Dear Clients and Advisors...

IRS Rollover IRA Question - 11/24/2014

I am attaching a pdf file to this email which details the recent IRS ruling which clarifies whether an employee can rollover both pre tax and after tax monies in a qualified plan to an IRA and a Roth. In the past this has not been clear, but the IRS now says unequivocally that the pretax money in a qualified plan can be rolled over to an IRA AND at the same time the employee can roll the AFTER tax money in the plan to a ROTH. There some specific limitations and the rule is effective beginning in 2015 but the IRS indicated that it will allow rollovers and conversions now. Please read Ed Slott's column for details and examples of how this would work for you or your clients if you are an tax advisor.

The article: IRS Rollover Question

Your Interests First - 10/28/2014

I have been reading lately that many investors are confused by the various ways in which Financial Advisors label their services. In particular, it seems that many investors don't know the difference between an advisor who acts in a fiduciary manner with cleints and all other advisors who do not have any fiduciary responsibilty to the client. It has been noted by the press that there are so many "fee based" representatives that offer themselves to the public using the "fee" label that most investors think that if an advisor says he is "fee based" then that advisor must have the investor's best interests at heart.

Nothing could be further from the truth of the matter.

It is rare to find straight forward press coverage of this issue. Yesterday in the Washington Post, Barry Ritholtz, covered this confusion in an excellent column. I have attached it to this email. Please read it and pass it along to any friends you may have who have an investment relationship with an advisor.

If you ask an advisor who operates under the "suitability" standard who they owe allegiance to (and if they are truthful) you will find the answer to be their company and not the client.

The article: Financial Advisors - Your Interests First

Online Accounts after Death - 7/16/2014

A while back I wrote to you about the estate planning problems with our Online Lives. We have Facebook, LinkedIn, and a whole host of other social media places we leave our imprint. We also have our many email accounts. We also have all of the photo storage sites in the cloud that we use now. Most of us no longer have hard copies of pictures and video that have captured our family history. All of this online life is becoming a real problem in the "Real" world. What happens when someone dies and leaves all of this digital life behind. Most of us haven't even told our families our logins to these sites.

I wrote to you about this with the hope that you would speak with me about strategies to protect your digital life and insure that those who should have access and control do after we are gone. Frankly, no one has called to discuss this.

Today I came across another article on this issue. So, I am sending it out to you with the hope that you will either call me or discuss this with an estate planning attorney to makes sure that your digital life is protected. Your digital life and assets, yes, assets, are becoming at least as important as your "real" physical assets in settling your estate.

The article: Online accounts at death

Possible Correction - 7/10/2014

It has been more than 18 months since we have had a correction in the markets. Although most Americans still feel as though we are in a recession, the economy has made great strides since the depths of 2009. In consumer sentiment survey after survey, Americans still seem shell shocked by what happened during the depths of the recession. We seem perversely unwilling to recognize that the economy is growing, ignoring any and all signs that this is happening. Anecdotal evidence and politcal posturing has done nothing but support this unwarranted belief that we are still suffering terribly.

We are adding jobs, particularly in the private sector, at a faster clip than we have in more than 10 years. We have seen small business hiring accelerate to levels we have not seen since before 2008. The public or government sector, however, is still lagging a lot in job growth. We have seen the inflation rate continue to reflect the pulse of a dead person with only a slight uptick this past quarter. Housing has improved dramatically although it has slowed since the FED started to cut back its support of the bond market. American corporations are more profitable than ever. Even the banking sector has come roaring back (some would say unfortunately). By almost every measure the American Economy has bounced back even if it took almost 5 years to do so. All of this has fueled a pretty impressive spurt in the Stock Market over the past year or so. This year has slowed a lot -- a breather, if you will -- but it is still moving upward into new highs.

So what could lead me to say that we are in for a correction? Well, all of the above, actuallly. Corrections come in many flavors and happen for many reasons. Sometimes they happen because of exogenous shocks such as a war or natural catastrophe or politcal unrest in the outside world. Sometimes they happen because of a shock such as a Big Bank failure or other unexpected economic shock. But when everything seems to be running smoothly for a long time that in itself can trigger a correction. Investors get to feeling that they should be looking over their shoulders to see if they missed something and that makes them jittery and prone to pulling the trigger to lock in gains they may have made in the hopes of avoiding any sort decline at all. They often feel as if they have gotten a little over the tips of their skiis in pushing the market higher.

Currently, we are seeing a Market that seems to feel a little heated and therefore unstable and very much like this last illustration. Corrections to the Market usually pull back between 10% and 20% from a high and then create a rebound effect as bargain hunters show up to buy and return the market to its upward track.

I wanted to alert you to this possiblity. I feel that sometime over the next few months we may experience a correction. In my view, the fundamentals are still in place for the economy and hence the Market to continue to make headway for another several years. But a correction is in the cards to be dealt out. That we could see a correction of 10% at least is reasonable to expect and that the Market would recover relatively quickly is also in the cards.

We have been here many times before and I am sure many times more in the future, but staying the course is and always has been the best investment policy. Even after the 2008 meltdown that was so traumatic for so many investors, something which had not been seen since the Great Depression, we still completely recovered in less than 5 years. That is a pretty remarkable story to tell and remember.

The "New" Neutral - 5/5/2014

As many of you may be aware a number of years ago PIMCO coined a term which became an apt discription of the economic times we live in. The term " The New Normal" became a nifty catch phrase to describe lowered economic global growth prospects and other symptoms that were a fallout from the global financial crisis and Great Recession we all lived through.

Now PIMCO is at it again with its new catch phrase: The New Neutral. While not as expressive as the New Normal, it is a good discription of what PIMCO views as the way things are going to be over the next 3-5 years. This PIMCO published in a paper released after their anual Secular Forum. The Forum is held annually with all of the senior staff, managers and directors of PIMCO from around the world with invited guest speakers and presenters specializing in investment research also in attendance and making presentations. I have captured the essence of the Forum's published Executive Summary paper which is about 8 pages in length.

Here are the questions they hoped to answer:
Will the post-crisis headwinds of deleveraging, deglobalization and reregulation abate? How will extant debt overhangs impinge on growth and constrain policy?

When and where will monetary policy normalization commence and will it proceed smoothly? What are the benefits, costs and risks? What are the constraints on policy placed by an evident overhang of leverage?

Is a multi-speed world sustainable over our secular horizon? If so, to what trend growth rates are the major economies converging?

The answers PIMCO came up with can be summarized below:
Total global debt outstanding remains at peak levels around the globe, and this combined with subpar growth is constraining central bankers.

The prospects for U.S. growth over the next three to five years encompass a wider range of optimistic outcomes than do prospects for other major economies, though growth at pre-crisis trends is unlikely for years to come.

For investors, there appears to be more risk than reward on the horizon. However, if the New Neutral plays out, the risk may be lower than expected as growth trends, while slower, are more stable.

Warren Buffett on Gold - 4/24/2014

I still get a few comments from the ocassional client about gold. Is it a good investment, especially when there appears to be geo/political storms brewing as we a re currently experiencing over Ukraine. In Warren Buffet's most recent Shareholder's letter, he addressed Gold as an investment. I thought I would share the pertinent passages with you:

Excerpts from Warren Buffett’s shareholder letter:

“The second major category of investments involves assets that will never produce anything, but that are purchased in the buyer’s hope that someone else – who also knows that the assets will be forever unproductive – will pay more for them in the future. Tulips, of all things, briefly became a favorite of such buyers in the 17th century. This type of investment requires an expanding pool of buyers, who, in turn, are enticed because they believe the buying pool will expand still further. Owners are not inspired by what the asset itself can produce – it will remain lifeless forever – but rather by the belief that others will desire it even more avidly in the future. The major asset in this category is gold...”

Putting it in perspective:

“Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet on each side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be about $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A. Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?”

What? The Stock Market Is Rigged? - 3/11/2014

You may have heard about the 60 Minutes interview with author Michael Lewis, a former Wall Street broker, author of "Liar's Poker" and "The Big Short," who has just come out with a new book entitled "Flash Boys." Lewis is an eloquent and astute critic of Wall Street's creative and predatory practices, and in his new book (and in the 60 Minutes interview) he offers evidence that the stock market is "rigged" by a cabal of high-frequency traders, abetted by stock exchanges and Wall Street firms.

The charge is entirely true. And it is also completely irrelevant to you and anyone else who practices patient investing.

Lewis is exposing a secret advantage that a surprisingly large number of professional traders, employed by large brokerage firms, are able to get when they build high-speed fiber optic cable feeds directly into the computers that match buyers and sellers of securities. Some of those traders actually have their trading computers located in the same room as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq servers. And some pay extra for access to more information on who wants to buy and sell, more quickly, than would be available to you if you were sitting down at your home computer looking to buy or sell Apple Computer through a discount brokerage account.

All of this is perfectly legal, but Lewis points out that it is also shady. Why should some buyers and sellers have millisecond advantages over others? The companies that see more of the market, more quickly, are able to jump in ahead of you and me and buy stocks at lower intraday prices, and then jump ahead 15 seconds later and sell to the highest bidder before you and I would even see that bid on our screen. They can buy the stock you put in an order for and sell it to you at a fractionally higher price through the normal market-matching mechanisms. This way, they can squeeze out additional pennies and nickels on each transaction, and if they do this thousands of times a day, it adds up to real money--millions of dollars a year.

Why is this irrelevant to you? Many of those lost dollars are coming out of the pockets of day traders, ordinary people who are foolish enough to think that they can outwit the markets by moving into and out of individual stocks several times a day, or professional traders at hedge funds who may not have access to the fastest server or a direct feed into the Nasdaq servers. There are tens of thousands of these investors, and many of them, watching the 60 Minutes report, discovered for the first time that they are getting routinely fleeced by Wall Street's money machine.

However, if you're invested for the long term, it really doesn't matter how many times the stocks you own inside of a mutual fund or ETF, or directly in your retirement account, change hands or at what price every few minutes. It doesn't even matter whether your stocks are up or down in any given month or year, so long as the underlying companies are building their value steadily over time. Your time frame is eons compared with the quick-twitch traders, who hope to be in and out of your stock in minutes rather than decades. Your mutual fund that buys when a stock seems cheap might, if it's careless or unsophisticated, give up fractions of a cent on its purchases, but that likely isn't going to have a measurable impact on your long-term investment returns.

Somehow, this important fact was lost in the 60 Minutes interview. The interview also didn't mention that things can go horribly wrong in the arcane and predatory world of rapid-fire trading. The Hall of Fame of trading losses includes $9 billion lost in credit default swaps by a single Morgan Stanley trader from 2004 through 2006, or the $7.2 billion lost by Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel over a few days in 2008, or the $2 billion "London whale" losses in 2012. They--and many others--used their milliseconds speed advantage to generate staggering losses, proving that even the smartest operators aren't always raking in the profits.

In the end, the interview tells us several things. First, it exposes, yet again, the fact that the Wall Street culture will go to great lengths to grab money out of the hands of unwary investors. One wishes that the 60 Minutes interviewers had asked a simple question: what economic purpose is served by fast-twitch traders, trying to make money for their wirehouse employers by purchasing and selling individual stocks multiple times a day ahead of other investors? Is this benefiting the economy in some way?

Second, the interview makes plainly clear the folly of an average investor trying to outsmart the markets with short-term trading activities.

And finally, for those who can see the big picture that is never explained in the 60 Minutes interview, these revelations confirm the wisdom of having a long-term investment horizon. When you measure returns over three-to-ten year time horizons, the milliseconds don't matter.


Professional Advisors vs. Cramer - 3/12/2014

Occasionally, I get someone in the office who wonders why they should pay for professional financial planning and investment advice when there is so much on the “web” and on TV that provides this “same” advice for free. They site Suze Orman and Jim Cramer as perfect examples. These skeptics also point out that many low cost web based brokerage firms provide research and analytical tools that can be used to evaluate investments and help the Do It Yourself, DIY, investor to make just as good an investment decision as any professional. Bob Veres, well known and respected financial journalist, writes an article which pretty much debunks these myths with solid research and indicates there is more research to come on this subject. His commentary is attached.

The article: Professional Advisors vs. Cramer

ROTH Changes in New Budget - 3/11/2014

I have attached a PDF that details some of the real game changers in the recently released Federal Budget. These proposals would significantly change retirement planning for all clients. Some are reasonable and others are in my view wrong headed, especially the ones related to the ROTH IRA. Please read the attached and make a decision whether you would support these changes or not and express your views to your congressperson and senators. This is not something you want to let other people decide for you and your retirement.

The article: ROTH Game Changers in New Federal Budget

Need 80% of Pre-Retirement Income? 3/4/2014

While I rarely have anything good to say about Money Magazine, today, I found an excellent article concerning Retirement preparation on CNN Money Line which originally appeared in Money Magazine. The writers rounded up some of the best thinkers, writers and researchers on retirement planning to comment on the old rule of thumb that retirees need roughly 80% of pre-retirement income to successfully retire. This particular article quotes and examines the research done by Morningstar's Director of Retirement Research on this rule of thumb coming up with the realization that most people don't need 80% and can successfully retire with much less. Paradoxically, those earning more pre-retirement income are the ones least likely to need 80% in retirement.

Additionally, at the bottom of the article are links to articles by each of six other researchers and writers who are experts on aspects of retirement planning. Wade Phau is one such, and he is without doubt the leading thinker and researcher on issues related to retirement planning. He and I have had a long coorespondence over the years and often compare notes on this subject. I respect him immensely.

Please take some time and read not only this article for which I have provided a link but also each of the other articles at the bottom of this one. I think you will benefit greatly from reading them. They represent much of the thinking and planning I incorporate into your specific retirement planning

The Link: Retirement Spending

GOP Tax Reform Proposal - 2/26/2014

Today the GOP finally releassed its proposal to reform the tax code and it is something of a surprise in many respects. It jetisons hundreds of popular tax breaks while reducing the tax code to two basic rates for individuals and one for corporations. It has been scored as essentially revenue nuetral and actually shrinks the tax code itself by 25%. I have attached a great little summary of many of the provisions in the proposal.

What you will have to keep in mind is that it is a proposal that many Republicans have already signaled is dead on arrival (even though it is a Republican Plan) and many Democrats are already taking shots at it for being too favorable to the rich and business. What else would you expect.

Read the summary and make up your own mind.

The article: GOP Tax Reform Proposal

CBO Report, Affordable Care Act - 2/6/2014

By now you will have heard that the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO, published a report on Tuesday about Obamacare. This report seemed to say that the Affordable Care Act will result in 2,000,000 fewer jobs over the next decade. That this report would become viral on the internet, 24 hour news channels, and the daily papers is not a surprise. Most of the first reactions came from foes of the Act and most of the hand wringing came from its supporters. Most of those opposed to the Act said the equivalent of: "See we told you it would be job killer and would bring about the end of America as we know it." While supporters tried to deflect inquiries to point out "that the Act has other more powerful beneficial effects such as keeping kids under 26 on their parents plans, enabling people to get insurance even with preexisting conditions. Just don't look behind the curtain."

What you may not have noticed or even heard is that the report has largely been misread and misinterpreted by everyone. I went out and read the report and today found a very good analysis of the report on the Washington Post's Website.

Bottom line:

The job losses are not what you think they are and are not a bad thing overall for Americans or our country, or for that matter American business.

There are a few hyperlinks in the article that link to further understanding of the report. Check them out if you wish.

The article: CBO Report - Affordable Care Act

World Retirement Crisis - 1/27/2014

At the end of last year, the AP published a lengthy examination of the retirement crisis that grips the entire world. We are used to hearing about the "crisis" here in America and regularly get told that many people were dramatically affected by the recent "Great Recession." What you may not realize is that this is a global problem. This article examines how several countries are dealing with this issue and what it portends for US retirees and people planning to retire in the near future.

The article: World Retirement Crisis

2013 Tax Law Changes - 1/23/2014

I found a nice summary of the 2013 tax law changes which you should know for 2014. Some are ones we have read and heard about, but there are a few which you may not be aware of. You should discuss your own tax situation in light of these changes with your CPA or Tax Advisor. Please don't expect H&R Block to be of real use in this regard. Don't end up being unpleasantly surprised April 2015 because you didn't pay attention to these changes this year and discuss them with your tax advisor.

The article: 2013 Tax Law Changes

Worst Computer Passwords - 1/22/2014

We all hate passwords and the hackers love this fact. So, we use whatever comes to mind and it is usually the worst decision we could make when it comes to the security of our data on our computers or on the internet. Splashdata compiles a list each year of the 25 worst passwords we all use -- these would be the ones that a hacker will try first and usually finds that you have been most obliging by making his job a lot easier to steal your data.

You know who you are and if you find your password on this list don't be surprised. You are in good company. Here is the link to the list, complete with snarky comments by the Splashdata compilers.

The link: Bad Passwords

Big Gov, Big Problems - 12/31/2013

Well this is going to be the last email to you of 2013. I hope all of you have something planned to send out this year of 2013 and welcome in a better year in 2014.

I thought I would write to you about the one news story which has dominated our conversation for the past several months -- The Affordable Care Act rollout. Yes, that boondoggle has been fodder for conservative and liberal rants since October. And I think most of us wish the talking media heads would simply shut up and go away. We know that they won't because this whole affair is just too juicy to give up talking and ranting about.

But what you may not know and something which has gotten little attention is that this is not the first large government program to experience glitches and hiccups and problems. Almost every major government program of the last 40 years has had similar problems. The article I have hyperlinked below discusses all of these other major programs which were originally fraught with startup problems but which eventually became fixtures in our lives and which now have added to the quality of life for many Americans. So, read the article and come to understand that nothing BIG ever comes without HUGH problems which are eventually addressed and solved.

The really sad part in all this is that we Americans have gotten to the point where we expect perfection immediately and don't really know anymore how to take the long view.

Here is the link: Health law not first new program with launch woes

Having an Important but Difficult Conversation - 12/5/2013

The Holidays are a time when we get together as families. We spend more time with family than we usually do and sometimes family time can be stressful for many reasons. A recent commentary in a professional journal to which I subscribe struck me as timely and useful in dealing with our encounters with Family. Specifically, it raises the issue of how to deal with older family members who may seem to be "slipping" a bit cognitively or physically. It is a start. In our practice addressing this concern is often something we deal with and help to develope solutions for.

Here it is in full:

Pass the Pecan Pie: Starting the Caregiver Conversation With Your Family – Sylvia Nissenboim

 The holidays are coming, and a similar scenario will play out all over the country as adults return to their childhood homes to celebrate with their parents and grandparents. The baby boom generation is now on the precipice of retirement. Yet, thanks to healthier lifestyles and medical advances, baby boomers are witnessing their family members’ longevity and a variety of age-related physical, cognitive and emotional changes. These tips can help those who want to start an honest conversation with family members about caregiving options.

Finding Clarity
First, it is essential to have clarity to see the situation as it is, meaning not better or worse than it is, but actually as it is. Without this clarity, making a plan to help a family member maintain his or her independence is compromised. Most adults pride themselves in maintaining their independence, and this applies to older adults who fear that any deterioration will lead them to a nursing home. For this reason, parents are often reluctant to talk to their adult children about these issues.

It is important not to jump to conclusions about the condition of a loved one. For example, consider changes in memory or cognition. Forgetting names or losing keys is not dementia. We have all misplaced our keys at one time or another, and the more chronic stress one carries, the more likely it is that memory can be affected. However, not knowing what the keys should be used for is the other extreme.

Not all memory loss is because of Alzheimer’s disease. According to a 2013 report by Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, so it is critical to seek evaluation before assuming a diagnosis. Sometimes, confusion can be a result of a vitamin deficiency, an infection or other problems that when treated can bring about the return of normal functioning. Geriatricians, neurologists or geriatric psychiatrists are the specialists to see in these cases.

Starting a Conversation
Once a family is ready, the conversation should move forward with the intention of helping those in need of care, allowing them to maintain their independence for as long as possible. If problems already exist with mobility, medication or self-care, the first step can be to reach out to a professional social worker. After that evaluation, the family can review those recommendations and begin to put together a plan.

Each family member may feel differently about what those next steps should be, but it is important to structure a plan that, first and foremost, takes into consideration the care recipients’ wants and needs. The plan can then take into account the family members’ abilities to help as well as the resources and community professionals who can best guide the family.

When adult children step up to help their parents or grandparents, they may find themselves sandwiched between numerous obligations, including their own children’s demands, responsibilities at work and home, and new problems experienced by those receiving care. This kind of burnout can decrease caregivers’ energy and health, increase conflict at home and lessen the quality of care they are giving. Burnout is inevitable if caregivers do not take the time to care for themselves. That may mean hiring a professional nurse or asking another sibling to assist.

The holidays are about to arrive, and family discussions that center on identifying needs for care may be just beginning. With one common goal in mind, families can collaborate to find appropriate care that is suited to their specific situation.

Sylvia Nissenboim has been a counselor and coach for LifeWork Transitions for 25 years. She focuses on coaching and counseling adult children of aging or disabled parents and the parents of disabled children. She also has a private practice focused on providing supportive counseling and strategic coaching in the areas of career, health and family transitions. She runs caregiver groups and widow support groups as well as training professionals on a variety of topics ranging from aging parents to stress reduction techniques.

Great Tutorial on Economics and Investing - 12/2/2013

I hope you had a wonderful and fulfilling Thanksgiving with an emphasis on the filling part. We had 16 family members over to our home for Thanksgiving -- a smaller gathering than we usually have. But still a house full. Lisa loves to cook and feed people so she was in her element and thoroughly enjoying herself. Everyone left with "to go" containers for further enjoyment over the long weekend. And then there was football... and great SoCal weather to be enjoyed.

Every so often I get a request from a client or sometimes friends of clients to explain some element of our economy. Often it is a specific question about investing or about our capital markets or economy in general. Although I can provide an answer, I sometimes suspect that the person asking has more on their mind than just this one question.

Recently I came across a section of the Khan Academy curriculum that addresses the entire range of economic questions I often get asked. For those of you who have never encountered the Khan Academy, it is a non-profit online educational institution which presents educational topics in an easily digested format and, depending on the subject, can be quite comprehensive. (It got its start as an online tutoring program for high school students.) In fact, one can learn a great deal about any topic you may care to investigate in a range of difficulty from grades school to advanced college level subject matter.

This section of their curriculum dealing with the economy is called "Finance and Capital Markets." It is broken down into a number of subjects and each has several video chalkboard presentations on these subjects. They are comprehensive and helpful while also being entertaining. I strongly urge you to take a moment and check this curriculum out and watch it at your leisure. Browse the topics and learn about our economy and the capital markets at your own pace. Repeat a video if you are unsure you got it all and certainly feel free to call me if you have any further questions. Here is the web address:

The Link: Kahn Academy

Workaround to - 11/14/2013

Below is a blog post by one of my friends in the Advisory community. She is a blogger on and specializes in Healthcare issues since she is also a licensed Nurse. I find her writing on healthcare issues both suscinct and carefully researched. Since the ACA rollout debacle, many Americans looking to replace or at least compare their healthcare policies in the individual market have been stymied by the inability to do so given all the tech problems with So I found her research into a workaround useful.

If you know somone looking to replace or compare what they now have to an ACA approved policy, this blog post will be immensely helpful. Pass it along.

Here is the article for you to read:

The unknown workaround to

One Time Deal: Vets maximize SS benefits - 11/7/2013

I came across this article by Michelle SIngleterry in the Washington Post in which she details a one time offer to Veterans this Veteran's Day. The offer is from Social Security Solutions and Wells Fargo partnering to offer one-day free access to an online retirement planning tool for all active-duty and retired military members and their widows or widowers.With this report, military families will get recommended strategies for claiming Social Security and explanations about how the choices will affect what they’ll get.

This is the same tool I use to provide advice to clients about Maximizing Social Security benefits. I charge for this service and I can attest to its value and utility in analyzing a person's choices when it comes to claiming benefits. There are more than 86 possible benefit combinations for a married couple approaching age 62.

Veterans need all the help they can get (along with our gratitude) and if it can be provided free and will help them make good choices regarding their social security benefits, all the better.

PLEASE alert any veteran you know that this is available to them. Pass on the attached article about it and help a vet make the better choice.

The article:
One Time Deal: Vets maximize their SS benefits

Reverse Mortgage Changes effective September 30 - 9/18/2013

I had thougth to tweet this information but it is too important not to alert you by email. Beginning September 30 of this year -- in other words 10 days from now -- HUD will be making major changes to its two Reverse Mortgage programs. They will be combined into a single program and will be more conservatively administered. A good friend of mine is one of the most astute financial planners and intellects I know and he has written an excellent summary of this major change and its implications for those who are considering taking out a Reverse Mortgage.

Please read it if you have thought to do so or if you know someone who is considering this retirement income strategy.

The deadline for utilizing this strategy under the old and more lenient rules is September 30.

The Link: Reverse Mortgage Changes

A Good FED Explainer - 9/18/2013

With the Federal Reserve so much in the news of late and with today's announcement that the FED will not "taper" its bond purchases for now, (hence the stock market's good day!) I thought it might be a good idea to make sure my clients have an understanding of the FED. In today's Washington Post, Neil Irwin, one of their respected bloggers and commentators, wrote a very good explainer on the FED.

So, if you have ever wondered about the role of the FED and its influence on the American and global economy, this will help you understand why it is so important to have the right person heading this agency.

Also, I'd advise against reading any of the comments at the bottom of the post. As you may guess, the crazies come out of the woodwork to comment on the FED. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the internet.

The Link: Questions about the FED you were too embarassed to ask.

The Dow Index - 9/11/2013

We are frequently asked why we don't use the DOW 30 as an index benchmark when preparing client reports. Today, in the Washington Post a writer, Neil Irwin, writes about the DOW and its shortcomings. We couldn't have put better.

Here is the article for you to read:

The article:
The Dow Jones industrial average is ridiculous

TweetHealthcare Marketplace Plans - 9/10/2013

I came across this blog post from Carolyn McClanahan, a fellow financial planner and health care blogger for Forbes Magazine. Over the last two years, she has been making a herculean effort to decipher and communicate the truths about Obamacare amidst all of the hype and ridicule that has been created around this pivotal piece of legislation. She has a healthcare background and brings that perspective to her commentaries, all of which I have found to be reasoned and reasonable. Here she compares the benefits of health insurance provided by employers and that provided by Obamacare because many employees are wondering whether expensive employer based coverage can be replaced with less expensive Obamacare coverage. Her post explores the differences between the two. An excellent post!.

The article:
Employer Coverage vs. Obamacare Coverage

People in their 60s have more Debt - 8/27/2013

Instead of creating a PDF or sending you a hyperlink to an article, I thought that I would simply copy the text of the article to this email. Since it is short, it should be easy enough to get through.

I was startled though not surprised to see that many Americans in their 60s are approaching retirement with a lot of debt. Most of this debt is mortgage related. But it is the "who" that will surprise and which caught me off guard.

People in their 60s carrying more debt, usually a mortgage
Published: Aug. 25, 2013 at 10:43 AM

BOSTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Nearly 2-of-3 U.S. adults in their 60s had debt in 2010, up from half of adults age 60 and older in 1998, a study found. Researchers at the Urban Institute found this age group's debt, as a share of their assets, rose from 10 percent in 1998 to 18 percent in 2010. In the past, those approaching retirement paid down debt and had paid off their mortgage. The findings were presented at The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Among those ranked in the top-third by income, the share of older people in debt increased from 57 percent to 70 percent between 1998 and 2010 -- a 13 percentage point increase, the researchers said.

Mortgages were a major reason more older U.S. adults have debt. More have mortgages, in part because they're paying them off more slowly than they once did -- 30 years instead of 20 years. In addition, mortgage balances increased.

The Urban Institute said one possible explanation for these trends in debt is that many homeowners traded up during the housing boom of the mid-2000s and took on larger mortgages.

An unrelated study estimated 17 percent of mortgage borrowers who are close to retirement age owe more than their house is worth, said the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Other factors might also help explain what's driving the growing prevalence of debt in older Americans. More early baby boomers with thriving careers want to work longer -- so the great incidence of debt among households in their 60s doesn't always mean a higher incidence of retiree debt, the researchers said.

People in their 60s who owe money, particularly if they have a mortgage, are increasingly likely to retire or start collecting their Social Security benefits later, the Urban Institute found. :

How old were the Founding Fathers? - 8/20/2013

We have the impression that the Founding Fathers were wise old men. In fact, if you followed much of the political discourse we have engaged in over the past sever election cycles, we have attributed a lot to them that they might have been embarrassed to hear were they alive today.

As a student of 18th century history, I have read with fascination (and a little disgust) the many comments politicians and others have made about the Founding Fathers. I found this interesting little article on Slate this morning about the ages of the Founding Fathers. You may be surprised by their ages and look at your adult children in a different light from this point forward.

The Link: Founding Fathers

The 1% - 8/14/2013

We have been hearing about the 1% every since the Occupy Wall Street folks took over lower Manhattan two years ago. We have been told that the 1% did very well during the Clinton, Bush and now the Obama years. We have been told that the 1% have been getting richer and the rest of us have been lagging far behind and getting less and less of the American national wealth pie for more than 25 years. This issue gained traction during the recent Presidential Election. In fact, many commentators have identified the early 1980s, the Reagan years, as the begining of America's growing wealth inequity.

But so far, I have not read any academic studies which have examined the truth of this "problem" nor have I seen any reporting on this that is anything more than anecdotal.

Earlier in the week, I was reading the Washington Post Wonkblog and came across a relatively short commentary from Lydia DePillis, an economics writer, on this very issue. She writes an excellent summary of a recent symposium sponsored by the American Economics Association on this very subject. Early in the article is a hyperlink to the actual papers presented during this symposium. Most of these papers, while academic, are very readable by the lay person.

I encourage you to at least read her summary of these papers and their significance to this issue. I learned a lot and came away with a better and more factual understanding of how the 1% got richer and the rest of us didn't and the implications of this phenomena to our economic and social health.

The article: The 1%

Train and keep your brain flexible - 8/12/2013

It's the Summer doldrums -- August and not much is happening. People are vacationing, Businesses are in slow mode, the markets are anemic, Congress is on vacation (thank goodness) and time has slowed down some. What better time to train and make your brain more flexible and more resilient. We are all growing older and it shows in how our brains deal with everyday life.

Recently, The Christian Science Monitor published a list of the top ten brain training applications that one can download to an IPad, IPhone or Android pad or phone. Some of the apps are great educational tools such as the TED Talks App or the Khan Academy App where you can learn something new or take a college level course. While other apps are designed to train your mind to be more flexible, or enhance or reinforce your memory. I particularly like the Lumosity app.

Anyway, if you own a portable digital device or phone and want to wake up your sleepy brain this August, check out the list of the top 10 Brain Training apps. (It is set up as a page by page list. So, you must touch the "next" arrow to move to the next app.)

Brain Training

Annual Commencement Address Posting - 8/5/2013

Every year I look for a commencement address that is really special, something which touches on universal themes or which plucks at the heart strings. I share it with my clients and fellow advisors with the hope that you will pass it along to a young graduate or even someone who hasn't yet graduated but would benefit from insightful commentary on the human condition.

This year George Saunders, a noted novelist, gave such a speech on the value of being kind at Syracuse University. The New York Times published this short speech in its entirity on July 31,2013. Here is the link to the speech:


I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and will pass it along.

TweetHealthcare Marketplace Plans - 7/31/2013

Obama care is coming to the states beginning this October. Many states are busy setting up their exchanges. California is viewed as being in the van in this regard and should have the most robust (and largest) exchange since it is the largest state following the Federal mandate. We have already seen news articles (which I have tweeted and which are viewable in a separate panel on the News Tab on the IFA website) about New York State’s exchange. New York has created quite a buzz with its statement that policy premiums will be substantially lower than had been anticipated. It seems that health insurance cost are set to go down for most people, something which the critics of Obamacare are none too pleased to see.

Kaiser Permanente’s Health Care Blog in the Washington Post has an excellent Q&A on the types of benefits which will be offered and the pricing differences between the various policy offerings which the Exchanges will carry.

The article:
Kaiser - Healthcare Marketplace Plans

Gold's Value? - 6/3/2013

Occasionally, I get a few requests from clients about whether to own gold or to buy investments which are gold based such as the several ETFs which reflect the price of gold on the spot market or London exchange. While I would never disabuse a client from owning gold if they could only sleep well owning gold this has rarely been the case in thirty years of practice. But if this were indeed the case, I would be recommending that they own the physical shiny stuff not a paper version.

So what is gold worth?

John Maynard Keynes once wrote when describing the difference between a speculation and an investment that an investment is an analytical exercise comparing the probable yield over the life of an asset to the price paid today for that yield. Speculation is like a game of Musical Chairs where the victor is “one (who) secures a chair for himself when the music stops.”

Gold has a long history as a store of value with some volatility thrown in but has no intrinsic value. There is no “yield” or growth in yield. Buying gold is very much an exercise in betting what the next person will be willing to pay for it in the future. It is a price driven exclusively by speculation with no stream of cash flows to be evaluated for investment purposes. Therefore, it is subject to wide swings in price. Everyone who buys or sells gold is a speculator not an investor. When a speculator changes his/her mind, we should expect the kind of wild swings in price we saw in April. What drove those price swings? Rumor and anything else you may care to put at the end of that sentence would suffice.

Over the longer term there are many reasons one could give to own gold. In several studies it was found a case could be made for owning it in times of hyperinflation. How often has the US been subject to hyperinflation – exactly zero times. The study found that owning gold neither hedged unexpected inflation nor provided a currency hedge.

I guess the best that one can say about buying gold is that it represents a store of wealth when one has a fundamental distrust of paper currency or a fear of hyperinflation. And if you are one who holds either of these two views, then you should own the real thing and not a paper version.

More on Digital Assets - 5/31/2013

So far we have not gotten any responses from clients about the subject of the last email we sent out in which we discussed how the Kardashian's legal woes centered on Kardashian senior's digital life reveals a serious hole in most people's estate planning.

So, we are sending this second email out to illustrate how ordinary folks are being affected by this issue of digital asset ownership and access.

The attached PDF copy of an article which appears in yesterday's NY Times, illustrates the many problems we have right now letting those who will be heirs or those who will care for us when we are incapacitated have access to our digital accounts.

We hope that you will take this issue seriously and call us to discuss making this a part of your estate plan. We do plan with every meeting coming up, whether by phone or in person, to take this issue up with you. It is that important.

The article:
Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives

Estate Planning and Digital Assets - 5/23/2013

I know. You are wondering why we would be sending you an email concerning the Kardashians. This is not a practice that concerns itself with the tabloid goings on of celebrities. However, in this case there is something going on which warrants your attention.

Apparently, Kardashian senior kept a diary both online and in print. We all know that diaries are interesting, possibly too revealing and certainly meant to be private. Now that he is dead, possession of the family patriarch’s diary would seem to take a back seat to the power to publish its contents — or prevent anyone else from selling it for gossip. The “evil” stepmother to the Kardashian children wants to make some money by selling it to the tabloids for publication. The Kardashian children want to keep the diary private. It is now a matter for the courts to decide.

And that brings us to the reason for this post. Most estate plans that we are familiar with and have reviewed contain no mention of digital assets. Digital assets – what are they, you ask? Your Facebook page, your blog, your twitter account, your email accounts, your webpage, your LinkedIn pages, your music/movie/book library on ITunes and other streaming services, your various Amazon, eBay, and other sites that you are a member of and on which you have stored information, your Drop box account and any other online document storage site you use. As you can see, you entire online life is considered to contain your digital assets. And they are at risk.

Who will have access to your online life after you are gone? Who do want to have access or no access to your accounts? How will they prove they have the right to access your accounts? Are these assets to remain private or could someone sell them to the highest bidder or make them public. Could non-family members obtain access to them? Would you want them destroyed (deleted)? How about the rights of Google, Amazon and the other big boys of the digital world to your digital life? Do you want to give your heirs specific instruction for dealing with control or access and rights to publish aspects of your digital life?

Never thought about any of this have you? Neither have we until recently. So, let’s review how your estate plan should cover these important “assets.”

Give us a call.

Buying or Selling a House - 5/20/2013

You may not be selling your home or looking to buy a home at this time, but we often have friends, neighbors and relatives who are. The average homeowner stays put for about 7 years and then moves on. I just recently came across a new real estate service.

Agent Ace,, a free online resource, connects home buyers and sellers to the highest-performing real estate agent relative to a specific home.

"Consumers usually don't properly vet the person who will be responsible for one of the largest financial transactions in their lives," says Agent Ace founder, Mazen Fawaz. "The majority of the population, 90% in fact, find their agent based on advertisements or personal referrals from friends and family who have limited expertise in the area. Agent Ace provides an unbiased recommendation based on an agent's actual performance, giving the client the best opportunity for success with their real estate transaction."

Agent Ace uses quantitative historical data, analyzed by a patented proprietary algorithm, to recommend the best agent for a specific location, price, school district, demographics, and other local factors. Agent Ace does not publicly rank agents and only the users know who is recommended.

In addition, Agent Ace does not accept advertising from agents or allow agents to edit their profiles. "Unbiased information based on pure performance history allows consumers to trust that they're getting the very best agent for their real estate transaction," says the company. Please check out the site if you are in the market or know someone who is.

Corrected - Affordable Health Care - 5/17/2013

As you know after we send you an email with some news or a link to a site or commentary about events or issues concerning your financial well-being, we then post it to our blog on the IFA website. When we tried to post the commentary on the Affordable Health Care Law (Obamacare), we found that the link to the guide was really good no longer went to the guide. It was a dead link. Sometimes this happens and we never find out why.

So we have a new link for you. This one is directs you to a new site that the government set up specifically to explain the law and to give you as a citizen all the information you need to undestand it and make decisions about your use of its provisions. We have spent some time on the site and it really is very helpful. It does a good job of explaining provisions and timelines. It has links to each state and what's happening in each state.  Please use this link when looking for information about the law.

Call us with any questions you may have. we have spent some time working on this. If your question is one which could benefit other clients or visitors to our site, we will post it and the answer. Here is the working link to the site:

Affordable Health Care

Tech - Time Saving Tips - 5/7/2013

How many of us feel that the computer is an alien device inflicted on us by our overlords in the tech universe? There are times I do. I came across this TED talk given by David Pogue, the NY Times Tech guru. In this short 6 minute talk he gives us 10 time saving and useful tips to make this alien device more human friendly. I learned a few neat tricks and I hope you do too.

TED - Time Saving Tips

Long Term Care - 5/3/2013

Attached is a copy of an article I clipped from an Associated Press report published today, April 24, 2013 . It reports on the publication of a new survey by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. This poll of Americans over the age of 40 examined how well prepared they are for the realities of aging and the need for care as they grow older. The poll shows that 66% of Americans have done little to no planning for this time in life and that fully 30% don't even want to think about it.

Clients of IFA don't have the luxury of ignoring this reality. We regularly bring up the topic of long term care and how the family will cope with this reality.

You may want to pass the attached article along to friends and relatives who may not have had the opportunity to discuss this with their families or their advisors. It is never a pleasant issue to bring up, but it is a reality that too often left unaddressed.

If you have questions of your own, don't hesitate to call on us. We deal with this every day.

The article:
Long-term care in aging US: Not for me poll says

Federal Reserve's Most Recent Actions - 10/8/2012

You may have heard that the Federal Reserve has recently embarked on a new round of monetary policy often called Quantitative Easing. We have had two official rounds of this strategy and a third round which was unofficial. This strategy is designed to maintain a low interest rate environment to stimulate further economic growth and development. There has been some argument that QE as it is called has been a failure and will create conditions ripe for inflation to take off. There has been far more economic commentary that it has been largely successful in its first round and only marginally successful in rounds two and the unofficial third round. The consensus is that QE has at least kept our economy afloat while it gets its legs under it.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Noble Prize winning economist and is well regarded in the economics field. He recently published a short non-technical piece of writing about the introduction of the official third round of QE by the Fed. I thought you might find it helpful in understanding some of what the punditry class has been nattering about of late.

The article:
Long term care in again US

Beer and Politics - 9/27/2012

I am trying to steer clear of writing to you about the election this year.

But I found this graph published in the National Journal, one of the more respected DC based opinion and news journals which report on doings in DC. They analyzed 200,000 interviews that Scarborough Research conducted into the habits of beer drinkers including their politics and the brews they drink. I have attached the graph for you to check against your own favorite brew and what drinking it tells us about your politics.

Hope you find it a fun break from the onslaught of political ads we are enduring. Let me know what you think.

What your beer says about you:
Beer and Politics

Facing the Fiscal Cliff - 8/27/2012

I have attached to this email an article appearing in the Journal of Financial Planning this month in which the author, Phillips Hinch the assistant director of Government Relations for the Financial Planning Association delineates the potential consequences of the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts on January 1, 2013. He examines not only the expiration of these more well-known and discussed tax cuts but the expiration of many other cuts and tax exemptions and rules that Congress put in place to deal with the fiscal crisis of 2008. Although the article is focused on the tax cuts and various new taxes due to start to pay for the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it does not address the other side of the coin where spending cuts are also due to commence in a process that Congress calls “Sequestration”. Here it is in its entirety:
Mitchell's Post

Journal of Financial Planning article:
Facing the Fiscal Cliff

A Special Commencement Speech - 6/14/2012

Well it’s June and that means weddings and graduations. Last Friday, a teacher at Wellesley High, David McCullough, Jr., gave an extraordinary commencement speech which has gone viral and has generated a good deal of debate and commentary. In fact, there are 122 million Google hits on this one topic. The son of a well-known and respected historian and author David McCullough, he spoke of the “special” nature of the young graduates in front of him and then he had a much larger message for them. I thought I would share this speech with you. You may wish to share it with the graduates in your life.

Here it is in its entirety:
Commencement Speech

Managing our Choices - 6/6/2012

Just yesterday I discovered a website that I wanted to share with you. Google has a “lab” which they use to develop many of their initiatives. They also invite some of the most respected intellectuals, writers, artists and visionaries to speak to their employees. They record these lectures and then put them on the web for the public to enjoy. Although I have only tuned in to one of these lectures, I am now hooked.

The lecture in question was given by Sheena Iyengar.

Iyengar is a professor at Columbia Business School who researches “choice” and how too much choice can overwhelm people. Iyengar, who is the author of "The Art of Managing all our Choices," is best known for her research on how plan participants are often overwhelmed by the number of investment options in their 401(k) plan and as a result make imprudent decisions with their money.

Her lecture at Google dealt with choice and how we are overwhelmed by all of the choices we have in life. More importantly, how to manage these choices. The lecture lasted about an hour. The video is best expanded to full screen because she is relegated to the upper left of the screen (Don’t ask me why they choose to devote such a small amount of screen space to the actual event.)

As I come across other events on Google TV that may be worthy, I will email you the link.

Since we are on the subject of web based education, I have also discovered another site which could serve as a web based university lecture series. TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is the name of the site with the intent of promoting “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The greatest thinkers, artists, and achievers alive today share their ideas and research and then posters discuss them in a lively and respectful way. Lectures are often linked to other related lectures. One could get a true “liberal” education from this site.

I offer one such lecture below about the origin of our human optimistic bias toward life. I hope you enjoy these lectures. Let me know your thoughts on anything you encounter on these sites.

Here are the links:
Google TV - Iyengar

TED - Sharot

Europe in Crisis, Again! - 5/30/2012

I have been giving a lot of thought to what has become an all too familiar news cycle -- The crisis in Europe and its on again off again effect on the world markets. I don’t have to tell you that we have been reading about this crisis for two years. And for two years we have seen the problems in Europe, especially with Greece, derail our stock and bond markets, making it difficult for our markets to get some traction. We have a modest recovery under way and many of the factors which should spell good news for the market are being buried under the avalanche of news about Europe, Germany and Greece.

As you know, I spend a good part of each day reading and researching in economics, investments, global and domestic news which may affect our economy and markets and, for fun, history. (History always gives me perspective.)

Just today Black Rock Investments, the largest global investment house in the world, managing more than $3.7 Trillion, released a white paper on the situation in Europe. I have attached this paper to this email. At the same time, one of my favorite global news magazines, the Economist, published its analysis and prescription for what ails Europe. The Economist is a must read for global decision makers and its observations, analysis and prescriptions often turn up in decisions made by the powers that be. I have attached this article as well.

Later I will try to give you my perspective on this latest “crisis” and its impact on you. But I think reading these two articles together will give you more than enough information about what is going on in Europe with Greece, Spain and Germany and why we should care what goes on “over there.”

Here are the links:
Blackrock - Europe

Economist - Europe

Social Security Administration launches Online Statements - 5/8/2012

Effective May 1, 2012, the Social Security Administration launched an online version of the Social Security Statement on the Social Security Administration's website which is available to everyone age 18 and over. While clients age 60 and over resumed receiving statements in the mail in February 2012, those under age 60 have not received statements since mailing was ceased in March 2011.

When you go to the linked site above, you will look on the left hand panel for the bullet “NEW” next to the link for “Get Your Social Security Statement Online”.

For additional information, please read the Social Security Administration's press release.

Here is the link:
Social Security Administration

Who benefits from Tax Policy? - 4/24/2012

Attached are two pdf’s which you should print out and study. One is devoted to how the overall tax burden has changed from 1960 to 2004 the last year for which data is available. It does not have any of the last contentious years from 2008 to the present. But there is a note in the chart indicating the effect of tax changes Obama initiated since taking office. The other graph is very interesting to study. It shows it great detail who benefits from tax policy in the US. Broken down by income (which is on the left by income threshold) you can see who had benefited the most from various deductions, exemptions and credits in the tax code. It is a real eye opener. No further comment from me about either graph published Sunday April 13 2012 in the NY Times

Here are the links:
Who gains most from Tax Breaks

Whose taxes rose or fell

Quarterly Economic Indicators Dashboard - 4/23/2012

I thought I would send you a link to a small free service that Russell Investments provides. It is a simple graphic chart illustrating how the economy has done over the past 3 months and places that reading in the context of what has normally been the case for the US economy historically. If you click on any one of the indicators it brings up further graphic illustration and explanation of the particular indicator and more in depth data. I find it helpful in understanding in one picture what has been going on in our economy. Let me know if you find it helpful.

Here is the link:
Quarterly Indicators

Going to the Butcher or Dietician - 3/22/2012

Okay, I know the subject line of this email probably confuses you. But bear with me.

For a very long time I have been attempting to explain to you the difference between working with a broker and working with an advisor like me and Carl. I have explained that brokers have one standard by which they are regulated and Fiduciaries have a completely different standard. The Broker, or registered representative, must sell you suitable products and the fiduciary must advise you based on what is in your best interest regardless of whether it is in the advisors interest. It has been a difficult concept for most clients to understand.

I found this short video on You Tube about butchers and dieticians. It perfectly captures the difference between brokers/registered representatives and fiduciary advisors. It is also clever and fun. I hope you enjoy it and can now see that you are working with a “dietician” and not a “butcher."

Here is the link:
Butcher or Dietician

Daylight Savings Time - 3/14/2012

Every once in a while I come across a fun, useful or just plain interesting bit of information that I want to share with you. Since we just changed to DST over the weekend, I thought I would share this fun video about the history and problems with Daylight Savings Time. When you are finished watching this 6 minute video, I think you will agree that DST is one of the more insane things we do with time. Enjoy.

Here is the link:
Daylight Savings Time Insanity

The price of gas - 2/15/2012

Informative article on the price inputs we pay at the pump.

Here is the link:
Why Americans are paying more at the gas pump

Well, one final email letter - 12/19/2011

I could not resist sending one last email for the year.

We have all watched gold do its gold thing these past few years. I think it would be fair to say that most of us really don’t understand gold, how it affects the global economy or even much about its history in our economic life. Payden & Rygel developed the attached “road map” which I thought I would share with you. It really helps with understanding how gold has worked its way into our hearts.

Have a wonderful holiday season filled with love, good cheer and no worries!

Here are the links:
The Yellow Brick Road

Buy or Sell & Euro's Faux Resolution - 12/12/2011

What can I say at the end of what many feel has been a decidedly miserable year in the markets, the economy, in Europe and last but certainly not least in our domestic politics. We have been whipsawed repeatedly by good news then bad news. We have seen the spectacle of our political leaders sounding and behaving more as children in a playground tussle than displaying any sort of maturity and sound judgment. So, I thought I would round out the year with some thoughts on the markets first, then in a separate email, a bit about the European situation.

Here are the links:
Buy or Sell

Two Directions

The Crazy Situation in Europe and Greece Explainer - 11/07/2011

I have been struggling to find a comprehensible way to explain what is going on in Europe and Greece to you. Almost daily we are assaulted with dire warnings of the impending collapse of the Euro, The Greek economy, the European economy, The Global economy and the American economy all because of what is happening in Europe. We are regularly told this collapse has been averted, postponed, solved and fixed: only to find that it is back in the headlines again the next day. It is all so confusing to the average American. I am sure that when we were going through the financial crisis of late 2008 and early 2009 that Europeans had a hard time understanding what it had to do with them and why should they be concerned and why should they, their governments and economies be involved. Well we are slowly discovering that we truly do live in a global village where what happens in a small country with a pitifully small economy can dramatically affect all of us.

I regularly read the BBC news site and came across a very good and simple “Explainer” for what is going on in Europe and with Greece. There is also a side bar which does a creditable job of explaining many of the financial terms we hear bandied about in this discussion of what is going on. I hope you will find it useful over the next few months as we watch the unfolding drama in Europe.

Here is the link:
Greek Debt Crisis

Consumer Consumption and Confidence - 10/25/2011

This commentary by Robert Shiller appeared on the economics blogsite,, in late September. I have mentioned this site before as one which provides an open forum for some of the best economic commentators and economists in the world to discuss current events and global economics. It’s well worth your time to bookmark the site and go to it occasionally. Here is his commentary on the impact of consumer confidence on our economy.

Here is the link:
Debt Scare

Everything is getting better. - 10/24/2011

Everything is getting better. No, no, I know. It seems as if everything is getting worse again. Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi says there is a 40 percent chance of a double-dip. The Economic Cycle Research Institute, which has forecast the last three recessions, says another recession is a sure thing—and imminent, to boot. Read on...

Here is the link:

Gloom, Doom and the Hidden Rays of Hope - 10/4/2011

I have decided to break my commentary into two parts. This first part is more a summary of what has happened in the markets over this past quarter and some hopeful comments about the future. But, I am just as aware as each of you that “hopeful” is not the only word one could use to describe the immediate future. There is a growing body of evidence and observation which is not very hopeful about the immediate future of the global and US economy. The second part of my commentary takes a look at this.

Here are the links:

Part 1

Part 2

Money Market Mutual Fund Woes - 8/11/2011

By now most of you are aware from the emails I have sent out to you that we are holding some cash in your accounts. For some this is a large amount for others much smaller amounts are being held. And you may have recently been hearing about the expressed concern in the media that because of the American Debt downgrade and other issues related to the AAA rating that money market mutual funds (NOT bank money market accounts) may be in danger of “breaking the buck” as it is called. This means that the $1 price that we see every day for money market mutual fund shares may be forced to reprice at less than $1. Hence the phrase “breaking the buck”. I just want to assure you that none of you own a Money Market Mutual Fund to hold your cash. Almost all of the cash which my firm manages is in FDIC insured deposit accounts with TD Ameritrade Bank. What miniscule amount of cash is not in these FDIC accounts is in Muni Money Markets which are not at issue here.

You may want to alert friends and family that it may be a good idea to look for alternatives to the Money Market Mutual Funds they may hold which are paying close to Zero interest rates. If they are with a brokerage firm they should request that their cash be moved to FDIC insured accounts at the firm. If they hold money market mutual funds directly with an investment firm they may want to withdraw this a seek a bank savings or bank money market account for these monies. Call me if you have questions about this issue.

Keil on Debt Ceiling - 8/8/2011

Well thank goodness we had the weekend to get ready for Monday’s market opening. We had several days to examine and think about the downgrading of US debt by S&P from AAA to AA+ a single step down. Although it has never happened in our history, many had expected something like this to happen. At the beginning of the week, Moody’s and Fitch, a non-American rating agency, kept the US at its AAA status. That S&P chose to do its down rating after the close of the market before a weekend only illustrates and acknowledges that such action would in fact roil the markets. On Sunday here in America (which because of the international dateline) is Monday in Asia, the market did react. Most Asian markets dropped between 2% and 3.5% on the news. As I write this the Dow is down more than 5.5% and the S&P is down 6.9% even after President Obama spoke in an attempt to calm the markets. Continued in the pdf below...

Here is the link:
Keil - Debt Ceiling

Sonders on Debt Ceiling - 8/5/2011

Yesterday I sent you a brief summary of my take on what is going on and a way to view the unfolding situation. I hope you found it helpful. Today Schwab’s chief investment strategist, Liz Ann Sonders, posted a timely piece filled with the sort of factual information that I did not have at my disposal when I wrote to you yesterday. If you would like to read a well-respected strategist’s views and don’t mind a host of facts being marshaled to illustrate her point of view, then please print the attached report out and read it. It is about 2 ½ pages in length.

Here is the link:
Sonders - Breaking Commentary

An Economic Indicator Graphic - 6/29/2011

Recently, I came across the economic indicator dashboard that you will find at the end of this post.

This dashboard will show you in a simple graphical way just how we are doing in our national economic life. It looks at most of the economic indicators that indicate how we are doing getting out of this recession. (I know that most of you don’t feel the recession is over and that is part of the problem with getting our nation back to economic health.) The dashboard is a snapshot of current conditions in the market relative to their typical-long term ranges. If you hover over many of the numbers and boxes or click on the Historical Details, you will get further information and interactive graphs. I found this dashboard very helpful in putting much of the hyper active news we see and hear each day into perspective. Let me know what you think of the dashboard and if it answered some of your questions.

Here is the link:
Economic Indicator Dashboard

And a link to the full report in PDF format:
Economic Indicators Dashboard - May 31, 2011

Recommendation of a really good book! - 6/27/2011

A friend recently recommended a book to me because he knows that in discussing estate planning with my clients, I often discuss transferring the values of one generation to the next and not just the money or assets. A legacy, if you will, of the core values of the older generation passed on to the younger generation. Frequently, my clients will be worried about the values of their children and grandchildren. Our modern hyper-kinetic society seems to drown out values of strength, courage, integrity and justice or fair play. The boomer generation, of which I am a part, has not done a very good job of establishing a value system which may stand the test of time. We have alternately been called “The Me Generation”, Yuppies, DINKS, (a plague on the face of the world), and we have been accused of chasing the almighty buck to the exclusion of much else in life with disastrous consequences for our country. Whether you agree with any of this criticism, it is clear that our children and grandchildren need some direction in life and many times we don’t know how to talk with them about values. The book my friend recommended to me is an excellent start. It is available on

Oh and one more thing. This book may seem to be directed at parents of young children. It is not. We are all in some sense children looking for a way to develop a value system.

If you decide to purchase and read this book, please let me know how it has affected you and your family.

Here is the link:

The Economy 101 Part 2 - 6/7/2011

The next installment in the series of educational emails I am sending to you on the economy is attached. I sent you an article last time about the role of the dollar as the reserve currency and how the dollar and its value affects our and the world economy. In this installment I found an excellent article in the LA Times of this past weekend about the persistent problem of unemployment in the US economy. There has been a lot of ink spilled about the unemployment rate in the US and what and who is responsible for it. Depending on your ideological bent you may blame Obama or US Corporations, China and India, Outsourcing, Education, Undocumented Emigrants, or any number of conspiracy oriented factors. What you may not have “blamed”, is technology. US corporations have been using labor saving technology to increase productivity for many years and it has helped the US to remain very competitive in the world market place. It has now been employed to help keep down labor costs and the number of employees needed to do the “job”. You may also not have blamed a dearth of consumer spending in the wake of the recession and the rather spectacular increase in the savings rate of the US Consumer from less than 1.7% just before the recession started to more than 4.9% as of April 2011. It has been as high as 6.3% during the recession. (St Louis Fed Report: ). Read the attached article on the “Economic Recovery Leaves Jobs Behind” and for a little perspective read about “The Best and Worst Paying Jobs.”

Let me know what you think.

Here are the links:
Economic Recovery Leaves Jobs Behind

Best and Worst Paying Jobs

The Economy 101 - 5/13/2011

On Monday the 16th the US will bump up against the borrowing limit of the US government at $14.5T (that’s T as in Trillion). The world will not end as some have predicted because the Treasury has some gimmicks it can deploy to stave off Armageddon until about July 1 or perhaps as late as August 1. Meanwhile back at the ranch (Washington, DC) everyone is posturing and beating their chests about the other guy and the intransigence of the political opposition in coming to terms with our debt and deficit and the state of the economy and who is to blame. So, in an effort to provide a little sanity to this carnival show, I have decided to start a little educational series of emails about our economy, the Dollar and its position in the world of finance and the debt and deficit.

I thought I would start by delving into the issue of the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Much of what transpires in DC will have an impact on the Dollar and its position as the world’s Reserve Currency. So, it’s important for American citizens to understand what the term “Reserve Currency” means as well as how we benefit from this notion and how the posturing in DC may affect your day to day life. In the latest issue of a newsletter I get from Payden & Rygel, a mutual fund company, they explain in great detail what a reserve currency is and why it is important to global finance and the health of the American Economy. (It helps to understand how the political decisions in Washington will affect our position as the “Reserve Currency.”) I have attached the article to this email. Please read it and, if you like, send your comments to me about it.

Here is the link:
Fear of a Downgrade

Fears of a Downgrade - 4/18/2011

As a client, you probably noticed today that the Standard & Poors bond rating division has threatened to downgrade the credit rating of U.S. Treasury bonds. This announcement was typically covered in breathless fashion by the media. The U.S. markets dropped 1% almost immediately after the news broke, and the S&P 500 index of large cap stocks finished the day down 1.1%.

What was not always emphasized in the news coverage is that this is far from an actual downgrade. The announcement actually said that Treasury securities would be given a AA rating (the credit rating of Japan) rather than the current AAA (the highest credit rating, which is also enjoyed by France and Germany) if the federal budget deficit is not addressed within two years. (Coincidentally, Moody’s had something to say about this as well and came out saying that it felt that the US would get the deficit managed so it was not putting our Debt on a credit watch, precisely the opposite of S&P.) Continued...

Here is the link:
Fear of a Downgrade

Where are your tax dollars going? - 4/15/2011

Just in time for Tax Filing Day (April 18 this year), A group called the Third Way has developed a little calculator to show exactly where your tax dollars are spent by the Federal Government. If you have ever wonder how much of your actual tax is spent on, let’s say, Low Income Assistance, or Congress, here is your chance. Go ahead and make yourself a little ill by seeing how much YOU spend on the Afghan war or Veteran’s Affairs.

Here is the link:
Tax Receipts

Federal Government Shutdown? - 4/6/2011

As we rapidly approach a 4th threat to shut down the Federal Government since the start of the year, I thought it might be appropriate to find out what that would mean to all of us as Americans. I found an interesting little slide show that bullet points the effects of a shutdown rather graphically on the Huffington Post and a Washington Post article about the same which cites the Congressional Research Service.

Here are the links:

Inflation, Unemployment, Federal Reserve - 3/30/2011

Recently I came across three articles that explore the relationship between Unemployment, Inflation and actions of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has come under sharp attack over the past three years for inaction, over-reaction, dithering and interventionist behavior. In other words, no matter what the Fed has done it is being vilified by some faction of the political establishment. These three articles looks at the quandary in which the Fed finds itself: doing too little to fight inflation or too little to fight unemployment, or the reverse. I hope you find them as enlightening as I did. If you would like to discuss these issues with me, feel free to call me or email a response to this email.

Here are the links:



Employee Pensions - 3/8/2011

There has been so much inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Public Employee Pensions and incomes that it is hard to determine what is truth and what is fiction. We have all watched the ongoing drama in Wisconsin and seen it spill over to other states. Public employees are the new “fat cats” and have been accused of padding their incomes and benefits at the “expense” of taxpayers. The defense, on the other hand, has been vocal that these employees are paid a fair and equitable wage that is not much out of line with the “private” sector. Their benefits are the result of years of ongoing contract negotiation and development that had sought to rectify an imbalance between public and private benefit structures which for a long time favored the private sector. Sorting out what is “political” hype and “red meat” rhetoric for the partisans on either side has been next to impossible. So, it was surprising that I stumbled across the attached article published today in the McClatchy Newspapers. It presents the efforts of its staff reporters to find evidence that the pay and benefits of public employees is a major cause of the insolvency of local and state governments. What they found will surprise you. Please read the article and let me know what you think. Continued...

Here is the link: EmployeePensions.pdf

Causes Of The Financial Crisis - 1/27/2011

As I indicated in an earlier email message to you, all of these missives that I send out to you are now collected for easy reference and reading on our website. I have placed the direct link at the bottom of my info below. Just click on the hyperlink and it will open your browser to the specific page on my newly revamped website. ( I would love to hear from you about our new website which is still be tweaked.) The subject of today’s email is the report issued by the Presidential Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. The New York Times wrote an excellent balanced article about the findings of the commission. The sad part of the work of the commission is that just as our political atmosphere has degenerated into partisan warfare (despite the kumbaya moment at the State of The Union), so too has this same partisanship affected the release of the report. Most of the commissioners wrote and agreed to one report but several republican members wanted to issue their own take and grind their own axes. So, instead of a unanimous consensus analysis of the causes of the crisis, we have two versions and a third which blames the entire crisis on the push for homeownership. The report is more than 500 pages and is scathing in its indictment of financial institutions, regulators and politicians. Both the Bush and the Obama administration are taken to the woodshed. And one conclusion of the report is, “The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.”

Here is the link: Causes Of The Financial Crisis.pdf

Four New Social Security Changes - 1/19/2011

Beginning in 2011, Social Security will make four changes that affect the benefits that recipients receive and the taxes employees pay.

1. There will be a reduction in the employee side of the social security tax payment
2. Elimination of the free loan from age 62 to age 70
3. Benefit suspension strategies for beneficiaries are eliminated
4. Paper Social Security checks are being retired.

There is a good “Explainer” in US News today about these changes, a copy of which is attached to this email.

Here is the link: Four Changes In Social Security.pdf

Year End Tax Gifts - 12/20/2010

I spent a little time this weekend working on sending you a short summary of the New Tax Bill that Congress passed and the President signed. Everyone got something out this horse-trading session in the Lame Duck Congressional session now winding down. Clearly no one on the extreme left and right of the political spectrum was happy with it. The Middle class got its tax cut but then so did the wealthiest families along with an Estate Tax Gift. Those of work got an unexpected extension of the unemployment benefits and workers in general got some payroll tax relief. The total of almost $900 billion in goodies is larger than the stimulus bill passed last year and that really is an eye-opener. Especially, since the Republicans ran on a Tea Party platform of fiscal discipline and deficit and debt reduction. Hmmm… we will have to see how this plays out over the next two years.

Here is the link: Two Year End Little Gifts for you.pdf

How Are We Doing - 12/15/2010

This will be the longest email letter I have sent to you. I hope you feel it is worth reading. Just as when I was a kid we had a Short Film that was usually funny or at least extremely interesting followed by the Feature Presentation. So, too I am giving you a Short and a Feature Presentation.
Here is the link: Two Hundred Years of World Economic History  PDF

The Presidential National Debt Commission Report - 12/6/2010

At this festive time of the year I thought I would splash a little cold water on our celebrations. As I am sure you now know the Presidential National Debt Commission presented its report to the President last week. The highlights have made news since the middle of November when the two co-chairs, a Republican and a Democrat, released an appetizer in order to encourage agreement among the warring factions on the commission. I earlier reported to you on this release of the highlights. I have had a chance to read the report in its entirety and wanted to report to you what the commission actually says as opposed to what Fox News and MSNBC “report.” So, below is a discussion of the commission’s findings without any spin or doctoring of the facts. You may agree or disagree with their findings shared and recommended to the Congress and the President by 11 of the 18 members. (It took 14 votes to agree to the report’s proposals to require Congressional action). But it makes sobering reading and it should. I fervently hope that this report will spur real and probably painful change in the way we tax and spend. But it is probably a “forlorn hope.”
Here is the link: REAL Debt Reform PDF

Bush Tax Cuts Puzzle - 11/30/2010

Over the past several months I have sent you several articles and email messages in which the Pros and Cons of allowing the Bush Tax Cuts to expire or not have been debated and explained (including an interesting exercise in figuring out your tax bill should one side or the other prevail). Since these cuts have an immediate impact on you and the taxes you pay and in some cases the investment and business decisions you may have to make in 2011 and after, I think it has been a worthwhile effort to send these communications out to you. I have attached another article in this series for you to read if you wish. In it the Bloomberg Business Week journalist, Ryan Donmoyer, explains the six areas of dispute between Obama and most of the Democrats on the one side and the Congressional Republicans on the other. Donmoyer likens the confrontation to solving a puzzle with six pieces. What is apparent from his article is that there is little room for compromise with partisanship and ideology dominating the discussion. We are going to be subject to a lot of political spin over the next few weeks as we get closer to the expiration of the Cuts on December 31. And it is worthwhile to at least be able to keep the truly important aspects of this issue in focus so that we can judge whether the Republicans or Obama and the Democrats have our best interests in mind.
Here is the link: Bush Tax Cut Puzzle  PDF

Balance The Budget - 11/16/2010

You, too, can balance the federal budget!

Want to have a little mindless fun? Try balancing the federal budget in ten minutes or less.
Here is the link: Balance The Budget  PDF

How The New Congress Could Effect Stocks - 11/5/2010

I came across this short succinct article today. I have gotten a few phone calls and emails asking me what I think will happen in the economy and to their portfolios with a partially divided government. This article is a good place to start the conversation. I will be thinking about this in the coming months as the lame duck Congress addresses several issues that will probably give us a good idea of how the next two years will go. Those issues are energy policy, the Bush Tax Cuts, the deficit and various aspects of the Stimulus bill.
Here is the link: How the new Congress could effect stocks in 2011  PDF

Commodities In You Portfolio? - 10/26/2010

I have recently fielded a number of calls and emails from Clients asking me if they should have a commodity exposure in their portfolios. These clients have been reading about the growing demand for commodities from growth oriented Emerging Market countries like India, China and Brazil.
Here is the link: Commodities in your portfolio  PDF

California's Business Tax Burden - 10/25/2010

I am sending this to California clients and advisors because it is California centric. I read this article in the LA Times yesterday and it actually surprised me. I hope you find it as informative as I did.

Here is the link: California's Business Tax Burden  PDF

Tax Burden Calculator - 10/25/2010

I came across this website the other day and want to share it with you. You make some basic entries about your income and deductions and it calculates what your real tax burden would be if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire.

Here is the link: Tax Burden Calculator  PDF

Who Is The Real Fiduciary - 10/21/2010

“Knowing your planner's exact job title may help you tell whether he or she is a 'fiduciary' -- a professional who's 100% committed to putting your financial interests first.” So writes Liz Pullium Weston today at MSN Money. She goes on to delineate the differences between those who are only concerned with the suitability of an investment for a client and those who exercise fiduciary responsibility when recommending an investment to a client. You must read the attached copy of her column. It discusses this fiduciary issue which has been so much in the news of late and she makes it crystal clear who you should be working with as an advisor.  Let me know what you think.

Here is the link: Who Is The Real Fiduciary  PDF

A Terrific Voting Website - 10/20/2010

One of my clients sent me the website below. It is a website which will allow you to answer some questions about your political opinions and then match candidates with your opinions. It will then display those candidates who come closest to sharing your opinions. It is a wonderful exercise which will allow you to see what candidates have stated about their positions on issues. I found it highly enlightening and discovered that there are more candidates who share my beliefs than I had thought. You may be surprised at what you learn about candidates.

Here is the link: 

2010 Year End Tax Planning - 10/10/2010

Well the Fourth Quarter is here again and that means thinking about Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah… and year end tax planning. I hope you will find the time to sit down with your tax advisor and me to discuss opportunities which may exist for you to save money on taxes this year.

Here is the link: 2010 Year End Tax Planning  PDF

Selling Gold Jewelry? - 10/7/2010

By now I am sure that most of you have seen the ads on TV exhorting you to mail in your old and unwanted gold jewelry to get top dollar from any number of “gold” companies. Every one of these ads touts that they will pay the best price and that it has never been a better time than now to get rid of that unwanted gold “stuff” you have around the house. Well, it appears that it has never been a better time than now to bilk people out of the true value of their gold jewelry. Today on MSNBC did a bit of investigative research on these ads. I have attached the write up on their investigation. It makes interesting reading and is cautionary tale.

Here is the link: Selling Gold Jewelry?  PDF

2010 Quarter 3 Commentary - 10/7/2010

My Quarterly Commentary is in two parts this quarter because there has been so much that has happened over the past year and especially this quarter.

Here is the link: 2010 Quarter 3 Commentary  PDF

2010 Consumer Guide To Health Care Changes - 10/1/2010

I know that I have already sent you a rather lengthy compendium of the healthcare bill changes. But this article which appears today in USA Today newspaper is very short and focused on 2010 only. It is also framed better and is in better English. Hope you find it helpful.

Here is the link: 2010 Consumer Guide To Health Care Changes  PDF

Email Letter # 11 - 9/15/2010

I have written another email letter to you regarding the ongoing concern about sovereign debt. Although it is not so much in the news these days because we have entered the “silly” season of electoral politicking, it is still of real concern to economists and policy makers worldwide.

Here is the link: Email Letter # 11  PDF

Twenty Richest People Of All Time - 9/3/2010

What better way to celebrate “Labor Day” than with a nostalgic look back at the twenty richest people of all time. You will be amazed and surprised as I was at who is on the list and who is not. Enjoy and get sticky with envy!

Here is the link: Twenty Richest 

Boomers And Retirement - 9/1/2010

Just wanted to provide you with the results of a recent Schwab survey of Boomer retirement plans. Here is a summary from Financial Planning Magazine. One of my professional journals.

Here is the link: Boomers And Retirement 

Stimulus Act - USA Today - 8/31/2010

Yesterday the Newspaper, USA Today, published a useful article looking at whether the Stimulus act passed by Congress at the behest of the administration really helped stimulate the US economy. I don’t have to tell you that this has been a subject of intense partisan debate. Republicans and conservatives have vilified the act and all things related to it as being useless and threatening our economic security with a huge overhang of debt. Democrats and Progressives have claimed that without the Stimulus we would have had a second depression and that unemployment would have been worse and that state governments would have collapsed. Recently several economists have looked at this issue and have issued a report on this touchy subject. Their conclusion and the conclusion of the majority of economists is that the Stimulus helped a great deal. Read this article which is well balanced and objective.
Here is the link:

You will also note that the article has links to other interesting and related information.

A Real Life Saver 8/15/2010

Most of the time I send, what I hope are interesting articles, essays and thoughts on our economy, your financial life, and cultural and social issues that affect our relationship as client and advisor. Occasionally, I send something a little different. Today, I am sending you a link to a video which you should watch and then save as a bookmark in your browser. I would then hope that you would send it to everyone you know. It may save a life. I have had to perform CPR only once in my life and it did save a life but it was difficult to do as I tried to remember how many breaths and compressions to execute while in a crazy situation. This video is about a new version of the standard CPR method. It is now the accepted version to use in most situations and it is the easiest thing to remember.

This is a very important video regarding the latest CPR procedure. Please watch and forward to your friends and family if you haven't already done so. You never know, a life may be saved utilizing this new procedure.

TARP Evaluated - 7/28/2010

This article appeared today in Bloomberg and I thought I should pass it along to you. The bailout of the Banks at the beginning of the Great Recession which began under Bush and continued under Obama has been the subject of intense debate between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Everyone has an opinion but there has been scant real study of the impact and effects of the bailouts under Bush and the stimulus bill passed under Obama. Allen Blinder, a noble winning economist and Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moodys have released their study of the TARP program and Stimulus Bill. I am sure that many more will follow, but it worth reading what they say about what our economy would have looked like had the TARP program and the Stimulus bill not been passed and executed.

TARP Saved us from a depressions - PDF

Health Care Reform - 6/2/2010

I have been spending a lot of time with the Health Care Bill and its various provisions. This is the first of my email  letters on the issue:
Link to letter - Health Care Reform - PDF 



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