Archives for May 2016

Netspend Card 5% APY Savings Account Review

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(Update: On 5/31, NetSpend effectively issued a 30-day notice that the rate structure will be changed as of July 1st, 2016 such that the 5% APY will apply up to $1,000 and anything above that gets 0.50% APY. The 5% APY will apply to up to $5,000 until June 30, 2016 which is when the next quarterly interest payment will post. Thanks to all who notified me of this change.)

Prepaid debit cards are a growing niche for the “under-banked” or “un-banked” who can’t or don’t want to use traditional checking accounts to hold their cash. In order to promote the adoption of prepaid debit cards as their sole financial hub, many now offer the option of an attached high-interest savings account.

The NetSpend Prepaid Visa offers 5% APY on balances up to $5,000. For balances over $5,000, it pays 0.50% APY. Even with the balance limit, this is an attractive rate and worth a look even if you don’t need a prepaid debit card otherwise. I’ve had this card open since September 2015, but a quirk of this card is that interest is only paid quarterly, so I waited to see if the 5% APY (4.91% APR) would post correctly. As you can see in the screenshot below, the interest for all 3 months was credited as promised at roughly $20.50 per month. (The 0.50% APY on balances above $5,000 is credited on a separate line.)

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For the purposes of this review, I will not focus on most aspects of the prepaid debit card. I am primarily interested in maximizing the savings account feature and the avoidance of any fees.

Account opening process. Visit the Netspend website and enter your personal details to order a card (name, address, e-mail). No credit check. No application fee. You will eventually need to provide your Social Security number as required by law, since you’ll be opening a FDIC-insured bank account. If you are referred by an existing user (links above are mine, thanks if you use it), both get an additional $20 bonus after depositing at least $40. After signing up, you can also refer your own friend and family for more $20 bonuses.

Once the physical card arrives in about a week, follow the included directions and activate your account online. You will be provided your unique account number and a routing number, which will allow you to make electronic ACH transfers from your external bank accounts. You can also use this information to have direct deposit set up with your payroll or government benefits.

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5% APY savings account funding directions. Previously, you had to upgrade to Netspend Premier to get the 5% APY savings account option. This requirement appears to have been removed. You must use an external bank to “push” money over into the Netspend card. I used my Ally Bank savings account as the transfer agent (screenshot below). I used the account and routing numbers provided, which confirmed that the underlying FDIC-insured bank is MetaBank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Other banks that they say may be used are BofI Federal Bank and The Bancorp Bank.

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Then, all you need to do is move over $5,000 from your external bank to your Card Balance, and then move that $5,000 over to your Savings Balance. Your Card Balance is the part that can be spent via prepaid debit card, but it will not earn any interest, so be sure to move it over to Savings Balance. They are separate buckets! Here are the before and after screenshots (click to enlarge).

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The Savings Account has no monthly minimum balance requirement and no monthly fees. Transfers between Card Balance and Savings Balance are free, but the number of withdrawals from Savings Balance are limited to 6 per calendar month by federal banking laws.

Avoiding Debit Card fees. Now, the Savings Account has no monthly fees, but the Debit Card does have a choice of plans with their own fee schedules. Since I don’t plan on making any actual purchases using this debit card, I chose the Pay As You Go plan with no monthly fee. Now, with this plan there is also an account maintenance fee of $5.95 per month:

Account Maintenance Fee $5.95 per month (fee applies if Card Account has not had any activity, that is, no purchases; no cash withdrawals; no load transactions; or no balance inquiry fee for 90 days). If enrolled in any FeeAdvantage Plan and your Card Account has had no activity as described above, this fee applies instead of the Plan Fee.

The simple solution to avoid this fee is to load a few dollars once every 90 days via your original ACH transfer source. Most banks will even let you set up an automated transfer schedule; I like every month just because it serves as a monthly reminder to check the balance, APY, etc. You could also use their mobile app and make a check deposit.

Withdrawals. The easiest way to make a withdrawal is again via “ACH pull” from your external transfer bank. Remember, you’ll have to move the funds over from “Savings” to “Card”. Another free alternative is to use the BillPay feature and pay down a credit card bill using your funds. If you have a credit card that you use regularly, you can even make an overpayment and simply hold a negative balance until it gets used up by future credit card purchases. Finally, you could just use the Visa feature to buy something or make an ATM withdrawal (subject to daily limits), but you may be subject to transaction fees.

Additional cards. If you have a spouse or partner, you could both get a NetSpend Prepaid card which would bring your 5% APY limit to $10,000. There are also other cards which offer a similar setup, including Brink’s Prepaid (I have this one as well), Ace Elite, and Western Union. If you had one of each of these (which is still allowed to the best of my knowledge), then that would bring your theoretical limit to $20,000 for an individual or $40,000 for a couple.

Recap. Yes, it really works, as long as you set it up properly and maintain an active account. As compared to a 1% APY savings account, each $5,000 balance at 5% APY would earn $200 more in taxable interest income each year. It is up to you to weigh the potential reward vs. effort, also taking into account the size of your cash balances.

Optimize Your Bank Account Setup: Megabanks, Credit Unions, Online Banks, and Prepaid Cards

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Consumer Reports is getting more into financial products, with their January 2016 issue cover article on Choosing The Best Bank For You, most of which was also made available to the public without a subscription. If you haven’t optimized your bank account setup recently and you missed it the first time around, the article is worth a read. Perhaps it was just anecdotal, but I read somewhere that most people are still with their first bank account out of high school.

Here are their high-level conclusions:

  • Mega Banks: Best for Convenience, Technology, Security
  • Credit Unions: Best for In-Person Customer Service, Lower Costs
  • Primarily Online Banks: Best for Online Customer Service, Higher Savings Rates, Lower Costs
  • Smaller Regional and Community Banks: Best for Personal Service
  • Prepaid Cards: Easier to get than a bank checking account but some are loaded with gotchas.

It appears that Consumer Reports is still keeping their specific rankings and numbers behind a subscription paywall. But they do agree with me about the idea of spreading your wealth and choosing your financial accounts a la carte to get the best deals.

Now, I am not the ideal person to emulate as I have too much complexity in my financial accounts. The only good news is that I have tried so many of them. Here are the accounts that I currently have open, and what I think about them. For the most part, my experiences align with the Consumer Reports findings.

Megabank: Bank of America

  • Pros: ATMs and branches everywhere nearby. Good online and app user interface (Touch ID). Good perks when combined with brokerage and credit cards.
  • Cons: Basically-zero interest rates.

Credit Union: Local, Community CU

  • Pros: Free notary, low interest rate HELOC.
  • Cons: Small ATM and branch footprint, poor online and app user interface, current low interest rates (used to have a rewards checking account).

Primarily Online Bank: Ally Bank (see Ally review)

  • Pros: High interest rates, fast and flexible interbank transfers, good customer service, good online and app user interface (Touch ID).
  • Cons: No physical branches.

Prepaid Card: NetSpend (see NetSpend review)

  • Pros: 5% APY on $5,000 balance if card kept active. (Update: 5% APY on $1,000 starting 7/1/16.)
  • Cons: Certain fees and fine print to work around.

In terms of the convenience factor, my new favorite feature is Touch ID with Apple iPhones. (Android has their own version, I’m just not familiar with it.) BofA, Ally Bank, Mint, Fidelity, and Robinhood supporting this app feature, I can now get full access to transaction history and even initiate online transfers in under 10 seconds. I hope Vanguard adds this soon (cough, cough!).

Grantham GMO Q1 2016 Quarterly Letter Highlights

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Here are my notes and takeaways from the GMO Quarterly Letter for Q1 2016, released May 10th, 2016. I always pick up something educational when reading these letters (previous editions may require free registration.) I already discussed their Q1 2016 Asset Class Forecasts with the previous Q4 2015 letter, but in the future I’ll try to align the same quarterly information into one post.

GMO investment philosophy is that asset prices will eventually mean-revert back to their historical valuation levels. However, “eventually” can mean prices moving in the opposite way for a very long time periods. Right now is one of those periods:

It’s no secret that the last half decade has been a rough one for value-based asset allocation. With central bankers pushing interest rates down to unimagined lows, ongoing disappointment from the emerging markets that have looked cheaper than the rest of the world, and the continuing outperformance from the U.S. stock market and growth stocks generally…

Of course, such deviations are exactly the source of potential excess returns for such value investors. GMO still believes in long-term value-based asset allocation.

A quick primer on how future returns work for bonds. Excerpt:

It is universally understood (I hope) that a 10-year Treasury note yielding 1.84% held for 10 years will give a return pretty close to 1.84%. It is not quite so widely known that the rate of return of a dynamic portfolio of such bonds – a “constant maturity strategy” – is also pretty well fixed for certain time horizons.

To take the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index (Agg) as an example of a dynamic portfolio, with a duration of a little over five years and a current yield of 2.17%, the range of possible returns over the next seven years is not very wide. We are not guaranteed to get 2.17%, but the return if the yield were to gradually drop to zero over that period would be about 2.9% per year, and if the yield were to gradually double, it would be about 1.5% per year. No matter what happens to yields over the next seven years, returns are going to be something pretty close to 2.17% on the Agg.

Wrong prediction on oil prices. In 2005, Grantham made a rough 10-year prediction that rising oil prices were not in a bubble, but instead actually a “paradigm shift” where oil prices would stay high permanently. He also predicted that we would start to run out of other finite resources, resulting in higher commodities prices. As it turns out, we saw that oil prices have crashed along with other commodities. Grantham outlines again why he made the prediction, what he got wrong, and of course goes ahead and makes another set of predictions:

– Oil stocks should do well over the next five years, perhaps regaining much of their losses. But, after 5 years, prospects are more questionable, and, beyond 10 years, much worse.

– Mineral resource stocks are unlikely to regain their losses, but from current very low prices they will probably outperform based on historical parallels following similar major crashes.

– Farmland is likely to outperform most other assets. It is still my first choice for long- term investing.

– Forestry should perform above aggregate portfolio averages and be less volatile than equities.

Why should we listen to this new forecast when his last one was wrong? It all goes back to the first point of the letter. These are all long-term calls based on history and a bit of common sense. Grantham is telling you to buy exposure into finite resources – oil, minerals, farmland, and timber. Sooner or later, if you have something that everyone needs like oil and is also selling at historically very low prices, prices are going to go back up eventually.

The problem is “eventually” could be this year, or it could be another 10 years or more.

High US housing prices are more worrying than high US stock market prices. Housing prices are certainly bouncing back…

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…the threshold for a bubble level for the U.S. market is about 2300 on the S&P 500, about 10% above current levels…

… Thus, unlikely as it may sound, in 12 to 24 months U.S. house prices – much more dangerous than inflated stock prices in my opinion – might beat the U.S. equity market in the race to cause the next financial crisis.

Climate change warning.

Let me just make the point here that those who still think climate problems are off topic and not a major economic and financial issue are dead wrong. Dealing with the increasing damage from climate extremes and, just as important, the growing economic potential in activities to overcome it will increasingly dominate entrepreneurial efforts in future decades. As investors we should try to be prepared for this.

You read this letter for Grantham’s opinions, and you definitely get them. Personally, I don’t see anything that would change my boring portfolio. If anything, I would make sure to have some international exposure to emerging markets stocks as they have low historical valuations and are also correlated with commodities.

Stash App Review: Simplified Investing on Your Smartphone

stash0 Got five bucks, a smartphone, and a bank account? You’re just a few taps from starting your own investment portfolio.

Stash is a new smartphone app that lets you invest in a curated selection of roughly 40 different ETFs. Stash Investments LLC is an SEC registered Investment Advisor. You can start with as little as $5 and add more in any increment via fractional share ownership.

What do you need to sign up?

  • Download the app. Now available on both iOS and Android.
  • Your personal information (name, address, SSN), same as with all SIPC-insured brokerage accounts.
  • Fill out a short risk questionnaire to help guide towards an appropriate investment.
  • Pick your investment, which you can change later. See below for details.
  • Fund with any bank account. Verification can be done via two small test deposits. For selected banks, you can expedite the linking process by using your bank login credentials instead.

Portfolio details. You can choose from about 40 different “investments”, which are really just re-labelled exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that anyone can buy with any brokerage account. The idea is to make things more approachable and not to scare you away with things like ticker symbols, limit orders, and so on. Based on a risk questionnaire, you will be identified as either a Conservative, Moderate or Aggressive investor. You will only be shown options that are below or at your designated risk level.

Fractional shares are used. That means you can invest odd numbers like $7 or $217 and still have it fully invested in something that costs $100 a share. Based on their FAQ, dividends are not automatically reinvested. Dividends are deposited as cash and will stay there until you decided to invest it. You cannot invest in individual stocks (unless they happen to be listed an investment).

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Fees. Free for the first month. After that, $1 per month for balances below $5,000. Once you reach $5,000, it switches over to 0.25% of your balance per year. (Example. $10,000 x 0.25% = $25 per year.) Fees are taken from your bank account, not from your Stash investment portfolio. Stash does not charge monthly subscription fees if your account balance is $0.

Each underlying ETF has their own embedded expense ratio. No added commission fee for stock trades.

This and that. After reading through their FAQs and disclosures, here are other notable items:

  • You can only link one bank account at a time to Stash. If you wish to make a change, you must e-mail them at support@stashinvest.com.
  • Online statements are free. Paper statements are $5 each.
  • You may only deposit up to $10,000 per day via online bank transfer. You cannot deposit physical checks.
  • you may only withdraw up to $10,000 per day via online bank transfer. You cannot request a withdrawals via physical check.
  • Stash uses Apex Clearing as their custodian firm. Many other similar brokerage sites use Apex.

Perhaps nearly as important – Stash already has some serious competition. The Robinhood app also has a nice user interface on top of a traditional brokerage account (no fractional shares) that lets you trade any stock with no commissions (with no simplification or investment guidance). The “invest in your interests” idea and fractional share ownership is also available at Motif Investing. The Acorns app adds a behavioral trick where it rounds up your daily purchases and sweeps the “spare change” over automatically.

First-time users can get a $5 bonus with my referral link to make an investment of your choice. Disclaimer: I will earn a referral fee if you open an account and make an investment.

Free 1,000 United Miles with Prosper Daily App (Expired)

prosperdaily0Promo expired early. Marketplace lender Prosper acquired the BillGuard app in late 2015, and has re-branded it as Prosper Daily. Right now, you can get 1,000 free United miles if you register here first with your United MileagePlus number, install the iOS or Android app by 6/30/15 using the link they text you, and then register a new account in the app.

Miles will be posted in 6-8 weeks. United MileagePlus miles currently expire after 18 months of inactivity, so this can be a good way to reset the expiration countdown clock. One per person – I always try to get these types of bonuses for both my spouse and myself.

Prosper Daily highlights:

  • View all of your bank and credit accounts. You provide login credentials to each account, and they will track all your balances. Like Mint app.
  • Budget and bill tracking. They analyze your accounts to track due dates and chart your budget and spending.
  • Free credit score. You must provide additional personal information for this service; I chose not to for now. The score is non-FICO and based on your TransUnion report (I already have that from elsewhere).
  • As with similar services, they will make money by showing you advertisements based on your personal information.

Fine print:

To be eligible, you will need a valid United MileagePlus® account and you must be a new Prosper Daily app user. Each eligible and participating person may earn miles one time under this offer.

To earn miles for this offer, you will need to download the Prosper Daily app from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, then register in the app. You can then begin using the app by enrolling to receive your free credit score and connecting the financial accounts you want to track in the app. Download by June 30, 2016 to qualify for the miles offer. […] Award miles earned by an eligible participant will be posted 6-8 weeks after download and registration.

Free FICO Score For Everyone via CreditScoreCard, No Credit Card Required

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Discover has rolled out a new service called Credit ScoreCard, which provides everyone access to their FICO score for no charge with no trials or credit card relationship required. (Well, free in exchange for right to market things to you based on your personal information.) Checking your own credit does not impact your credit score. This post provides updated information and instructions regarding this service.

FICO Score details.

  • FICO Score version: FICO Score 8, or FICO 08. This is the most widely used of the many FICO flavors. Score version is directly shown on the website.
  • Credit bureau: Experian
  • Update frequency: Either monthly or when you log in, whichever is longer.
  • Limitations: Available to everyone. You do not have to be a Discover cardholder.

Is this legit? The name is a little generic and perhaps even phishy-sounding, but you can view information at discover.com/free-credit-score, which links directly to creditscorecard.com/registration. The domain registry information matches that of Discover Financial Services.

How to get your score. Here’s a preview of the application and approval process:

  1. You must provide personal information, including Social Security Number. Name, address, etc. This is required for any service that checks your credit score. You do not need a Discover credit card.
  2. You must agree to their Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. Basically, they will give your free access to your credit score and other credit information, and they will also collect personal information to market Discover products and other services to you. Don’t miss this chart:

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  3. Identity verification questions. They will ask you some multiple choice questions based on your Experian credit report data in order to verify your identity. If you don’t pass this quiz, I would go over to AnnualCreditReport.com and get a copy of your report to scan for errors.
  4. Set your personal security questions. At this point, you are approved. You just need to set up the standard security questions like “Who was your 2nd grade teacher?”

What kind of information do you get? The score model is FICO Score 8, based on your Experian credit report. This is the same score model and credit bureau offered by American Express, and is within a few points for me (the check dates are slightly off). The other two major bureaus are TransUnion and Equifax. Note that Discover also offers their cardholders access to FICO Score 8 based on their TransUnion credit report. From their terms:

The FICO® Credit Score we provide is the FICO® Score 8. The score range is 300-850. FICO® Credit Scores are based on information on your credit report, and give you a snapshot of your credit report information at a very specific point in time. As the information in your report changes, your score may also change. According to FICO®, 83% of the population experiences changes to their score by up to 20 points month to month. FICO® Credit Scores as well as other credit scores are based on credit bureau information, and may be different from one credit bureau to the next.

You also get access to data points like Total Number of Accounts, Length of Credit (Oldest Account), Revolving Utilization Percentage, and Missed Number of Payments.

How often is it updated? As often as every 30 days, but only if you log in to the website. Many sites operate this way, as it reduces their costs of grabbing your score if you are no longer interested. Also, they want you to log in so that they can show you advertisements. From the terms:

Unless you cancel this authorization, we’ll pull fresh credit report information for you the later of every thirty days or the next time you log into your Credit Scorecard.

Screenshots. Here’s a peek at mine:

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Bottom line. CreditScoreCard by Discover is one of the first free services I’ve seen that offers a FICO Score without requiring you to be an affiliated credit cardholder. If you already have access to this score model and credit bureau combination through other means, you may not want another entity to have access to your personal data. If you don’t, you may find this a very reasonable way to get free access to your Experian FICO 8 score.

Related: Here is additional information about other major credit card issuers with free FICO programs:

Research Affiliates 10-Year Asset Class Forecast, Q1 2016

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Research Affiliates, an asset-management firm founded by Rob Arnott, also offers long-term forecasts across a variety of asset classes via their Expected Returns tool. Here is a paper explaining their equities methodology [pdf]. I would like to note down some of these predictions, in the hopes of coming back later and seeing how they turned out. I’ve already been around over 10 years, what’s another 10? 🙂

Here is what they have as of April 30, 2016 (click to enlarge):

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Overall, their conclusions suggest that we should have very modest expectation for US stocks and US bonds, while some international diversification can help boost expected returns. More specifically:

  • Future 10-year average returns for US Stocks are expected to be very small on an inflation-adjusted basis (between roughly 0%-1%). US equities are highly-valued based on historical values.
  • Broad US (Core) Bonds, Long-term US Treasuries, Short-Term Treasuries, and TIPS are all expected to have low forward returns (between roughly 0%-1%). Their low current yields offer little other alternative prediction.
  • Relatively bright spots, at least returns-wise, include Emerging Markets stocks, Developed International (EAFA) stocks, and Emerging Markets bonds (both local and non-local currency).

Distribution of Lifetime Returns for Individual US Stocks, 1989-2015

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Have an individual stock idea brewing the in the back of your mind? Perhaps the recent LendingClub drama has you itching to buy a few shares of LC at under $5 a share? Above is an interesting chart that shows the distribution of total returns for individual stocks when compared to the S&P 500 index (1989-2015). It was created by Longboard Asset Management, found via Abnormal Returns.

We analyzed 14,455 active stocks between 1989 and 2015, identifying the best performing stocks on both an annualized return and total return basis. Looking at total returns of individual stocks, 1,120 stocks (7.7% of all active stocks) outperformed the S&P 500 Index by at least 500% during their lifetimes. Likewise, 976 stocks (6.8% of all active stocks) lagged the S&P 500 by at least 500%. The remaining 12,404 stocks performed above, at or below the same level as the S&P 500.

I felt that this chart shows you the psychological risks of investing in individual stocks. I’ve been dipping my toes back into individual stock investing with a very small portion of my portfolio. My general idea is to invest in some high-quality, dividend-earning stocks and thus being able to earn those dividends without paying the expense ratio of an ETF. I’d also avoid some tax-efficiency issues if I am able to hold them for very long periods as opposed to a dividend ETF that keeps changing the components of their underlying index. Here’s one of my inspirations. In other words: Buy good stocks, hold them forever.

But as the chart above shows, some of your picks will do great, and some will do horribly. Some people will tell you about their “ten-baggers” and neglect to mention the losers, while the final math will show you lagging the index. As active investors, Longboard concludes that you should focus on avoiding the underperforming assets. But I’d be wary of being so careful about avoiding losers that they miss out on the winners. (The winners often look like losers at some point… can you say Apple?)

Even if you just plan on make a few trades here and here, individual stock investing is a mental sport that takes self-discipline and a calm rationality. Very few people have the characteristics needed, even when managing their own money with no management fee drag. Charlie Munger has his own take, but also admits that only a small percentage can add value:

I think a select few – a small percentage of the investment managers – can deliver value added. But I don’t think brilliance alone is enough to do it. I think that you have to have a little of this discipline of calling your shots and loading up – if you want to maximize your chances of becoming one who provides above average real returns for clients over the long pull.

[…] I think it’s hard to provide a lot of value added to the investment management client, but it’s not impossible.

LendingClub Drama: Should Investor-Lenders Be Scared of Bankruptcy?

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As an early adopter and IPO participant of LendingClub, I was disappointed to read about their recent happenings. The major financial media outlets have been covering it closely, with summary-style articles from the NYT here and WSJ here. This is my condensed understanding of the situation.

  • On Monday, May 9th, LendingClub abruptly announced in a “by the way” manner that their celebrity CEO Renaud Laplanche had resigned. (His only other alternative was to be fired.) Three other high-level executives were also fired.
  • LendingClub improperly sold $22 million of loans to an institutional investor that did not meet the investor’s standards. The origination dates were changed some loans in order to make the loan meet the investor’s specifications. Other loans had other features of their disclosures altered and/or misrepresented. LendingClub later bought the loans back for full price.
  • LendingClub as a company decided that it was good idea to invest in outside investment funds that own… LendingClub notes. Can you say conflict of interest? Will the fund get better access to loans? LendingClub was supposed to be the middleman, so why are they quietly taking on risk as the lender?
  • For one of these funds that LendingClub invested in, then-CEO Laplanche had a personal stake which he did not disclose. Director John Mack also had a personal stake, which apparently was disclosed. So now LendingClub as company is investing in outside funds that invest in LendingClub notes and are (shhh) partially owned by their CEOs and Directors?
  • On Tuesday, May 17th, an SEC filing disclosed that LendingClub received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which indicates they will be subject to additional investigations as well as potential lawsuits in the future.

When LendingClub started out a peer-to-peer lender, the grand idea was that the spread that banks got between taking deposits and making loans would be made thinner, with the difference going to individuals, NOT Wall Street. Individual borrowers got loans at lower rates. Individual lenders got paid higher interest. An illustration from their own materials:

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In opinion, LendingClub then became too aggressive in their chase to stay on top as the “industry leader”. The majority of their notes are now sold to large, institutional investors, not individuals. But this also means risk if the big investors decide to stop buying their big chunks of loans. In turn, they loosened their standards and became willing to take on additional risk by essentially buying their own loans if demand drops. You can decide if it was coincidence that they started fudging dates and other “little stuff” to keep things going.

Finally, another way that LendingClub was aggressive is that they pursued a way to allow them to sell notes in all 50 states called a “blue sky exemption”. However, by doing it this way, they could not create a “bankruptcy remote vehicle” where individual note-holders were protected in case of a LendingClub bankruptcy. This is another way where the individual investor is not their #1 concern. Here’s the official statement from the LendingClub website (emphasis mine):

When you invest in a Note, you are investing in an obligation of Lending Club. Borrowers make payments on their loans to Lending Club, and in turn, Lending Club distributes payments to investors in the Notes net of fees. If Lending Club were to go out of business, investors may not receive the full amount of payments due and to become due on the Note, or such payments may be delayed as bankruptcy or other proceedings make their way through the courts.

We have taken steps to ensure continuity to protect investors and borrowers if Lending Club were to go out of business. For example, we have executed a backup and successor servicing agreement with Portfolio Financial Servicing Company (“PFSC”). Under this agreement, PFSC stands ready to service borrower loans.

Following five business days’ prior written notice from us or from the indenture trustee for the Notes, PFSC will begin servicing the loans. If the underlying loans are determined to be part of Lending Club’s bankruptcy estate, PFSC may not be able to make payments on the Notes. If our agreement with PFSC were to be terminated, we would seek to replace PFSC with another backup servicer.

Here’s another take by Kaddhim Shubber in a FT article.

The short answer is that yes, there is a chance that if LendingClub files bankruptcy that investors individual notes may lose their principal and/or interest if other creditors claim priority over those assets. The question is determining the probability of this happening.

Why an acquisition is much more likely than bankruptcy. If I am reading their recent filings correctly, LendingClub has over $800 million in cash along with little company debt (other than the notes created to be sold to outside investors). Their company value dropped to as low as $1.5 billion this week, which means the company itself could technically be bought for $700 million. (Less than a year ago, the company was worth over $5 billion.) A mega financial institution like Wells Fargo or J.P. Morgan Chase could easily buy the entire company (and keep servicing the notes) if the value dropped further. I believe the LC platform still has real value, but if trust erodes further then it may need the backing of a bigger name. Then we’d be full-circle, the former peer-to-peer lender now owned by Wall Street. I’m not saying such an acquisition is likely, but instead something that would happen well before bankruptcy.

At the same time, unlikely is not zero. I would not put any more than 5% of my net worth into LC notes. I had great hope for LendingClub, but also never put more than a few percent of my net worth into LC notes. Here is my post on liquidating my LendingClub notes on the secondary market. I have no position in LC stock either, as I sold my shares immediately after the LendingClub IPO. I’m just watching this one from the sidelines.

Qapital App Review: Rules-Based Automated Savings Account – Free $5 to Start

qapital0Before we let them take over the world, computers must first prove their worth by helping us become better savers and investors. Importantly, we humans have a horrible tendency to put off saving when we have to manually do it each and every time.

Fintech start-up Qapital intends to fix this by automatically setting aside money based on a customized selection of rules. At it’s core is a free, FDIC-insured savings account held at Wells Fargo with no minimum balance or monthly fees. They are also giving out five bucks to start (details below).

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Here are the current rules available:

  • Round-up Rule: Round up your purchases and save the difference every time you buy something. Ex. You can round to the nearest $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5.
  • Spend Less Rule: If you spend less than your target budget amount, then save the difference. Ex. Spend less than $15 at Starbucks during a week, then save the difference towards a goal.
  • Guilty Pleasure Rule: If you buy something you’re trying to resist, Qapital will automatically save some money for you. Ex. Save $10 every time you make a purchase at McDonald’s.
  • Set & Forget Rule: A traditional rule where you save a fixed amount daily, weekly, or once a month. Ex. Save $50 every week.
  • Apple Health Rule: If you hit your fitness target, Qapital will save towards your goal. Ex. Save $50 towards vacation goal every time you take 500 steps.
  • IFTTT Rules: Use the IFTTT service to trigger a money transfer.
  • Freelancer Rule: Every time you receive a large deposit, save 30% of it towards taxes.
  • 52 Week Rule: Save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and so on for 52 weeks. (This adds up to $1,378 by the way!)

You must be 18 years old and link up an existing US-based checking account as the funding source. Trial deposits are used for verification using account and routing numbers. To prevent a million little transactions, withdrawals from your checking account to your Qapital account are only done twice a week. You can make move money back into your checking account at any time.

You can also add a credit card such as Citi, Chase, or American Express to trigger the rules, although you can’t use it as a funding source.

If Qapital is free, then how do they make money? They don’t charge any fees directly. They make money by keeping any interest that might be earned on your savings balance. Given that the top savings accounts pay roughly 1% APY, that means for every $100 in the account you’re losing out on $1 a year. They promise not to sell your transaction data.

Get $5 free to start. Right now, Qapital has a refer-a-friend promotion where a new user can get $5 if they are referred by a current user and open a new Qapital account with a least one deposit. Here is my special $5 referral link. Thanks if you use it!

Recap. Qapital is another iteration of “let me save for you” concept, previously seen in the “Keep the Change” program from Bank of America and the “round up to the nearest dollar” system from the Acorns app. Qapital differs in that they offer a wider variety of rule-based triggers, they are free while working with any credit card, and your only option is an FDIC-insured savings account (no stock investing). Overall it is a nice execution, although I predict that this idea will become more common across many different financial institutions over time (i.e. other people gonna copy it).

Setup is relatively easy and the user interface is good; I’ve set up a few rules for myself. I like that you can round up purchases into a simple savings account instead of the tax complexity of buying tiny bits of ETFs. There is no phone number, but there is in-app chat and e-mail support. My question was answered within an hour during their business hours. The app has worked fine so far while rounding up my purchases, but I’ll be interested to see if it keeps my attention several months from now.

More screenshots:

qapital2   qapital4

Next up: Digit.

Do What You Love – If You Can Work For Yourself

dolove_cover

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We’ve all read this saying, and it certainly sounds like a wonderful goal. But is it also being abused by corporate interests? Here’s why I might change it to “Do what you love, if you can work for yourself.”

Miya Tokumitsu has a new book called Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness, recently profiled in this Atlantic article and initially sparked by this older Slate article. I haven’t read the book, but the overall theme is that if everyone is supposed to be happy and passionate, then they can’t really complain about long hours or low compensation. Advantage: Employers.

There is a lot of difficult, boring, yet necessary work to be done out there. The author Tokumitsu wants you to ask: “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?”, and “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?”

One solution is to make the person who benefits from your passion YOU. That is, if you can, find your passion and eventually start your own business from it. Even if you aren’t the sole owner, you should have a strong vested interest your investment of hard work.

If you can’t, perhaps you should treat your job as just work. Be proud of doing work you don’t love in order to feed and provide security for your family. There is honor is that as well.

Derive joy from what you love in your off-hours, and derive money from your work – and invest that money into assets towards financial independence! I think of financial independence less in black-and-white and more in grey these days. The more income you have from investments, then the more likely you can switch to a job that you enjoy (as such jobs tend to pay less). Alternatively, you could keep your non-passionate work and simply work less hours.

I’ll end with some quotes I have saved recently about finding passionate work. From the book The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business:

Build your success around something that you love — something that is inherently and endlessly interesting to you.

From The Atlantic article: Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Even I find it peculiar at times, but I can totally get lost in learning about investing and personal finance. Hours can pass in what feels like minutes. I don’t know if it will be endlessly interesting, but this has been going on for over 10 years now, so I’m taking that as a good sign!

Sam’s Club Mom’s and Dad’s Club – Free $10 eGift Card

sams10gcSam’s Club has a new Mom’s and Dad’s Club and is giving out free $10 eGift cards to join. Looks like you’ll get special offers and free samples targeted for families and children. Fast sign-up, eGift card must be used online. You must use the same e-mail address as registered on SamsClub.com. The fine print wording suggests that the offer may be targeted, but it seems worth a shot if you are a Sam’s Club member and have an e-mail on file already. Hat tip to shikha_sharma of SD.

Enroll in Sam’s Club® Mom’s and Dad’s Club with a valid email address matching the email address registered on SamsClub.com by May 15 to receive a $10 eGift Card. eGift Card will be provided by email between May 15 and June 15 to the email address used to register your Sam’s Club Membership on SamsClub.com matching Mom’s and Dad’s Club registration. Offer only available to the Sam’s Club Member associated with the original email address for this advertisement. Only one eGift Card per membership. eGift Card may not be used to pay for membership fee, travel purchases, or select services. eGift Card can only be used online at SamsClub.com. Offer not valid in Puerto Rico.