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Protect assets for your heirs

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 moved us one step closer to being able to inherit retirement plan money more effectively or to pass it on to heirs more efficiently.

This is important because there is now more than $3 trillion sloshing around in 401(k) plans. The last time I looked, toward the end of the 1990s, that number was $1.8 trillion.

Teamwork key to success

I turned to my friend Bob Stearns -- a font of good information on narrowly defined topics such as baseball or real estate -- and I asked him to fill me in on this phenomenon of tenants-in-common partnerships.

In simple terms, this financial tool allows someone to sell their real estate holdings and end, once and for all, the responsibilities and hassles of being a landlord.

Foreign markets not fooling around

I always laugh when I thumb through my copy of John Spooner's classic, "Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around?"

Well, I sometimes think to myself, Why not fool around a little bit? This is only money we're talking about -- not infidelity.

I found myself reviewing the performance of some of these emerging markets funds and country-specific funds that were up as much as 50 percent last year -- doubling in value during the past three years.

It's time to tame executive greed

Back in the 1980s, when Drexel Burnham was a junk bond powerhouse, there was a story about a bond trader who was furious after receiving his measly $6 million year-end bonus. Screaming obscenities at his boss, he threw the check on the floor and jumped up and down on it.

Somehow, today's stories of executive greed remind me of that image. To save capitalism, it's time for the government to step to the plate and make an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of our stockholders' money.

Iraq war cost

Back in the late 1960’s, David Rockefeller was Chairman of Chase Manhattan bank when he became one of the first business leaders to publicly speak out against the war in Vietnam. Louis Lundborg was then the Chairman of the Bank of America, so from the U.C. Berkeley business school, I wrote him a letter asking if he would be expressing a similar sentiment. I said I thought it was important for the business and financial community to make a case for what they thought was wise public policy.

Mutual fund rates maginified

What a difference a percent makes. A combined attention to mutual fund quality and mutual fund costs can increase the probability of gaining that extra 1 or 2 percent annual return on your portfolio overall.

Why does such a seemingly small difference in rate of return become so important? It's the magic of compound interest over a sustained period of time that adds hundreds of thousands of extra dollars for each additional percentage point.

Investing takes sense of humor

Fewer than half of all Americans have a sense of humor. This is common knowledge in the advertising industry and explains why relatively few ads attempt to be humorous. Then there's this column.

A little humor to enliven otherwise dry subject matter can get at least half of us through the tedium of topics such as the annual portfolio rebalance.

My approach to money management has been to spread funds across a spectrum of mutual funds to achieve diversification. I periodically sell some of the winners to add to what have been the losers.

Taxes a big part of financial health

For those young graduates asking "What color is my parachute?" -- it doesn't matter. Just get a job somewhere and start experiencing the joy of making a contribution and learning the basics of money. There is no perfect job when you are first starting out. That's why it's called "work."

A young person curious about how the real world works should be asking the following:

Make nest eggs, not dynasties

Years ago, an IRS attorney explained in a speech that the "confiscatory" tax treatment of retirement-plan and IRA money upon death was "reasonable."

"Look," he said, "the government never set up these programs as a tool for creating estates that could be passed on to heirs. The intent of the legislation is to make it easier for people to provide for their own retirement income needs -- and nothing more."

Singles have some fiscal advantages

Remember the movie "The Seven Year Itch" starring Marilyn Monroe?

It brings to mind the burgeoning apartment real estate market in the early 1980s. A contributing factor to the demand for apartments was the explosion in the divorce rate of the boomer generation, whose average marriage lasted -- you guessed it -- seven years.

One house or apartment was a cozy love nest for two, but suddenly there was a need for two dwellings for a separated couple.

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