Coronavirus and investments: Don’t worry, be happy

So the stock market tanked in historic drops in February on news of the coronavirus Covid-19. It also recovered in an historic one-day recovery.
Dizzy yet?
Investment experts at Market Watch say ignore the headlines.
The market will go up and down during the virus crisis, but no experts think it will stay down.

Long-term investors need not worry
Those with a 401(K) or IRA are probably still doing well compared to the same time last year or even the year before. If you have some time before retirement, take a deep breath. You made a lot of money in the last three years, and you are probably still ahead.

Don’t let bad news make you sell good stocks
Headline risk. That’s what stock advisers call short-term bad news that panics some investors into selling.
Don’t panic.
Apple, for example, was selling for around $146 in 2018 but soared to more than $330 before the virus crisis. During the crisis, it dipped to around $220. But, even though in the short run, sales will be slower and the supply chains crazy, it’s still Apple. Still a great company to own.

Opportunities arise
Plus, in the meantime, as stock prices sink, buying opportunities rise. Buy the bargain. A short-term crisis offers lots of buying opportunities.
One caution from Market Watch: Don’t try to guess when the market will be lowest. No one can. Buy when the bargain seems good.
It might be time to look at your portfolio and consider rebalancing your ratio of stocks to bonds, according to Market Watch.

FIRE movement promotes extreme savings, early retirement

A relatively new financial movement aims at financial independence and early retirement, sometimes extremely early retirement.
And that’s the name of the movement: Financial Independence; Retire Early.
Adherents say people can retire in their 40s or even 30s if they practice extreme saving and investing.
The key idea is to enlarge the gap between necessary expenses and income. The money in the gap is what you invest.
As a practical matter that means closely tracking expenses, eliminating anything that isn’t necessary. Make sure your living arrangements are as inexpensive as possible. Eliminate all debt. Cut expenses to the extreme. Then, enlarge the gap by side jobs or part-time jobs to create a big monthly investment number.
FIRE people try to make sure they max out 401K and retirement programs, while saving extra on the side. They intend to retire before they can withdraw funds at age 59 and a half. They also have to make enough money to buy private health insurance.
FIRE retirees actually don’t think of retirement as a way to stop work. They think of it as a way to work the way they want, without worrying about money.
Semi-anonymous blogger Roman, founder of TenFactorialRocks.com, says this can even be done with children. While the USDA says it costs $11,000 to $12,000 per year to raise a child, Roman says it costs more like $4,200 to $7,000 a year, depending on day care costs. Roman writes, “Kids want your time and attention more than expensive gifts, lavish vacations, overpriced tutors and royal treatment summer camps.”
On the other hand, Lisa Harrison of the Mad Money Monster blog, rejected the FIRE movement in favor of simple living. When trying FIRE, she and her husband cut out every single extra expense, from coffee dates to dinners, and they found that, after two years, their savings were up but their happiness was down. They decided to simply live in a frugal manner, saving money regularly, keeping expenses down, but going on dates and buying pizza. “A feeling of relief washed over me,” she writes.

For Baby Boomers, it is time to make a profit, save headaches

Baby Boomers (aged 54 to 74) are holding on to their beloved homes, but selling and downsizing now could not only save a lot of headaches, it could also make a tidy profit.
Interest rates are low with the national average rate hovering around 3.6% to 3.9%. Buyers are plentiful. In most areas, there are more buyers than houses for sale. That means a great house for sale could snag a great price.
One option for downsizing is condo living, which can bring a host of benefits to retired Boomers. Condo retirement communities offer a community where people interact and make new friends. Some have parties and even social events for people from the same area. And, you can admire the landscaping without having to mow and trim.
A condo in the city brings the excitement of shopping and entertainment within walking distance. Or, an Uber is just a click away. No more commutes.
Selling that big home and buying a smaller home can add to your nest egg and, if you want, bring you closer to the kids. It’s also a good way to bring the pets along. Along the way, downsizers save big on smaller utility and maintenance bills.
One other consideration: It is always easier to finance a home before retirement. If you have the will and the way, make your move while the market is perfect.

New investment rule: Take your money later

As of Jan. 1, those with a 401(k) or IRA can start withdrawing the required minimum at age 72.
Previously, account holders were required to take the minimum distribution at age 70.5.
The new rules, arising from President Trump’s Secure Act, update the old rules, which were based on life expectancies in the early 1960s.
There may be some tax implications for some account holders, depending on their tax brackets in the year they withdraw. Check with a financial advisor to be sure.
The Secure Act also eliminates the maximum age for traditional IRA contributions, which was previously capped at 70.5 years old. The bill summary by the House Ways and Means Committee explains, “As Americans live longer, an increasing number continue employment beyond traditional retirement age.”
Americans who turned 70.5 years old during 2019 will still need to withdraw their required minimum distributions. Failure to do so results in a 50 percent penalty.
People who are expected to turn 70.5 years old in 2020 will not be required to withdraw RMDs until they are 72.

The simple life: Minimalists shun excess

Recently, a woman showed up in the conference room of a Midwestern bank wearing a T-shirt. She was 93 years old and had driven an old stick-shift car to the meeting.
She was a minimalist, and her net worth was $2.4 million.
Minimalism gets a lot of attention today. It’s all about living with less. Minimal or no debt. No unnecessary expenses. No excess stuff.
Pick an item you own. Any item. Have you used it in the last three months? If not, will you in the next three?
Look around your home. Do you really need that extra square footage? How much money could you save without heating and cooling it?
Minimalism is a theory rooted in the value of experiences over possessions. Quality over quantity may be a cliche, but it is a tenet in minimalism.
To live a minimalist life, you don’t have to get rid of everything you own but the essentials. By asking yourself, “Does this thing bring meaning to my life?”, you can pick and choose what’s right for you.
Getting rid of a few needless possessions, for example, in exchange for a hobby.
According to moneyunder30.com, living by a few minimalist philosophies can do wonders for an individual’s or couple’s finances.
Use one credit card (preferably one that offers rewards). Have one checking account, and one savings account for cash emergencies.
Don’t try to live up to another minimalist’s standards, advises medium.com. Respond to your own emotions, desires, needs, and goals. Educate yourself about minimalism. Do what serves you, rid yourself of what doesn’t. Allow yourself to evolve and to make changes. Once you know what you want, it’s easier to be a minimalist.

Changing jobs? What to do with that 401(k)

There aren’t many things you can do with your 401(k) when you change jobs, but some choices are better than others.

  • Worst choice: Cash out.
    If you went to all the trouble of saving money in a retirement plan, the worst thing you can do before age 65 is cash it out. Any distribution will require a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59. Plus, anything you take will be taxable that year. There is an exception to the penalty if you are losing a job or changing jobs at age 55 or later, but it is still taxed.
  • Best choice: Rollover to the new company’s plan. You never get your hands on the money and it never stops growing.
  • Good choice: Rollover to an IRA. If you have less than 10 years to work, an IRA will offer a wider choice of safe investments and fixed income options, according to Presley Wealth Management.
  • Possible plan: Rollover to a Roth IRA.
    Consult an investment advisor before doing this. The downside is that you pay taxes on the money when you take the Roth plan. The upside is you can start tax-free withdrawals at age 59.
  • Good option: Leave it where it is.
    You won’t be contributing to your old 401(k) if you leave your job, but if you like the current options, consider keeping it where it is. You can roll it over any time

Earn high interest with online savings accounts

You might love your local bank, but it isn’t necessarily the place to park money over the long term.
Today, online high-yield savings accounts offer dramatically higher savings rates than brick-and-mortar banks.
A typical savings account in a brick-and-mortar bank could pay .02% APY (annual percentage yield) compared to 2.25% or more with an online bank, according to Magnify Money.
What this means to savings really matters.
A $15,000 savings account at .02% yields about $3 per year — a whopping 25 cents a month. The same amount saved at 2.25%, yields about $337 per year, or about $28 per month.
Online banks are FDIC insured as is the local bank. But online banks have lower overhead with no buildings to worry about.
However, they also may not have ATMs, they might have fees, or require high minimum deposits. But not all do.
Synchrony Bank, for example, has no minimum deposit and no fees, but you are limited to six withdrawals or transfers per month. APY is 2.25%.
The low-interest account at your local bank will give you access to money at all times and likely include easy transfers. Still, these accounts are best reserved for merely separating money to be used for different purposes.
Search for high-interest online savings to compare features.

Vested: It’s not what you wear; it’s what you own

It’s a term thrown around a lot, and it sounds important: vesting. As in, being fully vested — that sounds pretty good and it is.
According to the IRS, being vested in a retirement plan means ownership. All employee contributions to a retirement plan are 100% fully vested — the employee owns everything he or she puts in.
However, employers usually provide a match of a certain percentage of employee contributions.
Matching contributions
Employers match contributions made by employees in different percentages. An employer might say: If you put 6% of your paycheck into the 401(k), then we’ll match your contribution by 50%. So suppose your 6% equals $3,000. Then the employer will put in $1,500. That would be an unusually generous match. Typically, an employer may match 3% of the first 6% of the employee’s salary. That equals a 9% contribution — still pretty good, especially over the long term.
They key idea, though, is that the employer sets a certain match percentage. The employer may also have rules about when their contributions are fully owned (or vested) by the employee.
Vesting rules
The employer, along with the fund managers, decides how much of the match the employee owns and when.
Newer employees may start out at lower percentages, but they become fully vested in time.
For example, an employee may become 20% vested in the company match after two years, meaning the employee owns their personal contributions plus 20% of the company match. Many 401(k) plans work out vesting in tiers. The longer you stay with the company, the more of the company contribution you own. An employee might become fully vested in, for example, six years. Then the employee owns 100% of the matching contribution.
Sometimes 401(k)s are set up so that an employee becomes 100% vested at a specific time — say after 2 years. Then they own all the matching funds on one day.
Being fully vested
The good thing about being fully vested is that you own all the money you put in and all the money your boss matches. (Plus, you own all the money that grows over time.) That means you can take the money with you if leave the company or retire.

Taxes and retirement: What is taxed?

Upon retirement, you don’t get a paycheck with the proper amount of taxes withheld. That’s obvious.
What may not be so obvious until you retire is the amount of taxes you owe. Unlike employees, retirees write checks for their taxes, making them acutely aware of their tax burden.
Of course, everything we save for retirement is taxable at some point and in some way.
If you are ready to retire, here are some things to look forward to:

  • Social Security taxes: You have to pay tax on your benefit. You can have amounts from 7 percent to 22 percent withheld from every check. See form W-4V (for Voluntary).
  • Pension and annuity taxes: See Form W-4P to instruct the payor how much to withhold.
  • IRA distributions: The law requires 10 percent be withheld unless you tell the distributor not to withhold. You can also tell the distributor to withhold all of the taxes.
  • Company plans and lump sums: Some of these plans are taxed at 20 percent.

Determining Comps When You Want to Sell Your House


The home you’ve cared for and loved might seem incomparable to you, but when you sell (or get a home equity loan), someone is going to have to find a comparison.
In the language of real estate and mortgage that is called comps.
Comps help answer the biggest question on your mind and a lender’s mind when you look to sell your house: What’s my home worth?
The answer? It depends.
It’s important to note that home values boil down to educated — and sometimes uneducated — guesses. They are merely opinions, with the one that truly matters being the bank’s. Toward the end of the process, the buyer’s bank needs to approve of the purchase price in order for the loan to be approved.
Before then, however, you have a few ways of gathering information. The best is to consult with a real estate professional who can provide you with a figure based on “comps” — comparative sales. The agent will conduct a comparative market analysis, or CMA, and give you their professional opinion on your home’s potential sales value. This is generally a far better option than relying on your neighbor’s or your uncle’s opinion, as the agent is trained and experienced at comps.
What goes into a CMA? The agent will find recent sales of similar properties in your location; the best comps are within 90 days or less, though if you live in an area that’s less populated, you’ll likely use comps from six months back and sometimes longer.
If your home is ranch style, it should be compared to sales of other ranch homes. A cape or a contemporary is different. Comps also take into consideration the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the acreage, whether there’s a garage and a basement, and things like central air and the type of heating.
The key is to work with someone who understands your specific market and who has a track record of accurately providing figures. Top-selling agents (not necessarily top listing agents) are generally the ones who do best at this. As a seller’s agent, they know how to price your home to move while also getting you a fair price; as a buyer’s agent, they typically understand how to negotiate well.