The Prosperity Blog

5-Minute Financial Thought


What if you decided to commit a small percentage of your annual income (1 percent or less) to the establishment of a long-term legacy project? The end result could be an inheritance, or a bequest to a favorite institution or charity. It might take the form of an endowment, proceeds from a life insurance policy, or something else. Who knows how your diligence and commitment with 1 percent or less of your income might benefit future generations?

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The Minority Report

“Expect the best.  Prepare for the worst.  Capitalize on what comes.”
– Zig Ziglar

For your own enlightenment, answer the following 3½ questions. (If you can’t remember what happened in 2007, make a guess.)

1. Are you currently saving money on a regular basis?
2. Did you pay income taxes in 2007?
3a.  Was your 2007 adjusted gross income greater than $66,532?


3b.  Was your 2007 adjusted gross income greater than $113,018?

If you’re reading this post, it’s quite likely you answered “yes” to more than two of the three questions, which means you are a part of a demographic minority in the United States. Whether you know it or not, you have a unique financial standing relative to most of the nation. For an interesting take on what it means to be part of the financial minority, read on. You probably won’t get this type of commentary from the teleprompter-reading talking heads in the national media.

In determining your status as part of the financial minority in the United States, there are two key indicators:

1. Are you paying income taxes?
2. Are you saving money?

In ways you may not have considered, these two financial actions are tightly connected, especially for those in the financial minority. Let’s look at the significance of income taxes first.

YOU are one of the “golden geese” supporting the inverted pyramid (and that might be a good thing).

According to IRS statistics released July 30, 2009, if you reported an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on your 2007 federal income tax return of more than $66,532, your household income is in the top 25% of all American households. If the number was above $113,018, you made the top 10%.

While defining the term “rich” is always an exercise in relativity (the term “rich” is often applied to someone who earns or owns more than you), those whose AGIs are part of the top 10% cumulatively earn 48% of all income in the United States. For the top 25%, their incomes represent 69% of all AGI. Collectively, those at the top of the AGI scale have a proportionately higher percentage of financial resources.

Even though it’s possible that some with high AGIs may not pay income taxes (because of other factors like a large number of dependents, high deductible expenses and/or tax credits), those in the top 25% of AGI in the United States paid more than 86% of all the income taxes collected in 2007, with the top 10% accounting for 71% of all income taxes paid. (Note that these statistics do not include amounts paid as FICA or Medicare taxes; the figures are just the amount assessed by the federal government against your income.)

To simplify these numbers, look at it like this:

The top 10% of household incomes…
earn 48% of all US income…and pay 71% of all income taxes.

The top 25% of household incomes…
earn 69% of all US income…and pay 86% of all income taxes.

Conversely, those in the bottom 50% of AGI paid less than 3% of all income taxes. In an April 13, 2009 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, former presidential advisor Ari Fleischer says Congressional Budget Office statistics show that 40% of Americans pay no income tax at all. Furthermore, the trend of the past decade, as well as current political sentiment, is for the top income categories to pay even higher percentages of income taxes going forward.

These numbers mean that if you are one of the top 25% or 10% in AGI, you are one of the “golden geese” that is relied on to deliver golden eggs for government use. As Fleischer explains it,

“Picture an upside-down pyramid with its narrow tip at the bottom and its base on top. The only way the pyramid can stand is by spinning fast enough or by having a wide enough tip so it won’t fall down. The federal version of this spinning top is the tax code; the government collects its money almost entirely from the people at the narrow tip and then gives it to the people at the wider side. So long as the pyramid spins, the system can work. If it slows down enough, it falls.”

At first look, being one of the individuals at the bottom of the inverted pyramid who pays to keep things going for everyone else may seem unfair. But maybe things for the wealthy minority aren’t so bad.

The financial minority is larger than you might think
Carl J. Milsted is a theoretical physicist who, according to his weblogs, and, “dabbles in economics and political activism.” In a September 11, 2009 article “The Real Secret of the Super Rich”, Milsted makes an extensive statistical analysis of the distribution of income in the United States in comparison to standard bell curve results. His conclusion: There are a lot more wealthy people in the United States than should be expected, at least according to models used to make statistical predictions. In Milsted’s words, “the rich defy the norm. They are way outside the bell curve.”

Another way of looking at it is that the United States, in spite of its flaws and critics, still offers more financial opportunity to more people in comparison to other countries and economic systems.

The wealth of the minority grows faster – and receives government support.
In general, the amount of taxation imposed by various government entities in the United States is high. In particular, the income tax burden on the financial minority is steep. But while it is true that income taxes have risen disproportionately for the top 25%, their incomes have also increased disproportionately as well. For example, the AGIs of the top 1% rose 50 percent from 2001-2007, while the increase was only 29% for the bottom 50 percent. Simply put, the rich got “more rich” than everyone else over that seven-year period.

This quirky occurrence – the rich getting richer even as they are taxed more – is a unique characteristic of a “mixed economy” where governments attempt to manage the national economy, but do not control it entirely. How does this happen? Here’s a simplified explanation: Taxes, tariffs and other monetary policies are used to siphon some of the productivity of the wealthy to pay for government programs and services (social welfare, consumer regulation, law and order, national defense, etc.). Once governmental units establish streams of revenue, they don’t want them to dry up, because if there is no financial production, there will be no economy to manage. It’s the personification of the golden goose fable: If governments want on-going streams of revenue from their citizens, they can’t kill the ones who generate them. Since they generate and hold a disproportionate percentage of income and assets, governments need the financial support (or at least compliance) of wealthy individuals.

This dependence on the wealthy minority results in what many economic observers call corporatism. According to Steven Malanga (writing in a column for Real Clear Markets on April 8, 2009), corporatism is “the notion that elite groups of individuals…committees or public-private boards can guide society and coordinate the economy from the top down and manage change by evolution, not revolution.” Governments make the rules, but they make them in concert with those who will be most affected by them. And since all governments (at the federal, state and local levels) need money to function, they have a vested interest in maintaining a working relationship with the wealthy minority, despite the occasional populist rhetoric that is broadcast to the other 75% of the population.

On an institutional level, the corporatism mentality explains why some parts of the economy were considered “too big to fail” and received government-sponsored financial assistance, while others were left to wither and die (or go into bankruptcy). On an individual level, it explains why most of the individual tax breaks end up being used by the wealthiest segment of the population. (One example: studies repeatedly show that 401(k) participation increases in proportion to income, partly because wealthier individuals have the ability to save more, but also because the tax advantage is greater for those in higher income tax brackets.)

The idea of governments supporting the wealthy minority may sound like political commentary, but this isn’t a liberal or conservative talking point. Commentators from very disparate ends of the political spectrum say the same thing: The current economic system helps the wealthy – once they get there – and gives them an edge going forward.

A September 21, 2009. Huffington Post article by Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research makes this comment:

“It is now pretty much official policy that financial giants…will not be allowed to fail. If their bad investment decisions again bring them to the edge of bankruptcy, the federal government will again rush to the rescue, handing out whatever cash and loans are needed to keep the banks afloat.

“This status gives these banks a clear edge in credit markets against their smaller competitors. If everyone knows that the government can be counted on to come to the rescue of these banks, then there is less risk in lending them money. Therefore, they pay lower interest rates than if they had to borrow in a free market.”

This perspective can be applied at an individual level. Individuals with money get the tax breaks – because they have the money to take advantage of them. Taxable income from capital gains receives favorable tax treatment compared to income from wages. Mortgage interest deductions are for homebuyers, not renters. Just like Baker’s “financial giants,” individuals in the wealthy minority “have a clear edge in credit markets against their smaller competitors” – i.e., they can actually borrow money, and at better rates. And just like wealthy institutions, government-sponsored “bailouts” are always a possibility.

You may not have thought of it this way, but an example of tax law adjusting to support/bail out the wealthy minority is the Roth IRA. As it became apparent that many wealthy individuals might actually pay more income tax when they withdrew funds from their IRAs and 401(k)s than the tax deduction they received for the deposit, the Roth IRA was established. Roth IRAs offer no tax deduction for the deposit, but incur no taxes on either gains or withdrawals. Besides establishing a new type of retirement account, new tax law also made it possible to convert a 401(k) or IRA to a Roth IRA, as long as you paid the tax on the old accounts before reconfiguring them. When the stock market tumbled, many people with IRAs and 401(k)s realized now might be a good time to pay the tax and make the change. As a special concession for Roth conversions executed in 2010, the IRS will allow for the tax payment to be spread over two years, instead of paid in the year the transaction is completed. A rather benevolent gesture by government, wouldn’t you say?

The necessity of the wealthy minority to save
If the only things you’re doing as a member of the financial minority are earning a big income and paying taxes, you’re really not in the game. In order to take advantage of your minority status, it is imperative to accumulate assets. You must save – not only for your own financial well-being, but for the preservation of the whole inverted-pyramid/golden-goose system.

Remember, in order for governments to collect revenues, there must be people producing revenue. Someone must be making a profit. And while governments may be good at assessing taxes on profits, governments aren’t intended to make a profit, and don’t know how to make a profit.

Making a profit requires a forward-thinking, future-oriented mindset. People save because they understand that it’s not only what is happening today that matters, but what could happen tomorrow.

Some of this saving reflects a prudent view of the future; that a job may not last forever, and things might have to be replaced. But saving is also the seed money for future productivity. Saving provides the capital that moves innovative ideas into practical use. Eventually some of those innovations will become new engines of progress, improving existing markets and opening new ones. Whether its stems from an attitude of caution or ambition, people who save provide the foundation for a functioning economy.

This emphasis on saving and accumulating assets may read like an “Economics for Fifth-Graders” discussion, but a quick once-over of the facts reveals most Americans don’t understand the importance of saving, or the consequences of not saving. Which is why the economic playing field is skewed to favor the wealthy minority.

How to accumulate assets as part of the wealthy minority
People acting on behalf of government (legislators, political analysts, economic advisors, etc.) may know that saving is a critical component in maintaining a solid economy. Often, they will enact legislation to encourage saving, such as IRAs or 401(k)s, but the governmental perspective on saving and asset accumulation is prone to be short-sighted or incomplete.

Consider that the major purpose of IRAs or 401(k)s is to provide retirement income. That’s a worthwhile savings goal, but there are plenty of other reasons to save. When Bill Gates was 25, what would have been the value of saving in a 401(k) for retirement in 40 years as opposed to investing some of his savings directly in his business? In real life, especially when one is interested in making a profit, the need for capital is fluid, constantly changing. Most government-sponsored asset accumulation programs don’t offer much flexibility.

This leads to another counter-intuitive conclusion: The best way for the wealthy minority to save or accumulate assets is often outside of government programs – so that you can take full advantage of government programs at a later date.

Go back to the Roth IRA conversion example. The sticking point for making the transition from an IRA to a Roth IRA is paying the tax. In order to take full advantage of the potential long-term tax savings and avoid an early-withdrawal penalty, you want to pay the conversion cost from “outside funds,” i.e., from a non-qualified savings or brokerage account.

Along the same line of thought, since many qualified plans now have “catch-up” contribution clauses (another “adjustment” that benefits the wealthy minority), it might be to your long-term advantage to focus early accumulation efforts in places that offer more liquidity, knowing that gains could be poured over into an IRA, 401(k), etc. at a later date.

The Pragmatic Idealist
There are compelling social and philosophical issues regarding the widening wealth gap in the United States between the top 25% and everyone else. In his article mentioned above, Ari Fleischer concludes America would be a better country if everyone paid taxes. Milsted, the theoretical physicist who dabbles in economics, is a staunch free-market supporter who says “I want to narrow the wealth gap by creating more millionaires. I want a society where it is easier to get rich, but harder to stay rich. And in the process we can dispense with many of those pesky government programs.” Those are both interesting perspectives.

But this is not a discussion of the social or ethical ramifications of the gap between the wealthy minority and everyone else. It’s simply a practical assessment of which approaches work best in light of the current state of affairs. As it stands, most people’s economic lives would be better off if they were earning enough to both pay income taxes and save.

If you’re paying income taxes but not accumulating assets, it’s time to reassess your financial behavior. Because for those who earn enough to pay taxes but never acquire the saving habit, the long-term prognosis is they eventually become part of the financial majority.

If you are already saving, it might be time to address the other issue: What percentage of your asset accumulation program is placed into “outside” (outside of government control) sources?

These concepts relating to your position as part of the financial minority may be a bit counter-intuitive, but relatively simple. However, the applications of these ideas can be complex (don’t try a Roth IRA conversion on your own). The practical answer: consult with our team at Prosperity Economics Advisor!

“Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”

– Zig Ziglar

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Life Insurance Policyholders Conclude: We Don’t Want The Risk

“There are worse things in life than death.
Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”
– Woody Allen

For most people, discussing the working parts of a life insurance policy probably isn’t captivating after-dinner conversation. But a recent report concerning the current state of the life insurance industry in the United States reveals some basic information that even Woody Allen might find worthwhile.

The Recession Hits Life Insurance Companies Too…
While life insurance companies remain some of the most solid financial institutions in the world, sales of life insurance have been affected by the downturn in the economy. According to an August 31, 2009 report released by the Life Insurance Research and Marketing Association (LIMRA), annualized premiums are down 23% for the first six months of 2009, the greatest six-month decline since the second half of 1942.

Considering the declines in employment, housing and the stock market, it’s not surprising that the recession would affect life insurers as well. People may want life insurance, may want to keep the life insurance they already have, but some just don’t have the money to pay premiums. But the surprise is that certain types of life insurance have experienced great decline in sales while others did not.

The LIMRA report divided life insurance into four broad categories: Term, Whole Life, Universal Life and Variable Life. Here is the year-over-year change in sales for each type:

  • Term     – 03%
  • Whole Life     – 04%
  • Universal Life     – 29%
  • Variable Life     – 72%

In light of the broad-based recession, a decrease of 3% or 4% (for term and whole life) doesn’t seem too bad. And in fact, the LIMRA report noted that 40% of the companies in the evaluation were reporting increased sales compared to the first six months of the previous year.

But the numbers for universal and variable life are a different story. And the story is about what can happen when the assumptions for life insurance don’t match reality.

The Nuts and Bolts: Who assumes the risk? (This is the part Woody Allen probably won’t read)
A life insurance policy is comprised of three elements: the cost of insurance, the operating expense of the company, and the investment return generated from the collected premiums.

Term and Whole Life policies are designed to provide a high degree of contractual certainty in regard to these three variables. With level term, the premiums are established for the period of the term, and typically guaranteed not to change. There are no cash values. If the insured dies during the term, a benefit is paid.

For Whole Life, a level premium delivers both a guaranteed lifetime cash value accumulation and a death benefit. If the insurance company’s performance exceeds the contractual guarantees, this surplus/profit is passed on to policyholders in the form of non-guaranteed dividends. Paying the base premium always assures the policyholder that the guaranteed benefits will remain in place.

In both Term and Whole Life policies the only requirement of the policyholder is that the premium be paid. All other financial responsibilities are shouldered by the insurance company.

By design, Universal and Variable Life are contracts that offer a lesser spectrum of guarantees, potentially lower out-of-pocket costs and/or greater investment return opportunities to the policy owner, and more risk to the policyowner.

Universal life gives policyholders the option of flexible premiums, some of which may be much less compared to whole life. Because the owner isn’t required to pay as much premium on a regular basis, cash value accumulation will also be less certain. And instead of dividends reflecting “over-performance” based on guaranteed assumptions (as in a whole life policy), the interest rate credited in a Universal policy may be designed to bolster or extend the initial costs of the contract. In this way, a policy guaranteed to last until age 65 may also project to remain in-force for the rest of one’s life.

Essentially, the Universal Life policy owner assumes responsibility for some of the future costs of insurance. If at some point the dividends aren’t sufficient to pay the costs of insurance, the policyholder will either have to increase premium payments, decrease benefits or surrender the policy.

In a Variable Life policy, the policyholder is given the option of investing cash values in the stock market, usually through participation in the underlying investment funds within the policy. The cash values placed in these investments are not guaranteed; they will fluctuate in value according to the performance of the underlying funds. With Variable Life, the policy owner assumes responsibility for the performance of the underlying investments.

What Happened?
When Universal Life first reached the marketplace in the 1970s and 1980s, it was not uncommon for policy illustrations to project a dividend rate of 10-12% or higher. Over the next two decades, when these historically high dividend projections did not come to pass, many policy owners faced the unwelcome prospect of higher premiums or diminished benefits. What was once projected to perform like a stripped-down “leaner” version of a whole life policy now became an expiring term policy unless the premiums were increased. Similarly, Variable life policies suffered when the underlying investments did not perform as anticipated.

If the purpose of insurance is to manage risk, universal and variable life policies obviously place more of the risk management responsibility in the hands of the policy owner. And as best-selling financial author Garrett Gunderson, who is a friend of our, is fond of saying, “self-insurance is really no insurance.” Considering the events of the past two years, it’s logical that individuals would be more risk-averse and less likely to gamble on any financial decision – including their life insurance program.

During three decades of explosive economic growth, financial risk management sort of got lost in the euphoria. But as recent events indicate, there are no shortcuts. There are legitimate uses for Universal and Variable Life insurance, but the plain vanilla versions of life insurance – Term and Whole Life – provide a strong level of risk management for most people.

Do you have Universal or Variable Life Insurance policies? If so, now might be a good time to find out how much “risk” is in your contract.

“The path of least resistance is the path of the loser.”

– H.G. Wells

“If you are not willing to do some homework, plan on getting messed up sooner or later.”
– Errold F. Moody, Professor and Expert Witness for life insurance

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Remembering 9/11

When the stock market closed in September 10, 2001 the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) stood at 9,605.51. The next day, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center occurred.

Question: Eight years later, on September 11, 2009, was the closing price of the DJIA…

a. higher?
b. lower?
c. the same?

Click here for the answer

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Whole Life Insurance: A Unique Asset Class

LISTEN: mp3 audio (5:50 min)

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

This old saying reflects a common-sense approach to long-term asset accumulation. Even if current returns from a particular investment are quite profitable, there’s wisdom in not putting too much of your savings into a single financial asset or product, whether it’s in the stock market, real estate, certificates of deposit, or countless other items.

Because each class of financial asset possesses unique characteristics, a well-rounded financial portfolio typically includes a mix of asset types. Some may be valued for their guarantees or liquidity, while others may be prized for their steady income or potential for long-term appreciation.


Where Does Whole Life Insurance Fit As An Asset Class?

It’s an interesting question, one for which the answer seems to be changing.

One long-held conventional perspective regarding asset classification has been that “insurance is insurance and investments are investments, and the two should not mix.” In this line of thinking, insurance (of any type) is a different type of asset. Insurance provides protection against loss, which is an important part of a well-rounded financial program. But insurance is not an accumulation asset – you cannot accumulate insurance, then “spend” it when you retire.

Whole life insurance blurs this distinction between protection and accumulation, in that it provides both an insurance benefit and accumulation in the form of cash values. This has led some financial commentators to evaluate only the cash value accumulation aspect of whole life, usually in comparison to other accumulation products. While life insurance cash values can deliver stable, conservative long-term returns, the accompanying life insurance costs have prompted some to proclaim “permanent life insurance is a poor investment.”


But What if Whole Life Insurance is Neither Insurance Nor Investment , But a Unique Asset Class on It’s Own?

That’s the position advanced by Richard M. Weber in a recent paper titled, “Life Insurance as an Asset Class: A Value Added Component of an Asset Allocation.” In this 106-page document, Weber, an MBA and founder of an insurance consulting firm, concludes that whole life insurance (along with other versions of cash-value life insurance) is an asset with singular characteristics.

In the May 2009 issue of Financial Advisor magazine, an article featuring Weber’s ideas, writer Mary Rowland comments on how the investment in a permanent life policy “matures” at the insured’s death, rather than a specified date or market event. While the timing of one’s death is uncertain, the certainty of financial settlement at that moment can make estate and inheritance plans much more effective and secure, as well as establishing values in business plans.

In the period prior to death, cash values accumulate on a tax-deferred basis, yet policyholders can access funds through either loans or withdrawals at any time. According to Rowland, these characteristics mean that whole life insurance is “uncorrelated with nearly every other asset class.”

Not only is whole life insurance different, Weber further states that owning it can “produce a return that is just as favorable, with less risk, than the same portfolio without life insurance.” He provides an example where interest from an income-producing bond portfolio is used to pay the premiums for a permanent life insurance policy, as opposed to being reinvested in additional bonds. In the early years of the comparison, the reinvested bond account produces a greater asset value (but contains no insurance benefit). However, as the time goes on, the combination of cash values and bond values exceeds the bond-only account – and provides a guaranteed insurance benefit as well. In other words, having whole life insurance doesn’t necessarily require a decrease in your total asset value – in the long run, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Weber goes on to make another interesting observation about whole life insurance: It is an asset that needs regular management. With its unique “maturity” features, a whole life insurance policy is a long-term holding in someone’s financial portfolio – once you buy it, you are planning to have it for your whole life. But during your lifetime, the policy’s design flexibility, which may include various riders and options1 as well as the liquidity of cash values through loans or withdrawals2 may prompt you to make adjustments to align with your current goals.

To take full advantage of these possibilities, a whole life insurance policy requires regular review and management: it is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” financial product.

1 Riders may incur additional costs.

2Policy benefits will be reduced by withdrawals, loans and loan interest.

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No Assets, No Credit?

LISTEN: mp3 audio (6:18 min)

For a long time, the way to climb the financial ladder was to accumulate wealth incrementally through diligence and thrift. People scrimped, saved, laid a financial foundation, and built their fortune over time. They left their heirs with assets to continue the process.

In the past half-century, the incremental, multi-generational method of wealth-building has been supplanted by a leveraged approach. Calculated borrowing (for a better education, for a home in an up-scale neighborhood, for a business opportunity, etc.) made it possible to acquire things today, pay for them tomorrow, and end up with substantial accumulated wealth as well (because the home appreciated in value, the college education brought a lifetime of higher income, and the business was sold to someone else).

The leveraged approach makes it easier for more people to have more of the “good life” sooner, as long two conditions are present: first, borrowers faithfully make monthly payments for their mortgage, auto loans, and credit cards; second, the underlying assets continue to appreciate.

Many Americans and many American businesses, have taken the leveraged approach. Some borrowed because they had no other options. Others reasoned that rising income and future profitability would let them use credit as a financial shortcut. Today, they find themselves with limited savings, too much debt, and only one way to keep afloat: by deferring payments until a later date. The President is correct in stating that many Americans are dependent on lenders for their economic survival.

But a revived credit economy will happen only if lenders believe their loans will be repaid.

And there is the rub.

Right now, lenders don’t think the average American, or his/her business, is a good risk. The economy is in the tank, real estate values have plummeted, unemployment is up. Legislators can regulate lending practices and give institutions more money, but they can’t force lenders to make risky loans.

Right now, lenders have a particular aversion to borrowers without assets. For those with assets (positive cash flow, savings, equity, etc.) credit is available, often on better terms than before the recession. But for those without assets, credit is either expensive or unavailable.

This separation of credit haves and have-nots based on accumulated assets was highlighted in the headline article from the August 29-30, 2009 Wall Street Journal, titled “Halting Recovery Divides America in Two.” On one end, the CEO of a national restaurant chain with $100 million in cash and no debt says;

“For us, this is the best of times. Cash is king and this is a buyer’s market.”

At the other end a high-tech irrigation company can’t get financing to fill large orders because

“these are the bumps in the road that are driven by being cash-poor.”

At some point, individuals have to come to grips with these realities. Notwithstanding the big-picture perspectives of economists and policy-makers, the only intelligent response to the contraction of credit is to accumulate assets – to save. Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming a lifelong debt slave, with no guarantees that more credit will be available in the future. In the long run, credit-dependent individuals and businesses will be left behind.

Chris Isidore may think that a groundswell of saving and debt reduction will “only make matters worse.”  There are those who beg to differ. Steven Horwitz, an economics professor at St. Lawrence offers the following rebuttal in the September 2009 issue of The Freeman:

Most saving takes the form of financial instruments, including everything from basic checking accounts to the fanciest investment tools. If people are keeping higher checking account balances or putting more in savings accounts or money market balances, that wealth is not withdrawn from the economy. It is simply channelled elsewhere than into consumer goods.

An increase in the savings rate represents a change in consumers’ time preferences: They are saying; they are less interested in current consumption and more interested in future consumption… Restricting consumption does not
hamper economic growth. In the long run, economic growth requires savings and the creation of new capital goods.

Credit-fueled economies usually overheat, then flame out after many people have been burned. And the boom-bust cycle of credit always punishes greed and impatience.

The key action for financial recovery is saving. Even in this recession, there are still financial instruments that can serve as safe and productive repositories for your dollars. Find these instruments, and use them.

There are still legitimate, wealth-building reasons to borrow, but borrowers strike the best credit agreements when they can bring assets to the table. Even better, savers may eventually become lenders. If borrowers are debt slaves, then lenders are the masters.

Plato is right: to refuse to master your finances puts you at risk of being mastered by others – and not liking it. Saving is the essential action that makes it possible for you to control your financial destiny.

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