Real Life Financial Planning

Hand of the businessman with the house

This past weekend my family has made the move into a new home, which needless to say, has been a chaotic process.  It really got me thinking, though, about real estate/home ownership and how it fits into client portfolios and their financial plans.

The mantra of the middle class is buy a home.  But is it always the best decision for your money?

Buying residential real estate certainly poses some undeniable advantages.  For many people, there is a certain pride in homeownership.  After all, it is the epitome of the American Dream.  Additionally, the interest and property tax portion of your mortgage is tax-deductible, and not unimportantly, homes tend to increase in value, build equity and provide a nest egg for the future.

But what is very often overlooked by the average American is the opportunity cost of their money and how their mortgages play a role in that.  A recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the important decision individuals face when they have excess cash.  It recommends taking a close look at what interest rates you pay on a mortgage and how those compare to the savings amount on your bank account as well as the rate of return on investments in equity and bonds.

When homeowners do this, they often are struck with a revelation: they are likely not getting as high of a return on their investment as they would have if they were invested more heavily in equity.  Ultimately, the opportunity cost of having your money tied up in your mortgage could actually hurt your long-term wealth.  Even worse, the tax breaks you are receiving do not cover the amount of loss incurred from your interest rate!  A recent Bloomberg article went so far to say that this simple understanding is one of the distinctions that separates the world’s wealthiest individuals from the middle class and one of the major contributing factors to income inequality.  Basically, it argues that a major difference between the middle class and the top 1% is that the middle class have too much of their portfolios tied in up residential real estate that is not providing adequate returns.

There is a theory out there that wealthy individuals are simply more skilled investors.  A recent study explains that this is not true. (In fact, they might be worse!)  Wealthy people just tend to own most of the equity in the economy, meaning that when business does well, they reap disproportionately large benefits.  Generally speaking, rich individuals own the upside of the economy in the form of stock, while the middle class’s gains are limited by the slow growth of housing wealth.  It is no surprise that the collapse of the housing bubble has exacerbated wealth inequality because stocks recovered more strongly than real estate did.  Maybe the difference between you and the 1% is just your perception of the options available to you.

Surely, shelter is one of the basic necessities of life.  Everyone has to live somewhere – but taking the time to consider all of your options before making any large financial decisions is something that every person should do.  At the very least, you should consider the opportunity costs of your cash and look into advantages of a less expensive housing option, renting, or investing more in equity to ensure that you are getting the most out of your money in the long run.

At Sherman Wealth Management, we believe that real life decisions call for real life financial planning.

These are the kinds of decisions we want to help you make, so don’t hesitate to contact us today to get started.

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The views expressed in this blog post are as of the date of the posting, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This blog contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Sherman Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

Is Your Retirement Advisor a Fiduciary?

Is your Retirement Advisor a Fiduciary?

Do you want a financial professional who is opposed to financial transparency managing your money?

The upcoming and long anticipated proposed rules by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) exposes that very debate, as it seeks to eliminate the ability of financial advisors to profit by selling retirement account products to investors without being held to a “fiduciary standard.”

For those wondering what that means, with a fiduciary standard an advisor must always act in your (their client’s) best interests. A fiduciary standard ensures that the advisor’s duty is to the client only, not the corporation they represent. To the surprise of many, that currently is not always the case. Financial advisors have had the ability to profit (through commissions and high fees) to the potential detriment of their clients. That is exactly what many large financial institutions and insurance companies have done. In fact, the federal government estimates that there are roughly $17 billion dollars of fees generated each year from conflicted advice.

The DOL has made clear –and we agree– that a commission based investment model creates a conflict of interest. Companies with a commission based model operate with an inherent conflict: the pressure to sell products that are more profitable for them and/or their firm can be important factors in how they direct you to invest. For example, an advisor may receive a 5% commission by selling you a fund through their company when you could get a similar product elsewhere without commission. Think of it this way: would you want to work with an accountant who also gets commissions from the IRS? Of course not. You want your accountant to represent your best interests. Would you go to a doctor who makes money each time he prescribes penicillin? No, you want your doctor to prescribe what is right for you. That is the primary reason we stay completely independent and operate as conflict-free, fee-only advisors.

The proposed DOL rule will hopefully begin to fix this issue as it is expected to require a strict fiduciary standard for financial advisors in the context of sales for retirement account products.  This standard will require advisors to certify that they are acting independently and in their client’s best interest, and are not motivated by the prospect of a commission. This has created a firestorm among big insurance companies, broker dealers and other institutional investors who, as we pointed out, don’t typically operate as fiduciaries.

In a letter sent last week to the SEC, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a strong proponent of the proposed DOL rule, pointed out that presidents of Transamerica, Lincoln National, Jackson National and Prudential all have called this proposal “unworkable.”  She commented on the self interest in their position, and the danger in permitting unwitting investors to be guided by non-fiduciaries in the context of their retirement investments.

Why would a rule that requires a financial advisor to act in their client’s best interest create such an uproar? One reason is that unlike Sherman Wealth Management, they are in a commission driven model, and therefore fear that the way they currently serve clients would not meet the standards of this new rule. We hope that because of the conflict a commission driven model creates, that eventually enough pressure from policy-makers like Senator Warren and Labor Secretary Perez will propel this proposed new rule beyond just retirement accounts. In the meantime, think to yourself why anyone would oppose this rule if not for purely selfish reasons?

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The views expressed in this blog post are as of the date of the posting, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This blog contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Sherman Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place.
If you have any questions regarding this Blog Post, please Contact Us.

One Secret to Investing: Do Less

matchbox car

We’ve all been tempted. Whether there’s a hot new sector that seems to be on fire, or a classic U.S. company that seems poised for a new burst of life, or, worse, a pundit who keeps warning us not to get caught flat-footed.

It’s human nature to be attracted to the next shiny new thing. My 2-year old son was perfectly happy playing with his trusty push truck, for instance, until he got a shiny red Matchbox car for his birthday and abandoned the – still very serviceable – truck.

It’s also human nature to try to catch winners on the way up and want to abandon the underperformers. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea.

While the market as a whole has done quite well over the last 20 years – the S&P 500 has returned approximately 9.9%, and a diversified portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds would have returned 8.7% [1]– the same can’t be said for the average investor.

During the 10 year period from 2003- 2013, the average investor’s portfolio only returned 2.6% annually, [2] barely a quarter of what the S&P returned, and not much higher than the rate of inflation.

What’s the reason for this underperformance?

By trying to beat the market by chasing performance, by trying to time markets, and by overpaying in fees, investors hurt their returns significantly.

Chasing Returns

When a particular investment is performing well, investors often get excited and invest more, causing the price to continue to climb. As it does, more investors are attracted to its returns – even as the stock becomes more expensive – causing the price to rise even more.

Eventually however the investment will return to its intrinsic value, and fluctuate slightly around that number.

When that happens, the investors who tried to chase performance and bought on the more expensive upswing, will lose money or underperform the market.

Timing the Market

It is not surprising that investors try to time the market. If we were able to predict when markets would top and when they would bottom, we’d all be enjoying extraordinary returns. In reality, however, very few people who try to time the markets actually succeed.

According to Morningstar, market timing costs the average investor 1.5% annually. For a hypothetical portfolio that returned 8.7% annually, a 1.5% additional ‘expense’ ends up eating up over 17% of the investor’s returns.

Warren Buffet once said, “the only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune tellers look good.” Famed investor Peter Lynch said, “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves”. [3]

If Warren Buffet and Peter Lynch don’t believe in trying to time the market, and studies have shown that strategies that try to time the market have very low success rates, it’s a good sign that you’re probably better off not trying too.

Overpaying Fees

If you are chasing returns, and trying to time the market, chances are you are making more trades than you would with a buy-and-hold strategy. That means you are paying more fees, which also affects your overall rate of return negatively.

A Potential Solution

The smarter approach may be to do less. Investors have historically hurt their returns by over-trading. Looking at your portfolio too often or constantly checking up on how the markets are doing can be detrimental to your finances if you are prone to reacting too impulsively. Rather than trying to time the market, or always buying the next hot stock or asset class, investors tend to have more success by taking a hands off approach.

Yes, his red Matchbox car is shiny and bright. But, as my son grows up, I hope he’ll learn to value the tried and true as well. And smart investors do the same, thinking carefully before they leap into the next big thing, or try to catch the current wave and ride it to the top.

Sometimes doing less is doing more.

 

 

It may be helpful to speak with a financial advisor to determine if your current portfolio and your current strategy are appropriate for your individual investment needs.

1) https://www.jpmorganfunds.com/blobcontentheader/202/900/1158474868049_jp-littlebook.pdf  (page 65)

2) http://www.forbes.com/sites/advisor/2014/04/24/why-the-average-investors-investment-return-is-so-low/

3) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/your-money/forget-market-timing-and-stick-to-a-balanced-fund.html?_r=0

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Behavioral Investing: Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus!

Behavioral Investing

While no person falls neatly into statistical averages, as humans, we are all emotional beings and subject to all different kinds of behavioral biases when it comes to investing. There are three major ways in which men and women differ when it comes to behavioral investing.

Investment Goals and Strategies: According to the Wall Street Journal, finance professors Brad Barber and Terrance Odean, women tend to focus more on longer-term, non-monetary goals. Women generally associate money with security, independence and the quality of their life and their families’ lives. Women have a ‘safety first’ mentality. Generally speaking, women are more inclined than men to wear seat belts, avoid cigarette smoking, floss and brush their teeth and make regular doctor visits. They even have been shown to be 40% less prone than men to run yellow traffic lights. Men, on the other hand, who tend to be more competitive and thrill-seeking by nature, often focus on the short-term track records of their portfolios, incurring larger overall returns, and tend to be more risk tolerant. In contrast, women tend to be more averse to risk and are more skeptical. When it comes to investing and planning for their future, women shy away from uncertainty and will take a longer time to make investment decisions, are more methodical in how they go about research, and ask more questions.

Both men and women should make sure that their investment styles and horizons match their overall financial goals. For women, this may mean taking on more risk. As they become more familiar and understand the ups and down of the stock market they will naturally become more risk tolerant. For men, this may mean focusing more on longer-horizon goals, rather than on short-term trading track records and larger gains.

Women Risk Averse
Prudential’s study Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women

 

The Learning Curve: A 2012-2013 Prudential study on women investors reveals that women are more receptive to financial research and advice than men. Women seek help more often. Men tend to enjoy learning on their own and take a more independent approach, like the internet,  while women prefer learning in a group setting. Women rely more on personal networks with friends, family, financial planners, and they take a networking approach to gathering information. They often require more of a financial advisor’s time and resources, but are looking for a trusted relationship to be established, one  they can rely on long term. Men, however,  prefer to teach themselves and are more self-directed learners, using the Internet (more often than women) to gather information and are more likely to claim they understand financial matters than women. In actuality,  knowledge levels are not high for either gender.

Thus far, evidence does not support, however, whether one source of information or learning technique is more or less effective than another.

Information Sources Used By Men Vs Women
Source: Source: Women & Investing, Gender differences in investment behavior. FINRA Report August 2006

 

The Confidence Factor: Women tend to be thorough and take more time to make decisions than men. Several studies, including a national survey by LPL Financial, show that women tend to research investments in depth before making portfolio decisions, and the process, as a result, tends to take more time. Women also tend to be more patient as investors and consult their advisors before adjusting their portfolio positioning, whereas men are more prone to market timing impulses. Men veer toward overconfidence while women lean towards indecisiveness and insecurity.

Overconfidence can lead to taking too much risk. While women risk missing out on some investment opportunities in taking more time to make decisions, men’s generally higher impatience when it comes to seeing investment returns makes them more likely to attempt market timing, and prone to loss when the timing is off. Women are less afflicted than men by overconfidence, or the delusion that they know more than they really do and are more likely (than men) to attribute success to factors outside themselves, like luck or fate.

Ledbury Research

Yet, taking too little risk, due to lack of confidence, can hurt your investment goals just as much as overconfidence. When it comes to investing for the long term, taking risk is not a luxury. Insecure investors can confine their results by investing too conservatively, nearly as much as their overeager counterparts could do by excessive trading and risk-taking.

Meanwhile, to help avoid rash decisions and market impulses, men may benefit from implementing a systematic investment strategy and a periodic, rather than continuous, review of their accounts and rebalancing. They may want to consider becoming even more open to professional financial advice. Women may also want to review the efficiency of their investment allocations across their portfolios to counter the negative impact of mental accounting. In addition, they may want to consider attending financial education seminars to help boost their confidence levels and ability to make timely, well-informed investment decisions.

Men Vs Women Confidence Level
Source: Women & Investing, Gender differences in investment behavior. FINRA Report August 2006

 

Call Brad Sherman at Sherman Wealth Management for information on what investment strategy is right for you.

Learn more about our Investment Management services.

Related Reading:

Tips for Millennials to Understanding the Stock Market

What is Dollar Cost Averaging?

5 Things Investors Get Wrong

5 Big Picture Things Many Investors Don’t Do

Why and How to Get Started Investing Today

Mitigating Your Investment Volatility

The Psychology of Investing

Rebalance Your Portfolio to Stay on Track With Investments

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