John Van Dekker
Steinway Pianos – Investing in History
This is an investment that may be music to the ears of some, especially those fans of golden era pianos. Investing in a Steinway Piano may not be the most liquid asset, or the most portable for that matter, but it is an investment in something truly unique. This is especially true when investing in a classic “golden age” Steinway piano, like those made by the legendary company in the first half of the twentieth century, a period that some have come to call the Golden Age of Pianos.
The Steinway Piano holds a venerated place among musical instruments, known the world over, coveted by the world’s best musicians, revered like only a few other names such as Stradivarius, Gibson, and Fender. These pianos typically fetch several tens-of-thousands of dollars on the open market, and that is when one is fortunate enough to find the model that you seek, in a condition worthy of purchase, whether for use or investment – or both.
There are only a handful of Piano companies that continue to manufacture from the United States, most notably Steinway and Baldwin. In 1909, in the heyday of American Piano manufacture, almost 400,000 pianos were sold in the United States, build by any of the almost 300 active US manufacturers. By 1995 the national total had fallen to below 100,000, with that number peaking around 100,000 only a handful of times between 1995 and present, and not at all since the financial crisis of 2008.
To the point of our topic however, the fiercest competition for new Steinway sales is, well Steinway itself. Used Steinways in excellent condition often fetch a multiple of their original price, golden age Steinways often topping that list. Several firms specialize in the sourcing of these classic pianos, Park Avenue Pianos is one of the most well known of these, specializing in finding rare and mint condition Steinway Pianos for enthusiasts and known for some of their charitable and celebrity partnerships featuring Steinway Pianos.
Finding a firm such as Park Avenue or another highly reputable agent is a key to finding an investment quality piano with a higher likelihood of appreciating in value. Understanding which models are most rare, and most in demand, and then evaluating each individual instrument before purchase is key, as these are not commodity items. The selection of a concert piano or a baby grand as an investment can be a rewarding one in many senses, but be sure to do your due diligence. The upside, a Steinway will bring music and joy unlikely to be matched by many other investment choices, after all when is the last time your family gathered around your bond portfolio for an evening’s entertainment.
Women's Hormone Balancing
Menopause is a phase of life that all women will eventually go through, and that most women fear. That fear is understandable, given the many unpleasant symptoms that can occur during menopause, but that doesn’t mean that YOU should fear menopause.
As with most things in life, the key to avoiding fear is understanding. Having information and making informed choices can help allieviate so many of the common complaints of menopause. Proper diet and exercise are excellent ways to battle the effects of menopause. In addition to these natural approaches, women suffering decreased quality of life will often seek medical assistance in combating many of the symptoms of menopause. Typically this means Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
“The symptoms of menopause may include: hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, decreased libido, memory loss, mood swings, anxiety, irritably, vaginal dryness, hair loss and insomnia.” Says Dr. Timothy Morley, a well-respected Bioidetical Hormone Doctor, speaking to us from his office in Manhattan. “Unfortunately, many women do not realize that these symptoms are directly related to this downward shift in their body’s hormone production, and can therefore be remedied by adopting some simple lifestyle changes” continues Morley, who often prescribes bio-identical hormone treatment for his patients.
“Your goal should be to enhance your body’s natural ability to handle these symptoms so that you can continue to live the fulfilling life you deserve to live!” Says Morley, who has developed a line of Hormone Balancing Supplements, including shakes and tablets.
Morley stresses to his patients, that utilizing good nutrition, including supplements like Thin Balance can help restore the hormone balance that your body thrives upon naturally. In addition to being a practicing bio-identical hormone doctor, Morley is the Medical Director of HormoneEducation.com and frequent writer and speaker on the subject of women’s hormones.
Penis Insurance - YES Penis Insurance!
Penis Insurance you say? Other than adult film stars and possibly touring rock band members, who could need such a thing? Well, one could argue that roughly half the population has an "insurable asset" in this category, and it's probably also fair to say that this asset is near and dear to most of that population. Penis Insurance is an ingenius approach from an "I'm definitely cooler than you are" men's wear company out of beautiful (read as COLD) Canada. UNDZ.org is a purveyor of (primarily) men's underwear that's decided that they are going to offer a different kind of "coverage" for men's privates.
Normally they use a mixture of organic cotton and spandex to do the job, but now they also offering coverage in the form of $50,000 of Penis Insurance, underwritten by Lloyds, free to anyone who purchases three pair of underwear. The genius behind the move is, well... what man doesn't want to be able to say that his man-parts are insured by Lloyds. That's a conversation starter if I've ever heard one before. Hats off to these gentlemen for their move to protect the family jewels, and you can find out more about how to get your assets insured either by logging onto PenisInsurance.org or by going to the Penis Insurance page on the UNDZ website. While you're there, you can peruse their edgy designs, and read the manifesto that explains their environmentally friendly stance. Turns out they want to protect mother-nature too.
Short-term medical insurance, also called temporary insurance is primarily designed to provide coverage in between employer provided coverage periods. Typically short-term coverage plans are offered for periods not longer than twelve months.
Situations where short-term coverage may be most appropriate:
- While in-between jobs
- While employed part-time looking for full-time employment
- While waiting for employer benefits to begin
- Temporary or seasonal employment
- Recent graduates not covered under a parent’s plan
- Non-U.S. citizens temporarily residing within the United States.
Short-term medical policies are available as HMO, PPO, POS, and Fee-for-Service plans. Short-term policies generally provide protection against serious illness, but do not provide significant benefits for routine and preventative care, though this isn’t always the case. Short-term policies can often be customized to fit the needs of a consumer in a particular situation, and can be a very affordable way to get temporary coverage to protect from the potential for high medical costs for sudden illness or accident.
It is important to know that short term medical policies are not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and do not provide renewability protection for continuous health coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Major Medical Coverage plans generally fall into one of two categories; indemnity plans and managed care plans. Indemnity plans, sometimes called ‘fee-for-service’ plans, generally offer greater flexibility in choice of doctor, hospital and care facility.
Indemnity plans typically require the insured to satisfy a deductible before beginning to pay benefits.
Indemnity plans will often also include a co-insurance component, which means after your deductible is satisfied, your insurer will pay a percentage of your medical expenses (e.g. 80%) and you will be required to pay the remaining percentage (e.g. 20%).
Managed care plans on the other hand generally have agreements with a network of doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers who provide services to members at negotiated rates. Care received from providers whom are not part of this network is often not covered or covered at significantly reduced rates.
- Indemnity Major Medical Plans – generally offer maximum flexibility in where one can seek care. Indemnity plans typically include an annual deductible, which applies prior to the insurance company paying benefits, and co-insurance applicable to expenses up to a certain amount. Indemnity plans will normally determine the amount of benefit payable for a given procedure based on what they consider the ‘Usual and Customary” charge for covered services. This can mean that you can be responsible for a difference in the fee charged by your provider and the amount covered by your insurer under their ‘Usual and Customary” scale.
Managed Care Plans
- Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans – usually require that one choose a primary care physician from a network of providers. Specialty care must often require a referral from your primary care physician. Care received outside of the plan’s network will often not be covered or will be covered with significantly lower benefits.
- Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans – are managed care plans which generally include a network of providers with lower negotiated rates, but allow some flexibility for one to seek care outside of the preferred provider network, but with higher deductibles and co-payments.
- Point of Service (POS) plans – combine some features of HMO as well as PPO plans. Generally one must select a primary care physician. Out of network care is generally covered at a significantly reduced rate or not at all, unless referred to that doctor by one’s primary care physician.
Well of course, this question is too broad to have an answer that is both simple and comprehensive. The details of how an annuity works very much depend on the specific type of annuity that you are considering. In an effort to make you a more informed investor, lets first look at the basic concept of an annuity contract.
In general an annuity is an investment vehicle offered by a financial institution (usually an insurance company), into which one makes either a single lump sum payment or series of payments. In return the financial institution will make payments to you (the annuitant), beginning either immediately (called an immediate annuity) or beginning at some future date (called a deferred annuity).
Annuities offer the opportunity to guarantee an income stream, in some cases for the rest of your life. In essence they can work as an inverse life insurance policy. While a life insurance policy is designed to provide a benefit in the event that one does not live to their life expectancy, an annuity can provide protection in the event that you live longer than your life expectancy.
Types of Annuities:
In order to provide you with more information below is an overview of a few different types of annuities. These are meant to facilitate your ability to have an informed conversation with your insurance agent, broker, financial planner or other financial professional, when considering your investment options. Annuities come in a myriad of different types, and have different benefits, features and risks. Ask your financial professional for a prospectus on the annuities you are researching and consider the specifics of the particular annuity contracts that you are considering to determine whether or not they meet your investment needs.
Immediate Annuities: are those that begin to pay out immediately after funding.
Deferred Annuities: are those that do not begin to pay out until a future date.
Both immediate and deferred annuities can be broken down further into Fixed or Variable annuities.
Fixed Annuities: guarantee your principal and a rate of return while your account is invested. The financial institution offering the annuity contract manages the funds in a fixed annuity, generally investing these funds very conservatively. The payments from a fixed annuity are guaranteed to be a certain amount per dollar invested. The timeframe over which annuity payments occur can be a pre-defined period (for example 5, 10 or 15 years), or an open-ended period, generally your lifetime (or the lifetime of you and your spouse or other beneficiary in the case of a “joint and survivor annuity”). Fixed annuities are generally considered to be a low-risk investment option. Fixed annuities are the most popular type of annuity contract because they are such stable investment vehicles, especially in times of high volatility for other investment classes. It is important to fully research the fixed annuity contract that you are considering; fixed annuities may come with age restrictions, and penalties should you need to access your principal before maturity. Fixed annuities have many different variations, including; “equity-indexed annuities”, “life annuities”, “joint annuities”, “joint and survivor annuities”, and “life annuities certain”, to name just some of the options that are available.
Variable Annuities: allow you to invest your annuity assets among a range of investment options, rather than have the assets managed by the financial institution. A primary advantage of a variable annuity is that you can benefit from higher than expected performance of your investments. Conversely the primary drawback of a variable annuity is the principal risk and lack of certainty as to the amount of annuity payments that you will receive. Variable annuities carry higher risk than fixed annuities, based on the risk of the underlying investments, which are generally mutual funds (of equities, bonds, or money markets). Other features of variable annuities include tax deferral and death benefits. Variable annuities (and fixed annuities) are tax deferred investments, which means that you will not have to pay taxes on the investment gains of your annuity account until your receive payments from your variable annuity*. Variable annuities also carry a death benefit, which means that in the event of the annuity holder’s death before annuity payments begin your beneficiary will receive a death benefit payment. Typically the death benefit of a variable annuity is at least equal to the total annuity premiums paid less any withdrawals, even if the annuity account has lost value.
* It is important that you fully understand the tax-deferred nature of annuities when considering this feature. Funds withdrawn from a variable annuity (including normal periodic payments) are taxed at ordinary income tax rates, which will often exceed capital gains rates. The benefit of the tax-deferred nature of a variable annuity will likely only be realized if the annuity contract is a long-term investment. You may want to consult a tax advisor as well as your financial professional when considering these features.
While considering an annuity, remember that you will pay for the features and benefits of any annuity contract, as you would with any normal product or service purchase you make in your everyday life. Annuities will typically carry administrative fees, mortality and expense risk charges, and surrender charges. You will also likely incur the fees associated to the underlying investments in your annuity account (mutual fund expense fees as an example). Additionally withdrawals from your annuity account before the age of 59 ½ may result in a 10% federal tax penalty in addition to ordinarily applicable taxes on income and investment gains.
Most experts will agree that retirement planning is an absolutely essential consideration for people in their 50’s. You’re at a phase in your life where your earning potential is excellent, and many opportunities to help your retirement nest egg grow are still very much at your disposal. Many experts will also be quick to point out though, that when you’ve reach your 50’s it’s a good time to begin to think about your retirement investing options a little more conservatively.
Retirement planning is something that is best started earlier rather than later. However, if you’re reading this because you didn’t start earlier, and you’ve begun to feel desperate, don’t! Stop, take a deep breath, and above all, keep your cool. Retirement planning is something that should be done judiciously and with great care. Making foolish investment decisions out of desperation is a good way to turn a small fortune into an even smaller one.
In general one should think of investing their retirement nest egg as an exercise in wealth preservation and not wealth generation. Certainly you should be able to expect a reasonable rate of return for your investments, but the days of retirement calculators that predicted regular annual returns of 8% or 9% died with Lehman Brothers and the last boom economy some time back in 2008.
Here are some simple steps to follow in creating a sound retirement investing strategy, and making retirement something to look forward to, instead of something to dread.
Assess your current financial situation. Much like when you are planning a car trip, the first step in plotting your course is to know your starting point. Begin by taking a full financial inventory, both assets and liabilities. There are several reasons for this step; you’ll need this information whether you plan to go it alone or engage a financial planner, it will help you identify assets that aren’t generating appropriate returns, and it will identify places where you may have ‘bad debt’ that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Look at your current lifestyle. Another excellent early planning step is starting to make adjustments now, instead of putting them off until later. If you are concerned about whether or not you’ll be able to afford your lifestyle after retirement, consider your lifestyle now. Reducing unnecessary expenses now has a twofold benefit. It will allow you to shift more of your current income into savings, and it will lessen the impact of later lifestyle transitions, if they turn out to be necessary at all.
Determine your retirement goals. This step is all about figuring out where you want to end up. Retirement goals are as diverse as the people that set them. Figuring out how and where you want to spend your retirement is a key step in smart retirement planning. If you plan to live somewhere where the cost of living is relatively high, you had better make sure you plan accordingly ahead of time. Along with the basics, like; where do you plan to live, how much do you want to travel, and how long of a retirement are you planning for, make sure to consider other factors; what about the costs of insurance and healthcare, taxes that will be deducted from retirement income and the like. This shouldn’t be a daunting task, but it is one that should be done carefully and probably with the benefit of professional advice.
Get professional advice. The fact of the matter is that this is no time to go it alone. Think about it this way, would you rather be independent now while you do your financial planning, or would you rather be financially independent once you retire. Let’s be clear about what this advice means though, do your research, walk into the conversation with a financial planner well informed and ready to interview them. You probably wouldn’t marry the first person you went on a date with, neither should you assume it’s a good idea to place your financial future in the hands of the first person willing to manage your money.
Don’t stop there. Simply finding a financial planner, even one that you are very satisfied with shouldn’t be a final step; it should be a first step. Expect to take a role in the planning process as well as in what comes after you’ve got a plan. How active of a role you take will depend on your comfort level and expertise, and your specific situation. But whether you want to drive the car, or help navigate from the passenger seat, this is your journey. Don’t fall asleep in the back seat of the car and just hope you arrive at your destination.