Deep Blue Publications Group LLC - Tips from an expert on long-term investing

I have frequently emphasized the importance of a diversified portfolio and of having a significant portion of common stocks in your portfolio, even in retirement. Although I have been retired for 18 years, I still maintain about half of my portfolio in some form of common stocks -- either the shares themselves or mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

In a prior column, I recommended "Stocks for the Long Run" by Jeremy Siegel (McGraw-Hill) for investors who wanted to invest in common stocks. Siegel is a professor of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has revised and updated the book now in its 5th edition. I have reviewed the latest edition, and I believe it contains valuable information for investors who expect to continue to invest in the stock market.

In this edition, Siegel analyzes the economies of China and India, and provides information that will provide guidance for investing in these economies. He devotes a lot of attention to global markets, discussing the nature and size of these markets and sharing his long-term projections. He also emphasizes the importance of including global investments in your portfolio.

The most important chapter for most investors takes up the subject of structuring a portfolio for long-term growth. Siegel specifies guidelines for successful investing, which requires maintaining a long-term focus and a disciplined investment strategy. Here are some of the principles he recommends, with my commentary.

--Keep your expectations in line with history: Over the last two centuries, stocks have returned between 6 and 7 percent after inflation, including re-invested dividends. Furthermore, stocks have sold at an average price/earnings (P/E) ratio of about 15. In the future, he points out, there may be reasons that the stock market may rise to a higher P/E ratio than 15, such as lower transaction costs and lower bond returns. A good rule to remember when you are projecting the future is "the rule of 72." If you divide 72 by the expected total return, the result is the number of years for your investment to double in value. Thus, an 8 percent return will double your investment in nine years.

--Stock returns are much more stable in the long run than in the short run: Investments in stocks will help you compensate for future inflation; bond investments will not. There will be years in which the overall stock market will be negative. That should not prevent you from maintaining a significant portion of stocks in your portfolio following a fall in stock prices. Investors who bailed out of stocks completely following the stock market fall in 2008 found it very difficult to get back in the stock market, and as a result they missed excellent returns in the last few years.

--Invest the largest percentage of your stock portfolio in low-cost stock index funds. This may be one of the best recommendations, especially for investors who don't have a huge portfolio. In this way, even if you have a small portfolio, you have the same diversification as a large investor in the same fund. A good example of this principle in action is the track record of a broad-based fund such as Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares (which I have invested in for many years) which returned approximately 30 percent in 2013.

--Invest at least one-third of your equity portfolio in international stocks, specifically those not based in the United States. Siegel cautions investors not to overweigh your portfolio in high growth countries whose P/E ratio exceeds 20.

--Tilt your portfolio toward value stocks by buying passive indexed portfolios of value stocks. Siegel points out that value stocks, which have lower P/E ratios and higher dividend yields have had better results and lower risk than growth stocks. I agree completely. I have consistently invested in this type of index fund, and the results have been very good.

--Establish firm rules to keep your portfolio on track. Siegel devotes a chapter to discussing the common psychological pitfalls that cause poor market performance. It is too tempting to buy when everyone is bullish and sell when everyone is bearish.

Worried that the stock market is due for a correction? Siegel offers the following guidance for 2014: "This bull market is not over, although gains won't be as large as 2013. Stock returns likely to average 6 percent to 7 percent over the next three to five years."


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC - How emerging markets sell-off will hit FTSE 100 shares

Investors fearful about the impact of the emerging-markets crisis on their portfolio may be shocked to discover they have more exposure to a meltdown than they think.

Blue-chip companies listed on the FTSE 100 have poured into China and other emerging markets in recent years in a bid to grab the exciting growth opportunities on offer. As the sentiment toward those regions sours, these companies’ shares are being hit.

If you have an emerging markets fund, you have a pretty good idea what your exposure is. But plenty of big-name British companies and funds are also in the firing line, given that FTSE 100 companies now generate 33pc of their profits from emerging markets.

Companies on the American S&P 500 Index, by comparison, generate only 5pc of their revenues from emerging markets.

This leaves investors with FTSE 100 stocks, index-tracking and actively managed funds with a much higher exposure than they may think.

Last week, investors in spirits company Diageo were feeling punch-drunk after its share price fell more than 6pc in just two days, on slowing sales in China and Nigeria. As a result, Goldman Sachs dropped Diageo from its “buy” list and downgraded it to neutral.

Profits at Unilever, which makes a vast range of goods from PG Tips to Peperami, have been hit by slower demand and weaker currencies in Brazil, India, Russia and Indonesia. A fall in local currencies means the sales made there result in fewer pounds being bought back for British shareholders.

HSBC and Standard Chartered, two FTSE-listed stocks with hefty exposure to Hong Kong and mainland China, have also struggled. The crisis came to head this week with investors withdrawing billions of dollars from emerging-market funds in the biggest sell-off since August 2011.

Markets have been hit by fears of a China slowdown, and the US Federal Reserve’s decision to scale down “quantitative easing” (QE). Instead of flowing into emerging markets, money is being attracted back on the hope of improving rates in America. Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa have raised rates to protect their currencies.

The FTSE 100 has shed £93bn of value since January 21, with much of those losses down to emerging markets, said Elaine Coverley, head of equity research at wealth manager Brewin Dolphin. “Emerging-market headwinds show few signs of dropping. We have been bearish for some time and continue to be so, although we don’t see the current correction turning into a full-blown crisis.”

Some FTSE 100 stocks could be hit hard, she said. “Global brewer SABMiller is one of the most exposed stocks of all because it generates a mighty 85pc of its sales from Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

“I’m a bit more bullish about Diageo [which makes 50pc from emerging markets]. Falling sales in China and Thailand have been offset by a 5pc rise at its US spirits division, which is the largest part of its business.”


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC, Tips on building your portfolio when investing

Like every investor, you want to choose investments that will provide the growth and income you need to meet your financial goals. To do that, it’s important to understand yourself as an investor. That’s because a portfolio that’s right for someone else may not be best for you. The factors that make a difference are stated below.

Both your age and your time frame for meeting specific financial goals play a role in determining your risk tolerance. If you’re young and have a long time to meet your goals, you may have a higher risk tolerance than someone who is nearing retirement and is counting on investment income to live on for two or three decades.

But other factors may also affect your tolerance for investment risk. Your personality, personal experiences, and current financial circumstances also come into play. For instance, if you’re a single parent, are responsible for the care of a sick or elderly relative, or have lived through a period of economic upheaval such as a major recession, you may be a more risk-averse, or conservative, investor. On the other hand, if you have a promising career, a generous salary, and little in the way of financial responsibilities, then you may be more comfortable in assuming greater investment risk.

Above all, you need to feel comfortable with the risk you’re taking. If changes in the value of your portfolio keep you tossing and turning at night, or your instinct is to sell your investments every time the market drops, then you may want to consider shifting to a more moderate investment mix, with a greater emphasis on predictable, income-producing investments, such as bonds.

Or, if you’re a risk taker by nature and have at least 15 years to meet your goals, then you may be comfortable allocating most of your assets to a diversified portfolio of stock, stock funds and certain fixed-income investments that have the potential to provide the strongest returns over the long run.

Keep in mind that investment risk doesn’t mean staking your life savings on highly speculative investments like a new company that a friend is starting. (The only money you’d want to put in investments like that is money you can afford to lose.) But it does mean getting used to the fact that virtually all investments that have the potential to provide substantial returns will drop in value at one time or another—sometimes significantly.

When you allocate your assets, you decide—usually on a percentage basis—what portion of your total portfolio to invest in different asset classes, usually stock, bonds, and cash or cash equivalents. You can make these investments either directly by purchasing individual securities or indirectly by choosing funds that invest in those securities.

As you build a more extensive portfolio, you may also include other asset classes, such as real estate, which can also help to spread out your investment risk and so moderate it.

Asset allocation is a useful tool in managing systematic risk because different categories of investments respond to changing economic and political conditions in different ways. By including different asset classes in your portfolio, you increase the probability that some of your investments will provide satisfactory returns even if others are flat or losing value. Put another way, you’re reducing the risk of major losses that can result from over-emphasizing a single asset class, however resilient you might expect that class to be.

For example, in periods of strong corporate earnings and relative stability, many investors choose to own stock or unit trusts. The effect of this demand is to drive stock prices up, increasing their total return, which is the sum of the dividends they pay plus any change in value. If investors find the money to invest in stock by selling some of their bond holdings or by simply not putting any new money into bonds, then bond prices will tend to fall because there is a greater supply of bonds than of investors competing for them. Falling prices reduce the bonds’ total return. In contrast, in periods of rising interest rates and economic uncertainty, many investors prefer to own bonds or keep a substantial percentage of their portfolio in cash. That can depress the total return that stock provides while increasing the return from bonds.

While you can recognize historical patterns that seem to indicate a strong period for a particular asset class or classes, the length and intensity of these cyclical patterns are not predictable. That’s why it’s important to have money in multiple asset classes at all times. You can always adjust your portfolio allocation if economic signs seem to favor one asset class over another.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC, Personal Finance: Valentine’s Day: Hearts, flowers, chocolates ... credit scores?

Valentine’s Day is all about hearts, flowers, chocolate, maybe some bling. What it’s typically not about: credit cards, credit scores and anything as crass as cash.

Except lately. Whether it’s because recession-rattled consumers are still focused on their bottom lines or whether personal finance experts are trying to capitalize on Valentine-y sentiments, there’s been lots of attention recently on romance and money.

“Love and money cannot be separated,” said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C . Because money is “intertwined with just about everything we do, it can impact a relationship – even before it gets off the ground.”

With Feb. 14 just days away, we thought it’d be romantically responsible to share a few gems:

Too many couples never talk seriously about their finances. Financial experts say that’s a major mistake, whether it’s a new romance or a years-long marriage.

“It really is an act of love to share your finances with your significant other,” said NFCC’s Cunningham. “The more you’re on the same page (financially), the less trouble you’ll have down the road.”

Without a clear financial picture, the first time you go together to rent an apartment, buy a car or take out a home loan, it could be potentially embarrassing – and costly. If one partner has an iffy credit history, it likely will mean much higher interest rates or even having a loan denied.

Schedule a time for a serious talk in a casual setting, suggests Cunningham.

For new couples, it could be looking together at income (yes, bring out the pay stubs, she says), existing debt (credit cards, car loans, etc.), investments and even credit reports. Being honest about your financial past and current situation can put a relationship on a healthy financial footing.

For established couples, it might be having a talk about retirement readiness, how to share financial tasks more equally, understanding the family investments or checking beneficiaries on life insurance and bank accounts. Or review your goals for some of life’s big-ticket items, like a new house, kids’ college or special vacation.

For tips on what questions to ask and how to initiate a money talk with your romantic partner, check out sites as diverse as investing’s, dating’s and lifestyle’s

Money squabbles are often cited as a major cause of marital tension and divorce.

Last week, in its annual Couples Retirement Study, Boston-based Fidelity Investments said 51 percent of U.S. couples admit that they “frequently or occasionally” fight about money.

Especially for couples just starting out, being reluctant to share your financial history can be a sign of potential trouble.

“It’s a form of financial infidelity to hide negative financial information from someone you’re considering having a serious relationship with,” said Cunningham. “If someone is unwilling, it sends a red flag.”

Valentine’s Day is the second most popular day for marriage proposals, according to a survey last December. (The most popular? Christmas Eve.)

For those putting a ring on it, there’s one aspect that’s frequently forgotten: insurance. An engagement and wedding ring are often the first sizable investment a couple makes together. But you don’t want to leave it uninsured in case it’s lost, stolen or damaged. (And the same goes for fine jewelry, a perennially popular Valentine’s Day gift.)

“Jewelry is one of the most common insurance claims that pop up,” said Tully Lehman, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in Walnut Creek.

Be prepared against loss: Keep your store receipt showing what you paid. If it’s an heirloom piece, have it appraised. Keep the paperwork in an insurance file, so you can easily file a claim if the ring is chipped, lost or stolen.

If you’re a renter, look into low-cost renters’ insurance, which covers the contents of your apartment or rental property.

Be sure to check your insurance policy limits. Most standard homeowners’ policies will cover against theft for individual items up to $1,000 or $2,000. If your ring or other pieces are worth more, you’ll need to look at purchasing a separate “endorsement,” sort of a mini-policy that covers higher-priced pieces or can protect against chipped or lost stones. A “floater” premium on your existing policy will protect you beyond theft, such as when you leave jewelry in a hotel room or accidentally drop an earring down the sink.

“You may already have enough insurance coverage and don’t know it. But it always pays to check,” said Lehman.

Flirting via credit card?

Pulling out your credit card on a first date could affect your love life, says NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based personal finance website.

While flashing an American Express card might be expected to impress, it’s not always so, according to NerdWallet’s recent online survey of 500 never-married adults, ages 25-59.

Given a list of 13 credit cards, respondents were asked which they’d find most “impressive” when a date pulled it out to pay for dinner. Not surprisingly, an American Express Platinum and a Visa Black card ranked second and third, scoring roughly 28 percent each. But the most popular choice? A “local credit union” credit card, which was favored by 39 percent.

“That surprised us,“ said Jelena Ewart, a NerdWallet credit/debit card analyst. While the flashier cards might mean a date is a big-spending, high-income, globe-trotting professional, that’s not always appealing. While admittedly a “khaki-pants” kind of choice, a local credit union card might indicate your date has a “well-researched, responsible, well-thought-out” approach to money, Ewart said.

Given the findings, “We were pleasantly surprised that people were in touch with financial responsibility,” said Ewart. “It’s quite heartwarming.”

Not so charming on that first date is having your credit card declined by a restaurant or merchant. Half of all singles – and 63 percent of women – said they are “somewhat” or “much less likely” to go out again with someone whose credit card is rejected. No explanation needed.

Is a credit score sexy?

In some cases, especially among women, it appears so.

In NerdWallet’s survey, 40 percent of singles say they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to date someone with excellent credit, defined as a FICO score of 750 or above. And single women apparently value a high score more than men, roughly 52 percent to 29 percent. The survey also found that 9 percent of 30-to-44-year-olds – the highest of any age group – admitted to “snooping” into their dating partner’s credit history.

There’s actually an online dating site,, that lets singles plug in their credit score to find a compatible match. Finding someone with a credit score above 750 means “Take him/her home to mom,” according to the site.

The emphasis on creditworthiness is especially strong among 20-somethings, according to Ewart. “This age group came of age during the recession,” she says. “They were coming out of college or getting jobs at a time when creditworthiness was really important. Their older peers may have entered adulthood when it didn’t matter as much.”

Love is cheap

Perhaps the easiest piece of money-and-Valentine’s advice: It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be heartfelt.

For instance, want to send your sweetheart a message that’s a mashup of cash ’n’ cupid?, a financial literacy website aimed at 18-to-24-year-olds, offers a series of free Valentine’s e-cards to send your significant other. Dubbed “a financial twist on the traditional cheesy Valentine’s card, the e-cards bear such messages as: “Love makes the world go round, but money pays for the ride.” “Let’s spend more time and less money together.” “You had me at no debt.”

For other ideas, sites like,, and even or are bursting with low-cost ways to say “I love you.” Here are a few:

1. Tell your partner why you love him/her, in words or on paper.

2. Create a handmade card (or lots of little notes sprinkled throughout the day).

3. Make something (breakfast in bed, a CD of favorite tunes, a framed photo).

4. Make peace. (Resolve a nagging disagreement: Write down your promise, wrap it up, deliver with a flourish.)

5. Give your time. (Offer him/her a night out with friends, or time off from household chores, which you pick up in return.)

6. Surprise ’em. (Pick a new destination for a hike or drive; return to a favorite place.)

7. Just listen. (Give your partner your undivided attention and really listen.)

8. Create a memorable meal. (Whether it’s bundling up for a cold-weather picnic outdoors or a candlelight spread of hors d’oeuvres at home, simple can be sweet.)

Love is priceless.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC, 9 Tips on Getting Rich From the Greatest Showman of All Time

P.T. Barnum knew how to make money. By the middle of the 19th century, the master showman had become America's second millionaire, and his estate was valued at over $10,000,000 prior to his death in 1891.

Fortunately for us, Barnum – who is still remembered today for his "greatest show on earth" -- shared his secrets for getting rich. In the short work "The Art of Money Getting" published in 1880, he laid out his rules for creating wealth. After reading them, I was struck by how applicable they remain today. Here are nine golden rules for making money, according to Barnum.

1. Spend less than you earn. Barnum writes that the key to wealth is quite simple: "it consists simply in spending less than we earn." Despite the simplicity of this maxim, he notes, "more cases of failure arise from mistakes on this point than almost any other."

The problem is that we need to be focused on both our expenditures and our income. Barnum shares an instructive story about a woman who cut her expenses by refusing to burn candles in the evening. She may have saved five or ten dollars by doing so, but she lost out on the knowledge she would have gained by reading during those hours. That benefit would have outweighed "a ton of candles." The bottom line for Barnum is that "true economy consists in always making the income exceed the out-go."

2. Take care of your health. Good health is the foundation of success in life and is also the basis of happiness, according to Barnum. Without good health, a person is very unlikely to accumulate a fortune – he'll have "no ambition; no incentive; no force." He recommends avoiding alcohol and tobacco, while also making other healthy choices when possible.

Barnum was ahead of his time on this important issue. Health is a key component of personal finance. A University of Michigan health and retirement study in 2002 supports that view: it found that the mean household wealth of married couples reporting excellent health was approximately three times that of married couples reporting poor health (an average of $500,000 compared with $164,000). Living a healthier life is one of the easiest steps we can take on the road to building our wealth.

3. Persevere. To illustrate this rule, Barnum shares a line from Davy Crockett, "This thing remember: when I am dead: Be sure you are right, then go ahead."

Everyone must actively cultivate a sense of "go-aheaditiveness," according to Barnum, and must not become overwhelmed by the "horrors" or "blues." He found during his business career that many men gave up right before they would have reached their goal. Everyone will encounter difficulties and challenges – it's how you respond that determines whether you'll succeed or not.

4. Be cautious and bold. This one appears to be a paradox, but it is not, writes Barnum. He believes "you must exercise caution in laying out your plans, but be bold in carrying them out." A man who is all caution won't take on the risks necessary for success, while a man who is "all boldness, is merely reckless, and must eventually fail."

This rule is particularly relevant for the investing world. The very act of investing in stocks is a risky endeavor, as anyone who lived through the recent financial crisis of 2008-2009 knows all too well. And yet, stocks have delivered great returns for investors over the long term, and have been a tremendous way for ordinary people to create wealth for their families.

5. Use the best tools. Barnum believes that workers must always have the very best tools to do their work. As a businessman, he feels there is no tool he should be, "so particular about as living tools." When looking for employees, therefore, one "should be careful to get the best."

Barnum observes that good employees get more and more valuable each year, and that retaining them should be a priority. Recognizing the importance of your human assets – which Costco (NASDAQ: COST  ) and Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX  ) , for example, certainly do in today's marketplace – is an often overlooked strategy for creating long-term value.

6. Be focused. Barnum urges the aspiring entrepreneur to focus on "one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it."

This rule is related to persistence in that sometimes we have to keep at just one thing until we're successful. Barnum warns that "many a fortune has slipped through a man's fingers because he was engaged in too many occupations at a time." As Steve Jobs realized, focus sometimes means "saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are."

7. Advertise your business. Barnum was a remarkable pioneer in the field of advertising. For one of his promotions, he was able to transform a five-year-old dwarf named Charles Sherwood Stratton into "General Tom Thumb, Man in Miniature." Tom Thumb eventually became a gigantic hit in Europe, and was received by Queen Victoria and numerous other crowned heads-of-state.

Barnum believed strongly that you had to let the public know if you have something that will please potential customers. Without promotion, you will receive no return, even if the item in question is potentially quite valuable. When it came to advertising, Barnum was always willing to invest heavily upfront whenever he knew he had something people would enjoy. Nowadays, each of us should be willing to invest in ourselves or our business whenever we believe doing so will deliver larger rewards down the road.

8. Be polite and kind to your customers. P.T. Barnum actually never said "there's a sucker born every minute." Instead, he had great respect for his customers. He writes, "the man who gives the greatest amount of goods of a corresponding quality for the least sum (still reserving for himself a profit) will generally succeed in the long run."

He didn't think you could get away with not providing quality and value to customers, saying "people don't like to pay and get kicked also." Instead of thinking his customers were suckers, he thought they were deserving of respect and tolerance, since the customer is the man "who pays, while we receive."

9. Preserve your integrity. Barnum concludes his work by saying to all men and women, "make money honestly." He sincerely believed that the desire for wealth is laudable as long as the "possessor of it accepts its responsibilities, and uses it as a friend to humanity."

This final rule, in relation to Barnum's career, requires some context. In a lot of his promotions, he was known to bend the truth somewhat, so "integrity" might not have been the first word that came to the mind of his contemporaries. For example, he once exhibited an African-American woman who was supposedly 161 years old, and was formerly George Washington's nurse. When challenged about the truth of this promotion, he replied, "the story seemed plausible."

Despite Barnum's occasional "humbug," Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877, points out that he had a keen sense of civic duty, and truly wanted to educate and delight his customers. In the end, Barnum believed that "money-getters" were benefactors for mankind. In his particular case, I think he was right.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC, Eight golden tips for long-term investors

There are some rules of thumb to adopt. I can't promise to make you rich but in time, you should be a bit better off. If you are investing for the long term – 10 years or more – these eight tips might help:
How much risk are you truly willing to take? Peace of mind is priceless. If you can't bear losing a quarter of your money in a year or two, don't invest in shares. They can plummet.
2 Many people do not realise they need to save a good chunk of money over a significant period of time to end up with a decent nest egg. Magic shares that go up 50 or 100 fold are extremely rare. Compound interest is your best friend and will multiply your money over time, preferably feeding it through regular savings or top-ups if your income is variable. Saving €50 to €100 per month might feel virtuous but is it enough for your investment goals?
You need a fund of approximately €350,000 to give you an income of €18,000 per annum (half the average industrial wage) at the age of 65.
Even €200 a month over 30 years wouldn't get you to a €350,000 target. If you saved €200 a month into an average managed fund from January 1984 to January 2014, you would have built up a fund of €268,000 at the start of this year – that's assuming the fund made a return of 9.4 per cent a year and had an annual management fee of 1.7 per cent.
3 If you're a taxpayer, don't forget that long-term investment is a no-brainer. Saving through a pension gives you a tax break of either 20 or 41 per cent, depending on how much you earn. Why give the taxman 20 or 41 per cent of your hard-earned money?
4 Don't try to time the stock market. Many people won't have the time or the money to seize opportunities, so regularly drip-feeding your money into stock markets eliminates worries about buying at market highs or selling at lows.
5 Read widely. Money journalists tend to be very knowledgeable and bang up-to-date for investors, with insights on good value for money, latest trends, hottest products, things to avoid and so on.
6 Diversify – don't have all your money invested in a handful of stocks, one country, one sector and so on. Many unfortunate Irish investors were heavily, if not entirely, weighted in Irish banks – with hazardous results. Don't miss out on exposure to different returns – include small companies as well as large, emerging markets in your investment porfolio.
7 Don't buy because the fees are cheap or the investment has performed well in the past. Charges are definite – future performance is not. The most expensive investment provider is not always the best. Active funds can out-perform or under-perform passive funds; the issue is not choosing one approach or the other but using both.
8 Good professional advice is invaluable if you're not financially literate enough to make prudent investments decisions. for the longer-term This is particularly the case as you get older and need to decide on the timing of moving out of shares into safer assets.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC, Savvy Senior: Search for financial planner starts with friends’ referrals

DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: Can you give me some tips on how to choose a good financial planner or adviser? My wife and I are five or six years away from retiring and could use some professional help to get us on track.

DEAR SEEKING: With all the different financial advisers and services available today, choosing a trusted professional that can meet your needs can be a bit confusing. Here are some suggestions that can help.

A good place to start your search is by asking friends or relatives for recommendations. If you don’t know anyone who can give you a referral, and you’re looking for broad-based financial advice, hire a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP. CFPs are considered the “gold standard” in the industry. To get the CFP credential, they must have a college degree and be educated in a wide range of personal finance subjects, pass a two-day exam, have at least three years’ experience, meet continuing-education requirements and abide by a code of ethics.

CFPs are taught to look at the big-picture view of your finances, talking you through your goals, as well as advising you on the details of your financial life.

You’re also probably better off hiring a CFP that’s a fee-only planner, verses one who earns a commission by selling you financial products. Fee-only planners charge only for their services – for example you might pay $150 to $300 an hour for a financial tune-up, a flat fee per project or an asset-based fee.

To find a fee-only planner in your area, use the Financial Planning Association ( or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (, which has online directories. Or try the Garrett Planning Network (, which is a network of fee-only advisers.

If your needs are more specific, some other financial professionals to consider are a Registered Investment Adviser who is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state securities regulator to manage investment portfolios; a Chartered Financial Consultant, specializing in insurance and estate planning; and a Certified Public Accountant, who can help with tax planning.

Be leery of many other financial advising titles, designations and certifications that are out there, like the Certified Financial Consultant or the Wealth Management Specialist. Many of these require no more than a few courses at a seminar or online, which means they’re not worth much. You can read more about nearly every certification or designation at – click on “Tools & Calculators,” then on “Understanding Investment Professional Designations.”

After you find a few candidates in your area, call them up and schedule an appointment to meet and interview them. Find out about their experience, expertise and the types of services they provide; how they charge and how much; their investment philosophy; and how will they handle your ongoing questions or financial needs. Look for someone whose clients are in situations similar to yours and who’s available as often as you need him or her.

It’s also wise to do a background check on your potential adviser. You can look up firms and individuals at or, and even check state financial regulation departments (see for state contact information) and Better Business Bureau records at Also, ask to see the adviser’s ADV Form, part 2. This is a form on which the SEC requires advisers to list their education, services, fees, disciplinary actions and conflicts of interest.

At the end of your meeting, ask yourself: Do I like this person? If you have any reservations, move on. There are plenty of qualified advisers out there who can help you.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC: Ilminster businessman offers advice to new business start ups

Small business tax expert Robert Stone, of Ilminster, shares his tips on what Somerset's new business start ups need to know about working from home

Micro and small businesses account for 95% of all UK companies and employ more than seven million people.

"The majority of new business owners will be working from their own homes," said Chartered accountant Robert Stone who knows only too well what it is like setting up a business from home. He started Robert Stone & Co 20 years ago with a desk sandwiched between a freezer cabinet and a washing machine, but now employs four people at his office in Ilminster. "With a young family, working from home meant that I could put plenty of hours in, but still see my two boys growing up."

As a tax expert specialising in small businesses, Robert Stone has advised many entrepreneurs on the practical issues of working from home, whether they are in a spare bedroom or a garden shed. Here he shares his top tips in a simple guide to starting out in business.

Robert Stone's 2014 guide to working from home

1.         Inform HMRC. One of the first things you must do is inform HM Revenue & Customs that you have started a business. This is to ensure that you are paying the right amount of National Insurance and are prepared for Self Assessment.

2.         Check with your Mortgage lender or landlord. Whether you decide to use a spare bedroom, a corner of your dining room or your garage, you must first ascertain whether there any restrictions on your mortgage. If you are a tenant, you must check with your landlord.

3.         Consult your local planning office. Depending on what business activities you will be carrying out at home and whether customers will be visiting you there, you may need planning permission for change of use.

4.         Change your insurance. Your home insurance policy won't cover your business activities or business equipment within the home, so speak to your insurer about upgrading your policy to ensure you are fully protected.

5.         Business rates eligibility. You may have to pay business rates if you use a building or part of a building specifically for non-domestic purposes. Check with your local council whether you will be liable. However, the following reliefs are available and should be applied for as appropriate: small business rate relief, rural rate relief, business rates deferral scheme, enterprise zone relief. Some councils provide an additional hardship relief.

6.         Be organised. You need to keep the right records and that includes receipts, even if you are just selling items on eBay. HMRC can impose a penalty of up to £3,000 for not keeping proper records, so it is worth your while investing in suitable storage, such as a filing cabinet, storage boxes or shelving with box files, to keep all your paperwork in order and readily accessible.

7.         Keep work and home life separate. As well as having a dedicated work space it may be worth while investing in a separate phone line for your business. Try to structure your working day properly, with fixed working hours and have a proper lunch break at a set time each day. It will help you focus better. Make sure friends and family respect your working hours and don't just drop in.

8.         Claiming expenses. All businesses have expenses that can be claimed legitimately and it's a good way of reducing your annual tax bill. Even though working from home is a cheap way of starting a business you will still need to claim for items such as office furniture, a separate telephone line or broadband. Split your household expenses between business and personal use and divide them into two categories: fixed costs and running costs. Remember you are allowed to claim a standard mileage rate for business use of cars or motorcycles and a flat rate business expense for your home.

9.         Don't become isolated - remember to socialise. It's vitally important if you are working from home on your own that you keep in touch with other people. Rather than just communicating by email, remember to pick up the telephone and have real conversations. Also get out and network. There are numerous networking organisations for small businesses and you can choose whether to attend breakfast, lunch or evening sessions. Networking will stop you stagnating as well as helping you make fresh business contacts and even win new business.

10.       Health & Safety. If you intend to have customers and employees at your home, then you will need to carry out a health and safety check and have public liability as well as employer's liability insurance. If you don't want customers visiting you at home, then find a local meeting place or cafĂ© where you can meet them in comfort.

11.        Keeping accurate accounts. Unless you are already an accountant or a bookkeeper, then it is far better (and quite likely cheaper) to outsource your accounts, VAT returns or monthly payroll to a qualified accountant. They will ensure that you are claiming for everything you should, as well as alerting you to any changes in legislation that may impact on you or your business.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC: DIY pensions, The cheapest Sipp fund shops

If you are struggling to make sense of the cost of investment shops, use our tool to cut through the detail and find the cheapest

If you are struggling to work out whether you would save money by switching your self-managed pension to another provider, we have just the help you need.

Rather than wade through pages of numbers from each company, or type all your details into an online comparison tool, just take a look at the image, above.

At a glance, it will show you whether your existing investment shop is cheap (green), expensive (red) or somewhere in the middle. This table shows your costs in pounds and pence; the one below displays them as percentages.

As you can see, the results vary greatly according to how much money you have invested. Very few companies – iWeb, part of Halifax, seems to be the exception – are cheap for small and large amounts alike.

While the tables, which were compiled by Lang Cat, a specialist consultancy, offer an instantly understandable guide to the cost of running your Sipp, they do rely on certain assumptions, which are shown on the graphic, so you may need to dig a little deeper to uncover the full costs that apply in your own circumstances.

They also assume that the management fee on a fund is the same irrespective of which investment shop you use, whereas some, such as Hargreaves Lansdown, have negotiated special discounts. However, some experts expect such differences to narrow or disappear as competition hots up.

Sipp charges from major fund shops shown as percentages of the amount invested
Assumptions for all tables: charges deducted by the fund management company are excluded – only charges levied by the fund supermarket are covered. The table covers ongoing annual costs, so any initial charges are excluded. All investments are assumed to be in funds. Where there is a charge to buy or sell funds, we have assumed that there are five fund switches – or 10 trades – a year

Hargreaves Lansdown makes no charge to set up capped drawdown but starting a flexible drawdown plan costs £354. Each recalculation of the maximum income you can take under capped drawdown costs £90 and the company charges £12 to change a payment amount.

Alliance Trust Savings charges £240 to set up a capped plan and £300 for the flexible variety, with an annual charge of £90 for either. Buying an annuity costs £180 and processing of a death claim will cost £240.

At AJ Bell Youinvest, formerly Sippdeal, you pay £180 to set up either kind of plan and an annual administration charge of £120 (£60 if you take no income in a year); a review of capped income costs £90.

There is no charge at Charles Stanley Direct to set up a capped plan but a flexible one costs an initial £300. Income reviews cost £120.

Barclays Stockbrokers charges an initial £90 and annual £120 for either type of drawdown.

There is no initial charge at Fidelity to set up either kind of plan but annual charges are £100 (capped) or £300 (flexible).

iWeb loses some of its low-cost aura when it comes to drawdown: it charges £150 a year up to the age of 75 and £250 a year from your 75th birthday.

How to ensure a smooth switch for your DIY pension

No one wants to pay unnecessary costs, especially if they are coming out of your pension income. So if you want to start saving into a self-managed pension alongside a work scheme, it makes sense to choose the cheapest provider.

Start on the right foot

Look down the column for the amount you are planning to invest (or are likely to have in future) and look for the green boxes. Our tables assume that you invest exclusively in funds, so you may need to do some sums yourself if you make use of shares and investment trusts as well.

Consider making a switch

If you are already a customer of one of these companies, the question is whether you could save by switching and whether it would be worth while.

Switching while you are still saving...

This is more straightforward than moving a drawdown plan but there are still costs and pitfalls to look out for. For example, some fund shops charge to transfer your investments to another provider – Hargreaves Lansdown, for example, will introduce a fee of £25 per fund or share moved in June. The receiving fund shop may charge too.

Having your money in cash as opposed to shares will clearly be a benefit if the markets crash, but equally you could lose out if share prices are rising.

...and switching drawdown

Transferring a drawdown account will trigger an income recalculation and force future reviews to be every three years; currently some customers are on a five-year cycle. If you were able to take your pension at 50 under old rules but have not reached the new threshold of 55, you will not be allowed to carry on taking an income if you switch provider, said Claire Walsh of Pavilion Financial Services.

Think beyond the price

Some investors will want to consider other points such as the ease of using the fund shop’s website and the quality of its telephone helplines. You may also want the reassurance of using a financially strong company or one backed by a bigger group. Sipp providers are being forced to hold more money in reserve by regulators; some experts expect this to result in some smaller firms closing or being taken over.

The cost of running your Isas

These tables, also from Lang Cat, also show the cost of investing in Isas as a percentage of amount invested...

...and in pounds and pence:


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC: 5 Tips for Assisted Living Placement for Couples

What if one of your parents needs assisted living and the other doesn’t want to leave their spouse’s side? Read our tips on finding AL for couples.

There are a lot of how-to guides out there to help you through the senior care process; most of them focusing on what it’s like to place one loved one into assisted living. But what if you are faced with finding a place for both parents?  As life spans continue to increase, this situation is becoming more and more familiar to those caring for aging parents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of those aged 60 and over who reported being married has increased over the past several decades, while the number reporting widowhood has decreased. Many of those couples find it necessary to look for assisted living as they age – and they want to do so without being separated.

Of course, this presents a number of challenges beyond those involved with searching for senior housing for one parent only. What if one partner has drastically different health care requirements than the other? How can you ensure that both of your parents’ emotional and social needs are met? Recently, researchers have begun delving into the topic of married life in assisted living, and there are a few tips you can follow to make the process run smoothly for both you and your loved ones.

Guidelines for Placing Couples in Assisted Living

Health transitions are one of the most common reasons prompting individuals or couples to begin the search for assisted living, according to a study by Candace Kemp, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Gerontology and Sociology at Georgia State University. The key to not getting caught off guard by a sudden health change is to start the planning process ahead of time. Being proactive in this way is associated with greater satisfaction in the long run, because it allows families and seniors to take the time to find a facility that’s a good fit and it gives everyone more control over the decision-making process. If you’re not prepared and there’s a crisis situation, it limits the facility options available to you.

Especially for those without a family that is able to contribute to long-term care, the prospect of putting both members of a couple into assisted living can be financially daunting. Some facilities are very expensive, especially for those with differing health status or those requiring memory care, and in many cases assisted living facilities do not work with Medicaid. Properly planning for long-term care can be the key to stretching the resources you do have and enabling your aging parents to continue residing together.

While more and more couples are entering older age together, couples are still the minority in assisted-living settings, and most facilities are designed with a single occupant in mind rather than two. When there are two-person apartments available, they are often more costly. Beyond the personal space issue are the realities of living in a community environment. “Although each couple had a private room of varying size,” says Kemp’s study, “the comings and goings of care staff, the regulation of daily life, and the public nature of assisted living meant, according to one husband, that ‘no one has privacy.’” Being aware of the differences between your parents’ current environment and an assisted living facility can help everyone prepare better for the transition.

Different couples have different relationship needs – and, likewise, individuals within a couple may have different social and health needs. If one member of a couple is healthier, more mobile, and/or more sociable, it will help with their day-to-day well-being if the assisted living facility offers leisure activities that are appealing and fulfilling for both parties. If the healthier partner wants to take a fitness class, will they feel comfortable leaving their spouse in the care of staff? Can both parties get their social needs met? Be sure to research the amenities and care provided by an assisted living facility ahead of time, to ensure that it will offer a pleasant quality of life for both members of the couple.

Monitoring not one, but two parents in assisted living can be an added challenge when you throw in the very real likelihood that one or both of them may have unforeseen health changes in the future. In another study, Kemp found that adult children often take on a greater magnitude of responsibility when overseeing two parents in AL, a particularly challenging task when the two parents had differing levels of infirmity, or different needs at different times. One way to minimize stress in this situation is to familiarize yourself with the facility’s policies regarding resident retention in the face of health changes. If you’ll need to pay for additional outside services, or move your parents to a different facility such as a nursing home, be well aware of that possibility in advance.

One last bonus tip: arranging senior care for a couple can be hard, requiring families to consider individual and shared needs of both spouses – but don’t forget to consider the needs of the caregiver, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from a Senior Living Advisor, financial planner, or other expert when it comes to finding the best fit for your loved ones.


Deep Blue Publications Group LLC: Customer Care Needs To Be Job #1 in the New Year

Salespeople as well as customer service reps and contact center staffers need to always remember that customer care and providing a positive customer experience are their top priorities. Aside from that basic understanding, they need to be given the tools and authority to get the job done right.

 Fail. Fail. Fail. That's what plenty of customers had to say about their shopping experiences this past holiday season. And, poor customer Relevant Products/Services service is just as big a problem in the B2B world of business Relevant Products/Services-to-business, where even more dollars can be at stake with each interaction.

How often have you tried to get help and couldn't? How often have sales and service people been too busy to answer your call or assist you in person? How often have you been disconnected in the middle of a service call, leaving you frustrated and needing to call back and start the whole loop again?

Outstanding customer service doesn't just happen. It requires firm policy at the top, starting in the C-Suite, followed by clear procedures for management and staff. And, above all else -- it requires careful, consistent, and ongoing training and monitoring.

Undercover Boss

There's a great reality TV series running in the U.S. and U.K. called Undercover Boss, where CEOs of nation-wide corporations are filmed going undercover as entry-level employees to see what's working and what's not in their own companies.

Time and time again, they find front-line staffers quoting "company policy" as the reason they can't give better service or accommodate customer requests. Outstanding customer service and a true dedication to customer care starts at the top, but can't stop there.

Salespeople as well as customer service reps and contact center Relevant Products/Services staffers need to always remember that customer care and providing a positive customer experience are their top priorities. Aside from that basic understanding, they need to be given the tools and authority to get the job done right.

Managing the Customer Experience

In 2013, we started to see a major shift toward focusing on "customer experience management" (CEM) along with "customer relationship management" (CRM Relevant Products/Services). "Customer engagement" also became a key focus for marketers and salespeople alike.

Indeed, social media has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for engaging customers, building customer loyalty, and ultimately, boosting sales through repeat business and referrals.

But even the most sophisticated marketing Relevant Products/Services and engagement programs can be undermined by one bad experience with a customer service rep or sales person. And when a disgruntled customer takes his or her complaints to social media, it can set off a firestorm of negative consequences and a PR nightmare.