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10 More Investments You Should Know

10 More Investments You Should Know

    On Tuesday, we discussed the first ten of the twenty investments everyone should have at least a passing familiarity with. We still have another ten to go, so let’s get started.

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    1. Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS)

    While I wouldn’t recommend buying an MBS these days, it’s still an investment worth knowing. In order to be able to afford to offer mortgages, most small banks package their mortgages and sell them through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As the housing industry works through the toxic mortgages it’s offered over the past couple of years, it’s best to avoid investing in an MBS or a collateralized mortgage obligation (CMO) — the cheaper version of an MBS.

    2. Municipal Bonds

    Municipal bonds, often called ‘munis,’ are bonds issued by states, counties, or municipalities for capital expenditures. When you purchase a municipal bond, you’re essentially offering a loan to the local government. At first glance, most municipal bonds seem to have very low returns; however, most are exempt from federal taxes and can be exempt from state and local taxes as well. When you factor in the improved tax situations, the return on municipal bonds is significantly better.

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    3. Mutual Funds

    Members of mutual funds lump their money together and have a mutual fund manager buy stocks. The mutual fund manager is responsible for researching stocks, making sure the fund is diversified and all the details that can make investing in stocks worrisome for first time investors. Most funds have a set goal, along with strategies for risk and return. Mutual funds are particularly popular because you can easily make monthly purchases.

    4. Options (Stocks)

    Options are not actually securities, unlike many investments. Instead, options are the privilege to buy or sell a particular security at a set price within a certain period of time. If, for instance, you were to buy an option to buy a stock, you would hope the share price will rise significantly; you then purchase the stock and immediately resell it — or you can resell the option. Stock options are a particularly risky investment and most brokers will require you to receive approval to trade options — the added step is an attempt to limit the number of traders with no experience or knowledge.

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    5. Preferred Stock

    Preferred stock represents your ownership in a company, just like common stock, but most preferred shares do not confer any voting rights, unlike common stock. For most preferred stock, dividends are also often different than common stocks: you would normally receive a fixed dividend indefinitely with preferred stock. Preferred stock is treated more like a combination of stocks and bond than straight stock. The main benefit of this approach is that, in the event of a company going bankrupt, its preferred stockholders will be repaid before common stockholders.

    6. Real Estate and Property

    For most people, purchasing a home is the largest single investment they will ever make in their lives. Of course, real estate investments can go far beyond houses: commercial properties, undeveloped land, condos and other opportunities are all included in this category. While real estate has developed something of a bad reputation lately, it can still be a very worthwhile investment. However, it is important to remember that real estate can be one of the more expensive investments to hold, between maintenance, property taxes and related expenses.

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    7. Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)

    If you’re interested in investing in real estate, but feel like it’s too expensive, you can still invest in REITs. These investments are traded like stocks on most major stock exchanges — they are directly invested in properties or mortgages. Compared to traditional real estate investments, REITs are far more liquid, have better tax advantages and have high yields. REITs are usually less volatile than the rest of the stock market, although lately they’ve been riskier than usual.

    8. Treasury Securities

    Treasury securities actually include a number of different investments, including treasury bills (short-term investments), treasury notes (medium-term) and treasury bonds (long-term). All treasury securities are considered low risk; they are loans made to the national government which is assumed to be unlikely to default. Because of the risk factor, the return on treasury securities is fairly low.

    9. Unit Trust (UIT)

    UITs are fairly similar to mutual funds in that they hold a portfolio of investments. However, they differ dramatically in the portfolios they each hold: UITs may own common stock, but rely on income-producing securities like municipal bonds, government bonds and corporate bonds. UITs are not actively managed like other investment portfolios might be: because they hold income-producing securities, they allow these investments to mature and pay out. UITs are mostly low-risk investments, although those that hold stocks can be less certainty of a good return.

    10. Zero-Coupon Securities

    While most bonds pay a return (known as a ‘coupon’) beyond their face value, banks or brokers also offer zero-coupon securities. Essentially, zero-coupon securities are bonds that have had their coupons stripped off: the broker removes the coupons and trades the remaining bond as a zero-coupon security. The benefit of investing in these securities is that you will pay less than face value — significantly less if the bond won’t mature for quite a while. For instance, you might pay $800 today for a $1,000 security that will mature in five years, when you will receive the full face value. Zero-coupon securities have little risk, but they do have a few tax disadvantages.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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