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National Debt Clock

Who says History does not Repeat Itself?

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt.

People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

- Cicero - 55 BC


FCVA is expanding.

We are looking to purchase / merge with an existing RIA that is truely independent from any outside influences or conflicts of interest. We have been offering real client-first, fee-only advice and service since 1985 and would like to offer that service to more folks.

Contact us at info@fcva.net to indicate your interest.

No obligation, just discussion.

Privacy Flash!


May 28, 2010
A client brought to my attention the web site www.SPOKEO.com. Go there and type in your name or telephone number or e-mail address and see what sorts of information has been aggregated into one place. You may be amazed if not horrified. Granted, to see your actual information someone would have to pay the subscription fee, $2.95 per month for an annual subscription, but look what they could find out about you: Your date of birth, address, what your house is worth, how much income you have, your net worth, your credit score and on and on.

All of this information may be legally obtained, but this is the first (probably not the only or last) site to aggregate all of your private information in one easily accessed place. Read what the
Chicago Tribune has to say about SPOKEO.com.

You can remove yourself from the SPOKEO searches. First, search your name (don't forget spouses and children . . .) copy the URL for that search and go to their Privacy page - look at the bottom of the SPOKEO page. Enter the search URL, your e-mail address and their code. Go to your e-mail and click on the link they send you that verifies your deletion from their searches. Now, do the same with your telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. It is a bit time consuming, but worth it to remove yourself from this first and best/worst case of information aggregation.

Be prepared to do it again for other sites as they pop up . . .

A blog entry directed TO financial advisors
  
 
            We, by the way, are REAL financial advisors . . .

Posted: by Carl Richards | Bio | Feed
05-06-10 | 9:13am

Secret Society

Awhile back, I introduced the concept of a Secret Society that I called REAL Financial Planners. This was in response to the constant stories I was reading in the popular press about FAKE planners stealing people's money or giving self-serving advice. At the same time, I was meeting planners who act professionally, tell the truth, and just simply do the right thing. I keep meeting planners that I would hope my wife would use if I were gone. These are people that I would trust my mother's money to without question. Chances are you know them, too.

In the wake of the Goldman issue, people are again asking questions about the nature of advice and wondering exactly who can they trust. If you watched the Goldman hearing, it was clear that people can defend anything by hiding behind a technical definition of their obligation to someone who might think that they have his best interests in mind.

I know the Goldman case is complex. I know that the public needs to learn what a fiduciary is. I am glad that there are so many willing to take up that fight.

In the meantime, what if we all starting acting like fiduciaries regardless of where we work or what we call ourselves?

What if we actually put clients' interests ahead of our own, not because we have a legal obligation, but simply because it is the right thing to do?

In the current environment, REAL planners are remarkable (worth remarking about). When something is remarkable, word starts to spread.

The Society of REAL Financial Planners is secret because we need to do a better job of telling our story--the story of how our clients trust us because we are worthy of their trust, the story of how our clients worry less, watch less CNBC, and know that Jim Cramer is a circus sideshow.


Haiti Donations Eligible For '09 Tax Returns

January 27, 2010

People who give to charities providing earthquake relief in Haiti can claim the donations this year under recently adopted tax provisions, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Taxpayers who itemize deductions on their 2009 return qualify for the special tax relief provision, which was enacted January 22, according to the IRS. Only cash contributions made to these charities after January 11, 2010, and before March 1, 2010, are eligible. This includes contributions made by text message, check, credit card or debit card.

"Americans have opened their hearts to help those affected by the Haiti earthquake," IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a prepared statement. "This new law provides an immediate tax benefit for the many taxpayers who have made generous donations."  

The new law only applies to cash, as opposed to property, contributions, according to the IRS. The contributions must be made specifically for the relief of victims in areas affected by the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. Taxpayers have the option of deducting these contributions on either their 2009 or 2010 returns, but not both. To get a tax benefit, taxpayers must itemize their deductions on Schedule A. Those who claim the standard deduction, including all short-form filers, are not eligible.

The IRS noted that taxpayers need to be sure their contributions go to qualified charities. Most organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible donations are listed in a searchable online database available on IRS.gov under “Search for Charities.” 

Some organizations, such as churches or governments, may be qualified even though they are not listed on IRS.gov, according to the IRS. Donors can find out more about organizations helping Haitian earthquake victims from agencies such as USAID at www.usaid.gov.  Contributions to foreign organizations generally are not deductible, according to the IRS.


This may not be considered "News," but it is a sobering collection of statistics well worth noting. Click here

out our Private Virtual Office
We offer this one-of-a-kind tool to all of our clients. Go to the Clients page and login to the demonstration site.
Click here to retrieve a Guide to Client Private Virtual Office.


Silk Stockings may not equal honesty
A friend of mine has a son in a different state who has recently changed careers to go into the financial services industry. The son, being from a family based on character and high moral values, chose a company that he was assured shared his values of moral integrity and honesty. He chose to join the ranks of Merrill Lynch. We should all know how that story is playing out. Here is a link to an article published today relating how New York's attorney general is investigating Merrill Lynch's executive bonuses passed out at the end of 2008 - just befor to an article published today relating how New York's attorney general is investigating Merrill Lynch's executive bonuses passed out at the end of 2008 - just before the takeover by Bank of America and the "bailout" that you and I will pay for for many, many years.

Now, my friend's son was certainly not one of the favored executives and should not be personally sullied by Merrill's executive's actions, but he should decide if his moral values and those of his employer are still in congruence.


A Violinist in the Metro

On a cold day in January, a man sat at a metro station in Washington DC  and started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45  minutes. Since it was rush hour, it was calculated that a thousand people  went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip.  A woman threw some money into the hat and continued to walk. A few minutes later, a man leaned against a wall to listen to the musician, but after looking at his watch he walked away. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. Obviously in a hurry, the mother tugged at the boy, but the kid stopped to listen to the  violinist. Finally, the mother gave a hard push and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time.

This action was repeated by several other children.  All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for awhile.  About 20 people gave him money but continued to walk. He collected $32 when he was finished playing.

Silence took over, no one noticed.  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.  Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats cost an average of $100.

This is a true story.  Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the metro station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. They queried that in a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour:

  • Do we perceive beauty?
  • Do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?


Consumer Borrowing in 2009 Means Making a Plan
January 2009
I
f you’re planning to buy a home or a car in 2009, the process is going to be a lot tougher without an excellent credit score and a significant down payment. So that means you’re going to have to work harder—and possibly wait a little longer—to make those key purchases.  

What’s a good credit score? According to credit scoring giant Fair Isaac Corp., the best FICO score range as of late 2008 stood at 760-850, according to reports; that minimum is roughly 20 points higher than it would have been a year ago.  

Barring any major federal action to loosen up these markets on the consumer level, these factors make it particularly important to make sure there are no skeletons in your credit closet.  

The Federal Reserve Board’s statistics show that outstanding consumer credit has increased from a bit more than $2 trillion in 2003 to $2.5 trillion by the end of the second quarter of 2008, representing a 25 percent increase over five years. These high levels of debt, combined with a global credit crunch, have tightened up lending to all but the best customers–and they’re having trouble too. 

If you have extraordinarily high debt levels, a record of late payments or very little money to put down on that home or car, you need to do some advance planning before you contact any lenders. Here are issues you need to incorporate into your planning: 

  • Get some advice: You might be focused on paying down debt or saving up your down payment, but credit is only one part of your lifetime financial picture. It might be a good idea to talk with a tax professional or a financial planner to learn how to best use credit. It’s always good to determine what your limits should be.

  • Pay down the balances you have: Next year, Fair Isaac Corp., the company that created the FICO score, will be adjusting the way it computes its credit scores. One of the top changes will be a greater negative weight on credit utilization–how close you get to the borrowing limit of each of your accounts. The company says that for optimal scoring, each account’s outstanding credit should be no more than 50 percent of the credit line and hopefully less.  As you’re paying down your balances, it’s wise to focus on the highest-rate credit cards or loans first.

  • Set a credit report review schedule: You have the right to get all three of your credit reports—from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—once a year for free. You can do so by ordering them at www.annualcreditreport.com. Don't order all three of them at the same time, though. By spreading out the dates you receive each of your credit reports, you'll get a continuous view of how your credit picture looks because the three bureaus feed each other the latest information. It's a good way to clean up errors and keep a steady watch for identity theft.  By the way, all those ads that advertise free credit reports? Most of them will demand a credit card number from you, which means at some point those reports won’t be free. The aforementioned Web site is the best place to get reports that are truly free of charge.

  • Pay on time and pay more than the minimum. If you’ve been late with payments or have stuck only to paying the minimums, it’s time to give that up now. Here’s what you do. To avoid late payments, note the due dates when the bills arrive and then set a date for payment five to seven days ahead so you’ll definitely be able to mail your payment on time.  To put more toward the balance, finally do a budget–this will help you identify the non-essential spending you’ve been doing so you can pay your outstanding credit balances faster.

  • Cut up cards, but don't close the account: Closing accounts—even those that have had zero balances for years—is a bad idea. Lenders want to see a long record of responsible credit management, and longtime accounts that you haven't touched in years may actually help your score because it shows you have some restraint.

  • No-doc or low-doc loans? Find another way: If you are self-employed or otherwise don’t have a lot of verifiable income, you may have the most trouble getting a loan. While banks and other lenders two years ago might have bent over backwards to lend to people with unverifiable income, that gravy train is mostly over now. If you do get a loan, you’ll pay far more for it than you would have before the credit markets blew up.

January 2009 — This column is produced by the Financial Planning Association, the membership organization for the financial planning community, and is provided by Michael B. Broadhurst, CFP,
a member of the Hampton Roads, VA chapter of the Financial Planning Association.

Experience Matters
9 30 2008
A little over 20 years ago, in October of 1987, a new client taught me a lesson. I was still newish in the business and she was (to me at the time) an elderly lady - maybe 77 or 78 years old. When the stock market crashed and lost over 20% in one day (yesterday's loss was only 7.7%), I visited her with great trepidation, apologizing for having her portfolio tilted towards stocks so that she lost almost 11% in one day. She smiled knowingly and gently gave me a lesson in experience. "Honey," she said, "this is not the first dip I've seen and it won't be the last. This is how the stock market works. It grows and shrinks. But as long as I have enough income to live on, I will leave my investments alone and let them do their thing. Don't worry'" she said to me, "it'll come back." Of course she was right and her portfolio went on the create a substantial amount of wealth not only for her own lifestyle, but also for several heirs who had no idea their relative was so successful. At age 38, I learned from a little old lady how to invest for the long term.

Today, I read a column that tells a similar story from a more modern perspective. Jeff Clark, the author, writes an investment newsletter. Here is an excerpt from his paper today:

“. . . The stock market, right now, is a giant guessing game. Neither fundamental nor technical analysis is working. And investors doubt their faith.

It's like finding your spouse in bed with your priest. Two deep-rooted bonds are shattered at once.

So how do we get through this?

I can only offer you this advice (which Keanu Reeves shared in The Replacements, an otherwise forgettable football move)...

"Pain heals. Glory lasts forever. Chicks dig scars."

  • Pain heals. We've been through this before. We survived the stock market crash of 1987 and the sequel in 1989. We endured the Asian currency crisis in the late 1990s and suffered through the Internet meltdown in 2000.

Today feels worse. But it's not. Investors have weathered all the other financial crises over the years. And we'll get through this one, too.

  • Glory lasts forever. The ability to keep one's head while all others are losing theirs creates greatness. Warren Buffett earned his fortune by making smart decisions in a bear market. His investment prowess will live on forever in the minds of long-term value investors.

I'm certain that five or 10 years from now, we'll all look back at some of these debt-free stocks trading at less than eight times earnings, slap ourselves on the forehead, and wonder why we didn't buy more.

  • Chicks dig scars. The battle-tested warrior gets more respect than the rookie just entering boot camp. Traders who've been in the trenches for decades have more followers than hedge-fund managers just out of business school. . . Experience is valuable. . .

It's okay if your faith in the market has been shaken. Mine has too.

But just as the sanctity of marriage is much stronger than the indiscretions of one spouse, and faith is mightier than the actions of one priest... the free market and capitalism are much stronger than the shenanigans in Washington and Wall Street. . .”

Between the two of us, Michael and Louis, we have seen almost 75 years of market swings, both up and down. We know that proper portfolio design and attentive execution go a long way to cushioning your portfolio from drastic swings like the ones we are experiencing now. While it may sometimes seem like we are repeating empty platitudes, the mantra of "stay where you are, this too will pass" is still true.


Something to Hang Your Hat On
I don't know about you, but we have been watching a lot of Internet video in the last two days as we have followed the testimony of Messrs. Paulson, Bernanke and Cox before various committees of the Congress. We, like you, are trying to make sense out of what may be the greatest seismic financial market event in our lifetime. It's not easy trying to wrap your arms around a problem measured in billions, or even trillions. Once you get to billions, it's a bit hard to keep your perspective. Chairman Bernanke put it this way, the value of all residential and commercial mortgages in the country is over $14 trillion and the $700 billion being requested for the proposed troubled asset purchase program is just 5 percent of that. Not much help. More than one member of Congress has pointed out that $700 billion amounts to almost $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States. That helps a bit, but what really gave me something I could connect with was the article I just saw in the Washington Post entitled "The $700 Billion Toilet Plunger." I don't know about you, but I understand toilet plungers. They are a staple in my house. The article quotes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as saying, "The credit system is like the plumbing. It permeates the entire [financial] system.," and the government's rescue plan is designed to keep credit flowing through that system. Now I've got it! The Treasury's asset purchase program is just a big, really, really big, toilet plunger. Makes sense to me.

Senior Financial Advisors
A problem of growing concern is that of questionable financial advisors targeting the elderly for perhaps bogus financial advice. The Financial Planning Association's (FPA) President testified at a recent Senate hearing. Go here to watch the 10:25 minute testimony on YouTube.

Morningstar ratings for ETFs and new mutual fund categories
Morningstar, on March 3rd 2008, expanded its mutual fund rating service to cover a 100 or so ETFs with at least a three year performance record. When using Morningstar's ratings, or that from any other provider, keep in mind the limitations of any evaluation based primarily on past performance. At the same time, Morningstar also introduced five new categories for grouping mutual funds to include inflation protected bond funds, long-short funds and three separate target date fund categories.  

The Most Basic Component of Wealth: Your Attitude

It is much better to be wealthy than to merely appear wealthy. The now classic work, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets Of Americas Wealthy is available either in paperback or Audio CD and is considered required reading/listening.


What Happened in 1948
  • Mahatma Gandhi assassinated in India
  • State of Israel created
  • Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male is published
  • "Big bang" theory of the universe's origin postulated
  • "Citation" wins Preakness, Belmont and Kentucky Derby
  • Babe Ruth dies
  • Long-playing (33-1/3 RPM) record invented
  • Swiss outdoorsman George de Mestral invents Velcro
  • "Scrabble" introduced

Clients, click here to see what happened the year you were born.

Clients, click here to see more of our not-necessarily-financial links and articles.

Our web site is continuously updated. Please check back regularly since we often make changes daily.
                                                                   
       Thank you!

 

 

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Financial Counselors of VA is an independent Registered Investment Advisor based in Portsmouth, VA, providing
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