How To Find Money Management Success – Create a Dashboard

I just answered a question on the Stacking Benjamins Facebook page about a recent podcast interview featuring some bill pay app creators. My interviewees had discussed just how difficult it can be to quickly and efficiently pay bills. “I don’t understand the problem these guys are presenting,” the poster said (I’m paraphrasing….). “I just go to my bank and use their bill pay app every other week. No problem.”

I wish it were that easy for everyone.

Let’s face it. Most of us have one big problem with our financial profile: we’re disorganized. After 16 years in the financial trenches, I’ve seen it far too often to think it’s anything other than a widespread problem. Most of us pay bills on sixteen different sites and have two old 401k plans with former employers, our current job’s plan AND different 529 plans for each child. It’s impossible to manage everything. I’d ask people with all of these different investments and bill paying problems how they juggle everything, and the answer I most often heard was, “I manage it very poorly.”

Yet moving investments to a single provider is a scary proposition. We’ve all heard of Bernie Madoff and don’t want to trust one person with our money. We also have all heard of diversification. Having different plans ensures that I won’t have all of my eggs in one basket.
So we have two problems: safety and diversification….and the fact that by having your assets spread out it’s impossible to track. How do we reconcile these two ideas?

It’s easier than you think.


Could you drive a car with three different dashboards?

Think About Driving A Car

When you drive a car, do you have one set of gauges or several? Of course, you only have one set of gauges. It’d be impossible to drive if you had five different dashboards. Imagine! Yet, when you think about your car, it’s a diversified collection of inputs, all working independently. However, when you put it all together, these gauges make your car easier to drive. You get the right data at the appropriate time.
That’s what we’re looking for with money management success….we don’t want to get rid of diversification. Our goal is to create a single dashboard.

In Your Personal Life

There are three areas you should look at with your money:

Budget and bill tracking. Budgets fail when you’re making decisions about spending without knowing where your money goes each month. Items like a mortgage or rent payment and grocery bills are easy to track, but how much do you spend each week on entertainment? If you don’t track your expenses, it’s difficult to project the future or find any money management success. The gauge you’re looking for to help with daily money management is an app like Mint or Yodlee, that will automatically track your expenses so when you’re planning next week’s expenses you know how you’ve spent money in the past.

For budgets, Mint will allow you to set up alerts so that you’re notified when going over budget categories. YNAB (paid subscription) will help you think differently about your budget and keeping every area in check. People who like the old-fashioned envelope system may be attracted to MVelopes, an automatic way of instituting envelope budgets so you don’t have cash sitting around your home.

Investments. Many apps will help you track your investment life. In particular, Mint can create a pie chart of your overall diversification so you can easily make investment decisions. Companies like Jemstep allow investors to input their goals and then recommends investment shifts. FeeX will look at all of your investments across platforms and tell you how much you’re paying in fees….an important gauge to see when investing. Zillow has a cool app that will track any real estate properties you own. NVestly is a social media site that not only helps you see results across your whole portfolio, but also makes investing social (you can see others investment pies…but not the amounts of money they have in any investment). While each of these is different, using a couple of these apps can help you make better investment decisions without worrying about having too much money at a single brokerage account.

That said, brokerage houses all offer a diversified collection of investments through different companies. Just because your portfolio is housed as Fidelity, for example, doesn’t mean you have to have all Fidelity investments. They work with a wide range of providers….and you only have to visit one brokerage site to see everything. One dashboard but still diversification!

Big Picture. You should be able to see how your net worth is growing at a glance. Mint and Yodlee, among others, will give you that quick at-a-glance overall picture.

With Your Business or Side Gig

If you’re self employed, you’re even more crunched for time. You have your personal books AND business metrics to track. As a fan of the excellent management book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, I know that the keys to business success are in systems and data. How much data you have and how quickly you can use that data to your advantage are important. That means three things:

Platform. If your business or side-gig project isn’t build on a solid footing, you’re hurting. A web presence built by experts like means that you won’t have to worry about the “bones” of your business being difficult for customers or employees to navigate.

Reporting. Using your bank’s application to track inflows and outflows (as well as setting up a Mint or Yodlee account for your business) can help you stay on top of business expennditures and inflows. Ask your accountant about great business tracking apps and software that they recommend.


Staying diversified doesn’t mean having money scattered all over. By focusing on systems, building a dashboard, and reliable business help, you’ll find that you’re able to more quickly make financial decisions that move the needle. That’s how you build long-term wealth!


Photo: Steve Jurvetson

How To Choose the Best Investment For Your Goal

Here’s the most-asked question I get asked at parties: where do you put your money to make it grow best?
It seems like an easy question but the answer is complicated, isn’t it?
Gurus who want to keep you in the dark use labels for investing like “hard” and “difficult”….and it can be. However, on the most basic level, it also can be the easiest thing in the world. You just need to start.
But why don’t people start? Most people I worked with were worried they be wasting their money on horrible investments. They were frozen and couldn’t choose the right path. I can see their point: the last thing anyone wants to do is invest all of their money and lose it quickly.
The good news? It is’t too late to start. At any age you can let your money start making you money. If you don’t want to go it alone, let’s talk about how to choose investments and finding good help.

Lots of Reasons To InvestInvesting

To us all, the idea of investing seems foreign at first. “I put my money in this thing and it makes money on it’s own? How does that work?” At first, ideas like “bonds”, “stocks”, “REITs” and others are like reading a new language.
That’s why you don’t start with the types of investments.
Start with your goals. Some people invest to make money quickly in the stock market while others are trying to make money slowly over time. Once you know your goal, then determine your risk. Different options offer different risks/rewards, so starting with what you want out of an investment drives the decision of where to invest. Investors with large sums might choose to invest in individual businesses while smaller investors can pool their money by buying into a mutual fund or exchange traded fund.

How Should You Invest Your Money….Personally?

Here’s the deal: I don’t know.
Since there are so many investment options and an unlimited number of goals you could be trying to achieve, you might decide to hire a consultant. Good helpers in your corner can help you decide what is best for what you want and the time-line you are looking at. When I was an advisor, I’d limit the choices to the ones that really mattered so my clients could focus on making money instead of worrying about just how many choices there were. Skilled advisors don’t just throw investments your way….they think of strategies that you may not have considered. Investing decisions might need to happen quickly, and if you don’t monitor your investments you could end up not only losing money but losing confidence in your strategy, which is even worse.
How do you find a good firm? I’d talk to friends first. Conduct interviews with advisors using some great tools like this checklist from FINRA. Good investment firms expect to be asked about their performance, how they work with clients and specifically what you’ll need from them. A good firm should feel like you’re hiring a partner more than buying a sales pitch.

What Else Can An Investment Company Provide?

I was always surprised when people would only want to deal with me for one or two investments. In fact, I became adamant that I knew about your whole portfolio, whether I was helping “babysit” your money or not. Every company is different, but many offer more than just investment consultation. Instead of finding someone to help you invest (something you can do on your own), look for someone to help you monitor your investment, give you advice along the way, and help you manage your tax liability, estate planning and budget issues. Not only should your advisor help you make the right decision based on your wants and needs, but they should make sure that you manage your portfolio well when markets turn sour (and they will).  Without a firm hand on the rudder, you might spend too much time looking at your investment and trying to determine if it is going well. Investment statements and prospectuses can also be ugly beasts as well and a good company can help decipher what’s important information and what’s garbage.
Ultimately, your investment decisions are up to you but a good pro can add to the bottom line. Find a company that can earn your trust and start letting your money make money.

5 Benefits of Investing in Real Estate Through Private Lending

Real estate investing is a key ingredient for creating a long-term investment plan that will maximize your wealth and can even lessen your risk. But it seems like there are limited options available to you, considering most investors don’t have the necessary time or experience to do it successfully. You can:

Purchase your home. Although this is considered more consumption than investment, this is still an investment in real estate with potential appreciation.

Purchase rental property. Most people have heard about the ups and downs of owning rental properties, but collecting monthly rent from tenants is great way to generate income. The downside is the need to manage the property yourself or hire a property manager to directly handle tenant and property issues.

Purchase REITs. Similar to purchasing stocks, a real estate investment trust is a corporation that raises money by trading on major exchanges, and it pays investors 90 percent of its taxable profits via dividends.

Buying real estate doesn't necessarily mean dropping a ton of cash into the ground.

Buying real estate doesn’t necessarily mean dropping a ton of cash into the ground.

Besides these options, there’s another that the majority of real estate investors are unaware of: investing in real estate through private lending. As a private lender, you essentially become the bank. You lend your money to other investors (borrowers) and charge an appropriate interest rate for the use of your money. Here are some of the benefits of real estate private lending:

1) Monthly cash flow: The borrower pays you interest every month, which is typically between 8 and 15 percent.

2) Security: Your investment is secured by a lien on a tangible piece of real estate. That gives you collateral when lending your money, aside from just the soundness of the borrower. Typically, you shouldn’t loan more than 75 percent of the property’s current market value, giving you some cushion in the event that the property’s value decreases.

3) Diversification: Real estate private lending gives you the ability to diversify your portfolio — and not only from a real estate perspective. If you want to create current income, it’s another fixed-income option.

4) Lower volatility: You can better manage the market risk if you keep your real estate loans short term.

5) Passive investment: Instead of learning the nuances of real estate development, construction, management, etc., you can lend to other experienced real estate investors who do all the work. You just act as the bank and receive interest payments, and your money is returned at the end of the investment.

Being a real estate private lender is a great way to get exposure to real estate without doing all the work. But you still have to understand some of the risks involved. The market value can cause properties to quickly increase or decrease in value due to local and national factors.

Borrower credit can also be volatile; you need to make sure the borrower is in stable financial condition and can pay back the loan. Also, verify that the borrower’s investment strategy is solid.

Finally, make sure you have good legal representation to draft loan documents, coordinate the transaction, ensure your loan is properly recorded, and see that agreements are in place to protect you as the lender.

Real estate private lending is a great way to get exposure to real estate and generate passive income for your investment portfolio. As with any investment, you need to understand the risks involved and do your homework before jumping in headfirst. But if done right, real estate private lending can generate some of the best risk-adjusted returns in the marketplace.

Jeff Carter is the managing director and founder of Grand Coast Capital Group, where he oversees all aspects of the business. Grand Coast Capital Group is a national private lending firm based in Boston that provides creative short-term financing to real estate investors, builders, and developers across the country.

Evaluating a Single UK Stock–a Beginner’s Walkthru

I recently discovered a the UK stock Playtech, so I looked it up at (link). Imagine my surprise when I saw this:

Screenshot 2015-04-17 13.30.16


Wow! So, is this a good company? Well, there are some issues I need to look at, especially since I’m in the US and this company is in the UK. First, I discussed in a post today over at Stacking Benjamins the importance of evaluating the macro conditions that exist around a stock….like the economy and how the sector’s performing as a group. Besides that, I also need to dig into the numbers and see how this stock would look in my portfolio.

Before I actually begin digging into this company, traded on the London Stock Exchange, I also need to evaluate something else: my experience with this stock is going to be different than that of a UK based investor. Why?

Because I’m investing dollars and not British pounds.

Trading dollars for this company makes my transaction a little more complicated. I could actually have a horrible return even though the stock performs well if the dollar falls in value against the British pound. Many investors who jump on international companies forget that this is an important part of success or failure over the short run when choosing international positions.

….so, let’s take a look.


The Dollar Is Strong

Let’s take a quick look at free site to measure how the dollar compares:

Screenshot 2015-04-17 13.53.40


As you can see, the dollar has been strengthening. According to this interesting piece on, it appears that any Fed move should make the dollar even stronger. That’s good news for international investments, and especially in this case for an investment in the UK if I’m an American investor.


The Company – A Profile

According to their website, Playtech is the world’s largest provider of online gaming solutions. They work with many different gaming companies, from big names like Sky and Titanbet to much smaller firms.

Because we already looked at gaming companies from a macro level in our Stacking Benjamins piece, let’s dive into the numbers.


Fundamental Analysis

Looking at the numbers is called “Fundamental Analysis” by investors. That means we’re going to research how the company makes money and evaluate just how sound things are financially. Just like you know more about a family by looking at their budget, cash flow and debt, we’ll get a better feel for how this company performs by looking at this data. Most probably, we’ll create a list of questions we should ask ourselves before we invest. I’m always surprised by my digging….it feels a little like financial CSI. Ha!


How To Look For Fundamental Data

If you’re just going to take a cursory look at a company (the scope of today’s article), many people like using Yahoo! Finance. I don’t. Why not? Because what I’m interested in are trends. I want to see revenues improving. I also want earnings to be improving, and I want to compare debt levels against prior years. These numbers will tell me a quick story about the company. I may not get the full story, but just a set of current data at Yahoo! doesn’t help me at all.

Instead, I went to my brokerage site, which happens to be TDAmeritrade. I also have an account at Scottrade. Let’s compare.

First, it’s difficult to make sure that you’ve got the right company when you’re looking at foreign investments. At TDAmeritrade, they show two different stocks:

Screenshot 2015-04-17 14.04.59

Luckily, I know, these are actually two ways you can buy the same company. We’ll go into that another day…..but for now, I want to use the one that gives me the most data. Clicking the depositary receipt investment gives me no data. The other gives me what I’m looking for.

At Scottrade, when I ask for Playtech, it actually shows me three…..and I go with the Grey Market one (middle). It’s the same company.

The middle one is our winner!

The middle one is our winner!


At Scotttrade I also can look at prior year data…..I just prefer the graphs at TDAmeritrade that Scottrade omits.

While this gives me all the data...I love graphs. Yum.

While this gives me all the data…I love graphs. Yum.



So What Do We See? Good Stuff?

Revenues will show us if the company is making more money every year. We want a company that’s growing sales. Is that the case for Playtech?

You can see above, that revenues have grown year for the last four years. That’s good news.

In many cases your investigation will spur questions. In this case, it’s “if revenues are going up, are expenses staying in check?” We’ll need to find an answer to that before investing.



One quick way to look at expenses is through the eyes of earnings. Revenues are “top line” numbers. It’s money coming in the front door. But if a company spends all that revenue and doesn’t make a profit, who cares? We don’t want more sales alone….we also want to see more money going to investors. We can monitor that through looking at earnings. If a company grows sales they might have acquired another company that had solid sales or they may have hired a ton more people. If earnings don’t rise also, we have a problem.

Let’s switch over to TDAmeritrade to look at earnings. Here it is:

Earnings last year were down. Hmmm....

Earnings this year are expected to be down. Hmmm….


As you can see, earnings are good so far, but next year they expect them to drop. That gives us MORE questions….why is the stock so hot if everyone expects the company to earn less in the future?



While I don’t see debt as a negative all the time, just like it can sink your personal financial situation, too much debt can sink a company. Let’s take a look:

Where the heck did that debt come from?

Where the heck did that debt come from?


Where did this new “long term debt” line item come from in Q4 of last year? The stock is up AND there’s new debt AND analysts expect earnings to drop? There’s clearly something going on.

…and So On….

We’re not nearly done, but can you see how we’re forming questions about the stock as we read the numbers? Sharon Lechter (co-author of Rich Dad Poor Dad) told me on our Stacking Benjamins podcast that numbers tell a story that you want to learn how to read. In this case, I go to the news on Playtech and find this: Playtech Enters Foreign Exchange Market. Investors clearly like the synergy that this might create, even though over the short term they think the company will have lower earnings and had to take on debt for the transaction.


So Do I Buy?

In this case, I’m going to hold. The inconsistent earnings growth and new acquisition frighten me. There’s too much up in the air about how successful Playtech can be marketing Forex trading to it’s online gambling clients. I don’t think they’ll fail….I just don’t know…..and that’s enough of a reason for me to look elsewhere.


Can a Robo-Advisor REALLY Beat Passive Investment Strategies?

If you’re familiar with the basics of investing, then I’m sure you’ve heard of terms like “mutual funds” and “ETFs.” In a recent Yahoo! Finance article, robe-advisor firm Wealthfront challenges the status-quo by saying that their direct investing approach will beat ETFs at their own game.

Can a Robo-Advisor REALLY Beat Passive Investment StrategiesThe Free Financial Advisor

Really? So will this happen? Let’s take a look.

In case you aren’t too familiar with the concept or you just need to shake off the rust, diversifying your investments is a  central idea to finance. Mutual funds and exchange traded funds (known as ETFs), hold diversification as their central  tenant.

Diversification, of course, is the whole idea of being able to have all of your eggs in one omelet, but just don’t put all  your  eggs in one basket.

And, so long as you remember, the idea is as long as one region, sector, industry, or even point of view (like normal  goods, depression goods, sin goods, etc.) suffers significant hardships then you still have the remainder of your  portfolio to offset potential losses.

Finance at its finest.

It’s true that diversification has taken greater steps forward over the last few decades. In fact, the advancements of technology have taken the realm of finance into a brand new idea (or at least they claim it to be a new phase anyway). With the ability to program, process, compute, and spit the world into algorithms and complex math formulas, the world of finance has continued to churn out more sophisticated ideas in less time than it takes us to compose thoughts.

So, for me, the idea of robo-advisors is the obvious next move in a long line of advances.It’s also why, just like with every other advancement, strong proponents of robe-advisors think they’re not only the future, but they will bring the future to us now.

The Truth About Robo-Advisors – ETF + Tax Efficiency

The specifics about using these robo-firms is that they truly are nothing “new.” In fact, just like you could argue that robots themselves are nothing more than a scaled up version of programmed commands, the way in which they operate is truly basic as well. By programming in rules for these robo advisors to follow, the basic idea is that a robot or program can execute trades to sell off a falling stock, take a position in a similar stock (at least a comparable one from the indexed position), but still manage to capture the losses of the original stock. The end result is that the investor retains the original (at least similar) makeup of the ETF which was owned in the beginning, but they have also captured losses with a hefty tax benefit as well (currently up to $3,000 can be used to reduce taxable income annually). It’s not the system that is so sophisticated; it’s a simple set of algorithms and rules that just happen to be carried out to perfection.

I’m not the only one calling robo-advisors ETFs. Burton Malkiel (one of those arguable “founding fathers” of modern finance) is calling this the next big thing. He says robo-advisors, in fact are not a fad or a substitute, but a more efficient upgrade onto existing ETFs. The idea is that this strategy truly is, at it’s heart, an exchange traded fund and comes with all of the benefits of a normal fund; it just has the added bonus of positive tax implications.

Furthermore, the most important point to make isn’t just the ability to save $3,000. (By the way, if you are willing to toss aside $3,000 just for fun, I’m sure there are a few places you could send it if you just email me!). While the $3,000 annual tax harvest truly can add up to be a pretty impressive chunk over the course of several years, the fully implemented strategy is about deferring the tax liability. Over the course of the entire portfolio life (or even for a long time), a “tax loss harvesting system” as it has been called will accumulate and will allow investors to have significant taxable benefits on their side all while obtaining the original assets for pennies on the dollar.

As Malkiel puts it, “tax deferral translates into real money when the savings can be reinvested and compounded.”

What is a robo-advisor, then? Basically, it’s an EFT with an option to supercharge and grow due to the tax benefits.

Marketing To The Masses – You and Me

Some have already pointed out that this strategy is not necessarily brand new, but it has been used by some institutional investors in the past. The benefit of course is that while institutional investors and the rest of the elite may have had access to this, they probably don’t pay much attention to the engine under the hood. By refining this strategy, robe-investing could be a major jump with smaller players coming into the picture for their piece of the pie.

Of course, just like most “new strategies,” there are already some naysayers. And who is to say they are wrong?

That being said, if you don’t have a history book handy it still won’t be hard to remind any investing buff the way that diversification pioneers were treated when they brought about prior items such as mutual funds, EFTs, or even a modern day stock market on the internet. (Can you even imagine a world without online trading!?). All of them were panned by the naysayers.

The Future of Robo-Investing

So, while there is no-one calling this a sure thing, the simple idea of enhancing current day funds with tax benefits and the ability to jump returns is at least appealing to the full spectrum of investors.

Plus, even if those who invest don’t have the ability to capture as significant a tax advantage as is being proclaimed, the fact of the matter is you are still investing in a vehicle that is an ETF at its roots.

Even if the tax benefit doesn’t fulfill your hopes and dreams, you won’t have to worry about losing out on the market. The worst case scenario is that you have still eliminated risk, diversified your position, and while you might have had your hopes dashed, you haven’t lost a significant position to try and jump on board a new train before it leaves the station. Unless of course you are investing solely in trains, in which case that’s an entirely different lesson for a different day……

Really, This Is About Innovation

Robo advisors are not just bringing about a new product, but they continue to show how thinking outside the box is enabling a significant amount of efficiency and accuracy to be injected into what some regard as the best vehicles out there today. By covering positions even more with a shield, losses incurred in a normal ETF can truly be captured and turned into an advantage. What used to be a boulder sized loss is now literally being catapulted thanks to the next wave of technology.

And while there are some who think that this could be more of a fad and that some net bonuses are being overestimated and not what they are cracked up to be, there are others who think at worst this is just another added service and a potential option for those who do believe in the power of robo-advisors for an investor without the assets to hire a full-fledged pro in their corner. Even if they don’t know where it will lead, it’s thrilling to see new pioneers of investing. Even though Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered the new world, every other sailor on the ship who went along for the ride also made it there as well. These investors don’t need to create or refine this strategy, but they can still possibly tap into a more efficient vehicle and what could be the next “norm” in the marketplace before it becomes too popular.

Whats Next?

As with waves of innovation before this, no one truly knows how this one will play out. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of downside. What’s the worst that could happen? You could take a chance at something new and wind up overpaying for a fairly standard ETF (I’m sure you can already point out a handful of customers and clients who do that anyway but without the upside). While the upside is potentially significant gains that only increase over time. It truly could be an upgraded form of diversification.

The most important thing to do at this time would be to try and decide if this is something for you, as there might not be a lot of opportunity to test it out before the market finds a correction, starts making it more difficult (financially of course) to tap into this possibly proven strategy. On the other hand, I don’t know that trusting all of your money to a robe-advisor is a good idea. When has it ever been a good idea to throw money at the next big thing just because it could be big? After all, there’s a sucker born every minute and if you are going to realize you’re a sucker, hopefully you aren’t burning money in the process as well.

Invest with confidence and caution. Understand the products you want to put your wealth (i.e. your future) in. And above all else, know more about your assets then the people who handle them. This might just be a boy who cried wolf, but with some due diligence and a little bit of faith you could be spring boarding yourself to a more diversified system of nicer returns.

Phil is a firm believer in not just understanding how finance works, but someone who thinks investing and business should be connected to every part of our lives and not just a segment of it. “By reading the thoughts of others, we can get caught up. By merging our views and connecting ideas, we can move forward and grow.”


Photo: Frankieleon

How and Why People Invest In Gold

GoldBullion_3A reader recently asked me if they should invest their cash reserve in gold. Probably not….

Gold is a misunderstood investment.

Some view gold as eternally safe (when it is anything but); some see it as a glamorous means to short-term gains; and some misunderstand the market entirely in terms of how, exactly, it moves in correlation (or not) with or against other asset classes.

Let’s set some of these misunderstandings straight, shall we?

Here are a few of the things that typically appeal to seasoned investors who tap into gold.


For starters, many investors look to gold as an appealing opportunity to diversify a portfolio. While day traders and those who move quickly in the stock market shoot for quick and significant financial gains, strategic investors use gold because they know there will be perpetual demand. Also, while the stock market drops, there’s a better-than-good chance that gold won’t move down with it.

We mentioned in a 2013 article on Top Ten Investment Options inside an IRA that gold actually fluctuates a great deal more than most people give it credit for. However, as a long-term hold that only takes up a small portion of a portfolio, it has real diversification appeal.

Physical vs. Paper

The actual method of buying gold bars appeals to many investors. Where buying and selling stocks can feel almost like placing bets and provides little in the way of tangible satisfaction or reassurance, gold investment—even online—is a more physical practice whereby an investor actually takes ownership of real gold bullion instead of paper representing fractional ownership of a company (or a loan to a corporation or government entity), whether or not he or she actually holds it. Some like their gold in hand, while others prefer it stored offsite. Your preference will depend on your goals. Bullion Vault reports that they manage of $2 billion in investor precious metal deposits, and they offer investors the option of having their gold sent to them or having it placed in any number of secure vaults.

It has nothing to do with investing as a practice, but I can understand that some investors find something exciting, private, and personal about metals when compared to everyday stocks. (I’m not suggesting that y people should flock to gold buying sites simply for the thrill of it; but you can’t deny the appeal as a small piece of a portfolio). Plus, there’s a value to its simplicity. Buying and selling online is about as simple as it gets in investing, and learning about security and fair pricing make for a satisfying investment experience.


Perhaps the biggest reason that some choose to invest in gold, however, is that the price depends on a number of factors that many view as different than the methods you use to evaluate stocks. It doesn’t mean it’s more fairly valued (sometimes gold will swing in ways that analysts have trouble predicting), but here’s what I like: with gold I’m not worried about my Apple investment when smartphone sales that might drop off if an issue arises, such as when the initial roll-out of iPhone 6 devices led to them bending in people’s pockets; or concerned that my TESLA investment tanks when a few of the company’s cars make headlines by bursting into flames. Factors like these can impact just about any kind of investment, but seldom will such a sudden shift occur in the gold market.

Geo-Political Uncertainty

If you’ve listened to the Stacking Benjamins podcast, you know about Len Penzo’s love of all things metal. Investopedia (where Greg McFarlane writes) listed eight reasons to own gold, and while the article takes an exclusively positive stance that’s no longer appropriate in the current market, it does make several points about the largest factors influencing why seasoned investors buy gold…..chief among them being geopolitical uncertainty and increasing demand. Financial and political difficulties in influential countries tend to lead investors to gold as a “safe-haven,” and there will always be a limited supply and high demand for the metal. Because people perceive these factors as being relatively constant, gold can be an appealing long-term investment.

We know that situations can change quickly in the world of international events, and much of this logic was turned on its head in the past two years, as gold experienced its most dramatic drop-off in price in recent history. In large part, it was the strengthening of the U.S. economy and the dollar that served as the cause, and the debate continues as to whether or not gold will recover and stabilize over the course of 2015. But regardless of the current market, the factors and concepts listed above are what tend to drive investors to consideration of gold, and some of those factors will make gold endure as a good diversifier in many investor portfolios.

Do you use gold in your portfolio? If so, how? If not, why do you avoid it?

3 Smart Things 20-Somethings Can Do With a Tax Refund

Unless you left with an accounting degree, filing your first tax return after college can be a little deceiving. A couple government checks in the mail this summer might feel like a consolation prize for a dues-paying job, and you deserve to be king for a day, right?

Hold on a minute. We have a few ways you 20-somethings can make the best use of your tax refund.

Perhaps the Most Underrated: Start Saving

If you get your refund deposited directly in your bank account, it’ll just “show up” one day, like someone just dropped a gift card in your lap. Saving isn’t the most appealing option, but it will be the most rewarding when it’s time to rent a new apartment or put a deposit down on a car. Building your current account isn’t always enough incentive, so here are two ways to keep at it:

  • Open a savings account. Already have one? Open another. A hundred dollars buys you a reason to put disposable income aside exclusively for emergencies or other big (but necessary) expenses.
  • U.S. savings bonds are another convenient option, allowing you to redirect your tax return into an account that earns ample interest and is safe from inflation. According to TreasuryDirect, classified Series I bonds opened just four years ago this month, and this route requires a simple request via IRS form 8888.

Invest It in Your Retirement

Start building an investment portfolio now. If you feel you don’t have the know-how to purchase stock, the following two retirement investments are ripe alternatives for someone your age. Planning for retirement should always start as early as possible.Woman and piggy bank

  • Open an IRA, or individual retirement account. This is a personal account you contribute to each year, and the amount you contribute is tax-deductible. While you have more freedom to adjust and personalize investments like stocks, mutual funds and CDs, you can’t make withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, on the other hand, you pay taxes upfront and then you can make tax-free withdrawals.
  • Invest in a company-sponsored 401(k). Don’t miss out on the retirement plan your company offers. Many companies use a safe harbor or match plan. Safe harbor means that if your company contributes to your plan, the funds are yours even if you leave the company a couple months later. A matching plan means the company matches whatever you put into the plan. Some companies will even match up to 6 percent of your salary, according to It’s basically free money.

Pay off Your School Loans

If you owe on student loans, put your refund on that debt. Paying off loans isn’t optional—you have to find a way to pay them anyway—and paying up front and on time is a bigger deal than you might think.

Funding your next bill with a tax return reinforces your credit history, yielding low interest rates on future big-ticket items like a new car, and keeps you paying loan interest at levels that can qualify you for education-based deductions as defined by the IRS later on. Whenever you can contribute a large chunk of money to paying down your student loan debt, do it—whether it comes from your tax refund, an unexpected financial windfall such as lottery winnings or inheritance or selling a structured settlement. The faster you pay them off the more you’ll save on interest, and that’s like money in the bank.

7 Killer Personal Finance Lessons to Go From Couch Potato to IRONMAN

Humans by nature have a competitive drive that compels them to succeed. Great athletes are committed to their training because they want to be the best, and anything less than a championship isn’t enough.

If you’re not an athlete, this urge to prove yourself often manifests itself in the car you drive or the house you live in. But to properly manage your money, you need the dedication of a pro athlete to train your mind and create winning habits.

But if you’re the financial equivalent of a couch potato, you can’t expect to become an IRONMAN overnight. You need to start from where you are and create a plan that works for you.

How to Get Startedpersonal finance ironman the free financial advisor

To reach your personal finance goals, you need to train your mind to stay within a specific budget and have the commitment to stick to your goals. Here are four steps you can take to prepare for the marathon of personal finance:

1.     Put your goals in writing. Many athletes have their team to hold them accountable, but since personal finance is usually a solo venture, writing down your goals can help. Maybe you just want to be debt-free by a certain date, or perhaps you’re trying to save a specific amount for retirement.

When setting goals, it’s important to be specific and realistic about how much of your income you’ll be able to save or put toward paying off your credit card each month.

If you’re thinking of buying a new home or a nice car, do some research to figure out exactly how much it’s going to cost. (This includes taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc.) Don’t leave anything out! Give yourself some cushion in your financial planning for times when unforeseen expenditures interfere with your plans.

2.     Assess where you are compared to where you want to be. World-class runners always know the race times they want to achieve, and they train with that goal in mind. Once you’ve listed your current expenses and goals, brainstorm possible ways to cut spending to reach your ideal financial situation. Where are you now compared to where you want to be?

3.     Consider possible ways to increase your income. Evaluate how a second job, a promotion at your current job, or furthering your education could help you reach your personal finance goals. Carefully evaluate whether the income generated from these options will be worth your time and investment.

4.     Put your plan into action. No matter what level you’re at, you’ve got to start somewhere. For Rocky, it was just a matter of getting out of bed, putting on his sweats and sneakers, and training before the sun rose. Put your routine into action, and stay committed — even if your plan falters from time to time.

3 Lessons for Winning in Finance

Once you put your plan into action, it’s important to maintain a winning mindset. It takes many athletes up to eight years of training to make an Olympic team, so it’s crucial to have the tools in place to maintain motivation.

 1.     Remember: Financial success is a marathon, not a sprint. Most athletes will tell you that a slice of cake once a month isn’t going to kill you. But if you indulge in a slice every other day, it starts to become detrimental. The same rule of moderation in the long haul applies to amassing wealth.

To remain financially healthy, you need to develop the foresight to see how unnecessary expenditures can derail your financial goals in the long term. It’s OK to treat yourself every once in a while, but those weekly shopping sprees and daily lattes add up. Reaching your personal finance goals is an exercise in patience and long-term dedication.

2.     Winners never quit, and quitters never win. You’ve heard this one before, right? Even the best experience failure, but how well you bounce back from setbacks and learn from them ultimately determines whether you reach your goals.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” said Michael Jordan. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Don’t use your failures as an excuse to put your dreams on hold. Just get back on track, and keep moving forward.

3.     There’s no “I” in team. Tim Rees asked nearly 200 elite golfers about their support systems. He found that during stressful matches, golfers with strong support systems performed better than those without. Similarly, your spouse and loved ones can be huge sources of support and motivation in your financial journey. Make sure your family understands your goals and is committed to helping you reach them.

Just as athletes don’t expect to win every single game, you shouldn’t expect to become a millionaire overnight. The road to financial success is a rocky one, and life will throw you unexpected curveballs. The key is a consistent, long-term commitment to saving and spending wisely. If you can do that, you’ll retire with plenty of wins under your belt.

Daniel Wesley is the founder of, a website that specializes in debt-relief services for businesses and individuals.

Photo: Patrick Theander

5 Apps To Simplify Your Finances

Online chartOnly 30 percent of Americans prepare a long-term financial plan including investment goals, states a poll by Gallup. That means 70 percent of people are figuring out their financial plans as they go and hoping the numbers add up somewhere along the way. If you want to be part of the 30 percent, there are ways to simplify the financial planning process from paying bills to knowing where to invest. Take the tedium out of creating a budget and savings plan by downloading a few apps to your smartphone to put you on the right track.


Simplify your banking and savings accounts, investments, credit cards and loans by having them all in one place. With Mint you can set up your accounts and get an easy-to-read, simplified graph to show how much you’re spending and where. Mint also lets you design a budget, and it will alert you when you’ve gone over or when you’re getting close. It is ideal for those working towards a financial goal like paying off a credit card or a trip abroad because it allows you to set a plan and watch your progress. Seeing how close you’re getting also can help motivate you to push harder towards your finish line.


Don’t let the overwhelming amount of investment advice stop you from taking action. LikeFolio figures out which companies you and your friends like and talk about most so you can invest in them. The idea is that you should invest in companies you already know and love. LikeFolio pours through your social media status updates for any mentions of brands and products, and then helps give you more information for your potential investments.


Expensify is for anyone who hates expense reports and wants to streamline the process. It’s free to upload or email an unlimited amount of receipts, and it allows you to quickly add cash expenses and import your credit and debit card transactions. You also can add mileage, time and other billable expenses as needed. Use their SmartScan process to help separate receipts and type out the following information on your behalf. It shows the merchant name, transaction date and amount. The first month is free, and $5 per month after that.


Pay all your bills in one place with the free app called Check. Get instant alerts for upcoming bills, finance charges and other financial activity. It takes a little time to set-up all of your accounts, but once it’s set, Check does all the work for you. When bills are due, simply log in on your smartphone or other device and pay quickly and safely. The app promises bank-level security and real time alerts so you can monitor large expenses and deposits.


This highly intuitive app makes financial management easy with a 360 degree view of your money. Wally consistently gets rave reviews for its simple interface, which is both pleasant to look at and use. Get a glimpse of all your activity from spending to savings while Wally helps you figure out where your money is going. Like Expensify, Wally also has an InstaScan feature to scan a receipt for an expense report or your own records.

Answers to the Most Common Questions About Structured Settlements

Why so much confusion about structured settlement?

Structured settlements are becoming highly popular these days, partly due to the benefits they provide and partly due to the flexibility they offer to the holder. According to Einstein Structured Settlement, Structured settlements are regarded much well as compared to other types of investment in the sense that they are oriented towards the needs of the owner. Despite all the advantages many people have doubts about this financial instrument when it comes to make an investment. They have many questions regarding the investment and handling of structured settlement that they want to answer before making any decision.

The questions are countless but a few, that are continuously haunting the minds of those who want to invest in structured settlement, are answered below:

What is the effect of inflation on structured settlement?

The biggest worry for the investors these days is inflation, which is chomping off their plans to save for their future. The investors need to mark up their investment for their future with the expected rise in inflation. Without a proper calculation their investment will not pay them as per their expectations. Annuity is no exception for this truth. Annuity sure pays a comfortable annual income but it does not promise to do so after a time of 10 years, as the purchasing power is expected to change with the rise in inflation. The value of the annual payment of structured settlement can drastically reduce due to the effect of inflation. In this case most of the people decide to sell this financial instrument to a structured settlement company in exchange of cash that they can invest in some other instruments to fight off inflation.

Is the income from structured settlement taxable?

Legally a person does not have to pay tax on the any amount of money received as the compensation of physical damage caused to him/her. This money is not treated as the source of actual income and thus is exempt from tax. In legal terms this money is for the compensation for recovery from that particular damage. In fact, the tax free nature of the structured settlement amounts is among the most highly regarded benefits of this financial scheme. But this income from the structured settlement is tax free only as long as the payee is alive. In case of the death of the payee, the income becomes taxable as per the law of Inheritance. This is because the source of income is now transferred to the descendent of the actual payee who did not suffer any damage. Thus this money coming as a source of income becomes taxable.

In some cases this financial instrument is tax deferred, which means the taxes on the income through structured settlement are delayed for a specific period of time only. After that period of time the income becomes taxable. If the payee decides to make a withdrawal, in this case the amount withdrawn is taxable.

What if the holder wants to sell only a portion of structured settlement?

It can be seen very often that the holders of the structured settlement sell only a portion of the structured settlement to fulfill their immediate financial needs. It is also possible for the holder of the structured settlement to sell this instrument in portions on different occasions throughout their lifetime as per their need and convenience. There are many individuals and companies that are ready to purchase these portions of structured settlement in exchange of a good amount of cash.  This option gives the holder a flexibility of handling it and gets the holders higher amount of liquidity on their holdings.

What are the things to be considered before selling structured settlement?

While making the decision to sell the structured settlement, it is necessary for the holder to consider some important factors which are sure to affect their deal.

  • The very first thing that the seller of the structured settlement needs to consider is the legal restrictions involved in the deal.
  • The holder also needs to look for the contractual restrictions, which sometimes do not allow the holder to sell the structured settlement.
  • When a structured settlement is sold for cash, the amount of money received becomes taxable and the plaintiff is exposed to an immediate tax liability.
  • The seller of the structured settlement should be aware of the low offers that are often made by the buyers of the instruments.

Should one consult a lawyer in the deal related to structured settlement?

It is very wise to take help from a lawyer before making any deal related to structured settlement. He will ensure that the rights of the holder are protected against any type of fraud or he/she is not held responsible for anything outside his/her control. The lawyer will help the plaintiff with the purchase or selling agreement.


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