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Financial Oracle to the rescue

May 16th, 2019 at 09:34 pm

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 comes 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 eyeful it was.

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WARNING: Crazy dry financial info follows. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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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. [sarcasm rant starts] 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. [end of sarcasm rant]

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.

19½, how you tease me so

July 15th, 2017 at 03:54 pm

I'm fortunate to work where you get a pension, and as such I have a date where I can stop working and get the pension paying out on day one versus waiting until I turn 65. In my case due to the odd date I started working, I will be able to retire and get the pension on the exact date I have been working 19½ years. I'm getting close to 14 years in the bank now (2 more months), so its no longer a mystical date out there, but one that I can start to see in the distance, yet it is a tease for the moment.

Anyway, come to last week, and I go to a little retirement presentation (probably first one I went to in about 2 years) for a person I worked with for about 7 years before he moved to another division. I've barely seen him in the last 7 years. Anyway, as they are going through his work history and what not, its pointed out he is retiring after 19½ years. Arrrgh! I think about this enough already, I don't need more reminders!!!!

Ok, just had to get that off my chest. I really need to stop thinking about this.....

Coming soon to an airspace near you (X2)

October 29th, 2015 at 07:37 am

There's a title to an old movie "The Gods Are Crazy" (or something like that). In the past few days, it seems that way.

What's been up? Well...

The "birthday fund" at work is supposed to supposed to reimburse expenses when we are tasked to bring in a cake. Well, I did that, and brought in the receipt to the person that has the funds. My bill came out to $20 exactly. Great, I can give her the receipt, and we don't have to worry about making change - I'll just get a $20 bill. Easy, or so I thought. I walk to her desk and she tells me she doesn't think she has the change for this. I point out its $20 exactly, no change is required. She opens up the envelope and all that is there are a few $1's and a $100 bill. Sheesh, really??? I got my money the next day (I brought in $80 and got the $100 bill), so no real problem, but come 'on folks.

Election time is here and we're getting the various big glossy card for various low level politicians. I got one the other day, and the SG-GF looked at it and immediately says "Is that Abe Lincoln running for your local supervisor?" I look and sure enough, the guy looks like he is Abe's twin (but dressed in modern day clothes). And it wasn't a joke photo, all the cards that have arrived for him look similar to that one. He may be a great guy, but really, that's the look you're going for?

And for the airspace items.....

First comes this: At work we get occasional offers for computer sales via Dell (we're supposed to get some type of extra deal buying through our employer). On Monday came our offers for November. Well, for the first sales offer came this: "Buy a computer ($500+), get a drone free". Oooooh, my effing head. Great now anyone can buy a computer and become the total bane of the neighborhood. As if we don't have enough idiots around, now we need to encourage them. Frown All I can say for this one is where can I get my giant drone swatter???

And then this: Yesterday a military blimp escaped and headed into PA. As it got lower its dragging cables started to take out power. Well..... it ended up going right next to my old high school (the school was mentioned in some news stories), not far from my mother, and I heard from her last night that the power was out in the area for over an hour due to the craziness.

Just when you thought the sky was safe, guess again!

Forgot to renew your policy? Congratulations!

September 29th, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Just like stores, where the errors always seem to fall in their favor (shocking!), so too does it work that way with insurance companies (even more shocking!).

To wit... this month the SG-GF forgot to renew her renter insurance policy. Soooo... the company informs the apartment complex, who then complains to her that she needs to get this re-activated. So she goes and finds out she can't get it reactivated, but has to apply anew (usually that means more money for them). Sounds bad, but guess again. Her company finds out that her credit score increased so much since she first set it up (I understand their logic using a credit score to price out renter insurance... nonetheless don't get me started on how stupid I find that to be...) they'll now give her the same policy at a much reduced rate.

Very convenient that they didn't lower her rate when her score went up (without this intervention). I'm sure if credit score went down there would have been a rate increase for her. The real solution is for her (and anyone else) to live in a way you don't need to spend money on such .... lunacy.

I like my money working for me, not the other way around. And I plan on keeping it that way.

That's a "Service Deal Special"???

January 9th, 2015 at 05:49 am

Over Christmas the SG-GF got both of us replacement cabin air filters for our cars. She had been threatening to get new ones for a while, and she finally did it. Well after looking online for how to do it, I spent about 4 minutes replacing mine, and 2 minutes to replace it in her car. No tools required. She was saying "That's it?" after it was done. Yep, that was it. "They wanted $60 to do that!" Now you know why dealerships are so shiny.

Anyway, today I got an email from the local dealership promoting various "specials" (*cough, cough*). Yeah, they're "special" all right. For $50 they have the special to replace the filter on my car. I checked online, and the filters cost less than $10 each, and I am sure the dealership pays less than I do for the filters. I know they have overhead, but give me a break. Charge me $30-$40 for 5 minutes of work, and then review the car to find other things you recommend to be "fixed" at your "cheap" rates as well? Ugh.

Can anyone understand simple math nowadays?

December 23rd, 2014 at 08:10 am

Went to the local Family Dollar store last night with a Family Dollar store coupons for a can of veggies ($0.50 after FD coupon), and for a case of coke cans for $2.75 (after FD coupon). I also had a $3 off manufacturer coupon. With all of that, I should just have to pay for the can plus tax (maybe $0.60 - right)? Well you would be wrong. Their system insisted after all the coupons I needed to pay over $1.50. I immediately said this can't be right and I got a lost look from the cashier. Instead of saying something like "Well our system voids out the other coupon when you use yours, we can't change it", all I got from the person at the register as well as the manager that came over was "No, it didn't void the coupon, that's the right amount. See the computer says so." I left with my coupon and the can of corn - sheesh.

The computer says so???? So if the computer says you are getting paid only half of what you expect that is ok, because "the computer says so"??? People, you are getting paid poorly because you are clueless, and you will remain that way for the foreseeable future. And I won't feel sorry for you.

Sorry, but it just had to be said.

Is it 3/4 full or 3/4 empty?

May 2nd, 2014 at 02:49 pm

After spending the past week barely in the office (6 hrs in one day and another day teleworking) due to a bad flu (for a while I thought they might have to put me down), today is pay day. Nothing too special there, but it gets you to think. I would like to retire early, and I certainly haven't changed that attitude, but being out sick, moping about the house, and just feeling like you could die at times.... and yet now I am getting better and know I will get paid for these days just like if I had gone in to work. It makes me appreciate having that office just a (little) more then I did a week ago. So that office job, is it a 3/4 full or 3/4 empty situation? Hopefully it can stay on the 3/4 full side.

PS: My apologies for those that don't get paid sick leave at your jobs - I know that sucks big time. BT-DT.

Warning and a Teachable Moment

October 8th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I love to talk about how well things are going financially (OK brag) but this is a half rant / half warning for those that read this. (You have been warned)

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When you save money you are of course working towards having the money available for your needs (and wants). Optimally however you will have money that not only gives you everything you reasonably want over your lifetime, but beyond that the money can give your descendants (or whomever you designate) money that can help them pay bills, have a down payment on a house, get a reliable car, or just whatever makes sense. If the money goes to someone else, it can be to appreciate what all they did in life, or help an organization that does things you believe in. The point is, it is common in our society to allow you, in fact I would say it is a given, that as the person owning the money you get to decide what will happen with your money (and other items as well) when you pass away. Yes, if your estate is large enough, the government will stick its hand in for a share, but otherwise you are free to distribute as you see fit.

Unfortunately, there are those that feel that the deceased's wishes can be ignored, and often can get away with it. A few years ago in dealing with my father's estate I came up against this first hand. An object from his items, that was specifically indicated as to go to me, was all of a sudden said that it would stay with his wife because she "needed" it. Yes, she could use it, just as much as I could have used it. It wasn't worth a lot, probably would cost ~$600 to get new which I could afford, but that wasn't the point. Everyone there knew, and said as such, that my father said it was for me. But her answer was that "I'll give it to you when I die." Yeah sure. Perhaps today I would have fought it, but at that point I was disgusted and just wanted to get away from her and that place, as that was the best for my mental health. Lets just say I didn't like the way she treated him for some time, and that was the push I needed to never ever want to go back there.

A week ago similar issues started with my girlfriend. This time the estate of her mother was being split, which went as well as could be expected, given 5 daughters, with the multitude of dislikes between various sisters. Then the final split was to be done, where the instructions given were that the remaining liquid funds should be split equally between all grandchildren (The exact words I think were "All remaining cash is to be distributed in equal shares to all grandchildren", but it may have been slightly different). With all previous disbursements of IRAs and stock investments, the executor was very deliberate and checked with the sisters before finalizing the various distributions. This time however no check was done with the sisters, but a brusque email indicating that the final liquid dollar amount ($X) would be destributed among the grandchildren (#Y) but that however each grandchild would not be receiving $X/Y (call it $Z). Instead she has decreed that since her mother indicated that the grandchildren will get the same money, but since two grandchildren got a life insurance policy benefit of $5,000 (basically a investment that was made 15 years ago with the grandmother paying for it over 12 months), she would only give ($Z-$5,000) to those two grandchildren (my girlfriend's children), and take that money and give it to the other grandchildren. When we pointed out the mistake she made (the life insurance was not part of the estate), she indicated that she "knew" what her mother wanted, and that my girlfriend should shut up otherwise she would stop payment on the check she did send. I won't go into it further, but the explanations have been contradictory, illogical, and when she was backed up by another sister (lets just say the one that really doesn't like my girlfriend) that sister's story was implausable for a number of reasons. My disgust with their behavior was palpable and I wrote to let them know just what they did wrong and how I felt about it - which of course was dismissed out of hand (which I am sure didn't help, but really do you even want people around you that will steal from children in the family?).

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To wit, this, which I could easily rant about more, is a warning and teachable moment.

Teachable in that this whole escapade has been shown to her children how people can behave. It shows that people that can say they care about them, and then turn around and treat them as second class family members (and that's being generous here). And then behave like they are the victim at that.

And this is a warning to everyone that reads this. If you have wishes for your money, you need to be very, very explicit about how it is to be executed. More so, if you have any sizable amount of money (I would guess over $50,000). If you want it done right, pay for a lawyer, or make sure the person in charge has impeccable ethics. An executor is given very wide latitude in their actions, and can easily use the opportunity to enrich themselves, or just to curry favor with those they feel the closest to. Lawyers will follow the instructions, so you know what will be done, no doubting will be needed.

The BH Death Star strikes again

June 27th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

BH = Berkshire Hathaway (or for those that don't know, think Warren Buffett). Three years ago BH swooped in and bought out my position in BNSF in my Roth IRA (though I used that money to buy stocks that have done exceptionally well). Now they hit my DRIPs, taking out Heinz and taking it private. Due to this attack, today I am depositing a check for over $3,500 for the privilege of "allowing" them to take my stock. :P

I guess I shouldn't complain, as I am ending up with almost double what I have put in over the past 6 years I had the stock, but still... having someone come in and take away a favorite dividend paying stock is a royal pain. Its like the kid that says "its my ball, you can't play". I wish they would consider that there are other people that are trying to retire on stocks, did they have to take everything? Hopefully I can put that money to work well again like the last time the death star struck.

I'm in a credit card state of mind

August 13th, 2012 at 07:46 pm

At least it must seem that way to the credit card companies. Tonight when I came home and got the mail outta the mail box, there was a nice pile of letters. Coming inside I went through the pile. Of the non-credit card variety there were 3 advertisements, and one info-letter about my FSA being changed.

Next I come to the credit card pile. There is not one, not two, not three letters. (wait, there's more!) There are not four, not five, not six letters. (ok, hang in there) There are not seven, not eight, but nine, yes, nine letters from credit card companies.

To wit, we have...:
* 2 with "convenince" checks with absurd fees (dream on)
* 3 discussing how I can earn 5% for the next 45 days (sorry, I already have this offer with another card)
* 1 informing me of a credit limit change (don't care - already knew about it)
* 1 saying if I spend $3,000 (!!!!) per month for four straight months I can get a $500 bonus (DREAM ON - times Four!)
* One with convenience checks and decent fees (ok, I'll hold onto this one)
* Lastly one with my new credit card (spend $1000 in 3 months and get a $500 bonus - this is more my speed!)

This reminds me of an old Dilbert comic where he tries to get as much junk mail as possible so he can use it to feed his house's furnace. Gawd, what a pile of papers!

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On the finance front, today I have a $7 book sale on Half.com (bought for $0.25), a ebay sale of some tin toy items I got as a throw-in as part of a $10 purchase a few weeks ago (I didn't know they were worth much, but they sold for $50), and a pair of old pre-war plates sold on ebay for $6 (I got for free along with some really nice depression era glassware - I'm keeping the good stuff!). Picking up the free glassware was a long drive, but this sale will pay for the gas I used and then some.