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One of the most common questions I receive from readers like you—especially since Grow (Acorns + CNBC) published my story last week—asks me how I invest.
All this theoretical investing information is fine, Jesse. But can you please just tell me what you do with your money.
That’s what I’ll do today. Here’s a complete breakdown of how I invest, how the numbers line up, and why I make the choices I make.
Of course, please take my advice with a grain of salt. Why?
My strategy is based upon my financial situation. It is not intended to be prescriptive of your financial situation.
I’ve hesitated writing this before because it feels one step removed from “How I Vote” and “How I Pray.” It’s personal. I don’t want to lead you down a path that’s wrong for you. And I don’t want to “show off” my own choices.
I’m an engineer and a writer, not a Wall Street professional. And even if I was a Wall Street pro, I hope my prior articles on stock picking and luck vs. skill in the stock market have convinced you that they aren’t as skilled as you might think.
All I can promise you today is transparency. I’ll be clear with you. I’ll answer any follow-up questions you have. And then you can decide for yourself what to do with that information.
Are we clear? Let’s get to the good stuff.
How I Invest, and In What Accounts…?
In this section, I’ll detail how much I save for investing. Then the next two sections will describe why I use the investing accounts I use (e.g. 401(k), Roth IRA) and which investment choices I make (e.g. stocks, bonds).
How much I save, and in what accounts:
401(k)—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $19,500 on employee-deferred contributions in 2020 (for my age group). I aim to hit the full $19,500 limit.
401(k) matching—My employer will match 100% of my 401(k) contributions until they’ve contributed 6% of my total salary. For the sake of round numbers, that equates to about $6,000.
Roth IRA—The U.S. government has placed a limit of $6,000 on Roth IRA contributions (for my earnings range) in 2020. I am aiming to hit the full $6,000 limit.
Health Savings Account—The U.S. government gives tremendous tax benefits for saving in Health Savings Accounts. And if you don’t use that money for medical reasons, you can use it like an investment account later in life. I aim to hit the full $3,500 limit in 2020.
Taxable brokerage account—After I achieved my emergency fund goal (about 6 months’ of living expenses saved in a high-yield savings account), I started putting some extra money towards my taxable brokerage account. My goal is to set aside about $500 per month in that brokerage account.
That’s $41,000 of investing per year. But a lot of that money is actually “free.” I’ll explain that below.
Why Those Accounts?
The 401(k) Account
First, let’s talk about why and how I invest using a 401(k) account. There are three huge reasons.
First, I pay less tax—and so can you. Based on federal tax brackets and state tax brackets, my marginal tax rate is about 30%. For each additional dollar I earn, about 30 cents go directly to various government bodies. But by contributing to my 401(k), I get to save those dollars before taxes are removed. So I save about 30% of $19,500 = $5,850 off my tax bill.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that 401(k) contributions are taken out prior to OASDI (a.k.a. social security) taxes. That claim was incorrect. 401(k) contributions occur only after OASDI taxes are assessed.
Many thanks to regular reader Nick for catching that error.
Second, the 401(k) contributions are removed before I ever see them. I’m never tempted to spend that money because I never see it in my bank account. This simple psychological trick makes saving easy to adhere to.
Third, I get 401(k) matching. This is free money from my employer. As I mentioned above, this equates to about $6,000 of free money for me.
Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA)
Why do I also use a Roth IRA?
Unlike a 401(k), a Roth IRA is funded using post-tax dollars. I’ve already paid my 30% plus OASDI taxes, and then I put money into my Roth. But the Roth money grows tax-free.
Let’s fast-forward 30 years to when I want to access those Roth IRA savings and profits. I won’t pay any income tax (~30%) on any dividends. I won’t pay capital gains tax (~15%) if I sell the investments at a profit.
I’m hoping my 30-year investment might grow by 8x (that’s based on historical market returns). That would grow this year’s $6000 contribution up to $48000—or about $42000 in profit. And what’s ~15% of $42000? About $6,300 in future tax savings.
Health Savings Account (H.S.A.)
The H.S.A. account has tax-breaks on the front (36.7%, for me) and on the back (15%, for me). I’m netting about $1300 up-front via an H.S.A, and $4,200 in the future (similar logic to the Roth IRA).
Taxable Brokerage Account
And finally, there’s the brokerage account, or taxable account. This is a “normal” investing account (mine is with Fidelity). There are no tax incentives, no matching funds from my employer. I pay normal taxes up front, and I’ll pay taxes on all the profits way out in the future. But I’d rather have money grow and be taxed than not grow at all.
Summary of How I Invest—Money Invested = Money Saved
In summary, I use 401(k) plus employer matching, Roth IRA, and H.S.A. accounts to save:
About $7,100 in tax dollars today
About $6,000 of free money today
And about $10,500 in future tax dollars, using reasonable investment growth assumptions
Don’t forget, I still get to access the investing principal of $41,000 and whatever returns those investments produce! That’s on top of the roughly $25,000 of savings mentioned above.
I choose to invest a lot today because I know it saves me money both today and tomorrow. That’s a high-level thought-process behind how I invest.
How I Invest: Which Investment Choices Do I Make?
We’ve now discussed 401(k) accounts, Roth IRAs, H.S.A. accounts, and taxable brokerage accounts. These accounts differ in their tax rules and withdrawal rules.
But within any of these accounts, one usually has different choices of investment assets. Typical assets include:
Stocks, like shares of Apple or General Electric.
Bonds, which are where someone else borrows your money and you earn interest on their debt. Common bonds give you access to Federal debt, state or municipality debt, or corporate debt.
Real estate, typically via real estate investment trusts (REITs)
Commodities, like gold, beef, oil or orange juice
Here are the asset choices that I have access to in my various accounts:
401(k)—my employer works with Fidelity to provide me with about 20 different mutual funds and index funds to invest in.
Roth IRA—this account is something that I set up. I can invest in just about anything I want to. Individual stocks, index funds, pork belly futures etc.
H.S.A.—this is through my employer, too. As such, I have limited options. But thankfully I have low-cost index fund options.
Taxable brokerage account—I set this account up. As such, I can invest in just about any asset I want to.
How I invest and my personal choices involve two layers of diversification. A diverse investing portfolio aims to decrease risk while maintaining long-term investing profits.
The first level of diversification is that I utilize index funds. Regular readers will be intimately familiar with my feelings for index funds (here 28 unique articles where I’ve mentioned them).
By nature, an index fund reduces the investor’s exposure to “too many eggs in one basket.” For example, my S&P 500 index fund invests in all S&P 500 companies, whether they have been performing well or not. One stellar or terrible company won’t have a drastic impact on my portfolio.
But, investing only in an S&P 500 index fund still carries risk. Namely, it’s the risk that that S&P 500 is full of “large” companies’ stocks—and history has proven that “large” companies tend to rise and fall together. They’re correlated to one another. That’s not diverse!
To battle this anti-diversity, how I invest is to choose a few different index funds. Specifically, my investments are split between:
Large U.S. stock index fund—about 40% of my portfolio
Mid and small U.S. stock index fund—about 20% of my portfolio
Bond index fund—about 20%
International stocks fund—about 20%
This is my “lazy portfolio.” I spread my money around four different asset class index funds, and let the economy take care of the rest.
Each year will likely see some asset classes doing great. Others doing poorly. Overall, the goal is to create a steady net increase.
Twice a year, I “re-balance” my portfolio. I adjust my assets’ percentages back to 40/20/20/20. This negates the potential for one “egg” in my basket growing too large. Re-balancing also acts as a natural mechanism to “sell high” and “buy low,” since I sell some of my “hottest” asset classes in order to purchase some of the “coldest” asset classes.
Any Other Investments?
In June 2019, I wrote a quick piece with some thoughts on cryptocurrency. As I stated then, I hold about $1000 worth of cryptocurrency, as a holdover from some—ahem—experimentation in 2016. I don’t include this in my long-term investing plans.
I am paying off a mortgage on my house. But I don’t consider my house to be an investment. I didn’t buy it to make money and won’t sell it in order to retire.
On the side, I own about $2000 worth of collectible cards. I am not planning my retirement around this. I do not include it in my portfolio. In my opinion, it’s like owning a classic car, old coins, or stamps. It’s fun. I like it. And if I can sell them in the future for profit, that’s just gravy on top.
Summary of How I Invest
Let’s summarize some of the numbers from above.
Each year, I aim to save and invest about $41,000. But of that $41K, about $15K is completely free—that’s due to tax benefits and employer matching. And using reasonable investment growth, I think these investments can save me $15,000 per year in future tax dollars.
Plus, I eventually get access to the $41K itself and any investment profits that accrue.
I take that money and invest in index funds, via the following allocations:
40% into a large-cap U.S. stock index fund
20% into a medium- and small-cap U.S. stock index fund
20% into an international stock index fund
And 20% into a bond index fund
The goal is to achieve long-term growth while spreading my eggs across a few different baskets.
And that’s it! That’s how I invest. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or drop me an email.
If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, Iâd suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.
This articleâjust like every otherâis supported by readers like you.
If you don’t have the time, the money or the expertise to buy individual stocks or bonds to build your investment portfolio, then consider the best Vanguard index funds.
Index funds are a good way to start saving and investing for retirement.
One reason is because the chance of making more money investing in index funds is far higher than it is investing in individual stocks, especially if you are a beginner investor.
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As the master of value investing, Warren Buffett, once said “a low-cost index fund is the most sensible equity investment for the great majority of investors.” “By periodically investing in an index fund, the know-nothing investor can actually out-perform most investment professionals.”
But how do you find and choose among the best Vanguard index funds? Don’t worry, GrowthRapidly can help make your choice easier.
On this page:
Index funds vs mutual funds
Index funds are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to invest in the stock market. As opposed to a mutual fund, which is actively managed by a fund manager, index funds are passive.
This means that index funds attempt to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index.
So, when you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies.
Index funds don’t jump around; they stayed invested in the market. Again, they simply track the performance of the stock index.
Related: What is a mutual fund?
Whereas with a mutual fund, fund managers might make mistake by not being invested when the market goes up or by being too aggressive when the market goes down.
That doesn’t mean mutual funds are not good investments. In fact, they are great investment vehicles. But when it comes to long term investments, index funds are the best. However, these 8 mutual funds are great for long term investing.
Like a mutual fund, you can buy an index fund through a fund company like Vanguard.
The main advantage of a Vanguard index fund is its low-cost, which is usually less than 1% annually. Another benefit of Vanguard index funds is that they are diversified. Like mutual funds, they invest to multiple companies, thus spreading out the risk.
One of the downside with index funds, however, is that they won’t outperform the market they track.
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Why choosing the best Vanguard index funds to invest your money?
There are thousands of fund companies (such as Fidelity, Schwab, JP Morgan) where you can buy index funds. Different companies have different experiences and expertise with different type of funds. So, it can be difficult to know which one is the best.
Here are four main factors to consider when looking to buy the best index funds for long term investments:
The company: Is it a reputable and well-known company with a great track record?
Fees: Another major factor to consider in picking a fund company is its cost. Excessive fees have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your index fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low fee.
Reasonable minimum investment: Will you be able to invest with as little as $1000?
Performance: Although past performance does not guarantee future performance, look for a fund company with a strong record of performing well against its competitors over the short and long term as well.
If you are an intelligent investor who has done his or her research, you will conclude that among the various fund companies out there, Vanguard comes out on top.
Jack Bogle, who recently died and who founded the firm Vanguard Group, invented the index fund in 1976.
Today, Vanguard is one of the World’s biggest and the best investment funds with approximately $5.6 trillion in assets.
Moreover, Vanguard has the best index funds because of their ability to keep their operating fees so low. Vanguard has all types of stock and bond index funds and their fees are the lowest.
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The advantages and disadvantages of Vanguard Index funds.
Pros of the best vanguard index funds
By now, you know that an index fund is well diversified. But you might know these two other pros that make Vanguard index funds the best:
Good return: Vanguard index funds generally delivers a good return because their expenses are relatively low. The average Vanguard Index fund has an expense ratio of 0.2% per year (compare that to the average index fund operating expenses of 1.4% per year.) A 1.2% difference can be a significant difference on your return. Operating expenses are also lower because ongoing research is not needed to identify companies to invest in.
Tax-friendly: not only Vanguard index funds have lower operating expenses, which help increase your returns, they are also tax-friendlier when you invest outside of retirement accounts. Because a mutual fund is actively managed, they tend to jump around by selling and buying stocks more frequently. By doing that, it increases a fund’s taxable capital gains distribution. Whereas an index fund stays invested and not trying to jump around.
Cons of the best Vanguard index funds
Despite their low costs and tax-friendliness, their minimum investment while seem reasonable, might not be for the beginner investor with little money to invest.
Most Vanguard index funds requires a $3,000 minimum initial investment. Retirement account investors who plan on starting with less might be at a disadvantage.
Moreover, Vanguard has an overwhelming number of index funds to choose from. That can make it tedious for an investor to decide which ones are the best. But that’s why we have compiled the top Vanguard index funds for you.
The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy in August 2020:
Now that you know what an index fund is and why investing Vanguard index funds makes good sense, in no particular order, below are 10 of the best Vanguard index funds to add to your investment portfolio.
Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral (VFIAX)
Of all the Vanguard index funds in this list, the Vanguard S&P index fund, which tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500, is perhaps the best Vanguard index fund. One reason is that the fund invest in 500 of largest U.S. companies with a few a midsize stocks.
Some of the big name stocks in this index fund includes Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL). Another reason to select this fund is that the cost is pretty low, (0.04%) if not the lowest of all the index funds.
Index fund cost is an important factor in choosing an index fund to invest in, because fees are deducted from your balance and thus reduced your rate of returns. The last reason to invest in the VFIAX is because the initial minimum investment is also low ($3,000).
So if you’re looking for an index fund that maintains low operating expenses while enjoying a good rate of return, the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral is for you.
Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral
For diversification, you should consider in your investment portfolio some index funds that invests in foreign countries. International funds are diversified because they invest in countries around the world. If so, the Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral fund (VTMGX) is a fine choice.
This Vanguard index fund tracks the performance of the FTSE Developed All Cap ex US Index. It invests in large cap stocks in 24 developed countries. Some of its several blue-chip multinational companies include the Toyota Motor Corp (7203), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A.), Nestle SA (NESN), making it one of the best Vanguard index funds.
This index fund has a minimum investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.07%.
Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral
While Vanguard index funds invested in U.S. stocks tend to perform better than Vanguard index funds invested in emerging markets, emerging markets in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe should not be overlooked.
If you don’t mind investing in emerging economies, consider checking out the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral (VEMAX), which is currently one of the best Vanguard index funds to buy now.
In fact, some of the big name foreign companies included in this index fund are Alibaba Group Holding Ltd ADR (BABA), Tencent Holdings Ltd (TCEHY), Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (2330.TW), and China Construction Bank Corp Class H (00939).
This investment attempts to track the performance of the FTSE Emerging Markets All Cap China Inclusion Index.
One of the downside of this index fund is that it has an expense ratio of 0.14%, but it still has a low minimum initial investment of $3,000.
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX)
The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX) is one of the best Vanguard index funds. It captures the total market.
That means it gives investors broad exposure to the entire U.S. equity market including large cap, mid cap and small cap growth and value stocks.
Some of the big name companies included in this Vanguard fund are: Facebook, Alphabet, JPMorgan Chase, Apple, and Microsoft.
This Vanguard index fund has an expense ratio of 0.04% and a minimum initial investment of $3,000.
So, if you’re looking for a well diversified Vanguard fund and don’t mind a little volatility, this index fund is for you.
Note that you can purchase this index fund as an ETF as well. It start at the price of one share.
Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral
The Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund (VIMAX), which tracks the CRSP U.S. Midcap Index, may be appropriate for you if you have a long term perspective.
That is because the index fund, which consists of midsize and smaller stocks, performs better in the long term rather than the short term, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds to include in your investment portfolio.
The fund targets midsize companies. The minimum investment is $3,000 with an operating expense of 0.05%.
So if you’re looking for a Vanguard index fund to use for retirement investingand you don’t expect to tap into your investment money for 10 years or more, the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund is for you.
Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral
The Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral (VSMAX), as the name suggests invests in stocks of smaller companies.
This index fund tracks the CRSP U.S. Small Cap Index. Some of its holdings include DocuSign, Inc (DOCU), Leidos Holdings Inc (LDOS), Tyler Technologies, Inc (TDY), Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc (ELS), etc…
This index fund, just like the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund, tends to perform better in the long term. Therefore, invest in this Vanguard fund if you don’t plan to use your money within the next five years.
So if you’re looking for a broadly diversified index of stocks of small U.S. companies, the Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral is a good choice. This index fund has a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.05%.
Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral
If you want to invest in short term bonds to use your money in the next five years to buy a house, or if you plan to withdraw the money from your retirement account, then the Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral fund (VSCSX) is for you.
This bond index fund tracks the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. 1-5 Year Corporate Bond Index.
While you shouldn’t expect a return of no more than 2 to 3% annually on this bond index fund, corporate bonds in general are safe, and this fund is pretty stable.
Because of this stability, this short-term bond index fund makes it an appropriate investment. The Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral has an expense ratio of 0.07% expense and a minimum initial investment of $3000, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds around.
Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF
The Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM), as the name suggests, is a “dividend” fund. It attempts to track the performance of the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index.
This index ETF allows investors to earn dividend through growth companies. Some of the big companies with a strong record of paying dividends are AT&T, Intel, and Exxon Mobil.
As of 2/27/2020, this ETF has an expense ratio of 0.06%, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds for income. It starts at the price of one share.
So, if you’re looking for an index fund with the best long term investments growth potential, and you don’t mind the stock market volatility, this income-focused fund is appropriate for you.
Note that the Vanguard High Dividend Yield is also available as an Admiral share with a minimum investment of $3,000.
Vanguard Information Technology
Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund Admiral Shares (VITAX) is a sector fund. This investment attempts to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market/Information Technology 25/50.
Sector funds invest in stocks and/or bonds in specific industries. And the Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund, as the name suggests, focuses only on technology.
Generally, you should avoid sector funds mainly because they lack diversification. However, there is an exception with this Vanguard index fund. It focuses on technology, which makes it one of the best Vanguard funds.
In addition, this index is made up of stocks of large, mid-size, and small U.S. companies within the technology sector.
Nowadays, technology has shaped our daily lives. From computers, TVs, tablets, etc, everything is connected to the internet. Therefore, this means that there is and there will be continued growth in the years ahead.
The top companies included in this Vanguard fund are Apple, Microsoft, Visa, Adobe, PayPal, etc.
This index fund has an expense ratio of 0.10 %, but a minimum investment of $100,000. This can be high for the beginner investor.
However, this Vanguard index fund is available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.
Vanguard Real Estate
The Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX) is another sector fund. It focuses on real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are companies that buy office buildings, hotels and other real estate properties.
This Vanguard fund seeks to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 index.
Just as any other sector funds, this Vanguard real estate index fund may lack diversification. So, it makes sense to have this index fund in conjunction with another a more broadly diversified Vanguard fund.
Despite the lack of diversification, however, this fund distributes higher dividend income than other funds, allowing it to be among the best Vanguard index funds for income.
This Vanguard fund has an expense ratio of 0.12%. It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000.
Note that this Vanguard fund is also available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.
Final tips for buying the best Vanguard index funds
In general, index funds are a good investment vehicle to use. So whether you’re looking to invest money for retirement, or you’re looking to add diversification to your investment portfolio, these Vanguard index funds are a great choice for you. They are great quality funds. They produce superior returns comparing to other similar funds.
Indeed, the best Vanguard Index funds will not only save you money in fees throughout the years. But also, these low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will give you a wide exposure to different asset classes.
Speak with the Right Financial Advisor
If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard index funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
Find one who meets your needs with SmartAssetâs free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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The post The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy appeared first on GrowthRapidly.
I love making things automatic. Whether it is bill-paying, direct deposit, prescription renewals, or investing, making things automatic makes life easier, and that is where our Betterment investing review comes in.
When it comes to retirement planning, an overwhelming number of online tools and websites promise to help you create a dynamic and profitable portfolio while minimizing fees.
This growing list of services includes robo-advisors, a class of financial websites that offer to manage your portfolio with minimal in-person interaction and a heavy reliance on the latest investing tools and software.
One of the most popular robo-advisors by far is Betterment. Conceptualized by its founders in 2008, Betterment has since grown to help its customers invest billions of dollars of their hard-earned dollars. This is an investment platform that puts your investing on cruise control, and even allows you to make money watching TV! You can open an account with no money at all, and get the benefit of professional, low-cost investment management that enables you to invest in thousands of securities with as little as a few hundred dollars.
It hasnât been easy. With other competitors like Wealthfront and Personal Capital always a few steps behind them, Betterment has struggled to find a way to stand out. Even with the competition, Betterment has emerged as one of the top online brokerage accounts and continues to grow its market share.
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0.25% to 0.40% annual management fee, depending on the plan
No trade, transfer or rebalancing fees
No minimum balance
Hands-off investing tailored to your goals and risk preference
Betterment is an online, automated investment manager that uses advanced algorithms and software to find the perfect investment strategy for your portfolio and individual needs.
The main difference between investing your money with a traditional financial advisor and Betterment is that there is minimal human interaction. Unless you email or call in, your communication with an individual advisor will be very minimal.
But, there is some good news to counteract the lack of individual service. Because of lower operating costs, Betterment is able to charge lower fees than traditional financial advisors. This can be huge for individuals who want to take a hands-off approach to their retirement accounts, yet donât want to pay top dollar for access to a top-tier financial advisor in their area.
Using complex investment software, Betterment allocates your investment portfolio based on your individual circumstances, investment time horizon, and thirst for risk.
In the meantime, they keep fees at a minimum by using ETFs (exchange-traded fund) that let you have a diversified portfolio, like mutual funds, but are tradeable much like stocks.
Since ETFs come with very low expense ratios, Betterment is able to pass those savings along to the consumer. Although the program already manages over $16 billion for their clients, they are still growing at a rapid pace.
Because the service is able and willing to deal with investors at all stages of wealth accumulation, it has become a go-to for both experienced and novice investors with various investing goals.
Further, Bettermentâs portfolio strategy isnât geared just for retirement savings; the service can also improve your returns on dollars you invest for short-term and medium-term goals like saving for college, taking an annual vacation, or building up a cash reserve.
How Betterment Works
Like post other robo-advisors, Betterment provides complete, automated investment management of your portfolio. When you sign up for the service, youâll complete a questionnaire that will determine your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. From that information, Betterment determines your portfolio will be designed as conservatives, aggressive, or some level in between.
Over time however, Betterment may adjust your portfolio to become gradually more conservative. For example, as you move closer to retirement, your asset allocation will be gradually shifted more heavily in favor of safe investments, like bonds.
Your portfolio will be constructed of exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are low-cost investment funds designed to track the performance of an underlying index. In this way, Betterment attempts to match the performance of the underlying indexes, rather than to outperform them. For this reason, investing with Betterment â and most other robo-advisors â is considered to be passive investing. (Active investing involves frequent trading of stocks and other securities in an attempt to outperform the market.)
Betterment also uses allocations based on broad investment categories. There are three in total:
Safety Net â These are funds allocated for near-term needs, such as an emergency fund.
Retirement â This will naturally be your long-term investment account and held in tax-sheltered IRAs.
General Investing â This allocation is dedicated to intermediate goals, maybe saving for the down payment on a house or even for your childrenâs education.
Given that each of the three broad goals has a different time horizon, the specific portfolio allocation in each will be a little bit different. For example, the Safety Net will be invested in cash type accounts for safety and liquidity.
Betterment Advantages And Disadvantages
Thereâs no minimum investment required.
The low annual fee of 0.25% on the Digital plan can allow you to have a $20,000 account managed for just $50 per year, or a $100,000 account for just $250.
Tax-loss harvesting is available at all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium provides unlimited access to certified financial planners, providing a service similar to traditional investment advisors, but at a fraction of the cost.
The No-fee Checking and Cash Reserve give you cash management options to go with your investing activities.
Betterment offers several portfolio options, including Smart Beta, Socially Responsible Investing, and the BlackRock Targeted Income Portfolio.
The use of value funds also adds the potential for your investment accounts to outperform the general market, since value stocks tend to be underpriced relative to their competitors.
Flexible Portfolio will give you some control over your investment allocations, which is a feature absent from most robo-advisors.
Bettermentâs annual advisory fee is on the low end of the robo-advisor range. But there are some robo-advisors charging no fees at all.
Betterment doesnât offer alternative investments. These include natural resources and real estate, which are offered by some of their competitors.
External account syncing is available only with Betterment Premium.
The Betterment Investment Methodology
Like most other robo-advisors, Betterment manages your investment account using Modern Portfolio Theory, or MPT. The theory emphasizes proper allocations into various asset classes over individual security selection.
Your portfolio is divided between six stock asset allocations and eight bond asset allocations. Each allocation is represented by a single ETF thatâs tied to an index specific to that asset class. The single ETF will provide exposure to scores or even hundreds of securities in each asset class. That means collectively your investment will be spread across thousands of securities in the US and internationally.
The six stock asset allocations are as follows:
US Total Stock Market
US Value Stocks â Large Cap
US Value Stocks â Mid Cap
US Value Stocks â Small Cap
International Developed Market Stocks
International Emerging Markets Stocks
The eight bond asset allocations are as follows:
US High Quality Bonds
US Municipal Bonds (will be held in taxable investment accounts only)
US Inflation-Protected Bonds
US High-Yield Corporate Bonds
US Short-Term Treasury Bonds
US Short-Term Investment Grade Bonds
International Developed Market Bonds
International Emerging Markets Bonds
Since Betterment offers tax-loss harvesting with taxable investment accounts, most asset classes will have two or three very similar ETFs. This will enable Betterment to sell a losing position in one ETF to reduce capital gains in winning asset classes. Alternative ETFs are then purchased to replace the sold funds to maintain the target asset allocations in your account.
Tax-loss harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy because it effectively defers capital gains taxes into future years. Itâs available only for taxable accounts, since tax-sheltered accounts have no immediate tax consequences.
How Betterment Compares
Here’s how Betterment compares to the previously mentioned companies, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
Minimum Initial Investment
0.25% on Digital; 0.40% on Premium (account balance over $100k)
0.25% on all account balances
0.89% on most account balances; reduced fee on balances > $1 million
On Premium Plan only
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on Premium Plan only
Betterment Accounts and Options
For the first few years of Bettermentâs existence they offered a single investment account serving as a one-size-fits-all plan. But thatâs all changed. They still offer basic investment accounts, but they now give you a choice of multiple investment options.
This is Bettermentâs basic investment plan. There is no minimum initial investment required, nor is there a minimum ongoing balance requirement. Betterment charges a single fee of 0.25% on all account balances.
You can also add any other portfolio variations, except the Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio, which has a $100,000 minimum account balance requirement.
Betterment Premium works similar to the Digital plan, but it delivers a higher level of service. The plan provides external account synching, giving Betterment a high altitude view of you your entire financial situation. External investment accounts can help in enabling Betterment to better coordinate your portfolio allocations with assets held in outside accounts. They can also make recommendations out to better manage those external accounts.
And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Premium plan is that it comes with unlimited access to Bettermentâs certified financial planners. In this way, Betterment is competing more directly with traditional investment advisors, but doing it with a robo-advisor component.
Youâll need a minimum of $100,000 to invest in the Premium plan, and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%. Thatâs just a fraction of the usual 1% to 2% typically charged by traditional investment advisory services.
Betterment Cash Reserve
The account pays a variable interest rate, currently set at 0.40% APY. Betterment doesnât actually hold these funds directly, but rather invest them through participating program banks.
Thereâs no fee for this account, and you can move money as often as you want. And for those with very high cash balances, the account is FDIC insured for up to $1 million through the program banks.
Betterment Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
SRI portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the robo-advisor space. It involves investing in companies that meet certain standards for social, environmental, and governance guidelines. Betterment indicates that the ETFs they use in their SRI portfolio have produced a 42% increase in their social responsibility scores.
SRI portfolios work with both the Digital and Premium plans, using a similar investment methodology. But they make certain modifications, holding ETFs based on SRI in place of the ETFs used in non-SRI portfolios.
SRI portfolios do not require a minimum balance and charge no additional fees. And like their Digital and Premium plans, taxable SRI investment accounts take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Betterment Flexible Portfolios
The key word in the name is âflexibleâ because the main feature is adding personal options to your portfolio allocations.
This is done by adjusting the individual asset class weights in your portfolio. For example, if you have a 7% allocation in emerging markets, you may choose to increase it to 10% if you believe that sector is likely to outperform others. But you can also decrease the allocation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
This is less of a formal portfolio and more of an investment strategy. It must be used in combination with a taxable investment account and a tax-sheltered retirement account. Betterment will then allocate investments based on their tax impact.
For example, income generating assets â that produce high dividend and interest income â are held in a tax-sheltered account. Investments likely to generate long-term capital gains are held in a taxable investment account, since you will be able to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
Goldman Sachs Smart Beta
This option is for more sophisticated investors, and requires a minimum account balance of $100,000. And since it is a high risk/high reward type of investing, it also requires a higher risk tolerance.
Betterment uses the same basic investment strategy as they do in other portfolios. But itâs an actively managed portfolio that will be adjusted in an attempt to outperform the general market. Securities will be bought and sold within the portfolio and can include either individual securities or Smart Beta ETFs.
The portfolio has many variations, including a wide range of allocations. Stocks are chosen based on four qualities: good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility.
And like other portfolio variations Betterment offers, there is no additional fee for this option.
BlackRock Target Income Portfolio
Betterment recognizes that some investors are more interested in income than growth. This will particularly apply to retirees. The BlackRock Target Income Portfolio invests in portfolios based on your risk tolerance. This can mean low, moderate, high, or even aggressive.
Those categories may seem unusual for an income generating portfolio. But while the portfolio attempts to minimize risk of principal, it also recognizes that some investors are willing to add risk to their portfolio in exchange for higher returns.
A low-risk portfolio may have a higher allocation in US Treasury securities. An aggressive portfolio may center primarily on high-yield corporate bonds or even emerging-market bonds that have higher interest rates due to greater risk.
Betterment No-fee Checking
Provided by Betterment Financial LLC in partnership with NBKC Bank, this is a true no-fee checking account. Not only are there no monthly maintenance fees, but there are also no overdraft or other fees. Theyâll even reimburse all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees you incur. And thereâs not even a minimum balance requirement.
Youâll be provided with a Betterment Visa Debit Card with tap-to-pay technology, that you can use anywhere Visa is accepted. All account balances are FDIC insured for up to $250,000. And as you might expect from a company on the technological cutting edge, you can deposit checks into the account using your smartphone.
Check out our full Betterment checking review.
Betterment Key Features
Minimum initial investment: Betterment requires no funds to open an account. But you can begin funding your account with monthly deposits, like $100 per month. This method will make it easier to use dollar-cost averaging to gradually move into your portfolio positions.
Available account types: Joint and individual taxable investment accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs. Betterment can also accommodate trusts and nonprofit accounts.
Portfolio rebalancing: Comes with all account types. Your portfolio will be rebalanced when your asset allocations significantly depart from their targets.
Automatic dividend reinvestment: Betterment will reinvest dividends received in your portfolio according to your target asset allocations.
Betterment Mobile App: You can access your Betterment account on your smartphone. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Customer contact: Available by phone and email, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Eastern time.
Account protection: All Betterment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 in cash and securities, including up to $250,000 in cash. SIPC covers losses due to broker failure, not those caused by market value declines.
Financial Advice packages: Betterment offers one-hour phone conferences with live financial advisors on various personal financial topics. Five topics are covered:
Getting Started package: This package gives new users the professional vote of confidence they need as a professional will assess their account setup. $199
Financial Checkup package: This package takes it a step further, providing the customer with a professional opinion on their portfolio and financial circumstances. $299
College Planning package: As its name implies, this package helps parents who are investing with the goal of paying for their childrenâs college education in the next 5-18 years. $299
Marriage Planning package: Merging finances can be tricky, so Betterment created this plan to help engaged couples and newlyweds to succeed as they unite their lives and assets. $299
Retirement Planning package: Your investment goals and strategies change as you near retirement. This particular package helps keep you on target to meet them. $299
Retirement Savings Calculator: Robo-advisors are popular choices for retirement accounts. For this reason, Betterment offers the Calculator to help you project your retirement needs. By entering basic information in the calculator (it will sync external accounts if you have a Premium account â including employer-sponsored retirement plans) it will let you know if you are on track to meet your goals or if you need to make adjustments.
How To Sign Up For A Betterment Account
The Betterment sign up process is one of the most user-friendly out there for any brokerage. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions and as streamlined registration process which users can navigate through in a matter of minutes.
First get the process started by clicking the button below.
Sign up for a Betterment Account
After the initial sign up process, users can expect a simple transaction as they transfer funds into the account, much like moving money from a checking to savings account.
When you begin the sign-up process, youâll be given a choice of four different investment goals:
I chose âInvest for retirementâ. It will ask your current age, your annual income, then give you a choice of accounts to use. That includes a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, or even an individual taxable account. I selected a traditional IRA.
Based on a 30-year-old with a $100,000 income, Betterment return the following recommendation:
You even have the option to have the specific asset allocations listed. After clicking âContinueâ, youâll be asked to provide your email address and create a password. Youâll then be taken to the application, which will ask for general information, including your name, address, phone number, and how you heard about Betterment.
Once your account has been set up, you can fund it immediately, by connecting your bank account, or by setting up recurring deposits.
You can also set up other accounts, such as âManage spending with Checkingâ or âInvest for a long-term goalâ.
Why You Should Open An Account With Betterment
While nearly anyone who invests could benefit from the online portfolio management and advising, this service is definitely geared to certain types of investors. In most cases, Betterment will work best for:
Hands-off investors who have some investing knowledge â Since it takes care of the heavy lifting for you, it works best for investors who want to take a hands-off approach to their investment portfolio. Passive investors can let Betterment handle the logistics while using online account management to keep a close eye on their accounts.
Novice investors who need help â Beginning investors who are just learning the ropes can turn to Betterment for online portfolio management with low fees. The many online tools and user-friendly interface make it easy for beginners to get a grasp on basic financial concepts and investing strategies.
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and could easily replace in-person advisors in the near future. With lower fees and advanced software that can maximize results, online investing is certainly gaining an edge.
Whether Betterment is right for you depends on your individual needs and investing goals. If youâre a hands-off investor who wants to grow your retirement funds without paying a lot of fees, then Betterment might be ideal. Additionally, beginning investors can benefit handsomely from the online tools and investing education offered through the Betterment website.
If you think Betterment investing might be exactly what your portfolio needs, sign up for a new account today.
However, if you determine that you would be better served by a more hands-on approach, check out the other online brokerage account options. Being a certified financial planner, I have had a chance to work with several of these platforms and have done the following reviews:
Motif Investing Review
Lending Club Review
Ally Invest Review
The post Betterment Investing Review: Make Investing Automatic appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
Dividends can add a significant source of income to your investment portfolio. But what are dividend stocks exactly? Find out everything you need to know in this guide.Dividends can add a significant source of income to your investment portfolio. But what are dividend stocks exactly? Find out everything you need to know in this guide.
The post What Are Dividend Stocks? The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly appeared first on Money Under 30.
In 2020, aroundÂ 55% of AmericanÂ adults invest in the stock market. That’s down from a peak of 65% in 2007 but around the average over the past 10 years.Â Do you want to get a piece of the action? Before you jump all in, make sure you know the basics of how to invest in stocks.Â
A quick note before we dive in: we’re not investment experts or advisors. So if youâre seriously considering investing, you should work with professional brokers, financial advisors or other knowledgeable experts when you invest. That’s especially true if you plan on investing a lot.
1. Decide on a Budget for Investing
Start by deciding how much you want to use to invest in stocks. Hereâs a good starting placeâmake the potential stocks youâd invest in a percentage of your portfolio. A rule of thumb that many advisors go by is to takeÂ 110 or 120 and subtract your age. That’s how much of your investment portfolio you should keep in stocks.
For example, if you’re 30, then youâd keep between 80 and 90% of your portfolio in stocks. If that feels a little aggressive for your financial goals, start with 100 and subtract your age from that.
You also need to decideÂ how much you can invest overall. That depends on your own income, what financial obligations you have and your overall budget. While investing is important, you shouldn’t invest money at the sake of paying your bills, for example.
2. Open an Account for Making Your Investments.
Stocks aren’t like retail goods. You can’t just buy them here and there when you see one you like on display on an ecommerce site. You typically need an account to purchase your stocks through. Some options you can choose include:
Opening a brokerage account. This lets you buy and sell stocks through a professional service. You can opt for a brokerage where you do your own research and push the buttons on buying and selling, or you can choose a managed option where someone provides advice or handles these things on your behalf.
Using a robo-advisor. This is an app or software program that lets you set goals for your investments and uses machine learning, AI and algorithms to handle your investments. One popularÂ robo-advisor isÂ Acorns, which is an app that lets you round up your purchases with connected debit cards and put the change into investments. While you’re making many micro investments, the total can add up over time.
3. Get Help Creating an Investment Plan
An investment plan is a comprehensive approach to wealth building. Stocks may play an important part in that, but you typically want to ensure you’re well diversified. A diversified portfolio just means you have various types of investments. This way if one isn’t performing well, the others might offer some protection.
One option for getting investment advice is by signing up for anÂ Ellevest account. You pay a monthly membership for this robo investment app, but you gain access to investment and other financial coaching and educational materials.
4. Learn More About Stocks
You don’t have to be a stock expert or financial advisor to have success investing in stocks. But you do have to know a bit about what you’re investing in, especially if you’re going to make very specific stock choices.
You might be familiar with the concept of buying and selling stocks as seen in television and movies. While you canbuy and sell specific stocks because you want to invest in a specific company, you don’t have to invest like that. You can also invest in groups of stocks via stock mutual funds. When you invest in a stock mutual fund, you’re actually buying many different stocks or pieces of stocks. That spreads your risk out over a wider range of assets.
You should also understand the trends associated with the stock market, at least in general. For example, stocks doÂ tend to rise over time barring big economic downturns. On any particular day, the chance that stocks will rise is around 53%. The chance that they will fall is around 47%. But if you look at the long-term, such as a 12-month period, stocks typically have a chance of rising of 75%.Â
5. Use Other Tools to Make Investing Easy as You Get Started
Start by getting your immediate financial house in order. Understand whatÂ your budget is, and check your credit to ensure there are no surprises looming. You can sign up for ExtraCredit to get a comprehensive understanding of where your credit score is. Once you know where you stand, you can start creating an investment plan withÂ confidence. You can even rely on ExtraCredit’s Reward It feature for cashback offers when signing up for Credit.com partners that provide investment apps and other financial services.
Sign up for ExtraCredit today!
Start Investing in Stocks Today
So, should you invest? Honestly, thatâs up to you. Take a good look at your finances and, if you need guidance, try working with a professional. If you do decide to start investing, start easy and slow. Thereâs no need to jump all in right at once. Hopefully, if investing works out, youâll reap some serious rewards.
The post How to Invest in Stocks: A Guide to Getting Started appeared first on Credit.com.