Back in the 60s, Congress created REITs: Real Estate Investment Trusts—so that the —average American could reap the benefits of income earning property.

REITs allow individuals to invest in large scale income producing real estate, without the hassle and overhead of going out, buying, and managing property.

REITs offer investors multiple benefits: Diversification, Dividends, Liquidity, and Transparency.

While operating under the same rules and regulations as other public companies REITs have, over the long term outperformed the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrials and NASDAQ Composite, while also showing little correlation to the performance of the broader market.

There are two kinds of REITs:

Equity REITs derive their income from rent on real properties, usually things like malls, industrial facilities, apartment complexes, hotels, hospitals, and more.

Mortgage REITs derive their income from interest earned on mortgages or mortgage securities.

There's some criteria a REIT must meet to qualify—modeled after mutual funds, and recognized as a corporation, it must have a minimum of 100 shareholders, be managed by a board of directors or trustees, invest 75% of its total assets in real estate, and derive at least 75% of its gross income from rents on real property, interest on mortgages financing real property or from sales of real estate.

Should I buy REITs?

I did some research, asked my investing mentor, and checked the performance of my own REITs. I'll let you decide for yourself.

Here's a take from my investing mentor (who opts to remain anonymous).

To start I wanted a REIT in my portfolio some years back to diversify. This was maybe 6 years ago when REITs were booming which they did through '16. My broker recommended Cole, a nontraded REIT. Cole held stand alone commercial real estate occupied by national chains like Walgreens. Their occupancy rate was high and the renter assumed most or all of the maintenance. It was golden. I received a 6.5 % dividend till it went public and I made a healthy gain on its sale. I immediately ploughed all my earnings into another Cole REIT. This time there were problems. Cole allowed themselves to be acquired by American Realty which immediately had a compensation scandal.

Cole product sales dwindled immediately nationally as broker confidence in them diminished. Then it looked like Cole was going to be taken over by Apollo Global, a private equity firm at a fraction of their worth. That's when I decided to bail. It was hard getting a redemption from Cole too. They were resistant. There was a minimal redemption penalty as I had held the REIT for some time. The ample dividend it paid more than compensated. With both REITs I walked away with a 50% profit over approximately 4 years. It was a frightening experience. Nontraded REITs are hard to redeem quickly.

Finally, I now hold a tradable REIT fund through my NY Life variable annuity but it's only a small fraction of my portfolio. It's been down as much as 9%. It is rated high risk.

Projections for REITs have been mixed. Some segments have been slated to do well like commercial office space due to the uptick in the economy, and Internet sales storage facilities for companies like Amazon. But I just read an article claiming commercial property overall is now overpriced, and the 7 year REIT rally is ending. Investors have not embraced REITs since they got a separate S&P sector listing. REITs pay around a 4% dividend and are seen as a haven for investors when they are risk averse. This is not the case now, which is why REITs are down.

In an article for Forbes, Brett Owens claims REITs are the sector to take off for 2017. He took pains to bust a common REIT myth that they fall as interest rates rise, and even provides data that proves that REITs actually perform better as rates rise. He also suggest 5 REITs to buy, 3 of which I own personally—Public Storage (PSA), Simon Property Group Inc., (SPG), and Ventas Inc., (VTR).

My own REIT portfolio has yielded 13.2% to date.

REITs are a great way to diversify your portfolio, but do your due diligence before deciding to pull the trigger for yourself!

Check out this resource for more!

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Developing further skills can boost your career at any stage.

Whether you are looking for a new job or trying to grow in your current one, getting a certification can be a great way to improve your skills.

Anyone can put that they are proficient in a computer program on their resume but having a certificate can help you stand out amongst the competition and give credence to the strength of your skills.

But what's the best way to invest in yourself without breaking the bank? Some certification programs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We are going to walk through six of the best certifications you can get for $100 or less.

Tableau

Tableau's data visualization capabilities are comparable to Domo and Power BI.

Who is it best for: Those who work with analyzing and presenting data.

Cost: $100 for Tableau Desktop Specialist; additional certifications are available for a larger fee.

More companies than ever see themselves as data companies. Being able to understand data and use it to guide decisions at your company is often critical to taking on a leadership role. Not to mention, being able to present the data in a clean, attractive, and compelling way can help get buy-in from others in your organization or clients. That's why Tableau is a great tool to have in your toolbox.

Tableau allows you to create interactive visual analytics dashboards. In layman's terms, you can take data; create graphs, maps, or charts; and then allow end-users to interact with these graphics to better understand the information. It's a fantastic tool allowing non-technical users to gain insights for data-driven decision-making.

Tableau Desktop Specialist certification starts at $100 and has no expiration date. There are many videos on Tableau's site to prepare for your exam as well as Tableau Starter Kits allowing you to play around and learn the different capabilities of the program. Tableau offers a 14-day free trial as well as free license for one year for students.

Additional certifications after Desktop Specialist are Desktop Associate and Desktop Professional. Those working with a Tableau server may also be interested in a separate certification as a Server Associate or Server Professional.

The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

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Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.

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