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Investing Blog Roundup: Asking Questions

I received an email from a reader this week who mentioned that she was hesitant to email me with a question — she said she didn’t want to bother me. Another reader emailed with a question, then indicated he was surprised that I actually answered.

To provide some perspective: It’s because of you folks — readers who buy the books, post reviews on Amazon, tell friends about the blog, etc. — that I’m able to make a living doing work that I enjoy. And I really do enjoy it.

So, no, I certainly don’t mind spending time to answer your questions. (At least, I don’t mind trying to answer them. I don’t have all the answers.)

In addition, your emails are how I know what to write about. When I see a particular type of question come up over and over, I know it’s likely that many other readers have similar questions and it’s worth addressing them with a blog post.

So when you have questions you think I might be able to help with, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.

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  1. Thanks for the clear invitation to questions!

    I’ve recently started buying TIPS through Schwab’s etf fund, and plan on using the money there as an emergency fund. I’ve got very basic knowledge of TIPS. Is this a good idea? Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.

  2. Danny,

    TIPS are very low-risk when held to maturity. But long-term and intermediate-term TIPS are not necessarily low-risk over shorter periods.

    Assuming SCHP is the ETF in question, its average duration is 8.25 years. That means that if real interest rates for such bonds went up by, say, 2%, the ETF’s price would fall by about 16.5% (8.25 x 2).

    Personally, I’d be reluctant to hold SCHP as an emergency fund given that the whole idea of emergency funds is that you don’t know when you’ll need to spend the money — and it’s possible, therefore, that your holding period would be less than the fund’s duration. Instead, I’d be more inclined to hold shorter-term bonds. (SCHO would be a commission-free choice at Schwab, for instance.)

    That said, if this is something of a second-tier emergency fund (and you have significant funds in CDs/checking/savings/etc.), then an intermediate-term TIPS fund might be appropriate.

  3. I’m confused! For my HSA account, I can either invest the $3,050/yr max through pre-tax payroll deductions, or as an after-tax contribution I deduct when I do my taxes.
    I figured it would end up being the same amount of money, so didn’t much matter how I do the contribution.
    But, our company’s open enrollment materials say I don’t pay social security tax on HSA money deducted through payroll. If I did an after-tax contribution, I’d recoup the federal/state taxes paid, but not Social Security. So does that mean I’m 4.2% better off (or whatever current SS contibution is) by funding my HSA account thru payroll deductions rather than just writing a check to HSA account with after-tax dollars?

  4. Laurie,

    Employee contributions made to an HSA through a “cafeteria plan” are generally not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes (or income taxes). So my understanding is that, yes, making pre-tax contributions is preferable (though I think it’s by 5.65%, due to 4.2% for Social Security tax and 1.45% for Medicare tax).

  5. Luana Blunk says:

    Trying to plan for retirement is sometimes difficult but one does have some known expenses but planning for the future when you are 90 years old is particularly difficult. I never expected to live this long, but now the forecast could be anywhere from a couple of years to over ten years of various circumstances regarding health. So far I am living independently with planned savings and Medicare but it is difficult to plan for future expenses which could be extremely high. Just some thoughts concerning further out than just retirement.

  6. Thanks for participating in the Carnival of Passive Investing Mike!

  7. Thanks for pointing that out to me Mike,

    I hadn’t considered the average duration of the bonds. I think I’ll go with your inclination. I think I’ll also use short term bond ETF’s like SCHO to save for a home I hope to buy in about 4 years. If you have any wisdom to share regarding saving for a home through certain investments versus others, I’m all ears.

    Thanks again.

  8. Danny,

    With regard to short-term savings goals like a home purchase within a few years, I don’t have anything particularly insightful. If it were me, I’d probably just stick with CDs.

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