Monday, November 14, 2011

Gold IRAs: A Potentially Sound Investment in an Uncertain Time

Remember the first time you heard the term "IRA"?

Long before the responsibilities of adulthood loomed, you probably overheard your parents using the acronym and dismissed it as yet another boring topic that only old fogies had to worry about. Alas, you finally grew up and realized that your parents were, well ... not that old when they used that foreign-sounding term. The truth is, planning for retirement as early as possible gives you the best possible chance of meeting your goals. A Gold IRA is an option that is often overlooked, but has the potential to be one of the soundest investments you can make in an economic climate fraught with uncertainty.

These days, a trip to your local amusement park is likely to offer fewer ups and downs than the economy. With the stock market fluctuating wildly, many investors have been left scratching their heads at the prospect of finding a reliable long-term investment. Even the purchase of land, once heralded as the best possible investment you could make, has proven to be a tenuous proposition due to the all-around instability.

How did we get here? The worldwide recession we're currently embroiled in (as a result of the sub-prime mortgage crisis) led to heavy borrowing, which in turn left smaller countries (like Greece) unable to repay their debts. The U.S. has had its share of debt-related difficulty as well, as was on stark display when its credit rating was downgraded for the first time in the nation's history. Consequently, the value of currency worldwide is dropping and stocks are plummeting while gold, often referred to as a "crisis commodity," has seen its value soar.

Planning for retirement amid such chaos can be overwhelming. If you're considering options, than you most likely know that an IRA (or Individual Retirement Account) is a form of long-term investment that was created to provide financial stability for you when you reach your golden years. In the past, investors generally thought of IRAs as being restricted to cash and cash equivalents, but in 1997, the Taxpayer Relief Act made adding precious metals like gold, silver and platinum possible.

The Relief Act provided investors an excellent opportunity to reduce portfolio volatility. Gold's remarkable ability throughout the ages not only to weather troubled times but to appreciate in value makes it a particularly dependable investment when compared to mutual funds, stocks or bonds. A rather striking statistic is that if you had invested $25,000 in gold coins 30 years ago, you'd have a net worth of $500,000 today. Since an IRA represents an entire lifetime of work, it makes sense to contemplate making gold a significant role-player on your journey to a successful retirement.

The most priceless commodity of all is peace of mind. A gold IRA is worth considering seriously when planning for a bright future, while living in an all-too-bleak present.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Are Credit Unions Really Any Better Than Banks?

I've had a credit union account for over 21 years. With Bank Transfer Day upon us, many people will be moving their money out of big banks and into smaller credit unions. I am certainly no defender of banks. In fact, I have a saying that "There are no good banks, just some that are less bad." But I am not willing to give credit unions a free pass just because they are not-for-profit. I am simply not convinced that credit unions are any better than banks.

I regularly publish the money market interest rates of several financial institutions. There is one credit union on my list: Western Federal Credit Union. I have maintained an account at Western FCU (and at it predecessor credit union) since 1993. Regrettably, in my updates going back to 2008, Western has consistently scored in the lower half of the financial institutions that I track. This is certainly not a convincing argument for Western FCU.

In order to provide some additional points of comparison, I added a couple of credit unions that advertise quite heavily in my local area: Travis CU, and Patelco Credit Union. A bit of history: Patelco is the credit union for the company currently called AT&T (formerly SBC (formerly Pacific Bell (formerly Pacific Telesis Group (formerly Pacific Telephone Company)))). Thus, the name Pa-Tel-Co Credit Union. Anyway, I've digressed. So, I compiled an interest rate list for these credit unions, and a few selected banks.

0.89% Ally Bank Online Savings
0.76% EverBank Yield Plus Money Market
0.45% Western FCU Money Market
0.10% Citibank Savings Plus
0.10% Travis CU Flexible Money Market
0.06% Patelco CU Money Market Account

The two new credit unions are approximately on par with Citibank! And Citibank is pretty much at the bottom of the heap as far as banks are concerned. I realize that interest rates alone are not the only comparison point. There are, of course, customer service issues and fees. Thankfully, I am very careful about the types of accounts that I open, and have been able to avoid bank fees.

As far as Western FCU is concerned, I still have a sizable balance with them. However, they did close the one branch near my home (the next closest branch being a 30 mile drive away). And, they can be just as inflexible as the big banks on some matters.

But to sum things up, I am not particularly loyal to any bank. I will transfer my bank funds to a credit union if somebody can show me a credit union that I'm qualified to join, and has savings rates as high as Ally Bank, or branches that are as convenient as Citibank. In the end, I guess that I won't be transferring my money today after all.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Get a $60 Cash Reward from EverBank

EverBank just sent me an Email offering a $60 cash reward bonus for opening a new checking account. Of course, like every bank offer out there, they have a few terms and conditions that you must satisfy to receive your money. On the positive side, EverBank doesn't charge monthly account fees, or debit card fees. And, they have a decent interest rate for a checking account of 0.46% APY or higher. (My current checking account pays me 0.01%.)

Here is the fine print:

Bonus Offer: When you open your first Yield Pledge Checking Account ("Checking Account") before November 30, 2011, you may be eligible to receive a $60 cash reward. To qualify for the $60 reward, you must: a) apply for your first Checking Account and title the account for individual or joint ownership; b) your Checking Account must be opened, approved and funded with a minimum deposit of $1500 USD transferred to EverBank by November 30, 2011; c) you must establish and receive at least one direct deposit of at least $500 into your Checking Account before January 31, 2012; d) you must maintain an average daily balance of at least $1500 for the statement periods ending December 31, 2011, and January 31, 2012; and e) you must keep the account open until February 29, 2012. The $60 reward will be directly deposited into your Checking Account not later than February 29, 2012. Limit 1 reward per household. This offer expires on November 30, 2011.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Does Your Income Rank?

The IRS has recently released percentile ranks for adjusted gross income (AGI) reported on 2009 tax returns. Currently, these are the latest statistics that the Internal Revenue Service has made available. Using this handy table, you can quickly figure out where your income ranks:

2009 AGI (Adjusted Gross Income)Percentile Rank
less than $32,396Bottom 50%
more than $32,396Top 50%
more than $66,193Top 25%
more than $112,124Top 10%
more than $154,643Top 5%
more than $343,927Top 1%

This data comes directly from the Internal Revenue Service. A link to all of the Statistics of Income (SOI) data can be found on the IRS website.

I have also come across an interesting article on that further analyzes the IRS data. From this information, they conclude such facts as those making over $343,927 (the top 1%) account for 37% of all the taxes paid. Does anybody have some further insight on this statement?

So, now you have the data. Where do you rank?