What Kind of 401k Lover Are You?

Valentine’s Day puts a lot of focus on being in a relationship. If you’re reading this blog it probably means that you ARE in a relationship with your 401k, which is great! But just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean everything is perfect.

Odds are you fall into one of these six kinds of relationships with your 401k. Let’s put them under the microscope and see what’s going well and what flaws might exist.


The Giver

You are constantly contributing to your 401k. 10%, 15%, or 20%―it doesn’t matter. Anything to keep your 401k by your side all the way to retirement. You don’t care what funds you’re in or whether you get an employer match.

Pros: Contributing is numero uno when it comes to a happy relationship with your 401k, and giving all you’ve got to your 401k can cure a lot of ills.

Cons: The $$$ you put in your 401k should be working for you and not the other way around. Throwing your hard earned cash into a money market account or a high fee investment that doesn’t do anything for you can lead to heartbreak.

Things you might say to your 401k: Oh, you only had a 2% rate of return this year? It’s not your fault. Let me just up my contribution level to make you feel better.


The Taker

You set up your 401k… isn’t that enough? Why do you need to check in on it? It should just be grateful that you contribute a few bucks every paycheck.

Pros: Not looking at your 401k and over thinking it can be a virtue.

Cons: If the foundation of the relationship isn’t there, or if you’re not properly invested, this relationship could be going nowhere.

Things you might say to your 401k: Stop complaining, I could be spending my money elsewhere.


The Controller

One look at you and anyone can tell you care about your 401k. You are very attentive, but somewhere in all that effort you’re putting towards your 401k, you may start to suffocate it with your demands and restrictions.

Pros: You care, you really REALLY do. Attention is important after all, it’s your retirement we’re talking about.

Cons: Too much attention can lead to irrational reactions.

Things you might say to your 401k: What do you mean, your balance is less this statement than last statement? This relationship is OVER!


The Enthusiast/Thrill Seeker

You are always looking for something new. Investing in the same funds just doesn’t do it for you. You’re willing to be a little reckless if it means your portfolio is different from others.

Pros: You live on the edge and are likely to take on more risk in your investments, which can net out.

Cons: 401ks are a long term deal, so changing it up constantly and seeking out the new can lead to betting it all on a potentially bad choice – see bitcoin.

Things you might say to your 401k: Bonds? What are those? Hey baby, let’s time the market.


The Overlooker

You know your relationship with your 401k has problems. Maybe you’re under-diversified or have a high expense ratio, but it’s not “that bad”.

Pros: You’re aware. As they say: knowledge is half the battle.

Cons: Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes. This is your retirement and every dollar counts. Every opportunity you miss to fix what you know is wrong is money left on the table.

Things you might say to your 401k: I’ve been with my financial advisor for years. Who cares if he charges me too much to rebalance you?


The Jealous One

You are constantly looking at other people’s 401ks and seeing what they have that you don’t – better funds line ups, more money, rate of return, etc.

Pros: You want your 401k to be the best. That’s why you’re always looking around.

Cons: Not all 401ks are the same and neither are individual financial situations. Measuring your 401k against someone else’s is a fool’s errand and can get you off track or distracted.

Things you might say to your 401k: Bob’s 401k grew 15% this year. Why did you only grow 12%?


Want to take your 401k relationship to the next level? Start with a free analysis with the experts at blooom.

 

Start Your 401k Analysis

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The Right Small Steps in the New Year Can Make a Big Impact

Have you ever noticed how a lot of financial blog headlines read like they’re introducing the latest diet trend?

“Ditch the Starbucks and Retire Ten Years Earlier!”

The premise of this kind of financial advice always boils down to the same basic principle: in order to grow your money, you need to spend the money you already have more wisely. Makes sense, right? Especially around this time of year, it may even sound like a pretty good New Year’s resolution. And yet,somehow, it is simultaneously unattainable.

“Abandon your morning latte fix and you’ll become rich”, they say.

“That’s easy! I can do that!”, we say. But for a lot of us, we can’t seem to make it work.

Starting in February, there might be an attainable way to save more without sacrificing anything. Some people will see their take home pay increase due to the new tax code. This could be money you can invest into your retirement and still keep drinking those lattes guilt-free.

Sidenote: Want to know how the tax rate will affect your paycheck? There are many options, but this is one we found that’s easy to use.

The problem with saving money, whether it’s on ditching lattes or getting a little more in your paycheck, is that unless you’re taking the money and putting it directly into your piggy bank, you’re likely just spending it on other things throughout your day or rest of your week, so none of it ever actually makes it back into your savings or retirement account. It’s all of the sacrifice with none of the reward.

How I learned to stop worrying and love automation

So what’s the solution? In today’s technologically-driven world, the trick may lie in automation. The old adage to ‘pay yourself first’ becomes surprisingly easy if you can set it up once and then forget it. There are a growing number of tools to help you do just that.

Many banks have round up programs to automatically save your change – i.e if you buy that latte for $3.81, your account rounds up to $4.00 and automatically saves $0.19 into your account. Or if you’d rather route your money to the market instead of bank account, you can sign up for a penny stock provider like Acorns. It may not seem like a lot, but think of how many purchases you make in a day, in a week, in a month. It adds up!

Let your paycheck do the work

Additionally, you might be surprised by the programs offered through your workplace. If you’re not already contributing to your employer-sponsored retirement plan (401k, 403b, or similar), start contributing a percentage of your paycheck. Most employers will match your contributions with some of their own. Some employers also offer other types of savings plans, or will allow you to split your paycheck among multiple accounts, so that a portion could be directly deposited into your savings account.

But maybe the most powerful automation you can make is the annual contribution increase in your retirement plan. The chart below illustrates the difference between steadily saving 5% of income, and starting at 5% but increasing contributions by 1% annually until the recommended goal of 15% of income. As you can see, the amount saved with small incremental savings is more than 2× that with no increase. While you may initially notice the difference in your wallet for the first couple of months (or if you’re lucky you won’t, depending on how the new tax code affects you), after that, it will just become the new normal.

So if your New Year’s resolution is for better financial health in the coming year, make sure you’re doing the things that will really make a difference. That way, you can buy your morning latte with a clear conscience (and maybe a little extra whipped cream), knowing you’ve already taken care of your savings goals.

 

Please note: Blooom does not provide tax advice. Consult a tax expert for tax-specific questions.

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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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When Market Tanks ... Do These 3 Things

3 Things You Should Do With Your 401k When The Market Tanks

Disclaimer:  I am not predicting the market tanks tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year. Contrary to what the media or “pundits” try to convince you — it is impossible to predict when the market will drop or what will ultimately cause it. That said, I am 100% convinced that the market will drop at some point.

In fact, at blooom – we guarantee that it will drop at some point in the future. In reality, it isn’t IF the market will drop. It is WHEN and how many times over your investing lifetime will it occur. We try to inform our clients about this as often as possible and set the expectation that market drops – although painful at the time – are perfectly normal.

The mistake average investors make most often is they take the assumption that something is wrong with the market or their portfolio and they bail out of their investments right in the midst of the market decline. They do this thinking that they are doing the “safe” thing but it is often the absolute worst thing you can do. It is a huge reason why average investors perform so horribly when left to their own devices.

So what can you do the next time the market tanks?  At blooom, we advocate that our clients do these 3 things.

1. Set Your Expectations Ahead of Time

Just knowing that it is perfectly normal for the market and the value of your account to decline from time to time is half the battle.

History has repeatedly shown that the right thing to do — regardless of the circumstances causing the market decline — is to not panic, sit tight and just get through it. You probably know that the average rate of return over the stock market over the past 30, 50 whatever years is something close to 10%. Guess what, the 10% rate of return was calculated by STAYING in the market 100% of the time. Even in the last 20 years (1997-2016), the average investor return – 2.11% — has paled to that of the S&P’s 7.68% 1.

Achieving the S&P historical numbers does NOT assume that an investor had a fully functioning crystal ball. They weren’t hopping out of the market before a decline and back into the market right before it turned upwards. That rate of return assumes you left your investment the heck alone!

Start prepping your mind today — when the waters are fairly calm — for the fact that your 401k will decline in value when the market drops. This does not mean anything is wrong with your 401k, the investments, or blooom!  I promise you — after 22 years of experience working with clients to help them save for retirement — if you can come to grips and expect the market and your portfolio to drop from time to time, you will put yourself in a much better position for investing success.

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Eggs Need Diversification Beyond One Basket

Why Diversification Matters in 401k Management

“In the world of investing nothing is as dependable as cycles” – Howard Marks, Oaktree Capital chairman

We want to illustrate the randomness of markets and why diversifying is a good idea.

We put together the following chart to do just that. It shows the performance of several of the major asset classes over the last 10 calendar years updated through 12/31/2016.

Diversification - Asset Category Performance

A Few Things About Diversification Jump Out

While US markets have rebounded strongly since the global financial crisis in 2007-2008, international markets have lagged for the most part. Unfortunately, this is causing a lot of investors to abandon their international funds or avoid them altogether. If we extended this chart back a few years further, the opposite would have been true. Another reminder that markets are cyclical. Nothing new to see here.

Poor commodities. They had their first positive year of the past six years in 2016. Even after that gain, the asset class is down around 50% since the beginning of 2011. Commodities still have a place in a diversified portfolio, but if you have been banking on the return of the gold standard, you have likely been disappointed.

Looking only at this chart, bonds seem to be a dependable source of a decent return. However, like all history, context is everything. We’ve seen a 30-plus year bull market in bonds where the 10-year treasury yield went from over 15% in the early 1980’s to around 2.5% at the end of 2016. Falling interest rates are a positive for bond prices, but they can only fall so far. The next decade will likely look different for bonds.

The Diversification Chart Teaches Valuable Investing Lessons

First, there will be up years and down years. Chasing the best performing asset class of the previous year won’t yield great results. Oftentimes, the top performing asset class one year will be near the bottom of the pack the next year, and vice versa. Other times, an asset class’ relative performance will persist (see: commodities from 2011-2015 or US large cap from 2013-2016). The point is, the future is unknowable.

If you’re relying on your (or anyone else’s) ability to time the market, you’re doing it wrong.

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