11 Reasons Why You Should Invest In Index Funds

Some people want to retire early and pursue other passions in life. Others simply want to have enough money, and never have to worry about money again. Whatever the reasons for pursuing financial independence, index funds are one of the best ways to achieve this goal.

In this article, we are going to look at the top reasons why you should invest in index funds.

What Is An Index Fund?

Imagine you want to invest in an apartment. You approach a real estate agent and express your needs. They tell you they have 1000 apartments, and you can choose from one of them.

It then becomes a gamble which one to pick. In the event you make a poor decision, there goes your investment. 

However, they also have another option. They tell you, you can buy a small percentage of each of the 1000 apartments and aggregate them to one.

And since the apartments are in different locations and markets, you get to spread your risk.

Therefore, in the long run, your investment of small percentages of each which aggregate to a whole ensures you have a good return on your investment.

The index fund is no different.

An index fund is an aggregate of stocks or bonds that track and match the performance of an index (the whole market), for example, the S&P 500.

So, there is no human element of tracking and trying to beat the market like a mutual fund.

In the long run, index funds have shown to outperform a human-managed fund.

1) They Have A Better Return On Investment 

In the long term, index funds have a higher return on investment. They outperform individual stocks hands down.

For example, in 2007, Warren Buffet entered The Million-Dollar Bet with Protégé Partners, a New York investment firm. It was a 10-year wager that the S&P 500 index fund would outdo their carefully picked five hedge funds, which they were to trade in for the challenge. 

It is important to note that Buffet used his own money and not Berkshire’s.

In December 2017, Buffet won the challenge and donated the money to charity.

However, his victory didn’t seem assured. On January 1, 2008, the stock market crashed, and the hedge funds swooped in and made a killing hedging.

During this period, Buffets’ index fund fell by 37% while the hedge fund lost 23.9%. 

Nonetheless, from their Buffet beat Protégé in every year from 2009 up to 2014. However, it took four years to come on top of the hedge funds in terms of cumulative return. 

This bet demonstrates that an index fund will weather the ups and downs of the market, and it will eventually balance out and perform better compared to an actively managed fund.

Hence, an index fund is a better return on your investment.

2) Diversification

When you buy individual stocks or bonds, you have uncompensated risk. This is a risk you are not paid enough to take.

So, if a company goes bankrupt, it is downgraded or defaults in borrowing you go under with them. Unfortunately, it happens a lot in the stock market.

To protect yourself, you can invest in an index fund. Just like we have seen, an index fund is an aggregate of all the stocks in the market. 

Therefore, in case one company goes down, your investment does not go under with them. In the same vein, when a company is doing well in the market you also gain and do not miss out.

Eventually, everything balances out in an index fund.

3) It Is Easy

Most people do not know or are not motivated to learn how to invest. They feel it is a drag and a bore.

Luckily, if you are one of them, you have an option, and can invest in index funds without being actively involved.

With index funds, you open an account with an investment management company and commit to making a monthly contribution to your account.

From there, you then leave it and let it grow. 

4) They Have Very Low Fees

Index funds are simple to put together and manage. They do not have overheads like mutual funds. On top of that, the portfolio of stocks is automatically balanced and adjusted, and no human is needed.

With as little as 0.04% annual management fees, all these savings get passed down to you.

However, a mutual fund is different. It has a portfolio manager who handpicks selected stocks and tries to beat the market. 

When trading, they will contract trading fees and management fees. All of these fees add up and will be passed down to you the investor.

Since portfolio managers rarely beat the market in the long term, the investor ends up losing their money.

Therefore, index funds are a much more favorable option, and you get to enjoy low fees.

5) Tax Efficient

Did you know an index fund is more tax-efficient compared to an actively managed mutual fund?

On account, those portfolio managers are actively buying, and selling, they have an estimated turnover of 85%, they pay capital gains taxes on every sale they make. 

This makes actively managed mutual funds one of the most tax-inefficient. On the contrary, index funds are tax efficient. 

In theory, an index fund portfolio, for example, an index fund of the total stock market will only have two turnovers.

That is in an Initial Public Offering (IPO), or when a company is delisted from the exchange.

In these two situations, there are no capital gains made. Consequently, there will be no capital gains tax.

However, in reality, the turnover is about 4% in index funds. Nonetheless, negligible compared to the 85% of actively managed funds.

Therefore, overall, index funds are more tax-efficient compared to other actively managed mutual funds.

6) Easy To Build Your Portfolio

One of the cardinal rules in investing is never to put all your eggs in one basket. As an investor, you have to diversify your portfolio. 

And with index funds, you can do that easily, and quickly.

For example, your investment plan calls for three funds in your portfolio. That is stocks, bonds, and real estate.

To get started, you can buy Total Stock Market Index Fund, and then add bonds with the Total Bond Market Index Fund, and lastly, your real estate through the REIT Index Fund

Therefore, there is no need to worry about overlapping your assets. You know what a fund holds just by its name.

With index funds, you do not need to pay thousands of dollars a year to have an investment manager build your portfolio.

7) Less Time Consuming

In traditional investing, you would need to do your research, and identify well-performing stocks.

You will also need to follow the trends of the market, and try to beat the market.

However, this strategy needs a lot of time, energy, and commitment, which most people do not have.

By investing in an index fund, you free up your time and do not have to track the market. You put your money in, forget about it, and let it grow.

8) Take Advantage Of Market Returns

When you try to beat the market, you may miss some opportunities. 

For example, if you have invested in the total stock market index when the market goes up, you do not miss out. This is because you have invested in the whole market.

However, with a mutual fund, you can only take advantage of gains made in the market if you had invested prior. Therefore, the chances of missing out are very high.

To that end, an index fund makes sure you take advantage of all market returns, and never miss out.

9) No Factor Risks

There are two schools of thought when it comes to investing. There is the Total Market versus the Factor Investing.

In factor investing, you have to analyze what are the drivers of return in a particular asset class. These are macroeconomics and style.

However, in total market investing, you do not have to worry about factors. The structure of the index fund already captures all factors and risks, and there is no need to analyze them.

10) Controls Investor Behavior

Stock trading has been likened to gambling. For example, when an investor makes gains on stocks they have placed their bet on; it produces the same effect as winning in gambling.

Unfortunately, this investment strategy will make you lose money.

But investing in an index fund, investor behavior is controlled. You do not have to keep trading in individual stocks trying to beat the market.

In the end, this protects your wealth and builds you more.

11) Widely Available On Most Investment Accounts

Index funds are as universal as they get. Many investment accounts can be used to invest in them. 

For example, a 401(k) can be used to invest in an index fund, and grow your money for retirement nest.

Or a 529 can be used to invest in index funds to grow your kids’ college fund.

By and large, the type of investment account used will depend on your desired financial goal. However, other factors like tax benefits, the maturity of investment account, among other things should be considered as well.

Other investment accounts you can use to invest in index funds are; Solo 401(k) s, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Health Savings Account (HSA), Roth IRAs, custodial brokerage accounts, taxable accounts, and many more.

Achieve Financial Freedom

The road to financial freedom is hard. It requires a lot of sacrifices, patience, planning, and dedication to achieve it.

And one of the surest ways to get there is through index funds. Time and time again, everyday folks have been able to achieve financial independence using them.

With the above advantages going on for an index fund, it is only wise to start investing and achieve financial independence.

Byline:

Hilda Munjuri is a freelance personal finance writer. She enjoys finding new money hacks and investing. Her dream is everyone achieves financial freedom in their lifetime.

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Financing Basics for First-Time Rental Property Owners

Have you been thinking about becoming a landlord, but wondering if now is the right time to purchase a rental property? You are certainly not alone. Real estate is one of Americans’ favorite investments. Plus, with current low-interest rates and the trend of millennials choosing to rent instead of own, you may want to consider taking the plunge sooner rather than later.

Having a rental property in your portfolio has plenty of perks (including a steady, passive income). Still, you need to do your research first and understand options to make sure it makes financial sense for your situation. Rental property financing is not as straightforward as purchasing a primary residence. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss some of the financing basics of investing in real estate to consider, which can be especially helpful if you are a first-time rental property owner.

Make a Large Down Payment

Mortgage insurance will not cover your investment property. So, for a traditional loan, you will need to put down at least 20-25% to get favorable financing according to Quicken Loans. A substantial down payment gives the bank more security, and it also demonstrates your commitment. Additionally, the bank will review your credit and debt-to-income ratio when making their decision on how much down payment is necessary, and if you will even qualify for a traditional loan.    

Evaluate Loan Options

Big bank’ traditional loans probably are the type of financing you are most familiar with, but if you can’t qualify, there are other options available to finance your rental property. Smaller, local (or community) banks sometimes have more flexibility in their requirements. They are usually not as conservative as the big banks, and they like to invest locally and value building relationships with their investors. Another idea is investing in a multi-family property that you can live in to take advantage of primary residence financing.   

Rental Property Owners 1

Ask the Seller to Consider Financing

If you can’t get a loan for your rental property from a bank, another option is to ask the seller if they would consider financing the loan themselves. The seller will extend credit to cover the purchase price of the property (minus the down payment), and you’ll sign a promissory note agreeing to make your payments. Interest rates will likely be higher than you’d get from a bank, but the down payment should be more flexible. Plus, you can close your deal quickly since you don’t have to go through the hassle of the traditional banking process to get your loan application approved. Remember, if you chose to explore this option, be sure when you approach the owner that you have a game plan in place. The seller must have confidence in your ability to repay the loan.      

Gather a Small Group of Investors Together

Although it would be nice to own your rental property outright all on your own, that is not feasible for most people. As an alternative to going it alone, you can gather a small group of investors to buy the property together. This option keeps you all from having to take out a loan, and it allows you to start generating cash flow sooner. Although you will have to share your profits, it does avoid the risk of a foreclosure on your rental property. It can be a great way to get your feet wet as a landlord without shouldering all the risk. To make things even easier, your group can hire a property management company, so you don’t have to deal with tenant issues.    

Making the right choice when it comes to financing your first rental property can help set you up for success. You don’t want to rush into deciding, and you should always consider your short-term and long-term goals to figure out what kind of financing makes the most sense.

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How Sole Traders Can Separate Their Personal And Business Finances?

Sole traders are more than just individuals; they’re business people who are self-employed and running their own business alone.

As a sole trader, it can be easy for your life to become entwined with that of your business, as it means that your finances become combined and you find it difficult to separate a business expense from an individual one.

This can make your life difficult, particularly when it comes to paying taxes, creating budgets and accurately assessing how much money you’ve spent on your business over a period of time.

To help, here are some practical ways you can divide your business and personal finances as a sole trader and make both facets of your life enjoyable.

Use An App

There are a variety of apps out there that are designed to allow you to track your business expenses, invoices and more, meaning that you can accurately log your business finances in one place and keep them separate from your personal expenditure. This will make accounting easier and allow you to track how much money your business is costing.

Be More Careful With Money

It sounds obvious, but when you become a sole trader you need to be more careful about your spending in general. Learn ways to save money, such as buying some items in bulk and avoiding using tempting, but hard to keep track of spending methods, such as contactless. This approach will help you to save money and keep your business and personal finances under control.

Keep Your Borrowing Separate

In the finance market, there are personal and business loans, but in some cases services like overdrafts and credit cards can make the lines between borrowing for business and personal use blurry. To avoid any confusion, take out dedicated personal and business loans instead of using short term financing options. This approach will save you money and time in the long term. Check out https://www.citrusloans.co.uk/ to find a selection of personal loan options to suit any personal need, so that you don’t end up using your work credit card or dipping into savings designated for your business.

Mark Every Transaction

If you have several transactions in your bank that you are unsure of, then you’ll be unable to accurately plan your spending and completely understand your business’ cash flow. As such, you need to make sure that you label every transaction accurately and are clear about where all of your money comes from.

Create Separate Budgets

Draw up a personal budget alongside your business one, and make sure that you stick to both. This will show you how much money you have to spend, and where you need to be spending it. In both your personal and business budgets, you need to make sure that you leave a little money aside for emergencies, and some to be put into a savings account to accumulate and help you prepare for any serious emergency expenses that you encounter.

Learn To Do Your Accounts Yourself

Doing your accounts might seem time consuming and boring, but it’s an important part of running a business. It will teach you to appreciate the value of money and understand the rate of tax you need to pay for every pound you earn. Whilst it might be tempting to outsource your accounts, doing them yourself will allow you to price your services accurately and learn a valuable skill that will stand you in good stead throughout your time in the business market.

A Business Bank Account Is The Ultimate Way To Separate Your Money

Unlike other forms of business, as a sole trader, you’re not legally obliged to have a business bank account, and as such in the beginning, when you first became a sole trader, you might not have thought it necessary to open one. After all, it was just more hassle and work for you at an already busy time. However, now that your business is up and running, with more transactions, it will be tough to keep your business and personal money separate without a business account. Business bank accounts also offer a wide range of additional benefits for your company, making it easier for you to conduct your business and provide your clients with the services they want.

Separate Your Savings Too

As well as your current account, budgets and borrowing, you should also separate your savings when you become a sole trader. Create a separate account for your business savings, so that you can reinvest your profits into your business and prepare for the future. Alongside business banking options, there is also a wide range of business savings accounts on offer so that you can separate your personal and business savings.

Being a sole trader can be a serious challenge, but by using these tips you can be organised, separate your finances and make your accounts easier.

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Should You Invest in Single or Multi-Family Rental Property?

Choosing the right investment property is a very personal endeavor—and one that should not be taken lightly. Is it better to go with a single-family property or is a multi-family rental a better option? It is probably the most common question that long-term buy and hold investors ask.

And there is no straightforward, easy answer.

When you are looking for the right place to invest your hard-earned money, you have to carefully consider all the choices available to you. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Because of this, each investor should approach the matter systematically weighing the benefits based on their own needs, portfolio, and financial goals.

Single-Family vs. Multi-Family Rentals

Single-family properties are not only stand-alone homes. They can also include condos and townhomes as well. A single unit is purchased or owned, and there is just one tenant (individual or family) living in it. By contrast, a multi-family rental is a residential property consisting of multiple units that are purchased or owned together. One tenant or family lives in each unit, but because there are various units, there are also multiple families in a single structure or property.

Single-Family vs. Multi-Family Rentals

Management of each type of property is often dramatically different. Often investors will hire a property management company to handle most issues, including maintenance, rent collection, tenant issues, and property rental. The investor would need to consider financing, financial goals, and cash flow. However, selecting the right property for your portfolio could prove to be quite lucrative and work to your advantage.

Advantages of A Single-Family Property

When you have multiple families living under one roof, there are bound to be conflicts. Single-family properties remove the tenant-tenant conflict issue because each unit is separate. Maintenance is a very important aspect of any property. A well-maintained property will yield a higher return.

On the one hand, single-family properties are often easier to maintain because there are usually no common areas. However, maintenance on multi-family properties allows you to make extensive repairs in a single blow, such as repairing the roof. Contrast repairing the roof on multiple single-family properties to repairing the roof on a multi-family property where the repair covers several units at once.

From a financial standpoint, investing in single-family properties allows you to diversify your portfolio across various neighborhoods, cities, or real estate markets. The liquidity of single-family homes is much higher than a multi-family property.

Advantages of A Multi-Family Property

For the most part, multi-family properties are, overall, easier to manage. All the units are under one roof which means, maintenance, repairs, and renovations can be done at a single site in one shot instead of having to travel to multiple units that may not even be in the same city. For instance, painting one multi-family property is less expensive and time-consuming than painting several units located in various parts of the city or state.

Advantages of A Multi-Family Property

Rental income is typically higher for multi-family properties simply because there are several units under a single roof. Instead of collecting rent on one or two single-family units, you collect rent from 10 or 20 units, give or take a few depending on the size of the property. That can be a significant boost to your financial profile. This also offers some protection against the risk of not getting any income for a month or even several months.

Should You Consider Investing in Real Estate?

You have to weigh the pros and cons of each property while examining your own financial goals to determine which type of real estate investment is right for you. Several areas to consider:

  • What type of financing are you able to get? Or do you have savings that you want to invest? If so, how much can you afford for a down payment? What can you afford in monthly payments even if it takes some time before you receive rental payments from tenants?
  • How much rental income do you want to receive each month? Can you manage financially if you don’t receive rent for a month or more?
  • Do you plan to maintain the property or properties yourself, or will you hire an individual or company? What about managing the properties?
  • Do you plan to sell the property at some point, or will you buy and hold?

Investing in single-family or multi-family homes can be quite rewarding for your long-term financial goals if you take the time to choose your property wisely.

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Dancing is Not a Good Investment Strategy

If your investment strategy was a dancer

1/11/2019:  I thought this would be a great time to re-post this, since many people are starting to dance with their investments!  There has been some ups and downs in the stock market the last month or so, and it’s making people do weird things.  

I’ve heard many people say that they are stopping their retirement account contributions or moving some of their stock positions into bonds or money market accounts.  Don’t do these stupid dance moves! 

Making investment decisions for retirement money based on a few weeks activity is almost guaranteeing that you will retire with less money.  Just keep contributing and rebalance as you have been, and you will come out on the other side smelling like a rose.

Investing is a patient man’s game.  This applies to almost any type of investing including real estate and stocks.  In general, if you’re investing for the long term (more than 10 years), the best strategy is to have a great plan and stick to it.

Unfortunately, many impatient men (and women) are investors.  This means many plans never make it past the first big market drop.  That’s usually when panic sets in and investors do something short sighted.

A 2015 study proves exactly this.  The study shows that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to investing.  And no other reason even comes close.

Let me set the stage by showing you the study results and what we can learn from them.

People are Not Good at Investing

I recently wrote why many investors are their own worst enemy when it comes to their investment performance.  While the subject of this post is similar, after reading the results of the aforementioned study I felt a separate post was needed.

The study was conducted in 2015, and at the time the S&P 500 Index had a 30-year annualized gain of 10.53%.  That means that every year for the last 30 years, the S&P gained an average of 10.53% per year.  Some years were way more and some years were way less (think 2008).  But on average, a nice 10% return every year.

What this means is that an investor who simply held an S&P 500 index fund for the last 30 years should have returned 10.53% minus fees.  Let us say this investor had some crazy fees which brought the return down to 8%.  Paying high fees is annoying, but 8% is still not a bad overall return.

According to the study, the average investor didn’t do this well.  In fact, they did a lot worse.  The study found that the average investor returned 1.65%!

1.65%!!!???  They might as well have put all that money into an online savings account and saved themselves the stress of investing.

This means that the average investor is probably not using index funds.  And if they are, they are using the wrong ones or are just going in and out of investments way too much.  I think the latter is the culprit for most investors.

Dancing In and Out of Investments

“Since the basic game is so favorable, Charlie and I believe it’s a terrible mistake to try to dance in and out of it based upon the turn of tarot cards, the predictions of “experts,” or the ebb and flow of business activity. The risks of being out of the game are huge compared to the risks of being in it.” -Warren Buffet in his 2012 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders

(The basic game is investing and Charlie refers to Charlie Munger, Buffet’s partner at BH.)

As Mr Buffett explains in this quote, “dancing” in and out of investments is very risky.  I firmly believe this is why the average investor does not even come close to the returns of the S&P 500.

But why does going in and out of investments produce such poor returns?  Shouldn’t we always be looking to get out of our investments when things get bad and find some better places to put our money?

The answer is yes, we should be looking for better places to invest.  But the best place to invest is usually in an index fund that follows the overall market.  And it’s almost impossible to find another group of investments that does better than the overall market on a consistent basis.

And by dancing in and out of investments, most people are actually buying high and selling low.  We should always try to buy low and sell high!  People usually panic and sell investments when things get bad (sell low), and then they try to buy into investments that everybody is saying is “safe” (buy high).

A great example is the recent Brexit vote that will lead to the UK withdrawing from the European Union.  It was expected that the stock market would fall after the vote was yes, and it did just that.  The day after the vote was final, the S&P 500 dropped 66 points, which was about a 3% loss.  Not a huge drop, but pretty decent.

But if you turned on any form of financial news, you would think the Four Horsemen were arriving.  Predictions that the international markets will be in turmoil for years was the theme of the day.  The S&P actually did fall about 1% more the next day, which lead to more doom and gloom.

But about 10 days after the Brexit vote, the S&P 500 was right back to where it was before.  And as of now, 2 months after the vote, the S&P 500 is about 3% higher than it was pre-Brexit!

The Big Takeaway

What this all means is that if you were one of those investors who panicked and sold some stocks after Brexit and then bought more stocks when the market rebounded, you were dancing in and out of the market which means you were selling high and buying low.

And this is why the average investor averages returns a little over 1%.  As the study showed, just owning an S&P 500 index fund for the last 30 years and not doing anything with it would get you a 10% return.

The best course of action for investors who don’t want to make stock picking their full time job is to formulate an index fund strategy that is appropriate to your investing timeline.  Pick the funds.  Rebalance the funds every year so they don’t get too out of wack.  And then leave it alone.

You will be a better investor than the majority of America.

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Major Upgrade for IRA’s in 2019

We can pack a little more into our nests now.

The humble Individual Retirement Arrangement, known in most sane circles as the IRA, is getting a level up in 2019.  IRA’s should be a big part of everyone’s retirement plan, whether you’re self employed or working for another company.

People who make too much money according to the IRS can’t take advantage of some of the tax savings that IRA’s offer.  Let’s forget about those people for now and let them swim in their vault of gold coins.  (But there is even a change there so read on Scrooge McDucks).

For the rest of America, IRA’s are a great place to save for retirement because they can reduce your tax bill. They also provide flexibility to choose your own investments which may not be available in a company 401(k) plan. 

Let’s see what’s in store for IRA’s in 2019:

Raise the Limits!

IRA’s have limits on how much you can contribute each year.  This is a bummer for us but makes sense from the government’s point of view.  If there were no contribution limits, people would be putting their entire salary into an IRA and not paying taxes on it for decades.  Those potholes would never get fixed and bombs would never get made!

So while there are limits in place to ensure the federal and state government’s get their piece of the pie, the limits are increased from time to time.

And 2019 is one of those times.  

For tax year 2019, individuals can contribute up to $6,000 into their IRA, up $500 from 2018.  This applies for Traditional and Roth, or a combination of the two.  The total contribution between all the accounts has to be $6,000 though.  The catch-up contribution limit will be the same, $1,000 extra allowed contribution for those 50 years and older.

There are a number of rules governing the tax deductible status of IRA contributions.  If you and your spouse don’t have a retirement plan at work or are self employed, then each of you can contribute $6,000.  Giving you a potential joint contribution of $12,000 for the year.  Not bad at all!

It’s also worth mentioning that 401(k) plan contribution limits have increased as well.  The new contribution limit is $19,000, up $500 from 2018.

There are many people who may not be able to contribute the maximum amount to an IRA.  Don’t let that deter you from contributing at all.  Set a monthly contribution for what you can afford to contribute.  Try to find ways to increase your income or decrease expenses to raise that contribution amount over time.

Phase in.  Phase out.

Just as there are rules governing HOW MUCH you can contribute to an IRA, there are also rules governing WHO can get the tax benefits of an IRA.  And these limits have changed for the better as well.

These “phase out” limits are different for Traditional and Roth IRA’s.  In general, contributions to a Traditional IRA are tax deductible in the year you contribute.  But you will owe taxes when you take the money out in the future.

Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible in the contribution year but you will avoid paying taxes on future withdrawals.  So it’s a decision between getting a tax break now with a Traditional IRA or a tax break later with a Roth IRA.

If your income is too high on your tax return, you won’t be eligible for these tax benefits.  People with high incomes are taxed at higher rates, so this is another way for the government to make sure wealthy people don’t hide too much of their money and avoid paying taxes.

The good news is these phase out limits have slightly increased from last year, so more people will be eligible to contribute to IRA’s.  For the sake of simplicity, I’m only going to refer to the limits for those who are married filing jointly.  To see the info for all other tax statuses, click here.

For Traditional IRA contributions, the income limits differ if you or your spouse have access to a retirement plan through an employer.

If you DO have access to a retirement plan, the income limit to get a full deduction is $103,000 or less.  If you DO NOT have access to a retirement plan but your spouse does, the income limit is $193,000.  When neither spouse has access to a retirement plan, there is no income limit.

Roth IRA income limits are more straightforward.  If your income is $193,000 or less, then you can get the full tax deduction.  This is up $4,000 from 2018. 

So if you happen to fall within these new income limits, rejoice!  You get to save some taxes.

 It’s important to know about these IRA upgrades, but it’s even more important to take action.  If you were already maxing out your IRA contribution for 2018, all you have to do is add $41.67 to your contribution per month to max it out in 2019.

If you’re not quite at the point of being able to max out your IRA, just try to increase your contribution as time goes on and your income increases.  

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Is the Market Going to Crash Soon? Who Cares!!??

Update: Well that was a timely post.  Last week, the week of October 8 2018, saw the S&P 500 drop a little over 4%.  While not exactly bear market territory, the pundits are already out in force declaring the end of the bull market and to move your investments into “safe” stocks, such as ones that pay high dividends.  

If you’re investing for the long term, don’t do such a thing.  This past week could very well have been just a blip on the market and the rise could continue for 6 more months.  Or it very well could be the beginning of a bear market.  Either way, if you have a sound investment strategy that takes these ups and downs into account, just stay the course.  

But if the market volatility and decrease in your net worth is making you want to sell a bunch of your investment,s you might need to re-think your overall investment strategy.  Or just hold on for the ride!  

Read this post again.  You’ll thank me later.

This is going to be a quick public service announcement post.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk in the media about how the market crash is coming and we need to panic.  The cover of the latest issue of Fortune magazine had a guy with a sign saying “The End is Near”.

I know these types of story lines and images are made to sell ad space and make publishers lots of money.  But here are two indisputable truths when it comes to long term investing:

The stock market WILL go down.

Most people, especially the financial media, look at a stock market decline as an abnormal event that requires you to make some snap investment decisions.  The fact is, market declines are expected and should be assumed when you make your investment plan.  Here is a chart of the historical performance of the S&P 500:

The starting value of the S&P was 250 in 1930.  The most recent valuation had the index at 2800.  That’s more than a 1,000% return.  Not too shabby.  But as you can see in the chart, there were many dips along the way.  It was a very bumpy ride and will most likely continue to be bumpy.

Corrections and recessions are to be expected.  Investors should not be surprised when they occur.

Indisputable truth #2:

For long term investors, market drops SHOULD NOT change behavior.

When there is a market drop or recession, you will see the pundits talk about where to “shelter” your investments.  The safety of bonds will be talked and written about.  And you will see people panic and do very stupid things with their money.  Especially with their retirement accounts.

Market drops should be expected during your investment journey.  If you’re investing in a 401K or IRA which you can’t touch until age 60, there is no reason a recession should spook you when you’re age 40.  If anything, a market drop might compel you to increase your contributions since stocks will be cheaper.

As long as you make a sound investment plan that takes market drops into account, your retirement accounts should be able to weather any recessions, which last 2 years on average.  Stay the course and keep contributing to increase your shares.

No, the end is not near after all.

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Start Tracking Your Net Worth to Reach Financial Freedom

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Everyone has heard the stat about the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions:

8% of New Year’s resolutions fail

80% fail by February

Greater than 90% failure rate

So if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution for 2018, your chances of achieving it look grim.

The two most common New Year’s resolution goals are health and money.  Which means that there are a lot of failed financial New Year’s resolutions year after year.

My thought is that many people make very vague resolutions.  Goals like “I need to save more” and “We need to spend less on eating out” sound very nice in theory.  But are very hard to put into practice.

Along with being too vague, many resolutions fail because we don’t have an understanding of where we are.  It’s a cliched example, but you need a destination and a starting point in order to have accurate directions.

Making vague resolutions is like picking out a destination without knowing where the starting point is.  So you have no way of knowing if the direction you’re taking is going towards your goal or completely away from it.

You need to know where you stand financially before you can make an effective goal, let alone reach that goal.  I feel the best way to find your financial starting point is not by seeing how much you have in your checking or savings account.  It’s not the equity you have in your home.  And it’s definitely not how flashy your car is.

The best way is finding your net worth.  With the technology available today, calculating your net worth is very simple.  If this is the only financial resolution you make this year, you will be much better off than you were last year.

Why Net Worth Matters

The net worth calculation is very simple:

Assets-Liabilities=Net Worth

There is always discussion about what is considered a liability or an asset.  Some people consider home value an asset.  Some people don’t consider home value since it takes a lot of work to get money out of a home.  The details are endless.

But in general, as asset is something that adds to your wealth while a liability is something that takes away from it.  Common assets include your checking and savings accounts and retirement accounts.  Liabilities include credit card debt and student loans.

So net worth is basically a snapshot of your financial health.  But just like any snapshot, one picture doesn’t tell the story.

A new medical school graduate has little in savings and hundreds of thousands in student loan debt.  That will give him a large negative net worth.  A high school student probably has some spending money but very few liabilities since he lives with his parents.  So he would have a slightly positive net worth.

Does that mean the high school student is more wealthy than the new doctor?  The answer is no because net worth should be used to measure your financial GROWTH rather than a static number that looks at your wealth.  In 10 years time, the new doctor will likely have a net worth light years ahead of the high school kid.

So the key to wealth creation is to grow your net worth over time and grow it quickly.

My Net Worth Tracking Strategy

(Above is a screenshot of the sleek Personal Capital dashboard.  It gives you a quick glance at your net worth)

There are so many different opinions about how often you should track your net worth.  Some say every month (some people even track it every day!).  While others say once a year is enough.  The key is to find a pace you’re comfortable with and keep it consistent.

Personally, I check my net worth every quarter.  I actually enjoy checking up on my accounts and seeing how they’ve changed.  It also allow me to make sure there’s no fraud or any funny business going on in any of my accounts.

And doing it quarterly is enough time to see if new strategies I’ve implemented are actually making a difference.  Plus, most companies operate in quarterly statements so there must be some wisdom in it.

As far as what high tech tools I use, an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document are my weapons of choice.  I use the Excel document to help me calculate my net worth and I record the values over time in my Word document.  Easy peasy.

But one piece of technology that helps check my work and give me more insight into my net worth and retirement is Personal Capital.  I’ve been using it for years to view my net worth and they have been getting better over time.

All you need to do is connect your various accounts and Personal Capital will monitor them.  They can’t make any transactions so there is no need to worry about security.  They simply monitor your account value and have your net worth displayed nicely in graph form.

Which is great since net worth growth is the true measure of financial wellness.  Physically seeing it as a graph really drives it home.

Other cool features of Personal Capital are the Investment Checkup and Retirement Fee analyzer tools.  They can analyze the holdings in your investment accounts and tell you where you may be over or underweight.  And they will also check the fees in your accounts so you can make sure you’re not paying too much.

And it’s all free.  There is an option to talk to a real financial adviser for a fee but that’s completely up to you.  Most of the powerful features of the program are no cost.

Conclusion

Deciding to grow your net worth is the best thing you can do to turn your financial life around.  Thinking in terms of net worth rather than just making and spending more money will allow you to see your finances in a whole new way.

Suddenly, paying a huge monthly bill for that fancy luxury car when a regular old Toyota will do just fine doesn’t seem that enticing.  A decision like that can keep your net worth from growing the way you would like.  Thinking in terms of net worth rather than just focusing on your checking account is the real way to get wealthy.

Tracking your net worth consistently with Personal Capital is an excellent way to start the journey towards real wealth.

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Pay Off Debt With a Strategy

Debt is a way of life in America.  It’s easy to acquire and everyone has got it.  The vast majority of people buy homes and cars with debt.  It’s almost impossible to go to college with no student loan debt, especially for any type of graduate or professional school.

People are comfortable with debt, even high interest credit card debt.  And that is a problem.  But that’s for another post.

The problem I want to discuss in this post is how people pay off debt.  And the big problem is that many people, even high income professionals, have no debt payoff strategy.  They usually pay the minimum and then maybe (or maybe not) throw some extra money once in a while at the debt.

This is very inefficient since there are certain types of debt that should be paid off first and there are certain debts that are actually okay to have around.  Some debts should take priority in being paid off over others.

Having a clear debt payoff strategy will allow you to get out of debt faster and, most importantly, minimize the stress associated with having debt.  A debt payoff strategy will allow you to know how much you will end up paying in interest payments and how long you will be paying the debt off.

Here are three debt strategies to consider:

Strategy #1:  Pay the minimum and pray

This seems to be the strategy favored by most Americans.  Safe to say I don’t recommend it.

It can be soul crushing to just get by paying the minimum payment while knowing there are decades of debt in your future.  Probably why most people just try to forget their debt even though it’s eroding their wealth.

Let’s just move on to the next method.

Strategy#2:  Snowball method

The snowball method was popularized by Dave Ramsey and is perpetuated by his rabid followers.  I don’t agree with a lot of things Dave says (such as not having credit cards), but the snowball method is one of the good things he’s put forward.

(Quick tangent:  I’m not a big fan of these finance “icons” or “gurus” like Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman.  The reason is that they are not genuine.  They did not get wealthy by doing what they tell their followers.  Things like “save up a $1,000 emergency fund” and “get your 401k match!” is good advice, but it’s not how Dave Ramsey got rich.

He got rich by putting all of his energy into growing his business.  He got rich by selling products and building his empire, not by creating an emergency fund.  And I’m pretty certain he laughs at the idea of an emergency fund.  Same goes for Suze and any other larger than life finance guru.

They’re business people and they got wealthy by focusing on that.  I would respect these guys a lot more if they were sincere in helping people.  But all they do is create books and courses for the “working man” that have the same old advice in a shiny new package.  Rant over.)

I’m on to you Dave…

The snowball method is simply making a list of your debts by balance, and focusing on paying off the one with the lowest balance.  Obviously, you make the minimum payment on the rest of the loans to keep them current and avoid late fees.

But then you throw everything you can at the loan with the lowest balance.  When that is paid off, you roll (like a snowball!) the minimum payment of the paid off loan into the loan with the next lowest balance.  And proceed to obliterate it with all you have.

I used to dismiss the snowball method because technically it’s not the mathematically best way to get out of debt.  But money is so much about psychology that having a system like this that propels you forward is much better than being discouraged by debt and not having a strategy at all.

Seeing those low balance debts disappear does have a positive effect on your psyche and will keep you in the fight.  For debt payoff novices especially, I would recommend the snowball method.  Just put your head down and plug away at the lowest balance debt and move on to the next.

Strategy#3:  Avalanche method

The absolute mathematically quickest way to get out of debt is the Avalanche method.  It’s the method I use and it has saved me tons in interest.  I’m not sure who coined the term, but I like the idea of an avalanche destroying my debt as opposed to a snowball.

With the Avalanche method, you list your debts in order from highest interest rate to lowest.  Every month you would pay the minimum on all your debts, and focus on eliminating the debt with the highest interest rate.  Then you turn that minimum payment around into the debt with the next highest interest rate.

This is the quickest way to get out of debt.  There’s no argument about that.  But it does require some more upfront work with no apparent payoff in the form of more money.  But once you eliminate the first few higher interest debts, the rest will be engulfed in the avalanche in no time.

The best method

Too many people are in denial about their debt.  I see this a lot regarding student loans.  Doctors and lawyers usually have very high student loan debt.  We’re talking six figures easily.  This kind of debt can seem crushing and it would be easy to turn a blind eye and just make the minimum payment month after month.

That’s a surefire way to pay the most interest possible over your lifetime.  Having a debt payoff plan at all would be great progress for a lot of people.  So using either the snowball or avalanche method is fine by me.  But I think the best way to pay off the debt would be a hybrid version of the two.

How this would work is focus on paying off the first couple of low balance debts to get some progress under your belt.  Once you do that, shift your focus to your highest interest debt to really attack that total balance.  So start with the snowball and switch to the avalanche.  It’ll feel much better to be out of debt in a few years rather than a few decades!

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Plan Out Your Paycheck

The key to getting ahead financially is to spend less than you earn.  There is literally no other way to achieve financial freedom.  This applies to billionaires and regular old working people.

But it’s not easy.  We hear about the athletes and actors who are in debt because of overspending despite making millions of dollars over their careers. If you make $10 million but spend $11 million, you are not in good shape.

However, this is a problem for people of all income levels.  Things like credit cards, mortgages and other personal loans have made it super easy to spend more than you earn.  Easy access to credit makes people more greedy for things like fancy cars and big houses which can create more debt.

A big reason why Americans find it difficult to save our hard earned, and highly taxed (federal tax, state tax AND sales tax!) money is that very little planning is done when receiving that bi-weekly paycheck.  Everyone looks forward to Friday payday but for most people the money hits their checking account with no thought to where it’s going next.

And this is where the trouble begins.  Most of the time that money just gets spent on various bills.  And nothing is left over for savings.  Rinse lather and repeat every 2 weeks.

Now it’s easy to see why lack of planning is a big reason people have a hard time saving.  So what’s the solution?

Checking is the Central Hub

I like to think of my checking account as the control center of my finances.  Money goes in and is then distributed to where it needs to go.  It’s not a place where I like to park money since I like to have my money either invested or paying off debt.

This requires a mindset shift since most people, including my past self, just park their money in checking and paid bills as they came in and tried to save if possible.  Not a real financial strategy since most of the time you’re just trying to keep your head above water.

I consider this a very REACTIVE way to handle your paycheck.  You just kind of pay bills as they show up and have no real savings strategy.  Worse, any extra money that happens to be sitting in checking usually just gets spent.

A more PROACTIVE way to handle your paycheck is to have multiple destinations set up before the money arrives.  That way you can be sure money gets where it needs to be according to your financial goals.

Pay Yourself First Every time

Most people have heard the financial cliche “pay yourself first”.  It’s another core financial concept just like “spend less than you earn”.  While both of these sayings sound fun and useful, they can be difficult to implement.  While most people WANT to save, it just doesn’t end up happening (evidenced by the fact that the average American saves less than 5% of their income).

So if you can’t will your way to save, the next best thing is to get out of your own way and let robots do the work.  This is done through automatic saving and investment plans which are very easy to set up.

Want to save $500 a month in your emergency savings plan?  Set up an automatic monthly deposit.  Finally want to max out your Roth IRA?  Just start a monthly transfer from your brokers website for a $458.33 monthly transfer from your checking account (That’s the $5,500 IRA max divided by 12 months).

You can also set up automatic payments for your credit cards.  This way you’ll never have a late payment and you can use the full grace period the card issuer gives.

It might take a few months to get all of your major goals and bills set up but once you do, money will be moving in and out like clockwork.  You’ll be able to meet your financial goals with a minimal amount of maintenance needed.

And that’s the best way to pay yourself first.  Set up automatic transfers into all of the different accounts you want to save into.  Those transactions should shape how much you spend.  Unfortunately, most people just save whatever they can AFTER they have spent to their heart’s content.

There’s usually not much left for savings after that.

Conclusion

“Spend less than you earn” and “pay yourself first” are two common personal finance phrases that are difficult to put into action.  But these are the two things you have to do in order to meet your financial goals.

The best way I’ve found to do both of these things is to have a plan for any money that hits your checking account.  With technology today it takes a few clicks or smartphone taps to set up automatic transfers from your checking account into your savings account of choice (emergency savings, IRA, brokerage account, student loan accounts to name a few).

Once you get all of these transfers set up, managing your money becomes a breeze.  And you can meet your financial goals with minimal ongoing effort.

Treating your checking account like your money managing robot will make sure your spending less than you earn and paying yourself first month after month.

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