I have distilled intelligent investing and financial planning down to these ten golden rules. They are easy to understand and to implement. If everyone followed them, the misery index for investors would decline immeasurably.
1. Close your brokerage account. Brokers are emperors with no clothes. They can’t pick stocks, time the market, or pick outperforming mutual funds. They add cost and subtract value. Even worse, they are not fiduciaries, which means they can (and usually do) have interests that conflict with yours. Brokers have done more financial harm to investors than anything else.
2. Don’t buy individual stocks or bonds. Your expected return is the same as that of an index of comparable risk, but your risk is significantly greater.
3. Use a fee-only financial planner. Financial planning is often used as a pretense to gather assets and charge asset-based fees. If you need financial planning, use someone who charges by the hour and has no financial interest in any investment you might purchase. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors can help you find a fee-only financial planner in your area.
4. Pick the right investment adviser. If you need an adviser, use a registered investment adviser (RIA). All RIAs are legally required to be fiduciaries. Only use an RIA who focuses on your asset allocation (the division of your portfolio between stocks, bonds, and cash) and who recommends investing only in a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost stock and bond index funds or an immediate annuity, where appropriate.
5. Remember Madoff! Be sure your funds are held at an independent, well-known custodian, like Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments, or TD Ameritrade. All checks should be made payable to the custodian and deposited directly into your account. You should receive monthly statements directly from the custodian and have 24/7 online access to your accounts.
6. Invest with well-known fund families. When investing on your own, use only well-known fund families, like Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Charles Schwab. They all have low-cost index funds. Don’t let them talk you into (higher-cost) actively managed funds.
7. Avoid alternative investments. Don’t invest in hedge funds, limited partnerships, commodities (including gold), or any private-equity deals.
8. Consider an immediate annuity if you are retired. Compute the difference between your monthly expenses and your income (including Social Security). Consider purchasing an immediate annuity that will pay you what you need to break even. The leaders in low-cost immediate annuities are Vanguard and TIAA-CREF.
9. Stay liquid. You should keep funds sufficient to meet two years’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured savings account, a certificate of deposit, Treasury bills, or a money market fund from a major fund family like Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, or Charles Schwab.
10. Prepare a will. By some estimates, 55 percent of all adult Americans do not have a will. If you die without a will, it can eviscerate your estate and devastate your heirs. You have a responsibility to have a current will in place.
Dan Solin is a Senior Vice-President of Index Funds Advisors. He is the author of the New York Times best sellers The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read, The Smartest 401(k) Book You’ll Ever Read, and The Smartest Retirement Book You’ll Ever Read. . His latest book is Timeless Investment Advice.
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