What's the Optimal Portfolio Rebalancing Frequency-

What’s the Optimal Portfolio Rebalancing Frequency?

If you’ve read the blog for very long, you probably know that I’m a big proponent of thoughtful and customized asset allocation.  The percentage of your portfolio invested in stocks, bonds, cash, and real estate should vary based on your personal financial objectives and tolerance for risk.

In fact there are plenty of studies contending that asset allocation determines the vast majority of your portfolio’s return.  In other words, it doesn’t matter as much which stock or bond you choose to invest in.  It matters far more how much of your portfolio is invested in stocks or bonds in the aggregate.

 

The Importance of Portfolio Rebalancing

If you’ve ever managed your portfolio (or anyone else’s for that matter) you also know that over time your portfolio’s asset allocation will change as the market fluctuates.  If you start with 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, you might find your portfolio weighted 70% in stocks and only 30% in bonds after an appreciation in the stock market – especially since bonds tend to fall when stocks rise.

This is why it’s important to rebalance your portfolio over time.  The whole point of building a customized asset allocation is to match the risk in your portfolio to your personal risk tolerance.  As your individual investments fluctuate in value, selling some of the appreciated positions and replacing them with some of the depreciated positions brings your portfolio back to its intended allocation.

For example, if a 60/40 portfolio became 70/30 after the markets moved, you’d want to sell stocks that represent 10% of your portfolio and use the cash to purchase bonds – returning to your original 60/40 allocation.  Without rebalancing, your portfolio would continue to stray over time, ensuring a level of portfolio risk that’s higher or lower than you’d like.

 

 

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Mutual Funds Capital Gains Distributions: What They Are & How to Avoid the Tax Hit

Mutual Fund Capital Gains Distributions: What They Are & How to Avoid the Tax Hit

If you’ve ever invested in a mutual fund, you may know that they’re required to distribute at least 95% of their capital gains to investors each year.  You may also know from experience that these gains are not always welcome since they come with a tax liability attached.

More often than not these capital gains are not large enough to cause investors to stir.  But every year there are a few funds that pass massive unwanted gains on to investors, leaving them with a big, stinky tax bill.

This post may be slightly tardy given that some mutual fund families have already distributed their year end capital gains.  Nevertheless, it’s an important topic that you should be aware of and keep an eye out for.

If your objective is to minimize your tax bill (hint: it probably should be) you’ll want to know about upcoming distributions at the end of each year, and avoid them when it makes sense.  This post will cover exactly what capital gains distributions are, why mutual funds distribute them, and when and how you might want to avoid them.

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The Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Planning for Retirement

The Top 7 Mistakes People Make when Planning for Retirement

Hello ATC Readers!

This post is to announce that I’ll be hosting a free retirement webinar in a few weeks.  I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently to the effect of “what am I doing wrong?” when it comes to retirement planning.

As you may know, we’re often our own worst enemy when it comes to retirement planning.  As human beings we tend to get emotional when it comes to our finances.  Rather than remaining logical, balanced, and objective, we often make poor decisions because our emotions get in the way.

I wanted to cover this issue in more detail than a traditional post, so I decided to focus a 60 minute webinar on the topic:

The Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Planning for Retirement

Presented by Grant Bledsoe, CFA, CFP®

In this live webinar we’ll cover some of the most pressing issues retirees face today:

  • The top retirement mistakes made today and how to avoid them
  • How to understand the fees you’re paying your advisor
  • How your emotions can affect decision making & how to overcome them to make consistently smart investment choices
  • The 5 components all effective retirement plans must have
  • How to tell whether your retirement savings are enough for you to stop working

There are two separate dates you can attend:

  • Tuesday, December 6th from 10:00AM – 11:00AM PST
  • Wednesday, December 7th from 1:00PM – 2:00PM PST

Even if you can’t attend at these times, make sure to register anyway.  After the webinar is over I’ll email you a replay copy you can watch at your own convenience (for a limited time).

[button href=”https://abovethecanopy.leadpages.co/the-top-7-mistakes-people-make-when-planning-for-retirement-95841″ primary=”true” centered=”true” newwindow=”false”]Click Here to Register[/button]

401(k)s, IRAs & Tax Deferred vs. Tax Exempt Investing

401(k)’s, IRAs & Tax Deferred vs. Tax Exempt Investing

Should I contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA?

This is a big question I get asked fairly frequently.  And really, the conversation expands beyond individual retirement accounts.  The decision whether to invest on a tax deferred or tax exempt basis is one you’ll likely make many times over your investing career.  Some people prefer a exempt account to “get taxes out of the way”, while others prefer to defer taxes as long as possible in order to “let their money work for them”.

In this post we’ll explore the topic and discuss which situations may be best for either strategy.  But first, let’s review exactly what tax deferred and tax exempt investing actually are.

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Case Study Retiring with $1,000,000

Case Study: Retiring With $1,000,000

Those of you who know me know that I’m a massive baseball fan.  And when it comes famous baseball quotes, most come from one player: Yogi Berra.

Yogi Berra was a long time catcher for the Yankees, and had an incredible hall of fame career.  He was equally known for his head-scratching quotes, which the world has affectionately termed “Yogi-isms.”

Yogi didn’t comment often on financial topics, but when I think about retirement planning one of his famous quotes stands out:

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

When we think about retirement planning, $1,000,000 is often considered a kind of “golden threshold.”  Many people think of a million dollars as the minimum nest egg they’ll need in order to retire comfortably.  But as Yogi pointed out, being a millionaire doesn’t amount to what it used to.

So is it even possible to retire with $1,000,000 these days?

Let’s find out.  In this post we’ll explore a hypothetical couple named John and Jane.  They’ve saved $1,000,000 and want to retire, which is a common situation for many Americans.

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Sequence of Returns: the Biggest Risk to Financial Independence & a Successful Retirement

Sequence of Returns: The Biggest Risk to Financial Independence & Successful Retirement

When you think about your retirement & financial independence, what keeps you up at night?  Is it the possibility that a market crash depletes your nest egg?  Is it inflation?  What about the cost of health care, or living too long and running out of money?

These are all common concerns I hear from people approaching their leap into financial independence.

Every now and then someone will ask me what they should be concerned about.  “What would you be concerned about if you were in my shoes?  What are my biggest risks?”

 

Average Returns & Volatility

Most of us approach retirement planning with expectations about the average returns we’ll see throughout retirement.  You’ve probably heard (maybe even from me) that the S&P 500 averages between 7.5% and 9% in annual returns – depending on the exact data set and who you talk to.  Over a 30+ year retirement, if we were to invest only in the S&P 500, we could expect an average annual return between 7.5% and 9%.  I’m confident this is true, based on the last 150 or so years of historical data in the financial markets.

As you know, this doesn’t mean that the stock market will gain 7.5% each and every year.  There will be years like 2001 and 2009 where the market falls 25%-30%.  There will also be years where it gains 25% or more.  The markets are volatileBut on average, the S&P 500 will see somewhere between 7.5% and 9% returns per year.

One of the statistical measures of volatility is called standard deviation, which is used to measure just how volatile a data set is around an average.  Since 1926, the standard deviation of the S&P 500 is about 18.5%.

Now, the image below is something you’ve seen before.  It’s a bell curve based on a normal distribution.  The simple explanation of a a normal distribution is that the results occur randomly around the mean.  In a normal distribution:

  • 68.2% of the results will fall within one standard deviation of the mean
  • 95.4% of the results will fall within two standard deviations of the mean
  • 99.6% of the results will fall within three standard deviations of the mean
  • 99.8% of the results will fall within four standard deviations of the mean

 

Sequence of Returns: The Biggest Risk to Financial Independence & Successful Retirement

What does this mean for the S&P 500?  If the S&P 500 is normally distributed and resembles a typical bell curve, annual returns will fall between:

  • -11% and 26.5% 68.2% of the time (7.5% – 18.5% & 7.5% + 18.5%)
  • -29.5% and 45% 95.4% of the time
  • -48% and 63.5% 99.6% of the time

I should note that many have argued the returns of the S&P 500 are not normally distributed, including William Egan and Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  And for the most part I don’t disagree with them.  This argument is beside the point of this post though, so for this discussion and the following examples we’ll assume a normal distribution fits the S&P 500 just fine.

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6 Ways to Minimize Required Minimum Distributions

6 Ways to Minimize Required Minimum Distributions

There’s a plethora of tax advantaged retirement accounts out there today.  Enough that the acronyms and numbers can get really confusing…

  • IRA
  • 401k
  • 403b
  • 457
  • Profit sharing
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA

Just to name a few – trust me, there are more.  The reason?  The government wants us to save for our own retirement.  And by offering an array of tax advantaged accounts, they’re incentivizing us to put money away.

But while the tax advantages are great, the government won’t let us shelter our money from taxes forever.  When you turn 70 1/2, they’ll force you start taking withdrawals called required minimum distributions, or RMDs.  If you don’t you’ll be subject to a hefty 50% penalty.

This poses quite a problem for many retirees, since each withdrawal raises their tax liability for the year.  So for those of you who want to keep Uncle Sam’s grimy mitts off of your hard earned retirement funds, here are six ways to minimize your RMDs:

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401k RMD Rules

401k RMD Rules: A Comprehensive Guide

You’re probably familiar with the term “required minimum distributions” (or RMDs for short).  They’re the systematic withdrawals that the IRS makes you take out of an IRA after you turn 70 1/2.  But what about for 401k and other qualified retirement plans?  What are the 401k RMD rules?

While they largely resemble IRA RMD rules, 401k plans have a few subtle but important differences.  And since many people these days are staying at their jobs beyond 70 1/2, it’s a situation that more and more people find themselves in.

To help you navigate the waters, here’s a comprehensive guide to 401k RMD rules, which also applies to 403b, 457, and other qualified plans.

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Active vs Passive Investing

Active vs Passive Investing: The Debate Continues

Active vs passive investing.  The debate over which is strategy is superior has raged on for what seems like an eternity.  And even though passive investing, or indexing, has become so popular of late, millions of investors still prefer a skillful active manager over a robotic index fund.

Whichever side of the argument you fall on, you have a decision to make when it comes to managing your portfolio.  Here’s some background on both strategies, and a summary of some mainstream research on the topic.  If you can put this research to use, you’ll be far better off than most investors.

 

Active vs Passive Investing

 

Indexing

When you think of the term “stock market,” what comes to mind?  Most people visualize walls of computer monitors, people yelling into phones and running around frantically, and papers being thrown in the air.   But as you know, the actual market is just the place where securities are traded every day.  And today it’s largely run by computers across several semi-quiet trading floors in New York.

But what does it mean when we say the market is up or down 50 points?  Rather than track the trades of every single stock trade (there are millions, by the way), it’s far easier to create a proxy, or index.  Simply put, an index is a group of securities used to represent a specific portion of the market.

The most prolific index is the S&P 500, which represents large cap stocks in the United States.  As you know, there are a ton of large publicly traded companies in the U.S. – far more than 500.  To represent the performance of the entire group, the S&P 500 takes the largest 500 of them based on market capitalization (number of shares in existence times the market price of each share).

There are thousands of different indexes out there beyond the S&P 500.  Some are built to track specific asset classes, while some are used to track sectors or investment styles.  For example, in addition to the S&P 500, Standard and Poor’s has an index that tracks just the technology sector in the U.S., and another that tracks large cap value stocks in the U.S.

 

Passive Management

As you probably know, indexing is an investment strategy.  The objective is to invest in an entire asset class by purchasing every single security in the index.  If you wanted to invest in large cap U.S. stocks, you could select an index like the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average and buy an equal number of shares of each stock in the index.

Logistically, it’s far more cost effective to buy index funds than it is to buy every security.  But the strategy is the same.  In both formats, your portfolio is invested without preference to individual securities.  This broad based, diversified investment strategy is known as passive management.

 

Active Management

As you also know, many MANY investors prefer to pick individual securities.  Rather than invest in every security in an index, active managers make investment decisions on individual securities within the same universe.  Their objective is to invest in the stocks that will outperform the index, and avoid the stocks that won’t.

In other words, active managers have an opinion about the future performance of every single security in a given universe.  Passive managers don’t.  Instead, they buy one of each.

Hiring an active manager can be expensive.  In order to develop these opinions, active managers must “grade” each security effectively.  This takes a significant amount of time, resources, expertise, and skill.  Far more than what’s necessary in an indexing strategy – which is why actively managed funds are more expensive than index funds.

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Fixed Annuity Pros and Cons: 10 Things You Need to Know

Annuities are incredibly popular instruments for retirement planning.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and while having more options can be a good thing, it can also be very confusing.  For that reason, fixed annuities are a popular way to guarantee income without wrestling with a complicated and expensive product.  Even so, buying an annuity is a major decision.  To help you weight both sides, here are 10 fixed annuity pros and cons:

 

Fixed Annuity Pros and Cons:

 

Pros:

1) Guaranteed Returns

Since fixed annuities pay you a set amount of interest (like a CD), your returns are guaranteed.  This is very useful if you’re concerned about stock market risk as you approach retirement.

 

2) Guaranteed Income

This is probably the most popular feature of fixed annuities.  You hand money to an insurance company via a fixed annuity, and in return the insurance company pays you consistent income for the rest of your life.  Your income doesn’t fluctuate due to stock markets, interest rates, or whether your rental property is leased for the month.  It’s guaranteed and reliable.

The only reason the insurance company might fail to pay this income is if they went out of business.  And even though many of us are skeptical about big companies in the financial industry, insurance companies are very unlikely to go bankrupt.  They are regulated by individual states, each of which requires them to keep a great deal of cash on hand to pay their liabilities (far more than bank reserve requirements).  Even though fixed annuities aren’t insured by the FDIC, the likelihood that you won’t receive promised retirement income is extremely low.

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