7 Questions She’s Afraid to Ask

“You are my 50th birthday present to myself,” a woman said to me, as we sat down to meet.  “I’m tired of not feeling like an adult, it’s like I have a dirty money secret.”

I’ve heard variations of this same theme many times.  This is what women say to me when no one is listening.

I could fill a room with these women — then maybe they would see that many struggle with this very subject.

The trouble is no one wants to admit their deficiency – and if you stay silent, advice won’t find its way to you.  The longer you wait, the older you get; the embarrassment never goes away, it just deepens.

So for those of you who insist on silently flogging yourselves – start reading.  There are free courses online, such as Highbrow.  Every day a short email is sent, covering a specific topic.  Just five minutes a day spent reading these emails can inform you about basic concepts.

Share helpful links on your social media accounts and help other women who suffer from painfully shy financial curiosity.

Here are some of the top questions I get asked in a whisper:

  • What is the difference between a stock and a bond? Stock is ownership in a company (equity) and a bond is a loan.  Stocks have the potential to grow because the investor takes more risk to own it.  A bond owner collects interest on the money loaned to a company.
  • I have an IRA, what is that invested in? An IRA is a type of an account (Individual Retirement Account), not the actual investments. Think of the IRA as a bucket that holds investments.  You can own a wide variety of investments in there, such as stocks, bonds, and funds.  The IRA allows your investments to grow without the effect of taxes until you begin taking withdrawals (after age 59 ½ and no later than age 70).
  • What is a mutual fund? A mutual fund pools the money of all the investors to buy a mix of investments.  Funds can be broadly invested (total stock markets of the world) or can be very specific (energy stocks).  Funds can be actively managed (a portfolio manager chooses the investments) or passive (such as index funds, which own all the securities in the index).  By owning many securities, funds provide diversification that average investors cannot get on their own. The result is a less volatile portfolio and less investor risk than purchasing a handful of individual stocks.
  • What is an annuity? Annuities are an insurance contract.  This product offers the investors the ability to own investments and not be taxed on any gains or income from the investment until they take withdrawals.   Unfortunately, most people who own annuities do not need the extra tax sheltering provided by this investment. Many annuities have high fees as well as surrender fees and are sold because a salesperson earns a high commission on these products.  If you own one in a retirement account (IRA, 403(b), etc.) someone sold you this, because it makes no sense to pay extra for a tax-deferred investment when retirement accounts are already tax-deferred.
  • What is a 403(b) versus a 401(k)? Both are retirement plans offered by an employer. 403(b) plans are for people who work for non-profits such as schools, hospitals, churches.  401(k) plans are for employees of corporations. Both accounts grow without the effect of taxes; both allow employees to make contributions directly from their paycheck and lower their taxable income.  401(k) plans are generally more regulated and the employer must provide solid, low-cost options and education to the employees.  Most 403(b) plans are non-ERISA, which means there is little required of the employer in terms of vetting the investment choices or educating participants.
  • How do I know what I pay for my investments? It’s really important to know the answer to this, because fees are like overhead to a business.  The more you pay in fees, the more it cuts into your profit. FINRA’s Fund Analyzer allows you to look at the sales charges and fund fees associated with your investments.
  • I’m not retiring for 15 years. How can I keep this money safe?  When retirement is at least 10 years into the future, being “safe” (keeping investments in CDs, money markets and short-term bonds) is very risky.  The whole point of investing is to grow your money for the future, which requires growing it faster than the rate of inflation.  Cash can’t do that.  In fact, keeping a lot in cash when you have a long time frame increases your risk of running out of money in retirement.

There is so much more to know; hopefully, you take comfort in the fact that I have been asked these very questions many times.  You are not alone; there is a way out of your confusion if you are brave enough to ask for help.

The good news is there is no need to wait for your birthday.  Email me at dina@ritholtzwealth.com with your burning money question and I’ll answer it in a blog post – no naming names, of course.

Your secret is safe with me.