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Your 3 Edges Over the Investing Pros

Wall Street and the financial media love to tell individual investors they have no chance in the stock market against big-money professionals using high-tech software to sift through complex stock trends. That’s true to an extent, but it’s only part of the story.

Sure, if individual investors want to play Wall Street’s game, they have little chance of winning. But individual investors don’t have to play by those rules to succeed, because they have some significant advantages of their own. Even better: Those advantages are almost impossible for pros to mimic, so they’re a long-term competitive edge for the little guy.

Individual investors have at least three edges over the pros.

You can focus on the long term

The value of patience is overlooked in a world of high-frequency trading, cheap commissions and one-hour Amazon delivery. But as Wall Street becomes more focused on the short term — the average holding period has shrunk from years to months — the rewards of patience go up.

Unlike individual investors, the pros must try to beat the market every day, every quarter, every year. If they don’t perform, their funds lose money and their jobs are at risk. So they often engage in short-term jockeying, chasing hot stocks that later cool, and trying to sell faster than all the other pros when the market weakens.

You can focus on the long term, however, buying and holding great companies and funds. Investors find the potential super returns by buying when others are selling cheap in periods of market fear, and by buying to hold. Returns like those on Amazon — which has chalked up a 49,000% gain since its 1997 IPO — happen only if you continue to hold.

Of course, an Amazon doesn’t come around very often, and they’re hard to spot before they run higher. But novices also can invest passively using exchange-traded funds and index funds, adding to their investment during times of weakness and continuing to hold. ETFs and index funds also provide diversification, making a safer portfolio than owning just a few stocks.

You don’t have a lot of money

No, really — not having a ton of money is a huge advantage here. Legendary investor Warren Buffett often laments in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that if he only had less money he could generate higher returns. In fact, he’s famously said that he could earn 50% annual returns if he had less than a million dollars.


Buffett could buy small stocks that almost no one knows. While there’s no promise of 50% returns, this area of the market hasn’t been picked over by big investors, such as Buffett, who can buy only the largest, most-liquid stocks. Among the “small caps” — often defined as companies with a market capitalization less than $2 billion — lie the future great companies, hidden in plain sight. But their size makes them almost untouchable by Wall Street’s big money.

Even the funds and ETFs dedicated to small caps have a hard time and can hold only puny stakes in each individual company, because these funds need liquidity in their positions. So the funds’ exposure to any potential great company is quite small. That leaves opportunity for those able and willing to sift for bargains. But be aware that studies show it’s difficult to pick stocks that beat the broader indexes over the long term. It’s not a tactic to try with your whole retirement portfolio, or with any money you need in the short term.

You can remove emotion from the process

The stock market is the only market where the goods go on sale but people are too afraid to buy them. You’re going to be terrified to buy exactly when stocks offer the best future returns. But to profit, you have to zig when the market zags. You can’t do that if you’re too scared to act.

To take your emotions out of the decision, you can buy stocks or funds on a regular schedule, regardless of market swings. Set up a schedule to buy, or have your brokerage do it for you. Buy weekly, monthly or with every paycheck. If you’re funding a 401(k) plan with your employer, you’re buying regularly already.

The key point is to buy regularly even when the financial media screams that stocks are overvalued or that you’d be crazy to plunge in, like in 2009. After plummeting mercilessly for months, the S&P 500 index bottomed on March 9, 2009. By April 2011, the index had doubled — annual growth of 39%. Now six years further on, the index is approaching another double. From the 2009 bottom, the index is up more than 16% annually — well above the market’s long-run average annual returns of around 10%, or 7% after adjusting for inflation.

Buying all along the way, regular investors throughout the crisis didn’t time the bottom, so their returns aren’t quite as impressive as these bottom-to-top figures. Still, their performance destroyed the returns of fearful investors who scurried away during the height of the financial crisis and then waited for the market to become “safe” in 2011 or 2012, at which point it had already doubled.

Importantly, to get high returns you didn’t need to know which individual stocks to buy. The broadly diversified index fund did great, and such passive index investing is easier to do, too.

The first step? Get started buying stocks.

James F. Royal, Ph.D., is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @JimRoyalPhD

3 Good Reasons to Buy a Stock

For new investors drawn to the $3.4 billion initial public offering of Snap Inc., the parent company of social media darling Snapchat, watching the stock price the past three months has been a roller coaster. The day after its IPO, Snap sold for more than $27 per share, but it has since traded as low as $18.05.

For more experienced investors, the price fluctuations may bring to mind another big IPO: Facebook. Five years ago this month, Facebook went public with shares snapped up at $38.23 — and a little over three months later the price sank to $18.06. The price of Facebook stock took another year to climb above its initial stock price and now trades near $150.

It’s too early to know if Snap stock, now trading around $20, will follow Facebook’s arc. And this points to the difficulty in picking individual stocks and why NerdWallet generally recommends reserving just 10% of your portfolio for them. For most investors, a balanced portfolio is built on exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds, which pool individual company stocks, as well as bond funds that allow investors to reap market gains while hedging against inevitable losses.

Even within your portfolio’s stock allocation, it’s helpful to have a framework for knowing whether and when to buy. Here are three good reasons to say yes.

You’re focused on long-term value, not market noise

New investors may see news reports of hot stocks and feel like they are missing out — and maybe they are. Over time, stocks generally return as much as 7% per year after inflation, based on S&P 500 historical averages. But investing is not a get rich quick scheme. In general, if you’re putting money into stocks, you shouldn’t plan on needing to sell for at least five years (original Facebook investors are sure glad they held that long).

Remember, as a shareholder you become a co-owner of the company. As storied investor Warren Buffett once said, “Buy into a company because you want to own it, not because you want the stock to go up.”

Once you buy, check the stock price only on a quarterly, semiannually or annual basis — or buy a lot of antacid medicine to stomach the daily stock-ticker fluctuations.

How do you determine the company’s long-term value? That requires some homework.

The company has strong financial health and outlook

To understand the current and potential value of a company, your appetite for risk must be complemented by a strong taste for research. Understanding company management, competitors and the market are a must, as well as knowing your “price to earnings ratio” from your “earnings per share.” Scratching your head? This guide on stock research will get you started.

At the most basic level, you profit from stocks in two ways: First, of course, is selling at a higher price than you paid — that old maxim, “buy low, sell high.” But many stocks also pay quarterly dividends, a share of the profits, which can give investors a steady return despite fluctuating stock prices. Dividends are often paid by more established companies with strong cash flows — startups and fast-growing companies typically plow all profits back into the company.

>>More: How to buy stocks

The price is right (for you)

Before buying individual stocks, make sure you’ve already done the following financial health basics: topped off your 401(k) contribution to equal any employer match; created an emergency fund equal to at least three months’ worth of expenses; and paid off high-interest debt like credit card balances. Next, budget for how much you want to spend on individual stocks (again, keeping in mind the recommended allocation of 10% of your portfolio).

Timing when to buy a stock is as tricky as knowing when to sell — and unless you possess a crystal ball, it can be a fool’s errand. Instead, create a long-term strategy to build retirement savings with regular, scheduled contributions to your brokerage accounts. Otherwise, you’re more likely to follow the herd and dump investments when the market hits the skids, or hold back from investing altogether, either of which can be costly.

Investors who bought and held Facebook are glad they did, even if they missed the true bottom at $18.06. Will Snap stockholders who bought near $18.05 feel the same way? Only time will tell.

Kevin Voigt is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @kevinvoigt.

How to Ask for a Raise

Asking for a raise can be anxiety-inducing, but that one conversation can also mean having more money left over at the end of the month. We asked Robin L. Pinkley, co-author of “Get Paid What You’re Worth: The Expert Negotiators’ Guide to Salary and Compensation,” for tips on how to best make the case.

Just do it

“The most important thing is to just do it,” Pinkley says. You’ll obviously want to strategize when and how you ask for a raise — more on that later. But no one else will ask for you. It pays to advocate for yourself.

Give to get

Once you’ve summoned the courage to ask, what do you say? “If I can’t explain to them why we’d be better off doing what I want than not, then I don’t have any reason to be in that room,” Pinkley says.

What do you bring to the company that no one else can? Is your salary below market rate for your experience and responsibilities? If you can point to ways that you’ve helped the organization succeed, you have a clear justification for your request. “The goal is to get; the strategy is how do I give to get,” Pinkley says.

» MORE: How to negotiate your salary like a champ

Know your negotiation partner

Not only must you explain why your request is reasonable, but you also have to make sure your boss cares about your arguments. Some work better on certain supervisors than others. For example, Pinkley says that if you tried to argue for a raise with one dean at Southern Methodist University where she teaches by leveraging a competing job offer, he would just shake your hand and say, “Good luck.”

Make it easy for them to say yes

Along with considering the tactics your negotiation partner will respond to best, think about the wider context of your company. If business is down, it’s a bad time to ask for a raise. You should also time your request with your review cycle.

“If I wait until they tell me what my increase for this year, that’s a bad time to ask,” Pinkley says. “If I think I’m going to want a substantial increase, I’m going to go and talk about it well before the typical time.”

Honesty can pay off

Some experts caution against threatening to quit if you don’t get your way. But Pinkley says, “They need to understand if you have a walkaway.” Be straightforward if you can’t stay at a job because you can’t make ends meet. It’s reality, not a threat.

And be honest with yourself about whether you have a case for a raise. If you truly believe you do, but your company can’t or won’t give it to you, it might be time to move on. Just ask for clarity on the obstacles that are preventing it from happening before you pull the trigger. The feedback might convince you that staying is best or help you negotiate your next salary.

Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:

Debt Consolidation in 250 Words: What to Know

What is debt consolidation? It’s rolling several debts — like credit cards and medical bills — into a single payment at a lower interest rate. Ideally, this is part of a plan to become debt-free.

When should I consolidate? Debt consolidation is a good idea if you can qualify for a lower interest rate that makes payments more manageable or gets you out of debt faster. It’s not a good idea if you are likely to run up debt again or if the debt is overwhelming.

How can I consolidate? Two common ways are balance transfer credit cards and personal loans. What works best may depend on your credit score. If your credit score is good to excellent, look for a 0% balance transfer credit card (be sure to pay off the balance before the 0% period expires to avoid interest). If your credit is average, find a personal loan with rates lower than your credit cards.

A poor credit score may disqualify you for a balance transfer card or a personal loan at a rate that would reduce your payments. Keep making on-time payments on current debts; that builds credit, which can help you later.

My debt is overwhelming. What are my options? Schedule a free consultation with a credit counselor to see if a debt management plan could work for you.

If unsecured debts equal half or more of your gross annual income or your debts cannot be repaid in five years, bankruptcy may be the best option.

Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @ajbombay.

Ask Brianna: Should I Pick My First Job Based on My Debt?

“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to

This week’s question:

I’m about to graduate from college, and I’m worried about paying off my student loans. How can I find a job that will help me afford my loan payments?

Your first job might not be perfect — mine, as a paralegal, taught me the invaluable lesson that I didn’t want to be a lawyer — but it should move you in a direction that excites you. That means student debt shouldn’t entirely dictate your career choice. Comfortably paying bills isn’t worth much if you’re miserable 40 hours a week.

You are not the first, though, to read every job description with student debt on the brain. In a 2015 survey of student loan borrowers by the education nonprofit American Student Assistance, more than half of respondents said they took a higher-paying job they were less interested in so they could pay off their loans.

That doesn’t have to be you. Federal student loan repayment programs make lower-paying work more sustainable, and some private companies help pay loan bills. As your job search rolls on, remember that you have options and that having debt doesn’t require you to abandon all your dreams.

Apply for loan forgiveness

More than a third of respondents in the American Student Assistance survey said student loans affected their choice to work at a private company rather than in the public sector. But if you’re planning to work for the government or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, familiarize yourself with federal loan forgiveness programs. Public Service Loan Forgiveness cancels qualifying public sector workers’ loans tax-free after 120 on-time monthly payments.

The program has very specific requirements and may not apply to those who work for nonprofits with other designations under the tax code, like 501(c)6 or 501(c)19. If you’re not sure what type of nonprofit you’re interviewing with, ask your human resources representative. Make sure you follow the additional guidelines on the Federal Student Aid website and fill out an employee certification form annually, or whenever you change jobs, to ensure you’re on track.

Unfortunately, private student loan borrowers don’t qualify for federal forgiveness programs. Ask your lender about options for lowering your monthly payments. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau drafted a sample letter you can use.

Get your company to help

Some private companies offer student debt payments — say, $100 a month directly to the loan principal — as an employee benefit, similar to health insurance or 401(k) contributions. A 2016 report from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 4% of member companies and organizations surveyed offered student loan repayment assistance.

And more companies are getting in on the trend. Gradifi, an online platform that helps employers implement loan assistance programs, has signed contracts with more than 20 new companies in the past two months, says Meera Oliva, Gradifi’s chief marketing officer.

Elaine Florentino, 24, receives $100 a month from her employer, financial services firm PwC. She left school with a master’s degree in taxation and $57,000 in loans. The student loan assistance plan will cut her repayment term by one year, she says, if she stays with the company for six years, when the benefit maxes out.

Most workers currently have to pay taxes on employer student loan contributions, Oliva says, which reduces the value of the benefit. And it doesn’t address the forces driving rising student debt, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney at Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports.

“The fact that even private employers are feeling the pinch of not being able to attract good employees because of debt levels, that really tells us that policymakers have waited far too long to really get at the root of these problems,” she says.

Want to find out if a specific employer can help you beat debt? Companies will often tout their student loan repayment benefits on their websites. You can also ask a company if it offers the benefit when you’ve received a job offer, or let human resources know employees would be interested in it once you’re hired.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

 This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

How to Save Up for a Secured Credit Card Deposit

A secured credit card may be the simplest and quickest way to build credit, but getting one isn’t always easy. Even if you can get approved for one, you can’t use it until you supply a security deposit, usually a minimum of $200 or $300.

The deposit protects the credit card issuer in case the cardholder doesn’t pay as required, which is why issuers are willing to take a chance on people with no credit or bad credit. Putting the money together for the deposit may pose a challenge for those who have little or no extra income to spare. That’s where it helps to think creatively.

Whether you’re starting out or starting over, a deposit requirement doesn’t have to prevent you from building credit.

Finding the money for a deposit

Before saving for a secured credit card, it’s smart to build an emergency fund, money set aside for unforeseen expenses. The ideal emergency fund has at least three months of living expenses. If that’s not realistic, shoot for a smaller cushion; $500 is enough to avoid most debt traps. It’s also wise to pay off any debt you can, since it will cost you in interest. Divert extra money to these priorities first.

When you’re ready to start saving, consider these strategies.


The right adjustments can free up money for a deposit.

  • Get a new bank account: Switching to a low-fee bank account can save on monthly fees and other costs. If you don’t have an account at all, getting one can open up more secured credit card options, as having an account is often a requirement. A bank account is also less expensive than alternative financial services such as check-cashing stores, money orders or money transfers. If a bad banking history is an obstacle, try applying for a second chance checking account to save money.
  • Contact your utility provider: If you had to pay a deposit when you set up service, you may be able to get it back. Such deposits are usually refundable after a year with good payment history. Follow up with the utility provider. Also ask about low-income assistance programs for gas, electricity or water bills.
  • Change your phone plan: Join someone’s family plan or switch to a prepaid carrier, whichever saves more. These options are usually slightly cheaper than traditional plans. You can also lower your data usage or get rid of a landline you don’t need.
  • Weigh transportation options: Public transportation is usually cheaper than driving.
  • Rethink cable: Cut out your cable bill and opt for over-the-air TV or a cheaper subscription service such as Netflix or Hulu.
  • Ditch the gym membership: Exercise at home with YouTube videos.

Outside-the-box thinking can generate extra cash to set aside for a deposit. For example:

  • Use cash-back shopping sites: Shop at your favorite retailers through websites like Ebates and BeFrugal to receive 1% or more in cash back for purchases made online or in store. Buy only what you need to avoid overspending.
  • Crowdfund your deposit: Family or friends might support your campaign, especially if it’s a New Year’s resolution or birthday wish. Sharing your goal also helps with accountability. Consider how private you want your campaign to be. Ask about a crowdfunding site’s privacy settings and fees before getting started. The goal amount you set should take into account the website’s cut of the funds raised.

Saving by yourself is a thing of the past. Banking portals and tools can simplify budgeting.

  • Automate payments: Set up monthly automatic transfers to a savings account. Even $5 a month brings you closer to your goal.
  • Use a budgeting app: Mobile apps link bank accounts to track spending. Some let you set goals according to your budget and spending habits.

» MORE: How to build an emergency fund

Understanding secured credit cards

Once you have a deposit, it’s time to choose a secured card. Secured credit cards offer the chance to build credit. Look for one that reports to all three credit bureaus so that your on-time payments will help build your credit. Many issuers offer the option to upgrade to a regular unsecured card (and get your deposit back) without having to close the account, which will be better for your credit score.

Secured credit cards aren’t meant for heavy use. Their purpose is to demonstrate that you can be trusted with credit. Make a few purchases each month, then pay the balance in full and on time to avoid interest and fees. Don’t charge more than 30% of your credit limit, which can hurt your credit score; with a $200 or $300 deposit, that’s only $60 or $90.

Get to know your secured credit card and swipe by its rules. It may be temporary, but the impact on your credit isn’t.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best secured credit cards

Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @LissaLambarena.

How One Engineer Made His Hobby Pay Off

For years, Jacques Hopkins wanted to make money online with a flexible side gig. Now the former electrical engineer has found a niche that has become his career: teaching people to play modern songs on the piano in 21 days, all over the internet.

Hopkins didn’t make the transition overnight. He and his wife had been saving for years before he started his own business. Here’s how they did it — and how you can turn a hobby into your main hustle.

From engineer to entrepreneur

Piano teaching wasn’t Hopkins’s first entrepreneurial idea. He tried a few that didn’t take off, including an invention that turned regular desks into standing desks. He learned from that experience that he didn’t want to sell physical products.

But he could sell lessons online, from anywhere. So he developed a more accessible and efficient method of teaching piano than the formal lessons he took from ages 5 to 17.

And so began his side business, Piano In 21 Days. The company’s tagline says it all: “I help regular people learn to play modern songs on the piano in as little time as possible.” What started as YouTube videos of Hopkins playing pop songs became a 21-day online course.

Hopkins knew the project would be more successful if he could devote more time to it — so he quit his day job. “The website took off once I was focusing on it eight hours a day,” he says.

Saving for the jump

Before Hopkins quit his engineering job, he and his wife, Niki, prepared to lose that income. The first step: paying off their mortgage. Then, Hopkins says, “the money we were putting toward the mortgage started going to a savings account.” Niki also received a pension from a previous job, which helped them build savings.

The family amassed enough to live on for a year, frugally, without much support from the piano business. “We wanted to make sure we had enough savings so that if this failed miserably, we would still be able to have money to live on and time for me to find another job if I needed to,” Hopkins says.

Building a ‘security blanket’

In the event that Piano in 21 Days did fail miserably, and Hopkins couldn’t find work, the family had a backup: a $20,000 emergency fund. “That was sort of a security blanket that was just sitting there,” he says.

Hopkins had started the fund years before. He had very little debt and was able to contribute about $500 per month. After two years, he saved about $12,000. Once he and Niki got married, they gradually increased the fund to about $20,000.

“You just attack it,” he says of building the fund. “Five, six, seven hundred dollars a month — whatever you have.”

The benefits of working online

Hopkins, his wife, who is expecting, and their toddler daughter are based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but Hopkins can live and work from anywhere. Most of his work involves talking with prospective customers on the phone, as well as marketing and growing the business. He occasionally posts a new YouTube video, tweaks the website and posts on social media. He outsources other tasks.

Hopkins and his family take advantage of his flexibility by traveling often. For example, last summer they spent three months in France. “We’re having a blast,”  he says. But even when Hopkins is on vacation, he talks with prospective customers. “I’m not going to stop taking those phone calls,” he says.

Lucrative earnings and European vacations are far from the only benefits of Hopkins’s work. He loves that he’s helping people all over the world. “When I worked a real job I was hardly able to see my impact, but now I get feedback daily from people thanking me for helping them learn to play piano,” he says. “That’s really what keeps me going.”

Inspiration for others

Want to make money online like Hopkins? Start by exploring his favorite resources. He says he was most influenced by Tim Ferriss’s “The 4-Hour Work Week,” which inspired him to pursue a side gig when he was still in college. He also recommends Jeff Walker’s “Launch,” which is specific to building an online business.

“I wish I would have known sooner that running your business purely on the internet was possible,” Hopkins says.

Laura McMullen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.

How to Gift Stock to a New Grad

Graduation season is in full swing and for many Americans that means one thing: It’s time to head to the ATM.

Cash is expected to be the go-to gift again this year for new grads, followed by greeting cards and gift cards, according to survey results released this month by the National Retail Federation. The appeal is obvious: The recipient can spend the money how she pleases, there’s no hassle with receipts or returns and minimal effort is required of the giver.

If you like the idea of giving cash but want something with more oomph, consider stock. It potentially has a longer shelf life and higher returns. A gift of stock also helps a recipient learn how to invest.

There are some considerations unique to gifting stock, however, including understanding the intended recipient’s immediate financial needs. Here are four questions to consider before you give stock.

1. Are stocks the right gift?

It’s generous to help someone invest for the future, but be cognizant of the recipient’s pressing needs. Does the new grad have high-interest credit card debt? Is he facing uncertain job prospects? Does she have forthcoming expenses (moving to a new city, for example) that could push her into debt?

If “yes” is the answer to any of the scenarios above, the gift of investments may not be practical. Even worse, a cash-strapped new grad could be tempted to sell the stocks and forgo the long-term benefits while also triggering taxes.

If the gift is for a minor, there are ways to limit when or how she’ll access that investment. By setting up a custodial account, you’ll manage the account on her behalf until she’s of age (generally 18 or 21 years old, though some states allow you to specify an older age). At that point, she’ll be free to do with it as she pleases.

» MORE: Give your child the gift of stocks

2. To transfer or to buy?

There are two basic ways to give stocks: transferring shares you already own or buying new ones. Deciding which is best will depend on your current holdings and the tax implications for the recipient.

Since the gift is being made with the recipient’s best interest in mind, you should know that transferring shares to them means you’re also transferring any capital gains tax burden for those shares. When it comes time to sell, they’ll face realized capital gains based on the stock’s value when you first bought it.

For example, if you’re gifting 100 shares of a company that you bought at $25 a share and the recipient sells when the stock’s trading at $40 a share, they’ll pay taxes on a capital gain of $1,500. If instead you were to buy and gift new shares of that same stock when it was trading at $35 per share and they sold it at $40, they would only pay capital gains on $500.

If you still want to transfer shares of an existing holding, the process varies depending on how you hold the stock — in a paper certificate, with a brokerage or through direct registration with the company. Contact the institution that oversees your holdings to find out what steps and paperwork are needed to complete the transfer.

In general, you’ll need the following: a description of the securities you’re gifting (company name, ticker symbol and number of shares), your account number and your contact information, as well as the recipient’s full name, Social Security number, contact information and the account where the investment should be transferred.

If the recipient is a newbie to the world of investing and doesn’t have a brokerage account, you may be able to transfer stocks through the Direct Registration System. This will put the recipient on the books as an investor with the company.

If you’re looking to give a stock you don’t currently own (or you don’t want to part with your own shares), you have choices. Much like a transfer, you’ll need to direct this purchase to an account in the recipient’s name by buying shares directly through the issuing company or a brokerage.

Several websites cater to people who want to give stock, including, and, but there can be a premium for novelty. Buying one share of a company and having the certificate framed could cost as much as twice the stock’s current trading price on GiveAshare, for example. For any of these sites, be sure to check fees, which may be higher than a traditional brokerage.

» MORE: How to buy stocks

3. How generous do you want to be?

Whether you’re transferring shares or buying new ones to kickstart a new grad’s investment portfolio, there are likely limits to your generosity. The IRS agrees.

You can give annual gifts up to $14,000 (which includes the value of stocks) to any number of recipients and you’ll be exempt from paying federal gift taxes. Go above that amount and you’ll owe.

Your altruism has other tax implications, as well. You get a tax benefit when transferring stock by avoiding capital gains taxes on that investment, but as noted above, the recipient assumes that burden. For new investments, there’s no capital-gains tax benefit for the giver and the cost basis for the recipient is the value of the investment at the time of purchase.

4. What lessons do you want to impart?

Cash may be king at graduation, but it’s also here today, gone tomorrow. Stock gifts can be memorable and meaningful beyond the potential for financial gains, as Alex Whitehouse’s story shows. As a toddler, he received 10 shares in a utility company from his grandfather.

“At first I was just excited to receive something in the mail with my name on it, but later on it sparked an interest in the stock market and an appreciation for the impact of reinvested dividends,” says Whitehouse, who is now president of Whitehouse Wealth Management in Vancouver, Washington. “That gift had a huge impact on me. It led me on the path to becoming a financial advisor.”

Now, Whitehouse helps his clients pay this forward, recommending grandparents gift stock to their grandchildren, particularly shares of companies that will resonate with the younger generation.

Stock gifts require more planning than stuffing money into a greeting card. But by making that effort, perhaps you’ll spark an early interest in investing or help the recipient plan for the future — and it’s impossible to predict where that may lead.

Anna-Louise Jackson is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @aljax7.

If at First You Miss a Financial Goal, Try, Try Again

Setting a short-term financial goal is good, and achieving one is even better. But what should you do if you miss a goal you set for yourself?

Don’t get discouraged if your plan to buy a car, take a vacation or save money didn’t quite go as planned. Life happens. Here’s how to get back on track.

Embrace failure

Mindset is a huge part of financial health.

First, find the bright side. Even if you didn’t save as much money as you had hoped, imagine if you hadn’t set that goal at all. You’d still be back where you started — with the same amount in the bank. So kudos on making progress and getting serious about your finances.

Then, look at the setback as a learning opportunity. Rather than simply extending a goal’s deadline when the original timeline doesn’t pan out — or worse, taking on debt to finance the rest — diagnose where your savings plan went awry.

“Once you’ve reached that goal, or more importantly not reached that goal, I really think it’s important to look back at the spending habits and trends over the time and compare it to the budget you set up,” says Robert P. Finley, a chartered financial analyst, certified financial planner and the principal of Virtue Asset Management in Illinois.

You can do this by asking yourself a series of questions, Finley says, including:

The answers will help you determine if your goal was feasible. You can’t avoid paying a fixed amount for some things, like your mortgage or rent, but other spending categories, like eating out, have more wiggle room.

» MORE: Short-term or long-term, budget and save for your goals

Make adjustments

Based on your self-audit, make some adjustments to your savings strategy. If you’ve already cut your budget as much as possible, it might be time to find a way to make more money — at least until you reach your goal.

If you have your heart set on a vacation, for instance, you may be willing to take on a weekend job, babysit or work a side hustle to make ends meet, says Stephanie Genkin, CFP, the founder of My Financial Planner LLC in New York.

Or, you could make compromises to reach your goal sooner rather than later. “We’re looking at something that’s similar, yet maybe a little more affordable,” says Tony Madsen, CFP, the founder of NewLeaf Financial Guidance LLC in Minnesota. “Instead of going to Maui, is there a different trip that you can do altogether that becomes affordable for you?”

Whatever route you choose, avoid taking on debt to achieve a goal that’s not an absolute necessity. “The worst scenario is to charge it and then add 15% debt interest to your overall net worth,” says Finley.

Be your own cheerleader

As you pursue your goal for a second time, monitor your progress regularly. Madsen recommends setting check-ins at a cadence that’s comfortable for you. The goal is to analyze and adjust as you go.

Be sure to celebrate each milestone you hit along the way, too. Like most things in life, financial goals don’t have to be executed to perfection.

“If you ride a horse, you are sometimes going to fall off,” says Norman M. Boone, CFP, the founder and president of Mosaic Financial Partners Inc. in California, in an email. “The key to success is getting back on, resetting your goal and continuing to move forward.”

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @courtneynerd.

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