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Social Security fix lost in shuffle?

My island vacation retreat, six miles off the coast of Maine, presents a vision of our Social Security system that helps me consider all those citizens, from sea to shining sea, that benefit from this jewel of a government program.

What troubles me from my Adirondack chair are the rumblings of the system's incipient insolvency. I long for the help of the late Gerald Ford who was considered to be one of the few professional politicians who ever really understood government spending.

Outliving your money pretty easy to do

Lately, I've been obsessed with the study of running out of money in retirement, a condition I described as "range anxiety." I borrowed this term from the electric car industry where they use the phrase to explain why electric cars don't sell very well, yet.

People are paranoid about getting into a car that might run out of juice, juice for which there is no quick, easy replacement.

Range anxiety during retirement

In the world of electric car development, there is the phenomenon known as "range anxiety" that refers to the 75-mile range of the 90's-era General Motors electric car --- the car that "they" killed (by crushing) after allegedly realizing that nothing ever broke. The fundamental problem with this car, according to the urban myth, is that its popularity would have put General Motors dealers' service departments out of business.

Rely on markets to fluctuate

As we peer into the stock market's current abyss, it may be therapeutic to recall the year leading up to October of 2007 and consider it just an embarrassment of riches. After all, in slightly over a year, the total stock market rose by 23%. That capped what had been a 75 percent, three-year increase in value. Our natural tendency is to take these dramatic gains for granted, and then wring our hands when the recent 20% drop qualifies for the dreaded "bear market" definition triggering the attendant bout of hysteria. Let's get a grip.

Banking rules recipe for failure

When the investment banking firm of Bear Sterns recently imploded from $29 billion in shareholder value to essentially nothing in a matter of days, I was prompted to crack the books I had to study to become a licensed broker dealer many years ago.

In my own experience of meeting the expectations of securities regulators who conduct audits and review our quarterly reports, I found it unbelievable to think that Bear Sterns managed to hide what was obviously a highly-leveraged, precarious perch in the investment community.

Patience may bring nice return

In the face of the stock market's gloom, it may be refreshing to learn that things look good over here on the sunny side of the street. "The market climbs on a wall of worry," is a common phrase on Wall Street.

With the broad market averages flirting with the magic 20 percent downdraft that defines a bear market, what straws can we grasp that give us hope for the future?

Reverse mortgages could be big

Johnny Carson was being interviewed on a park bench a few years ago, and when he saw a pigeon strutting around his feet he looked down at it and said, "Any messages for me?" About now, he should be receiving one from Ed McMahon asking for a little help with Ed's $600,000 home mortgage currently in default. After listening to Ed and his wife on Larry King Live, I found myself asking, "what ever happened to reverse mortgages?"

Optimism risky with 'target distribution'

I've worried about things all my life and nothing really bad has ever happened, so it must be a system that works.

The financial service industry's latest sop to us "worry warts" is the concept of "target distribution" or "managed payout" funds. These are mutual funds that automatically pay out earnings and principal to retirees at a scheduled rate (chosen by the retiree but "monitored" by the fund) and that try to make the money last as long as possible.

Health care on corporate agenda

The Securities and Exchange Commission just decided to let corporate shareholders vote on proposals to have their corporations endorse national health care. To be more specific, the vote will encourage public companies to adopt a stand in favor of "principles for comprehensive health-care reform" — reform that would make health care "affordable to individuals and families, and affordable and sustainable for society." Who can argue with that?

Dividends scratch itchy investors

Remember the "Seven Year Itch?" It was a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, but the term applied to the statistic illustrating that marriages tended to fail most often at that seven-year mark.

Back in the 1970's, when today's Baby Boomers were struggling with relationships rather than their retirement planning, I recall hearing that some motels in Walnut Creek were experiencing 110 percent occupancy ratings.

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