Category Archives: Financial Planning

Defining Your Investment Style

There are many different approaches an investor can take in managing their money.  Some approaches are hands-off and require little effort to maintain the desired asset allocation.  Other approaches are more time intensive and might require daily or weekly management.  There are other approaches that fall somewhere in-between.

No matter how you decide to invest, you need to have an investment philosophy.  It should be part of your financial plan.  Without having direction, there is just too much noise to misdirect you on a daily basis.  Every hot investment tip will sound like a good idea.  That will lead an investor to try to chase performance.

It is up to you to decide how you want to invest your money.  Some approaches are considered more favorable than others because they are tax efficient, cost very little, and allow investors to capture average market returns.  There are approaches that rely on investment professionals to try to beat the market.  Some investors feel confident that they can manage their own selection of individual securities and want to pick their own stocks.  There are also Robo-Advisors that investors can use to manage their investments.

When it comes to trying to invest to build wealth, there are countless avenues for investors to explore.  There is passive investing, active investing, crowdfunding, and countless other forms of ventures to invest in.  The purpose of this post is to cover some of the most common forms of investing where the transactions can occur with the click of a mouse.

Index Funds

Index funds are what their name implies.  An index fund is a mutual fund that is composed of stocks that track a specific index.  For example, if you buy a share of an S&P 500 index fund, you are buying an investment that is made up of the largest publicly traded U.S. corporations.

There is little actual management and turnover with index funds.  That is what makes them cheap and tax-efficient.  A management team is not required.  There is very little trading and turnover within most index funds.

There are index funds that track large-cap stocks, small-cap stocks, international stocks, and bonds.  There are index funds that hold every publicly traded stock in the world.  There are also index funds that track individual sectors or sub-asset classes such as consumer stables, natural resources, technology stocks, and other sectors.

An investor can keep it simple and buy three index funds like the total U.S. stock fund, total international stock fund, and total bond market fund that would allow them to own every publicly traded stock in the world.  An investor can slice and dice and break it down into many different funds and build a custom portfolio with different tilts.  There truly are limitless possibilities.

Managed Funds

Managed funds are like index funds.  They invest in a basket of different stocks or bonds.  The major difference is that they do not track an index.  They have a fund manager or team of managers who try to beat a benchmark.  For example, a managed large-cap growth stock fund would try to beat the S&P 500 index.

Compared to index funds, managed funds have higher fees.  The average expense ratio for a managed large-cap stock fund is 0.99%.  The expense ratio for the Vanguard S&P 500 is 0.04%.  That is almost one whole basis point.

The goal of the fund manager is to outperform its benchmark.  Based on the difference in fees, the fund manager must outperform the S&P 500 by almost 1% per year to just break even.  That is very difficult to do.  It is getting even harder as the result of the shrinking alpha.

For the fund manager to try to beat their respective benchmark, they need to make trades.  They are paid to buy stocks within the fund that they think will outperform.  They also must identify the stocks that they think will underperform and sell them.

All of that buying and selling is called turnover.  Some managed funds have a turnover ratio of 90% or more of their portfolio annually.  If a managed fund is held in a taxable account, all those trades trigger capital gains that are passed on to the investor.

Most managed funds do not beat their benchmark.  In 2016, only 34% of large-cap mutual funds beat the S&P 500.  It gets worse with time.  Only 10% of large-cap mutual funds beat the S&P 500 over the last 15 years.

What happens to the underperformers?  Usually, a new manager is brought in to right the ship.  If its performance does not improve, it normally merges with another fund.

Individual Stocks

Investing in individual stocks can be rewarding.  If you select the right stock, you will outperform the major indexes.  Just look at Google, Amazon, or even Apple.

The problem with investing in individual stocks is that it is hard.  Most active mutual fund managers who have unlimited resources cannot consistently do it.  It is not likely that an individual investor will outperform the S&P 500 for a decade or longer.

Can an investor get lucky when they buy a few stocks?  Sure, they can.  That, however, is speculation.  Investing is not gambling.

When an investor buys an individual stock, it is a vote of confidence in a company.  It is a vote that they know the stock is undervalued compared to its market price.  They are making a statement that says they know more about the fundamental business operations of the company and they are positive that it is sure to appreciate.

They do not know any of those details.  The individual investor receives their information from the financial media or a stock screener.  They are the last to know anything about the value of a stock.  The professionals, analysists, and insiders know before the media.  They provide the information to the media.  The media informs the individual investor.

Robo Advisors

Robo-Advisors are the new frontier for individual investors.  Robo-Advisors are financial management platforms that allow investors to manage their investments based on algorithm-based variables.  An investor plugs in their goals, risk profile, and other survey data and Robo-Adviser does the rest.

The technology used by Robo-Advisors is not new.  The investment industry has been using it to rebalance accounts since the early 2000’s.  It is new, however, for individual investors to have access to this type of asset management technology.

Even though it has been around for some time, it is fascinating technology.  Since it is automated and based off an algorithm, there is not much room for human error.  Not only can it be used for investment selection, but it can also be used for more sophisticated processes like tax-loss harvesting.

There are some nice benefits to using a Robo-Advisor.  They are a much more affordable option than having to hire a human Financial Advisor.  The annual fee to use a Robo-Advisor is between 0.2% to 0.5%.  That is much more affordable than must shell out up to 2% for a human financial advisor.  The minimum amount that is required to invest with a Robo-Advisor is much lower than the standard six-figure minimum that many traditional human financial advisors require.

Conclusion

The above investment styles are just a few of the more popular methods for individual investors.  Over the years, my portfolio has become primarily made up of a few index funds.  I have invested in a few managed funds but sold off all except one.  As far as individual stocks, I have only bought and sold five individual stocks since I started investing.  I have not owned any individual stocks since 2004.  Many investors in the financial independence community use individual stocks as part of their dividend strategy.  As for the Rob-Advisors, I have invested using that technology, but do see its value for tax-loss-harvesting in a retirement account.

What is your approach to investing?

Do you follow any of the methods that I covered or a blend of a few different approaches?

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Dumping Stocks at Retirement

Have you ever considered selling all your stocks or stock mutual funds when you retire?  Who wants to have to deal with the ups and downs of the markets when you are no longer dollar-cost-averaging?  Are you afraid of a major market crash when you are drawing down your portfolio?

The market is near its all-time high.  With retirement right around the corner, are you tempted to sell all your stock holdings and call it a day?  It might sound tempting.  This market cannot keep going up, can it?

Every investor has the right to feel exactly how they feel about all of the scary things that are going on in the world.  Don’t lose your head.  The world has always been a volatile place and unfortunately, it always will be.  If it is not one thing, it is something else.

Yes, it might be tempting to pull the trigger and sell high.  You would walk away as a winner.  Before you do that.  Let’s look at how an all-bond portfolio might serve you in retirement.

For this exercise, let us assume that you are now sitting on $1,000,000 in your 401K.  At retirement, you want to draw down 4% per year.  How would an asset allocation of 100% in bonds hold up over the course of 30 years?  To find out, I am going to run this test based on the Monte Carlo method by using the Vanguard Retirement Nest Egg Calculator.

There is a 69% chance that your savings will last 30 years.  I do not like those odds.  I especially do not like them for a person who retires early.

What about if a person wants that $1,000,000 to last 40 years?  The percentages are getting much worse.  There is now only a 36% chance that money will last 40 years.

Could you imagine going broke after being retired for 40 years?  What would you do?  Would you go back to work?  Who would hire you at such an advanced age?  Sure, employers cannot discriminate, but let’s be honest about the opportunities for someone who has been unemployed for that long.

What could an investor do to improve the chances of their savings lasting 30 years or even 40 years for those who enter early retirement?  In Benjamin Graham’s book The Intelligent Investor, he gave a few suggestions for defensive investors.  He suggests that a balanced portfolio made up of 50 in equities and 50% in bonds is a good place to start.  He also suggested that an investor should never exceed an asset allocation of 75/25.  In other words, an investor should never have more than 75% or less than 25% in equities or bonds.

I know that you are seriously considering selling your equity holdings and exchanging them for bonds.  You have told yourself that you are finished with the market.  Volatility is no longer for you.  You want to enjoy your retirement without having to worry about how stocks are performing.  If you do that, the odds are still not in your favor of not running out of money.

How would your $1,000,000 fair if you followed what the late Benjamin Graham suggested in his classic investment book?  How would keeping only 25% in equities change the projected outcome?  Would adding a more volatile asset class help or hurt the likely hood of running out of money?

By keeping 25% in equities, the percentages have dramatically improved.  There is now a 78% chance that your money will not run out over the course of 30 years with a 4% drawdown rate.  Over the course of 40 years, there is 57% chance that your money will last.  By keeping 25% of the portfolio in stocks, there was an improvement of 9% over the course of 30 years and an improvement of 21% for 40 years.

Holding a small allocation of equities sure goes a long way.  What about if you took it a step further and went with a mix of 50% in stocks and 50% in bonds?  I know, I know. You are finished with stocks.  Keeping 25% of your money in stocks is one thing, but going to 50% is just too aggressive for your retirement account.

I understand how you feel.  You do not want to own stocks when the next recession occurs.  A long stock market correction can be scary.

During a drawdown period, how does having 100% in bonds compare to an asset allocation of 50% in stocks and 50% in bonds?  Over the course of 30 years, the 50/50 mix has an 85% chance of success.  Over the course of 40 years, the 50/50 mix has a projected success rate of 74%.  Compared to the portfolio made up of 100% in bonds, the 50/50 mix has a 16% better chance to not run out of money over the course of 30 years.  For the period of 40 years, the 50/50 mix has a 38% better chance of not running out of money.

There are many factors to consider when selecting the asset allocation that is right for your retirement.  How old will you be at the time of retirement?  How long does your money have to last?  How will RMDs impact your drawdown?  What type of lifestyle do you want to live during retirement?  Are you planning on leaving a legacy?

I am not trying to convince you on how you should allocate your portfolio during retirement.  That is ultimately your decision.  Everyone has a unique financial situation.  The purpose of this post was to examine how different conservative portfolios might perform during the drawdown period.  I am just trying to convince you to do your due diligence before you rush to any financial decisions that will impact your quality of life down the road.

After reviewing these results, it shows that diversification is still important during the drawdown period.  Just as holding 100% in stocks is too aggressive for most investors during their working years, holding 100% in bonds might be too conservative for investors during the drawdown period.  When an investor is working on building their wealth, holding a percentage of bonds helps to reduce the impact of how stock market volatility impacts a portfolio.  During the drawdown period, holding a small percentage of equities greatly improves the likelihood of not running out of money in retirement.

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Long-Term Care: An Overview

As the saying goes, there are two guarantees in life.  The first promise is that you will die.  The second promise is that you will pay taxes.  There is also a third guarantee that should be mentioned.  If you are fortunate to live to old age, you are most likely going to need someone to care for you.

When people think of aging, they often fear the type of care that they are most likely going to need at some point.  While it is not as fun as planning for a trip around the world, long-term care should not be forgotten about.  It is much better to add long-term care in your financial plan than to hope you will never need it.  Long-term care is just another variable to be added and managed on the journey toward financial independence.

What is Long-Term Care

Long-term care is different from other types of healthcare and not covered by traditional health insurance.  The objective of long-term care is not to cure an illness or disease.  The main purpose of long-term care is to allow an individual to attain and maintain an optimal level of functioning as they age.

What do the average statistics look like for people who will need long-term care? Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term service and support.  Women need care longer than men.  On average, women need 3.7 years of care and men need 2.2 years of care.  The difference in time is based on women living longer than men.  Based on today’s population of 65-year-olds, 20 percent will need it for longer than 5 years.

Where is Long-Term Care Provided

Most long-term care is provided at home.  Long-term care is changing.  As part of the Triple-Aim, along with being cost-effective, and high-quality, the focus needs to be community-based.

Of older people with disabilities who receive LTSS at home, 66% get all their care exclusively from their family caregiver.  This care is mostly given by wives and daughters.  Another 26% receive some combination of family care and paid help.  Only 9% of people who receive LTSS at home receive paid help.

Based on a 2013 report from the CDC, about 8 million people receive support from the 5 main paid regulated long-term care service providers:

  • 57% – Home Health Care Providers
  • 17% – Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • 15% – Hospice Care Units
  • 9% – Independent Care Communizes
  • 3% – Adult Day Services

What is the Cost of Long-Term Care

The cost of long-term care varies by region.  Long-term care is more expensive in the northeast than in the south.  Along with cost, quality standards also need to be considered.  Below are the median annual costs for my home state Pennsylvania:

  • Private room in a skilled nursing facility is $120,000
  • Private one bedroom in an assisted living facility is $41,000
  • Home Health Aide (44 hours of care) is $50,000

Who Pays for Long-Term Care

The total national LTSS spending in the U.S. is $310 billion.  On average, the retirement savings of families between the ages of 56 and 61 is $164,000.  The median for this population is only $17,000.  With the savings rates being so low and the costs so high, where does the funding come from?  Based on the CMS, the breakdown is as follows:

  • 8% – Private Insurance Providers
  • 19% – Private pay or out-of-pocket
  • 51% – Medicaid
  • 21% – Other Public sources

What is Long-Term Care Insurance

Long-term care insurance pays for care in your home, assisted living facility, community-based care center, and skilled nursing home.  The policies begin coverage wan an individual is unable to perform two of the six activities of daily living (ADLs) or are cognitively impaired (Dementia or Alzheimer’s).  The six basic ADSs are eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring (walking), and continence.

Individual policies are commonly sold to individuals by insurance agents.  Employees policies are employer-sponsored benefits that might be offered as a group long-term care insurance plan.  Association policies are group insurance policies that are offered by associations such as AAA or AARP.

Some states have long-term care insurance partnership programs.  When you buy a federally qualified partnership policy, you will receive partial protection against the normal Medicaid requirements to spend down your assets to become eligible.

Some federal income tax advantages are available to people who buy certain long-term care insurance policies.

Sales of traditional long-term care policies have fallen sharply, but life insurance policies and annuities that carry long-term care benefits are growing in popularity.

Most people who buy long-term care insurance do so between the ages of 55 – 65.

Who sells Long-Term Care Insurance

According to Consumersadvocate.org, the top 5 providers of long-term care for 2018 are:

  • Golden Care
  • LTC
  • CLTC Insurance Services
  • Mutual of Omaha
  • Mass Mutual

Conclusion

Most people would like to pretend that long-term care is not a fact of life.  Unfortunately, it is something that most people will have to deal with.  While it is not a light-hearted topic, it is a good idea to discuss it with those who you might have to care for as well as with those who might have to care for you.   As with every other aspect of personal finance, long-term care is another issue that needs to be part of a financial plan.  It is always better to have a plan and not need it than to be faced with a life-altering situation and not have a plan.

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Should Millennials Contribute to a 401K?

No, that is not a rhetorical question.  I was having lunch the other day with my co-worker Jill.  Jill is an exceptional young woman.  Jill’s parents divorced when she was young, so she grew up in a broken home.  That did not stand in the way of her excelling in school.  She went on to earn a BA in Psychology from one of the best state universities in the country.  She is also considering going back to graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Jill and I have worked together for almost one year.  Jill was lucky because she was hired just a few months after she graduated from college.  She is a great employee, person, and is highly ambitious.

She told me that she developed her work ethic as a young teenager.  She said that growing up without a dad around, she had to work to help her mom pay the bills.  Jill started working at age 14 and has always had a job during high school and while in college.

When we were talking, she told me that when her parents divorced they had an agreement to give each child $40,000 towards their college education.  Her brother went to Notre Dame and the money he received from his parents covered about one year of his education.  Jill opted for a state university that was only a 2-hour drive away from her Mother.

Jill’s education cost her parents $30,000.  Her parents tried to be fair about the dollar amount.  After graduating college, her parents also bought her a used car for $10,000.  Even though she did not get to watch the Fighting Irish play football in South Bend, she still made out well.

During our lunch, she told me that she feels bad for her current roommates.  Most come from families that are more affluent than her family. However, they all have student loan payments that cost $700 or more every month.

She asked me my opinion about her situation.  Should she feel bad?  What should she do with the extra money she has compared to what her roommates have?  She said that she did not grow up with much and does not want to waste it.

I told her that she is in a fortunate situation.  She has a unique opportunity to save a great amount of money since she does not have any debt and her only large bill is her monthly rent.  I suggested that she pretends that she has as much student loan debt as her roommates and to contribute $700 per month to our employer’s retirement plan.

She asked me “Should Millennials contribute to a 401K”?

I told her that millennials should absolutely contribute to a 401K.  I said that she especially should because she does not have any debt to pay back or major bills.  These are the reasons why she should start contributing:

  • She is 22 years old and by starting at that age, she can be well on her way toward financial independence (FI) in 15 years or less
  • Our plan offers low-cost index funds
  • Our employer matches 100% up to the first 5% an employee contributes
  • The contributions lower her taxable income
  • The money grows tax-free and is not taxed until she withdraws it at retirement
  • She can take advantage of dollar-cost-averaging
  • She can enjoy the benefit of compound interest
  • If she gets a different job, she can take the money with her and roll it over into an IRA
  • Even though I would advise against it, she can borrow against her account if need be

I explained to her that time goes by very quickly and she has a golden opportunity to build some serious wealth for herself.  Unless she lands a government job, she will not have a pension.  She will need this money to support herself in the future.

Jill has a unique situation.  She is a young millennial without any debt.  What makes her even more unique is that she is a new college graduate without any student loan debt.

If you have student loans, you should still contribute to your employers 401K account.  Even if it is just enough to get the match.  After you pay down your debt, take the dollar amount that you were paying towards your loans and direct it to your 401K.

You might not get to Financial Independence as quickly as Jill does.  You will, however, get there if you take a few steps.  If you have debt, pay off your debt and don’t create new debt.  Save as much as possible.  Sign up for your employers 401K plan as soon as you are eligible.

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Note: This post was originally published as a guest post.  The post was moved here because it was not available to be read on dollardiligence.com. That site is no longer active.

Early Retirement: Removing Barriers

Many people dream of reaching early retirement.  Few people, however, are willing to do what it takes to make it a reality.  In most cases, to reach early retirement, a person must live differently from how the masses live.  People generally don’t want to be viewed as being different from their fellows.

The masses are living for the day, spending most of what they earn, landing in debt, and are in denial about their personal finances.  They have high hopes that their financial future will be secure.  Hope, however, is not a strategy.

To reach early retirement, a strategy is needed.  That strategy will require action and more action.  The primary objective of that strategy will be to first reach financial independence.  Financial independence is what enables people to retire early.  If a person is no longer working, the money to sustain their lifestyle needs to come from somewhere.  For most early retirees, that somewhere is their passive investments.

The path to being able to retire early is full of barriers.  Many are external like being able to maintain a budget while marketers are doing everything they can to get you to break your budget and buy whatever it is they are selling.  Some barriers are mental.  The purpose of this post is to identify a few of these barriers and to establish a plan of action to avoid them.

Ignorance

Most people are unaware of what is required when it comes to planning for an early retirement.  That is even true for those who have attended college.  People who hold a 4-year degree or beyond still struggle with doing what is required to escape having to work for a living.

When it comes to establishing a financial plan, many people truly do not understand what is required.  They feel that things will just work out like they have in other areas of their life like landing a good job or getting a mortgage to buy a house.  They are generally in denial about what is required to build a large enough net worth to sustain their desired lifestyle once they are no longer working.

The good news is that once a person decides to learn more about personal finance, there is an abundance of great information.  Once a person takes that first step towards learning about budgeting, saving, and investing, they have removed one barrier.  Once that barrier has been removed, they will discover that the basics can carry a person a long way.  The basics alone might be enough to carry some people to financial independence.

Procrastinating

Procrastinating is another barrier that stands in the way of reaching early retirement.  Not knowing about a topic is one thing.  Knowing and not doing anything is another.  To reach early retirement, it takes many years of earning a salary, saving a large percentage of that income, and investing it wisely.

The longer a person waits to start this process, the harder it becomes.  That is based on compound interest.  Let’s assume that an investor needs to have $1,000,000 saved to declare financial independence.  They also want to reach this milestone by age 50.

Based on an 8% percent return, if an investor starts to save $1,800 per month at age 30, it will take 20 years to reach their goal.   If they wait until age 40 to start saving, they will have to save almost $6,000 per month.  If they started at age 22, however, they would only have to save $900 per month.

When you are young, time is on your side.  The older you get, the harder it becomes.  Don’t procrastinate if your goal is to reach early retirement.

Not investing in stocks

To receive a return close to 8%, an investor will need to have a large percentage of stocks in their asset allocation.  Based on how investments are projected to perform for the next 10 years, an 8% return might not be reasonable.  Large-cap stocks are projected to earn 6.7% threw 2026.  For that same period, investment grade bonds are projected to earn 3.1%.

The average person has the tendency to shy away from stocks.  In the short-term, they are volatile.  Over long periods of time, they are one of the best wealth building investments for individual investors.

Instead of parking your money in a money market that returns 1%, consider adding stocks to your asset allocation.  A good place to start is to look at a balanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% in bonds.  This allocation is popular because it provides growth from the stock allocation and the bond allocation reduces volatility when the stock market has a correction.  Another general rule of thumb is to invest (110 minus your age in stocks).  If you are age 25, you might want to consider having around 85% of your asset allocation in stocks.

Lifestyle Creep

Lifestyle creep is a form of inflation.   As a person advances in their career and their earnings increase, it is natural for their spending to increase.  As raises and promotions pile up, people have the tendency to upgrade their lifestyle.  Instead of saving more of their earnings, people buy bigger houses, fancier cars, and go on expensive vacations.

If there is lifestyle creep in your life, it is a major barrier between reaching early retirement and being stuck as a wage earner.  Lifestyle creep inflates how much money you need in your retirement account before you can retire.  In contrast, if you keep your monthly expenses low, the less you will need to be able to retire.

If you plan on withdrawing 4% from your retirement account, have $100,000 in annual expenses, you will need $2,500,000 in retirement savings.  For those who only have $40,000 in annual expenses, they just need to save $1,000,000.  The higher your annual expenses are, the more you need to have in retirement savings.

To avoid lifestyle creep, some management is required.  A solid budget is needed.  A financial plan is also a vital tool.  First, focus on the big expenses.  Keep your housing, transportation, taxes, and education costs low.  For example, live in your starter house forever, buy an economical car, live in an area that does not have high taxes, and take advantage of public schools and state universities.

If you can avoid lifestyle creep on the major expenses, you will have more money for savings.  This will also lead to less financial stress.  Instead of stressing to cover your bills that are always increasing, you will be able to better enjoy your life because there will be less demand for having to earn more and more.

Conclusion

For most people, the road to early retirement takes a long time.  It generally takes a couple decades of solid earnings, a high savings rate, and compound interest.  To achieve this ambitus goal, there are barriers that need to be identified and managed.

To be successful with personal finance, education is required.  The great news is that there is an abundance of good books, blogs, and forums that provide unlimited information.  A good place to start is the Resources page on this blog.

There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Most overnight success stories have been a fifteen-year work in progress.  If you want to be financially successful and retire early, start today.  It is not an overnight endeavor.

Without some risk, there will only be a little return.  Identify the correct mix of stocks and bonds for your situation.  Be sure to take your age and risk tolerance into consideration.

Manage your expenses.  The greater your expenses, the more money you must save and grow.  By keeping your expenses low, the less money you will need in retirement.

There will always be barriers that stand in the way of reaching early retirement.  Once they are identified, they can be managed and overcome.  Keep your eyes open for other barriers that might pop-up.  Be vigilant and stay focused and you will be sure to reach financial independence and retire early.

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Funding Retirement with the Bucket Approach

Have you ever considered separating the money that you plan on drawing down during your retirement based on the phases of your retirement?  A common approach is to allocate different piles of money in separate buckets based on when you plan on using the money.  The Bucket Approach was made popular by Raymond J. Lucia, CFP as the result of his book Buckets of Money.  The theory is based on building a diversified portfolio and spreading the risk out across different buckets of money.

A common approach is to use three buckets, however, more buckets can be used:

Bucket A – Money that will be used for the first few years of retirement (years 2 – 5)

Bucket B – Money that will be used for the second period of retirement (years 3  – 10)

Bucket C – Money that will be used to fund the remaining years of retirement (years 11 – 25 and beyond)

Asset Allocation for Each Bucket

Since Bucket A is going to be the first source of retirement funding, it is suggested that this portion of the asset allocation be ultra conservative.  That is to prevent a major stock market sell-off or recession to deplete the money that will be used to cover the first 2 – 5 years of retirement expenses.  In this bucket, the assets should be invested in CD’s, money market accounts, short-term bonds, or FDIC insured savings accounts.  By always having between 2 – 5 years worth of expenses in liquid assets that are easy to access, it helps from having to sell-off stocks when they have gone down in value.

Bucket B is going to be constructed of a more moderate asset allocation than Bucket A.  This bucket is designed to produce higher returns than Bucket A.  This bucket should have an asset allocation of around 65% in bonds and 35% in stocks.  The bonds are a low-risk investment that provides higher income than short-term holdings.  The stock portion is used to fuel growth and stay ahead of inflation.  The bond allocation could be made up of both an intermediate-term bond fund and a TIPS fund.  A large-cap index fund or large-cap dividend fund are good options for the stock portion of Bucket B.

Bucket C is going to have a more aggressive asset allocation than Bucket A and B.  This bucket of money will be used for long-term growth.  It will be made up of an asset allocation of 75% in stocks and 25% in bonds.  By keeping a portion in bonds, an investor can rebalance annually.  This practice of buying low and selling high improves the long-term performance and reduces the risk of this asset allocation.  For the bond allocation, a total bond market fund is a good option.  For the stock allocation, a more diversified mix of large-cap, small-cap, and international stock funds are used in this portion of the bucket for aggressive growth.

Refilling the Buckets

With a more traditional approach to asset allocation, a portfolio is viewed as a whole and not fragmented into different categories based on when the money will be needed.  For example, a balanced portfolio might be made up of 40% in bonds and 60% in stocks.  If stocks have a good year and the new asset allocation is 65% stocks and 35% bonds, the investor simply sells the stocks high and rebalances back to the desired asset allocation.

With the bucket approach, there is rebalancing within each bucket as well as replenishing between buckets.  Bucket A has 2- 5 years worth of living expenses.  When Bucket A has 1 years worth of living expenses drawn down, the difference will be replenished from Bucket B.  The same process applies between Bucket B and Bucket C.  When money is moved from Bucket B to Bucket A, Bucket B must be replenished from Bucket C.

Buckets vs Systematic Drawdown

Some financial advisors favor the buckets approach for the psychological benefits it provides investors.  When an investor is faced with a major market decline, they feel more confident because they know they have 5 years of living expenses in cash.  That financial cushion helps to prevent investors from selling stocks when they are at or near the bottom of a market.  Bucket A provides a level of comfort during good times and bad.

Other financial advisors prefer a systematic drawdown approach.  It is viewed as an easy approach for investors to understand and apply.  They feel that it is less complicated for an investor to view their portfolio as a whole and to use a safe withdrawal rate of 3 – 4% from a conservative portfolio of 50% in stocks and 50% in fixed assets.

There are more similarities between these two approaches than there are differences.  Even though there are three different asset allocations, in the three different buckets, when they are added together, they still can simply add up to the same mix of 50% in stocks and 50% bonds in the portfolio that is applied in a systematic drawdown approach.  It is just a different way of mentally accounting for assets during retirement.

Implementing the Buckets Approach

The buckets approach should be considered by people who are planning on retiring early.  Many people save up substantial resources in their 401K, but cannot access their money until age 60.  The buckets approach can be an alternative to a Roth conversion.  This approach just has to be planned years in advance because it requires an investor to build up substantial savings in their taxable account along with their tax-deferred accounts.

For this example, let’s assume that a person wants to retire at age 50, requires $50,000 per year for living expenses, and has $500,000 of their $1.5 million-dollar portfolio in taxable savings.  This scenario would be ideal for the buckets approach:

Bucket A – $250,000 in taxable savings (age 50-55)

Bucket B – $250,000 in a taxable account (tax-free bonds, age 56-60), the remaining mix of assets in an IRA or 401K to be drawn down after age 60

Bucket C – All in an IRA or 401K

Conclusion

The buckets approach is slightly more complex than a systematic drawdown strategy.  The main benefit is that it helps to keep the mind of the investor more at ease during all market conditions.  If managed correctly, the theory is that an investor will always feel secure because they always have 2 – 5 years of cash to fund the next few years of expenses.

The buckets approach is customizable to your unique situation.  The three buckets approach is the most common strategy.  It is the most ideal for a retiree who has at least 25 years of living expenses in savings.

More buckets can be added.  For example, if you have more than 25 years worth of projected living expenses in savings, you can add more buckets to extend your savings further out into the future. You also must take into consideration if you have a taxable account, a 401K with RMD’s (Required Minimum Distributions) at age 70, a Roth IRA account that does not require RMD’s, and Health Savings Account (HSA) to cover future medical bills.

If you are looking at establishing a conservative drawdown strategy, a buckets approach is worth considering.  It requires a little more work than a standard systematic strategy.  However, if you enjoy the mental accounting, the extra work might add to your peace of mind.  Just as when you were working towards building your wealth, the best plan is the one that you can follow.

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Impacts of the 2018 Tax Reform Law

After what seemed like many months of debate, tax reform has been passed into law for 2018.  This is not a political blog, so I will not be sharing my opinion on any of these changes.  The purpose of this post is to just share some of the highlights that will be useful for people who are interested in reaching financial independence.

This post does not cover every change.  The bill is more than 1,000 pages, so that would be impossible.  Plus, I am not an Accountant.  Trying to read the whole 2018 Tax Reform Law would be as painfully difficult as trying to read Ulysses by James Joyce.  This post just covers some of the main changes that have the greatest impact.

Tax Rates

The marginal tax rates have been lowered.  There was much debate on reducing the number of tax brackets.  In the end, seven tax brackets remained.  The lowest tax bracket is 10% and 37% is the new highest tax bracket.

Rate Single Married Filing Jointly
10% Up to $9,525 Up to $19,050
12% $9,526 to $38,700 $19,051 to $77,400
22% $38,701 to $82,500 $77,401 to $165,000
24% $82,501 to $$157,500 $165,001 to $315,000
32% $157,501 to $200,000 $315,001 to $400,000
35% $200,001 to $500,000 $400,001 to $600,000
37% Over $500,000 Over $600,000

Standard Deduction

The standard deduction was increased.  Individual/married filing separately is $6,350 in 2017 and will be raised to 12,000 in 2018.  For those who are married filing jointly or are a surviving spouse, the standard deduction is $12,700 in 2017 and will increase to $24,000 in 2018.  Head of household will increase to $18,000 from $9,350 in 2017.

There are additional deductions for those over age 65, blind, or disabled.  The deduction is $13,000 per individual if married.  The deduction is $16,000 per individual if unmarried.

The personal exemption of $4,150 has been eliminated for 2018. The Child tax credit, however, was increased to $2,000.  The tax credit is $500 for non-child dependents.

SALT

The State and local tax (SALT) deductions are capped at $10,000.  This drastically impacts homeowners in states with high state and local taxes.  States like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will be impacted the most.  It might be a good time for those living in these states to make like Mr. and Mrs. Groovy and move to North Carolina.

AMT

The Alternative Minimum Tax changes reduce the likelihood of paying AMT.  The income threshold was raised.  It has been raised to $1,000,000 from $$160,900 for joint filers.  For single filers, it has been increased to $500,000 from $120,700.  The number of families who paid the AMT will be drastically reduced to 200,000 from more than 5,000,000.

Roth Conversions

The ability to re-characterize a TIRA was removed (Roth Conversion).  Contributions can still be re-characterized.  This eliminates the horse race strategy of Roth conversions.  On the bright side, the ability to do “backdoor Roth contributions” has been retained.

Mortgage Interest

Mortgage interest deductions are now limited to newly originated loans up to $750,000.  The previous limit was $1,000,000.  Mortgages that were taken out before December 15, 2017, can continue to deduct the higher amount.

Home equity loan deductions have been eliminated.  That Is for both new and existing loans.  There is not a grandfathering provision for any current home equity loans.  There is no longer a tax benefit for taking a home equity loan to purchase a vehicle like some people used to do.

Medical Expenses

Medical expenses can still be deducted, but changes are coming.  Medical expenses above 7.5% of AGI for 2017 and 2018 can be included in itemized deductions. This reverts to 10% in 2019.

ACA Mandate

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate has been eliminated in 2019.  There will no longer be a penalty for not having health insurance.  This does not go into effect for two years.  Please remember that having health insurance is still a vital part of your financial plan.

AGI Deduction

The 2% AGI deduction will be eliminated in 2018.  Investors can no longer deduct investment fees and expenses.  The ability to deduct the convenience fees to pay taxes with a credit card has also been eliminated.

The Surtax of 3.8% does not change.  There is an indirect change, however.  As stated earlier, the 2% floor for investment expenses will no longer be deductible.

Estate Tax

The estate tax exemption has been doubled.  The new limit is roughly $11,000,000 for individuals and $22,000,000 for those who are married.  This provision remains in effect until the end of 2025.  Please note that these changes do not affect state-level estate taxes.

529 Plan

The new tax law helps people save on school costs.  Up to $10,000 can be distributed annually from a 529 plan to cover the cost of sending a child to a public, private, or religious elementary or secondary school.  More than 30 states offer income tax deductions for 529 plan contributions.

Kiddie Tax

Kiddie tax (i.e. unearned income by a child under age 19 or a full-time student under age 24) is now subject to trust tax rates instead of their parents’ tax rate.  In the past, the kiddie tax applied to earnings that were taxed at the parents’ tax rate.  In 2018, the rate that applies to the parent does not matter.  Moving forward, investment earnings that exceed $2,100 will be taxed at the rates that apply to trusts and estates:

  • Up to $2,550 = 10%
  • $2,550 to $9,150 = 24%
  • $9,150 to $12,500 = 35%
  • More than $12,500 = 37%

Charitable Contributions

Charitable contribution deductions can be impacted.  Since the standard deduction has doubled from $12,000 to $24,000 for married couples, it is expected that fewer filers will itemize in the future.  This can cause charities to take a hit in 2018 because most Americans will have less incentive to give.

Electric Vehicles

There is still a justification to buy a Tesla Model S other than the cars impressive zero to sixty time. The tax credit for electric vehicles has been retained.  The $7,500 tax credits are available for the first 200,000 electric vehicles that a manufacturer sells.  Once that quota is met, the incentive stays in place until that calendar quarter ends.  After that, it is reduced by 50% every six months until it is ultimately eliminated.

Medicare Surtax

The Medicare surtax of 0.9% on earned income has been retained.  This only applies to employees who earn more than $200,000.  That includes wages, income from those who are self-employed, and railroad retirement compensation (RRTA).  The threshold is $250,000 for those who are married and filing jointly.

Conclusion 

Again, this is not a comprehensive review of the 2018 Tax Reform Bill.  It is more of a quick and dirty overview.  These are just some of the highlights that I found important for myself and for other people who are working to reach financial independence.  Understanding the tax laws might be boring unless you are a CPA.  However, creating an optimized tax strategy will greatly impact your financial plan.  Everyone who is planning on reaching financial independence should at least be aware of the basics.

Always be sure to check with a financial professional before you make any financial decisions and be sure to read the Disclaimer page.

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Fire Your Financial Adviser

I have been on the journey toward financial independence for a long time.  I started saving and investing to reach financial independence at age 20.  When I decided that I wanted to become wealthy, I knew that I needed to be educated on how to turn this goal into a reality.

While at college, I studied Business Management.  Even though I tried to take as many finance classes as possible, I did not learn much about personal finance.  Sure, I studied financial analysis and other classes, but the content was mostly geared towards learning how to dissect financial statements.  It was taught more from the standpoint of learning how to become an administrator.  Those classes have helped me during my career, but not so much as an individual investor.

My goal was to learn how to invest to receive optimal returns.  There are many mixed messages when it comes to investing.  My focus was to learn how to become a successful investor.  In order to do that, I had to learn how to sift through the noise and to find the most practical content to help me learn how to manage my finances.

Since 1997, I have read almost 100 investing books.  Over the years, I have subscribed to many different personal finance magazines and journals.  Most of the time that I spend online has been reading investing articles, forums, or blogs.

I have read many great financial journalists, bloggers, and random forum posts that have helped me with my financial planning.  There has been one person, however, who I have always enjoyed reading.  That person is Doctor James Dahle.  Before I knew him by his actual name, I knew him as The White Coat Investor.

The first time that I came across The White Coat Investor was in 2007.  This was a very volatile time for investors.  The Great Recession was on the horizon.  There were many posts on the Bogleheads.org forum from The White Coat Investor that helped me to stay the course, tune out the noise, and to focus on investing for the long-term.  I am thankful for those posts by The White Coast Investor and grateful that I followed his advice.

The White Coat Investor’s target audience is primarily Medical Doctors and other high-income folks.  Most of what The White Coat Investor writes about, however, transcends profession and tax brackets.  His financial advice can be applied to anyone who is working, saving, and investing to reach financial independence.

To help Doctor’s and other high-income professionals reach financial independence, The White Coat Investor has recently launched a new course.  The focus of this online course is to teach high earners how to create a financial plan that is tailored to their unique financial needs.  It is a step-by-step course for creating and implementing a financial plan without having to use a financial advisor.

The course is based on 12 learning modules.  I have reviewed the content.  It is truly a bargain for only $499.

There is a reason why this course is titled Fire Your Financial Advisor.  After you complete this comprehensive course, you will no longer have to pay a financial advisor for their services.  You will be prepared to manage all of your finances by yourself.

This class goes a step beyond what a financial advisor traditionally helps with.  Fire Your Financial Advisor is not just another way to promote passive investing in index funds.  It is tailored to the needs of physicians and other high-income professionals.  After finishing the course, you will be more confident on how to manage your student loans, insurance, taxes, estate planning, legal protection from lawsuits, as well as everything you need to know about managing your investments.

As part of the 12 modules, you are provided with 7 hours of lectures, videos, and screenshots that you can refer to at any time.  As you advance through the material, there are pre-tests, quizzes for each section, and a final exam.  Upon completion, the course is set up to ensure that you have total mastery of the material.

It would take hundreds of hours of independent research to learn what The White Coat Investor provides in Fire Your Financial Advisor.  As a busy professional, do you have the time to read 30 or 40 books on these subjects?  Even if you do, you will not find many where the content has been written by a physician who understands your unique situation.  The White Coat Investor does all the heavy lifting for you.  He provides you with what you only need to know.  There is zero waste in this course.

Another great feature about the Fire Your Financial Advisor course is that there is not any risk.  Buy it and check it out.  If you find that it does not provide you with what you need to optimize your finances, there is a 7 day, risk-free, guarantee to return it.  It would be difficult if not impossible to hire a financial advisor who offers a money back guarantee.

The White Coat Investor is one of the good guys in the world of personal finance.  If you are a doctor and want to take control of your finances, check out Fire Your Financial Advisor.  You truly have nothing to lose other than $10,000 or more in annual fees that your financial advisor will charge you for what you can be doing yourself for free.

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