Sunday, May 13, 2007

How to Maximize Your Investment Gains

Profiting from investment consists of two things: (a) making money; and (b) keeping it. There is risk in almost every investment--even federally insured bank deposits are subject to loss of value from inflation--and risks can cause losses.

Risk and reward walk hand-in-hand down Wall Street. The higher the potential rewards of an investment, the greater the risks it involves. If you invest in something that offers large potential gains, understand that it's likely to have high risks of loss as well.

From time to time, you may hear of investments that are sure bets. When someone offers you a chance at one of these sure bets, put your hand on your wallet and go for a walk around the block from which you don't return. There are no sure bets in the financial markets.

Maximizing your investment gains involves a balancing of risks and rewards. Look for investments with reasonable returns and moderate risks, and you have a good chance of making money and keeping it in the long run.

So, if you are an ordinary investor, what are good investments? We mean the ones where you have a reasonable chance of receiving gains and then keeping them. Here are some ideas:

1. Stocks and stock mutual funds: stocks give you ownership of a small piece of a company. Stock mutual funds own a large number of different stocks, and give you a tiny bit of ownership in all the stocks that the mutual fund owns. Stocks are generally a good long term investment. Of course, we all know that the stock market fluctuates. But if you ride through the ups and downs, you'll likely do well over the years. Stock mutual funds smooth out some of the ups and downs by giving you a diversified pool of investments. As a mutual fund investor, you put your eggs in many different baskets, and therefore have a smaller chance of taking major losses from any particular stock.

2. Bonds and bond mutual funds: bonds are an investment where you invest an amount of money (the "principal") in the bond. The company or government that issued the bond pays you interest from time to time, and eventually repays the principal. In this sense, bonds are like bank certificates of deposit (except they aren't federally insured, although U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds are safe). A bond doesn't offer great potential for gains. However, it tends to have low risks, especially U.S. government bills, notes and bonds. A bond mutual fund holds a number of different bonds and helps to diversify your bond investments. You would invest in bonds and bond mutual funds to provide stability to the value of your financial portfolio. Every portfolio should have some stable assets, especially as you get older.

3. Lifecycle or target date mutual funds: these mutual funds hold both stocks and bonds. They are a blended mix of financial assets and are designed to give you the potential of stocks for good long term growth while somewhat stabilizing the value of your portfolio by investing some assets in bonds. The company managing these funds does the investment selections for you, so all you have to do is pay in your money and let them do the rest of the work.

4. Real estate: we now understand that real estate is not a wonder asset that will make everyone rich through no effort whatsoever on their part. Real estate historically has increased in value more slowly than stocks (about 1% after inflation versus approximately 3% after inflation for stocks). Nevertheless, everyone needs a roof over their heads and buying real estate is a good way to pay for that roof while adding to your investment portfolio. Owning a home provides some diversification away from the financial markets, and the home could serve as an asset of last resort in retirement, especially if you own it free and clear of debts.

5. Education: last, but certainly not least, is education. The gap in earnings between those who have a four-year college degree and those who don't has been growing over the years. The U.S. economy has shifted away from traditional manufacturing to knowledge and informational based activities, and it rewards those who know how to utilize knowledge and information. A college education doesn't provide everything you need for a job or a career. But it teaches you how to learn. You have to absorb information faster and on a more sophisticated level in college, and therefore you learn how to learn. That skill is highly rewarded in an economy based on knowledge and information. Education is one of the best investments you can make. Don't worry a great deal about which college you attend. Statistically speaking, there is little evidence that going to an expensive Ivy League school will make you significantly wealthier than attending a good state university. Just make sure you graduate.

Strange News: Apes with expensive tastes--

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