What is Tax-Loss Harvesting?

What Is Tax-Loss Harvesting?

A listener asks a question about year end tax planning.  Can tax-loss harvesting help your tax situation?  Today we look at this strategy and how it works.

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What is tax-Loss harvesting

Today we answer a question from Joanne. She writes, “Last week I heard about something called tax-loss harvesting. What is it, and how can we benefit from it?” This is a strategy you can use to reduce your tax liability.

Understanding Capital Losses

From time to time, investments will decrease in value. And they may decrease to a level that is below your cost basis. Your cost basis is what you paid for the investment, plus any dividends reinvested into that position.

If the market value drops below your cost basis, you have an unrealized capital loss. You realize that loss when you sell it, and that can help reduce your income tax liability.

How Capital Losses Affect Your Taxes

First, losses offset any capital gains. Capital gains happen in two ways. They happen when you sell something for a profit. If you own a mutual fund, the fund may pay a capital gain distribution. The fund creates gains when the fund buys and sells securities.

An investor sells shares of Amazon for a $10,000 profit. They also sell shares of Ford for an $8,000 loss. They would only pay capital gains taxes on $2,000.

Loss-Harvesting

If your losses exceed your gains, you can use those losses to reduce other income, up to certain limits. You can use $3,000 of capital losses to reduce your other income each year. Any excess gets carried forward to future years.

Our investor sold shares of Amazon for a $10,000 gain. They also sold shares of General Electric for a $15,000 loss. You would not incur any capital gains taxes this year. They can use $3,000 of the remaining loss against their other income. The investor would have to carry $2,000 forward to use against their taxes next year.

What is Tax-Loss harvesting

Planning Tip

This does not apply to any investments in an IRA, 401k, or other types of qualified plans. You are not paying capital gains taxes on anything you buy and sell in those accounts.

Wash Sales

If you are harvesting a capital loss, you can’t buy the same investment you sold for a loss within 30 days. Doing so creates a wash sale. The IRA will not allow the loss on your taxes. If the stock you sold has a sudden increase in price, you can miss out on the gains.

Keep Good Records

If you have a large capital loss, it could take a long time to carry it forward. You will need to keep very good records.

There is Still Time for 2020

You still have time to harvest capital losses for this year. Any sales made between now and December 31 count on this year’s taxes. But you should speak to your tax professional to see what kind of impact those will have on your situation.

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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Is Bitcoin a Good Investment?

Is Bitcoin a Good Investment?

Is Bitcoin a good investment? It is the new frontier in the investment world.  Its gains over the past six years will catch your eye.  Today we will answer a listener question about the digital currency and its characteristics.

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Is bitcoin a good investment

Our question is from Chris. He writes, “A guy at work keeps talking about Bitcoin. I don’t understand it. What is it and should I consider investing in it?”

Bitcoin, along with a few others, is a digital currency. It is not backed by a country or a central bank. An encrypted public ledger verifies the ownership of the coins. This ledger uses blockchain technology and it is very difficult to change. There are people who use computers to verify the transactions using digital cryptographic keys.

Bitcoin and Gold

In many ways, Bitcoin is similar to an investment in gold.

  • You can buy in various currencies, just like gold.
  • Its price fluctuates with changes in demand, just like gold.
  • And it is used as a store of value, just like gold.

But it is also different. Most businesses do not accept gold as a form of payment. You can use Bitcoin and other digital currencies to buy and sell goods and services. You can use it on PayPal. Some online retailers will also accept it for payment.

Growing Popularity

Bitcoin has become very popular to investors for a couple of reasons. The first is its meteoric gains over the last several years. It started trading in mid-September 2014. The price then was about $460. Last week, it closed at over $18,800. The average annual return of the Bitcoin has been about 82% per year.

The other appealing aspect of Bitcoin is that it is not a government-controlled currency.

Caution: Proceed with Care

There are many concerns when investing in Bitcoin.

Volatility

Bitcoin began trading in September 2014. Since then, we have seen

  • one price drop of more than 80%
  • another price drop of nearly 60%
  • three more drops of more than 30%
  • and three more drops of at least 20%.

This equates to eight bear markets in six years. It can be a very wild ride—more so than stocks and gold!

Taxes

There are tax consequences to sell your coins. Those sales get taxed as capital gains and losses. You need to be aware of your holding periods to know whether it’s short term or long term.

Are Purchases Considered Redemptions?

If you are using your Bitcoins to buy something, is that considered a redemption? This is a vague area. In some cases, using your digital currency as payment is considered a redemption. This could create a taxable event you did not expect.

Fees

There are some transaction fees to buy and sell Bitcoin. You want to be aware of those.

Non-traditional Businesses

You cannot buy cryptocurrency through most traditional financial institutions. Major brokerage firms and banks won’t hold or execute the trades.

The “Wild West” of Finance

Many governments fear criminals use Bitcoin to launder money. The United States asks if you have a cryptocurrency account on your tax return. They ask to help them track potential criminal activity.

Security of your account is also a concern. It’s a new frontier with very little regulation. There are many concerns about the security of your digital key and avoiding hackers.

Your digital key is very important. Recently, a CEO from a cryptocurrency exchange died with his passwords. He had over $150 million tied up in cryptocurrency. His family cannot access those accounts without the digital keys.

How do You Buy It? (My Own Experience)

The first thing you need to have is a digital wallet. There are many well-known providers. I used Coinbase. I opened an account in less than 10 minutes. I had a little difficulty linking it to one of the banks I deal with, but I was able to fix the issue.

Coinbase charges a minimum transaction fee of $2.99. The costs are then about 1.5% of the amount you buy or sell.

Overall, the process was very easy.

If you want to use a brokerage firm, try Betterment or Robinhood.

Is Bitcoin a Good Investment?

It has been terrific if (and that is a big “IF“) you can withstand the volatility. But nobody knows how it will do in the future. Right now, it is near its all-time high. You could be buying high, hoping it goes higher. You may want to wait for a correction—it tends to correct frequently. And there are tax consequences when you sell your coins.

You need to be careful and make sure you have your strong passwords written down somewhere. If something happens to you, your loved ones can access that account. 

Blockchain

Blockchain technology has a lot of potential uses in many different industries.

  • you could use it to verify your title to real estate
  • governments could use it for online voting security
  • Stock exchanges can use it to verify ownership of stock certificates. This could speed up trade settlements
  • companies like FedEx and UPS can use it to verify their deliveries
  • the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is already using blockchain to authenticate credentials

Bitcoin is a new frontier in the investing world. If you would like to learn more or get an objective opinion about how cryptocurrency could fit into your plan, check with a financial planner.

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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Is Gold a Better Investment than Stocks?

Is Gold A Better Investment Than Stocks?

Is gold a better investment than stocks?  Wendy asks, “I keep hearing ads advising us to sell our stocks and buy gold or silver. For an older investor, is this a valid point?” 

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Gold Better iNvestment than stocks

Is gold a better investment than stocks?  

Gold is one of the ultimate fear assets. When things go haywire in the markets, people tend to turn to gold because it’s a tangible asset, and it has value everywhere.

We’re dealing with the possibility of hyperinflation. If that happens, gold could do very well. Another shutdown could increase the fear level of investors. Gold could also do well in that case. There are periods of time, like early 2020, where gold really shined.

Fact or Myth? Gold is safer than stocks

You have a gold bar locked in the safe. You paid $1,500 dollars for it. Unless you pay attention to gold prices, you know you have a gold bar and it has value. You may not know how much it’s worth, but it’s going to be worth something to somebody.

If you pulled it out earlier this year and thought to yourself, “I wonder how much this is worth?”, you discovered it was worth $2,000. Then, you put it back in the safe until next year. The next time you think about the bar, it could be worth $1,500. It could be worth $1,200.

Gold has extreme fluctuations in value, just like stocks. Let’s look at the last 13 years.

  • 2013 -28%
  • 2014 -2%
  • 2015 -10%
  • 2018 -2%.

Over the same timeframe, stocks were down

  • 2008 -37%
  • 2018 -4%.

Over 13 years, gold lost money four times, and stocks were down twice.

If you look at the last 48 calendar years, gold experienced declines 18 times. Stocks fell 11 times.

Gold is not a “safer asset” than stocks.

Is gold better than stocks?

Here is a link to a good article called, Gold’s Romantic Delusion. There’s a graph in that article which shows $10,000 invested in gold in 1980 versus $10,000 invested in stocks. On July 31 2020, the gold would have been worth about $36,000. Stocks would have been worth $761,000.

Is Gold Better Than Stocks

Source: Gold’s Romantic Delusion by Andrew Hallam.  Click here for the full article

Is it a better asset than stocks for older clients, or any client for that matter? In our opinion, no. The numbers say the opposite. Gold isn’t a bad investment, but I wouldn’t own gold instead of stocks.

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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Is Doing Nothing The Right Thing To Do?

Is Doing Nothing the Right Thing to Do?

During a Bear Market, many investors are tempted to sell their stocks and move to cash.  Many financial advisors will tell them to sit tight, and ride out the storm.  Is “doing nothing” the right thing to do?  Today we’ll share some interesting data that shows that in the last market, doing nothing was better than panicking.

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is doing nothing the right thing

We’ve already been through a lot this year. And we’re still dealing with a lot. We have an election coming up in a few weeks. The Coronavirus is still part of our lives. There are questions about another major shutdown. And there are some concerns with all the government help that there is going to be hyperinflation. There are a lot of things that could cause another bear market.

Doing nothing

When we have major turmoil, people want to do something to protect their nest egg. In every bear market, we’ve had people call and ask if they should go to cash. Our answer has always been no. Sit tight right through any storm we encounter.

We believe you will be better off if you don’t make an emotional decision. Doing nothing is hard to do. In fact, it’s the second hardest thing to do as an investor.

Inevitably, we will have someone who can’t take it anymore and bail out. During the “dot com” bust and the Great Recession, we had clients who sold their stocks within a week of the market bottom after the damage was done.

Cash panickers

Is doing nothing the right choice? Recently, Vanguard did a study during the bear market this spring. They looked at over 31,700 accounts, both retirement plans, like 401(k)’s, and retail accounts. They found that 0.5% of those accounts panicked and moved to cash between the market high on February 19 and the end of May.

They looked at two things. They looked at the actual returns of those clients at three different points: March 31, April 30th, and May 31. And they compared those to the returns those clients would have realized if they had done nothing. Here’s what they found.

By the end of March, 56% of those clients who went to cash were in a better place than if they had done nothing. This means they had a higher balance than if they stayed invested.

The stock market rebounded very quickly. By the end of April, only one third of those clients were in a better place.

By the end of May, only 15% of those clients had a higher balance by going to cash. 85% of those clients who panicked would have had better results if they did nothing.

85% of those clients who panicked would have had better results if they did nothing.

Selling low...

Why is that? Most of them didn’t guess the correct time to move to cash. You have to make that decision very early in the process, so you don’t take part in the downturn. A good number of them went to cash after a significant amount of the damage was done.

When the market turned around and moved higher, they missed a great buying opportunity. They didn’t participate in the rebound. Essentially what they did was sell low and bought at higher prices. This is the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do.

Is doing nothing the right thing
is doing nothing the right thing
is doing nothing the right thing

The cost of being wrong

If you sell now thinking things are going to get bad, you have to be aware that they may not get as bad as you think. For example, let’s take the 2016 election. I woke up that morning and saw that Donald Trump won the election and immediately turned to CNBC. The futures that morning showed that the Dow Jones Industrial Average was in for a rough day. When I got to work I had two calls before the market opened. These clients were extremely concerned about what was going to happen in the stock market. They thought it was going to be ugly.

By the time the market opened, futures were positive. Over the next several months, we saw the stock market race higher. Had those clients gone to cash, they would have missed that rally.

If things do get as bad as you believe, you might be right for a while— just like the folks in the Vanguard study. But will you have the confidence to buy at lower prices?

Most people think things are going to get worse before they get better. Stocks are forward looking. The stock market will turn around long before the economy turns around. Stocks will begin to increase long before people believe things will get better. If doing nothing is the second hardest thing to do, then buying stocks in the middle of a bear market is the hardest.

Vanguard found only 9% of those 31,000 accounts bought more stocks during the bear market.

If you have to...

If you’re convinced you need to go to cash, do it early. Do it before things get worse. We’ve already seen a minor pullback. Don’t wait until things are down 20% or more to sell. And you need to have a plan to buy at lower prices. You must have courage to buy when things look like they’re going to get much worse.

If you can’t make the decision to do both of those things, then do nothing. Sit tight and ride out the storm.

is doing nothing the right thing
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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Ask a CFP Pro: What Happens to Stocks if President Trump Loses?

Ask a CFP® Pro: What Happens to Stocks if Trump Loses the Election?

What happens to stocks if President Trump loses the election?  We’ll tackle that one and six others on this week’s Ask a CFP® Pro show.  Scroll down for a timeline of this episode, some useful graphs, and the full transcript of today’s show.

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Episode Timeline

Today we talk about:
Here are the questions:
  • The money in my checking account isn’t earning anything, and I probably have too much in that account anyhow.  What can I do to earn a better return on my cash? (5:02) Click here to read

  • How will the Charles Schwab – TD Ameritrade Merger affect me? (9:31) Click here to read
  • If we are setting up a college account for a grandchild, do we have to open the account in the state in which they live? Can we set it up in Ohio even though they live in North Carolina? (11:28) Click here to read and for links

  • What are some of the things people with lower income, who are just getting started invest in? (13:41) Click here to read
  • How do you select dividend producing stocks? (17:03) Click here to read and for links

  • What happens to stocks if Trump loses the election? (20:45) Click here for pictures!

  • What is the best way to invest for retirement about 10 years before you retire?  Is it best to pay off your house before retirement? (23:59) Click here to read
What Happens to Stocks if Trump Loses the Election
what happens to stocks if trump loses the election

Transcript: What Happens if Trump Loses the Election?

The Stock Market in the first half (0:46)

The first half of the year has been absolutely crazy. It’s as crazy as we’ve seen in our careers. And we’ve been doing this for a couple days. We’ve been through the dot com bust. We went through the Great Recession and now we’re doing the whole coronavirus thing. And that was the big story that affected the economy, our lives and the stock market in the first half of the year.

A big drop…

The S&P 500 experienced a near 34% drop in 33 days, mid cap stocks dropped 42% and small cap stocks dropped 43%. And you would expect that for the year the stock market would be in a deep hole. Here are total returns through June 29th. The S&P 500, which are large-cap stocks, were only down about five and a half percent. Mid cap stocks, represented by the S&P 400, were down about 8% and the small cap stocks were down about 12.5%. 

A big bounce…

We’ve had a stunning rebound. The prices for the S&P 500 have rebounded over 36% in a little over three months. It’s not something that I can ever recall seeing by memory. But when I look back at some things, I found something somewhat interesting.

Stock market trump loses
Click to enlarge
Prior Recoveries at 98 Days

The dot com bust which happened In 2000-2003, lasted about two years to go from top to bottom, Prices dropped 50%. And if you look at the same 98 days following the bottom that we’ve done now, prices rebounded about 18% back in 2003. In order for that bear market to completely recover, it took about 56 months.

During the great recession in 2007 to 2009, the stock market dropped 57%. And it took about 18 months to get there. If you look at the 98 days that followed the bottom in 2009, stock prices recovered 36.5%—like they have this time. I found that interesting. The Great Recession did take about four years to recover from the bottom to a new high.

We’re not quite to a new high yet—we’re getting close. But, to me, it’s been amazing how quickly things have recovered in the stock market.

Trump loses election stock market
Click to enlarge

Relief for Required Minimum Distributions (3:07)

We’ve talked in the past about required minimum distributions. Those were waived for 2020. If you had taken your distribution in January, you were unable to return that money to your IRA as a rollover. Rollover rules state you must return any withdrawal within 60 days.

Last week, the IRS issued a ruling. It said any distribution taken in January or February can now be returned by the 31st of August.

A New Tax Deduction (3:44)

The next thing we want to talk about is something we missed in the CARES act. It wasn’t a real prominent thing. The act allows an “above the line” tax deduction for charitable contributions up to $300.

A few years ago when they passed the tax law, there was a new standard deduction. For couples, it’s $24,800, and for individuals, it’s $12,400. It made it nearly impossible for folks to itemize. If you can’t itemize your deductions, you cannot deduct your charitable contributions.

It’s estimated by the IRS that 90% of filers now claim the standard deduction. So you didn’t get any tax benefit for some of those contributions to charity.

Part of the CARES act creates this above the line deduction. This means it comes off the front page of your tax return. You don’t have to worry about itemizing.

You can take a tax deduction of up to $300. It’s not a lot, but something you find beneficial as we go forward.

What happens to stocks if trump loses the election

Question 1: How Can I Earn More on My Cash? (5:02)

The Question:  The money in my checking account isn’t earning anything. I probably have too much in that account anyhow. What can I do to earn a better return on my cash?

How much cash?

We have two issues here. The first is how much cash do you need to have on hand? And how can you improve the returns on the cash you do hold?

So “the how much cash” question to us comes down to time frames? What are you going to need cash wise in the next 24 months? Any significant expenses need to be in those safe cash-type assets. Because those accounts aren’t going to decrease in value.

This would include:

  • your emergency fund, which is three to six months of expenses,
  • any planned major expenses you have over the next two years. Things like a vacation. If you know you’re going to have major home repairs, or a car purchase.
  • Anything over $1,000 like insurance deductibles

Then after you cover those first two years, you can start looking at the next two to five years. That’s an area where you can reach for more return. But, you still want to have some stability in the value of those funds. You want to cover any planned expenses and some cushion for any unplanned costs you might incur.

Anything beyond five years, you can start investing for growth. And we talked about the five-year threshold. The reason for this is the last two bear markets. We talked about the dot com bust and the Great Recession. Both took between four to five years to completely recover. If we have a another significant pullback in stocks, you can expect to recover in that time frame.

Where should You invest?

Cash

Where should you hold your cash? That’s the second question. A bank account is the obvious place. One of the problems we’ve seen is interest rates were cut to near zero. Most of the local banks aren’t paying anything at all.

One of the things that we’ve done over the last several years is use some of the online banks. We’ve used Capital One for a long time.   But they’re not as competitive. Right now they’re paying about a half a percent on their savings account.

We’ve moved most of our accounts to Synchrony Bank, and they’re paying about 1.05%.  heir big competitor is Ally Bank who’s paying about 1.1%.

The interesting thing about these banks is all three of them are big credit card companies. They’re loaning money out at 18 plus percent. This allows them to pay you a little bit more. You would think they would pay you more than 1.1%.

You link those online banks to your local bank account. You’re able to transfer money back and forth via their website. But you have to be aware, there’s a two to three day lead time for most transfers. You’ll need to think ahead a little bit.

Intermediate Term Money (2-5 Years)

When you start talking about that two to five-year bucket, you could consider CD’s. But there’s not much with any returns out there. Many times we’re using short term bond funds. They can help push your yields towards 2%.

If you’re using an exchange traded fund, there are typically no transaction fees to buy or sell those. You can also use mutual funds, but we’ve run into some issues with some of those. Some funds have short term trading fees. This means if you need the money inside of 30 or 60 days, you may have to pay an extra to sell them. You have to be aware of that before you use them.

You could look at some bonds with longer maturities or even preferred stocks to boost yields. But that comes with a trade-off. That trade-off is price movement. Anything you do to reach for more return, you introduce more market value risk.

Long Term Money (5+ Years)

Beyond five years, you’re looking for growth assets. This means common stocks, preferred stocks, or even high yield or junk bonds. Because there’s more growth involved, and there’s also a lot more price volatility.

Question 2: The Schwab-TD Merger (9:31)

Will the Charles Schwab merger with TD Ameritrade affect me?

In the financial industry, this was big news. Schwab is the largest custodian and it is buying the second largest custodian. A custodian is a company who holds your investment positions and hold your accounts. They also execute trades. It’s an important relationship in the grand scheme of things.

At Fleming Watson, we do not have custody of our clients assets. We selected TD Ameritrade to do that when we did this back in 2016.

The deal will be closing later this year. The government did not object to the merger. And shareholders of both companies approved it. We’re being told it’s going to take somewhere between 18 and 36 months for most of the accounts to be transferred. We understand that there won’t be any new paperwork required.

How will this impact you? If your account is at TD Ameritrade, your statements will look different. If you check your account balances online, you’ll go to a different website. And if you have a retail account, you’ll have a whole new interface to get used to.

If your account is at Schwab, it probably won’t change much at all.

It will have a bigger impact on the advisors who use TD Ameritrade. We considered Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade along with Fidelity in 2016. We settled on TD Ameritrade because we felt they were the best fit for us.

Now, we’re going to be moving to Schwab, who was our second choice at the time. We have to get used to something completely different. It will impact how we do trades and other things with our custodian. But for our clients, it’s really not going to have a big impact.

Question 3: Which State's 529 Plan Do I Use? (11:28)

I’m setting up a college account for one of my grandchildren. Do I need to open the account in the state where they live? Or can I set it up in Ohio even though they live in North Carolina?

This refers to 529 savings plans. Those accounts have some tax benefits when the funds are used for education expenses. There are some tax benefits when you’re making contributions as well. That comes in the form of a state income tax deduction.

If you live in Ohio, you can deduct up to $4,000 of your contribution per beneficiary. And if you live in West Virginia, that amount is up to $15,000 per beneficiary per spouse. This means a couple can deduct up to $30,000 from their state income.

For more information on Ohio’s 529 Plan, Click Here

For more information on West Virginia’s 529 plan, Click Here.

If you would like information about another state’s 529 plan, please contact us.

You can use any state’s plan you want. It’s not like the old prepaid tuition plans. With those, you were buying the cost of a credit-hour at an Ohio institution. You would then redeem them as a credit hour going forward. Whatever you put in the account has cash value and whatever the value is, it is. That’s what you use to pay for those qualified educational expenses.

When you use those 529 accounts for qualified educational expenses, the distributions are not taxed.

Get your deduction

But here’s the deal. If you use another state’s plan, you don’t get to take the state income tax deduction—if you live in Ohio or West Virginia. If you live in Ohio and you use North Carolina’s plan, you miss out on the state income tax deduction. If you live in West Virginia and use Nebraska’s plan, you miss out on that current tax benefit as well.

But if you live in Ohio and use Ohio’s plan, you get to deduct your contribution against your state income. And if you live in West Virginia, and you use West Virginia’s plan, you get to deduct even more.

If you can get the current income tax deduction, use your state’s plan. If your kids want to set up their plan in another state and make contributions that’s fine, too. They’re not limited to how many 529 accounts you can have for a single beneficiary. But it makes sense that you get the tax benefit for making the contributions if you can.

Question 4: Getting started as an investor (13:41)

How can someone with a smaller income get started with investing?

Low Costs

This is an excellent question. I’m glad you’re thinking about doing something for your future. The good news is the costs to invest have come down a lot. We now live in a world where there are no commissions on stocks or ETFs. That means you can buy one share of a company and it won’t cost you any transaction fees.

Years ago, the cost to buy stocks was significant, maybe $200-$300 to buy 100 shares of stock. And when I started in 1996, I think we were charging probably somewhere between $75 and $150 for a stock trade. If you didn’t have a lot of money, it was difficult to start buying individual stocks. And if you wanted to buy an odd lot, which is something that is not divisible by 100, there were additional fees.

This is before a lot of things got highly computerized. Now everything is computerized. Now buying and selling a single share is no big deal. If you want to buy one share of something like Southwest Airlines, for example, it will cost you around $30 to $35.

The Challenges of Buying Individual Stocks or ETFs

Now, the downside to buying stocks and exchange traded funds is having enough to at least buy one share. If you were looking at something like Amazon, it’s trading over $2,600. To buy one share of Amazon, you still have to have $2,600. Netflix is over $450. Google is $1400. And even something like the exchange traded fund which tracks the S&P 500(SPY) trades for over $300 a share. You have to watch what you want to buy. If you only have $50, you’re not going to be able to buy shares of Amazon. You’re not even going to be able to buy a share of the SPY ETF.

Buying fractional shares is something that’s coming. And there are a few startups who are diving into this. But it isn’t mainstream yet. I’ve read where Schwab is investigating fractional shares. When that happens, you’ll be able to then buy fractional shares of something like Amazon. If you have $200, you’ll be able to buy a tenth of a share. 

Mutual Funds

This means you turn to the old handy-dandy mutual funds. You have no-load funds from Fidelity or Vanguard. If you have $50 a month, you can put that into an ultra-low cost fund. You can buy fractional shares with a mutual fund. You may only buy .526 shares this month.

There’s other online services like Robinhood and Betterment. They make it very easy to get started for very little cost. The good news is it’s never been easier or cheaper to invest in stocks and get started in investing for your future.

Question 5: Picking Dividend Payers (17:03)

How do you select dividend producing stocks?

Generally where I start is I look at the dividend aristocrats list. Their criteria comes down to two things. It’s got to be in the S&P 500. So that means it’s a very large company. And the company has grown their dividend for 25 consecutive years. Right now there are 66 companies who qualify.

Here’s the reason I like starting here. When companies who pay a good dividend reduce their payout, the impact on their share price is bad. In our experience, we’ve seen what happens when some of the drug companies cut their dividend. Their share price will drop a lot. People’s Bank is another example. Their dividend has been up and down through the years. And if they reduce their dividend, their price value has dropped significantly.

We like companies who at least have been able to maintain their dividends. We prefer companies who’ve been able to grow their dividends over time. From there, we generally start looking at the ones that pay a 2.5% to 3% yield or more. Owning that dividend that pays 1% isn’t quite as attractive. So we’ll trim that list of 66 down to those companies that are paying a little bit more.

The Next Step

Next, we look at the payout ratio. The payout ratio is how much is the dividend of that company’s profits. If a company is earning $2 per share in profit and they’re paying out $2.10 per share in dividends, that’s a real problem. It’s not something that you can maintain. If something happens that reduces earnings, they may not be able to maintain their dividend.

We generally like when the payout ratio is two-thirds of its earnings (or less). So if a company has $1 in earnings, we prefer they pay $.66 per share (or less) in dividends.

The other factors

Then we’ll look at some other subjective factors. How expensive is the stock relative to its earnings? What does the company do? Do we understand what the company’s doing and what’s happening in their industry? We want to understand what we own and we also want to make sure that we’re not paying too much for that stock.

We don’t exclude companies that are on that list. But if I’m asked to find some, that’s where I’m going to start.

Snow or rain, it’s all water. 

There’s one saying that, that stuck with me for a while, “Snow or rain, it’s all water.” Increases in value, are as good as dividends. It all benefits you in some way, shape or form. There are some good companies out there who have generated a lot of wealth, and they don’t pay a dividend. (Or if they do, the dividend is small.) We talked about Amazon earlier. Amazon is a perfect example of that. The return for Amazon over the last 30 years is astounding, and they’ve never paid a dividend.

You can generate income from your investments without dividend or interest payments. Systematic withdrawals have been around for years. We’ve used them for our clients for years.

Dividend paying stocks aren’t the end all-be all of investing. Some people like them. Sometimes dividend stocks, at least the reliable dividend payers, don’t have as much volatility. But you shouldn’t make that the only thing you want to do with your investment portfolio. Growth of principal is a good thing too.

Question 6: What Will Happen to Stocks if Trump Loses? (20:45)

If President Trump loses the upcoming election? What effect will this have on the stock market?

We like to steer clear of politics. We don’t want to get into who will win or lose. The election will happen this year, and you can’t hide from it. Depending on who you support, you’re going to feel differently about any answer we give to this question.

In general terms, most people would view republicans as more pro-business. They are a party that prefers less regulation and prefers lower taxes. And most people would categorize democrats as not as business-friendly. They prefer more regulation, and they’re not afraid to tax corporations.

You would think that the stock market would do better when a republican controls the White House. But there’s something interesting and surprising. The opposite of that is true.

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Looking at the numbers…

We went back to 1949— or 70 years—and started with Truman’s second term as President. We went through the end of last year. Here’s what we found. Using calendar years, the average total return for the stock market when a democrat was in the White House is 14.4% per year. The average total return for the stock market when a Republican was in the White House is 8.8% per year.

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Does that mean the stock market will do better under Joe Biden than it will for Donald Trump? Nobody knows. Whoever takes over in January 2021 is going to be dealing with a lot of interesting things. We still have this Coronavirus thing hanging over our heads. The economy is a long, long way from recovering. It could be a difficult situation for whoever’s in charge.

There’s nothing that says if Biden wins, the stock market’s going to do great. And nothing says if Trump wins, the stock market’s going to do great. Nothing in these numbers should be taken as a forecast for the future.

I don’t know if the stock market cares who occupies the White House. It does well under both parties. Companies find ways to make money no matter who’s in charge. I wouldn’t sell because Joe Biden wins. And, I wouldn’t sell if Trump wins reelection either. Find good companies, have a long term outlook when you buy stocks, and things will have a tendency to work out over time.

Question 7: 10 Years Until Retirement. What should we do? (23:59)

We want to retire in about 10 years. What’s the best way to prepare for that. And is it best or is it a smart move to go ahead and pay off our house before retiring?

Still in growth mode

If you’re 10 years away from retirement, you still should be in growth mode. This means you’re more heavily invested in stocks. You’re looking to pursue higher returns.

Over the next decade, bonds aren’t going to help you a whole lot. You’re looking at 1% to 2% returns going forward based on current yields.

If there is a major downturn in the stock market, you have some time to recover from that. Even though we’re not out of this bear market yet, there could be another one in the future. You’re still going to be able to recover. If we do have that downturn again, it becomes a great buying opportunity. You may never find prices that low again.

Volatility shouldn’t be a significant concern at this point. As you get closer, when you’re five years away, that story may change. But, right now, you still have the ability to enjoy those compounded returns. If you can save and invest for higher returns, it should pay off for you in the long term.

I wouldn’t have any problems being 100% invested in stocks for the next four or five years, if I were you. I think the benefits will outweigh the long term risk. It could be tough to do. When you have those volatile times, nobody likes to see their balances go down. But again, I think the growth will be significant for you.

Eliminate Debt

Should you pay off your house before you retire? If you can do so in a reasonable fashion? Absolutely—yes! In fact, you should try to have all your debts paid off by the time you retire. That means car payments, your mortgage, and credit card debts. The fewer expenses you have, the better your retirement is going to be.

Retirement is all about cash flow. In our experience, the biggest reason people run out of money is because they spend too much. And debt payments are a form of spending. So the more you spend to pay debts, the less you have to do other things. Or it could mean you have to take more money from your nest egg than you should.

Eliminating debt can be a huge boost to your retirement plans as a whole.

Here are some other things that you want to do

Know your Social Security numbers…

Get your Social Security earnings record and benefit estimates. This is going to be a key component in helping you plan for retirement. It will help you make good decisions about when to start your Social Security benefits. And for most of us, it’s still a key part of our income.

Get organized

Get things organized. Understand where all your accounts are and how they’re invested. This allows you to create a better plan.

What does retirement look like?

It’s too soon to do detailed budgeting. But at the same time, you can start thinking about what your retirement is going to look like. You can think about what you want to do in retirement. Then you can see how much it will cost.

Health insurance

Have a good idea of what your health insurance is going to be if you’re going to retire before age 65. This is huge. If you have to go out and buy your own health insurance, that’s a big expense that you’re going to incur. You want to know what that’s going to be because it will have an impact on the numbers.

Work on your current cash flow:

The last thing that I would suggest is get your current cash flow situation in order. Know where your money’s going. Know how you’re spending it. If you can rearrange things to focus more on saving and eliminating debt, you’ll be glad you did. You have to make those things a priority. When you do that, you’ll have some flexibility and freedom in your retirement.

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Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Is the 4 Percent Rule Dead?

Is the 4 Percent Rule Dead?

Over the past two weeks, we’ve discussed expected future returns for both stocks and bonds. Several experts feel the future results will be much lower than historical averages. So that makes us wonder, “Is the 4 percent rule dead?”

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Lower expected future returns for both stocks and bonds can affect your retirement. Many “experts” expect stocks to produce below-average returns over the next decade. They forecast somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.5% per year. They also expect lower returns from bonds—somewhere between 1 and 2 % per year.

Lower Future Returns and the 4 Percent Rule

If these lower returns happen, it can create a major challenge for retirees. If these predictions hold, a well-balanced portfolio would earn somewhere between 4% and 5% per year.

Is the 4 percent rule dead

For the past 20 years or so, we’ve been big believers in the 4% rule for generating retirement income. This rules says you can take 4% of your retirement savings as income. So if you have a $500,000 nest egg, that translates to $20,000 per year or $1,666 per month.

Why Do We Believe in The 4 Percent Rule?

We use this guideline because it reduces the risk of running out of money during your lifetime. This has been back-tested during some of the biggest bear markets, and it has a high rate of success.

When you use historical return data, you can see why. Historical data shows a 60% stock-40% bond portfolio should grow by about 7% per year. So if you only take 4%, you would expect your account to grow by 3% per year. That’s enough to help your income grow each year to maintain your purchasing power.

What if Returns are Lower?

But what happens if the experts are right? What if those returns are less than average? Does the 4% rule still work?

In theory, if you earn at least 4% per year, you can take that much income and still maintain your principal. But there are a couple of things that come to mind. First, your odds of success will decrease a little. And, your ability to grow your principal to grow your income is also limited.

The second thing: what if you need to take more than 4% from your savings?  A lower return environment going forward means you will increase the risk of running out of money during your lifetime.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Financial planners always talk about balancing risks and rewards. And the amount of income you take from your retirement savings is a perfect example. The 4% rule is simply a guideline to help you think about that risk. And even with lower returns expected in the future, it still has merit.

No matter what future returns are, one thing remains true. The higher your withdrawal rate, the more you risk running out of money. If you are unsure of how this impacts you, talk to a financial planner.

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What if Future Stock Returns Are Lower?

What If Future Stock Returns Are Lower?

How many times have you heard this, “The long term average return of the stock market is 10% per year”?  What if future returns for the stock market are less than average?  How would that impact your retirement?

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What if....

One of the things we all set out to do is use our retirement savings to create income. That income has to last as long as we do, and it needs to grow over time to keep up with inflation. Historically speaking, owning stocks has been the best way to help us do that.

Future returns using historical data

A lot of people create retirement projections using historical return data. They might use 10% for stocks and 4% or so for bonds. In that scenario, you should expect an account with 60% stocks and 40% bonds to earn 7.6% per year. A 50/50 mix should earn 7%. A more conservative 40% stock, 60% bond mix should earn 6.4%.

What if future stock returns are lower?

But what if over the next decade, stock returns were well below historical averages? Say only 6.5%? How does that impact how you plan?

Now that 60% stock, 40% bond portfolio would only have an expected 5.5% return. The 50/50 portfolio projects to earn 5.25% and the 40% stock 60% bond mix earns 5%.

That changes things quite a bit when you start looking at the income you can take and the risks of running out of money.

How likely are lower future returns?

Companies like Charles Schwab, BlackRock, and Vanguard all believe future stock returns will be below the historical averages.

Schwab believes future stock market returns over the next decade will be around 6.3%. Vanguard believes the returns will be similar at 6.5%. BlackRock projects 6.9%. 

Of course, they could all be wrong. Returns from stocks could be closer to the long-term numbers. But, you need to prepare for the possibility they are correct. And you also have to realize their guess about the future could also be too optimistic.

By and large, I’m an optimist. I expect stocks to act like stocks. But as a planner, it is important to prepared for something like this, especially if you are nearing retirement or just recently retired.

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Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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Is The Bear Market Over?

Is the Bear Market Over?

On March 23, the S&P 500 closed 34% lower than it’s all time high. Since then, we’ve seen prices rebound nearly 27%. It has many people wondering,  “Is the bear market is over?” Today we’ll pose 4 questions that will help us determine if the new bull market has started.

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From February 1 to March 23 we saw the stock market reach bear market levels at a rapid pace. It was enough to rattle even the most disciplined investor. Since then, we have seen prices race higher. The gain has been roughly 27%. It has us all wondering, “Is the bear market over”

Bear Market Over - prices

Today the official answer is “maybe.” In my view, there are still 4 questions which need answered before we know if it is “officially over” or not

1. Has the Market Priced in the Bad News?

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The stock market is forward-looking—to a point. The price movements factor in a lot of projections about economic and earnings data. But how do you project something this extreme and unprecedented? We’ve never seen the economy forced to an almost immediate halt before now.

2. How Bad Will The Data Be?

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Standard and Poors projects earnings for the companies in the S&P 500 Index. Their most recent data shows an 18% reduction in profits for the first quarter of 2020. And that number was lowered from a week ago.  How much will the actual numbers differ from those estimates?

Gross Domestic Product—that’s the value of output from an economy—will almost certainly be worse this quarter. But how much worse? Some predict the worst quarter since the Great Depression. Will it be that bad?

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3. How Will Investors React?

Is the bear market over

As a group, investors rarely react the right amount. There is a tendency to overreact on both extremes. In the dot-com era, we saw prices pushed irrationally higher. You could argue prices fell too far during the Great Recession too. How will people react this time?

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4. How Long Do We Suppress The Economy?

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The longer we keep the economy in an induced coma, the longer it will take to revive it. When do we reach the point where there is significant long-term damage to our economy? This may be the most important question to answer.

The End of the Bear Market

The bottom of this bear market could have been on March 23. If it was, we can celebrate—we are on our way to recovery. But we need to brace for the idea the worst of this downturn is yet to come. The market could drop further. If the data is worse than expected, it could drop a lot further.

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The Best Reason To Not Sell Your Stocks Now

The Best Reason To Not Sell Your Stocks Now

If you haven’t sold your stocks at this point, you may not want to.  Sure, the market could drop further. But selling now could be a big mistake.  Today, I’ll share the best reason to not sell your stocks now.  (read more below)

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Why Sell Now?

The sole reason to sell stocks at this point is to keep your balance from shrinking further. We never truly know (in advance) where the bottom is. And we may not have seen the bottom of this bear market yet. 

Not Sell Your Stocks Best Reason
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But selling at this point could end up being a big mistake. Here is the best reason to not sell your stocks now.

Bear Market Math

The foundation of our reason is rooted in what we’ll call bear market math. How much return do you have to earn to recover all that was lost during the downturn?

The Best Reason To Not Sell Your Stocks
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Let’s say the market only dropped 20%.  To erase the losses, you would have to earn 25%.

Right now, the current bottom of this bear market is about 34% lower than the all-time high. From that point, you have to earn 51% to erase the losses.

And if this bear turns uglier and drops say 50% from its February high, you’ll have to earn a 100% return to break even

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"Safe Assets" Offer Very Low Returns

Selling those stock holdings now and moving to the so-called safe assets can be a big problem.  In today’s environment, the potential future returns for those types of investments are very low. You might find a 6 month CD with a yield of 1%. 12 month CD’s are only slightly better. And we all know most of our savings accounts don’t even pay that much. Those low returns make recovering your losses very difficult—if not impossible.

And those prospects look even worse when you consider what happens to the shares of those companies immediately following the bottom of a bear market.

Catching the Rebound

This is our 15th bear market since the end of World War 2.  Here’s what happened following the bottom of the bear markets:

Click the graphs to enlarge

  • The average price increase 1 month after the bottom was almost 31%.
  • When we look 6 months out from the bottom, the average price gain was nearly 26%.
  • 12 months after the low point, the average price increase was 39%.
  • And 2 years after a bear market bottom, the average price increase was nearly 60%.  

And remember, this is only price increases.  It doesn’t factor in the additional returns from dividends!

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It Happens Early...

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This is interesting.  Prices one month from the bottom were higher than they were 6 months later in every single recovery.  A major portion of the recovery happens very early.  Missing out on that could have a significant impact on your future.

These gains may not have erased all the losses in any of those bear markets. But the surge immediately following the bottom helped those who stayed invested–even if their accounts fell further—recover a lot faster than if they moved to “safer havens.” And this is the best reason to not sell your stocks now.

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Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.  This is now his 5th bear market.  Unfortunately, it won’t be his last.

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Should I Rebalance My Accounts?

Should I Rebalance My Accounts?

With the stock market down over 30%, should I rebalance my accounts? This was a question I received recently. We’ll explain what rebalancing is and why it’s a good idea. (Read more below)

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David sent me an email, and he asked, “With the stock market down over 30%, should I rebalance my account?” This is a great topic and a central part of many investment strategies.

What Is Rebalancing?

First, let’s talk about what “rebalancing” is. Many people believe you should diversify your account. You put a portion in stocks, some in bonds, and some in cash. This is your asset allocation.

As things happen in the world around us, that mix changes. Stocks will typically grow at a faster pace than bonds, even though it doesn’t seem like that right now. If you don’t make changes from time-to-time, you will find you have a bigger percentage of your mix in stocks.

Should I Rebalance my Account
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Rebalancing is a non-emotional choice—and that’s important—to sell investments that have done well. Then you buy other types of investments. It is rooted in one of the most basic investing concepts: buy low, sell high.

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You can rebalance to reduce risk

Most people talk about rebalancing as something to do after good times. It’s a way to reduce the risk in your account. If the percentage invested in stocks gets too high, the risk from a bear market increases. Rebalancing sells those stock positions—at higher prices—and puts the proceeds in things with less risk.

Rebalance My Account Bear Market Impact
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Rebalance after big drops, too!

But it also works on the other side. Now that stock prices have dropped over 30%, your allocation has also changed. You have less invested in stocks than you did before this all happened. So if you rebalance now, you’re doing what? Selling other investments to buy stocks at lower prices.

Bear Market Should I Rebalance My Account
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Bear markets are tough on all of us.  You can talk to a Certified Financial Planner to discuss your situation.  

The decision to rebalance is about math

This is a “non-emotional choice.” It should have nothing to do with what is going on in the world around us. The decision is based strictly on the numbers.

Should i Rebalance My Account Emotional Bear Markets
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Here’s what I mean. Your target mix is to have 50% in stocks and 50% in bonds. But after a few good years, the stock part is now 57%, and bonds are 43%. You sell the 7% and put it in bonds, to rebalance the account.

Should I Rebalance - Rebalance in good times
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The same thing applies now, except maybe it’s the other way around. You have 57% in bonds. So you move that 7% back to stocks because the numbers say so.  And when the stock market recovers, you’ll have more working for you.

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Should you rebalance your accounts?

In general terms, it is a really good idea. And if the market falls even further. Do it again. Doing so could help your accounts potentially recover faster.

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(Please note, any investment decisions need to consider all relevant factors in your life. Any rates of return shown are for illustrative purposes only.  They do not represent an actual investment.  This also is not a prediction of future events. If you aren’t sure, please consult a financial planner you know and trust)

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Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors  This is now the 5th bear market he has experienced. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be his last.  

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