Steady Investing Returns: $833 a Month x 10 Years = $145,000 (2013-2022)

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Instead of only looking at year-to-date or last year’s return numbers that are often quoted in the media, I also like to take a longer-term perspective (especially on down years). How would a steady investor have done over the last decade?

Target date funds. The Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund is an all-in-one fund that is low-cost, globally-diversified, and available both inside many employer retirement plans and to anyone that funds an IRA. When you are young (up until age 40 for those retiring at 65), this fund holds 90% stocks and 10% bonds. It is a solid default choice in a world of mediocre, overpriced options. This is also a good benchmark for others that use low-cost index funds.

The power of consistent, tax-advantaged investing. For the last decade, the maximum allowable annual contribution to a Traditional or Roth IRA has been roughly $5,000 per person. The maximum allowable annual contribution for a 401k, 403b, or TSP plan has been over $10,000 per person. If you have a household income of $67,000, then $10,000 is right at the 15% savings rate mark. Therefore, I’m going to use $10,000 as a benchmark amount. This round number also makes it easy to multiply the results as needed to match your own situation. Save $5,000 a year? Halve the result. Save $20,000 a year? Double the numbers, and so on.

The real-world payoff from a decade of saving $833 a month. What would have happened if you put $10,000 a year into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund, every year, for the past 10 years? With the interactive tools at Morningstar and a Google spreadsheet, we get this:

Investing $10,000 every year ($833 a month, or $384 per bi-weekly paycheck) for the last decade would have resulted in a total balance of $145,000. That’s $100,000 in steady contributions and $45,000 in investment gains.

It gets even better over time. There is a popular example of the power of compound interest that shows how someone who started saving at age 25, saves and invests for 10 years but then stops and never saves a penny again still beats someone who starts saving at 35 and keeps on saving for 30 years. Acorns provides a nice illustration:

The “Rule of 72” shows us that with just 7.2% annual returns, your money will double every decade from now on. After another 10 years, every $100k will be $200k. After another 10 years, that $200k will be $400k. Once you have that initial momentum, it just keeps going.

Here are my previous “saving for a decade” posts:

Bottom line. Saving now can be hard, especially when you see your investment balances drop. But over time, with consistency and starting early, things smooth out. You can truly build serious wealth with something as accessible and boring as an IRA/401k plan and a Vanguard Target Retirement fund (or a simple collection of low-cost index funds).

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 2022 Year-End Update: Dividend & Interest Income

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Here’s my 2022 Year-End income update for my Humble Portfolio. I track the income produced as an alternative metric for performance. The total income goes up much more gradually and consistently than the number shown on brokerage statements (price), which helps encourage consistent investing. I imagine my portfolio as a factory that churns out dollar bills.

Short recap about dividends. Stock dividends are a portion of net profits that businesses have decided to distribute directly to shareholders, as opposed to reinvesting into their business, paying back debt, or buying back shares directly. The dividends may suffer some short-term drops, but over the long run they have grown faster than inflation.

In the US, the dividend culture is somewhat conservative in that shareholders expect dividends to be stable and only go up. Thus the starting yield is lower, but grows more steadily with smaller cuts during hard times. Here is the historical growth of the trailing 12-month (ttm) dividend paid by the Vanguard Total US Stock ETF (VTI), courtesy of StockAnalysis.com. Unfortunately, they recently shortened their lookback period on their charts.

European corporate culture tends to encourage paying out a higher (sometimes fixed) percentage of earnings as dividends, but that also means the dividends move up and down with earnings. Thus the starting yield is higher but may not grow as reliably. Here is the historical growth of the trailing 12-month (ttm) dividend paid by the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS).

The dividend yield (dividends divided by price) also serve as a rough valuation metric. 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.

My personal portfolio income history. I started tracking the income from my portfolio in 2014. Here’s what the annual distributions from my portfolio look like over time:

  • $1,000,000 invested in my portfolio as of January 2014 would have generated about $24,000 in annual income over the previous 12 months. (2.4% starting yield)
  • If I reinvested the income but added no other contributions, over the year of 2022 it would have generated ~$51,500 in annual income over the previous 12 months.

This chart shows how the annual income generated by my portfolio has increased over time and with dividend reinvestment.

TTM income yield. To estimate the income from my portfolio, I use the weighted “TTM” or “12-Month Yield” from Morningstar (checked 1/6/23), 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 (usually zero for index funds) over the same period. The trailing income yield for this quarter was 3.33%, as calculated below. Then I multiply by the current balance from my brokerage statements to get the total income.

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield Yield Contribution
US Total Stock (VTI) 30% 1.66% 0.50%
US Small Value (VBR) 5% 2.03% 0.10%
Int’l Total Stock (VXUS) 20% 3.09% 0.62%
Int’l Small Value (AVDV/EYLD) 5% 4.36% 0.22%
US Real Estate (VNQ) 10% 3.91% 0.39%
Inter-Term US Treasury Bonds (VGIT) 15% 1.74% 0.26%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds (TIP) 15% 6.96% 1.04%
Totals 100% 3.13%

 

My ttm portfolio yield is now roughly 3.13%, a bit lower than last quarter’s value. (This is not the same as the dividend yield commonly reported in stock quotes, which just multiplies the last quarterly dividend by four.) US dividends went up a bit, international dividends went down a bit, Treasury bond yield is catching up, TIPS yield is still high from tracking CPI inflation.

What about the 4% rule? For goal planning purposes, I support the simple 4% or 3% rule of thumb, which equates to a target of accumulating roughly 25 to 33 times your annual expenses. I would lean towards a 3% withdrawal rate if you want to retire young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate if retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). It’s just a quick and dirty target, not a number sent down from the heavens. I keep the 3% number in mind, while also tracking dividends and interest (and inflation). During the accumulation stage, your time is better spent focusing on earning potential via better career moves, improving in your skillset, and/or looking for entrepreneurial opportunities where you can have an ownership interest.

As a semi-retired investor that has been partially supported by portfolio income for a while, I find that tracking income makes more tangible sense in my mind and is more useful for those who aren’t looking for a traditional retirement. Our dividends and interest income are not automatically reinvested. They are another “paycheck”. Then, as with a traditional paycheck, we can choose to either spend it or invest it again to compound things more quickly. Even if we spend the dividends, this portfolio paycheck will still grow over time. You could use this money to cut back working hours, pursue a different career path, start a new business, take a sabbatical, perform charity or volunteer work, and so on.

Right now, I am happily in the “my kids still think I’m cool and want to spend time with me” zone. I am consciously choosing to work when they are at school but also consciously turning down work that doesn’t fit my priorities and goals. This portfolio income helps me do that.

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MMB Humble Portfolio 2022 Year-End Update: Asset Allocation & Performance

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portpie_blank200Here’s my quarterly update on my current investment holdings as of the end of 2022, including our 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excluding real estate and side portfolio of self-directed investments. Following the concept of skin in the game, the following is not a recommendation, but just to share our real, imperfect, low-cost, diversified DIY portfolio. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone else did the same? (Many people do track the 13F filings of well-known investors.)

“Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have in their portfolio.” – Nassim Taleb

How I Track My Portfolio
Here’s how I track my portfolio across multiple brokers and account types. There are limited free options nowadays as Morningstar recently discontinued free access to their portfolio tracker. I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings:

End of 2022 Asset Allocation and YTD Performance
Here are updated performance and asset allocation charts, per the “Allocation” and “Holdings” tabs of my Personal Capital account.

Target Asset Allocation. I call this my “Humble Portfolio” because it accepts the repeated findings that individuals cannot reliably time the market, and that persistence in above-average stock-picking and/or sector-picking is exceedingly rare. Costs matter and nearly everyone who sells outperformance, for some reason keeps charging even if they provide zero outperformance! By paying minimal costs including management fees and tax drag, you can essentially guarantee yourself above-average net performance over time.

I own broad, low-cost exposure to productive assets 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 businesses worldwide, as well as the stability of high-quality US Treasury debt. My stock holdings roughly follow the total world market cap breakdown at roughly 60% US and 40% ex-US. I add just a little “spice” to the vanilla funds with the inclusion of “small value” ETFs for US, Developed International, and Emerging Markets stocks as well as additional real estate exposure through US REITs.

I strongly believe in the importance of knowing WHY you own something. 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. A good sign is that if prices drop, you’ll want to buy more of that asset instead of less. I don’t have strong faith in the long-term results of commodities, gold, or bitcoin – so I don’t own them.

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. You’ll find that whatever model portfolio is popular in the moment just happens to hold the asset class that has been the hottest recently as well.

Find productive assets that you believe in and understand, and just keep buying them through the ups and downs. Mine may be different than yours.

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of roughly 70% stocks and 30% bonds (or 2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. My goal is more “perpetual income portfolio” as opposed to the more common “build up a big stash and hope it lasts until I die” portfolio. My target withdrawal rate is 3% or less. Here is a round-number breakdown of my target asset allocation.

  • 30% US Total Market
  • 5% US Small-Cap Value
  • 20% International Total Market
  • 5% International Small-Cap Value
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)
  • 15% US Treasury Nominal Bonds or FDIC-insured deposits
  • 15% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds (or I Savings Bonds)

Commentary. The goal of this “Humble Portfolio” is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went down about 16% for 2022. There was only a little minor rebalancing to be done this quarter.

Due to the rising real yield on TIPS, I have shifted back to a target bond allocation of roughly 50% US Treasury/Bank CDs and 50% TIPS/I Savings Bonds. My traditional Treasuries are of intermediate term, and I may convert to a manual ladder of them in the future. My TIPS are also of intermediate to long-term, depending on the real yields available at the time of purchase. I have been manually buying individual TIPS of longer terms this quarter. 1.6% real yield may not be terribly exciting, but it’s a lot better that was available for a long time, and it may be better that what will be available in the future.

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

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2023 Retirement and Benefit Account Contribution Limits: 401k, 403b, IRA, HSA, DCFSA

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The beginning of the year is also a good time to check on the new annual contribution limits for retirement and benefit accounts, many of which are indexed to inflation. Our income has been quite variable these last few years, so I regularly adjust our paycheck deferral percentages based on expected income for the year. I still try to max things out if I can, or at least stay on pace to do so. This 2023 SHRM article has a nice summary of 2023 vs. 2022 numbers for most employer-based retirement and benefit accounts.

401k/403b Employer-Sponsored Accounts.

For example, I would break down the applicable limit down to monthly and bi-weekly amounts:

  • $22,500 annual limit = $1,875 per monthly paycheck.
  • $22,500 annual limit = $865.38 per bi-weekly paycheck.

The higher maximum limits are useful are for those folks that have the ability to contribute extra money into their 401k accounts on an after-tax basis (and then potentially perform an in-service Roth rollover), or those self-employed persons with SEP IRAs or Self-Employed 401k plans.

If you are contributing to a pre-tax account instead of a Roth, you could also use a paycheck calculator to find the detailed impact to your after-tax “take home” pay.

The investment options in 401k plans have also improved on average steadily over the years with lower fees and costs, allowing your money to compound even faster.

Traditional/Roth IRAs. The annual contribution limits are up $500 from last year, now $6,500 with an additional $1,000 allowed for those age 50+.

  • $6,500 annual limit = $541.67 per monthly paycheck.
  • $6,500 annual limit = $250 per bi-weekly paycheck.

Most brokerage accounts (Vanguard, Fidelity, M1 Finance) will allow you to set up automatic investments on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis. As long as you have enough money in your linked checking account, the broker will transfer the cash over and then invest it on a recurring basis. You may even be able to sync it to take out money the very same or next day as when your paycheck hits.

Health Savings Accounts are often treated as the equivalent of a “Healthcare IRA” due the potential triple tax benefits (tax-deduction on contributions, tax-deferred growth for decades, and tax-free withdrawals towards qualified healthcare expenses). This assumes that you have a high-deductible health insurance plan (more popular every year as they are cheaper for employers too), you can cover your current healthcare expenses out-of-pocket, and you can still afford to contribute to the HSA. Up a little for 2023.

Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts are still an commonly-available option for others. Up a little for 2023.

Dependent Care FSAs are easy tax savings if you have children in daycare and/or preschool. These are not indexed to inflation.

Even if you aren’t hitting the limits, just increasing your salary deferral contribution rate 1% higher than last year can make a substantial difference if you keep it up. Simple evergreen advice. The easiest way for me not to eat potato chips is not the have them in the house. (Looking at you, Costco bag of Himalayan Salt Kettle Chips…) The easiest way to make sure you don’t spend the money that you want to invest, is to never have it touch your bank account.

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Lower Stock Valuations + Higher Interest Rates = Higher 3.8% Base Safe Withdrawal Rate

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Investing for the long run is easier if you temper your emotions with the knowledge that lower stock and bond prices today suggest higher future returns (and vice versa). Morningstar has just released the 2022 edition of their research paper The State of Retirement Income (e-mail required, intro article), where they point out this silver lining:

Because equity valuations have declined and cash and bond yields have increased, the forward-looking prospects for portfolios—and in turn the amounts that new retirees can safely withdraw from those portfolios over a 30-year horizon—have enjoyed a nice lift since we explored the topic last year.

Whereas last year’s research suggested that a 3.3% withdrawal rate was a safe starting point for new retirees with balanced portfolios over a 30-year horizon, this year’s research points to 3.8% as a safe starting withdrawal percentage, with annual inflation adjustments to those withdrawals thereafter.

I haven’t processed the entire 29-page paper yet, but here’s a chart summarizing the differences between the future outlooks in 2021 and 2022. Quite a difference in only a year.

None of these numbers are guaranteed of course (in fact they are virtually guaranteed to be wrong), but step back and look and the big picture. Lower P/E ratios and a higher starting interest rate definitely provide a stronger investing base. You are buying businesses at a lower price and your bonds can again provide cushion now that interest rates have room to fall. As long as you are a buyer, this is a good thing.

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.

Fixed Index Annuities: What’s Behind “Market Upside with No Downside”?

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My inbox has been seeing an uptick about structured products and fixed indexed annuities that offer “market-linked performance” or “market upside” with “downside protection”. While below is my usual take on these products, I wanted to provide some tools for your own due diligence.

via GIPHY

Any time you have some “magic box” that takes the stock market returns and advertises nearly the same high returns without the volatility and risk, you should know that there is no free lunch. You must pay a price.

The thing is, I might actually be okay with that. Insurance companies are in the risk transfer business. There should be some price at which I would pay for this downside protection. You offer me 90% of the stock market’s long-term return but I’ll never lose money? Sold. The problem is that (1) the actual cost is much higher than that and (2) never explicitly clear.

If the annuity industry was willing to strip away the obfuscation and opaque marketing, they could create a standardized product. For example, it might track the S&P 500 total return (no other index) but with a clear set of withdrawal penalties (surrender charges), annual fees, participation rates, etc. As a transparent and commoditized product, insurance companies would have to compete on price, like what we (somewhat miraculously) have with index funds and index ETFs.

Instead, every single fixed index annuity is different with 25 different variables and a complicated contracts with various ways that they can change many those variables in the future. “Point-to-point”. “Rate spreads”. A high “participation rate” will be advertised, but will only apply to custom “index” that was created last Tuesday but backtested to perfection. A 3% monthly cap or 10% annual cap on returns will be quietly added, knowing that the average buyer won’t know that history shows that cap lowers the overall average returns significantly. The “illustrations” will usually include 2001 and 2009. Oh, and they never include dividends from the index they track.

Now, a fellow personal finance writer was sued out of existence by an insurance company, so I will write this carefully. By the way, here are two current rate cards from two examples of popular products here and here. Notice the multitude of options, confusing terminology, and index names that sound kind of familiar but you really have no idea what’s inside.

Now, let’s say a fictional insurance company offers a 6-year fixed index annuity that tracks the S&P 500 index with a 65% participation rate. This is actually a very competitive rate. (Not any other random index. Always look for S&P 500.) Let’s assume straight-up direct crediting without annual or monthly maps.

The total average annual return of the S&P 500 index from 1926 to present (2022) with dividends reinvested is 10% annually. (Source.) So let’s just assume the stock market goes up by 10% a year. The higher the S&P 500 returns, the more this annuity will lag, so we’ll just go with average.

Every single fixed index annuity I’ve ever seen excludes dividends. If you remove dividends, the historical S&P 500 index price-only return is only about 6.1%. Does the average person on the street know this? Is this fact included in the annuity free steak dinner pitch? 🤥

This is a huge deal! Here’s a comparison of $1 invested in the S&P 500 in 1930 with and without dividends. Yes, the final numbers are ~$200 vs. ~$6,000. (Source: S&P.)

Even for shorter periods, the compounding effect of removing dividends is significant:

We haven’t even multiplied by the participation rate of 65% yet, after which you are only left with 4%. You’ve now gone all the way from 10% annual return to only 4%. You could also reach this number by using an average total return of 8% and dividend yield of 2%. You’d still end up with 4% (take the 6% price-only return and multiply by 0.65).

But wait, my principal is protected, so it’s worth it! That just means your minimum return is 0% if the stock market does poorly. But 0% is not the proper comparison point.

The true downside is the guaranteed rates that you are giving up! For example, today you can find a 6-year plain-vanilla MYGA fixed annuity paying 5.40% guaranteed. At 5.40% annually guaranteed, in MYGA worst-case scenario $100,000 will become over $137,000 after 6 years. Meanwhile, the fixed index annuity might only give you… $100,000.

MYGAs are commoditized annuities that compete based on price (and safety rating) and offer the same tax-deferral possibilities. Since they compete on price, they also pay lower sales commissions than fixed index annuities. Would you want to buy something that would pay 4% if long-term averages hold (0% minimum), or 5.4% guaranteed (5.4% minimum)? MYGAs aren’t perfect either, but at least I can explain how any MYGA works very easily.

This is a simple hypothetical illustration to help you realize the high price you might be paying for “upside potential with principal protection”. I understand the desire to avoid market volatility, but there may be cheaper and more transparent ways to get there. My main issue is not that the price is high, it’s that the price is nearly impossible to pin down due to intentional complexity. If we could see price tags, we could comparison shop!

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.

Retirement Income and Inflation: 30-Year TIPS Ladder vs. SPIA Annuity + Excess Account

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This is inadvertently turning into a multi-part series, mostly revolving about taking advantage of long-term TIPS to build guaranteed inflation-adjusted income. Are the current real TIPS yields worthy of locking in? The previous parts:

Following up on the Gerstein article from that last post, a final chart that was interesting compared the cumulative income from a low start that adjusts with inflation and a higher start that stays fixed. Starting with a $1 million portfolio, consider two simple theoretical scenarios. First, a 4% initial withdrawal rate ($40,000 in Year 1) that adjusts upward to keep up with 4% steady annual inflation. Second, a fixed annuity-style payment of $70,000 a year. Here’s how that plays out:

In such a scenario, their chart shows that the total cumulative income paid out would even out around year 27.

I was happy to see that William Bernstein – highly respected in index investing circles but relatively spare with words these days – wrote a new article Playing Inflation Russian Roulette in Retirement with a lot of good nuggets. He compares the retirement income from a single-premium immediate annuity and a 30-year TIPS ladder.

The comparison gets a bit complicated (see article to fully explain chart below), but I did take away the idea that even if you start with $70,000 annuity income like in the above scenario, you only spend $40,000 and put excess ($30,000 in year 1) rest aside in a “for future inflation” side account. You can still increase your $40,000 a year of spending annually, but keep putting the difference into the excess side account. This excess amount will decrease over time until the inflation-adjusted spending reaches and surpasses $70,000 a year, at which time you start withdrawing from the excess side account. In addition, we should consider the money left over in case of early death.

In the end, Bernstein seems to lean towards the TIPS ladder as he points out the danger of high inflation. He reminds us that “worst-case historically” doesn’t actually mean “worst-case”. How many times recently have we read the words “biggest [something] ever”?

One is reminded of Nassim Taleb’s dictum that “this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst case at the time.” In other words, 5.4% long-term inflation is nowhere near the worst-case scenario. Even a casual glance at the global history of fiat money in the twentieth century shows that hyperinflation is the rule, not the exception. During the above-mentioned 1966-1995 period, U.S. debt/GDP averaged around 50%; now, it’s more twice that level and rising rapidly, and given the hundreds of trillions of dollars of additional implicit debt (promises to Social Security and Medicare, and to backstop future emergencies – think military aid to Ukraine and weather or terrorism disaster relief) it won’t take much to tip things over into a debt spiral, especially if the Treasury has to roll its debt over at higher interest rates for very long.

He also reminds us that we don’t have to do either one – the easiest way for most of us to access additional inflation-adjusted income is to delay taking Social Security:

It would be nice if one could purchase inflation-adjusted annuities, but those products have gone the way of disco, and I suspect that proposing their revival would not be a career enhancing move for any insurance company executive who suggests it. The best that one can do in this regard is to “purchase” the inflation-adjusted annuity offered by spending down one’s retirement assets to defer Social Security until age 70.

Finally, I wanted to include his relatively-conservative views on safe withdrawal rates:

The single most important factor that determines how to do that is the nest-egg burn rate (your annual spending divided by the size of your retirement portfolio). I suggest the following rule of thumb: if your burn rate is below 2% at age 60, below 3% at age 70, or below 4% at age 80, a standard stock/bond portfolio will nicely see you through your retirement, and you have no need to annuitize your assets.

I plan to keep an eye on real TIPS yields, and may readjust within the bond portion of my portfolio to purchase individual TIPS at longer maturities.

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.

Sustainable Portfolio Withdrawal Rates During High-Inflation Periods

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As a follow-up to my previous post on historical inflation (10-year rolling averages), how do periods of high inflation affect safe withdrawal rates for retirement portfolios? I reference a paper about Sustainable Portfolio Withdrawal Rates During High-Inflation Periods by Gerstein Fisher research, but in the middle of writing this post the source document and the entire GersteinFisher.com domain went down. (Update: Here it is on the Wayback Machine. Thanks to reader Peter for the link.)

Planning for the future with 50% stocks and 50% bonds is tricky! The chart below shows how widely a portfolio’s value can vary depending on your start date. The model portfolio is 50% broad US stocks and 50% US bonds. Here’s what $1,000,000 starting in 1929 vs. 1961 vs. 1975 would have performed with a 4% withdrawal rate and 3% annual inflation:

In Exhibit 3, we can see the vast difference a starting year can make, comparing the portfolio values over time of a portfolio where we assume a 4% withdrawal rate and 3% annual inflation but begin in three very different periods. In the worst case, retirement begins in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression; in 1961, retirement begins in an “average” period with moderate market returns; and in 1975, we have a 30-year period of exceptionally good returns overall, fueled by falling interest rates and by missing the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis.

These may be extremes, but they are extremes that happened to real people and could certain happen again.

A difference of 1% withdrawal rate can be huge over a 30 year retirement. Here’s the difference between a 3% initial withdrawal rate (then adjusted upwards with inflation) and a 4% initial withdrawal rate (then adjusted upwards with inflation) during a period that contained high inflation (1965-1995). Starting out at withdrawing $30,000 a year on a $1,000,000 portfolio would have been just fine, but withdrawing $40,000 a year would have been disastrous.

To examine what a “worst case scenario” regarding inflation might look like, we examine one of the highest inflation periods in modern US history – a retirement starting in 1966 and ending in 1995, which experienced multiple years of double-digit inflation in the mid- to late-1970s. Even a 4% initial withdrawal rate isn’t sustainable given the rapid increase in inflation (the portfolio is expected to meet an annual withdrawal of nearly $200,000 by the end of the 30-year period), exhausting the portfolio in roughly 25 years.

Here’s the 1965-1995 period highlighted from the historical inflation chart. I noticed that the inflation wasn’t sky-high the entire time, but it was elevated over a long-enough period.

The main takeaway from the paper was that the 4% rule does work most of the time, but watch out for periods of high inflation. Don’t blindly take out 4% a year when inflation is high and your portfolio performance is low. The 4% rule may be something like 95% effective historically, but being flexible with your withdrawals will prevent complete disaster even if you are in the bad luck 5%.

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Historical Inflation Chart: 10-Year Rolling Average 1872-2022

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Advisor Perspectives has a nice chart of 150 years of historical inflation (1872-2022). I appreciate that it includes both the short-term monthly inflation numbers as well as the 10-year rolling average over this long period of time.

A few basic observations:

  • From a long-term perspective, there have been many large sharp spikes in inflation throughout the entire period. Inflation has been a persistently recurring concern.
  • From roughly 1872-1940, there were extreme swings between both high inflation and high deflation. Of course, this was also when the dollar was (mostly) on the gold standard.
  • From roughly 1950 onward, the rolling 10-year average for inflation has still varied from ~2% to ~9% annually. Given our current low 10-year average, inflation could continue to be elevated for many years and not look out of place on this chart.

My primary takeaway is to always stay mindful of long-term inflation risk. I don’t know what inflation will be next month or next year, but I am confident that it’s coming sooner or later. Some applications (my opinion):

  • The 30-year fixed rate mortgage continues to be a great inflation hedge. (Even at high interest rates, that might soon result in lower prices.) As long as you lock in a monthly payment that you can comfortably afford and plan to stay a while, your monthly mortgage payment will only effectively get cheaper over time as inflation eats away at it. If rates drop, you can refinance. If rates rise, you can keep it forever and even rent the property out if you move, as high rates means inflation likely boosted rents while your mortgage payment stayed the same.
  • On the flip side, according to Macrotrends, the a 30-year Treasury bond yielded only 1% a year back in 2020. Long-term nominal bonds became a popular portfolio diversifier while rates were dropping (performance chasing), but in reality they became a ticking inflation bomb. I’m still avoiding long-term nominal bonds today.
  • A lifetime annuity has definite upsides, but inflation will eat away at the spending power over what could be 30 years. Maybe you’ll get older and spend less each year anyway, but I’d still maintain other assets (like stocks) to hedge that inflation risk. I like single premium immediate annuities as a possible tool for retirement income, but not as the only or primary tool.
  • TIPS are complex yet intriguing. I’m still not sure what the best play is right now, but I am happy to keep holding them as part of my bond portfolio. I’m leaning towards moving away from ETFs and more towards a ladder of individual bonds, especially if the real rates on long-term TIPS go any higher.
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The Best Health Savings Accounts (HSA) Providers: Fidelity and Lively/Schwab

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Updated for 2022. It’s open enrollment season, and there is better than a 50/50 chance that you will enroll in a high-deductible health plan. That means that you are also eligible to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA), which has triple-tax-free benefits: tax-deductible contributions, tax-free earnings growth, and tax-free withdrawals when used for qualified medical expenses (image source). This makes them better than even Traditional and Roth IRAs (image source).

Are you an HSA spender or HSA investor? As a spender, you contribute to the HSA, grab the tax-deduction, and then treat it like a piggy bank and spend it down whenever you have a qualified healthcare expense. You don’t have that annoying “use-it-or-lose-it” feature of Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), and most offer FDIC insurance on your cash.

As an investor, you are trying to maximize the tax benefits of HSAs by contributing as much as possible, investing in growth assets like stocks, and then avoiding withdrawals until retirement. If you have the financial means, you would max out the contribution limits ($3,850 for individual and $7,300 for family coverage in 2022, slightly more if age 55+) and then pay for your healthcare expenses out-of-pocket instead of withdrawing from the HSA. You should keep a “forever” digital PDF copy of all your healthcare expenses. Technically, you can still withdraw the amounts of all those expenses tax-free at any time in the future, even decades later.

You can pick your own HSA provider, and some are much worse than others! Morningstar has updated their 2022 Health Savings Account landscape report (e-mail required). After reading through the entire thing, my take is that you really only need to consider the two best HSA plans: Fidelity HSA and Lively HSA.

Similar to IRAs, you don’t need to use the default provider that your employer recommends. As long as you are covered by an HSA-eligible health plan on the first of the month, you can open an account with any provider. From the Lively site:

My health insurance or employer is offering an HSA. Do I need to go with the option they provide?

No. Because an HSA is an individual account, you are free to choose whichever HSA provider you want to work with (e.g., Lively).

Source: “Publication 969 (2018), Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans.”

In addition, you can transfer the balance in an existing HSA to another HSA provider at any time, even if no longer covered by an HSA-eligible health plan.

Fidelity and Lively HSA for spenders. Both have the least fees and a safe place for your cash. Others HSAs have maintenance fees, minimum balance requirements, and more “annoyance” fees.

  • No minimum balances.
  • No maintenance fees.
  • No paper statement fees.
  • No account closing fee.
  • FDIC-insured cash balances.

Fidelity offers the best potential interest rate on cash via the Fidelity® Government Cash Reserves money market fund (FDRXX) as a core position, which currently pays more than their FDIC cash sweep option. Note that this money market fund is very conservative but is not FDIC-insured.

Fidelity and Lively HSA for investors. Both feature a low-cost way to invest your contributions for long-term growth:

  • No minimum balance required in spending account in order to invest.
  • Offers access to all core asset classes.
  • Offers free self-directed access to ETFs, individual stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
  • Offers “guided portfolios” for automated investing.

Fidelity quietly offers the institutional shares of their Fidelity Freedom Index “target date” mutual fund line-up with a very low expense ratio of ~0.08%. It’s a bit confusing as you must choose the self-directed “Fidelity HSA” option to access this auto-pilot fund. The self-directed option has no annual fee and also includes access to ETFs, individual stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Be aware that the Fidelity HSA sign-up page may try to steer you towards the different “Fidelity Go HSA” for guided investing, but that robo-advisor charges an annual advisory fee of 0.35% per year for balances of $25,000 and above (no advisory fee while your balance is under $25,000).

Lively also has similar “guided portfolio” robo-advisor option that charges a 0.50% annual advisory fee. Morningstar dinged Lively for this, but Lively also offers a self-directed brokerage window with Schwab. That means you can invest in any ETF with zero commissions at Schwab including building your own DIY portfolio using index ETFs, mutual funds, individuals stocks, or individual bonds. (Previously TD Ameritrade, but Schwab bought TD Ameritrade.) The Schwab brokerage option has no annual fee with a $3,000 minimum balance, otherwise if you are under $3,000 it costs $24 a year. If you already have your own financial advisor connected to Schwab, you can allow them to manage your HSA as well.

A simple Vanguard ETF portfolio might be 50% US Stocks (VTI), 30% International Stocks (VXUS), 20% US Bonds (BND). The total weighted expense ratio of such a portfolio would be less than 0.05% annually and fully customizable for the DIY investor. Both accounts can cost basically nothing above the expense ratio of the cheapest ETFs you can find – you really can’t ask for more than that!

Fidelity and Lively have the least amount of extra and/or hidden fees:

How do Fidelity and Lively make money then? Your employer has to pay a fee to HSA providers. It’s still much cheaper for them than your old full-price health insurance premium, of course.

Bottom line. Both Fidelity HSA and Lively HSA are excellent options for your Health Savings Account funds. If you want auto-pilot investing, the cheapest option is the Fidelity Freedom Index Institutional shares. Alternatively, Lively is an independent HSA provider with a modern feel and a good history of customer-friendly fee practices and service. DIY investors can use the Lively/Schwab brokerage window to invest in a mix of Vanguard or other index ETFs.

(Disclosures: I am not an affiliate of Fidelity, although I would if they had such a program. I am an affiliate of Lively and may receive a commission if you open an account through my link. Thanks for your support of this site.)

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.

4% Guaranteed Withdrawal Rate (Inflation-Adjusted) with TIPS Ladder

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Retirement income planning would be so much easier if you could buy a known amount of guaranteed lifetime income that automatically adjusted for inflation. However, the reality is that not a single insurance company in the entire world is willing to take on that long-term inflation risk. The only possibility left is to ladder inflation-linked bonds (TIPS) so that each year you would cash out some bonds and interest to create your own DIY inflation-adjusted income.

Thanks to the rising real yields of TIPS, you can now create a 30-year TIPS ladder that will create effectively a 4% guaranteed real withdrawal rate. If you put $1,000,000 into a 30-year TIPS ladder right now, you will get $40,000+ income for year 1 and then another $40,000 adjusted for inflation (CPI-U) annually for the next 29 years. All backed by the US government.

Allan Roth did the hark work and bought a 30-year TIPS ladder x 4.3% real withdrawal rate using $100,000 of his own money on the secondary market. He also introduced me to eyebonds.info, which has a lot of helpful spreadsheets for the hardcore DIY TIPS and Savings I bond investor.

Such a TIPS ladder will only go for 30 years, and you end up with nothing at the end, so it does have some limitations. If you retire at 65 and spend your 4% every year, this portfolio will be completely depleted by age 95. If you start at 55, it will end at 85. Therefore, this tool would work best as a supplement to your Social Security benefits and perhaps keeping some stocks for potential upside…

Now, Allan Roth also wrote about the “No Risk” portfolio where you put most of your money in zero coupon bonds that will guarantee you don’t lose any dollars but put the rest in stocks for upside potential. It feels good to know you’ll both start and end with at least, say $100,000. However, the reality is that you are still exposed to inflation risk, as $100,000 in 10 years may be worth a lot less than $100,000 today.

What if you simply replaced those traditional-style bonds with TIPS as your super-safe base? You’d remove the inflation risk while still keeping minimal credit risk. Enter the concept of Upside Investing by Lawrence Kotlikoff (author of Money Magic).

Upside Investing, as I described in recent Forbes and Seeking Alpha columns, is simple as pie.

– You invest in the S&P and TIPS/I-Bonds and specify a period during which you’ll convert your stocks to TIPS/I-Bonds.

– You build a base living standard floor assuming all stock investments are lost.

– You increase your living standard floor only when and if you convert stocks to TIPS/I-Bonds.

If you can lock in your TIPS ladder at a decent real yield, you could have an intriguing combination of a very safe base income, while still giving you a very good chance of a higher income with stock returns anywhere close to historical averages.

In rough terms, what if a 75% TIPS/25% stock portfolio offered a minimal guaranteed withdrawal rate of 3% real for 30 years (only this low if stocks go to zero!) with the good probability that you would likely be able to withdrawal 4% and quite possibly more. For a conservative investor, knowing you have a rock-solid safe floor would allow you to spend freely with the rest. 🥳 Something to investigate further while TIPS real yields are decent again.

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.

Savings I Bonds November 2022 Interest Rate: 6.48% Inflation Rate, 0.40% Fixed Rate

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November 2022 rates officially announced. 11/1/2022 press release. The variable inflation-indexed rate for I bonds bought from November 2022 through April 2023 will indeed be 6.48% as predicted. Every single I bond will also earn this rate eventually for 6 months, depending on the initial purchase month. The fixed rate for I bonds bought from November 2022 through April 2023 will be 0.40% (up from zero, and right in the midpoint of my guess), for a composite rate of 6.89% for 6 months. Still a good deal, either buying now or in January when the purchase limits reset.

See you again in mid-April for the next early prediction for May 2023.

Original post 10/13/22:

Inflation still 🚀 😬 Savings I Bonds are a unique, low-risk investment backed by the US Treasury that pay out a variable interest rate linked to inflation. With a holding period from 12 months to 30 years, you could own them as an alternative to bank certificates of deposit (they are liquid after 12 months) or bonds in your portfolio.

New inflation numbers were just announced at BLS.gov, which allows us to make an early prediction of the November 2022 savings bond rates a couple of weeks before the official announcement on the 1st. This also allows the opportunity to know exactly what a October 2022 savings bond purchase will yield over the next 12 months, instead of just 6 months. You can then compare this against a November 2022 purchase.

New inflation rate prediction. March 2022 CPI-U was 287.504. September 2022 CPI-U was 296.808, for a semi-annual increase of 3.24%. Using the official formula, the variable component of interest rate for the next 6 month cycle will be 6.48%. You add the fixed and variable rates to get the total interest rate. The fixed rate hasn’t been above 0.50% in over a decade, but if you have an older savings bond, your fixed rate may be up to 3.60%.

Tips on purchase and redemption. You can’t redeem until after 12 months of ownership, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A simple “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month – same as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. It’s best to give yourself a few business days of buffer time. If you miss the cutoff, your effective purchase date will be bumped into the next month.

Buying in October 2022. If you buy before the end of October, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0%. You will be guaranteed a total interest rate of 0.00 + 9.62 = 9.62% for the next 6 months. For the 6 months after that, the total rate will be 0.00 + 6.48 = 6.48% for the subsequent 6 months.

Let’s look at a worst-case scenario, where you hold for the minimum of one year and pay the 3-month interest penalty. If you theoretically buy on October 31st, 2022 and sell on October 1st, 2023, you’ll earn a ~7.01% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. If you theoretically buy on October 31st, 2022 and sell on January 1, 2024, you’ll earn a ~6.90% annualized return for an 14-month holding period. Comparing with the best interest rates as of October 2022, you can see that this is much higher than a current top savings account rate or 12-month CD.

Buying in November 2022. If you buy in November 2022, you will get 6.48% plus a newly-set fixed rate for the first 6 months. The new fixed rate is officially unknown, but is loosely linked to the real yield of short-term TIPS. My guess is somewhere between 0.1% and 0.6%, but who knows. If I Every six months after your purchase, your rate will adjust to your fixed rate (set at purchase) plus a variable rate based on inflation.

If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month. Your bond rate = your specific fixed rate (based on purchase month, look it up here) + variable rate (total bond rate has a minimum floor of 0%). So if your fixed rate was 1%, you’ll be earning a 1.00 + 6.48= 7.48% rate for six months.

Buy now or wait? Given that the current I bond rate is already much higher than the equivalent alternatives, I would personally buy in October to lock in the high rate for the longest possible time. I would grab the “bird in the hand”, even though you might get a slightly higher fixed rate in November. I already purchased up to the limits first thing in January 2022, and I’ll probably buy again in January 2023. However, I am also buying TIPS as the real yield right now is higher than that of I bonds.

Unique features. I have a separate post on reasons to own Series I Savings Bonds, including inflation protection, tax deferral, exemption from state income taxes, and educational tax benefits.

Over the years, I have accumulated a nice pile of I-Bonds and consider it part of the inflation-linked bond allocation inside my long-term investment portfolio. Right now, the inflation protection “insurance” is paying off with high yields and no principal risk.

Annual purchase limits. The annual purchase limit is now $10,000 in online I-bonds per Social Security Number. For a couple, that’s $20,000 per year. You can only buy online at TreasuryDirect.gov, after making sure you’re okay with their security protocols and user-friendliness. You can also buy an additional $5,000 in paper I bonds using your tax refund with IRS Form 8888. If you have children, you may be able to buy additional savings bonds by using a minor’s Social Security Number. TheFinanceBuff has a nice post on gifting options if you are a couple and want to frontload your purchases now. TreasuryDirect also allows trust accounts to purchase savings bonds.

Note: Opening a TreasuryDirect account can sometimes be a hassle as they may ask for a medallion signature guarantee which requires a visit to a physical bank or credit union and snail mail. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but the takeaway is don’t wait until the last minute.

Bottom line. Savings I bonds are a unique, low-risk investment that are linked to inflation and only available to individual investors. You can only purchase them online at TreasuryDirect.gov, with the exception of paper bonds via tax refund. For more background, see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.

[Image: 1950 Savings Bond poster from US Treasury – source]

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.