Q: I participate in the federal Thrift Savings Plan. I have my money distributed in these funds: 60 percent in large stocks, 20 percent in small stocks and 20 percent in international stocks. I have lost about $35,000 in the recent decline. I am not thinking of retiring anytime soon (maybe in the next couple of years, depending on how the economy goes). I feel it is too late to move my earnings into one of the fixed-income funds. I have heard all the experts on the economy and, for the most part, they seem to think we should leave it be. But I am really getting concerned. What do you recommend? I am 61 years old. -- V.H., Nashville, Tenn.
A: With every dime of your Thrift Savings Plan invested in equities -- U.S. large stocks in fund C, U.S. small-cap stocks in fund S, and International stocks in fund I -- you've really taken a beating.
But you're right about toughing it out. Now is not the time to sell. Warren Buffett is buying. Jeremy Grantham, a long-term bear, is saying stocks are now more attractively priced than any time since 1987. So is Jeremy Siegel. So hold on and remember that you've still got years left to work before you retire.
There is, however, something you can do to reduce your worry level. You can adjust your new contributions to the TSP to include a fixed-income investment such as the G fund. Your investments would be tax-deductible contributions, and you'd be able to reduce the risk of your portfolio substantially over the next few years as you get closer to retirement.
Q: My husband is 60 years old, and I am 48. We would like to retire. We have both saved money but don't have much more than one year of our combined annual salaries put aside for retirement. If we were to move to, say, Costa Rica or Guatemala, would Social Security mail us our check (assuming we could survive on our savings plus Social Security)? -- R.G., by e-mail
A: You can arrange for direct deposit of Social Security benefits to banks in a number of foreign countries. You can also arrange for direct deposit to a U.S. bank and make withdrawals through correspondent bank ATMs. Most of the people I've spoken with who live overseas do the bulk of their banking in the U.S. and have a smaller, secondary account in the country in which they are living.
(You can learn more about this on the Social Security Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10137.html#direct.)
The biggest issue most expat retirees face is that Medicare benefits are available only in the United States. So if you have a medical problem, you'll be on your own unless you carry one of the more expensive forms of Medigap insurance.
If the stories I am starting to hear are anywhere close to correct, however, not having Medicare coverage may not be as scary as people think. In the last month I've heard two stories of people who have left the United States to receive medical treatment. One didn't have U.S. health insurance but was married to a Mexican citizen. The other went to multiple doctors in the U.S. but couldn't get a diagnosis until she gave up and went to Mexico. Both stories had happy endings.
Q: I have bought closed-end funds in the past and own some, but I wonder what your source is for investigating the discount or premium at which they are selling? I have a Morningstar membership, but I cannot find this information. -- S.H., by e-mail
A: If you have a Morningstar membership, you can go to its "Funds" page. Then scroll down the left side of the page to "Fund Reports." Just below that you can click on "Closed-End Fund Reports" for Morningstar analyst reports on individual closed-end funds. Scroll farther down the page to "Fund Performance" and you can click on "Closed-End Funds" to get data on a wide range of closed-end funds. The first page that comes up will provide a list of funds, the premium or discount at which they are selling, their market return year-to-date and their net asset value return year-to-date.
Also, the web site www.closed-endfunds.com has a very nice screening tool that allows you to pick a fund asset class and drill down to an individual fund to find its current premium or discount to net asset value.