Weight Management vs. Money Management Advice Similarities, Revisited

nodietI’ve written previously about the importance of permanent habit change in both managing your finances and your body weight. After finishing Smart People Don’t Diet by Charlotte Markey and then reviewing my Kindle highlights, please allow me to compare weight management and money management one more time.

I’m going to keep it simple; I’ll quote exact sentences from the book, and then tweak them ever-so-slightly to magically transform them into personal finance wisdom. Here’s a quote about her overall reason for writing this book:

Psychologists like me have been doing research about eating and weight loss for over a hundred years, and thousands of studies about these issues have been published. Scientists in related fields such as nutrition, medicine, and community health have also been studying and publishing about these issues for a very long time. And yet it seems that the most marketable and even outlandish ideas are what get the most attention when it comes to weight loss—not necessarily the ideas that are really going to work!

Here’s my Mad Libs version (all changes are bolded):

Finance academics like me have been doing research about investing for over a hundred years, and thousands of studies about these issues have been published. Scientists in related fields such as economics and behavioral psychology have also been studying and publishing about these issues for a very long time. And yet it seems that the most marketable and even outlandish ideas are what get the most attention when it comes to investing—not necessarily the ideas that are really going to work!

Sounds about right to me. Now, the recommended first step is to track your eating with a food diary:

Phase 1 is all about taking inventory and getting to know yourself—a critical first step. There should be no sense of deprivation when you follow the instructions for Phase 1. Phase 2 is when you’ll start to actually make changes to your eating behaviors.

In the same way, my recommended first step has been to track your spending with a daily log. There is virtually no change needed!

Phase 1 is all about taking inventory and getting to know yourself—a critical first step. There should be no sense of deprivation when you follow the instructions for Phase 1. Phase 2 is when you’ll start to actually make changes to your spending behaviors.

However, many successful people don’t need to keep up this daily tracking forever.

This is all common sense, but it is also supported by research: keeping a mental record of what you eat, or “counting” what you eat, is exhausting. This is one reason I don’t recommend constantly counting calories or counting anything as part of a long-term approach to weight management: food choices shouldn’t add to your mental fatigue.

The key is to measure your baseline and then make incremental but permanent changes. Nowadays, I still add up my expenses at the end of each month, but I don’t track anything on a day-to-day basis.

This is all common sense, but it is also supported by research: keeping a mental record of what you spend, or “counting” what you spend, is exhausting. This is one reason I don’t recommend constantly tracking every expense or counting anything as part of a long-term approach to money management: financial choices shouldn’t add to your mental fatigue.

Here are tips on creating better habits that won’t suck up all your willpower:

You don’t need to squeeze your own oranges to make juice; just eat an orange. You don’t need to make homemade bread; just buy whole-grain bread. It is okay to rely on frozen fruits or veggies to ensure that you eat enough each day. If you want to change your habits for the long-term, stick to a plan that is simple and create food routines. Simple is sustainable.

Simple is sustainable, I like that phrase!

You don’t need to analyze the balance sheets of individual companies; just buy an index fund. You don’t need to remember to manually save every month; make it automatic with scheduled online transfers to your IRA and/or 401k. It is okay to rely on Mint.com or PersonalCapital.com and credit/debit cards to track your overall spending. If you want to change your habits for the long-term, stick to a plan that is simple and create financial routines. Simple is sustainable.

Finally, a nice little summary. (The book has a lot of good advice, but it is a little repetitive.)

What I recommend to people to help them to lose weight is not always sexy, but it is what works. Weight-loss books change; most of them don’t stick around because they don’t work. To be healthy and lose weight, you have to change your habits. You also have to understand why you are eating. Convenience, habits, and our emotions are all an important part of our food choices.

What I recommend to people to help them to save and invest wisely is not always sexy, but it is what works. Personal finance and investing books change; most of them don’t stick around because they don’t work. To save prudently and achieve financial freedom, you have to change your habits. You also have to understand why you are earning and spending. Convenience, habits, and our emotions are all an important part of our financial choices.

Portfolio Charts Visualization Tool: Returns vs. Time (Holding Period)

When investing in stocks and bonds, it is important to take a long-term perspective. We’ve all heard that phrase. A new tool called PortfolioCharts.com lets you create charts that make it easier to visualize the relationship between returns and holding periods. Created by a fellow named Tyler, found via The Reformed Broker.

With the Pixel chart, you can customize any asset allocation and see that portfolio mix’s returns over a multitude of timeframes. Here’s the chart for The Swensen Portfolio, which is the closest “lazy portfolio” to my personal portfolio – 30% US Total, 15% Foreign Developed, 5% Emerging Market, 20 US REIT, 15% 5-Year Treasuries, 15% TIPS.


You can see that depending on your starting year, the returns over the next 1-9 year period could be pretty rough. But as long as you held for 10 years or more, you always got a positive real return above inflation. You can also see that the often-promised 5% real returns aren’t always guaranteed, although historically if you held on for 20+ years your odds were pretty good.

You may recall a similar style of chart from the NYT and Crestmont Research which includes additional data going back to 1920:


My favorite style is the Funnel chart:

The Funnel chart shows the changing uncertainty of compound annual growth rates over time. This demonstrates how long you may need to hold a portfolio to experience the average long-term returns it advertises. It also provides a nice snapshot of the range of 1-year volatility.

Here’s the Funnel for the same Swensen Portfolio:


The funnel chart also supports the notion – in an even simpler way – that if you can take a long-term perspective, your risk of losing money should decrease. Here’s a similar chart from the classic investing book A Random Walk Down Wall Street that was one of my early blog posts:


Finally, the Hurricane chart allows you to simulate what would have happened to your portfolio balance if you made annual withdrawals, such as in a retirement scenario.

Warren Buffett is another famous supporter of taking the long-term view. From a recent CNBC interview:

Buffett, who looks to buy stocks or business for their long-term prospects, said recent weakness in the market does not concern him.

“Stocks are going to be higher, and perhaps a lot higher 10 years from now, 20 years from now,” he said, adding that’s why he does not try to time the market.

Hopefully for those investors with a long runway ahead of them, this new tool will help you view your portfolio in a more patient manner. I’ll try to remember it when the next market panic arrives.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & The Portfolio Investment Pyramid

Yesterday, I looked back at extending the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs to Personal Finance. The basic idea of the triangle or pyramid is that lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be addressed. For example, one must first obtain food and water before worrying about protecting my property. In terms of personal finance, you need to cover your food and shelter bills before worrying about homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Now let’s explore how investment professionals have extended this concept to portfolio investing. Again, the bottom level is the most important and forms the “base” of a solid portfolio. After that, you can move on the next concern. You can see that there is debate even amongst experts as to relative importance.

Here’s Christine Benz of Morningstar in How Do Your Financial Priorities Stack Up With Our Pyramid?


Here’s Morgan Housel of Fool.com in The Hierarchy of Investor Needs:


Here’s Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalism in Thoughts on the Hierarchy of Investor Needs:


The four common factors are:

  • Security Selection
  • Tax Efficiency
  • Investor Behavior
  • Asset Allocation

Two out of the three proposed pyramids above have Investor Behavior as the most important. I can see how this factor has the greatest impact on real-world returns, but it is also the hardest to really quantify ahead of time. You can write down on a piece of paper “I will not panic during the next crisis but will do XX instead” but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it (though it will probably help on average). In addition, it is also intertwined with asset allocation since the less your portfolio value drops in a bear market, the more likely you’ll stick with your plan. Meanwhile, you can quantify fees and transaction costs quite easily.

I think this debate makes for interesting conversation for investing geeks like myself, but in the end a good investor would address all of these factors. For example, I would never put off examining fees just because it is at the top of such a pyramid.

Owning a World Market-Cap Weighting of Gold

2015goldGold is an asset class that is part commodity, part currency, and part insurance policy. As I write this, gold prices are at a 5-year low. I own a little physical gold for cultural reasons, but I don’t consider it part of my asset allocation and I place it in the “too hard to stick with during prolonged underperformance” category.

In a recent WSJ article (paywall) by Jason Zweig, he shares his own opinion (everyone’s got one) while adding this interesting data point:

Laurens Swinkels, a senior researcher at Norges Bank Investment Management in Oslo, reckons that the total market value of the world’s financial assets at the end of 2014 was about $102.7 trillion. The World Gold Council estimates that the world’s total quantity of gold held for investment was about $1.4 trillion as of late 2014. So, if you held the same proportion of gold as the world’s investors as a whole, you would allocate 1.3% of your investment portfolio to it.

Many index funds are constructed by comparing their market-capitalizations, or the total value of all their shares. Apple is currently worth $760 billion dollars, which is 4% of the total value combined of all the companies in the S&P 500 combined. So if you own an S&P 500 Index fund, 4% of your money is in AAPL shares.

So what if you held a world market-cap weighting of gold? If you had a $100,000 portfolio, 1.3% would work out to $1,300, which you could round off to a single 1 oz. gold American Eagle. You could buy gold in another form, but don’t they look pretty? They also make 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, and 1/10 oz versions. This fake gold coin tester is cool, but is rather expensive if you’re just buying a few coins.

If you had a $1,000,000 portfolio, 1.3% still only works out to 10 American Eagles, altogether weighing less than a pound and something you could still easily hide in your clothing as you escaped to the island nation of St. Kitts (you did buy a citizenship just in case, didn’t you?) just before the apocalypse.

But seriously, it could be that a 1.3% holding is just about the right amount. It’s something, a little exposure, a little insurance policy, something most people could keep in physical form if they preferred with no ongoing storage or management costs. You can justify it as part of the world’s investable market. But it’s not too much, not enough to worry about the price of gold.

Howard Marks on Assuming Less Risk and Lowering Expectations

greatmindsObserver has an interesting profile of respected investor Howard Marks, excerpted from the book The Great Minds of Investing (found via Abnormal Returns).

I enjoy the writings of Howard Marks because his observations are logical and rational, and he doesn’t mind putting out stuff that is boring and hard to do. It is much more popular to write about exciting things that are easy to do like “sell all your bonds!” or “buy oil stocks now!”. This quote from the profile is a good example. (Bolding is mine.)

“You can’t control the environment,” Mr. Marks adds. So the key is to recognize how it’s changing, accept it, and respond as wisely as possible. “The screwiest thing you can do is to think you’re a Master of the Universe. We’re all just little cogs, and the universe will go on without us. We have to fit into it and adapt to it.” For example, at the time of our interview in late 2014, he sees scant investment opportunity and excessive complacency: “What bigger mistake could there be than to think you can safely get high returns in a low-return world?” Investors should adjust by assuming less risk and lowering their expectations. He cites a favorite quote from Peter Bernstein: “The market’s not a very accommodating machine; it won’t provide high returns just because you need them.”

Assume less risk. Lower your expectations. I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss recently, and I think he would say “you may yawn and boo, but that is what you should do.”

For some reason, this book is out-of-stock at Amazon, unavailable at my library, and third-party copies are $70?! I believe this is because it contains high-quality photographs of the people profiled. Not to worry, Oaktree Capital has all of Marks’ famous memos online for free, or you can read a distillation of them in his book The Most Important Thing Illuminated (my review).

Global Asset Allocation Book Review: Comparing 12+ Expert Model Portfolios

gaafaberI am a regular reader of Meb Faber’s online writings, and volunteered to received a free review copy of his new book Global Asset Allocation: A Survey of the World’s Top Asset Allocation Strategies. It is a rather short book and would probably be around 100 pages if printed, but it condensed a lot of information into that small package.

First off, you are shown how any individual asset class contains its own risks, from cash to stocks. The only “free lunch” out there is diversification, meaning that you should hold a portfolio of different, non-correlated asset classes. For the purposes of this book, the major asset classes are broken down into:

  • US Large Cap Stocks
  • US Small Cap Stocks
  • Foreign Developed Markets Stocks
  • Foreign Emerging Markets Stocks
  • US Corporate Bonds
  • US T-Bills
  • US 10-Year Treasury Bonds
  • US 30-Year Treasury Bonds
  • 10-Year Foreign Gov’t Bonds
  • TIPS (US Inflation-linked Treasuries)
  • Commodities (GSCI)
  • Gold (GFD)

So, what mix of these “ingredients” is best? Faber discusses and compares model asset allocations from various experts and sources. I will only include the name and brief description below, but the book expands on the portfolios a little more. Don’t expect a comprehensive review of each model and its underpinnings, however.

  • Classic 60/40 – the benchmark portfolio, 60% stocks (S&P 500) and 40% bonds (10-year US Treasuries).
  • Global 60/40 – stocks split 50/50 US/foreign, bonds also split 50/50 US/foreign.
  • Ray Dalio All Seasons – proposed by well-known hedge fund manager in Master The Money Game book.
  • Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio – 25% stocks/25% cash/25% Long-term Treasuries/25% Gold.
  • Global Market Portfolio – Based on the estimated market-weighted composition of asset classes worldwide.
  • Rob Arnott Portfolio – Well-known proponent of fundamental indexing and “smart beta”.
  • Marc Faber Portfolio – Author of the “Gloom, Boom, and Doom” newsletter.
  • David Swensen Portfolio – Yale Endowment manager, from his book Unconventional Success.
  • Mohamad El-Erian Portfolio – Former Harvard Endowment manager, from his book When Markets Collide.
  • Warren Buffett Portfolio – As directed to Buffett’s trust for his wife’s benefit upon his passing.
  • Andrew Tobias Portfolio – 1/3rd each of: US Large, Foreign Developed, US 10-Year Treasuries.
  • Talmud Portfolio – “Let every man divide his money into three parts, and invest a third in land, a third in business and a third let him keep by him in reserve.”
  • 7Twelve Portfolio – From the book 7Twelve by Craig Israelsen.
  • William Bernstein Portfolio – From his book The Intelligent Asset Allocator.
  • Larry Swedroe Portfolio – Specifically, his “Eliminate Fat Tails” portfolio.

Faber collected and calculated the average annualized returns, volatility, Sharpe ratio, and Max Drawdown percentage (peak-to-trough drop in value) of all these model asset allocations from 1973-2013. So what were his conclusions? Here some excerpts from the book:

If you exclude the Permanent Portfolio, all of the allocations are within one percentage point.

What if someone was able to predict the best-performing strategy in 1973 and then decided to implement it via the average mutual fund? We also looked at the effect if someone decided to use a financial advisor who then invested client assets in the average mutual fund. Predicting the best asset allocation, but implementing it via the average mutual fund would push returns down to roughly even with the Permanent Portfolio. If you added advisory fees on top of that, it had the effect of transforming the BEST performing asset allocation into lower than the WORST.

Think about that for a second. Fees are far more important than your asset allocation decision! Now what do you spend most of your time thinking about? Probably the asset allocation decision and not fees! This is the main point we are trying to drive home in this book – if you are going to allocate to a buy and hold portfolio you want to be paying as little as possible in total fees and costs.

So after collecting the best strategies from the smartest gurus out there, all with very different allocations, the difference in past performance between the 12+ portfolios was less than 1% a year (besides the permanent portfolio, which had performance roughly another 1% lower but also the smallest max drawdown). Now, there were some differences in Sharpe ratio, volatility, and max drawdown which was addressed a little but wasn’t explored in much detail. There was no “winner” that was crowned, but for the curious the Arnott portfolio had the highest Sharpe ratio by a little bit and the Permanent portfolio had the smallest max drawdown by a little bit.

Instead of trying to predict future performance, it would appear much more reliable to focus on fees and taxes. I would also add that all of these portfolio backtests looked pretty good, but they were all theoretical returns based on strict application of the model asset allocation. If you are going to use a buy-and-hold portfolio and get these sort of returns, you have to keep buying and keep holding through both the good times and bad.

Although I don’t believe it is explicitly mentioned in this book, Faber’s company has a new ETF that just happens to help you do these things. The Cambria Global Asset Allocation ETF (GAA) is an “all-in-one” ETF that includes 29 underlying funds with an approximate allocation of 40% stocks, 40% bonds, and 20% real assets. The total expense ratio is 0.29% which includes the expenses of the underlying funds with no separate management fee. The ETF holdings have a big chunk of various Vanguard index funds, but it also holds about 9% in Cambria ETFs managed by Faber.

Since it is an all-in-one fund, theoretically you can’t fiddle around with the asset allocation. That’s pretty much how automated advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment work as well. If you have more money to invest, you just hand it over and it will be invested for you, including regular rebalancing. The same idea has also been around for a while through the under-rated Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, which are also all-in-one but stick with simplicity rather than trying to capture possible higher returns though value, momentum, and real asset strategies. The Vanguard Target funds are cheaper though, at around 0.18% expense ratio.

Well, my portfolio already very low in costs. So my own takeaway is that I should… do nothing! :)

Alpha Architect also has a review of this book.

Why I Hold TIPS in My Portfolio (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities)

EconompicData has a nice, relatively brief post about the relationship between US Treasury bonds, TIPS, and inflation. I would hold either Treasuries or TIPS (or both) because they have the highest credit quality available, and that is a big part of why you should own bonds in the first place. Read the whole thing, but the conclusion below pretty much sums up why I prefer to have TIPS in my investment portfolio.

In normal market environments when inflation is relatively stable, long-term returns tend to be similar for both Treasuries and TIPS. However, TIPS materially outperform in an inflationary environment, while Treasury outperformance is capped by a rate roughly equal to the break-even inflation rate in a deflationary environment. Thus, assuming a view that an inflationary and deflationary scenario are equally likely, the unlimited potential outperformance of TIPS vs. Treasuries in an inflationary environment and limited upside of Treasuries vs. TIPS in a deflation environment would sway an investor towards TIPS.

Early Retirement Portfolio Income Update, Mid 2015

The closer I get to the reality of living off of my portfolio, the more I like the idea of living off dividend and interest income. However, you can’t just buy stocks with the highest dividend yields and junk bonds with the highest interest rates without giving up something in return. Certainly there are many bad investments lurking out there for desperate retirees looking for maximum income. My goal is to live off my portfolio income while not reaching too far for yield.

A quick and dirty way to see how much income (dividends and interest) your portfolio is generating is to take the “TTM Yield” or “12 Mo. Yield” from Morningstar quote pages. Trailing 12 Month Yield is the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. SEC yield is another alternative, but I like TTM because it is based on actual distributions (SEC vs. TTM yield article).

Below is a close approximation of my most recent portfolio update. I have changed my asset allocation slightly to 60% stocks and 40% bonds because I believe that will be my permanent allocation upon early retirement.

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (6/24/15) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
24% 1.79% 0.42%
US Small Value
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
3% 2.78% 0.08%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
24% 2.75% 0.81%
Emerging Markets Small Value
WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS)
3% 2.81% 0.09%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 3.76% 0.22%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLUX)
20% 1.63% 0.34%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VAIPX)
20% 2.18% 0.45%
Totals 100% 2.24%


The total weighted 12-month yield was 2.24%. This number is lower than the last three updates: 2.41%, 2.49%, and 2.31%. This means that if I had a $1,000,000 portfolio balance today, it would have generated $22,400 in interest and dividends over the last 12 months. Now, 2.24% is significantly lower than the 4% withdrawal rate often recommended for 65-year-old retirees with 30-year spending horizons, and is also lower than the 3% withdrawal that I prefer as a rough benchmark for early retirement. I should note that the muni bond interest in my portfolio is exempt from federal income taxes.

As noted previously, a simple benchmark for this portfolio is Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) which is an all-in-one fund that is also 60% stocks and 40% bonds. That fund has a trailing 12-month yield of 2.01%. (Last update, it was 2.09%.)

So how am I doing? Using the 2.24% income yield, the combination of ongoing savings and recent market gains have us at 72% of the way to matching our annual household spending target. If I switch to a 3% benchmark, we are 96% there. Consider that if all your portfolio did was keep up with inflation each year (0% real returns), you could still spend 2% a year for 50 years. From that perspective, a 2% spending rate seems like a very conservative lower bound.

Sadly, some valuation models predict exactly that: 0% real returns over a long time. My portfolio has certainly gone up a ton in value due to the ongoing bull market. Bottom line is that we are getting closer but not quite where we want to be.

Early Retirement Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, Mid 2015

Here’s a mid-year update on my investment portfolio holdings for 2015. This includes tax-deferred accounts like 401(k)s and taxable brokerage holdings, but excludes things like physical property and cash reserves (emergency fund). The purpose of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover all of our household expenses.

Target Asset Allocation


I try to pick asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I don’t hold commodities futures or gold as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly. In addition, I am not confident in them enough to know that I will hold them through an extended period of underperformance (i.e. don’t buy what you don’t can’t stick with).

Our current ratio is roughly 70% stocks and 30% bonds within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and rebalance. With a self-directed portfolio of low-cost funds and low turnover, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings


Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSMX, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VGTSX, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
WisdomTree Emerging Markets SmallCap Dividend ETF (DGS)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSIX, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard High-Yield Tax-Exempt Fund (VWAHX, VWALX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Notes and Benchmark Comparison

There has been very little portfolio activity over the last 6 months. No major market movements (the S&P 500 hasn’t moved more than 2% in day so far in 2015). No mutual funds added or removed. I continued to invest in the same funds through 401k auto-contributions and the occasional fund purchase from saved income. Things are little off, but I’ll just wait and rebalance with new money. Some of my usual savings has been diverted to college savings. Mostly, just keeping my head down and moving forward. :)

A simple benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) and Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX), one is 60/40 and one is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have returned about 3.5% YTD for 2015. I haven’t bothered to calculate my exact portfolio return, but it should be roughly around this number.

I like tracking my dividend and interest income more than overall market movements. In a separate post, I will update the amount of income that I am deriving from this portfolio along with how that compares to my expenses.

The Most Important Factor To Maximize In Your Portfolio

wrenchWhen it comes to constructing an investment portfolio for yourself, there are many things you could tweak and maximize. Obviously, you can look back at historical data and maximum past annual returns while minimizing volatility. For some, this means more stocks and less bonds. Or buying small companies over huge companies. Or buying “value” stocks with low price-to-book ratios over those with high price-to-book ratios. Or buying stocks with high dividend yields. Or buying asset classes with momentum. Or often, a big mishmash of all of the above.

But really, do most folks invest in these “optimized” portfolios really understand them? What if we worked to maximize something else instead?

From Patrick O’Shaughnessy of Investor Field Guide:

I believe the most pertinent question to ask about any systematic/quantitative strategy is not “how hard would this be to replicate” but rather “how hard would this be to stick with.”

From Tadas Viskanta of Abnormal Returns:

The best thing investors can do is put their time, effort and energies in finding a strategy they can stick with. The same goes for those who provide financial advice to a broad audience. This may not sell as well but at least it has some grounding in reality.

If you don’t understand why you’re buying something, then it may be better just to stay away until you do. For example, I don’t understand commodities futures or oil prices. I don’t understand gold at all. If their prices fall, I have no idea if, when, or why they will rebound. (But you might.) In contrast, if buy all the US companies weighted by their market value, then I feel confident that eventually those companies as a group will work things out and come back. (But you might not.) I also hold a big slug of government and municipal bonds as I think they have very low credit risk. (You might disagree.)

This need for understanding can be either a positive or negative when making the case for financial advisors. A good financial advisor will explain things in a manner you understand, and keep you on track during times of stress. A bad financial advisor will simply sell you an “advanced” portfolio vetted by super-skilled geniuses, leaving you even more scared during a market crisis (“if even the smart guys didn’t see this coming, then is the sky falling?!?”).

Bottom line: Think carefully about how likely are you to stick with your portfolio during both boom times and panic. 

Liquidating My LendingClub Loans Using Folio Investing

I recently finished liquidating the remaining loans in my $5,000 LendingClub P2P portfolio, but due to a unfortunate crash I lost many of my notes and screenshots. I can still share the most important parts like my final results and selling recommendations.


As when liquidating my $5k Prosper P2P portfolio,
I used the “Trading Account” option – run by outside brokerage firm Folio Investing – which allows me to sell my notes to other individuals which . For residents of many states, the only way to buy LendingClub P2P loans is on this secondary market as they are not allowed buy them directly. In my opinion, this makes the pricing of the notes more competitive than with Prosper.

Prospers allows an auction format for selling notes, but LendingClub does not. Instead, you must set a price and either someone volunteers to buy it or not. Folio Investing charges a 1% transaction fee to the seller of the note after a completed transaction. If the note does not sell, then you simply keep your note and pay no fees. It’s hard to know the market value of each note, as there is no real-time data based on past sales of similar notes available.


Due to the constraints of this setup, if you want to optimize your selling price and don’t care about your time spent, you should initially list all of your loans at a significant premium of say 5% above principal. If they sell, they sell. Usually there is a large enough group of bidders that if they don’t sell within a day, they probably won’t ever sell. If they don’t sell, then you lose nothing but time. Next, reprice your notes after 24 hours and lower the markup to say 4%. Rinse and repeat at 3% premium, 2% premium, 1% premium, par, 1% discount, 2% discount, and so on until nearly all your notes should be sold within a week.

After that, you’ll probably be left with loans that have a previous late payment or two somewhere in there, which note buyers seem to avoid like the plague even if the loans revert to current. If you really want to sell those last few loans, you may have to put them up at significant discount of 10% or more.

(LendingClub does not allow the sale of loans that are currently late or in default. This can be annoying when a loan become late after you list it for sale, and thus gets pulled. So close!)

However, I was impatient and I just wanted to sell my notes with minimal time spent. I basically put up all of my notes at par (no markup or discount) and the vast majority of them sold within a few hours. In retrospect, I could have definitely listed them at a higher price. Then I started discounting the remaining loans heavily so they would also sell quickly. I reasoned that missing out of 1% of my entire $1,400 portfolio was just $14. In then end, I got back 98.8% of my principal before the 1% fee, or 97.8% of my principal after the 1% fee.

Once the trade clears, transfers from LendingClub to my bank account were very, very quick. I initiated the transfer during a weekday during work hours and at midnight my bank alerted me that an electronic deposit had been made.

So now the only thing left in my portfolio is a single 30+ days late loan that I can’t sell, with a remaining principal of $6.09. I doubt I’ll ever see that money anyway, so I consider my account completely liquidated. The good news is that it should be fully charged-off by the end of 2015, so I won’t have any more tax concerns past the 2015 tax year.

Recap. In my experience, you should be able to liquidate your current LendingClub loans within a week while still roughly maximizing your the market value of your notes. You should have the money in your bank account by the end of the second week. For current notes, you should be able to average a gross sale price very close to or even higher than the current face value (principal + accrued interest) of your loans. Keep in mind the 1% transaction fee paid by seller. You may have some “leftover” late loans that will take a few more months to fully charge-off and realize losses.

The True Value of a Real, Human Financial Advisor


The hot buzzword right now is “FinTech”, where technology will help us manage our finances more and efficiently than before. But I’ve also been tracking the reasons why working with a human advisor can be worth the money and time spent. As I’ve mentioned, the strength of the book The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards is that you’re hearing the voice of an experienced financial planner who also has the skill of distilling his experiences down to a sketch. Here’s how he puts it:


Takeaway: A good financial advisor keeps you from making The Big Mistake that derails your plans.

The big institution Vanguard says that a good financial advisor should be able to improve the performance of a “average” client’s portfolio by about three percentage points in the following ways. Take note of which one factor makes up half of that 3%:


Takeaway: The biggest “value add” from good advisors is their “behavioral coaching”.

Here’s more incisive commentary by Josh Brown of The Reformed Broker, called When the flood comes:

When the flood comes, all of the bullshit arguments among the financial commentariat will come to an end. This will be my third time through. Believe me. We will not be arguing about how many basis points an advisor charges versus another advisor or a software program.

The people who are there for their clients and keep a cool head in public will come through okay. More than okay – they’ll actually raise assets from new and existing households who realize what a mistake they’ve made with their previous advisor or solution.

Takeaway: A good client advisor will help you keep your cool when the next disaster comes.

I’m sure you’ve caught onto the theme by now.

The value in a financial advisor arrives when they help you maintain your plan through both the good times and bad. They will prevent you from participating in the mania during the next bubble, and they will keep you from bailing out during the next crisis.

The problem is, how do you find this “good” financial advisor amongst a sea of average to downright dangerous ones? Here’s some advice from The One-Page Financial Plan:

To a certain extent, the process of finding a real financial advisor is a qualitative experience. It boils down to the question “Can I see this person getting to know me well enough so that I can trust him to help me behave for the next twenty years of my life?” Yes, you should verify that they’re properly registered. Do a Google search of their regulatory record. I’m not talking about blind trust here— the kind that would allow someone to steal your money. I’m talking about finding someone who’s willing to get to know your goals and values well enough to help you stick with your plan. Remember, your financial advisor is the only one standing between you and the Big Mistake of buying high and selling low. You’re hiring them to do what you can’t: make unemotional decisions about your portfolio. If they can’t do that, why pay them?

Now, I still don’t see myself hiring an outside advisor. But I do keep my portfolio conservative enough that my portfolio “boat” stays relatively stable even in rough weather. We’ll see if I can remain unemotional during the next flood, as it is not a matter of “if” but “when” the next one comes along.