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My wife has homeschooled our son and our best friends’ son since September due to COVID-19. Is it too late to bring up money?

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Dear Quentin,

My wife and I have a 7-year-old son who would normally be attending the public-school system this year. However, for a variety of reasons mostly driven by the pandemic, we decided we would homeschool our son for first grade this year. My wife is currently a stay-at-home mom (she decided to take a pause in a great career in marketing when our second son was born a couple years ago).

We also have very dear friends who live in our neighborhood, and also have a son who would be entering first grade this year. When my wife decided this summer that she would homeschool our son, we offered to homeschool their child also. Our friends readily and excitedly agreed. These friends are in our “COVID bubble” and are essentially the only ones we see in person.


I thought the family would offer some financial consideration (they hinted about it last September) but we haven’t discussed the issue since then.

My wife currently runs the home school four days a week, and between prep, actual classroom time, and some after-school play time, she’s putting in about 15 to 20 hours each week. Specifics on how the arrangement would work financially were never discussed. The two families have shared the costs of the curriculum, school supplies, art supplies, etc., but the other family has not offered (nor have we requested) compensation for my wife’s efforts.

I thought the family would offer some financial consideration (they hinted about it last September) but we haven’t discussed the issue since then. We and the other family are both comfortably upper-middle class, so money isn’t a critical issue for either. However, I see how much effort my wife puts into the education, and feel she deserves something. The other family readily spends a lot on nannies, other day care, etc.

Is it too late to tactfully request some consideration for my wife’s efforts? I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship or embarrass them. How do you think I should approach this, if at all?

Regards,

Father in Southern Texas

The Moneyist:We were friendly with our neighbors for decades, until recently. One day, they introduced us to their financial adviser…

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Father,

This is an act of service for your friends and, for your son and his friend, it is also an act of love. Once you commercialize a friendship and turn such a gesture into a transaction, something fragile, pure and unspoken in that friendship will be forever altered. Given what you say about your comfortable financial position, this feels like a “want” rather than a “need.” Remember the precious cargo you four friends are carrying: two children who are oblivious to the shifting sands of adulthood around them.

I understand that there may be some underlying frustration that you could have come to a more equitable arrangement. “We’ll take little Jimmy for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday, and he can have dinner here a couple of evenings a week to give you some time off…” would have been nice. It would also have given a clearer path ahead. But don’t give up on your friends’ ability to show their appreciation in other ways by inviting your son on vacation this summer, or some other surprise.


By giving your time to both these children, you will also teach them another valuable lesson in life.


— The Moneyist

You are not committed to doing this every year, but finish this year out as you started it. You are in each other’s pandemic bubble, and there is likely a reason for that: You hold each other in high regard and trust each other. Don’t underestimate them. They may already be thinking of ways to express their thanks. And yes, sometimes “thank you” is enough. And maybe, just maybe, seeing the improvement in their son and the love you instill in him for his favorite subjects is enough.

This is a better situation for your son too. There is a big advantage to your son having social interaction with his friend and classmate every day. They can amuse each other, learn from each other, help each other and feel like they’re not alone during the school day. If one child struggles one day and another child struggles the next, it shows that it’s OK to ask questions, and it’s human to have both strengths and weaknesses.

By giving your time to both these children, you will also teach them another valuable lesson in life. Little Jimmy will look back on this year and think highly of his mother and hopefully pass on that lesson when he has the chance. Maybe he will help a colleague in high school or university. Your friend’s son will, perhaps, look back fondly on this time. In normal times and in extraordinary times, it’s often better to give of yourself without the expectation of anything in return.

The real lesson plan for all of you may not be in the curriculum at all.

The Moneyist:My boyfriend, 9 years my junior, does not want to move out of my home should I die before him. My adult children are not amused

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This investment mix beats the S&P 500 — by a mile

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This article is the core of my best advice for long-term investors. If you want the very best equity portfolio, you’re about to learn what it is and how to put it together.

This article has three parts. The first is what might be called an “executive summary” of key points. The second outlines the step-by-step process of creating my recommended portfolio. The third digs deeper into a few related topics.

This is one of a series of articles I’ve written and updated annually for many years. Together, they outline a lifetime wealth accumulation strategy for do-it-yourself investors.

The other articles will tackle how to accumulate investment savings, how much to hold in bonds, and how to plan retirement withdrawals.

Part one

“Ultimate” isn’t a term to toss around lightly. But in the case of the ultimate buy-and-hold strategy, it fits. I believe this is the absolute best way for most investors to achieve long-term growth in the stock markets.

This strategy is based on the best academic research I can find — and it is the basis of most of my own investments.

Here are some key takeaways:

Because nobody can know the future of investment returns, massive diversification gives investors the highest probability for long-term success.

Most investors rely almost exclusively on the S&P 500
SPX,
-0.48%
.
But by adding equal portions of nine other equity asset classes, long-term investors can double or even triple their returns.

The additional return comes primarily from taking advantage of long-term favorable returns of value stocks and small-cap stocks. Taking this step involves only minimal additional risk.

The ultimate buy-and-hold portfolio works best for investors who don’t want or try to predict the future, time the market’s inevitable swings or pick individual stocks.

By investing in passively managed index funds or exchange-traded funds, this strategy offers investors a convenient, low-cost way to own thousands of stocks.

Read: Will Social Security still be there if I wait to claim it?

Part two

This “ultimate” all-equity portfolio automatically takes advantage of stock-market opportunities wherever they are.

It’s best to roll this out in steps so you can see how it goes together. To help you follow along, here’s a table showing the components.

The base “ingredient” in this portfolio is the S&P 500, which is a good investment by itself. For the past 51 calendar years, from 1970 through 2020, the S&P 500 compounded at 10.7%. An initial investment of $100,000 in 1970 would have grown to nearly $18 million by the end of 2020. Keep that figure in mind as a benchmark to see the results of the diversification I’m about to describe.

For the sake of our discussion, think of the S&P 500 index as Portfolio 1.

The next step involves shifting 10% of your portfolio from the S&P 500 to large-cap value stocks, which are regarded as relatively underpriced (hence the term value).

This results in Portfolio 2, which is still 90% in the S&P 500. Assuming annual rebalancing (an assumption that applies throughout this discussion), the 51-year compound return rises from 10.7% to 10.9%. That would turn $100,000 investment in 1970 into $19.4 million.

In dollars, this simple step adds nearly 15 times the amount of your entire original investment of $100,000 — the result of changing only one-tenth of the portfolio. If that’s not enough to convince you of the power of diversification, keep reading.

Read: We want to scale back to an up-and-coming town out West where we can retire — where should we go?

In Portfolio 3, we move another 10% into U.S. small-cap blend stocks, decreasing the weight of the S&P 500 to 80%.

This boosts the 51-year compound return to 11%; an initial $100,000 investment would grow to $20.7 million — an increase of nearly $2.8 million from Portfolio 1.

To create Portfolio 4, we move 10% of the portfolio into U.S. small-cap value stocks, reducing the weight of the S&P 500 to 70%. Small-cap value stocks historically have been the most productive of all major U.S. asset classes, and they boost the compound return to 11.4%, enough to turn that initial $100,000 investment into $24.4 million — with more than two-thirds of the portfolio still in the S&P 500.

Read: Is COVID-19 a preview of what retirement will be like?

To continue diversifying, we create Portfolio 5 by shifting another 10% into U.S. REITs funds. Result: a compound return of 11.4% and an ending cash value of just under $25 million.

I understand that many investors are uncomfortable with international equities. But I believe any portfolio worth being described as “ultimate” must venture beyond the U.S. borders.

Accordingly, to create Portfolio 6, we shift another 40% of the portfolio to four more important asset classes: international large-cap blend stocks, international large-cap value stocks, international small-cap blend stocks and international small-cap value stocks.

This reduces the influence of the S&P 500 to 20%. The result is a compound return of 12% and a 51-year portfolio value of $32.4 million — an increase of 81% over the S&P 500 by itself.

The final step, Portfolio 7, comes from adding 10% in emerging markets stocks, representing countries with expanding economies and prospects for rapid growth.

This boosts the compound return to 12.4% and a final value of $34.4 million.

This massively diversified 10-part portfolio is as far removed as possible from any effort to predict the future. Over 51 calendar years, it met all the asset-class predictions of academic researchers—and more than doubled the dollar return of the S&P 500.

Here are my specific recommendations:

Asset class

Recommended ETF (ticker)

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index

AVUS

U.S. large-cap value

RPV

U.S. small-cap blend

IJR

U.S. small-cap value

AVUV

U.S. real-estate investment trusts

VNQ

International large blend

AVDE

International large-cap value

EFV

International small-cap blend

FNDC

International small-cap value

AVDV

Emerging markets

AVEM

Unfortunately, this portfolio has an important drawback: It requires owning and periodically rebalancing 10 component parts. Relatively few investors have the time or inclination to do that.

Fortunately, we have devised a four-fund alternative that’s much easier to implement.

Since 1970, this “lite” version of the ultimate buy and hold strategy would have produced virtually the same compound return, dollar return and standard deviation as the 10-fund portfolio I outlined above.

In an upcoming article, I’ll roll out this new version.

Part three

It won’t surprise you to learn that there’s much more to say about this portfolio.

In 2020, we recalculated results from the 1970s to reflect new data we did not have in previous years. We also changed our assumptions about fund expenses that investors would have been charge in the 1970s. We believe our recalculations will better reflect what 21st century investors can reasonably expect.

Yet even after all these calculations, the returns did not change materially, and there’s no change in my beliefs or recommendations.

This updated data is as good as I can make it.

To learn more about these changes as well as some other reasons I think so highly of this portfolio, I hope you’ll tune in to my latest podcast.

Richard Buck contributed to this article.

Paul Merriman and Richard Buck are the authors of We’re Talking Millions! 12 Simple Ways To Supercharge Your Retirement.



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‘She is a financial idiot and partier’: I loaned my sister $4,780 for a lawyer during her divorce. I am still chasing repayments

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Two years ago, my sister called me from a divorce-settlement meeting without a lawyer. Her soon-to-be ex-spouse had a lawyer there. She was being pressured into giving up her portion of his pension that she was legally entitled to (their marriage was over 20 years). She was freaking out, in tears and realized she needed a lawyer.

I told her to leave that meeting and get a lawyer. Afterward, she asked me for money to pay for the lawyer and promised to pay me back. I testified for her regarding other marital financial issues (I was executor of our father’s estate, in which her husband had made false statements on his entitlements to some of her inheritance). She thanked me again and again in front of her lawyer and promised to repay me.


‘She borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.’

I am not wealthy and did not have $4,780 on hand, but I have good credit and used my line of credit. It will be two years in May and I have not received any payment. She was supposed to give me some monthly payments and lump sums at tax-refund time. Last year’s excuse for no tax-refund reimbursement was that she borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.

She earns $90,000 to $95,000 a year, but this year’s excuse is that she is in arrears for child-support payments. She is not destitute; she is a financial idiot and partier. I do have texts saying she will pay me back and others that say she has no money. She swore before Thanksgiving this year that she would start paying me in January. January came and went, no payment.

During a text discussion in early February, she informed me about her child-support arrears (so no lump payment from her tax-refund again) and is only planning $25 per month repayments when she could. That plan doesn’t cover the interest on the loan, and even if I was OK with covering the interest, it would be more than 20 years.

I told her that was not acceptable, and that she left me no choice. I didn’t say what action I would take. So I am planning to take her to small-claims court, and garnish her wages. The Virginia statute of limitations is two years, so I need to do this by early May. Now the financial idiot sent me a check for $25.

If I cash it, would it extend the statute of limitations? Should I cash it? What is the best approach? Also, she is a social-media junkie; on her Facebook and Instagram, there are multiple examples of vacations, drunken outings and other expenditures since May 2019 that could have helped to dig her out of the financial heap.

There is a capability to reimburse, but zero will. Any advice is appreciated.

Deadbeat’s Sibling

Dear Sibling,

Only gamble what you can afford to lose. Only invest what you can afford to lose. Only lend what you can afford to lose. I don’t believe you will be getting this money, so I advise you to write it off as a bad debt sooner rather than later. Sure, try the small-claims court, but failing that there will come a time when you will have to say enough is enough: “I tried to do the right thing, she didn’t repay it, and I can’t change her.” I do have questions about what you hope to achieve.


‘I see two unhealthy patterns: Your sister’s grifting and your gifting. Each serves a purpose.’

If she repaid you the principal sum, would you then start to feel similar rumblings of injustice over the interest? If she repaid you with interest, would you then suffer pangs of annoyance over the hoops of fire she made you jump through in order to be repaid? After all, you were doing her the favor, right? How dare she put you through this. And, thirdly, what is this $4,780 worth to you? It’s already been two years of self-righteous fury, stress and anxiety.

None of this should come as a surprise to you. I see two unhealthy patterns: your sister’s grifting and your gifting. But each of these serves a purpose. Yes, your sister reactivates the statute of limitations by repaying a small part of the loan and, thereby, acknowledging that she still owes you money — five years for breaching a written contract or three for an oral contract, but talk to a lawyer about that. When it does, this tortured game of cat and mouse begins anew.

How far are you willing to go to retrieve this debt? How long will you pursue it? And aside from the prospect of knowing that you are still in with a shot of getting the $4,780 back, what do you get out of feeling perpetually angry and frustrated at your sister? Does it reaffirm that you are the principled, upstanding one in the family? Or does pursuing your sister for this money remind her on a daily basis that she appears to be incapable of keeping a promise?


‘In order to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place.’


— The Moneyist

I ask you these questions for a reason. Of course, she’s behind on child support. You already know that your sister is a dramatic (and possibly irresponsible and/or reckless) person who has learned how to leverage her alleged victimhood to her advantage. She may see herself as a victim of a bad marriage, cruel husband, biased judicial system, and any other circumstance that does not include her own choices and actions.

Your sister may or may not accept responsibility for borrowing this money, but in order for you to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place. Few could fault you for wanting this money back. But in the game of life, you already win. You are the sister who endeavors to keep her word, look out for others, and be the adult in the room. Your sister loses. You get to be right. Your sister is wrong. And, for exactly $4,780, everyone else will see that.

I understand that you would like this money back, but many people lead uneven, tumultuous lives. You may also ask yourself if this unrelenting pursuit of money from such a person serves you and does what I hope you originally had intended to do by telling your sister to walk out of those divorce talks and hire a lawyer: help your sibling and, in some small way, help make her chaotic life easier.

You are not a credit company or debt collector. You are, for better or for worse, her sister.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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Americans can’t file their income taxes fast enough — but they should brace for some unwelcome news in their 2020 returns

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It seems like you can’t get people to file their 2020 tax returns fast enough.

People are filing their taxes at a blistering pace so far this year, underscoring how serious Americans are about getting any tax refund due or any stimulus-check money they missed last year. The IRS began accepting and processing 2020 tax returns slightly later than usual because its systems needed a breather after distributing a second round of stimulus checks in late December.

However, there is some bad news that many Americans should be prepared for when they finally get their return: The average refund so far is $2,880 — as unemployed skyrocketed in 2020 due to restrictions on businesses and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 — significantly less than the $3,125 average refund at roughly the same point last year.

New IRS statistics released Thursday, when put in context, show people are submitting their individual tax returns at a much greater rate than they were early into last year’s tax season. As of Feb. 19, only eight full days into the 2021 filing season, the IRS received 34.69 million individual returns, agency statistics show.

That’s 30.5% fewer returns than the 49.8 million received by Feb. 21 last year — but that was 26 days into the 2020 filing season and weeks before conformation that the coronavirus had really taken hold in the U.S. Simple math, in fact, suggests the volume of individual returns this year.


Simple math suggests the volume of individual returns this year.

When dividing the nearly 34.7 million returns so far this year by eight filing days, the result is 4.3 million returns filed per day. The 49.8 million returns filed last year, divided by 26 filing days comes to 1.91 million returns per day.

Put another way: The IRS has received approximately 21% more individual returns than the agency received last year by Feb. 7, which was 12 days into the tax season last year. Right now, Americans are facing an April 15 deadline to file and pay their taxes (June 15 in Texas), unless they get an extension to Oct. 15, which gives them more time to file their return, but not to pay.

However, they don’t yet factor in refunds that include payments for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a powerful anti-poverty tax credit geared towards low- and moderate-income working families. Refunds incorporating the EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit will start hitting bank accounts during the first week of March, according to the IRS.

After the Internal Revenue Service started accepting tax returns on Friday, Feb. 12, the agency took in 55 million returns in the first weekend alone, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig said this week. These 55 million tax returns were not just individual tax returns. They also included business returns and a variety of other returns, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said.



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