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Glossary


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Paid-up policy

A paid-up policy is a whole life insurance policy for which no additional premium payments are required to keep in force. Generally, a standard paid-up policy lasts the rest of your lifetime or until you reach a specific age, such as 100. Some policies are designed to be fully paid up at an age specified in the contract, such as whole life policies for which you pay no more premiums after age 65.


Paper

Short-term, unsecured debt securities that a corporation issues are often referred to as paper — for short-term commercial paper. The term is sometimes used to refer to any corporate bonds, whether secured or unsecured, short or long term.


Paper profit (or loss)

If you own an asset that increases in value, any increase in value is a paper profit, or unrealized gain. If you sell the asset for more than you paid to buy it, your paper profit becomes an actual profit, or realized gain. The same relationship applies if the asset has lost value. You have a paper loss until you sell, when it becomes a realized loss.You owe no capital gains tax on a paper profit, though you use the paper value when calculating gains or losses in your investment portfolio, for example. The risk with a paper profit is that it may disappear before you realize it. On the other hand, you may postpone selling because you expect the value to increase further.


Par value

Par value is the face value, or named value, of a stock or bond. With stocks, the par value, which is frequently set at $1, is used as an accounting device but has no relationship to the actual market value of the stock. But with bonds, par value, usually $1,000, is the amount you pay to purchase at issue and the amount you receive when the bond is redeemed at maturity. Par is also the basis on which the interest you earn on a bond is figured. For example, if you are earning 6% annual interest on a bond with a par value of $1,000, that means you receive 6% of $1,000, or $60. While the par value of a bond typically remains constant for its term, its market value does not. That is, a bond may trade at a premium, or more than par, or at a discount, which is less than par, in the secondary market. The market price is based on changes in the interest rate, the bond's rating, or other factors.


Participating policy

When policyholders have what is called a participating policy from a mutual insurance company, they are eligible to receive dividends based on the company’s financial performance.When claims are low and the company’s investments perform well, dividends tend to rise. On the other hand, when claims are high and investment returns slump, dividends are likely to fall.The dividends on a participating policy aren’t guaranteed, so they may not be paid every year. Unlike the dividends paid to a company’s shareholders, participating policy dividends are considered a return of premium. As a result, the dividends are not taxed as income.Dividends may typically be paid out as cash, as additional insurance coverage, or may be used to reduce policyholders’ premiums or repay policy loans. Rules vary from company to company.


Pass-through security

When a corporation or government agency buys loans from lenders to pool and package as securities for resale to investors, the products may be pass-through securities. That means regular payments of interest and return of principal that borrowers make on the original loans are funneled, or passed through, to the investors. Unlike standard bonds, whose principal is repaid at maturity, the principal of a pass-through security is repaid over the life of the debt.The best known pass-throughs are the mortgage-backed bonds offered by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. However, you can also buy pass-through securities backed by car loans, credit card debt, and other types of borrowing. Those are known as asset-backed securities.


Passive income

You collect passive income from certain businesses in which you aren't an active participant. They may include limited partnerships where you’re a limited partner, rental real estate that you own but don’t manage, and other operations in which you’re an investor but have a hands-off relationship. For example, if you invest as a limited partner, you realize passive income or passive losses because you don’t participate in operating the partnership and have no voice in the decisions the general partner makes. In some cases, income from renting real estate is also considered passive income. On the other hand, any money you earn or realize on your investment portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds is considered active income. That includes dividends, interest, annuity payments, capital gains, and royalties. Any losses you realize from selling investments in your portfolio are similarly active losses.Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations differentiate between passive and active income (and losses) and allow you to offset passive income only with passive losses and active income with active losses.


Passive losses

You have passive losses from businesses in which you aren't an active participant. These include limited partnerships, such as real estate limited partnerships, and other types of activities that you don't help manage. You can deduct losses from passive investments against income you earn on similar ventures. For example, you can use your losses from rental real estate to reduce gains from other limited partnerships. Or you can deduct those losses from any profits you realize from selling a passive investment. However, you can't use passive losses to offset earned income, income from your actively managed businesses, or investment income.


Passively managed

An index mutual fund or exchange traded fund is described as passively managed because the securities in its portfolio change only when the make-up of the index it tracks is changed. For example, a mutual fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index buys and sells only when the S&P index committee announces which companies have been added to and dropped from the index.In contrast, when mutual funds are actively managed, their managers select investments with an eye to enabling the fund to achieve its investment objective and outperform its benchmark index. Their portfolios tend to change more frequently as a result. They also tend to have higher fees.The performance of passively managed indexed investments and their risk profiles tend to correspond closely to the asset class or subclass that the index tracks. They tend to be more popular in bull markets when their returns reflect the market strength and less popular in bear markets when active managers may provide stronger returns.


Payable-on-death

A bank account titled payable-on-death (POD) lets you name one or more beneficiaries to whom the assets are paid when you die. POD accounts can be useful estate planning tools in the states where they are available, since the assets in the account can pass to your beneficiaries directly, outside the probate process.A similar type of registration is available in some states for securities and brokerage accounts, known as transferable-on-death, or TOD, accounts.


Payout ratio

A payout ratio, expressed as a percentage, is the rate at which a company distributes earnings to its shareholders in the form of dividends. For example, a company that earns $5 a share and pays out $2 a share has a payout ratio of 2 to 5, or 40%. A normal range for companies that do pay dividends is 25% to 50% of earnings. But the percentage may vary if a company keeps the amount of its dividend consistent with past dividends regardless of a drop in its earnings.


Penny stock

Stocks that trade for less than $1 a share are often described as penny stocks. Penny stocks change hands over-the-counter (OTC) and tend to be extremely volatile. Their prices may spike up one day and drop dramatically the next.The fluctuations reflect the unsettled nature of the companies that issue them and the relatively small number of shares in the marketplace. While some penny stocks may produce big returns over the long term, many turn out to be worthless. Institutional investors tend to avoid penny stocks, and brokerage firms typically warn individual investors of the risks involved before handling transactions in these stocks. However, penny stocks are sometimes marketed aggressively to unsuspecting investors.


Pension

A pension is an employer plan that’s designed to provide retirement income to employees who have vested — or worked enough years to qualify for the income. These defined benefit plans promise a fixed income, usually paid for the employee’s lifetime or the combined lifetimes of the employee and his or her spouse. The employer contributes to the plan, invests the assets, and pays out the benefit, which is typically based on a formula that includes final salary and years on the job.You pay federal income tax on your pension at your regular rate, so a percentage is withheld from each check. If the state where you live taxes income, those taxes are withheld too. However, you’re not subject to Social Security or Medicare withholding on pension income. In contrast, the retirement income you receive from a defined contribution plan depends on the amounts that were added to the plan, the way the assets were invested, and their investment performance.The way a particular plan is structured determines if you, your employer, or both you and your employer contribute and what the ceiling on that contribution is.


Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

The PBGC was created to ensure that participants in defined benefit pension plans under its jurisdiction will receive at least a basic pension if the plans are terminated because they’re underfunded and so unable to meet their obligations. The maximum benefit is adjusted each year for plans terminated in that year to reflect increases in Social Security.Covered plans, which include those with 25 or more participants, must pay annual premiums to the PBGC to help fund this federal corporation.The PBGC also tries to find people who participated in, and are due benefits from, plans that are no longer operating.


Pension maximization

Pension maximization is a strategy that begins with selecting a single life annuity for income to be paid from your retirement plan, rather than a joint and survivor annuity.The next step involves using some of your annuity income to buy a life insurance policy. At your death, the annuity income ends and the life insurance death benefit is paid to your beneficiary, often your surviving spouse.You do receive more income from a single life annuity than from a joint and survivor annuity, which translates to a larger pension while you're alive. However, pension max, as this approach is sometimes called, has some potentially serious drawbacks. These include the cost of the insurance premiums, including sales charges, and an increased burden on your beneficiary for turning the death benefit into a source of lifetime income.


Per capita

Per capita is the legal term for one of the ways that assets being transferred by your will can be distributed to the beneficiaries of your estate. Under a per capita distribution, each person named as beneficiary receives an equal share. However, the way your will is drawn up and the laws of the state where the will is probated may produce different results if one of those beneficiaries has died.For example, if you specify that your children inherit your estate per capita, in some states only those children who survive you would inherit. In other states your surviving children and the surviving descendents of your deceased children would receive equal shares. That could result in your estate being split among more heirs than if all of your children outlive you.


Per stirpes

Per stirpes is the legal term for transferring the assets of your estate to your children and their descendants. With a per stirpes distribution, each of your children who is named as a beneficiary is entitled to an equal share. If one of your children is no longer alive, that person’s children or children’s children divide his or her share.For example, if you had two children each of whom had two children and one of your children died before you did, under a per stirpes bequest, your surviving child would receive 50% of your estate and the children of your deceased child would each receive 25%.


Periodic interest rate

The periodic interest rate, sometimes called the nominal rate, is the interest rate a lender charges on the amount you borrow. Lenders are also required to tell you what a loan will actually cost per year, expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR).The APR combines any fees the lender may charge with a year of interest charges to give you the true annual interest rate. That allows you to compare loans on equal terms.For example, suppose you take a $10,000 loan at 10% interest. You pay an origination fee of $350, so you actually borrow $9,650. Since you are getting a smaller loan, but repaying the full $10,000 with interest, the APR is closer to 10.35%.The periodic rate is also the interest rate a bank or other financial institution pays on amounts you deposit. If you’re earning compound interest, the periodic rate will be lower than the annual percentage yield (APY).


Permanent insurance

Permanent insurance is a life insurance policy that provides a death benefit as long as you live, or in some cases until you turn 100, provided you continue to pay the required premiums. With this type of policy, a portion of your premium pays for the insurance and the rest goes into a tax-deferred account in your name. With many permanent life policies, you can borrow against the cash value that has accumulated in the tax-deferred account. Any amount that you’ve borrowed and have not repaid at the time of your death reduces the death benefit. If you terminate the policy, you get the cash surrender value back. Cash surrender value is the cash value minus fees and expenses. Permanent life insurance, also known as cash value insurance, is available in several varieties, including conventional policies known as straight life or whole life, as well as universal life and variable universal life.


Personal identification number (PIN)

A personal identification number is a combination of numbers, letters, or both that you use to access your checking and savings accounts, credit cards accounts, or investment accounts electronically. You also need a PIN to authorize certain debit card purchases as well as for identification in other situations, such as accessing cell phone messages.A PIN is one way to help protect your accounts against unauthorized use since presumably no other person would know the four- to six-letter code you have chosen. PINs are not foolproof, however, if you don’t take steps to ensure that your code remains private.


Phantom gains

Phantom gains are capital gains on which you owe tax even if your actual return on the investment is negative. For instance, if a mutual fund sells stock that has increased in price, you, as a fund shareholder, are liable for taxes on the portion of the gain the fund distributes to you.The rule applies even if you bought shares of the fund after the stock price increased, and didn’t benefit from the stock’s rising value. You also owe the tax if you purchase shares in the fund after the stock has been sold but before the fund has made its distribution.Phantom gains can also occur in a falling market, when a mutual fund may sell investments to raise cash to repurchase shares from shareholders who are leaving the fund. If you’re still an owner of the fund at the time any gains from those sales are distributed, you’ll owe tax even though the value of your investment has decreased.


Phishing

Phishing is one way that identity thieves use the Internet to retrieve your personal information, such as passwords and account numbers. The thieves’ techniques include sending hoax emails claiming to originate from legitimate businesses and establishing phony websites designed to capture your personal information. For example, you may receive an urgent email claiming to come from your bank and directing you to a website where you’re asked to update or verify your account number or password. By responding you give identity thieves an opportunity to steal your confidential information. Phishing is difficult to detect because the fraudulent emails and websites are often indistinguishable from legitimate ones and the perpetrators change identities regularly.


Piggyback

A broker who piggybacks acts illegally by buying or selling a security for his or her own account after — and presumably because — a client has authorized that same transaction. One speculation is that a broker in this situation thinks the client is acting on information that the broker doesn’t have.


Pink Sheets

Pink Sheets LLC is a centralized financial information network.It provides current prices and other information in both print and electronic formats to the over-the-counter (OTC) securities markets. Its Electronic Quotation Service reports real-time OTC equity and bond quotations to market makers and brokers, and its website provides a broad range of historical and current data.The name pink sheet derives from the pink paper on which the National Quotation Bureau originally printed information on OTC stocks. Comparable information on OTC bonds was printed on yellow paper.


PITI

PITI is an acronym for principal, interest, taxes, and insurance — the four elements of a monthly mortgage payment.Principal is the loan amount. Interest is the rate at which the finance charge you pay for borrowing is calculated. Taxes are the real estate taxes for which you are responsible, and insurance is the homeowner’s insurance that your lender requires you to have. If your lender also requires private mortgage insurance (PMI), this amount may be included in the monthly payment or paid separately. Lenders use PITI to calculate your monthly mortgage obligation and how much you can afford to borrow. Most lenders prefer that you spend no more than 28% of your gross monthly income on PITI.


Plan administrator

A plan administrator is the person or company your employer selects to manage its retirement savings plan. The administrator works with the plan provider to ensure that the plan meets government regulations.The administratior is also responsible for ensuring employees have the information needed to enroll, select, and change investments in the plan, apply for a loan if the plan allows loans, and request distributions.


Plan participant

If you’re enrolled in an employee retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or pension plan, you’re a plan participant with certain rights and protections guaranteed by federal rules. The plan in which you participate may be subject to administration and investment rules set by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). As a participant, you have the right to certain information about your plan, such as a summary plan description, which outlines how it works. You also have the right to see copies of the tax reporting form that your plan must file with the IRS each year (Form 5500), as well as statements showing your estimated retirement savings benefits. If you have problems with your plan, you also have the right to bring claims against it.


Plan provider

The plan provider of a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan is the mutual fund company, insurance company, brokerage firm, or other financial services company that creates, sells, and manages the plan your employer selects.


Plan sponsor

The plan sponsor of a retirement savings plan is an employer who offers a retirement savings plan to employees. The sponsor is responsible for choosing the plan, the plan provider, and the plan administrator, and for deciding which investments will be offered through the plan.


Points

The term points can mean different things in different contexts. With regard to stock, a point represents a $1 change in market price, so if a share of stock rises two points, its price has risen $2. With bonds, a point is a 1% change above or below its par, or face, value, so if a bond has a par value of $1,000, a point equals $10. But in the case of futures and options, a point usually represents a price change of one-hundredth of one cent. And you may also hear about points if you’re applying for a mortgage. In this case, points — also called discount points — are prepaid interest some lenders require at closing as a condition of approving the loan. One point is 1% of the mortgage principal, or 100 basis points. So if you are borrowing $200,000 and your lender charges 2 points, you owe $4,000, in addition to other closing costs. Prepaid interest is tax deductible in most cases, and your long-term interest rate will be lowered slightly — often 0.25% or 25 basis points — for each point you pay. But because points increase your closing costs, you may decide to choose a lender that doesn’t require points if you plan to move or refinance within a few years.


Policyholder or policy owner

If you own an insurance contract or policy, you are a policyholder, also known as the policy owner. As a policyholder, you may also be the person covered by the policy — referred to as the insured — although you may own a policy that names someone else as the insured.Policyholders have certain rights. For instance, if you’re the policyholder for a life insurance policy, you can change the beneficiary or transfer ownership of the policy to someone else. In contrast, if you’re covered by a group policy, such as a group health policy or group life insurance policy offered by an employer, the policyholder is the organization that offers you a chance to participate in the coverage. You may be given certain options, but in this case you’re not the policyholder.


Portable benefits

Benefits or accumulated assets that you can take with you when you leave your employer or switch jobs are described as portable. For instance, if you contribute to a 401(k), 403(b), 457, or other defined contribution plan at your current job, you can roll over your assets to an individual retirement account (IRA) or to a new employer’s plan if the plan accepts rollovers.In contrast, credits accumulated toward benefits from a pension — otherwise known as a defined benefit plan — usually aren’t portable.Insurance benefits under an employer-sponsored group health plan may also be portable as the result of The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). If you have had group coverage and move to a new employer who offers health insurance, your new group health plan can’t impose exclusions for preexisting conditions.HIPAA may also give you a right to purchase individual coverage if you are not eligible for group health plan coverage and have exhausted the 18-month extension of your previous coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or similar coverage.Other job benefits, such as health savings accounts (HSAs), are also be portable, but flexible spending plans (FSAs) are not.


Portfolio

If you own more than one security, you have an investment portfolio. You build your portfolio by buying additional stock, bonds, annuities, mutual funds, or other investments. Your goal is to increase the portfolio’s value by selecting investments that you believe will go up in price.According to modern portfolio theory, you can reduce your investment risk by creating a diversified portfolio that includes different asset classes and individual securities chosen from different segments, or subclasses, of those asset classes. That diversification is designed to take advantage of the potential for strong returns from at least some of the portfolio’s investments in any economic climate.


Portfolio manager

A portfolio manager is responsible for overseeing a collection of investments, either for an institution — such as a mutual fund, brokerage firm, insurance company, or pension fund — or for an individual. It’s the portfolio manager’s job to invest the client’s assets in a way that’s appropriate to meet the client’s goals. A portfolio manager develops investment strategies, selects individual investments, evaluates performance, and rebalances the portfolio as necessary. Portfolio managers may also be referred to as fund managers or money managers and may be paid fees based on the value of the assets under management, the performance of the portfolio, or both.


Portfolio turnover

Portfolio turnover is the rate at which a mutual fund manager buys or sells securities in a fund, or an individual investor buys and sells securities in a brokerage account. A rapid turnover rate, which frequently signals a strategy of capitalizing on opportunities to sell at a profit, has the potential downside of generating short-term capital gains. That means the gains are usually taxable as ordinary income rather than at the lower long-term capital gains rate. Rapid turnover may also generate higher trading costs, which can reduce the total return on a fund or brokerage account. As a result, you may want to weigh the potential gains of rapid turnover against the costs, both in your own buy and sell decisions and in your selection of mutual funds. You can find information on a fund's turnover rate in the fund's prospectus.


Positive yield curve

A positive yield curve results when the interest rate on long-term US Treasury bonds is higher than the rate on on short-term Treasury bills.You create the curve by plotting a graph with rate on the vertical axis and maturity date on the horizontal axis and connecting the dots. When the curve is positive the highest point is to the right.In most periods, the yield curve is positive because investors demand more for tying up their money for a longer period. When the reverse is true, and interest rates on short-term investments are higher than the rates on long-term investments, the yield is negative, or inverted. That typically occurs if inflation spikes after a period of relatively stable growth or if the economic outlook is uncertain. The yield curve can also be flat, if the rates are essentially the same.


Post-trade processing

Each securities transaction goes through post-trade processing during which the details of the trade are compared, cleared, and settled. This involves matching the details of the buy order with those of the sell order, changing the records of ownership, and finalizing the payment.


Power of attorney

A power of attorney is a written document that gives someone the legal authority to act for you as your agent or on your behalf. To be legal, it must be signed and notarized.You may choose to give someone a limited, or ordinary, power of attorney. That authority is revoked if you are no longer able to make your own decisions.In contrast, if you give an attorney, family member, or friend a durable power of attorney, he or she will be able to continue to make decisions for you if you're unable to make them. Not all states allow a durable power of attorney, however.A springing power of attorney takes effect only at the point that you are unable to act for yourself.It's a good idea have an attorney draft or review a power of attorney to be sure the document you sign will give the person you're designating the necessary authority to act for you but not more authority than you wish to assign. You always have the right to revoke the document as long as you are able to act on your own behalf.


Pre-existing condition

A pre-existing condition is a health problem that you already have when you apply for insurance. If you have a pre-existing condition, an insurer can refuse to cover treatment connected to that problem for a period of time. That period is often the first six months, but may be for the entire term of your policy. Insurers can also deny you coverage entirely because of a pre-existing condition. And they can end a policy if they discover a pre-existing condition that you did not report, provided you knew it existed when you applied for your policy. However, if you’re insured through your employer’s plan and switch to a job that also provides health insurance, the new plan must cover you regardless of a pre-existing condition.


Preapproval

When you’re preapproved for a mortgage, the lender guarantees in advance the maximum you can borrow, provided your financial situation doesn’t change before you find a home. You’ll need to fill out a mortgage application with the lender to be preapproved, as well as provide verification of a regular source of income and authorize a credit check. Then the lender provides a letter confirming how much you’ll be able to borrow. The preapproval process usually takes a week or two, but it may take only a few minutes if you apply for a mortgage online. Some, but not all, lenders charge a fee for preapproval.Preapproval is not a binding commitment for either the buyer or lender, but it can give you a competitive advantage. You know in advance how much you can afford, and sellers are confident your mortgage application won’t be turned down. Plus, it can speed the process of closing the sale. If you’re a first-time homebuyer or you’re self-employed, it may be a good idea to consider getting preapproved.


Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)

A preferred provider organization (PP0) is a network of doctors and other healthcare providers that offers discounted care to members of a sponsoring organization, usually an employer or union. You may also arrange private insurance coverage though a PPO.If you’re insured through a PPO, you make a copayment for each visit to a healthcare provider, though certain diagnostic tests may not require copayment. You typically have the option to go to a doctor or other provider outside the network, but you pay a larger percentage of the cost, called coinsurance, than if you used a network doctor.


Preferred stock

Some corporations issue preferred as well as common stock. Preferred stock can be an attractive investment because it typically pays a fixed dividend on a regular schedule. The share prices also tend to be less volatile than the prices of common stock. In fact, preferred stock prices tend to move with changing interest rates in the same way that bond prices do. That's one reason this type of stock is sometimes described as a hybrid investment because it shares some characteristics with common stock and some with fixed-income securities. What preferred stock doesn't generally offer is the right to vote on corporate matters or the opportunity to share in the corporation's potential for increased profits in the form of increased share prices and dividend payments. Convertible preferred shares can be exchanged for a specific number of common shares of the issuing company at an agreed-upon price. The process is similar to the way that a convertible bond can be exchanged for common stock.


Premium

A premium is the purchase price of an insurance policy or an annuity contract. You may pay the premium as a single lump sum, in regular monthly or quarterly installments, or in some cases on a flexible schedule over the term of the policy or contract. When you pay over time, the premium may be fixed for the life of the policy, assuming the coverage remains the same. That’s the case with many permanent life insurance policies. With other types of coverage, the premium changes as you grow older or as costs for the issuing company increase. Used in another sense, the term premium refers to the amount above face value that you pay to buy, or you receive from selling, an investment. For example, a corporate bond with a par value of $1,000 with a market price of $1,050 is selling at a $50 premium.


Prepayment penalty

Most lenders allow you to prepay the outstanding balance of a loan at any time without a fee, but some lenders charge a prepayment penalty, often about 2% of the amount you borrowed. If your loan agreement doesn’t have a prepayment clause, which excludes a fee for early termination, the penalty may apply. Many states prohibit prepayment fees, and they’re not allowed on any mortgage loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. But they are allowed in other states, and lenders may offer a lower rate on loans with prepayment penalties because they are locking in their long-term profit.Similarly lenders who offer to waive closing costs and points when you refinance may impose a penalty if you pay off the loan within the first few years. But if you’re not planning to move, this refinancing deal could save you money.


Prequalification

When you prequalify for a mortgage, the lender calculates the approximate amount you’d be able to borrow, based on your current income and debt. Many lenders offer free mortgage calculators — sometimes called prequalification calculators — on their websites to help you estimate how large a mortgage you’d be approved for.Since you don’t complete a mortgage application or provide financial details, prequalification is not a guarantee, and simply helps you determine how much you should plan to spend on a home. But before you’re approved for a mortgage, you’ll have to go through the mortgage application process, including a credit check, and provide financial documentation.


Prerefunding

Prerefunding may occur when a corporation plans to redeem a callable bond before its maturity date. If that's the case, the bond is identified as a prerefunded bond.To prerefund, the issuer sells a second bond with a longer maturity or a lower coupon rate, or both, and invests the amount it raises in US Treasury notes or other securities that are essentially free of default risk. The specific securities are typically chosen because their maturity dates correspond to the date on which the company will use the money to redeem the first bond.


Present value

The present value of a future payment, or the time value of money, is what money is worth now in relation to what you think it'll be worth in the future based on expected earnings. For example, if you have a 10% return, $1,000 is the present value of the $1,100 you expect to have a year from now. The concept of present value is useful in calculating how much you need to invest now in order to meet a certain future goal, such as buying a home or paying college tuition.Many financial websites and personal investment handbooks provide calculators and other tools to help you compute these amounts based on different rates of return. Inflation has the opposite effect on the present value of money, accounting for loss of value rather than increase in value. For example, in an economy with 5% annual inflation, $100 is the present value of $95 next year. Present value also refers to the current value of a securities portfolio. If you compare the present value to the acquisition cost of the portfolio, you can determine its profit or loss. Further, you can add the present value of each projected interest payment of a fixed income security with one year or more duration to calculate the security’s worth.


Pretax contribution

A pretax contribution is money that you agree to have subtracted from your salary and put into a retirement savings plan or other employer sponsored benefit plan. Your taxable earnings are reduced by the amount of your contribution, which reduces the income tax you owe in the year you make the contribution. Some pretax contributions, including those you put into your 401(k), 403(b), or 457, are taxed when you withdraw the amount from your plan. Other contributions, such as money you put into a flexible spending plan, are never taxed.


Pretax income

Pretax income, sometimes described as pretax dollars, is your gross income before income taxes are withheld. Any contributions you make to a salary reduction retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, or to a flexible spending account comes out of your pretax income.The contribution reduces your current income and the amount you owe in current income taxes.


Price improvement

Price improvement occurs when you pay less or receive more on a securities transaction than the bid and offer prices being currently quoted. In other words, the price you pay to buy is lower than the offer price or the price you collect for selling is higher than the bid price.Price improvement may occur for a variety of reasons, from a change in market price to the diligence of your broker in seeking out the best price. For example, your broker may fill your order from the firm’s inventory or net it against a sell order from another client of the firm. Or the order might be sent to a particular market for execution if a better price is available.


Price-to-book ratio

Some financial analysts use price-to-book ratios to identify stocks they consider to be overvalued or undervalued. You figure this ratio by dividing a stock's market price per share by its book value per share. Other analysts argue that book value reveals very little about a company's financial situation or its prospects for future performance.


Price-to-cash flow

You find a company's price-to-cash flow ratio by dividing the market price of its stock by its cash receipts minus its cash payments over a given period of time, such as a year. Some institutional investors prefer price-to-cash flow over price-to-earnings as a gauge of a company's value. They believe that by focusing on cash flow, they can better assess the risks that may result from the company's use of leverage, or borrowed money.


Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E)

The price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) is the relationship between a company's earnings and its share price, and is calculated by dividing the current price per share by the earnings per share.A stock's P/E, also known as its multiple, gives you a sense of what you are paying for a stock in relation to its earning power. For example, a stock with a P/E of 30 is trading at a price 30 times higher than its earnings, while one with a P/E of 15 is trading at 15 times its earnings. If earnings falter, there is usually a sell-off, which drives the price down. But if the company is successful, the share price and the P/E can climb even higher. Similarly, a low P/E can be the sign of an undervalued company whose price hasn't caught up with its earnings potential. Or, conversely, a clue that the market considers the company a poor investment risk.Stocks with higher P/Es are typical of companies that are expected to grow rapidly in value. They're often more volatile than stocks with lower P/Es because it can be more difficult for the company's earnings to satisfy investor expectations.The P/E can be calculated two ways. A trailing P/E, the figure reported in newspaper stock tables, uses earnings for the last four quarters. A forward P/E generally uses earnings for the past two quarters and an analyst's projection for the coming two.


Price-to-sales ratio

A price-to-sales ratio, or a stock's market price per share divided by the revenue generated by sales of the company's products and services per share, may sometimes identify companies that are undervalued or overvalued within a particular industry or market sector. For example, a corporation with sales per share of $28 and a share price of $92 would have a price-to-sales ratio of 3.29, while a different stock with the same sales per share but a share price of $45 would have a ratio of 1.61.Some financial analysts and money managers suggest that, since sales figures are less easy to manipulate than either earnings or book value, the price-to-sales ratio is a more reliable indicator of how the company is doing and whether you are likely to profit from buying its shares. Other analysts believe that steady growth in sales over the past several years is a more valuable indicator of a good investment than the current price-to-sales ratio.


Primary market

If you buy stocks or bonds when they are initially offered for sale, and the money you spend goes to the issuer, you are buying in the primary market. In contrast, if you buy a security at some point after issue, and the amount you pay goes to an investor who is selling the security, you're buying in the secondary market.The term primary market also applies the leading or main markets for trading various products. For example, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is a primary market for stocks.


Prime rate

The prime rate is a benchmark for interest rates on business and consumer loans. For example, a bank may charge you the prime rate plus two percentage points on a car loan or home equity loan.The prime rate is determined by the federal funds rate, which is the rate banks charge each other to borrow money overnight. If banks must pay more to borrow, they raise the prime rate. If their cost drops, they drop the prime rate. The difference between the two rates is three percentage points, with the prime rate always the higher number. The federal funds rate itself is determined by supply and demand, prompted by the actions of the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve System to increase or decrease the money supply.


Principal

Principal can refer to an amount of money you invest, the face amount of a bond, or the balance you owe on a debt, distinct from the finance charges you pay to borrow. A principal is also a person for whom a broker carries out a trade, or a person who executes a trade on his or her own behalf.


Private equity

Private equity is an umbrella term for large amounts of money raised directly from accredited individuals and institutions and pooled in a fund that invests in a range of business ventures. The attraction is the potential for substantial long-term gains. The fund is generally set up as a limited partnership, with a private equity firm as the general partner and the investors as limited partners. Private equity firms typically charge substantial fees for participating in the partnership and tend to specialize in a particular type of investment. For example, venture capital firms may purchase private companies, fuel their growth, and either sell them to other private investors or take them public. Corporate buyout firms buy troubled public firms, take them private, restructure them, and either sell them privately or take them public again.


Private letter ruling

A private letter ruling explains a position the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken on a specific issue or action that affects the amount of income tax a taxpayer owes. While these rulings are not the law, and there's no guarantee that they won't be overturned by new IRS opinions, they can provide guidance on how to handle financial decisions that have potential tax consequences. There is a fee when you request such a ruling.


Private mortgage insurance (PMI)

When you buy a home with a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price, your lender may require you to buy private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender against the risk that you may fail to repay your loan.The premiums you can expect to pay will vary, but typically come to about 0.5% of the total amount you borrow. For instance, on a $150,000 mortgage, a typical annual PMI premium would be $750, which is 0.5% of $150,000. Divided into monthly payments, this premium would come out to $62.50 a month.You can usually cancel your PMI when you meet certain criteria. Generally, this is when the balance of the mortgage is paid down to 80% of either your home’s original purchase price or its appraisal value at the time you took out the loan. You can check if it’s possible to cancel your PMI by reviewing your annual mortgage statements or by calling your mortgage lender. If you forget to cancel your PMI, your lender is required by federal law to end the insurance once your outstanding balance reaches 78% of the original purchase price or appraisal value at the time you took the loan or you have reached the mid-point of the loan term, provided you meet certain requirements. The lender must give you information about the termination requirement at closing. There are some exceptions to the termination rule, including high risk mortgages, VA and FHA mortgages, and those negotiated before July 29, 1999.


Private placement

If securities are sold directly to an institutional investor, such as a corporation or bank, the transaction is called a private placement. Unlike a public offering, a private placement does not have to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), provided the securities are bought for investment and not for resale.


Privatization

Privatization is the conversion of a government-run enterprise to one that is privately owned and operated. The conversion is made by selling shares to individual or institutional investors.The theory behind privatization is that privately run enterprises, such as utility companies, airlines, and telecommunications systems, are more efficient and provide better service than government-run companies. But in many cases, privatization is a way for the government to raise cash and to reduce its role as service provider.


Probate

Probate is the process of authenticating, or verifying, your will so that your executor can carry out the wishes you expressed in the document for settling your estate and appointing a guardian for your minor children.While the probate process can run smoothly if everything is in order, it can also take a long time and cost a great deal of money if your will isn’t legally acceptable or it’s contested by potential beneficiaries who object to its terms. If you die without a will, the same court that handles probate resolves what happens to your assets based on the laws of the state where you live through a process known as administration. The larger or more complex your estate is, the greater the potential for delay and expense.


Probate estate

Your probate estate includes all of the assets that will pass to your heirs through your will. It doesn’t include anything that you have sold, given away, put into trusts, or passed directly to recipients by naming them as beneficiaries of specific accounts.Assets you can pass directly to beneficiaries include money in retirement plans, insurance policies, payable-on-death bank accounts, and transferable-on-death securities accounts. In addition, any property you own jointly with rights of survivorship passes directly to your co-owner outside the probate process. However, all the assets you own at the time of your death, including half the value of property you own jointly, are considered part of your estate for purposes of calculating whether estate taxes are due.


Profit

Profit, which is also called net income or earnings, is the money a business has left after it pays its operating expenses, taxes, and other current bills. When you invest, profit is the amount you make when you sell an asset for a higher price than you paid for it. For example, if you buy a stock at $20 a share and sell it at $30 a share, your profit is $10 a share minus sales commission and capital gains tax if any.


Profit margin

A company's profit margin is derived by dividing its net earnings, after taxes, by its gross earnings minus certain expenses. Profit margin is a way of measuring how well a company is doing, regardless of size. For example, a $50 million company with net earnings of $10 million, and a $5 billion company with net earnings of $1 billion, both have profit margins of 20%.Profit margins can vary greatly from one industry to another, so it can be difficult to make valid comparisons among companies unless they are in the same sector of the economy.


Profit sharing

A profit-sharing plan is a type of defined contribution retirement plan that employers may establish for their workers. The employer may add up to the annual limit to each employee's profit-sharing account in any year the company has a profit to share, though there is no obligation to make a contribution in any year. The annual limit is stated as a dollar amount and as a percentage of salary, and the one which applies to each employee is the lower of the two alternatives.Employers get a tax deduction for their contribution. Employees owe no income tax on the contributions or on any of the earnings in their accounts until they withdraw money. In some cases, employees in the plan may be able to borrow from their accounts to pay for expenses such as buying a home or paying for college.Profit-sharing plans offer employers certain flexibility. For example, in a year without profits, they don't have to contribute at all. And they can vary the amount of each year's contribution to reflect the company's profitability for that year. However, each employee in the plan must be treated equally. This means that if an employer contributes 10% of one employee's salary to the plan, the employer must also contribute 10% of the salaries of all other employees in the plan.


Profit taking

Profit taking is the sale of securities after a rapid price increase to cash in on gains. Profit taking sometimes causes a temporary market downturn after a period of rising prices as investors sell off shares to lock in their gains.


Program trading

Program trading is the purchase or sale of a basket, or group, of 15 or more stocks with the combined value of $1 million or more. In some cases, programmed trades are triggered automatically when prices hit predetermined levels. In other cases, institutional investors, arbitrageurs, and other large investors use program trading to take advantage of the spread between a basket of stocks replicating an index and a futures contract on the same index.Large-scale program trading can cause abrupt price changes in a stock or group of stocks and may even have a dramatic effect on the overall market. The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and other exchanges have instituted a series of circuit breakers, which halt trading for a period of time when prices fall by specific percentages in a single day, to help prevent such disruption.


Progressive tax

In a progressive, or graduated, income tax system, taxpayers with higher incomes are taxed at higher rates that those with lower incomes. Those in favor of this approach say that the greatest tax burden falls on those who can afford to carry it. Opponents argue that it imposes an unfair burden on the people whose ingenuity and hard work make the economy strong.


Proprietary fund

Proprietary mutual funds are offered for sale by the financial institution — such as a bank, investment company, or brokerage firm — that sponsors the funds. Characteristically, the funds' names include the name of the institution. For example, a hypothetical bank called Last Bank might offer a Last Bank Growth Fund or a Last Bank Capital Appreciation Fund. Some institutions market only their proprietary funds, while others offer both their own funds and funds sponsored by others.


Prospectus

A prospectus is a formal written offer to sell stock to the public. It is created by an investment bank that agrees to underwrite the stock offering. The prospectus sets forth the business strategies, financial background, products, services, and management of the issuing company, and information about how the proceeds from the sale of the securities will be used.The prospectus must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and is designed to help investors make informed investment decisions.Each mutual fund provides a prospectus to potential investors, explaining its objectives, management team and policies, investment strategy, and performance. The prospectus also summarizes the fees the fund charges and analyzes the risks you take in investing in the fund.


Proxy

If you own common stock in a US corporation, you have the right to vote on certain company policies and elect the board of directors by casting a proxy, or vote.You may vote in person at the annual meeting, by phone, or online.


Proxy statement

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that all publicly traded companies provide a proxy statement to its shareholders prior to the annual meeting.The proxy statement presents the candidates who have been nominated to the board of directors and any proposed changes in corporate management that require shareholder approval. The statment also states the position the board of directors takes on the nominations and proposals. By law, the proxy statement must also present shareholder proposals even if they are at odds with the board’s position. SEC rules also require that the proxy statement shows, in chart form, the total compensation of the company’s five highest paid executives and compares the stock’s performance to the performance of similar companies and the appropriate benchmark.


Prudent man rule

The prudent man rule is the basic standard a fiduciary, who is responsible for other people’s money, must meet. It mandates acting as a thoughtful and careful person would, given a particular set of circumstances. A trustee, for example, observes the prudent man rule by preserving a trust’s assets for its beneficiaries.The prudent man rule has sometimes been described as a defensive approach to money management, putting greater emphasis on preservation than on growth. The newer prudent investor rule differs by putting greater emphasis on achieving a reasonable rate of return and by delegating decision-making to investment professionals.


Public company

The stock of a public company is owned and traded by individual and institutional investors. In contrast, in a privately held company, the stock is held by company founders, management, employees, and sometimes venture capitalists. Many privately held companies eventually go public to help raise capital to finance growth. Conversely, public companies can be taken private for a variety of reasons.


Pump and dump

In a pump and dump scheme, a scam artist manipulates the stock market by buying shares of a low-cost stock and then artificially inflating the price by spreading rumors, typically using the Internet and phone, that the stock is about to hit new highs. Investors who fall victim to the get-rich-quick scheme begin buying up shares, and the increased demand drives up the price. At the peak of the market, the scammer sells out at a profit, shuts down the rumor mill, and disappears. The price of the stock invariably drops dramatically and the investors who got caught in the scam lose their money.


Put option

Buying a put option gives you the right to sell the specific financial instrument underlying the option at a specific price, called the exercise or strike price, to the writer, or seller, of the option before the option expires. You pay the seller a premium for the option, and if you exercise your right to sell, the seller must buy. Selling a put option means you collect a premium at the time of sale. But you must buy the option's underlying instrument if the option buyer exercises the option and you are assigned to meet the contract's terms.Not surprisingly, buyers and sellers have different goals. Buyers hope that the price of the underlying instrument drops so they can sell at the exercise price, which is higher than the market price. This way, they could offset the price of the premium, and hopefully make a profit as well. Sellers, on the other hand, hope that the price stays the same or increases, so they can keep the premium they've collected and not have to lay out money to buy.


Put-call ratio

Since investors buy put options when they expect the market to fall, and call options when they expect the market to rise, the relationship of puts to calls, called the put-call ratio, gives analysts a way to measure the relative optimism or pessimism of the marketplace.The customary interpretation is that when puts predominate, and the mood is bearish, stock prices are headed for a tumble. The reverse is assumed to be true when calls are more numerous. The contrarian investor, however, holds just the opposite view. For example, a contrarian believes that by the time investors are concentrating on puts, the worst is already over, and the market is poised to rebound.


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