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Our CEO and Founder, Stephen Butler, writes columns and articles on the subject of retirement planning and investing.  His columns are syndicated in most of the San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.  Subject matter includes basic investment concepts and how they should be applied in the context of current financial and world events.  Over the past 16 years, more than 800 of his weekly columns have generated a loyal following among Northern California readers who benefit from his objective, insightful advice --- a counterpoint to the flood of self-serving advertising from the financial services industry.


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Guarding against excessive retirement-plan fees
Jul. 24, 2017

The average annual investment cost for an index fund far exceeds the low-cost alternative.

I’m disappointed to learn that Bill McNabb is retiring from the senior post at Vanguard after heading that company since 2008.

He and I happened to meet in Washington back in the late ’90’s when we both testified at a U.S. Department of Labor hearing. The subject matter, upon which we had both been called to speak as experts, was the destructive effect of excessive fees charged to participants in retirement plans.

Financial services reform: Sign first, then we negotiate
Jul. 17, 2017

A breath of fresh air has wafted over the financial services community as the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule has clicked into place, in spite of all the kicking and screaming by the industry. Empty claims of “extra expense of compliance” and “loss of cost-effective advice” have mercifully fallen on deaf ears.

A conservative mix of investments is the way to go
Jul. 11, 2017

On Nov. 29, 2000, I wrote about the “inverted yield curve.” This term refers to the phenomenon where investors will receive higher interest for loaning money for short periods than they will receive when taking more risk by loaning for longer periods of time. Normally, those taking more risk expect to be paid higher interest. To be paid more interest for taking less risk is weird — inverted yield curve is the chosen euphemism in the arcane world of bond markets.

Caveat emptor: Health care hardship if limits return for pre-existing conditions
Jul. 3, 2017

Charlie Finley was the unloved owner of the Oakland A’s back in the days when, toward the end of his ownership of the team, a crowd on a sunny Saturday afternoon might number about 3,500 fans. Mr. Finley had accumulated the wherewithal to buy a major league baseball team by selling health insurance policies that covered specific diseases only — like cancer. They were cheap to buy, but a terrible deal when insurance companies armed with known odds could unload “protection” on a gullible, frightened public.

Making your portfolio go — without fossil fuels
Jun. 16, 2017

While there is much talk about the “death spiral” of the Affordable Care Act, a greater death spiral may be confronting the fossil fuels industry — despite prodigious efforts by the government to prop it up.

Guess who loses when pension plans hit hard times
Jun. 9, 2017

Some good news from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is that it paid out $6 billion to 840,000 retirees who were beneficiaries of 4,700 failing pension plans in 2016.

While these are big numbers, it helps to know that there are 40 million American workers in the private sector who are covered by these so-called “defined benefit” plans that guarantee a specifically-defined monthly retirement benefit for as long as the retiree lives. Like so many ideas, on paper they can look like a good deal, but the devil is in the details.

How the village system is helping seniors
Jun. 2, 2017

Lamorinda Village, barely a year old at this point, is serving seniors living in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda, and is part of a growing nationwide network of similar peer-to-peer, self-help organizations.

Attending a meeting of supporters including some members, I learned, for example, about volunteers known as the “Declutter Buddies.” These are seniors who volunteer their time and expertise to help fellow members clean out their garages and other nuisance areas of the homes residents are choosing not to leave.

The illusory nature of tax reform
May. 26, 2017

Before we all get enmeshed in any irrational exuberance over “tax reform,” the Bible offers some insight on the subject. In two books of the New Testament, Mark and Luke, there are passages making the case that wealthy people should pay a higher percentage of income than poor people in order to support the community.

As market soars, should investors be a bit more fearful?
May. 19, 2017

Watching the stock market, we would do well to recall Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Apart from being a global hit in 1988, as well as an unofficial theme song for the senior George Bush’s presidential campaign, the song offers a useful message:

“In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double …
Don’t worry, be happy.”

The sun shines on investors who saw the light
May. 12, 2017

The last time I wrote about the economics of solar panels as a wise investment was back in 2011. That was after a time when former Vice President Dick Cheney had described renewable energy adherents as “naive” and California utilities had lobbied successfully to limit renewable energy sources to 15 percent of the total power supply.

Fortunately for all of us, including those nonbelievers, we’ve since come a long way while watching renewable energy ride a wave of powerful market forces — fueled by common sense.

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