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Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth

Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth

By Jeffrey S. Maurer for U.S. Trust

Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth by Jeffrey S. Maurer studies clients of U.S. Trust to learn about wealthy Americans.

Rich In America focuses upon the top 1% of Americans based upon net worth ($3.75 million) or income ($300,000 per year).

We learn that about a third of these wealthy people earned their money through lucrative corporate jobs; about a third earned their money through private businesses; and about a third earned their money from professional practices.

Most of the affluent attributed their financial success to hard work. Time was also a factor. Only 7% worked ten years or less to obtain their financial status, while the average time worked to obtain their status was 21 years. About a quarter of the wealthy needed 30 years to attain their success. Today, the average, wealthy person still works 48 hours per week. So, I guess, the first "secret" to creating wealth is to work hard for a long time.

Most respondents said they felt they gave up time with family, friends, and hobbies to obtain their current financial success. We also learn other interesting statistics, such as 7.1 million households (6.6% of the population) have a net worth above $1 million. And, throughout the last 20 years, the largest gains in income and wealth have predominantly gone to the richest 1% of the population.

Maurer points out that creating wealth and preserving it are two different things. He writes: "There is an old saying: Concentrate to become rich, and diversify to remain rich."

While Maurer argues that saving (the average respondent saved 23% of his/her income) and compounding help build wealth, he says "…you can forget the notion that investing alone will make you wealthy. … All those books that say you can make millions in real estate or the stock market overnight are not accurate, but you probably knew that already."

Rich In America goes on to argue against simple buy-and-hold investing. He says you need professional financial advisors today. He also argues that a private banker is nice. At this point, for awhile, the book reads like a promotion for the financial planning services industry, with a special focus on the advantages of U.S. Trust.

Maurer likes hedge funds. (Incidentally, if you read the current 2004 issue of Forbes, which features the richest 400 people, there is a good demonstration of just how rich many hedge fund managers are. Partially due to the excessive fees, I'd argue hedge funds should be avoided by the average investor, even the average, wealthy investor.)

After the promotional digression, the book returns to surveying core topics, such as:

-Taxes ("Do not let the tax tail wag the investment dog[,]" writes Maurer.

-AMT

-Estimated Tax Payments (with which nearly every businessperson quickly becomes familiar)

-Stock Options

-Insurance

-Retirement Planning

-Estate Planning

Rich In America does a good job covering some topics not covered in basic financial planning books--topics wealthy people might find especially interesting. For example, in addition to learning the basics of life insurance, we learn about directors' insurance (in case you're on a board of directors) and kidnap insurance (before taking that trip to scenic Baghdad). We also learn that U.S. Trust typically recommends at least $10 million in liability insurance for its clients worth more than $5 million dollars. We learn about starting your own foundation.

My favorite section of Rich In America deals with concentrated stock positions and how to diversify such a position. Topics covered include:

-Zero-Premium Equity Collars (huh?)

-Varying Forward Contract (You agree to deliver some of your shares in the future and you receive cash today, locking in some present value, which sounds like it could have been handy if you have billions of dollars in hot IPO Internet stock headed for a correction. There is no discussion about how this relates to restricted IPO stock, where you're locked in from selling before a certain date.)

-Tax-Efficient Diversification through Indexing and Loss Harvesting (You start off with your concentrated stock, you wind up with a diversified portfolio, and apparently no capital gains taxes are due. Sounds like a tax evasion scheme to me. Before I'd try something like this, I'd find out what the IRS says about it!)

-Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT. You probably never knew you needed one.)

Of course, if you think one of these is handy, you need professional advice. But, I'd be careful. Don't assume that just because a plan is pushed by a big, respected firm that it's deemed OK by the IRS. PBS Frontline had a nice feature about tax shelters (search google for "tax shelters Frontline" and you'll probably find it), where entrepreneurs who sold firms for millions and who should have paid millions in capital gains taxes were sold tax shelters by KPMG where apparently no capital gains tax was due. The IRS disagreed. It was kind of humorous watching these entrepreneurs whine and say they trusted the big firm.

As Maurer writes: "There are many truisms to live by in the world of investing. Probably the most important is simply to be sensible. Anything that seems too good to be true probably is. There are no real shortcuts. When some salesperson appears on television and promises that he or she can quadruple any investment in 30 days, the only person whose wealth is truly going to quadruple is that of the salesperson."

Overall, Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth is an informative book that helps us understand many aspects of financial planning as they relate to the affluent.

Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth
Rich In America: Secrets To Creating and Preserving Wealth

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