Author Archives: Chris Costello

Springtime and Student Loans

Springtime also means graduation time for millions of high school students. This is often a time of mixed emotions for those students’ parents. On one hand, you celebrate the accomplishment of your child. On the other hand, you feel a bit nostalgic about how fast the time has gone. It feels like just yesterday that you tearfully walked your son or daughter into their first day of kindergarten.

Student Loans are the Norm

This can also be a time of great financial stress for parents. Especially for the those Americans who aren’t able financially to simply stroke a check for their child’s college education. For a few, there are academic, athletic, or need-based scholarships and grants. But overall, those are still few and far between. More and more, we see college graduates leave school with a load of student debt. According to debt.org, the average college graduate in 2017 had $38,000 of student loan debt.¹ The number of graduates (undergrad or post-grad) with over $100,000 of student loan debt continues to climb at an alarming rate.

The Changing Cost of College Over Time

In fact, over just the last decade we have seen the cost of college growing at a rate of almost 5%.² This is twice the rate of inflation in this country over the same period. Long gone are the days of paying for your entire college education through a summer job. The average cost of a 4-year in-state college education is $39,880 (4 years at Private college average will run you nearly $138,960)³. I certainly am not aware of any summer jobs that are paying this much! So it’s no surprise that student loan debts are approaching epidemic proportions (over $1.49 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the US as of December 20174).

The Impact of Student Loans on Jobs

For graduates leaving college with lots of debt, there will absolutely be unintended negative consequences. For example, we see a decline in the number of graduates going into badly needed social services like teaching, nursing, and social work. It is clear to me that a lot of this is due to the burden of debt. If you have $100,000 of student loan debt, the attraction of a higher paying job in finance or consulting can easily sway your decision away from what could be your passion—be it teaching or social work.

Additionally, we see a decline in entrepreneurship from our college graduates. Starting your own business is incredibly hard as it is. Tack on six figures of student loan debt, and the allure of a salary can be too tempting to pass up. I shudder to think of the entrepreneur that could have found the cure for cancer but ended up working on Wall Street so they could pay off their student loans.

Consider This When Your Child Applies for College

My advice to parents of high school students today: If you are unable to pay for a significant portion of the cost of college, help your son or daughter carefully weigh this decision. This is most important if they are considering a private or out-of-state college. I would not expect the majority of 18-year-olds to understand the financial implications of their college choice. I often hear stories where people carry student loan debt well into their 40s and even 50s. Therefore, if we burden generations of students with debt that might take decades to pay off, we also limit how much they can save for their retirement. We owe it to our kids to help them understand the expense of college before they take on an obligation that could affect them financially for the rest of their life.

 

Chris Costello
Chairman & Co-Founder


1 https://www.debt.org/students/
2 https://www.savingforcollege.com/tutorial101/the_real_cost_of_higher_education.php
3 https://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064
4 https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/default.htm


Optimizing your retirement savings not only helps you, but indirectly also your child. Not a blooom member yet? Get started with a free analysis to see how we could optimize your savings.

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CEO passes the torch

CEO Chris Costello Passes The Baton

Five years ago, Kevin Conard, Randy AufDerHeide and I started meeting to talk about our big idea: A company that could change the way average Americans without huge retirement accounts saved for retirement. We would put our kids to bed and then work into the wee hours of the morning in Randy’s basement. Never did the three of us imagine that five years later, we would have built the company that exists today. We have 30 employees who manage more than $2 billion for almost 20,000 clients all across the country, using a totally disruptive technology model.

In the beginning, we just sought to build something to help average Americans get access to professional financial help. Especially the vast majority of folks who don’t have huge retirement accounts – folks just like my own mom and dad.

A Growing Company

Once blooom launched, I had in the back of my mind the thought that we might reach a point at which the company’s size and complexity would require someone with a much more expansive “executive tool kit” and experience to take the company to the next level.

In 2016, we hired Matt Burgener as our chief marketing officer. I know a few of us thought that if I was to get hit by the proverbial bus, Matt would be a great candidate to take the CEO spot. He has an impressive background and was so committed to blooom’s mission that he relocated his family from Dallas to Kansas City to join the company.

Well, I am relieved to tell you that I did not get hit by that bus. But after working closely with Matt over the past 15 months, it has become abundantly clear to me and those around me that Matt is the right person to take over as CEO to lead blooom into the future. I’m thrilled to report that Matt’s experience and counsel played a huge role in blooom’s rapid growth over the past year and a half.

What’s Changing Now

After much discussion with Kevin, Randy and my wife, and with the support of the blooom Board of Directors, I am transitioning the role of CEO to Matt.

I will stay on as chairman of the blooom Board of Directors, and I will remain deeply involved at the company level. I will continue to do what I love – help people secure their futures by saving and investing wisely. To that end, I’ll happily continue to be the face of blooom externally, doing media appearances and speaking engagements, acting as chief evangelist and leading client education, among other things.

This was not an easy decision, but I have always felt I would do what is in blooom’s best interest. Truthfully, I now believe this is a situation in which blooom gets to have its cake and eat it, too, because we’re both playing to our individual strengths. Matt is a seasoned executive with deep experience in scaling companies, and I get to focus on the things I do best: speaking externally about our mission to change average Americans’ financial lot in life.

Looking Forward

I’m excited to see how blooom will grow in this next phase under Matt’s leadership, and I look forward to continuing to build on our goal of bringing simplified financial advice and services to millions of Americans.

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The Stock Market Sell-Off

Every investor needs to know that market sell-offs are both inevitable and, in fact, business as usual.

This is not our first rodeo… more like 350th

Since 1900, the market has averaged three declines of at least 5% per calendar year (source: Capital Research and Management Company). In other words: The market has dropped by at least 5% about 350 times since 1900! The mistake so many investors make is that they see their account value declining, and hear doom and gloom from the media and friends. They then assume they should sell and “wait for things to get better.” This is not an advisable course of action: The market has recovered and reached new all-time highs not 90% of the time… but 100% of the time.

 

Hindsight is always 20/20

Sometimes, we know why the market is selling off. Other times, it is a complete surprise. History has also shown that the reasons for market sell-offs are rarely what the talking heads were predicting. What we know or fear today will rarely be the actual reason for a future market decline.

 

What should investors do after a big market sell-off?

Know that the recent market decline has nothing to do with what the market will do today, tomorrow, or next month. Many times after steep sell-offs in the market, it goes on to rebound even higher than where it was before.

 

Your not-to-do-list

If you are investing for the long term (like inside your 401k for retirement), the best course of action when you feel scared about the markets is do nothing. Do not panic, do not do something radical like selling out of your investments.

 

Learn to love a good sale

If your budget allows, a market decline is the best time to INCREASE your contributions to your 401k. Think about it: The market has effectively gone on sale. We know as consumers to look for sales and bargains when we are shopping. Americans would be wealthier if they learned to treat market declines as sales and, if possible, bought a bit more.

 

Avoid FOMO

Considering that today, the Dow Jones is around 25,000, wouldn’t you want to travel back in time to 2008/2009 and buy a ton of stocks? During the financial crisis, the Dow went below 7,000! Sadly, very few investors were buying when it was at those low levels. Many were even doing exactly the opposite–the worst possible thing: They were selling at those insanely low levels. Doing this likely locked in losses that many investors may have never recovered from. Most other long-term investors who stayed put and ignored the panic were rewarded by their portfolio values, if they were well-diversified. They climbed up to new all-time highs within just a few years.

 

When in doubt, ask blooom

At blooom, we do our best to communicate these kinds of messages. We worry that there is an entire generation of investors (roughly age 32 and younger) that were likely not investing during the last significant market decline. They have thus only seen the market since 2009 on a fairly robust growth trajectory. We remind our clients that markets never go straight up and that periodic declines are not only inevitable, but actually needed from a risk/reward standpoint.

 

Since blooom specializes in 401k accounts, it is easy for us to help our clients maintain a long term focus, since their investments are generally for long term goals like retirement. We also remind our clients that included in their monthly subscription fee, they always have access to a blooom advisor if they are feeling scared or considering selling out of their investment portfolio.

 

Help us help you

Blooom will put together a beautiful, well-diversified portfolio for all clients using the lowest cost funds available within their 401k plan. However, if a client does something rash and sells out when the markets declines, all of the work that blooom has done goes right out the window – and might never return. We suspect that a lot of wealth is squandered by individual investors not from poor investment selection, or high fee funds, but squarely due to bad decisions and bad investor behavior in moments of emotional exuberance or fear. Be careful not to chase over-priced “hot” funds in good markets, and be sure not to bail out of so-called poorly performing funds in bad markets. The old “buy high, sell low” problem – don’t fall for it!

 

If you would like more information or perspective on this topic – visit blooom’s FAQs regarding market declines.

 

 

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Beware the Bull in Retirement Yellow Brick Road

How to Travel Safely Down Retirement Yellow Brick Road

The past few years, we’ve seen a lot of people happily talking about the gains they have been seeing in their 401k accounts. They’re sharing return numbers with others online and in the grocery store. It would seem like the kind of talk you’d want to hear.

Please don’t get me wrong. It’s great to see so many people happy that their retirement accounts are increasing in value. But there is a very important message to convey concerning these high returns.

Like the Lollipop Guild in the Wizard of Oz – IT AIN’T ALWAYS GONNA BE THIS GOOD!

The Facts About Returns Since blooom’s launch

Blooom launched its 401k management service in late-September of 2014. Since that time, the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500*) has had a cumulative return of roughly 28% and has averaged almost 10% per year.  In addition, the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF – a better proxy for blooom clients given its allocation to global equities – is up over 15% year-to-date! The point here is that these past three years have been a good time to be a stock market investor. Hell, it has been a GREAT time to be a stock market investor since the Great Recession (stock market collapse) of 2008-2009.

With all of these happy people, we want to make sure everyone understands that this is not always how things will go. In reality, the market will go down periodically.  In fact – It NEEDS to go down periodically. That is precisely why investing in the market carries risk and this same risk is exactly why investors who have stayed in the market for long periods of time and weathered this risk have been rewarded with much higher returns than “risk-free” investments like CDs, Government Bonds, and money market funds have produced.

4 Key Characteristics of a blooom-managed 401k

If you’re a blooom client, your managed 401k has four key characteristics that other 401k investors may not receive:

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Thanks 1 Billion Clients

Blooom Reaches $1 Billion in Assets Under Management

“Wall Street has made a habit of running in the opposite direction of investors with small accounts…maybe we should build something and run towards them.”

This was written in email from Kevin Conard, my co-founder to me late one night back in January 2013. Four-and-a-half years later that idea has evolved into a company – blooom – and we are proud to announce that we have grown faster than virtually any other robo-advisor. Blooom now manages more than $1 billion of retirement accounts for our clients.

Specifically, thousands of people from all across this country have trusted blooom with what is likely their most important and potentially most valuable financial asset – their employer-sponsored retirement account, or 401ks/403bs, as they are so strangely named.

If you’re a blooom client, I want to thank you for believing in us and starting this journey of bettering your retirement and financial situation together. The entire blooom team works hard every day to help you reach your financial goals.

Every time we receive a message of gratitude from one of our clients, we share it with the team and … everyone gets to work the next day with a sense of pride that they are truly helping people and striving to achieve greatness. Thanks to everyone once again. We will continue to provide our helpful service to all of you — in good times and bad.

Speaking of pride. We also take pride that this Kansas-based company reached the milestone faster than both Betterment or Weathfront – while doing so on a fraction of the capital. They’re peers not so much from a comparable service offering but in that they’re a benchmark for other robo-advisors. In other words, out of the gates, we have grown faster on fewer resources, as one should expect from someone managing their money.

Blooom was started in 2013 to help the traditionally un-helped.

We felt – and continue to feel — that it isn’t fair that the people who needed the help from the financial services industry the most were the least likely segment of the population get it.

You’ve done the hard part: You started saving for you retirement. Thanks for letting us do the rest.

If you haven’t already read blooom’s manifesto — here’s WHY this is all so important to us:

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