How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

Closeup of blue poker chip on red felt card table surface with spot light on chip

Preferred stocks are the little-known answer to the dividend question: How do I juice meaningful 5% to 6% yields from my favorite blue-chip stocks? “Common” blue chips stocks usually don’t pay 5% to 6%. Heck, the S&P 500’s current yield, at just 1.3%, is its lowest in decades.

But we can consider the exact same 505 companies in the popular index—names like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Broadcom (AVGO) and NextEra Energy (NEE)—and find yields from 4.2% to 6.9%. If we’re talking about a million dollar retirement portfolio, this is the difference between $13,000 in annual dividend income and $42,000. Or, better yet, $69,000 per year with my top recommendation.

Most investors don’t know about this easy-to-find “dividend loophole” because most only buy “common” stock. Type AVGO into your brokerage account, and the quote that your machine spits back will be the common variety.

But many companies have another class of shares. This “preferred payout tier” delivers dividends that are far more generous.

Companies sometimes issue preferred stock rather than issuing bonds to raise cash. And these preferred dividends have a few benefits:

  • They receive priority over dividends paid on common shares.
  • Sometimes, preferred dividends are “cumulative”—if any dividends are missed, those dividends still have to be paid out before dividends can be paid to any other shareholders.
  • They’re typically far juicier than the modest dividends paid out on common stock. A company whose commons yield 1% or 2% might still distribute 5% to 7% to preferred shareholders.

But it’s not all gravy.

You’ll sometimes hear investors call preferreds “hybrid” securities. That’s because they act like a part-stock, part-bond holding. The way they resemble bonds is how they trade around a par value over time, so while preferreds can deliver price upside, they don’t tend to deliver much.

No, the point of preferreds is income and safety.

Now, we could go out and buy individual preferreds, but there’s precious little research out there allowing us to make a truly informed decision about any one company’s preferreds. Instead, we’re usually going to be better off buying preferred funds.

But which preferred funds make the cut? Let’s look at some of the most popular options, delivering anywhere between 4.2% to 6.9% at the moment.

Wall Street’s Two Largest Preferred ETFs

I want to start with the iShares Preferred and Income Securities (PFF, 4.2% yield) and Invesco Preferred ETF (PGX, 4.5%). These are the two largest preferred-stock ETFs on the market, collectively accounting for some $27 billion in funds under management.

On the surface, they’re pretty similar in nature. Both invest in a few hundred preferred stocks. Both have a majority of their holdings in the financial sector (PFF 60%, PGX 67%). Both offer affordable fees given their specialty (PFF 0.46%, PGX 0.52%).

There are a few notable differences, however. PGX has a better credit profile, with 54% of its preferreds in BBB-rated (investment-grade debt) and another 38% in BB, the highest level of “junk.” PFF has just 48% in BBB-graded preferreds and 22% in BBs; nearly a quarter of its portfolio isn’t rated.

Also, the Invesco fund spreads around its non-financial allocation to more sectors: utilities, real estate, communication services, consumer discretionary, energy, industrials and materials. Meanwhile, iShares’ PFF only boasts industrial and utility preferreds in addition to its massive financial-sector base.

PGX might have the edge on PFF, but both funds are limited by their plain-vanilla, indexed nature. That’s why, when it comes to preferreds, I typically look to closed-end funds.

Closed-End Preferred Funds

CEFs offer a few perks that allow us to make the most out of this asset class.

For one, most preferred ETFs are indexed, but all preferred CEFs are actively managed. That’s a big advantage in preferred stocks, where skilled pickers can take advantage of deep values and quick changes in the preferred markets, while index funds must simply wait until their next rebalancing to jump in.

Closed-end funds also allow for the use of debt to amplify their investments, both in yield and performance. Should the manager want, CEFs can also use options or other tools to further juice returns.

And they often pay out their fatter dividends every month!

Take John Hancock Preferred Income Fund II (HPF, 6.9% yield), for example. It’s a tighter portfolio than PFF or PGX, at just under 120 holdings from the likes of CenterPoint Energy (CNP), U.S. Cellular (USM) and Wells Fargo (WFC).

Manager discretion means a lot here. That is, HPF doesn’t just invest in preferreds, which are 70% of assets. It also has 22% invested in corporate bonds, another 4% or so in common stock, and trace holdings of foreign stock, U.S. government agency debt and cash. And it has a whopping 32% debt leverage ratio that really helps prop up the yield and provide better returns (though at the cost of a bumpier ride).

You have a similar situation with Flaherty & Crumrine Preferred and Income Securities Fund (FFC, 6.7%).

Here, you’re wading deep into the financial sector at nearly 80% exposure, with decent-sized holdings in utilities (7%) and energy (7%). Credit quality is roughly in between PFF and PGX, with 44% BBB, 37% BB and 19% unrated.

Nonetheless, smart management selection (and a healthy 31% in debt leverage) has led to far better, albeit noisier, returns than its indexed competitors. The Cohen & Steers Select Preferred and Income Fund (PSF, 6.0%) is about as pure a play as you could want in preferreds.

And it’s also a pure performer.

PSF is 100% invested in preferred stock (well, more like 128% if you count debt leverage), and actually breaks out its preferreds into institutionals that trade over-the-counter (83%), retail preferreds that trade on an exchange (16%) and floating-rate preferreds that trade OTC or on exchanges (1%).

Like any other preferred fund, you’re heavily invested in the financial sector at nearly 73%. But you do get geographic diversification, as only a little more than half of PSF’s assets are invested in the U.S. Other well-represented countries include the U.K. (13%), Canada (7%) and France (6%).

What’s not to love?

Brett Owens is chief investment strategist for Contrarian Outlook. For more great income ideas, get your free copy his latest special report: Your Early Retirement Portfolio: 7% Dividends Every Month Forever.

I graduated from Cornell University and soon thereafter left Corporate America permanently at age 26 to co-found two successful SaaS (Software as a Service) companies. Today they serve more than 26,000 business users combined. I took my software profits and started investing in dividend-paying stocks. Today, it’s almost impossible to find good stocks that pay a quality yield. So I employ a contrarian approach to locate high payouts that are available thanks to some sort of broader misjudgment. Renowned billionaire investor Howard Marks called this “second-level thinking.” It’s looking past the consensus belief about an investment to map out a range of probabilities to locate value. It is possible to find secure yields of 6% or more in today’s market – it just requires a second-level mindset.

Source: How To Squeeze Yields Up To 6.9% From Blue-Chip Stocks

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Critics:

A blue chip is stock in a stock corporation (contrasted with non-stock one) with a national reputation for quality, reliability, and the ability to operate profitably in good and bad times. As befits the sometimes high-risk nature of stock picking, the term “blue chip” derives from poker. The simplest sets of poker chips include white, red, and blue chips, with tradition dictating that the blues are highest in value. If a white chip is worth $1, a red is usually worth $5, and a blue $25.

In 19th-century United States, there was enough of a tradition of using blue chips for higher values that “blue chip” in noun and adjective senses signaling high-value chips and high-value property are attested since 1873 and 1894, respectively. This established connotation was first extended to the sense of a blue-chip stock in the 1920s. According to Dow Jones company folklore, this sense extension was coined by Oliver Gingold (an early employee of the company that would become Dow Jones) sometime in the 1920s, when Gingold was standing by the stock ticker at the brokerage firm that later became Merrill Lynch.

Noticing several trades at $200 or $250 a share or more, he said to Lucien Hooper of stock brokerage W.E. Hutton & Co. that he intended to return to the office to “write about these blue-chip stocks”. It has been in use ever since, originally in reference to high-priced stocks, more commonly used today to refer to high-quality stocks.

References:

Do You Get Your Money’s Worth From Buying An Annuity?

Coin Stacks And Chart Graphs On A Chessboard

Once upon a time, in the (somewhat mythical) past of traditional defined benefit pensions, your employer protected you from the risk of outliving your money in retirement, by acting, more or less, as an insurance company providing an annuity. With that benefit receding into the past, many experts have been hoping that Americans with 401(k) plans would avail themselves of annuities on their own, to give themselves the same sort of protection, and, indeed, the SECURE Act of 2019 made it easier for those plans to offer their participants an annuity choice, and, when surveyed, 73% of those participants said they would “consider” an annuity at retirement.

At the same time, though, Americans distrust annuities — in part because traditional deferred annuities had high fees and expenses and only made sense in an era predating IRAs and 401(k)s, when they were attractive solely due to the limited tax-advantaged options for retirement savings. But that’s not the only reason — annuities, quite frankly, aren’t cheap.

How do you quantify the value of an annuity? In one respect, it’s subjective and personal: do you judge yourself to be in good health, or does family history and your list of medications say that you’ll be one of those with the early deaths that longer-lived annuity-purchasers are counting on? Do you want to be sure you can maintain your standard of living throughout your retirement, or do you figure that you won’t really care one way or another if you have to cut down expenses once you’re among the “old-old”?

But measuring the value of annuities, generally speaking, does tell us whether consumers are getting a fair deal from their purchases, and here, a recent working paper by two economists, James Poterba and Adam Solomon, “Discount Rates, Mortality Projections, and Money’s Worth Calculations for US Individual Annuities,” lends some insight.

Here’s some good news: using the costs of actual annuities available for consumers to purchase in June 2020, and comparing them to bond rates which were similar to the investment portfolios those insurance companies hold, the authors calculated “money’s worth ratios” that show that, for annuities purchased immediately at retirement, the value of the annuities was between 92% – 94% (give-or-take, depending on type) of its cost. That means that the value of the insurance protection is a comparatively modest 6 – 8% of the total investment.

But there’s a catch — or, rather, two of them.

In the first place, the authors calculate their ratios based on a standard mortality table for annuity purchasers — which makes sense if the goal is to judge the “fairness” of an annuity for the healthy retirees most likely to purchase one. But this doesn’t tell us whether an annuity is a smart purchase for someone who thinks of themselves as being in comparatively poorer health, or with a spottier family health history, and folks in these categories would benefit considerably from analysis that’s targeted at them, that evaluates, realistically, whether annuities are the right call and whether their prediction of their life expectancy is likely to be right or wrong.

In the second place, the 92% – 94% money’s worth calculation is based on the typical investment portfolio of insurance companies, approximated by the returns of BBB-rated bonds. This measures whether the annuity is “fair” or not, in that “moral” sense of whether the perception that the company is “cheating” is customers is real (it’s not).

But these interest rates are very low. The authors, in addition to their calculations of “money’s worth,” back into the implied discount rate from the annuity costs themselves. For men aged 65, that interest rate is 2.16%; for women aged 65, 2.18%.

Now, imagine that you compare this annuity to an alternative plan of investing your money in the stock market, earning 7% annual returns, and believing you can predict your death date (or not really caring if you fall short or end up with leftover money for heirs).

The cost of the protection offered by the annuity, the guarantee that you will never run out of money, and that you will not suffer from a market crash, is very expensive indeed — when you compare apples to oranges in this manner, the money’s worth ratio is, according to my very rough estimates, more like 60%, meaning that about 40% of your cash is spent to purchase the “insurance protection” of the annuity.

And, again, that’s not because insurance companies are cheating anyone; that’s solely because of the wide gap between corporate bond rates and expected returns when investing in the stock market— a gap which was particularly wide in the summer of 2020 when this study was competed, but remains nearly as wide now.

As it stands, Moody’s Baa rates are in the 3% range; in the 2000s, they were in the 6% range, and in the 1990s, from 7% – 9%. Although this drop in bond rates is good news for American homebuyers because this marches in tandem with mortgage rates, it makes it far harder for retirees to manage their finances in ways that protect them from the risks that they face in their retirement.

Perhaps interest rates in general, and bond rates specifically, will increase as we leave our current economic challenges, but there’s no certainty, and as long as this gap between bond rates and expected stock market returns remains so substantial, retirees will be challenged to find any sort of safe investment that makes sense for them. Which means that what seems like a great benefit for Americans looking to borrow money — for mortgages, car loans, credit cards — can pit the elderly against the young in a generational “us vs. them” contest.

As always, you’re invited to comment at JaneTheActuary.com!

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

Yes, I’m a nerd, and an actuary to boot. Armed with an M.A. in medieval history and the F.S.A. actuarial credential, with 20 years of experience at a major benefits consulting firm, and having blogged as “Jane the Actuary” since 2013, I enjoy reading and writing about retirement issues, including retirement income adequacy, reform proposals and international comparisons.

Source: Do You Get Your Money’s Worth From Buying An Annuity?

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Critics:

An annuity is a series of payments made at equal intervals.[1] Examples of annuities are regular deposits to a savings account, monthly home mortgage payments, monthly insurance payments and pension payments. Annuities can be classified by the frequency of payment dates. The payments (deposits) may be made weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or at any other regular interval of time. Annuities may be calculated by mathematical functions known as “annuity functions”.

An annuity which provides for payments for the remainder of a person’s lifetime is a life annuity.

Variability of payments

  • Fixed annuities – These are annuities with fixed payments. If provided by an insurance company, the company guarantees a fixed return on the initial investment. Fixed annuities are not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Variable annuities – Registered products that are regulated by the SEC in the United States of America. They allow direct investment into various funds that are specially created for Variable annuities. Typically, the insurance company guarantees a certain death benefit or lifetime withdrawal benefits.
  • Equity-indexed annuities – Annuities with payments linked to an index. Typically, the minimum payment will be 0% and the maximum will be predetermined. The performance of an index determines whether the minimum, the maximum or something in between is credited to the customer.

See also

References

  • Kellison, Stephen G. (1970). The Theory of Interest. Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. Irwin, Inc. p. 45
  • Lasher, William (2008). Practical financial management. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western. p. 230. ISBN 0-324-42262-8..
  1. Jordan, Bradford D.; Ross, Stephen David; Westerfield, Randolph (2000). Fundamentals of corporate finance. Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill. p. 175. ISBN 0-07-231289-0.
  • Samuel A. Broverman (2010). Mathematics of Investment and Credit, 5th Edition. ACTEX Academic Series. ACTEX Publications. ISBN 978-1-56698-767-7.
  • Stephen Kellison (2008). Theory of Interest, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill/Irwin. ISBN 978-0-07-338244-9.

Why You May Be Overly Optimistic About Your Social Security Benefits

Frank and Joan Shortland

As humans, we tend to be overoptimistic on everything from our driving ability to investment prowess. It’s perennial problem when it comes to money and retirement management.

A recent study found that people routinely over-estimate their Social Security benefits. Two researchers from the University of Michigan found that “Americans face the challenges of retirement with varying degrees of preparation. Evidence indicates that that many individuals may not be making the best possible choices with respect to their Social Security and retirement savings.”

Why do people expect more than what they actually receive in benefits? Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Most retirees find that the amount of Social Security retirement benefits they receive is lower than what they had expected before claiming.
  • Not appropriately adjusting for early or delayed claiming could contribute to expectation biases about retirement benefits. In particular, this would be most relevant for those with lower levels of education.
  • Current workers recognize that they do not have a good idea of what their future retirement benefits will be. Forty-nine percent of our survey respondents declare having no knowledge about their benefit amount.
  • The average expectation bias for monthly retirement benefits in our sample is $307, which equals 27% of the average forecasted benefit for this sample (in current dollars).
  • Men display lower expectation bias and are less likely to overestimate their retirement benefits.

How to avoid these misconceptions? You need to estimate benefits based on the age you intend to claim them and your earnings record. A good place to start is Social Security’s benefits estimator tool.

Since people are living longer and are generally healthier in older age, the Social Security Administration raised the full retirement age to 67 for people born in 1960 or later, up from 65. You can apply for benefits as early at 62, although your benefit would be reduced by 30%. On the other hand, if you can wait until age 70, you will get 124% of the monthly benefit because you delayed getting benefits for 36 months.

Consider how each scenario might impact your retirement planning. Preparing for different outcomes now is the best way to help protect your savings – and peace of mind – down the line.

Planning today can make a big difference in your retirement lifestyle tomorrow. Once you leave the workforce, the years that follow can be all that you want them to be—if you pave the way with a comprehensive financial plan that includes your Social Security income.

Your plan should be based on what you know today and flexible enough to adapt to any changes—like unforeseen personal circumstances or developments that come out of Washington.

Social Security can be a valuable tool to help bridge any gap you may have between your expected sources of income and your expenses.

POINTS TO KNOW

  • Social Security has features for retirees that other retirement savings plans don’t have.
  • When creating your retirement plan, be sure to include your Social Security benefits as an income source.
  • It’s important to have a retirement budget: Itemize your income sources and expected expenses.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

 

Source: Why You May Be Overly Optimistic About Your Social Security Benefits

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Citations: 

 1, 5, 7, 8 AARP: “How is Social Security funded?” February 11, 2021 https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/questions-answers/how-is-social-security-funded/

2 SSA: “Your Retirement Benefit: How It’s Figured” by Social Security Agency, January 2021 https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10070.pdf

3 SocialSecurity.gov: “My Account” information collected from www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount

4 AARP: “How much longer will Social Security be around?” September 22, 2020 https://www.aarp.org/retirement/social-security/questions-answers/how-much-longer-will-social-security-be-around/

6 Statista: “Number of retired workers receiving Social Security in the United States from 2010 to 2020” by Statista Research Department, January 19, 2021 https://www.statista.com/statistics/194295/number-of-us-retired-workers-who-receive-social-security/

9 SSA: “Retirement Benefits: Retirement Age Calculator” by Social Security Agency https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/ageincrease.html

10 SSA: “Retirement Benefits: Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early” by Social Security Agency https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/agereduction.html

11 SSA: “Retirement Benefits: How Delayed Retirement Affects Your Social Security Benefits” by Social Security Agency https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/1960-delay.html

12 IRS.gov: “Are Social Security Benefits Taxable?” February 13, 2017 https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/are-social-security-benefits-taxable

13, 14 SSA: “Retirement Benefits: Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefit” by Social Security Agency https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/taxes.html 

15 Investopedia: “Do Earnings from a Roth IRA Count Toward Income?” By Denise Appleby, April 8, 2021 https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/05/iraearningsmagi.asp

Micro Investing’s Magic Lies in Helping Your Favorite College Grad (or You) Gain Confidence

Micro Investing's Magic Lies in Helping Your Favorite College Grad (or You) Gain Confidence

When you first graduate from college, you might not feel comfortable dumping lots of money into unknown stocks or ETFs. Even if you’re not a new college graduate, you may want to consider a different approach when you don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. Why not try micro investing?

Micro investing takes the daunting feeling away from investing, and therein lies its true magic. Let’s take a look at what it can do for you and how it can find a place in your portfolio.

What is Micro Investing?

Put simply, when you micro invest, you invest using small amounts of money. In other words, you pony up money to buy fractional shares of stocks or ETFs instead of full shares.

As of today, a single share of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) costs $3,383.87. You may know you can’t even afford one share of Amazon, much less two shares!

Enter micro investing apps. You can buy Amazon for a much smaller amount — even really small amounts, like $10. You can also buy multiple securities to aim for diversification (always a great thing!) and lower your risk in the long run.

Why Micro Invest?

Small amounts, compounded over time, can make an impact. Compound interest makes your money grow faster. You can calculate interest on accumulated interest as well as on your original principal. Compounding can create a snowball effect: The original investments plus the income earned from those investments both grow.

Let’s say you save $1 per day. Your $1 per day adds up to $365 a year. Instead of spending that $365, you could stick it into a micro investing app at 5% interest per year. Your small amount would grow to almost $466 by the end of five years. At the end of 30 years, the amount you originally invested would grow to $1,578.

If you micro invested even more, your investment could grow even faster.

How Does Micro Investing Work?

Have you ever heard of the app, Acorns, which invests small change for you? That’s micro investing. A micro investing app rounds up your purchases to the dollar or makes automatic transfers for you. Think of micro investing as “spare change investing” — many apps round up your transactions from a linked bank account and invest the difference.

In other words, let’s say you go to Chipotle and order a mega burrito with those delicious limey chips. You spend $10.34. The app would take your remaining $0.66 and invest it.

You don’t have to invest a lot to get started, either. Stash allows you to get started with just a penny. Interested in micro investing for your favorite college grad or yourself? Take a look at the following steps to get started with micro investing.

Step 1: Choose a micro investing app.

What’s often the hardest part? Choosing the right investment app. Often the most important question comes down to this: Do you want to get your hands directly on your investments or do you want an app to pilot and direct your money for you?

Quick overview: Acorns and Betterment put a portfolio together for you based on your preferences. Stash and Robinhood allow you to choose the direction you want your money to take by allowing you to choose your own investments.

You may want to choose an app that lets you steer the ship yourself, particularly if you want to take a DIY approach to your investments at some point.

Step 2: Input your information.

Once you’ve chosen a micro investing app, it’s time to let the robo-advisor do its job. You input information to your micro investing app that helps it “understand” how to put together the best portfolio for you. You input your age, income, goals and risk tolerance and it’ll allocate your investment dollars accordingly.

Your money will go into a portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) based on the level of risk you choose. Based on the information you supply, you could end up thoroughly diversified with shares in many (sometimes hundreds) of different companies.

Step 3: Set up recurring investments.

You can set up investments to go into your investment account on a recurring basis for just a few dollars per month. You can also choose to make one-time deposits. Your robo-advisor will automatically rebalance your account if you have too much invested in a particular asset class. Setting up recurring investing means that you’ll invest without thinking about it. (You’ll never miss pennies!)

Step 4: Don’t quit there.

You can easily track your earnings when you micro invest because those apps are seriously slick. You can even project your earnings through the app’s earnings calculator so you don’t have to wonder how much you’ll have later on.

However, this is important: Remember that micro investing may not make you rich (if, in fact that is your goal). You probably can’t save enough for retirement through micro-investing, either. You probably also won’t net enough to save for larger goals, such as a down payment on a home. You may generate a few hundred dollars a year, which might allow you to save enough to fund an emergency fund, but that’s about it.

The real win involves building the confidence needed to invest. Consider other ways you can invest, such as investing money in a 401(k) or a Roth IRA after you get comfortable with micro investing.

Micro Investing Could Work Wonders

Micro investing can work wonders by breaking down barriers to investing. One of the biggest complaints from young students just starting out is that it’s too expensive to invest.

Micro investing can give you or a new grad the confidence to try bigger things, starting with baby steps. If micro investing is what it takes for a new grad to get more comfortable with smaller investments (then grow investments later), then it’s a great option for young investors just getting started.

By:

Source: Micro Investing’s Magic Lies in Helping Your Favorite College Grad (or You) Gain Confidence

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Critics:

Microfinance is a category of financial services targeting individuals and small businesses who lack access to conventional banking and related services. Microfinance includes microcredit, the provision of small loans to poor clients; savings and checking accounts; microinsurance; and payment systems, among other services. Microfinance services are designed to reach excluded customers, usually poorer population segments, possibly socially marginalized, or geographically more isolated, and to help them become self-sufficient.[2][3]

Microfinance initially had a limited definition: the provision of microloans to poor entrepreneurs and small businesses lacking access to credit.[4] The two main mechanisms for the delivery of financial services to such clients were: (1) relationship-based banking for individual entrepreneurs and small businesses; and (2) group-based models, where several entrepreneurs come together to apply for loans and other services as a group.

Over time, microfinance has emerged as a larger movement whose object is: “a world in which as everyone, especially the poor and socially marginalized people and households have access to a wide range of affordable, high quality financial products and services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, payment services, and fund transfers.

Proponents of microfinance often claim that such access will help poor people out of poverty, including participants in the Microcredit Summit Campaign. For many, microfinance is a way to promote economic development, employment and growth through the support of micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses; for others it is a way for the poor to manage their finances more effectively and take advantage of economic opportunities while managing the risks. Critics often point to some of the ills of micro-credit that can create indebtedness. Many studies have tried to assess its impacts.

New research in the area of microfinance call for better understanding of the microfinance ecosystem so that the microfinance institutions and other facilitators can formulate sustainable strategies that will help create social benefits through better service delivery to the low-income population.

Due to the unbalanced emphasis on credit at the expense of microsavings, as well as a desire to link Western investors to the sector, peer-to-peer platforms have developed to expand the availability of microcredit through individual lenders in the developed world. New platforms that connect lenders to micro-entrepreneurs are emerging on the Web (peer-to-peer sponsors), for example MYC4, Kiva, Zidisha, myELEN, Opportunity International and the Microloan Foundation.

Another Web-based microlender United Prosperity uses a variation on the usual microlending model; with United Prosperity the micro-lender provides a guarantee to a local bank which then lends back double that amount to the micro-entrepreneur. In 2009, the US-based nonprofit Zidisha became the first peer-to-peer microlending platform to link lenders and borrowers directly across international borders without local intermediaries.

See also

If You’re In Your 50s or 60s, Consider These Moves To Avoid Higher Taxes In Retirement

If you are working with an eye toward retirement or even semi-retirement, you are probably (hopefully) saving more than you could in the past in your retirement accounts. You may have paid off the mortgage and paid for college and other heavy expenses of raising children. That all sounds like you are on your way, except for one big problem I call the “ticking tax time bomb.”

I’m referring to the tax debt building up in your individual retirement account, 401(k) or other retirement savings plans. And, as I wrote in my newest book, “The New Retirement Savings Time Bomb,” it can quickly deplete the very savings you were relying on for your retirement years. But there are a few ways you can avoid this problem.

While you may be watching your savings balances grow from your continuing contributions and the rising stock market, a good chunk of that growth will go to Uncle Sam. That’s because most, if not all, of those retirement savings are tax-deferred, not tax-free.

The funds in most IRAs are pretax funds, meaning they have not yet been taxed. But they will be, when you reach in to spend them in retirement. That’s when you quickly realize how much of your savings you get to keep and how much will go to the government.

The amount going to the Internal Revenue Service will be based on what future tax rates are. And given our national debt and deficit levels, those tax rates could skyrocket, leaving you with less than you had planned on, just when you’ll need the money most.

So, that’s the dire warning. But you can change this potential outcome with proper planning and making changes in the way you save for retirement going forward.

You can begin by taking steps to pay down that tax debt at today’s low tax rates and begin building your retirement savings in tax-free vehicles like Roth IRAs or even permanent life insurance which can include cash value that builds and can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement.

In addition, if you are still working, you can change the way you are saving in your retirement plans. If you have a 401(k) at work, you could make contributions in a Roth 401(k) if the plan offers that. A Roth 401(k) lets your retirement savings grow 100% tax-free for the rest of your life and even pass to your beneficiaries tax-free too.

Learn more: All about the Roth IRA

What the News Means for You and Your Money

Understand how today’s business practices, market dynamics, tax policies and more impact you with real-time news and analysis from MarketWatch.

For 2021, you can contribute up to $26,000 (the standard $19,500 contribution limit plus a $6,500 catch-up contribution for people 50 and older). With some Roth 401(k) workplace plans, you might be able to put in even more.

Then, see if you can convert some of your existing 401(k) funds either to your Roth 401(k) or to a Roth IRA. Once you do this, you will owe taxes on the amount you convert. The conversion is permanent, so make sure you only convert what you can afford to pay tax on.

Also read: We have $1.6 million but most is locked in our 401(k) plans — how can we retire early without paying so much in taxes?

Don’t let the upfront tax bill deter you from moving your retirement funds from accounts that are forever taxed to accounts that are never taxed.

Similarly, you can convert your existing IRAs to Roth IRAs, lowering the tax debt on those funds as well. The point is to not be shortsighted and avoid doing this because you don’t want to pay the taxes now. That tax will have to be paid at some point, and likely at much higher future tax rates and on a larger account balance.

It’s best to get this process going now, maybe even with a plan to convert your 401(k) or IRA funds to Roth accounts over several years, converting small amounts each year to manage the tax bill.

If you have been contributing to a traditional IRA, stop making those contributions and instead start contributing to a Roth IRA. Anyone 50 or over can put in up to $7,000 a year ($6,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution) and you can do so for a spouse even if that spouse is not working.

If one of you has enough earnings from a job or self-employment (and you don’t exceed the Roth IRA contribution income limits), each of you can contribute $7,000, totaling $14,000 in Roth IRA contributions each year. That will not only add up quickly, it will add up all in your favor because now you are accumulating retirement savings tax-free.

Related: Should you convert your IRA to a Roth if Biden’s infrastructure plan passes?

Once the funds are in a Roth IRA or other tax-free vehicles (like life insurance), those funds compound tax-free for you.

The secret is to pay taxes now. It’s so simple, but also so counterintuitive that most people don’t take advantage of this and end up paying heavy taxes in retirement that could have all been avoided.

Ed Slott is a Certified Public Accountant, an individual retirement account (IRA) distribution expert and author of “The New Retirement Savings Tax Bomb.” He is president and founder of Ed Slott and Company, providing advice and analysis about IRAs.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

Source: If you’re in your 50s or 60s, consider these moves to avoid higher taxes in retirement – MarketWatch

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Is a Roth IRA Right for You?

401(k) Early Withdrawals Have Become Easier: Be Careful!

Tips for Couples to Manage Their 401(k) Plans

I’m 49, my wife is 34, we have 4 kids and $2.3 million saved. I earn $300K a year but ‘lose a lot of sleep worrying about tomorrow’ — when can I retire?

‘Retirement? How?’ I’m 65, have nothing saved and am coming out of bankruptcy.

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Your 401(k) fees could cost you half a million dollars in retirement

Curious About Crypto? Here’s What 10 Financial Experts Think

A photo to accompany a story about financial experts' advice for investing in cryptocurrency

Everyday investors are overflowing with cryptocurrency questions, according to the financial advisors hired to answer them.

There is clearly an “emotional euphoria that seems to be sweeping through the public around cryptocurrency,” says Frederick Stanfield, a CFP with Lifewater Wealth Management in Atlanta, Georgia.

But for the average person focused on retirement planning and financial stability, is it time to consider investing in cryptocurrency?

The answer is complicated, so we asked financial advisors for their crypto advice, and here’s what 10 of them are telling clients. In an emerging field with few set rules and norms, we discovered some universal truths that everyone should know before putting money in cryptocurrency.

First of all, financial advisors say a healthy dose of skepticism is a crucial place to start, and you should never invest in crypto if it takes away from other goals and financial fundamentals like paying off debt, building an emergency fund, or maxing out your retirement accounts.

As difficult as it may be, do not become seduced by the intrigue and allure of this new technology, says Stanfield. Instead, employ the same mindset you bring to your regular investment strategy.

Here’s what else the experts want you to know about cryptocurrency investing:

Be Prepared for Loss

As with any investment, financial gains are far from guaranteed with cryptocurrency investing. For some financial advisors, crypto looks more like a lottery ticket than an investment strategy.

That means you should only put in what you’re OK with losing. “On a spectrum between gambling and investing, I think it’s closer to the former,” says Matt Morris, principal advisor at Sanderling Finance in Columbia, South Carolina.

As a high-risk, high-reward investment, keep any crypto investments in perspective amid your broader goals and finances. As with certain types of gambling, “you have a high chance of losing it all, but a small chance of winning it big,” says Nate Nieri, a CFP with Modern Money Management in San Diego, California. “Just don’t gamble an amount that would burden your family or prevent you from achieving your goals” if you lost it all.

Steer Clear if You’re Risk Averse

If you’re risk averse, crypto isn’t the investment for you.“How well can you sleep at night knowing that this is an emerging asset class with high volatility? And if you were to wake one morning to find that crypto has been banned by the developed nations and it became worthless, would you be OK?” asks Stanield.

If you’re going to be constantly stressing about your crypto investment, or tempted to change your investments in light of the volatility that comes with crypto, then you’re better off putting your money in a more stable investment, according to Stanfield.

“I believe it is still in its infancy stage, and just like any new fund or IPO, there is a level of uncertainty about the future that I’m not ready to stomach,” says Alajahwon Ridgeway, owner of Ridgeway Wealth Management in Lafayette, Louisiana. “I believe it … is an unnecessary risk at this point for my clients to reach their financial goals.”

There’s also far less historical data available about cryptocurrency to help investors make informed decisions — unlike conventional ETF and index/mutual funds. Crypto investors face additional risk in the form of poor or inaccurate trade data, competition among fellow investors, theft, loss of wallet passwords, supply and demand issues, government regulation, and energy consumption concerns, says Chelsea Rude, a CFP at Rude Wealth Advisory in Olney, Illinois.

“Most importantly for investors, there is a lack of a well designed and tested way to value the assets,” Rude says. This means crypto investors are essentially going in blind, and subjecting themselves to the uncertainty that comes with any new business or investment

Know Why You’re Interested In the First Place

Some people see crypto as an emerging investment, while others see it as an interesting new global currency you can use instead of the U.S. dollar or other international currencies. But whether crypto has long-term staying power on either front is still uncertain.

“I strongly believe the vast majority of people who own crypto currency are doing so for all the wrong reasons and misunderstanding what they are truly buying,” says Ben Lies, chief investment officer at Delphi Advisers.

Many experts are concerned about people dumping their money into crypto without real understanding of the area. Do your own research, and make sure you’re thinking about your investment in the right way.

“Hype and excitement around the space are not reasons for inclusion into any portfolio, but I believe there are compelling reasons to consider cryptocurrencies,” says James Vermillion, owner of Vermillion Private Wealth in Lexington, Kentucky. “When discussing crypto with clients I emphasize education and understanding. It’s important to note that there are thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence and they are not created equally. Due diligence is important, just as it is when looking at stocks or other investment vehicles.”

Nieri warns those who see Bitcoin as a currency to think about what that means for investing. “I don’t typically trade or have a currency hedge as part of my investment strategy. Would you have ever thought about trading dollars for Euros as an investment? In order for Bitcoin to be a legitimate currency, the world’s governments would need to accept it as a global currency, something that has a remote likelihood,” Nieri says.

Keep Crypto In Its Place

Don’t rely on crypto investments for your retirement or overall financial strategy. Make sure the majority of your investment portfolio is made up of stable assets projected for long-term growth.

“What I am sharing for [my clients] to do is build their future financial pie with investments such as stocks and bonds. If there is extra money they want to play with, buying crypto is an option,” says Eric Powell, financial advisor and founder of the Future Mill.

Make sure your overall investment portfolio is predominantly made up of conventional investments like stocks and bonds, says Powell. But within any crypto investments you might have, experts recommend sticking with the big names.

“I personally do not go beyond Bitcoin and or Ethereum,” says Michael Kelly, a CFA at Switchback Financial in Madison, Connecticut.  “I feel those two have a bit more of an established base and feel the risk of other coins becomes too significant.”

By:

 

Source: Curious About Crypto? Here’s What 10 Financial Experts Think | NextAdvisor with TIME

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Decentralized finance (commonly referred to as DeFi) is a blockchain-based form of finance that does not rely on central financial intermediaries such as brokerages, exchanges, or banks to offer traditional financial instruments, and instead utilizes smart contracts on blockchains, the most common being Ethereum.[1] DeFi platforms allow people to lend or borrow funds from others, speculate on price movements on a range of assets using derivatives, trade cryptocurrencies, insure against risks, and earn interest in savings-like accounts.[2]

DeFi uses a layered architecture and highly composable building blocks.[3] Some DeFi applications promote high interest rates[2] but are subject to high risk.[1] By October 2020, over $11 billion (worth in cryptocurrency) was deposited in various decentralized finance protocols, which represented more than a tenfold growth during the course of 2020.[4][2] As of January 2021, approximately $20.5 billion was invested in DeFi.[5]

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References

Braun, Alexander; Cohen, Lauren H.; Xu, Jiahua (May 2020). “fidentiaX: The Tradable Insurance Marketplace on Blockchain”. Harvard Business School. Retrieved 2021-01-05.

Labor Shortage Will Push Wages Higher, According To Bank Of America

A man hands his resume to an employer at the 25th annual...

As the U.S. economy roars back to life, new analysis from Bank of America suggests wages are likely to climb higher in the near term thanks to mismatches between supply and demand for workers.

Employers are desperate to staff up quickly to meet surging consumer demand, but some workers have been slow to return for a number of reasons including virus concerns, childcare constraints, early retirement and more generous federal unemployment benefits, BofA senior U.S. economist Joseph Song wrote in a Friday research note.

It’s already clear some workers are holding out for higher pay before they reenter the workforce: The average self-reported reservation wage—the lowest wage a worker says they will accept to start a new job—has grown 21% since the fall for people earning less than $60,000 per year, according to data from the New York Fed.

According to Song’s analysis, wage growth will be stronger in sectors that were hit hardest by the pandemic—including construction, real estate and hotels and food service.

Those are also the industries that tend to employ more workers at the lower end of the income spectrum. The mismatch in the labor market will abate later this year once the reopening boom abates and more Americans return to work, according to Song, which will lessen the upward pressure on wages.

Crucial Quote

“The current labor shortage should sort itself out by the fall as growth normalizes to more sustainable levels and more workers return to the labor force as health concerns subside and generous UI benefits expire by September,” Song wrote. That means wage growth could slow down a little as employers pull back on pay following big wage hikes this year and once they no longer need to compete with a $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement.

What To Watch For

Next year, Song expects wages to rise again when unemployment reaches prepandemic levels, though that growth will be driven by “better labor market fundamentals” rather than transitory factors like the pandemic and enhanced government unemployment benefits.

Big Number

4.2%. That’s the unemployment rate Bank of America is predicting for the end of 2021, down from 6.1%. It expects unemployment will fall even further to 3.5% at the end of 2022.

Key Background

Companies are already beginning to raise their wages to attract more workers as they reopen. Amazon is raising its average starting wage to $17 per hour and McDonald’s plans to raise its average starting pay at company-owned stores to $15 per hour by 2024. Chipotle said earlier this month that it will raise its average wage to $15 per hour by the end of June. Under Armour said Wednesday that it is hiking its minimum wage from $10 to $15 per hour, and Bank of America itself announced this week that it would raise its U.S. minimum wage to $25 per hour by 2025.

Tangent

As big businesses hike pay, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that some small businesses are struggling to remain competitive. The chief client officer at a St. Louis office furniture dealership told the Journal that he has had to raise wages in order to fend off competition for workers from larger companies including Amazon.

Further Reading

Biden Administration Doesn’t Think It Can Force States To Pay $300 Unemployment Benefits, According To Report (Forbes)

As Fears Of Worker Shortages Grow, White House Economists Say Covid-19 Is To Blame—Not $300 Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

Could Covid-19 Worker Shortages Create A $15 Minimum Wage—Even Without A New Law? (Forbes)

At Least 21 States Dropping $300-A-Week Federal Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

I’m a breaking news reporter for Forbes focusing on economic policy and capital markets. I completed my master’s degree in business and economic reporting at New York University. Before becoming a journalist, I worked as a paralegal specializing in corporate compliance

Source: Labor Shortage Will Push Wages Higher, According To Bank Of America

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The Macroeconomics of Labour Markets

The labour market in macroeconomic theory shows that the supply of labour exceeds demand, which has been proven by salary growth that lags productivity growth. When labour supply exceeds demand, salary faces downward pressure due to an employer’s ability to pick from a labour pool that exceeds the jobs pool. However, if the demand for labour is larger than the supply, salary increases, as employee have more bargaining power while employers have to compete for scarce labour.

The Labour force (LF) is defined as the number of people of working age, who are either employed or actively looking for work (unemployed). The labour force participation rate (LFPR) is the number of people in the labour force divided by the size of the adult civilian non-institutional population (or by the population of working age that is not institutionalized), LFPR = LF/Population.

The non-labour force includes those who are not looking for work, those who are institutionalized (such as in prisons or psychiatric wards), stay-at-home spouses, children not of working age, and those serving in the military. The unemployment level is defined as the labour force minus the number of people currently employed. The unemployment rate is defined as the level of unemployment divided by the labour force. The employment rate is defined as the number of people currently employed divided by the adult population (or by the population of working age). In these statistics, self-employed people are counted as employed.[5]

The skills required in a labour force can vary from individual to individual, as well as from firm to firm. Some firms have specific skills they are interested in, limiting the labour force to certain criteria. A firm requiring specific skills will help determine the size of the market.[6]

Variables like employment level, unemployment level, labour force, and unfilled vacancies are called stock variables because they measure a quantity at a point in time. They can be contrasted with flow variables which measure a quantity over a duration of time. Changes in the labour force are due to flow variables such as natural population growth, net immigration, new entrants, and retirements.

Changes in unemployment depend on inflows (non-employed people starting to look for jobs and employed people who lose their jobs that are looking for new ones) and outflows (people who find new employment and people who stop looking for employment). When looking at the overall macroeconomy, several types of unemployment have been identified, which can be separated into two categories of natural and unnatural unemployment.

References

Paul, Oyer; Scott, Schaefer (2011). Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives. Handbook of Labor Economics. 4. pp. 1769–1823. doi:10.1016/S0169-7218(11)02418-X. ISBN 9780444534521.

Delaying Required IRA Distributions Again Would Largely Help Only The Wealthy

Senior couple on a sailing cruise.

The House Ways & Means Committee is once again tinkering with the law that requires retirees to take minimum distributions from their individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k)s. Each time, Congress eases the required minimum distribution (RMD) rules at great cost to the federal government. Yet the beneficiaries would overwhelmingly be wealthy retirees and their future heirs.

The committee bill, approved today, would make two big changes to RMDs. It would allow retirees to wait until age 75 before taking required minimum annual distributions and paying tax on them. Currently, they must begin taking distributions at age 72. And it would make it easier for older adults to avoid taking required distributions by investing their retirement funds in annuities.

The new RMD rules are included in the Securing a Strong Retirement (SECURE) Act of 2021. To be sure,  the measure would make some beneficial changes, including provisions that encourage more employers to auto-enroll workers in retirement plans, an important tool to encourage participation. But it also includes some clunkers, and the RMD rules are high on the list.

Fiddling

Congress can’t help fiddling with the RMD rules.

In December, 2019, Congress allowed workers to delay taking RMDs from age 70.5 to age 72. Last year, Congress waived minimum distributions entirely in response, it said, to the pandemic. Lawmakers felt it would not be fair to require retirees to take distributions after the stock market plunged in March, 2020. Except, whoops, the S&P index rose 16 percent for the year.

Now SECURE would gradually extend the delay to 75. It would rise to 73 in 2022, then 74 in 2029, and finally 75 in 2032. But don’t be surprised if a future Congress accelerates the timetable.

Remember, the purpose of tax-free retirement plans is to help older adults save for their, um, retirement. It was not supposed to be another tool for bequests to family members. RMD rules are intended to make sure that these assets are taxed during a person’s expected life. Without the rules, rich retirees could simply stash assets in tax-advantage accounts until they die, then pass them on to heirs.

Not cheap

Delaying RMDs again would have major consequences, some unintended.  And it would not be cheap. At a time when lawmakers say they are worried about growing deficits, delaying RMDs would reduce federal revenue by almost $7 billion over 10 years. But the real cost would begin once the age phases up to 74 in 2029. At that point, revenue would fall by about $1.4 billion annually.

But its biggest problem is that delaying RMDs would be so regressive.

In 2015, the roughly 17 percent of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000-plus took more than half of the $253 billion in IRA distributions. Those making $50,000 or less took only about 20 percent.

In 2019, the median retirement account balance was only about $65,000, according to the latest Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Another survey found that nearly one-third of people in their 60s or older had less than $100,000 in defined contribution plan assets.

No help to many

Many low-income retirees with such limited retirement assets already take more than the required minimum annually to pay routine bills. Delaying required distributions would not benefit them in any way.

Keep in mind, as well, the life expectancy for low income people is far lower than for the wealthy. The RMD delay also is of no benefit for those who die before age 73.

It is the same story with enhanced annuities. Retirees with relatively little wealth receive few benefits from these investment. Someone investing that median $65,000 at age 65 would get an average payout of only about $250 a month.

Unintended losers

Charities may be unintended losers from these changes. They benefit from another complicated provision called qualified charitable distributions (QCDs). By contributing required distributions to charity, seniors can avoid tax on mandatory withdrawals. And QCDs have become a popular way for wealthy seniors to donate to charity.

It appears that these gifts fell sharply in 2020, largely in response to the temporary waiver of RMDs. And it would be no surprise if they continue to fall if wealthy seniors can delay distributions until age 75.

Some heirs are required to close, and pay tax on, their inherited IRAs within 10 years, although spouses and minor children and exempt from that requirement. Even for those subject the 10-year rule, the long deferral can be extremely valuable.

The Biden Administration is proposing a major shift in the tax treatment of assets held outside of retirement accounts by taxing at death unrealized capital gains in excess of $1 million. By doing so, it would prevent wealthy people from passing on a large share of their wealth tax free.

The RMD change in the SECURE Act, by contrast, would make it easier for wealthy seniors to pass on retirement plan assets, with any tax liability delayed for years.

I am author of the book “Caring for Our Parents” and senior fellow at The Urban Institute, where I am affiliated with the Tax Policy Center and the Program on Retirement Policy. I also write a tax and budget policy blog, TaxVox, which you may read at Forbes.com or at http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/ Before joining Urban, I was a senior correspondent in the Washington bureau of Business Week.

Source: Delaying Required IRA Distributions—Again— Would Largely Help Only The Wealthy

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For more information on IRAs, including required withdrawals, see:

These frequently asked questions and answers provide general information and should not be cited as legal authority.

  1. What are Required Minimum Distributions?
  2. What types of retirement plans require minimum distributions?
  3. When must I receive my required minimum distribution from my IRA?
  4. How is the amount of the required minimum distribution calculated?
  5. Can an account owner just take a RMD from one account instead of separately from each account?
  6. Who calculates the amount of the RMD?
  7. Can an account owner withdraw more than the RMD?
  8. What happens if a person does not take a RMD by the required deadline?
  9. Can the penalty for not taking the full RMD be waived?
  10. Can a distribution in excess of the RMD for one year be applied to the RMD for a future year?
  11. How are RMDs taxed?
  12. Can RMD amounts be rolled over into another tax-deferred account?
  13. Is an employer required to make plan contributions for an employee who has turned 70½ and is receiving required minimum distributions?
  14. What are the required minimum distribution requirements for pre-1987 contributions to a 403(b) plan?

How is the amount of the required minimum distribution calculated?

Generally, a RMD is calculated for each account by dividing the prior December 31 balance of that IRA or retirement plan account by a life expectancy factor that IRS publishes in Tables in Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). Choose the life expectancy table to use based on your situation.

See the worksheets to calculate required minimum distributions and the FAQ below for different rules that may apply to 403(b) plans.

Cybercrime Joker Retires With A Reported $2.1 Billion In Bitcoin

The most popular stolen payment card marketplace on the dark web is no more. The criminal behind the Joker’s Stash site, which trades in stolen credit and debit card data, has announced that all servers and backups will be wiped, and the site will never open again. That criminal, who unsurprisingly goes by the pseudonym of ‘JokerStash’ or Joker for short, has shut up shop and is going into retirement. A rather comfortable retirement, assuming Interpol and the FBI don’t catch up with them, with a reported $2.1 billion (£1.5 billion) in Bitcoin.

Joker’s Stash was the biggest of the carding sites on the dark web. Carding being the process of not just selling that stolen card data, but also enabling criminals to launder their illicit cryptocurrency balances. The stolen card data is used to buy gift cards or other easily traded items which are then sold on for cash. In 2019, I reported how a single payment card database, of more than a million market fresh cards in total, was being offered for sale at $130 million (£93 million.)

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In a January dark web blog posting, the Joker warned customers of the infamous carding site that it would shut up shop for good on February 15. However, according to financial crime compliance blockchain analysis specialists Elliptic, the site went down on February 3.

As you might imagine, this will not have pleased those customers who thought they had 12 more days to cash out their crypto balances. Although it hasn’t been possible to determine exactly how much money these cyber-criminals may have lost, the reverse is not true: Elliptic analysts have calculated the size of the Joker’s retirement pot based on incoming crypto payments to the Joker’s Stash wallet. MORE FOR YOU

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How big a pension has Joker built up through this criminal enterprise since it started operating in 2014? Elliptic said that, in 2018 alone, $139 million (£100 million) in sales went through Joker’s Stash, by way of example. More recently, revenues dropped significantly as payment card fraud detection technology improved. However, more than $400 million (£288 million) flowed through the site between 2015 and 2021.

Joker’s Stash made its money by charging deposit fees for converting Bitcoin to a dollar balance and also through taking a commission on all trading in stolen cards. Although that commission rate cannot be pinned down precisely, Elliptic analysts based their calculations on an average of 20% as seen at other carding operations.

“If we assume an average total commission of 20% on sales,” Elliptic wrote, “then considering bitcoin alone they would have taken a total of at least 60,000 bitcoins.”

Or, to put it another way, around $2.1 billion (£1.5 billion) currently.

Which leaves the departing statement from the Joker with the irony volume turned up to eleven. After telling cyber-gangsters not to “lose themselves in the pursuit of money,” the Joker went on to declare that “all the money in the world will never make you happy and the “most truly valuable things in this life are free.”

That’s easy to say when you have so much cash, regardless of how you came by it.

Maybe the pandemic played a role in both the site closure decision and that display of sentiment. In October 2020, Joker disclosed to customers that he, or she, had been in hospital for a week after contracting Covid-19.

Whatever, Joker’s Stash is no more and that’s a good thing for the law-abiding majority. Unfortunately, the way of the dark web world is that another carding site will soon rise to take over as the crypto kingpin of this illicit trade. Although this particular cybercrime genre has dipped in terms of profitability over the last couple of years, there is still, sadly, plenty of money to be made. Maybe not as much as the Joker’s Stash, but more than enough to make a mockery of the old saying that crime doesn’t pay. Especially as it would seem, based on current intelligence at least, that the site wasn’t busted by law enforcement but closed of its own volition. The last laugh would seem to be with the Joker.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website

Davey Winder

Davey Winder

I’m a three-decade veteran technology journalist and have been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at davey@happygeek.com if you have a story to reveal or research to share.

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