Anthony Bourdain: Taking One More Risk Changed Everything

Anthony Bourdain gets to travel around the world, eat great food, and hang out with interesting people. I have read a few of his books and enjoy his TV shows, but this YouTube video from 1 Step Away revealed some new details about how it all started.

Bourdain loved writing but spent long days working as a chef. At age 44, having already made a few attempts at literary success, he decided to write up a short piece about restaurants. Finally, despite already having been rejected, he decided to send it over to The New Yorker (after a nudge from his mother). It ended up being printed in 1999. After taking that risk and that initial “yes”, he went on to write the bestseller Kitchen Confidential in 2000.

Having a day job but working for yourself as well definitely sounds familiar. You don’t need to quit everything and chase your dreams into bankruptcy. There is honor in taking a job that puts a roof over your head and supports your family. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep taking some calculated risks. Look for upside potential without taking a lot of downside risk. What if Bourdain had given up after the first round of rejections? It only takes one “yes”.

Previous mentions of Anthony Bourdain:

Research Affiliates: 10-Year Asset Class Returns Forecast, Q1 2017

ra_logo200Investment advisory firm Research Affiliates has an interactive Asset Allocation tool that provides estimates of expected returns for many different asset classes and model portfolios. Their default model is based on valuations like the CAPE (cyclically adjusted PE, or Shiller PE) ratio that divides the current price by 10 years worth of earnings. If you believe that valuations like price/earnings and price/book matter, then this database helps show you what is relatively “cheap” or “expensive” in such terms.

Here’s an updated snapshot of expected returns for several major asset classes, as of January 2018. Click to enlarge.

ra_er1

You can see that Emerging Markets and Developed International (EAFA or Europe, Australasia and the Far East) have the highest current expected return. This is explored more in-depth in their article CAPE Fear: Why CAPE Naysayers Are Wrong. Here’s a chart that summarizes their position:

ra_cape1

Takeaways:

  • US stocks are still relatively expensive based on historical values. Future 10-year expected average returns are around 1% above inflation.
  • Broad US (Core) Bonds, Long-term US Treasuries, Short-Term Treasuries, and TIPS are all expected to have low forward returns. Their low current yields offer little alternative.
  • Emerging Markets stocks, Developed International (EAFA) stocks, and Emerging Markets bonds (both local currency) are relative bright spots with the highest future expected returns.

These numbers are not very useful as a timing to jump in and out of something. The US has been highly valued for a couple years, yet returns for those last two years have also been quite high. However, Research Affiliates maintains that CAPE and similar valuation tools are a powerful predictor of long-term market returns.

I like holding both US and international stocks in my personal portfolio, and I have been slightly overweight emerging markets for a decade. Emerging markets have been hurting my overall returns for a while now, but knowing that they are “cheap” makes it easier to keep holding them in the hopes of riding the next upward wave. Of course, I’m holding onto my US stocks as well.

p.s. The most recent GMO letter by Jeremy Grantham also puts Emerging Markets as the “single reasonably-priced asset class”.

Charlie Munger’s Life as a Financial Independence Blueprint

blueprintCharles Munger is probably best known as the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and partner of Warren Buffett. The University of Michigan Ross School of Business recently shared a hour-long talk with Munger on YouTube (embedded below). Munger has plenty of mentions on this site already, but my main takeaway from this talk was a more nuanced overview of his early years and how he personally achieved financial independence before really getting involved with Warren Buffett.

Here is a summary of my notes from the talk:

  • He was not born poor, but he was also not born into exceptional wealth. Munger wanted to go to Stanford for undergrad, but his father encouraged him to go to the University of Michigan as it was still an excellent school but more affordable. He ended up dropping out after only one year in 1943 to serve in the US Army Air Corps.
  • Military service, then law school. After World War II, he took college courses with the GI Bill and eventually went to Harvard Law School (getting accepted even though he never earned an undergraduate degree).
  • Successful law career. He practiced as a successful real estate lawyer until he achieved about $300,000 in assets. This was 10 years of living expenses for his family at the time (he now had a wife and multiple kids). At this point, he started doing real estate development at the same time. When this took off, he stopped practicing law.
  • Successful real estate development. When he achieved about $3 to $4 million in assets, he also wound down his real estate development firm. He was now “financially independent” but still mostly anonymous.
  • At this point, he decided to become a “full-time capitalist”. This last stage is what led him to his current status as a billionaire philanthropist. Along with his work with Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway, he was also the chairman of Wesco Financial, which also grew to be a conglomerate of different wholly-owned businesses along with a carefully-run stock portfolio. Wesco Financial eventually became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

Using Charlie Munger’s life as a blueprint, here’s a pathway towards financial independence.

  • Work hard, get an education, develop a valuable skill. Munger didn’t start Facebook from his dorm room or trade penny stocks in high school. He served in the military, earned a law degree, and went to work everyday for years. At this point, work means exchanging your time for money, but hopefully at a good hourly rate.
  • Use that work career and save up 10x living expenses. Munger called himself a “cautious little squirrel” saving up a pile of nuts. He dutifully saved his salary while supporting a family and kids (and some other personal family drama that a luckier person wouldn’t have to deal with). I don’t think you’ll need 10x if you don’t have a family to support.
  • To accelerate wealth accumulation, you can now take some more risk and start some sort of business. You need something that scales, something that’s not paid per hour. Munger did real estate development. If you look at people who got wealthy quickly, nearly all of them are business owners of some type.
  • At some point, your investments will enough money to support your living expenses. This is financial independence. It doesn’t matter what you do during the day, as you earn enough money while you’re sleeping. However, many people choose to continue doing one of the paths above: (1) employee-based career, (2) active business management, or (3) actively managing their investments.

Bottom line. Charlie Munger offers up great words of wisdom in this talk. He reminds us that our choice in marriage is much more important than our choice in career. He reminds us that just showing up every day and plugging away will yield great dividends over time. He reminds us that easy wealth without work is not a good thing for society. (He also says to give Bitcoin a wide berth.)

However, you can also learn a lot by noting and observing his actions. Munger was not a huge risk-taker. He grew his wealth in steps and never exposed his family to possible ruin. He worked hard for a long time and only became extraordinarily rich and famous later in his life. He primarily wanted to be independent “and just overshot”.

Connexus Credit Union 5-Year CD at 3.00% APY: Early Withdrawal Penalty Comparison

percentage2Connexus Credit Union has raised the rates on their 5-year Share Certificate to 3.00% APY with a 365-day early withdrawal penalty. They also have 1-year Share Certificate at 2.01% APY (90-day early withdrawal penalty). Both have a $5,000 minimum deposit. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization Connexus Association for a one-time $5 fee.

It’s nice to see a 5-year CD hit 3% APY again, but the main drawbacks are that (2) rates may continue rising and (2) a year of lost interest is a significant early withdrawal penalty. To help illustrate this, I ran a comparison with the Ally Bank 5-year CD with a shorter 150-day early withdrawal penalty. The Ally CD is currently paying 2.30% APY with a $5,000 minimum deposit, so I will use that as the comparison rate. (You can also get 2.35% APY with $25,000+.)

con_ally_cd

As you can see, the penalty makes a big difference. Even if you make an early withdrawal at the last possible moment (59 months), you will never get anything higher than 2.39% APY.

If you do end up having to make an early withdrawal, the Ally CD with a smaller penalty will actually net you more money up until about 36 months. After 36 months, the Connexus 5-year wins out. For periods shorter than about a year, the likely best option is to just keep your money in a liquid online savings account. If you think rates will stay higher, you could also buy a 1-year CD and hope to roll it over.

Bottom line. If you’ve been waiting for 3% and/or you’re building a ladder of 5-year CDs where you are confident you won’t have to break it early, this Connexus certificate is currently a top rate and should be considered. Just be aware of the sizable early withdrawal penalty.

The Fall of Landlines and Rise of Cell Phone-Only Households

Here’s an interesting chart from Statista showing how landline telephones are slowly dying away and being replaced by cell phones only.

landlines

In 2004, more than 90 percent of households in the U.S. had an operational landline phone – now it’s (significantly) less than 50 percent.

We use our cell phones almost exclusively, but we technically have a home phone line (though not a landline). If you still want home phone service, consider purchasing an Obi200 VoIP box and use it with Google Voice to get free home phone service over your internet at the great price of $0 a month and no taxes. Setup takes under 15 minutes and you can use your existing landline phones.

We should be thankful that long distance phone calls no longer cost so much, as I still remember the days of calling cards and when 10 cents a minute was cheap. (I’m getting rather old…) Heck, we are only paying $6 a month for unlimited cell phone service this year.

Sprint One Year of Free Unlimited Data Plan: Still Available

springfreeban

Updated: Offer still available, my 6-month update. Sprint still has a pretty solid promotion that isn’t being advertised (TV, radio, newspaper, etc) and is only available online to new customers. If you bring over your own eligible smartphone and sign up at sprint.com/1yearfree, Sprint will give you a free year of unlimited talk, text, and data. You have to pay $3 a month in taxes and fees per line, but there is no requirement to continue service past that. Offer is valid for 1-5 lines. For example, if your household bill is currently $100 a month, this promotion is worth $1,200. If you pay $150 a month, that’s $1,800 value.

My experience.

  • Offer keeps getting extended. I signed up in June 2017, but they keep extending the offer each month. I guess they are still desperate to grab new customers. It could still end at any time.
  • Sprint will perform a hard credit check. They will check your credit, so be aware. It was worth it to me for the several hundred dollars in savings.
  • The total cost for two SIMs was $15.98 + sales tax ($2.99 each + $10 flat shipping). If you order by 2pm EST, they will send the SIM cards that same day by UPS Next Day Air.
  • Activation was quick and easy. The activation process was done 100% online, and it took under 20 minutes to swap SIM cards and port the existing numbers over. To complete activation after you get the SIM cards, you will need your SIM card #, phone IMEI/MEID #, and current carrier’s account number and PIN.
  • Some people have been successful switching from prepaid service, especially Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile Prepaid. Use the checker tool at sprint.com/1yearfree. Another tactic is to first move to T-Mobile’s cheapest prepaid $3/month plan ($10 minimum load) and then immediately port over to Sprint.
  • My total monthly bill is $6.xx included all taxes and fees for 2 lines. No funny business at all so far. This matches with the online reports of monthly bills in the $3 to $4 range (per line) including everything.
  • Sprint coverage is somewhat worse than my previous carrier (Verizon), but it’s acceptable. I only notice this in terms of slower data speeds. I don’t get many bars of 4G LTE and sometimes I am stuck on 3G, which is a bit sad in 2018. (This never happened with Verizon.) I am not a heavy data user (video streaming, etc) so I think the slight inconvenience is well worth the $100 a month in savings. I haven’t had problems with dropped calls or a complete lack of coverage, as I was afraid of initially. Of course, coverage is very local. Check OpenSignal for a better local comparison.

Important requirements and fine print:

  • You must bring over a phone that is already unlocked and compatible with Sprint (so that you just need to switch SIM cards). If you have AT&T or T-Mobile you may need to call them up and ask to unlock your phone. See list below, but enter your MEID and phone number to check eligibility.
  • You must own the phone(s) you’re bringing to Sprint. (Not on a lease plan.)
  • You must still pay a small monthly fee: “standard $1.99 admin fee, $0.40 regulatory fee and other taxes and fees apply.”
  • The $30 activation fee is waived as part of this promotion. The fee will appear on your first bill and a credit will appear within 2 bills.
  • Requires a Sprint SIM card ($2.99 each + $10 shipping), paperless statements and Sprint AutoPay ($5/mo./line discount applied within two invoices). If AutoPay and eBill are removed, a $7.99/mo. charge will apply.
  • This deal is not available in any stores, you must sign up online through the special website above.
  • According to the terms, you must port-in from another postpaid carrier. Sprint requires a hard credit check on all new postpaid customers, including this offer.
  • If you keep the service past the first year, you will then start to pay $60/mo. for line 1, $40/mo. for line 2 & $30/mo./line for lines 3-5.
  • This plan also comes with Sprint Global Roaming, which includes “data up to 2G speeds and text messaging in any of our 165+ Global Roaming countries at no charge, plus calling for just $0.20 a minute.”

Details about the Sprint Unlimited Plan:

  • Unlimited talk, text, and 4G LTE data subject to the following limits below. Data deprioritization applies during congestion after 23 GB.
  • Stream video at up to HD 1080p, music at up to 1.5mbps, gaming at up to 8mbps.
  • 10GB of high-speed mobile hotspot data per line. Once your 10GB is used up, continue at up to 2G speeds (32 Kbps) for no additional cost, or purchase more on-network high-speed data for $15/1GB until the monthly billing cycle resets.

The following phones are eligible:

  • Alcatel IDOL5
  • Apple iPhone 5c (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone 5s (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone 6
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
  • Apple iPhone 6s
  • Apple iPhone 6s Plus
  • Apple iPhone 7 (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone 7 Plus (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone 8 (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone 8 Plus (Verizon only)
  • Apple iPhone SE
  • Apple iPhone X (Verizon only)
  • BLU S1/VIVO S
  • Essential Phone
  • Google Nexus 5 (16 & 32 GB – black/white/red) (Verizon only)
  • Google Nexus 5X (all versions)
  • Google Nexus 6 (32 & 64 GB – black/white)
  • Google Nexus 6P (all versions)
  • Google Pixel
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Google Pixel 2
  • Google Pixel XL 2
  • HTC One A9 (Sprint Version only)
  • LG X Charge
  • moto e4
  • moto e4 plus
  • moto g4
  • moto g4 play
  • moto g4 plus
  • moto g5 plus
  • moto g5s plus special edition
  • moto x pure edition
  • moto x4
  • moto z2 play
  • Orbic Wonder
  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 Special Edition
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Special Edition
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Special Edition
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 (Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile)
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+ (Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile)
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 Special Edition
  • Samsung Galaxy S8+ Special Edition

Bottom line. Depending on how much you are paying now, a year of unlimited talk/text/data for $4/month/line could be worth hundreds to over a thousand dollars. I’ve been on this plan since June 2017 and while the coverage is somewhat worse than Verizon in my area, I would say it is 90% as good for 5% of the price. If that sounds like a good deal to you, then grab an eligible phone and sign up while it is still available. If you don’t have one of the phones above, you could probably buy a new Android model for under $300 or a used one for under $100.

If you prefer Apple iPhones, on the cheap end you could get a used iPhone 6 64GB for $200 or used iPhone 6S 64GB for $260 and then get a brand new battery for $29, which should last you a while. Alternatively, you could just take the hundreds of dollars in savings and buy a new phone with it.

Berkshire Hathaway vs. S&P 500: Shrinking Edge?

It is well-known that the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) is Warren Buffett, and that its long-term performance has crushed the S&P 500. This is usually illustrated with an impressive chart like this one from Business Insider:

brkvsp500_bi

I’m currently reading A Man for All Markets by Edward Thorp. Among his many impressive accomplishments, Thorp even managed to be an early investor in Berkshire Hathaway. However, an ongoing theme in the book is that edges don’t last forever. He includes a chart in his book about how the performance gap between BRK and the S&P 500 has narrowed over time (I added the pink highlighting):

brkvsp500_red

The book states that the dates were chosen when “the price graphs suggested that they were natural divisions”. Now, even Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have stated upfront that future returns for Berkshire will be much more modest than in the past. Their current asset size is simply too large. Of course, they still maintain they’ll do just fine, otherwise they’d just give up (or at least pay a dividend). It will be interesting how their edge holds up in the future.

Disclosure: My investment portfolio is predominantly invested in indexed and low-cost funds, but I do hold some Berkshire Hathaway shares in my 5% “play money” portfolio of individual stocks and marketplace real-estate investments. I still want to go to a BRK shareholder meeting in Omaha one of these years.

Big List of Free Consumer Data Reports (2/2): See Your Confidential Rental History, Insurance, & Employment Data

magLinks updated 2018. Here is the second part of my big list of free consumer reports from over 50 different reporting agencies. The first part included your credit, banking, and subprime lending-related information. This part includes your housing, insurance, and employment history. Request a free copy every 12 months of what these databases have stored about you and are telling prospective landlords, insurers, or employers.

Again, you may not need to check all of these, and many may not even have a file on you anyway. But for example if you are a renter then you’d want to make sure your rental history is clean and correct, because if I was a landlord I’d avoid anyone with previous blemishes on their record.

Rental History

Realpage Consumer Report. Provides tenant screening through their LeasingDesk product, including “the industry’s largest rental payment history database.”

CoreLogic SafeRent. SafeRent provides both tenant and employment screening data, including information regarding landlord tenant and criminal public court records. One free report every 12 months.

Experian RentBureau Rental History Report. “Every 24 hours, Experian RentBureau receives updated rental payment history data from property owners/managers, electronic rent payment services and collection companies and makes that information available immediately to the multifamily industry through our resident screening partners.”

First Advantage Resident History Report. Tenant and employment background checks. One free report every 12 months.

Contemporary Information Corp. CIC provides background checks on prospective tenants and/or employees and contractors for landlords and management companies. Keep records of any rental evictions.

Tenant Data. Provides tenant history reports, including any reported damages, unpaid balances, evictions, lease violations, noise complaints, or unauthorized pets.

Screening Reports, Inc. A national provider of background screening service to the multi-family housing industry.

TransUnion Rental Screening Solutions, Inc. SmartMove provides tenant credit, eviction, and background checks.

  • MySmartMove.com FAQ page
  • SmartMove will disclose the contents of a criminal and/or credit report retained by SmartMove to an individual who requests a copy of their report. To verify your identity and obtain a copy of your report(s) or dispute any information within that report, please contact customer service at 866-775-0961.

Auto and Property Insurance

C.L.U.E. Personal Property Report. A division of LexisNexis, CLUE stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which collects information that is used to calculate your insurance premiums. This report provides a seven year history of losses associated with an individual and his/her personal property. Includes date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name. This also means you can find out about previous claims on the house you are currently renting or recently bought, even if they weren’t made by you.

C.L.U.E. Auto Report. This report provides a seven year history of automobile insurance losses associated with an individual. Includes date of loss, loss type, and amount paid along with general information such as policy number, claim number and insurance company name.

Verisk Analytics aka ISO aka A-PLUS Loss History Reports. ISO stands for Insurance Services Office, A-PLUS stands for Automated Property Loss Underwriting System. Auto and property loss claim history.

Insurance Information Exchange (now owned by Verisk). Provide reports including your motor vehicle records and driver history, including any traffic violations or related criminal history. May require proof of adverse action to obtain free report.

Drivers History. Provides reports to its insurance clients containing information and data collected from open public sources and governmental agencies regarding driving violations issued to specific individuals.

Utilities

National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange. NCTUE is a “membership of companies that provide services (telecommunication, pay TV, and utilities) […] to aid in risk mitigation.” Basically they track when people don’t pay their phone, cable, or utility bills. One free report every 12 months.

Medical History

MIB (previously known as Medical Information Bureau). Run by 470 insurance companies with a “primary mission of detecting and deterring fraud that may occur in the course of obtaining life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance.” They record information of “underwriting significance” like medical conditions or hazardous activities. If you have not applied for individually underwritten life, health, or disability income insurance during the preceding seven year period, then you probably don’t have a record.

Milliman IntelliScript. Tracks your prescription drug purchase history. “Milliman IntelliScript will have prescription information about you only if you authorized the release of your medical records to an insurance company and that company requested that we gather a report on you.”

Employment History

The following companies all offer background screening services for employers. Most will not have any information about you unless you authorized a potential employer to run a background check on you (probably during the application process). Some will not provide you information unless there was adverse action. Otherwise, you can get one free copy every 12 months.

The Work Number. (division of Equifax) They also keep historical income records.

Accurate Background, Inc.

American Databank, LLC.

Backgroundchecks.com.

EmployeeScreenIQ.

General Information Services.

HireRight.

Info Cubic.

IntelliCorp.

OPENonline.

Pre-employ.

Professional Screening & Information, Inc.

Sterling Talent Solutions (formerly Sterling Backcheck or Sterling Infosystems)

Trak-1 Technology.

Reminder: Also see Part 1: Big List of Free Consumer Reports with Your Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

Sam’s Club: Free 3-Month Membership Extension (or Full Refund Upon Cancellation)

sams200b

(Update: Sam’s Club has added that language that this offer is limited to “members in closing clubs”. I’m not sure if that includes if you live in the same area as a closing club.)

Sam’s Club is offering all of their members a free 3-month extension if you fill out the linked form by March 31, 2018. This is in response to their sudden closure of 63 Sam’s Club locations (about 10% of all stores).

Alternatively, you can cancel your membership and receive a full refund via electronic gift card within 7 days (I want to say you can use this at Wal-Mart, otherwise where would you spend it? Just pay the 5% surcharge?) or mailed check within 6 weeks. If you take the free extension, you can still decide to cancel with free refund later.

50% of American Households Don’t Own Any Stocks At All

Here’s another stat to add to your knowledge. For roughly half of Americans, the stock market’s record highs don’t help at all, according to a recent Washington Post article. This chart shows that half of US household have no exposure to stocks, either directly or indirectly:

ownsstock

Direct vs. indirect. The academic paper by Dr. Wolff of NYU was a bit confusing with their terminology. From what I read, “direct” stock ownership means owning individual shares of stock. “Indirect” stock ownership includes “mutual funds, trusts, or various pension accounts”. Here, the term “pension accounts” include defined contribution accounts like IRAs, 401(k), and 403(b) plans. However, assets in defined benefit plans, which is the more traditional definition of the term “pensions”, are not included under “pension accounts”. Social Security is also excluded. Got that?

In theory, you don’t need to own stocks to have a comfortable retirement. You could have a mix of other resources like Social Security, private company pension plan, bank deposits, bonds, whole life insurance, commercial property, residential rental property, and so on. However, I’m willing to bet there is a healthy correlation between owning one and owning multiple forms of these productive assets.

Financial freedom means owning enough productive assets to get off the treadmill of work, spend, work, spend. I know there are probably good reasons why many people have trouble finding the money to invest in stocks. I don’t have an easy fix. However, one small tip for those on the margin is to get that spark and start viewing such assets with desire. The same desire as a nicer car or kitchen remodel. I get excited when I buy another chunk of VTI or VXUS. Others get excited when they acquire another rental property. Find a way to start your snowball.

Big List of Free Consumer Data Reports (1/2): See Your Confidential Credit, Banking, and Payday Lending Data

magLinks updated for 2018. Since these are available every 12 months, it is a good idea to check these near or around the same time each year. A lot of companies make their money by collecting and selling data – your personal data. In the past, it was often difficult if not impossible to see what they were telling prospective lenders, landlords, even employers about you. Under the FCRA and/or FACT Acts, many consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) are now legally required to send you a free copy of your report every 12 months, as well as provide a way to dispute incorrect information.

Some have an online request form, but some require snail mail with proof of identity. (Some are shady and really try to hide information about requesting reports.) You probably won’t want to bother checking all of them, but if you’ve experienced any sort of rejection or adverse reaction in these areas the cause might be found inside one of these databases. Keep in mind that you may not have a file with all of these places.

Credit-Related

Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The three major credit bureaus track your credit accounts, payment history, and other related information like bankrupts and liens. Free copy of each once every 12 months.

CoreLogic Credco. One of the largest credit-related CRAs and often used by mortgage lenders, your CoreLogic Credco Consumer File can contain: previous homeownership and mortgage info, rental payment history, any reported delinquencies, and other debt obligations like child support. Free copy once every 12 months.

LexisNexis. One of the largest personal information databases that includes public records, real estate transaction and ownership data, lien, judgment, and bankruptcy records, professional license information, and historical addresses on file. Free copy, must mail in form.

Innovis. A supplementary credit report and identity verification provider. Free copy once every 12 months.

SageStream, LLC (formerly IDA, Inc.) Per their site, they are a “a credit reporting agency that produces credit reports and scores from our repository of consumer information contributed by a wide array of companies including leading financial services organizations, wireless providers, utilities, retailers, auto lenders and many others” Free copy, must fax or mail in a written form.

Microbilt and subsidiary Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC). Microbilt is a credit reporting agency, per their site a “leading provider of alternative credit data to businesses that want to offer credit and other financial services to the approximately 110 million underserved and underbanked consumers in the United States.” Free copy once every 12 months.

Banking-Related

Chexsystems. A consumer information database used by an estimated 80-90% of all banks to help determine the risk of opening new accounts. Think of it as the banks’ version of a credit bureau. If a person commits check fraud or overdraws their account, it will be listed here. In addition, the simple act of opening or closing a bank account may be recorded in their database. Having a negative ChexSystems record can leave you blacklisted from opening bank accounts at most major banks. Free copy once every 12 months. You can now request your report online.

TeleCheck. Per their site, they provide “industry-leading check acceptance, check processing and risk analytics services to merchants and financial institutions.” One of the major companies that protect businesses and banks from bad checks. Must order by phone or mail.

Certegy Check Services. Per their site, a “check risk management company that provides verification, guarantee and risk analytics to thousands of businesses that choose to accept checks as a form of payment for goods or services.” Clients include check-cashing stores and casinos. Free copy once every 12 months. Must order by phone or mail.

Early Warning Services. A collaboration between a group of big banks including Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Provides fraud prevention and risk management in relation to bank accounts and payment transactions. Must order by phone.

Subprime-Related (Payday Lending)

The following companies focus on subprime customers with clients including payday lenders, title loan lenders, rent-to-own stores, and subprime auto loan providers.

Teletrack (affiliated with CoreLogic).

FactorTrust. Free copy once every 12 months. Recently acquired by TransUnion.

Clarity Services, Inc. Must mail or fax form.

DataX Ltd. Must mail form.

Next up, see Part 2: Rental History, Insurance, & Employment Data.

Sources: ConsumerFinance.gov, FTC.gov, Wikipedia

Markets Rise and Fall: Is Your Portfolio Ready For Both?

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It would be great if you could invest in things with high and reliable returns, going up and up consistently like clockwork and without worry. Unfortunately, that’s usually the sign of a Ponzi scheme. The chart above illustrates what you have to deal with in the real world. It shows how the S&P 500 (1949-2016) has had both significant losing streaks and big winning streaks, often one right after the other.

The source is Ric Edelman and The Most Important Chart on Investing You’ll Ever See and it comes via Barry Ritholtz and Edelman’s Favorite Investing Chart. Here’s a selected quote from the Edelman site:

This chart clearly shows that when stock prices are rising, they rise a lot and for a long time.

When prices fall, they fall a little and for a short period.

[…]

When you notice that stock prices are declining, don’t be upset. Instead become excited about what lies ahead.

Barry Ritholtz adds:

The usual caveats apply — post Great Depression took 25 years to return to breakeven, and Japan circa 1989 still needs the Nikkei Dow to almost double to get back to the high from almost 30 years ago. If you were retiring during those periods you were pretty much hosed. Still, the cyclicality of markets is very worth noting.

In my opinion, the takeaway is that your investment plan must be ready for both green and red streaks. For one, you need to be able to stay in the market and capture a good chunk of those long green streaks. Bailing out of a winning streak can cause you miss out a lot of money. At the same time, you need to survive those red streaks, which may not look that scary on the chart but are actually terrifying. (Remember that to simply get even from a 50% drop, you’d have to have a subsequent 100% rise.) This can be a tricky balancing act.