This is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions. When it comes to investing, I have some suggestions you might want to consider. Here they are:
1. Fire your broker. I can’t think of any reason to use the typical broker. What do I mean by “typical”? Typical brokers send you analyst reports with target prices for stocks. They eagerly dispense advice about timing the market, picking stocks, and selecting mutual funds that will outperform other funds. They rely on Morningstar’s “star” ratings to sell you the latest hot fund, and encourage chasing returns. All of this activity is harmful to your nest egg. You need to fundamentally change the way you invest. Start by getting these “investment professionals” out of your life.
2. Use a fee-only financial planner. Don’t confuse investing with financial planning. Financial planning involves a careful examination of your personal situation and an agreed-upon approach to establishing and meeting your financial goals. You want qualified, objective advice from a financial planner. You can get it only if your financial planner charges an hourly rate or a per-project flat fee and does not profit from any recommendations. In my experience, the best-qualified financial planners are CPAs and MBAs (or those who hold both degrees).
3. Review your life insurance. Life insurance gets a lot of negative attention. Some of the sales practices of the industry make that reputation well deserved, but I can tell you that I have never met a widow who complained that her late husband had too much life insurance.
Here’s a little-known fact about life insurance agents: their primary allegiance is to the insurance companies they represent, not to you. They are not your fiduciary. Life insurance is very complex, and the industry likes it that way. You have many options. It’s unlikely your friendly agent will present you with a low-commission product when he can just as easily sell you a higher-commission one. I strongly recommend you retain a fee-only insurance consultant if your premiums will be over $10,000 a year. You will save far more than the fees you will pay.
4. Consider using a passive investment adviser. Smart investing involves determining your asset allocation (the division of your portfolio between stocks and bonds) and using a globally diversified portfolio of low-cost stock and bond index funds. You can easily do this yourself, using fine fund families like Vanguard and Fidelity. I provide all the information you will need, including recommended funds and an asset-allocation questionnaire, in my book, The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read. However, if you really want to turbocharge your returns, you should consider hiring a passive adviser. Extensive studies show that index investors who use a passive adviser increase their returns significantly. A competent passive adviser will assist in determining the right asset allocation for you and put together a risk-adjusted portfolio of index funds. He will also rebalance your portfolio when necessary and engage in tax loss harvesting, which can minimize the impact of losses incurred in down years, like in 2008.
By implementing these basic New Year’s resolutions, you can reduce anxiety and improve your returns. Those are worthy goals for the New Year!
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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