Do You Have an Investment Exit Strategy?

Investment Exit StrategyAre you a trader or an investor? The difference is frequently discerned by how closely you monitor the stock market and how quickly you move in and out of investments. Traders are often referred to as market timers because they actively seek to buy into positions when share prices drop, and sell out when those prices rise.

Many financial planners and professional money managers are not strong proponents of market timing. The reality is that no one can predict market movements accurately over the long term, so success is often a matter of luck and opportunity.

However, market timing is not the same as having a carefully structured and disciplined investment exit strategy. One reason this is important is that it can help prevent investors from panic selling. If you have considered the growth potential and market risks of a particular security or type of investment, and you put parameters in place that reflect your comfort level, then you can control your losses to a great extent. Without this analysis, you may be subject to emotional responses and sell for a significant loss because you can’t take the stress of watching your investment lose money day after day.

Exit Strategy

When share prices drop unexpectedly – and continue to fall – many investors let their emotions get the best of them and sell prematurely. Having a preconceived exit strategy is a good way to prevent this type of panic selling.

An exit strategy basically means that you set a target sell price, but it’s important that you have the discipline to sell at that price. Often when a stock’s share price is rising quickly, it is tempting to “let it ride” and ignore your exit strategy. However, that tide could change quickly in the other direction, turning a profitable trade into a loss. When this happens, you may stubbornly hang on to that declining stock knowing that you missed your opportunity to cash in – and hope that it will come around again.

An effective exit strategy should have two plans in place; a price point to sell for a gain and a price point to sell for a loss. This tactic can help keep your asset allocation strategy on target by not letting gains or losses in any one position throw your target asset allocation percentages out of whack. At the same time, you can manage risk by not allowing your portfolio to lose too much money. There are certain tactics that can help implement your exit strategy. For example:

  • Stop-Loss – an order to sell a security when its price is declining at the point when it reaches your assigned stop price (sell-stop).
  • Stop-Limit – a limit order gives instructions to sell a stock at a minimum price point. Stop-limit orders can be set to expire at the end of the current market session or carried over to future trading sessions (GTC – good ‘til canceled).
  • Trailing Stop – a modified stop order that can be set as either a percentage or dollar amount below or above the market price of a security.

Tax Considerations

An investor’s exit strategy should take into consideration potential taxes on capital gains. The amount you pay depends on how long you hold a position. If held for less than one year, the short-term capital gains tax rate is the same as your regular income tax. If held for one year or longer, the tax rate is 0 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent – depending on income tax bracket and filing status. When determining your exit strategy, it is prudent to set a long-term perspective with a plan to harvest gains on positions more than a year old.

Risk Management

Setting up an exit strategy is one component of a risk management plan. The following are other complementary strategies you can deploy to set boundaries on how much money you are willing lose.

  • Risk/reward ratio – Set a minimum ratio. For example, 1:3 means you are willing to risk $100 for a potential profit of $300.
  • 1 percent (or 2 percent) rule – Limit your risk to investing no more than 1 percent of your portfolio on any one trade.
  • By spreading your investments across a variety of assets, you can reduce portfolio losses through diversification.

Remember that investing is replete with uncertainty; not even the most experienced money managers can predict the direction of the markets. Developing an exit strategy for stock holdings is a way to minimize potential losses while strategically targeting specific returns to meet your goals.

Recent Trends in Long Term Care Insurance

Long term care (LTC) is associated with the elderly for good reason. Over the past 50 years, life expectancy has increased significantly and is therefore something all families should be prepared to address. Even though we may live to a ripe old age, that doesn’t mean we will be healthy or able to live independently. Most people develop one or more chronic conditions that require living assistance – and many live with that ailment for years. Conditions such as arthritis, joint and muscle deterioration, or back pain often lead to chronic disability, making it difficult to impossible to take care of your own physical and lifestyle needs. Among even healthy seniors, about half of people age 80 and older experience some form of dementia or cognitive impairment.

Most LTC insurance (LTCi) contracts require that the policyowner no longer be able to perform at least two of the basic activities of daily living (ADL), which including dressing, bathing, toileting, feeding and moving without assistance. However, before getting to that stage, many people may live for years needing help with domestic ADLs, such as preparing meals, paying bills, shopping, attending appointments, etc.

New Criteria for LTC Insurance

An unfortunate influence of the pandemic is that some LTC insurance carriers now require an in-person medical exam as part of the application process. In the past, underwriting generally involved a telephone interview, a completed questionnaire and medical records review. These days, in addition to an exam, issuers have increased the number of pre-existing conditions that are excluded from coverage. Furthermore, insurers are declining more applications for medical reasons. In fact, there is preliminary data that suggests more LTCi applications are declined, or higher premiums charged, in geographical areas where populations have persistently higher rates of serious COVID-19 infections. Not surprisingly, these areas are generally correlated with lower vaccine rates.

New Policy Options

Even before the pandemic, LTCi sales were on the decline and many insurers exited the market. This is because with longer life expectancies, carriers increased premiums to cover the financial risk. This priced many policies out of range for most households. In recent years, the life insurance industry has found a strong market in sales of hybrid policies, which guarantee benefits one way or another. For example, a contract might include a rider that allows the policyowner to use the future death benefit in the present to pay for LTC expenses while she is still alive. If she doesn’t need the money, her beneficiaries will receive the value when she dies. Another benefit of hybrid policies that they guarantee premiums will not increase. In many cases, a policy can be purchased with a single lump sum.

New Focus for LTC: Live at Home

Apart from exploring new ways to pay for long-term care, there is political interest in finding ways to provide LTC more efficiently than in the past. For perspective, consider that the current U.S. system of placing Medicaid recipients into nursing home facilities proved to be one of the most vulnerable components of the pandemic. As of February 2021, more than 170,000 residents in long-term care facilities had died due to the coronavirus.

Various public agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) are looking at new paradigms for caregiving as an alternative to high-volume residencies in order to minimize the risk of disease contagion. Some recent proposals include the following:

  • Enhance our current public programs that support independent living (e.g., Original Medicare, Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and Special Needs Plans (SNPs) with integrated benefits such as wellness care, behavioral healthcare, case management, home-delivered meals, transportation and adult day services.
  • Allow Medicaid’s long-term services and supports (LTSS) programs to reimburse long-term care expenses at home and for community-based services.
  • Expand efforts already originated in a handful of states (e.g., Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington) for state-sponsored, long-term care insurance plans.
  • Consider building on state initiatives such as California’s Master Plan for Aging, which includes plans to:
    • Create community housing solutions that that are age-, disability- and dementia-friendly, as well as climate- and disaster-prepared.
    • Improve quality of life for the elderly and disabled by presenting opportunities for work, volunteering, engagement and leadership regardless of age or disability. The purpose of this initiative is to reduce isolation, discrimination, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
    • Generate up to1 million highly-qualified, well-paid caregiving jobs.
    • Improve financial security for the elderly population by making long-term care affordable.
  • Reimagine nursing homes using continuum of care housing models designed for 8 to 10 residents with integrated staffing.

The current trend in the caregiving industry is to help seniors be able to live at home for as long as possible. In many cases this increases the burden on families. Since some people have to leave the workforce to care for family members, this hampers economic growth and tax revenues that could be used to fund better options. While LTC insurance remains expensive, it’s important that potential buyers are aware that most policies pay out benefits regardless of where care is bestowed, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, the insured’s home or even if the insured has moved to a family member’s home.

Should You Upgrade Your Homeowners Insurance?

Should I Upgrade Your Homeowners Insurance?During the first year of the pandemic, many homeowners spent their down time upgrading their homes. The year 2020 alone experienced at 3 percent uptick in spending on home improvements – to the tune of nearly $420 billion nationwide. This included modifications for remote work, online schooling and leisure activities at home.

Between remodeling, high inflation and today’s elevated real estate prices, it’s important to review your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure it’s up-to-date. Does it include enough coverage for recent upgrades to your home? Does it carry an inflation factor to ensure coverage is on par with more expensive building material costs and labor increases? Do you have coverage for ancillary factors, such as the cost of meeting local building ordinances, or flood insurance for today’s extreme weather events?

Replacement vs. Actual Value

One term to check on your policy’s declaration page is whether your coverage is determined by replacement cost or actual cash value. Replacement cost will pay for repairs to your home or replace your personal property (e.g., laptop, television) up to coverage limits, regardless of its current value. In other words, the policy will pay for a new computer even if your old one was 3 years old.

Actual cash value refers to a cash payout equal to the current value of your property. In other words, if your computer was 3 years old, you will receive the cash value of a 3-year-old computer – which will not likely cover the cost of a new replacement.

Guaranteed Replacement

In lieu of upgrading your home’s cost coverage each year, you might have the option to pay for guaranteed replacement, which is an extra fee that ensures the policy will cover the entire cost to rebuild your home. Extended replacement cost coverage pays out a certain percentage above your policy’s stated dwelling coverage limit if the cost to rebuild is higher than the face amount. For example, a policy with $200,000 coverage and 25 percent extended replacement coverage will pay up to $250,000 to rebuild your home.

Ordinance Coverage

Homeowners who live in older homes should consider adding ordinance coverage if it is not standard under your policy. Ordinance coverage pays for the cost to meet current building codes should you need to rebuild. These fees can be substantial and would have to be paid out-of-pocket if you don’t have this form of coverage. Note, too, that although guaranteed replacement cost coverage might offer a higher payout, that is only for the material and labor costs to rebuild – not local ordinance fees, licenses or inspections.

Inflation Impact

As you review your current policy, note that the section labeled Coverage A represents the amount available to rebuild your home. It generally rises by 2 percent to 3 percent each year for basic cost-of-living increases. However, it is worth noting that building materials, such as lumber and steel, increased by 19 percent in 2021, and in June the general inflation rate increased to 9.1 percent, its highest level in more than 40 years.

Because home building costs, the inflation rate and the increasing number of weather events have plagued the home insurance industry, policy premiums are starting to increase at a higher rate each year than in the past. In additional to higher costs due to supply chain disruptions and inflation, the home building industry is hampered by a lack of qualified workers – and experienced workers are demanding higher pay. This is yet another component that is factored into calculating insurance premiums. Basically, anything that would lead to a higher cost to repair your home will result in higher rates.

Insurance companies calculate your policy premiums by multiplying your home’s replacement rate with your home’s current value. Therefore, a combination of higher building costs and higher real estate values have contributed to higher insurance premiums. Some states have set an annual percentage cap on how much insurance companies can raise homeowner rates each year. However, given the increasing number of extreme weather events (e.g., storm surge, wildfires) in recent years, state legislators also have increased those rate caps so that insurers have the latitude to cover excess payouts. Note that rate increases vary by geographical area, based on local weather activity, labor costs and building supplies.

Some insurance policies offer an inflation guard, which automatically increases coverage limits to match inflation rates when the policy is renewed.

Flood Damage

Be aware that homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Mortgage lenders require homes located in government-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. However, we have seen inland and even metropolitan areas that are not located in flood zones be devastated by the effects of storm surge following a hurricane. Homeowners who live in these higher-risk areas should consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy as well. 

Stock Splits, Explained

Stock Splits, What is a Stock SplitImagine selling slices of a large pizza. You can cut it into four even slices and charge $2 a slice. Or, you can cut it into eight even slices and charge $1 per slice. Either way, the total value of the pizza will still be $8.

That’s what happens when a stock splits. Let’s say a stock’s market price is $100. With a 2-for-1 split, each current owner receives one additional share for each share he owns. Now, each share is worth $50. If you had one share to start, you now have two, but the total value of the investment remains $100.

A stock split differs from when a company decides to issue new shares, wherein new shares flooding the market can dilute the value of existing shares. With a stock split, the value of existing shares do not decrease. The total market value of a shareholder’s holdings will remain the same.

There are different forms of stock splits, such as the 2-for-1, 3-for-1, or 3-for-2 stock split. They all work the same way: You get two shares for everyone you hold, or three shares for everyone you hold, or three shares for every two shares you own.

Another, the less common form is called the reverse stock split. This is when a company decides to reduce the number of outstanding shares, which in turn will increase the stock price of shares held by stockholders. This strategy is generally used to boost the price of a stock that has lost value over time.

It is important to recognize that the stock split is a simple strategy designed to affect the stock price. It in no way changes the company’s market capitalization (i.e., total value of all outstanding shares) or other fundamental metrics. In order to issue a stock split, it must be approved by both company management and the board of directors. Furthermore, the company must publicly announce its intention to conduct a stock split within days or weeks of implementation.

The timing of the announcement is important because some investors try to take advantage of a stock split, believing that the value of the stock will increase as a result. This has more to do with market sentiment than any change in company fundamentals.

For example, in the past when a stock split its value often returned to its pre-split price within a year. This is not necessarily because the company has improved fundamentals, but rather because the investor market simply believes that stock is worth that price — it’s a form of confirmation bias. However, in recent years it is not as common for split stocks to climb back to their original price as it was in the past.

Why Conduct a Stock Split?

Again, the reason for a stock split is largely driven by market sentiment. For example, some investors may not have a lot of discretionary income to invest, so they look for a lower-priced stock. While they might not consider a stock valued at $100 per share, they may be interested in the company at $50 a share. In fact, following a recent stock split, investors may see it as getting a bargain price for that stock. As such, they might buy two shares. Now they’ve spent $100 on two shares whereas they were reluctant to buy one share for $100. The value is the same, but psychologically, that stock now seems like a great buy. This is referred to as unit bias. Psychologically, most people perceive lower per share prices to mean that a stock is “cheaper” and therefore may have more room to make gains.

In addition, now they can further diversify their portfolio with different stocks, whereas before those high-priced shares may have dominated their portfolios, exposing them to greater market risk.

A stock split also gives current shareholders the opportunity to increase their holdings at half price. While the value hasn’t changed when they make the buy if the stock increases in the future their portfolio will increase in value because they have more shares of that stock. For example, let’s say you have 10 shares of a stock priced at $10, for a total value of $100. The stock splits 2-for-1, so now you have 20 shares priced at $5, still valued at $100. In a few years, the stock price grows to $20 per share. Had the stock not split, your total value would grow to $200. But because you now own 20 shares, the total value of those shares would grow to $400.

Clearly, the true value of a stock split comes from holding those shares until the price increases substantially.

Mutual Fund Split

Some mutual funds also engage in the split strategy, but instead of splitting an individual stock, the fund company issues additional shares of the fund at a reduced price. In all other ways, a mutual fund share split works like an individual stock split.

If you’d like to learn the history of a company’s stock splits, consider the following resources:

  • Click on the investor relations tab on the company website, which often provides a history of the company, including dates of past stock split activity.
  • Search by the ticker symbol at stocksplithistory.com or Morningstar.com.
  • Another option for both stocks and mutual funds is to search by the stock symbol at Yahoofinance.com. On the stock’s performance chart, look for the Events tab and check the Stock Splits option. You may need to reduce the historical time frame to see splits marked clearly.
  • You also may be able to search for stock split history on the website of your online broker. Many outfits offer these types of research tools.

How To Maximize the Potential of Your 401(k) Plan

Maximize 401(k), Maximize 401kOne of the easiest ways to save for retirement is to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. You simply select a percentage of your paycheck that you would like transferred to your 401(k) (or similar) account. Not only does your employer make the transfer for you, but it comes out of your paycheck before income taxes are taken out. This way, you avoid paying taxes on that income from each paycheck, and those taxes are not due until you withdraw the money from your retirement plan. This usually happens once people retire and enter a lower tax bracket.

That’s the simple beauty of investing in a 401(k) plan. However, with a little more effort, you can do a better job of maximizing its potential. The following are strategies to consider.

Take Advantage of an Employer Match

Most employers offer to match your 401(k) contribution up to a certain percentage. For example, an employer might contribute an additional dollar for every dollar you contribute, up to 3 percent of your pay. Although the plan may allow you to defer more than 3 percent, it’s always a good idea to contribute at least the same percentage as your employer agrees to match. After all, the employer contribution is basically free money. Be aware, however, that your contributions, employer matches and all interest, dividends and capital gains earnings in the account will eventually be taxed as income when distributed. If your employer offers a matching contribution to your 401(k) plan, try to defer at least the percentage of your income required to take full advantage of that match.

Contribute More Each Paycheck

The best way to maximize your 401(k) is to deter the maximum amount of income you can from each paycheck. Remember, it comes out of your income before it ever hits your bank account, so you can learn to live on less while building up your retirement savings. In 2022, employees may contribute up to $20,500 for the year; those age 50 and older can save up to $27,000 (an increase for each group of $1,000 versus 2021). Another benefit is that employer matches do not count toward that contribution limit.

If you are not currently maxing out your 401(k) plan contribution, consider these tactics to help you get there.

  • Increase your deferral rate gradually, such as once a year or each time you receive a raise, promotion or bonus. This will enable you save more without changing your take-home pay. Just be sure that increasing your deferral rate does not cause you to exceed the annual contribution limit.
  • Some companies implement an automatic escalation feature, such as increasing your deferral rate by one percentage point each year – unless you opt out. If this is the case, don’t opt out of the automatic increase.
  • A good time to increase your deferral rate is during the annual enrollment period when you are thinking about the cost of other benefits and how they will impact your household budget.

Consider an Annuity Option

The SECURE Act of 2019 included a provision that limits employers’ liability when they offer an insurer-issued retirement annuity option. A 401(k) annuity option typically offers the ability to convert that portion of your retirement account into a stream of income guaranteed (by the issuing company) for a certain period, or even for as long as you live. It’s usually recommended to put only a portion of your 401(k) savings into an annuity, as it has higher expenses and might have growth potential limitations. However, the annuity option is appealing because it can continue paying out income after your other investment options have dwindled, which ironically works much the same as a traditional pension (which the 401(k) was designed to replace). Not every employer offers an annuity option in their 401(k) plan, but thanks to the new legislation it could become more prevalent.

Invest More Aggressively

Americans are currently seeing the dramatic impact that a rise in inflation can have on their household budget. Now imagine that impact when you’re in retirement and living on a fixed income. One way to increase your potential earnings for a larger retirement nest egg is to invest in more growth-oriented assets now, while you’re still working. That generally means a higher allocation to stocks to help your 401(k) investment surpass the growth of inflation. In fact, many stocks are issued by companies that tend to increase revenues as inflation rises.

With additional effort and strategic planning, it’s not that difficult to get your 401(k) to work harder to help you save more for a long, fulfilling retirement.

Create a Healthcare Plan for Retirement

Create a Healthcare Plan for RetirementIf you pay $250 a month for cable and premium channels, that’s $3,000 a year. Over a 30-year period, the total cost would be $90,000. We don’t tend to think about how much we pay in regular expenses over the long term.

However, that’s how various industry analysts report the cost of healthcare during retirement. Recent estimates for a retiring 65-year-old couple fall between $300,000 and $400,000 to cover healthcare expenses in retirement. At first glance, that’s an intimidating number and implies that pre-retirees need to have this much saved by the time they retire.

Fortunately, when you break down the numbers, that’s not the case. First of all, that estimate includes premiums for Medicare with prescription drug coverage, which are typically deducted from Social Security benefits before they ever hit your bank account. According to T. Rowe Price, Medicare premiums account for 76 percent to 82 percent of most retiree’s healthcare expenses, so a large portion of these costs are paid for outside of your household budget.

The true cost of retiree healthcare expenditures is based on how healthy you remain during retirement. And actually, that’s not necessarily related to savings – it’s more a combination of genetics and peoples’ penchant for healthy living before and during retirement. However, it’s always best to prepare for the worst, so the more money you save and earmark for healthcare expenses, the better off you’ll be.

One way to control your monthly premiums in retirement is to shop and compare Medicare plans each year during open enrollment. It helps to keep a running tab of your out-of-pocket expenses each year so that you can increase your Medicare coverage if your costs start trending higher. Higher coverage might mean higher premiums, but that will lower out-of-pocket costs each year.

The following guide was developed by T. Rowe Price. It estimates how much retirees spend based on different types of Medicare plans using 2021 premiums and data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Among retirees who enroll in either (1) Medicare Parts A, B and D; (2) Medicare Advantage HMO and Drug Plan; or (3) Medicare Parts A, B, D and Medigap:

  • 25 percent will pay less than $500/year in out-of-pocket expenses
  • 50 percent will pay less than $1,200/year in out-of-pocket expenses
  • 25 percent will pay more than $1,900/year in out-of-pocket expenses
  • 25 percent will pay more than $3,900/year in out-of-pocket expenses

As for paying those out-of-pocket expenses, remember that you pay them over time, so it’s not as if you’re paying a large lump sum all at once. One strategy is to fund a savings account with enough money to pay out-of-pocket expenses for the year, based on your prior year’s spending. Then replenish this account each year from other funding sources, such as an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from a retirement account.

If you have access through your current health plan, pre-retirees can save for healthcare expenses with a health savings account (HSA). Contributions are tax deductible and, over time, you can invest your savings for earnings accumulation. These funds, including investment gains, are never taxed as long as they are used to pay eligible healthcare expenses. The account is particularly useful if you don’t tap it until retirement, when the money can be used to pay for things like dental and vision care, hearing aids, long term care insurance premiums and nursing home costs.

 

Despite those alarming projections about how much healthcare will cost you in retirement, remember that it can be manageable because it is paid out over time. 

Long-Term Investment Opportunities Presented by the Infrastructure Bill

In November, President Biden signed legislative funding that represents the largest transportation spending package in U.S. history. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized funding for roads, highways, bridges, public transit systems, utility systems, electrical grids, energy projects and broadband infrastructure.

Because the funding extends over a five-year period, it should not have a major effect on the fiscal deficit. This is not only good news for taxpayers, but also investors. Those long-term investments offer the potential for shareholders to get in on the ground floor of reliable and well-capitalized government projects by hundreds of American companies poised to get the business. The new bill is expected to enhance productivity, innovation, improve labor force participation and have a positive impact on inflation. Overall, the bipartisan bill is expected to help drive economic growth for the foreseeable future.

Local Funding

Because this funding has been long-awaited and is badly needed, infrastructure projects that have been in the planning stages for years can finally take off. Furthermore, the federal funds will be allocated to local public-private partnerships, which enable community job development and enhance local economies.

Transportation Infrastructure

More than $110 billion is directed to repair and rebuild 45,000 bridges, highways and major roads across the country. The funding also focuses on climate change resilience, as well as safety (reduce traffic fatalities) and parity across geographic areas and demographic populations. Industries poised to benefit include:

  • U.S. steel companies
  • Companies that produce aggregate materials (e.g., gravel, crushed stone, sand)
  • Manufacturers of construction, roadbuilding, earthmoving and mining equipment
  • Companies that lease heavy equipment

Broadband Internet

Presently, more than 30 million U.S. residents live in areas with either poor or no broadband access. Particularly during the pandemic, we have learned how important internet access is to keep Americans connected – in jobs, through online education, with community news and resources – not to mention social networks and personal relationships. The new legislation provides $65 billion in funding for broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural communities throughout the country, in an effort to provide universal access to reliable high-speed internet. Investment sectors that should benefit include:

  • Manufacturers of wireless towers
  • Power management companies that supply the electrical components and systems for wind and solar farms to integrate them into the national grid

Water Utility Infrastructure

The bill allocates a $55 billion investment into water infrastructure and the elimination of lead pipes for the 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers that currently lack safe drinking water. Investment opportunities include utilities and companies that specialize in:

  • Water distribution
  • Water filtration
  • Flow technology
  • Water treatment/purification
  • Manufacturing pumps, valves and desalination units

Public Transit

Currently, the United States has a repair/replacement backlog of more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations and thousands of miles of tracks, signals and power systems. To update and expand the nation’s public transit system, $66 billion will go toward passenger rail, $25 billion to upgrade U.S. airports and $17 billion for ports throughout the country. In addition to bolstering the nation’s supply chains and transportation systems, upgrades will focus on reducing emissions and deploying more electrification and other low-carbon technologies. Industry sectors that should benefit include:

  • Railroads
  • Airlines
  • Trucking
  • Marine transportation
  • Delivery services
  • Logistics companies

Sustainable Energy Sources

The infrastructure bill allocates $65 billion toward upgrading the nationwide power infrastructure with new lines for the transmission of renewable, clean energy. Another $7.5 billion is earmarked to install 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) chargers along highway corridors to accommodate the fleet of electric consumer and commercial cars currently in production. Opportunities in sustainable energy investments include:

  • Electric vehicle industry, including government fleets of electric vehicles, such as U.S. mail trucks
  • Companies that build EV charging stations
  • Commodities used in green materials, such as copper (electric vehicles and renewable energy sources use four times more copper than internal combustion vehicles)

Given the breadth of infrastructure opportunities on tap, one way for investors to get exposure across the wide range of industries is to invest in a diversified infrastructure or utility funds (mutual fund or ETF). Through a single, professionally managed investment, investors can spread their capital across a wide spectrum of engineering and construction firms, rail travel companies, electricity providers, water and sewage services, and more.

Venture Capitalism and ‘Unicorns’

Venture Capitalism UnicornsVenture capitalism comes from an investor who offers money to start-up companies in exchange for an equity stake – much like you see on the ABC television show, Shark Tank. As a general rule, a venture capitalist (VC) invests after the new venture is up and running and looking for additional capital to further commercialize its product.

Once a privately held enterprise reaches a value of $1 billion, it is referred to as a “Unicorn.” This is because new start-ups that reach this level of success are so rare that they are considered comparable to the mythical creature. What is interesting these days is that the current labor market is so disruptive that we are seeing more start-ups, and this trend is expected to continue. At some point it becomes a numbers game – the more new start-ups established, the greater the likelihood of Unicorns achieving success.

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has experienced a shortage of workers. It started with massive layoffs during the shutdown, but even though jobs returned – not all workers did. The lack of child and elder care forced many working moms to leave their jobs. Today, the controversy over low wages not keeping pace with the cost of living has many people rethinking their career choices. It used to be that a position with a company with generous health insurance benefits was the very definition of a good job. Now, in the wake of the Great Resignation, it appears more workers are looking for a job that is fulfilling. In fact, because workers can now purchase affordable healthcare insurance on government exchanges, they are no longer tethered to a specific employer.

This combination of frustration and flexibility is empowering would-be entrepreneurs to go ahead and take the leap to starting their own business. In 2021 alone, there has been a tremendous increase in new business filings. Furthermore, venture capitalists have been pouring money into these new ventures at a record pace, with more than $240 billion invested this year alone through September. The largest of these investors tend to be private equity firms, hedge funds and corporations.

With more new start-ups, come more Unicorns. Historically, the number of new Unicorn businesses averaged about four per year in the United States. In 2021, however, more than 260 have reached $1 billion status. And the United States isn’t alone in experiencing this trend. Young adults in Japan also are leaving traditional corporate jobs to start their own businesses – and many of them are receiving financing from VCs and other institutional investors in the West.

In China, where TikTok was born and became a global phenomenon, there are presently more than 800 Unicorns. India is the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world, with more than 65 companies recently reaching Unicorn status.

Flood Insurance: Insuring Your Home

Flood Insurance: Insuring Your HomeDid you know that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flood damage? Because of this, homes located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) are required by lenders to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. However, there are millions of homes at risk that also experience periodic flooding but are not located in the most hazardous zones.

Regardless, any homeowner can purchase flood insurance and the good news is that, for some, rates will be reduced this year.

Starting on Oct. 1, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) launched a new program called Risk Rating 2.0. This program is designed to encourage communities throughout the country to deploy measures that help mitigate potential damage due to flooding. The lower the risk resulting from these efforts, the higher the rating. This means that many homeowners who live in highly rated areas may benefit from lower premiums going forward. However, be aware that there is only one source of insurance sponsored by the government, rates are standardized and payouts are capped at $250,000.

But not to worry, flood insurance also is available in the private market. Private insurers are able to customize premium quotes and the forces of competition help keep premiums reasonable, so it’s a good idea to comparison shop. Private flood insurance policies also offer additional coverage options that the NFIP does not, such as:

  • Up to $1 million or more in building coverage
  • Enhanced coverage for detached structures
  • Replacement cost for contents and secondary residences
  • Additional living expenses
  • Pool repair and fill
  • Business income coverage

If your home is not in a SFHA and you are wondering whether or not to purchase flood insurance, consider how much you can afford to pay out-of-pocket for flood damage. Use this statistic as a guide: 1 inch of floodwater can cause as much as $25,000 in damages to a home.

In other words, paying for flood insurance is kind of like paying a fee to protect your home equity and investment portfolio. Compare a flood policy to buying a warranty for a new appliance. The risk is that the cost of repairing or replacing that appliance would put a strain on your finances. If you apply that same logic to 1 inch of flood damage, you can see that a flood policy would offer a much higher return on the amount you invest in its premium. Since a single flood event could wipe out all of your assets, it stands to reason that insurance is critical for perils that pose high financial risks.

If you still need more data to help decide whether to buy a flood insurance policy, consider the impact that extreme weather events have had on your property in recent years. In many areas, flood damage isn’t caused by a hurricane, but rather by storm surges or heavy rainfall. Even if you haven’t experienced significant events, that could change due to the constantly evolving environment. Rising sea levels and new weather patterns are expected to produce higher intensity flooding from hurricanes and offshore storms.

One way to see the local flood patterns in your area is to visit Floodfactor.com. Navigate the Floodfactor map to pinpoint your home’s exact location, and compare patterns based on past, recent, and projected future weather events. 

Strategies for Paying Off Student Loans

Paying Off Student LoansToday, 70 percent of college students graduate with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt. The average payment is nearly $400 a month and will take about 20 years to pay off. On an individual level, paying off high debt can delay hopes of saving to buy a house, start a family, launch a business or invest for retirement.

On a broader level, the national burden of student debt could impact America’s economic future. When young adults are unable to afford home ownership, that reduces spending on all types of consumer products that accompany home buying. It also reduces property taxes used to support local resources and reduces the insurance pool of property owners used to help repair and rebuild homes after extreme weather crises.

Whether you’re a graduate or the relative of a graduate in this situation, it’s worth considering various strategies to help pay off this debt. After all, it may be better – for both your offspring and the country’s GDP – to financially help them out now rather than later via a larger inheritance.

High Interest and Consolidation Considerations

The strategic way to approach student debt is to focus on paying off high-interest loans first. This generally includes private loans and any others with variable interest rates that may increase over time. Be aware that with federal student loans, there are different types and the borrower is permitted to switch to a different payment plan that better suits his needs over time. Another option is to consolidate student loans. However, if sometime in the future federal student loans are forgiven, your student could miss out on that by transferring or consolidating to a privately held loan.

Employer Assistance Programs

In recognition of student loan debt as both a personnel and national concern, many employers are starting to offer repayment assistance programs – even to parents paying off parent student loans. It’s important to inquire whether or not an employer offers this benefit, as they are not always promoted – especially to current workers. However, these programs have become more appealing to companies since passage of the CARES Act, which extended pre-tax employer-provided educational assistance for up to $5,250 per employee, per year through 2025

Another program that some companies have introduced is the ability for employees to convert the cash value of unused paid-time-off (PTO) toward their student loan payments. In other words, if a worker is not able to use all of his accrued paid vacation days in a given year, he can request the employer contribute that income toward his student loan debt.

College Savings Plans

Each state sponsors a Section 529 college savings and investment plan, which feature tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when used to pay for qualified education expenses.

In 2019, as part of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, Congress included a provision that permits up to $10,000 (a lifetime cap, per each beneficiary) from 529 College Savings Plans to be used to repay student loans. For example, if a family has three college students, the parents may withdraw up to $30,000 to help pay off that debt from their 529 account(s). Note that a 529 account owner can change the 529 plan beneficiary at any time without tax consequences.

Be aware, however, if 529 college funds are used to make principal and interest payments on a qualified student loan, that student loan interest cannot be claimed as a deduction on their tax return.