Category Archives: Investing

How Much Will Your Investment Be Worth?

One of the open questions I have re: investing is what – realistically – my investments will be worth after X # of years. Of course, one can estimate 3% annual return on the S&P 500 to be “conservative” and 10% to be the opposite, but in reality, what is the likely average annual return of the stock market?

While there’s no way to predict the future, lucky for us, there is a way to look at historical data to understand how we’d answer this question if we were to begin investing, say, in 1980.

According to this calculator – The S&P 500 Dividends Reinvested – we can find out that answer:

Scenerios

  • We started investing in 1990, and stopped in 2010, giving us 20 years of investment.
    • Total S&P 500 Price Return: 256.374% (inflation adjusted: 118%)
    • Annualize S&P 500 Price Return: 6.6% (inflation adjusted: 3.974%)
    • S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 437.278% (inflation adjusted: 228%)
    • Annualized S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 8.770% (inflation adjusted: 6.13%)
  • We started investing in 1984, and stopped in 2014, giving us 30 years of investment.
    • Total S&P 500 Price Return: 1094.274% (inflation adjusted: 427%)
    • Annualize S&P 500 Price Return: 8.6% (inflation adjusted: 5.7%)
    • S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 2299% (inflation adjusted: 960%)
    • Annualized S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 11.175% (inflation adjusted: 8.19%)
  • We started investing in 1974, and stopped in 2014, giving us 40 years of investment.
    • Total S&P 500 Price Return: 2829% (inflation adjusted: 538%)
    • Annualize S&P 500 Price Return: 8.8% (inflation adjusted: 4.7%)
    • S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 1204% (inflation adjusted: 1963%)
    • Annualized S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 12.049% (inflation adjusted: 7.8%)
  • We started investing in 1964, and stopped in 2014, giving us 40 years of investment.
    • Total S&P 500 Price Return: 2239% (inflation adjusted: 206%)
    • Annualize S&P 500 Price Return: 6.5% (inflation adjusted: 2.2%)
    • S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 10367% (inflation adjusted: 1270%)
    • Annualized S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 8.748% (inflation adjusted: 5.3%)
  • We started investing in 1999, and stopped in 2014, giving us 15 years of investment.
    • Total S&P 500 Price Return: 37.5% (inflation adjusted: -2.845%)
    • Annualize S&P 500 Price Return: 2.1% (inflation adjusted: -.192%)
    • S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 81% (inflation adjusted: 28%)
    • Annualized S&P 500 Return, Dividends Reinvested: 4% (inflation adjusted: 1.6%)

Well, what this shows us is that generally investing in the S&P index over the long term works out fairly well. After inflation with dividend reinvestments 5% is a reasonable conservative estimate annual return for a long-term investment. However, if you started investing in 1999 and have invested for 15 years, you’d pretty much be at break even at this point (assuming you put all your money in up front.)

I’m still looking for a more robust calculator that enables one to input annual investments and see what these would have turned out with historic data. Do you know where one exists or care to build one I can use? 🙂

 

Understanding the Roth IRA Conversion Pro Rata Rule & a Great Trick!

IRAs come in two flavors — traditional and roth. Both have income and contribution limits per year in order to take advantage of their benefits. Roth IRAs require that you pay taxes up front on any income you put into them, but then — this is where the magic happens — your interest grows tax free forever. You can take the total amount out at retirement and not pay any tax on it! You can also pass the total amount onto your heirs without them having to pay taxes. It’s a pretty spectacular deal, especially when you’re in a very low income bracket so you aren’t paying much in the form of taxes up front.

Traditional IRAs, on the other hand, are available for low income earners, often who do not have access to a 401k. With the traditional IRA one would put their money in and not pay taxes on this money up front, but then when they retire and take the money out it’s taxed as income for that year (theoretically your tax bracket would be lower in retirement, but this may not be true.)

Up until recently if you made too much money for an IRA you really couldn’t do anything other than invest in taxable accounts. Traditional IRAs were available but you weren’t able to take the tax deduction up front or when you took the money out in retirement, so the only benefit there was the years of dividends not being taxed and reinvested into your investments. It’s not even that great of a deal because then you’re paying income tax rates on your dividend yields versus dividend rates. Generally traditional IRAs for high income earners are useless.

However for tax benefits, today a higher income earner can do a little trick called a Roth IRA conversion. This occurs when the individual puts up to the year’s limit in a traditional IRA ($5500 currently)  and then immediately converts that to a Roth IRA. Because the individual put in post-tax money and the conversion happened right away, no taxes are owed and basically that higher income individual has gone through a loophole to invest in a Roth. For younger folks in their 20s and 30s the ongoing compound interest and ultimate ability to take out the investments tax free might be better (do your own math to figure out if this makes sense for you.)

The trouble comes when you have multiple IRA accounts. Most often this is from 401k rollovers when you leave a job. A 401k is pre-tax money so if you want to roll that over to a Roth you will have to pay tax on not only the interest earned but also the entire amount of basis. That can be an expensive proposition!

That is where the “pro rata” rule comes in. Understanding how this works is a bit challenging. I’ll try to explain this in simple terms based on my research so it’s accurate and makes sense.

How the Roth IRA Conversion Pro Rata Rule works

At the end of the tax year (not the day you do the conversion) the government will look at all your non-Roth IRA funds to determine how much tax you need to pay. They aren’t nice enough to let you get away without paying taxes on a conversion when there is tax money they could make. Instead they require you to pay pro rata on the amount you convert.

Let’s take an example very near and dear to my heart (so I can finally understand what sort of tax liability I’m looking at here.)

I would like to convert my current IRAs to Roth IRAs before rolling over my high-fee 401k (*or I need to get a new job with a better 401k as I can rollover my 401k to that so I can continue to do Roth conversions year after year.)

Vanguard IRA (from rollover 401k)

$26,987 (all pre-tax)

Sharebuilder IRA

$14,027.47 ($10k is post-tax, $4027.47 is pre-tax)

Due to the pro-rata rule it is not possible for me to rollover just the $10k of post-tax money today.

If I rollover the $10,000 of post-tax money, the pro-rata rule would take my total amount of IRA money $41014.47 to determine how much I actually owe.

To figure this out for yourself, follow the steps listed here.

1. Total up all of your IRAs (non Roth): $41,014.47
2. Total up all of your after-tax dollars in IRAs: $10000
3. Calculate your % of after-tax dollars: 24.38%
4. Determine the taxable amount of your distribution: ($20,000 distributed = $4876 tax free, $15124 taxable(!))
5. Exception for rollovers to a company plan: n/a

In order to take out the full $10,000 of post-tax money, I’d have to convert the entire amount ($41,014.47) and pay taxes on $31,014.47.

Is either scenario worth it? Let’s play this out to the conclusions…

Assumptions:

  • 35 years growth
  • .05% average interest rate
  • 30% federal and 10% state tax in retirement (40% taxes)

1. I do nothing, and leave my $41,014.47 to grow for 35 years until I turn 65 and retire.

  • $226,235 pre-tax
  • Total Value = $135,741 (@40% tax bracket)
  • ((15% tax bracket, in 0% income tax state, low annual withdrawals, would = $192,229))

2. I convert 25% of my IRA plans today

  • Pay tax on $15,124 at today’s tax rates (28% fed, 10% state – $5747.12 in tax)
  • Have $14252.88 remaining to grow tax free forever
  • $78,619 post-tax on conversion
  • + $116068 * 40% tax = $69640
  • Total Value = $148,260

3. Just for kicks, I convert 100% of my IRA today, paying tax on $31,014.47

  • Pay tax on $31,014.47 at 38% rate — $11785.50 in tax paid today
  • $29228.97 remaining to growth tax free forever
  • Total Value = $161,227

4. Additional test thrown in — low income year, 25% tax today

  • Pay tax on $31,014.47 at 25% rate — $7753.61
  • $33260.86 remaining to grow tax free forever
  • Total Value = $183,467

What do these calculations teach us?

  • The value of a Roth Conversion (if you have both deductible and non-deductible IRAs) is determined largely by your current tax rate and your expected tax rate in retirement (oh fun, guessing games.) Apparently people tend to overestimate how much taxes they will pay in retirement (i.e. maybe my 40% estimate is too high. You think?)
  • The conversion for an account that looks like mine MAY make sense if I can hold it for 35 years or longer. But it’s still not a sure bet. (I calculated everything at a 5% return YoY to be conservative.)

When Does the Roth Conversion Not Make Sense?

I haven’t done all of the calculations, but I assume at some age the roth conversions do not make sense UNLESS you have no taxable money to deal with. If you don’t have many years for the interest to compound and make up for what you paid in tax, then you’ve just paid a lot of money to the government to make less in the end. That’s what they want you to do. That’s what a lot of people who aren’t running the numbers are going to do thanks to this new rule.

When Does the Roth Conversion Make a Lot of Sense?

If you have one year of your life where you happen to not be making a lot of money — maybe it’s a year you went to school or took time off to have a kid — you will be able to do the conversion and pay your income tax on that conversion. If you are single and have no income, your first $36,900 of taxable conversion (or mix of conversion amount and income) is taxed at just 15% (the first $9600 at 10%.) This changes the numbers quite a bit! So say you want to convert $20k with $10k of it non taxable and $10k taxable. You pay $1k on the first $9600 and 15% on the $400 ($60) so you’d pay just $1060 to convert your $20k, leaving you with $18940 to grow tax free forever — if you live in a no income tax state, anyway (most states will charge you income tax so factor this into your calculations as well.) That’s still a pretty great deal, but you’re also losing all of the money you could have made that year and put into your investment accounts, so it’s not worth it to do this unless you are already planning to take the time off. (And if you really want to be tricky move to a state with no income tax and don’t work for a year!)

(Note, married couples can stay in the 15% tax bracket up to $73,800 income including the taxable IRA conversion amount.)

The Best Trick I’ve Found (That is legal, at least for now)

If you have a work-sponsored 401k, find out if it allows you to “reverse rollover” pre-tax IRA investments. If you can do this, take all of your pre-tax IRA investments and move them into your 401k. You will have to keep those investments in the 401k until you change jobs again (and at least for a year) so if the 401k offers crappy, high-fee, high-load mutual funds you’re going to want to run all the numbers in your specific situation. That said, if you have a decent 401k and can rollover your funds into it — you can roll them over and then only pay taxes on  your interest on any post-tax IRA contributions for the Roth conversion. This means that you can save a lot of money and do a few years of IRA conversions to grow your roth (esp if you are a high income earner and are already maxing out your 401k.)

Now that I’ve figured out this is do-able, I’ve immediately decided to rollover my existing crap high-fee 401k into my Vanguard low-fee, no-load Admiral funds IRA account. I’ll let those babies grow until I have a nice 401k at a future job (knock on wood) that lets me roll over my IRA for a while, and I’ll convert at least the $14k of traditional IRA investment plus probably another $5.5k for the current plan year. I will have to run the numbers myself at the time but I think this is probably the best idea.

Even if that doesn’t work out, the actual growth on my pre-tax accounts will still be beneficial and perhaps my actual tax rate in retirement won’t be quite as high as I think it will be. It still might be best just to leave these accounts alone and continue putting $5.5k in a Roth every year that I’m eligible, whether I’m in school and working part-time or unemployed and unexpectedly coming in within the income limits to contribute to a Roth.

Have anything else to add? Think I don’t explain this well?

Leave a comment with your tips and ideas for when a Roth IRA conversion makes sense, and when it doesn’t. Did I get something wrong here? Let me know. Thanks!

 

Should I Rollover My 401k? The Cons

Common financial sense says that you should rollover your 401k into an IRA account as soon as you leave a job. Besides keeping all your financial accounts in one place (so you don’t have a bunch of orphan 401k accounts floating around), fees on typical 401k accounts are painfully expensive (remember in our last post we discussed how after 30 years on a $100k investment every .10 increase in percentage points will cost over $50,000 in fees.)

However, there are some lesser known reasons why you should leave your 401k where it is, at least for the short term.

1. Penalty-Free Retirement at 55 vs 59

The government isn’t ok with you withdrawing funds from your IRA before 59 1/2, but for some reason you’re allowed to withdraw from your 401k at 55. This doesn’t make any rational sense but government rules never do (source)

2. Roth Conversions Get Much More Expensive After a Rollover

A few years ago the government made another rule that doesn’t make any sense — you’re not allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA (i.e. after-tax money that you can take out for free in retirement and that you can pass on to heirs tax free) BUT you are allowed to put money in a traditional IRA, post-tax, and immediately convert this to a Roth IRA tax free. (Did I mention the government makes NO FREAKING SENSE?) However, if you have additional IRA funds, especially ones you haven’t paid tax on yet, you have to pay a pro-rata fee for the percentage you want to convert. I’m going to write a separate post about this pro-rata rule because it’s so complicated I don’t even understand it yet, but basically once you have more funds in traditional IRAs you’re liable for tax on part of them as well if you want to do a Roth conversion, and this can be very expensive and eat into your future earnings (source)

3. Better Creditor Protection

In yet another rule that makes no sense (notice a trend here) 401ks are protected more than IRAs in the case of lawsuits and such. How screwed you are in the case of a personal liability lawsuit depends on what state you live in. For example, New Hampshire and New Mexico have no protection against creditors for your IRA, whereas your 401k can’t be touched. (Say it with me now – this doesn’t make any freaking sense!) In some states, such as Texas, Arizona and Washington, your IRA is treated with the same protection of a 401k , so this rule wouldn’t apply to you (source)

4. Fees Can Be Lower (Though This is Unlikely)

Often the 401k offers access to different funds then you would have access to as an average investor. A lot of articles argue that you could be better off staying with a 401k funds… but make sure to look into the fees of these funds. Mutual funds can cost 1.4% per year or .80%, but those are still high fees compared to a basic Vanguard fund at .10% to .25%. Ask yourself if you really think this fund will perform better than an index fund (hint – it probably won’t, or at least not enough to make up for lost earnings due to fees) (source)

Can you think of any other reasons to keep your 401k at your old employer? #2 and #3 seem to be the best arguments. Tomorrow I’ll share a post that further explains Roth conversions – because they confuse the heck out of me so I need to do some better research, and I’ll share my findings with all of you!

Vanguard Admiral Funds: Rebalancing for Lower Fees

One of the things I realized recently that I’ve been spending more than I have to on fees inside of my IRA accounts. While Vanguard funds are low fee to begin with, did you know that Admiral funds (which require $10k minimum investment per fund vs $3k) still have significantly lower fees?

Fees can significantly eat away at your investments, especially over time in your retirement accounts. I know for a fact my old 401k that I haven’t rolled over is wasting money with some of its funds at .90% fees or higher! I’m holding off on rolling that over in the case I will do a Roth IRA conversion if/when I go to grad school on about $100k of other IRA investments, but for all my other accounts I want to be as fee-efficient as possible.

Expense Fees Add Up Fast!

Here’s a little experiment… (try your own out in this expense ratio calculator) say I invest 100,000 today and plan to keep that money invested for 30 years. I earn an average of 10% each of those 30 years (woohoo.)

If my fund has a low .10% expense ratio then I’ll see a 2.96% reduction of my future value due to fees (costing $51,596.) This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t compared to the cost of most funds.

Say you have a still relatively low-cost fund at .20% expense ratio. You are then spending 5.83% of your future value on fees ($101,716!)

Some funds have high expense ratios too. If you are investing in a fund that has an expense ratio of .80%, 21.51% of your future value is gone thanks to this fee ($373645.77!!) So you see how a little expense ratio can quickly add up.

After reading a bit more about taxes and what funds to hold in Roth IRAs vs traditional IRAs I decided to shift around funds in my Vanguard accounts. I also changed things up over at Sharebuilder because my $10500 basis Roth over there is significantly underperforming, but I’ll cover those changes in another post.

Also, I read that high-dividend funds make sense in your Roth IRA but not in your traditional IRA. Why?  Because dividends have two purposes — to provide you income today at low(ish) capital gains tax rates, or to compound over time in your investments and to be taken out tax free upon retirement (in a Roth.) Going high dividend in a traditional IRA is silly because you have to pay income tax on it when you retire and take it out — i.e. those proceeds would be cheaper today in a taxable account!

Until today, my Vanguard IRA accounts looked like this:

Traditional IRA

VDAIX / .20%
VHDYX / .19%
VGSIX / .24%
VTTSX / .18%
VGTSX / .22%

Roth IRA

VFIFX / .18%
VTSAX / .05%

Updates to my Portfolio

While there was nothing wrong with this breakdown, per se, I had high-dividend REIT and dividend growth funds in my traditional IRA while I had index growth funds in my Roth. I also had certain funds split between my Roth and Traditional IRA where because I had $10k split between two accounts I couldn’t qualify for the lower admiral fund rates.

Luckily at Vanguard it’s free to trade your funds inside your account, so rebalancing is easy (unlike at Sharebuilder where I’m wasting tons of money trading and will eventually give in and just move my “fun money” to Vanguard.)

I made quite a few (free) trades at Vanguard to fix my portfolio. Here is what I have now, which, as you can see is greatly simplified:

Traditional IRA

VIGAX / growth index fund admiral shares .09% expense
VTIAX / admiral version of VGTSX — .14% expense vs .22%

Roth IRA

VDADZ / dividend appreciation index fund — .10% expense ratio
VGSLX / admiral REIT fund — .10% expense to .24% of VGSIX

I also killed off all of my “target retirement date” funds because I’ve read they are too conservative and at my ripe young age of 30 I want to be aggressive but not stupid (working on the not stupid part.)

Why keep my Sharebuilder account open at all?

Good question! Mostly I keep it open so I can trade precious metals in my Roth IRA (i.e. GLD) since they are taxed at a collectible rate (high tax) unless they’re in an IRA, and I can’t buy gold or silver in my Vanguard fund. I also have some specific REITs which I like to watch to learn more about REITs because they are interesting — especially since I do not actually own any tangible real estate. More on that later.

AMZN: Sell or Hold the Overvalued Stock?

As my investments add up (now valued at $298k) I’m trying to make smarter moves when it comes to (mostly) holding and yet selling when all signs point to it being time to let go of a stock. In the case of AMZN, this seems to be one of those times.

AMZN — which I have $3897 in at the moment, a nice 89% gain from my initial $2100 investment — yet the stock sticks out in my portfolio list like  sore thumb due to its 835 PE. Given slowing growth I’m fairly confident that the stock will continue to retreat in value for the remainder of 2014. Starbucks is the only other stock anywhere near this and that’s at a 253 PE. Compare this to AAPL at 16 and GOOGL at 30 and one can say that AMZN is probably overvalued right now. Don’t get me wrong, I think Amazon is a great company, but the stock market has been a bit too kind to it. Now, like many holders of AMZN, I’m trying to decide what to do.

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Investing in China ETFs: It’s Complicated

Whether or not you believe in any specific countries’ ability to economically eclipse the U.S., it’s common investor knowledge that one should diversify internationally in case sh*t hits the fan in America.

In many cases investing in a good general international index fund, like Vanguard’s Total International Stock Index Fund (VTISX), checks off the global diversification box. Yet for others taking educated bets on particular regions may be ultimately more lucrative. Given China’s fast-growing economy, I wanted to do a bit of research into investment opportunities for the average investor to take advantage of China’s potential reward. Of course, investing in a young market has its many risks. My goal is to educate myself on these so I can invest wisely in the country (I already own a small amount of HAO — China Small-Cap ETF, but nothing too significant yet.)

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Prosper and Lending Club P2P Investment Update

When I started investing in P2P (person-to-person) lending, back when it got its start, proper regulations weren’t in place. Thus, as you can see above, my returns were kind of crappy in the early days. Now that the P2P sites had to add much more stringent regulations, my returns aren’t that bad at 7%-8%. This is how my Prosper account is performing:

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While I only had about $350 remaining in my Prosper account, given the results to date, I decided to put another $500 in and see how it performs. This is definitely a test and alternative investment while I focus primarily on my stock accounts.

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Stock Investment Insights Part I: Dumb Moves

Using my handy dandy Google Spreadsheet account and Google Finance’s awesome tools that make it easy to see all of the stupid investment mistakes you’ve made, I’ve compiled a list of all my stock sells from my Sharebuilder account and compared them to the price they’d be worth today. I sold off AAPL because I was way overweight AAPL *AND* needed to buy a car (figured paying $17,000 cash was better than a loan) but here you can see that actually wasn’t the case. My worse sells according to this chart would be AAPL, INTC and XLF. Other than taking money out for my car on the AAPL transaction I did reinvest all of the proceeds from any sale here, so I need to somehow figure out how much the money made/lost in comparison to see if any of these sales were a smart move. The AAPL one kills me though. I should have just taken out a damn loan. Oh well, you live, you learn, right? (goes to cry in the corner.) (*ps I didn’t sell CBOU that was something that happened automatically as they went private or something.)

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Project: Determining Annual Interest Value of Investment Accounts

While I’ve been invested haphazardly since 2007, I still am pretty clueless when it comes to smart investment choices. OK, so the only real smart investment choices, one can argue, is diversification and low-fee ETFs (shout out @Vanguard.) However, my little investing hobby has led me to put my money into some – somewhat – riskier individual stocks and non-standard ETFs. And to be honest I have no idea how they are performing because my investment brokerage (Sharebuilder) only shows me the total % increase on my account (not annual) and doesn’t take into account any losses or gains from sales. So I’m at a loss for what is going on.

Thus, as a project of unemployment, I’m trying to dig through all my investing records and put together a clean google spreadsheet where I can at least see what the hell happened each year. Sharebuilder lets you see all your past history but doesn’t make it easy before 2012. It’s a PITA before 2012 as you have to manually go back to each month and can’t skip over the years, both for starting month and end month. I wish they made this feature easier to use! Continue reading