Questions and Answers will be added to the FAQ as received. Click the question to see our response.
NEW QUESTION My financial planner recommends class C shares in my IRA. Is this sound advice?
NEW QUESTION If you are 77 years old and have $30,000 to invest and would like a monthly payout of $200, while still keeping principle, how would you do it?
My husband and I are getting
conflicting recommendations from our insurance agent and financial planner.
We are 30 yrs old and each have $100,000 policies of whole life plus some
term through our insurance agent. Our new financial planner is telling us
to drop the whole and buy all term and invest the difference in cost in a
mutual fund. Can you explain which is better?
I have learned so much since I found this link. I was looking for a lesson in compound interest (especially the formula) and I got that and much more. The information on your website is not only useful for investors, it can be an ethical guide for those charged with helping others meet their financial goals (brokers and CFPs). I am considering a career with Primerica and have found your guide gives me tools to consider this opportunity through both an economic and ethical lens. Great work. The only thing that would make soundinvesting.org better would be to date your articles . Is this possible?
We have refinanced our 15 year 6.625 homeloan to a 30 year 6.5 rate in order to cash out 50k to purchase new cars. We refinanced 10 years ago to purchase our current cars. Now we find that the dealers of the cars we want (totaling approx 50K) are offering a 0 to 0.09% three year finance plan and we are considering investing and/or saving the 50k and taking the finance plans. We probably did a bad thing with the refiance at 30 years so we don't want to compound a mistake with another mistake. Also to consider, we are in our late 50s and have our savings thru 401k's with my husbands work (however, they are closing my husbands office and he may be out of a 40 year job (with a possible measly buyout) 5 years before he is 66. As you know, during this period of time his benefits go from 30% of his income now, to 80% at 66. We will have social security benefits of course but I am only working part time at minimum wage with no benfits other than a small retirement benefit from the same company for which I worked approx. 20 years. I totally trust you and we need help. Thank you.
Can you tell me some typical commission rates financial planners receive from variable annuity funds they sell? (I believe that my financial planner has been "double-dipping" from my investment portfolio by charging both a .6% annual fee based on the portfolio value PLUS possibly a 1% commission on all thevariable annuities I own.)
My broker gets irritated everytime I quote soundinvesting.org and he says that much of your information is wrong. As a case in point today he mentioned that the great number of no load funds turning to loaded funds illustrates the importance and long term superiority of loaded funds.
In the fall of 2000 I bought the QQQ's after watching financial author Suzie Orman tout them as the ideal growth vehicle for investors. What are they, why are they down so much and where did I go wrong with this investment?
My broker was very upset when I brought up soundinvesting.org and your comments about the Class B funds he sold me. He also said your comments last year about getting more conservative may look good for 2000 but if you look at it for the last two years you are still better off with aggressive growth funds (he feels that the funds he sold me will rebound by this spring). Any comments?
I saw your words of warning last year when the tech stocks and NASDAQ were soaring. It helped me avoid the Bonnel Growth Fund that my advisor was recommending. How did you know to avoid Bonnel Growth nears its highs of 2000?
After warning soundinvesting.org loyalists about the extreme valuations in internet stocks, the poor performance amongst banks and major brokerage firms mutual funds and the dangers of derivatives and private placements in mutual funds, what are your next words of warning? And why don't you publicize your success better so more can benefit from your advice?
What is a tracking stock?
On February 27, 2000, I was listening to Radio station 570 KVI in Seattle and was interested in a fund being discussed. I thought I heard it called the Bonnel Growth Fund and the person being interviewed being called Art. They also spoke of "sound investing," and would like to have your comments on the fund.
I have invested in a mutual fund for my children's college (Washington Mutual...) through Edward Jones and last year earned 6.7% after fees etc. This seems quite low. Does this seem like a low return to you?
I am impressed with your site and would love to see even more mutual fund information. Also, how do you decide what info to add? It is the first purely informative site that does not try to sell you on something.
I am just beginning to learn about investing and have found soundinvesting.org extremely helpful. I started with some dollar cost averaging in a few no-load/low cost funds.
My husband and I have recently started to invest on our own. Where do I begin and what articles or other information should I be aware of? I'm eager to learn.
Please enlighten me in regard to building a tax-sensitive portfolio?
I am worried the stock market will fall, and because I am 70, I am looking for a safer place to put my IRA than my equity mutual fund. Do you have any suggestions since I will start taking money out at 70 1/2, and I can't wait for a market recovery if the market should fall?
This is the central question when it comes to indexing. What index, how much of your portfolio in various indexes and for how long? The most important question may be to make sure we are in the right environment for indexing, like the late 90s; or, are investors better off with actively managed portfolios during an environment when some indexes do not make much progress (like 2005).
If ever there was an example of how bad these alphabet share classes of mutual funds really are for the individual investor, one only has to look at many current C shares money market funds. Invesco Funds recently waived part of its fee it charges their C share money market investors to keep their money market yield in positive territory. The inherently larger expenses of a class C fund actually brought Invesco money market fund's yield down to 0.01% last month. Management decided to waive 0.10% of its fee, thus bringing the yield to 0.11%. Invesco's class C Money Market is burdened with a 1.74% expense ratio at the same time the average money market fund has an expense ratio at 0.61%. Mutual fund investors should review the total cost of their funds now that investment expectations are lower, plus, with lower interest rates, it is more important than ever to watch costs closely even with money market funds. Beware of the alphabet soup class funds that your broker may be pushing on you, and always look at your total costs.
$200 a month on a $30,000 investment equals to an 8% return not even taking into account any tax liability. Currently, the highest CD rates pay around 5% annually, so your financial targets are not feasible while keeping all of your principle intact and without risk.
Here are some key rules on beginning to invest. You have made the first necessary step and that is to initially read, and learn, as much as you can before investing. We hope www.soundinvesting.org becomes a key source in enhancing your investing IQ.
Rules of Successful Investing
These are five basic rules of successful investing. Other factors, once you begin, include: reviewing your investments regularly, keeping accurate records, looking at total "after tax" investment return because the bottom line is what you are actually allowed to keep. Don't forget to evaluate the risk/cost involved while acquiring your returns. This latter point is the biggest error we see with new inexperienced (and even many experienced) investors. There are numerous other factors involved when one begins to invest, but focusing on all the above should give you a great start.
There are four primary strategies that help make an investment portfolio tax sensitive or efficient.
Everyone's financial situation, as well as risk tolerance, is different and that is why specific advice can not be rendered; but here are some strategic ideas to consider:
We hope this helps you reallocate your IRA properly. You may wish to bring in a professional because a big part of your retirement success will be dependent on proper initial allocation as well as sticking with your plan. We have found many retired investors leaving the equity arena, when in fact a "total return" approach (some growth) would make better sense. You must decide if you are making a market call or a life cycle adjustment. Reductions in your equity position due to upcoming distributions and less recovery time seems appropriate. But a market call on a Y2K drop or because of a high market valuation is another matter. For example, if someone thought the markets were too high in 1995, and got out - as many people actually did - now the market is up over 150% from where they sold. To put this in proper perspective, investors would need a crash thirteen times the magnitude of Black Tuesday in 1929 today to break even. Many stocks are overvalued and should be avoided, but a more conservative equity stance, for the equity portion of your IRA, may be all that is needed.
Thanks for visiting soundinvesting.org and asking about your Washington Mutual Fund investment. The fund has had a difficult first year for you and its three year record is also below average. Through 2/29/00 its one year performance was -6.72% versus the S&P500 +11.73, on a three year your fund only averaged 10.10% less than half of the S&P500 21.78% three year average. In addition you probably paid a sales load or have surrender charges now to get out. After visiting soundinvesting.org you probably realize the immediate disadvantage of buying loaded funds particularly when planning to make subsequent investments for your children. I hope this helps answer your question because our goal is to be your source for objective financial information. Good luck.
Thanks for visiting soundinvesting.org we are glad our website was helpful and informative. Please let your friends know about our objective and not for profit website. After all, what better way to get investment advice. If you have any specific questions let us know, until then follow our suggestions of getting complete details in writing on the risk, total costs and specific limitations on each investment before you invest. New material is continuously added to soundinvesting.org, so visit often.
Thank you for visiting soundinvesting.org. Because of the many requests such as yours on even more current suggestions on selecting mutual funds we have added a new update in the mutual funds section. Thanks for your suggestion and I hope this new article gives you some solid objective information. Please tell your friends and associates about soundinvesting.org because this educational non-profit site is aimed to meet your needs.
The husband/wife team of Art and Wanda Bonnel manage the Bonnel Growth Fund out of their home in Reno, Nevada. Like many funds that have experienced exceptional returns (up 81.4% in 1999), Bonnel is concentrating on technology stocks. In our opinion, the rapid rise in technology and biotechnology stocks has been accentuated by the excesses brought on by momentum and margin investors. This means that funds that focus on these sectors may be vulnerable to a significant sell-off and you may wish to dollar cost average or hold off investing until these sectors experience weakness. The demographics for both sectors is very favorable over the long term and investors that buy at current inflated levels must have a stomach for volatility and a mandatory long term perspective. Some of the other leading funds that fall under this technology/biotechnology category make even Bonnel's 81.4% in 1999 look modest (and that is scary!) These funds include: Fidelity Select Technology +184%, Firsthand Technology Leaders +210%, Rydex OTC +117%, Invesco Technology II +230%, Northern Technology +209%, T. Rowe Price Science & Tech +125%, Presdner RCM Biotechnology +330%, Munder NetNet +166% and Van Wagoner Technology +244%. The past four weeks (through Feb 29, 2000) performance ranges from a low of 12% to an amazing 65% gain -just for February! It is important to understand the risk before investing in any mutual funds - as more and more funds have private placements, warrants & derivatives that are illiquid and very difficult to value as well.
Is a stock that "tracks" the performance of a single unit within a larger company. They have never been more popular as many companies are issuing tracking stock for their internet related or wireless operations. They are utilized most often to highlight assets that would normally be buried in a corporate balance sheet, thus bringing to light these once unnoticed or under-recognized operations. Many times these tracking stocks can enhance value by becoming a comparable to their pure play counterparts. Inflated tracking stocks can therefore more easily attract key employees, outside investors, Wall Street analysts, and make it easier/cheaper to make synergistic acquisitions. There are also caveats to tracking stocks that should be noted and those include bookkeeping strategies since the parent usually controls the tracking stock many times losses can be skewed to the tracking company lessening the tax burden of the parent while getting the losses off the parent's books. Tracking stocks don't own the assets nor do they usually carry voting privileges or even have their own board of directors. There have been numerous cases in which the tracking stock shareholders have been unfairly treated because of this, including when Ziff-Davis issued a tracking stock for its online subsidiary only to use most of the $2.5B IPO proceeds to pay off the parent company's debt. In many of the proxies something to the effect of "the parent company's board has sole discretion to make decisions that could favor our business at the expense of another." So just like with any investment that is discussed in soundinvesting.org it is critical to analyze all aspects of a tracking stock before investing.
Q: After warning soundinvesting.org loyalists about the extreme valuations in internet stocks, the poor performance amongst banks and major brokerage firms mutual funds and the dangers of derivatives and private placements in mutual funds, what are your next words of warning? And why don't you publicize your sucess better so more can benefit from your advice?
Obviously you are referring to the plunge in the high tech stocks (particularly dot-coms), and brokerage firms like PaineWebber now outsourcing the money management activity of their own funds (after underperforming YTD 2000, 1 year, 3 year and 5 year periods) and most recently the two Heartland municipal funds had single day losses of 70% and 44% after marking down positions that were incorrectly accounted for due to obscure holdings not being priced properly. The mission of soundinvesting.org is to provide objective, educational information to help investors avoid the sales hype so typical in the investing world today. These warnings prove very valuable to investors that avoided such problem areas after reading our words of warning. Our latest thoughts on the problems at Janus Funds follow. (As far as pubicizing our education site that is where we need your help - if you find any part of this newsletter of interest please tell or e-mail the article to a friend). Our goal is to provide you with the most objective information, answer your specific questions and become your source in today's complicated investment environment.
Janus has a heavy concentration in high multiple technology & communication stocks that had performed exceedingly well over the past three years or more. Such momentum investing leaves the bulk of its assets very susceptible to a market correction (or bear market). Their exposure is much larger than most investors realize because Janus breaks down their sectors in much more detail than other funds (thus making tech exposure seem smaller until you add all related sectors together). Even Janus admits that their past huge inflows of new investment dollars can not continue to grow as it has been, but any prolonged correction or bear market in technology stocks would have a spiraling negative effect in terms of both the growth of new investors and more importantly, on investment performance.
Our second concern with Janus is with the loss of James Craig who as their chief investment officer and a critical component of Janus' overall success over the years. Their various money managers' morale was already being tested with the bitter fight between Kansas City Southern (Janus' owner) regarding the spin-off of the company into Stilwell Financial. We feel Craig's departure will put added responsibilities and pressure on current managers only adding to growing operational and morale problems. In any event it was a good time to reduce investor exposure to Janus as the likelihood of continued outperformance has been seriously dampened.
Q: I saw your words of warning last year when the tech stocks and the NASDAQ were soaring. It helped me avoid the Bonnel Growth Fund that my advisor was recommending. How did you know to avoid Bonnel Growth nears its highs of 2000?
Our goal is to educate rather than give specific investment advice, but our analysis on Bonnel reflected our thoughts on all these aggressive mutual funds that we found chasing the NASDAQ high flyers at unprecedented valuations. What made matters worse was that Bonnel has over 77% of its holdings in technology (even though it was not specifically a tech fund). We decided to bring this to the attention of our soundinvesting.org readers because many investors did not understand the risk in buying this fund back in Feb of 2000. The fact that it did not reflect this risky tech exposure in its name and that it had high expenses only hastened our decision of letting investors know of the excessive risk they were taking by buying such a fund.
Q: My broker was very upset when I brought up soundinvesting.org and your comments about the Class B funds he sold me. He also said your comments last year about getting more conservative may look good for 2000, but if you look at it for the last two years you are still better off with aggressive growth funds (he feels that the funds he sold me will rebound by this spring). Any comments?
First of all, we stand by the facts in our analysis of the excessive costs of Class B funds and feel they are sold for larger accounts for only one reason the broker gets paid a higher flat percentage commission rather than the declining commission scale of most Class A funds. The Securities & Exchange Commission must be beginning to agree with us because they are looking at restricting the sale, without appropriate disclosure, of such funds for accounts over $10,000. Secondly, the table below best illustrates the performance statistics from the last two years. The key to all of this is understanding the risk you are taking with each and every mutual fund you buy:
Vanguard 500 Index
Vanguard Total Bond Index
Vanguard Value Index
It seemed to have been a smart move to get more conservative expecially at the time of the FAQ in Feb. 2000. Our goal is not to make market calls but to educate investors to better understand the risk they are taking because many brokers/advisors do not detail the risk or costs until it is too late. By the way, with your broker's final comments that the aggressive mutual funds he sold you will rebound by springtime - we disagree with that statement as well because too many investors own such aggressive funds and speculative tech stocks so it will probably take a much longer time to rebound. The numbers in the table look even worse for aggressive investors after considering the losses of Janus Twenty and ProFunds UltraOTC -16.5% and -40.2%, respectively, so far during the first two months of 2001. A spingtime rebound is wishful thinking, in our opinion, for most tech related funds unless your broker is talking the spring of 2002 or 2003.
Yes it is possible to invest wisely, even for a novice, with the proper due diligence and discipline. You have already made a solid first step by bookmarking soundinvesting.org a regular site to visit and learn. In investing, just like in many other things, knowledge is power - we suggest you read and learn as much as you can before you invest. We have categorized soundinvesting.org into categories to make it easier for you to focus on specific areas of interest. General advice like proper diversification, low expenses and a disciplined long term approach are all essential initial ingredients to investment success. Most investors are sold on their investments without asking the right questions about total costs, accessibility of their monies, and risk parameters - many of these items are touched upon in articles on this site. For example, most investors tend to follow the herd and buy the "hot" areas because everybody seems to be doing it. These are often the areas of highest risk (because prices are high and already valued to perfection) and should be avoided. Investors that were part of the dot-com bubble in 1999 and early 2000 discovered their excess risk the hard way by watching their stocks plunge 80-90% or more over a relatively short period of time.
This question depends on a variety of factors including your current age, expenses, debt, and lifestyle, just to name a few. Generally, the amount utilized for emergency savings is between 2-6 months' worth of income after taxes. If you are more conservative, you may wish to be in the 6 (or more) months' end of the spectrum and nearer to two if you are more aggressive and have little or no debt.
Q: In the fall of 2000 I bought the QQQ's after watching financial author Suzie Orman tout them as the ideal growth vehicle for investors. What are they, why are they down so much and where did I go wrong with this investment?
A: Many investors and unfortunately some of the experts erroneously believe that QQQ's are a NASDAQ technology index. In actuality the QQQ's are an exchange traded index fund representing the NASDAQ 100 (among the largest 100 companies of the NASDAQ minus financials). The index is rebalanced annually, on the third Friday of December, based on adjusted market capitalization and liquidity. When many experts were expounding on the QQQ over the past two years it was during the height of overvalutions with many of the alrge NASDAQ stocks due to the dot-com bubble. Thus, it is no surprise that considering no fewer than seven stocks from the NASDAQ 100 were trading below $1 a sharein September the composition of the QQQ will have dramatic changes into 2002. For more details on the components of QQQ and how it is not just a technology index click here.
A: There are a variety of ways for a financial planner to get paid by selling you a variable annuity. Many do have an ongoing trail commission as you suggested ranging from 0.25% to 1.50% annually. Sometimes this is in addition to a 2-6% upfront commission paid upon initiation of your contract. You should refer to your prospectus to see the total cost and the then check the copy of your application to see what commission schedule your financial planner has selected. Obviously if your planner is charging a 0.6% annual fee on top of this then you term of "double dipping" does seem appropriate. This is unfortunately common and unless your planner is only using low cost, pure no load products he or she should not be charging an annual fee in our opinion.
A: In the early years of the mutual fund industry there were many more loaded funds and as investors became more sophisticated no load funds began to capture more market share. A few years ago the amount of no load funds approximately equaled the total of loaded funds. Your broker is right that many no load funds are switching to a loaded format but not for the reason of superiority. In fact we can make the case that it is just the opposite reason these funds are switching. Many fund families have switched to a loaded format rather than sell directly to investors because they could not raise money directly from investors. A difficult recent market environment, poor investment performance and/or a change in ownership are some of the reasons these funds felt the need to obtain assets from an active sales force. Some of the recent fund families that have converted to loads included Invesco, Scudder, Credit Suisse Warburg Pincus and Acorn Funds (Acorn was purchased by loaded Liberty Funds and that is the reason for that change). So these are the main reasons for no load funds switching to loaded funds, not the superiority your broker suggests. We are not saying that no load funds are better than loaded funds, only that investors should be aware of all the costs before they invest. The fact that the average mutual fund investor holds a fund less than 3 years only compounds the problem of having sales charges on mutual funds. A recent study by Kanon Bloch Carre looked at fund costs a different way then the typical annual expense ratios. Their study looked at the percentage of a fund's returns that was kept by the fund company as expenses. In other words what fund families delivered the most return for your dollar. Even though these figures did not take into consideration the initial sales charge of the funds it is investing that all five of the highest cost funds were load funds, while four of the five lowest cost funds (for the five years ending 12/31/01) were of the no load variety.
A: Soundinvesting.org has always recommended focusing on the future before buying mutual funds rather than just the rear view mirror analysis done by most advisors and rating agencies. This is done by not only looking at management of each fund but also their philosophy, market and company analysis, as well as the general market sentiment to emphasize the right funds at the right time for the long term. Investors that used a diversified mutual fund approach rather than buying the hot tech or telecom fund most likely made money the past two years while the majority of invetors lost money.
The mutual fund research firm Morningstar, on the other hand, is totally revamping their mutual fund rating system this summer. They are being forced to after their current system completely let subscribers down by being purely momentum motivated. Thus, their top rated 5 star funds were all technology and telecom funds that met investors fancy 2 1/2 years ago. This led to their subscribers pouring money into the Janus and Firsthand Funds that grew to phenomenal popularity. Those funds were all buying the same stocks which drove them higher which led to more money flooding into the funds which led to them bidding these same stocks (Nokia, AOL and Cisco) even higher and so on and so forth. Back in November 1999, we warned about such funds and the bubble being built in technology stocks in general and the dot-com stocks in particular. That is what pure analysis is all about - paying attention to such moves and taking profits when prices begin to get too carried away and buy areas where sentiment and expectations are low. We do not know if Morningstar's new system will be able to differentiate the overblown from the undervalued, but all we can say is it is about time such rating services begin to look at the future ratings rather than recommendations solely based on absolute past performance.
An example of this is the international funds.
After severely outperforming in both the 1970's and 80's, international stocks have dramatically underperformed since 1990. Over this past year we have emphasized that investors seek select international exposure for the balance of this decade. It is easy to see by the bar graph below why the majority of investors have shunned international investors but this is the time (after many years of underperformance) that investors should focus on such investments. Obviously your goals, objectives, risk tolerance and specific time frame are all important facotrs before deciding whether to invest in mutual funds in general and in deciding which mutual fund in particular.
The Dodge & Cox family of funds offers excellent more "Value based" funds that are not only no load but also have very low annual expenses. This more conservative value based strategy has done much better during the recent stock market sell-off as opposed to the momentum hey day growth days of the late 1990's. Dodge & Cox has done well over the long term in many type of markets and investors should read each prospectus to determine which fund would be best for their specific situation.
Several mutual funds have been increasing their minimums of late in efforts to lower costs during a difficult investing environment. There are still many no-loads with low minimums such as TIAA-CREF and Tweedy Browne ($500 minimum) and Dodge & Cox and Vanguard ($1000 minimum) to name a few. Please review a prospectus in detail and check our mutual fund section before you invest. Another alternative is to invest in a savings account or CD at your local bank or savings & loan which tend to have very low minimums.
Q: We have refinanced our 15 year 6.625 homeloan to a 30 year 6.5 rate in order to cash out 50k to purchase cars. Now we find that the dealers of the cars we want (totaling approx 50K) are offering a 0 to 0.09% three year finance plan and we are considering investing and/or saving the 50k and taking the finance plans. We probably did a bad thing with the refiance at 30 years so we don't want to compound a mistake with another mistake. Also to consider, we are in our late 50s and have our savings thru 401k's with my husbands work (however, they are closing my husbands office and he may be out of a 40 year job (with a possible measly buyout) 5 years before he is 66. As you know, during this period of time his benefits go from 30% of his income now, to 80% at 66. We will have social security benefits of course but I am only working part time at minimum wage with no benfits other than a small retirement benefit from the same company for which I worked approx. 20 years. I totally trust you and we need help. Thank you.
Buying new cars every year or two is definitely not the most efficient use of your capital, but that is more of a lifestyle choice. Obviously taking advantage of the special financing is beneficial, but adding to your liabilities at a point when your husband's job may be lost is daring. At this stage of your lives we would suggest lowering debt and liabilities (possibly even look at keeping cars for extended periods) and not adding to your fixed expenditures and discretionary spending. Don't worry about yor past mistakes rather learn from them and do your best to build for the future.
Q: I have learned so much since I found this link. I was looking for a lesson in compound interest (especially the formula) and I got that and much more.
The information on your website is not only useful for investors, it can be an ethical guide for those charged with helping others meet their financial goals (brokers and CFPs).
I am considering a career with Primerica and have found your guide gives me tools to consider this opportunity through both an economic and ethical lens. Great work. The only thing that would make soundinvesting.org better would be to date your articles. Is this possible?
Thank you for your kind comments. It is gratifying to have so many readers let us know how helpful our articles and the Q&A is for you. This site is built to help individual investors by being the objective source to answer your specific questions and concerns. We will add dates to all future articles and appreciate your suggestion.
Q: My husband and I are getting conflicting recommendations from our insurance agent and financial planner. We are 30 yrs old and each have $100,000 policies of whole life plus some term through our insurance agent. Our new financial planner is telling us to drop the whole and buy all term and invest the difference in cost in a mutual fund. Can you explain which is better?
We recommend getting a full analysis of your current policy, along with available options with its built-up cash accumulation before you surrender or exchange anything. Many times agents/advisors look at surrending your current contract to establish a whole new round of commissions for said agent. In other words look at all your options before making this decision and look at a no-load low expense contract as potential once you have decided that is substitutes the correct route for your situation.
As a small investor it may be difficult to strategically ladder enough bonds to make it work your while and be cost effective. A bond fund will offer the diversity but if interest rates should rise there is no assurance you will get your principal returned, since there is no set maturities for the typical bond fund. The best way to answer your question is to calculate the cost in laddering individual bonds versus the fund's total cost, then go with the former if the overall costs are comparable.
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