Historical IRA Contribution Limits 2009-2019

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ira_heartIndividual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) are way to save money towards retirement that also saves on taxes. For 2019, the annual contribution limit for either Traditional or Roth IRAs increased to $6,000 (it is roughly indexed to inflation). The additional catch-up contribution allowed for those age 50+ stays at $1,000 (for a total of $7,000). You can’t contribute more than your taxable compensation for the year, although a spouse can contribute with no income if the other person has enough income.

Historical limits. Since I enjoy visual aides, here’s an updated historical chart and table of contribution limits for the last 11 years. I’m happy to say that we’ve both done the max since 2004. Consistently saving for a decade can result in some fat nest eggs!

Year IRA Contribution Limit Additional Catch-Up Allowed (Age 50+)
2009 $5,000 $1,000
2010 $5,000 $1,000
2011 $5,000 $1,000
2012 $5,000 $1,000
2013 $5,500 $1,000
2014 $5,500 $1,000
2015 $5,500 $1,000
2016 $5,500 $1,000
2017 $5,500 $1,000
2018 $5,500 $1,000
2019 $6,000 $1,000

 

Traditional IRAs. If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, deductibility of your contribution to a Traditional IRA is based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and tax-filing status. See the IRS page on IRA deduction limits. However, there are no income restrictions as to who can contribute to the full contribution limit for a Traditional IRA.

Roth IRAs. It doesn’t matter if you are covered by a retirement plan at work for the Roth IRA, and contributions to a Roth are never deductible (but they aren’t taxed on upon qualified withdrawal). However, the contribution limit and overall eligibility may be capped based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and tax-filing status. See the IRS page on Roth IRA contribution limits. But wait… high-income earners may be able to get around these income restrictions with a Backdoor Roth IRA (non-deductible Traditional IRA + Roth conversion). Yeesh, I really wish they would simplify all this stuff.

Saver’s Credit. If your income is low enough (less than $63,000 AGI for married filing joint), the Saver’s Credit can get you back 10% to 50% of your contribution (of up to $2,000 per person) when you file your taxes.

Also see: 401k, 403b, TSP Historical Contribution Limits 2009-2019

Sources: IRS.gov, IRS.gov COLA Table [PDF]

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401k, 403b, TSP Historical Contribution Limits 2009-2019

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401k_limitsEmployer-based retirement plans like the 401(k), 403(b), and Thrift Savings Plan are not perfect, but they are often the best available option to save money in a tax-advantaged manner. For 2019, the employee elective deferral (contribution) limit for these plans increased to $19,000 (it is indexed to inflation). The additional catch-up contribution allowed for those age 50+ stays at $6,000 (for a total of $25,000).

Here’s a historical chart of contribution limits for the last 11 years (2009-2019).

Year 401k/403b Elective Deferral Limit Additional Catch-Up Allowed (Age 50+)
2009 $16,500 $5,500
2010 $16,500 $5,500
2011 $16,500 $5,500
2012 $17,000 $5,500
2013 $17,500 $5,500
2014 $17,500 $5,500
2015 $18,000 $6,000
2016 $18,000 $6,000
2017 $18,000 $6,000
2018 $18,500 $6,000
2019 $19,000 $6,000

 

The limits are the same for both Roth and “Traditional” pre-tax 401k plans, although the effective after-tax amounts can be quite different. Employer match contributions do not count towards the elective deferral limit. Curiously, some employer plans set their own limit on contributions. A former employer of mine had a 20% deferral limit, so if your income was $50,000 the most you could put away was $10,000 a year.

For 2019, the maximum contribution limit when you include both employer and employee contributions is $56,000, an increase of $1,000. The employer portion includes company match and profit-sharing contributions.

The employee salary deferral max limit applies even if you participate in multiple 401k plans.

Sources: IRS.gov, IRS.gov COLA Table [PDF], IRS on multiple plans.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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.

Investing $10,000 Every Year For the Last 10 Years, 2009-2018

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keepcalmInstead of just looking at one year of returns, I prefer taking a longer view. Most successful savers invest money each year over a long period of time, these days often into a target-date fund (TDF). Don’t get caught up in the daily news reporting the recent performance of the Dow or S&P 500.

Investment benchmark. There are many possible choices for an investment benchmark, but I chose the Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund. This all-in-one fund is low-cost, highly diversified, and available in many employer retirement plans as well open to anyone with an IRA. In the early accumulation phase, this fund is 90% stocks (both US and international) and 10% bonds (investment-grade domestic and international). I think it’s a solid default choice where you could easily do worse over the long run.

Investment amount. 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. It’s easy to multiply the results as needed.

A decade of real-world savings. To create a simple-yet-realistic scenario, 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. You’d have put in $100,000 over time, but in more manageable increments. With the handy tools at Morningstar and a Google spreadsheet, we get this:

Investing $10,000 every year for the last decade would have resulted in a $57,000 investment gain. If, for example, you were a couple that both maxed out their 401k and IRAs at roughly $20k each or $40k total per year, that would leave you with a gain of roughly $230,000 over the last decade (and a total balance of $630,000).

Timing still matters, but not as much as you might think due to the dollar-cost averaging and longer time horizon. More importantly, you can’t control that part. You have much more control over how much you save. Here are previous results for January 2007 to December 2016 and January 2008 to December 2017.

Work on improving your career skills (or start your own business), save a big chunk of your income, and then invest it in productive assets. Keep calm and repeat. Our path to financial freedom can be mostly explained by such behavior. The only “secret” here is consistency. We maxed out both IRA and the 401k salary deferral limits nearly every year since 2004. You can build wealth with something as accessible and boring as the Vanguard Target Retirement fund. We received no inheritances and don’t pay a brilliant hedge fund manager.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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.

Blooom Review 2019: Free 401k Analysis + Human CFP Financial Advice For $10 a Month

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Does the New Year have you motivated to give your retirement account a tune-up? As opposed to many other online advisors, Blooom.com (with three Os) focuses on providing advice for 401k, 403b, 457, and TSP accounts by offering both a free 401k analysis and charging a flat $10/month fee for ongoing portfolio management and CFP advice. They don’t require you to move any money over to them.

Free 401k analysis screenshots. Anyone can sign up for their free 401k analysis with no commitment. They don’t ask for last name or credit card information.

1. They ask you for first name, current age, and retirement age. You don’t need to be super-specific here, they just want some basic information to create your target asset allocation and time horizon.

2. They ask you short risk questionnaire. I’m still not convinced of the validity of finding your risk tolerance via a few multiple choice questions, but I suppose this is the most practical way to at least get you in the ballpark. They had me at 68% stocks and 32% bonds, which is actually really close to my actual stock/bond mix.

3. Provide your login credentials. Blooom will automatically pull in your 401k holdings and other information when you provide them your username and password. This is similar to how I track my own portfolio via Personal Capital. It took them a couple of minutes to crunch everything.

4. Analysis results and screenshots. They first give you an overall report card. Looks like I have a lot to work on:

Next, they told me about the fees that I am paying. It appears that because my fees were “difficult to identify”, they used an average number based on all of their clients. I’m guessing this is because I have a lot of non-mutual-fund holdings in my Solo 401k.

They then analyze asset allocation, identifying the mutual funds and assigning the proper asset class. They they compare with their recommended asset allocation for you:

Free 401k analysis review. My main concern about this analysis is that it only takes into account your 401k. If your 401k is your only retirement savings, then this is fine. However, my 401k is only a portion of my overall portfolio. In addition, I use tax-efficient asset placement, so my 401k mostly holds REITs and TIPs. While their asset allocation breakdown of my actual funds was mostly correct, I was never going to be close to their target mix. This prevented me from getting value out of this service.

Paid management service review. Here’s what the paid service includes:

  • Fee analysis. Each mutual fund you own charges an expense ratio that is quietly taken out of your balances daily. There may also be additional administrative fees charged by your provider.
  • Asset allocation advice. They will come up with a mix of stocks and bonds that are appropriate for your age, and time horizon. Their suggested asset allocation advice is in line with that of other robo-advisors.
  • Rebalancing service. Blooom will rebalance your assets periodically back towards your target values. They’ll help you maintain diversification across asset classes like US stocks, international stocks, safe bonds, etc.
  • Chat with Certified Financial Planners. You can e-mail or Live Chat with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) about any financial topic, not just 401ks.
  • Fiduciary advice. Blooom is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) and pledges a fiduciary duty under the law to give advice in your best interest only. This is an important detail!

Blooom has settled on a flat $10 a month fee for ongoing 401k management and advice. This is the same if you have $10,000 or $10 million. Flat fees end up being a high percentage of small accounts though, for example on $10,000 that ends up being 1.2% a year. My personal opinion is that if you have few thousand dollars or less, you should buy the cheapest S&P 500 index fund (or a low-cost Target Date fund) in your 401k and focus on increasing your contribution rate. You don’t need to pay $10 a month for advice right now. Asset allocation isn’t that important yet. Of course, the financial advisor access may be worth more than $10 a month by itself (see below).

While flat fees don’t work out mathematically for small accounts, you will start to save money as your account grows when compared to a percentage-based fee. Once you reach about $50,000 in assets, paying a flat $10 a month becomes cheaper than paying 0.25% of your assets annually.

If you had a solid low-cost, diversified Target Retirement fund from Vanguard, Fidelity Index Series, or Schwab Index Series, you may not need to pay for extra advice either. The asset allocation, rebalancing, and growing more conservative over time is all baked-in. The problem is that there are a lot of bad Target Retirement funds out there that have added layers of fees, stuffed with expensive questionable funds, and chase performance.

The hidden deal? You can get ongoing financial advice from a human CFP for only $10 a month! I think the most overlooked feature of the Blooom paid service is that they include the ability to Live Chat (text) or e-mail with Certified Financial Planners with no minimum balance requirement. A real human CFP, not some AI bot!

DID YOU KNOW blooom clients have access to a CFP? Just ping us on chat, email, Morse code, singing telegram, Pony Express… well, you get the idea, we are accessible.

You are welcome to ask questions about topics outside your 401k:

Ask our advisors any financial questions you have… even beyond 401ks! […] We go beyond retirement advice. Thinking about how a puppy or new car might affect you financially? Give us a whirl! Whether it’s $20 or $20,000, we want all our blooom members to make smart decisions about their finances.

I don’t know of any other place I can get a CFP to chat with me for ten bucks. For example, Betterment won’t let you have CFP access until you have $100,000 held with them (and 401k assets don’t count). You could always pay $10 for the first month and see how you like their CFP advice, as there is no contract on the monthly plan.

Bottom line. Blooom is an online financial advisor that manages 401k/403b/TSP employer retirement accounts. This works out if the majority of your retirement assets are in such a plan. They offer a free 401k/403b analysis to try them out. Above that, they will manage your funds and provide chat/e-mail access to a Certified Financial Planner for a flat $10 a month. This is one of the cheapest ways I know of to chat and email with a human Certified Financial Planner.

Disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with Blooom. If you try out the free 401k analysis, I get nothing. If you end up being a paid member of Blooom through one of the links above, I will get a commission at no extra cost to you. All content and opinions remain my own.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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 Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation and Performance Tracking, Year-End 2018

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Here’s my final quarterly portfolio update for Q4 2018. This is how I track my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover our household expenses. As of 2018, we are “semi-retired” and have started spending a portion of our dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

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

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

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

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

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. (Small changes to 65/35 or 70/30 are also fine.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the bond side, I still like high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds. Right now, my bond portfolio is about 1/3rd muni bonds, 1/3rd treasury bonds, and 1/3rd inflation-linked treasury bonds (and savings bonds).

On the stocks side, I made a few comments in my 2018 year-end asset class return review. US stocks went down in 2018, but international and emerging markets stocks did even worse. On the flipside, international and emerging markets are a lot cheaper based on various metrics. I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

Performance commentary. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went down 6.9% in 2018. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has lost 6% (excludes dividends), Foreign Developed stocks lost 14%, and the US Aggregate bond index was basically flat. Of course I didn’t want to see my value fall, but most of the change was due to a lower P/E ratio as opposed to lower earnings from companies.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of -5.9% for 2018.

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

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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.

Solo 401k: Best Self-Employed Retirement Plan For Aggressive Savers ($50k/$100k Income Example)

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Each December, I run the numbers to see how much more I can contribute to my Self-Employed 401k plan, aka Solo 401k or Individual 401k. Fidelity, Vanguard, and Dinkytown (used below) have calculators to figure out contribution limits to various types of retirement plans (Solo 401k, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA, Profit Sharing Plan).

In general, as long as your income isn’t too high ($275,000+) and you aren’t deferring salary from another workplace retirement plan, the Solo 401k will allow you to defer the largest percentage of your business income. This is because the Solo 401k allows you defer as much as $18,500 (2018) in salary as an employee as well as 20% of your net self-employment income as an employer (both sides of your business) up to $55,000 total (2018). For example, if your income from your side business was $5,000 and you had no other salary deferral elsewhere, you could put 100% of that into a Solo 401k. (If you are age 50 or over, you can also add a $6,000 catch-up contribution to the salary deferral limit.)

Here are sample numbers for a $50,000 net income to your self-employed business. This assumes you are a sole proprietorship or an LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship. The math for a single-owner corporation is slightly different.

At $50,000 net business income, you can defer 56% annually ($27,793). This is exactly $18,500 more than if you went with the SEP-IRA.

Here’s the comparison for a $100,000 net income to your sole proprietorship.

At $100,000 net business income, you can defer 37% annually ($37,087). Again, this is exactly $18,500 more than if you went with the SEP-IRA.

Now, the Solo 401k does require a bit more paperwork. For example, you will need to file the IRS Form 5500-EZ separately every year once your Solo 401k assets exceed $250,000 to avoid steep IRS late penalties. SEP-IRAs have no such annual requirement. Therefore, if you don’t intend to take advantage of the higher contribution limits of a Solo 401k, I would consider sticking with the SEP-IRA. But if your goal is a high savings rate and maximum tax-deferred funds, look into the Solo 401k. I would compare the offerings from Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab. (Mine is at Fidelity.)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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 Money Blog Portfolio Income – October 2018

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For a young person making a plan to reach financial independence at a very early age (under 50), I think using a 3% withdrawal rate is a reasonable rule of thumb. For someone retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65), I think 4% is a reasonable rule of thumb. However, life is less stressful when you are spending just the dividends and interest generated by your portfolio. The analogy I fall back on is owning a rental property. If you are reliably getting rent checks that increase with inflation, you can sit back calmly and ignore what the house might sell for on the open market.

Therefore, I track the “TTM Yield” or “12 Mo. Yield” from Morningstar, which the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) plus any capital gains distributed over the same period. (Index funds have low turnover and thus little in capital gains.) I like this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a very close approximation of my portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 10/21/18) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
25% 1.71% 0.43%
US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR)
5% 1.96% 0.10%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
25% 2.86% 0.72%
Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
5% 2.56% 0.13%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 4.30% 0.26%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWIUX)
17% 2.90% 0.49%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VAIPX)
17% 3.30% 0.56%
Totals 100% 2.69%

 

The 2.7% trailing income yield is up slightly than in recent updates, mostly due to increased bond interest. The fact that interest rates are now reliably above inflation across the yield curve is good in my opinion, even if it means some of my bond prices drop. The relative contribution of US stocks is down, as US stock prices are slightly up. The relative contribution of International stocks is up, as International stock prices are down. In this way, tracking yield adjusts in a very rough manner for valuation.

We are a real 40-year-old couple with three young kids, and this money has to last us a lifetime (without stomach ulcers). This number does not dictate how much we actually spend every year, but it gives me an idea of how comfortable I am with our withdrawal rate. We spend less than this amount now, but I like to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. If we both lose our jobs, we should have manageable expenses such that we still won’t need to spend more than 2.7% to 3%. For now, we are quite fortunate to be able to do work that is meaningful to us, in an amount where we still enjoy it and don’t get burned out.

Life is not a Monte Carlo simulation, and you need a plan to ride out the rough times. Even if you run a bunch of numbers looking back to 1920 and it tells you some number is “safe”, that’s still trying to use 100 years of history to forecast 50 years into the future. Michael Pollan says that you can sum up his eating advice as “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” You can sum up my thoughts on portfolio income as “Spend mostly dividends and interest. Don’t eat too much principal.”

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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 Money Blog Portfolio Asset Allocation, October 2018

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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.

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Here’s my quarterly portfolio update for Q3 2018. These are my real-world holdings and includes 401k/403b/IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts but excludes our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create enough income to cover our household expenses. As of 2018, we are “semi-retired” and have started spending some dividends and interest from this portfolio.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, tracks my balances, calculates my performance, and gives me a rough asset allocation. I still use my custom Rebalancing Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it tells me exactly how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here is my portfolio performance for the year and rough asset allocation (real estate is under alternatives), according to Personal Capital:

Here is my more specific asset allocation broken down into a stocks-only pie chart and a bonds-only pie chart, according to my custom spreadsheet:

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

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

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I personally believe that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than US Large/Total and International Large/Total, although I could be wrong. I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin as they don’t provide any income and I don’t believe they’ll outpace inflation significantly.

I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 50% High-quality, Intermediate-Term Bonds
  • 50% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the bond side, as Treasury rates have risen, last quarter I sold my shares of Vanguard High-Yield Tax Exempt and replaced it with Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury. I liked the slightly higher yield of that (still pretty high quality) muni fund, but as I settle into semi-retirement mode, I don’t want to worry about the potential of state pension obligations making the muni market volatile. In addition, my tax bracket is lower now and the Federal tax-exempt benefits of muni bonds relatively to the state tax-exempt benefit of Treasury bonds is much smaller now. On a very high level, my bond portfolio is about 1/3rd muni bonds, 1/3rd treasury bonds, and 1/3rd inflation-linked treasury bonds (and savings bonds). These are all investment-grade and either short or intermediate term (average duration of 6 years or less).

No real changes on the stocks side. I know that US stocks have higher valuations, but that’s something that is already taken into account with my investment plan as I own businesses from around the world and US stocks are only about 30% of my total portfolio. I have been buying more shares of the Emerging Markets index fund as part of my rebalancing with new dividends and interest. I am considering tax-loss harvesting some older shares with unrealized losses against another Emerging Markets ETF.

The stock/bond split is currently at 68% stocks/32% bonds. Once a quarter, I reinvest any accumulated dividends and interest that were not spent. I don’t use automatic dividend reinvestment.

Performance commentary. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio now slightly down in 2018 (-2.7% YTD). I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gained 5% (excludes dividends), Foreign (EAFA?) stocks are down 8.2%, and the US Aggregate bond index is down 2.4%. My portfolio is relatively heavy in international stocks which have done worse than US stocks so far this year.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX) and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund (VSMGX), one is 60/40 and one is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +0.07% YTD (as of 10/16/18).

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

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The Quest of the Simple Life: Escaping The Work Grind in 1907 vs. 2018

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The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson was published over 100 years ago; it’s so old that the copyright has expired, making the book public domain (and thus available as a free Kindle download). Yet, other than the old-fashioned writing style that required regular dictionary usage, much of the contents are perfectly applicable today! Here are some excerpts to help prove my point, and at the end I compare 1907 vs. 2018. (Any bolded parts are my doing.)

On the feeling that your family time is lacking:

Let us take the life of the average business man by way of example. Such a man will rise early, sleep late, and eat the bread of carefulness, if he means to succeed. His children scarcely know him; they are asleep when he goes off in the morning, and asleep when he returns at night; he is to them the strange man who sits at the head of the table once a week and carves the Sunday joint. It is well for them if they have a mother who possesses gifts of government, sympathy, and patient comprehension, for it is clear that they have no father. He gets a living, and perhaps in time an ample living; but does he live?

On the true cost of “Keeping up appearances”:

Money may be bought at too dear a rate. The average citizen, if he did but know it, is always buying money too dear. He earns, let us say, four hundred pounds a year; but the larger proportion of this sum goes in what is called ‘keeping up appearances.’ He must live in a house at a certain rental; by the time that his rates and taxes are paid he finds one-eighth of his income at least has gone to provide a shelter for his head. A cottage, at ten pounds a year, would have served him better, and would have been equally commodious. He must needs send his children to some private ‘academy’ for education, getting only bad education and high charges for his pains; a village board-school at twopence a week would have offered undeniable advantages. He must wear the black coat and top-hat sacred to the clerking tribe; a tweed suit and cap are more comfortable, and half the price. At all points he is the slave of convention, and he pays a price for his convention out of all proportion to its value. At a moderate estimate half the daily expenditure of London is a sacrifice to the convention or imposture of respectability.

On the cost of commuting and eating out:

In all but very fine weather I must needs use some means of public conveyance every day; there was a daily lunch to be provided; and when work kept me late at the office there was tea as well. One can lunch comfortably on a shilling or eighteenpence a day; and I knew places where I could have lunched for much less, but they were in parts of the town which I could not reach in the brief time at my disposal. Moreover, one must needs be the slave of etiquette even though he be a clerk, and if all the staff of an office frequent a certain restaurant, one must perforce fall into line with them under penalty of social ostracism. Thus, whether I liked it or not, for five days in the week I had to spend eighteenpence a day for lunch, and fourpence for teas; and if we add those small gratuities which the poorest men take it as a point of honour to observe, here was an annual expenditure of 25 pounds.

Various quotes about those who feel this certain type of “discontent”:

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few. […]

The debate went on for years, and it was ended only when I applied to it one fixed and reasoned principle. That principle was that my first business as a rational creature was not to get a living but to live; and that I was a fool to sacrifice the power of living in securing the means of life. […]

My chief occupation through these years was to keep my discontent alive. Satisfaction is the death of progress, and I knew well that if I once acquiesced entirely in the conditions of my life, my fate was sealed. […]

To the man who detests the nature of his employment as I detested mine, I would say at once, either conquer your detestation or change your work. Work that is not genuinely loved cannot possibly be done well. […]

On looking back having lived his new simpler life successfully for four years:

After four years’ experiment in Quest of the Simple Life I am in a position to state certain conclusions, which are sufficiently authoritative with me to suggest that they may have some weight with my readers. These conclusions I will briefly recapitulate. The chief discovery which I have made is that man may lead a perfectly honourable, sufficing, and even joyous existence upon a very small income. Money plays a part in human existence much less important than we suppose. The best boon that money can bestow upon us is independence. How much money do we need to secure independence? That must depend on the nature of our wants.

Honestly, after finishing the book I was suspicious that it was written as some sort of strange parody, as some of the themes were so similar to what folks face today. But William James Dawson appears legit and wrote several other books during the same period. Here’s a comparison between Dawson in 1907 vs. a hypothetical person in 2018:

1907: The author worked full-time as a clerk in London, but finds himself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. He worked long hours, didn’t enjoy his desk job, and felt his health suffering in the sooty city air. He calculated that much of his expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. He dreamed of a simple rural life. He found a small cottage in the countryside with very low rent. He fished, hunted, and farmed much of his food and paid for the rest with his earnings as a freelance writer for a local newspaper.

2018: A young woman works full-time in a large urban metro, but finds herself dissatisfied with that lifestyle. She worked long hours, didn’t enjoy her desk job, and felt her health suffering due to sitting in front of a computer all day. She calculates that much of her expenses went to simply keeping up everyone else: higher rent, high commuting costs (time and money), paying extra to eat out with coworkers at lunch, maintaining a proper work wardrobe, and so on. She dreamed of a simpler life. A small (tiny?) house or RV on a cheap piece of land. She gained income from her investments, including a rental property (Airbnb?) and stock dividends. The rest was covered with freelance work through Upwork or Elance.

Bottom line. In some ways, life hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Some folks will become unsatisfied enough with the commonly chosen path and take the risk of making huge changes. A simpler life with lower costs but more time with friends and family. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have the money for full “financial independence” yet, but perhaps a job more aligned with your true values where you aren’t solely maximizing income.

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What Happens If You Run Out of Money in Retirement?

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This is not a happy post, but it’s also the reality for a lot of people so I think it is a valid discussion. The Early Retirement forums had a thread recently titled What If You Run Out of Money?:

I’m wondering–what would happen to someone who literally ran out of money before they died? I mean, if someone is in their 80s and penniless, would society really let them just die in their home? […] Does anybody actually know anybody who ran out of money after they retired because they didn’t save enough?

As you can see in the pie chart, an Allianz Insurance survey found that 61% of the Baby Boomer generation feared outliving their money more than they feared their own death (source).

My answer is yes, I know someone who essentially ran out of money in retirement. The person was an older, single female coworker who retired right when I started working. While I don’t know her entire life story, she did not have any sort of savings when her job ended. Without a pension, 401k, or individual savings, her sole source of income was Social Security of about $1,000 a month. (Now that I know the terminology, maybe there was SSI.) She was forced to sell most of her things and relocate to a cheap part of Florida (warmer weather, no state income taxes) and move into a mobile home where the rent was under $500 a month. It had a name like “Sunny Gardens”, and while she wasn’t starving or homeless, it was a very precarious lifestyle. Many of her neighbors were in a similar situation.

This Atlantic article This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like tells pretty much the same story.

  • You will work as long as you are physically able to do so.
  • You will rely on Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a program for low-income seniors, and/or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).
  • You may have to find a roommate to sharing housing costs and utilities. Otherwise, you might move into a mobile home, or simply rent a room in a house.
  • You will rely on whatever other local/state governmental assistance is available, for example Section 8 housing vouchers.
  • You may have to ask for assistance from family, friends, church-members, and charities.
  • You may have trouble paying for your medications when not covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
  • It will be difficult to avoid racking up debt and thus making it even harder to get back out of survival mode.

I was going to say “No, society wouldn’t just let them die” but then I read the stat that nearly half of all single homeless adults were aged 50 and older in 2016, as compared to 11 percent in 1990. There is a social safety net as described above, but that net has holes.

In terms of public policy, it remains quite a challenge to design a better social safety net that people think is fair, compassionate, and not open to abuse. I root for the people fighting that fight. Some people have overcome struggles that I can’t even fathom, and I try to avoid making judgments on others without knowing the entire picture. At the same time, I also think it’s important to keep believing that our individual actions matter. All we can do is play our best with the cards we were dealt. (And maybe help others out based on our own abilities.)

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Everyone Worries About Money, Even The Wealthy

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Here’s a refreshingly blunt quote from Scott Galloway’s article Yay Capitalism via It Is Always About The Money via Abnormal Returns:

Wealthy people claim they don’t think much about money. That’s bullshit; they are obsessed with money. The notion that rich people don’t think about money is an attempt to dampen resentment (e.g., revolution) from the 3.5B people who have fewer assets than the wealthiest 12 individuals. What, like, rich people got there because they are just so benign and talented, it just happened (oops, I’m rich)? People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich. They have doggedly pursued a path and have been obsessed with success for a long time. They want to sound inspirational and give you a sound bite, because the truth that success requires 60–80-hr weeks for several decades doesn’t get applause in graduation speeches.

Every wealthy person I’ve known measures their net worth in frightening detail, and often. You have to stay nimble, or you stand to lose a lot. We live in a capitalist society, and the amount of money you have is a forward-looking indicator of the effectiveness your healthcare, the comfort of your home, the harmony of your marriage, and the quality of your children’s education.

Regarding that last sentence, I might agree up to a certain level of wealth, but after that I don’t think better healthcare or a more comfortable home is the reason that the wealthy still keep worrying about money.

I think it’s just another weird artifact of human psychology. If we can keep making money, it’s really hard to stop. Most wealthy people still work. They may say that they just like work (“passion” again), and that may be true, but another major reason is they want to keep making money. Earning money provides a measure of self-worth. Earning money provides a sense of security. Certain jobs may come with respect and power. (They might say they would it for free, but they wouldn’t for long. Every job has annoying parts that you accept because of the money.) If the hardest part of retirement is building up the pile, the second hardest might be saying no to adding more to the pile.

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Vanguard 10-Year Expected Asset Class Returns (2018)

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I was surprised to read the NY Times article Vanguard Warns of Worsening Odds for the Economy and Markets. Everything is written very carefully using odds so that there is no “prediction” that could be called “wrong” later on, but at the same time if there is a future recession, they will appear to have been “right”. I didn’t know that Vanguard did these sort of economic predictions or that they were deemed so noteworthy.

As the chart below reminds us, all bull markets must eventually come to an end:

risefall_720b

The question is, what is the point? What is actionable about this? You could view this article as encouraging market timing (sell stocks now!), or it could be a prudent reminder to rebalance and assess your risk exposure (sell a little stock now? maybe?). The latter is always a good idea, so let’s be generous and call it that. I wonder what Jack Bogle thinks. I mean, the title of his upcoming book about the history of Vanguard is Stay the Course.

For posterity, I wanted to record their expected 10-year (annualized) returns for the following asset classes (as of mid-2018):

  • US Stocks 3.9%
  • International Stocks 6.5%
  • US Total Bond (Corporate + Government) 3.3%
  • International Bonds 2.9%
  • Commodities 5.9%
  • US Treasury Bonds 3%
  • Cash 2.9%

These are nominal numbers. In another economic outlook article, Vanguard projects inflation to run slightly under 2% annualized.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings 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.