MONEY 401k plans

What You Can Learn From 401(k) Millionaires in the Making

These folks are doing all the right things to reach retirement with a seven-figure nest egg.

The 401(k) has become the No. 1 way for Americans to save for retirement. And save they have. The average plan balance has hit a record high, and the number of million-dollar-plus 401(k)s has more than doubled since 2012. In the first part of this series, we shared tips for building a $1 million retirement plan. Now meet workers on track to join the millionaires club—and get inspired by their smart moves. Once you hit your goal, learn more about making your money last and getting smart about taxes when you draw down that $1 million.
  • Greg and Jesseca Lyons, both 30

    Greg and Jesseca Lyons

    Carmel, Indiana
    Years to $1 million: 15
    Best move: Never cashed out their 401(k)s

    Though only 30, Greg and Jesseca Lyons are well on their way to reaching their retirement goals. The Lyons—he’s an operations manager for a small research company, she’s a product development engineer for a medical device maker—are on the same page when it comes to planning for the future.

    College sweethearts who have been married seven years, they made a commitment to start investing for retirement with their first jobs. They contribute 15% of their salaries. Employer matches bring that annual savings rate to about 19%. Together, they have $250,000 in their retirement accounts, invested 90% in stocks and 10% in bonds.

    Unlike many young people, they have resisted the temptation to cash out their 401(k)s when they changed jobs. Though they dialed back contributions for about six months when they were saving for a down payment, the Lyons didn’t stop putting money away. “We have stuck with the idea that retirement money is retirement money forever,” says Greg. His goal is to retire by age 60. For Jesseca, saving is about independence and financial security. “I love what I do, so I don’t see retiring early. But I don’t want to be worried or stressed out about our money either,” she says. “I am not going to sacrifice our retirement just to live a certain lifestyle now.”

  • Tajuana Hill, 46

    By starting to save for retirement at age 26, Tajuana Hill has put herselv on track to grow a seven-figure 401(k).
    Jesse Burke

    Indianapolis
    Years to $1 million: 17
    Best Move: Keeps raising her savings rate

    It’s taken Tajuana Hill, an employee trainer with Rolls-Royce, two decades to max out her 401(k), but she’s been a steady saver since her twenties. When she joined the firm at age 26, she put 10% of her pay into her plan right away. As her income rose, she ramped that up to 12%, then 17%, and finally 20% in January.

    Her reward: $224,000 in her 401(k)—all the more impressive since her employer offers no match. What has helped Hill is a side business she launched three years ago, Mimosa and a Masterpiece, an art studio where students can sip a drink during painting classes taught by local artists. The extra income let her pay off her credit cards, freeing up earnings from her day job so she could boost her 401(k) contributions.

    “When I retire, I hope to do it as a millionaire,” says Hill. If she sticks to this regimen, her 401(k) could top $1 million just as she reaches 65.

  • Steven and Melanie Thorne, both 37

    Steve and Melanie Thorne have been disciplined about hiking their retirement contributions with every raise. Melanie saves 10% of her pay in her plan, while Steve sets aside 12%. They even save extra in Roth IRAs.
    Jesse Burke

    York, Pennsylvania
    Years to $1 million: 15
    Best move: Invest in low-cost stock index funds

    Having a healthy stake in stocks is a hallmark of 401(k) millionaires. With decades to go until retirement, you can ride out market swings. That’s a philosophy Steven and Melanie Thorne have embraced. Together they have $310,000 in their workplace retirement plans, Roth IRAs, and a brokerage account, all invested 100% in stocks. “We are young, so we can be more aggressive,” says Steve, a security officer at a nuclear power plant.

    Investing is a passion for Steven, who first started saving for retirement with a Roth IRA when he was 18. He says he follows Warren Buffett’s philosophy about buying stocks: Be greedy when others are fearful, be fearful when others are greedy. But, he says, he and Melanie, a nurse, are buy-and-hold investors and keep most of their portfolio in low-cost index funds.

    Steven and Melanie have been disciplined about hiking their retirement contributions with every raise. Melanie saves 10% of her pay in her plan, while Steven sets aside 12%. They even save extra in Roth IRAs. They live below their means and direct tax refunds into retirement accounts, as well as save for college for their five year old son Chase. “We look for extra ways to save cash and keep our investment costs low,” says Steven.

  • Jonathan and Margaret Kallay, 56 and 53

    By saving more as big expenses fell away and their incomes rose, Jonathan and Margaret Kallay have been able to amass 401(k)s worth a combined $750,000.
    Jesse Burke

    Westerville, Ohio
    Years to $1 million: Four
    Best move: Power saving late

    Life can get in the way of saving for retirement, but ramping up your savings later in your career pays off. Jonathan and Margaret Kallay contributed only small amounts to their retirement plans early on. “It wasn’t much, about $50 a paycheck on a $13,000-a-year salary,” says Jonathan, a firefighter. Margaret, then an ER nurse, put away 5% of her pay.

    As big expenses fell away, the Kallays saved more. Married in 1993, the couple each paid child support for daughters from previous marriages until the girls reached 18. Once that ended and they paid off car loans, the money went toward retirement.

    Earning more has helped too. Jonathan worked extra shifts as a paramedic. Margaret got a business degree and is now a vice president at an insurance company, where she gets a generous company match. They each put about 15% in their 401(k)s, which total $750,000 and could hit $1 million in four years. They plan to quit work soon to spend more time traveling and spending time with their daughters and 5-year-old twin grandsons. “We’ve made a lot of sacrifices to invest for retirement,” says Jonathan. “It’s all been worth it.”

  • Mel and Heather Petersen, both 35

    Mel and Heather Petersen with sons Carter and Perry

    Reidsville, N.C.
    Years to $1 million: 17
    Best move: Buying rental properties to bring in more money

    Despite modest incomes in the early years of their careers, Mel and Heather Petersen have accumulated nearly $200,000 in retirement savings. Their strategy: Consistent saving. Mel, a public school teacher, says his salary has averaged about $40,000 most of his working life. Today he earns $50,000 a year. Heather, a marketing analyst who contributes 10% of her income to her 401(k), has seen a steadier increase in her earnings over the years, bringing the couple to a six-figure combined income.

    “We have always saved money for retirement no matter what our income, and never stopped no matter what financial challenges we have faced,” says Mel, dad to two boys, 8-year-old Carter and 4-year-old Perry.

    It helps that the Petersens supplement their retirement savings with income from rental properties that they began buying seven years ago. Several are paid off, and after expenses they gross about $5,000 a month in rental income. They hope to continue investing in real estate to boost their retirement savings. “We want to max out our retirement accounts down the road,” says Mel.

  • Larry and Christianne Schertel, both 58

    Larry and Christie Schertel

    Valatie, New York
    Years to $1 million: zero
    Best move: Kept faith in stocks

    Investors have enjoyed a roaring bull market for the past six years. But financial markets are cyclical. Even the most dedicated savers can panic and abandon stocks when the markets goes south.

    Despite the massive downturn during the Great Recession, Larry and Christianne Schertel didn’t budge from their 75% stock allocation. “When the market collapsed in 2008, we stayed the course and were nicely rewarded as the markets rebounded,” says Larry, an operations manager at a transportation company until his retirement this January. As they closed in on retirement, the Schertels reduced equities to about 60%. Together with Christianne, who works as an elementary school teaching assistant, the Schertels have just over $1 million in retirement accounts.

    In addition to their resolve during market fluctuations, the Schertels say automating their savings, living below their means, limiting debt, and investing in low-cost funds helped them reach the $1 million mark. “There really is no magic to it,” says Larry. “It is just being disciplined.”

MONEY Oil

Two Big Reasons You Won’t Be Spending More On Gas Anytime Soon

Shaybah oilfield complex, in the Rub' al-Khali desert, Saudi Arabia, November 14, 2007.
Ali Jarekji—REUTERS Shaybah oilfield complex, in the Rub' al-Khali desert, Saudi Arabia.

Chinese demand doesn’t seem to be improving, and Saudi Arabia is actually boosting production.

The beleaguered oil industry was hit with a double dose of bad news on Tuesday, which initially sent oil prices down. On the supply side, Saudi Arabia continues to make good on its refusal to cut its production, instead, it actually boosted production close to an all-time high. Meanwhile, weaker than expected demand in China doesn’t appear to be improving as factory data from the world’s top oil importer slipped to an 11-month low. Unless these two trends reverse course both could continue to put pressure on oil prices in the months ahead.

Gushing supplies

Saudi Arabia is making it abundantly clear that it has no intention of cutting its oil production to reduce the current glut of oil on the market. This past weekend its OPEC governor, Mohammed al-Madi, said that the market can forget about a return of triple digit oil prices for the time being. That statement was backed up by the country’s oil production data, which according to a Reuters report is now up to 10 million barrels per day. Not only is that near its all-time high, but its 350,000 barrels per day more than the country told OPEC it would produce last month. In fact, as we can see in the following chart the Kingdom’s oil output has steadily risen over the past few decades and is nearing its previous peak from the 1980s.

Saudi Arabia Crude Oil Production Chart

Typically the Saudi’s are the first to cut oil production when the market has too much supply. However, this time it’s more concerned with keeping its share of the oil market that it’s willing to flood the market with cheap oil in order to slow down production growth from places like the U.S., Canada, and Russia. This is leaving the world short of places to put the excess oil asstorage space is quickly running low due to weaker than expected demand.

China continues to slow

To make matters worse, China, which is the world’s second largest economy and top oil importer, continues to see its economic growth slow suggesting its demand for oil could be even more tepid in the months ahead. The latest data out of China shows that factory activity is now at an 11-month low. This was after the HSBC/Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index was at 49.2 for March, well below the 50.7 mark from February. Not only is that below the 50.6 that economists had expected, but it’s now below the 50-point mark that separates growth from a contraction.

That’s bad news for oil prices because as the following chart shows China’s rapidly expanding economy has been a key driver of its surging oil demand over the past decade.

China Oil Consumption Chart

With China’s economic growth slowing down it’s leading to a slowdown in its demand for oil. That leaves robust global oil supplies with nowhere to go at the moment as demand for oil in Europe has been weakened by its own economic issues while the U.S. no longer needs as much imported oil thanks to efficiency gains as well as its own robust output. This will put pressure on oil prices as increased demand for oil from China was seen as a key for an oil price rally.

Investor takeaway

So much for peak oil as Saudi Arabia has now pushed its production close to its all-time high with no signs that it plans to tap the brakes. That’s coming at the worst possible moment as the oil market is oversupplied by upwards of two million barrels per day at the moment due to weaker than expected demand in China. Worse yet, Chinese demand could start to contract as its economic machine is notably showing down. This means that investors in oil stocks are in for more volatility as the market continues to work through its supply and demand issues.

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MONEY stocks

3 Ways to Profit by Going Against the Crowd

fish jumping from crowded fishbowl to empty one
Yasu+Junko—Prop Styling by Shane Klein

Though it's scary, your best move in today's choppy market is to do what others fear.

Take a deep breath. After a whirlwind start to the year, you can be forgiven for feeling nervous about the state of the financial markets.

Yes, the Dow and the S&P 500 are back up after sharp declines earlier this year. But stocks are still on pace for their most volatile year since 2011. Sure, plunging prices at the pump are good for consumers, but they’ve taken a hammer to energy stocks. And interest rates around the world keep sinking. While falling yields boost the value of older bonds in your fixed-income funds, they sure make it hard to generate any income.

Rather than following the crowd that’s selling on today’s fears, take advantage of falling prices and do a little bargain hunting. Here are three places where that’s possible.

THE ROCKY STOCK MARKET

The worry: In 2013 and 2014, the S&P 500 experienced daily swings of 1% or more about once every six trading days. So far this year, it’s been one in three.

What the crowd is doing: Racing into low-volatility funds that focus on boring Steady Eddie companies like Procter & Gamble. As a result, the price/earnings ratio for stocks in the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF is 12% higher than the broad market. Yet “low vol” shares have historically traded at a 25% discount.

The smarter move: Look to an industry that’s not particularly thought of as a safe harbor in a storm: technology. Mature tech anyway. “On a relative basis, older, established tech firms look really attractive,” says BlackRock global investment strategist Heidi Richardson. Many tech giants, such as Apple APPLE INC. AAPL -1.09% , trade at P/E ratios of around 15 or less.

They also have a ton of cash, which lets them invest in research and development while still paying dividends. Moreover, the recent volatility in stocks has stemmed from fears that the Federal Reserve may start hiking rates this year. Well, tech has historically outpaced the S&P 500 in the six months following rate hikes. Lean into this group through iShares U.S. Technology ISHARES TRUST REG. SHS OF DJ US TECH.SEC.IDX IYW -1.61% . Apple, Microsoft, and Intel make up more than a third of this ETF’s holdings.

THE ENERGY CRISIS

The worry: Oil prices may not be done falling. UBS, in fact, believes that the price of a barrel of crude may not return to recent highs for another 60 months.

What the crowd is doing: Ditching blue-chip energy stocks, including giants such as Conoco-Phillips and Halliburton, which have sunk 20% to 40% lately.

The smarter move: Play the odds. The Leuthold Group found that a simple strategy of buying the market’s cheapest sector—now energy, based on median P/E ratios—and holding on for a year has trounced the broad market. “Value surfaces without even needing a catalyst,” says Doug Ramsey, Leuthold’s chief investment officer.

You can gain broad exposure through Energy Select Sector SPDR ETF ENERGY SELECT SECTOR SPDR ETF XLE -0.73% , which beat 99% of its peers over the past decade and charges fees of just 0.15% a year.

THE THREAT OF DEFLATION

The worry: Rates around the world will keep sinking, as conventional wisdom says deflation is a bigger threat than inflation.

What the crowd is doing: Pulling billions from products such as Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities that are meant to guard against rising prices—investments now yielding even less than regular bonds.

The smarter move: Embrace that lower-yielding debt, at least with a small part of your portfolio. Joe Davis, head of Vanguard’s investment strategy group, says inflation may not spike soon. But the time to buy inflation insurance is when no one is scared, and it’s cheap. Consumer prices would only have to rise more than 1.8% annually over the next decade for 10-year TIPS to outperform.

Conservative investors should look to short-term TIPS, which are less sensitive to rate hikes, says Davis. Vanguard Target Retirement 2015, for instance, allocates about 8% of its portfolio to the Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Fund VANGUARD SH-TRM INF-PRTC SEC IDX IV VTIPX 0.08% .

This won’t seem fruitful—until, that is, inflation finally rears up.

MONEY Macroeconomic trends

8 Surprising Economic Trends That Will Shape the Next Century

crowd of people
Douglas Mason—Getty Images

Here are the stories that will matter in the years ahead.

Forget monthly jobs reports, GDP releases, and quarterly earnings. As I see it, there are eight important economic stories worth tracking right now that could have a big impact in the coming decades.

1. The U.S. population age 30-44 declined by 3.8 million from 2002 to 2012. That cohort is now growing again. By 2023 there will be an estimated 5.8 million more Americans aged 30 to 44 than there are now, according to the Census Bureau. This is important, because this age group spends tons of money, buys lots of homes and cars, and start lots of new businesses.

2. U.S. companies have $2.1 trillion cash held abroad. Much of this is because we have an inane tax code that taxes foreign profits twice: Once in the country they’re earned in, and again when companies bring that money back to the United States. If Congress ends this rule and switches to a territorial tax system — in which countries can bring foreign-earned cash back to their home country without paying another layer of taxes, as every other developed country allows — there could be a flood of new dividends, buybacks, and investments in America. It’s huge, pent-up demand waiting to be spent.

3. U.S. infrastructure is in disastrous shape. Roads, bridges, dams, and other public infrastructure have been neglected for years. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $3.6 trillion in new investment is needed by 2020 to bring the country’s infrastructure up to “good” condition. Will this happen soon? Of course not. This is Congress we’re talking about. But the good news is that this work must eventually be done. You can’t just let critical bridges and water structures fail and say, “Damn. That Brooklyn Bridge was nice while we had it.” Things will have to be repaired. Sooner rather than later would be smart, because we can borrow now for zero percent interest. But someday, it will happen. And it’ll be a huge boon to jobs and growth when it does.

4. The whole structure of modern business is changing. I’m not sure who said it first, but this quote has been floating around Twitter lately: “In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory, and Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.” Fundamental assumptions about what is needed to be a successful business have changed in just the last few years.

5. California is one of the most important agricultural states, growing 99% of the nation’s artichokes, 94% of broccoli, 95% of celery, 95% of garlic, 85% of lettuce, 95% of tomatoes, 73% of spinach, 73% of melons, 69% of carrots, 99% of almonds, 98% of pistachios, and 89% of berries (the list goes on). And the state is basically running out of water. Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote last week: “Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year megadrought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.” This could change rapidly in one good winter, but it could also turn into a quick tailwind on food prices. It could also be a huge boost for desalination companies.

6. New home construction will probably need to rise 40% from current levels to keep up with long-term household formation. We’re now building about 1 million new homes a year. That will likely have to rise to an average of 1.4 million per year, which combines Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ projection of 1.2 million new households being formed each year and an annual average of 200,000 homes being lost to natural disaster or torn down. This is important because new home construction is, historically, one of the top drivers of economic growth.

7. American households have the lowest debt burden in more than three decades. And the largest portion of household debt is mortgages, most of which are fixed-rate. So when people ask, “What’s going to happen to debt burdens when interest rates rise?”, the answer is “Probably not that much.”

8. America has some of the best demographics among major economies. Between 2012 and 2050, America’s working-age population (those ages 15-64) is projected to rise by 47 million. China’s working-age population is set to shrink by 200 million, Russia’s to fall by 34 million, Japan’s by 27 million, Germany’s by 13 million, and France’s by 1 million. People worry about the impact of retiring U.S. baby boomers, but the truth is we have favorable demographics other countries can’t even dream about. This is massively overlooked and underappreciated.

There’s a lot more important stuff going on, of course. And the biggest news story of the next 20 years is almost certainly something that nobody is talking about today. But if I had to bet on eight big trends that will very likely make a difference, these would be them.

For more:

MONEY Warren Buffett

3 Warren Buffett Habits We Should All Adopt

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Lacy O'Toole—CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty I Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Warren Buffett has grown from a boy who at 7 years old roamed the streets of Omaha selling bottles of Coca-Cola for a nickel to a man who now sits atop the Berkshire Hathaway empire he created, with over $525 billion in assets.

Are you curious to know what habits enabled him to get there? Well, there are three we all can, and should, adopt.

Never stop learning

In the 50th annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Charlie Munger, the longtime second-in-command at Berkshire, spoke about one of Buffett’s most enduring and important traits that led to his success:

Buffett’s decision to limit his activities to a few kinds and to maximize his attention to them, and to keep doing so for 50 years, was a lollapalooza. Buffett succeeded for the same reason Roger Federer became good at tennis.

Buffett was, in effect, using the winning method of the famous basketball coach, John Wooden, who won most regularly after he had learned to assign virtually all playing time to his seven best players. … And Buffett much out-Woodened Wooden, because in his case the exercise of skill was concentrated in one person, not seven, and his skill improved and improved as he got older and older during 50 years.

In other words, Buffett figured out what he was good at and stuck with it through thick and thin, always honing his skill.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that for anyone to truly become an expert at something, there is some element of inherent skill involved, but there is also a key component of practice. And the key is dedicating at least 10,000 hours of time to become a true expert. Gladwell asserts: “[P]ractice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

He cites examples such as Bill Gates, who sneaked out of his parents’ house at night while he was in high school to learn computer coding, or the Beatles, who played eight hours a day in various bars across Hamburg, Germany, before they really mastered their craft.

And the same is true of Buffett, as he himself once remarked:

I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions, than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.

In the same way, in his hit song “I Know I Can,” rapper Nas said:

Boys and girls, listen up / You can be anything in the world, in God we trust / An architect, doctor, maybe an actress / But nothing comes easy, it takes much practice

So no matter where life takes you or what you do, always remember — whether you learn from Buffett, the Beatles, Bill Gates, or Nas — while we’ll never be perfect, persistent practice will always help take us one step closer.

Patience is key

The world around us is moving at a speed that is truly hard to grasp. As The Wall Street Journal reported, “[I]t took 75 years for telephones to achieve 50 million users, while Angry Birds reached that goal in a mere 35 days.”

Another of Buffett’s distinct and admirable characteristics is his patience.

In 2003, he noted:

We bought some Wells Fargo shares last year. Otherwise, among our six largest holdings, we last changed our position in Coca-Cola in 1994, American Express in 1998, Gillette in 1989, Washington Post in 1973, and Moody’s in 2000. Brokers don’t love us.

But consider for a moment his remarks in the 2010 letter to shareholders, in which he said that for Berkshire to succeed:

We will need both good performance from our current businesses and more major acquisitions. We’re prepared. Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy.

It’s widely thought that means Buffett intends to purchase a single business worth tens of billions of dollars. While his trigger finger was itchy in 2010, and Berkshire’s cash pile now stands at over $60 billion, Buffett has distinctly been willing to sit on the sidelines until the right opportunity presented itself.

There is obvious value in moving quickly into something if it’s a no-brainer decision and time is of the essence, but otherwise, we would all do well to take a step back and exhibit a little more patience.

And that could be patience in buying batteries at the grocery store, or, like Buffett, the company that makes those batteries.

Give credit where it’s due

One of the final things to note about Buffett is his eagerness to commend the team of managers who surround him.

Consider his 2009 remark about Ajit Jain, who heads Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance and is widely speculated to be a candidate to replace Buffett atop Berkshire:

If Charlie, I, and Ajit are ever in a sinking boat — and you can only save one of us — swim to Ajit.

Or his remarks about Todd Combs and Ted Weschler — who each manage a sizable stock portfolio at Berkshire Hathaway — in the 2013 letter:

In a year in which most equity managers found it impossible to outperform the S&P 500, both Todd Combs and Ted Weschler handily did so. Each now runs a portfolio exceeding $7 billion. They’ve earned it. I must again confess that their investments outperformed mine. (Charlie says I should add “by a lot.”) If such humiliating comparisons continue, I’ll have no choice but to cease talking about them. Todd and Ted have also created significant value for you in several matters unrelated to their portfolio activities. Their contributions are just beginning: Both men have Berkshire blood in their veins.

Or consider his praise for Tony Nicely in 2005:

Credit Geico — and its brilliant CEO, Tony Nicely — for our stellar insurance results in a disaster-ridden year. … Last year, Geico gained market share, earned commendable profits, and strengthened its brand. If you have a new son or grandson in 2006, name him Tony.

And the list could go on and on.

Here’s a man worth more than $70 billion, who understands that the works of others were just as important to his success as his own. So no matter where we are, we should always take the time to thank the people who helped us get there.

While we’ll always only be ourselves, adopting these three habits will help us no matter where our path takes us.

MONEY wall street

Shhh…E.F. Hutton Is Talking Again

A storied financial brand far removed from its glory days makes a comeback, modeled after...Uber?

Bring back shoulder pads and the mullet. E.F. Hutton, another 1980s throwback, is in the financial services business again. The big question: Is this once iconic brand worth anything?

Hutton is launching the website Gateway to connect investors with independent financial advisers, estate lawyers, accountants, and insurance agents. The firm will vet its roster of financial pros, which individuals can access for free.

But this is really about helping advisers find clients. The advisers will pay Hutton a fee based on revenue they collect from clients that find them on the site. Stanley Hutton Rumbough, the grandson of legendary founder E.F. Hutton, is leading the brand’s revival from within a relatively new entity called E.F. Hutton Financial, which was incorporated in Colorado in 2007 and has no legal relationship with the old E.F. Hutton. The new firm likens itself to car service Uber in that it takes a small cut of the business it generates for advisers.

Hutton was a Wall Street heavyweight 40 years ago and is best known for its advertising slogan: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” The firm’s ads ran for years and typically featured crowds of people leaning in to hear the advice of a Hutton broker. (That’s one in the video above.) This was a powerful image during the bull market that started in 1982. After the lost decade of the 1970s, investors were getting excited about stocks again. The Hutton ad suggested that only through a broker could you gain an investing edge.

In some ways, the suggestion was ironic—coming just ahead of the massive insider trading scandals of the late 1980s, when dozens of Wall Street players, including Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, were found to have skirted the rules for their own advantage. So much for the broker edge, which in those cases anyway was about illegal stock tips sometimes in exchange for suitcases full of cash.

Hutton became embroiled as well, and in 1985 pleaded guilty to 2,000 counts of mail and wire fraud, and paid more than $10 million in penalties in connection with a check-kiting scheme. The firm would make bank withdrawals and deposits in such a way that it gained illegal access to millions of dollars interest free for days at a time while waiting for the checks to clear.

A further irony lies in reams of new data that show that over the long haul stock pickers tend to underperform simple, low-cost index funds. Over time, the fees that active fund managers charge overwhelm their ability to pick winning stocks. This is now so well understood that the good old-fashioned stockbroker is a dinosaur. Today, industry leaders like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley employ financial advisers or wealth managers who counsel clients in all aspects of their money life.

Founded in 1904, Hutton ran into capital issues following the 1987 stock market crash and disappeared in 1988 amid a spate of mergers that included Shearson Lehman Bros., American Express, Smith Barney, Primerica, and Citigroup. Former Hutton executive Frank Campanale tried reviving the brand three years ago. Campanale ditched the effort for a job with the established asset manager Lebenthal and Co., but continues to have a financial stake in the Hutton brand.

With a checkered past and four decades removed from glory, you have to wonder how much the Hutton name is worth. Then again, Michael Milken has resurfaced as a philanthropist and neon is back in style. Power up the flux capacitor, Doc. We’re going back the future.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify that: 1) E.F. Hutton Financial is a different company from the original E.F. Hutton brokerage that ran into legal troubles in the 1980s; and 2) Mr. Campanale has retained a financial interest in E.F. Hutton Financial since his departure.

 

MONEY Taxes

11 Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund

Tax refund check with post-it saying "$$$ for Me"
Eleanor Ivins—Getty Images

You could pay down debt, travel, tend to your health, or shrink your mortgage, among many other ideas.

Here we are, in the thick of tax season. That means many mailboxes and bank accounts are receiving tax refunds. A tax refund can feel like a windfall, even though it’s really a portion of your earnings from the past year that the IRS has held for you, in case you owed it in taxes. Still, it’s a small or large wad of money that you suddenly have in your possession. Here are some ideas for how you might best spend it.

First, though, a tip: If you’re eager to spend your refund, but haven’t yet received it, you can click over to the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund?” site to track its progress through the IRS system. Now on to the suggestions for things to do with your tax refund:

Pay down debt: Paying down debt is a top-notch idea for how to spend your tax refund — even more so if you’re carrying high-interest rate debt, such as credit card debt. If you owe $10,000 and are being charged 25% annually, that can cost $2,500 in interest alone each year. Pay down that debt, and it’s like earning 25% on every dollar with which you reduce your balance. Happily, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, 39% of taxpayers plan to spend their refund paying off debt.

Establish or bulk up an emergency fund: If you don’t have an emergency fund, or if it’s not yet able to cover your living expenses for three to nine months, put your tax refund into such a fund. You’ll thank yourself if you unexpectedly experience a job loss or health setback, or even a broken transmission.

Open or fund an IRA: You can make your retirement more comfy by plumping up your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as traditional or Roth IRAs. Better yet, you can still make contributions for the 2014 tax year — up until April 15. The maximum for 2014 and 2015 is $5,500 for most folks, and $6,500 for those 50 or older.

Add money to a Health Savings Account: Folks with high-deductible health insurance plans can make tax-deductible contributions to HSAs and pay for qualifying medical expenses with tax-free money. Individuals can sock away up to $3,350 in 2015, while the limit is $6,650 for families, plus an extra $1,000 for those 55 or older. Another option is a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), which has a lower maximum contribution of $2,550. There are a bunch of rules for both, so read up before signing up.

Visit a financial professional: You can give yourself a big gift by spending your tax refund on some professional financial services. For example, you might consult an estate-planning expert to get your will drawn up, along with powers of attorney, a living will, and an advance medical directive. If a trust makes sense for you, setting one up can eat up a chunk of a tax refund, too. A financial planner can be another great investment. Even if one costs you $1,000-$2,000, they might save or make you far more than that as they optimize your investment allocations and ensure you’re on track for a solid retirement.

Make an extra mortgage payment or two: By paying off a little more of your mortgage principle, you’ll end up paying less interest in the long run. Do so regularly, and you can lop years off of your mortgage, too.

Save it: You might simply park that money in the bank or a brokerage account, aiming to accumulate a big sum for a major purchase, such as a house, new car, college tuition, or even starting a business. Sums you’ll need within a few or as many as 10 years should not be in stocks, though — favor CDs or money market accounts for short-term savings.

Invest it: Long-term money in a brokerage account can serve you well, growing and helping secure your retirement. If you simply stick with an inexpensive, broad-market index fund such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, or Vanguard Total World Stock ETF, you might average as much as 10% annually over many years. A $3,000 tax refund that grows at 10% for 20 years will grow to more than $20,000 — a rather useful sum.

Give it away: If you’re lucky enough to be in good shape financially, consider giving some or all of your tax refund away. You can collect a nice tax deduction for doing so, too. Even if you’re not yet in the best financial shape, it’s good to remember that millions of people are in poverty and in desperate need of help.

Invest in yourself: You might also invest in yourself, perhaps by advancing your career potential via some coursework or a new certification. You might even learn enough to change careers entirely, to one you like more, or that might pay you more. You can also invest in yourself health-wise, perhaps by joining a gym, signing up for yoga classes, or hiring a personal trainer. If you’ve been putting off necessary dental work, a tax refund can come in handy for that, too.

Create wonderful memories: Studies have shown that experiences make us happier than possessions, so if your financial life is in order, and you can truly afford to spend your tax refund on pleasure, buy a great experience — such as travel. You don’t have to spend a fortune, either. A visit to Washington, D.C., for example, will get you to a host of enormous, free museums focused on art, history, science, and more. For more money, perhaps finally visit Paris, go on an African safari, or take a cruise through the fjords of Norway. If travel isn’t of interest, maybe take some dance or archery lessons, or enjoy a weekend of wine-tasting at a nearby location.

Don’t end up, months from now, wondering where your tax refund money has gone. Make a plan, and make the most of those funds, as they can do a lot for you. Remember, too, that you may be able to split your refund across several of the options above.

MONEY Federal Reserve

Is the Federal Reserve Talking Too Much?

Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images Janet Yellen, chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve has become a model of transparency. Not everyone likes that.

The paradox of Wednesday’s Federal Reserve release is that good economic news has actually made Janet Yellen’s job harder than ever.

Since the housing crash, the U.S. economy has steadily climbed back (if frustratingly slowly) under the central bank’s policy of ultra low interest rates. The stock market and bond markets have surged and employers are finally hiring in large numbers again.

But eventually a strong economy means rates will have to come up in order to avoid inflation. And although inflation is very low now, most observers are betting that Yellen at least wants “lift off” from today’s near-zero short rates. So now the Fed faces the tricky task of telling Wall Street and businesses how and when it will “take away the punch bowl”—that is, bring monetary policy back to normal.

So far the market has reacted positively to the Fed’s latest signal, which dropped the all-important “patience,” but tempered that move by indicating any rate increase would be slower than previously expected. That said, interest rates will have to rise sometime, and when they do, Yellen and company will have to deliver a less-friendly message.

For the people who benefit from low interest rates—and that’s quite a large group, including investors who have bet on rates staying low—such a message will be hard to hear. When Ben Bernanke signaled that he would taper off another Fed stimulus, the bond-buying program called quantitative easing, would be scaled back, the market flew into a tizzy. The “taper tantrum” caused a big spike in long-term bond rates, which meant bond holders lost money. As The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy notes, the market’s overreaction even created international turmoil when investors, believing the Fed was radically changing course (it wasn’t) pulled their money out of emerging markets.

Events like this have led commentators like Cassidy to ask whether there’s such thing as too much transparency from the Fed, especially when unpopular decisions—like rate hikes—must be made. There’s certainly precedent for this line of thought. Paul Volcker, the Federal Reserve chair who famously fought choked off inflation in the early 1980s, essentially operated in secret while putting the economy through a series of painful interest rate increases. Wouldn’t it be easier if Janet Yellen could do the same, and avoid any unnecessary confusion?

James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital, certainly thinks so. “I would long for those days,” he says, referring to the pre-Bernanke era of a less open central bank.

Paulsen says the Fed’s primary method of influence is making people feel confident, and transparency has undercut that mission.

“They’ve gone overboard with all this mumbo-jumbo communications that is allowing everyone to see how the sausage is made,” Paulsen explains.

Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni research, won’t go as far as endorsing complete secrecy, but agrees the Fed’s transparency efforts have gone too far. “I think there’s got to be some happy medium between no information and too much information, and right now we’ve got too much information and too much focus on the Fed,” says Yardeni.

He’s particularly concerned with the propensity for members of the Federal Open Market Committee to undercut the Fed’s official line. That kind of uncertainty can occasionally move markets, and Yardeni specifically referenced the so-called “Bullard Bounce”; a market rally that resulted from James Bullard, President of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, telling Bloomberg Business that he supported a delay in ending the Fed’s bond buying program.

“I’d be in favor of putting a gag order on members of the FOMC,” said Yardeni.

But while some experts decry an open Fed for creating chaos, others see transparency as the only way to avoid uncertainty and turmoil during a policy shift.

“They [the Fed] don’t want to shock the market,” says James Hamilton, a professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego. “People can over-react to a change and the Fed doesn’t really want that.” He believes Bernanke’s “taper tantrum” was not the result of too much openness, but rather proves the Fed needs to indicate its intentions even farther in advance.

And while the economist acknowledges that Volcker’s lack of transparency may have been beneficial when the situation required extreme measures, he maintains current rate hikes are minor by comparison, and don’t require such a dramatic lowering of the boom.

Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, goes even further, arguing a more transparent Fed is better in all cases. “I am at a loss to think that the Fed would ever find itself better off being opaque,” Duy told MONEY in an email. “Volcker, in fact, may have been better able to convince the public of his intentions, and thus speed the inflation adjustment, with greater transparency.”

But if there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that the Fed’s penchant for publicity provides some decent entertainment value—at least for the people who follow it for a living.

“It’s great reality television,” says Paulsen.

MONEY retirement planning

The Single Best (And Easiest) Way to Boost Your Investment Returns

stacks of cash, one higher than the others
GP Kidd—Getty Images

Brokerage firms are fighting to claim the low-cost label. You can do it yourself, without the stress, with these simple moves.

Two financial services firms—Charles Schwab and Wealthfront—duked it out in public last week over whose automated investing service is a better deal. Some may see such sparring as unseemly, but I think it’s great. Such sniping will focus more attention on the surest way to boost returns—cutting investing fees.

In case you missed it, Wealthfront, a “robo-advisor” that uses algorithms to provide very low-cost investment advice, raised a stink last week after Schwab introduced Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, a similar investment service that charges no advisory fee. Wealthfront objected to the ways Schwab earns revenue from Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, including putting a portion of recommended portfolios in “smart beta” ETFs that charge somewhat higher fees than traditional ETFs as well as in cash on which Schwab currently pays a very low rate of return. Schwab defended itself, and lobbed some charges of its own.

I don’t want to bore you any more than I already have with the details of this dust-up (although if you go to the RealDealRetirement Toolbox and scroll down, you’ll find links to their respective salvos). I do, however, want to suggest three lessons you can take from this fee fracas to improve your investing results and increase your odds of achieving a secure retirement.

1. Focus on fees, but don’t obsess over every basis point. You don’t have to work very hard to reap the benefits of low-cost investing. For example, moving from a portfolio of funds whose expense ratios average, say, 1% a year to a portfolio of index funds or ETFs with average expenses of 0.25% can gain you an extra $40,000 or so over the course of 20 years on an initial investment of $100,000, assuming a 6% annual return before expenses. Could you do even better? Sure. These days you can find some ETFs that charge as little as 0.04%.

But at some point shaving off another few basis points here, another couple there and extrapolating the results decades and decades into the future becomes a “fun with numbers” spreadsheet exercise. So by all means create a portfolio of low-cost index funds or ETFs. But don’t feel that you’re losing out if you don’t have the absolute lowest-cost portfolio around.

2. Don’t fritter your savings away by overpaying elsewhere. While you don’t want to devote your life to squeezing out every extra basis point of fees, you don’t want to let savings unnecessarily slip through your fingers either. For example, if you work with a financial adviser, you typically pay two layers of fees: those on your investments, and the fees you pay to the adviser. Depending on how much that adviser charges, much of the savings you reap by moving from a portfolio of high- to low-cost funds could go into the adviser’s pocket instead of yours.

That’s not to say that an adviser who charges 1% or more a year to invest your money is ripping you off. But you need to look at the total amount you’re paying in fees. And you also have to consider whether the services you’re getting from an adviser (investment selection, allocation advice, rebalancing, budgeting, whatever) are worth the money you’re shelling out, not to mention whether you might get the same services elsewhere at a lower cost.

hould You Take Social Security Early and Invest it—Or Claim Later For A Higher Benefit? – See more at: http://realdealretirement.com/#sthash.cWYgUfTX.dpuf

3. Don’t be awed by “white papers.” If you go to the sites of many robo-advisers, you’ll find white papers and/or methodology statements that quantify in mind-numbing detail how these investing algorithms work and why they supposedly generate better portfolios. Hey, I like modern portfolio theory as much as the next guy, and I certainly believe that there are advantages to asset allocation, rebalancing and harvesting losses in taxable accounts. But I also know that you’ve got to take a lot of this number-crunching with a big ol’ grain of salt. The future may unfold differently than the past, and there’s no assurance that what worked before will work again—or generate comparable results even if it does.

Bottom line: Techniques like mean-variance optimization, rebalancing and tax-loss selling may very well enhance performance over the long run (although I’m skeptical about portfolios that load up on lots of funds and asset classes). But ultimately, the surest way to increase your shot at higher returns and achieving your financial goals is to build a broadly diversified portfolio and keep costs down. And that’s true whether you’re investing on your own or getting help from an adviser, human or not.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com.

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MONEY Financial Planning

The Real Risks of Retirement

150317_RET_RealRisk_1
Walker and Walker/Getty Images

Acknowledging all the financial risks you face in retirement can be an empowering experience.

When you’re planning for retirement, you think about how much money you’ll spend, places you’d like to visit, what health care will cost. But do you think about risk? And do you think about the right risks?

By that, I mean, have you considered any risk other than running out of money?

There are other risks to face.

No generation before today, for one, has ever looked at such a long retirement with largely themselves alone to rely on.

And we’ve seen two market crashes in a decade — 2000 and 2008 — only to raise our heads up and go through a global economic slowdown. Thanks a lot. What’s next?

Some risks you can actually control, however.

You can’t predict where the markets will be be six or 12 months from now. But you can tell yourself you’re going to get a handle on the other things that have as much of an impact on your retirement as your portfolio’s performance.

These are non-market risks that often arise within your own household.

Here’s my list of the special risks faced by current and future retirees:

  • Living a very, very, very long life
  • Having too much of your wealth in your house
  • Not saving enough
  • Having to take care of your parents
  • Having to support your adult children
  • Paying oversized college costs
  • Not having control of your budget
  • Forgetting about inflation
  • Persistently low returns in the markets and low interest rates
  • Ultra-volatile market swings just as you stop working

Oh, and, timing. All of these things could happen around the same time.

A silly little step you can take toward addressing these risks is to drop the word “risks” and substitute “issues.” If these are “issues,” maybe someone can do something about them. Maybe that person is you.

I find that some clients don’t realize that they themselves are the ones who determine that their financial plan won’t work. Hoping that your portfolio grows to the sky so it can support you isn’t really much of a defense against overspending. Overspending is something you control.

Or maybe it’s not you. Having your elderly parents to take care of, to worry about, to help financially, is not exactly a choice.

But when you factor something like caring for an elderly parent into your retirement plan, you can start to walk around this issue, take its measure, and begin to see ways to cope. Or begin to see that you can’t cope with this responsibility. You may have to find other resources — speak to other family members, seek out public programs, look for nonprofit groups that help with such things as respite care.

Coping with the issue can mean raising your hand, saying you can’t really handle it all, and asking for help.

Or it can mean that you did your research and you didn’t find a solution for every conundrum. Coping with the issue can mean you realize it’s a pothole and you’re going to hit it.

Okay, so you might live to be 100 or close to it. Did you set a portion of your portfolio aside for very long-term growth? Or did you consider delaying Social Security benefits until age 70 — and by doing that, pump up your check for the rest of your life, no matter how long?

Or, let’s say you figure you will have to live with low returns for a long while. Have you allocated enough to cash or short-term investments to handle your spending needs? Or did you divide your portfolio into buckets for different purposes? And then did you come up with an income strategy for one bucket so that you don’t have to dip into your other buckets?

When you strategize like this in the face of risk, it’s easier to see the actions you can take, even if you can’t make the risk go away.

As financial planners, we don’t often discuss these non-market risks. The one risk we do talk about with clients all the time is market risk, because we know quite a bit about that. Markets are difficult and ever-changing. While that may seem impenetrable to the client, it doesn’t really intimidate us.

But the real risks to the client’s retirement? Many of them lie out there, beyond investments. They may be outside a financial adviser’s perfectly organized financial plan, but they still exist. And clients have to steer around them.

———-

Harriet J. Brackey, CFP, is the co-chief investment officer of GSK Wealth Advisors, a South Florida registered investment advisory firm that manages more than $330 million. She does financial planning for clients and manages their portfolios. Before going into the financial services industry, she was an award-winning journalist who covered Wall Street. Her background includes stints at Business Week, USA Today, The Miami Herald and Nightly Business Report.

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