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Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife

Writer/researcher

Joseph Slife has been a news writer for the Associated Press, a college instructor, and a radio host.

From 1990 to 2003, he was a writer/researcher for Larry Burkett at Christian Financial Concepts and Crown Financial Ministries, and he served as the executive producer for CFC/Crown Radio from 2000-2005.

He first joined SMI's writing team in 2008, before going on to serve nearly six years as senior producer/co-host for WORLD Radio. He returned to Sound Mind Investing in 2017.

Joseph and his wife Joye have three grown sons.

Most Recent Articles

Money Roundup: Getting Comfortable With Volatility, The Breadth of Biblical Stewardship, and More

Here is SMI's weekly Roundup of recent reads on investing, personal finance, and stewardship (plus a little bit of public policy info).

We hope you find these articles helpful.

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SMI on the Radio: Retirement Savings in a Time of Super-Low Interest Rates (audio & transcript)

Historically, retirees have sought the safety of bonds for much of their retirement savings. But with bonds yielding so little — a situation likely to continue — what's a retiree (or near-retiree) to do?

SMI's executive editor Mark Biller offered advice this week on Moody Radio's MoneyWise Live.

To listen, click the play button below. Scroll down for the transcript.

(And for more radio appearances by members of the SMI team, visit our Resources page.)

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Even a Tiny Bit of Extra Income Can Cause Your Medicare Premiums to Rise

A "tax threshold" is a point at which a taxpayer crosses from one level of taxation to another.

Something similar happens with Medicare. Above a certain level of income, the premiums charged for Medicare Part B go up. (Part B covers medical services, such as doctor visits, preventive services, and certain lab services. Some people have Part B premiums automatically deducted from their Social Security retirement benefit.) 

Here's an example of how Medicare-premium math works. (We're using 2020 premiums because 2021 premiums haven't been announced yet.)

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Money Roundup: What Not to Do in a Low-Yield Environment, Schwab Ties the Knot with TD Ameritrade, and More

Here's our Roundup for an early autumn weekend. We hope you find these articles interesting and helpful.

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Now Available: Personal Portfolio Tracker & Fund Performance Rankings With Data Through 9-30-20

We've updated SMI's Personal Portfolio Tracker and monthly Fund Performance Rankings with performance data through Sept. 30, 2020.

• The Portfolio Tracker: Using the online Tracker, you can personalize SMI's fund rankings, making it easier to apply our Fund Upgrading strategy to your 401(k), 403(b), or another retirement plan.

SMI's fund-performance database tracks the monthly returns of more than 25,000 traditional mutual funds and ETFs. The Tracker can filter that large amount of data and produce a concise report covering only the funds available in your plan(s).

If you're new to the Tracker, watch our introductory video.

• Fund Performance Rankings (FPR): The FPR report is a 38-page downloadable PDF file containing performance data and SMI's momentum rankings for more than 1,600 no-load traditional funds and ETFs.

The funds included in the FPR are selected based on asset size, brand familiarity, and brokerage availability.

Check page 2 to learn how to use the FPR report. Page 3 includes an overview of the 70+ risk categories that will help you compare "apples to apples." Page 4 has explanations of the various data-column headings.

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Finding Better Savings Rates

As detailed in our October issue, money-market mutual funds have fallen on hard times. That's a shame.

Here's a quick primer on money funds from The Sound Mind Investing Handbook:

[You can lend your money to] "big time" players who...typically will pay you more interest than your bank will. These organizations include the federal government, big corporations, and even other banks. However, to do business with them readily, you need a go-between. That's where a special type of mutual fund comes in, one that specializes strictly in the short-term lending of money in the financial markets. Hence, its name: money-market fund.

The word "typically" above is important. During times of extremely low interest rates, MMFs may pay less than bank savings accounts. We saw that during the 2008 financial crisis and for years following. Money funds finally began to recover a bit of luster in 2018, and for most of last year were yielding better than 2%.

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The Retirement Investing Challenge: Keeping Up With Inflation While Limiting Risk

The cartoon shows a man looking over his retirement-account statement. The caption reads: “According to your latest figures, if you were to retire today, you could live comfortably until 2 p.m. tomorrow.”
 
Accumulating enough money for retirement doesn’t happen by accident! It requires developing and implementing a realistic long-term plan. We hope you’ll be challenged and encouraged as we review proven strategies you can use as you move toward — and into — retirement.

It’s safe to say that most people would like to have a financially secure retirement. Reaching that goal, however, requires careful planning and diligent effort in the years before retirement. Implementing each of the following can help guarantee financial health and stability during your retirement years.

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Past Their Prime? Tough Times Return for Money-Market Funds

Savers seeking a better yield on their “emergency cash” than what’s available from a bank have often turned to “prime” money-market funds, offered by mutual-fund companies.

For decades, prime funds — funds that invest mainly in short-term corporate debt securities — were touted as being “almost as safe as cash” while paying better rates than bank savings. But the 2008 financial crisis dealt a blow to prime funds.

In mid-September 2008, the then-highly regarded Reserve Primary Fund, which held securities from the financially troubled Lehman Brothers investment bank, couldn’t meet overwhelming demands for redemptions. Some investors didn’t get all their money back (they lost 1%), and the fund was dissolved a few months later. (Ultimately, Reserve Primary paid investors $0.991 for each $1 share.)

Subsequently, government regulators issued new sets of rules for money funds (in 2010 and again in 2014), aimed at heightening safety. The regulations further restricted what prime funds could invest in and (not surprisingly) raised compliance costs for fund providers. In turn, the number of prime funds shrank from nearly 350 in 2007 to fewer than 75 by 2020, according to the Investment Company Institute.

Then came the March/April COVID-19 financial upheaval. Uneasy investors, worried about a possible repeat of 2008, fled prime funds. Some sought refuge in the perceived greater safety of money-market funds that invest solely in government debt. Over a six-week period, prime-fund assets (both retail and institutional) declined $150 billion, or about 20%. The Federal Reserve, hoping to avoid a repeat of 2008, invoked emergency authority to keep prime funds stable.

Now, in light of the Fed’s lower-for-longer interest-rate policy, squeezing value for investors — and profits for companies — out of prime funds has become all but impossible. With Fed rates near zero, prime funds can’t offer attractive yields. As of mid-September, the five highest-paying retail prime funds had an average “7-day yield” of only 0.14%, according to Crane Data — a return that is less than one could earn, with virtually no risk, from a savings account at an online bank or credit union. (The 7-day yield is a standardized calculation used to estimate the annualized yield of a money-market fund.)

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Your Annual Medicare-Coverage Checkup

If you have coverage under Medicare, the health insurance program for older Americans, a time of decision is at hand: Do you want to choose different — or perhaps additional — Medicare coverage for 2021? Medicare’s “Annual Coordinated Election” (open enrollment) period is from October 15 through December 7.

During open enrollment, you can:

  • switch from “Original” Medicare to a market-oriented Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa;
     
  • move from one Medicare Advantage plan to another;
     
  • enroll in Part D (prescription coverage) for the first time;
     
  • switch from one Part D plan to another, or drop Part D.

If you like your current arrangement, you don’t need to do anything. You’ll be automatically re-enrolled for 2021.

A Medicare refresher

Original Medicare, launched in 1965 — and little changed since — consists of hospital insurance (Part A) and medical insurance (Part B). Many users also opt for Medicare-approved prescription coverage (Part D), available via private insurance carriers.

Further, about a third of participants enrolled in Original Medicare supplement the program’s hospital and medical coverage via private “Medigap” policies that cover deductibles, co-payments, and certain other expenses not covered by Medicare. If you want to add a Medigap supplement plan, you must contact a company that issues such policies. (Be aware that supplement plans are identified by letters too, such as “Plan A” and “Plan B.” Don’t confuse them with Parts A and B of Medicare.)

Finally, an increasing percentage of Medicare users are moving to Medicare Advantage plans (also known as Part C), created by Congress in 2003 as an alternative to Original Medicare. Such plans, offered by private insurance companies, are all-in-one offerings that mirror the benefits of Parts A and B, while also (in most cases) including prescription coverage. Some Medicare Advantage plans add dental, vision, hearing, and fitness benefits as well. Nearly 40% of Medicare’s 62 million participants now choose an Advantage plan.

Satisfied? Shop anyway

Even if you’re happy with your current coverage, it may be worth the effort to take a second look. You might save money, and get more benefits to boot, by switching from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan. Or, if you have an Advantage plan already, you may find out that another plan has “in-network” doctors and facilities that are more convenient to where you live or work.

It’s especially important to compare plans if your health has changed. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition, and your doctor has prescribed a new medication. Ensuring that you have the right prescription-drug coverage (via a Part D policy or an Advantage plan) could save you money.

The Medicare website has a plan-comparison section (www.medicare.gov/plan-compare) that can help you find a prescription-drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan that meets your needs. You also can use the site to shop for supplemental (Medigap) policies available in your area. A popular privately run site for comparing various Medicare options is www.PlanPrescriber.com. To speak with someone about choosing a plan, contact your state’s health insurance assistance program (SHIP).

You can make changes to your coverage via www.Medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE). To contact the Medicare Advantage plan of your choice, use the contact information found on the comparison sites mentioned above.

If you miss the October 15-December 7 open-enrollment season and you’re dissatisfied with your Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll have another opportunity to make changes early in 2021. The annual Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period period runs from January 1 to March 31. During those months, you can switch from one Advantage plan to another (even if you just signed up for an Advantage plan during the October-December enrollment period). You also can switch from an Advantage plan back to original Medicare, while also picking up a Part D prescription-drug plan if desired.

A final word of advice. Be on guard against scam artists. In one common scam, someone claiming to represent Medicare will call stating that they are updating your coverage details and need your Social Security number to finish processing your file. Don’t fall for it!

Learn more

For more details about Medicare, including a summary of benefits, coverage options, and answers to the most frequently asked questions about the program, download the 2021 edition of the Medicare & You handbook at www.Medicare.gov/publications.

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Money Roundup: All the World’s Gold, Getting Back to the Good Old Days, and More

Autumn is here! And with it, here's our latest Roundup of interesting reads on investing and other financial matters.

(We're posting a day early because we're rolling out the October issue of SMI tomorrow!)

And from the bloggers and pundits...

Comments? We'd love to hear from you. "Join the Discussion" below!

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