Dear Liz: I invest in real estate and have a secure pension, but I also have a managed stock account worth about $250,000 and would like to get more involved in investing that.
Can you recommend some good books on how the market works and perhaps a couple of good middle-of-the-road websites? Everything I see is either overly bullish or bearish.
Answer: The principles of sound stock market investing aren't exactly "click bait" (Web speak for catchy links that generate views and advertising income). So you'd be smart to read a few books that have stood up over time.
Legendary stock picker
Buffett also says, however, that the vast majority of investors are better off taking a passive approach — one that involves buying and holding low-cost index funds that seek to match the market rather than beat it.
To understand why, you should read "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" by Burton G. Malkiel, which discusses how the active approach to investing typically fails and drives up costs that doom a portfolio to underperform.
Although both books have been updated recently, they were first published in 1949 and 1973, respectively. A must-read book published this century is Jason Zweig's "Your Money and Your Brain," which uses discoveries in neuroscience, behavioral finance and psychology to explore how we mess up investing and finance and how we can do better.
If you're looking for a website with solid investing advice, explore Kiplinger, a personal finance publisher in business since 1920.
Dear Liz: I was told by a staff person at our Social Security office that because I am seven years older than my husband (he is 58, I am 65), the "file and suspend" wouldn't work for me and that because I am waiting until 70 to claim benefits, it was a non-issue.
Is that correct? How does the "lump sum" option figure into the equation? How quickly would I have to file and suspend not to be penalized for the process?
Answer: The "file and suspend" option allows you to file for your Social Security benefit and then immediately suspend that application.
The suspension means your benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits that boost the amount of your checks 8% each year until age 70, when your benefit reaches its maximum. The file and suspend option is available only once you've reached your full retirement age (which is currently 66 but which is rising to 67 for those born in 1960 or later).
There are two main reasons to file and suspend. The first is to allow your spouse to claim spousal benefits based on your work record. The second is to give you the option to change your mind.
If you file and suspend, then discover you need the money, you can either start benefits at the larger amount you've earned with delayed retirement credits, or give up those credits and instead receive a lump sum payment of benefits back to the date you suspended your application.
There's no reason for you to file and suspend for spousal benefits since your husband would have to be 62 before he could file for those checks. By that time, as the Social Security representative points out, you'll be close to age 70, when you plan to start your benefit anyway.
You could still file and suspend as an insurance strategy — in case you need the money later. If that's your plan, then doing so at your full retirement age of 66 would give you the option of requesting the largest possible lump sum if you do change your mind.
Decisions about when to start Social Security benefits and how to coordinate benefits when you're married (or divorced, or widowed) can be extremely complex.
Please read the information the AARP provides on its site about maximizing Social Security benefits and consider using one of the available calculators to explore your options. AARP and T. Rowe Price have free calculators, and you can find more sophisticated options for $40 at sites including MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com and SocialSecurityChoices.com.