Meet our writer
Head of Investing, Betterment
Mychal Campos is Head of Investing at Betterment. His two-plus decades of experience in quantitative investing includes developing asset management and financial planning products for millions of customers, managing billions of dollars in the process. He holds a Master of Science in Computational Finance from the Applied Mathematics Department of the University of Washington.
Articles by Mychal Campos
What You Should Know About Financial Markets
Let time work in your favor. Let the market worry about itself.What You Should Know About Financial Markets Let time work in your favor. Let the market worry about itself. Financial markets are unpredictable. No matter how much research you do and how closely you follow the news, trying to “time the market” usually means withdrawing too early and investing too late. In this guide, we’ll explain: Why a long-term strategy is often the best approach The problems with trying to time the market How to accurately evaluate portfolio performance How to make adjustments when you need to Why a long-term strategy is often the best approach Watch the market closely, and you’ll see it constantly fluctuate. The markets can be sky high one day, then come crashing down the next. Zoom in close enough on any ten-year period, and you’ll see countless short-term gains and losses that can be large in magnitude. Zoom out far enough, and you’ll see a gradual upward trend. It’s easy to get sucked into market speculation. Those short-term wins feel good, and look highly appealing. But you’re not trying to win the lottery here—you’re investing. You’re trying to reach financial goals. At Betterment, we believe the smartest way to do that is by diversifying your portfolio, making regular deposits, and holding your assets for longer. Accurately predicting where the market is going in the short-term is extremely difficult, but investing regularly over the long-term is an activity you can control that can lead to far more reliable performance over time. The power of compounding is real. By regularly investing in a well-diversified portfolio, you’re probably not going to suddenly win big. But you’re unlikely to lose it all, either. And by the time you’re ready to start withdrawing funds, you’ll have a lot more to work with. The basics of diversification Diversification is all about reducing risk. Every financial asset, industry, and market is influenced by different factors that change its performance. Invest too heavily in one area, and your portfolio becomes more vulnerable to its specific risks. Put all your money in an oil company, and a single oil spill, regulation, lawsuit, or change in demand could devastate your portfolio. There’s no failsafe. The less you lean on any one asset, economic sector, or geographical region, the more stable your portfolio will likely be. Diversification sets your portfolio up for long-term success with steadier, more stable performance. The problems with trying to time the market There are two big reasons not to try and time the market: It’s difficult to consistently beat a well-diversified portfolio Taxes Many investors miss more in gains than they avoid in losses by trying to time a dip. Even the best active investors frequently make “the wrong call.” They withdraw too early or go all-in too late. There are too many factors outside of your control. Too much information you don’t have. To beat a well-diversified portfolio, you have to buy and sell at the perfect time. Again. And again. And again. No matter how much market research you do, you’re simply unlikely to win that battle in the long run. Especially when you consider short-term capital gains taxes. Any time you sell an asset you’ve held for less than a year and make a profit, you have to pay short-term capital gains taxes. Just like that, you might have to shave up to 37% off of your profits. With a passive approach that focuses on the long game, you hold onto assets for much longer, so you’re far less likely to have short-term capital gains (and the taxes that come with them). Considering the short-term tax implications, you don’t just have to consistently beat a well-diversified, buy-and-hold portfolio. In order to outperform it by timing the market, you have to blow it out of the water. And that’s why you may want to rethink the way you evaluate portfolio performance. How to evaluate portfolio performance Want to know how well your portfolio is doing? You need to use the right benchmarks and consider after-tax adjustments. US investors often compare their portfolio performance to the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But that’s helpful if you’re only invested in the US stock market. If you’re holding a well-diversified portfolio holding stocks and bonds across geographical regions, the Vanguard LifeStrategy Funds or iShares Core Allocation ETFs may be a better comparison. Just make sure you compare apples to apples. If you have a portfolio that’s 80% stocks, don’t compare it to a portfolio with 100% stocks. The other key to evaluating your performance is tax adjustments. How much actually goes in your pocket? If you’re going to lose 30% or more of your profits to short-term capital gains taxes, that’s a large drain on your overall return that may impact how soon you can achieve your financial goals. How to adjust your investments during highs and lows At Betterment, we believe investors get better results when they don’t react to market changes. On a long enough timeline, market highs and lows won’t matter as much. But sometimes, you really do need to make adjustments. The best way to change your portfolio? Start small. Huge, sweeping changes are much more likely to hurt your performance. If stock investments feel too risky, you can even start putting your deposits into US Short-Term Treasuries instead, which are extremely low risk, highly liquid, and mature in about six months. This is called a “dry powder” fund. Make sure your adjustments fit your goal. If your goal is still years or decades away, your investments should probably be weighted more heavily toward diversified stocks. As you get closer to the end date, you can shift to bonds and other low-risk assets. Since it’s extremely hard to time the market, we believe it’s best to ride out the market highs and lows. We also make it easy to adjust your portfolio to fit your level of risk tolerance. It’s like turning a dial up or down, shifting your investments more toward stocks or bonds. You’re in control. And if “don’t worry” doesn’t put you at ease, you can make sure your risk reflects your comfort level.
What’s An Investment Portfolio?
And why it's best to choose one suited to your goals and appetite for risk.What’s An Investment Portfolio? And why it's best to choose one suited to your goals and appetite for risk. The investment portfolio that’s right for you depends on your goals and the level of risk you’re comfortable with. What do you want to accomplish? How fast do you want to reach your goals? What timeline are you working with? Your answers guide which kinds of assets might be best for your portfolio—and where you’ll want to put them. When choosing or constructing an investment portfolio, you’ll need to consider: Asset allocation: Choose the types of assets you want in your portfolio. The right asset allocation balances risk and reward according to your goals. Got big long-term plans? You may want more stocks in your portfolio. Just investing for a few years? Maybe play it safe, and lean more on bonds. In this guide, we’ll: Explain what an investment portfolio is Explore the types of assets you can put in your portfolio Discuss how risk and diversification influence your portfolio Explain how to choose the right investment portfolio What’s an investment portfolio? When it comes to your financial goals, you don’t want your success or failure to depend on a single asset. An investment portfolio is a collection of financial assets designed to reach your goals. The portfolio that can help you reach your goals depends on how much risk you’re willing to take on and how soon you hope to reach them. Whether you’re planning for retirement, building generational wealth, saving for a child’s education, or something else, the types of assets your portfolio includes will affect how much it can gain or lose—and how long it takes to achieve your goal. What assets can your portfolio include? Investment portfolios can include many kinds of financial assets. Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. How much of each asset you include is called asset allocation. Cash can be used right away and carries very little risk when compared to other asset classes. But unlike most other assets, cash won’t appreciate more than inflation. Stocks represent shares of a company, and they tend to be more volatile. Their value fluctuates significantly with the market. More stocks means more potential gains, and more potential losses. Bonds are like owning shares of a loan whether made directly to companies or governments. They tend to be more stable than stocks. There’s less potential for gain over time, but less risk, too. Commodities like oil, gold, and wheat are risky investments, but they’re also one of the few asset classes that typically benefit from inflation. Unfortunately, inflation is pretty unpredictable, and commodities can often underperform compared to other asset classes. Mutual funds are like bundles of assets. It’s a portfolio-in-a-box. Stocks. Bonds. Commodities. Real estate. Alternative assets. The works. For a fee, investors like you can buy into a professionally managed portfolio. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are similar to mutual funds in composition–they’re both professionally-curated groupings of individual stocks or bonds–but ETFs have some key differences. They can be bought and sold throughout the day, just like stocks—which often makes them better for tax-loss harvesting. They also typically have lower fees as well. ETFs are an increasingly popular portfolio option. Why diversification is key to a strong portfolio Higher levels of diversification in your investment portfolio allow you to reduce your exposure to risk that hopefully will result in achieving your desired level of return. Think of your assets like legs holding up a chair. If your whole portfolio is built around a single asset, it’s pretty unstable. Regular market fluctuations could easily bring its value crashing to the floor. Diversification adds legs to the chair, building your portfolio around a set of imperfectly correlated assets. With a diverse portfolio, your gains and losses are less sensitive to the performance of any one asset class and your overall portfolio becomes less volatile. Price volatility is unavoidable, but with the right set of investments, you can lower the overall risk of your portfolio. This is why asset allocation and diversification go hand-in-hand. As you consider your goals and the level of risk you're comfortable with, that should guide the assets you choose and the ratio of assets in your portfolio. How to align your portfolio with your goal Since some asset classes like stocks and commodities have greater potential for significant gains or losses, it’s important to understand when you might want your portfolio to take on more or less risk. Bottom line: the more time you have to accomplish your goal, the less you should worry about risk. For goals with a longer time horizon, holding a larger portion of your portfolio in asset classes more likely to experience loss of value, like stocks, can also mean greater potential gains, and more time to compensate for any losses. For shorter-term goals, a lower allocation to volatile assets like stocks and commodities will help you avoid large drops in your balance right before you plan to use what you’ve saved. Over time, your risk tolerance will likely change. As you get closer to reaching retirement age, for example, you’ll want to lower your risk and lean more heavily on asset classes that deliver less volatile returns—like bonds.
The Most Common Asset Classes For Investors
Every type of asset gains or loses value differently, so it helps to know what those ...The Most Common Asset Classes For Investors Every type of asset gains or loses value differently, so it helps to know what those types are and how they work. An asset class is a name for a group of assets that share common qualities and behave similarly in the market. They’re governed by the same rules and regulations, and gain or lose value based on the same factors and circumstances. Different asset classes have relatively little in common, and tend to have fluctuations in value that are imperfectly correlated. Common asset classes include: Equities (stocks) Fixed income (bonds) Cash Real Estate Commodities Cryptocurrencies Alternative investments Financial Derivatives Within these groups, there are several assets people commonly invest in. The most common types of assets for investors The three financial assets you may hear about the most are stocks, bonds, and cash. A strong investment portfolio often includes a balance of these assets, or combines them with others. Let’s take a closer look at each of these. Stocks A stock is a type of equity. It’s basically a tiny piece of a company. When you invest in stocks, you become a partial “owner” of the companies that issued those stocks. You don’t own the building, and you can’t go bossing around the employees, but you’re a shareholder. Your stock’s value is directly tied to the company’s profits, assets, and liabilities. And that means you have a stake in the company’s success or failure. Stocks are volatile assets—their value changes often—and they have historically had the greatest risk and highest returns out of these three asset categories (stocks, bonds and cash). Choosing stocks from a wide range of companies in different industries can be a smart way to diversify your portfolio. Bonds A bond represents a portion of a loan. Its value to the bondholder comes from the interest on the loan. Bonds are typically more stable than stocks—lower risk, lower reward. Bonds belong to the “fixed income” asset class, which focuses on preserving capital and income, and tend to depend on different risk variables than stocks. If a company has a bad quarter, that’s probably not going to affect the value of your bond, unless they have a really bad quarter then default on their loan. When stock markets have a bad month, investors tend to flock to safer asset classes. In those cases, returns on bonds may outperform returns from the stock market. Something else to consider with bonds is the impact of interest rates and inflation. When interest rates increase or decrease, they directly affect how much bond interest you accrue. And since bonds generate lower returns than stocks, they may struggle at times to beat inflation. Cash With cash investments, things like money market accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs), you’re basically loaning cash (often to a bank) in exchange for interest. This is usually a short-term investment, but some cash investments like CDs can lock up funds for a few years. These investments are often low-risk because you can be confident they will generate a return, even though it might be lower than returns for other types of asset classes. Cash investments offer higher liquidity, meaning you can more quickly sell or access these assets when you need the money. As such, the return you get is typically lower than what you’d achieve with other asset classes. Investors therefore tend to park the money they need to spend in the near-term in cash investments. Other common assets Those are the big three. But investors also invest in real estate, commodities, alternative asset classes, financial derivatives, and cryptocurrencies. Each of these asset classes come with their own set of risk factors and potential advantages. What about investment funds? An investment fund is a basket of assets that can include stocks, bonds, and other investments. The most common kinds of funds you can invest in are mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Mutual funds and ETFs are similar, but there’s a reason ETFs are gaining popularity: they’re usually cheaper. ETFs tend to be less expensive to manage and therefore typically have lower expense ratios. Additionally, mutual funds charge a fee to cover their marketing expenses. ETFs don’t. Mutual funds are also more likely to be actively managed, so they can have more administrative costs. Most ETFs are funds that simply track the performance of a specific benchmark index (e.g., the S&P 500), so there’s less overhead to manage ETFs than mutual funds. ETFs have another advantage: you can buy and sell them on the stock exchange, just like stocks. You can only sell a mutual fund once per day, at the end of the day. That’s not always the best time. Being able to sell at other times opens the door to other investment strategies, like tax-loss harvesting. How to choose the right assets When you start investing, it’s hard to know what assets belong in your investment portfolio. And it’s easy to make costly mistakes. But if you start with a goal, choosing the right assets is actually pretty easy. Say you want $100,000 to make a down payment on a house in 10 years. You have a target amount and a deadline. Now all you have to do is decide how much risk you’re willing to take on and choose assets that fit that risk level. For many investors, it’s simply a matter of balancing the ratio of stocks and bonds in your portfolio.
How Much of Your Portfolio Should be in Crypto?
Our golden rule to investing in crypto.How Much of Your Portfolio Should be in Crypto? Our golden rule to investing in crypto. How much to invest in crypto is a personal question all investors have to answer. We’ll get straight to our recommendation. We call it our 5% golden rule: At Betterment, we recommend investing 5% or less of your investable assets (your investable cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, etc.) in crypto. Assuming you are a long-term investor, a simple way to think about this is to ask yourself how confident you are that the crypto industry will continue to grow over time. Then decide how much you want to invest into a diversified portfolio based on that, no more than 5% of your investable assets. Where does the 5% golden rule come from? Using some math with fancy terms like the Black-Litterman model, our investing experts can calculate our maximum recommended crypto allocation. To get to our recommended allocation, the model takes into consideration our analyst’s answers to two important questions: How much, by percent, will crypto outperform stocks per year? In terms of probability, how confident are you that crypto will outperform stocks? Answers to both of the questions above exist on a spectrum, meaning that individuals may have different answers to the two questions. By plugging in the answers to those two questions into the Black-Litterman model, our experts recommend no more than 5% if you have high confidence that crypto will significantly outperform stocks. Many individuals may not be as confident in crypto outperforming stocks. In this case, we would recommend allocating less than 5% to match your comfort level. Allocation then diversification. Once you settle on your preferred crypto allocation of 5% or less, remember to consider diversification. All of our Crypto Investing portfolios are designed to offer broad diversification across many crypto assets.
Beyond Bitcoin: The Importance of Diversification in Crypto
You should invest in more than one cryptocurrency just like you’d invest in multiple ...Beyond Bitcoin: The Importance of Diversification in Crypto You should invest in more than one cryptocurrency just like you’d invest in multiple stocks and bonds. Sometimes we hear the question: Is diversification important in crypto in the same way it is with traditional investing in stocks and bonds? The short answer is: Yes, diversification is important—you should invest in more than one cryptocurrency just like you’d invest in multiple stocks and bonds. But let’s expand on this thought. Diversification beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum The general goal of diversification is to try and reduce the risk of losses while increasing your expected return. We can do this by making investments in a broad set of assets, limiting exposure to any one holding. With crypto, we recommend investing in multiple tokens, expanding beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum, to help limit exposure to any single asset. Diversification can give you wider exposure to the growing crypto landscape, including tokens in decentralized finance and the metaverse. How to diversify in crypto If you haven’t invested in crypto yet, or have only invested a little in Bitcoin or a small handful of other tokens, we recommend starting small and slow. Here are two tips to get started: Choose your overall crypto allocation Think of crypto as a small part of your larger investment strategy—not a one-off investment. Diversification matters within your crypto investment but also across all of your investments. You need to answer the question: how much of my investable assets do I want in crypto? It seems like a big question, but we try to make it easier on you. Our experts recommend no more than a 5% allocation of your total investable assets. Invest in multiple cryptocurrencies This one is important. We’re so early in the life span of crypto that picking a few winners from thousands of coins is unlikely—that’s why we offer diversified, expert-curated portfolios with multiple coins that can change over time as the crypto markets evolve.
An Investor's Guide To Market Volatility
Knowing what to do during a market downturn can be especially difficult in the moment. ...An Investor's Guide To Market Volatility Knowing what to do during a market downturn can be especially difficult in the moment. Here’s how to plan ahead. In 1 minute When the prices in financial markets change, that’s market volatility. More volatility means greater potential for both gains or losses. In investing, market volatility comes with the territory. Some days the market is up, and other days it’s down. It’s OK to be anxious during a dip, but preparing for market volatility can help you avoid making decisions out of fear. Two of the biggest ways you can prepare for volatility: Diversify your portfolio Build an emergency fund Diversification helps protect your portfolio by spreading out your risk. A diversified portfolio may not gain as much as some individual assets, but it likely won’t lose as much as others. An emergency fund is a financial safety net. If market volatility negatively impacts your investments, your emergency fund can help cover your expenses until the economy recovers. During a downturn, we recommend resisting the urge to change your investments. Give your portfolio time to recover. But if you can’t do that, try to keep changes small, like lowering your stock allocation so that it’s more consistent with a more conservative risk tolerance level. In general, you should invest for the long-term, but at the same time you’ll likely want a diversified portfolio that you’re comfortable holding on to even when things in the market get bad. This can increase the odds you remain in the market when it ultimately recovers and continues on its path of expected long-term growth. Still not satisfying the itch to act? High management fees or capital gains distributions (from a mutual fund) could make that market volatility more uncomfortable. Or perhaps your financial advisor isn’t sticking to your target allocation as your portfolio experiences gains and losses. In these situations, a lower-fee robo-advisor like Betterment can help alleviate that discomfort. In 5 minutes In this guide, we’ll cover: What market volatility is How to prepare for it What to do about it Nobody likes to see their finances take a nosedive. But in a volatile market, dips happen often. Market volatility refers to fluctuations in the price of investments. Some markets—like the stock market—fluctuate more than others. And in times of economic stress, markets tend to be even more volatile, so you might see some big ups and downs. It’s tempting to sell everything and bail out during dips, but that often does more harm than good. Selling your assets could lock-in losses before they have a chance to rebound from the dip, and it’s nearly impossible to predict the market’s high points and low points. Reacting to market drawdowns by moving to cash is like selling your clothes because you gained a few pounds. Sure, they may feel a little snug, but you could find yourself with a bare closet if and when your weight fluctuates the other way. Historically, the stock market has had plenty of bad days. In any given decade, you’re bound to see many drawdowns, where investment values dip frightfully low. But when you step back and look at the big picture, the market has trended upward over time. So far, the global stock market, and by extension the U.S. stock market, has always recovered from economic downturns. And while nothing in life is guaranteed, those are some pretty good odds. History shows us that experiencing short-term losses is part of the path to long-term gains. The key for investors is to expect market volatility. It’s inevitable. And that means you need to prepare for it—not simply react to it. How to prepare for market volatility Market volatility can occur at any time. So you want to be ready for it now and in the future. The main thing you can do to prepare is diversify your portfolio. Having a balance of different assets decreases your overall level of risk. While some of your assets momentarily struggle, for example, others may hold steady or even thrive. The goal is your portfolio will hopefully feel less like a rollercoaster and more like a fun hike up wealth mountain. Beyond that, you’ll want to strongly consider building an emergency fund. A good starting point is having enough to cover three to six months of expenses. This is money you want on hand if market volatility takes a turn for the worse. Even if you don’t depend on your investments for income, major economic downturns can affect your life in other ways. The poor economy could lead to layoffs, bankruptcies, and other situations that impact your job stability. Or if you have rental properties, the real estate market could be adversely affected as well. All the more reason to have an emergency fund and ride out that turbulence if the need arises. What investors should do during downturns Caught in a downturn? Don’t panic. Seriously, when the market looks grim, the best reaction is usually to do nothing. Selling off your portfolio to prevent further losses is a common investor mistake that does two things: It locks-in those losses It takes away your chance to rebound with the market Scratching an itch usually won’t prevent it from recurring. The same goes for reacting to short-term losses in your portfolio. As much as you can, you want to resist the urge to react. Still, sometimes you may feel like you have to make a change. If that’s you, the first thing to do is make sure you’re comfortable with the level of risk you’re taking. Some asset classes, like stocks, are more volatile than others. The more weighted your portfolio is toward these assets, the more vulnerable it is to changes in the market. You’ll also want to confirm that your time horizon (when you need the money) is still correct. Think of this like checking your pulse, or taking a few deep breaths. You’re making sure your investments look right—that everything is working like it’s supposed to. If you’re still feeling tempted to do something drastic like withdraw all your investments, you probably should reduce your level of risk. Even if everything looks right for your goals, making a small adjustment now could prevent you from making a bigger mistake out of panic later. Your pulse is too high. Your breaths are too rapid. Sitting at 90% stocks and 10% bonds? You might try dialing it down to 75% stocks and 25% bonds. The time may be ripe to consider a Roth conversion Our investing advice of doing nothing and staying the course is generally the direction we try to nudge you toward when markets are down. While drops in global markets can be stressful, they also provide opportunities that can be beneficial for future you. One of those strategies is implementing a Roth conversion. A Roth conversion allows you to transfer, or convert, funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. You will typically owe income taxes on the amount you convert in the year of conversion, but the tradeoff is that once inside the Roth IRA future growth and withdrawals are generally tax-free. You can take a look at other pros and cons of Roth conversions in our Help Center. Here are a couple of reasons why you may want to consider converting your IRA when the market is down: The balance of your Traditional IRA has dropped significantly. When the balance of your Traditional IRA drops, you’re able to convert the same number of shares at lower market prices. This means you may pay less in taxes than if you converted those same number of shares at higher market prices. Growth from a global market recovery can be better in a Roth IRA than a Traditional IRA. As global markets recover over time, the value of your converted holdings may increase. This increase in value will now take place in your Roth IRA. Down the line, when you start taking withdrawals out of your Roth IRA in retirement, you’ll be able to do so without incurring any taxes. To understand how a Roth conversion may impact your personal financial situation, we strongly recommend consulting a tax advisor and IRS Publication 590. Betterment is not a licensed tax advisor and cannot provide tax advice. Reassess where you invest Depending on your situation, another option might be to shift your investments to a financial institution like Betterment. This could save you money in other ways, which might make your current risk level feel more comfortable. Some signs this might be the right move for you: 1. Your accounts have higher management fees You can’t control how the market performs, but you don’t have to be stuck with higher fees. Switching to a lower-fee institution like Betterment could lead to less of a drag on your long-term returns. 2. Your allocation is incorrect The sooner you need to use your money, the less risk you should take. Not sure what level of risk is right for you? When you set up a financial goal with Betterment, we’ll recommend a risk level based on your time horizon and target amount. 3. You own mutual funds that pay capital gains distributions When a mutual fund manager sells underlying investments in the fund, they may make a profit (capital gains), which are then passed on to individual shareholders like you. These distributions are taxable. Even worse: mutual funds can pay out capital gain distributions even if the fund’s overall performance is down for a year. So in a volatile market, your portfolio could lose value and you may still pay taxes on gains within the fund. In contrast, most exchange traded funds (ETFs) are more tax efficient.