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The Independent Investor: Woman Need to Invest More

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

We all know women generally make less than men. On average, female workers make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job. If you are a woman of color, or work in some lower paid industries, the gap could be even wider. It is one of the reasons women need to invest and save more, not less.

That may sound counter-intuitive. After all, if you are making less, you have less to save and invest. You are absolutely right, but there are important reasons that you still need to save more. One of the main reasons is that the chances are you will live longer than your male counterparts by about five years.

That means if you are living on $50,000 a year, you will need $250,000 (five years times $50,000) in additional income and assets simply to stay afloat until you die. And guess how much the gender wage cap will cost you over your career? The Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement figures that over your lifetime the wage gap will cost you $300,000. Do you see where I'm going here?

The numbers don't add up. Over 150 psychological studies have shown that most women are great at saving, but saving alone won't save you. The only way I believe women can overcome the wage gap penalty, while living longer, is through investing. But unfortunately, the same studies reveal that women are generally more risk-adverse than men when it comes to investing.

There are several reasons for that: everything from lack of confidence to the fear of becoming a homeless bag lady in their old age. The net result of this aversion to risk is less reward. And therefore less money to live on when you retire, get divorced, or experience the death of your husband.

And yet, study after study reveals that when women do invest, they do it well and, in most cases, outperform their male counterparts by almost 1 percent per year. I can attest to that since well over half of my clients are women.  One of the main reasons is that my female clients trade less than male clients. Frequent trading usually ends up with less, not greater, rewards over time.

For the most part, my female clients contribute to their tax-deferred savings plans on a far more regular basis than males. They also refrain from second-guessing their advisors as well. Given that they are usually paying a fee to have their investments managed, their "hands-off" attitude allows the professional to do their jobs. Many men, on the other hand, are like back-seat drivers, always tinkering with their portfolios usually at the wrong time and with the wrong investment.

Probably, their best investment trait is the ability and willingness to ask for help. And when they get advice that makes sense to them, they stay the course, despite the ups and downs which are always present in financial markets. When you combine all of the above, it is not difficult to understand why women investors outperform men.

The bottom line for women is that despite the wage, age and gender gap, you owe it to yourself to start investing and do it now. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will become to avoid that bag lady fate that haunts your dreams.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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The Independent Investor: The VA — If It Isn't Broke, Don't Fix It

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

In the heat of presidential campaign rhetoric, the quality of care given to our veterans has become a popular topic. Needless to say, neither candidate has received care in a veteran's hospital and probably does not know anyone who has.

Actually, few of us know anything at all about the Department of Veterans Affairs medical capabilities. Most Americans have never served in the military. Fewer still have ever been inside a VA facility, and if they have, it was to see a relative or friend.

As such, our ignorance breeds a whole host of misunderstandings about how good or bad our veterans are being treated. Critics are quick to point to the 2014 scandal when some VA facilities were found to be denying care to service members and covering up those failures as well. But is that scandal enough to completely revamp an organization that has been serving our countrymen through countless wars?

As a vet who has experienced VA medical treatment, I can tell you that I found my treatment both professional and given with a high degree of care. There are plenty of other veterans who have had the same experience. But don't take my word for it.

There are at least 60 recent studies (since 2014) done by a variety of medical and other organizations. The results indicate that the care our vets receive at VA facilities is comparable to (or superior to) that offered by private providers. In areas such as mental health, preventative care, outpatient processes and outcomes, VA treatment was superior to that received in the private sector, according to these studies.

Their goal, which is centered on the well-being and health of each veteran, explains why their track record is better than average. Take my case as an example. I was wounded in Vietnam as a teenager. I am now in my late 60s and the VA has had a record of my health and well-being for practically my entire adult life. They know me from top to bottom, inside and out.

For the VA, there has always been a strong incentive to invest in my long-term health. In addition, the specialists work as a team with access to the same records and treatments that I have received over the decades. Therefore, there is little redundant treatment and my care is not fragmented among various doctors, hospitals etc., as it can be in the private sector.

The VA's motives are to keep me healthy and living longer and that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. In the private sector, profit dictates what happens to the patient. Those who favor privatization of the Veteran Affairs' medical system can swear that won't happen, but ask me if I believe them? And who says they can run the VA any better? If I look at the performance of the prison system, where privatization has been the buzz word for years, I am not impressed nor convinced they do a better job than the state.

Dr. Joseph Lalka, who worked as a primary-care physician at the VA for five years and is now retired, thinks that privatization would be a big mistake. Even though he recognizes the faults of the system, he believes the vast majority of services fill the veteran's needs. Improvements can always be made and the timing of visits to specialty treatment, in particular, is one obvious area that needs to be upgraded, he says.

Remember also that a lot of vets treated at the VA have combat-related traumas and disabilities. You don't see that often in your run-of-the-mill hospital or medical office. Their treatment costs money and requires expertise born from experience. It is hard for me to believe that the private sector could do a comparable job in this area of medicine. Of course, with trauma comes pain medication and with that the higher chances of developing an addiction. It is a problem that is affecting many Americans, not just Vets. Treatment of drug addiction is another area that could be improved at the VA.

I'm sure there are readers out there who disagree with my stance and I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, fix what needs fixing, but don't jettison a system that has served its veterans well in their time of need.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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The Independent Investor: The VA Political Football

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It is an election year and as such veterans are a voting block that neither side can resist. Both candidates are promising to overhaul Veterans Affairs once elected. The questions are whether to hand it over to the private sector or just try and fix the government organization's short-comings.

We all remember the terrible scandal back in 2014 when a whistle-blower revealed shocking inefficiencies, coverups and the deaths of some veterans within the Veterans Affairs. The then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, along with a gaggle of bosses in various states, who were caught falsifying waiting time reports for vets, provided the obligatory resignation parade before the nation.

Hearings were called where "outraged" politicians and veterans rights activists all got their share of free media time and in the end the Choice Act was rushed through Congress. This allowed vets to go to private care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days or travel distances of at least 40 miles to a VA office. This would theoretically insure that no more vets would die while waiting for treatment.

Critics charged that this was simply the first step toward privatization of the veterans' health care system.

A bi-partisan panel, the Commission on Care (COC), comprised of  health care executives and veterans' advocates were charged with looking at the system and coming up with recommendations to "fix" it. Last month that panel issued 18 recommendations that are supposed to "transform this complex system."

If this all sounds like the typical smoke and mirrors remedy to a national problem that we have become accustomed to, then you wouldn't be wrong. First off, the panel recommended an 11-member board of directors that would govern the Veterans Health Administration and report directly to the president. To me that just sounds like adding another layer of bureaucracy on top of an administration chock full of the same.

In addition, a new "community network of care" would allow vets to obtain medical services from both private and federal health-care providers regardless of the distance to or wait times at their nearest VA providers. That would push the system further towards privatization, say its critics. Other suggestions included improving VA leadership, modernizing computer systems, enhancing clinic operations and creating an easy to use VA personnel system.

If all of those suggestions sound well-meaning, but nebulous in the extreme, you are right. If history is any guide, millions (if not billions) will be spent with little visible improvement in veteran's care, accountability will be low to non-existent, and as time passes, the whole effort will dwindle to nothing when the next crisis becomes the nation's priority.

Sorry for my cynicism, and now on to politics.

Few voters realized that the 2014 scandal occurred on Bernie Sanders' watch. He was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and had been so for a year when the scandal erupted. Critics argue that Sanders had been using the veterans' health care system as a model for what a universal health care system in America would look like. Did Sanders' ideological views of how much government could deliver blind him to the VA's obvious (in hindsight) problems and deficiencies?

As politicians will do, Bernie soon turned a losing proposition into a win by taking credit for the Choice Act, even though the legislation opened the door for further privatization of the VA. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton, towing the traditional Democrat's party line, wants to build upon the Choice Act and restructure the agency, but falls short of privatizing it.

Republican Donald Trump, as you might expect, jumped into the act. Stating that the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system is "badly broken," he would move the VA further toward privatization. His campaign spokespeople suggested that it could evolve into more of an insurance provider (like Medicare), than an integrated hospital system as it is now. Other GOP legislatures support at least a partial privatization of vet's affairs.

As a Vietnam vet, there is a lot at stake for me and my fellow veterans. In my next column, I will examine the pros and cons of both positions.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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The Independent Investor: The More You Look, The More You Lose

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

How many times a day, week, month or year do you check your tax-deferred savings account? Did you know that the more you look, the higher your chances of losing money? For most of us, once a year is more than enough.

There are clients of mine that check their retirement accounts several times a day. To say they are addicted to doing so would not be an understatement. Some of them are retired and have nothing else to do each day but sit in front of the television watching financial channels. They are usually male, have control issues and have substituted watching TV and their investment accounts for their old job.

The sad facts are that the more you look, the higher the probability that you will see losses in your portfolio. That's because the markets do little or nothing the vast majority of time each year. And over time, you can expect the markets to be up or down at least 50 percent of the time. That means that if you check your accounts every single day, you will be disappointed with your returns at least half the time. Do you really want to live like that?

In addition, a loss will always impact you psychologically worse than a gain. For some people, it can ruin their entire day. What's more, those feelings of loss are cumulative. The anxiety builds and builds until you just can't stand another day of losses. So what do you do? Sell, usually at the bottom or close to it.

But it gets worse. You see the largest annual gains in the markets over no more than a couple of days each year.  If you are not invested, you miss it. Then the anxiety really builds, because you don't know when to buy back in. Now you feel like one of those gamblers at a Las Vegas gaming table in the wee hours of the morning, bleary-eyed, hung-over and exhausted but hoping to get back to break-even before they can call it a day.

Various research studies have shown that the more you monitor your portfolio, the riskier you will perceive investing to be. It's even got a name — myopic loss aversion.  It creates an attitude of over-vigilance when viewing short-term losses. And since human behavior is best at avoiding pain in the short run, your natural emotional reaction is to do just that — cut your losses and run.

Behaviorists have studied those who check their portfolio every day versus those who take a peek once a quarter. The daily checker has twice the probability of seeing a moderate loss (2 percent or more) than those who view their account just once every three months. Those who check often are shown to take the least risk in their portfolios and earn the least amount of money.

Frequent monitoring of your investments also causes your stress level to rise. Those who do, experience the stress felt by most Wall Street traders, which is one of the most stressful jobs in the financial sector. And the older you are (listen up, retirees), the more serious will be the consequences to your health.

At any age, stressed-out brains sound an alarm that release potentially harmful hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline (fear and flight). Ideally, the brain turns down these alarms when stress hormones get too high. That doesn't happen when you keep trading (or checking your account). Over time the brain slowly loses its skills at regulating hormone levels. This can cause all kinds of health problems from Alzheimer's to heart attacks and everything in-between.

So how often should you check your accounts? Ideally, no more than once a year and never during down periods, if you want to stay healthy and happy. If you find that a difficult proposition, re-examine your risk tolerance and adjust your portfolio accordingly until you can accomplish that goal.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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The Independent Investor: Health Savings Accounts a Good Idea

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Does your employer offer a health savings plan? Many do, especially if your company's health insurance has a high deductible. If you aren't taking advantage of it, you should and here's why.

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) were created as a way to help control rising health care costs. An HSA is an account, similar to a personal savings account or an IRA that you can open at work or on your own. Employers consider it a supplement to their high deductible employee health insurance plan (HDHP).

How do you know if your health insurance plan qualifies as a high deductible? Usually, HDHPs won't start paying out until after you've spent at least $1,300 (individual) or $2,600 for a family in expenses with your own money.

HSAs are used to pay for things your employer plan doesn't cover. Qualified medical expenses such as co-pays, health plan deductibles and other non-insurance covered medical expenses such as dental and vision expenses. You — not your employer or insurance company — own and control the money in your HSA. The government and the health insurers believe that most people will spend their health care dollars more wisely if they're using their own money.

HSAs function somewhat like a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. You can make contributions from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis. Your employer can also match some percentage of your contributions. No matter how much you make, you can open a HSA plan. Even though you may have already maxed out all of your other available tax-deferred savings plans, you can still open a HSA.

Health Savings Plans offer a triple tax advantage in an age where tax shelters are few and far between. Any contributions to the plan, investment earnings you may make, and money you take out for qualified medical expenses are all exempt from federal taxes.

There are some eligibility rules that do apply before you can qualify. You must be already covered by a HDHP. You can't have other health coverage that is not an HDHP (including Medicare). And you can't claim yourself as a dependent on another person's tax return.

The maximum you can contribute in any single year, as determined by the Internal Revenue Service, is $3,350 or, if you have a family plan, $6,750. These maximum levels are subject to yearly adjustments for inflation. That's also good news given the ever-escalating cost of health care.

So what happens, you might ask, if I contribute the maximum and I don't use it in the first year?

The money simply accumulates in your HSA account, rolling over year after year and hopefully making more and more investment returns. You can invest it in the stock or bond market or just about anything else you want. If you switch jobs, you can roll it over with you.

The only issue is that if you take the money out for anything other than medical expenses, you will pay taxes on it. If you take it out before 65 years of age, you will also pay a steep penalty.

If you are a generally healthy individual and want to save for future health care expenses, this is the way to do it. Or, if you are near retirement, a HSA makes a lot of sense because you know your medical expenses are going to increase in the future.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management (BMM), managing over $200 million for investors in the Berkshires. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of BMM. None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill’s insights.

 

 

 



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