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Financial Oracle to the rescue

December 12th, 2019 at 10:04 pm

(NOTE: Previously posted this summer during the time of the Purge. - Reposting as I still have the text)

My buddy at work has over the years seen my finances and has heard what I do to improve my finances. So as time has gone on he has asked me more and more questions, especially of late. He inherited some money from His father's estate recently. I don't know the amount, but I think it is a hundred thousand or two, something like that. First his questions were where to save, how to invest, somewhat general things. Over this time he has trusted my wisdom on finances more and more. I have become the defacto Financial Oracle. Of course with great power come great responsibility. [Hmmmmm.... I think I heard that some place before. Well in any case....]

So this week he comes over and starts telling me about a trip he took to the bank and how he was offered investment "counseling". I had to put that in "quotes" because it reminds me of the phrase "With friends like these, who needs enemies?". So he starts to try to explain what they were offering him, and I tell him it sounds like a variable annuity, a very very bad product. He insists that's not what its called, but still he didn't understand what it was and if it was good.

And so starts........

****** Financial Oracle to the Rescue [Play appropriate theme music here] ******

I finally tell him I can't give him any better answer without whatever paperwork they gave him. I told him I don't care what they said, they could say anything. What matters is on the paper. And I was willing to look it over if he liked. So yesterday I got paperwork from him for the two products they were proposing. And an eyefull it was.

=========================================================================
WARNING: Crazy dry financial info follows. Don't say I didn't warn you.
=========================================================================

First thing is these were called "Buffered investment securities". Ok, have to say I didn't know what these things are. I don't know every financial product out there after all [Oops.... don't let him hear that...]. So off to Investopedia for some research. Hmmmmm... some products of a general nature that help you taking on some of the risk when the market, or whatever you are basing it on, goes south. Ok, so what's the catch? Well doesn't say specifically, but each product has its own downside so its up to you to read the fine print and figure it out what do the providers get out of it.

OK, with that out of the way it was time to start reading, or in my case skimming through and finding the parts that are important (there are walls of text in spots, mostly telling you things you should already know. I'll save my eyesight, thank you very much.).

So I start with document #1 and what do I find? First there is 5% commission he must pay up front, though it can be from 2% to 8% so throw that money away to start (apparently you don't know the exact percentage until they print out the final paperwork for you to review and sign). The investment follows the S&P 500 going off of the index values at the start and end dates only (ignores everything in between). It also ignores dividends (which runs about 2%/year right now). So as this is for 5 years, there is another 10% of earnings you lose out on versus investing in an S&P 500 ETF. Add in any compounding of this money and it could easily cost him 20% of his investment in earnings. He will get the growth in the index at the end, but only based on the starting 95% of his investment.

So that was the down side, what the company gains. And what does he get for giving away his money for 5 years? The company will cover his losses if the index goes down, but only down to 26%. After that he is responsible for any further declines. So say the index goes way down, like 45%, how would my friend make out? Well he would lose the 20% I previously mentioned, but the company will cover the losses of 26%. So basically instead of being down 35% (45% loss less the 10% earned in dividends if he invests in an ETF that follows the index) he would now be down 39%( 45% loss + 20% of potential earnings lost {see above} - 26% covered by the company ). So even if the market goes down, you are losing about the same amount of money (ok not exactly - there would be taxes on the dividends, but still...) And your money is locked up for 5 years. Oh, and BTW, there is no collateral, so if the company goes bankrupt, you're out of everything. Oh you do get growth if the index goes up, but you lose out on the earnings in any case, and the 5% haircut up front. After I told him all of this he was basically "OK, I got it, this is terrible. I had no idea." Whew, talk about a lose-lose scenario for investing in this "great package".

PS: I just reviewed the second document. This one is worse, which is hard to believe. It follows the Dow Jones Industrial index value over 3 years. For a 3 year lock in of your money, you are limited to 15% growth (that's it, you cannot earn more!), you pay 3-5% up front (again, decided on the day it is created), lose all your dividends (say 6%), and ignore compounding on that money, and how much do you save if the market tanks? 15% max, but that's after losing the 9-11% previously mentioned. Or a savings of.... 4-6%. And for scenarios that almost never happen. Whooo hooo, what a deal!!!! I can save myself 4% of potential losses if I limit my upside to (15% max less loss of money from 9-11% , so therefore a max earnings of 4-6% over 3 years) no matter what happens. If the market goes up 50% over 3 years? Sorry you get 4%, the brokers will keep the other 46%. What a deal.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

If you've read this far, I think they change the names used for these things so they are tough to look up and research, but this seems to cover it: https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2018/10/26/buffered-return-enhanced-notes-bad-investment-choice-that-sounds-good/#81c90c625378

Final note: to be fair, the second item isn't exactly what I wrote. Weirdly, if the index drops 10-15% you make out great with this security. But if the market drops 16% (one percent greater drop), you actually lose an extra 15%. (WTF???) So I could look at this as a bet on the market dropping from 10 to 15 percent. Anything else and you lose, possibly big time. I had to check it three times to make sure this was right - its one weird financial thing to stay far far away from.

Final final last note: If its not clear, just say no to anything promoted like this. Seriously, if you can't understand it, just stay away. These aren't bad, they're atrocious. You may as well burn your money.

Under the wire

December 12th, 2019 at 09:44 pm

Just a note here: Its a shame about the lost blog entries from this summer. Oh well, life goes on...

As a reminder to myself they included "99 bottles of Beer on the wall", "My extra Max savings plan - 457 Catchup" and "Financial Oracle" . Sigh (UPDATE: I found saved texts to myself with each of these - I may be reposting them soon - yay).

And now on to the wire (No, not that "The Wire").

In my never ending efforts to keep my lifetime taxes to a minimum given my current profession and maximize spending potential (or at least see how high I can make my pile 'o cash stack when I am really old), I am trying to keep my earnings subject to taxes below certain thresholds. For now that is to keep my marginal taxes on the federal taxes no higher than 22%. In the past that was never a problem, but now, its becoming an issue.

I've estimated my future tax hit given SSI, pension, & RMDs (i.e. when I am 70+ y.o.) that will require taxes and they are already going into the 24% range. Yes, only a small slice will hit 24%, and yes, for me RMDs won't start until 2032 at the earliest (could be 2033 if the new bill affecting retirement accounts is signed into law), but the earlier you start on adjusting your finances to handle situations like this the easier it will be. Also there is the issue of IRMAA surcharges may be in my future if I don't work on my future taxes (The IRMAA is effectively an excess tax, so lets treat it as it really is).

Anyway, this past month I estimated the upcoming federal tax hit for 2019 and I estimated I am going to be right up against the top of the 22% tax band this year. I guess this is good, it shows I am taking advantage of all the room I have for this tax rate.

Nice to be under the wire this year. Next year I may sell a loser or two out of my brokerage account to try and get me back under the wire - we'll see how it all plays out next year.

Stranger in a Strange Land

February 21st, 2019 at 12:24 am

Long time … No write …

With all due respect to Robert Heinlein (from where this title came from) I felt like a stranger in a strange land during my visit last week to nearby shopping mall.

Ruminations follow

Last week I ended up going to a local shopping mall. How often do I go to any shopping mall. Maybe once or twice a year any more. Now I am not one of those that shops online or on TV, I'm lucky if I spend a few hundred a year any more, but I just have no need to go to the mall.

Now why did I go there? Well I had a ticket for a free movie at the attached theaters, and I had over an hour to burn, so walking I went. And as I looked around it seemed like 50% of the stores were clothes (mostly women's), 20% shoes, 10% department stores, and the rest some type of specialty store or personal service (massage anyone?). And everyone looked so excited to be there (little kids that wanted nothing to do with it being the exception). But for me it was just boring. There was just nothing I wanted and the stores mostly looked alike. At least the Disney Store was interesting, but only for maybe 10 minutes of browsing.

I dunno, have I just gotten to the age shopping has no appeal? Is it I have everything I want, and by not watching TV (and not even getting magazines now) I don't get mesmerized into wanting more and more? Is this just the new "thing" and it will pass?

I admit I feel happier this way, but walking in those crowds I just feel like I can't even understand what I am seeing any more. I guess I'll just stay in my bubble for now....

Surprise - you're going to Disney (WDW)

September 29th, 2018 at 11:42 pm

No this isn't about winning a free vacation (I wish), nor a relative taking us there, and it *is* about saving money, so bear with me for a bit...

Since the beginning of the decade me and the SG-GF have been taking vacations to Florida in November due to using my mother's time share (near Disney). She has a set week to use at that time, and at first I paid for the use, and now it is free as a payment for my re-roofing her house. Our trips to FL had, for a time alternated between Disney visits and Universal Studio visits.

So last year we did a crazy two week FL vacation by using the time share and matching up free time share stays with time share tours. And then we got 7 day Disney tickets, and basically did Death by Disney (as compared to Death by Chocolate - see my entry from last year about that). It was great (two weeks, cost a little over $1,000 for both of us and seven days at WDW, yeah that was a hell of a deal), but I think we both had enough of Disney for a while.

.......

Which leads to today. The SG-GF was about to pre-purchase our tickets this week. As she is a DoD employee she can buy tickets on base and at a discount. For Disney, the discount was almost zero to other ways to buy, but for other attractions, such as Universal Studios, there was a good discount on tickets. And as this year was to be our year to go to Universal, that meant we would be having a less expensive trip to Florida. And really, it has been 4 years since we were at Universal (One year instead of Universal we hit other less major FL attractions, which accounts for the long time), so we were psyched and ready to go there.

Well..... not so fast!!!! Disney has had a very, very nice discount offer for active military for some time, but not for DoD employees. Soooo... wassup??? Disney just extended the discount offer for tickets to DoD employees starting in the middle of September (we hadn't heard about it) but only thru the end of the year. A "one time offer", they say. I sorta think it has to do with Star Wars Land coming to WDW next year and people are waiting to go to Disney for next year, and therefore attendance is dropping somewhat. I have no proof of this, but it makes sense.

Anywho.... with the much lower price, WDW tickets are now very comparable with Universal Studio prices. The time frame for us is perfect. And these are "Plus" tickets, which also allows us to go to their water parks, Disney World of Sports, free miniature golf (SG-GF thinks I am nuts about doing miniature golf, but I say we should try it once so we know what its like there).

We would have bought tickets earlier this summer, but we waited to make sure the SG-GF was feeling up to going to the parks (she had some physical problems this summer - she's much better now). So by waiting to buy the tickets, we will save money by seeing WDW again this year, and hitting Universal next year instead at lower prices. We figure this will be perfect, as with Star Wars Land opening next summer WDW will probably be overrun with tourists next November, so going to Universal then will be the smart choice anyway.

I love it when a plan accidentally falls together. Bwah-hah-hah....

Still alive - Still saving.

July 21st, 2018 at 11:15 pm

Hard to make posts when most everything is going well. Maybe not hard, but at least interesting. Anywho... everything is going well if you ignore the job. And relationship wise too. The job... well that's another story. Lots of boring info follows, but I wasn't up to making these separate entries, so they all get packed into one.

And away we go....

=====================================
Finances
=====================================
I don't have the dollar amounts here, but I did do a half year analysis back at the end of June, and the return on my investments was - UGH. Maybe 2-3%. I forget exactly - probably just trying to forget. (Its gone up some percentages in the past month - so go me). My investments have been growing though as I have been putting money in faithfully. In fact....

... I have only $800 more to contribute before I hit the limit for this year. And that means next paycheck goes up maybe $700 and then the rest of the year goes up $1,300. Hurrah, I survived another year of retirement plan contributions. And I put in the Roth IRA money at the beginning of the year. And I have already paid property taxes for the year. And made all of my major purchases for the year. And I got a 4% raise that will show up in my next paycheck. 4% is not bad in today's economy. So I'm looking at large saving numbers for the remaining 5 months.

==================================
Frugality
==================================
Well I got the lawn mower from the SG-GF working and it was / is much better than mine was, so I was able to sell off my 10 year old clunker. I may have had it longer - all I remember is I got it at a yard sale long long ago for $20. I sold it this spring for $10, so I figure I was able to use it for $1/year. Not toooooo shabby! I've been keeping my expenses extra low. Maybe $25/week for food, $20/week for auto gas, electricity for the past year was maybe $500, same for natural gas, and internet now costs about that as well. Phone (cell & MagicJack) is around $125/year. No cable. So utilities are not much.

==================================
Ebay-ing
==================================
This has been going very well, though it comes and goes in spurts. For the year I already have well over $1,000 in sales, probably close to $1,200. A few things were for the SG-GF, but still... I like it. As usual I still think I need to pick up the sale pace. Not sure how, lower the prices perhaps? Also had one Craigslist sale for $100 for wooden train stuff I pick up here and there - probably cost me $20 for the lot.

==================================
Relationship
==================================
The relationship with the SG-GF is going great. In fact she is retiring at the end of the year and moving in with me after that. OMG, that means we need to condense our lives and get rid of lots of stuff. I think in the end it will be great, but its going to be stressful for a while until we are settled.

==================================
Health
==================================
No major problems so far this year. Though it does seem like small things crop up that never would when I was younger. Growing old #@$%!@$%!!!. I have kept up the extra workouts at work, so muscle definition is doing great now. Makes me wonder how I could have turned out if I was this dedicated to working out when I was in my 20s. Oh well, better late than never.

==================================
Job
==================================
Left this for last. Oh man, there have been days and weeks and... where I have really (and I mean REALLY) hated this job. It was never like this, in fact I sorta liked it before, until I got put on the PFH (shorthand for Project From Hell) a year or two ago. No one thing is horrendous about it (ok, I can think of a few), but there are so many ways this was set up awful, it just added up to Gawd Awful. I'm sorta dealing with PTSD now. Even when the day is good, any little thing I get dealing with it just rattles me.

Good news is I did get the 4% raise, and my annual leave starts accumulating an extra 6 days / year starting this fall. I am gonna need it.

**********

So life is doing good. Could be better, but sure could be worse too. How long until a pension kicks in? Four years, eight months. Is this what it feels like waiting to get out of prison? Who do I talk to to get a pardon?

Teamwork helps

March 14th, 2018 at 02:36 am

Since I haven't written for a while, there is a lot here, and I have them categorized for ease of reading. Can you say I have worked on a computer for too long? I knew you could.

====================================
Finances
====================================
Been a while since I posted anything here. Life has been going well, no major issues, watching my money go into my 457 plan and being overwhelmed by the drop in value from the markets going down some. Ooops, I just checked, and it is only a few thousand from the high value I saw in mid February, so I guess that's still doing well too.

====================================
Making extra money
====================================

Been doing well selling on ebay lately. So far this year the total is over $500 and that's not shabby considering I am just trying to get rid of things now. Which brings me to my help.

I was talking with the SG-GF a few months ago about everything I was finding as I dug through closets, and pointed out I had a number of unopened Mary Kay items from my EX sitting here and would she know someone that I could give them to. She quickly set me straight (that is - helped me) - I might be sitting on a gold mine of no longer produced products that still have demand. To me it was junk, what did I know? Well I checked on ebay and sure enough, these items do sell. Not sure if they sell for more then originally sold for, but still.... nice getting these out the door and getting a good chunk of money back. I am down to my last six bottles/tubes (I sold two more today), so I'm not getting rich, but this is working great.

My next area of concentration is going to be my toy trains. I probably have 200% of what I really need, so half of them need to go. Biggest problem is figuring out what to sell, and how much to ask for. Oh well, I will make it work one way or another.

====================================
More Finances
====================================

On the credit card front I just got two new credit cards to get the bonus money/points. These are my first ones since the middle of last year. Each one was "use it for $500, get $100 worth of points". Already used one on this year's home insurance (just a smidge over $500), and the other one will be used on either car insurance or a plane ticket for my son, probably both as neither is $500 by itself.

And now with my Real Estate taxes pre-paid for the year, and these items out of the way.... not sure where I will need to spend any serious money until... maybe my vacation to Florida in November????

====================================
Frugality
====================================
I had gotten a Sam's club membership on sale last year (in Feb.), and mostly used it for discounted gas. I got their credit card to get a bonus there too. Really wasn't worth that much for me, but still cheaper gas worked out nice. However, I found out about the gotcha last month. Turns out they don't give any cash back (on the credit card) unless you are a member of the club. And since they only give you cash back after your anniversary with the club.... well you need to sign up (or in my case - they just billed it to my credit card with them!!!) for the next year to get your cash back from the prior year. Those sneaky devils. Ok, so I didn't complain, and got my cash back (they make you do it at their store!). But as I researched it, I found the way to make this work for me.

The membership says you can get all your membership cost back any time for the year you are on. Soooooo.... if I don't use their credit card to buy things, I can use their membership for free for a year, and then cancel and get the last year's membership back, and not lose the cash back on their credit card. AH-HA, I see a work around that will do fine for me. I just need to remember to cancel sometime next January. OK, discounted gas for free, yeah I will take that just fine, thank you very much.

Apparently to not prosper was the right choice

January 6th, 2018 at 11:34 pm

In a blast from the past (In particular

Text is this and Link is http://bennkar.savingadvice.com/2006/08/27/to-prosper-or-not-to-prosper-that-is-the_13505/
this entry) I mused on whether participating in "Prosper" or other lending club web site would be a good choice. I never wrote more on it as I never tried it. Don't know if it was fear of the unknown, inertia, or just what, but I passed on it, and then just forgot it. I guess other things were on my mind then (like getting divorced!).

Anywho, this was brought back to me today as I was reading personal finance forums and there was a long thread on Lending Club, Prospr, and the like. From what most people wrote, it turned out that while they did make money with the sites, it was not nearly as much as they hoped, and that over time the payback tended to get worse and worse, and now most people were just cashing out and wouldn't bother with it any more. And their returns in the past years had usually been less than 10%, often only a few percent a year. Now they were saying how they lost out on having that money in the market in the run up of the past years.

I suspect the first couple of years would have done well, but with interest rates so low only the desperate would use these sites any more. And it turns out they do a very bad job (or no job) of getting the outstanding debts.

Turns out most fads are just passing fads and a waste of time and money. I guess the lending club model (at least here in USA) was a passing fad I'm glad I passed on.

2017 Year End Financial Roundup

January 4th, 2018 at 07:56 pm

OK, as a follow up to last year's End of Year Financial Status, I have put together a 2017 version...

*** 2017 Year End Financial Roundup ***

OK, so where do I start? First these numbers are rounded to get approximate performance. OK, so how about looking at my different savings vehicles and see how they performed? OK, lets start there...

*My 457 plan (401k equivalent): Started the year at $460k now, and is now $563k. I put in $24k, that leaves $79k growth - almost 17% growth after backing out contributions. Overall that is a 22% increase.

* My ROTH IRA: Started the year over $113k, ended the year a little under $139k. I put in $6.5k, leaving growth of $20k. That's almost 17.7% growth and an overall 23% increase.

* My Brokerage: I Started the year at $57500, now $80600. I put in $14,300, leaving growth of $8800 - 15.3% growth, and overall 40% increase.

* HSA Account: New this year, it ended up at $4400

* Loan: New this year, an outstanding loan to the SG-GF. Current balance of about $5000.

So maybe a ~16% growth for the year. And overall a 25.6% increase. (Yes, I didn't work out my DRIP numbers as I don't have numbers for them (they're around $50k), plus I wasn't adding anything to them this year - except for my trash DRIP). I really need to get stock certificates from them so I can transfer them to my brokerage (or sell them - not sure which makes sense).

Sooo.... how about my savings rate? The percentages are similar to last year

Text is (See 2016 here) and Link is http://bennkar.savingadvice.com/2016/12/11/year-end-analysis-early-december-edition_210752/
(See 2016 here), though the savings percentage went from ~50% to near 55%. The other expenses were similar, so my living expenses probably came in at about 10% of my gross salary. Ok, that's just crazy. I don't feel like I am deprived at all. I went on a 2 week Florida / WDW vacation with SG-GF. My car is fine for my needs. I spent 2 weeks with my son visiting relatives back home. Spent long weekends and then some with the SG-GF as well. I am happy living at this rate but I know its not sustainable forever. I will need to upgrade the car in the coming years (hopefully not for a while), do some work on the house ($$$), and who knows what else could come up. Still, not too shabby.

Tax prepayment is made, now I hold my breath

December 27th, 2017 at 09:41 pm

Well the early tax payment has been made (see my prior entry for details). Turns out the county doesn't care how much you pay early, they will just keep applying the amounts from the pre-payment until it runs out. Since the further in the future the less likely it will benefit me, I hedged my bets. I paid enough for this coming year, plus some of 2019's bill. Assuming you can use these payments (and according to everyone that reads the laws there is no reason you can't) for itemizing taxes, I will be saving $1,250 this year on my fed taxes (& maybe a hundred or two for the state). And if for some reason I can't use it for taxes, its not a major loss anyway. The money was just sitting in my savings account not doing much.

Today was a nice day financially in other ways too. I went into Paypal and requested another $150 out of the account. I checked for the year, and I pulled out over $1,500. Now some of that is sales for the SG-GF, but even so I probably netted near $1,000 for my sales. Nice to see I can make some money with this stuff, but I think I need to be more proactive on some of my sales. I may need to lower the price on some things that just aren't selling. I want the stuff outta here - soon.

Also went to the credit union to deposit my latest electric company dividend check - $144. For the year that makes $570 in dividends, and totaling up my last 12 electric bills came to only $385. Now of course I get taxed on the $570 (boooo...), and my natural gas bill for the year is probably in the $300-$400 range, but still... nice to see another year come and go where I get dividends that more than pay for my electricity. Nice.

Now I need to work up my year end numbers for 2017. They're crazy good, almost too good to be true. Hmmmmmm..... And also get ready to put my 2018 money into my Roth IRA. Yikes my checking account balance is shrinking fast.

25% Guaranteed Return? I'll take that thank you.

December 22nd, 2017 at 05:41 pm

As you may know, there is a new tax law in the U.S. starting next year. Being a wage whore (errr I mean slave) there isn't usually much I can do to affect my taxes (other than using IRAs etc...). But it looks like this year there is a way to save serious money. But to do it you have to live in the right locale (looks like I do), and have free cash to do this (again I do), and have the right tax situation (again yes!).

It goes like this. If you currently itemize deductions but will fall below the new standard deduction going forward , if you pay next years taxes now you can pay fewer taxes based on your current marginal tax rate (25% for me), and next year you will not lose any tax deduction since you will take a standard deduction. Only problem is you need the cash to do this, and live somewhere that you can prepay (not everywhere allows this).

According to a newspaper article this can be done where I live. I have free cash, and I work very close to the tax office. Sooooooo... Tuesday morning I plan on going there and seeing if I can make it so.

Prepay for less than a year and save about $1000 on taxes?? Where do I sign up???