Where Should You Focus Your Energy? Earn , Save, Grow, or Preserve

While I often talk about your savings rate as an important metric for reaching financial freedom, I also follow that up by talking about managing both parts of that formula: earning more and/or spending less. Focusing your energy on a specific task is often better that trying to do everything perfectly and getting frustrated when you can’t juggle all the balls at once.

Financial planning expert Michael Kitces has come up with a helpful framework called The Four Phases Of Saving And Investing For Retirement that is related and also takes into consideration your portfolio size. This graphic he created explains it well:


Here are my own notes and paraphrasing (please read original post for his own words):

  • Earn. First, you need income. Focus on your human capital to help you earn more. Invest energy into your education, career skills, and network (surround yourself with good people). If it fits your personality, take a risk and start a business.
  • Save. Once you have significant income, be sure to save a big portion of it. Create systems and habits to help keep your spending modest. A 30% or 50% savings rate for above-average earners is not out of the question.
  • Grow. Once you have significant savings, spend some time developing a set of solid investment beliefs and a written plan. Devote time specifically to learning about investing and/or find and hire a trusted advisor. Your money should always be making more money.
  • Preserve. You should only need to get rich once. Do you have proper insurance in place? Create a long-term plan to preserve and ultimately live off the income from your investment portfolio and other assets.

You can pay attention to the other areas, but I like this lifecycle method of prioritizing your finite time and energy.

Morningstar Target Date Fund Comparisons: Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price


Target Date Funds (TDFs) get their name because they adjust their portfolio holdings automatically over time based on a given target retirement date. The overall growth of TDF assets continues, especially within employer-based 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans. Morningstar recently released its 2016 research study called 2016 Target-Date Fund Landscape:

After laying out a general overview of the target-date industry, this year’s report highlights analysts’ best practices in comparing and contrasting target-date series according to Morningstar’s ratings pillar framework, demonstrating the benefits of going beyond conventional evaluation practices.

I found the report full of interesting statistics and insights, but at 84 pages it is also rather long. Here are what I consider the highlights.

The Big 3 providers are still Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price. As you can see below, they combine for 70% of all TDF assets. This number is actually slightly lower than three years ago, however. Vanguard is the current leader, taking over Fidelity’s spot.


All Target Date Funds are NOT created the same… Consider the huge gap in possible equity percentages vs. time (glide path).


…but the Big 3 TDFs are all relatively similar. Before retirement age, the glide paths are very close. They start to differ more significantly after the retirement target year.


Vanguard leads the way with the highest total assets, lowest expense ratio, and the only Gold Morningstar Analyst Rating. You can feel the effect of Vanguard in that the average asset-weighted expense ratio has decreased industry-wide every single year since 2009. You can bet that this wouldn’t be the case of Vanguard wasn’t so successful.


We personally have access to T. Rowe Price and Fidelity TDFs in our respective 401k plans, although we don’t own shares of either. I would recommend my own family to buy the Vanguard Target Retirement family of funds. If you own one of the lesser-known TDF families, I would download the Morningstar paper and see how it compares. You may be surprised by the inner workings.

Real Estate Crowdfunding Experiment #2: Fundrise Income eREIT Review


Updated with Q2 2016 performance results. My second real estate crowdfunding investment is $2,000 into the Fundrise Income eREIT. (REIT = Real Estate Investment Trust.) Their investment claim is being the “first ever low-fee, diversified commercial real estate investment available directly online to anyone in the United States, no matter their net worth.”

Fundrise is one of the first real estate companies taking advantage of the recent JOBS Act that allow certain crowdfunding investments to be offered to everyone, as previously it was limited only to accredited investors. You must be a US resident and your investment cannot exceed the greater of 10% of your gross annual income or net worth.

Here’s a quick overview of the features:

  • Low investment minimum ($1,000)
  • Quarterly cash distributions
  • Quarterly liquidity (you can request to sell shares quarterly, but liquidity is not always guaranteed)
  • Low Fees (claimed to be roughly 1/10th the fees of similar non-traded REITs). Until Dec 31, 2017, you pay $0 in asset management fees unless you earn a 15% annualized return.
  • Transparency (you get to see exactly what properties are held)

Essentially, instead of investing in a single condo building, I am now putting my money into a pot of money that will invest in a basket of different commercial real estate properties.

Why not just invest in the Vanguard REIT index fund? Well, I happen to think most everyone should invest in VNQ if they want commercial real estate exposure. I own a lot more of VNQ than this Fundrise investment. VNQ invests in publicly-traded REITs, huge companies worth up to tens of billions of dollars. VNQ offers wide diversification and you have daily liquidity. But as publicly-traded REITs have grown in popularity (and price), their income yields have gone down.

As with other crowdfunding sites, Fundrise deals with specific, smaller deals with (hopefully) higher risk-adjusted returns. This eREIT diversifies your money across multiple properties, but we’re still talking examples like a $2 million townhouse complex, or a $2 million boutique hotel. An analogy might be made with “micro-cap” investing. From their FAQ:

Specifically, we believe the market for smaller real estate transactions (“small balance commercial market or SBC”) is underserved by conventional capital sources and that lending in the market is fragmented, reducing the availability and overall efficiency for real estate owners raising funds. This inefficiency and fragmentation of the SBC market has resulted in a relatively favorable pricing dynamic which the eREIT intends to capitalize on using efficiencies created through our technology platform.

A positive feature is the ability to request liquidity on a quarterly basis, but it is not guaranteed that you can withdraw all that you request (similar to some hedge funds). Here’s a comparison chart taken from the Fundrise site:


Why Fundrise? It can be hard to differentiate between the various crowdfunding websites. One way that I feel that Fundrise differs is they are more picky about the deals they choose to fund. Talk about higher standards is one thing, but I’ve been tracking them for a while and Fundrise really does offer far fewer deals than the other competitor sites I have signed up with. For about a year now, every deal that I’d been interested in filled up within 24 hours. Even this eREIT had a waitlist. Will this selectivity last? I don’t know, I hope so. Will their selectivity produce higher, safer returns? I don’t know, I hope so.

Dividend income updates.

  • 1st Quarter 2016. 4.5% annualized dividend was announced. This is the first complete quarter of activity, so the dividend size is expected to increase once funds are fully invested. The portfolio included 13 commercial real estate assets from 8 different metropolitan areas, with approximately $31.5 million committed as of March 31, 2016.
  • 2nd Quarter 2016. 10% annualized dividend announced, to be paid mid-July. Portfolio now includes 15 assets totaling roughly $47.25M in committed capital.

Screenshot from my account:


I think the Fundrise Income eREIT is an interesting concept. There may be a waitlist to join, but they do work through it. I am simply sharing my own results, not making an investment recommendation as I don’t know your situation. This is a higher-risk, speculative investment.

Fidelity Index Mutual Fund and ETF Expense Ratios

fidodrop0Fidelity Investments recently announced expense ratio drops on 16 index mutual funds and 11 indexed sector ETFs, effective July 1st, 2016. They are the second-largest index mutual fund manager in the industry with many asset in employer-sponsored retirement accounts, although if you include ETFs they are farther down the list.

Fidelity Investments®, one of the industry’s largest, most experienced providers of low-cost active and index investment products, today announced that effective July 1, 2016 it will reduce total expenses on 27 of its equity and bond index mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs). The average expenses across Fidelity’s index fund line-up will decrease to 10.2 basis points (0.102%), down from 11.6 basis points today.

Mutual Fund Share Classes. This is in combination with their recent renaming of share classes, which for retail accounts are called Investor Class ($2,500 minimum) and Premium Class ($10,000). These are in close alignment with Vanguard’s Investor and Admiral share classes.


Highlights. I’ll include some of the more popular expense ratios for retail accounts, although many people may have institutional-class funds in their employer 401(k) plans as well. Most dropped by either 0.01% or 0.005%. Note that they no longer use the “Spartan” name. For example, the Spartan 500 Index Fund is now the Fidelity 500 Index Fund.

  • Fidelity 500 Index Fund. Investor 0.09% Premium 0.045%
  • Fidelity Total Market Index Fund. Investor 0.10% Premium 0.045%
  • Fidelity (Developed) International Index Fund. Investor 0.19% Premium 0.08%
  • Fidelity Global ex U.S. Index Fund Investor 0.18% Premium 0.11%
  • Fidelity Total International Index Fund Investor 0.18% Premium 0.11%
  • Fidelity Emerging Markets Index Fund Investor 0.30% Premium 0.14%
  • Fidelity U.S. Bond Index Fund Investor 0.15% Premium 0.05%
  • Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund Investor 0.19% Premium 0.09%

Here is the full list:




ukflag2A few of you are waiting for me to talk about Brexit. Part of me is honored that you care about my opinion. The other part of me is appalled that you care about my opinion. Why would you listen to me?!? 😉 Here goes:

  • I don’t know what’s going to happen.
  • Nobody else knows what’s going to happen.
  • The media makes money when it speculates on what is going to happen and you pay attention to them. So they will continue to speculate.
  • Whatever does happen will takes years to unravel at the minimum. That means a lot of uncertainty for a long time. If you sell during times of uncertainty and buy during times of relative calm, you’ll likely be selling low and buying high. Not a very good recipe for investing success.
  • If you are truly a long-term investor, then you must know that some crazy things are bound to happen over long periods of time.
  • You could see this event as another “stress test” of your plan. The United States also has a big election coming up this year, so you should prepare for even more uncertainty.

Overall, I am not making any changes to my investment plan. Instead, I would try to maintain focus on what you can control. Financially, that means:

  • Investing in yourself, your skills, your network, your career.
  • Track and/or control your household spending.
  • Shore up your cash cushion, emergency fund, whatever you want to call it.
  • Managing your investment expenses, including trading costs, management fees, and taxes.

Index Funds: The Movie

ifabookHave you been unsuccessfully searching Netflix for a 72-minute documentary about index funds? Well, your wait is finally over. Game of Thrones, watch your back! :)

Also adapted from a book of the same title, Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors systematically attacks the various reasons that people approach individual stock-picking and/or paying for actively-managed mutual funds. For example, there is the idea of picking an all-star manager, the idea of market timing, and the idea of picking individual stocks.

I would warn that content is targeted more towards investors with some experience and less towards novices. They apparently also recognized that the material can be rather dense, and thus also broke it up into 12 parts. Here is Part 1:

Both the book and film were created by Mark Hebner of Index Fund Advisors (IFA), a fee-only wealth management firm that offers mutual funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA). Found via co-producer Robin Powell. As the book promotes the purchase of DFA funds, which can only be bought through affiliated advisors such as IFA, the material can be seen as self-promotional. However, having read the original book 10 years ago, I did not feel that the content was overly self-promotional. If you focus on the academic research by Nobel Laureates and historical data presented, there is a lot of useful knowledge to be gained.

If you’re interested in more detail, you can buy a physical copy for $8 at Amazon, a Kindle eBook version for $3, or you can navigate through all the content online at IFA.com for free.

Top 5 Retirement Savings Tips from John Oliver

John Oliver again tackled personal finance on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, this time exploring retirement savings. (He previously covered credit reports.) Here is the full video link, embedded below:

It is truly hard to present this stuff in an entertaining manner, so I was interested to see how they would approach things and who’d they pick on. It’s not bad considering it runs 20 minutes – quite long for an internet video. If you skip to roughly the 17:55 mark, you’ll get the best bits – a satirical reply to widely-promoted Prudential commercials (one, two) and his top 5 retirement savings tips:

  1. Start saving now.
  2. Invest in low-cost index funds.
  3. Ask if your adviser is a fiduciary.
  4. As you get older, gradually switch some of your stocks into bonds.
  5. Keep your fees under 1%.

Nothing new to most financially-savvy folks, but hopefully it helps steer some people in the right direction.

Fidelity Portfolio Advisory Service (PAS) Fee Schedule


From time to time, people ask to send me details of their current portfolio for some advice. I usually decline respectfully as I don’t feel qualified to provide specific investment advice, but I did accept a copy of the general fee schedule for Fidelity Portfolio Advisory Services (PAS) as of March 30, 2016. Here is a scan of the Annual Advisory Fee Schedule:


Note that the Net Advisory Fee = Gross Advisory Fee – Credit Amount. From the client agreement:

Your Gross Advisory Fee does not include underlying fund expenses charged at the individual fund level for any funds in your Account. These fund expenses, which vary by fund and class, are expenses all fund shareholders pay. Some of these underlying fund expenses may be paid to Strategic Advisers or its affiliates and will be included in a Credit Amount, described below.

In other words, the credit amount is the fees and compensation that your advisors get paid in exchange for picking those investments over the other investments that may not pay such fees. It doesn’t make much difference, as these fees are usually passed onto the retail customers anyway, just indirectly through the mutual fund annual expense ratios. As a result, the gross advisory fee is still the minimum amount that the end customer will pay.

Let’s take a look at what this means:

  • For a $1 million portfolio invested in a Fidelity Model asset allocation, you’d be paying 1.27% of your assets to Fidelity on an annual basis in exchange for them managing your portfolio. That’s $12,700 a year automatically deducted from your account.
  • For a $1 million portfolio invested in a Fidelity “Index-Focuced” asset allocation, you’d be paying 0.85% of your assets to Fidelity on an annual basis in exchange for them managing your portfolio. That’s $8,500 a year automatically deducted from your account.
  • The annual fee above does not include underlying fund expenses. The brochure did not include any specific asset allocations, but this will add another layer of expenses. For example, their Fidelity Strategic Advisers® Core Fund (FCSAX) has an expense ratio of 0.67%.

Consider that many institutions believe that for the next 10-20 years, you’d be somewhat lucky to get a 4% return on balanced portfolio after adjusting for inflation. Put another way, let’s say your $1,000,000 portfolio might provide 4% in inflation-adjusted annual income, or $40,000 a year. With Fidelity PAS, your annual advisory fee of 1.2% would equal $12,700. That would already eat up over 30% of that theoretical income and is before fund expenses. All-in, you’re looking at close to 40% of your potential pre-tax return eaten up by management fees.

Now for my personal thoughts. Briefly, in my opinion, the Fidelity PAS marketing materials (sample brochure) promote their high number of sub-advisors and complexity to suggest that they offer something worth paying a lot of money for. In my opinion, I do not see any evidence that one will receive enough additional return to offset the relatively high fees. While I am a Fidelity self-directed brokerage client and use some of their other products and services, I would not invest my own money in this Portfolio Advisory Service. There are many managed portfolio services like Betterment, Wealthfront, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, and even all-in-one funds like Vanguard Target Retirement funds which I would recommend my own family members first if they chose not to learn how to do-it-yourself.

Reasons For Owning High-Quality Bonds

pie_flat_blank_200Here are some helpful resources on owning only bonds of the highest credit quality as part of your portfolio asset allocation.

  • David Swensen in his book Unconventional Success argued that alignment of interests is important. With stocks, the exectives want to make profits, and you want them to make profits. With stocks, your interests are aligned. In contrast, the job of bond issuers is to look as creditworthy as possible, even if they are not. This keeps the interest rates they pay lower. With bonds, your interest are not aligned. The safety ratings of bonds usually only get worse – usually quickly and unexpectedly as we saw with subprime mortgages. Ratings agencies are not very good at their jobs, mostly in a reactionary role, and are often paid by the same people they rate.
  • Larry Swedroe at ETF.com:

    However, he also observes that the primary objective of investing, at least in stocks, is to make money. On the other hand, he makes an important distinction when it comes to the primary objective of investing in bonds, which is to help you stay invested in stocks when the inevitable bear markets arrive.

    And that leads to his conclusion to invest the fixed-income portion of your portfolio in only the safest bonds (such as Treasurys, FDIC-insured CDs and municipals rated AAA/AA).

    The overall idea to is own the safest thing possible when it comes to bonds.

  • Daniel Sotiroff at The PF Engineer:

    The primary reason most investors own fixed income securities (bonds) is their ability to limit declines in portfolio value during periods of poor stock performance. From this perspective there is another dimension to safety in the fixed income universe that needs to be understood.

    […] Almost all of the non-Treasury securities experienced a drawdown during 2008 which peaked around October and November. Investors holding corporate bonds, intermediate and longer term municipal issues, and inflation protected securities were no doubt disappointed that their supposedly safe assets posted losses. Corporate bonds in particular have the unfortunate stigma of behaving like stocks during crises. Adding insult to injury those disappointed investors were also faced with taking a haircut on their fixed income returns if they wanted to rebalance and purchase equities at very low prices. Thus there is more to risk than the more academic standard deviation (volatility) of returns.

    My interpretation is that he concludes that intermediate-term Treasury notes are good balance of safety and interest rate risk, while short-term Treasury bills are for those that really don’t want any interest rate risk.

  • Also see this previous post: William Bernstein on Picking The Right Bonds For Your Portfolio

529 Plan Interactive Comparison Map and Tax Deduction Calculator

The Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan (based in Nevada but open to all state residents) is one of the consistent Morningstar top-ranked 529 plans and one of my three personal finalists when choosing a plan for myself.

While poking around the site, I also came across this interactive map tool that helps you compare your in-state plan with the Vanguard/Nevada plan. Although created by Vanguard, it still offers a lot of useful information and I’m okay with then Vanguard plan being used as a benchmark.


Below is an example screenshot for Utah. Note that it will tell you if you have an in-state tax benefits, and also if that tax benefit is restricted to contributions to your in-state plan only. Where applicable, it also links to Vanguard’s 529 tax deduction calculator. Finally, if you click on “Full Comparison” you can dig even deeper.


As an example of why Vanguard is highly-regarded, I was recently notified that Vanguard once again lowered the expense ratios on many of their 529 investment options. This matches the same trend with their regular mutual funds and ETFs.

Effective May 3, 2016, the expense ratios for all Vanguard 529 Plan investment options went down, affirming Vanguard’s ongoing commitment to lowering costs for our clients. Now you’ll be saving even more. The cost of our age-based options decreased from 0.19% to 0.17%, which is 67% less than the industry average.* And the expense ratios of our individual portfolios dropped from a range of 0.19% to 0.49% to a range of 0.17% to 0.45%.

Here are some similar resources I’ve shared before: 50-state 529 tax benefit comparison (uses a common hypothetical family) and SavingForCollege tax benefit calculator.

Investing 1% Of Your Portfolio Into Gold


A reader recently sent me a set of articles by Scott Burns about a person he calls the Rational Gold Investor here and here. I’ve been a long-time reader of Scott Burns because while he has been a steady proponent of passive and low-cost investing, he isn’t afraid to consider other investment alternatives.

Shayne McGuire manages gold investments for the Texas Teachers Retirement Fund, is the 18th largest pension fund in the world with over $120 billion in assets. He does not believe in gold as only a “armageddon” asset, but something that everyone should own a little of as part of a diversified portfolio.

Read the full article, but here are highlights from the interview:

  • Gold has never been more under-owned as an asset.
  • The supply of gold is difficult to increase.
  • Financial leverage in the world economy has never been higher.
  • Gold is an asset class that competes against equities and other asset classes, generally on a weaker footing becausen the long run (periods like 25 years) it cannot outperform stocks, bonds or real estate.
  • Gold tends to like bad news. If houses go down, it tends to go up. It makes you feel like you’re betting against the home team.
  • A lot of peculiar people seem to like gold and that makes people not want to be like them.

In other words, there are legitimate reasons to own some old, even if you don’t believe that the collapse of fiat money is imminent. At the same time, I think it is important to focus on the real numbers:

  • The pension fund invests less than 0.5% percent of their assets in gold, and this number has never been higher than 1%.
  • The value of all the gold in the world is about 0.6 percent of all financial assets. In 1980, the number was 2.5%.

In other words, the Texas Teachers Retirement Fund only keeps roughly a world market-cap weighting of gold, even if that amounts to roughly $70 million. Here that number is stated as 0.6%, while the previous source I quoted had it at 1.3%. Let’s split the difference and call gold’s world market-cap at roughly 1%.

If you had a $100,000 portfolio, 1% would work out to $1,000, which you could round off to a single 1 oz. gold American Eagle or Canadian Maple Leaf. They also make 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, and 1/10 oz versions. I like the idea of holding physical gold here because you would have zero ongoing management fees (unlike an ETF), you maintain full control of the gold (away from any government), and you’d be more likely to hold it for the long-term (buy/sell spreads are big). Even if you had a million-dollar portfolio, a 1% allocation to gold would weigh less than a pound and fit inside your clothes or virtually any hiding place.

Buy a little bit of gold, put it somewhere secure, and rest easier knowing you have a slightly more diversified portfolio and a bit of insurance. At the same time, most of your money is still invested in productive assets like solid companies around the world or a rental property.

WiseBanyan Review: Free Portfolio Management Experiences & Screenshots


Updated May 2016. WiseBanyan has made some changes to their product. The highlights:

  • New logo, mobile-responsive site design, and smartphone apps.
  • Tax-loss harvesting now available as paid feature. WiseHarvesting is their first premium add-on feature, running 0.25% of assets annually with a $20/month cap.
  • Now accepting IRA, Roth IRA, and 401(k) rollovers.
  • Free financial planning software called Milestones. More thoughts below.

WiseBanyan is an online portfolio advisory service similar to better-known competitors like Betterment and Wealthfront. Differentiating feature: WiseBanyan charges no advisory fees, no trading commissions, and no minimum opening deposit. They will design, buy, hold, and rebalance a basket of low-cost ETFs for free, and all you are left with are the ETF expense ratios which you’d have to pay anyway if you DIY’ed.

Thanks in part to your interest as readers, I was able to get off their waitlist and open an account with $10,000 of my own money back in March 2014. As of May 2016, there is currently no longer a waitlist. Here is my review as an actual user for roughly a year; I have since liquidated my holdings in all robo-advisor platforms.

Application process. The account opening process was similar to other discount brokers and online portfolio managers. You must provide your personal information including Social Security number, net worth, income, investing experience, etc. No credit check. They do check identity, so they may ask for supporting documents if you just moved or something.

There is then a risk questionnaire. The questions can seem mundane but take it seriously, as the 10 answers you provide will directly determine the portfolio asset allocation that they choose for you. There will be no follow-up surveys, e-mails, or phone calls. Here is a screenshot and example question (old interface):


Funding. You can fund your deposit electronically, using your bank routing and account number. (They only accept bank wires as an alternative, no paper checks.) The money gets sucked from your bank and the portfolio is bought immediately when they get the money.

Fractional shares. WiseBanyan uses FolioFN as their broker-dealer (separate company that hold your assets in the background) which means they can use their ability to keep track of fractional shares. Most discount brokers and other online portfolio managers require you to own whole shares, so you’ll often have something like $57 sitting in cash.

Recall that WiseBanyan has no required minimum deposit or portfolio balance. If you really did open account with $100, they will actually buy less than one share of several low-cost diversified ETFs and you’ll own tiny, tiny portions of thousands of companies with no idle cash. With a normal discount brokerage, that might not even buy you one share of anything (VTI is over $100 a share on its own).

Portfolio asset allocation. I was assigned a portfolio risk score of 7.7, which corresponded to a stocks/bond ratio of 70%/30%. Screenshot from the old interface:


Here is the target asset allocation that I was assigned:


My portfolio was constructed using the following seven ETFs:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)
  • Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF (VEA)
  • Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
  • iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD)
  • Vanguard Intermediate-Term Government Bond ETF (VGIT)
  • Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
  • iShares TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)

My general opinion is that the ETF allocations from all “robo-advisors” are at least 80% the same, and with the remaining 20% you can’t really tell who’s going to win performance-wise anyway. They are all backtested using some form of Mean-Variance Optimization (MVO) and Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT).

While not exactly what I would have chosen for myself, I personally think the portfolios they create are fine. The ETFs have low costs and come from large, respected providers in Vanguard and iShares. All of the major asset classes are covered. There are no commodities futures or natural resource ETFs, which some experts think are useful and other experts think are useless. Note that REITs are considered to be in the bond category.

Website user interface and smartphone apps. The interface has been updated to essentially look like everyone else. It is simple, clean, and mobile-responsive. I like it. There are also companion iOS and Android apps. User reviews for both apps are overall positive. Screenshot from new interface:


Statements and ongoing communication. Electronic statements are free, but paper statements will cost $5 each and paper trade confirmations $2 each.

New Milestones feature. WiseBanyan has a new service called Milestones which helps you direct your investments into specific goals like retirement, emergency funds, college, or vacations. Works in desktop and mobile. You can give a target number and timeframe, and it will recommend a portfolio and a monthly savings amount that theoretically should reach your goal. It will initiate recurring deposits so that things are automated. While I think such basic guidance can be helpful to get you a ballpark figure, I would also be careful on relying too closely on the forecasts as nobody really knows what the stock or bond market will return in the short-term. Screenshot from new interface:


Free is nice, but how will they make money? Future concerns? According to various sources, the demographics of the average WiseBanyan client is both younger and of more modest means (opening balances under $10,000) than their competitors. They plan on offsetting the costs of maintaining free accounts with their premium add-on features, but will it work? Will enough people pay up for tax-loss harvesting? It remains to be seen if the “Freemium” model can work in this environment.

Bottom line. WiseBanyan is fully functional and delivers on its promise of free automated portfolio management. I joined them in early 2014 when they were still working out some minor kinks, but two years later they are offering a much more polished product. I would even say that their aggressive pricing has helped “nudge” many of their competitors to lower their starting minimums as well.

The main thing that would worry me is that their path to sustainable profitability is not clear. If WiseBanyan is eventually taken over in the event of a merger or takeover, a new owner may charger much higher fees. If you leave for another robo-advisor, there may also be tax consequences. On the positive side, WiseBanyan is not affiliated with any ETF sponsor and can thus invest in the “best-in-class” ETFs without conflict of interest. In the current group of robo-advisors, I would classify them as plucky underdogs.

I wouldn’t let a small sign-up incentive convince you to choose one robo-advisor over another, but new users can get a $15 bonus if they open an account with a referral link.