Friday, January 25, 2008

What Happened to the Exuberant PF Bloggers?

It has been almost a year since I wrote my post about Stock Market Volatility. In that post, I poked a little fun at my fellow PF bloggers that have some very ambitious investing goals. Two such bloggers stood out in my mind. Here is what I said:

One blogger, who admits to not having a stock picking philosophy, tell us that he will turn $100k into a cool million over the next ten years. Another blogger scaled back the initial estimate of his net worth growth rate to only 30% per year. Even so, he'll be a millionaire in a little over 4 short years.

The term "irrational exuberance" comes to mind when I read blogs such as these. So, whatever became of these bloggers? Well, the first blogger stopped publishing his blog early last year. He has not been heard from since.

The second blogger has a more interesting story... His blog is still alive and well. After setting forth his goals for the year, he terminated his employment (i.e. quit his job) and ran off with a younger woman. They've shacked up together, and are engaged. He now considers her assets to be a part of his net worth... Hey, I guess that is one way to grow your net worth, huh?

Interestingly, this blogger did actually meet his net worth goal for the year. And if he had cashed out at the time, he would have been ahead. But, after a few bad equity and currency trades, he is again below the goal. He did, however, remove the goal of accumulating a million dollars in four years from his blog, finally conceding that it was overly optimistic. According to the blogger, that goal will take a couple more years.

When I wrote my post, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) had just reached its then all-time high of 12,845. To review, the DJIA continued its upward climb, and peaked well above 14,000 this past October. However, it should now be clear to most investors that we are in the midst of a bear market, and the economy is likely heading into a recession. As we all know, this decline was accelerated by the subprime mortgage fiasco.

Now is probably a good time to reiterate and underscore what I have already said to my readers: I have learned not to get too overconfident about the stock market, or my investment abilities. And I have learned to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. While market volatility used to make me nervous and worried, a diversified portfolio definitely helps in times like these. But now regardless if the market goes up or down, I feel that either direction can present a new, different set of opportunities. Look for them!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tax Preparation Software

It is that time of year again. I have been using tax software to prepare my taxes since 1996. For the first several years, I used TurboTax exclusively. There was one year (I think it was 1999) that Microsoft came out with a program called TaxSaver, but that product has since disappeared. Even though I bought TaxSaver, I ended up using TurboTax for 1999. (Note that in this post, I will be referring to the tax year "TY" version of the software. The current tax products are for tax year 2007, even though it is already 2008.)

In TY 2002, I switched to using TaxCut from H&R Block. This was also the year that TurboTax from Intuit introduced its short-lived product activation scheme. To make a long story short, one was not allowed to install TurboTax on more than one computer, and this caused a lot of discontent among TurboTax users. Also, TaxCut is usually cheaper than TurboTax. I stayed with TaxCut until TY 2005 when I switched back to TurboTax. I feel this was a mistake, as TurboTax 2005 initially did not allow me to import my tax file from TaxCut 2004. Intuit cited "security reasons" as their excuse for not allowing data imported from TaxCut. Intuit later corrected their flaw, but not until after I had already re-entered all of my data into TurboTax manually. I guess that it wasn't really a security issue after all. I could still import my old TaxCut data to TurboTax, but that would wipe out all of the new data that I had already entered.

I have noticed that if you register your copy of either TaxCut or TurboTax with the manufacturer, they will automatically send you a CD-ROM with their software for the following year. Don't be fooled into thinking that you are getting something for nothing. When you read through the fine print, you will find that the software requires you to enter a credit card number to purchase the software. I have found that the software on the CD-ROM that they send you usually costs more than if you bought it from a store.

Once again, I am back to using TaxCut for TY 2007. The TaxCut CD-ROM that I received in the mail did have a $10 rebate coupon for purchases from certain stores. So, I recently I bought TaxCut Premium Federal + State software at Staples. The import of my TaxCut data from last year worked without a hitch. Going forward, I will probably stay with TaxCut, since I'm pretty much fed up with Intuit's TurboTax shenanigans over the past few years.

Another reason for buying the tax software in a store is that they usually offer a rebate for certain financial software. TaxCut offers a rebate on Microsoft Money Plus (Money 2008), and TurboTax offers a rebate for Quicken. I bought MS Money Plus with TaxCut 2007, but I haven't installed Money yet. Ironically, this new version is the first version of Money that requires you to “activate” the product. There is an activation key included with the CD-ROM.

From what I have read on the Internet, one can install MS Money Plus software on two machines using the same key. Also, I read that Microsoft will discontinue support of Money 2007 in September 2009. Until last year, I was still using Money 2004 on one of my computers, so it is very possible I’ll still be using Money 2007 in 2009. For Money Plus, they discontinue online services 2 years after your activation date. That is another reason I will probably postpone activating the new product.

I have always used the Deluxe or Premium "desktop" version of the tax software, which includes the state version of the tax preparation software. However, an online version is available for both TurboTax and TaxCut, which I have not used. I also haven't tried using e-file yet, but I might consider it this year.

One last thing that I wanted to bring up is that that H&R Block is offering a free "Ask a Tax Advisor" session in honor of National Tax Advice Day. Through January 31, 2008 you can have a free email or phone exchange with an H&R Block tax professional. Here is a link to the H&R Block offer. Note that it seems that you have to sign up with a username and password to take advantage of this offer. Another criticism that I have about this offer is that it is only good for this month. I would guess that the average person doesn't even get started with their taxes until February or March. By that time, they will be too late to take advantage of this free advice.

Update: I have been informed in the comments below that TurboTax has a similar offer for free tax advice. In order to be fair, here is a link to the Intuit offer from TurboTax. PFStock does not receive any compensation for this post or for the posting of these links.

So, what tax software does everybody else use?


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Calculating APY

Have you ever wondered how banks calculate the annual percentage yield (APY) of a bank account? Suppose that an account pays 4.88% (nominal rate) compounded daily and yields 5.00% APY. The APY is the annual percentage yield, and is the best number to use when comparing rates from different banks. To calculate the APY from the nominal rate, you will need a scientific or financial calculator. A computer spreadsheet could be used instead of a calculator.

Warning: math is involved in the next section. In this example,

1) Enter the interest rate in decimal form: 0.0488
2) Divide the rate by 365 (number of days in a year)
3) Add 1 to the result
4) Then use the y^x key, and type 365 for the number of days.

You should end up with something that says 1.0500069.... The digits after the decimal point represent the APY. In this case, it is 5.00% APY.

Shortcut: In most cases, you can take the nominal interest rate: 0.0488, and hit the e^x key on your calculator to get 1.0500103.... This quickly approximates the APY, assuming that interest is compounded daily.

If you have an account that is compounded monthly, then replace the 365's above with 12 (number of months in a year). In this case, if interest were compounded monthly, then the APY would round off to 4.99% APY.