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Pension column inspired reaction

Judging from the flood of e-mail after my column last week, I apparently touched the third rail at one of the junctions where politics and economics collide.

Do the retirement benefits found in the public sector reflect sound business sense?

My first pass at an answer was based on anecdotal evidence from discussions with people who had some experience with these plans.

Admittedly, I had some facts incorrect.

Investment tips found under water

Old dogs can learn new tricks -- my wife and I discovered this when we decided to take scuba diving lessons here in Concord.

Instead of Monterey Bay, however, we opted to do our open water dive requirement last week in 82-degree water on Grand Cayman Island at our son's vet school graduation. Floating in a weightless environment totally at the mercy of the water and an artificial air supply somehow reminded me of investing in the stock market.

Sweating details as retirement nears

I'm ashamed to say that I have found myself checking my retirement plan account balance way too often this month ... sometimes as often as once a day. How disgusting is this habit? Well, studies indicate that the more a person checks their investments, the worse their results will be.

Fundamentally, the theory is that is the "risk premium" we earn from taking risk is what generates higher investment returns over time.

An actuarial look at investing

Is there a clairvoyant actuary in the house? Professional actuaries predict life expectancy. We could turn to one to help us search for guaranteed retirement income that we won't outlive.

As a start, let's look at three possible approaches. Two have been around forever, and one is brand new.

Of the two that have been around forever, one has been sold aggressively and the other amounts to a cost-effective "do it yourself" approach to supplying retirement income.

For the brand new candidate, we have Fidelity's so-called "Income Replacement funds."

Tax moves may ease mortgage crunch

If you read the newspapers, it looks like all hell is about to break loose when so many mortgages reset at higher interest rates this month.

A recent news account cited the couple in Sacramento whose mortgage on a $250,000 house was about to rise from $1,400 a month to about $1,900 when it resets. Both spouses worked and generated a high five-figure family income. They were whining about their increased interest and were getting nowhere in their efforts to renegotiate.

Can intelligence prove profitable?

In a casual chat after a round of golf, my friend, Ashok Vaish, offered a clue to choosing money mangers successfully.

After arriving from India, earning his doctorate at Berkeley and then building two engineering companies from scratch to a combined total of more than 1,000 employees, he said the one constant predictor of future success in a job-applicant engineer was their grade point average in college.

Dreaming up perfect 401(k)

Johnny Carson once described himself as having "a low threshold of boredom." Me too. But fortunately, whenever I feel a touch of boredom, my mind wanders toward what I envision as the perfect 401(k) plan. I start building that castle in the sky. Assuming you're curious, here's how it would look:

First, it would have some pure no-load investments chosen for all the right reasons -- low cost, high performance, a broad selection of investment types and a routine review to make sure the investments are meeting the quality criteria.

Instilling work ethic benefits everyone

I was trying to get some inspiration for a birthday present for my wife, so I wandered into Boswell's Party Supply Store -- one of my favorite places to shop for special occasions.

I thought I might surprise her with one of those grass skirt and coconut halter kits.

The next thing I knew, I was in casual conversation with Luke Boswell, who owns all four of these great local stores and who somehow manages to keep track of that amazingly entertaining and eclectic inventory.

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