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What the experts say

Supersize dividends; Financial reforms large and small; Midlife crisis on a shoestring

Supersize dividends
Companies will be especially keen to dole out special dividends in 2010, said Jeffrey Kosnett in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. With the 15 percent federal maximum tax rate on dividends set to expire at year’s end, they “have a chance to do their shareholders a favor” by issuing large, one-time payments now—while taxes are still low. Meanwhile, many companies are certainly “piling up record amounts of cash.” Nonfinancial companies have $1.84 trillion in their coffers, according to the Federal Reserve, a 26 percent increase from a year earlier. Many seem reluctant to spend money on bolstering their inventories, but not all will share that wealth with investors: Look for those with little or no debt, strong cash flow, and no big controversies surrounding them. “Imagine the uproar if Goldman Sachs, which has $70 billion in cash, were to pay an extraordinary one-time dividend.”

Financial reforms large and small
At long last, the details of Congress’ financial reform bill are almost settled, said Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times. If passed, it would include plenty of changes that will affect consumers. Under the old rules, for instance, you could access your credit report for free each year—but you had to pay to see the actual credit score. “Thanks to the bill, you will soon be able to see the score”—if it has cost you a loan. Mortgage rules will also change, with caps on origination fees and bans on bonuses for brokers and bankers who push high-interest loans. Of course, consumers will be expected to hold up their end of the bargain: No-documentation loans will officially be a thing of the past.

Midlife crisis on a shoestring
You can’t fault a guy (or gal) for suffering from “midlife malaise,” especially in trying economic times, said Neil Parmar in SmartMoney. But with “retirement so close, and portfolios so battered,” many baby boomers may need to make some midlife concessions. Starting your own business, for instance, could be an answer to your blues. But don’t do it without the reality check of a business plan. Travel is another common cure, and “breaking the bank isn’t a prerequisite for a midlife blowout.” Booking last-minute trips or going with a “semi-independent” tour can help shave costs.

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