Answers to the Major Concerns That Affect Your Finances

Buying individual stocks instead of stock mutual funds lets you decide when to sell and take the tax consequences, and returns can be just as good for conservative investors who stick with larger companies. Mutual funds made more sense than stocks when expenses were lower than brokerage fees. But discount brokers now charge as little as $25 for smaller trades, and trading on the Internet can cost as little as $15.

Hugh F. Doherty, DDS, CFP

Buying Individual Stocks

Buying individual stocks instead of stock mutual funds lets you decide when to sell and take the tax consequences, and returns can be just as good for conservative investors who stick with larger companies. Mutual funds made more sense than stocks when expenses were lower than brokerage fees. But discount brokers now charge as little as $25 for smaller trades, and trading on the Internet can cost as little as $15.

Special Medical Deductions

Special medical deductions can help raise unreimbursed medical expenses to 7.5 percent of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)-at which point they become deductible. Included are: Home improvements for medical reasons-to the extent their cost exceeds any increased value to your home . . . costs of trips needed for health reasons ($50 limit per night for lodging) . . . a special diet prescribed by a doctor-to the extent it costs more than a regular diet . . . eyeglasses, contact lenses and contact-lens insurance.

Going Overseas? Don`t Leave Home Without Your ATM Card

For convenience and better exchange rates, use ATMs to get cash when you are traveling abroad. There are hundreds of thousands of MasterCard, Cirrus and Visa/PLUS machines scattered around the world, and they offer you the same wholesale exchange rate that banks charge each other.

Before you embark, find out the fees your bank charges for foreign currency withdrawals at ATMs, and get a list of ATM locations. Ask about caps on withdrawal sums and the maximum number of digits allowed for Personal Identification Numbers used abroad (your PIN may need to be changed if it exceeds that amount). If you use a word for a PIN, you will need to convert it to numbers (ask your bank). Also, check the expiration date on your card and remember to take along your bank`s phone number in case your ATM card is lost or stolen. To locate ATMs abroad, you can call Cirrus at (800) 424-7787 and Visa at (800) VISA-911.

Casino and Hotel Stocks Look Like Good Bets

Gaming and lodging stocks have been two of the hottest sectors in this year`s stock market, and, even though they have retreated from recent highs, analysts expect the uptrend to continue. Casino stocks were up 9 percent for the year, while hotel stocks surged 29 percent.

Casinos have been operating on the premise that "if you build it, they will come," says an analyst at Standard & Poor`s. He says the assumption has rung true in many cases, especially in Las Vegas, which remains the country`s premier gaming locale. But expansion of the industry also has helped some companies operating in Atlantic City and on riverboats in the Midwest.

Analysts tend to favor larger companies because of their track records, multiple casinos and expanding operations. Among their favorite picks: Circus Circus Enterprises, Mirage Resorts and MGM Grand.

The strength in the casino industry also is helping drive up the price of hotel stocks, some of which include gambling operations. Here, too, analysts like the giants, such as Hilton Hotels and ITT. Hilton is destined to become the nation`s largest gambling company.

Visit Colleges Without Leaving Home

Instead of spending heavily on college guides and trips to far-flung campuses, you now can use the Internet to research almost any school in the country.

There are home pages for individual universities, composite pages that sort colleges by category-such as state and religious affiliation-and other services that rank schools based on their academic reputations. You can find out about tuition and fees, financial aid and even admission requirements. The web site includes the range of SAT scores and grade-point averages for the middle 50 percent of the freshman class. If you have any questions about a particular school, you can e-mail the campus instead of telephoning or writing.

Peterson`s Education Center at http://www.petersons.com presents data on individual colleges, such as overviews of admissions requirements and undergraduate programs. It also groups colleges-two- and four-year-by the majors and degrees they offer. Either way, you can visit the campus from your home and save on travel expenses.

A Pension Plan That Favors the Older Doctor

A client asked: "Could I lower my pension contributions for my staff by switching from a money-purchase plan to a target-benefit plan, because my employees are considerably younger than I? How do target-benefit plans work?"

Answer: As with a money-purchase plan, the annual deposits are 25 percent of a doctor`s net earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $30,000. Target-benefit plans also factor in each participant`s age when calculating annual contributions. First, you decide what size benefit you want to receive at retirement. Then, your pension consultant figures how much you will have to put in each year to reach that target. You also must set proportionate targets for your employees. But, since they are younger than you, there is more time to build up their retirement fund, so you can contribute less for them than for yourself. Investment performance has no effect on contribution rates.

Hugh F. Doherty, DDS, CFP, is a national lecturer and CFO of Doctor`s Financial Network and financial advisor to the health-care profession. For personal financial consultations and information about Florida workshops, call (800) 544-9653.

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