Series I Savings Bonds, Yes 9.62%

“What are I Bonds?” Thank you to a growing number of curious and smart clients, friends and colleagues for hammering this question enough over the past several months to warrant a TGIF 2 Minutes dedicated to I-Bonds. The “I” in I Bonds stands for inflation, which is why these bonds are so HOT at the moment. (Note: inflation overall is clearly not a good thing; I Bond interest rates may be one of the only things that benefit from skyrocketing inflation.)

Inflation is higher in 2022 than it has been in over 40 years – longer than lots of TGIF 2 Minutes readers may have been alive, and certainly longer than lots of readers have been working for, earning, and spending “real money”.

The “I” in I Bonds stands for inflation, which is why these bonds are so HOT at the moment.

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Slaying Inflation & Stagflation

Stagflation. An economic condition not experienced since the 1970’s – which was also the last time that inflation was as high as it is today.

Stagflation is an understandable word: stagnated growth coupled with persistent, high inflation. Often high unemployment is also part of the picture but presently is not the case. The reason stagflation is currently in the conversation is that in addition to current high levels of inflation, there are potential factors that could weigh even further on the US economy: tax increases and greater government spending. Stagflation could result – or could be inevitable no matter what.

Higher interest rates and focused policy today could be a small price to pay for a more balanced future with modest growth and less inflation.

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Murphy’s Law & YOLO Can Be Expensive

One of the most critical factors of long-term personal financial success is… guess:

  • The markets
  • Spending
  • Interest rates
  • Stock selection
  • Income level

And the answer is…. SPENDING. This fact is why a truly competent financial planner will spend the most time on discussing spending, both today and future projected, along with GOALS. (Goals are what people spend money on.)

Holding an amount of cash – un-invested cash savings – is key to surviving Murphy’s Law events.

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Taxes Make Ya Wanna Go #$%&!

Yup, it is tax season. This year as clients and friends were completing their 2021 tax returns* the cries of, “Are you kidding me?” and “This is by far the most taxes I have ever paid in my life!” were louder than ever. There were valid reasons for wealthier taxpayers paying more taxes for tax year 2021 – far more than for tax year 2020. A few reasons were somewhat UN-related to the coronavirus pandemic, and a number of reasons were directly pandemic-related.

The majority of my clients and friends simply made more money in 2021 than 2020. (Is that a bad thing? Most likely not.) The pandemic, in a delayed fashion, led to promotions and opportunities in 2021 for lots of individuals in corporate America and at companies that “dug in” amidst epic challenges in 2020. Retention and performance bonuses wound up being paid in 2021 (continuing in 2022), following a time in late 2020 when it seemed basic compensation and jobs were at serious risk. This turnaround was a huge irony and welcome relief to a number of people – and the “flip side” became higher taxes for tax year 2021.

Pandemic-related factors were to blame for higher 2021 taxes in several “hidden” ways.

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Financial Satisfaction in Crazy Times

These are crazy times, almost chaotic. Chaos is defined as complete disorder and confusion – and parts of the world and our lives may be nearing that point, or at least feel that way. How does an investor get financial satisfaction in times like these? Carefully and patiently.

“Carefully” can equate to:

  • having a plan that addresses saving, spending, taxes, & investments
  • being able to monitor and adjust the plan, perhaps with an adviser
  • then continually executing the plan.

The “patiently” part can be more difficult and is just as critical.

Storms are temporary and the worst of chaos and volatility will pass – be prepared for an unknown timeframe.

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IMPORTANT Cyber-Security Message

In light of the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine and surrounding areas, here is a quick and important message regarding vigilance around security of personal information, including:

  • Bank accounts – including in-person, online, PayPal, Venmo, etc.
  • Credit card accounts
  • Email & Texts
  • Tax time information
  • Social media
  • Even Crypto accounts!

It should not come as a surprise to read or hear this message. Hopefully, the major news outlets are broadcasting this warning as well:

The SEC has sent notices that the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a “Shields Up” notification.

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Double-Edged Sword of Aging

Clearly another topic with multiple sequels, aging has its positives and not-so-positives. Recently a slight positive – from the IRS.

Its Life Expectancy Tables, otherwise known as the “IRS Uniform Life Tables I, II and III”, have adjusted the American life expectancy UP by approximately two more years. That means that RMD amounts, or required minimum distributions, from IRA, 401k and other retirement accounts will be slightly lower when calculated. These RMDs count as taxable income so even a small break will be welcome!

Increasing longevity is a compelling reason to develop or maintain a well-laid out long-term savings plan.

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Looking Ahead in 2022

One thing is certain: numerous predictions about 2020 and 2021 in categories ranging, from the emergence of a pandemic, to continuance of the pandemic, how best to cure the pandemic, to rates of inflation, supply and demand in the economy, to the ability of technology to make accurate predictions… were wrong.

Possibly the largest factor affecting the US economy today, inflation, was not even on the list of biggest risks at the 2021 World Economic Forum.* This is not to poke fun at the predictors but rather an indication of how misguided predictions about risk can be.

Numerous predictions about 2020 and 2021 were wrong.

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Markets Prefer Certainty

Amidst the continuous stream of news and recent market fluctuations, a dash of certainty was injected into stocks and bonds with this week’s Federal Reserve meeting. If only for a day.

Several factors are at work –

  • interest rates, per the US Fed
  • future government spending policy
  • rates of employment
  • market valuations

among other factors.

A dash of certainty was injected into stocks and bonds with this week’s Federal Reserve meeting. If only for a day.

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2021 What A Year So Far

Wow… year-end 2021 is fast approaching. As if 2020 was the year we all wanted to turn the page… it is deja vu all over again in 2021. BUT a positive spin can still be put on year-to-date 2021, especially with respect to market returns.

It may be too early to say that stock market gains, to date, have been better than decent in 2021. From the US small-cap index up 12%, to large-cap S&P 500 up 22%, to Nasdaq up 19%, to the Dow Jones up 13%, these are all solid year-to-date returns.

Take the time before year-end to evaluate portfolio gains and asset allocation.

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