Try the 4-Gift Rule to Keep Your Holiday Spending in Check

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.
These tips for using the four-gift rule will help you stay within your holiday budget and avoid post-Christmas shopping regrets.
This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too. Even if your children aren’t major bookworms, they might love a book based on their favorite TV show or a new movie that’s coming out. Graphic novels and comics count as books too!
But really though — socks and underwear. Do it.

What Is the Four-Gift Rule?

Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.
Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

If you’ve got room in your budget, don’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! You can opt for one Santa gift for the whole family — like a game — or get each kid one present from Santa that you know they’ll love. Look for small trinkets at the dollar store or somewhere similar to fill up the kids’ stockings.
Fortunately, the solution to keeping the kids happy without going overboard with your spending comes down to an easy gift-giving strategy called the four-gift rule.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something They Want

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.
You buy one gift per category — that’s it.
Those of us who have fond memories of opening stacks of presents under the tree on Christmas morning want to re-create that same magical feeling for our kids when the holidays roll around.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and find something that you and your kids both agree they need.
What we don’t need, of course, is for our eyes to grow wide when checking our credit card statements and our hearts to sink with disappointment when realizing it’ll take months to pay down all the holiday debt.
Using coupons and shopping sales can really help you score a gift from this category without spending hundreds of dollars.

Something to Wear

Your kids may not have included any clothing items on their wish lists, so think hard about what would be exciting for them to get — like a shirt with their favorite cartoon character on it or a personalized piece of jewelry.
This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.
If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.
Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

Something to Read

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count. Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
Ready to stop worrying about money?

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

By following the four-gift rule and sticking to one present from Santa, the meaning of giving goes a little further instead of letting Santa get all the credit.
The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.
Get the Penny Hoarder Daily
Without being overwhelmed with a plethora of presents, the kids will be able to really focus their attention on the gifts they receive. The magic of Christmas will remain intact — without the extra financial stress. <!–

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ESG Is Not ‘Ethical Investing.’ And That’s OK.

As enthusiasm about ESG investing has been on the rise, so too has controversy. ESG is an acronym that refers to the environmental, social and governance considerations relating to investing. It’s an approach that, by some estimates, may become integrated into half of all U.S. managed accounts by 2025.

Why should investors and companies care about ESG? The argument is that in the long run, those risks will impact the business — companies that consider these non-financial, yet material, metrics in their strategy are best poised to mitigate risk and succeed. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising prices for oil and gas, and spiraling discontent among workers provide early evidence of how environmental and social concerns will impact investors.

Where ESG Draws Criticism

Criticism about ESG generally falls into two broad categories.  One view holds that ESG is systemic “greenwashing.” Companies publish glossy reports about their social and environmental engagement and hope that investors take interest or include them in sustainability indices. This view maintains that companies are rewarded for publishing a report that reveals some good practices, while ignoring the bad ones, and thus get a bump up in their third-party ESG ratings.

The second category of criticism is that if environmental and social challenges in business are so fundamental to long-term good management, and thus good financial performance, then the market will eventually price it into corporate valuations. This view believes that markets are efficient; it then follows that better social and environmental outcomes will prevail, if we keep the eye on the ball, which is financial performance.

A consistent assumption among the critics, however, is that ESG is designed to enable better ethical and social outcomes.  But that’s not necessarily the case — ESG is not the same as ethical, socially responsible or impact investing. And that’s OK, because we need all these strategies.

Impact investors seek measurable impacts on people, planet and profits with respect to how they allocate their money. A socially responsible or ethical investment strategy might seek to exclude from their funds companies that are deemed unethical. But an ESG strategy remains invested in the company, even if there are activities not aligned with their values, and will push for change.

For example, ESG investors might use their investment stewardship and proxy voting team to engage with the companies’ boards and CEOs about their plans to address climate risk, or even vote against the re-election of certain board members. The recent proxy battle victory by activist investor Engine No.1 at Exxon Mobil demonstrates this point (see my analysis here).

The Impact ESG Has on the Economy and Companies

Advocates for ESG investing indicate that their interest in climate and social factors stems from their view that poor management of those risks will impact financial portfolios and long-term business performance. The analytical focal point is impact on the economy and on the financial performance of companies, not the other way around.

Regulators also point to the risks that ESG considerations pose to the financial portfolios.  The Department of Labor, for instance, recently proposed rules that, if passed, would permit fiduciary investment managers to take ESG risks into consideration, namely because they “may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan’s investment.”  If there are any positive effects on people and the planet, it’s considered a “collateral benefit.”

The NY Department of Financial Services also provided guidance about climate change risks to the financial firms under its jurisdiction.  They indicated that financial firms, particularly insurance companies, should integrate into their governance and risk-management processes how various climate change scenarios are likely to impact their business

The frame of analysis, thus, is the impact on business and financial systems. The success of ESG depends on further expanding, measuring and defining the business case for ethics. This is one reason why making “the business case” for social challenges has become a feature of academic research and the business press (as I argue here, sometimes it goes too far).

Maintaining Principles Is a Key to Success

A principled ESG fund will therefore present investments that are at the intersection of financial performance and social or environmental good, so that investors can align their values with those opportunities. As Tariq Fancy describes in The Secret Diary of a Sustainable Investor, think of a Venn diagram where purpose and profit seek to intersect — that intersection constitutes the ESG integration approach for social and environmental good. 

For ESG to continue to grow and succeed, the intersection in that Venn diagram needs to expand. Financial firms, companies, rating agencies and other intermediaries need to collaborate to improve the consistency of data, the accuracy of marketing and continued standardizations in disclosures. 

To be sure, there is greenwashing in ESG, and some companies take advantage of sustainability reports by, for example, highlighting only marginal efforts around stakeholder engagement without any change in their core operations.  Governments and regulators should help define the space and provide oversight with respect to these practices.

We all need to speak, write and report more precisely around this topic. Conflating ESG, sustainability, impact and ethical investing can confuse the aims of adherents to each approach.  The longevity of the movement depends on it.

Executive Director, American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services

Azish Filabi, JD, is Executive Director of the American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services and an Associate Professor of Ethics at the American College of Financial Services. She joined The College in 2020. Before that, Filabi worked at BlackRock as Vice President for Investment Stewardship, where she was involved with topics such as executive compensation, board quality, diversity and composition, and disclosure of environmental and social risks.

Source: kiplinger.com

These Healthcare Stocks Should Thrive in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, routine doctor and hospital visits, along with deferred medical procedures such as cataract surgery and heart valve replacements, are returning to normal.

The pandemic has been a global tragedy, but if there is one silver lining it is that the miraculous development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is helping to usher in a golden age for the pharmaceutical and health sciences industries.

“We’re seeing a revolution today in vaccine development,” says Andy Acker, manager of Janus Henderson Global Life Sciences.

Before COVID arrived, the fastest vaccine approval had been four years, and the average was 10 years; with COVID, two vaccines were approved in about 10 months. Validation of the mRNA technology used by Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) in their vaccines means that it will now be adopted to treat other medical indications. (The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.)

In truth, the COVID-19 medical challenge and the dramatic success of the vaccines have only served to accelerate a powerful trend of innovation in medicine. For instance, the sharply declining cost of gene sequencing is pushing forward the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor treatments to specific diseases, such as cancer.

“The science is exponentially improving for better outcomes,” says Neal Kaufman, manager of Baron Health Care fund.

Of course, the healthcare sector is also riding the (global) demographic wave of aging populations. At CVS Health drugstores, the number of prescription medicines purchased by people age 65 or older is three to four times that of 20- to 40-year-old people, says Jason Kritzer, co­manager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences.

In rapidly developing countries with expanding middle classes, such as China, quality healthcare is likely to be one of the first things people rising out of poverty will spend money on.

With innovation and some of these secular trends in mind, we identified six intriguing healthcare stocks that literally span the alphabet, from letter A to letter Z. We particularly like companies that address large and growing end markets, especially global ones. We give extra points to businesses that have less exposure to pricing pressure from insurance com­panies or the government. Returns and other data are through Nov. 5.

healthcare stockshealthcare stocks

1 of 7

Align Technology

Share price: $687

Market cap: $54 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 50

Maker of the Invisalign brand of clear, plastic braces for teeth, Align Technology (symbol ALGN) is a disruptive force in the global teeth-correction market, rapidly gobbling market share from traditional wires and brackets. Jeff Mueller, comanager of Polen Global Growth, credits the “Zoom effect” for accelerating the adoption of the aesthetically pleasing aligners: Workers stuck at home during the pandemic were staring at their own teeth every day on Zoom. “Vanity is increasing around the world,” Mueller says, adding that, due to the rise of smartphones, the internet and social media, “more people are taking pictures of themselves than ever before in the history of mankind.”

A lot of technology is used in the Invisalign process. It employs intra-oral scanners and modeling software, plus mass-customization manufacturing using 3D printing at several plants around the globe (each set of teeth is unique, and individuals change their aligners every two weeks). Because braces are generally for cosmetic purposes, they are not subject to pricing pressure from insurance companies or the government.

Align Technology’s revenues are currently growing by 25% to 30% a year as its market penetration rises, and Mueller expects earnings to continue to compound at double digits for quite a while.

2 of 7

Merck

Share price: $82

Market cap: $206 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 11

Dividend yield: 3.2%

CFRA analyst Sel Hardy thinks that Merck’s (MRK) COVID-19 antiviral pill, molnupiravir, is “a game changer.” The drug maker has applied for emergency-authorization use from the government; approval was expected before the end of 2021. Merck projects that global sales of the oral medication, which has demonstrated strong efficacy against multiple variants of COVID, could be $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of 2022.

Apart from this breakthrough drug, Hardy likes the way Merck is positioned. Sales of Keytruda, its versatile oncology drug, topped $14 billion in 2020 and continue to grow; its animal health division is expanding; and the firm’s $12 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma, a biotech firm with strengths in blood and cardiovascular treatments, will augment Merck’s product pipeline.

Hardy thinks Merck, which yields 3.2%, can compound earnings by at least 10% a year for the next three years.

3 of 7

Novo Nordisk

Share price: $113

Market cap: $259 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 31

Dividend yield: 1.3%

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk (NVO) focuses on two global pandemics: diabetes and obesity. The World Health Organization projects that the number of diabetics will expand from 460 million to 580 million by 2030, and it estimates that there are nearly 800 million obese people around the world. Novo pioneered insulin injections a century ago and has remained a global leader in diabetes care ever since. Multibillion-dollar drugs include Ozempic, a once-weekly prescription for adults with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar, and NovoRapid, a fast-acting insulin treatment. Novo’s sales are evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

Investors such as Samantha Pandolfi, comanager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences, are also excited about rapid growth in Novo’s newer weight-management business. Wegovy, prescribed for obese people with another disease, such as diabetes, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. Tests show Wegovy typically delivers a weight loss of 15% to 17%, and Pandolfi says sales are off to a blazing start. The century-old firm plows an impressive 12% of sales back into research and development, which helps it stay ahead of the competition and generate earnings growth in the low double digits.

4 of 7

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Share price: $617

Market cap: $243 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 29

Dividend yield: 0.2%

Eddie Yoon, manager of Fidelity Select Health Care Portfolio, calls Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) “the Walmart of life sciences.” Whether it’s a big pharma, biotech or university lab, customers come to this health sciences supermarket for analytical tools, lab equipment and services, and diagnostic kits and consumables. “They are the partner of choice for any pharma or biotech company of any size,” says Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds. Thermo has benefited from increased demand for its products and services due to COVID-19, and now the firm is poised to benefit from the rise in research and development spending among drug companies around the world.

One thing that distinguishes Thermo, according to health care stock analysts, is the quality of its management. The firm has successfully integrated several strategic acquisitions that helped broaden its menu of products and services. Tommy Sternberg, an analyst at William Blair, notes that Thermo is particularly adroit at staying close to customers and understanding what their scientists are working on. “They do a fantastic job of getting to know customers and their needs, and learning from customers to come up with more solutions more quickly,” says Sternberg.

5 of 7

UnitedHealth Group

Share price: $456

Market cap: $429 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 21

Dividend yield: 1.3%

The U.S. spends a staggering $4 trillion a year on health care. UnitedHealth (UNH)—with annual revenues of nearly $300 billion, a market value of $430 billion and 330,000 employees—is the industry’s largest player. As the top private health care insurance provider, it leads in managed care. Its OptumHealth unit offers pharmacy benefits and owns physician’s practices and surgical centers. Eaton Vance’s Kritzer calls Optum, an industry leader in the digitization of services, “a very large health IT company inside an insurance giant.” United helps the federal government manage costs through its Medicare Advantage plan (the most popular private plan). Plus, it enjoys high customer satisfaction, and it is counting a growing number of seniors as customers (about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day). Despite United’s massive size, William Blair’s Sternberg thinks it can sustain earnings-per-share growth of about 15% annually.

6 of 7

Zoetis

Share price: $217

Market cap: $103 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 42

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Like Align Tech­nology’s Invisalign, Zoetis’s (ZTS) main business—companion-animal health—was already riding a tailwind that picked up force thanks to lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Pet-ownership rates spiked as people grew more isolated and sought the companionship of dogs and cats, according to David Kalis, comanager of The Future Fund Active ETF. Zoetis markets vaccines, prescription drugs and diagnostic equipment directly to veterinarians. The industry is regulated, with FDA approval required for the drugs, but Zoetis benefits from the lack of insurance company price pressures and the fragmented nature of the firm’s customer base, notes Eaton Vance’s Pandolfi.

In fact, companion-animal ownership is growing globally, driven by aging populations and shrinking family sizes. Pet owners are treating their pets better, addressing ailments such as skin irritation and arthritis, and visiting the vet more frequently, says Pandolfi. Zoetis books about half of sales overseas; roughly 60% of revenues come from the companion-animal business and 40% from the less-profitable and slower-growing livestock animal division.

7 of 7

Invest in a Fund

Given the complexity and diversity of the health care sector, investing in a fund makes a lot of sense for many investors. Here are our favorites (returns and other data are through November 5).

Baron Health Care (symbol BHCFX, expense ratio 1.10%) is a young fund off to a sizzling start. Over the past three years, it returned 29.2% annualized, or nearly twice the return of the S&P 1500 Health Care index. Manager Neal Kaufman and assistant manager Joshua Riegelhaupt look for innovative, fast-growing companies. The largest holding is Natera, a clinical genetic-testing outfit.

Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX, 0.69%) is a member of the Kiplinger 25, the list of our favorite no-load funds. The fund has a 19.8% three-year annualized return, ahead of the 17.0% average annual gain of its peers. Eddie Yoon, who has piloted the fund since 2008, says he’s light on large pharmaceutical companies in the portfolio, preferring makers of devices used to help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments. The fund’s top three holdings are UnitedHealth, Boston Scientific and Danaher.

Ziad Bakri, a former physician, runs T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX, 0.76%), which has returned 21% annualized over the past three years. Nearly one-third of assets are invested in biotechnology, a high-risk, high-return segment of health care. Top positions include Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical.

If you prefer investing through exchange-traded funds, Simplify Health Care (PINK, $26, 0.50%) is an intriguing, actively managed ETF that launched on October 7. Through November 5, just shy of one month, it returned 5.9%. Manager Michael Taylor, a virologist by training who spent 20 years investing in health care stocks at some prominent hedge funds, expresses his views by increasing or decreasing the fund’s weighting of stocks in relation to the MSCI US Health Care Index.

Source: kiplinger.com

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Self-employment has its perks but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to build wealth for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA, meanwhile, follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Investing for Your Retirement When Self-Employed

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how much you need and want to save for retirement and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA, but not everyone can contribute to one. It’s also important to consider whether you need to give some thought to retirement planning for employees.

If you’re hoping to mirror or replicate the traditional 401(k) plan experience, then you might lean toward a solo 401(k). Whether you can contribute to one of these plans depends on your business structure. Business owners with no employees or whose only employee is their spouse can use a solo 401(k).

Meanwhile, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as the owner of a business as well as your eligible employees, if you have any. It’s also helpful to think about what kind of investment options you might prefer. What you can invest in through a solo 401(k) plan may be different from what a SEP IRA offers, which can affect how you grow wealth for retirement.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA Comparisons

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). You can set up either type of account if you operate as a sole proprietorship and have no employees. And both can offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs. Under SEP IRA rules, for instance, neither employee nor catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA, which you may have with a solo 401(k). Choosing a Roth solo 401(k) might appeal to you if you’d like to be able to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans. If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k) SEP IRA
Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) plan is a traditional 401(k) that covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages now offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits

Just like other 401(k) plans, solo 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. You can make contributions as both an employee and an employer. Here’s how annual solo 401(k) contribution limits work for elective deferrals:

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits by Age in 2021 (Elective Deferrals) Annual contribution in 2022
Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution in 2021 and 2022
Under 50 $19,500 N/a N/a
50 and Older $19,500 $6,500 $20,500

The limit on 401(k) contributions, including elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions, is $58,000 for 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. That doesn’t include an additional $6,500 allowed for catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re self-employed, the IRS requires you to make a special calculation to figure out the maximum amount of elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions you can make for yourself. This calculation reflects on your earned income, or means your net earnings from self-employment after deducting one-half of your self-employment tax and contributions for yourself.

The IRS offers a rate table you can use to calculate your contributions. You can set up automatic deferrals to a solo 401(k), or make contributions at any point throughout the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA or Simplified Employee Pension Plan is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for those self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees, and its one of the easiest retirement plan to set up and maintain. So if you’re a freelancer or a gig worker, you might consider using a SEP IRA to plan for retirement.

SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

SEP IRA Contributions

SEP IRA contributions use pre-tax dollars. Amounts contributed are tax-deductible in the year you make them. All contributions are made by the employer only, which is something to remember if you have employees. Unlike a traditional 401(k) that allows elective deferrals, your employees wouldn’t be able to add money to their SEP IRA through paycheck deductions.

Here’s how SEP IRA contributions work.

SEP IRA Contributions by Age

Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution
Under 50 Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 in 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a
50 and Older Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a

The IRS doesn’t allow catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA, a significant difference from solo 401(k) plans. So it’s possible you could potentially save more for retirement with a solo 401(k), depending on your age and earnings. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to follow the same IRS rules for figuring your annual contributions that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

You can make SEP IRA contributions at any time until your taxes are due, in mid-April of the following year.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward growing wealth.

If you’re ready to start saving for the future, one way to get started is by opening a brokerage account on the SoFi Invest investment platform. All members get complimentary access to a financial advisor, which can help you create a plan to meet your long-term goals.

Photo credit: iStock/1001Love


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Source: sofi.com

Using Income Share Agreements to Pay for School

Many students end up taking out loans to finance the cost of college. As of the first quarter of 2021, Americans collectively held $1.57 trillion in student debt, up $29 billion from the previous quarter. And a significant share of borrowers were struggling with their debt burdens: Just under 6% of total student debt was 90 days or more past due or in default.

Students looking for alternatives to student loans can apply for grants and scholarships, take on work-study jobs or other part-time work, or find ways to save on expenses.

Recently, another alternative has appeared on the table for students at certain institutions: income share agreements. An income share agreement is a type of college financing in which repayment is a fixed percentage of the borrower’s future income over a specified period of time.

As this financing option grows in popularity, here are some key things to know about how these agreements operate and to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

How Income Share Agreements Work

Unlike student loans, an income share agreement, also known as an income sharing agreement or ISA, doesn’t involve a contract with the government or a private lender. Rather, it’s a contract between the student and their college or university.

In exchange for receiving educational funds from the school, the student promises to pay a share of his or her future earnings to the institution for a fixed amount of time after graduation.

ISAs don’t typically charge interest, and the amount students pay usually fluctuates according to their income. Students don’t necessarily have to pay back the entire amount they borrow, as long as they make the agreed-upon payments over a set period. Though, they also may end up paying more than the amount they received.

Income share agreements only appeared on the scene in the last few years, but they are quickly expanding. Since 2016, ISA programs have launched at places like Purdue University in Indiana, Clarkson University in New York, and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. Each school decides on its own terms and eligibility guidelines for the programs. The school itself or outside investors may provide funds for ISAs.

Purdue University was one of the first schools to create a modern ISA program. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who meet certain criteria, including full-time enrollment and satisfactory academic progress, are eligible to apply.

Students may have a six-month grace period after graduation to start making payments, similar to the six-month grace period for student loans, and the repayment term at Purdue is typically 10 years. For some schools, however, the repayment term ranges from two to 10 years.

The exact amount students can expect to pay depends on the amount they took out and their income. The university estimates that a junior who graduates in 2023 with a marketing major will have a starting salary of $51,000 and will see their income grow an average of 4.7% a year.

If that student borrowed $10,000 in ISA funds, he or she would be required to pay 3.39% of his or her income for a little over eight years. The total amount that student would pay back is $17,971. The repayment cap for the 2021-2022 school year is $23,100.

Again, every ISA is different and may have different requirements, so be sure to check with your college or university for all the details.

The Advantages of Income Share Agreements

ISAs aren’t for everyone, but they can be beneficial for some students. For example, students who don’t qualify for other forms of financial aid, such as undocumented immigrants, may have few other options for funding school.

For students who have already maxed out their federal loans, ISAs can be a more affordable option than Parent PLUS loans or private student loans, both of which sometimes come with relatively high interest rates and fees.

Compared to student loans, many ISAs also protect students by preventing monthly payments from becoming unaffordable. Since the amount paid is always tied to income, students should never end up owing more than a set percentage for a fixed period of time. However, a student’s field of study may impact this. Students who are high earners after college may end up paying more to repay an ISA than they would have under other financing options.

If a student has trouble finding a well-paying job, or finding one at all, payments typically shrink accordingly. For example, Purdue sets a minimum income amount below which students don’t pay anything.

In Purdue’s case, the student won’t owe anything else once the repayment period is over, compared to student loans that can multiply exponentially over time due to accrued interest.

Purdue and several other universities also set the amount and length of repayment based on a student’s major, meaning monthly payments can be more tailored to graduates’ fields and salaries than student loans are. For fortunate students who see their income rise beyond expectations, many schools ensure the student won’t pay beyond a certain cap.

Potential Pitfalls of Income Share Agreements

ISAs come with some risks and drawbacks, as well. Firstly, since the repayment amount is based on income, a student who earns a lot after graduation might end up paying more than they would have with some student loans. This is because if a student earns a high income after graduating, they’d pay more to the fund. Second, the terms of repayment can vary widely, and some programs require graduates to give up a huge chunk of their paychecks.

For example, Lambda School , an online program that trains students to be software engineers, requires alums who earn at least $50,000 to pay 17% of their income for two years (up to $30,000). This can be a burden for recent graduates, especially compared to other options like income-driven repayment, which determines the percentage of income going towards student loans based on discretionary income.

Currently, there is very little regulation of ISAs, so students should read ISA terms carefully to understand what they’re signing up for.

No matter what, income share agreements are still funding that needs to be repaid, often at a higher amount than the principal.

So you’re still paying more overall for your education compared to finding sources of income like scholarships, a part-time job, gifts from family, or reducing expenses through lifestyle changes or going to a less expensive school.

How Do Income Share Agreements Impact You?

Many schools’ ISA programs are designed to fill in gaps in funding when students do not receive enough from other sources, such as financial aid, federal or private student loans, scholarships or savings. Thus, it’s important to understand how an ISA will impact both your long-term finances and other methods to pay for college.

ISAs do not impact need-based aid like grants or scholarships. Students with loans, however, could have a more complicated repayment plan with multiple payments due each month.

With ISAs, there is less clarity as to how much you’ll end up repaying from up to 10 years of income. As your income changes, your payment will remain the same percentage unless it falls below the minimum income threshold ($1,666.67 at Purdue) or reaches a repayment cap.

Whereas students may pay more than the loan principal to reduce interest, ISAs often require reaching a repayment cap of roughly double the borrowed amount to be paid off early.

Depending on your future income and career path, an ISA could cut into potential savings and investments or serve as a safety net for a less stable occupation.

Who Should Consider An ISA?

As previously mentioned, income share agreements are an option for students who have maxed out on federal loans and scholarships. There are other circumstances when an ISA may or may not be worth considering.

Colleges may require a minimum GPA to be eligible for an ISA. For instance, Robert Morris University requires incoming students to have a 3.0 high school GPA and maintain a 2.75 GPA during their studies for continued funding eligibility. Taking stock of how an ISA aligns with your academic performance before accepting funding could reduce stress later on.

Since ISA programs structure repayment as a percentage of income, graduates who secure high-paying jobs can end up paying a significant sum compared to the borrowed amount. An ISA term could be more favorable to students planning to enter sectors with more gradual salary growth, such as civil service.

Repayment plans at income sharing agreement colleges are not uniform. Students at schools with lower payment caps and early repayment options may find ISAs more advantageous.

Considering Private Loans

Students should generally exhaust all their federal options for grants and loans before considering other types of debt. But for some students looking to fill gaps in their educational funding, private student loans may make more sense for their needs than ISAs.

Recommended: Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

In particular, students who expect to have high salaries after graduation may end up paying less based on interest for a private student loan than they would for an ISA. Some private loans can also allow you to reduce what you owe overall by repaying your debt ahead of schedule.

SoFi doesn’t charge any fees, including origination fees or late fees. Nor are there prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early. You can also qualify for a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate when you sign up for automated payments.

The Takeaway

As mentioned, an income share agreement is an alternate financing option for college. An ISA is generally used to fill in gaps in college funding. Generally, it’s an agreement between the borrower and the school that states the borrower will repay the funds based on their future salary for a set amount of time.

One alternative to an ISA could be private student loans. Keep in mind that private loans are generally only considered as an option after all other sources of federal aid, including federal student loans, have been exhausted.

If you’ve exhausted your federal loan options and need help paying for school, consider a SoFi private student loan.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Seeking Alpha Review – Is the Premium Subscription Worth It?

At a glance

Seeking Alpha Logo

Our rating

  • What It Is: Seeking Alpha is a stock market news and research website that produces more than 10,000 articles per month, designed to give readers investment ideas and tools for evaluating different investments.
  • Membership Fees: Basic, Free; Premium, $29.99 per month or $239.88 annually ($19.99 per month); Pro, $299 per month or $2,388 annually ($199 per month).
  • Pros: Detailed research and opinions from bears and bulls, proprietary rating systems, intuitive stock screener, portfolio monitoring, earnings calls and transcripts, and notable calls from Wall Street experts.
  • Cons: Relatively high monthly fee, many of the premium features can be found free elsewhere, few tools for technical traders, and the vast amount of information can overwhelm newcomers.

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Everything you read when it comes to learning how to invest tells you that research is the foundation of profitable investment choices. One of the best research tools for the fundamental investor is found at SeekingAlpha.com.

Seeking Alpha is an investment research service fueled by more than 7,000 contributors who produce more than 10,000 articles per month, with each having a unique stance on the topics they cover. Investors can benefit quite a bit from the company’s free services, but if you’re willing to pay for the premium service, even more tools are unlocked.

What Is Seeking Alpha?

At its core, Seeking Alpha is a crowdsourcing website that sources valuable investment research through a vast consortium of contributors. Seeking Alpha was designed for individual investors who are interested in choosing individual stocks. 

The vast majority of the content on the website is available for free for the first 10 days after publication. However, if you’re interested in in-depth research, stock screening tools, and proprietary rating systems, you’ll need to sign up for one of the company’s subscription services.


Pricing

There are three different pricing models available.

  1. Basic. The Basic subscription is absolutely free. With this subscription, you’ll gain access to free articles for the first 10 days after their publication as well as some portfolio management tools. For most casual investors who aren’t interested in diving deep into research and fundamental analysis, the Basic subscription is a great fit. 
  2. Premium. The Premium service unlocks all articles on the website regardless of their age. Premium members also get access to a customized news platform, an intuitive stock screener, proprietary Quant ratings, unlimited conference call transcripts, earnings call audio, and exclusive author ratings. In exchange, members agree to pay $29.99 per month or $239.88 paid annually ($19.99 per month). You can also try before you buy with the company’s 14-day free trial. 
  3. Pro. The Pro service comes with a price tag that will turn off most mom-and-pop investors at $299 per month or $2,388 paid annually ($199 per month). Designed for investors who manage large portfolios, the Pro service offers a curated collection of the most in-depth research offered through the platform. 

Key Features

As a research-centric service, the vast majority of key features offered by Seeking Alpha have to do with getting to know the companies you invest in before risking your hard-earned money on them. Some of the most exciting features you’ll gain access to when you sign up include:

Thorough Investment Research

With more than 7,000 contributors offering up more than 10,000 articles per month, you’ll have everything you need to research just about any publicly traded company and make a quality investment decision.

The vast majority of these articles are labeled as investment ideas that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Long Ideas. Long ideas are investment ideas centered around stocks that the authors believe will head up in value in the long term. 
  • IPO Analysis. Initial public offerings, or IPOs, are a hot topic among investors, and tools that help determine whether an IPO is priced fairly and has strong potential to grow in value are invaluable. The IPO analysis offered by Seeking Alpha is one of the best ways to go about analyzing an IPO trade.
  • Quick Picks. Quick picks are articles centered around stocks based on a specific investment theme or fundamental data. 
  • Fund Letters. Fund letters is a curated list of select letters from professionally managed funds to their investors outlining the investing landscape and their goals moving forward. 
  • Editor’s Picks. Editor’s picks are articles that are hand-selected by the editors at Seeking Alpha based on in-depth research, the author’s track record, and other factors.  
  • Stock Ideas by Sector. The Stock Ideas by Sector section of the Seeking Alpha website lets you quickly scan through any sector of the market. 

Beyond the basic search functions of the website and access to all articles regardless of how old they are, Premium members also enjoy a customizable news dashboard that displays articles on stocks and investment strategies they’re interested in first, making combing through the vast sea of content on SeekingAlpha.com far easier. 

Note that although investment ideas are shared on the company’s website, nothing on the site constitutes investment advice. The author couldn’t possibly know your unique goals, financial capabilities, risk tolerance, and other factors that make you, well, you. The platform is designed as a research tool. You should never blindly make an investment just because the title of an article on the platform suggests big gains are ahead. 

Article Sidebar

The article sidebar is a feature that’s only available to Seeking Alpha Premium subscribers, but it alone is worth the subscription fee for many investors. 

When making investment decisions based on what you read online, it’s important to validate the source of the research and ensure the author and the stock are worth following in the first place. The Article Sidebar makes this simple to do at a glance by offering a brief bullish and bearish synopsis of the stock, stock ratings from the authors on the platform, a real-time stock price chart, and ratings for the author who contributed the piece.

Quant Ratings

Technology and computerized trading algorithms have reshaped the investing industry. Today, the market is more active than ever before, and algorithms provide a trove of data on the potential of any investment. 

However, the details offered up by these algorithms are often difficult to understand, and therefore often are ignored by novice investors. 

The good news is that Seeking Alpha offers its readers quant ratings, which algorithmically rate stocks in an easy-to-understand way. These ratings are based on five key factors: value, growth, profitability, EPS revisions, and momentum.

Factor Scorecards

Factor investing has become a popular concept. The idea is that by investing in stocks that come with risk premiums like small-cap, value, growth, and other characteristics, you’ll be able to beat the average market performance in your portfolio. 

When analyzing these factors, Seeking Alpha offers an easy-to-understand score ranging from A+ to F.

  • REIT Scorecard: On scorecards for real estate investment trusts (REITs), Seeking Alpha provides scores based on funds from operations as well as adjusted funds from operations. 
  • Dividend Stock Scorecard: Dividend stocks are a great way to generate income through your investments. The Dividend Stock Scorecard takes various factors into account, considering not only whether the stock pays competitive dividends, but also whether those dividends are sustainable. 

Earnings Call Transcripts & Recordings

Earnings reports are some of the most important events in the stock market. Every quarter, publicly traded companies are required to provide updated financial information, letting investors in on the financial stability and growth prospects for the company. 

Basic members have access to earnings call transcripts, but if you want to listen to the recorded calls, you’ll need to upgrade to a Premium subscription. 

Earnings Estimates & Surprises

Basic members have access to past earnings data from the company’s they’re interested in as well as information on dividends. 

For premium members, the data becomes a bit more intuitive, offering analyst forecasts and earnings surprises, which show the extent to which the company beat or missed earnings expectations in recent quarters. 

Notable Calls

Across Wall Street, there are tons of investment grade funds and investing professionals that manage money for individual investors. These fund managers often provide quarterly letters to their investors outlining the state of the market and how they plan on capitalizing on it in the future. 

The Notable Calls section of the website, only accessible by Premium and Pro members, is a curated list of these quarterly announcements from some of the most well-respected hedge funds and investment-grade funds. 

Intuitive Stock Screener

Stock screeners make it easy to find the types of opportunities you’re looking for in the stock market. It seems as though every investing-centric website offers one. However, the screener offered by Seeking Alpha is one of the best in the business. 

As with any stock screener, you’ll be able to screen opportunities by volume, sector, stock price, and more. However, what’s unique about the Seeking Alpha screener is that it lets you screen stocks based on the company’s proprietary Quant Ratings and Factor Scores. 

So, if you’re looking for a technology stock that has both a high Quant Rating and Factor Score and is experiencing exceptionally high volume, you won’t have any issues digging an opportunity up. 

Personalized Alerts

Personalized alerts are available to all Seeking Alpha subscribers. These alerts come via email, informing you of any news and analyst upgrades or downgrades of the stocks you’re interested in. 

While the service is available to all users, Premium members get all the data in the email they receive, while Basic members must click to the Seeking Alpha website to see the full information associated with the alert. 

Portfolio Monitoring

Investors are able to connect their live investment portfolios to Seeking Alpha and monitor their holdings through the platform. Through the portfolio monitoring service, you’ll be able to track your portfolio and pinpoint the investments that are doing best and worst for you. 

Moreover, when you attach your portfolio, you’ll receive alerts when news and opinion articles are published around a ticker you invest in. Premium members enjoy faster time-to-delivery, ensuring you’re one of the first to see the news on stocks you invest in. 


Advantages

Seeking Alpha is one of the most successful investing-centric websites online today, and that popularity didn’t just happen out of the blue. There are several benefits to taking advantage of the services provided by the company, the most significant being:

1. Investing Ideas

Finding quality investment opportunities is arguably one of the most difficult parts of the investing process. Seeking Alpha is essentially a curated list of the best investment ideas produced by thousands of authors. 

Considering the sheer scale of content produced, you’ll be able to find quality ideas no matter whether your preferred style of investing is growth, value, or income.  

2. Free Services

For many investors, the content available under the Basic membership will provide everything you need to make wise decisions in the stock market.  

3. Proprietary Scores

The proprietary scoring system used by the company to provide at-a-glance information about stocks is second to none. Not only does the company take general fundamental data into account when creating these scores, it adds in a risk premium factor that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

4. Portfolio Monitoring

When managing your own self-directed investment portfolio, monitoring your performance in the market is key. The company makes this simple for both free and paid users, including email alerts when important news is released about a stock you’ve invested in.  


Disadvantages

Sure, there are plenty of reasons to consider signing up for this service. However, as with any rose, there are some thorns to be mindful of before grabbing a fistful and taking a whiff:

1. Not the Best Option for Technical Traders

If you’re a swing trader or day trader who relies heavily on technical analysis, you won’t find much value in the service. The company’s core focus is on providing fundamental data and research, and it leaves most technical data to companies that focus on providing that type of information. 

2. Many Features Are Found Elsewhere Free

While the company does make it easy to access tools in one space, much of what it provides can be found elsewhere for free. For example, there are tons of websites that publish free opinion articles on stocks, and a simple search on Google will provide a list of articles on the stocks you’re interested in. 

Moreover, stock screeners, portfolio monitoring services, and earnings data are all widely available for free online. However, it is worth mentioning that most free services don’t go as far in depth as the tools available at Seeking Alpha. 

3. It’s Expensive

Sure, $29.99 per month doesn’t sound like much, but if you have a beginner investment portfolio that consists of $1,000 in stocks, you’ll have to earn a return of nearly 3% per month just to cover the cost of the service. As such, the Premium service is most worthwhile for investors who have a portfolio value of at least $10,000. 

4. No Buy Recommendations

Seeking Alpha is not an alert service. In fact, the disclaimer on all articles on the website suggest that investors should make their own decisions. There are plenty of services with similar pricing that actually offer alerts, recommending when investors should buy or sell stocks. If you’re looking for an alert service that does so, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  


Final Word

All in all, Seeking Alpha is a great tool for the fundamental investor who takes the time to research what they’re buying before diving into a stock. With so many authors and articles on the platform, investors are able to see stocks they’re interested in from multiple points of view, helping to avoid investing based on a few skewed opinions. 

Moreover, Seeking Alpha is a great add-on service to those who use the Motley Fool Stock Advisor, which gives two trade ideas per month. By cross-referencing the ideas provided through the Motley Fool or another alert service with the in-depth research Seeking Alpha provides, you’ll be able to form educated opinions about whether the recommendations are worth following. 

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The Verdict

Seeking Alpha Logo

Our rating

Seeking Alpha is a valuable research tool for the fundamental investor. While it doesn’t offer much for technical traders and has a relatively high premium membership fee (starting at $29.99 per month), it is a great option for active investors looking to add detailed research to their repertoire of tools.

While there are plenty of benefits for paying subscribers, the service is relatively expensive compared to its competitors, and some premium features can be found elsewhere for free. However, active fundamental investors will benefit greatly from the detailed research and proprietary scoring system Seeking Alpha offers.

Editorial Note:
The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: moneycrashers.com

It Still Pays to Wait to Claim Social Security

Laurence Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and author of Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life. He also developed MaxiFi Planner and Maximize My Social Security—software programs designed to help users raise their living standards by getting the most out of their Social Security benefits.

In its most recent annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees said that if nothing is done, the trust fund will be depleted by 2033, which would mean Social Security would be able to pay out only 76% of promised benefits. What do you say to people who plan to file at age 62—which results in about a 25% cut in benefits—because they’re afraid the program will run out of money? I have run through our software a benefit cut starting in 2031, and you still see a very major gain from waiting to collect. But I don’t see the politicians cutting benefits directly. I think they’re going to raise taxes on the rich. Congress could also use general revenue to finance Social Security, or they could partially index benefits for the rich. Historically, they phase in changes, so anybody who is close to retirement is quite safe—and by close I mean 55 and older.

Yet many people fear that if they postpone claiming Social Security until age 70, they’ll die before they’ll be able to take advantage of the higher benefits. What’s your response to that? They’re ignoring longevity risk. If you’re 98 and collecting a Social Security check that’s 76% higher and adjusted for inflation, that’s where you want to be. A lot of people will live that long. If you buy home insurance and your house doesn’t burn down, are you shortchanged because you paid the premium? You’re protecting yourself against catastrophic events. Financially, the catastrophic event is living to 100.

Thanks to big increases in home values, seniors have seen their housing wealth grow to a record $9.6 trillion. Are reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to tap that equity while remaining in their homes, a good source of retirement income? When the Federal Housing Administration insured most reverse mortgages, I thought, they can’t be that bad. But when I spent several weeks looking at them carefully with software, I decided that they’re way too expensive. They’ve got huge fees. You could sell your home and move into a continuing care retirement community—that’s like buying an annuity and long-term-care insurance at the same time. Or you could sell the house to the kids and write a contract in which they let you stay in it until you die. You take care of me and as soon as I die, you get the house. I die early, you win. I die late, I win. But it’s a win-win because we’re insuring each other.

What did the pandemic teach us, if anything, about the state of personal finances in the U.S.? We don’t save enough. The Chinese save 30% of their disposable income. We save very little. This is a wake-up call. The pandemic got me to think about what I was spending on housing, living in Boston. We downsized and moved to Providence, where house prices were a third as expensive. The pandemic has been a saving and spending wake-up call for us, just as the Great De­pression was for those who lived through it. We’ve realized life is much riskier than we thought. The pandemic is making us all reevaluate our finances and what really matters, which doesn’t include driving a BMW.

Source: kiplinger.com