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Overview on good, bad of annuities

Annuities have traditionally been the Rodney Dangerfield of investment products. They get no respect from most of the financial media. Articles in Forbes and similar publications continually harp on the typically high fees charged on these products. Brokerage firms have been sued by clients in situations where brokers have sold annuities (for their tax shelter advantage) into investment vehicles that already enjoyed a tax shelter -- like IRA accounts. The average annuity product nationally charges an annual fee of slightly over 2.5 percent.

Don't get caught up in gloom, doom talk

During times like these, I dream about a financial news service that discusses only positive events taking place in the world's business community.

Way too many people have expressed concerns about problems ranging from a double-dip recession, turmoil in Europe, a spike in interest rates, a collapse of demand for U.S. government securities, and so on.

What this all overlooks is the basic resilience of the world economy and the fact that businesses and economies just keep going at one level or another -- like the Energizer Bunny.

Young adults should save for their future

Let me guess. Young adults home for the holidays probably sympathize with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but am I right?

For 13 years, this annual column just before the holidays is meant to offer some financial advice to younger people and to stimulate conversation during the commercials. The general good cheer brought about by the holidays can prompt family members to set aside baggage temporarily and really interact "in the present," so to speak. So, here are some discussion points.

Flex plans benefit 2-income families

This column is about the wisdom of signing up for your company's Section 125 flexible spending plan to save a lot of taxes in the coming year. These plans allow employees to save a ton of money by paying for all their health-related expenses with pre-tax dollars -- dollars that come right off the top of pay before taxes are calculated. Employers save money as well, since the check for half of the Social Security and Medicare we pay is written by the company.

'Occupy' movement continues to evolve

It surprised me to learn that the Occupy Wall Street movement started in Canada -- a place where well-regulated banks had no problem at all during the financial meltdown. According to the New York Times, a Canadian organization called Adbusters Media Foundation coined the "Occupy" message last summer and managed to promote the concept in its magazine as well as on the Web. Needless to say, it's a message that has gained a life of its own.

The goals of the originators are pretty clear cut and hard to argue with. They include:

Boss's generosity now pays off in the future

My daughter and I spent a long weekend in Florida visiting my 95-year-old father who was hospitalized temporarily, and I am struck by how much time and energy goes into keeping our aging parents comfortable and anxiety-free. I have the advantage of having two parents in their 90s, married for 68 years, who are living together in an assisted living facility. It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction to realize that they have lived long enough, as one older friend put it, "to see how everything turns out."

Hard lesson may come from 'super committee'

What do we think the "super committee" might have in store for us by the time it reaches its decision on Nov. 23, a mere three weeks from now?

I'm referring to the group of 12 senators and representatives back in Washington charged with taking a bite out of the deficit. Officially, they're known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, and all I can think of is the phrase, "be careful what you wish for."

'Snap-back effect' always follows crash

It's always reassuring to experience the "snap-back effect" that takes hold after a downdraft in the stock market. At times, it can be so exhilarating and unexpected that I sometimes find myself looking forward to a short-term crash just to enjoy what I know will be the inevitable, subsequent blastoff. It's like being at Cape Canaveral.

So, looking at some numbers generated since the Oct. 3 low point, I noticed that some of my favorite fund types gained as much as 10 to 20 percent in just a 10-day period. Whew.

Pine trees encroach on solar potential

Sunset magazine did a really bad thing 50 years ago when it began a campaign to encourage Californians to plant Monterey pine trees everywhere. Those trees were easy to grow and created a lot of shade.

The oldest of them, however, are now beyond their lifespan and are falling over or dropping limbs on people. They also shade roofs that could otherwise be productively covered with solar panels. As I write, a tree service is currently clear-cutting the pine trees that encircle my house.

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