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Are Risk Questionnaires A Waste of Time?

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Are these things worth anything? … or nothing.

Risk questionnaires have played a major role in retirement and investment planning for as long as I can remember; and I’ve used them no less religiously than any other advisor.   Frankly, I’ve always felt they were a little stupid.

Elmer Duckhunter walks into Brainy Smartsuit’s office at Behemoth Securities.  It’s a beautiful place, full of mahogany with lots of beautiful brochures in the lobby.   Brainy has been successful at Behemoth, gaining promotion to Sr. Vice President after selling more Secure Your Future product than anyone else in the office using the “Secret in a Box” software supplied by the product wholesaler. 

“How can I help you?”, Brainy asks.

“Well,” says Elmer, “I have a lot of money from all those Tractor Pulls I won and I think it’s time I began investing for my future.  What should I invest in?”

“I think I can help you, but first I have to know more about you!”

“Makes sense.  What do you want to know?”

Brainy pulls out the Behemoth Risk Assessment questionnaire.  “First, I’d like to know a little about how you feel about investing.”

“Okay.”  Elmer settles in.  “How many questions are there?”

Brainy smiles, “Just six.”

“Six?  You can learn everything you need to know about me with just six questions?”

“Trust me.  This is very scientific, “says Brainy.

“Okay.”

Brainy begins.  “On a scale of zero to 10, how much risk do you feel you can handle?”

“I don’t know.  What would a ‘five’ feel like?”, asks Elmer.

“Just pick one that you feel comfortable with, says Brainy.  “The people who prepare these know what they’re doing.”

Elmer thinks for a second.  “Well, back in 2007 I was a 9, but after the crash I was a 2.  Now, I don’t know what I am.  That’s why I’m here!”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much risk to take until you tell me how much risk you want; then, I can tell you what you told me and we’ll have the answer!”

“Huh?”

They both look at each other, then Elmer continues, “How much risk do I want?  Seems to me you should be telling me how much risk I need or don’t need!”

“But what if it’s more than you want?”, asks Brainy.

“I don’t know how much I want.  I need to know how much I should or should not have?

Brainy perks up.  “Now we’re getting somewhere.  What are your goals?”

“Simple”, says Elmer, “to retire with as much money as possible with as little risk as necessary.”

“How much is that?”

“How should I know?  You tell me.”

Brainy senses a lack of forward progress.  “Let’s come back to that.   Try this one:  If your portfolio went down, what would you do?”

“I’d probably ask you for advice!  Isn’t that your job?”  Elmer’s beginning to wonder if Brainy Smartsuit is so smart after all.  “Why are you asking me all this.  I just want to know what I should be doing!”

Brainy comes clean.  “We have regulatory compliance concerns.  We have to make sure what we recommend is consistent with how you feel about investing.”

“I’d rather have advice that’s consistent with what I need,” says Elmer.  Are you protecting me or your firm?

“Well, actually, both…”

“There are six of these?”  Elmer’s fed up.   He puts on his duck hunter cap with earflaps, and stomps out of the office.

Maybe these questionnaires can shed some light about attitudes; but, they don’t tell Elmer what he needs to know.  Elmer just wants to know what he should be doing and why.

Once he understands what and why, the rest gets easier.  Fear can exist only where there’s a knowledge vacuum.    When knowledge replaces ignorance, fear dissipates and understanding prevails.

Maybe questionnaires have zero to do with long term success for the client; but, they maybe do help sell more Secure Your Future product.

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Jim Lorenzen is a Certified Financial Planner® and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG provides investment and fiduciary consulting and wealth management services for individual investors. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and fictitious names were created solely for their entertainment value and are not meant to represent any person or organization living or dead.  IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  IFG also does not provide tax or legal advice.  The reader should seek competent counsel to address those issues.  Content contained herein represents the author’s opinion and should not be regarded as investment advice which is provided only to IFG clients upon completion of a written plan.  The Independent Financial You can reach Jim at 805.265.5416 or through the IFG website, www.indfin.com

Waiting to Fund Your 401(k)? Not Good.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

In fact, that may be the most expensive mistake you’ll ever make!

When I was young, my father told me, “Jim, if you just save 10% of everything you ever make – and start NOW – you’ll never have to worry about money the rest of your life.”   

Parents.  What do they know?

The fact is, the “start NOW” part is the most important part of that sentence!  I didn’t know it, of course; but, saving during those early years truly does make a huge difference!

Here’s a little lesson that will prove just HOW important it is.    I’ll keep the numbers simple for my little hypothetical comparing Fred and Gary.  

Let’s start both of them at age 25; this would give them 40 years before the normal retirement age of 65, though many today are working or even starting businesses past that date.   Also, to keep our hypothetical simple, let’s assume that each saves only $2,000 a year and never increases their savings, and that they earn an average annual return of 8%.

Fred saves $2,000 a year for ten years from age 25 to age 35 and stops saving.  But, he does leave his money in his account to accumulate at 8% until he’s 65.

Gary waits until he’s 35 before starting.  But, Gary invests $2,000 a year, beginning at age 35, for thirty years… all the way to age 65.  Who won?

At age 65, Fred, who invested during only the first ten years, ended up with $291,546.  Gary, who invested for thirty years but started ten years late, ended up with $226,566… almost $65,000 less!    In fact, for Gary to have tied Fred, Gary would have had to invest $2,573 a year – 29% more – each year for all thirty years!

Fred invested for only ten years!  But, it was the FIRST ten!   What if Fred hadn’t quit after ten years?  What if he’d kept going to age 65?  His final number, on only $2,000 a year, would have been $518,113?  That means those first ten years, by not investing, cost Gary $291,547!

Do the math:  Those first ten years, by not investing $2,000 in each year, cost Gary $29,154 per year! 

What if Fred had invested $3,000 each year instead of $2,000?   That would have been an additional $40,000 in savings over that 40-year period; but, given the same returns, the ending dollar figure would be $777,169…. $259,056 more!     And, all of it accomplished on $250 a month!

So, the $40,000 would have purchased a nice car – or, it would have created over a quarter million dollars in additional wealth!   How does that new car look, now?  Pretty expensive, huh?

But, the market is risky, you say?   Good!  You’d better hope it is!  Without risk, you don’t get volatility; and without volatility, investors would have a hard time building wealth.  Volatile markets actually work in favor of the person who’s building; but, that’s another article.

In the meantime, think about what a publisher can accomplish starting early enough!   Then, when sale-day comes, you’ll be adding additional value to a base-line that could be pretty sweet!

Dad was right, as usual.  Tell everyone you know:  Start NOW.

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®Jim Lorenzen is a Certified Financial Planner®and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG provides investment and fiduciary consulting to retirement plan sponsors, and retirement and wealth management services for individual investors.  IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.  The Independent Financial Group does not sell financial products or securities and nothing contained herein is an offer or recommendation to purchase any security or the services of any person or organization.  Twitter; @JimLorenzen

Plan Sponsors: Retirement Plan Insights Archive.

Written by Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

May 10, 2012 at 8:00 am

Hyper Inflation May Be On The Way

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Every family probably has at least one `real world’ economist – the one that does the family purchasing.  Anyone who buys food, whether at the supermarket or at Walmart, knows that the packages have been getting smaller for some time; an example of  ‘stealth’ inflation – you can’t ‘see’ the price hikes.

Over the past year, we’ve all seen food and energy costs increase dramatically, even if a couple of short-term dips make us feel like it must be getting better; the way you feel when someone quit hitting you with a hammer for five minutes.

We’ve gone through the stock market bubble, the tech bubble, and the housing bubble.   We may be at the peak of the bond bubble. 

First, it’s important to understand how interest rates affect bond values.  Over recent years, interest rates have been headed south.  Anyone who may have purchased a long-term high-rate bond in the past has seen the value of that bond increase as rates headed down.  The reverse is true, as well:  When interest rates head up, the older lower-rate bonds are worth less to a potential buyer.  A seller has to drop the price before a purchaser will buy the bond.

Now, of course, rates appear to be at rock-bottom.  Many would argue that the Fed has run out of bullets and there’s nowhere else to go with monetary policy.  But, what would drive rates up?  A demand for capital, of course, which usually accompanies a recovery, would be one way.   But, recovery doesn’t appear to be on the immediate horizon.

Government spending is an issue, too.   Our federal debt has grown from $9 trillion to over $13.5 trillion in the last 36 months… a 50% increase in all the debt accumulated in our nation’s history [Source: http://www.treasurydirect.gov].   This debt will come due; and when it does, the government will likely be printing money to pay it, also likely devaluing the dollar, as well as dollar-denominated assets in the process.

There’s more:  The ‘stealth’ inflation, already in the pipeline, is very likely due to many companies continuing to pad cash positions as they’re still uncertain about the effects the new health care law, as they’re already dealing with Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, let alone whatever new tax legislation will come down the pike in coming months.   Add to that uncertainty over energy sources from the mid-east, U.S. trade policy, and an aging population, and it’s easy to see the potential problems.   The demand for capital to meet a myriad of obligations and issues won’t be hard to find.  And, it could be big.

Whether hyper-inflation hits in one month or five years is anyone’s guess, and there are economists in every camp on that scale; but many agree that hyper-inflation is on the way and some say it won’t come slowly. 

In fact, there appears to be a significant number who believe that it will hit the economy, along with a bond bubble-bust, surprisingly fast, reminiscent of the other bubble busts we’ve seen in the past, surprising a lot of people!

If that’s true – and I can be counted as one of the believers – investors should get prepared now for a big drop in bond values, which could happen surprisingly fast.    

The good news:  It’s manageable.   There are ways this phenomenon can be managed without destroying your existing financial plans; but, since I provide investment advice only to clients and not in posted blogs – a practice most advisors follow – I would suggest this as a topic you discuss with your advisor immediately.

What?  No advisor?  Gee, what can possibly be done about that?

I wonder.

Jim

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Jim Lorenzen is a Certified Financial Planner® and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG provides investment and fiduciary consulting to retirement plan sponsors and selected individual investors. Plan sponsors can sign-up for Retirement Plan Insights here.  IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Investor Behavior Influenced by Bias

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

In a study titled “Risk Aversion or Myopia? Choices in Repeated Gambles and Retirement Investments,” Shlomo Benartzi and Richard Thaler, professors at the Anderson School at UCLA and the University of Chicago, respectively, studied a group of defined contribution plan participants.  The participants were divided into two groups and each group was told they could choose between only two funds, A and B.  They were then given some information about the historical returns of these funds and were asked to decide, based on this information, how much of their retirement money they would invest in each fund.  The returns for the funds were derived from actual stock and bond returns.  The manipulation in the experiment was the manner in which the fund returns were displayed.

One group was shown a distribution of one-year returns for both stocks and bonds.  The other group was shown a distribution of 30-year returns.  The academics predicted that subjects viewing the one-year chart would invest less in stocks than subjects viewing the 30-year return chart.  They based their forecast on the fact that the one-year chart accentuated the perceived risk of investing in stocks.  They stated that over a one-year period, the likelihood of stocks underperforming bonds is about a third, while over a 30-year period the likelihood is about 5%.

The results found that the group looking at the distribution of one-year returns allocated their portfolios much more conservatively: 60% to bonds and 40% to stocks.  In contrast, the group that saw the 30-year return distribution allocated their portfolios more aggressively: 10% to bonds and 90% to stocks.  Exposure to frequency of returns tends to affect an investor’s tolerance for risk.

Source: Shlomo Benartzi and Richard H. Thaler, “Risk Aversion or Myopia? Choices in Repeated Gambles and Retirement Investments,” Management Science, March 1999, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 364–381. The returns for the funds were derived from the CRSP (Center for Research in Security Prices, Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago) value-weighted NYSE index for stocks and Ibbotson’s annual returns on five-year government bonds.

Bias can lead to regret.

One major bias of individual investors is `recency’ bias; this happens when an investor attaches greater importance to one event than another simply because it occurred more recently.  This bias often leads to regret, which can take many forms. 

Consider the situation of each of the following investors. Investor A purchased shares in Company ABC on Jan. 1, 2007. This investor consequently sold the shares at the end of June because of the flat performance of the company. Investor B considered purchasing shares in Company ABC on the same day Investor A sold his shares, but after much consideration decided to take a pass. As the chart illustrates, Company ABC performed extremely well from July 2007 through November 2008 (although afterward it did slump a bit). Which investor is unhappier as a result of their decision?

Logically, the economic outcome is the same and therefore both investors should have the same amount of regret. However, studies have shown that the regret of having done something (commission) is greater than the regret of not having done anything (omission). Therefore, Investor A experiences more regret than Investor B.

In an unpublished study by two prominent academics in the field of behavioral finance, Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler, 100 wealthy investors were asked to bring to mind the financial decision they regretted most.  The majority of participants reported their greatest regret was from something that they had done.  Those who reported a regret of not having done something were shown to take on more risk.  They generally held an unusually high proportion of their portfolio in stocks.  In summary, people who regret the opportunities they missed tend to take more risks than people who regret attempts that failed.

The stock illustrated in this example was selected from Morningstar’s database of publicly traded equities.

It’s little wonder that the long-term investors using a plan tend to outperform those who think they can succeed without one.

Jim

Our thanks to Morningstar for their aid in the preparationof this post.

 

Jim Lorenzen is a Certified Financial Planner® and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG provides investment and fiduciary consulting to retirement plan sponsors and selected individual investors. Plan sponsors can sign-up for Retirement Plan Insights here.  IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Scared of Stocks? Take a Lesson from Warren!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

If you have to ask, “Warren Who?”, you probably should just pass on this posting altogether.

If you do know who Warren is, read on – you may enjoy this.  I’ll let him talk to you in his own words, taken from The Essays of Warren Buffett, which is really a collection of his reports to Berkshire Hathaway investors.  This from Essay II, Section A, entitled, Mr. market:

“Whenever Charlie and I buy common stocks for Berkshire’s insurance companies (leaving aside arbitrage purchases, discussed in the next essay) we approach the transaction as if we were buying into a private business.  We look at the economic prospects of the business, the people in charge of running it, and the price we must pay.  We do not have in mind any time or price for sale.  Indeed, we are willing to hold a stock indefinitely so long as we expect the business to increase in intrinsic value at a satisfactory rate.  When investing, we view ourselves as business analysts – not as market analysts, not as macroeconomic analysts, and not even as security analysts.”

The rest of the essay goes on to point out that market movements in the pricing of the company’s stock are immaterial and largely go unnoticed.  Again, it’s the intrinsic value of the company that’s important.  Mr. Buffett says that each day, “Mr. Market” offers him a price for his share of the company; but, if the company is still meeting his business performance expectations (not price performance), he simply ignores the offer.  He says that even though the business may be stable, Mr. Market’s price quotations virtually never are.

It’s an interesting read.   For those of you who want to know how one of the best investors who ever lived does it, I recommend the essays, which I’m sure you can find through one of the online stores.

Jim

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NOTE:  Jim Lorenzen was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal’s Glenn Ruffenach for an article appearing in SmartMoney magazine.  You’ll find it on page 46 in the September 2011 issue now on newstands.

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary®  in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

The `Downgrade’ is Old News

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Last Friday’s jobs report looked good on the surface –  over 100,000 jobs were created – over 200,000 people left the workforce and there have been over 200,000 net job losses over the past two months at a time when 250,000 new jobs are needed each month just to break even.  So, it’s still too early to pop the champagne.

While arguments continue in the media over the causes of the current gyrations, my guess is the credit downgrade by S&P isn’t one of them.  After all, not only was the downgrade telegraphed well in advance, but frankly, credit is what it is, regardless of the label provided by a discredited third party, and institutional investors – the biggest buyers of bonds – know what they’re buying.

The bigger `boogie man’ is the underlying issue:  Government debt and the desire to continue spending to add more.  And, the other shoe just may occur in the municipal bond market as municipalities across the country face the music brought on by their own spending.  The same holds true for states like California, Minnesota, and plenty of others.

Maybe the markets have been voting on the government’s ability to manage our money – after all, it is done by committee; and a large one made up of largely of lawyer/politicians, at that.

What should investors do?  Maybe nothing.  Reacting to  news has seldom, if ever, proven to be a sound strategy.  For those still working and contributing to 401(k) plans, this market is very likely a blessing since they can buy more cheap shares on sale for the same money.  Likewise, those not needing to tap long-term investments for living expenses will likely see little long-term effect, provided their allocations are well designed (see below); the Rip Van Winkle pill should work. 

The real impact of stock market gyrations, of course, is on those who need to live on retirement income from their investments.  Few of these people, depending on their financial plan input, probably shouldn’t have a greater than 20% allocation to equities, anyway – a statement of opinion requiring greater explanation than a blog post would permit.  Nevertheless, this is one of the reasons having the proper allocation is so important:  A 40% loss on a 20% allocation. For example, would result in only an 8% impact on total portfolio value, provided values in the 80% bond portion of the portfolio don’t change.   Bond values do change, of course; but, those with short-intermediate bond positions in a separately managed account, are largely unaffected since all bonds in the portfolio can mature at face value, rendering interim price movements moot. 

But, whether in a separately managed portfolio of individual securities or a mutual fund, active management on the bond side of a portfolio doesn’t add much to the expense side and does allow for the potential to manage interest rate risk, something that’s problematic in an index fund or ETF.   Longer term, properly allocated inflation hedges may prove more worthwhile in virtually all allocations.

So, for those with updated plans and allocations, the current market gyrations may likely have lesser impact than being advertised on the media, as well as little long-term effect on reaching overall goals.   Those without a plan or a strategic long-term allocation may find themselves getting ‘whip-sawed’ by the market – selling on emotion (when the market’s down) and buying back in when `confident’ (at a top).  Not a good way to manage money.

Or, if you want to manage money like the government, you could always borrow!   Naaaaaah.

 Jim

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NOTE:  Jim Lorenzen was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal’s Glenn Ruffenach for an article appearing in SmartMoney magazine.  You’ll find it on page 46 in the September 2011 issue now on newstands.

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary®  in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

Written by Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

August 16, 2011 at 7:10 am

Smart Kids Don’t Follow The Crowd

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

When I was young, my father told me, “Jim, if you just save 10% of everything you ever make – and start NOW – you’ll never have to worry about money the rest of your life.”    Parents.  What do they know?

The fact is, the “start NOW” part is the most important part of that sentence!  I didn’t know it, of course; but, saving during those early years truly do make a huge difference.

Most recent grads not only find it difficult finding work; but, it’s difficult paying the bills in those recent years; so, savings is something that’s easy to put-off until they “can afford it”.  Nevertheless, if they buy an old car instead of a new one and resist the urge to ‘keep up’ with their friends, they can usually find a way.

Do you have kids or grandkids that have recently graduated and entered the workforce?  They may benefit – we all hope so, anyway – from this little lesson.  Since concepts are more important than numbers – you can always change the numbers, I’ll keep the numbers simple for my little hypothetical comparing Fred and Gary.  We’ll also assume all investing is done in a retirement account, so we can ignore taxes.

First, to give Fred and Gary some time to get going, we’ll start them both at age 25, giving them 40 years using the normal 65 age to retire, though many are working and even starting businesses past that date.  

To keep our hypothetical simple, let’s assume that each saves only $2,000 a year and never increases their savings, and that they earn an average annual return of 8%.

Annual savings:  $2,000
Average annual return: 8%

Fred saves $2,000 a year for ten years from age 25 to age 35 and stops saving.  But, he does leave his money in his account to accumulate at 8% until he’s 65.

Gary waits until he’s 35 before starting.  But, Gary invests $2,000 a year, beginning at age 35, for thirty years… all the way to age 65.  Who won?

At age 65, Fred, who invested during only the first ten years, ended up with $291,546.  Gary, who invested for thirty years but started ten years late, ended up with $226,566… almost $65,000 less!    In fact, for Gary to have tied Fred, Gary would have had to invest $2,573 a year – 29% more – each year for all thirty years!

Fred invested for only ten years!  But, it was the FIRST ten!   What if Fred hadn’t quit after ten years?  What if he’d kept going to age 65?  His final number, on only $2,000 a year, would have been $518,113?  That means those first ten years, by not investing, cost Gary $291,547!

Do the math:  Those first ten years, by not investing $2,000 in each year, cost Gary $29,154 per year!

Dad was right:  Start NOW.

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Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary®  in his 20th year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California.   IFG does not sell products, earn commissions, or accept any third-party compensation or incentives of any description.  Nothing contained in this material is intended to constitute legal, tax, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader.  The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.  The Independent Financial Group does not sell financial products or securities and nothing contained herein is an offer or recommendation to purchase any security or the services of any person or organization.

Written by Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

August 2, 2011 at 8:10 am