The Courage Miller Difference

on September 25, 2017 Comments Off on The Courage Miller Difference

Financial planning, retirement planning, investment advice, whatever the reason that brings you to us, there’s a distinctive reason for why we are different than our competitors. We value your success. It’s why we established our company as an independent fee only company. We eliminated the conflict that arises when commissions are made on certain products or services, so that we can focus on you.

Our business strategy and relationship with you is founded on four major principles: honesty, transparency, dependability, and continuous improvement.

To find out more about what makes us different, contact us today. We’d love to talk with you.


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Jase TeamThe Courage Miller Difference

Money – Can it make you happier…apparently in retirement it can

on June 1, 2016 Comments Off on Money – Can it make you happier…apparently in retirement it can

We all know that money can’t buy happiness, but a recent study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) indicates that retirees with a higher net worth in retirement are more satisfied with retirement.  I think that most of us would expect this to be the case.  The reality is all retirees since 1998 have had a decreasing level of satisfaction during retirement.  The largest decline occurred from 2002 to 2004, which was a time period marked by a recession after the technology bubble burst and September 11th.  For me the more important item is that the level of satisfaction never recovered even after the end of the recession.  We have continued to see a negative trend in the level of satisfaction across all levels of wealth.

So, with this information and the expectation that having more savings in retirement would make it more satisfying, we must be saving more than ever before for retirement as a country.  Well that is not the case.  Each year an organization called America Saves conducts a survey to gain some perspective about the savings landscape in the country.  The America Saves Survey results are less than impressive.

Survey results

Survey results from 2016 National Survey Assessing Household saving by America Saves.

As a general rule, most planning assumes a need to save at least 10% of your income to achieve an amount of savings at retirement that will replace your income needed as a result of no longer working.  In the survey this year, 66% of respondents are fortunately not spending their entire paycheck.  The downside is that only 28% are saving at least 10%.  EBRI conducted a study with data through 2014 which estimates the retirement funding shortfall in the US is over $4 trillion dollars.  As pensions continue to be replaced by defined contribution plans, i.e. 401k, 403b, and SIMPLE IRA IRA, the burden is being shifted to each individual.  With only 28% of workers saving at a pace that will give them a solid foundation for retirement, we have a growing problem that will manifest over the coming years.

The other unfortunate statistic from this year’s survey is that only half of the respondents have a plan for saving with defined goals.  Every indicator shows that those with a plan are much more successful.  If you don’t yet have a plan, you should consider beginning the process to create one.





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Jeffrey MillerMoney – Can it make you happier…apparently in retirement it can

Market Volatility – Four Thoughts and Practices

on March 4, 2016 Comments Off on Market Volatility – Four Thoughts and Practices

       If I told you today that the Dow Jones went down 500 points, we’d all say, “Wow, what the heck happened?” And for some of us, market volatility might cause more trepidation than optimism.  Well what if I told you instead the S&P dropped 59 points in one day.  How would you respond?  Maybe, “Who gives a rip? It’s 59 points!”  Does the market sound volatile in that scenario?  Let’s talk a little on this phenomenon called behavioral finance (see video)

If you do the math, both of those numbers equals 3% of their respective indexes below…
500 points/16500 points in Dow Jones Index (DJIA)= 0.03 x 100% = 3% drop
and…  59 points/ 1950 points in the Standard & Poor’s Index (S&P) =  0.03 x 100% = 3% drop

       1st- Understand the implication of the numbers.  What’s the number behind the number really mean?   The numbers look bigger in one index, but the percentages are the same in both indexes when it comes to measuring market volatility.  


Figure 1. – Market volatility and correlation of stocks to historical events. (Source: Business Insider)

         Above (fig. 1) is a good example of late 2012 with a backward looking view of the daily market volatility.  It shows a 3-month moving average in the Dow over 90 years with every major event you can imagine.  To be honest, a 3% swing in one day is somewhat significant whether it’s negative or positive.   There have been times historically where the indexes have fallen in a matter of days and sometimes weeks of anywhere from -10% or -20%.  When we see on the news bold headlines-  DOW FREEFALLS 500 POINTS   we can panic out of fear.  We’ve been trained as Pavlovian dogs the past few decades to cower in fear more than to invest with optimism.   This is where we can sometimes show our true colors and understanding of the stock market and investing- in effect, this causes more market volatility.   We forget about the long-term because we’re suffocated in the short-term with no deeper understanding of how to interpret the numbers, so study what the numbers really mean. 



Figure 2- Media headlines and the relation to market volatility (Source: Federal Reserve)













        2nd-  Understand the news media’s motives.  I’ll try to be short with this thought.  Be sure to apply the statement of ‘don’t believe the hype’ with your financial lens.  Whether it’s FOX, CNN, CNBC, MTV, or HGTV – whoever- they all have their motives to get as many eyes and ears to get revenues by selling Today (fig. 2).  I believe it’s harder today to aim at avoiding bias and look at the facts objectively.  The media inundates us 24/7, and mirroring the negative news becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and amplifies market volatility. The Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”   We’re no longer concerned much about yesterday or five or ten years ago because we’ve forgotten History (past lessons in our country we now consider boring).  Instead of watching a T.V. show that doesn’t have any understanding of Economics, Finance- again throw History in there too- listen to subject matter experts, and how that relates to your day to day financial life and decision making.  Read more books with subjects on investing and dialogue with trustworthy experts.  None of this sounds sexy.  It’s boring at best, but vital for investing.  




Figure 3- Short term market volatility should dictate longer term financial goals. (Source: Slideplayer)

         3rd-  Understand your goals both short, mid, and long-term.  It’s about you and your financial goals!  Some of us wish we had long term goals.  Some of us don’t know how to plan for the next month.  It can be intimidating and discouraging.  Start thinking today and take baby steps.  What about that $10-15k that you have sitting in that brokerage or bank account?  Ask yourself, how soon will I need that money?  Is it an emergency fund for the next 2-3 months (fig. 3) to protect from a possible shortage in pay or job loss?   What about that tax deferred 401k retirement plan that has $20k sitting in cash the past 10 years?  Do you have a realistic plan?  Do you understand the power of tax-deferred compounding growth of 4-7% for the next 20, 30, 40 years of your life?  

       If you are starting at ground zero, a good start may be a monthly investing goal of $200 in an investment account with low expense ETFs or no-load mutual funds.  This costs very little, and is a simple way of priming the pump.  For those more risk averse, this also reduces risk when you spread investments out over a time period of months or years versus a lump sum of money at one point in time.  Or combine both of these strategies.  I have no regrets when I started investing at age 18, and it’s taught me huge lessons.  This also makes a huge difference if you discipline yourself and commit contributing to a tax-deductible, tax-deferred retirement bucket (aka IRA or 401k).  Retirement accounts are designed for your long-term strategy.  So, if you plan on using the money in the next 6-12 months then a non-retirement account is better (i.e. bank or brokerage account) because it will likely be harder to get a return you’re looking to make.   Taking risks with short-term money in stocks is especially harder in the volatile and somewhat unpredictable markets currently and over the past year.  On a different note, in the intermediate term, your strategy may make more sense in a brokerage account if you know this investment will be needed in the next 2-5 years.  Tax implications will need to be considered and you may need a tax professional to thoughtfully guide you along the way.




Figure 4- Historical events that amplified market volatility (Sources: Wall Street Journal  and Quora)



       Last, and maybe the most important- understand the risk YOU are taking.  Know yourself by going over a risk tolerance review as one example.  Many young investors in their 20’s and 30’s, may be a little more hesitant to just throw their hard earned money 100% into the stock market after seeing and maybe experiencing the 2008 crash.  If your psyche didn’t get to you and had a more disciplined approach you would have been better off.  Your investment in an S&P index fund would have paid off and accumulated over 153%% in a matter of 7 years from March 2009 to March 2016 if you held on- this is an aggressive tolerance and more long-term strategy.  Further, if you reinvested dividends on that S&P index, the returns would have made 191%.  So, if you’re looking to be in investments for 5-10+ years, create a longer term plan and not the media hype plan.  If we’d look at the images of history (fig. 4), it would teach us about investing when you look at events which riveted stock markets like the crash of 1987 or 2008, the Vietnam or Gulf Wars, the tech bust in the early 2000’s along with the event of 9/11. 

 When it comes to risk, you want to ask yourself if you’re comfortable with the chance of loss or growth of principle of 5, 10, 20 or 30% in any given year? How did you respond and how was your attitude during that low?  Your overall rate of return expectation is heavily tied to whether you are conservative with risk (Tortoise), moderate risk (what I call Tare or Hortoise), or aggressive risk (Hare).   Historically, being in a stock heavy or bond heavy portfolio over the past 5, 10, 15, or 20 years for that matter using proper asset allocation would have paid off.  It’s the proverbial “not all eggs in one basket”.   The strategy of sitting in cash or getting in all gold, or bitcoins or any one asset class for that matter increases significant investment risk.  Consider a diversified asset allocation thru your retirement plan no matter how conservative or aggressive you may be.   Have an actual relationship with an investment professional to meet, and re-balance your portfolio based on your evolving personal financial goals, risk temperament, and forward looking market expectations.  So remember, you only get in returns what you personally are willing to risk, and most of that is in the long, not short-term lens of investing.   Welcome to what we define in the financial services industry as Behavioral Finance. 

We hope this article was insightful.  If you have any questions or comments, we’d appreciate your comments.  Always feel free to visit us or our website at


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Jeffrey MillerMarket Volatility – Four Thoughts and Practices

3 things to consider for 529 Plans at year end

on December 21, 2015 1 comment

With only 10 days left in the year, there are a three things you should know about 529 plans that are time sensitive.

1. State tax deduction – For residents of Virginia and a number of states, there is a state tax deduction available for any contributions made to a 529 plan.  While the federal government does not provide a deduction, the growth in the account is tax free if it is used for qualified education expenses.  The contribution needs to be made by year end to be eligible for the deduction on your 2015 taxes.

2. Distribution by year end – If you have incurred qualified education expenses in the current year and paid the expenses out of pocket, you need to distribute the reimbursement for these expenses in the year that they were paid.  The end of the year is approaching quickly, so make sure you act soon if you need to take a distribution.

3. Rebalance your portfolio – Over time all investment portfolios move out of balance from their desired and original allocation.  One fundamental principle in portfolio construction and management is rebalancing the portfolio.  With 529 plans, you are only allowed to make changes to the portfolio twice per year.  At the end of the year, it is a good opportunity to make sure the portfolio is structured properly based on your goals and time frame for the investments.

During this time of year, we are all so busy, and it is easy to overlook things that need attention before the New Year.  Unfortunately, when you file your taxes and remember that you needed to address the items mentioned above, it will be too late. Take some time to focus on it now…you will be glad you did.


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Jeffrey Miller3 things to consider for 529 Plans at year end