This Becky Quick Quote Sums Up the Buffett and Munger Partnership

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

After finishing up the 4-part CNBC Squawk Podcast containing the full “Wealth of Wisdom” interview with Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the journalist Becky Quick summed up the essence of their 60-year friendship and partnership (emphasis mine):

It’s not a complicated lesson, it’s probably just one we don’t sit on and reflect upon often enough. You should surround yourself with people who inspire you, and people you don’t want to disappoint. That’s what it’s all about, right? Making sure we are all our best selves. It’s such a universal truth. All of us can look at the relationships we’ve had over the years, and what inspires you to do better? It’s really those people who put faith in you, and wow, you don’t want to let them down.

Definitely something to reflect upon.

I enjoy all of these CNBC interviews with Becky Quick – you can see that she has a comfortable and respectful relationship with them, while still pressing them for clarity on certain issues. As soon as the interview officially ends, Becky Quick lets out a laugh and remarks:

You’d rather be in jail… than work at a corporation!?!”

Technically, Warren Buffet says he would rather be in jail with some interesting people and a good pile of books… rather than micro-managing the daily activities and hundred of employees of Berkshire subsidiaries. I get your point, Warren! 👍

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Creating a 10-Year Backup Plan For (Post) Early Retirement

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

My contrarian thought of the day? I feel that the retirement planning industry downplays the role of luck. Life is not a as certain as the smooth exponential curves that they show you. Perhaps the statistically optimal bet is to jump a bit early and hope for the best, while having a backup plan for the worst. You might just win an extra 10 years of freedom.

If you tinker with portfolio survival calculators like FireCalc and cFIREsim that model hundreds of possible paths, you may notice that the “failure” paths usually happen when a bear market occurs soon after you retire. If you keep spending when a portfolio is down, it may never recover.

Even if you have the same portfolio size, same withdrawals, and the same average returns, having the bad years occur upfront can lead to failure while having the bad years at the end can lead to success. This is known as sequence of returns risk.

sor_risk

Retiring in 2000 with a 4% withdrawal rate: Warning! 🚨🚨🚨 In 2021, most people happily accept that the stock market just goes up and up. However, every so often there will be a “lost decade”. If you retired in 2000 with a portfolio invested in the S&P 500 and used a 4% withdrawal rate (increasing each year by 3% for inflation), here’s how that would have looked like (yellow line):

Retiring in 2010 with a 4% withdrawal rate: More money than you started with. 💰💰💰 If you have solid returns upfront, then you gained a decade of priceless freedom! For retirees of the “Class of 2011”, consider that their portfolio is likely larger today in 2021 even after a decade of withdrawals.

Retiring in 2021? Crystal ball is cloudy. If you are in the retirement “Class of 2021”, many predictions call for another lost decade. Yet, even if the next 10 years have poor returns, better times may be right around the corner. From this article by Davis Advisors:

Though frustrating, stretches of disappointing results for the market are not unprecedented. History shows however, that these difficult stretches have been followed by periods of recovery. Why? Because lower prices increase future returns. – Christopher Davis

This article was written in 2012, and it turns out that Davis was right. As of Q2 2021, the trailing 10-year annual return of the S&P 500 is over 12% annualized. Here is a chart showing the subsequent 10-year performance after each past “lost decade of stock returns”.

Surviving the first 10 years of retirement. The lesson here is to avoid taking out big withdrawals during a stock market slump drop during the first 10 years, so that it can benefit from the rebound of the next 10 years. At the same time, you don’t want give up the chance of 10 extra years of freedom. Therefore, perhaps the best bet is to retire when you have a reached your chosen savings target (for example, 25 times annual expenses), but also maintain a detailed backup plan during the first 10 years. Here are some things you might include in that plan:

  • Plan ahead for way that you can temporarily cut back on spending if you need to. Big to small. For example, plan to move to a lower-cost city, country, or housing option.
  • Identify non-essential assets that you will sell if you need to. Vacation property, etc.
  • Maintain employment opportunities in your current career field. Go back to part-time, freelance, consulting, etc.
  • Have alternative employment plans in a different career field to create supplemental income.

(By “plan”, I mean written out on a piece of paper. This improves the clarity of your thinking.)

The most powerful way to counter “sequence of returns risk” is variable withdrawals – a fancy term for the brilliant idea of not taking out as much money from your portfolio when it is getting beaten down. But the first 10 years is the most important, and the first 10 years is probably the easiest to go back to the workforce in a limited capacity.

Bottom line. Deciding when to stop working can be a difficult, personality-driven decision, but one option is to retiring with 95-98% odds of success with a practical backup plan, rather than waiting several more years and reaching 99.5% odds of success. Accept that luck matters (and also that you might have to go back to work). However, you also might gain extra priceless years of freedom. Life is never 100% certain anyway.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

MMB Portfolio Update July 2021: Dividend and Interest Income

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

dividendmono225

While my July 2021 portfolio asset allocation is designed for total return, I also track the income produced quarterly. Stock dividends are the portion of profits that businesses have decided they don’t need to reinvest into their business. The dividends may suffer some short-term drops, but over the long run they have grown faster than inflation. Here is the historical growth of the S&P 500 absolute dividend, updated as of 2021 Q2 (source):

This means that if you owned enough of the S&P 500 to produce an annual dividend income of about $13,000 a year in 1999, then today those same shares would be worth a lot more AND your annual dividend income would have increased to $50,000 a year, even if you spent all that dividend income every year.

I track the “TTM” or “12-Month Yield” from Morningstar, which is the sum of the trailing 12 months of interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. I prefer this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a rough approximation of my portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 7/19/21) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
25% 1.26% 0.36%
US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR)
5% 1.60% 0.08%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
25% 2.44% 0.53%
Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
5% 1.98% 0.09%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 2.34% 0.24%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury ETF (VGIT)
17% 1.26% 0.26%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF (VTIP)
17% 1.35% 0.20%
Totals 100% 1.69%

 

Trailing 12-month yield history. Here is a chart showing how this 12-month trailing income rate has varied since I started tracking it in 2014.

Portfolio value reality check. One of the things I like about using this number is that when stock prices drop, this percentage metric usually goes up – which makes me feel better in a bear market. When stock prices go up, this percentage metric usually goes down, which keeps me from getting too euphoric during a bull market.

Here’s a related quote from Jack Bogle (source):

The true investor… will do better if he forgets about the stock market and pays attention to his dividend returns and to the operating results of his companies.

Absolute dividend income history. It was more difficult to track the absolute income produced as I’d have to remove the effect of additional investments, reinvestment of dividends and interest, rebalancing, and capital gains distributions. To get a general idea, I looked at the Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) to see what kind of income that $1 million back in 2014 would have generated up until today. This is not exactly my portfolio, but is somewhat close at a steady 80% stock/20% bond ratio with some international stock exposure. For example, it’s current 12-month yield is 1.59%.

During 2014, VASGX distributed about $0.61 of income per share, at an average price about $29 per share. That’s a yield of about 2.1%. So $1,000,000 of VASGX in 2014 would have distributed about $21,000 of annual income (about 34,482 shares).

Those same 34,482 shares would be worth about $1,510,000 currently (as of 7/16/2021 at $43.79 per share). In 2018, the income produced was roughly $27,500 a year (80 cents per share). In 2019, the income produced was $29,000 a year (84 cents per share). In 2020, the income produced was $23,000 a year (67 cents per share ).

Putting it all together. This quarter’s trailing income yield of 1.69% is the lowest ever since 2014. It is almost exactly 1% lower than what it was in late 2018. At the same time, both the portfolio value and the absolute income produced is higher than in 2014. If you retired back in 2014 and have been living off your stock/bond portfolio, you’ve been doing fine.

However, this is not necessarily good news going forward. There are countless articles debating this topic, but I historically support a 3% withdrawal rate as a reasonable target for planning purposes if you want to retire young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate as a reasonable target if retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). However, nobody is guaranteeing these numbers and flexibility may be required to make your portfolio reliably last a long time.

If you are not close to retirement, there is not much use worrying these decimal points. Your time is better spent focusing on earning potential via better career moves, investing in your skillset, and/or looking for entrepreneurial opportunities where you own equity in a business asset.

How we handle this income. Our dividends and interest income are not automatically reinvested. I treat this money as part of our “paycheck”. Then, as with a real paycheck, we can choose to either spend it or invest it again. Even if still working, you could use this money to cut back working hours, pursue new interests, start a new business, travel, perform charity or volunteer work, and so on.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

MMB Portfolio Update July 2021: Asset Allocation & Performance

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

portpie_blank200

Here’s my quarterly update on my current investment holdings as of July 2021, including our 401k/403b/IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts, and savings bonds but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a small portfolio of self-directed investments. Following the concept of skin in the game, the following is not a recommendation, but a real-world example of a mostly low-cost, diversified, simple DIY portfolio with a few customized tweaks. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings
I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my different accounts, adds up my various balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my overall asset allocation. Once a quarter, I also update my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are updated performance and asset allocation charts, per the “Allocation” and “Holdings” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market (VXUS, VTIAX)
Vanguard Small Value (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond (TIP)
Individual TIPS bonds
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. I do not spend a lot of time backtesting various model portfolios, as I don’t think picking through the details of the recent past will necessarily create superior future returns. Usually, whatever model portfolio is popular in the moment just happens to hold the asset class that has been the hottest recently as well.

I believe in the importance of doing your own research and owning productive assets in which you have strong faith. Every asset class will eventually have a low period, and you must have strong faith during these periods to truly make your money. You have to keep owning and buying more stocks through the stock market crashes. You have to maintain and even buy more rental properties during a housing crunch, etc.

Personally, I try to own broad, low-cost exposure to 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 have faith in the long-term benefit of owning publicly-traded US and international shares of businesses as well as high-quality US federal and municipal debt. I also own real estate through REITs.

Again, personally, I simply don’t have strong faith in the long-term results of commodities, gold, or bitcoin. I own my own house, but I choose not to participate in the higher potential gains but also higher potential risks (of both requiring more time and money) of rental real estate.

My US/international ratio floats with the total world market cap breakdown, currently at ~58% US and 42% ex-US. I’m fine with a slight home bias (owning more US stocks than the overall world market cap), but I want to avoid having an international bias.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 43% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 33% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 33% High-Quality Nominal bonds, US Treasury or FDIC-insured
  • 33% High-Quality Municipal Bonds
  • 33% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. I plan to only manually rebalance past that if the stock/bond ratio is still off by more than 5% (i.e. less than 62% stocks, greater than 72% stocks). With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we can minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. The world seems to have stabilized since the March 2020 market drop and overall panic, but I try not to get too attached to these numbers. They seem too good to be true, even as things continue to open up. All I can do is listen to the late Jack Bogle and “stay the course”. I remain optimistic that capitalism, human ingenuity, human resilience, human compassion, and our system of laws will continue to improve things over time.

I would like to note that when few people were paying attention, TIPS have had a pretty good run for an insurance-like investment. The iShares TIPS ETF (TIP) went up 8.3% in 2019 and 10.9% in 2020. The 10-year breakeven inflation rate between TIPS and Treasury is currently about 2.3%. I’m still happy owning a chunk of my bonds as TIPS.

Performance numbers. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio is up +9.4% for 2021 YTD. I rolled my own benchmark for my portfolio using 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +8.2% for 2021 YTD as of 7/18/2021.

I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Buffett & Munger Wealth of Wisdom on CNBC: Full Video and Transcript

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Update: Apparently there was a lot of the interview that wasn’t shown in the CNBC video below, but is being released in a four part series on their podcast, Squawk Pod. Let me know if you find a transcript.

Original post:

For the Buffett and Munger fans out there, Becky Quick had another CNBC special interview with the pair about their longtime friendship and partnership, called Buffett & Munger: A Wealth of Wisdom on June 29th, 2021. Thankfully, you can watch the full video online and/or read the full text transcript.

All in all, this interview didn’t offer a lot of new insights if you already listened to the 2021 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting and 2021 Daily Journal shareholder meeting (Robinhood still promotes gambling and Bitcoin is still a delusion), but it did provide a little more background into their personal histories.

Here is my single favorite quote from the interview (emphasis mine):

BUFFETT: And we’re still doing it, yeah. We made a lot of money. But what we really wanted was independence. And we have had the ability since pretty much a little after we met financially we could associate with people who we wanted to associate with. And if we had, if we associated with jerks, that was our problem. But we didn’t have to. We’ve had that luxury now for, you know, 60 years or close to it. And, and that beats 25-room houses and, you know, six cars or that stuff is, what really is great is if you can do what you want to do in life and associate with the people you want to associate with in life. And, now, it, it’s and, and we both had that, that spirit all the way through.

These two friends may be famous because they are rich, but they are happy because they are able to spend their time with people that they enjoy.

Buffett and Munger explicitly wanted to get rich, so they could be independent. True freedom is the ability to control how you spend your time. But that usually takes a certain amount of money, so we have the term “financial freedom”.

I think it’s okay to say “I want accumulate a lot of money for the next X months or years”, especially if you’re in debt. As Munger has also stated, the first $100,000 is the hardest. If you really want independence quickly, then you need to embrace some pain and sacrifice to earn your freedom. This is why I try not to criticize anyone taking “extreme” measures to improve their savings rate. Some people are willing to endure a very spartan lifestyle for independence sooner, while others aren’t, or they may have a higher income and not need to give up much.

At the same time, after reaching a certain level of financial stability, we then need to figure how what game we really want to play with our limited time on this planet, beyond simply buying more luxurious stuff. Buffett enjoyed the game of capital allocation and accumulating more dollars; that was his idea of fun. He even had a partner to play the game with him. For most people, I think continuing to make more money involves more stress and hard work.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Best Interest Rates on Cash – July 2021 Update

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash as of July 2021, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. You will find lesser-known opportunities to earn 3% APY and higher while still keeping your principal FDIC-insured or equivalent. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to see how much extra interest you’d earn by moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 7/13/2021.

Fintech accounts
Available only to individual investors, fintech companies often pay higher-than-market rates in order to achieve fast short-term growth (often using venture capital). I define “fintech” as a software layer on top of a different bank’s FDIC insurance. These do NOT require a certain number debit card purchases per month. Read about the types of due diligences you should do whenever opening a new bank account.

  • 3% APY on up to $100,000. The top rate is still 3% APY for July through September 2021 (actually up to 3.5% APY with their credit card), and they have not indicated any upcoming rate drop. HM Bradley requires a recurring direct deposit every month and a savings rate of at least 20%. See my HM Bradley review.
  • 3% APY on 10% of direct deposits + 1% APY on $25,000. One Finance lets you earn 3% APY on “auto-save” deposits (up to 10% of your direct deposit, up to $1,000 per month). Separately, they also pay 1% APY on up to another $25,000 with direct deposit. New customer $50 bonus via referral. See my One Finance review.
  • 3% APY on up to $15,000. Porte requires a one-time direct deposit of $1,000+ to open a savings account. New customer $100 bonus via referral. See my Porte review.
  • 1.20% APY on up to $50,000. OnJuno recently updated their rate tiers, while keeping their promise to existing customers with a grandfathered rate. If you don’t maintain a $500 direct deposit each month, you’ll still earn 1.20% on up to $5k. See my updated OnJuno review.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks pay essentially no interest, it’s easy to open a new “piggy-back” savings account and simply move some funds over from your existing checking account. The interest rates on savings accounts can drop at any time, so I list the top rates as well as competitive rates from banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you with a temporary top rate and then lower the rates in the hopes that you are too lazy to leave.

  • T-Mobile Money is still at 1.00% APY with no minimum balance requirements. The main focus is on the 4% APY on your first $3,000 of balances as a qualifying T-mobile customer plus other hoops, but the lesser-known perk is the 1% APY for everyone. Thanks to the readers who helped me understand this. There are several other established high-yield savings accounts at closer to 0.50% APY.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
A common question is what to do with a big pile of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple and take your time. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • No Penalty CDs offer a fixed interest rate that can never go down, but you can still take out your money (once) without any fees if you want to use it elsewhere. Marcus has a 7-month No Penalty CD at 0.45% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 0.50% APY for all balance tiers. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 0.30% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • CommunityWide Federal Credit Union has a 12-month CD at 0.85% APY ($1,000 min). Early withdrawal penalty is calculated as the amount of the withdrawal times the remaining term (days) of this certificate at the rate of 2 times the APR (divided by 365) paid on this certificate. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($5 one-time fee).

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
Many brokerage firms that pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). Unfortunately, money market fund rates are very low across the board right now. Ultra-short bond funds are another possible alternative, but they are NOT FDIC-insured and may experience short-term losses at times. These numbers are just for reference, not a recommendation.

  • The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund which has an SEC yield of 0.01%. Vanguard Cash Reserves Federal Money Market Fund (formerly Prime Money Market) currently pays 0.01% SEC yield.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 0.28% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 0.38% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so your principal may vary a little bit.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 0.25% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 0.36% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months.

Treasury Bills and Ultra-short Treasury ETFs
Another option is to buy individual Treasury bills which come in a variety of maturities from 4-weeks to 52-weeks. You can also invest in ETFs that hold a rotating basket of short-term Treasury Bills for you, while charging a small management fee for doing so. T-bill interest is exempt from state and local income taxes. Right now, this section isn’t very interesting as T-Bills are yielding close to zero!

  • You can build your own T-Bill ladder at TreasuryDirect.gov or via a brokerage account with a bond desk like Vanguard and Fidelity. Here are the current Treasury Bill rates. As of 7/13/2021, a new 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.05% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.07% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a -0.09% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a -0.12% (!) SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest. The annual purchase limit is $10,000 per Social Security Number, available online at TreasuryDirect.gov. You can also buy an additional $5,000 in paper I bonds using your tax refund with IRS Form 8888.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2021 and October 2021 will earn a 3.54% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2021, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.
  • See below about EE Bonds as a potential long-term bond alternative.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are severely capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). There is a long list of previous offers that have already disappeared with little notice. I don’t personally recommend nor use any of these anymore, as I feel the work required and risk of messing up exceeds any small potential benefit.

  • Mango Money pays 6% APY on up to $2,500, if you manage to jump through several hoops. Requirements include $1,500+ in “signature” purchases and a minimum balance of $25.00 at the end of the month.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops which usually involve 10+ debit card purchases each cycle, a certain number of ACH/direct deposits, and/or a certain number of logins per month. If you make a mistake (or they judge that you did) you risk earning zero interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others would rather not bother. Rates can also drop suddenly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling.

  • The Bank of Denver pays 2.00% APY on up to $25,000 if you make 12 debit card purchases of $5+ each, receive only online statements, and make at least 1 ACH credit or debit transaction per statement cycle. The rate recently dropped. If you meet those qualifications, you can also link a Kasasa savings account that pays 1.00% APY on up to $50k. Thanks to reader Bill for the updated info.
  • Devon Bank has a Kasasa Checking paying 2.50% APY on up to $10,000, plus a Kasasa savings account paying 2.50% APY on up to $10,000 (and 0.85% APY on up to $50,000). You’ll need at least 12 debit transactions of $3+ and other requirements every month.
  • Presidential Bank pays 2.25% APY on balances up to $25,000, if you maintain a $500+ direct deposit and at least 7 electronic withdrawals per month (ATM, POS, ACH and Billpay counts).
  • Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union pays 3.30% APY on up to $20,000. You’ll need at least 15 debit transactions and other requirements every month.
  • Lake Michigan Credit Union pays 3.00% APY on up to $15,000. You’ll need at least 10 debit transactions and other requirements every month.
  • Find a locally-restricted rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
CDs offer higher rates, but come with an early withdrawal penalty. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider building a CD ladder of different maturity lengths (ex. 1/2/3/4/5-years) such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account. When one CD matures, use that money to buy another 5-year CD to keep the ladder going. Some CDs also offer “add-ons” where you can deposit more funds if rates drop.

  • NASA Federal Credit Union has a special 49-month Share Certificate at 1.35% APY ($10,000 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 1 year of interest. Anyone can join this credit union by joining the National Space Society (free). Note that NASA FCU may perform a hard credit check as part of new member application.
  • Abound Credit Union has a special 18-month Share Certificate at 0.80% APY ($500 min), a special 47-month Share Certificate at 1.45% APY ($500 min), and a 59-month Share Certificate at 1.35% APY ($500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 1 year of interest (and only with the consent of the credit union, so be aware). Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($10 one-time fee).
  • Lafayette Federal Credit Union has a 5-year CD at 1.26% APY ($500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 6 months of interest. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($10 one-time fee).
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. You may need an account to see the rates. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance and easy laddering, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. Right now, I see a 5-year CD at 1.00% APY. Be wary of higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10 years? You can buy long-term certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. You might find something that pays more than your other brokerage cash and Treasury options. Right now, I see a 10-year CD at 1.80% APY vs. 1.41% for a 10-year Treasury. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a unique guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently 0.10%). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. But if holding for 20 years isn’t an issue, it can also serve as a hedge against prolonged deflation during that time. Purchase limit is $10,000 each calendar year for each Social Security Number. As of 7/13/2021, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 1.96%.

All rates were checked as of 7/13/2021.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Vanguard: Improving Portfolio Safe Withdrawal Rates for FIRE

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Vanguard Research has published a new whitepaper titled Fuel for the FIRE: Updating the 4% rule for early retirees, which discusses its assumptions and how different factors can hurt or improve your odds of success. Many of these topics have been discussed at length elsewhere, but as always I appreciate the power of concise definitions and simple charts to help with understanding.

Here is a nice, concise definition for FIRE:

FIRE stands for “Financial Independence Retire Early.” FIRE investors save as much of their income as possible during their working years, hoping to attain financial independence at a young age and maintain it through the rest of their life—aka retirement.

Here is a nice, concise history of the 4% Rule:

Bengen (1994) calculated the maximum percentage that retirees could withdraw annually from their portfolio without running out of money over 30 years. Advisors refer to this percentage as the safe withdrawal rate. Bengen summarized his findings as follows: “Assuming a minimum requirement of 30 years of portfolio longevity, a first-year withdrawal rate of 4 percent, followed by inflation-adjusted withdrawals in subsequent years, should be safe.” And the 4% rule was born.

Here are the potential issues with the assumptions embedded within the 4% rule:

  • The use of historical returns as a guide for future returns
  • A retirement horizon of 30 years
  • Returns equal to those of market indexes, without accounting for fees
  • A portfolio invested only in domestic assets (“home bias”)
  • A fixed percentage withdrawal in real terms (“dollar plus inflation”)

Here are suggested adjustments. Additional, helpful details are in the paper.

Don’t assume historical averages will hold for the future. Vanguard calculates their own forward-looking estimates based on factors like stock P/E ratios, current bond interest rates, and recent inflation statistics. They are a lot lower than historical averages, as seen in the graphic above (at the top of this post).

Understand that your retirement horizon may be much longer than 30 years. The longer a portfolio has to last, the more likely it can fail.

Minimize costs. Advisor fees, mutual fund and ETF fees, taxes, and other fees will cut directly into your net income. 1% in investment fees makes a big impact.

Invest in a diversified portfolio. Vanguard believes that adding some international assets will improve your chances of success. Right now, international stocks have lower valuations (P/E and related) as compared to US stocks.

Use a dynamic spending strategy. As you can see below, this is one of the most powerful ways to improve your odds of success. If you can spend less during a bear market (while also getting to spend more in a bull market), your portfolio’s chances of survival improve dramatically. Either your budget has enough “padding” such that cutting back won’t hurt much, or it hurts but you are willing to endure that temporary pain, or you maintain the option to work a little to earn some additional income if needed.

Vanguard doesn’t give any hard numbers when it comes to replacing the 4% number, but the lower expected future returns, longer time horizon, and fee impact all point to a lower number. However, being flexible with your portfolio withdrawals can raise the number.

I enjoy thinking about these sorts of variables and ways to optimize, but the fact is that nobody knows the future “safe” withdrawal rate, even within a percentage point. You have to let go of the idea of 100% certainty. Planning for flexibility (identifying areas to cut back temporarily, maintaining backup work options) and having belief in your ability to adapt is critical for pulling off FIRE at any reasonable withdrawal rate (say 3% to 4%). FIRE is about balancing the fear of running out of money with the fear of running out of time.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Stockpile Review: Starter Investing For Kids, Buy Stock Gifts via Credit Card With No Fee

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Stockpile is a niche stock broker that is designed for beginner investors, especially children. You can purchase a gift card for $25, $50, $100, etc. and then a child/parent can redeem that gift card an open their own custodial brokerage account. They receive fractional shares of Apple, Amazon, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, or an index fund ETF which they can watch go up and down in value (or sell). Their tagline is “Starting is everything.”

There are no monthly fees or account minimums. However, until now, they did have trading fees and gift card fees. Before July 2021, Stockpile had a trading fee of 99 cents if paid with cash (fund with bank account) and 99 cents + 3% if paid with credit/debit cards. There was also an additional $2.99 e-gift fee for the first stock (+ 99 cents for each additional company). Physical gift cards had slightly higher fees. Here is how much it used to cost to gift $100 of stock:

If you give Jack one stock, the gifting fee is $2.99 + 3%. To give $100 of Nike stock, for example, you’ll pay $100 + $2.99 + $3.00 = $105.99.

No trading fees. No debit/credit card transaction fees. As of July 7th, 2021, Stockpile announced that they are getting rid of trading fees and gift card fees. You can buy a $100 stock gift card with a credit card for a total price of $100, and the recipient will receive the full $100 of Nike stock or whatever. You can email an “e-gift card”, or print out a physical voucher. (The giver can put a suggested company like Apple on the card, but the recipient can choose to buy a different company.) Here’s a screenshot from the e-mail they send out:

Here’s what they say regarding payment methods:

What payment methods do you accept?
We try to make buying stock as easy as accessible as we can! That means we offer a multitude of ways to get started with investing. The cheapest and most simple is by linking your bank to your Stockpile account. You can link your bank account by following the instructions here. You can also add cash instantly to your Stockpile account using a debit card.

When buying stock on the web, we accept all major debit cards.

You’ll notice it is silent regarding credit cards. A quiet quirk: You can’t buy stocks directly with a credit card for your own Stockpile account, but you can buy e-gift cards using a credit card which can then be redeemed for stock by anyone. Here is a screenshot of the ability to buy a gift card using a credit card with no fees.

Whenever a 3% credit card transaction fee is removed, it makes it more attractive to pay with a credit card in order to generate cash back or airline miles rewards. The possibility of earning 2% cash back upfront on every stock purchase sounds intriguing, but a potential drawback to this is that Stockpile isn’t a full-service brokerage firm, it’s more of a stock piggy bank for kids with limited customer service and support features. (It’s still SIPC-insured.) I don’t know that I’d want to build up my primary portfolio there, even if they do offer broad ETFs like Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI). Unfortunately, they don’t offer IRAs, so you can’t do your annual IRA contribution.

Another option would be to buy a cash-like ETF. Two options in their catalog are PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active ETF (MINT) and Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL). Potential drawbacks here are that the largest gift card you can buy is for $2,000, and they may limit how many gift cards you can purchase.

I tested this out myself as I already have a Stockpile account from a previous promotion, and I was able to successfully buy a $25 gift card using a Chase credit card, but another credit card was rejected. The purchase total was exactly $25, and it was redeemed for exactly $25 of stock (Berkshire Hathaway to avoid dividends and thus extra tax paperwork).

How will Stockpile make money without charging even credit card transaction fees? Even if Stockpile accepts “payment for order flow”, their volume must be relatively low (no daytraders here) and the spread percentage would be far less than 3% on a trade. A better guess is that they found their “breakage” to be sufficient to cover the fees, which refers to the fact that 20% of all gift cards are never redeemed even after a year. (Ever notice how many gift cards are 20% off face value at Costco and Sam’s Club?)

You pay upfront for the gift card, but if they are never redeemed, then Stockpile just gets to keep that as profit. Their breakage is probably less than 20%, but perhaps it is enough for them to make this move.

Bottom line. If you want to teach a kid about stock investing by giving them actual shares of stock, Stockpile is a convenient way to do so and now has no trading fees and no gift card purchase fees. Spend exactly $100 on a gift card, even using a credit card, and they’ll get exactly $100 worth of stock.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Big List of Free Stocks For New Commission-Free Brokerage Apps (Updated 2021)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Updated, added All of Us $25 bonus, M1 Finance up to $50 bonus. I have the strange hobby of trying out new fintech apps while also collecting their sign-up incentives. Here are several different brokerage apps that offer some variation of free stock trades, modern user interface, real-time quotes, and social sharing. Many are structured like a free lottery ticket with a minimum payout – the odds are that you’ll get a stock valued on the lower end of the ranges mentioned, but I have gotten a few big shares like AAPL before the recent split. They usually require a referral link, which means I can get some free stocks as well. A couple are offering 2X to 4X their usual bonuses right now.

M1 Finance $50 Offer

  • Open an M1 Finance account and get $50 after you use a referral link and make an initial deposit of $100 for taxable accounts and $500 for IRAs within 30 days of sign-up, and not withdraw the initial deposit within 30 days. If you are transferring over a sizable portfolio from another brokerage, you can earn much more money with a transfer bonus (see main post). This is a limited-time offer, the standard offer is only $10.
  • M1 is different in that it actually promotes a long-term buy-and-hold portfolio and it automatically invests and rebalances your contributions according to your chose “pie”. See my M1 Finance post for more details.
  • I opened my account with no bonus, just wanted to try out their software.

All of Us Financial $25 Cash Bonus Offer (may help to open in mobile browser)

  • Open an All of Us account and deposit just $10 from a linked bank account to get a $25 cash bonus.
  • All of US promises to be different by being extremely transparent in how they earn money from each individual user and to rebate 10% of their payment for order flow revenue and 30% of securities lending revenue back to users.
  • I have gotten my free bonus from All of US as promised without issue, just two days after my deposit posted.

Stash $20 in Free Stock Offer

  • Open a Stash account and deposit as little as a penny ($0.01) and get $20 worth of free stock (or cash).
  • Stash allows you to invest as little as $5 into fractional shares of individual companies and/or ETFs. This is an improved offer, the standard offer is only $5 of free stock.
  • Stash runs a #StashStockParty every other day or so, where they give out tiny pieces of popular companies using those fractional shares. I’ve gotten 30 cents of Peloton, John Deere, Figs, Sonos, Johnson and Johnson, Krispy Kreme, Oatly, Home Depot, Hershey, and more. It’s irrationally enjoyable.
  • I have gotten my free bonus from Stash as promised without issue. See my Stash review for details.

MooMoo 4 Free Stocks Offer

  • Open a Moomoo account and get 1 free stock worth from $3 to $350 each. Deposit $100 to get 1 free stock worth from $8 to $1,000 each. When your net deposit reaches $5,000, you will get 2 more free stock shares worth $8 to $1,000 each. That’s a total of up to 4 free stocks worth up to $3,350 total. Deposits must arrive within 90 days of account opening.
  • Moomoo offers free stock trades, free options trades, and a full-featured brokerage account. This is a limited-time offer, the standard offer is only one free share of stock.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free stocks as promised without issue.

WeBull 2 Free Stocks Offer

  • Open a Webull brokerage account and get 2 FREE stocks valued at up to $2,30 total. Just open an account and get a free stock valued from $3 to $300. Make an initial deposit of just $5+ and get a free stock valued from $8 to $2,000.
  • WeBull will also reimburse you for a transfer fee up to $100 if you transfer at least $2,000+ value to WeBull from another brokerage.
  • WeBull offers free stock trades, free options trades, free crypto trades, and a full-featured brokerage account. This is a limited-time offer, the standard offer is only one free share of stock.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free share of stock as promised without issue. See my WeBull review for more details.

TradeUP 5 Free Stocks Offer (Open in mobile browser)

  • Open a TradeUP account (no deposit required) and get 1 free stock worth between $2 to $15. Make an initial deposit of $100 and get 1 additional free higher-priced stock worth from $15 up to $1,000 each. Make an initial deposit of $1,000+ and get 2 additional free stocks worth up to $1,000 each. Make an initial deposit of $5,000 and get 3 free stocks worth up to $1,000 each. Make an initial deposit of $5,000 and get 4 free stocks worth up to $1,000 each.
  • TradeUP will also reimburse you for a brokerage transfer fee up to $200 if you meet their requirements.
  • TradeUP is a backed by Marsco Investment Corporation and offers free stock trades, free real-time quotes, and a full-featured brokerage account.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free stocks as promised without issue.

Firstrade 2 Free Stocks Offer

  • Open a Firstrade account and get a free share of stock ($3 to $200 value) right away. Deposit or transfer $100 or more within 30 days of account approval for an additional free share of stock. This is a limited-time offer as the usual bonus is only one free share of stock.
  • Firstrade actually a long-established traditional discount brokerage that offers free stock trades, free options, and free mutual fund trades. There have been bigger past bonuses with $2,000 minimum deposits, but this one requires nothing but a new approved account.
  • I’ve had a Firstrade account for several years, got a bonus way back when as promised without issue. See my Firstrade review.

SoFi Invest Free $50 Stock Bit Offer

  • Open a SoFi Invest account and deposit at least $5,000 to get $50 worth of your favorite stock. Choose from over 100 popular stocks like Amazon, Tesla, Disney, Apple, and Nike.
  • SoFi offers free stock trades, free fractional trades, and free crypto trades.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free share of stock as promised without issue.

Public Free Stock Offer

  • Open a Public account via referral download link (open in mobile) and get a free stock slice. No deposit required.
  • Public app offers free fractional stock trades, in additional to the ability to share your portfolio.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free share of stock as promised without issue. Be sure to open the link in a mobile web browser, which will redirect you to the app download.

Robinhood Free Stock Offer

  • Open a Robinhood account and link a bank account to get a free share of stock (up to $200 value). No deposit required.
  • Robinhood app offers free stock trades, free fractional trades, and free crypto trades.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free share of stock as promised without issue.

Voyager Free $25 Bitcoin Offer (open link in mobile web browser)

  • Open a Voyager account and trade $100 of crypto to get $25 in Bitcoin free. Use link above and/or promo code JONA3F at sign-up.
  • Voyager app offers free crypto trades and allows you to earn interest on cryptocurrencies.
  • Earn 10% APY on USDC stablecoin deposits.
  • I have done this deal and gotten my free BTC as promised without issue.

Coinbase Free $5 Bitcoin Offer

  • Open a Coinbase account and get $5 in Bitcoin free after your photo ID is verified.
  • Earn $40+ in free crypto when you learn more about different cryptocurrencies.
  • Earn 4% APY on USDC stablecoin deposits.
  • Coinbase is a publicly-traded company and the world’s largest crypto exchange. Consider upgrading to Coinbase Pro for lower fees.

Blockfi Up to $250 Bitcoin Offer

  • Open a Coinbase account and up to $250 bonus Bitcoin for new deposits. Start with a little as $25 and get $15 bonus BTC.
  • Earn 7.5% APY on USDC stablecoin deposits, and they also have a a href=”https://www.mymoneyblog.com/blockfi-promo.html” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Bitcoin rewards credit card that increases your APY by another 2%.
My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats Infographic: Current Dividend Yield vs. Years of Consecutive Dividend Growth

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

A Dividend Aristocrat is a company in the S&P 500 index that has paid and increased its dividend payout every year for at least 25 consecutive years. You’re looking at companies that have had such reliable profits over multiple economic cycles that they can just keep sending checks to their shareholders every quarter while still not only maintaining but growing their business. Visual Capitalist just created a Dividend Aristocrat infographic that shows all 65 companies on the 2021 list, charted by current dividend yield and years of consecutive dividend growth.

Genuine Parts (GPC) and Dover Corp (DOV) have increased their dividend payout for 65 consecutive years!

Each year, some companies may be added or removed. For example, new in 2021 are IBM (IBM), NextEra Energy (NEE) and West Pharmaceutical Services (WST). Removed in 2021 are Raytheon (RTX), Carrier Global (CARR), Otis Worldwide (OTIS), Church and Dwight (CHD), and Stryker Corporation (SYK). Note that companies are sometimes removed because they were acquired by another company without the same dividend history.

I’ve always maintained a small side account where I own individual stocks and alternative investments. “Play Money”, “Mad Money”, “Fun Money”, whatever you want to call it. Even though it is only a small percentage of my net worth, I have enjoyed growing it over time and learning from the process. For example, I have found that in times of crisis, I am actually more comfortable buying more of the individual companies inside my self-directed account than buying my trusty broad index funds. I’m also a very low turnover investor, and usually make fewer trades per year than fingers on my hands.

I don’t solely buy companies on this list, but many of the companies are good research ideas if you like to learn about history. I prefer the idea of reliable and growing dividend income, not just momentarily “high” dividend yield. Of course, there are many solid companies that don’t satisfy the requirements for this list, and even list includes questionable companies will be eventually cut (like AT&T, which has already announced a future dividend cut even though still on this chart).

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

DIY Inflation-Protected Pension: Fewer Retirees Claiming Social Security at Age 62

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

An important lever in building your retirement income is timing when you start claiming your Social Security benefits. While you can start as early as age 62, your monthly benefit increases each year that you delay claiming (up until age 70). For example, here is what my payout would be at various claiming ages if I stopped working today*:

By forgoing the potential income during those initial years, I can “buy” a larger Social Security benefit for the rest of my life – essentially an inflation-adjusted lifetime annuity that happens to be backed the US government, as opposed to an insurance company that has a small-but-nonzero chance of failure. There is a big different between $100 a month and $100 month always adjusted for CPI inflation for the next 30 to 40 years. From this WSJ article:

“The very best annuity you can buy is to delay Social Security,” says Steve Vernon, an actuary who is a consulting research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity. Mr. Vernon, 67 years old, is himself working part time so he can delay claiming Social Security until age 70.

Did you know that there are now zero insurance companies that sell new annuities that pay lifetime income linked to inflation (CPI)? You can find some with fixed annual increases, but none will guarantee the increases to track inflation. Not a single for-profit company wants to take on the risk of future inflation. Think about that.

For a long time, the most common age of claiming was age 62, as soon as possible. However, this chart from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shows that the current trend is that fewer and fewer people are doing that, especially in the last 10 years (hat tip Abnormal Returns). The curve tracks the percentage of people turning 62 that start claim age 62. (This is different than percentage of all claimants, because there is a growing number of 62-year-olds overall.)

I haven’t found any official surveys about the reason for this trend, but here are some possibilities:

  • Fewer people “need” Social Security income right away, because they are healthier and/or able to find work for longer.
  • The stock market has been going up pretty consistently over the last 10 years, so fewer people need the income to start right away.
  • Fewer people “want” Social Security right away, because they expect to live longer or have been educated about the potential benefits of delayed claiming. They want the higher paycheck and are willing to wait.

There are definitely more free tools out there to help you make this decision. My payout chart above was based on mySocialSecurity.gov and SSA.tools and other free calculator is OpenSocialSecurity.com. OpenSocialSecurity actually told me that the optimal choice was for one of us to claim at 62 and the other to wait until 70, so early claiming isn’t always a bad thing.

* Wait, I’m less than 20 years from being able to claim Social Security?! 😱

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Single Family Rental Homes: Asset Class with 8.5% Historical Returns

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

How about this housing market? A few weeks ago, the CEO of Redfin shared a viral Twitter thread about what he was seeing. Here’s just a snippet:

It has been hard to convey, through anecdotes or data, how bizarre the U.S. housing market has become. For example, a Bethesda, Maryland homebuyer working with @Redfin included in her written offer a pledge to name her first-born child after the seller. She lost.

Inventory is down 37% year over year to a record low. The typical home sells in 17 days, a record low. Home prices are up a record amount, 24% year over year, to a record high. And still homes sell on average for 1.7% higher than the asking price, another record.

What about single-family homes as an investment asset class? Larry Swedroe points to a recent academic study about the historical total returns of single family rentals. Here are some highlights from the paper:

  • The study covers the nearly 30-year period from 1986 to 2014, including zip codes across the largest 15 US metro areas.
  • Total return is broken down into two components: rental income (net of expenses) and house price appreciation, similar to the dividend income and price appreciation of stocks.
  • Across all cities, the total returns were approximately the same: 8.5% total annualized return. On average, this broke down to 4.2% rental income + 4.3% price appreciation.
  • In higher-priced cities, the total returns were composed of lower rental yields but higher price appreciation.
  • In lower-priced cities, the total returns were composed of higher rental yields but lower price appreciation.
  • On average, they found that net rental income is about 60% of gross rental income. In other words, for every $1,000 of gross rent, $400 was eaten up by operating expenses like maintenance, repairs, property taxes, etc.
  • Single family rentals represent 35% of all rented housing units in the US, and have a market value of approximately $2.3 trillion.

According to Swedroe, during the same period the S&P 500 returned 10.7% annualized but with more volatility.

I definitely acknowledge rental properties are the way that many people have built wealth. As individuals can combine cheap leverage from government-subsidized mortgages along with that 8.5% annualized return, that could make the overall return even better than stocks.

I’ve thought about purchasing a rental property (or four) as well, but I’ve always ended up using my time and life energy in other ways. In the end, I look at managing rental properties as more similar to running your own business. If you have the right personality and skillset, then managing rental properties is a great business and a great way to build wealth in terms of return on invested time. But for me, I’d much rather work on online businesses, what I call “digital real estate”. With excess cash from work, I invest in completely passive shares of businesses (stocks) and REITs which require zero ongoing work. When I am fully retired, the dividend checks will simply show up in my brokerage account. I don’t need to screen tenants, hassle them about late rent, argue about security deposits, or worry about evicting a family during hard times.

What about simply buying an REIT that owns single-family rentals? It appears the two biggest are Invitation Homes (INVH) with 80,000 single-family homes and American Homes 4 Rent (AMH) with 50,000 single-family homes. As you might expect, their recent returns have also been quite hot. The 5-year average return for AMH is 17.45%, per Morningstar, but it’s too young to have a 10-year return history. However, the current forward dividend yields of 1.80% (INVH) and 1.02% (AMH) aren’t terribly exciting.

Here’s a 5-year historical performance chart of American Homes 4 Rent alongside some other REITs and the S&P 500, from YCharts. Buying a specific REIT, even if it owns thousands of properties, can still result in a wide range of results.

If you own the broad Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ), you’ll find that 14% of its portfolio is invested in residential REITs. This includes apartments, student housing, manufactured homes, and single-family homes. INVH is about 1.2% and AMH is about 0.65% portfolio weight in VNQ. The mutual fund version of VNQ is VGSLX, and has a 10.5% annualized average return since inception in 2001. That’s not too bad, either, and I’ve been pretty satisfied with my VNQ holding.

But again, single-family real estate is one of the original “side hustles” that helped folks build their own wealth over time. Sometimes, I wonder if I should work on building the required skills and knowledge base, just to keep my future options open and have something to teach my children.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.