Category Archives: Investing

The Roth IRA is 20 Years Old

The Roth IRA has now been around for 20 years.  Where does the time go?  Time sure does seem to fly when you are having fun.  It seems to go faster when you are dollar-cost-averaging and building wealth.

That is exactly what the Roth IRA has done over the past 20 years.  It has been a great wealth building tool for many individual investors.  Since it was created, I have been depositing money into my Roth IRA in the form of dollar-cost-averaging with almost every paycheck for the past 20 years.

The Roth IRA has come a long way in 20 years.  The Roth IRA is named after William Roth a Senator from the state of Delaware and was part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.  What makes the Roth IRA different from a Traditional IRA is that unlike the Traditional IRA, there are not any immediate tax deductions.  The Roth IRA is funded with after-tax earnings and when the money is withdrawn at retirement, it is tax-free.

When I first started investing, the Roth IRA was not available.  It did not become available until I was investing for about 1-year.  As soon as I learned about the Roth IRA, it sounded like a great wealth building tool.

When the Roth IRA was first introduced, the annual contribution limits were only $2,000 per year for an individual who qualified. From 1998 until 2001, the contribution limits were $2,000. The contributions limits have slowly been increasing over the past 20 years.  In 2002, people over 50 have been allowed to contribute more in the form of a catch-up contribution as they got closer to retirement age.  In 2018, individual under the age of 50 can contribute $5,500 per year and people who are over age 50 can contribute $6,500 per year.

There are income limits on who can take advantage of the Roth IRA.  Single filers who earn less than $120,000 qualify for a full contribution.  Single filers who earn between $120,000 and $135,000 are eligible for a partial contribution.  Joint filers who earn up to $189,000 can take advantage of the full contribution.  Joint filers who earn between $189,000 and $199,000 are eligible for a partial contribution.

Since my wife and I earn less than $189,000 we are able to better diversify out retirement tax strategy.  We contribute to our Traditional 403B accounts to reduce our annual taxable income. We also contribute to our Roth IRA accounts to have money that can be withdrawn tax-free later on in retirement.

What if you want to contribute to a Roth IRA account, but do not qualify.  For those folks, there is a Backdoor Roth IRA method that could be used to convert a traditional IRA into a Roth.  That approach is more complicated based on taxation.  It might be wise to check with a CPA before trying to implement this strategy.

Unlike a Traditional IRA or 401K, there are not any Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) with a Roth IRA.  In a Traditional IRA account, the money has to start to be withdrawn at age 70 ½. That is not the case with a Roth IRA.  The money never has to be withdrawn.  It can remain in the Roth IRA and the money can keep growing.

Since the money never has to be withdrawn, it is recommended by many financial professionals to drawdown Roth IRA accounts last.  We have added that strategy to our retirement drawdown plan.  Based on our age and different types of investment accounts, we will be following a Buckets Approach to funding our retirement.

We will first drawdown our taxable accounts.  The second source of retirement income will come from our Traditional IRAs based on the RMD schedule.  If we live long enough, the last source that we plan on drawing down is our Roth IRA accounts.

There are many benefits with passing on a Roth IRA to a surviving spouse.  They are not forced to take RMDs. They can roll the inherited Roth IRA over into their own Roth IRA.  They can also continue to contribute to the Roth IRA with new earnings.  These benefits do not apply to someone who inherits a Roth IRA who is not the spouse.

Another benefit of a Roth IRA is that you can withdraw money from the account prior to being age 59 ½.  With a Traditional IRA, there is a penalty for early withdrawals.  The money that a person withdraws early is taxed as ordinary income.  There is also a 10% penalty unless it is considered a special circumstance.  With a Roth IRA, there are not any penalties if the money that is taken out is limited to contributions.

Over the past 20 years, the Roth IRA has become a very popular type of retirement account.  According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than 29% of all individuals have a Roth IRA account.  That is an amazing statistic since so many Americans struggle with saving money for retirement.

There are few things in life that most people agree on.  In the world of personal finance, I cannot think of anyone in the financial independence community who does not like the benefits of investing in a Roth IRA account.  It is hard to not see and embrace the ability to build wealth in an account that allows people to have tax-free income at retirement.

Do you invest in a Roth IRA account?

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The Rule of 72

 

Do you want to know how long it will take to double your money?  Most investors do.  Are you interested in the expediential growth of your money?  Have you ever tried to calculate the rule of 72?

When I first started to read personal finance and investing books, I learned about the math behind what makes investing work.  The big driver behind what causes your money to grow is compound interest. While I was studying, the one theory that I kept coming across was the rule of 72.

The rule of 72 is just a basic mathematical formula.  It is used as a tool to help investors determine when they should expect to double the money they currently have invested.  The rule of 72 allows an investor to know when they should expect to double their money based on a forecasted rate of return.

Start by taking the projected rate that you expect your investment to return every year.  Divide that interest rate by 72. That will give you the number of years that it will take for you to double your money.

Example:

72 / 6% expected rate of return = 12 years to double your principal

72 / 8% expected rate of return = 9 years to double your principal

72 / 10% expected rate of return = 7.2 years to double your principal

The rule of 72 is what makes stocks a more attractive option than bonds or other fixed-income investments.  For example, the Vanguard 500 (VFINX) has returned 10.97% per year between the years 1976 and 2016.  Currently, the average interest rate on an FDIC insured savings account is slightly higher than1.15%. What is the difference between these two investments based on the rule of 72:

Vanguard 500 – 72 / 10.97 = 6.56 years to double your principal

Saving account (national average) – 72 / 1.15 = 62 years to double your principal

Over the coming decade, stocks are not expected to return 10% per year.  Currently, stocks are expensive investments and there is not much value to be found.  Jack Bogle who founded Vanguard and the first S&P 500 index fund that was available to individual investors predicts a more modest return of 6 or 7 percent for the coming decade.  Based on that forecast and the rule of 72, how long would it take to double an investment of $3K in the Vanguard S&P 500 fund:

Vanguard 500 – 72 / 6.5% = 11 years to double your principal

Time is on Your Side

When I started investing, I received a brochure from the investment company that provided me with a few charts on compound interest.  The chart showed how the rule of 72 worked with different interest rates. The brochure explained the wealth-building power of stocks vs more conservative investments based on the difference in long-term performance.  It also showed how it benefited an investor who had a few decades to take advantage of this powerful wealth building formula.

For example, a one-time investment of $10K to grow in value to $40K based on different interest rates:

  • If an investor received a return of 3%, it would take 48 years for that $10K to grow to $40K
  • If an investor received a return of 6%, the time would be reduced to 24 years to grow to $40K
  • If an investor received 12%, however, it would only take 12 years to grow $10K to $40K

What to do Now

What can investors do now to follow the rule of 72?  What are some alternatives since the S&P 500 is projected to underperform its historical average?  Is it possible to try to reduce the time it takes to double your money without taking on too much risk?  Here are some options that might help in doubling your money quicker:

Save more money.  By increasing your savings, you will double your money at a faster pace.  Try to increase your savings by 2-3% per year.

Go beyond the S&P 500.  Add a small-cap blend or extended market index fund that includes mid-cap stocks to your asset allocation.  Small-cap stocks have historically outperformed large-cap stocks. If you go with a 4:1 Ratio, you will emulate the total stock market.

Go beyond the United States for investing opportunities.  Add some international stocks to your portfolio. Add both developed nations and emerging markets for their growth potential.

Remember to keep some bonds in your portfolio.  Many experts are telling investors to stay away from bonds because of their current low yield and the raising interest rates.  Bonds have an opposite correlation than stocks. When stocks go down in value, bonds go up. By owning some bonds, you can buy stocks at a lower price when there is a stock market correction.

Conclusion  

As an investor, you should keep the rule of 72 in the front of your mind.  You do not need to know the exact date as to when you will double your money.  From time-to-time, look at how your portfolio performed over the past 5 or 10 years to identify what your average rate of return is.  Apply the rule of 72 to know where you stand. If you are not satisfied with how long it is taking, look for ways to increase your returns that are within your risk tolerance.   

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Be Intentional

I recently attended a leadership training seminar at a local college.  This seminar was about managing the multi-generational workforce.  The facilitator covered many topics and I am not going to get into any of those details in this post.  He said many interesting things, but the one statement that made me think was that he said that we should always be intentional.

Everything we do should be with intent.  Our actions should have an intended outcome.  Our words should have an intended message.  Even our thoughts should be focused and have a purpose.

The purpose of this training was meant for workforce development.  The message can easily be applied into everyday life.  It is ideal for managing money.

Too many people just coast in life.  They walk around making noise and bumping into things.  By not having a plan, they will just land at a random destination.  What could possibly go wrong with that approach?

To be successful in all your affairs, practice being more intentional.  A great place to start is with how you manage your personal finances.  You should know the why behind everything that you do.

Savings

Do you know what your savings rate is?  You should be able to answer this question without giving it any thought.  Is it 10%, 20%, or more than 30%?  Your savings rate is the most important factor that will determine if you will reach financial independence or not.  It is also one of the rare aspects that you have control over.  Nobody can control what the S&P 500 will return this year, what direction interest rates are headed, or if there will be a spike inflation.  Everyone, however, can control what their saving rate is.

Spending

Your savings rate is directly impacted by your spending.  Do you just spend money without thinking?  Do you go to the mall, outlets, or online and buy things that you do not need?  If you want to change this trend, become intentional with your spending.  Before you buy something, ask yourself if you need it or truly want it?  If you must spend the money, did you shop around for the best price?  Is there a low-cost alternative to making the purchase?  Even if there isn’t a better alternative, at least you did your due diligence and gave thought to the purchase.

Debt

Does your credit card bill arrive, and you cringe when you look at your balance due?  Do you make late payments or just pay the minimum balance on your credit cards?  Do you know what your credit score is?  Do you know what your debt-to-income ratio is and what a healthy ratio should be?  Do you know how to calculate your debt-to-income ratio?  If you want to improve how you manage debt, take a more intentional approach.  Learn what your credit score is, identify if you have too much debt for what your income is, and ultimately establish a plan to get out of debt.

Earnings

I bet you know what your annual salary or hourly wage is?  You get a paycheck every week or bi-weekly, so you are reminded frequently about that rate.  Do you feel that you are underpaid?  Doesn’t everyone?  Maybe you are underpaid or maybe you are overpaid.  Before you ask for a meeting with your supervisor demanding a raise, you should do your homework.  Be intentional and research what the market rate for your position is based on your location and level of experience.  If you are under market rate, you might have a case.  If you are over market rate, but not satisfied, you might need to develop more skills or ask for a more challenging assignment.

Investing

If someone asked you what type of investor you are, could you answer them?  Are you a market timer?  Do you buy and hold equities?  Are you a passive investor who invests in a few different mutual funds?  Do you simply try to capture what the market returns with a total stock market fund?  Do you use value tilts?  Do you buy dividend stocks?  Are you trying to get rich by investing in Bitcoin?  You are free to decide how you invest your money, but you should know the why behind your plan.  Your approach to investing should be intentional.  Nobody knows what the future market returns will be, but you should at least know what you are intending to accomplish with your asset allocation.

Financial Independence

Do you know how much money you need to have in savings to reach financial independence?  To declare financial independence, the general rule is to have 25 years worth of living expenses in savings.  That is based on a 4% withdrawal rate that most financial professionals consider to be acceptable.  Do you know if you have obtained this milestone or how close you are?  Most people who reach financial independence do not get there by accident.  They live intentionally for many years.

Early Retirement

Do you have a target-date as to when you want to retire?  It might be next week, or it might be in 10 years.  If you have an established early retirement date, what are you doing to make that goal a reality?  Are you doing everything you can to maximize your salary and taking on side gigs?  Are you saving until it hurts?  Do you have the right mix of investments to both reach your goal and sleep comfortably at night?  If you do, you are acting in an intentional way.

Conclusion

The nice thing about being intentional is that you can start this process now.  Start by reviewing your current financial situation.  Can you answer why for all your financial decisions?

If you have a financial plan, use it as a guide.  If you do not have a written plan, write one.  That is a good starting point if you want to become intentional.  Review your plan for areas of your financial situation that might need to be amended.

Some fixes are quick, and others require time to implement change.  Moving forward, wherever money is concerned, ask yourself why before you make a final decision.  If you cannot answer why you are doing something, give it some thought and find out what your true intentions are.

This is just another example of how to improve your financial situation.  It provides a pause before you act.  Sometimes giving a decision an additional few seconds of thought can turn a bad decision into a good decision or a good decision into a better decision.

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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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How Bonds are Impacted by Interest Rates

There are many different economic factors that can change interest rates.  The Federal Reserve can act to change interest rates.  Interest rates can be lowered to increase borrowing and spending during a slumping economy.  Interest rates are also used to manage inflation.

No matter what causes the change in interest rates, the change has a direct impact on how bonds are priced.  When interest rates increase, the value of existing bonds decreases.  The opposite occurs when interest rates are reduced.  When that happens, the value of an existing bond would increase in value.

Not all bonds are the same.  Bonds have different maturity dates.  There are different issuers such as the Treasury, corporations, and municipalities.  Different bonds have different coupon rates.

With bonds, the value of a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.  Today’s price of a bond is based on the total of future cash flows.  The value is discounted because they are not available today.  When there are changes in interest rates, all bonds are impacted.  Not all bonds, however, are impacted equally.

The price of a short-term bond is affected less by the increase in interest rates than a longer-term bond. Long-term bonds maturity value and interest are paid with future cash flows.  They are paid in the distant future.  When there is an increase in interest rates, the long-term bonds become discounted and decrease dramatically in value.

The interest rates are also known as the coupon rate that is periodically paid also impact the bond price volatility.  The higher the coupon rate, the more cash that is paid in interest to the investor prior to the maturity date.  When interest rates increase, the future cash flows are discounted at a higher rate.  The lower coupon bond will have more cash flow in the future.  The maturity value of the bond represents a larger portion of the total cash flow.  The current value of the bond will fall.

To determine the risk of a bond, an investor needs to look at maturity and coupon rates.  The most volatile bonds have lower coupons and longer maturities.  Less risky bonds are shorter until they reach maturity and have a high coupon rate.

Most individual investors use bonds to reduce the volatility of their overall portfolio and for income.  If you are using the bond portion of your asset allocation to reduce the overall volatility of your portfolio, consider bonds that have maturities that are shorter than five years.  Also, avoid zero-coupon bonds.

How much do bond prices change?  The prices of bonds do change, but not as drastically as with stocks.  What you can lose in bonds in one year, you can lose in stocks in one day.  Even though bonds are less volatile than stocks, it is still important to understand how interest rates affect them.

For example, assume that you have a bond with a 30-year maturity and a 6% coupon rate.  How much would the value of the bond change if there was a 2% drop in percentage points from 6% to 4%?  The bond would increase in value by almost 35%.  A bond that had a face value of $500 prior to the interest rate decrease would climb to $674.

What about if there was an increase in the interest rate from 6% to 8%.  The bond would decrease in value by almost 23%.  That $500 bond would have a loss of $113 in value.

The only way to reduce the price volatility of the bond portion of a portfolio is to consider shorter maturities.  When looking at mutual funds that invest in thousands of different bonds, look at the average maturity and the average coupon rate.  That will give you a ballpark of what the price volatility of the overall portfolio would be.  Below are a few examples of Vanguard Bond Funds:

Vanguard Total Bond Market Fund (VBMFX)

Average Maturity: 8.4 years

Average Coupon: 3%

Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index Fund (VBLTX)

Average Maturity: 24 years

Average Coupon: 4.4%

Vanguard Short-Term Bond Index Fund (VBIRX)

Average Maturity: 2.9 years

Average Coupon: 2%

Mutual fund managers keep a keen eye on interest rates and other economic factors.  They can adjust their portfolio by buying or selling bonds with shorten or longer maturities based on projected interest rate changes.  Fund managers are limited as to what they can buy and sell based on the fund’s investment objective statement found in the prospectus.  For example, a short-term fund cannot increase its holding in long-term bonds just because interest rates might be falling.

There is also a quality factor to consider.  When interest rates are increasing, lower-rated bonds tend to fall in price faster than high-quality bonds.  Bonds with a higher default risk fall the fastest.

If the economy was in a recession, a rise in interest rates would drop the price of a high-yield (junk) bond with a low rating.  A double or triple-A rated corporate bond with the same maturity would also fall in price, but not as quickly as the lower quality bond.  U.S. Government bonds have historically been rated as the highest quality bonds.

It is just as difficult to try to time changes in interest rates as it is to time the stock market.  There has been speculation of raising interest rates for many years and they are just starting to occur.  Economics and fund managers can make predictions as to where interest rates are heading, but nobody truly knows for sure.

When you are building the bond portion of your asset allocation, keep in mind why you are buying bonds.  Be aware how interest rates affect how bonds perform.  If you want to be more conservative, focus on high-quality government, corporate, and municipal bonds.  A risk-averse investor should also stick with short-term bonds or bond funds.

If you want to take on more risk, do so in the stock portion of your asset allocation.  That is not what bonds are intended for in an individual investor’s portfolio.  Bonds should be used to reduce risk and provide income, not add to the overall risk of a portfolio.

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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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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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