Best Interest Rates on Cash – April 2020

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The Federal Reserve further cut their target Fed Funds Rate to zero in March, so we continue to see a steady stream of rate drops on cash savings. I hope that some of you got a nice rate locked-in if you tried to refinance your mortgage.

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for April 2020, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I track these rates because I keep 12 months of expenses as a cash cushion and also invest in longer-term CDs (often at lesser-known credit unions) when they yield more than bonds. 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 4/2/2020.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks make huge profits while paying you 0.01% APY, 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.

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 1.70% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.55% APY with a $25,000 minimum deposit. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.70% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • CIT Bank has a few competitive term CDs at similar rates: 12-month CD at 1.86% APY ($1,000 min), 13-month at 1.82% APY, and 18-month at 1.85% APY.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, beware that many brokers pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.07% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund which has an SEC yield of 0.68%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 2.08% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 2.18% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so there is more interest rate risk.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 2.57% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 3.16% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. Note that the higher yield came from a drop in net asset value during the recent market stress.

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 probably 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 4/2/2020, a new 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.09% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.14% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 1.42% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a 0.88% SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL. Expect these yields to drop significantly as they are updated.

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. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between November 2019 and April 2020 will earn a 2.22% 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-April 2020, 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.

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 capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. 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.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $2,500, but there are many hoops to jump through. 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, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop to near-zero quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. I don’t use any of these anymore.

  • Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking (my review) still offers up to 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you make $500+ in ACH deposits, 12 debit card “signature” purchases, and spend $1,000 on their credit card each month. Elements Financial has dropped to 2% APY on balances up to $20,000 if you make 15 debit card “signature” purchases or other qualifying transactions per statement cycle. 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.

  • Pen Air Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate at 2.20% APY ($500 minimum). Early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Their other terms are competitive as well, if you want build a CD ladder. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($3 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. Vanguard and Fidelity both have a 5-year at 1.60% APY right now. 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. Vanguard has a 10-year at 1.50% APY right now. 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 a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as a hedge against prolonged deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. As of 4/2/2020, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 1.04%.

All rates were checked as of 4/2/2020.

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.

The Hype Cycle of DIY Investor Self-Confidence

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In an article about the challenges of autonomous vehicles, I came across a chart of the Hype Cycle from the consulting firm Gartner that supposedly models the life cycle of new technology:

Maybe it’s just me, but I found this curve to also describe my self-confidence in investing over time.

  • Trigger. One day, something makes you want to learn about investing. For me, it was finally leaving broke academia and getting a “real job” that had triple the salary and this 401(k) match thing.
  • Peak of inflated expectations. Read some books! 8% annual returns… double my money every 9 years… yes! Asset allocation… backtesting… of course! 4% withdrawal rate… just accumulate 25x expenses… simple!
  • Trough of Disillusionment. I get laid off at the same time that my nest egg drops in half? No way. After an entire decade, which is 1/3rd of my lifetime so far, I could actually end up with less money than I put in? No way. Multiple countries will shut down completely for 3+ months at a time, one after another? No way.
  • Slope of Enlightenment. After some time, that advice about diversification, liquidity, understanding true risk, and knowing your temperament starts to feel a bit different. There is still more to learn.
  • Plateau of Productivity. Wow, that last crisis wasn’t as bad. I have a plan and have enough assets and liquidity to implement that plan. My overall vision has changed and it includes working for longer but at something that I enjoy and without short-sighted corporate metrics.

Of course, maybe I’m still be overconfident, and I haven’t truly hit that big trough yet. Good thing I stocked up on the antacid.

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.

Good Time to Convert Traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs?

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It might be a little painful, but it may be worthwhile to check on your pre-tax IRAs during this dip. If you have been thinking of converting your “Traditional” IRAs over to Roth IRAs, your shrunken gains will lead to a smaller tax bill now, while your (hopefully) future gains from this point onward will be tax-free after 5 years and age 59.5.

Roth IRAs have a few unique benefits like a lack of minimum required distributions, but the primary consideration regarding conversions is still whether you think your tax rate will be lower today or when you withdraw. This is outlined in greater detail in the WSJ article A Strategy for Taking Advantage of the Market Meltdown (paywall?). One interesting suggestion is to convert just enough money from a traditional IRA to make full use of your current income-tax bracket. Here are the 2020 IRS marginal tax brackets (source) – remember the left column is adjusted gross income so it comes after subtracting the standard deduction of $12,400 (single) and $24,800 (joint).

Depending on your income situation for 2020, you might have a good amount of room to convert and pay a 10%, 12%, or 22% rate. For example, a married couple could make up to $105,050 in gross income (before the standard deduction) and still be in the 12% bracket. You get the most tax-deferred benefit if you can pay for your tax bill with external funds as opposed to the IRA balance itself.

Backdoor Roth IRAs. In case you aren’t already aware, you can make a “backdoor” Roth IRA contribution even if you exceed the standard income limits on Roth IRA contributions. This is primarily because there are no longer any income limitations on Roth IRA conversions. There are some finer points that experts debate, but the general idea is that you first contribute to a non-deductible traditional IRA and then quickly convert that to a Roth IRA (ideally with no gains and thus tax owed). One catch is that if you already have other deductible pre-tax IRA balances, then these would mix together and you’d have to pay tax on a pro-rated basis.

Given the recent stock market drop, if you made non-deductible IRA contributions in the past few years, but your “Backdoor Roth” was complicated by also having some other pre-tax IRA balances mixed in (say, from a 401k rollover), then this might be a chance to convert everything over to a Roth IRA with much smaller tax consequences.

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.

“This is a Temporary Setback – I’m a Long-Term Investor!”

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When the market sell-off first started in February, there were several articles proudly pointing out how few 401k investors made any changes to their accounts. Nobody panicked! Yay! I remember thinking that such a declaration of victory was rather premature. If you have held onto your stocks so far according to your formal investment plan, then I applaud your conviction (or ability to not check your 401k balance). However, I also think it’s important to realize that the ride may be far from over.

This chart made the rounds in 2007 during the Great Financial Crisis, and has been copied so many times (you can tell by the blurriness) that I have no idea the original source. However, I still come back to it time and again.

Based on my own experiences, I can show you comments which gradually change from “This is just a temporary setback. I’m a long-term investor!” to “I can’t handle any more losses. I am selling and waiting this out!”.

My wild guess is that we are past the Anxiety stage and are somewhere in the Fear stage. There is still room for Desperation, Panic, and Capitulation. It’s like the awful seven dwarfs… I feel these emotions too, even if I don’t act on them. We are living through a historic moment. However, I see no permanent impairment in the power of productive businesses.

You won’t see a lot of market commentary on this site, as I don’t think adding to the noise is helpful. Thanks to the scientists and healthcare workers that will get us through this one, thanks to the other essential workers that have to stay out and about, and thanks to those that are helping by staying at home. Onwards (good movie BTW) to Hope and Relief!

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.

SoFi Money $75 Bank Bonus + $100 Stock Bonus + Free Stock + 20% Off Streaming & DoorDash

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Update 3/24/20: For the next three months, you can earn 20% cash back when you charge the following on your SoFi Money debit card:

• Streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Now, CBS All Access, Spotify, Pandora Music, and Google Play Music.*
• DoorDash orders.**

Update 3/9/20: Log into your SoFi Invest account and you should find a pseudo-claw game that can win you some free stocks. No cost to play. Screenshots below. I got $5 of Berkshire (no dividends = no tax paperwork), but maybe you’ll do better!

Original post:

SoFi (“Social Finance”) has expanded from students loans into a cash management and stock brokerage account. They’ve also updated their bonuses for trying them out, and if you have a spouse/partner, you can refer each other to grow the total bonus. There is also a new $75 direct deposit bonus for existing customers.

SoFi Money (Cash Management Account)

  • Get a $75 cash bonus when you open a new account and make two direct deposits of at least $500 each. This is my referral link. The referrer gets $25, so thanks if you use it!
  • After joining, if you refer a friend yourself, you will get $25 and they will also get the $75 bonus. That means a couple together can earn a total of $175.
  • FDIC-insured. No account fees. No minimums.
  • Free debit card with unlimited reimbursed ATM fees.
  • Currently pays 1.60% APY.

SoFi Invest (Brokerage Account)

  • Get a $100 of your choice of stock when you fund your account with at least $5,000. This is my referral link. The referrer gets $100. This is quadruple the standard $25 bonus, but with a higher minimum deposit.
  • After joining, if you refer a friend yourself, you will get $100 and they will also get the $100 in free stock. That means a couple together can earn a total of $300.
  • SoFi Invest allows fractional shares (“stock bits”), so you can get exactly $50 worth of Apple, etc. Trade as little as $1 at a time.
  • No trading fees.

For example, you can get $100 of Apple, S&P 500 ETF, or Berkshire Hathaway. Find your referral links to refer others in the SoFi app after joining.

Opened an account recently? New targeted $75 Direct Deposit bonus. If you opened an account, or after you do open an account, be on the lookout for an e-mail offer of another $75 bonus if you make two direct deposits of $500+.

You can also get another $100 bonus if you refinance your student loans through SoFi.

SoFi has a lot of competition as high interest savings accounts and free trades are what’s hot these days. The good news is that SoFi makes the opening process quick and simple. You can open, apply, fund online and be poking around the app all in the same day.

Bottom line. SoFi is offering cash and free stock bonuses for trying out their new products. They can quickly add up to easy money for a minor amount of effort. Existing users may also be eligible for a direct deposit bonus for even more free money.

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.

Early Action, Long-Term Thinking, and Exponential Growth

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I’ve been sitting on this post for a week, but I’ll feel better just letting it out. When we talk about investing, a lot of it is about long-term thinking and exponential growth. There are many charts showing that the person who starts saving early and stops completely after 10/15 years does better than the person who waits around but eventually saves twice as much per year. Once the ball starts rolling, it’s hard to stop. Here is one example from ForUsAll.com:

This is the power that comes from forced savings (pensions) and automated savings with default contributions (401k/403bs). Along the same lines, here’s a chart of Warren Buffet’s net worth over time from ValueWalk. Most of his money came very late in life. Look at that compound interest.

This understanding of exponential growth and the importance of early intervention applies to viral pandemics as well. If you act early and aggressively, you can stop the exponential growth. St. Louis acted aggressively during the 1918 Flu Pandemic, shut down the city early, and saved many lives. It was unpopular, but it worked. Taiwan has been aggressively screening, testing, and tracking since December 2019 and despite its proximity to China has only 45 coronavirus cases. Singapore acted similarly.

Meanwhile, Italy went from only 3 confirmed cases to 15,000 confirmed cases in a span of 5 weeks. (February 6th to March 12th. Source.) The other option is to take a slow, reactionary stance. You let the exponential grow happen. The result is that you will need to shut down the entire country and do it more extremely and for a longer time. You picked the “Save more later” option. Unfortunately, here it means a lot more dying people and overwhelmed hospitals. It also means bankrupt businesses, less hours available, less jobs available, and huge childcare problems.

Do you think the US will be closer to Italy or Taiwan? The US has only tested 5,000 people total, ever. South Korea has tested 200,000 and is 1/6th the size. That’s 240x the testing rate. If you don’t test, you can’t get a “confirmed” case and they remain invisible. If you don’t track the infected people down and isolate them, you can’t stop the spreading. This is bad!

I’m not saying the world is going to end. I have not sold any stocks and am following my established investment plan. I believe that we will eventually get through this together. Mostly, I am greatly saddened that our local, state, and federal leaders have collectively decided to choose to the option of deferred, greater pain.

Bottom line. Each day that we delay widespread testing and tracking, the longer we will have to shut down our lives to get back to normal. It’s coming. Be ready. Think about how you are going to manage childcare when schools are shut down. Make sure you’ve built up that emergency fund in case your job hours are cut. If you’ve been meaning to lower your interest rate on debt, now may be a good time to transfer it to 0% APR. If your financial situation is stable, try to refinance your mortgage and lower your monthly expenses.

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.

How Reliable Are S&P 500 Stock Dividends? Historical Drawdowns

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While we see the live price of the S&P 500 index everywhere, there is much less talk about its dividends. Dividends are an important component of the total return from stocks. I love seeing my quarterly dividend payments arrive every quarter, and combined with our reduced work income, they are enough to cover our household expenses. How reliable is the income stream from owning an S&P 500 index fund (or similar total market fund)?

Here is the growth of the 12-month dividend per share of the S&P 500 on an inflation-adjusted basis (source).

Looks pretty good overall, but how bad were those drops? Inside this Movement Capital article about managing sequence-of-return risk, I came across a helpful chart showing the historical drawdowns of dividends (inflation-adjusted) from the S&P 500 index since 1900.

Chart of Dividend Drawdowns

William Bernstein has been quoted as saying that you can only treat 50% of your dividend income as reliable. Below is an excerpt from his book The Ages of the Investor that provides more context:

If you counted on your stock holdings to see you through retirement, you’re likely to be seriously disappointed. Yet, there is a small part of the equity portfolio that can be considered in the funding of retirement: the “safe dividend flow” from stock holdings. Although the value of stocks can fluctuate wildly, their stream of income is much more stable. At no point in the history of the U.S.stock market has its real dividend stream fallen by more than half, even during the Great Depression. During the most recent financial crisis, for example, although stock prices fell by more than 50%, dividends also dropped, but by only 23% from their peak, and only temporarily.

That pretty much agrees with the top chart. Dividends have dropped by up to 50%, but it has not dropped that much since around 1950. Since about 1950, the greatest drawdown of overall S&P 500 dividends has been about 25%.

Dividend payout ratio. The dividend payout ratio is the percentage of net income that a business pays out as dividends. For example, a company might earn $10 a share in net profits and pay $6 a share as a dividend. That is a dividend payout ratio of 60%. In the 1930s and 1940s, the dividend payout ratio consistently averaged above 60% (source). The majority of profits were paid out to shareholders. However, since then the dividend payout ratio has been dropping, with the average now in the 30% to 40% range (chart source):

In theory, it should be much easier to maintain a dividend when you are only paying out 30% of profits as cash, as opposed to 60% of profits as cash. Of course, anything can happen. At the minimum, your withdrawal plan should be prepared for a 25% drop in dividends at some point in the future.

Bottom line. The S&P 500 dividend has dropped by up to 50%, but it has not dropped that much since around 1950. S&P 500 businesses have been steadily decreasing the percentage of profits being paid out as cash dividends. Today, dividends only account for about 30% of overall profits (not 60%+). In theory, this should make the dividend less prone to large cuts.

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.

Webull App: $0 Stock Trades, $0 Options Trading, 2 Free Shares Bonus

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Updated March 2020. Webull is a brokerage app (PC and web version also available) that has unlimited free stock trades with no platform fees, free real-time quotes, and no minimum balance requirement. As of March 2020, it has now added $0 options trades with $0 per contract fees. (Fidelity, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade all still charge $0.65 per contract.)

The free stock and options trades make it similar to Robinhood, but Webull seems like more of a full-featured traditional brokerage shrunk down into an app. Robinhood has a sleeker minimalist feel, while Webull has a ton of options for real-time stock quotes, technical indicators, charting, etc. Webull has traditional margin accounts that allow shorting. You can’t short stocks at all on Robinhood. Most importantly to me, Webull has customer service available via 24/7 Live Chat or phone number. Robinhood only has an e-mail address. (Robinhood also crashed all day last week Monday…)

Free stock bonus and transfer fee reimbursement. New users who are referred by another user can now get two free shares of stock:

  • First share worth between $2.50 and $250 for opening an account.
  • Second share worth between $12 to $1,400 for depositing ANY amount (even $1).

Here is my Webull referral link. It’s like a lottery where most people will get an $8 stock like Teva Pharmaceutical (TEVA), but you also have a small chance at something better. The referrer gets 3 free shares of stock under the current promotion. Thanks if you use it! I have received shares of TEVA, SNAP, SBUX, VG, and even one AAPL. After you get the new user bonus, you can refer other people as well.

Webull will also reimburse you up to $100 in transfer fees if you move at least $2,000 worth of assets over to them.

Here are the full odds for the opening share bonus:

$2.50 to $10 value, odds are ~1:1.02
$10 to $50 value, odds are ~1:52.63
$80 to $100 value, odds are ~1:1111.11
$100 to $20 value, odds are ~1:10,000

Here are the full odds for the opening deposit bonus:

$12 to $30 value, odds are ~1:1.02
$30 to $100 value, odds are ~1:52.63
$100 to $200 value, odds are ~1:1111.11
$1,000 to $1,400 value, odds are ~1:10,000

You will need to sign-up initially either with a phone number or e-mail address, and then open an account after downloading the app (Android or iOS). Webull is a real SIPC-insured broker, and the application is the same (name, address, SSN, work questions, investing experience questions, etc).

Bottom line. Webull is a new entrant to the world of free stock trading apps, and now offers free options trading as well with no contract fees. The feel is more of a full-featured traditional brokerage account in app form as compared to competitor Robinhood. New users who open an account and deposit any amount can also grab a 2 free shares of stock. You can get $100 in transfer fees reimbursed if you move over at least $2,000 in assets.

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.

Which Asset Classes Offer True Diversification in Bear Markets?

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During times of market volatility, people often start looking for other options. There is always a new “alternative” asset class being pitched that in theory both reduces the risk in your portfolio and increases returns. Longboard Funds looked at data from the past 15 years and examined what happened when you added 20% of various asset classes to a traditional 60/40 stock/bond portfolio. Below is a chart of the results based on two factors:

  • Did the asset class have a lower or higher correlation in declining markets? This reduces maximum drawdown.
  • Did the asset class improve overall historical return?

The 6 asset classes that both lowered max drawdown and increased overall return were:

  • Managed Futures (Trend Following) (SG Trend Index)
  • U.S. Treasuries (Barclays 1-3 Yr US Treasury TR Index)
  • Master Limited Partnerships (Alerian MLP TR Index)
  • Municipal bonds (Barclays Municipal TR Index)
  • Gold (S&P GSCI Gold Index)
  • TIPS (Barclays Gbl Infl Linked US TIPS TR Index)

Not coincidentally, Longboard Funds offers a managed futures mutual fund. The expense ratios for are 2.87% and 2.88% for the two share classes. I would be concerned that a 3% drag on the the SG Trend Index might change up the real-world results?

My take. Your next consideration should be to research each asset class on your own and determine which ones you have strong faith in over the long term. As diversifiers, these asset classes will have long periods of poor performance during bull markets. You must be able to hold onto these asset classes so that they can eventually help you in a bear market.

Personally, I believe that managed future are too complex and the available products too expensive. I feel the same about MLPs. I don’t own gold myself, but can understand why others might include some in their portfolios.

This leaves me with the classic high-quality bonds: US Treasury bonds, Municipal bonds, and TIPS (also fully backed by the US government). I do indeed own these in my personal portfolio. Hopefully you’ve owned these for a while, as the interest rates just keep getting lower (and the value goes up, for now). Ah well, I’m still buying as needed even though the yields are tiny.

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 – March 2020

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. Thank you for your support.

The Federal Reserve just cut their target Fed Funds Rate by 0.50% in response to the market volatility brought on by the coronavirus. This will likely result in many rates drops this month for savings accounts and certificates across the board. (Lower rates may also make it a good time to refinance your mortgage with rates at all-time lows.)

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for March 2020, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I track these rates because I keep 12 months of expenses as a cash cushion and also invest in longer-term CDs (often at lesser-known credit unions) when they yield more than bonds. 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 3/4/2020.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks make huge profits while paying you 0.01% APY, 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.

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 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.90% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. My eBanc has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 2.00% APY with a $100,000 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.90% APY with a $25,000 minimum deposit. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.70% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • Andrews FCU has a special 13-month certificate at 2.15% APY. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization. Ally Bank has a special 13-month certificate at 2.10% APY. CIT Bank has a 12-month CD at 2.06% APY ($1,000 min).

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, beware that many brokers pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are not FDIC-insured, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 1.60% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund which has an SEC yield of 1.49%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.89% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 1.99% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so there is more interest rate risk.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.77% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 2.00% 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.

  • 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 3/3/2020, a 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 1.12% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.73% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 1.46% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a 1.38% 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. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between November 2019 and April 2020 will earn a 2.22% 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-April 2020, 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.

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 capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. 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.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $2,500, but there are many hoops to jump through. 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, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop to near-zero quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. I don’t use any of these anymore.

  • Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking (my review) has up to 5.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you make $500+ in ACH deposits, 12 debit card “signature” purchases, and spend $1,000 on their credit card each month. Elements Financial has 3% APY on balances up to $20,000 if you make 15 debit card “signature” purchases or other qualifying transactions per statement cycle. 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.

  • Hiway Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate at 2.61% APY ($25k minimum) and 2.50% APY with a $10,000 minimum. Early withdrawal penalty is 1 year of interest. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($10 one-time fee).
  • Navy Federal Credit Union has a special 17-month CD at 2.25% APY ($50 minimum + add-on feature up to $75k), but you must have a military affiliation to join (includes being a relative of a veteran).
  • Andrews FCU still has their special 84-month certificate at 3.05% APY. They also have a 55-month at 2.60% APY. $1,000 minimum to open. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization.
  • 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. The rates are not competitive right now. 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. I don’t see anything noteworthy. 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 a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. You could also view it as a hedge against prolonged deflation, but only if you can hold on for 20 years. As of 3/3/2020, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 1.44%.

All rates were checked as of 3/4/2020.

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.

My Grand-Aunt’s Mailbox Money from ExxonMobil

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. Thank you for your support.

While helping a 92-year-old relative with her estate planning last week, I discovered that she receives dividend checks from ExxonMobil mailed to her every quarter. I also discovered she was an early retiree herself, retiring at age 50 with a government pension and these Exxon shares. What a long retirement! She has the literal mailbox money that Jack Bogle was talking about!

I went home and ran some quick numbers. I’m not going to disclose how much she owns, these are just some round numbers. In 1980, the Exxon quarterly dividend averaged 8.45 cents per share. As of 2019, the quarterly dividend has grown to 87 cents per share. (Thank you Divdata.com.) That means that the dividend has grown roughly 10X in the last 40 years, roughly 6% annualized. That’s if you spent the dividend every 3 months without any reinvestment at all and completely ignoring any increase in the share price!

That means if she was cashing checks for $1,000 a year in annual dividends in 1980, she’d have all that income for 40 years while still cashing checks for $10,000 a year today. ExxonMobil is a Dividend Aristocrat, which means it has raised dividend payouts for 25 consecutive years or more. (It’s actually raised dividends every year for the last 37 years.)

This was even greater coincidence because just a week earlier, I had bought additional ExxonMobil (XOM) shares in my “Fun Money” account – my only individual stock purchase so far in 2020. The XOM share price has been struggling in the short-term, due to a variety of reasons (lots of natural gas = low crude oil prices, large reinvestments = low free cash flow, etc). However, I believe it to be cyclical and haven’t seen any reason to doubt its long-term prospects. If somehow we discover a cheap, limitless source of energy that makes oil worthless, I would happily take that win for society and see my Exxon holdings go to zero.

This is not meant as a recommendation to buy ExxonMobil stock, as my Fun Money account is more of an educational tool for myself and someday my children. I want them to understand that stocks are parts of real businesses. This story about their favorite great-grand-auntie will be a great reminder that while the news is often scary, we can’t forget the benefits of a long-term perspective.

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.

How Many People Save, Even Without High Incomes?

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. Thank you for your support.

If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, by definition you aren’t saving and buying any assets. The folks who do have assets, those assets keep growing and compounding away. Left alone, that gap just widens relentlessly. Meanwhile, building up assets from nothing can feel agonizingly slow in the beginning.

So if you don’t make at least six figures already, should you just give up? It’s not your fault, and you can’t do anything about it, so why bother? I worry that this is the underlying message of certain media articles. As a small antidote, check out this chart that shows the percentage of households with a positive savings rate, broken down by income quartiles.

The data is taken from a 2016 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Source: Personal savings: A look at how Americans are saving by Deliotte Insights.

Let’s use real numbers to add some clarity:

  • A household in the 20th percentile earns about $24,000 per year. Yet, according this chart, ~30% of households that earn less than $24k manage to spend less than they earn.
  • The 2nd quintile (20th-40th percentile) household earns between roughly $24k and $45 per year. A little over 40% of these households manage to spend less than they earn.
  • The 3rd quintile (40th-60th percentile) household earns between roughly $45k and $75k per year. Close to 60% of these households manage to spend less than they earn.
  • Let’s skip to the 80th to 90th percentile, where households earn between ~$120,000 and $170,000 per year. This is between 5X and 7X the 20th percentile and more than double the middle quintile. Yet even here, only a little over 70% of households have a positive savings rate.

It should not be surprising that households with higher incomes have a higher savings rate. Of course it is easier to reach financial freedom if you have a higher income. That’s just a mathematical fact.

Nearly 30% of households that earn between ~$120,000 and $170,000 per year spend everything they earn and then some. A higher income does not guarantee that you are not living paycheck-to-paycheck. When you look beyond the broad averages, you start to see the ability of households to differ. Everyone with a low income is not spending the same. Everyone with a high income is not spending the same.

This supports the notion that your actions still matter. Use your money to invest in yourself, increasing your skills and the ability to find more rewarding work. You can prioritize your expenses. It won’t be easy, and yes there will be setbacks and roadblocks in your way. In fact, it’s probably better to expect that it won’t be easy. As we should tell our children, success is not a straight line. “More often, a meandering and unexpected path is what leads to success”.

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.