Taking Stock: Veterans Administration pensions

Dear Mr. Berko:
I’m considering placing our VA pension with Dr. Jeffrey Camarda, Ph.D., founder of Camarda Financial, a fee-based money manager. His office is on a classy island called Fisher Island in Florida, and he claims to have advised all of his clients to exit the stock market in late 2007. He’s brilliant in the stock market and has earned many degrees, including a Ph.D. that attests to his genius. He has also developed a system called TAXBLOCK that will reduce our taxes by at least 20 percent over what we paid last year on the same income. And he is the brains behind ISIS, a stock market strategy that has enabled his portfolios to do better than the Dow Jones or the Standard & Poor’s averages. He’s written two impressive books on the stock market. We are both going to retire from the Veterans Administration, where we have had good investment results for 27 years, but we believe that Dr. Camarda can do a lot better than the VA’s plan. We have been reading your column for more than 30 years and trust your advice.
R.E., Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Dear R.E.:
As employees of the Veterans Administration, you know that the VA has a pension and benefits package that is unmatched in the private sector except by the plans of Congress or union officials. As VA employees, you are covered by a thrift savings plan that has enjoyed a superb performance record over the past 30 years.

So when you folks are ready to hang it up, I suggest that you remain in the VA’s TSP, which offers you a choice of (1) a series of monthly payments, (2) a life annuity or (3) a mixed withdrawal — all of which is guaranteed.

Of course, you can roll over all your TSP assets to a savings account or to Camarda Financial, which I think is financial suicide. I’ve never met Dr. Camarda, who puffs eloquently about his Ph.D. in Philosophy he earned in l996. Well, you should know that he got that Ph.D. from a Louisiana diploma mill, which was shuttered by the FBI in l997. Hmmmm!

And yes, Camarda does have numerous professional designations that he proudly displays on his office walls, his business cards, and professional stationery. Camarda boasts that he is a CMT, CFA, ChFc, CLU, CSA, CFS, CTS, CEO, CMFS and a BS. And he wears these designations like epaulets on his shoulder. However, most of them are not worth a dime in a dollar store. I’m always suspicious of folks who feel the need to display all this fruit salad because they think it gives them respectability and status that they can’t earn.

Meanwhile, his two books, “Surviving the Great Depression” and “Protecting the Downside In a Volatile Market,” are, in my opinion, self-published garbage. And ISIS or Integrated Strategic Investment System sounds like pure tommyrot and palaver. It’s basically an asset allocation model that Camarda believes is superior to others used by money managers.

And his TAXBLOCK, which he uses to prepare a tax return (it’s suicide to have a money manager do your taxes), is easily outclassed by H&R Block. Meanwhile, he won’t disclose his track record nor will he publish his fee structure. So I assume that his track record ain’t good and that his fee schedule is terribly high. Oh, well. He must have his reasons.

I’m sure Camarda is a nice guy, that he loves his wife and kids, and I’m certain he hasn’t been arrested for any unspeakable crimes. His office is on Fleming Island, which isn’t an island, but rather a bedroom community 15 miles south of Jacksonville, Fla. Frankly, I’d prefer to use a money manager who doesn’t need self-published books, tax preparation software, that ISIS mish mash plus all that spoiled fruit salad to give him credibility.

Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or e-mail him at mjberko@yahoo.com. Visit Creators Syndicate Web site at www.creators.com.
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