Dec 13

A  post aimed at my friends across the pond -

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is currently a huge push on Financial Spread Betting (FSB). Just about everywhere you look, it seems, there is a bright and shiny offer to take the plunge and enjoy the thrills, spills and rewards of riding the market. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.

Now, there is plenty to be said about FSB, but no-one seems to be saying anything very much about this all-too visible marketing trend. So let’s do just that; exactly what is going on with FSB right now?

tradefair

by kenteegardin

Clearly the main players are competing for clients – those of each other as well as new market entrants – but that only moves the question up a level: why are they competing quite so competitively right now?

The evidence of that heightened competitive marketing is there for all to see – not only in the form of banner ads all over the financial press, but in terms of some eye-catching introductory offers – for example, in the UK, Tradefair are offering a 10 per cent top-up to new accounts up to the value of £1,000 plus a referral scheme that values new referrals at £50 a time.

That one example neatly sums up an unresolved issue when it comes to the FSB industry as a whole. Anyone prepared to commit £10,000 to an account that trades in open ended exposures is going to count as a big hitter. Not many of us are going to be willing or able to put that sort of money down, irrespective of that £1,000 boost. But conversely, no one trading at that sort of level is going to go out of their way for a mere £50.

It points to an industry that has reached the limits of its natural market – professional traders and industry insiders looking to play on the periphery of their working lives – and is now plateauing. Indeed, the first nine months of 2013 actually saw an 8% contraction in the overall industry in the UK.

The market-trading conclusion is that recent market stabilisation is bad news for FSB providers as it has reduced the short-term market volatility which is their stock-in trade. The more substantive benefits of holding dividend-paying stock is offered as a reason for traders turning away from FSB as an investment vehicle.

The marketing assessment, in contrast, is that there is only a limited constituency of punters who would rather gamble on relatively complex financial indices rather than more traditional, recreational gambling outlets – especially sport and casino-based bets. Notably, the gambling industry as a whole continues to see a near universal healthy growth.

Neither reading of the situation is good news for FSB providers.

There is an inevitable irony in the FSB industry figures running counter to the prevailing trend. However, it is hard to escape the conclusion that all the current noise surrounding FSB is not so much the heralding of a brave new world of investment, so much as the noisy hunger pangs of an industry that has run out of new clients. FSB will be an interesting area to keep tabs on in the months ahead – but maybe not for the reasons those involved might hope.

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Nov 18

Remember New Coke?

Remember Qwikster?

My Spidey senses tell me that Intuit’s TurboTax product is about to have its own moment of marketing mishap. Now. As a tax nerd, I don’t put my TurboTax on the shelf after I file my return. I open it regularly to plan my year. Since one of my goals is to avoid paying more tax than I have to, I use it to plan my stock sales, Roth conversion, if any, and forecast my tax bill well in advance of April 15th. It’s been a ritual of mine to buy the new tax year software the weekend it’s out, usually the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year, as I started to look to see a product release date, I found that the versions offered had their contents revised.

turbotax2014

(Right-click to open in new screen)

You can see, the Deluxe version no longer handles any stock transactions, i.e. Schedule D, or any rental property details, Schedule E. Last, with part time blogging income, I need to file a Schedule C, which is now a Home and Business offering.

Here’s my concern – people are creatures of habit. When was the last time you “read the fine print”? We buy what we’ve bought and rarely catch the changes until it’s too late. Unfortunately, in this case, it with be a painful process, realizing your return wont have the forms you’re expecting and you need to upgrade the software (hopefully that option will be available, to pay the difference and move on) or buy the right one for your needs. The 2014 version was just released, and Amazon reviews are already running negative, 8 reviews so far with 7 showing One Star.

I’ve been a user of TurboTax since filing my first return in 1985. We’re having our 30th anniversary with this next purchase. For the last decade, I’ve taken advantage of the ability to produce multiple returns, using my copy to print returns for my daughter, mother-in-law, sister and sister-in-law. I’m not going to quibble over a change that I read about and can adjust to. But I’ll sit back and watch how the reviewers are already having their say and see how my friends at TurboTax respond.

Update (11/22) – The reviews on Amazon continue to mount -

turbotax2014reviews

The one star reviews are all focused on the price increase. Unfortunate, I hope TurboTax jumps on this to stop the potential loss of customers.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Nov 05

The 2015 tax rates have just been announced by my friends at the IRS. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how taxes work, more or less.

The tables aren’t the actual tax you pay on gross income, but on taxable income which is gross less a number of items, including the personal exemption which rises to $4,000 in ’15 and the standard deduction for single $6,300 or joint $12,600.

I’ll be referring back to this article over the next year whenever the tax table is part of the conversation. Check out the new rate table and start planning for 2015.

Single

Taxable income is over But not over The tax is Plus Of the amount over
$0 9,225 $0.00 10% $0
9,225 37,450 922.50 15% 9,225
37,450 90,750 5,156.26 25% 37,450
89,350 189,300 18,481.25 28% 90,750
186,350 411,500 46,075.25 33% 189,300
411,500 413,200 119,401.25 35% 411,500
413,200 119,996.25 39.6% 413,200

 

Married Filing Jointly
Qualifying Widow(er)

Taxable income is over But not over The tax is Plus Of the amount over
$0 18,450 $0.00 10% $0
18,450 74,900 1,845.00 15% 18,450
74,900 151,200 10,312.50 25% 74,900
151,200 230,450 29,387.50 28% 151,200
230,450 411,500 51,577.50 33% 230,450
411,500 464,850 111,324.00 35% 411,500
464,850 129,996.50 39.6% 464,850

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Nov 03

This post has been in the works for some time, nearly two years. Talk about a bit of writer’s block!

Attending FinCon14 (The Financial Bloggers Conference) gave me a chance to share my story, and hear so many people encourage me to write and share it with my readers as well.

Two years ago, shortly after my 50th birthday, my wife and I were both let go in a company layoff. 30 years, working for the same company, had come to an end. We both had our eye on our number and we had already agreed that she could retire as soon as she was ready to. The numbers all pointed to me taking a bit of an early retirement by 55 or so. Our jobs were in high tech sales, and I started out really liking it, but the last 10 years or so, I grew to dislike it more and more. So much so, that when I got word I was getting let go, I had a sense of relief. The real question is why I stayed so long at a job I grew to hate. And a great question that is. The money was good, but any lateral move in the industry would have replaced the salary. In fact, depending on the economy, there were times I could have landed a higher paying job. Familiarity. Fear of change. Stockholm syndrome?

Regardless of why I stayed, it was over. On the ride home, I told my wife it was time to move on, and do something completely different. Neither of us were in too big of a rush, as the severance and unemployment benefits were enough to float us for a full year without needing to tap our savings. Many times in life, one observes that timing is everything, the layoff was in late 2012, and in 2013 the market had its best year since 1997, returning over 32%.

SP2013

S&P Oct’12 – Dec’13

Had the movement of the market been different, I might have felt pressure to go in another direction. As 2013 moved along, our number seemed much closer to achievement. We sat down and reviewed our budget, and found that our spending was a comfortable 50% or so of our last few years’ income. On a side note, the rules about 80% replacement rate are rules of thumb and little more. What really counts is what you spend, not what your final gross income was.

One interest I’d always considered was a career as a math teacher. I took the qualification exams for both middle and high school math. Despite what they say about the lack of teachers, in my area, every position had a line of dozens of teachers applying. If I were hiring, I’d look for someone with experience, too. Just as I was pondering the idea of simply being retired, I was contacted about a position as a math aide. The job was part time, just 2 days a week, and the responsibilities included giving exams to students, tutoring students to help them catch up on missed classes, and helping them study for upcoming exams. The key things missing were any required interaction with parents, prep for lectures, and any paperwork. Even for this position, there were multiple candidates. Whatever I said during the interview must have made an impression. A combination of fondness for my own study over 3 decades ago, sharing how I was helping my daughter, an 8th grader at the time, and feeling that I could make a difference in his department. The next night, I had an email saying the job was mine.

By coincidence, a neighbor was expanding his own business as a real estate investor and developer. He approached me and asked if I’d like to come work for him. I started both jobs the same week and within two months, I had my real estate license. Both jobs started as trial positions, and as it turned out I am having a blast in both fields. Both of my bosses asked me when I planned to work for them full time. For now, the two jobs are ideal for me. I’ll share some stories of my days at both jobs, and why I wake up with a smile at 5:15 AM when I swore I wasn’t a morning person. I’m also investing in real estate again, an endeavor I’d given up on over 20 years ago, but I’ve now been given a second chance.

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Oct 31

Of all the potential problems life can serve up to us, money problems rank among the most stressful without a doubt. Ruminating about mounting debt, having trouble paying bills, knowing we are making bad choices can do quite a number on us mentally. If denial is no longer doing it for you, and you are ready to move towards a more ordered financial life, here are some helpful strategies to get you there.

Do a Mental Purge

One of the reasons we let our money troubles get so out of hand is our tendency to push our troubles out of our minds and go into denial mode. Obviously on some level, we are aware of the damage, but so long as we don’t fully face up, we can continue to divert our attention elsewhere.

Actually thinking about the situation for too long is unpleasant to say the least, but this refusal to think about it is just prolonging the suffering. One of the first steps in righting your money wrongs is doing a mental purge of all your worries and problems. Face them head on. This is very powerful.

So, bust out a pen and paper—this is more powerful than just typing it out—and write down all the stuff that has been floating around in your head. What money worries are you currently dealing with? What do you fear will happen now, or in the future because of these problems? Don’t hold back..just let it all out.

What Will Provide Immediate Relief?

You didn’t get into a financial mess overnight, and you can’t expect to clean it up this quickly either. But, don’t focus too much on the whole picture—it will just make you feel super-bummed, and your motivation will drain very quickly. Think about what you can do immediately to provide some relief.

Perhaps there are some inaccuracies with your credit report that need your attention. If they are bigger issues, or you don’t have the time to stay on top of the process, it might be a good idea to find a reputable credit repair company to assist you in correcting these errors. If you haven’t filed your taxes, do so, and once the bill comes, call the IRS to discuss a payment plan. If there are any expenses you can cut immediately that will put some extra money in your pocket, do it.

No matter how small the step, it is a good thing because it moves you out of a place of feeling powerless.

Visualize the Improved Situation

There is a lot of power in visualization when it comes to making positive change. It gives us something to focus on. When we get into a space where we can see and feel the more ideal circumstances of a particular aspect of our life, it motivates us to make this our reality.

What would a better financial life look like to you? Do you see yourself making regular deposits into your savings account? Do you see yourself truly enjoying nights out because you truly have the money to spend on a nice dinner or concert? What does this life feel like? It probably feels pretty good. Think about the lack of anxiety and fear that comes with having all bills paid on time, budgeting properly and managing debt responsibly. How much more peace would you feel if you had a nicely padded savings account, or the oft-talked about ‘emergency fund?’

Visualize yourself as being responsible with money and financially savvy—this may seem challenging from your current space. But, it is important to realize your situation now was not borne of some DNA defect that made you bad with money. It was borne of bad habits, lack of education and awareness and poor decisions. All of that is of the mind and can be changed.

Where you are now probably feels really uncomfortable. Facing up to our money troubles is scary, but this willingness sets a very powerful intention. So long as you commit to following through, and taking things a step at a time, you can turn things around.

 

written by Joe \\ tags: ,