Stock Market Investing Requires a Long Term Perspective

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The recent volatility in the market has prompted some investors to question the future direction of the stock market.  Unfortunately, the stock market is impacted by so many factors that it is impossible to predict short term movements.  Over the long term, the stock market has always trended upwards but the path has been anything but smooth.   We could be on the tipping point before a major correction or at the beginning of a long bull market – we just don’t know. 

As a result of this uncertainty, it is impossible to effectively time the market.  Not only do you need to accurately predict when to sell but you also need to know when to re-enter the market.  Even if you select the right time to sell, there is a good chance you will be out of the market when it makes its next big move.  

To compound this issue, decisions to buy and sell are frequently driven by short term emotional reactions.   The fear of losing money can trigger us to make a sudden decision to sell, or the fear of missing an opportunity can cause a knee jerk reaction to buy.  We need to resist these very normal emotional reactions and maintain a long term focus.  The stock market should only be used for long term investing.  If you don’t need your money for at least five to ten years you are more likely to stay invested and ride out fluctuations in the market. 

If you lose your long term perspective, and react to short term emotional reactions, you can get caught up in a very detrimental cycle of buying high and selling low.  An example of a common cycle of market emotions begins when the market drops and you start getting nervous.   Over time you become increasingly fearful of losing money and end up selling your stock investments after the market has dropped considerably.   Then you sit on the sidelines for a while, waiting for the market to stabilize.  The market starts to rebound and you decide to jump back in after that market has gone back up.  Afraid of missing a great opportunity, you buy at the market peak.   This is a self-perpetuating cycle that can be very harmful to your long term investment returns.

To avoid the temptation to time the market and react to emotional triggers, keep a long term perspective.   Focus on what you can control.  Maintain a well-diversified portfolio that is in line with your long term goals and your investment risk tolerance.  Live within your means and maintain an emergency fund of at least four months of expenses.  Invest money that you will need in the short term into safer interest earning investments.   By limiting your stock market investments to long term money, you will be more likely to stay the course and meet your investment goals.

More to Rental Property Than Meets the Eye

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

With low interest rates and the fear of another drop in the stock market, many people are looking for alternative ways to earn investment income.  Many investors find the tangible nature of real estate appealing.  Although real estate may seem like the logical alternative to stocks and bonds, investment in real estate can be very complex, time consuming, and wrought with risk. 

Before buying, perform a realistic cash flow analysis on the income and expenses associated with the property you are considering.  Begin with start-up expenses associated with acquiring the property, including the down payment and any necessary improvements. Next tabulate the routine expenses that you will incur with a rental.  These may include mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes, home owner’s association dues, routine maintenance, and legal and accounting fees.  As a rule of thumb, maintenance and repairs run about 1-2% of the market value of your home, depending on the home’s condition.  Also consider an emergency fund to cover large unexpected repairs. 

Managing rental real estate can be very time consuming.  Seriously think about whether you want to manage the rental yourself or you want to hire a property manager.  Do you have the time and the desire to manage the property? If you do it yourself, you will need to market the property, evaluate potential renters, maintain the property, respond to tenant issues, collect rent payments and potentially evict tenants.   You also may want to learn about fair housing laws, code requirements, lease agreements, escrow requirements, and eviction procedures.  If you don’t have the time or the temperament to manage the property, consider hiring a property manager.  Property management fees usually run about 10-12% of rental income.

Some additional risks to consider when renting property include the possibility of major damage inflicted by a tenant, drawn out eviction processes, and law suits for negligence and safety issues.

After evaluating your expenses, do some income projections.  Research rents paid for similar properties in your target neighborhood.   Be sure to incorporate a reasonable vacancy rate.  According to the Colorado Division of Housing, the average vacancy rate in Colorado Springs has been about 6%, for the last 4 quarters.

Include the tax benefit of deducting depreciation into your analysis.  To calculate annual depreciation, divide the initial value of your rental home, not including land, by 27.5.  Unfortunately, you will probably have to recapture (repay to the IRS) this deduction upon sale of the property at a maximum rate of 25%.

Subtract your projected expenses from your projected income to determine your net profit.  Will the net profit you expect to gain from the property compensate you for your capital, time and risk?  In addition to the profit from rental income, be sure to factor appreciation of your property into your analysis.  Additionally, if you have a mortgage, your equity will increase every year as you pay off your mortgage.

Pay Down Debt or Save and Invest?

 

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The decision to pay off debt or save and invest money is a common dilemma.  The best solution largely depends on the type of debt you are dealing with and the interest rate that you are paying.  Not all debt is created equal; high interest rate, non-deductible debt, like credit card debt and consumer financing, is generally a bad use of debt. On the other hand, low interest, tax deductible debt such as a mortgage or a home equity loan is generally a more favorable use of debt.  Financially, it’s usually wise to own your home and few of us can afford to pay cash. 

If you have a lot of consumer debt or a large credit card balance with a high interest rate, you are probably spending a substantial sum just to cover the interest.  You need to pay more than your minimum payment to start working down the debt.  It’s important to pay down debt, but you also need to maintain some liquidity to cover unexpected expenses.  There is no magic formula for how much of your available cash should be used to pay down debt and how much should go toward building your emergency fund.  Everyone needs an emergency fund, and I generally I recommend maintaining an emergency fund equal to about four months of expenses.  However, if you are drowning in credit card debt consider using half of your money to pay down debt and the other half to build up an emergency fund until you have around $2,000.  Continue along this path a while longer, if you want to build a larger emergency fund.

 Without an emergency fund you could fall into a never ending debt spiral.   If you don’t have an emergency fund, you may be forced to run up credit card debt again when the inevitable emergency arises.    

As you make progress toward paying off debt, you may wonder if you should invest some money for retirement or your other financial goals.  Generally, you should prioritize paying down debt if the after tax interest rate on your debt is higher than your expected after tax investment return.  When considering the possibility of investing some of your funds, factor in the risk associated with investing your money.   Investing is subject to fluctuations in the market, but there is no market risk associated with the interest you save by paying down debt.

 Additional factors that may enter into the decision to invest some of your money include the opportunity to get an employer match on a 401k contribution and the potential tax deduction you could receive from contributing to a retirement plan.

Finally, if you pay down your high interest debt and you want to pay your mortgage off early, consider the impact this could have on your tax deductions.  You also need to weigh this against the return you could earn, if the money is invested.

Variable Annuities May Not Be Your Best Option

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


A variable annuity is an investment contract with an insurance company where you invest money into your choice of a variety of sub-accounts. Sub-accounts are similar to mutual funds, where money from a large number of investors is pooled and invested in accordance with specific investment objectives. Like mutual funds, sub-accounts may invest in different categories of stock or interest earning investments.
One characteristic of a variable annuity is the tax deferral of gains until the funds are withdrawn. However, upon distribution the gains are taxable at regular income tax rates, as opposed to capital gains rates that may be available for mutual funds. Additionally, there is no step-up in basis upon death for assets held in variable annuities.
Variable annuities are generally more appropriate for non-retirement accounts because gains within a retirement account are already tax deferred. Traditional retirement accounts and Roth IRAs meet the tax deferral needs for most investors. However, in some cases a variable annuity may be attractive to a high income investor who has maximized his traditional retirement options and needs additional opportunities for tax deferral. This is especially true for an investor who is currently in a high tax bracket and expects to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.
When investing in variable annuities, with non-retirement money, there is no requirement to take a Required Minimum Distribution at 70 ½. However, there is generally a 10% penalty on withdrawals made before 59 1/2. Trades can be made within a variable annuity account without immediate tax consequences. The entire gain will be taxable upon withdrawal. There is no annual contribution limit for variable annuities, and you can make non-taxable transfers between annuity companies using a 1035 exchange. However, you may have to pay a surrender charge if you have held the annuity for less than seven to ten years, and you purchased it from a commissioned adviser. Before buying an annuity, read the fine print to fully understand all of the fees and penalties associated with the product. Most variable annuities have early withdrawal penalties and a higher expense structure than mutual funds.
A variable annuity may be an option for someone who wants to purchase an insurance policy to buffer the risk of losing money in the market. For many investors, due to the long term growth in the stock market, this guarantee may be come at too high a price. Some investors are willing to pay additional fees in exchange for the peace of mind that a guaranteed withdrawal benefit can provide. Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefits (GMWB) can be very complex and have some significant restrictions. Additionally, some products offer a guaranteed death benefit for an extra fee. Read the contract carefully and make sure you understand the product before you buy.
Due to the high costs, lack of flexibility, complexity and unfavorable tax treatment variable annuities are not beneficial for many investors.

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