you can decide that.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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

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.

  • Following the 4% rule is not enough when accumulating wealth.
  • The recent market decline brought on by the pandemic requires around a third more index fund shares to be sold to maintain spending patterns if you are in retirement and are fully invested at all times.
  • How much money you should keep in cash depends on where you are in the wealth building cycle. How close you are to retirement, or if you are in retirement, determines the appropriate level of cash that should be held.
  • The 4% rule fails too often if not coupled with appropriate cash levels.

 

Rules of thumb are an easy way to quickly see where you stand financially. Once you reach 25X your spending in liquid net worth (the 4% rule presented as a multiple of spending) you are assumed to have enough to retire under the 4% rule, regardless your age.

However, as we are seeing with the current market turmoil, the simple rule of thumb has one fatal flaw. If you reached your 25X goal a few months ago and decided this was the time to step away from traditional labor, you now face a withdrawal rate from your index funds a third higher than expected. This will reduce the account value early in the distribution phase, lowering the total amount you can get from the investment over your lifetime.

Another rule of thumb is to keep 6 months of spending in cash in case you become unemployed. Under a normal job loss or economic decline this would be a reasonable policy to follow. Unemployment insurance can provide additional cushion to the 6-month cash reserve.

Black Swan events (unexpected negative economic events such as the housing crisis or pandemic) throw the whole rule of thumb out the window. Black Swan events do not happen often, but they do occur every decade or so. Looking back at U.S. history, it seems something always happens every decade to knock the markets lower and slow economic activity. The 2010s are the only decade to avoid that fate and 2020 seems to be making up for the oversight.

Black Swan events are impossible to plan for, but you can manage your investments with the understanding something unknown will shake the market’s confidence every so often.  You can prepare contingencies to deal with unexpected market breaks, or take your chances and hope you get lucky… this time.

 

Determining Your Proper Cash Level

One of the hottest topics of discussion in consulting sessions with clients involves how much liquid net worth be held in cash. Emails and even social media requests from followers press on how much cash is the right amount of cash to keep on hand as a percent of investable money.

The 4% rule doesn’t consider a cash position. It just assumes you take 4% every year from your portfolio to live. If the market declines, the 4% rule says you either need to cut back on spending or risk running out of money before death. Cutting spending enough isn’t always possible. And when markets are down many goods and services become cheaper so you should be stocking up at these times.  The 6-months cash rule also falls short in many cases. A down market can last for years and selling at a low to fund living expenses is a painful exercise.

Where you are on your journey to retirement determines the amount of cash you keep on hand. Many times readers of this blog, and those who follow me on social media, think I am timing the market when I carry a substantial cash position. But that isn’t true. I have no desire, nor skill, at timing the market and do not waste any time trying to do so. I do, however, increase my cash position when the sun is shining and decrease my cash position when it rains. This isn’t a timing issue. As I near retirement and have substantial financial resources, I have no desire to maximize my returns. I already made it. No room for heroes anymore.

You are probably at a different part of the wealth creation cycle. Maybe you are older and well into retirement, collecting a pension and Social Security. Or just starting out.

The advice I give clients is based on their specific facts and circumstances. I will give you the same advice here based on where you are on your journey to retirement, early or otherwise. I will finish with my advice to clients already in retirement. You can use these guidelines to prepare for your retirement. Knowing the appropriate way to invest at each stage of the wealth creation cycle is helpful; looking to the next step in advance can be very motivating, knowing you will have plenty of financial resources once you do retire.

Before we start I need to define some terminology. When I say cash I mean money market accounts, bank deposits and CDs. Everything else is invested, meaning broad-based index funds, most notably Vanguard’s S&P 500 Index Fund (VFINX or VOO for the ETF) or the Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTSAX). 

 

Starting Out: When you start out you have the fewest resources. Time is your best friend, however. The sooner you get money invested the sooner it can start growing. And time invested determines your level of wealth. Cash reduces the level of wealth years down the road, but keeps an unexpected expense from turning into a disaster that sends you back to square one. It is a delicate balancing act between investments and cash.

The problem with too low a level of cash is twofold. First, any minor emergency (flat tire, furnace repair, medical bill) and your financial plan is in crisis. Second, job loss or disability can destroy all the work done to-date.

Starting out is the riskiest place financially. By default you will be closer to the red line; income and savings are generally lowest when you are young and starting out. Six months of spending in cash is probably impossible. And if your employer matches contributions to your retirement account you need to find a way to contribute at least to the matching level.

If you are at day 1 you want to take a page from Dave Ramsey’s book (and workbook). His Baby Step #1 is to get $1,000 into a bank account for emergencies. It’s a good plan I agree with. If you have an employer retirement plan with matching, try to invest at least to the matching level as well. A good way to start is by adding $50 every paycheck or per month to your emergency fund until it reaches $1,000. When an unexpected bill shows up you have the funds to deal with the issue. Then start adding $50 or so each pay period to restore the emergency fund to at least $1,000.

The balancing act would be reasonable if all you had to worry about is building a reserve while you are earning starting wages. Add to that the expenses of starting out (furniture, transportation, home furnishings), a mortgage or rent and it can quickly become overwhelming. 

There is one advantage you have when starting out; you are young. With youth comes resilience. Starting a family, paying down a mortgage, building a retirement fund while working many hours to achieve these goals takes the vigor of youth. It can also wear you down.

Regardless your level of energy, financial problems can wear you out. That is why even a modest emergency fund, Dave Ramsey style, can be such a powerful tool to keep you on track. The real risk is job loss, medical issues and disability before you build your finances to a level where you can withstand larger financial assaults.

That leads us to the next level.

 

Building Wealth: You will spend more time at this level than the starting out phase. A $1,000 emergency fund really isn’t enough, especially as you grow older and medical bills have a greater chance of messing up your plans. Job loss is a strong possibility at least once in your working career. The 6-months of living expenses rule now comes into play. The truth is, 6 months still isn’t adequate. An extended economic decline can put you into a bad position where you are tempted to add more debt or tap into a retirement fund to pay for day-to-day expenses.

In the wealth building phase you want to secure your finances to withstand as much as possible. Many people don’t keep an official emergency fund once they build a modest net worth. (This accountant never had any funds earmarked for unexpected expenses.) However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a tidy stash of money tucked away to get you through an income drought.

These are the priorities in the wealth building phase:

  • Pay down and eliminate debt
  • Build a cash reserve for surprise expenses and to tide you through a reduction in income
  • Grow your retirement savings
  • Invest outside your retirement account (non-qualified accounts)

There is no fast way to accomplish these goals, but there is an easy way. Consistency wins the race. Paying a bit extra each mortgage payment will eliminate the mortgage years early; every paycheck should add to your retirement fund in good or bad stock markets automatically; merge your emergency fund into your other non-qualified investments and make investments automatic.

I use Vanguard. You can use Vanguard or any similar investment house. Retirement and non-qualified investments will grow as the years peal away. The tax advantages of retirement plans are the best deal in America for the middle class. Adding to your retirement funds with each paycheck is about the easiest and most painless way to dollar-cost-average there is.

Once you fill your retirement account it is time to build some non-retirement funds. Non-qualified investments can be an appropriate surrogate for an emergency fund. A modest $1,000 worked when you were starting out. As you build your wealth $1,000 is inadequate; you are no longer interested in borrowing money to buy a car or anything else for that matter. You need larger sums of liquid money to replace a car or repair a roof. Investing in a broad-based index fund is the perfect way to grow your non-qualified monies. 

This is where common sense comes in. As you grow your non-qualified account some money will be held in a money-market fund or bank deposit. When a planned, budgeted or surprise bill shows up you will have the resources to pay the expense immediately. To reach this financial position you need to add consistently, just like with your retirement account. You can make the investment automatic in your non-qualified account, the same as with your retirement account. Set up automatic investing with monthly contributions. Part of each payment should go into the index fund and some into the cash portion of the account. When the stock market is acting like the world is about to end again, put most of the new money into the index fund. If you are uncomfortable with the high level of the stock market, put most (not all) of the new money into the cash account. It isn’t a crime to have a lot of cash! Sleeping well is better.

If the economy sours you can always move cash into the index fund. Once you determine your income is not at risk and will remain steady or climb, you can lower the cash position. This is more art than science. There is no exact level of cash you must have. Rather, if you feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with sitting on the sidelines. In fact, the more wealth you have the less likely you want to be 100% in equities all the time. Cash is always nice because it gives you the opportunity to invest when the right investment comes along. It is hard to buy a cheap income property if you can swing the purchase. And cash is always available for spending needs without worry about selling in a bear market.

My point is that you decide what is best for you. Almost everyone should have at least some portion of their portfolio in equities in the wealth building phase. The first goal should be to increase your liquid funds to around 6 months of expenses. This should provide an adequate cushion if things go south. Then get serious about growing investment accounts.

The greater your wealth the better able you are to weather a storm. As your non-qualified account grows, the 6 months of living expenses in cash are supplemented by dividends if the need become great enough. Dividends and capital gains should be reinvested into your index funds. However, rather than selling an investment when the market is down, consider diverting dividends and capital gains distributions into your cash account when the cash account begins to deplete. This will provide added cushion while you decide the best financial move if a recession hits the family income stream.

 

Nearing, Entering and in Retirement: The last phase of your financial life is when you approach, enter and are in retirement. The following advice works regardless the age you retire. Early retirement still requires a proper financial plan. My clients pay me a lot of money to tell them what you are about to read.

The 6-month rule is nowhere near acceptable once you enter retirement. Side hustle income, pension and Social Security keep cash flowing into the budget, but your maximum earning years are now part of history. And besides, even if you can go back to work, is that really the goal here? The goal now is to structure your finances to keep your financial life simple with as low a level of risk as possible.

There might be times when you still add to investments once you enter retirement. We will assume retirement is a consumption of wealth phase. This doesn’t mean your accounts lose value! Your level of consumption can, and ideally should, be lower than the rate of the investment growth. 

Outside cash, investments will fluctuate in value. Only the fluctuating investments provide a potential acceptable return. Cash provides a low, or even no, return and is earmarked for expenditures in the relatively near future. Selling index funds at or near market highs and consuming cash when index funds are not at a high is an easier strategy than you might think. 

Market timing is a sucker’s game. Dollar-cost-averaging when you were growing your wealth was not a market-timing call. The opposite behavior when consuming your wealth is also not market timing.

The stock market is always climbing with short down periods lasting from a few months, to a few years, to rarely a decade or longer. Selling at a market high does not mean the market will not be higher in the future. What I am saying is that selling at or near a current market high is easy to do. Look at the index level. Is it at or near a high? Then it is an appropriate time to sell if it meets the criteria discussed below.

Your cash position in retirement needs to be at least two years of spending! Preferably 3-4 years of spending. With 4 years of spending in your cash account you have plenty of money available to live without consideration for the economy or stock market levels. If the market declines, use the cash account to fund spending. If the market is at or near a high you can sell enough to cover your needs on a monthly or some other schedule. You can rebuild the cash position when the market returns to new highs if the cash account becomes depleted.

When the stock market has one of those wonderful moments where it predicts yet another zombie apocalypse, you have several options. Rather than reinvesting dividends and capital gains distributions, you can divert those to your cash account instead. This effectively stretches your cash account to cover more than 4 years of market decline. Only as a last resort would you be forced to sell below a market high and/or cut back on spending.

The stock market rarely goes down and stays down for more than 4 years. Anything is possible. With dividends mixed in, your cash position can extend to 6-7 years or more, depending on the amount of your investments in index funds. Virtually all situations become background noise then as you enjoy your retirement.

 

As you can see, a simple rule that works for everyone does not exist. When you are starting out it is unlikely you have the resources to have even 6 months of liquid cash available to cover a job loss or serious expense. The goal is to move from that risky early position to a more stable and secure level. Eventually you will reach that 6-months cushion. But then you need to keep pushing because your needs will change as you approach retirement. 

The more wealth you accumulate, the more comfortable you become with cash earning a meager return. Many people lose interest in remaining 100% invested all the time once they enter the 7-digit net worth arena. As the 7 figures keep climbing, cash looks better and better. Of course, virtually everyone should have some invested in an equity index fund at all ages. What I want to impress upon you is that in the early days of your wealth accumulation journey you will be nearly 100% invested all the time with a modest sum available for an emergency. As you approach and enter retirement it is not uncommon to have 20% of more of your investable funds in cash. Find your comfort level and enjoy the well-deserved retirement you worked so hard to attain.

 


 

 

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?

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. 

There is an adage on Wall Street many have repeated over the years and more so in the last month:

BUY THE DIP.

What so many forget is another Wall Street adage similar to the first:

BUYING THE DIP WORKS UNTIL IT DOESN’T.

I have warned this is not over yet so don’t get too excited about buying the first decline.

My opinion is unchanged. Unless something drastic changes, the events put in motion will play out until their logical end (the end all panics end in).

Most readers of my blog have never experienced a prolonged decline in many markets at once. It has been 12 long years since things were really ugly. This will be the first REAL test of the FI and FIRE communities. Unfortunately, most leaders in these communities have also never experienced a real market panic when they had meaningful money invested.

By now I hope I convinced all of you to never invest with borrowed money. If you followed this advice it will only be a time thing before normalcy returns. Before the clouds clear, however, the news feeds will be littered with end of the world predictions. Unemployment will rise, markets will fall, the economy will slow or even decline. This has all happened many times before.

My advice to you, kind readers, is turn off the news feeds. The coronavirus will be fine without you watching its every move. Oil prices are going to decline heavily. Enjoy even cheaper gasoline prices in the interim.

If you didn’t sell at the high (you didn’t) don’t try to out guess the market now. Stand pat. Let the world around you panic as it always does. You, my good friends, are smarter than that. You will not be moved by a decline in your investment account balance. That is only a temporary thing unless you lock in the loss.

I was beginning to believe the coronavirus was the black swan event that would finally trip up this long bull run. It seemed strange because the coronavirus is bad, but not that bad. The economic damage could be sharp, but short lived.

The oil price war between OPEC (mostly Saudi Arabia) and Russia is the real black swan event I was waiting for. This has a real risk of causing serious damage.

If oil prices stay where they have fallen to (I’m writing this Sunday night, March 8th, 2020 when oil prices dropped into the upper 20s and gasoline futures dropped over 20 cents a gallon), U.S. shale companies are in deep trouble with massive debt and no way to work out of the problem. 700,000 jobs are on the line and several million more in halo industries serving the U.S shale oil industry.

Not all these jobs will be lost. But if even a reasonable percentage are lost the decade long economic expansion will come to an end.

Remember, the end of one economic expansion only paves the way for the next leg up.

I don’t know where the next economic advance comes from, but there are some strong indications. In 2008-09 shale oil was the one bright spot in the economy as oil prices were high. Oil will be an economic drag this time around.

Where will the next massive spike in economic growth come from? I have several guesses. Elon Musk made EVs cool and reliable. I expect the next economic surge will include a massive transition from ICE vehicles to EVs.

Solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy have the promise of huge economic growth. Even larger economically is storage technology. Batteries and other storage technologies for solar and wind will be nice areas to watch in the decade ahead.

After all this time the final frontier might be the biggest source of economic growth going forward. Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin will compete for space travel dollars. Space holds the promise of opening an economic boom never witnessed before.

So when the news feeds tell you the world is coming to an end, don’t believe it. None of this is new. Old guys like me have seen this before. The history books go even further back with stories of boom and collapse. It is the nature of a capitalist system. You have to take risk to build a better tomorrow and sometimes that leads to some short-term pain.

Stay well, my friends. And vigilant. Fear will rule in the weeks and months ahead. Do not allow your emotions to rule your common sense.

 

Note: I originally wrote this for a Facebook post for my followers. I removed that post shortly thereafter and pasted it into this post. I felt it was too important to leave this as a social media post that will gallop into the distance rapidly. 

You can read more about past market panic in this book. 

 

 

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?

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. 

We are all in this together. Climate change isn't the problem; how we frame it is. Global warming can be solved if we work together as a team. This is not political; it is will. No winners and losers, just winners. #climatechange #globalwarming #reframing #co2 #environment #businessgrowth #greenhouse #greenhousegasesClimate change (really global warming with a better brand name) has been in the news these past few decades with dire warnings. Climate models have underestimated the warming trend. 

The old story of the frog tossed into boiling water and immediately jumping out comes to mind. With climate change the warming is so gradual (and sometimes welcome) we don’t notice we are getting boiled. Yet the temperature inexorably continues to climb. Like the frog, we will stay in the stew until the meat pulls away from the bone.

Fresh faces periodically jump onto the scene. Al Gore made a big splash over a decade ago with his Inconvenient Truth documentary.

This past week a new face entered the drama with Greta Thunberg scolding Congress. After delivering a groin kick to deserving members of Congress she met with allies in Congress and told them, ” I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough.” 

As much fun as it is to watch a 16 year old girl knock Congressmen around, the most important point has been missed: Greta “is” the problem.

 

Same Old Tactics

“The world is coming to and end!” It has been the battle cry of environmentalists from the beginning. Scare tactics worked when pushed hard enough and often enough in the past. Now, after hearing this battle cry for longer than most readers have been alive the echo rings hollow.

Climate change is a money issue. Those against taking action do so on financial grounds. “It will cost too much for something we are not sure will really happen and even if it does it might actually be a good thing,” is their battle cry. And it is easier (and cheaper in the short run) to do nothing.

Then we come to Gore and Thunberg. Remember I said they ARE the problem. 

All the while I watched and read about the smack down in Congress I couldn’t help but think about how much CO2 Thunberg dumped into the atmosphere flying* to Washington to give Congress a piece of her mind. Thunberg is right; she needs to try harder.

If the people most concerned about climate change are injecting the most most amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is there any hope to solve the problem?

Actually, there is.

 

Re-framing the Argument

Fear stalls people in their tracks. This accountant has strong beliefs about climate change and prefers to call it what it really is: global warming. Gore showing charts of CO2 rocking to the moon did little to move the deniers. It’s not that climate deniers believe climate change is a hoax; it’s that they believe it isn’t a serious problem compared to the costs of mitigation. A warmer winter is welcome in their minds and the negative consequences will not affect them (in their minds).

Continuing to bash on deniers will not work! I’m sympathetic to the cause and know the problem is serious and needs immediate attention. And even I am exhausted by the constant assault by climate doomsayers. If it is so bad and their is no hope, why bother.

There is a solution, but it requires a radical rethinking of the climate change rhetoric. 

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a good goal that can satisfy climate change crusaders while appealing to the pocketbook of the deniers. In other words, if we reframe the issue as a win/win the message will resonate with virtually everyone. The best part is nobody even has to mention that four-letter word: climate change or global warming.

 

Solutions that Work

Every time a new solar or wind project is proposed it lists the amount of CO2 that will not be emitted into atmosphere. That is a massive mistake!

Green projects have to be proposed with economics in mind. 

This wind farm will drive down costs to local businesses, increasing the competitive advantage of our community in the world market.

Everything wrong with the climate change debate. Rather than accusations, all sides can win if framed correctly. Global warming can spur economic growth, create jobs, lower taxes, improve the environment and provide serious investment opportunities. #climatechange #globalwarming #environment #greeninvestments #green Who is against that? No mention of climate change. Politics is removed. To be against this is to be against jobs and local economic growth. Not one mention is made about climate change. 

A local town hall meeting might sound like this:

CROWD: Is this wind farm going to help climate change?

PROMOTER: Screw the climate. We are about business and economic growth. This will create jobs and increase business profits. Our cost advantages after this project comes online will make us a world leader in multiple industries.

The Republicans will snicker after the event about how they pulled a fast one over on the Democrats. Citizens concerned about climate change will have a similar, yet opposite, conversation in private.

Everyone wins!

Your favorite accountant is sick to death of good ideas getting shot down because climate change was attached to it. Want to kill a good idea? Say is will lower CO2 emissions. Doesn’t matter how good the idea is. Could you imagine tax cuts associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions? You’d never see another tax cut in your lifetime.

Businesses understand this. Doing environmental good CAN and frequently IS good for the environment. Both sides of the debate are really in the same room, only they got comfortable bashing each other’s faces in and don’t know how to change their behavior. 

It is self-defeating to frame trillions of dollars in spending as a climate change expense. Even those who know the problem is real have a hard time wrapping their head around seriously higher taxes to pay for something that will help other nations and people of the future. The “What’s in it for me” thought is strong. It is unfair to complain some are shortsighted on this issue. We all are to some extent.

Solutions where many will lose (taxpayers and business owners) will always have a problem getting their message across. 

 

Changing the Way We Think

Business owners understand the power of changing the way they think in problem resolution. Individuals need to do the same.

Buying an electric car is NOT about saving the environment! It might be a status symbol. But in the end it should make economic sense. If the cost of owning the electric car is less over its entire life than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle it is a logical choice even if the up front costs are higher.

The opposite is also true. There will always be a limited number of people willing to shell out for an expensive car that costs more than similar ICE alternatives. This limited demand will not be enough to reverse the global warming trend.

It smacks me as insane when some lowlifes rejig their truck to belch more smoke or keys an electric car when walking past. The smoke is a different kind of pollution and actually is better for the environment since it settles out of the air reasonable fast. (Think of that if you rigged your truck this way. You actually are saying you are trying to help reduce climate change emissions. Makes you look foolish, doesn’t it?) And keying someone’s car is not only stupid, but ignorant. You are better than that.

Current thinking is politically charged. Greta Thunberg made a splash in the news. Yeah, she got a good one on Congress. And nothing will change. You don’t make friends or solve problems by finding new ways to insult people you need to help you solve a problem.

Instead of focusing on what is in it for us, we need to highlight the advantages to our opponents. 

Electric vehicles will give America a competitive advantage.

Changing the electric grid will create jobs.

Businesses will generate an estimates $868 billion (this number is illustration only, not a fact) in additional profits if electric vehicles are fully implemented.

This solar field will reduce reliance on foreign oil, create 328 new jobs, lower utility bills for businesses and consumers and lower taxes over the next decade.

Of course the losers haven’t changed. Big oil is behind the fight against climate change initiatives for good reason; they stand to lose a lot. I don’t like leaving businesses or people behind even if they were part of the original problem. Remember, oil was a solution to a problem a century ago.

The synergies created by good economic policies can be used to create incentives for businesses and individuals negatively affected by the changes. 

Climate change solutions can create jobs, increase business profits, lower taxes, improve the environment and reduce utility bills. #environment #utilitybills #propertytaxes #taxes #climatechange #globalwarming #jobs #profits #business profitsBig oil should receive serious tax credits when pushing into these new areas of business. The transition will be painful, but manageable if proper consideration is given.

Self driving trucks will not need to convince business of the value. Trucks able to run 24 hours a day without payroll expenses is all business will need to hear. Once self driving vehicles are safe enough they will happen. Just as climate change causes issues so will self driving vehicles. 

Every problem has a solution that eventually leads to more problems. As long as the improvement overall is steady we are golden. Truckers losing their job will need tax incentives to get them from where they are to where they want to be in a world with out truckers.

Gas stations will always have a place as long as people are on the road. Electric vehicles and people still need to fuel up. Gas stations will need help with the expensive conversion to electric charging stations.

These are not insurmountable problems! We HAVE solved much worse than this. Climate change is real. Unfortunately we are the frog in the water getting cooked at a slow simmer. 

Finger pointing is wrong. It never works. You never convince someone of your viewpoint by starting with, “You’re an idiot!”

We must reframe the way we look at climate change. We must change the way we think. This is not us versus them!

Change can be good. And profitable! If only we have the will. Otherwise another kid with a cute message will get a good jab in on Congress thirty years from now when the problem is still unresolved and much worse.

 

 * Some comments argue this statement isn’t fair since she used a “zero emissions” boat to get here. No word on how she gets home after her 5-man team brings the boat back without her. Many reports and newscasts have stated the large carbon footprint of her journey. Thunberg has a 5 man team delivering the yacht back home and some of them presumable flew. At this point we still do not know with certainty if she will fly home or use another source. What is certain is the greenhouse gases emitted from this publicity stunt is reported to be greater than the emissions from a village in India over the course of a year. I stand by my claim.

 

 

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?

It's not us versus them. Solving climate change can be a win/win solution. #climatechange #environment #smallbusiness #investmentopportunitiesSide 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. 

 

 

One of the most powerful tax strategies a small business owner has is the S corporation. Under most circumstances when a small business has grown beyond $30,000 to $50,000 of annual profits it is time to consider organizing as an S corporation or LLC electing to be treated as an S corporation for tax purposes. 

The tax savings can be significant. A sole proprietorship is taxed at ordinary rates, plus self-employment tax. For 2019 the SE tax is 15.3% of the first $132,900 of partnership and/or sole proprietorship profits. (If you have wages from other sources this is included in the $132,900. Once you exceed that limit from all these sources combined the SE tax declines to 2.9%.) Partnerships pass profits to the owners where they pay the SE tax along with income tax. For partnerships, guaranteed payments to partners and profits are both subject to the SE tax. 

An S corporation does not pay income tax. Instead, all the profits are passed-through to the owners of the entity and taxed as ordinary income only; SE tax does not apply to profits passed to owners of an S corporation. Owners of an S corporation are required to be paid reasonable compensation. The remaining profits avoid payroll taxes (FICA and FUTA) and SE tax. 

Small business owners usually want some legal protections as well. The corporate or LLC structure is available to accomplish these goals. The LLC is more flexible with additional legal advantages than straight corporate entities.

Once organized, the LLC can then elect to take on the characteristics of other types of entities for tax purposes. The LLC does NOT have a tax form at the IRS. The LLC either defaults to a disregarded entity (sole proprietorship or partnership if more than one owner) or elects to be treated as a corporation. The LLC can elect S status if they inform the IRS they want to be treated as a corporation. These are two separate elections: electing to be treated as a corporation (Form 8832) and then electing to be treated as an S corporation (Form 2553).

I discussed these advantages in greater detail in the past.

 

Proper Allocation of Assets

If you had an attorney handle your LLC set-up and a qualified tax professional handle the structuring of assets inside and outside of the business you already know the S corporation rarely, if ever, has real estate inside it. 

The proper structure of a business where the owners also control the real estate is to organize the business LLC, treated as an S corporation, to hold the business only and a separate LLC, defaulting to a disregarded entity, for the real estate. The business LLC then pays rent to the LLC holding the real estate. 

Recently a reader on this blog asked why this is important:

Comment from Hobo Millionaire:

Keith, would you mind explaining the benefit of you renting to your business vs your business buying the building and paying a note over time. Is there a tax issue with the depreciation? You can depreciate/offset your taxes and the business can’t? A specific post on this setup, showing actual numbers, would be great.

We will discuss why you never want to own real estate inside an S corporation or an LLC treated as such. 

Most of the time it is a mild inconvenience only. Then there are instances where the legal and tax problems are significant and serious.

Every issue surrounding separating the business entity from the real estate holding entity are easily remedied. 

 

Legal Problems

There is no law requiring you to separate the business from the real estate. However, the LLC is a legal structure designed to protect the LLC owners. If the real estate and business are held within one LLC, the real estate is at risk if the business gets sued. Depending on the industry, this can be a serious issue or a low-risk probability.

Separating business from real estate also makes it easier to sell fractional ownership of each easier. If the real estate is held inside the business LLC it is impossible to sell the real estate (or business) without selling the same fraction of the other at the same time. 

Example: If you sell 10% of the business LLC and the real estate is held within that LLC, you have sold 10% of the business and real estate. 

Held separately you can sell all or a fraction of either the business or real estate in any fraction you want. You can also add another member (or have fewer members) to the real estate investment without also including the individual in the business side of the equation. 

Once real estate is inside an S corporation there is no easy solution to removing it. Tax issues of holding real estate with a business inside the same LLC can be significant. 

Removing real estate from an LLC is deemed a sale of the real estate for tax purposes. This means all the gains and recapture of depreciation are currently reported and taxed accordingly. Even if you are a 100% owner of the LLC and remove the real estate from the LLC to your name only (ownership really hasn’t changed, now has it?) you will be taxed on the gains! 

Therefore, if you have real estate inside an S corporation it might be better to keep it there even though it isn’t an ideal situation. You should consult a qualified attorney and/or tax professional with experience in this area of practice to avoid making a bad situation worse.

 

Serious Tax Issues

S corporations are not taxed except in a few situations. In each situation where an S corporation does pay tax the S corporation was a C corporation first for a period of time. (Electing S status at the time the corporation is organized means there was no time when the company functioned as a regular (C) corporation.) 

Holding real estate inside an S corporation with accumulated earning and profits (AE&P) from when it was a C corporation has tax consequences. 

S corporations are subject to tax on Excess Net Passive Income (ENPI) when :

  1. The S corporation’s passive investment income is more than 25% of gross receipts, and
  2. At the end of the year the S corporation has AE&P from when it was a regular corporation.

The ENPI tax rate is 35%! Lets look at an example of where an S corporation might pay the ENPI tax.

XYZ Corp elects to be an S corporation with AE&P. XYZ has $100,000 of gross receipts this year. Of the $100,000 of gross receipts, $40,000 is passive investment income (dividends, interest, rents, royalties and annuities). Directly connected expenses to the production of the passive investment income  is $10,000.

The net passive income is: $40,000 – $10,000 = $30,000

25% of gross receipts are: $100,000 x 25% = $25,000

The amount by which passive investment income exceeds 25% of gross receipts is $15,000 ($40,000 net passive income – $25,000 25% of gross receipts).

ENPI calculation: $15,000 / $40,000 x $30,000 = $11,250.

XYZ as an S corporation with AE&P pays a passive investment income tax of $3,938 ($11,250 x 35%)

 

Easy Tax Problems to Fix

The good news is that all deductions related to real estate ownership remain intact even when you separate the business entity from the real estate entity. You can still borrow against the building and deduct the interest on the real estate holding LLC tax return, as well as, depreciation and other expenses paid and related to the property. 

You can still have a triple-net lease between the real estate LLC and the business LLC. This means the business LLC can still pay and deduct insurance costs, repairs and maintenance, property taxes, utilities and so forth. Only the interest and depreciation goes with the real estate LLC. Rent is paid by the business LLC and deducted; the rent is claimed as income by the real estate LLC. 

There are times where the real estate LLC might show a large loss due to a cost segregation study or some other tax strategy. This means your business might be earning a large profit while the real estate LLC gets a special tax benefit that allows a massive deduction which causes that LLC to show a loss.

Passive activity rules tell us we are limited in some instances, especially when our income climbs above $100,000. This is easily solved with a simple election on the individual’s tax return. (The LLCs don’t make the election. It is taken on the personal tax return level.) Having a large loss on the real estate LLC if you are a high earner would be a problem if there were no outs. 

The good news, again, is you can group the activities. By grouping the real estate LLC and business LLC activities you are allowed all the deductions as if they were one entity on the personal tax return. This resolved the passive activity rule issues.

 

Final Notes

There are no drawbacks to separating the real estate and business into separate LLCs that I’m aware of. Every attorney I’ve ever spoken with agrees with me on this. Real estate should never be held inside an S corporation or LLC treated as such. Any tax negatives are easily resolved with elections.

The issues involved with combining real estate and a business under a single S corporation are many. Legally you limit your options and put assets unnecessarily at risk. The tax problems are hard or impossible to resolve without inflicting additional tax pain.

Structured properly your business and assets can enjoy legal protections while basking in the light of lower taxes.

 

 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Your personality determines your investment success. Understanding your relationship with money can make the difference between outstanding and sub-par results.

Your personality determines your investment success. Understanding your relationship with money can make the difference between outstanding and sub-par results.

Once again we see the market throwing a temper tantrum. On the way up it was tempting to handle your investments on your own. Now with the horizon less clear and a modest correction in the books as I write, you wonder if professional help might be worth the extra expense.

Those most knowledgeable about money resist the advice of commissioned (or fee-based) professionals. As everyone know, fees have serious consequences over long periods of time. The lower the fees the more you’ll have 10 years down the road.

But when the market gets schizophrenic confidence in one’s abilities declines. Worse, you can make serious mistakes well in excess of what you would pay a financial professional.

The stereotypical financial planner or investment adviser is history. Commission based compensation still exists but on a much more limited scale as fee-based planning has taken over, hitching the client’s performance to the adviser’s income. Annual fees typically run around 1% of assets per year. While this fee is lower than many mutual fund expense ratios from decades ago, 1% annually starts to add up. And remember, you not only lose the 1% fee, but all the future gains that 1% would have earned.

Readers of this blog generally forgo advisers since they are well versed in the details of money management. Some readers apologize when they call me for a consulting session as they pay investment management fees to an adviser. It doesn’t bother me if you use an adviser because there are good reasons to hire an adviser which we’ll cover shortly.

Normally people in the FI (financial independence) community would want to pass on an article suggesting you might benefit from a financial adviser. This should be the exception. After careful consideration I decided to share 3 reasons a financial adviser could be a good idea for you.

Actually, I personally believe there is only one true duty of a financial professional. Don’t cheat and skip ahead. There are other minor duties a financial planner should provide should you decide to hire one.

Broken Confidence

Before we begin I want to share why I’m writing this post. This blog has a presence on several social media platforms. I also follow several groups and pages in the genre on Facebook. Recently a few people confessed they were willing to sell because the pain was too great since they lost maybe 10% or so of their portfolio value from the market top a few months back.

This confused me since these same people exuded tremendous confidence in their personal investing habits without the help of a professional. How could a run-of-the-mill correction have people screaming? How would they react in a real down market? A bear market?

Further digging showed many were investing in individual stocks such as Apple, which is down is bit more than the broad market averages.

Of course selling after the decline is in full swing is rarely a good idea. The time to sell is when the market is up, not after it drops 10% – 25%.

People comfortable spending less than they earn and investing the difference consistently do fine when the market is climbing. But when the ride gets bumpy or a bear market growls loud, these same people consider making the largest mistake of their financial life: selling at a market low.

I see this whip-sawing with clients all the time. It breaks my heart to see a client bust her tail to build a sizable nest egg only to lose money in one impetuous panic trade.

And that is where professional help comes in. While fees are always a concern since we know it hurts long-term performance, we need to weight the costs against real world results.

So here are the 3 things a financial planner or investment adviser must do to earn your business:

3. Asset Allocation

Index funds get all the press, but index funds are not the answer to every problem. (Have halitosis? A healthy dose of a Vanguard index fund will clear that right up! If only.)

Index funds are an important part of almost every financial plan. A financial professional should help you (or keep looking until you find one who does) determine how much should be in bonds, equities and cash. (If the adviser recommends Bitcoin, commodities, options, or other esoteric investments, especially if commission based, run like the wind while you still have a chance. And hold your wallet tight as you run!)

A financial planner should understand you and your goals with consideration for your investment temperament. The only investment that works is one you stick with. Here are the tricks financial professionals use to win the money game.

A financial planner should understand you and your goals with consideration for your investment temperament. The only investment that works is one you stick with. Here are the tricks financial professionals use to win the money game.

My personal portfolio has very few bonds. I certainly don’t follow the traditional investment philosophy of subtracting your age from 100 and having that much in bonds, or some such advice. (Yeah, I know I mangled that. The point is I don’t follow traditional investing advice.)

This brings up an interesting point. Your portfolio will look different from mine even if we are exactly the same age, in the same health, and have the same amount of money! The reason is that your personality will be different from mine. I’m willing to ride out any storm (for real!) while you might lose sleep at night if your investment/s decline temporarily.

When the market drops I start licking my chops. Where some people get scared and want to sell to protect from additional declines, I’m thinking about—and usually carrying out—purchases of more shares of companies or index funds.

Down markets are where the real money is made! The same applies to an individual stock if it is a quality company in most cases. (Apple is down hard recently and may drop more. I added a small amount to my portfolio and if the decline continues I’ll add more. Apple is a well run company with superb management. Temporary setbacks are part of investing and usually a time to invest in more shares of great companies and always a good time to buy broad-based index funds.)

A good adviser/planner will help you build a portfolio that allows you to sleep at night. For some it might be all cash, ie. bank deposits. (I actually have a neighbor who has it all in the bank and is happy as a clam in his retirement. He sleeps at night! No index fund gains would be worth the loss of security to him so it is the right thing to do. . .  for him.)

2. Goals

The financial professional is more than a product pusher. The professional will know his client (that’s you) before making any recommendations. If an adviser prescribes before diagnosis, walk. Keep looking until you find an adviser who wants to work for you.

Investing isn’t about “more money”. Well, not completely, at least.

Investing needs a reason, a purpose, for it to be something you’ll be consistent with. Financial independence can be a solid goal since once you reach FI it opens your view to the horizon rather than working a job because you must. You may stay working in your current environment if you enjoy the work after reaching FI. There is nothing wrong with that! You might want to start a business or explore an idea. That is good, as well, as that is where all progress comes from.

Early retirement is an honorable goal. So is building a nest egg so you can work less and spend more time with family is a goal that motivates. Growing your portfolio to leave an adequate legacy is also an important consideration. So is growing your portfolio so you have the resources to fund philanthropic causes dear to your heart.

Goals are endless. An adviser or planner must be willing to listen to your goals, even help you formulate clear financial goals that will serve your needs.

Often times we don’t even know what we want. Just wanting more money isn’t reason enough! With only a vague, undefined goal, that SUV looks mighty tempting fast. Only goals you fully subscribe to will keep you on course and fill you with joy.

So, advisers and planners need to understand who you are and what makes you tick and work with you to discover your real financial life goals. It might sound like a detailed job; it is.

When I work with clients I practically give them a tax and financial proctology exam. You might be laughing now over my choice of words, but I’m dead serious. I need to know my client when dealing only with taxes. My advise is based on what I discover about my client and her goals. If it’s important with taxes; it’s tremendously more important when it involves your financial plan.

1. Panic and Greed

Two very important traits a financial adviser must have before you work with them is they must understand who you are and how it affects your asset allocation and a determination to help you reach your financial goals. But those traits are nothing compared to what I consider the only true value a financial professional has: dealing with your emotions: fear and greed.

It might seem like a total waste of money to pay a financial planner 1% of your portfolio annually when all the money is tucked safely into index funds. The whole low-cost benefit of index funds is partly removed with the advisory fee. So how can it be worth it to hire a professional for such a simple (and appropriate, I might add) investment portfolio?

On the surface the fees might seem like a waste until you remember how we entered this post: people freaking out on social media over a mild market correction.

If a 10% correction has you running for cover you made the wrong investment! Or at least you didn’t adequately prepare yourself for the reality of your investment choices.

Do you have the right financial plan? The right investment adviser can help you create, set up and implement the appropriate investment strategy for success and then work with you to stay the course.

Do you have the right financial plan? The right investment adviser can help you create, set up and implement the appropriate investment strategy for success and then work with you to stay the course.

And this isn’t a blame game either. Most people have no idea how risk adverse they are until the proverbial manure starts hitting the fan. Then Katy-bar the door, boys. It’s about to get real.

And for this reason a financial professional can earn her keep.

People who build a large portfolio do so by ignoring short-term market moves. It’s easier said than done. Most people need a steady hand to see them through. Enter the investment adviser/financial planner.

If the current market volatility concerns you then you either made the wrong investments for your personality or you need a professional to smooth the emotional peaks and valleys, maybe both.

The same applies to bull markets. If you’re tempted to use margin (borrowed money) when the market is hot you need a professional to talk you down.

My decades of experience makes it clear to me many people need professional help with their money. Everyone wants to go it alone because we all think we’re smarter than we really are, and as the market rises (as it usually does) it masks our deficiencies. Blue skies lull us into a false sense of security. Then the storm arises.

If you are considering a financial professional after reading this then I want you to do it right. Interview several financial professionals. If they aren’t interested in you, really want to know and understand you, move on. The adviser you hire (you’re paying them so you are hiring them so they darn well better do their job!) must take an interest in your goals. In fact, they should naturally gravitate toward questions bent to learn about you and what most motivates you.

Make it clear to any adviser you consider that you want a steady hand, not exotic investments. She must help you deal with the emotions in a down market so you don’t crush your financial dreams with impetuous trades; she must hone your desire to take a flyer when the world is getting rich in FAANG stocks.

A good adviser does those kinds of thing because they are responsible and looking out for you, her client. Anything less and you’re better off with the security of a bank.

A Parting Story

The mid and late 1980s were an incredible time to be invested. A long-time client with experience managing his own money added religiously to his portfolio. From 1982 to 1992 the market churned out an annual return well into the double digits. It was a good time to be invested in equity mutual funds.

During this decade my client invested in Fidelity’s Magellan Fund. During a good portion of this investment period the legendary Peter Lynch managed Magellan. Returns were in nose-bleed territory.

My client was a steady investing hand. An up market didn’t turn him greedy. He added funds steadily as he earned them.

Mild downturns were also okay for my client. But the 1987 stock market crash turned him into a sleep-deprived zombie. He couldn’t take the market volatility so he sold. At the bottom! Then the market recovered and blue skies returned so he moved back into Magellan.

Then in 1990 the market once again declined. Not nearly as bad as 1987, but enough to shake our good friend. As you may have guessed, he sold. A short while later when the market returned to new highs he felt safe enough to push all his money back into Magellan.

During this period the Magellan Fund was up an over 20% per year on average if you never sold. Our hero managed a measly 2% because he sold twice in decade out of fear, less than money market funds would have earned back then. Our hero went from mouth-watering investment returns to performing worse than money market funds over two stupid decisions.

Moral of the story: It only takes one or two stupid investing mistakes to sabotage your financial goals.

Now be honest: Do you need a financial professional to see you through the storm clouds?

Now for the bad news. If you do, they are as hard to find as a good under-priced stock.

Good luck.

 

 

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.

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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.