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Division of Labor

By | 2013, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Over the years the financial roles of men and women have transformed. In the 1700s, men handled financial matters and women had little insight on finances. Today men and women generally view family finances as a joint effort.

While it makes sense to share responsibilities in a family, it is critical that each person have defined roles. Otherwise, some things will be done twice while others will never get done. The consequences of missing payments for bills can be costly over time. This is why we encourage defined roles.

One spouse may handle the household budget and day-to-day spending while the other may focus on long-term, big-picture finances such as retirement planning and investing. This divide-and-conquer approach works well.

No matter how it is done, it is important that participants have a clear understanding of all financial aspects that impact them and their families. Here are some guides to help in your joint planning:

Couple

The big picture
Together, create an inventory of all financial assets, liquid and non-liquid. This is valuable in two ways. First, your spouse will have a clear understanding of the financial assets that determine your net worth. Second, there is a list to rely on should something happen and the designated spouse is no longer able to handle that portion of the finances.

The list should include all relevant information such as: the type of asset, who owns it, where it is held, who the beneficiary is, and who can be contacted for more information. Is there a login and password?

Creating a list of other assets is also important. These assets are not liquid but are part of your net worth and hold a great value.

Financial_assets

Day-to-day finances
Managing the monthly finances is not an easy task. It requires more time and often juggling of financial resources. Sometimes the spouse who handles the big picture is not aware of the challenges faced each month. Communicating on a regular basis helps keep each spouse informed and allows them to participate in resolving short-term financial issues.

Together, create a written spending plan. This helps both spouses see how the monthly cash flow is prioritized. Working together in this exercise will help you focus on your joint short-term and long-term goals. The spending plan should address:

  • All sources of monthly income
  • Saving and investment contributions
  • Non-discretionary expenses: mortgage, utilities, food, car, gas, and other necessities
  • Discretionary expenses: gifts, cell phones, personal-care items, etc. (This list is general and not intended to be all- inclusive.)

The division of labor is a valuable arrangement that helps couples balance time and resources. Though divided in responsibility, it is important to stay united and informed on the objectives. An uninformed spouse may face a great deal of frustration at a time when he or she may not be emotionally ready. For more information on creating an asset list and spending plan, contact one of the Smedley Financial wealth managers at (801)355-8888.

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Shutdown Showdown Can’t Sink Stocks

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In October, the U.S. Government operated under a partial shutdown for 16 days. During that time only those federal employees determined to be essential were working. Up to 850,000 federal workers were sent home to wait for an agreement between Democrats and Republicans. National parks were closed. Economic reports were delayed. Consumers were worried. Investors were . . . optimistic?

From October 1st – October 16th, the time period when the federal government was shutdown, the S&P 500 gained 2.38 percent. This was a shockingly positive outcome in what might have been viewed as a dire financial situation. Let’s put the number in perspective. If it were somehow possible for the stock market to continue at that 2.38 percent rate for an entire year, the annual return would be 63 percent. We all know that would be absolutely crazy and it raises some questions.

Why is it important to look at the impact now that the shutdown is over? The current law, passed on October 16th, only keeps the government running until January 15, 2014. In other words, another shutdown could be right around the corner. (The debt limit is expected to be reached on February 7, 2014.)

Why were investors feeling so good during the shutdown? The main reason is likely to be that Wall Street always assumed that the shutdown would be temporary. Eventually politicians would come to an agreement. According to the Washington Post there were similar halts in government services in 1995, 1990, 1987, 1986, 1984, 1983, 1982, and 1981.

Did the shutdown save the government money? This one is simple: no. In fact, it cost extra. Furloughed workers were given pay for every day they did not work. That added up to around $2 billion. For example, national park employees were paid even though there was no revenue from visitors. Zions National Park in Utah missed out on approximately 72,000 visitors during the first ten days of closure.

Local governments also took a hit, Utah in particular. The state agreed to send $1.67 million to the federal government to reopen national parks inside the state. It was worth it since the local communities estimated revenue of over $100 million in areas around these parks. As of the time this article was written, the federal government had not paid back the state.

How did consumers react to the halt? Consumer confidence dropped significantly during the shutdown. However, they did not put their money where their mouth was. According to Thomson Reuters, retail sales increased by 3.7 percent in October (compared to October 2012). That would normally be considered good. In light of the shutdown, 3.7 percent seems strong.

Did the shutdown hurt the economy? The overall cost of the shutdown to the U.S. economy has been estimated at $24 billion (source: Standard & Poor’s). How bad is that? It is a little more than one tenth of one percent of GDP—just enough to show up in the numbers when quarterly annualized numbers get reported. However, the long term impact on economic opportunity seems muted. The energy renaissance in the United States continues. Consumers kept spending in October on homes, cars, iPhones, and whatever else they needed. They are likely to do the same in November and on into the future. All these will help job creation to continue just as it has all year.

Will we have another shutdown? The most likely answer is yes. Hopefully it does not happen in 2014. The political fallout alone may be incentive enough to avoid a February shutdown. Recent history tells us that the market will expect a deal and consumers will keep spending no matter what. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that while the possibility of another
shutdown is scary, a short shutdown may not be as negative in the long term to investors. Of course, there is no guarantee.

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Obamacare Medical Costs on the Rise

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There is no shortage of controversy surrounding Obamacare. Apparently there is also much confusion around its name. Jimmy Kimmel, the late night comedian, proved that people don’t have their facts straight. He had a camera crew ask people on Hollywood Boulevard which they liked better: Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. One woman explained that Obamacare has “a lot of holes in it, and I think it needs to be revamped.” The same woman felt that “the Affordable Care Act is better.” She wasn’t the only one. Most people had similar opinions. Just to clear up any misconception, they are one in the same.

One thing that is certain is many Americans will have their medical insurance costs increase this next year. This is largely due to medical carriers revamping their plans to be in compliance with the new law.

Forbes reports that 41 states will experience premium hikes. In Utah, individual-market premiums are expected to increase by 24%.1

Average_Age

In one case, a single mother with 5 children had the cost of insurance increase from $827 per month to $1045. That is a 26% increase for one year.2

Seniors may also be indirectly impacted by the new law, which imposes spending cuts by reducing payments to hospitals and doctors, while increasing incentives for more efficient care. Supporters say this will strengthen the Medicare program in the long-term. Opponents say that seniors in Medicare will find it harder to access their benefits because more doctors are refusing to treat Medicare patients.3

The silver lining to all of this is that 30 million Americans will now have access to health care, and
many of those will be eligible for subsidies.

To see if you may be eligible for a subsidy, go to the calculator at http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/.

If you are eligible for a subsidy, you will need to apply for insurance through an exchange. When an exchange determines that a person is eligible for a tax credit based on expected income, subsidies will be paid directly to insurers to lower the cost of premiums.

Consumers purchasing insurance through an exchange “can pick from four levels of coverage, from bronze to platinum, with the greatest differences appearing in cost sharing features such as annual deductibles and copayments. Bronze covers 60 percent of expected costs; silver covers 70 percent; gold covers 80 percent; and platinum covers 90 percent.”4

After subtracting subsidies, a 27-year old in Salt Lake City earning $25,000 per year would expect to pay $95 a month if he chooses the bronze plan. A family of four in Salt Lake City with an income of $50,000 per year would expect to pay $122 per month for the bronze plan.5

The bottom line is that health care subsidies will be beneficial for low-wage and middle-income families. If you make too much to qualify for subsidies or if you are covered by an employer plan, most likely your premiums are going to increase. As the Supreme Court said, this increase is a “tax.” Make sure to plan those increased “tax” expenses in your monthly budget.

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The Federal Reserve Will Soon End its Easy Money Stimulus

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When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, all lending essential stopped. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) feared that all five investment banks in this country would cease to exist. No one fully understood the financial calamity coming, but we were beginning to feel what the worst recession in 80 years would be like.

The Fed acted to stop the financial infrastructure from imploding. It believed cushioning the blow was necessary to help all Americans. It started the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It added to that program over the years with Quantitative Easing (QE) one, two, and three.

Recent years may not have felt like easy money to us, but there is likely no organization more profitable in recent years than the Fed.

The Fed doesn’t literally print money (a responsibility of the U.S. Treasury). It doesn’t have to. Money is created electronically by the Fed and infused into the financial system through open market actions. Its effectiveness is questionable. Its impact is global. And at some time soon it may be ending.

What Is the Fed’s Impact?

Currently, the Fed is spending roughly $85 billion each month to buy treasury bonds in order to keep long term interest rates at historically low levels. The goal is to encourage risk taking. The Fed wants banks to lend, businesses to hire, and consumers to borrow.

If you have purchased a home, refinanced a loan, or bought a car with debt, then you have benefited from these unprecedented efforts of the Fed.

All this money the Fed is creating seems to be working to a small degree. The U.S. stock market* is on track for its fourth positive year in the last five. If you have invested in stocks or bonds consistently during this time, you have probably benefited from the Fed’s actions. Experts have been debating how well the Fed’s historic efforts have worked. One theory is that each time the Fed spends, it has less positive impact than the previous effort. This would explain the lackluster growth in the economy.

Why Is the Fed Still Involved?

Simply stated, the benefits still appear to outweigh the risks.

Low interest rates are meant to be enablers for businesses and consumers to increase borrowing. If the debt gets out of hand, then we will be facing similar problems to those that got us into this mess.

If spending and demand increase too much, then inflation could rise to levels considered too high for a developed economy (greater than 4 percent). At that point, the Fed will have to react to try to slow down the economy even if it means job losses.

At this point, official inflation is tame and private debt levels do not appear inflated like in 2007.

As long as the risks appear low and unemployment is above 7 percent, the Fed is likely to keep spending.

What Will Happen When the Fed Slows Stimulus?

Interest rates will rise from the unusual levels where they currently are to a more natural rate determined by investors. We experienced a taste of what this will feel like this spring and summer. Rates on the 10 year treasury almost doubled in just a few months. Investors saw an increase in volatility.

Where Is the Silver Lining?

Don’t fight the Fed is a common phrase for investors. The Fed is powerful and it is working for what it believes is best for Americans. It plans to cut stimulus only after it determines that the U.S. economy is strong. If rates rise that should bring better yields for savers.

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The Ultimate Marathon: Retirement

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Top notch athletes have something in common. Each possesses a strong commitment to endure to the end. Marathon runners spend countless hours working towards a single goal–completing the 26.2 mile run at marathon pace. When accomplished, many begin preparing for the next marathon.

Richard J. Carling personifies a top notch marathon competitor. He began running at age 39, for health reasons, and at age 75 he’s still going strong.  He runs four marathons every year.

In October, Richard will be running in the St. George Marathon, his 145th marathon. I asked Richard how he got started. He said, “Before I started running, I didn’t think I needed a plan to stay healthy, I thought I was fine.” After his health scare he was told he needed to do something and running was recommended. Now he has a plan and a strategy, which he follows to stay healthy and compete in marathons.

A runner’s journey begins with an assessment. Fitness level, personal needs, and race terrain become the basis on which their training program is built. If these areas are not addressed, the runner will have little chance of reaching the goal. For instance, someone with a physical ailment must take precautions to protect themselves from injury. Someone who will be competing at a high elevation, like the Colorado Rockies, must do more than train at sea level. The key is that each training plan is very personalized to the athlete and the goal.

Planning for retirement begins much the same way. First you must determine what it is you want to accomplish. Is your desire to retire at a certain age, or is it more important to maintain a certain standard of living throughout retirement? Once you’ve made your decisions, there must be a strong commitment to reach those goals.

Self-assessment is important when building your plan. If this step is missed, you may find that you are not able to stick to your long-term plan. Think about this, if you invest in something with considerable volatility when emotionally you can tolerate little risk, you are more likely to abandon your plan. On the other hand, you will be disappointed and fall short of your goal if you were expecting market returns over many years but were invested too conservatively.

If you want to run for a lifetime, as Richard has, he says, “You must stay within your limits. This will help keep you healthy and prevent injuries.” Consistency is important. Richard runs 8 miles each weekday and tries to get 20 miles in on Saturday. He says, “If you over train or push yourself too hard, you will have to make adjustments that can set you back in your training.”

Marathon runners, in general, train by running long distances to increase stamina and endurance. They are not running sprints to get ready for the race, nor will they be sprinting during the race. The distance of each run is carefully planned out so that they peak on the day of the marathon.

This same practice is applied to retirement planning. Your plan must be well thought out. What types of investments will best help you reach your goals? My guess is that there will be some investments that are more conservative to provide for your needs as you begin retirement. From there the investment risk may increase based on when the assets will be converted into income. While this may seem obvious, many miss this point entirely. Their plan becomes fluid and investments are made based on the heat of the moment; the well thought out plan is abandoned. Market timing becomes the basis of the investment plan.

Dalbar Inc. released a study on March 26, 2013, regarding investor behavior. The study reveals how emotional, short-term decisions have stunted the performance of equity investors.  In a nutshell, the study shows that over the past 20 years, investors have under performed the market by an average of 3.96 percent per year. When compounded over 20 years, the difference becomes a chasm separating you from your dreams.

The gap in returns can be attributed to bad investment habits. The most common error is chasing performance by purchasing the hottest investments. In other words, investors are often their own Achilles heel.

Endurance, both physical and mental, is essential to a marathon runner. Without it an athlete would fall victim to the overwhelming urge to quit. During the 26.2 miles, the runner’s courage and determination are tested. When asked how he’s able to run such long distances, Richard says, “Everyone hits a wall at around 20 miles. At that point it’s all mental. You don’t worry about the past or the future. You stick with your plan. If you get excited and try to push too hard you’ll crash.” In order to endure, the will must remain stronger than the body.

Along the path to retirement there will be many obstacles. The endurance test will be a matter of commitment and will. If your plan is well thought out, market volatility in the short-term should have little impact on the long-term results of the plan.

If you are committed to following your plan and have the will to succeed, you can protect yourself from financial elements that arise. If you understand that taking a large distribution at the wrong time will jeopardize your plan, you will be less likely to make bad loans to others.

After completing the St. George Marathon, Richard looks forward to running the Honolulu Marathon and then the Boston Marathon where he is 10th overall for running the most consecutive marathons. While he is always focused on the race at hand, when that race is completed, he is looking forward and mapping out a plan for his next race. Go Richard!

Getting to retirement is just one step in the long-term retirement plan. Making sure that your assets allow you to continue your lifestyle throughout your retirement years requires additional sophisticated planning. There will be a whole new set of financial elements, and adjustments may be necessary for this part of the race.

Your plan to access your income must address a different set of personal needs. Those that will require continued commitment in an effort to reach the ultimate goal– financial security in retirement.

 

*The S&P 500 is an index often used to represent the market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Data provided by Dalbar Inc.

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If You Think Financial Planning is Expensive, Try Ignorance

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Dear Valued Clients and Friends,

The poor don’t have a monopoly on uninformed financial decisions. Some years ago I was invited to make a presentation to a group at a country club. I passed a clipboard around and asked each participant to write down how much money he or she had lost through poor decisions. After recording the lost amounts, I asked each person to fold the paper over, thus covering his or her answer, and pass the clip board to the next person.

After the clipboard had been passed around the room, I added the losses. Before revealing the group’s cumulative loss, I expected the amount to be in the tens of thousands or, perhaps, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Boy was I wrong. The total cumulative loss was in the millions of dollars!

We routinely find people who have made poor or uninformed financial choices. Assuming you know the smarter choices and rules regarding money, or assuming that something is not a scam, can be disastrous—not only affecting you, but also your spouse and future generations!

You’ve worked hard to accumulate your nest egg. We believe you have to work twice as hard to protect it so that it will last as long as you do. How do you do this? By avoiding unnecessary risk. No one cares, works harder, or stands to benefit more from your financial decisions than you and your posterity.

Prudent planning, especially at key turning points in your life will help you realize the full benefit of your financial choices. But through unwise choices, without a financial guide, you will encounter pitfalls that may turn into serious consequences and losses.

Making a choice is one thing, but is it the best choice for you? We’ve seen clients in tears because they have acted without talking to us first. Making your money last as long as you do requires sophisticated planning. It is both an art and a science. Let us help you determine your financial destiny. It’s a free call and consultation.

Bullish Best Wishes,

Roger M. Smedley, CFP®President

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College Education – A New Path

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What’s happening to the college experience in America? It’s changing. Not because of the campus environment, but rather because of the financial burden that faces today’s students.

The cost of obtaining a college degree continues to grow at a rapid pace. So, does college still pay off? The answer is yes! However, the path taken to obtain a degree has changed from the traditional route.

Students are getting savvy about spending more for their degree. Reducing costs is a major concern. As a result, many high school graduates are starting their college experience at the local community college. They receive the same level of basic education at a fraction of the cost compared to a private institution. Once the basics are covered, they transfer to their college of choice.

Why pay more to go out of state or to attend an Ivy League? In-state colleges offer a wide variety of academic majors and activities to create a great campus experience. The in-state tuition advantage makes going to these colleges a great investment. In addition, cost conscious students are willing to live at home while going to college. This way they can save on room and board as well as the cost of food.

Technology has had a major impact on college education—not only in the classroom but also as an educational avenue. Some students are opting to take college courses online. Recorded lectures and study materials permit them to attend class at their convenience. This flexibility offers students the opportunity to work and attend college at the same time. For many, technology makes what used to seem impossible, possible.

Many have given up on the traditional college education and are looking for a trade specific education, something that requires less time, a lower financial outlay, and the opportunity to get started in a career while completing required courses.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to education, that students are making the rules based on their individual needs and financial resources.

The focus on various degrees is also changing. Choosing a degree has a significant impact on one’s lifetime earning ability. Those obtaining engineering degrees have the potential to secure higher paying jobs throughout their lifetime than those with literature or education degrees. This being said, it’s important to note that just having a four-year degree, regardless of the field of study, gives students an upper hand when it comes to lifetime earnings. Many employers are not fixated on a specific degree. They believe they can train an employee in the areas they need. However, employers view a college degree as a definite advantage. Typically, these employees know how to manage their time and resources, research information, and solve problems, making them valuable employees.

Regardless of the form of education, the payoff in lifetime earning ability is huge and increasing.

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“The Most Powerful Force in the Universe”

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Those who understand interest, receive it. Those who don’t, pay it. As investors, we believe this and we strive to go one step further. We seek to get paid interest on our interest. We call this compounding interest.

Albert Einstein called compounding interest “the most powerful force in the universe” and “the eighth wonder of the world.”

It is this mathematical force that has driven the Dow Jones Index to new highs and to over 15,000 this year.

Like everything in life there is a catch. It takes time to achieve compounding interest and it involves uncertainty.

Time

One of the first questions we ask investors is “What is your time horizon?” In other words, “When do you plan to spend this money?”

This is critical because it may take some time to realize the benefits of compounding interest. On June 30, 1993 the S&P 500 was at 450. Fast forward one year and the return was negative 1 percent. Move forward ten years and the total return was 116 percent. Twenty years later, in 2013, the total return was 256 percent!

It pays to be patient with investments. It pays to keep a long-term perspective.

Uncertainty

The stock and bond markets do not travel in straight lines.  There are days when they rise and there are days when they fall. If we don’t accept the uncertainty, then why would we expect to receive a reward.

As investors, we must accept some risk and we believe that over long periods of time, these markets will reward us.

In the last 50 years, the S&P 500 has gained 2,215 percent. Despite this fact, the market was positive only 42 percent of the months. That sounds like a frightening outcome, but the average return for all months was still a positive 0.6 percent.

The good news is that the longer the time period, the more likely an investor is to achieve growth. Positive returns occurred in 53 percent of the years, in 60 percent of 5-year periods, in 80 percent of 10-year periods, and in 100 percent of 20-year periods.

What can we expect in the future?

I believe there is still room for growth. I believe potential for improvement in technology, housing, energy, and employment could fuel this growth.

I expect that the further we look in the future, the more likely we are going to see opportunities to compound returns.

I believe the Dow Jones Index, which currently is flirting with the 15,000 level, is likely to reach 30,000. In my mind it is not a matter of if, but when.

What does all this mean? As we like to say at SFS, “Now is always the best time to invest.”

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5 Ways Rising Interest Rates Will Impact Your Life

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On May 21st, the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, announced that the Fed was going to start tapering their bond buying program sometime in the fall. In essence they feel the economy is doing well enough that they don’t need to keep pumping as much money into it. Ironically, the better economy is both good and bad news, depending on your perspective.

The bad news came as mortgage rates jumped about one-half a percent within a month. That left many people wondering how they will be impacted as interest rates continue to rise in the future. Here are five things you should know about how rising interest rates will impact your mortgage, savings accounts, and investments in bonds.

1. Mortgage rates are still low, but are on the rise.

The mortgage rate cruise ship has just started its engine as it prepares for a long cruise to the North. We have probably seen the lowest rates that we will see for a long time, maybe even our lifetime. This isn’t to say that everyone should abandon ship and never plan to move. Life doesn’t work out that way. It just means that if you are planning to move, and the move is in your control, then it may be better to move sooner rather than later.

Interest rates in the 4’s and even 5’s are still incredibly good by historical standards. As interest rates rise, you will either see your anticipated mortgage payment rise, or you will need to look for a slightly smaller and less expensive home. For example, the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage of $400,000 went up by about $100.2 So, either you will find it in your budget to afford the additional $100 or you will look for a less expensive home.

2. If you are thinking of refinancing, you better do it soon.

Most people with equity in their home and great credit have already refinanced. However, if you have procrastinated, listen to the last call of “all aboard” and get on the low rate cruise ship before it leaves the harbor. If you didn’t have enough equity to qualify before, check again, because “rising (home) prices pushed 850,000 homes into the black in the first quarter.”3 If you are still underwater, you may be available to refinance through HARP. Check out the details at Harpprogram.org.

3. Lock in your rates now, if you are ready to buy.

This may help you avoid any short-term rate spikes. “Most lenders won’t charge for a 45- or 60-day rate lock.”4  Only pay for a longer rate lock if the deals are closing slowly. You should be able to ask your lender about this ahead of time. Also look for a free float down option in case the rates dip a little. Mortgage rates are still close to their all-time lows. So, lock in a rate for a long time, especially if you are looking to get a 30-year mortgage.

In this current environment, an adjustable mortgage makes sense only if you know you will move within a few years. You don’t want to get a 5-year adjustable loan and stay in the home for 30 years.

Rates going up will probably slow down the housing recovery a little, but it won’t be derailed. Rates are going up because the economy is healthier. For savers, the increase in interest rates is a mixed bag.

4. Interest in savings accounts, CD’s, and money markets will increase.

This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the abysmally low rates we have seen for the last few years will go up a little. The bad news is that you probably still won’t keep up with inflation.

One concern is that we may have inflation like we did in the ‘80s. So, if you are looking at putting your money in a CD or other investment that is locked up, avoid locking it up for a long time. For example, right now may NOT be a good time to put your money in a 5-year CD paying 1%. Inflation was already 2.1% in 2012.6

If inflation goes up higher, being locked in and earning only 1% would feel like a jail sentence. Another strategy would be to place your money in a one-year CD and roll it into a new CD every year anticipating that rates may go up each time you renew.

5. Bond investors, be cautious.

Since the market crash in 2008, many people have fled the stock market and moved into bonds in search of safety. However, bonds are not without their own risk. As inflation increases, the value of a bond may actually go down.

Many bond investors have seen this firsthand as they have watched bonds in their account stay flat or go down despite the growth in the stock market this year. This is not to say that you should get out of bonds completely. Even aggressive investors often have some bond exposure to help with the unpredictability of the future. However, in a rising interest rate environment you have to pay attention to what types of bonds may still do well and incorporate those bonds into your portfolio.

The good news is that there is a general consensus that the U.S. Economy is healthier and continuing to move in the right direction. However, this will most likely lead to higher interest rates, which can be both good and bad. Pay attention to how you will be impacted and if needed, make some moves now so the impact won’t be a tidal wave.

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Lessons of the Bitcoin

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Bitcoin is a new form of money. It is 100 percent electronic and it just exploded in popularity. In just 6 weeks a Bitcoin went from $25 to $250. What an exciting time for Bitcoin speculators. Why even question it? This is a new electronic age and the possibilities are endless.

Not so fast! On April 10, 2013, the Bitcoin imploded. In just a few hours the value of a Bitcoin fell from $266 to $76.

What is the problem with Bitcoins? Where do we begin? The synthetic currency has no intrinsic value. It represents ownership of nothing. It is not backed by any government. It is not a commonly accepted form of payment. Its owners could be hacked and robbed, or it could be replaced by a more popular made-up currency. The Bitcoin mania may turn out to be one of the most spectacular bubbles of all time.

The term bubble was first used in the early 1700s to refer to wild price fluctuations associated with the “South Sea Bubble.” Another famous episode was the Dutch tulip mania of 1637. In recent history, we have survived the dot com bubble, the real estate bubble, the oil bubble, and possibly the gold bubble.

Why are we so prone to pricing bubbles? Will they ever end?

Greed: The idea that $100 could turn into $150 tomorrow creates fans. That excitement leads them to forget that it is one of the most volatile ways to gamble. Given that it has no real value, it may be more likely to fall 50 percent than rise 50 percent.

Conformity: When opinions converge on an incorrect idea, we call it groupthink or herd mentality. When money is involved, we call these bubbles, and they are dangerous because they can be costly.What should we watch for when trying to detect a bubble?

(1) Insane predictions (with or without good explanation)

(2) Excessive attention as too many people discuss and act like experts

(3) Repeated use of the phrase “this time is different”

(4) Deviation from normal supply and demand because of manipulation

The U.S. stock market has had a string of new highs over the last few months. This in and of itself is no cause for alarm. Hitting new highs is exactly what stocks are supposed to do. That is how investors make money. (Read “Patience is a Rewarding Virtue” from the  previous issue of the Money Moxie.)

How do we know if stocks are in the process of forming a bubble? There are a few simple reasons why investors should not be overly concerned at this point.

(1) Stocks represent ownership of real companies that have value and can grow in value

(2) Valuations of companies compared to earnings are near historical averages

(3) Fundamental improvements in the economy are taking place that support a rise in the market

Bubbles involve a high degree of risk. One way to avoid unnecessary risk is to watch out for investments that don’t have real value or have deviated too far from their true value. Those values are derived from how much the next person is willing to pay.

On the other hand, stocks market gains can benefit everyone who participates. Stocks represent ownership of something real. Time has shown that carefully investing in a diversified portfolio can yield positive results over time.

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