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What the experts say

Are ETFs dangerous?; The return of renovation; More time for taxes

Are ETFs dangerous?The popularity of exchange-traded funds should be a point of pride for Vanguard founder John Bogle, said Jeff Sommer in The New York Times. Thirty-five years after he launched the first ETF, half of all index funds are ETFs, meaning they trade the way stocks do. But Bogle always argued against attempts by the average investor to beat the market; he liked that ETFs were indexed, which allowed for low fees and removed the predictable costs of mistimed stock trades. Watching how online trading has made it easy for small-time investors to buy or sell ETF shares on a whim, Bogle is horrified. “ETFs, in their way, are a dangerous weapon,” he says now. And indeed, the actual returns that ETF investors have experienced over the past five years have trailed those of the funds themselves by 3 percentage points.

The return of renovationGiven the still sorry state of the housing market, now hardly seems like the right time to sink money into a home renovation, said Josh Garskof in Money. But assuming you like the location of your home and are on “solid financial footing,” now is an ideal time to “tackle the new kitchen or master bathroom you’ve been dreaming of.” Not only have the costs of many materials fallen 30 percent since the peak, but the best contractors in the business are eager to take the job—for as much as 20 percent less than they demanded three years ago. Need to borrow to get the job done? Interest rates are near historic lows, too.

More time for taxesHere’s some good news for those who put off filing their taxes until the bitter end, said Andrea Coombes in Marketwatch.com. Tax day is on Monday, April 18, this year. That’s because the usual tax deadline, April 15, falls on the Emancipation Day holiday, which is celebrated in the District of Columbia. The bad news, if you’re one of those people who files as quickly as possible in anticipation of a refund, is that you may have to wait. Because of the “late-breaking tax law,” passed in December, filers who itemize their deductions on Schedule A or claim certain education-related deductions will need to hold off until mid- to late-February to file; the IRS needs to update its processing systems to account for deductions that were reinstated.

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