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Book Review: Where to Put Your Money NOW by Peter Passell

Where to Put Your Money NOW, by Peter Passell, is packed with facts and research. Passell is a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and has been a New York Times columnist. Where to Put Your Money NOW is the latest in his guides to personal finance.

There are plenty of pundits and authors who tell us what’s gone wrong with the economy, so Passell is particularly refreshing as he tells us what we can to do about it. This short book feels like a long lunch with a trusted friend, who cares enough to give good actionable recommendations. Another reason to trust this economics professor's sincerity: his book, published by Simon & Schuster, costs only $12 in paperback.

What we’ve recently experienced, especially in America is a housing bubble gone bust, something Passell says can occur every 15-20 years. But this one was different because it hurt more people and more sectors of the economy. Suddenly, Wall Street found its strategies unraveling when mortgage backed securities were skating on thin ice.

Not long ago, all investments seemed safe and our only work was to balance a portfolio for protection from market fluctuation. Now we’ve learned a few sharp lessons:

  • We learned that some Americans have been too willing to take professional investment advice at face value. Their trusted advisors may not have protected assets as much as investors needed. So work with people who understand your goals and with brokers who share your financial interests.
  • The SEC and Federal Reserve did their jobs to keep the problem from escalating.
  • Think independently and avoid the herd mentality that happens when people panic.
  • Fear breeds overreaction.

Passel recommends we resist the urge to jump ship the minute the storm hits. I’ll admit I phoned my broker one evening last year when the media painted a bleak picture of the days to come. Wisely, my broker said “Where would you move the money if you pulled it out now?” And of course he was right.

Since the goal of investing is still to get the most from your savings, Where to Put Your Money NOW walks you through the most sensible options, covering everything from bank accounts, money markets, and CDs, including advice on buying CDs from a broker instead of shopping for rates at various banks. Revisit your options for security with savings bonds, treasuries and annuities. The book is also a good resource to learn about possible problems with reverse mortgages.

When you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready to take a fresh look at investing for real return, and of course, real risks. Why take risks? “The return on riskless investments is currently barely higher than the rate of inflation,” says Passell. The return after taxes may be less than zero because the government taxes income that does nothing more than offset the impact of inflation.

Passel lists several stock funds that use indexing to include the best and strongest stocks in your portfolio, along with targeted retirement funds, taxable and tax-exempt bonds, and specialty funds.

Passel believes real estate is still a good investment, if it suits your portfolio. He suggests several REITs, sort of a mutual fund of real estate investment trusts.

While you can easily read this book in one evening, odds are you’ll return to it again an again as your circumstances and finances change. Chapter Five: “Eyes on the Prize” goes deep into strategies to save for college and for retirement. Once housing recovers, Passell recommends revisiting housing as an investment. That’s a sure sign of optimism in the American economy, especially because tax laws are so favorable for a home investment compared to putting the same amount of money in CDs, which would be taxable.

Where to Put Your Money NOW ends with sound reference material for more financial information from almost thirty resources.

About Helen Gallagher

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