Should gold be part of my portfolio?

[Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series on whether it makes sense to include gold in your portfolio. Part II is "Why gold should be part of your investment portfolio."]

Humans have valued gold for several millennia, and that will likely continue. It is understandable, then, that a human such as yourself might consider trading some green for gold. I say, "Don't bother," and here's why….

1. Gold isn't a consistently good investment Continue reading...

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How to evaluate mutual funds to boost your returns

I'm a bit of a nut about Christmas; I even have a daughter named Noelle. So this time of year can be a bit of downer for me. The tree gets disassembled, the Bing Crosby CDs get packed away, and the holiday cards stop coming. Regarding that last one, however, the void in my mailbox will soon be filled by a different type of tiding -- in the form of annual statements from my investment accounts.

OK, so they're not as jolly as cards with pictures of friends and relatives. But using your year-end statements to give your portfolio a thorough checkup can pay off, especially if you discover ways to increase your chances at higher returns. To see the potential benefit, check out this table, which shows how much $10,000 could amount to, given different rates of return and time periods. As you can see, earning another two percentage points a year can add thousands of dollars to your net worth.

Annual Return 5 years 10 years 15 years 20 years
6% $13,382 $17,908 $23,966 $32,071
8% $14,693 $21,589 $31,722 $46,696
10% $16,105 $25,937 $41,772 $67,275

Alas, you can't just snap your fingers and pump up your returns. Most investments involve taking on risk, which many people think of as volatility -- the ups and downs you'll experience -- but I prefer to think of it as uncertainty, as in you generally don't know exactly how an investment will perform, which can make things like retirement planning a bit of a challenge.

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How to Save for a House

How to save for a house? It's a common question among newly married couples, but this was not our first marriage milestone. My wife and I didn't wait too long after our wedding to create a family.

We were parents one week before our first anniversary. Our apartment was too small for a third human, so we endeavored to buy a house. Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of cash on hand since we moved from Florida to Virginia six weeks before we got married, and we footed most of the bill for the wedding.

A couple on move-in day

However, we were still able to buy a house, though barely in time for the birth, but amassing a down payment relatively quickly. If you're also scrounging for a down payment, here are some ways you can save and reach that goal faster.<

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More about...Budgeting, Frugality, Home & Garden, Retirement

Indexing vs. stock-picking: You don’t have to choose sides

A discussion about personal finances can be a polite, congenial affair. Few people come to blows over insurance or budgeting. But some topics inflame financial passions, and one of them is investing. Fellow GRS e-scribe William Cowie encountered this a couple weeks ago when he advocated for investing in individual stocks in certain situations. I thought I would pass along a few thoughts of my own, given that 1) William cited the success he's had with a newsletter from The Motley Fool (my employer for the past 15-plus years), and 2) my own portfolio has big holdings in index funds but also some actively managed funds and individual stocks.

This is a huge topic, with enough books written about the subject to create an entire wall of books. But for today's post, I'll question one of the main arguments against individual stocks, then conclude with a few parting thoughts. And as my posts have traditionally been sprinkled with cat pictures, I'm including this cool "peace" cat as inspiration.

People Aren't Actively Managed Funds

The evidence is clear: Most actively managed funds underperform similarly invested index funds. The Standard & Poor's Index vs. Active (SPIVA) mid-2014 report says that more than 70 percent of actively managed funds lost to their respective benchmarks over the previous five years. The cheerleaders of index funds have plenty of hard evidence to power their pom-poms.

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Average 401(k) balance by age

Saving for retirement isn't easy, but 401(k)accounts are a universally popular way to save thanks to hands-off investing features and contributions drawn directly from your paycheck.

But how do you know if you've saved enough? How is your retirement savings plan shaping up against people your same age?

Here's the Data:

Average 401(k)balance up to age 25: $4,048 Median: $1,385

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5 key retirement factors your financial plan may not address

If you love cat pictures, today is your lucky day. Because I'm back!

As longtime readers will recall, I contributed to Get Rich Slowly from 2009 to 2013. I often wrote about more "technical" (i.e., boring) topics, such as taxes and IRAs. In order to provide a reprieve from the technical-ness, J.D. occasionally sprinkled in cat pictures. I tried not to take it personally.

Photo: ZUMA Press
Photo: ZUMA Press

But for the record, I think other creatures would have been more appropriate. Such as the blob fish.

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Is the Roth right for you?

This year, it happened -- something many have been predicting for years: Taxes went up. And most likely, the hikes will just keep coming. There's no other way to pay off the country's debt and fund the ballooning entitlements due the baby boomers as they retire. The increases may not affect everyone, and those who earn more will pay more, but someone's gotta pay.

One way to hedge against higher tax rates is to contribute to a Roth retirement account. Your contributions aren't tax-deductible, but the withdrawals are tax-free once you turn 59 ½ and you've had a Roth account for at least five years. Who wouldn't want tax-free money if tax rates are just going higher?

Well, as attractive as the Roth can be, it's not always the best choice for everyone. You see, a contribution to a Roth means you are forgoing a contribution to a traditional retirement account, which might give you a tax-deduction today in exchange for paying taxes in retirement. So the choice is: Should you pay taxes today or in retirement? Continue reading...

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Coverdell Savings Account: Definition, Pros and Cons

A Coverdell savings account, or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA), is an investment account that is tax-free when used for qualified higher-education expenses.

Assets in Coverdell accounts can be transferred to other family members if the beneficiary doesn't need the money (whether because of scholarships or other circumstances) and many find the main benefit is that these funds can also be used for K-12 school-related expenses. The biggest drawback is that you cannot contribute more than $2,000 per year, even across multiple accounts.

Here's more:

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The tyranny of the 401(k) industrial complex

If you never watch PBS' "Frontline," you're missing out on some of the best journalism on TV. I don't agree with every viewpoint they advocate, but each episode is thought-provoking and well done.

Recently, "Frontline" focused on "The Retirement Gamble," as they titled the piece. It can be summed up by this quote by Zvi Bodie, a professor of management at Boston University: "401(k) plans really place the burden on the individual participant to have an adequate retirement. And the vast majority of ordinary people don't know how to do that."

It's true. As if you don't have enough going on in your life, you have to become a part-time financial planner and investment manager. You need to figure out how much to save, how to invest your savings, and how to withdraw it in a way that makes it last forever or until you die, whichever comes first.

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More about...Planning, Retirement

Invest like Warren Buffett… but not really

If you want people to read your investing-related post or book, you'll increase your chances by mentioning Warren Buffett in your title. After all, I just did it -- and it might be why you chose to read this. Every financial media company does it, including us at The Motley Fool.

His investing skills while the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway have made him the fourth-richest man in the world. Most of the articles and books about him attempt to dissect his investing strategies and explain how you can use them to identify your own winning stocks. So it was a bit surprising when Larry Swedroe wrote Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. He's the director of research for the BAM Alliance of independent financial advisers, the author of several books, and a blogger on CBS Marketwatch. He also thinks that picking individual stocks -- as opposed to investing in index funds -- is a really bad idea.

I've chatted several times with Larry over the years, because he's as smart as they come on the topics of asset allocation and financial planning. Recently, we had a conversation about why he would write a book singing the praises of the world's most famous stock picker. Of course, that whole "increase sales by including Buffett in your headline" thing probably had something to do with it. But it's not just a gimmick; Larry has three main arguments for why the index investor should still listen to the Oracle of Omaha, and he uses actual quotes from Buffett to back them up. And it starts with…

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