Schwab Plan Review: Free DIY Financial Planning Software

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Schwab has rolled out a new digital financial planning tool called Schwab Plan. They claim it to be a simplified version of the same financial planning software used by many human financial advisors. From their press release:

Schwab Plan is a digital self-guided financial plan available through Schwab.com that helps investors build a personalized plan that includes a range of factors such as desired retirement age, retirement goals, social security expectations, portfolio risk profile and asset allocation, and various income sources.

[…] they are able to generate a retirement plan that shows retirement goals and probability of funding those goals, a comparison of an individual’s current asset allocation to a recommended allocation based on plan inputs, and suggested next steps to get and stay on track.

Access to this tool is free to anyone with any type of Schwab account. (Eventually, this should include TD Ameritrade clients as well.) There is no minimum asset requirement and you don’t need to sign up for a new service. For example, I was able to access it with only a Schwab PCRA brokerage window account. Here are a few initial impressions and screenshots after testing it out.

First, you enter some basic personal information like current age, gender, retirement age, and life expectancy:

Next, you estimate your income needs in retirement. They offer additional assistance in estimated your health insurance costs in retirement. You then enter your assets and income sources. Your Schwab accounts are automatically imported, and you can manually add the raw balances of additional external accounts (no account aggregation). They use your information to estimate your Social Security income, and also ask about stock options and restricted stock units.

(They don’t ask about children, college savings, term life insurance, disability insurance, or any of those smaller details that a full-service advisor would ask about. There is also very little customization available in terms of recognizing your external asset allocations.)

Once everything is entered, they run a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate your probability of success.

You can then adjust the variables, such your retirement age and future spending, in order to see how it affects your success rate. I found the analysis to be reasonably consistent with my other research, and I liked that the results changed significantly for an early retirement (45 year period) as opposed to a traditional retirement (30 year period). They use a “confidence zone” system:

(The Monte Carlo simulations above does not equate to an 86% confidence level. This was after making some tweaks to improve the results.)

Bottom line. Schwab has added a free financial planning tool for all of their customers (no minimum asset requirement). After testing it out, it is not quite “professional-grade”, but I did find it to be slightly more advanced than most other free options. I would recommend trying it out if you have any type of Schwab account. Of course, it also provides a pathway to upgrade to their other portfolio management services, and I still have concerns about their Intelligent Portfolios product.

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.

Money in Excel Review – Good For Budget Tracking, Bad For Investments

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Thanks to generous assistance from a reader, I was able to spend some time poking around the new Money in Excel template for Microsoft 365 Personal or Family subscribers. Does it fulfill its promise of helping you “see all your financial accounts in one place, make a plan, and reach your financial goals”? Here’s my rundown of the features that were included and those that were missed.

Accounts Toolbar. After following the clear installation instructions, you can add your various financial accounts using the toolbar on the right-hand side. (I just connected a few secondary accounts for review purposes.) Plaid is used for account aggregation, where you provide your login and passwords and they use that to grab your account balances and transaction history. This data import feeds the rest of the Excel worksheet, but the panel itself is a useful at-a-glance snapshot of your finances. The feel is very similar to the “Overview” page on the Intuit Mint app.

Customized Categories. In the “Categories” worksheet, you can create and edit the names of custom categories used to organize your transactions. For example, I added “Charitable Giving”. You can’t edit the original, default categories.

Transactions. You then move onto the “Transactions” worksheet, where you can edit the categories assigned to each specific imported transaction. If you have a lot of transactions across different bank and credit card accounts, this provides a handy aggregate view of everything together.

Spending analysis. For the most part, this template is about budgeting and spending. Once have all your transactions imported and categories, it will generate some basic charts and provide some simple insights into your expenses. Here are some examples:

  • Spending breakdown by category
  • Current vs. previous month spending
  • Cumulative spending over the month
  • Net worth calculation (assets minus liabilities)
  • Top merchant: Where did you spend the most money?
  • Bank fees: How much are you paying in fees?
  • Subscriptions: Where are your recurring expenses?

This is all useful for someone trying to understand their spending and developing their own budgeting system, but it’s definitely not groundbreaking. Mint.com has providing this type of service for many years. The main differences are that there are no pesky advertisements inside your own Excel worksheet, while the Mint smartphone app may be more convenient.

Missing: Holdings, asset allocation, performance tracking. I am able to connect to an investment account, but it only shows me the total dollar balance. That’s it, as far as I can tell. There is no data on individual holdings, no asset allocation breakdown, no performance tracking.

Missing: Investment transaction list. I am not able to see historical buy/sell transactions on a simple view-only basis, like on the credit card side. It would be nice just to see the last 10 transactions, for example.

There are other portfolio spreadsheets where you can manually input ticker symbols and share counts and they’ll pull in market quotes, but that doesn’t adjust for events like dividends, stock splits, and dividend reinvestment. I was hoping to create a single portfolio spreadsheet using the imported data cells from my brokerage accounts, one that would provide a live view of all my investment accounts, but also allow me to manipulate those data in order to determine if/when to rebalance my portfolio.

For now, I will have to stick with my existing system using 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. Then, I use my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) to help me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Bottom line. The “Money in Excel” template for Microsoft 365 Family and Personal subscribers is a free, basic template that imports your spending transactions across different bank and credit card accounts. It can help you with monthly budgeting, but not much beyond that. I hope that in the future they expand it to investment accounts and allow you to have more control over your data. It would also be nice if they made it free for everyone with access to Excel, not just Microsoft 365 Family and Personal subscribers.

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.

Free Social Security Tool for Optimal Benefit Claiming Strategy

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Update: The free Open Social Security tool has been updated to include a new “heat map” visualization that illustrates the relative values of claiming Social Security at different ages. Details here. Here is a sample graph for a couple with similar income histories and the same age:

For this situation, we see that the worst expected outcomes would occur if both individuals claimed really early. The best expected outcomes occur when one claims relatively early and the other claims relatively late.

Original post:

socialsecuritycardWhen to start claiming Social Security to maximize your potential benefit can be a complicated question, especially for couples. There are multiple paid services that will run the numbers for you, including Social Security Solutions (aka SS Analyzer) and Maximize My Social Security, which cost between $20 and $250 depending on included features.

Mike Piper of Oblivious Investor has created a free, open-source calculator called Open Social Security. To use the calculator, you will need to your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). This amount depends on your future income, so I would first consult this other free Social Security benefit estimator tool to more easily estimate your PIA. I believe the value you see at SSA.gov assumes that you will keep working at your historical average income until your claiming age (which won’t be the case for us).

Here are our results as a couple, assuming we were the same age (we are close) and with my expected benefit being slightly higher than hers:

The strategy that maximizes the total dollars you can be expected to spend over your lifetimes is as follows:

You file for your retirement benefit to begin 12/2047, at age 70 and 0 months.
Your spouse files for his/her retirement benefit to begin 4/2040, at age 62 and 4 months.

The present value of this proposed solution would be $657,749.

Basically, the tool says that my wife should apply as soon as possible, while I should claim as late as possible. I believe this is because this scenario allows us claim at least some income starting from 62, and if I die first after that, my wife would still be able to “upgrade” to my higher benefit.

The tool might take some time to run the calculations, depending on your browser. You can learn more and provide feedback at Bogleheads and Github.

I am not a Social Security expert, and am not qualified to speak to the accuracy of the results. However, Mr. Piper is the author of the highly-rated book Social Security Made Simple, has a history of doing thorough work, and the tool has been around a while now. If I were close to 62, I would probably also use the paid services for a second and third opinion. Why? Spending $100 now could save you many thousands in the future.

The best thing about this free tool is that it can introduce a lot of people to ideas that they would have not otherwise considered. Even if it lacks every bell or whistle, being free means it can help more people. Many spouses wouldn’t think of having one claim as early as possible (age 62), and then have the other claim as late as possible (age 70). It’s not common sense unless you understand the inner workings of Social Security.

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

Better Future: Free Background Check Powered by Checkr

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(Update: I just read the Vox article, Beware of these futuristic background checks, and that reminded me of this service. An inaccurate background check can prevent you from getting a job. Unfortunately, they have temporarily suspended their free background checks due to COVID-19.)

While updating my posts on free Consumer Reports, I noticed that Checkr offered a free background check via the BetterFuture.com website. No credit card required, no trials. Checkr is a legitimate company that provides background checks for Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Instacart, so I valued their results more than most other “free lookup” sites.

The benefit of knowing what is on your background check is that you can fix any inaccuracies before applying for employment. In return, Checkr makes money by trying to connect you with relevant job opportunities based on your unique information.

Better Future takes your basic information (name, address, SSN) and pulls data from federal databases and public records from over 3,200 local counties. The sections of the background check report are:

  • Address History
  • SSN Trace
  • Sex Offender Search
  • Global Watchlist Search (International crime databases)
  • National Criminal Search
  • County Criminal Searches

I decided to run a free background check on myself, and it only took about an hour even though it said it might take up to 3 days. The information shown was all correct to my knowledge. Here’s a redacted screenshot of my report:

The background check does not include Employment History, Driving Records, or Civil Records. Here is the disclaimer that comes with the report:

This background check is for the named individual only. Better Future searched the sources listed below based on the information you provided. Failure to provide accurate or complete information may affect results. Third parties, such as potential employers, may search other databases for information about you. This is not a “consumer report” as defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and may not be used for determining any person’s eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, housing, or for any other purposes covered under the FCRA.

Bottom line. Checkr offers a free background check via BetterFuture.com. No credit cards, no trials. In return, they can match you up with job opportunities (optional). I signed up for a free report and I found no errors in the information.

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.

Portfolio Charts Tool Tests Flexible Withdrawals in Retirement

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You’ve probably heard of the “4% rule” when withdrawing income from a retirement portfolio. I think using such a rule is fine when you are early in the accumulation phase, although I like the “3% rule” better for early (long) retirements. But heck, reach 25x expenses first and then reassess. However, when it’s actually time to spend down that money, the execution can be tricky. If you start out taking 4% on a $1,000,000 portfolio ($40,000) and then the market drops 50%, will you really take $40,000 (8%) out of your sub-$500,000 portfolio the next year?

Being flexible in your withdrawals works better with both theoretical backtests and natural tendencies. If my portfolio drops 50%, I’m going to tighten the belt and spend less money the next year. Some people may not want to admit this, but I would consider taking on a part-time job again in a severe event. I collect part-time job ideas as part of this Plan B.

On the flip side, if you’ve used a lot of portfolio simulators like FIRECalc and Engaging Data, you’ll notice that your portfolio sometimes gets crazy huge. If your portfolio doubles in size, you might decide to live it up a bit and spend more than 4% of your original amount (inflation-adjusted).

Accordingly, I was impressed to see that Portfolio Charts updated their already-useful Retirement Spending Tool to account for flexible portfolio withdrawals. Everything has been elegantly simplified into four variables:

Withdrawal Rate: the percentage of the portfolio you withdraw every year to fund your retirement expenses

Change Limit: The maximum amount that a withdrawal can increase or decrease from year to year

Account Trigger: A simple rule for when you’re allowed to increase or decrease spending based on how the portfolio is doing relative to its original value

Withdrawal Limit: The minimum or maximum withdrawal you realistically need to pay the bills and live a happy life regardless of what a flexible spending strategy might recommend

Keep in mind that the spending is already inflation-adjusted, i.e. it increases each year with inflation even with no change. Here’s a screenshot:

Take some time to play around with the many combinations. You could see what happens if you let the withdrawals vary wildly. You could see what happens if you only allow the withdrawal amount vary within a tight range. How does your portfolio balance change? For example, I thought about starting with a relatively conservative number like 3% base withdrawal rate, but also be willing to drop it to 2.7% (10% less) if the portfolio drops by 10% in value. Meanwhile, I’d wait until the portfolio increases by 50% before I start paying cash to fly business class everywhere (#goals).

If I were to have a wish list for a new feature, I would like it to show me the minimum balance that the portfolio reached during any of the scenarios. This would let me know the maximum drawdown experienced using my set of variables, as the chart is a little hard to read.

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.

Free Websites Reveal Your Address History and Names of Relatives (How to Opt Out)

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

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Updated 2019 with more websites. “People would care more about privacy if they knew how exposed they already are online,” says Geoffrey A. Fowler in his WSJ article Your Data Is Way More Exposed Than You Realize.

I hear this all the time: “I have nothing to hide.” The truth is, pretty much everybody does something online they have reason to keep private.

I would have to agree. These days, it just takes a few clicks to find out your age, current and past addresses, phone numbers, and the names of your parents, siblings, children, cousins, and in-laws (and thus all of their information). Try entering your own name and city into one of the first few websites on this list:

  • Peoplefinders.com – Public access to your current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives and associates. Opt out at www.peoplefinders.com/manage.
  • InstantCheckMate.com – Public access to your current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives and associates. Opt out at www.instantcheckmate.com/opt-out.
  • FamilyTreeNow.com – Public access to your current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives and associates. Opt out at www.familytreenow.com/optout.
  • TruePeopleSearch.com – Public access to your current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives and associates. Opt out at www.truepeoplesearch.com/removal.
  • MyHeritage.com – Must e-mail them at privacy@myheritage.com to remove information.
  • Geni.com – Must e-mail them at privacy@geni.com to opt out.
  • Spokeo.com – Public/paid access to birth month, email, current and past addresses, phone numbers, relatives, social networks and court records. Opt out at spokeo.com/optout.
  • Acxiom is a data broker that uses information to target ads and marketing. I found some unique data on there, although supposedly it’s not public (just up for sale). Opt out at acxiom.com/optout.

Opt out. For most of these websites, there is an opt-out option hidden in either their “Terms & Conditions” or “Privacy Policy” pages. Even though many of these sites appears to be clones of each other, you must opt out of each of them individually. The only “good” news is that where available, my opt out requests were fulfilled and I can’t find those records even a year later. It’s like stomping a cockroach but knowing there are more that you just can’t see.

Here are some related resources:

Facebook and Google serve as bottomless vacuums of your personal data. These tools help show you exactly what they keep.

  • StalkScan.com – Not public. Just links to specific parts of your own Facebook profile. Find out everything that Facebook stores about you, even if it’s hard to find otherwise.
  • Google Maps Timeline – Google may be tracking your location all day long and keeping records forever. Not public. You can log in and request your data to be deleted.
  • Google My Activity – Google may be tracking every search and your web browsing history and keeping records. Not public. You can log in and request your data to be deleted.

Free Consumer Reports. You can also get a copy of your data stored at official consumer reporting agencies via the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

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 Nest Egg Calculators: Running Out of Money vs. Running Out of Time

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

If you have researched retirement at all (early or otherwise), you’ve probably ran across various retirement calculators online. You input how much money you have (or plan to have), your asset allocation, and it spits out some numbers. This Vanguard Retirement Nest Egg Calculator is a good example of a simple version.

Let’s try an example. If I am 40 years old and thus assume I have up to 50 years left in retirement, and I want to maintain a 4% withdrawal rate ($40,000 a year from a $1,000,000 portfolio that is 65% stocks/30% bonds/5% cash), the tool uses Monte Carlo simulations to calculate that I have an 80% chance of lasting 50 years.

There is effectively one output: the odds of not running out of money. Either you still have at least a dollar, or you don’t. In my example, I have an 80% chance of having $1 or more at age 90.

But what if you also considered the odds of running out of time? Yes, that’s a euphemism for dying. (Ever notice how many of those we have?) In another neat tool from Engaging-Data.com, Will Your Money Last If You Retire Early? adds some helpful nuance to this analysis. You input the same types of information, but now in any given year you are provided the overall odds of each of these things happening:

  • Red – You are alive, but ran out of money.
  • Light green – You are alive, with less money than you started with. (Kinda nervous?)
  • Green – You are alive, with between 100% and 200% of what you started with. (Nice and comfy.)
  • Dark green – You are alive, with over 200% of what you started with. (In hindsight, I didn’t need to save so much…)
  • Grey – You are pushing up daisies. (In hindsight, maybe should’ve retired earlier…)

Here are sample results for the early retirement scenario above at 4% withdrawal rate (age 40, retirement horizon 50 years, $40k from a $1m 65/35/5 portfolio). I picked the female mortality table – if you have a male/female couple, it’s safer to pick the person likely to live longer.

There’s an angry streak of red where I’m broke. Of course, there’s a bigger streak of grey where I’m not breathing.

Here’s the same scenario, except with a lower 3% withdrawal rate ($30,000 a year from a $1,000,000 initial portfolio):

That change got rid of the red, but there is a lot of dark green. (1% makes a big difference.)

Here are sample results for a more traditional retirement scenario: (age 65, retirement horizon 25 years, $40k from a $1m 65/35/5 portfolio)

As a financially conservative person, these charts help illustrate why I prefer working with a 3% safe withdrawal rate for early retirement (50 and under) and 4% safe withdrawal rate for traditional retirement (closer to 65).

My favorite part of this tool is that it makes you take into account your mortality. It’s not all about staying above $1 in the bank, but also about maximizing your years of freedom. If you’re 40, you have a 10% chance of dying before even reaching 65. (This is why most people know someone who died shortly after retirement.) Is it better to have zero chance of broke and be 70, or 5% chance of broke and 60 with 10 more years of retirement (and 10 fewer years of work)? It is better to live a little more luxuriously for shorter time, or a little more frugally for a longer time? Playing around with all the different input variables might help you weigh the options.

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

How Much Do You Need To Save For College? Vanguard 529 Calculator

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Thinking about 529 plans and like playing around with interactive calculators? This Vanguard tool helps you visualize how much you’ll need to save for college and how changing up a specific factor would affect your results. It adjusts for age, contributions, investment returns, tuition inflation, and even looks up the current cost of your favorite university. A formal report is spit out with lots of charts, just like a financial advisor might create for you. Here’s a sample screenshot:

Tuition inflation is something that I think is hard to predict. However, I couldn’t think of anything better than accepting the default assumptions that investment return will only barely outpace tuition inflation.

If you’d rather have a quick, simple scenario, check out this Vanguard article on the power of automatic savings. If you put away $130 a month automatically every month for 18 years, at a 6% return you’d end up with $50,000. Putting away $50 a month reliably would get you to $20,000.

Nearly half of your final amount would be due to investment growth, which thanks to the 529 plan can be tax-free when used towards qualified educational expenses.

I’m still in the camp that retirement should be prioritized over college savings, but I definitely understand the parental instinct to provide the best educational opportunity possible. I’m still pondering the idea of targeting funding college with 1/3rd savings, 1/3rd spending from current income, and 1/3rd grants/scholarships/loans.

Finally, here is another set of handy Vanguard tools, a 529 Plan Interactive Comparison Map and Tax Deduction Calculator.

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.

Readwise: Turn Your Kindle Highlights Into a Personalized Email Newsletter

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

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I love physical books, but my favorite thing about Kindle books is the highlight feature. It’s really hard to remember everything that you read. This is why I try to condense my handwritten notes in my book reviews. I’ll let The Atlantic explain Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.

Readwise syncs with your Kindle highlights and then sends you a daily digest with five highlights taken from books that you have read. You’ll need to install a browser extension. It can include Kindle highlights done outside of eBooks, iBooks, Instapaper, and PDFs.

Here’s an example of what I was sent the other day. (I scaled it back to weekly emails.) Much of my reading is about either finance or biographies. A lot of personal finance is in the “simple but not easy” category, so it’s helpful to keep things fresh. Some of the highlights lack context, but I have found most to be useful.

The Elements of Investing by Burton G. Malkiel, Charles D. Ellis.

Rebalancing will not always increase returns. But it will always reduce the riskiness of the portfolio and it will always ensure that your actual allocation stays consistent with the right allocation for your needs and temperament.

Skating Where the Puck Was by William J Bernstein.

To complete the picture, the traditional source of portfolio diversification, international equity exposure, has likewise tarnished; with increasing market globalization, the correlations among equities around the world have crept ever higher.

The Most Important Thing by Howard Marks.

Risk means uncertainty about which outcome will occur and about the possibility of loss when the unfavorable ones do.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow.

“…The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” I was a thirty-seven-year-old bachelor when Jai and I met.

How does Readwise make money? From what I can tell, right now it is free during “beta”. They have a VIP level that cost $5 a month or $50 a year. I don’t think I would pay that much, to be honest. My suggestion? At the end of each email, they provide a book recommendation along with a quote. They should make that an Amazon ad, seems like a perfect fit.

Bottom line. If you have a decent library of Kindle highlights, check out Readwise and let it dig up nuggets of gold and send it to you daily or weekly. Get more mileage out of those notes and highlights.

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.

Free Social Security Calculator Tool: Estimate Your Benefits

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

socialsecuritycardThere are some (mostly young) skeptics, but Social Security should remain a major pillar of your future retirement income. For over 60% of current retirees aged 65+, Social Security makes up the majority of their income. Therefore, it may be worth spending some extra time figuring out how it works.

First, you should sign up for a mySocialSecurity account at SSA.gov. For many people, this is the only way to view your current benefit eligibility as they are phasing out those annual green paper statements. You will find some interesting information including eligible earnings history. (For example, I earned $1,814 in the summer after high school.) Also, if you claim your account first, it prevents an potential identity thief from opening an account in your name and stealing your benefits.

Second, you can check out this unofficial Social Security helper tool to test out different scenarios. Created by an Google engineer named Greg Grothaus in his spare time, the site takes your earnings history and uses Javascript to analyze it within your browser. No data is submitted over the internet. Found via The Finance Buff.

Here are some scenarios you might test out:

  • What happens to my benefit if I earn additional wages for several more years? What if I stop working forever?
  • How does my benefit change as my total earnings grow during my lifetime?
  • What happens if I choose to take my benefits early? What if I delay and take them late?

You might not know that your eventual benefit is based on your top 35 annual indexed earnings values. Indexed earnings are simply the payroll wages you earned in a year multiplied by a number that adjusts for wage growth. I personally don’t even have 35 working years yet, so every additional year I work will be in my “Top35” and increase my future payout. Here are some charts based on my earnings history:

If I stop working immediately and then start taking benefits at my “normal” retirement age of 67 years, I will earn $1,666 per month ($19,992 per year). If I start taking money at age 62, I will earned a reduced $1,166 per month ($13,994 per year). Here’s the full chart:

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If I keep working for another 20 years at $50,000 per year, then my age 67 benefit will increase to $2,328 per month ($27,936 per year). If I start taking money at age 62, I will earned a reduced $1,630 per month ($19,555 per year). Here’s the updated full chart:

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Working/waiting an extra year may increase your payout enough to change your lifestyle significantly. An extra $100 per month may not seem that much, but that’s an extra $1,200 each year for the rest of your life that increases with inflation. If you don’t have adequate income from other sources, that could cover your medication copays for the year. It could be the difference between staying home and doing a video chat vs. flying and playing with your grandkids in person each year.

If you are on the early retirement track, that inserts a bunch of zeros in your “Top 35”. With this calculator, you can see how much that actually changes your eventual payout. Even if I continued to work another 25 years at $100,000 per year, my annual benefit at age 67 would be about $33,000 per year.

As a reminder, both SSA.gov and this tool only show you what your benefit will be under current law. Social Security isn’t a savings plan – current retirees are being paid from money taken from current workers. This means that changing demographics will require some sort of modification by 2035. From the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration:

Currently, the Social Security Board of Trustees projects program cost to rise by 2035 so that taxes will be enough to pay for only 75 percent of scheduled benefits. This increase in cost results from population aging, not because we are living longer, but because birth rates dropped from three to two children per woman. Importantly, this shortfall is basically stable after 2035; adjustments to taxes or benefits that offset the effects of the lower birth rate may restore solvency for the Social Security program on a sustainable basis for the foreseeable future.

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 Ultimate Interest Rate Chaser Calculator

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

calc150Thinking about moving your cash to a different bank account with a higher interest rate? It’s been a while, but the short-term rates on online savings accounts are going up. Don’t get paid nothing by your megabank. Use this handy calculator to find out how much more money you could earn by switching, which you then can weigh against the time and effort required.

My Money Blog Ultimate Rate Chaser Calculator

How much money are you going to move? (no commas) $
Enter the interest rate (APR) currently being earned:   %
Enter the new interest rate (APR):   %
How many days of lost interest will you have?   day(s)
The approximate number of days you must keep your money at the new rate to break even money-wise is:   days
Assuming the rate difference remains the same,
in 1 month you’ll have earned an extra (estimated):
  
After 6 months, you’ll have earned an extra (estimated):   

Notes

  1. This calculator is based on a rate-chasing breakeven time formula developed previously which takes into account the “days of lost interest”, or the time in between transfers where the money is not earning interest in either account.
  2. Although you will get a very similar answer either way (especially for low interest rates), note that it asks for APR, not APY. I also made a APY to APR calculator if you only have APY and want to be exact.
  3. Usually, there can be between 0-3 days of lost interest when going from one bank to another. This depends on the policies of either bank and also which bank initiates the transfer. This value can significantly affect the break-even time.
  4. The 6-month value (182 days) isn’t simply 6 times the 1-month value (30 days), as the calculator takes into account the time needed first to “break-even”.
  5. Another factor to consider is how likely the current rate difference will persist. Interest rates on savings accounts can change at any time, whereas certificates offer a fixed rate over the guaranteed period.

Last updated 12/14/17.

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.

Pretirement App: Interactive Countdown Clock to Financial Freedom

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

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What would you do if you knew that skipping that morning $4 coffee/muffin combo every day would get you 8 months closer to financial freedom? What if I told you that buying that $40k car instead of the $25k one would only extend your working years by 3 months? That’s the entire purpose of the Pretirement app (Apple iOS/Android):

A financial independence app that instantly converts spending or savings decisions into days, weeks, or years of your life.

After you supply some initial numbers and assumptions, it will provide a countdown timer to your financial freedom date. You can then input a specific change to your current saving/spending routine, and it will show you the impact to that date. Found via Reuters.

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There are no fancy Monte Carlo simulations, but the underlying math appears correct and the overall design is pleasing in a minimalist way.

What the app shows you is that long-term habits matter more than temporary changes. If you make permanent saving change like dropping the morning $4 breakfast stop, you can put more money towards your nest egg and your required nest egg is smaller. If you just do a one-time saving of $100 or even $1,000, it really doesn’t make much of a dent. You need to be able to repeat the savings over and over. It’s similar to weight loss: Diets don’t work.

Hopefully, people can use this information as activation energy to change their habits for the better. (Ironically, activation energy is explained using coffee…) The developer Danny Murphy himself has started cooking more and eating out less after going through this exercise. It took us lot of initial effort to learn how to cook efficiently, but after developing a set of “go-to meals” and a pre-plan method it has become much easier.

If you are truly serious about early retirement, my advice would be to look for things that you can change permanently and/or automate so you can repeat it without requiring constant willpower. This usually means a larger, upfront effort. Up your 401(k) contribution by 1% every year. Relocate to a cheaper city. Move to cheaper housing. Search for a better job. Once you set yourself up on the right path, go ahead and enjoy your prioritized expenses – be it high-quality coffee or fun cars.

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.